Part 1 ~
I remember as a midwife, before I had children, I used to teach mums that there was nothing to worry about if they were having breastfeeding difficulties in the early weeks, not to worry because it will all magically get better as soon as the baby turned 6 weeks old.
Then I had my twins, they were 9 weeks premature so by the 6-week mark they were only just beginning to really feed from the breast. Ok so 6 weeks corrected age must mean it will all be sorted… Still no. The nurses that visit my home tell me “oh it’s because there’s two of them, it will all be good by 12 weeks”. 12 weeks?!?! That’s 3 months of sore nipples, annoying nipple shields, managing with low supply and medications and herbs to boost such supply. And two babies feeding on and off around the clock. I was struggling.
The question to continue and persevere or wave my arms in surrender tormented me, mostly during the long lonely days when everyone else was at work. The family and friends that were a steady flow of traffic in the early days had pretty much disappeared, after the exciting arrival of the twins their lives all returned to normal, mine didn’t, I was trying to come to terms with what my life now was. By now I had postnatal depression, somehow I knew that for me to give up breastfeeding would have made me spiral down worse. I pushed through, the following months were a struggle and a bit of a blur but I do remember a very gradual feeling of things slowly looking up.
I remember when the boys started eating foods at around 6 months I felt the pressure ease a lot. With the load lifted off me a little I was able to come off the herbs. At 8mths old someone said to me “Geez, they’re nearly 1 are you going to stop breastfeeding soon?” STOP? I only just got the hang of it!
My twins at 8 months, breastfeeding was finally a breeze.
So for my first babies, all be them twins I hit my breastfeeding groove at 8mths of age. My third baby, 5 years later, I was shocked to find that at 10 days of age I found my self with really sore cracked and grazed nipples. I reminded myself how diligent I had to be with attachment, soon enough I hit my groove. I was on day 12.
The breastfeeding groove is simply defined as when breastfeeding becomes easy. When breastfeeding goes from taking a lot of time and effort, to just happening with out even thinking about it. When it goes from a lot of painstaking agonizing about whether it’s the right thing to do, to keep going. To it becoming a quiet peace in your mind, you realize you haven’t thought about it for a while now, it feels right.
As you can see, from my story alone, reaching that peace, the breastfeeding groove, takes time. The amount of time is different for everyone. And different for each baby. When I think about what slowed me from reaching my groove sooner I identified two main things, these were also common in all the women I see in my practice. The two things that I believe will impact how soon you reach your breastfeeding grove are understanding what normal breastfeeding should feel like and what breastfeeding babies behave like. (The latter will be discussed in part 2)
“Your nipples might be sore, but breastfeeding shouldn’t HURT you.” After sifting through and tossing out a lot of “what breastfeeding should feel like” quotes I decided on this one of my own. Words like Breastfeeding should be 100% pleasant and comfortable and pain free can be wrong on so many levels.
Nipples that have never been sucked on before, or not sucked on in a while (be it years, months or weeks) will become quite tender from all the sucking. They might be extra sensitive if you brush past them, you may need to protect them in the shower as the water streams can feel like needles.
Nipples can be sore when the baby first latches but as the breastfeed continues breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. When the baby first latches, you have newly sucked on sensitive nipples adjusting from being warm and soft and safe inside a bra to firm and erect and stretched down to the soft palate of the baby’s mouth. Tender, yes, toe curling even, but it’s normal, its not causing damage so its not HURTING you. This whole process might take 10 or 20 even 30 seconds. After the nipple reaches the soft palate and baby sucks rhythmically any pain should disappear. If the pain continues then the latch is not right, it is no longer normal; the feed will HURT you because the pain is signifying there is damage occurring.
What do I do if pain is continuing throughout a feed? Seek help. Someone well trained in breastfeeding support should be able to identify the source of pain and work with you and baby to find strategies to help resolve the pain so that breastfeeding no longer hurts and damage is no longer occurring. The source of pain may be easy to identify, simply a positioning issue perhaps. It could much more difficult to pick up, something like a posterior tongue-tie or an oddly shaped palate could be the culprit.
Don’t let anyone tell you that your baby’s latch at the breast looks good so it must be ok. It might be textbook picture perfect as far as your midwife/nurse is concerned. Big wide mouth, flanged out lips etc. if you are experiencing pain throughout the duration of the feed you need a thorough feed assessment to ascertain the source of pain. (And visa versa, you could be told the latch looks terrible but if you are pain free and comfortable and you observe baby taking in milk it can look as crap as you like.)
Rhys' latch here on around day 7 was really uncomfortable. Initial latch was
very painful and a dull pinching pain continued through out the feed. To look
at it nearly "ticks all the boxes" of a good latch. When i put my LC hat on and
adjusted a few things, the comfort levels were much improved, and from there
my nipples were able to heal and got better from here on in.
Adjustments made here to improve this attachment: Rhys had to be lifted higher
across my other breast and turned in more tummy on tummy. Bringing him in
closer so his chin is compressing the breast and allowing him to latch deeper
into the breast. His top lip often had difficulty turning out. I was able to flip it out
with my finger, allowing him then to draw the nipple back a little further.
By releasing this latch and retrying for a better one, a better, more asymmetrical
(more of the breast on the chin side in than the nose side) was achieved, making
it much more comfortable on the nipple.
Basically the point i am trying to get across is if you can be knowledgeable as to what correct attachment should feel like and what a damaging latch would feel like you have all the tools you need to have breastfeeding bliss from the very start of your journey. To wait until 6 weeks ticks by, waiting for something to magically change is silly and unnecessary. As soon as you assume something is not right, seek help. With the correct help you can have all the difficulty turned around and you'll be cruising in your groove before you know it.
Good luck on your breastfeeding journey.
Part 2 will cover - normal newborn behaviour and how understanding it can help you reach your breastfeeding peace sooner.