We celebrated Breastfeeding Week recently and while it was beautiful seeing mothers on social media baring their breasts proudly to feed their babies, it reminded me of my challenge to feed my son. Contrary to what everyone thinks, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to everyone; in fact, it doesn’t come naturally to many women.
It’s not always peaceful, relaxing or serene as portrayed in the media. For those who actually struggle with supply, it can also be a traumatising experience that can discourage them to continue to try. There were many times I considered giving up because it wasn’t as easy as I thought it’d be. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, please keep reading.
When I was pregnant, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to breastfeed. I didn’t pressure myself to commit to it, as I’d heard stories of friends and family about how devastated they were when they couldn’t feed their child because of low supply or medical issues. I didn’t want to put myself in that position. I refused to get sucked into expectations to prevent being disappointed.
“The first time he corrected his latch on his own was the moment I realised that we both hadn’t known what on earth we were doing.”
About half an hour after giving birth, the nurse asked if I wanted to try to breastfeed. “Sure!” I said with so much enthusiasm. I was on such a high after finally meeting my son, I wanted to dive right into motherhood.
There I lay in the recovery room with my husband on one side and my new son on the other, gently sucking away.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him and I was still crying and shaking uncontrollably. Fast forward to day three, when my left breast suddenly became rock hard, as if someone had inflated me with an air pump. I wasn’t sure if that hardness was okay, so I told the sister on duty who squealed “Wonderful! Your milk has come in!” before squeezing said swollen breast. OUCH! That’s when I remember the pain starting.
After feeding for a few hours that day, I felt exhausted. With every new feed, my nipples became more and more sore. I asked for a lactation consultant several times, to make sure I got help before I was discharged the next day. Unfortunately, no one told me they were on leave, so I carried on feeding him the way the first nurse and sister told me to: “Just shove it in!”
I kept telling everyone that I was in pain but didn’t get more than “’shem’ … that’s breastfeeding” or “yeah, it happens, that’s normal”. As we were being discharged on the third day, Kai’s hospital paediatrician was pleased to see he had a strong sucking reflex and casually mentioned he must be feeding well. She took one look at me and saw how distressed I was. I was on the verge of tears when I told her how difficult I was finding it and I didn’t get any lactation consulting.
That’s when she got an older, more experienced sister to sit with me and show me exactly how my son should latch, how I should disengage his latch, how I should hold him – all very crucial things that no one had told me and, of course, I didn’t know. There are techniques and proper ways of feeding. You don’t just shove your boob in your baby’s face and let him do whatever.
She advised me to try and hand express to relieve myself of extra milk, get pads to soak up leaks and a nipple cream if my nipples got worse – and they did. They became red, raw and scabby. I began to dread feeding my son. I’d cry most times he’d latch on and be absolutely exhausted after he was done. But I kept remembering what the sister told me; if he doesn’t latch properly, keep breaking his latch and get him to re-latch until he’s done it properly.
After I did research, my husband went to buy my survival kit: Tommee Tippee electric breast pump, Lansinoh nipple cream and nursing pads. By that time, both breasts looked like bad implants and were leaking profusely. I applied the nipple cream religiously after every feed and within two to three days, my nipples were back to normal. Not pre-preggers normal, but my new normal.
So, latching became much less painful. I was able to relieve myself of extra milk during the day by expressing and refrigerating the milk for my husband to feed our son at night, so I could get a decent night’s sleep and continue to recover. Feeding was still not a walk in the park, though. I often found myself wondering why I was continuing.
I then found this video and it changed my life. It was the most comprehensive guide on breastfeeding that I could find, at a time I was very desperate. I hope it helps you as much as it did me. About 10 days in, after continuing with pumping, creaming and padding, I began having little moments with my boy. The first time he corrected his latch on his own was the moment I realised that we both hadn’t known what on earth we were doing. It was as new to him as it was to me. We had to work together to get to that point and we did. It was my first proud mommy moment.
I breastfed my son for 14 months. We’d chat, cuddle and hold hands. That didn’t come easily; it’s hard work that requires commitment and determination, particularly during those seemingly endless growth spurts when all he wanted to do was feed. After the first one came, I knew I had to switch off and plonk myself on the sofa as part of my ‘nursing vacation’. I’d whip out my boob whenever he was unsettled, getting a vaccination, tired. Oh yeah and hungry.
Please don’t do this alone if you’re battling. If you want to breastfeed your child, and you have supply, keep going. Try to get in touch with a lactation consultant to help you assess what’s causing your pain and remember: you’re not a failure, you’re just learning something new. Both of you are.
Aisha O’Reilly is a young African woman who loves natural hair, beauty and being a new mommy, among other things. Her aim is to inspire and encourage fellow women by giving them a peek into her life, with all of its ups, downs, questions and adventures in her blog, Aisha and Life.
The original version of this article can be found on her blog, Aisha & Life.