Feeding through the pain
I’m sitting here right now feeding my baby, and it’s easy and relaxing, and hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was in tears at the thoughts of the next feed.
While I was dealing with painful feeds in the early weeks – especially the feeds where I felt exquisite pain – I found myself turning to the Internet several times and looking for ways to deal with the pain. Most sites had much the same advice: “Figure out what’s causing the pain and fix it.” Good advice, but it wasn’t helping me. I had a fair idea that an incorrect latching-on technique was causing the pain and I was working towards fixing it, but healing was slow and in the meantime what I actually needed was advice on how to cope with the pain rather than how to fix it.
So now that I’ve emerged from the fog, and moved past the pain, I thought it might be useful to share the coping mechanisms that I used for dealing with the pain.
1. Identify and fix the problem causing the pain.
Yes – I know I mentioned above that this advice wasn’t what I was searching for. But the fact remains that it’s the most important piece of advice when it comes to problems with feeding. If you don’t fix the problem, then it’s likely to get worse.
2. If you can stick to one side per feed, do.
This tip is definitely not going to work for everyone. It is totally dependent on your milk supply. For me, my supply has always been good, and in fact oversupply tends to be an issue, so it’s quite easy for me to limit each feed to a single side, thereby maximising the break each side gets between feeds. At certain times in the day, when feeds are 3-4 hours apart, that means each side is getting a 6-8 hour recovery period between uses. This was vital to helping me cope with the pain because when I was feeding on the sorer side at least I knew that I’d have a good gap before I had to do it again.
3. Take painkillers.
Again, not everyone is comfortable with doing this. But I was at the point where I couldn’t physically feed unless I dampened the pain somehow. There is a danger that if you numb the pain, then you’ll end up doing more damage because you won’t feel it as much when the latch is bad. But I was happy that the latch was fixed and I was just waiting for healing to take place. So I took paracetamol regularly, every 6-8 hours, and I took Ponstan when I needed it, once or twice a day before a feed on the sorer side. I tried to time it so that I took the painkillers about 20-30 minutes before a feed. Some days I didn’t need painkillers so I didn’t take any. But other days I would have quit without them.
4. Have a plan.
Personally I couldn’t keep going if I didn’t have a plan for what I was doing to fix the situation. Blind hope just wasn’t cutting it for me. I had to feel that I was being proactive, that there was a plan in place. These plans were generally simple: apply lanolin before and after each feed, use MultiMam compresses, ask the public health nurse her advice, speak to the lactation consultant, etc.
5. Give the plan time to work.
Of course, plans are no good unless you give them time to work. So with each plan, I would set a duration for myself as to how long I would try it for. That way I could be sure I gave each option a reasonable chance.
6. Have a plan B.
Sometimes whatever you’re planning doesn’t work out. Like when I kept going in the second week because I thought all I had to do was get to speak to the practice nurse in my GP clinic and she’d be able to help me. So I kept going and going, and then it turned out she couldn’t help. If I didn’t have a plan B or a next step ready, that would have been crushing. Luckily I had decided beforehand that if she couldn’t help me
I would contact a lactation consultant immediately.
7. Give yourself a break.
Pain eats away at you. It brings down your mood and it can be all consuming. If you get to the point where it’s on your mind constantly – either because you are in constant pain or because you are constantly thinking about the next painful experience, then it is probably time to give yourself a break. At least it was for me. With Little Man, that break involved giving him a bottle of formula. And with Little Woman since I had milk aplenty, it involved expressing and syringe-feeding her a feed or two. Knowing that I had an alternative to latching her on if I needed it really helped keep me going. I didn’t feel trapped by the pain and that was really important for me mentally.
8. Set a limit.
I know some people believe that you should breastfeed at all costs, but I am not one of those. I really really wanted to breastfeed and I was determined to do everything I could to ensure that worked out. But I think there comes a time when you have to call it a day, both for your physical and mental health. That time may be an arbitrary time limit that you set or it may be a particular event. For me, I had one more plan left to try if the Jack Newman cream hadn’t worked out. I would have brought Little Woman to have her assessed for posterior tongue tie (since she doesn’t have an obvious tongue tie). And if that wasn’t the issue, then I was going to switch to expressing and bottle feeding instead. If necessary I would have supplemented with formula, though I’d have preferred not to because I always felt Little Man was left more unsettled on formula.
So there you have it. My tips based on my very personal experience of coping with pain while establishing breast feeding. As I’ve mentioned, not all of these tips are suitable for everyone. The only thing I can say with certainty is that this is what got me through. So maybe I have one more tip for you if you’re experiencing something similar: “Find what works for you and try it.” You know your own limits and you know what helps you. So trust yourself.