kb7: My boy is 9 months old now and still EBF (well, solids now too for the past few months). We had tremendous trouble for the first couple months. This will be long on words and short on suggestions, but I hope it encourages you or at least makes you feel like you’re not the only one going through it.
For starters, my milk came in late (like, day 5) and he was jaundiced, so we had to supplement with formula a little at the beginning just to keep him going. He was born a few weeks early and was a very little peanut of a kid. He was diagnosed with a posterior tongue tie and lip tie by a dentist who specializes in ties, and when he was 7 days old we had both ties revised via laser. No immediate change, cracked bleeding nipples, toe curling pain every time I nursed. I tried everything within my power to improve his latch but never got anywhere. (I did skip nipple shields though because I was worried about nipple confusion and frankly when I tried them they didn’t seem to help much.)
Under guidance of a lactation consultant (and believe me, I met several of them before I found one who really seemed to “get” us, so shop around if you have to), we spent the first few weeks of his life alternating between EBF until the pain/damage got so bad I couldn’t continue, and me pumping while my husband finger fed the baby (it was too much for me to manage all at once, and we did not want to introduce bottles too early out of fear of nipple confusion). Obviously this second strategy only worked when my husband could stay home from work because America is a piece of crap when it comes to family leave. So after about the first three or four weeks, I started trying to tough it out and nurse more, and we also introduced bottles of pumped milk. Those were hard days… most night feedings would involve both of us, and after the last feed in the morning before my husband left for work, I would usually dissolve into tears thinking about how many painful nursing sessions I would have to get through before he got home and could help again. Dark days. Guilt, dread, lots of PPD.
All along, there was a more painful side and an easier side. Around five weeks, I noticed that the easier side was getting even easier, and around six weeks the easier side was pain-free. By seven or eight weeks (it’s all a blur now), the painful side improved too. Once he was about 2.5 months old, I was pain free.
I ultimately have to conclude that he just had to grow up. His little mouth had to get bigger, his little jaw had to relax on both sides, and he had to get the hang of it. Maybe he had to overcome some physical stress from a difficult birth, who knows. Honestly the best thing I heard was at four weeks, our lactation consultant finally said “it’s not you, it’s him.” After weeks of sobbing every time someone said “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right.” it was the kindest thing she could have told me.
You are doing everything you can, and that’s all you can do. Your worth as a mother isn’t wrapped up in breastfeeding success, although I know firsthand how much guilt you can feel if it isn’t working. Be kind to yourself, find a LC who really listens, maybe reevaluate that tongue tie situation. It’s hard to see when you are in “one feeding at a time” mode, but eventually this will resolve one way or another because you love your child and will always make the right call. A happy, healthy baby and mom really are the most important thing.