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While this is absolutely a food blog and not a baby and breastfeeding blog, I feel like I would be doing a huge disservice to women everywhere if I did not write this post.  I hope to use this platform to reach as many people as possible about this topic because I feel it is so important.  If you are a woman who is breastfeeding, has breastfed, are pregnant, or plan to breastfeed in the future, you need to hear this.  Our society paints a very pretty picture when it comes to breastfeeding.  And while it absolutely can be a beautiful and natural thing, it just really isn’t for so many women.  Breastfeeding is hard for so many new moms.  I happen to be one of those women.

Breastfeeding is hard, y’all. So hard.   And while I feel as though I heard it time and time again, I had no clue just how difficult it would be.

I am currently a little over ten weeks postpartum, and am happy to say that our breastfeeding journey is still going.  In fact, I feel like we are in a pretty good place.  At least as good of place as we can be for the two of us.  But rewind to the first four weeks postpartum and I would have told you that I thought breastfeeding might just kill me.

Breastfeeding is hard, especially as a new mother. Society makes breastfeeding out to be beautiful and natural, but that is not always the case!Since our sweet babe was born via c-section and was being checked over by the NICU team due to the meconium exposure, I was not able to breastfeed him until several hours after he was born.  With the help of our first postpartum nurse, I was able to get him to latch, and it looked like things were going pretty well.  I knew it would not be a walk in the park, but I was positive and happy about the direction we were going in at the beginning.

Unfortunately, that did not last long.  When you are a new mom, the hospital staff encourages you to nurse your baby at least every two to three hours.  This often means waking the baby up and trying your damnedest to get them to stay awake long enough to eat. The expectation of nursing every two or so hours stays in place until the baby has reached their birth weight again.  Our days and nights in the hospital looked something like this: nurse baby for approximately 30 to 40 minutes (because baby keeps falling asleep), baby sleeps, attempt to eat or sleep for a few minutes yourself, wake up an hour and a half later and do it all over again.  It is exhausting.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The  difficulty of breastfeeding is not simply because of the lack of sleep.  People who do not breastfeed experience the same thing.  The parts that really suck (at least for me) are the pain and the feeling of having a baby on your boob all. the. time.  Seriously, all the time.  Your baby is solely dependent on you for food.  And while this can create a wonderful bond, it can be really difficult to adjust to.

By the second day in the hospital, I had started experiencing pain with nursing.  I worked with the lactation consultants at the hospital, and they said his latch looked good and we were doing well.  Everyone (and I mean, everyone) will tell you that pain is normal at first.  But by our last day in the hospital, my nipples were already cracked and it turns out that was just the start of it all.  My milk also came in that day.  Can we just talk about how painful engorgement can be?  I felt like my boobs were rock hard for days.  So I had cracked nipples, engorged boobs, and a baby on the breast nearly constantly.  Oh, and throw in crazy hormonal changes and the “baby blues” and you have a recipe for many tearful experiences.

By the end of our first week at home, I absolutely dreaded every single time I had to nurse.  I distinctly remember thinking and saying, “he cannot be hungry again already!  I JUST fed him!”  But alas I would resort to the 30 minutes or so of pain, and I am quite certain I cried with every single latch.  I went to a breastfeeding support group the following week to meet with another lactation consultant and was yet again told, “pain is normal at first, but usually by the end of the second week it will start getting better.”

For some weird reason, that “two-week” mark seems to be a thing.  I heard that from several lactation consultants, and read it in mommy group after mommy group on Facebook.  I don’t know why that has become a thing, but I can tell you it is simply not true for everyone.  Some lucky women have very little pain at all (though I suspect this is not the norm), and after speaking with my friends, many had pain that went far beyond the two-week mark.

So I stuck it out.  And instead of the pain getting better, it kept getting worse.  Three weeks in and I was convinced it would never get better.  And while I thought about switching to exclusively pumping several times, I was stubborn and did not want to give up.  Plus, if you exclusively pump, you know what an annoying process that can be!  I kept hearing it would get better, so I didn’t want to give up if that next week would be “the week” when it would be better.

I couldn’t just sit around and wait it out, though.  I think from my time in the hospital until four weeks postpartum, I probably met with at least six different lactation consultants.  They all said his latch was good and that he did not have a lip or tongue tie.  I knew something was not right, though, so I researched and took him to a well-known pediatric dentist to ensure he did not, in fact, have any ties.  After the evaluation, they stated he had extremely slight tongues that they could laser, but that they did not suspect it would help much, if at all.

Other strategies I tried to eliminate the pain included trying different nursing positions, pumping exclusively on one side for 48 hours to try to heal my nipples, giving a bottle every now and then to give myself a break, using all purpose  nipple ointment and about every nipple cream you can think of, ice, being evaluated for a possible case of thrush (which I was told by several lactation consultants, my midwife, and a dermatologist I did not have), and visiting a pediatric chiropractor.  And yet the pain persisted.

At nearly four weeks postpartum, the pain was absolutely unbearable.  It was toe-curling pain that only seemed to be getting worse.  It felt like someone was cutting my nipples with glass.  I cried with every nursing session, dreaded each time he was hungry, and was feeling depressed.  Hormonal changes certainly contribute greatly to the baby blues, but I think my experience was largely influenced by all of the challenges we faced with breastfeeding.  I knew something had to change, or I was going to have to switch to pumping.  I could not mentally or physically handle it much longer.

My last resort was trying a nipple shield.  Shields are generally used for babies who are not able to latch, but the lactation consultant I met with during the fourth week thought it was worth a try for combating the pain.  I did not want to use one because I had heard the baby might become dependent on it, it can cause milk supply to decrease, and it can be a pain to always have to have one with you everywhere you go.  But at that point I was desperate and figured it was worth a shot.

It was not a game changer at first, but it significantly decreased the pain.  And we have been using the shield ever since!  The nipple shield can be an inconvenience since I constantly have to have one with me everywhere we go.  It also makes it difficult to even think about nursing in public.  I prefer to nurse with a cover, and the idea of trying to put the nipple shield on and get him to latch without being able to see what I am doing seems too daunting to attempt at this point.  Which leads me to yet another reason why breastfeeding can be so difficult.

Not only can it feel like my baby is attached to my boobs 24/7, but I constantly have to think about when I will need to breastfeed next.  It is difficult to go anywhere for longer than about three hours without having some anxiety about how I can make it all work.  Can I bring a bottle with or leave one at home if baby isn’t with me?  Yes.  But then I still have to pump or I’ll be engorged and risk getting clogged ducts (which I have experienced several times already) and possibly mastitis.  Leaving the house for longer than a three-hour period means that I will have to find somewhere that I can either nurse or pump.  And if you know anything about our society, that is absolutely not easy to do.

I realize this post sort of makes breastfeeding seem super crappy.  And while it has been my most challenging experience as a mom so far, I don’t mean to write this to discourage anyone from pursuing their own breastfeeding journey.  I mean heck, after all of the difficulty, we are still making it work!  Breastfeeding absolutely can be amazing, and I would not trade the bond that I have developed with my baby because of breastfeeding for anything.  I have to say, there is nothing quite like being able to calm your baby nearly instantly no matter what the situation.  Just give him the boob and he is happy!

But you have to know that if you are like the majority of women,  your breastfeeding journey probably won’t be a walk in the park.  You may need to work with several lactation consultants.  You may need to get ties evaluated and fixed.  You may need to use a shield, pump from time to time, or pump exclusively.  You may need to supplement with formula, or not breastfeed at all.  Whatever you need to do, make sure it is what is best for both your baby and you.  If you try everything to make breastfeeding work and it just won’t, be okay with that.  If you need help from those around you or from something like a nipple shield, use it.  And don’t be ashamed about it.  You can’t have a happy and healthy baby without a happy and healthy mommy.  I am so grateful that we finally have both now… and the nipple shield!  I never thought I would say it, but I am so grateful for nipple shields.  I sometimes feel like using one makes breastfeeding less “natural,” but we wouldn’t have made it this far without it!

P.S. To anyone I may have silently judged in the past for stopping breastfeeding after starting, I apologize.  I did not get why you couldn’t or wouldn’t just push through.  But I was wrong.  Trust me, I totally 100% get it now.

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