“When you hold a child to your breast to nurse, the curve of the little head echoes exactly the curve of the breast it suckles, as though this new person truly mirrors the flesh from which it sprang.”
– Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber
Without as much as a may I? she reached into my v-neck pajama top and cupped my left breast in her mitt-like hand.
I was stunned.
You see, I’m the girl who faces the locker at the gym when she changes into a sport’s bra. I like to keep my toplessness limited to the hooks.
She squeezed at my nipple and put it toward my baby girl’s mouth. Veronica rested her heart-shaped lips on her food source, opened her eyes a slit, and proceeded to fall back asleep, nuzzled in my arms.
The nurse tried the other side. She pinched Veronica’s cheeks so her lips fell into a pucker, lifted my right breast to her mouth, and massaged my nipple ensuring a few drops of yellow colostrum pilled out.
My baby girls mouth was open, ready, but when I leaked onto her lip, she turned her head away.
There was no latching on.
I thought breastfeeding was supposed to be easy … natural? Less than a day old and already my girl doesn’t want me. How is this natural?
In dismay that a virtual stranger was manhandling my breasts and fearing that already I couldn’t provide as a mom, I was unprepared for what she said next.
This hospital-grade lactation nurse informed me, “Honey, your nipples are inverted. You’re not going to be able to breastfeed your little girl.”
I looked down at my naked chest.
I stared at my nipples. It’s clear I don’t have erect National-Geographic nipples, but flat? I thought mine were within range. In their resting state, they stand approximately a centimeter above the surface of my breasts. I certainly never thought they were abnormal.
Tears welled immediately.
I wanted to nurse my little girl and now this woman was telling me I couldn’t.
Game over? Just like that …
There’s no way I can breastfeed? Can I pump? Is Formula City my only option?
Mommy. I need my mommy.
As it were, my mom appeared just then, carrying a brown bag of Potbelly comfort – a Mediterranean sandwich and cheddar SunChips.
Thank God for small miracles.
The nurse, having offered little advice or resolution, left. My mom remained. She sat on the side of my hospital bed. She helped me position Veronica so I could have another go at feeding her. When that didn’t work, my mom listened to my fears, my concerns.
Then she told me a story that mirrored mine.
My mom had the same hiccup – those darn flat nipples, who knew! – and said that I had also pulled away, cried, or fell asleep when she tried to feed me.
“Phhsh. Inverted nipples my ass,” my mom waved her hand away.
She had an easy solution: “What you need is a nipple shield.”
She explained how this contraption would draw out my nipples, stimulate the baby to keep sucking, and train Veronica to latch on and get some of mama’s milk.
This worked for her and she assured me it would work for me too.
My mom buzzed the nursing station and asked for a shield. They didn’t have one, so she sent my husband to Target on the hunt.
In the meantime, I pumped the liquid gold and kept offering my breasts.
I knew it would take practice and some patience, but I left the hospital determined to make breastfeeding work.
Four Tips That Make Breastfeeding Easier
Ask for Help. The first few days were a combination of my husband and I. He helped train how to latch with a little tube full of pumped breastmilk attached to his finger. Veronica would suck on his pointer finger and milk would flow from the tube into her mouth.
Meanwhile, I taught Veronica how to latch and feed with the nipple shield. I started each feed with a shield, but with each passing day, the amount of time I used the shield became less and less. By week two I had weaned her off the shield completely and she was nursing like a boss.
I also had a lactation consultant visit me at home. My insurance paid for the visit because my pediatrician wrote a note stating I was having difficulties with breastfeeding. Her warm personality put me at ease as this Breast Whisperer talked to me about latching, burping, and showed me new positions for holding Veronica – the football hold and the cross-over hold. She even brought in a little scale with which she weighed Veronica before and after nursing. This demonstrated to me exactly how much volume Veronica took in. Her visit was helpful, empowering, and pushed my budding neurosis down.
Read. I thought nursing would be instinctual and boy, I was wrong. That’s where The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins comes in handy. It’s my top rec for nursing moms. I kept this book tucked into the side of my rocking chair. The writing style encouraging and accessible. Another noteworthy source is Kelly Mom. This site was created by a lactation consultant and mother of three and offers info on all things parenting.
Get your set up right. It’s important to prepare your station to build your success.
I listened this CD and this one to set my mood. I kept a big jug of water with a straw on a table next to my rocking chair and set a mug of Guinness there during the early evening feed (it helped with let down, my mom said). I especially loved My Breast Friend. This firm nursing pillow snaps around your waist and helps with positioning. You can even nurse standing up! For weeks I nursed at home, but soon I joined my mom’s group friends at Corner Bakery with my Bébé au Lait.
Do it your way. There will be people on your path, tipping your fragile balance and crying Nipple Confusion or whatever. Jump off the Guilt Train and do what works for you and your family. Both of my girls started on a one-bottle-a-day regimen in their first week of life. We gave them pacis too! Knowing myself and my need for sleep, I enlisted my husband to feed the girls one bottle a day. I had an abundance of milk in the mornings, so I pumped the bottle for the night in the a.m. before my first cup of coffee. I’d feed them at like 6:30/7 p.m. (with my Guinness) and my husband would take the next feed via an expressed breastmilk bottle at 10ish. I wanted to have a set amount of sleep and this method allowed me to hit the hay around 9 p.m. and sleep until the 12:30/1 a.m. feed.
What’s your nursing story? Did you struggle or was it easy breezy from the start? What tips do you have for new moms?