My nursing relationship with my daughter was wonderful. Did I leak sometimes in not-so-optimal places? Yes. Did I sometimes feel like a glorified cow? Oui. Did I hate getting mastitis and plugged milk ducts? An empathetic, yes, but for me overall, my nursing experience was great. I thank from the bottom of my heart or perhaps I should say bosom, a very special nurse and lactation consultant, Linda Carroll, who not only helped me with my daughter in our early awkward nursing days, but who also ran a mother's group in the hospital where I had my daughter. She was not just a hands-on help when it came to nursing issues like improper latching or clogged ducts, but she was like a second mother and really cared about all of us new moms both for our infants' sakes and our own. She made that first scary but exciting first year as a mom all the better. She will always have a special place in my heart, and I truly wish for every new mom to have such a leader and support. It's not easy venturing out into motherhood alone!
And so I thank her when I share these things that I learned from her. These six little things I learned about nursing helped develop a great nursing relationship with my child and made that uncharted territory so much easier.
While some women do have supply issues, in general, most do just fine. If you notice for a short period of time your baby wanting to nurse and stay latched constantly, don't panic that you're not making enough milk unless you don't have enough wet and soiled diapers. Most likely you are! It's just that babies go through growth spurts and when that happens, watch out Mama! Hunker down and prepare for "Nurse-a-thon 10001" because your baby will be at your breasts working to increase your milk supply during these huge stages of growth. At 4 and 8 weeks old, my daughter had a growth spurt, as well at around 3 months and 6. The most brutal of these growth spurts however, came at the fourth and eighth week of development. My daughter was a great baby, but even she had her witching hour in those early days: between 5 and 6 p.m. Well, for a few nights during these spurts, I was basically tied to the breast. My kid would not latch off and so when my ex-husband (husband at the time) called on his way home from work to see how I was, all he heard was the sound of dual crying. Me crying and her crying. It was hard to tell us apart. I was exhausted and wanted my body free for a few minutes. The good news? It was brief. My daughter was upping my supply by nursing that much. It's like she sent my brain signals: "Hey, pal — make more milk," during these spurts. Guess what? It worked!
Not Exactly Hurt
It doesn't feel like death the first time you nurse, but yes, for the first few weeks, it can hurt and be tender. My nipples bled the first week, but after that week, it was smoother. This doesn't happen for everyone, but my daughter had a very shallow latch. Your baby might not put your nipples through the grinder. Either way, it gets better (if it is painful for you), and it's worth it if you are committed to nursing.
Some women from my moms group had heard rumors (myself included) that breast-fed babies don't spit up. Well, my mommies, that's false. It doesn't matter how your kid is fed: some babies spit up, some don't, and the other third can have reflux. My daughter spit up from time to time, but it seemed more related to whether she nursed on the breast that produced more milk (one breast was more plentiful — very common!) or if I ate gassier foods. If you notice your nurser spitting up more than usual, perhaps your baby doesn't like what you ate that day. Write down a journal of what you're eating, and that should help spot the culprit. In general, when my daughter spit up, it didn't seem to bother her. If your baby seems bothered by the spit-up, definitely journal your food. You may need to cut out certain foods from you diet.
It's not unusual for a nursing mom to get clogged milk ducts, which can be very painful, or mastitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, mastitis is "an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. If you have mastitis, you might also experience fever and chills." If you happen to get mastitis, keep nursing! In fact, nursing and pumping and massaging your sore breast will help your body heal. I found for myself that the higher my stress levels, the more likely I was to get a clogged duct. I had quite a few in the 13 months I nursed my daughter and had one bout of mastitis.
People Will Judge
It's more common for ladies to nurse these days, but there are people who will make comments.
"Why are you still nursing that child?" or "How does your partner bond with the baby?"
Ignore these comments, and do what's best for you and your baby. I fully support moms who want to formula-feed and moms who want to nurse, but sadly, not everyone will be so supportive. If you're very concerned about your partner bonding with your child, there are many things your partner can do, like sing and rock to sleep, give a bottle of pumped milk, cuddle with skin-to-skin contact, and more!
Older but Needs You
If you have an older infant or toddler who is nursing, you may notice that as he or she becomes more mobile, he or she wants to come back to you more frequently for nursing. My daughter was mobile fast, but as she ventured into independence, she tended to come back more often to nurse as if to say "I still need you, and it's tiring exerting myself independently. Remind me you're still here, Mommy."
All of this is totally normal, just like you may find your baby nursing more when teething or sick: it's comfort!
If you've made the choice to nurse, do your best to nourish a healthy nursing relationship, find a great lactation consultant at your hospital or perhaps through a mid-wife, and remember: don't beat yourself up when things go wrong during breastfeeding. For something that is totally "natural," it still can be difficult at times!