Mommy Chronicles: He didn’t Latch Fresh Out the Womb

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As I prepared for the arrival of my first son, I did not expect breastfeeding to be much of a challenge. I was too busy stocking up on the perfect cloth diapers, writing my elaborate birth plan, and choosing the cutest after-delivery outfits for me and my baby. Breastfeeding was an afterthought because, come on, breastfeeding is totally natural. As old as man, breastfeeding is the purest form of nurturing and nutrition in the world. Long before infant formula was created, centuries and centuries of women before me had nursed their babies successfully because they had no other options. How hard could it be?! Your breast fills with milk; your baby wants milk; you put your baby to your breast. Easy peasy. Right? Eh.

In all the excitement and dreaming that comes along with awaiting the arrival of my baby, I ignored the few people who actually told me that breastfeeding was difficult. “Not for me,” I thought, “because I want to breastfeed. I am determined.” I found it rude and judgmental of those people to doubt my abilities before I was even given the opportunity to try, so I did not even ask them for tips or help.

When my son was finally born, though, breastfeeding became my arch nemesis. I was convinced my son hated me because he refused to nurse. Though breastfeeding was described to me as “natural” and “beautiful” and “relaxing,” it felt quite the opposite, and I hurt for a long time before I actually felt comfortable and happy nursing my son. He struggled to latch, and when he did, it left me in terrible pain. No one told me about this pain! Well, maybe they did, but I ignored them. Mistake!

Along with the shock of having a new little person to care for, my traumatic delivery caused me to heal more slowly than for which I had prepared. I was going on little to no sleep. Reeve was having back-to-back diaper blow-outs, and we had a limited number of cloth diapers, so our laundry was backing up as we tried to maintain enough clean diapers for each day. I struggled with a bit of “baby blues,” and just when my emotions started getting really crazy, my parents left the state to go back home, and my husband went back to his job with the Marine Corps. The struggles of my early days of being a new mom were not any crazier or different than any other mothers, but I felt alone and I felt like I was failing as a mother, wife, and person, in general.
The pain caused by my son’s latch (which I eventually realized was incorrect) made me grind my teeth and shriek. It was so terrible! That pain was worse than childbirth, to me, and Reeve’s delivery was no cakewalk. His incorrect latch eventually caused my nipples to crack and bleed. It was awful, but I assumed it was normal or “just my luck.” I was determined to press on and continue nursing my son. The benefits of breastfeeding, to me, outweighed the awful pain. I knew I had to lay my pride down and seek some help, though. Being tough just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

I was the first in my family to nurse a baby. My parents were fed PET milk as infants; me and my siblings were given formula; and I even helped feed my nieces and nephews formula over the years. This added an extra challenge because the most important women in my life could offer no help during my struggles because they were just as clueless as I was.

I decided to call my local La Leche League leader and get some advice from her. She was super helpful and asked me questions to make sure she had all the information she needed to assist me. I also reached out to a friend on Facebook. She was nursing a baby who was a few months older than Reeve. She often wrote about her struggles on her blog, so she seemed like someone in whom I could confide. She helped me feel some solidarity and that my frustrations with nursing were justified. She told me, “heck yeah, girl, it freakin’ hurts!” I opened up to my close friends about my struggles. I admitted that I had been trying to make everyone think all was well and that I was Super Mom, but that was exhausting! My friends, though not mothers themselves, helped me do some research to find the problem. They watched Reeve for me while I took a shower or a nap and composed myself. My friends, the LLL leader, and my husband, who cheered me on, helped me identify the source of the pain. Once we corrected Reeve’s latch, relief was almost instant! I began to slowly feel more comfortable nursing my son, and I no longer felt isolated. By surrounding myself with a strong support system, I was faced the challenges of breastfeeding head-on, because, it takes village, right?!

Having people around for support isn’t necessarily vital to achieve breastfeeding success, but it is a tremendous help. Sometimes, we just need a break, and that’s ok. Sometimes, we need to admit that we can’t do it alone, and that’s ok. We are strong enough to do it alone, but we shouldn’t have to. Be open to advice and accept someone’s help when they offer. If you struggle with nursing, find a friend or call your local breastfeeding support group. Just talking about your emotions and difficulties during those crazy early days of being a new mom can be liberating.

Reeve nursed happily until he was 26 months old. What began as the most challenging task I had ever taken on became a rewarding and nurturing experience for my son and for me. This also prepared me for nursing my youngest son, who is five months old. I knew, this time, that if I had a problem or concern, it was ok to ask for help. People are surprisingly willing to give the new mama what she needs!

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