Nursing can be tough on us new moms. Something the pro-breastfeeding propaganda neglects to say is just how hard a nursing relationship can be at the beginning. Many issues arise in the course of breastfeeding. Here are some thoughts that have helped me.
I stopped counting after the first few nights, so I can’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve fed my daughter in the darkness—but I can say it gets easier as time passes.
The main thing about night nursing is to let it wash over you, to not count every time you wake up, and to try to smile when you hear your little one calling your name. These times (so they tell me) will not last forever and will soon fade into the past, but the constant reassurance you’re giving your child will never go away. Nursing on demand is a powerful thing in structuring your child’s positive approach to food, comfort and life in general.
Ask your pediatrician when you can start spacing out those nighttime feedings; the old rice cereal in a bottle trick really does work once your baby’s old enough for it. Slit the nipple of a bottle, put a small portion of rice cereal in, and feed it to your child just before bed. The first time I did that my daughter slept for eight hours straight.
Plugged Ducts and Mastitis
If milk builds up in your breast, a duct can become plugged. If addressed, it’s not a big deal, but if left alone, it can lead to mastitis, a systemic infection which will feel like the most virulent flu ever known to man.
Sometime in my third month of nursing I got mastitis, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so miserable. Fever, chills and sweats, achiness, headache, horrible tenderness—it was awful.
The best thing to do to prevent this from happening is to gently inspect your breast each time you nurse on it, looking for hard lumps. If you find one, take immediate action to get that worked out. A hot shower and manual expression or (oddly enough) a wide-tooth comb with soap in the shower, carefully stroking with pressure from the duct inward, will help. Also nurse and pump frequently.
If you get mastitis, immediately call your care provider and obtain antibiotics. If you don’t head it off, it can become an abscess and require surgical treatment. Mastitis is heralded by redness of the breast, extreme tenderness and the symptoms of flu. You can continue nursing your child throughout and, in fact, that’s one of the best things you can do.
The main thing to do when a grown spurt hits is to just resign yourself to nursing your baby constantly! The extra nursing is fulfilling the purpose of increasing your milk supply, so it’s a good thing. Don’t hesitate to ask for the help you need in order to focus on your (sometimes cranky) baby and nurse, nurse, nurse!
Nursing in Public
This is a touchy issue for many people, because the breast has long been viewed in a wholly sexual sense in our culture. Anywhere you go you’re liable to get dirty looks if your nurse in public. I’m too private for that, so I tend to do a lot of nursing in bathrooms (gross but unavoidable), in people’s bedrooms and in the car. This does work just fine for me—in fact, we and our 5-month-old are on a long cross-country trip at the moment, nursing exclusively.
Nursing covers are available, but I just use a blanket or a shawl. I like the pashmina wraps, since I wear them anyway, and they are light and not so hot as the blankets. We practiced a lot at home, nursing with a cover-up, and now do just great with it anywhere.
Nursing in public is tricky, and something each mother and family has to explore individually. Good luck in finding your groove!
The main thing about nursing is perseverance. Don’t be afraid to request the help you need in order to make this delicate relationship a strong one. And congratulate yourself—you’ve provided sole nourishment for this little one for nine months and more. You are nurturing a miracle!
Emily McIntyre is a Kansas City-based freelance writer and harpist. She and her husband are reveling in being first-time parents.