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Nitty Gritty on Nursing
November 10, 2010 4:05 pm | by

Today in Real Mom Talk, we move north to talk about our two best girl friends. Nothing can truly prepare you for what it feels like to nurse a baby. Maybe you used that breast pump on your shelf to try to induce labor at week 40, so you think you have an idea of what it will be like, but not even that compares to a real, live, hungry baby. Sure, it’s a wonderful, natural thing women have done for centuries, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy or feels nice.

For some moms, breastfeeding is easy, completely pain free and they never give it a second thought. For others, it isn’t quite that simple. A poll here in our office found exactly one mom who never experienced any pain during the early days of breastfeeding. If you’re having trouble with breastfeeding, always seek the assistance of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Calling your doula, midwife, obstetrician, birthing center or the post-partum department at the hospital will help you connect with the right resource.
Anecdotally speaking, these are some of the things that our staff has found helpful during the early days of nursing a baby:
  • Nursing bras and cloth nursing pads are helpful in giving you the support and security you need in those early days.
  • Gel breast soothers and lanolin can be very helpful to have ready to go, should you begin to get irritated as you find your nursing groove.
  • Feeling like you are about to burst? Sometimes it can be helpful to relieve some of the pressure when things are feeling most uncomfortable. The most beneficial milk is the hindmilk, so expressing a bit of foremilk shouldn’t adversely affect your baby. You can either manually express breastmilk or use a breastpump to relieve a bit of pressure.
  • If your breast pump doesn’t fit quite right, your IBCLC may recommend Medela PersonalFit Breastshields for a better fit.
  • If your pediatrician recommends supplementing, ask if Medela’s Supplemental Nursing System is right for you and your baby.

It’s also important to remember that each mom, baby and situation are different. Sometimes despite great effort, nursing is just not an option and that’s okay. Don’t mentally beat yourself up over other people’s experiences or judgements, they haven’t walked in your shoes. Remember no matter your situation, no matter your choice, you are a good mom because you are doing the best you possibly can for your baby.

Did you breastfeed or bottle feed? Did you overcome obstacles or struggles to feed your child? Tell us about your infant feeding journey.

About the Author

Heather is mom to four, born within 40 months (single, twins, single). She writes transparently about her chaotic household to encourage others through the twists and turns of parenting.



  • Lolly said...
    November 16, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    The thing I wish people knew is it gets easier every month. After a year, if you continue, it gets EVEN easier! The first weeks are the hardest in every way. Don’t feel discouraged when you struggle the first weeks. And… call a Lactation Consultant, not your doctor!

  • Liz said...
    November 14, 2010 at 2:59 am

    I had an awful experience with my LC and wound up quitting BF after only a week (small nipple shield + large flat nipples = excruciating pain.) Pumping was just easier. I had an overwhelmingly abundant supply, and was able to keep going for six months (at which point I thought if I ever even thought about pumping again I would go crazy.) Knowing what I do now about breastfeeding with flat/inverted nipples, I will definitely try again if/when I have another child. I feel like I really missed out on an opportunity. That being said, I don’t regret having pumped for as long as I did for two reasons: 1) my son got the benefit of breastmilk for 6 months, and at just over 12 months old has had exactly 2 colds, which I caught as well and was sick 2x as long! 2) the invaluable bonding time my son received with his dad (which gave me an extra two hours of sleep at a time while he was out feeding the baby!)

  • Mini MNM's said...
    November 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

    My breastfeeding journey sucked (no pun intended!) I had my oldest at term and started out trying to breastfeed. It wasn’t successful. I would try to put him to breast and he would scream. This broke my heart. I tried and when he would do this, I would give in and give him formula. When he did nurse, he tore my nipples apart. They were always red and sore, sometimes bleeding.
    I decided to seek the help of a lactation consultant. The hospital I delivered at didn’t have any outpatient services. I found a local one who was also a LLL leader and had an appointment with her. She first told me that my pump wasn’t very effective and that my son had a very high palate. This would be the reason that nursing hurt so bad. I rented a hospital grade pump and kept trying to nurse. I even took him to a Cranisaccral therapist to help with the misalignment of his neck/head. (she said this could be due to the extended time he was in the birth canal.)
    We really didn’t ever have a good breastfeeding experience. I did pump until he was 6 months old. I have a low supply, despite taking fenugreek, overloading myself with water, and every other trick to raise my supply. We fed breastmilk as much as possible, but supplemented as well.
    When I got pregnant with the twins, I really wanted to breastfeed again. I had them at 36 weeks and the LC’s in the hospital weren’t very supportive of trying to nurse them so little (which they weren’t that little. 5lb 9oz and 6lb 2oz) They said to just keep trying and then to try to put them to breast in a few weeks when their mouths were bigger. I did, but they didn’t really take to nursing very well. They both had bad reflux to where a formula with added rice starch was the only thing they wouldn’t vomit up, so if they were going to vomit the breastmilk, why was I even giving it to them. I pumped for 8 weeks. I wish I could have done it longer, but with a 16 month old and twin newborns, I mentally had a hard time focusing on it.
    I was very disappointed with the lack of help that I had with breastfeeding. I didn’t have a lot of money to seek outside help with breastfeeding, and I didn’t have much help inside the house if I was going to try to go to a LLL meeting to have help.
    When we have our next child, I am going to make it my mission to breastfeed.

  • dannyscotland said...
    November 11, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I can’t tell you how great it felt to read this helpful article and find this at the end, “It’s also important to remember that each mom, baby and situation are different. Sometimes despite great effort, nursing is just not an option and that’s okay. Don’t mentally beat yourself up over other people’s experiences or judgements, they haven’t walked in your shoes. Remember no matter your situation, no matter your choice, you are a good mom because you are doing the best you possibly can for your baby.”

    I chose not to breastfeed my daughter, and boy did I hear it from some people, including but not limited to: my husband, his sister, and my mother. Surprisingly, my grandmother was one of my biggest supporters and one of the most understanding people I encountered. Breastfeeding was simply not something that mentally I could get a grip on. I feared that I would hate it so much that I would eventually hate feeding my baby, and she would pick up on that. I finally decided to give myself permission to bottle feed, and once I made that choice I felt so much better. No more stress about being a “perfect” mom. I know formula isn’t the absolute best, but for me, it was. I know that some people find that selfish, but I am not going to go into the personal reasons that I know bottle feeding was right and best for me and my daughter.

    So I just want to thank you wholeheartedly for acknowledging that mothers who do not breastfeed are still good mothers, and that we aren’t evil or horrible parents. Thank you, so much, for understanding that sometimes it’s just not possible, and sometimes it’s just not best for both mom and baby. I give up everything for my daughter, and that was just one thing I could not do for her. I still feel guilty some days, but mostly I know I made the right decision.

    Without going into any more detail, and having already said more than I was going to, I just have to thank you one more time. It really meant a lot to hear an advocate of breastfeeding also supporting bottle-feeding moms, even one who, to other people, may have looked like she was doing something selfish.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

    i’ve nursed 2 babies so far. my daughter was an eager nurser. i had my milk in before i left the hospital. but i had the typical over supply, i sat in the back bedroom with my daughter propped up by the boppy nursing on one side while i had blankets and everything to try to soak up my spurting milk from the other side. my daughter was almost 2 weeks old when my aunt taught me the trick of using the unused arm to squeeze on the nonnursing side to ebb the flow, so that i could stem my milk production down. it took awhile and i leaked for a long time after she started solids. we nursed with very little complications until she was 19mos and i was pregnant with my 2nd child and couldn’t stand the nipple sensitivity anymore.

    with my son, he was a more eager nurser than my daughter. he scooched down to my breast and tried to latch before he was even cleaned up. he was a little nursing monster and refused all solids until near a year. now that i’m pregnant with my third child, my milk has dwindled to nothing, and he’s 16mos old, i try to nurse him every couple of days so that he gets SOMETHING and i want to tandem nurse him and my third baby until hes AT LEAST 2, per AAP recs and the fact that i now know alot more than when i started my total breastfeeding journey 3.5 years ago with my little girl.

  • Anna said...
    November 11, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Oh boy, I could talk about this for days. Breastfeeding my son (now 2) has been the best experience of my life. While those early days were hard with very frequent feedings, a lot of self doubt, and the feelings of my body no longer belonging to me, it has been an extremely positive experience.

    My son is getting so very close to weaning (he is down to only one nursing/day at bedtime) and this has been such a rewarding experience. I (like Cecelia) have found indescribable non-judgemental support from my local LLL. As many moms worry about making the right decisions for their babies, I sometimes worry whether the decision I made to extend his nursing beyond what our society may be comfortable with is in his best interest. When I reach out to other nursing moms and hear similar stories of their experiences, it builds my confidence and reminds me to trust my instincts to know what my child needs.

    As I think back to 2 years ago when he was just about 6 weeks old, I remember the late night feedings and the sore nipples, but what stands out is the peaceful quietness of the house in the middle of the night. The way it felt the first time he reached up and touched my face with his little chubby fingers while we nursed in his rocking chair. My heart and mind are filled with fond memories, and hope that my next experience is as wonderful as this one was.

  • EG said...
    November 11, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Melissa, your LC should be able to do a test-weigh feed. Bring your baby in hungry and they weigh him on a very sensitive scale, then nurse as usual and they weigh him again to see how much you’re producing. Of course as others have said, a lot of insurance doesn’t cover an LC (ours didn’t, either) but if you can swing it they should be able to put some of your fears to rest.

    We had the help of the Supplemental Nursing System mentioned in the post. It’s a long story about #1 involving not enough milk, crappy LCs, a breastpump, the SNS, and bottles. With #2 I was determined. Read all the books, no bottles, feeding every hour, and finding GOOD LCs. But the fact is that, despite all our efforts (and my kids were both great latchers!), I don’t produce much milk (0.5 – 0.75 oz per feeding).

    But with the help of the SNS, I was able to give #2 all the milk I was producing while simultaneously getting him the nutrition he needed. Plus he was a big comfort-nurser (#1 wasn’t – he just wanted the food stat!) so he was able to get that closeness he desired.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 11, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Yes as many of you have posted, breastfeeding is an emotional issue. I had difficulty producing enough milk at the start with both of my children. It wasn’t just emotional for me and my babies though, my dear husband felt the brunt of it too. He would come home from work to a crying wife and frustrated child. He did everything he could to comfort me and then to help with our babies. So this is a shout out to all of our significant others that have weathered the emotions and pressures with us.

  • She Looks Like a Mom said...
    November 10, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    My baby was born 7 weeks premature. We tried to breastfeed, thought we had it, but it just didn’t work out. I go into more detail here:

    She is 7 months old and still getting a bottle of breastmilk every feeding, sometimes with 2 oz of formula mixed in when I can’t pump quite enough, but I’m thrilled with our progress so far. It may not be directly from the breast, but she’s still getting the good stuff.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 10, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    What a great post. I have a few friends that tried everything to nurse and their bodies just wouldn’t cooperate. It was heartbreaking for them and because of that I know to never pass judgment on a woman for bottle feeding her baby.

    My breastfeeding story is like many. The first few months were very painful and the little one wanted to nurse every 1.5 hours for 30 minutes on each side! After about three months I grew to love breastfeeding and set a goal to continue until she was 6 months. That time came and went and the little once continued to nurse like a champ and the feedings went down to about 5 minutes on each side every 3 hours (much more manageable). When she turned 18 months I had a severe allergic reaction and had to have a steroid shot and take pills. I was advised to no longer nurse and I was devastated. The cold-turkey weaning was terrible but it wasn’t easy either. Now little one is 21 months and still pulls down my shirt and attempts to nurse. It makes me sad that I no longer nurse and have that cuddle time but I am proud to have far surpassed my 6-month goal!

  • Nerd Mama said...
    November 10, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    We have breastfed very successfully, but we had a problem that most women don’t think about. When my daughter was about a month old I was having a huge oversupply of milk. I wasn’t pumping except occasionally to relieve pressure, I just naturally made a lot more milk than we needed. I had trouble getting enough hind milk to her, so she nursed all the time and sometimes had gas or other even diarrhea from the excess foremilk. My daughter was cranky from all the tummy troubles and my breasts were miserably sore from always being full, and always being suckled on. I had trouble finding support because everyone would say “better too much than not enough” and blow me off. Finally my mother found an article on the La Leche League International website that helped me SO much. I had to stop listening to my daughter’s by-the-book pediatrician (who we later switched from, but that’s another story) and half of the literature I had read, and do what we needed to make it work.

    The best advice I can give to any woman breastfeeding, no matter what her trouble, is to keep asking questions and keep searching for advocates. If you’re uncomfortable, something needs to change, and there’s someone or something out there that can help!

  • Anonymous said...
    November 10, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Thanks very much for the paragraph reminding everyone that every mom and baby are different, and what is right for one is not right for another.

    I wanted desperately to breastfeed and took advantage of all of the help I could get. Despite my good health and completely normal birth of a full-term, healthy baby, my milk never came in in the way everyone said it would. It grew from a tiny trickle to a slightly tinier trickle. It was terribly painful to want to breastfeed and be unable. Although it’s on a completely different order, it brings up some of the same feelings that women with infertility issues deal with: sadness, anger, frustration, jealousy and the like.

    For six weeks, we visited breastfeeding clinics at least twice a week. I nursed with a supplementer every 2 or 3 hours and pumped in between as directed. I took herbs, I drank teas, and, at some points, I took both Reglan and domperidone to increase supply. Nothing worked. And while the supplementer can be a fulfilling experience for some, it was humiliating for me. It was a constant reminder that my natural equipment was broken and it created more distance between the two of us than a bottle. When I used it, I couldn’t nurse in public because I couldn’t pull out the entire contraption and tape it discretely. Nursing itself remained physically painful (and removing the tape was awful!). And because none of it was working to increase supply, I felt more and more depressed and felt that my efforts began to affect my relationship with my son.

    We quit at six weeks, and he was exclusively formula-fed thereafter. Contrary to everything I was told, he did not have any more infant illnesses than his peers, does not appear any less bright or engaged, etc. I don’t question the science that “breast is best”–but if someone is struggling as I was and feels something is wrong, don’t let yourself be convinced that your are dooming your child if you stop breastfeeding.

    In addition to the pressure I put on myself, I found one of the hardest things to deal with to be the way I felt judged by other “natural choices” mothers–the ones with whom I talked about cloth diapers and the like. But I know I made the right choice for my son and for myself when I quit.

    I will try again to nurse other children if we are blessed with them, but I will not allow myself to be defeated by it if it doesn’t work. I encourage you to do the same.

    But I especially encourage all moms to remember to support each other and abandon judgment.

  • Heather said...
    November 10, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing Melissa. Do you have access to a consultant to help you? We do carry some products designed to help increase milk production, but it would be good to talk to a doctor or certified consultant first so they can help you find what’s best for you. You can see our selection at or by searching “more milk” in our search bar on

  • Melissa Duckett said...
    November 10, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    I am trying to breast feed… baby is a week old today and it has been a pretty scary journey. We had trouble getting help in the hospital, we’ve had trouble NOW getting confirmation or suggestions to get everything “working”. I had a breast reduction ten years ago and I do produce some milk. However, I have no idea how much I should be producing, and I don’t feel like my breasts are overly full (they do feel firmer and floppier before and after feedings, but nothing like what other women describe). For our LC, we are only breast feeding and feeding every three hours for the next three days to see what happens. My fear is that I’ve damaged my tissue beyond repair and I won’t be able to “exclusively” breast feed. We’ve broken down and given her about an ounce of formula for the past few days just because we were afraid she wasn’t getting enough food. She seems to be inconsolable at times and I just can’t stand to feed more often. We were told to use a nipple shield in the hospital because of swelling (my nipple/areolas were swollen, but the tissue can’t “move” so it just poofed up). So now without the shield I feel like I’m going through the pain of the first few days again. We desperately want this to work–I just never realized how disappointed I’d be if it didn’t seem to be working. 🙁
    I just wish I knew how to get MORE milk! (I’m sure there are a lot of moms out there that have quite the opposite problem–but I’d gladly trade too much for too little).

  • Samara and Family said...
    November 10, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Some very wonderful experiences shared. I breast fed both my boys. First time was difficult and painful on one side for about 2-3 weeks, if I remember correctly. He is 8 now, so it has been a while. Things did work out and I had supportive family who gave me excellent advice when I asked. I ended up breastfeeding him till he was about 2 at which point he weaned on his own.
    With the second one, fortunately, I had been educated on my and my babies rights to breastfeed and I advocated for myself prior to delivery and after the birth. He was put in nic-u for a bit from breathing difficulties and they tried to get me to pump right away and not let him nurse, instead wanting to give him a bottle.
    I persevered and made my wishes known, so after a few hours, they gave me a rocker in the Nic-U and I breastfed him even though he had an IV and stuff. It was awkward, but we managed. He is now almost 2 and is still quite insistent on his snuggle time.
    But, I guess the main thing is to follow your own feelings and know what you would like to do if you are able. Then, if that does not happen for whatever reason, do not beat yourself up. Mothers are great at adapting. 🙂

  • Anonymous said...
    November 10, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I’m currently nursing (and pumping for) my second child. My first was SO hard to nurse during the first 2 weeks. He was super sleepy and a horrible latcher. It hurt, I had cracked/bleeding nipples, and I felt as though I was always full to the point of soreness. Then, things just got easy. We nursed (and pumped) exclusively until he turned 6 months, then we started with solids, which he loved right away. We nursed and fed solids until almost 10 months, then started supplementing with formula (when I was 4 months pregnant with my second child). We made it to a year as a part-time nursing team (mornings and bedtime), but it was a stretch. My son would have been fine stopping sooner – it was me who clung to it. My second baby was a breeze to nurse from the start (good latcher and ALWAYS ready to eat), but she was (is) also a cluster feeder, especially in the evenings, so that is it’s own difficulty. I’m loving it though this time just as much as last time. We’re at 5-months now and hoping to make it a year (or maybe longer..)

  • bcfox26 said...
    November 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    We are breastfeeding. My son is 18 months now and still nurses 2-3 times in a day. I just finally night weaned which was difficult to get rid of the middle of the night feedings.
    At first it was difficult to get him to latch so the lc basically hand expressed colostrum into his mouth since I did not want to use formula. It took him and me a few weeks to get his latch right. The pain was terrible for at least two months. My nipples were so sore. Then after about 5 months it was much easier and less painful. I did have a few problems with a nipple pore that the drs office had to scrape out but once they did it healed almost overnight. I shouldn’t have waited thru the month of pain! Then just a couple of weeks ago I was putting my son down for bed and he bit me. Never before or after has he do e this( I think he was teething and frustrated because my supply was down that day due to period) it left an wound on the crease of the nipple that still hasn’t healed. But overall it has been ok. I do it because I believe it’s best for my baby and I wouldn’t have been able to afford formula anyway. I’m going for the recommended 2 years. We shall see if we make it.

  • Jill said...
    November 10, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Baby born 3 weeks premature. By the time she had latched on the first time and really gotten a good feeding, they spotted jaundice. Then they told us to keep her ‘under the lights’ and not to take her out. So I pumped, and pumped. We tried formula because ‘they’ said the best thing was to get the baby fed to get her healthy. She projectile vomited it across the room. So I pumped. On the day we were being released, a nurse told us (oh you COULD have nursed her, you just had to ask for the blanket with lights in it).. NICE. So I pumped and tried breastfeeding for 3 months. One side was decent, the other seemed to always hurt. The bottle feeding was ridiculous though, it was an hour long process to clean the bottles, hook up, pump, then get it transferred over and wash again. By the time I was pumping 16 ounces of milk and she was only taking in 4 at a feeding, I decided to go cold turkey on the pump. It took a few weeks, but we got it all worked out. I called the local LLL person and she helped me figure some things out. My girl nursed until 17 months. It was really hard to ‘restart’ nursing after so long pumping, but it was SO worth it. I slept more, she slept more, we all did better, and it was so much more satisfying than being stuck to a machine for all those precious minutes. I had surgery when my daughter was 11 months old, and had to pump again. Re starting pumping wasn’t easy either, I had to have a couple of days worth of stash. My daughter drank the milk out of a cup, but she gave it the stink eye and was not happy about it. I would rather be tied to my kid literally for 17 months than spend another minute with a pump. It saved her life, but it made it really hard to bond with her, because most of my time was spent dealing with the pumping process when she was a newborn. If I have another child, I will do everything in my power to NOT have to pump and just be a MOM instead of feeling so estranged… I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone else or not, but that’s how I felt.

  • Cecelia said...
    November 10, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I am still (nearly exclusively, as in, she barely touches solids) nursing my daughter at a year. I am curious about the pushing of IBCLC, to the exclusion of any other trained breastfeeding support person. The more I learn (the process to become one is daunting, and many qualified women choose not to pursue it, as it essentially requires a return to college, and one can become an IBCLC without ever having nursed a baby, even for a minute!), the more I question this focus. I missed out on some wonderful help from some women I now know early in our breastfeeding relationship (that was quite a difficult process at the time) because I kept seeing I should only see someone with that acronym. My (very expensive) health insurance doesn’t cover LC visits, and after having had an unhelpful experience in the hospital with their LC, was hesitant to pay out of pocket for the same non-help. There are many other very skilled breastfeeding support professionals, to say nothing of LLL leaders, who don’t have those credentials but still have saved many a nursing pair!

  • Anonymous said...
    November 10, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Here’s the best line in this article:
    Don’t mentally beat yourself up over other people’s experiences or judgements, they haven’t walked in your shoes.
    Every momma out there would be so better mentally prepared for all the crazy motherhood experiences, if only we could practice this great tidbit of wisdom.

  • Anonymous said...
    November 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Breastfed. With my first son, it was so easy. Not completely pain free, but easy. He latched on before I’d even delivered the placenta and I don’t think he let go for months. (Seriously, the kid ate every 45 minutes until I finally put my foot down and made him go 2 hours. Mama needed to sleep!). We had one bad latch that caused a some blisters/bleeding, but after that it was cake.

    My second little guy was a whole different ball game. He wouldn’t latch on after birth. My midwife was manhandling my breast and his head trying to get him on. He was just so sleepy he had no interest in nursing. Then my milk came in. Oh it hurt so bad. I pumped and expressed some but was afraid to do much for fear of just increasing my supply even more. I cried in pain and I cried because I was just sure he was going to starve if he wouldn’t eat and then he finally woke up and latched on. All the crying might have been hormones…

    It’s been much tougher with #2. He was more interested in sleep than food for the first few months and now he is too distracted by the world to have much desire to nurse. We’re still sticking with it and he’s doing okay but I feel a lot less certain with him. Still planning to make it for the whole year. Wish us luck!