Let’s Get Real: Nursing

I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t expect guys to read this post. And if you do, I won’t blame you if you never want to look me in the eye again, much less quit following my blog.

Another preface: I know that my experiences are mine alone, so there is no way that what I say can be universally applied. You might have a totally different experience. That being said, let’s begin.

This one’s for the ladies that are expecting, who are planning to nurse, and who have no idea what to expect (because how could you?). Or who think they do but have only heard how it’s “magical” or “easy” OR “not worth it” or anything else. Because I heard all of that and more, and I had never been through it either 6 months ago.

But make sure you read all of it, because if you just read the first month, you might never start. 😉

The First Month

The first month of nursing sucks. At least, for me it did. I don’t know if it gets easier with each child or not.

But I was told that “the first two weeks are hard, and then it gets better.”

I found myself nursing one night, tears rolling down my face, as Tom ate dinner, and Josey ate dinner, and my dinner was getting cold beside me. I was in pain, and I was hungry, and I was tired.

It was very frustrating, and Tom asked me what was wrong.

“I HATE THIS! I HATE nursing. I hate it. I hate how much it hurts. I hate that I’m STARVING and can’t ever seem to both make a meal AND eat it before I need to nurse again. I hate how long it takes! I hate that everyone told me I would be a natural at being a mom because I’ve got so much experience with kids, but I feel like I can’t do this! I don’t blame women for giving up on nursing! NURSING SUCKS! It’s been FOUR WEEKS! Why does this still hurt?? It was supposed to stop two weeks ago! I don’t know if I can do this!”

To which, a slightly stunned Tom replied, “Then don’t. We can use formula.”

“NO! I DO have to do this! It’s the one thing about her coming into this world that I still have any control over. My birthing experience was taken away by that STUPID c-section, and I know I had to have it, but I DON’T have to use formula, and I’m NOT giving this up too!”

To which Tom said, “Okay. Is there anything I can do?”

I was tempted to tell him to feed me my dinner, but I knew I was already coming off as somewhat unhinged, so I said no and tried to cry a little more quietly.

One week later, I realized it didn’t hurt anymore. God bless my stubborn streak, because if I’d given up then, I would have stopped nursing right before it got easy.

So why did it hurt?

All Jacked Up

Well, I wasn’t used to it, for starters. As soon as they handed her to me in the hospital, she started to nurse. And then every 2 hours from then until she was a month old.

You hear about women cracking, bleeding, blistering, etc? Well, it’s true. I went though all of that. I have never been so grossed out by my boobs. And they hurt so much it felt like they were sunburned. Any fabric going over me when I dressed or water hitting me in the shower even hurt.

I suggest you own some lanolin if you plan to nurse. (This stuff will stain your clothes, so be careful about what you let it touch.)

Engorgement

I also experienced engorgement a few different times. It is incredibly uncomfortable, and you feel like there’s a huge sign flashing “check out my ridiculously big, rock hard hooters!” I hope it’s not as noticeable to others as I felt like it was, but I was just highly aware of the issue when I was experiencing it.

Basically, your milk production is more than your baby is emptying you, so you get over-full. Then you have to pump to empty yourself to a point where you are comfortable again.

The really stupid thing is, at first, your baby will nurse for what feels like ages (Jo would nurse an hour per feeding the first month), then you will pump too. And all that you get out is something like an ounce or less of milk.

As the baby grows and needs more, you produce more. I have no idea how that tiny amount of milk made me engorged, but it did, and it’s a common issue.

Plugged Milk Duct

And then there was the joy of having a blocked milk duct. I found this about 5 weeks in when I woke up to feed Josey in the middle of the night and the side of my boob hurt. It was red and hot to the touch and sensitive all in one spot. I knew that could lead to mastitis, so I was slightly panicked about getting it unblocked.

After feeding Josey, I changed her and put her back down, then I went downstairs and pumped, trying to unplug the duct. Then, for the next 48 hours, I would nurse Josey in a different position every time, rotating positions. Turns out that if you can change where they are latched on each time, it pulls on different ducts more than others. That gives them all a chance to get emptied more.

After two days of that, the problem was resolved without turning into an infection. I was SO grateful.

All that to say, it is going to be hard, but it is also going to be worth it. If you can stick it out the first 4-5 weeks, you can probably do it for as long as you want.

Months 2-4

These months are pretty easy (by comparison), but demanding. I was nursing every 3 hours, and that meant I rarely left the house. Josey would nurse for a long time, but from what I hear, most babies get faster and faster.

She kind of did. She went from nursing an hour per feeding to 40 minutes. Then to 30. Then to 20 then to 12. Then back to 20 and sometimes 30 minutes.

Most babies will fuss to be fed sooner than they normally do and nurse for longer during growth spurts. In these two months, it seemed like Josey had about 3 different growth spurts, so that was kind of tough. But when we saw her weight and height at her 4 month check up, it all made sense!

This period is also great, because if your baby is on a schedule, this is often when they start sleeping through the night. Josey did, and it changed my life! haha

The way it works is that their bodies learn to regulate their blood/sugar level when they have to go certain lengths of time between feedings during the day. As their body learns to do this, it allows them to sleep for longer stretches at night.

By the end of four months, Josey was sleeping about 8-10 hours at night.

Months 5-6

Josey got moved to nursing every 4 hours when she was four months old, and that made life a bit easier. She had been sleeping through the night, but now started to stretch from 8-10 hour nights to 10-12 hour nights.

I finally get more done in my day. She nurses about 10 minutes per side, which isn’t particularly fast, but it’s not an hour!

She does nurse longer in the morning at her first feeding of the day, but I get her from her crib and lay in bed while she lays beside me to nurse for that feeding, so it’s not so bad.

This is also when we were told it was okay to start feeding her baby food and rice cereal for breakfast and dinner after she had nursed.

I mix her rice cereal with breast milk, so I had to start pumping every night 4 hours after her last feeding in order to have enough of a supply for that plus the occasional bottle (she gets one at church and when we go on dates or I have a Transit event).

The challenge this time is that she is starting to teethe…and has begun to attack my left side with a viciousness I don’t appreciate. It’s ONLY that side, and I don’t really get why.

It reminds me of the misery of the first month…cracking, bleeding, scabbing, and blistering. Ultra-sensitive, and just not fun. But there are tips all over the internet about dealing with teething nursers, and I would suggest you read up!

Around now, you’ll want to find that lanolin you were using in the first month.

This is also the age that they start to really get distracted by EVERYTHING while they nurse. A show on tv, a book page turning, a cell phone beep. A voice talking to you, a door closing, a fan on the ceiling, or even your nursing cover.

Josey particularly makes an effort to rip my nursing cover off everytime I nurse in public. We both end up sweating and frustrated, as she tries to uncover herself and I try to not flash everyone. I might just start nursing in private no matter what to make life easier.

Other Stuff About Nursing

Take Advantage of the Nursing Specialists at your hospital!!! Seriously, these women know all about nursing, will show you what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better, how to pop the baby off without hurting yourself, how to know they are latched on properly, etc. They are God’s gift to nursing mothers. Use their knowledge!!

Hormones

Finally, you get done being pregnant and think, “This is it- no more crazy hormones.” And then your boobs are all, “Oh yeah? I don’t think so. Take this, lady!”

And then they punch you right in your pituitary gland (which has to do with breast milk production, and I’ve heard has to do with hormones).

When you nurse, hormones are released that help you bond with your baby.The first month, they completely knock you out. I mean, head lolling to the side, snoring while nursing, OUT.

So make sure you don’t nurse somewhere that you might drop the baby. I had to have Tom wake up and sit beside me at night in the hospital when I would nurse to make sure Josey didn’t fall off the bed.

Another effect is that it makes you HUNGRY. I am always hungry. I had heard about so many women who got to be skinnier than before they were pregnant by nursing alone, but I am not one of them.

I lost a lot of weight at first, but I still had weight to lose. Then the hunger kicked in, and I could eat around the clock. I don’t think I will be able to get down to a weight I really like until I am done nursing.

Oh, and another effect that has occurred for me is hot flashes. This seems to make guys really uncomfortable to hear for some reason, but I always think, “is that grosser than me just sweating randomly for no reason?” I guess it is.

Anyway, the hormones will sometimes make me SO incredibly hot. It’s almost a heat that makes you angry because you just cannot get comfortable.

I feel like the sun is radiating from inside of my body. That’s the best I can describe it. It comes out of no where and goes away just as randomly.

You might get lucky and skip the melt-your-face-off heat that I get to enjoy.

You Can Do It…Because You’ve Got No Choice.

One hard thing about nursing is that it is ALL on you. You can pump, so someone else can give a bottle every now and then, but generally, you are the one getting up in the middle of the night or going to find a quiet place to nurse during vacation or a party.

So, I recommend you get a smart phone, if you don’t have one. It’s nice to be able to scroll through facebook, send a text or email, or check twitter when you’re feeling isolated.

I also recommend you nap if you are a stay at home mom. I’m not very good about following that advice, but every now and then, I lay down while she naps, and it makes a big difference. Since you’re the only one able to get up at night, you need to get sleep when you can.

Don’t Be A Milk Snob

It’s true that breastmilk is naturally made for babies and is therefore the best option if you can do it.

BUT it’s also worth noting that even if you want to nurse, stick it out, and are doing all you can (eating enough, staying healthy, etc.), sometimes nursing just isn’t an option.

Some women don’t produce enough milk, dry up, or produce more of the foremilk than the hindmilk, which is the thicker, fatty milk that helps your baby grow. It just happens.

Other women are just prone to mastitis or have breasts that make nursing next to impossible. Pumping might work, but if not, your pediatrician can recommend a formula.

And honestly, you never know why a person isn’t nursing, so don’t make them feel judged. Nursing can be HARD.

There are times that it’s sweet and calm and beautiful, but there are often times it’s not. Whether a person can’t or just doesn’t want to, it’s important to respect their choices.

And because gosh darn it, being a mom requires a lot of you, and whether or not you nurse is no yardstick by which to measure someone’s love of their baby.

So I’m done with my soapbox now, but I needed to say that.

And that’s where I am right now.

I’ll come back and update more as I progress through the rest of her first year of life. I hope this is helpful to you and doesn’t just scare you away from nursing.

It can be tough. But it’s also very worth it. If you aren’t prepared for reality, it makes it harder. I don’t regret sticking it out, and Josey is a great nurser (most of the time), for which I can take very little (if any) credit.

If you have already been there/done that with nursing, I am sure you have something to share that would be of value to all of us, so please feel free to comment below. Any tips/encouragement for moms would be great!

~Meghan

13 thoughts on “Let’s Get Real: Nursing”

  1. You should have called and talked to me. I have done this 3 times. AlI 3 times I had the experiences you described. Except my pain didnt end at 4 weeks. I think it took 4 months for me all 3 times. I have a suggestion for the clogged ducts. I had several of them. They can even happen in the 9th month. This is going to sound weird but if this happens to you again buy a head of cabbage. Take a whole cabbage leaf and put it in your bra against the breast and especially the nipple area. Leave it there between nursing. It works like a charm. It helps to dislodge whatever is clogging them. Be careful though because along with that the breast milk will drain out. The cabbage leaves will pull the milk out of the breast so make sure you dry yourself off regularly. You can use cabbage leaves to dry yourself up when you are done also. It will completely drain your breastmilk without having the baby stimulating them to make more. Drying up your milk has the same set of challenges as the beginning because the breasts get engorged again and you are trying not to let the baby feed. If you use the cabbage leaves at night while you are sleeping don’t forget to sleep on a towel. You will wake up covered in milk. By the way the cabbage leaves help with the engorgement that happens about 48- 72 hours after delivery in case you have more babies. I hope that helps.

    1. I read something about using cabbage online but didn’t take it seriously. I can’t believe that works! THANK YOU for sharing that advice! So good!!

  2. Great post Meghan! You’re right nursing is something special, an adventure of its own and has so many ups and downs!

    My lactation consultant told me that the first 5 weeks are the hardest and so it was, but after that it got so much better. My advice would be to relax and don’t do too much the first 5-6 weeks, that could lead to exhaustion and well that’s how I ended up with mastitis. If you’re having flu like symptoms, that’s mastitis and the best thing you can do is just nurse and nurse (even though relatives who know nothing about BF will doubt you at every step).
    I also recommend the book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by La Leche League, it has so much useful information, I turned to it almost everyday at the beginning.
    Also, I made a mistake of not buying a good nursing bra before delivery. It’s a good idea to purchase 2-3 nice nursing bras (I love Bravado bras, a bit expensive but so worth it, BuyBuyBaby sells them) 2-3 nighttime bras (Motherhood Maternity works).

    Good luck to all the mammas who choose to breastfeed and just hang on there! By the way watching women at La Leche League breastfeed so easily and openly really encouraged me on this enduring quest.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Camilla! My mom recommended that book to me too, but I never did get out to buy it after my c-section. The first few weeks, I only left the house if I had a doctor’s appt (or if the baby did), and by the time I was out and about, she and I were both getting the hang of it. I still think I would like to read that and could learn a lot from it.

      I only had one nursing bra before delivery because I heard my boobs would grow so much after my milk came in, and they did for sure!! I bought a few bras a couple weeks after my milk came in, and it was great having ones to rotate through.

  3. Since you are being so frank…..the only thing that gets easier the 2nd go round is knowing what to expect…..it still cracks it still bleeds and it is still just as painful but you do know it’s coming and I guess that makes it easier. But, if you can stick it out it is so much easier……no having to shake or warm up at bottle 3 to 6 times a night…..not having to run to the store because you are out…….ALWAYS having food on hand…..and in a sense it is cheaper if you are in it for the long haul. Now my biggest fear is getting her off….

    1. That is something I was really happy about, and then I got “visited” after all. Josey was born at the end of January…I got one in March, none in April or May, three (!!!) in June, and one in July (so far). Ridiculous. I was so disappointed!

  4. Thank you for writing this and being so honest! As an expectant mother who plans on breast feeding, it is nice to know what may be coming even if it does sound rather scary! I’d rather know now and prepare myself, then later on wonder why no one told me! I will have o check out that book too! Thanks 🙂

    1. No problem! I felt that way- “why didn’t anyone tell me about this??” about a lot of it. Or I had read/heard about these things to a degree but not practical ways to cope or anything. When you start to nurse, please feel free to contact me about any questions. I only know so much, but I have a TON of ladies in my life that have nursed their kids, so I feel like if I don’t know the answers or have advice, someone I know will.

  5. just because i had the most hellacious experience with breastfeeding x 2, I will share some notes below! i’m honestly not sure what force drove me to persevere with #1, b/c i’m sure God was going, “what are you doing to yourself?!? praying is NOT going to solve your problems, girl,” but i did for 10 months. for #2, as soon as we got the diagnosis that she had a sucking issue (drew her tongue back), and needed physical therapy to correct it, i decided to go to pumping.

    yes, its the most naturally beneficial food for infants with healing properties and immune system support….but my greatest reason for breastfeeding/pumping was simply this: IT IS FREE. I couldn’t get over that…i must be a cheapie at heart. =) any who….hopefully someone will find my experiences helpful!

    //

    I had john feed me while i was nursing in the hospital. All the nurses thought it was so cute, but i was seriously like, “what?” no shame!

    During those first few days of bleeding, cracking, etc I used these AMAZING gel “soothies” that were extra nice refrigerated. They are basically wound dressings hospitals use for burns. Several companies make them, I believe Ameda has good resusable ones…

    I had ridiculous over supply so my engorgement was unbearable to tears. I believe the reason why it occurs in the beginning is because your milk comes in all at once, and the demand has been especially high with bc of the particularly frequent/long periods on the breast. heres the hard part: your breasts respond to demand, so emptying your breasts to get comfortable is actually prolonging engorgement pain. The cabbage helped soothe pain, but did not drain as it did for Brenda and other women. cold compresses on 20 min, off 20 minutes were helpful. also hot compress or shower before feeding helped soften the breast before feeding (b/c of course babies don’t like engorged breasts!), and encourages a faster let down for a less frustrated baby…

    about mastitis, some women are just more susceptible to it than others. my doctor said that the bacteria could come from an outside source (like babies mouth on open wounds) or just be in the actual breast milk. when your milk gets backed up b/c of a clogged duct, that is when the bacteria can infect from within. any way…all that to say…just know the symptoms and be prepared. warm compress on 20, and off 20 will help with the plugged duct, as well as bruising massages. i wanted to die when i got it, but i had a steady supply of oxycodone, which made it bearable. shudder.

    hormones—you know i always attributed it to your body “returning” after birth. for example, the hormones constrict your uterus, hence the heavy cramps/contractions.

    also…don’t worry about the apetite! it will definitely decrease gradually! your body is just trying to supply enough calories for baby (breast milk) and you! totally normal! i felt like a starved, crazed animal sometimes. pregnancy hunger has nothing on breastfeeding hunger!

    1. Sue, thank you! What a great response!!

      I totally forgot to give some PRACTICAL advice for if you get engorgement or other issues. I did do hot compresses and showers as well. And after showers, the first few months, I found myself leaking a LOT. It was more than slightly annoying. I would also wake up in soaking wet tops the first few months.

      I don’t miss the leakiness!!

      Thanks for encouragement on the hunger. I am hungry all the time. I even gained some weight BACK after losing some post birth. So lame. I am ready to feel pretty again! I think it’s going to take a lot of work.

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