I always feel conflicted when sharing breastfeeding horror stories. On the one hand, I think all experiences are important to talk about when it comes to parenthood, and only hear the good stuff about breastfeeding (it's an incredible bonding experience! Breast milk is basically the elixir of life! Breastfeeding is natural and is so good for you and your baby!) leaves anyone who has a less than zen experience feeling as though they're doing something wrong. On the other hand, I don't want to terrify would-be breastfeeders with moms' most painful breastfeeding moments as though this is what nursing is like all the time.
Usually, the bad parts about breastfeeding aren't ever-lasting. So even at it's worth, those horrible breastfeeding moments can be fleeting. Then again, for some women they aren't, and persist to the point that breastfeeding is no longer feasible. See what I'm getting at? Breastfeeding relationships are just as complicated and complex as any other relationship, so it's hard to talk about "the bad" or "the good" adequately. So consider this my pseudo-disclaimer: everything you are about to read happened to a real live person and could happen to you, should you choose to breastfeed. Or it won't. It's a crap shoot, really.
Another fair warning: the following tales of toe-curling terror are not for the squeamish. Breastfeeding can get downright gritty, dear reader. Bodies do some weird-ass things. Wondrous things, to be sure, but weird. Yes, breastfeeding is a miracle of the natural world, but sometimes miracles can mutate into hideous curses. (Fortunately, when it comes to breastfeeding there is often a remedy.) In daily life, under normal circumstances, lots of nursing parents have to deal with painful (though manageable) realities. But other times, things get ridiculously out of hand...
"My wife is/was the breastfeeder, but based on what she's said, I'm fairly certain she would concur that some of her worst discomfort came when the kids realized the boob they were not currently eating from existed. Our 15 month old has a habit of keeping one hand down my wife's shirt at all times (for comfort, I guess?), but when she's eating, that hand is usually occupied scratching, pulling, and tweaking the off-duty nipple."
"I had mastitis with both kids. With my daughter I lasted 10 days and just couldn't do it anymore. With my son I tortured myself for four months only to find out he was allergic to everything I was eating. So the pain was more mental pain in that voice to myself telling me to do something that ... [and] society, thought was right but was really wrong for him!"
I had thrush for the first 12 weeks. It was unbearable and I have no idea how I stuck it out. It felt like nursing with a sunburn while razor blades were sucked out of my nipples.
"I didn't know what I was doing when I breastfed my first. So I developed what I liked to call 'crater boob' from improperly de-latching him from day one. Essentially, I had giant sores on my nipples which made nursing extremely painful and of course also led to mastitis. The pain of nursing early on can be terrible. But, I pushed through it and it became a wonderful experience that lasted more than 16 months."
"Most painful moment can be summed up in one word: mastitis. I know the best thing you can do is just nurse through it, but when I had it while breastfeeding my first baby, I saw stars when I nursed him because it hurt so badly."
Spilling an entire bottle of freshly expressed milk onto my carpet. I literally screamed over spilled milk.
"It took us eight weeks to figure out a good hold and a good latch. She was constantly only getting my nipple in her mouth so I was sore 24/7. Even the water from the shower hurt."
"Thrush was definitely the most painful thing I experienced. It was sharp-sharp-sharp stinging pain at latch. Mastitis was no picnic either, but that felt like the flu; terrible and uncomfortable but not exactly painful. But there's treatment for both and they were temporary glitches in my [more than two] years of breastfeeding, which were overall really great for both my son and me."
Nursing through my third round of nipple infected mastitis in a month with a 104 fever.
"It also took us about eight weeks to get a good latch, hold, position, routine. I'm sure we had thrush, but the doc didn't diagnose it. The lingering pain after nursing for hours and the fact he was chomping on my nipples just made me cry every time it was feeding time."
"Mine was more emotionally painful. ... My son was born ... on a Monday and ... by Wednesday evening they started pushing formula. ... Overnight I had one really awful nurse. ... She was rude to me, patronizing and treated me like I was harming my son [for continuing to breastfeed]. I told her and showed the wet diapers he had while she was out. The next morning the pediatrician came storming in demanding that I give him formula. I was confused. I was in tears. My son had gained weight! I showed her! She said that he's not getting enough because he didn't produce any wet diapers for a long period of time. I was sleep deprived and I couldn't think clearly. She demanded to know who our pediatrician was and left to call them. My husband showed up and found me hysterical. He showed me my texts that showed the times when he had wet diapers and all the times he fed and his weigh ins overnight. Turns out the awful nurse never documented the diapers because she didn't personally change his diaper. The doctor eventually released us but refused to see us off. I never saw her again.
When we saw our pediatrician two days later she told us that this doctor called and 'warned' her that I was likely an abusive and neglectful parent and to make sure my child was protected. She was floored. When she met us and I showed her the records I kept and saw our son she said we were fine and never should have been treated like that. I'll never forget that experience. It made me fiercely protect my right to nurse my child. I fought hard for it through all three of my kids. I had some difficulties down the line with maintaining supply after returning to work. But nothing was more challenging and emotionally painful than that first week with my son and the way the hospital staff turned on me."
Mastitis and nursing while pregnant. Continuing to breastfeed through these events has been a complete labor of love. Good news is, I'm 32 weeks so soon enough, I'll be tandem nursing two while not pregnant and things will go back to feeling normal.
"My stupid wrists. This kid has what I have to assume is the strongest infant neck in the world, and when he's hungry and panicked trying to aim him at the nipple is nigh impossible — so my wrists were killing me as I tried to aim his little head where it's supposed to go, and I was also staying in cross cradle hold which was dumb — [I] just started switching to cradle after he's on there. I was seriously looking up boxers hand wraps the other day, thinking that would help."
"I developed thrush from the mastitis meds. It lasted for months and it felt like my son had broken glass in place of his gums. I used to kick the floor in pain when he latched on. Diflucan, nystatin, apple cider vinegar, nothing worked. Finally, someone recommended gentian violet; I was ready to quit breastfeeding but [it] worked."
Thrush. Thrush is no joke! I may have googled, "Can your nipple actually fall off?"
"I had blebs and things that seemed bad at the time but nothing compared to the emotional torture of pumping round the clock because you are told you aren't providing enough nourishment for your kid."
"Breastfeeding was going extremely well for 3-4 days, then my son was admitted to the NICU for jaundice. He had to stay under the lights, so I couldn't breastfeed and wasn't successful pumping. They had to give him formula, and they straight up told me, 'This is going to stretch out his stomach.' I continued to try pumping, and resumed breastfeeding when I could, but my supply was never great, and we had to supplement with formula—which is totally fine! I just hated 'sort of being able to breastfeed.' I wished my supply was either great or nonexistent. The in-between just made me feel like a failure and breastfeeding ended up stressing me out."
Nothing was more painful than nursing a fully tongue tied baby along with thrush. ... Once his tie was cut it was much better.
"Baby with lip tie, super cracked and bleeding nipples while having mastitis (104 fever, etc.) But it was worth every second of discomfort and I'm so lucky to have been able to nurse my daughter as long as I have!"
"I was determined to breastfeed. It hurt like a bitch, and several people (including a lactation consultant) told me, "It's supposed to hurt in the beginning." Wrong. But I didn't know any better, so I suffered through an improper latch (that looked right to most people) and a bad round of mastitis before I asked for more help. If someone tells you it's supposed to hurt, get a second (or third, or forth!) opinion, please!"