No, You're Not “Doing It Wrong" — Breastfeeding Just Hurts
Let me just start off by saying, I am really into breastfeeding. I’m a breastsleeper, an extended breastfeeder, and a public breastfeeder – breastfeeding cover not required. I still pump at work two times a day so my 17 month old can have all the breast milk she wants, anytime she wants it. Breastfeeding works for me and it works/worked for both of my kids. I am a huge fan of breastfeeding. But guess what? Breastfeeding was super painful for me for the first few weeks. My nipples hurt, but what hurt even more was being told over and over that if I was in pain while breastfeeding, I was doing it wrong.
The first time I learned that I was a breastfeeding failure was from the mean night nurse (one is always mean) two days after my son Harvey was born. She pointed an accusing finger at my nipple and reprimanded me: “He’s already left a bite mark! He’s not latching right!” I was a little taken aback. I thought we’d been doing pretty good considering neither he nor I had ever breastfed before, but apparently the writing was on the nipple. My midwives and doula gently agreed. So, did friends, strangers, and web searches. I was not doing it right; Harvey’s latch was too shallow; I needed to squeeze my boob in a c shape, shove it in his mouth like a hamburger, study videos on how to breastfeed over and over again. But try as I might, my nipples grew increasingly sore. Not only was I in pain — the pain was proof positive that I was failing at breastfeeding, and the more it hurt, the more upset I felt because it hurt, so the more hurt I felt — and on and on.
For the next few weeks, things did not improve. Shirts and I did not come into contact for days at a time. Lansinoh sales probably tripled from the amount I smeared on my poor nips. I have the distinct memory of leaning over a table to soak my boobs in warm, salty water just feet away from my poor parents. When I called lactation consultants or reached out to friends with kids, the response was always the same: his latch is too shallow. It should never, ever hurt. I drove myself to tears trying and failing to correct Harvey’s shallow latch, but despite all my efforts my nipples were soon cracked and bleeding. I wasn’t sure if I could go on. That hurt more than the actual nipple pain.
The next two weeks I was in searing pain again, covered in Lansinoh, and furious I was once again failing. Hadn’t I just breastfed a kid for 2-and-half years? Shouldn’t I know how to do this? What was my damn problem?
And then… magically, breastfeeding just got better. I swear his latch never improved so either my nipples toughened up or some goddess of breastfeeding intervened. I’m not sure. All I know is that after four weeks I was no longer in pain. Suddenly we could breastfeed anywhere, anytime, and in any position. Harvey was stoked. My confidence returned, as did my shirts. I breastfed Harvey happily for the next two-and-half years until I got pregnant with his sister.
When Mabel was born, I figured there was no way I’d have the same problems. She was an amateur breastfeeder, sure, but I was a pro. I still remember the magical moment I got my minutes-old daughter to latch on for the first time and take a few tentative sucks. Her eyes opened wide in shock and amazement as I assured her, “it’s all smooth sailing for us, little one.”
One day later, the mean lactation consultant (like I said, one is always mean) was pointing at my nipple. “It’s pulled out like a lipstick tube!” She lactation-splained me. “You’re doing it wrong!” She suggested a nipple shield. I suggested she step out of the room before I started cursing. The next two weeks I was in searing pain again, covered in Lansinoh, and furious I was once again failing. Hadn’t I just breastfed a kid for 2-and-half years? Shouldn’t I know how to do this? What was my damn problem? I even hysterically diagnosed Mabel with a tongue tie and fled to our family doctor for confirmation, convinced only an operation could fix our situation. “No,” Dr. E assured me with just the smallest eye roll, “She’s normal. Breastfeeding can just hurt at first.”
Finally, someone had said it: Breastfeeding can hurt! Mabel and I weren’t “doing it wrong,” we were “learning to do it right.”
Finally, someone had said it: Breastfeeding can hurt! Mabel and I weren’t “doing it wrong,” we were “learning to do it right.” Simply hearing someone else say it (the fact that she was a doctor didn’t hurt either!) completely set me free from the self-flagellation and let me get back to the task of getting to know my new baby. After a little more practice (or nipple toughening?), Mabel and I became a well-oiled team fueled by breast milk and cuddles.
These days, breastfeeding is one of my favorite parts of motherhood. Like Harvey before her, Mabel is still going strong at 17 months. The only pain I feel these days is when she tries to flip upside down with my nipple in her mouth or physically walk away from me while still latched onto my boob. Those things may hurt, but I know I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, her confident little attitude makes me suspect I’m doing something very, very right.