My pregnant self fantasized about clutching a golden-hued newborn to my awfully perky bosom while lounging comfortably on the couch with an endless supply of fresh fruit, mineral water and trashy mags. I realize now that my fantasies were a delusional version of the Madonna and Child in which I was always swathed in flattering fabrics while my serene baby sipped gingerly from my breast.
Here’s what really happened:
On the day she was born, my baby girl rode the contracting uterine waves with puckered lips, and minutes after birth when she was placed on my sweaty breast she practically sucked my nipple right off my body. Imagine my surprise when excruciating pain busted through the supposed serenity of The First Bonding Moment. At first, I thought my body was suffering the intense aftershocks of labor and delivery, but she sucked some more and I had to bite a pillow to stifle my screams. My fantasy was quickly replaced with the reality of a mildly jaundiced (does that count as golden-hued?) baby vampire who was trying to eat my nipples off while I pretended to be Zen-like in a roomful of nurses, doctors and lactation consultants.
Until I was pregnant, the term “good latch” was a virtual stranger to me, but once I realized how elusive it was I became determined to be, er, bosom buddies with it. A good latch is key for any breastfeeding mother and her infant child.
Ever wonder what it would feel like to have live jumper cables attached to your nipples? Bad latch.
Ever wonder what it would feel like to have your nipples gnawed off by a rabid baby beaver? Bad latch.
Basically, a good latch is dependent on the placement of your nipple inside baby’s mouth. (Click here to read what the American Pregnancy Association has to say about a good latch.)
Once we got home, it took about two weeks of tears and frustration before baby and I got our latch perfected. In the meantime, here are a few things I did to help ease the pain:
Grease is the word
In between feedings, after a shower, while sleepwalking… I applied liberal amounts of lanolin to each nipple. Lanolin is basically wool grease. Baa Baa Black Sheep, have you any grease for my chafed and throbbing nips? Thankfully, people ages ago figured out a way to collect the greasy substance from sheep wool, mix it with some other stuff, put it into tidy little tubes and then sell it to women like me. I used Medela Tender Care Lanolin, and it saved my life.
This is where I’m about to sound like a crazy lactivist, but so be it. After each agonizing feed, I’d manually express a tiny amount of milk and cover each nipple with it. Then I’d close the curtains, pop some wings in the oven and pretend I was a waitress in a topless bar. Because of the force of my baby’s sucking, my nipples were raw and cracked. Dabbing a little milk on my nipples and going topless in order to let the milk dry soothed the pain. Breast milk is chock full of healing properties because of all those wonderful antibodies it contains. The sore spots and cracks seemed to heal much faster once I applied my milk to the affected areas. I’ve since applied a little breast milk to my baby’s rashes and have been amazed by the results. Try it. I dare you.
When I think back to the early days/nights/mornings of breastfeeding, one particular 4 a.m. feeding stands out for me. Picture this: a frazzled new mother weeping dejectedly in the dark while her newborn roots around desperately for a nipple she can’t seem to fit into her mouth. I remember sweaty palms, hot tears and bolts of pain coursing through my breasts. After the fourth failed attempt, I realized I was holding my breath and hyperventilating. I took a moment to step back emotionally and concentrate on my breathing techniques. A few deep breaths later I tried again, and as she latched I exhaled slowly through the pain. I have to say all those gurus and yogis were on to something when they mastered the art of breathing. So if you’re experiencing pain, breathe. Babies are extremely sensitive creatures and they pick up on our stress and anxieties, so taking the time to relax and breathe will benefit both of you in the end.
In those first weeks there were moments late at night when I would tearfully wonder how I was ever going to make it, but with patience and support from a loving spouse I have successfully breastfed my growing girl for over four months now. In fact, I am currently typing this last paragraph with one hand while I breastfeed with the other. Am I showing off? Maybe a little…