Disclaimer: This post talks about boobs. Get over it.
Actually, odyssey might be an understatement. Let’s go with Bataan Death March. Too much? Well, too bad because hormones.
Everyone and their mother wags their heads and cautions new mothers that breastfeeding is natural but not always easy. In my case, “not always easy” translated to mind-bendingly painful, at least for the first 3-4 weeks of Fire Monkey’s life.
At first, I chalked up the screaming nipple pain to inexperience and maybe some latch problems. I sought advice from our doula, who is ICBLC certified, and other mamas in an online support group. I figured out that I had overactive letdown, which meant Fire Monkey was getting firehosed every time he tried to eat and maybe that explained the piranha style of nursing he had adopted. I tried every nursing position imaginable to get a better latch but the soreness kept getting worse. During late-night feeds, I sat nursing Fire Monkey, contemplating self-mastectomy and wildly Googling for answers. I was desperate to keep breastfeeding and refused all attempts by Science Guy to offer a pumped bottle.
I was probably hours away from quitting by the time I hauled us in to see a lactation consultant. She took one look at Fire Monkey’s tongue and said he had a shortened frenulum, or tongue tie, that prevented his tongue from coming over his lower gums. Translation: he had been chewing on my nipples for three weeks straight. She was shocked that he’d gained so much weight and that I wasn’t completely scabbed over from the abuse. I couldn’t decide if I had enough energy to feel smug, so I just chalked it up to my mulishness to keep going.
She helped us with positioning to alleviate some of the discomfort and I made an appointment to see our pediatrician for an official diagnosis. I also made the mistake of falling into the Facebook support group rabbit hole and was scared silly by stories of frenectomies reconnecting, doctors refusing to acknowledge or treat tongue ties, and lasers. Fortunately I only had to wait 24 hours to see our doctor, and she immediately saw the issue and referred us to an ENT.
Side note: this was also the day I won my first self-bestowed parenting medal for getting both of us up, fed, watered, and relatively clean before arriving on time to an 8:30 appointment. (This is why I chose a doctor whose office is 4 minutes away.)
We had just gotten home and semi-settled when I got a call from the ENT office asking whether I could make it to an 11:00 appointment. “You mean in 25 minutes?” Yes. So I threw everything and everyone back into the car and drove like a bat out of hell only to wait 30 minutes to actually see the doctor.
It seems stupid but my strongest impression of the doctor was, “Why is he extroverting so much??!” Bear in mind that I’ve had nothing to eat but a KIND bar through this whole order of operations and of course am running on the limited sleep of a newborn mother. But I did my best to smile and nod appropriately as he explained what he was going to do to my child and showed me pictures on his phone of his eight-month-old daughter. (I think he was trying to help me relax but my introvert brain just pulled into the corner and whimpered, “Do I have to keep talking still?”)
The actual procedure was very fast. We both cried a little but I was able to nurse him right away and noticed an improvement. Hooray, problem solved, right?
Wrong. That night the pain got worse , which I didn’t think was possible. Only now it felt like shooting fire acid death arrows during and after nursing. I called the lactation consultants and left a deranged message before getting an appointment for the next day.
We tried modified latches and different positions. Nothing doing. We tried a nipple shield and Fire Monkey bit me in his confusion at his beloved nipple suddenly turning into plastic, and the pain from that was literally indescribable. By this point I am an ugly crying disaster, Fire Monkey is confused because I keep juggling him between boobs, and it’s pretty much time to go home. The lactation consultant instructed me to call my doctor for prescriptions for all-purpose nipple ointment (APNO, in the nursing forums) and diflucan.
That weekend I took a 24-hour pump break on the left side, which was the more sore of the two, and fed exclusively from the right. After some of the pain subsided I went back to feeding on both sides, which was honestly a relief because I could feel the left side getting plugged, to add insult to injury. As it turn out, pumps aren’t nearly as efficient at removing milk as tiny mammals are. Go figure.
I kind of felt like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill…no matter what I tried, something else would go wrong. But eventually, the thrush cleared and even better Fire Monkey didn’t get infected. He learned to latch properly after the tongue tie was clipped and I healed from three weeks of chewing.
Hopefully I haven’t completely terrified my gentle readers who haven’t breastfed yet. I don’t think most people have quite as much difficulty getting started as we did. But it was totally worth it. I won’t call it my favorite pasttime, but I know it’s the best thing I can do for Fire Monkey and that knowledge is what carried me through.