Disclaimer: I am not a lactation professional nor medical professional. I am sharing information that I have learned along with my own experiences. Nothing that I share is intended as medical advice. For medical answers, please reach out to an appropriate professional for your well-being
My breastfeeding journey is in its’ infancy. (No pun intended) This is my first child and I have only been breastfeeding for 4 months. From the first day, I realized that I am in a constant state of simultaneously feeling like a breastfeeding expert and feeling like a complete newb. Every day I gain more experience and knowledge; I may even be an “expert” compared to the person sitting next to me. But, there is still so much that I don’t know. Thankfully, I have a community to turn to.
Long before I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I didn’t really have a reason not to. My decision to choose breastfeeding, interestingly, was not well-informed. But my decision to stay committed to exclusively breastfeeding is filled with evidence-based information and personal mission.
Before I share my breastfeeding journey so far, I do want to make something clear. Although I will personally always advocate for breastfeeding, if breastfeeding is not the best option for you and your child, that is okay. We all need to nourish our children in the best way possible, whether that is breastfeeding or formula; bottle or breast; or a combination of some or all of these.
What I AM a strong advocate of is that you have resources available to you. It devastates me when I hear of someone who did not breastfeed, or stopped their breastfeeding journey early, because they did not have the community or resources to overcome a momentary roadblock.
As Heather O’Neill always says, in one way or another, on The Milk Minute Podcast:
“The way we change this big system that is not set up for lactating parents, especially in the immediate postpartum, is to educate ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, family, healthcare providers, anyone that’s involved in lactation”
When You Get Over-Confident
When your breastfeeding journey goes relatively smooth and follows the metaphorical textbook, it is easy to become overconfident. Until this point, I have not experienced a drop in milk supply, I am a very slight overproducer, generating just enough and then a couple of ounces extra. I have avoided mastitis. Other than very sore nipples in the first couple of weeks, my breasts seem to have adapted well to breastfeeding.
Although I encourage self-positivity, don’t assume that you are the unicorn. It leads to risky behavior.
I have been back at work for a couple of weeks now and I need to pump 4 times in 8 hours to maintain my supply and to also fill the bottles that my daughter will drink the next day at daycare. I have the full support of my job for my pumping priorities, but it is still on me to do what I need to do.
And this week, I quickly learned my lesson of just how important it is to keep your pumping a priority.
I got mastitis.
What is Mastitis?
To give a quick explanation, mastitis is inflammation that can occur in either of your breasts. While most commonly associated with lactating individuals, there are some other instances where someone can develop mastitis (since all humans, regardless of gender, have the capacity to lactate. But that is a topic for another day. Just keep that as a fun trivia fact for now.)
The Cleveland Clinic explains further:
Mastitis is an infection that develops in breast tissue. The painful condition causes one breast to become swollen, red and inflamed. In rare cases, it affects both breasts. Mastitis is a type of benign (noncancerous) breast disease.
Mastitis occurs when bacteria found on skin or saliva enter breast tissue through a milk duct or crack in the skin. Milk ducts are a part of breast anatomy that carry milk to the nipples. All genders have milk ducts and can get mastitis.
Infection also happens when milk backs up due to a blocked milk duct or problematic breastfeeding technique. Bacteria grow in the stagnant milk.
Many people with mastitis develop a wedge-shaped red mark on one breast. (Rarely, mastitis affects both breasts.) The breast may be swollen and feel hot or tender to touch. You may also experience:
- Breast lumps.
- Breast pain (mastalgia) or burning sensation that worsens when your baby nurses.
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever and chills.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Nipple discharge.
What Happened To Me
Thanks to the Milk Minute community, I was able to quickly diagnosis my mastitis and treat it at home before it escalated to the point of needing to go to the doctor.
So how did it happen?
The past few days this week, I started to become more reckless with my pumping schedule. I didn’t prioritize my daily work flow and pushed pumping to the side more and more. Some days I would only pump a couple of times and then would be trying to squeeze in late night pumps to “make up for it.” I started extending the amount of time between pumps. And the day that was my tipping point was Wednesday. I only pumped twice in a period of 8 hours,
By the time I got home, I knew that I was in trouble.
My right breast was significantly larger than my left one, and it was painful for my daughter to nurse on that side. As the evening continued I started to feel sick, I barely ate dinner. And then when I was trying to get her ready for bed I was shaking from being cold. I immediately took my temperature and I was starting to develop a fever.
I instantly suspected mastitis and I googled my symptoms to double-check. Yep, I had it.
I know that I had to act fast. Besides the fact that I felt miserable, I knew that if I was already developing a fever that I probably was close to the inflammation developing into an infection. An infection would require obtaining antibiotics from a medical professional, but left untreated it could, obviously, develop into something more severe.
In my case, mastitis was avoidable, I just made risky choices that reminded me I was not immune to complications.
Fortunately, I was able to start treating the mastitis with at home remedies that include ice, gentle massage, nursing on demand, and ibuprofen. Two days later I am feeling significantly better, and just dealing with a temporary drop in milk supply.
The Beginning of My Breastfeeding Journey
Breastfeeding my daughter did not have a smooth start.
I did not feed my daughter for the time until a couple of hours after her birth. Her first meal was formula that the nurse gave to her. I was offered the opportunity to feed her the first time right after birthing her, and I would have loved to have done so in that moment. But, I was extremely exhausted and weak from losing blood, I was battling a headache and could barely stay awake. I knew that I could not safely breastfeed her in that moment.
Once I was able to feed her, it was so special. To have her latch on to my breast and know that I was providing her nourishment. But while the bonding was incredible, the 2 days in the hospital trying to learn to breastfeed were less than encouraging.
Because she was so newly born, she needed to feed every 2 hours on the dot, even waking her up for feeds. This meant that, despite needing to recover from my birth experience I was not getting a lot of rest. I also quickly found out the hard way that she was not latching onto my breast correctly. In hindsight, it was to be expected. We were both really new at the process and her mouth was very tiny. But, the improper latching was causing her to put a lot of trauma on my nipples and they quickly became deeply bruised and it was unbearably painful to feed her.
Sadly, I did not find support from the lactation consultants in the hospital.
If you have the opportunity to educate yourself about breastfeeding, even a little bit, before giving birth, I encourage you to do so. You can, and will, continue to learn after giving birth, but that little bit of knowledge you have stored will help set the stage for your success.
I encountered a few lactation consultants during my stay in the hospital and unfortunately, I had a negative experience, as do many women. There were brief moments where the consultants felt supportive, and they truly did give me some information to help me improve what I was doing. But there were several moments that are burned into my memory that made me more stressed and could easily have led me to give up on breastfeeding before I had the chance to really try it.
When I needed help improving my latch, one consultant took the approach of manipulating my breast and baby herself. Yes, she got the correct latch, but I could not see well what was happening. And by not having her walk me through it, instead taking charge herself, I didn’t really know how to replicate it on my own.
The most stressful point was when my nipples were in excruciating pain and I expressed to the consultant that I didn’t know how I was going to handle the next nursing session because it hurt so bad. Her response was to tell me, “well, your baby needs to eat, do you want formula, do you want to pump?!”
First, these are tools that should be used appropriately. She did not ask my goals, but instead pushed an agenda that could have derailed my ability to breastfeed (that also will have to be another post another day). Of course she was concerned about my daughter eating enough as a newborn, as she should, but I felt so inadequate, as though I was not providing for her in this moment. I was sleep deprived, very much in the early stages of recovery, barely knew what I was doing, and I generally am very sensitive to how things are portrayed through tone and word choice.
Yes I argued with her. Yes I felt desperate and lost. I wanted a solution to my concern, not something that made me stop nursing at the breast. Somehow I made some connection with her and she did help improve my latch. But I never fully trusted her.
There are good lactation consultants out there, and there are ones I trust immensely. But too many function like mine did – focusing on their own goals and not truly listening to the patient.
Sometimes You Have To Figure It Out On Your Own
When I was at home with my daughter in my own, safe environment, the breastfeeding journey started to go much better.
- I discovered that the best way to learn is to take the time to bond with your child. Breastfeeding is intimate and magical, in so many ways. It may or may not be intuitive for you, but the more time I spent with my daughter, the more we learned each others cues, what did and didn’t work, and patience. We needed to learn together.
- Take into consideration that what you learn in the hospital quickly does not apply at home. I learned to latch with a football hold and multiple pillows propped up in the hospital bed. But, there was no way to fully replicate that at home. My personal pillows didn’t have the same amount of fluff. Instead of a hospital bed, I had my own bed. The holds no longer worked the same as my daughter grew. So we had to figure it out all over again.
- Cluster feeding will convince you that you have run out of milk while testing your sanity. Although I knew about cluster feeding before starting my breastfeeding journey, I was not prepared for it when it came. Cluster feeding occurs typically when your child is an infant and they are signaling your breasts to generate more milk because they are trying to grow. To do this, your baby will nurse almost constantly for several hours. In my case, my daughter nursed every hour for 40 minutes for about 4-5 hours straight. I reached one evening where she was so restless and I questioned if I ran out of milk. I felt like my body failed and I couldn’t provide what my daughter needed. But soon after, she started nursing on a normal schedule, and the Breastfeeding for Busy Moms Facebook Group reassured me that I was enough and that all was well.
It is Absolutely Worth It
My breastfeeding journey did not start of easy. There were tears. There was pain. There was exhaustion. And I am sure I will experience all of those things again. My journey has not always felt positive. But that is okay and pretty normal.
I want to share an authentic depiction of my journey because I fully believe that we need to change the narrative that is out there. The breastfeeding narrative is THIS.
It is hard.
It is a commitment.
It takes a lot of work.
It doesn’t always work for every person or every baby.
It is magical.
I am blessed that I have been able to overcome the challenging moments and that I have been able to successfully breastfeed my daughter. I am blown away by our bodies and my milk making abilities are absolutely a part of my personality now.
I love breastfeeding.
And I encourage those of you who are scared to try or who are struggling – THERE IS a community out there for you, right here. If breastfeeding doesn’t work for you, there is no shame in that. If you feel defeated by breastfeeding, there is no shame in that. But don’t miss out on the magic just because you lack support. Let’s give you the support you need so you can accurately decide what path is best for you.
As always, let’s build this community. Do you have a breastfeeding struggle or win? Share it in the comments. And I am always here, message me on any of my platforms and we can figure it out together.