I don't know what I expected when it came to breastfeeding, but one thing is for sure, I didn't expect to struggle in the way that I did. While in many ways I'm type A and love to prepare and plan – I also love to just show up to life experiences and see what my first hand experience brings me. When it came to breastfeeding, I ultimately decided to just show up to the experience as a first time mom and roll with the punches. I knew there were SO many unexpected things that could happen, that I didn't want to learn about them all and stress myself out over the things that could go wrong. Looking back, I don't know that there is a “right” or “wrong” way. Would it have helped to read more posts like this and talk to more people before hand? Possibly. Did I end up okay all the same? Yes.
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Before we jump into the play by play, choices, and tears of my breastfeeding experience as a first time new mom, I want to say it starts off very rough, but has a happy ending. Breastfeeding was the most challenging transition into motherhood for me. It's the reason why the first month was such a blur for me (not lack of sleep) and why I have so few videos or photos from that time. Which leaves me feeling a little sad to this day whenever I see others sharing their newborn photos. I really feel like that first month wouldn't have felt as rough if it wasn't for breastfeeding… which inevitably made me want to quit. Again, this story has a happy ending, but I wanted to preface the post with that.
Prefer to watch instead of read? Check out this video:
What My Breastfeeding Experience Was Really Like As A First Time Mom: Milk Supply, Pumps, Consultants, and Tears
At the hospital
The day they put my daughter in my arms, I really had no idea what I was doing or what to expect. I remember even asking them, do I breastfeed her now? I quickly wished I had at least watched one YouTube video or had one conversation with someone. In labor and delivery they kind of shoved the baby onto my nipple for those early latches. It was all chaotic with so many people around, and it happened so fast. My daughter latched on the left side with ease and I felt such relief. “We're good! We got this!” I thought.
Only that bubble quickly burst when it came time to switch to the right boob. She struggled to latch and was crying as she moved her little head back and forth. Her fussing probably only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like a soul crushing eternity. One of the nurses picked her up and switched her to a rugby/football hold to see if she'd latch that way. In doing that, she sort of shoved baby girl onto my nipple and it didn't feel right at all. Yes, she was sucking, but it hurt…like a lot. Sure enough, part of my nipple had been pretty badly bruised.
Latching the first time on my own
Later that night, when it was time to feed her for the second time, this time totally on my own, I didn't feel confident at all. After all, they had just shoved the baby onto my boob and I had no clue where to hold her or my boob. I called for the lactation nurse on staff to come to our room and show me what to do. She verbally walked me through latching which was a huge help and I felt like I got it. It definitely pinched, but she said that was to be expected this early on since it was such a new experience for the nipples and that my latch looked good.
My right nipple had already been bruised from the latch when I was still in labor and delivery and I kind of just figured, “this is that new breastfeeding soreness people talk about.” I fed our daughter throughout the night, but the next morning when I finally got a look at my boobs, I realized my nipples were far more bruised than I had realized, and they were actually cracking.
“It's totally normal…” – only it's not.
I met with two more lactation nurses in the hospital. Truthfully, these two were pretty terrible. Everyone kept telling me my latch looked good and that the cracking and soreness was to be expected. Things did not feel right to me at all though. I was convinced my daughter had a tongue tie and the nurses kept assuring me she didn't. Basically I started feeling like a hopeless crazy person. I knew something was off, but really if your baby is latching in the hospital the lactation nurses don't seem to care about much else. I remember the nurses saying to me, “oh she's latching, you're good! Oh you can get her to latch in two different positions?! You're doing GREAT!” You're sore? No biggie, that's normal.”
But it did not feel normal to me. Finally our last day in the hospital, in the late afternoon – after essentially cluster feeding for nearly 48 hours straight – our pediatrician came by and without me bringing up my concern for the tongue tie, the first words out of her mouth were, “she's great. She's really great – but she has a slight tongue tie and I want you to meet with my in-house lactation consultant tomorrow.” And I took the deepest sigh of relief.
We had specifically chosen this pediatric practice because of their in-house breastfeeding center. I shouted, “I knew it!” and finally let my shoulders relax. She said she was surprised I knew what it was, and I explained that I have a very slight tongue tie and while it never caused me any “real” issues like an obvious speech impediment, I was also only breastfed for like a day and have wondered in my own journey as a first time mom, if that's why my mom didn't continue with breastfeeding.
Quick side note since I just mentioned it: cluster feeding. It's when the baby basically eats non-stop. This is totally normal and happens in the first few days of life to establish the milk supply. I had no idea what it was or what was happening though. I just knew that when baby cried, I fed her. She would feed for an hour, sometimes even a longer, basically every couple of hours. I basically spent 11-14 hours a day with a baby latched to my boob during this time.
This was really tough since most people will tell you “baby will get what she needs, let her nurse until she unlatches. If she cries and is dry, feed her.” Only my daughter would literally never unlatch. She would be totally asleep and still latched, if I went to unlatch she'd open her eyes suckle harder. I remember she unlatched for the first time on her own after two weeks and I was SO relieved. Babies will also cluster feed after the first few days of life during growth spurts, fighting off an illness, teething, etc.
One of the rare photos I have from the early days. Somehow I got her to my chest for the nap rather than on my boob.
I lived in that robe and the hospital mesh underwear (I'd wash them) for the first 6 weeks.
The lactation consultant
The next day we went to the lactation consultant. She agreed with the pediatrician, baby girl definitely had a tongue tie. We did a weighted feeding during our session and discovered that the tongue tie was surprisingly not preventing baby girl from getting what she needed. She easily got 4 ounces during our 40 min feed (in the first month it's normal for babies to get 1-3 oz per feeding). At this point, I was going on 72+ hours of cluster feeding and the lactation consultant told me to stop the feedings after 40 minutes. She suggested I do 20 minutes on each side and then unlatch baby girl. This was inline with what a nurse at the hospital said, which was that anything beyond 40 minutes is no longer nutritional for the baby – it becomes “non-nutritive sucking.”
The lactation consultant had us make an appointment for the following week. She told me to limit her feedings to 40 minutes and that we'd wait and see how we were all doing next week. Her assessment of the tongue tie was that it was thin and stretchy and didn't impede her from gaining weight so she wanted to hold off on recommending anything to see if it was actually necessary.
Still cluster feeding though…
That was on a Friday. Monday rolled around and at this point, I'm going on like 6 days of cluster feeding. Yes, I was shortening the feeds to 40 minutes, but they were happening every 40 minutes to an hour, except at night thankfully where I was magically getting 4-5 hour stretches of sleep (shout out toe the SNOO!) We went to our pediatrician that morning and it was probably the most difficult day postpartum I ever had. The hormones and adrenaline had reached their peak and were officially crashing.
My worst postpartum day
I woke up that morning and was crying like crazy. Our appointment was for noon – lunchtime. Now I have a history of fainting and my blood pressure is always on the lower end. We get to the pediatrician's office and it was a total zoo with literally no where to sit. We also lived in a three story townhouse at the time, with our bedroom being on the top floor, which is basically the opposite of helpful when you're recovering postpartum. I had stitches from a 2nd degree tear and things just weren't feeling right down there.
In fact, I woke up that morning and had called my midwife to come in because I thought I had tore my stitches. So here we are at the pediatricians office and I'm emotional, when I get hit with a hot flash and can no longer stand. Someone cleared some space so I could sit on this bench, which was the most uncomfortable bench I've ever sat on, especially with stitches. It was actually impossible to sit on it for more than a minute because of the pain it was creating “down there.”
I got up, stood in a dark corner behind my husband and just cried as he shielded me from the outside world. There were kids everywhere, screaming and crying. The walls were closing in on me. I was sweating and all my senses felt like they were being flooded. That's when I started to feel dizzy. Right as I thought I was about to faint they moved us into a room. By the time I sat down in the chair I could no longer see. My vision has gone splotchy then black. They got me water, I had thankfully packed a protein bar in my diaper bag before I had left, which my husband gave me. In a few minutes I no longer felt like I was going to faint and my vision was returning.
The actual appointment with the pediatrician that day
The pediatrician came in and asked how I was doing. I explained I'm exhausted because she never stops eating. The pediatrician said baby girl was gaining 2 oz a day, which was great, but that the average baby gains 1 oz a day at this age. Since our daughter surpassed her birth weight in a week the doctor suggested I actually try to stick to feeding every 3 hours if possible and clearly I needed the break. I can't even tell you how amazing that felt to hear. I've told a lot of people this story, and they quickly recommended I get a new pediatrician (most people recommend against scheduled feedings for a newborn), but that was the moment I knew we had chosen the right pediatrician for us.
It was like getting permission to do what I deeply wanted to do, but felt like I would be a “bad mom” if I did (which is probably an entirely different post). Cutting back the feedings to 40 minutes had helped, but I was still feeding her every 40 minutes or so, that it only helped so much. Being able to actually go two and a half and sometimes three hours between feedings that second week was a massive relief.
It hadn't made sense to me that we were still cluster feeding after a solid week, but everything you typically read and hear says “on demand breastfeeding is best” and mom guilt is real. However, my mental and emotional state were deteriorating as a result of it and my nipples weren't really getting a chance to heal. I was so grateful for that permission to do what I deeply wanted to do, and knew it was still healthy and safe for my baby.
Side note on transitioning to feeding every 2.5-3 hours from every 40 minutes:
Baby girl handled the transition from eating every 40 minutes to waiting until 2.5-3 hours amazingly! It also allowed me to take a step back and let my husband build his relationship with her. Looking back, baby girl was simply waking up when connecting a sleep cycle, not knowing what to do, I just fed her, where inevitably led to constant dream feeds. Meaning I never got a break for “nap time,” because she was sleep eating on my boob every other sleep cycle. It was a little rough finding a rhythm as she learned to connect those naps, but my husband got to step in and soothe her until it was time to feed again and I got a break. It was verryyyyy needed.
That “milk drunk” post feed face is what carried me through my lowest moments
Back to the lactation consultant: the tongue tie.
Later that week we had our second appointment with our lactation consultant. We did another weighted feeding and baby girl had only eaten an hour before so I wasn't sure how much she'd actually be interested in eating. Sure enough, she still got over 3 oz even though she had just eaten. No wonder she was gaining weight so fast!
Now that I was on a “normal” feeding schedule (I say normal because I was feeding about 10 times a day at that point, versus the 14 I was doing before the pediatricians advice), I felt like I could do this whole breastfeeding thing. We decided that the decision to go forward with the tongue tie procedure or not would ultimately be my decision since baby girl was eating and gaining great, our latches were good, and while I was still in pain, it felt manageable with the new schedule.
The milk bleb… WTF?!
The next morning I woke up and saw a white dot on my nipple. I had gotten a milk bleb. My daughter wasn't even two weeks old and I had a milk bleb. A milk bleb is when a little skin grows over the milk duct opening, resulting in milk backing up behind it and it looks like a tiny white dot.
The next sequence of events is a little hazy from all the stress and tears. In the days that followed, I tried to get the bleb off/open. I tried picking at it with my fingernail like articles and the lactation consultant suggested. I tried massage and warm water. Salt water nipple soaks. Switching babies position while feeding so her jaw was in line with it to hopefully bust it open.
The bleb wasn't going away and now I felt a pain in my boob which I was convinced was a blocked duct that resulted from the milk bleb. I have no idea if this is true or not, it really could've just been that I was accidentally stimulating more milk production with the heat and massages mixed with delirious hysteria. So I made two decisions at that time: to get her tongue tie clipped and make my husband suck out the milk bleb. Yes, you read that right.
My husband sucking my boob
At two weeks into having a baby, I made my husband suck my milk filled teet to remove the bleb. We did it after she had fed in the evening so my boobs would have as little milk as possible in them. Poor guy was so unhappy. He went for just a solid suck; like if you sucked the air out of a balloon. Nothing happened. I told him he was being crazy and we'd never get it out like that.
I proceeded to demonstrate how to suckle on his nipple. With the sourest look on his face, he got down on his knees and suckled my teet. Within a few seconds he spit out blood. Apparently all the things I had been trying to do to get rid of the bleb led to some blood build up under the white head. From what I read, this is totally normal and it would've been okay if baby had been the one to burst it open.
With that, my duct was opened. As I'm writing this five months later, I still have the white dot on my nipple (though it's shrunk in size); it's open and milk comes in and out without any issue.
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The tongue tie procedure:
Like I said, after a few days of the milk bleb and convincing myself (real or imagined still TBD) that there was a deeper block in my duct as a result of it, I decided to get the tongue tie procedure. From what I read, milk blebs can be more common for babies who have tongue ties and it was my break point. By the time we went in for the procedure baby girl was over three weeks, and my discomfort wasn't subsiding.
Since hers was so slight, they didn't need a laser. The doctor simply snipped the tie with a scissor. I didn't watch. E held her hand through it though. Afterwards we were given the room to nurse her. They had told me there would be a little blood and that it'd look worse than it actually was since the blood would mix with the saliva and milk. Even with that warning, I wasn't prepared for just how much blood it would ultimately look like. She struggled to latch and as she cried and the milk soaked blood covered her face and clothes which led to my crying. It was truly the first time she wouldn't latch on either side and my heart broke for all the moms who have ever tried to feed their baby and just couldn't. Every thought imaginable flew threw my head,
“will she ever latch again?
Did I permanently scar her?
Is this the end of breastfeeding?
WTF did I do?
Am I the worst mom ever?“
After what was probably only a half hour – but felt like eternity – we both finally calmed down enough for her to latch and eat but it was a struggle like never before. Not only was she now fussing at the breast, but it still hurt like a MF'er.
The next 24 hours were the worst
I panicked. I beat myself up for selfishly choosing to do the procedure when it wasn't necessary. She would latch and pop off and cry and latch and pop off and cry. Thankfully I had a friend whose baby is a week older and her son had the same procedure and she said to be patient as little one was simply relearning how to eat with the new movement. By the end of the 24 hours things had significantly improved and in a few days things were the best they had ever been. She was latching normally and I was no longer in pain.
Our next hiccup…
It's been over five months of nursing her and I'm so happy I did the tongue tie procedure. Since after that first day I've had no pain. She's been nursing well. Well, overall she has, we went through a phase at 7 pm for a couple of weeks where she refused to latch. My husband gave her a bottle of breast milk while I panicked and cried and wondered what was wrong with me. I guess it's just something that happens sometimes. I continued to offer her my boob during that period and if she wouldn't take it, my husband give her the bottle while I pumped. Feeding her went from taking 10-15 minutes to taking 45 minutes – so bless all the mama's out there who pump in order to give their baby's breastmilk. It's a lot of effort and deserve more than just a round of applause and acknowledgement.
My breastfeeding goals
For me personally, I really wanted to breastfeed to build that connection to my daughter. At periods I thought I'd like to pump for a bottle a day to take the pressure off of my directly, but as I moved through this journey I realized pumping is a hassle; it's both uncomfortable and time consuming in my opinion. Despite our struggles, I'm grateful I stuck with it because today at five months, I feed my daughter four times a day and each feeding only takes about 15 minutes.
With that said, fed is best always. One thing I was always aware of through this journey and I even said to the lactation consultant,
“I don't want to ever develop a resentment towards breastfeeding or feeding my baby.”
If you made it through to here, you know a lot happened in just the three week span of our journey, had it been another week or two I probably would've quit. I constantly checked in with myself to make sure I was still okay with trying to make it work for us and I'm happy we did. I will be the first to admit: if I worked outside of the home or knew I'd only have a couple months of breastfeeding, I probably would've switched to pumped milk or formula after the first week.
Since I'm my own boss and work from home, I wanted to make it work. My personal goals are to breastfeed for at least year and do baby led weaning. It made sense to stick with it for me. Whatever your goals are, just remember to be flexible, avoid going down the Google rabbit hole, talk with a professional and your friends, and prioritize your sanity!