What Is Best Is Not Always Easy

Two and a half years ago: I am sitting in a lactation consultant's office at my local hospital with my week-old baby. I proceed to latch my baby on under the consultant's watchful gaze. I bite my lip and try not to scream, my shoulders hunching forward impulsively from the pain.

The consultant observes and smiles kindly and points out a few tips. Then, she says, "You should come to the breastfeeding class and show other new moms how to nurse. Your baby is a model nurser. Everything seems just right."

I have already seen two other lactation consultants and a nurse. They all say the same thing, "Try this. Try that. She looks great. But - remember - breastfeeding shouldn't hurt."

The pointers are all old news to me: Make sure her mouth is open wide. Bring the baby to you, not the other way around. Vary positions. Blah-blah-blah. I have read countless breastfeeding books, looked at diagrams, even interviewed someone from La Leche League. I know it all. Yet it STILL hurts. I still dread each feeding. And I feel like I am doing something wrong.

Fortunately, I have a supportive husband and a dogged determination to make it work despite the obstacles. With a bit of time (approximately 2-3 weeks) and a lot of Lansinoh cream, I make it through [I go on to nurse my daughter until she is almost two...pain-free]. 

Fast-forward to today: My baby is a week old. The initial latch is agonizing and I always pray under my breath for the first ten seconds or so. 

When I go into the birth center for my first postpartum check, the nurse says, "You know how they say breastfeeding shouldn't hurt? That's not exactly true." I want to hug her. That is the kind of thing that a new mom needs to hear.  

I know I'll keep breastfeeding (the benefits far outweigh this temporary discomfort).

I know eventually this pain will go away.

I've already done this once before...and it is so worth it. 

nursing-baby-copy

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Stay tuned for an upcoming series about breastfeeding that will include tips, product reviews, personal musings, and plenty of giveaways.

In the meantime, you may want to check out some of my past posts on the topic:

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36 comments on “What Is Best Is Not Always Easy”

  1. Thank you for speaking this out. I had the very same experience that you have had. Oh with my first I would hold my breath and tears would come to my eyes from the pain. But the lactation consultants and everyone would say what a great latch and technique I had. and yet the pain persisted. But after a while it did go away. And like you I nursed my kids well past their 2 year birthday.
    I so wish more women would talk about this. I think that it would help them so much to stick with it.
    Now mind you my girls are 11 and 9 and it had been some time since I was a nursing mom. But this is still so near and dear to my heart that I am thankful that you are sharing it here on your blog.

  2. OYE! I am just reading this now! Breastfeeding both of my children was NOT easy in the beginning. The first two weeks were horribly painful. I get so mad when people say, 'if you are doing it right, it shouldn't hurt'! I have a few, just a few, friends who said it never hurt them. With my #2, it was more painful than #1. My poor little dude was spitting up blood after he would nurse...my blood, not his! I too went to the lactation consultant, had my doula come observe it. "He has a perfect latch, try this, try that...blah, blah, blah". I just had to suck it up, deal with the pain, lather on LOTS of Lansinoh and sure enough, after about two weeks it got better. I am a bit of a realist and I am sure to tell my friends who are about to be new moms that if it hurts, it is okay...and it is normal to hurt. I mean really...most women don't have someone sucking on their nipples throughout the entire day for the first 20ish years of their life, why should this be comfortable all of a sudden!? :-) (pardon the bluntness!) Overall, after the initial pain and hardship of it, it gets easier and more enjoyable and it is the best thing we can do for our little ones!

  3. So, yesterday, the lactation consultant was here to check my breastfeeding again. She watched as he latched and my face scrunched in pain and she said the words... 'you know, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt.'

    I processed through the previous two days of feedings and wondered if she somehow thinks that people normally place their nipples in a pulsating vice multiple times per day. The way I see it, that's the only way I wouldn't feel bruised and tender right now! This little guy has a powerful jaw and he's enthusiastic about eating.

    My brain flew to this post and I asked if she saw a problem with his latch. No problem. I calmly said, 'it's fine then,' and put a reassuring smile on my face.

    THANK YOU STEPHANIE!!!

  4. Awesome!! Another breastfeeding, midwife birthing mom. :-D

    I'm still working on my birth story from my last birth. He was my 4th baby, but second home birth and I give birth a bit oddly. I only know that I'm in labor for real by doing a self exam, and I act just about completely normal until I'm past the 9-9 1/2 cm mark. Then it's 30 minutes of not being so happy (and in this case, giving birth to an 11 lb infant) and then we're back to normal. I was actually chatting on AIM with Nicole from ApronStringsAflutter while I was in labor last go through.

    If there's anything I can do to help nursing wise, I'm around. I've been breastfeeding almost non-stop since January of 2005.

    Have a great day!

  5. I got so into what I was writing,I forgot to mention my pain.(seeing that's what your post was about...lol:))Yes it was painful,and that 2 weeks I used a crap-load of Lansinoh cream.(two tubes).If only he would ha gotten enough milk,I wouldn't have cared.I would have bought that stuff by the crate if I had to.........

  6. When Aaron&I decide to have another baby,I'm determined to breastfeed the whole first year.I had a pretty traumatizing time with Isaac.For the first two weeks of his life,he wasn't getting enough milk.I had to feed every 30 min+pumping&still it wasn't enough.He lost 1 1/2 pounds(that's a lot for a newborn),and I had to resort to formula.I was a nervous wreck the first two weeks.Next time though,I'm determined to make it work.I just wanted to share my first experience:)I'm so proud of you for making it work!!Good job:)

  7. Amen to that. I don't think I've yet met a woman who said that breastfeeding didn't hurt, at least in the beginning. I've nursed all 3 of mine, with excruciating pain in the beginning weeks. But oh was it worth it.

    I can certainly understand why many women give it up, though. Especially if they don't have really good support from their loved ones and medical professionals.

    Congratulations to you and your family. What a miracle a new life is!

  8. I'm glad you posted this. I had similar woes which I blogged about here a while ago: http://summersnook.com/2007/08/breast-is-best/

    I do think there are a few women who never seem to experience pain with it but that doesn't mean it's the norm and lactation consultants should not be advertising it as such, thus ladening the rest of us women with guilt who don't have wonder boobs.

  9. Love your post, it's too true! Although, our son had problems latching for weeks. I eventually had to use breast shields, as the pain was unbearable and wasn't going away. I love the shields and they let both of us enjoy breast feeding.

    You sound great - congratulations on your beautiful new baby!

  10. AMEN! Soon after Luke was born and we heard about MM I read your article about breastfeeding. You described grabbing the chair and trying not to scream and I was so relieved that SOMEONE understood the pain I was in. Not tenderness, sheer pain. You are so in my prayers! (I still think breastfeeding in the beginning was worse than a drug free labor).

  11. It is SO worth it!! Good for you for sticking with it. Like you, one of the best things to happen to me was for Levi's doctor to tell me that the people who say nursing shouldn't hurt don't know what they're talking about. I dreaded each feeding for 3 months, granted I had a very stubborn thrush infection. Now, I'm so grateful that I stuck with it. It is more than worth it!

  12. I can completely relate. My first one was an awesome nurser, we never had any problems - except the pain for those first few weeks. I wasn't quite ready for that!

    I'm already anticipating it this time... I just hope Baby Boy nurses as good as Sugar did! We went for 15 months and I was glad I had been able to do it.

  13. I posted something about this recently. Called it "Breastfeeding is not for wimps." My son (number 2) is 2 1/2 months old and I still have intermittent pain in my left nipple. I think it is incipient thrush, and a lazy latch (on both parts), but still. Sometimes it hurts so very much.

  14. I remember that pain. But it lasted so short a time. By two weeks or so I couldn't even remember the hurt. And those quiet times with my baby were so very, very worth every ounce of the ouch. I know you'll hang in there!

  15. I was the same way with my daughter - it hurt!! It made me feel like such a failure when people told me it shouldn't hurt. I feel so much better prepared for this new baby this fall. Hopefully he/she will be as good of a nurser as their big sister was!

  16. Oh girl, I know the pain you are talking about! I know you know, that the pain will get better, but in the moment it is not fun! Just think, the pain you went through delivering, doesn't even touch the pain during breastfeeding! I always seem to measure pain, to the pain I felt during labor, trying to deliver my 10lb son! Just keep telling yourself that, "It will get better, it will get better"!!

  17. The secret I learned to minimizing that pain in the beginning was making sure they really got the whole areola in thier mouth...seriously the whole thing (my babies were tiny, and it seemed an impossible feat, but was possible!). If they didn't, gently break the suction with your finger, and start again...once I did that..no more cracking and pain!

    Unfortunately my last 2 babies did not thrive on breastfeeding. My milk supply just dwindled to insuffucient with them. I was sad but had to do what was best and give them formula by 4 and 6 months for them to thrive! h

  18. THANK YOU for saying this, mama. I had intense nipple pain for the first three weeks or so with my oldest. Every LC told me the same - "shouldn't hurt if the latch is right." But when they watched her latch, it was perfect. Eventually it did go away (and yes, hail Lansinoh!). With my second, I had the pain again, but it didn't last nearly as long. Maybe a week, I think?

    Thank you for saying this out loud. I think it's one of the most discouraging parts of breastfeeding for so many in those first few weeks.

  19. Been there, too. With my second child, my delivery went so smoothly I didn't even need to take any pain pills or Advil after. That was until the 3rd day of breastfeeding when one nipple became inflamed. Silly to have to take some Advil to calm that down, but those first few can be rough, no matter how much of a pro you are! I had a nurse that was also very encouraging and spoke with honesty and wisdom. So important to stick with it through the beginning because it is so so worthwhile in the end.

  20. Stephanie - I feel your pain -literally:) I nursed three girls and understand the trials. And yes there was pain each time:( but knowing I was doing the right thing allowed me to persevere. Like you mentioned, all the literature makes it seem so easy. I assumed I had breasts and the baby a mouth so everything you just fall into place, but it took weeks. I was not sad to wean me girls (each weaned between 6-9 months old on their own)but I look forward to the chance to do it all again after the birth of our next child - another girl!!! :)

  21. AMEN!!! Whoever said that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt OBVIOUSLY never breastfed! :-) It's the best experience in the world! And well worth getting through the pain. I am excited for you, Steph!

  22. FWIW, I really like Motherlove nipple cream. You can get it at Whole Foods. My LC said some people have mild wool allergies and Lansinoh makes it worse. But you already know what you're doing :)

  23. I was lucky not to have pain with breastfeeding and both kids latched on pretty naturally, although Jasper was on an IV for his first week so he couldn't nurse. When he finally got the chance, he took to it immediately.

    You are so intrepid to suffer through the pain for your daughters' best interest. I am sure they'll appreciate it, someday! Probably not until they're mommies...

  24. Bravo! to you for saying this. I too had agonizing pain with latch-on both with my first baby (horrific pain for 1-1/2 months +) and now with my third. Like you, I was told by the LC that my baby had a perfect latch & I was doing everything right. It just took time. This time, though, I was determined to not have to endure it for weeks on end, and tried a breast shield - best 8 bucks I ever spent!!! We only used it for about a week - it allowed me to heal, made nursing 90% pain free, and by the time we switched back to nursing without it, things were much, much better. I would highly recommend it!

  25. Oh man, I'm right there with you. For each of my three babies, the first week or two was absolutely agonizing. Especially since they're nursing so much and so frequently to get that milk to come in.

    The only problem I *actually* had with my latch was with my first, and it lead to SERIOUSLY cracked and bleeding nipples, and my daughter actually drinking blood along with my milk (I could tell because of the stained spit-up). As soon as I had someone correct my positioning, things healed up quickly. But I barely made it through those first couple weeks, it was SO painful.

    But even now that I know what I'm doing about as thoroughly as you seem to, it still doesn't matter - that first week or two is full of very very very tender nipples. As if us moms don't have enough pain to deal with when welcoming a new baby into the world. But you're right - it *is* so worth it. ;)

  26. We just got back from our family vacation, and I caught up on your news. Congratulations! She is beautiful and her birth/your birthing story is just wonderful.

  27. I didn't love breastfeeding but I was sad when my daughter gave it up at only 6 months.

    I was frustrated by nurses who deemed it something that would come naturally because it felt very difficult to me. But I wanted to do it for her.

    And good luck to your continued success!

  28. I hear ya! When my son was first born he had to be on a ventilator in the NICU for 10 days. Let me tell you. Pumping vs. breastfeeding those first few weeks hurts even more! I remember one time when I finished I looked down and had pink milk because I was bleeding. By the time my son was ready to latch on himself I was so thankful to put that dry, harsh pump aside for a long, long time.

    I ended up nursing him for 13 months and haven't regretted a single moment. Good luck! I know you can do it!

  29. I am nursing my one week old as a write this, LOL. I think it has been a lot more painful this time than with my first. But I do agree that the pain will go away with time and the benefits are worth it.

  30. Nursing is going well for us! I nurse Jacob until he was 18 months, now he is a very healthy 2 1/2 year old. Owen will be a month on Monday and doing very well. It is totally worth it! Great post!

  31. It hurt for 3 solid weeks with my first, but only about a week for my second, so maybe there is hope for a shorter adjustment period for you, too! I know it is cliche, and I know you already know, but treasure these first few months, because they go by SO FAST. (My "baby" is now 2 1/2 and just conquered potty training in about 10 days.)

  32. I know the pain will go away soon for you. It is just a struggle to go through. Hang in there. I think it is funny they say it shouldn't hurt. Maybe the latching on part shouldn't but the nursing does hurt until your body gets used to it again.

  33. Thank you so much for posting this! There is so much negativity going around about breastfeeding. I'm happy you took the time to expose it for what it really is. In this post, and the others. My daughter is 13 months and her feedings are becoming less often, but I'm still enjoying every second of it!

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