Note: I wrote this in Fall 2005. My son was born 10 days ago and breastfeeding has been a breeze in comparison to what I went through breastfeeding my daughter, K. I share this information because I want women with inverted nipples to know that it is absolutely possibly to exclusively breastfeed your child.
Breastfeeding can be a challenge. I know this first hand. It’s hard to believe that after all the problems I had getting breastfeeding established, I am now nursing a toddler. I am living proof that if you want to breastfeed, finding a good knowledgeable lactation consultant, educating yourself, and surrounding yourself with supportive friends, family and lactivists, will increase your odds for a successful breastfeeding relationship.
When I first got pregnant, I didn’t know anything about breastfeeding. Of course the phrase “Breast is Best” was floating around my brain, but beyond that I didn’t know anything besides the legend of the sore nipples. There are so many myths about breastfeeding floating about that it’s hard for the newly pregnant woman to flush out the truth from fiction. I was told by a nurse that I needed to prepare my nipples with steel wool. Another person told me “Just wait till your nipples start bleeding!” Then at my first prenatal appointment, my midwife saw that I had inverted nipples which can make breastfeeding difficult. It was then that my quest for knowledge really began.
I started reading. By far the best book was The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, but I also read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and a few others that left such an impression that I can’t remember their titles.
When I was six months pregnant, I started attending La Leche League meetings. I was a little apprehensive because I had heard rumors about the “breastfeeding nazis.” Instead, I found a group of very knowledgeable and welcoming women. Some were currently nursing, some had older children but were there to give the “mentor mom” perspective. Since I didn’t personally know anyone besides my mom who breastfed longer than a couple months, I wanted to meet women who were truly supportive of breastfeeding. Between the well meaning people who told me that if breastfeeding didn’t “work out,” I could just use formula and the formula manufacturers who do such a great job marketing formula as a breastmilk equivalent, I was compelled to track down people who where committed to finding a solution to any problem I might encounter, rather than just switching to formula. (For more on formula marketing, read Milk, Money, and Madness.) For me, formula was an absolute last resort. Going to the meetings reinforced the information I had already learned via reading, which gave me confidence. Now when someone warned me “everyone gets sore nipples,” I could tell them that a bad latch is almost always the cause and to see a lactation consultant.
I am so glad I created a support system and educated myself on the benefits of breastfeeding because that helped me persist through the first few months of K’s life. It would have been so easy for me to give up on breastfeeding early on, but then I would have missed out on so much.
The breast shells I wore during pregnancy did not “push out” my nipples and K was not able to nurse until a couple hours after she was born via c-section. When I finally was able to nurse her, she did latch on, but not for any period of time. After that, she would not latch on at all. I was devastated. I wondered if the spinal I had was partly responsible. I did not want her to have any bottles or pacifiers because I feared that would further complicate the problem. Once she experienced a “pushed out” nipple, would she ever nurse?
I remember the third night of her life so vividly. K was screaming. The nurses said it was because she was hungry. My milk hadn’t come in yet, and I was only able to pump a couple drops. A nurse came in with some formula and I cried as I gave it to her. I was certain that once she had an artificial nipple, and was able to eat so easily, that she would never breastfeed. Two days later my milk came in and I was horribly engorged. My breasts were hot and felt like they were filled with little rocks. It was the weirdest thing. My wonderful daytime nurse called the hospital lactation consultant (LC). On each enormous breast, the LC put a disposable diaper, filled with ice, lined with cabbage leaves. I looked hilarious and smelled like cabbage. The LC showed me how to massage the milk out of my breasts – your body is not your own once you have a baby. She also gave me a nipple shield and I was amazed and thrilled when K would nurse!
For the next six weeks, K nursed exclusively with the nipple shield. I ultimately wanted to wean her from the nipple shield and started to become worried because she would not latch on without it. Between nursing and pumping, my nipples were “pulled out,” so the inverted nipples were no longer the issue, but K was used to the nipple shield. I was so happy that she was getting breastmilk, but it was annoying to always have to put on the nipple shield and it was very difficult to do so discreetly in public, especially with people who can’t handle seeing a baby eating lurking about. (At least in California, a woman has the right to breastfed her baby in any public or private place, other than a private residence. Many states do not protect a baby’s right to eat in public, and women can be arrested for breastfeeding in public. That’s a whole other story.)
At my six week check up, my midwife was able to get K to latch onto my breast without the shield and she nursed! It was amazing! There were still times, like when K was really tired or hungry, that she would only nurse with the shield, but otherwise, she was nursing without it! Within a week, she was nursing entirely without the nipple shield.
And now, here I am and she is “still” nursing. People ask me when I plan to wean K and I say, “When one of us wants to.” Now that K is a busy toddler, nursing is one of the few times that she is still. It’s really wonderful when I need a break to have K crawl into my lap and nurse and we can both just enjoy a few quiet moments.
My story could have been so different. I think I was able to preserver because I truly believe that breastmilk is best and I had the support of my wonderful husband, my midwife, and La Leche League. Our culture doesn’t want moms to feel guilty for using formula, but one of the consequences of that objective is a lack of outspoken support for breastfeeding and the mind-set that formula is a satisfactory substitute. When you combine those two viewpoints, you get a country where, according 2003 CDC statistics, only 14% of 6-month old babies are exclusively breastfed when the AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least a year and WHO recommends at least two years. Public service announcements promoting breastfeeding are altered as a result of formula industry pressure. (See the results of the campaign.) According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, taxpayers pay $578 million per year on the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to buy formula for babies who are not breastfeeding, while formula industry revenues top $4 billion a year. Every 10 percent increase in the breastfeeding rate among WIC recipients could save WIC $750,000 per year. It’s really a shame that all of this money is spent on an inferior product when our bodies automatically produce the most superior infant food for free.