I always planned to breastfeed. I was breastfed, and the health, financial and environmental benefits so greatly outweighed the formula route that I never considered not breastfeeding. Despite the surprisingly high number of women I knew who “couldn’t” breastfeed, I never second guessed my decision to try. And once I make a decision, I’m pretty determined to see it through.
Of course, I also like to get the full range of information before embarking on a new adventure, especially if it involves my body. So my husband and I signed up for the breastfeeding class. I took as many notes as I could on technique, troubleshooting and potential problems. My husband asked more questions than anyone else there, and we left with all the confidence of parenting experts who have never actually been parents.
When our daughter was born several weeks later, I made a point of putting her on my breast as quickly as possible. That little girl knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it, and I was thrilled that we seemed to already have feeding nailed.
Then, when the adrenaline wore off and I began focusing on the details of feeding my baby, I realized that my nipples were red, black and blue, one of them sporting a rather large hickey. And they hurt! This was not ideal.
In the meantime, my daughter became more aggressive. Between her little snorts and powerful suckling, it was declared that she had a “shallow latch,” meaning that she wasn’t taking enough of my breast into her mouth. The result was a nipple that had been repeatedly pressed between a strong tongue and a hard palate, thus the inflammation, bruising and hickey.
I worked with two lactation consultants and came away with improved technique, and more importantly, nipple shields. I like to call them nipple hats, because that’s what they look like. They’re soft, BPA-free plastic shields that suction to the breast over the nipple. They allowed me to keep feeding my baby without letting her cause further damage. They also taught her to open her mouth further, thereby taking more into her mouth. After a few weeks, we stopped using them altogether. Three months in, breastfeeding is pretty much second nature.
A shallow latch is a common problem, and certainly not the only one. According to Womenshealth.gov, other typical challenges include too much or too little milk, engorgement, plugged ducts, infections, and flat or inverted nipples. In most cases, working with a professional, natural methods and continued feeding are the best ways to resolve these issues.
I realize now why so many women seem to think they can’t breastfeed. In all honesty, I had the same fear early on, and was only saved by the wealth of resources available to me. Had we not taken the class, I might not have known so much help was ready and waiting.
For now, the nipple hats are still around should we ever need them (teething time?) and I’m blissfully hickey free. The snorts, of course, we’ll be keeping for a while.
Katherine E. Reilly Mitchell is a freelance writer for the site Assistanceforsinglemothers.com, a website that provides resources, tips, and strategies to help women in business grow their companies. She also maintains a personal blog at http://www.humantextuality.com/.