September 7, 2013

The Pain and Agony of Nursing Can Be Helped!

What makes it worth it?  Oskar.

There was a time (well, five times actually) when I thought nursing would always hurt without surcease and there was nothing much I could do about it.  Not that I didn't try.  Oh no--when lactation specialist after lactation specialist told me that I didn't have enough melanin in my skin and that was why I always ended up cracked, bleeding, and screaming in pain I still tried every single thing they suggested.  *True story of which I'm not proud: my hubby asked me to stop screeching "death" while I nursed.

Another true story: my older children saw some milk I had pumped after having baby #4 and asked me, "Can we have strawberry milk?"  Ha.  So not funny.  

More truth: nursing was the #1 reason I dreaded having babies.

Then there were all those well-intentioned people who said, "Just hang in there--it will get better."  It never did.  Oh, for a while it would be a little less excruciating and then a little more excruciating and sometimes I got all the way to "manageable" before heading back towards death.  The pain was cyclical and never really went away even on my best days.

This post is not supposed to be depressing or anti-nursing (I'm a huge believer, obviously, or I would have given up after baby the first)--quite the opposite!!  With baby #6 I learned some new things and these tricks have made all the difference in the world so I wanted to share in case any of you have similar pasty white sensitive skin and similar nursing horror stories.

*Random side-note: redheads are more prone to nursing pain because they have almost no melanin.  Also, redheads require higher dosages of all pain meds for the same effect and have an increased risk of hemorrhaging.  I thought all this was made up until I had my first baby and the doctor had blood on hand just in case (yes, I did hemorrhage) and my sister, who is a nurse anesthetist, verified the info.  Bright orange hair is definitely worth all the attendant problems though!


1) Neosporin Cream.  Before Neosporin Cream there was only Neosporin Ointment, which is not okay for use when nursing.  The ointment is very sticky and won't rub off between feedings and washing it off with soap and water will only make soreness worse.  The cream, however, rubs off easily so you can use it while nursing.  Just to make sure my baby wasn't ingesting any, I put some cream on one side after a feeding then only nursed on the other side the following feeding.  That way it was a good 6 hours or so after I had applied that the baby was eating on that side.  I also rinsed with water if there was any doubt that it was gone.  Easy peasy.  

2) Don't wear a bra or nursing pads.

3) Don't pump.  Numbers two and three go together.  I used to wear a bra and nursing pad to be hygienic as I was always coating myself with lanolin and lanolin is sticky.  FORGET HYGIENE; at least in this matter.  Instead, wear an old shirt and ignore the fairly disgusting icky grossness that develops on said shirt when you apply a lot of lanolin and neosporin cream on yourself and it rubs off on the shirt.  

Here's why: when I was wearing a bra and nursing pads I always got too full for the baby to latch on and therefore needed to pump or I'd end up literally shredded.  When I didn't wear a bra I would leak every time the baby cried.  The leaking wasn't inhibited by a bra or nursing pad so I never got so full that pumping was required.  Genius.  Not pumping took a huge strain off my poor sore feeding parts.  Yes, I had to throw away a few shirts but it was worth it!

4) Buy or make cloth nursing pads and use those instead of paper.  I can't emphasize enough that I don't have a hidden agenda here.  If you are someone who nurses easily and well without winding up in mind-numbing pain than these tips are not necessary for you.  I don't have anything against paper nursing pads for the average nursing woman but for those of us who are very sensitive, I really can't recommend cloth highly enough.  My most recent baby is the first time I tried cloth and guess what--no cyclical pain.  I have been mostly pain free since about the 6 week mark.  This is a miracle.  I didn't think it would make a difference until I tried cloth menstrual pads and decided I'd been torturing myself for years without needing to.  Since that was so much better I thought I'd try the cloth nursing pads and wow, the difference is just amazing.

Why didn't I know all this before baby #6???  (Me banging my head against a wall.)

Hopefully these tips will help someone avoid all the misery I have endured.

If you have any other helpful hints, be sure to put them in the comments.  Who knows--I might try this again sometime now that I'm getting a handle on it!  

Andrea is a homeschooling mother of six: ages 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 6 months.  She loves babies!  She also loves books, writing, cooking, hiking, dancing, singing, hanging out with her family, and anything pro-redhead.  You can read more about her homeschooling efforts on the blog Frolic and Farce.

6 comments - Add a comment below -:

Anonymous said...

I am grateful that you have shared your struggles. I am pregnant with number 8 and will try nursing for the first time. I have always been too scared of it (I tried it once and it was so painful I gave up within 3 feedings). The only reason I am trying now is that I recently found out that all of my kids are allergic to dairy. Anyway, I have always thought nursing is awesome, just not for me. This time I am determined to nail it, but I am so freaked out. I pumped with number seven and it was so painful that I quit after just a few days. Anyway, I am scared but I will go forth, armed with your tips. Thank you for being such a good example to me.

Sherral said...

Thanks for sharing your tips! I had a REALLY difficult nursing experience with my first baby and I kept thinking, "Why didn't anyone tell me how hard this was?" I'm currently expecting baby #4 and I feel pretty confident about nursing now. Lansinoh lanolin is my best friend and I also don't wear bras or anything very constricting during the first few weeks - at least, as much as I could get away with it. But after my milk flow settles down, I'm fine.
Oh and funny thing - I'm a red-head! I had no idea about the melanin thing and its connection with nursing, but it makes sense.

Michelle said...

For me, a good electric pump is a must. (I have a Medela Swing pump.) I read this tip on the LLL website, and it made a HUGE difference with my last 2 babies. If you are cracked and bleeding, pump on the side that is the worst (to keep up the milk supply on that side) and nurse on the other. With my last baby, I started doing this as the first sign of blisters and I never got to the point of cracking and bleeding. Also, soothies gel pads are a life saver for me.

Meridith said...

Thank you for sharing. I think we are too reluctant to share the negatives of breatfeeding because we don't want to scare people from doing it. Information is power.

When I called the lactation consultant at our hospital, in tears, after my first was born, she asked me if I had fair skin. When I replied yes, she only said she was sorry and to try lanolin. My friend the Internet was much more helpful. After nursing, I learned to always express a little extra and spread it over the nipples. It cleans and moisturizes much better than anything from the store. The speed with which the pain diminished, after that became routine, was nothing short of miraculous.

Evelyn Curtis said...

I really like your tips! Thanks for sharing! I have always experienced a lot of pain (gritting my teeth and screaming in pain) too. It is a very hard thing, but once you get past those first few weeks, its so amazing. With my first, it took me over a month to get past the pain, blisters and cracked nipples. I always forced myself into a bra, because I am pretty well endowed anyway...but I think I will have to try it if I am ever blessed with #4. Thanks again!

Amy K said...

Thank you for your tips. I feel encouraged by your experience! I am expecting baby 4 in a few weeks and I am worried about nursing. I also have fair and sensitive skin and have always had to endure more pain than I felt was necessary! Nursing is a love/hate thing for me too. But I am glad to have a few more tricks to try. Thank you!