With the exception of my Mum, absolutely everyone that I’ve talked to about breastfeeding has had issues with it. Even my sister in law who breastfed each of her three children for a year says it is one of the hardest things she’s ever done. Even my friend who fed her son until he was TWO had thrush and couldn’t use one nipple for a week. At the time I had no idea this was happening – it seems to be only when you go through something yourself that people start talking about it (labour is a prime example!)
My Mum’s theory is that in the 1970s women went braless more often, and the chafing against clothes helped to toughen up nipples. This may be all well and good, but sadly I haven’t been able to go without a bra since my university growth spurt (and for “growth spurt” read “weight gain”). This does somewhat tally up with what the health visitor told me though: back in the day, pregnant women were encouraged to pull, tweak and pinch at their nipples in an attempt to toughen them up before the onset of breastfeeding. She asked rhetorically why we were no longer given this advice. It all sounds a bit Fifty Shades to me and I’m sure my natural aversion to pain means I wouldn’t have done it anyway, but it’s definitely one to think about if you’re expecting!
My breastfeeding experience was fine at first. The drugs they’d given me to lower my blood pressure had the side effect of lowering Pip’s blood sugar levels. This meant a handful of formula top-ups while in hospital as the few drops of colostrum that I could produce were not quite enough. They showed me how to express said colostrum into a syringe but I found it difficult to get the technique right. It didn’t matter as they were happy with his levels after 72 hours so sent us off into the wide world to start breastfeeding in earnest. One major advantage of our longer stay in hospital was that various midwives helped me with breastfeeding, so by the time we went home I felt pretty confident.
My milk gradually came in on day 4 – my in-laws visited that day and I remember feeling my breasts literally swelling up while chatting to them which was a very odd sensation – and by the morning of day 5 they were Dolly Partons. It was around now that my nipples started to hurt, the left one in particular. This nipple swiftly developed unpleasant-looking scabs – I knew something wasn’t right, but when I called up the breastfeeding helpline I was told it was to do with positioning and attachment, and probably a right-handed/left-handed thing. I wasn’t convinced at all but decided to ask the midwife who was coming over the next day.
The midwife immediately diagnosed thrush and gave me an information leaflet about it: I knew this was what it must be – it was described as like breastfeeding “through broken glass” which is exactly how it felt. We managed to get a GP appointment the same day and I was prescribed a topical cream. Pip also had to have an oral gel spread around his mouth a few times a day – even though he hadn’t shown any symptoms, there was a likelihood we’d keep re-infecting each other unless we were treated simultaneously. He always accepted the gel without complaint and in fact seemed to quite like the taste. After a while we checked the ingredients list and found it included cocoa and orange flavours!
Within a week or so the thrush had cleared up which was a huge relief. Before that, though, I’d had a trip to A&E with a temperature and suspected mastitis. I’d rung the hospital helpline and they told me to come in – it wasn’t just me being paranoid! Of course by the time I got seen by a doctor my temperature was back to normal, and it seemed to be just my body trying to fight off infection rather than anything else (I would have a few more bouts of feverishness in the days to follow, but they never lasted long). In the waiting room, with an oblivious little Pip asleep in the car seat, we decided that if breastfeeding was going to be this difficult, we would move on to formula milk. However, the A&E doctor we saw called a midwife for advice and she said and I quote, “if you stop breastfeeding you’ll definitely get mastitis.” So that was that: I HAD to persevere!
Since that bad week, things have gradually improved in the breastfeeding department. It’s worth experimenting with gadgets such as nipple shields and gel pads to figure out what helps. And I’ve been religiously applying Lansinoh nipple cream as everyone seems to recommend it. My nipples are still sore, and the initial let down can be painful, but I don’t cry any more and hopefully it will continue to improve.
My first two attempts at expressing also ended in tears, but I have recently invested in a Medela Swing pump that had been recommended by Elly. Now Pip is four weeks old, my milk supply should be better established and I’m looking forward to trying it out soon. Bring on the wine!