Just how women "forget" the pain of labor or the woes of pregnancy as time wears on, I'm just now beginning to forget the desperation I felt during Libby's first few months. I wanted to chronicle my experience here so that I can look back and remember that I MADE IT. As hard as it was, it didn't kill me. And I hope beyond hope beyond hope beyond hope that I never have to experience it again, but just in case my future babies prove to be as difficult, I want to remember what I did to get through it.
[I will be using the words "nipple" and "breast" frequently, so feel free to go ahead and move on if 1) you are male or 2) you have an aversion to these words.]
Nursing Libby was painful from the very first hour, but I had done my homework and read lots and lots about breastfeeding, so I knew that it was normal to have some soreness for the first week or so. Still, I desperately wanted to see the lactation consultant at the hospital. It was a full 24 hours before one of the consultants finally made it to see me. Anyone who has been around a newborn knows they need to eat at least every 2 hours, so I had probably already fed Libby 12 times. I was quite sore and I still couldn't get her to latch onto my right side without a nipple shield. The consultant helped me with my positioning and latch and then excitedly told me that I "had it." When I told her that it didn't feel any better, she said that was just because I was already sore and it would get better.
The next day, another lactation consultant came by to see me and gave me drastically different tips from the first woman. Meanwhile, my pediatrician was also giving me recommendations that clashed with the advice of the consultants. Needless to say, I was confused. Add in the fact that they told me with concerned faces that Libby had lost 7% of her birth weight in less than 2 days, and I really began to worry about getting her fed.
I was instructed to feed her every 2 hours during the day, every 3 hours at night, and pump for 15 minutes after every daytime feeding. By the time I got home from the hospital, my nipples were cracked and bleeding and I was in a considerable amount of pain. By day 7, I had a full-blown breast infection (mastitis) complete with fever, chills, body aches, and major breast pain. Still, I tried to buoy myself up by remembering that it's normal to take a couple of weeks to get the hang of breastfeeding.
Day 14 rolled around and not only were my nipples still cracked, bleeding, and occasionally oozing pus, but I started having deep shooting pains in my chest. It was different than mastitis pain and I was concerned I might have thrush, which often occurs after a round of antibiotics, which I had for the infection. Back to the OB I went, where she told me that it wasn't thrush. Rather, she said my boobs were just heavier than normal and the deep pain was my ligaments being stretched by the weight. The solution? Get a more supportive bra and "hike them up." I tried to follow her advice, but it was so painful for anything to touch my nipples that I avoided wearing a bra (or shirt, for that matter) as much as possible. It took about a week, but eventually my ligaments got stronger, I guess, and the pain went away.
I had been taking prescription strength ibuprofen round-the-clock during this whole time, but it wasn't enough. I had a prescription for a narcotic pain reliever, but I was concerned about taking anything that strong while nursing Libby. I didn't even like taking the ibuprofen. So, I turned to trying every home remedy you can think of for sore nipples - lanolin, wet tea bags, saline soaks, raw potato slices. Nothing helped considerably and the potato slices (recommended by my OB) even made it worse.
When I wasn't feeding Libby or trying to catch up on sleep, I was obsessively reading every breastfeeding book/website/blog I could get my hands on to try to figure out what to do. The frustrating thing was that I KNEW what the probably was - Libby had a very "shallow latch," meaning she didn't open her mouth wide enough to take my breast deeply into her mouth. I watched video after video of how to correctly latch-on, but I just couldn't get Libby to do it.
At Libby's 1 month checkup with the pediatrician, she asked how breastfeeding was going. I told her it was still extremely painful and that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get her to open her mouth wide enough. I told her that I felt like Libby's jaw was very tight. The pediatrician asked what I thought about chiropractic and when I told her I was willing to give it a shot, she offered to give me the contact information of a woman she knew who specialized in working with infants. Even before meeting with the pediatrician, I had come across the idea of going to a chiropractor, but was afraid it was too far-fetched to spend the money on. It was reassuring to hear the pediatrician say it might be a viable option, but I ended up leaving the office without the contact information. The next day, the pediatrician herself actually called me because she remembered she had not given me the information and wanted to make sure I had it. I was grateful for her thoughtfulness, but still put off calling because I assumed it would be expensive and still wasn't totally convinced it would work.
When Libby was 6 weeks old, I had a particularly hard day and was in so much pain that I was sobbing. I knew I HAD to do something to fix this or I was going to call it quits. I finally took the time to ask my insurance company about chiropractic benefits and was surprised and grateful to learn it was covered at 80%. I then called the chiropractor and made an appointment for that afternoon. The chiropractor told me she had a "Diplomate" certificate, which means she has additional training beyond chiropractic school to work on pregnant women and infants. As one of the few chiropractors in the area with this training, she worked with lots of babies and was confident that she could help.
On that first appointment, the chiro confirmed that Libby did indeed have a very tight jaw, as well as tightness in her neck and the muscles on her skull, which pulled her head to one side. I had noticed that she always turned her head to the right, but didn't realize it was the result of too-tight muscles. (Her head had been slightly lopsided since birth, as a result of her position in my pelvis and this could very well have caused the tight muscles. Just imagine how your neck feels when you wake up after sleeping on it wrong. Libby had been in that position in my pelvis for weeks.)
I was told it may take 8-10 visits for lasting change, but I could experience some relief before then. Sure enough, after just a few visits, Libby was chomping less and sucking more and nursing sessions were no longer taking over an hour. By the time Libby was 8 weeks old, my nipples were no longer cracked and bleeding. Still, I was not pain free and wanted to make sure things were really better once and for all.
The chiropractor had noticed from day 1 that Libby did not lift her tongue up when she cried. Rather, it stayed flat at the bottom of her mouth. She asked if Libby had been checked for tongue tie and I said, no, but that she could extend her tongue beyond her lips just fine (the standard test for a restrictive frenulum), so I assumed it wasn't an issue. I went home and did some research, however, and found out that there is such a thing as a posterior tongue tie, which manifests itself differently from the more common anterior tongue tie and is harder to spot.
At the next visit with the chiropractor, she gave me the contact information for an ENT in the area that could determine for sure whether Libby had a tongue-tie and perform a frenectomy if necessary.
I immediately made an appointment with the ENT, who turned out to be an incredibly nice women with a new baby of her own. She confirmed that Libby had a Type 3 posterior tongue tie and recommended a frenectomy, although the choice was mine. Of course I didn't want to put Libby through any unecessary pain (the procedure is done without anesthetic, as it's risky to anesthetize babies so young, especially for such a quick snip), but the doctor said it was "very unlikely" that it would NOT help, so I decided to go for it. Libby cried hard for about 30 seconds, but calmed down as soon as I fed her and was then happy and smiling again, so I didn't feel too bad. I didn't notice immediate results as many mothers do, but since Libby was already 8 weeks old by this point and had learned "bad" sucking habits, I knew it would take time to retrain her tongue how to suck properly.
We continued to see the chiropractor for a couple more weeks to continue working on her jaw and neck tightness. Once those were resolved, we ended our appointments. While I still had some pain, it was nothing like those first 2 months.
Since then, I've had relatively few problems, with a couple of episodes of plugged ducts and recurring mastitis, though never as bad as that first time. I still have occasional soreness during feedings, but it is night-and-day from the pain I used to experience, and something more akin to an annoying pinch rather than sandpaper rubbing on an open wound.
So, why did I stick with it?
Sure, there are the nutritional and immunity benefits Libby receives from my milk, but it's more than that. Just like I wanted to experience the miracle of growing a baby in my own body, I wanted to feed my baby with my own body. I think it is truly amazing that my body has this God-given ability and I wasn't willing to give up the experience of being able to provide for my baby in a way that no one but I can.
What got me through it?
Physically, what got me through the pain was ibuprofen, heat packs, Motherlove nipple cream, and visits to the chiropractor. Oh, and never wearing shirts. Emotionally, what got me through it was my very supportive husband, and lots and lots of pleading with the Lord. Throughout all the pain, I did have moments of comfort that gave me the encouragement to keep going.
Was it worth it?
I can finally say yes. While I used to dread nursing Libby, I now look forward to it, as it gives me time to cuddle with my baby and kiss her sweet head while she happily slurps away. I used to wonder how it was possible that people actually enjoyed nursing, but I can now say I'm one of those people.