As I walked into the hospital conference room, I felt very out of place. These other women had been to this breastfeeding support group meeting before, they had likely come regularly. I knew my problem was different from theirs, and I felt self-conscious and guilty for that. Nevertheless, I hopped in line behind the other new moms, taking off my infant’s clothes and changing him into a dry diaper to weigh him just like everyone else. I knew this wasn’t the reason I was here, but I didn’t want to stand out as different…
I had a fairly easy start to breastfeeding with my son. Other than some early issues latching on one side that was resolved by a nipple shield, he was already a rockstar. A couple weeks in, however, things were getting out of hand. I was overproducing milk plus one breast had an overactive letdown. Seems like a great problem to have, right? Wrong! My poor little guy couldn’t keep up! He was choking and unlatching. Milk was spraying everywhere like a firehose. He was screaming. I was crying. It was too much.
Let’s get even more real. A side effect of him trying to keep up with the overactive let-down was that he was, presumably, trying to stop the flow by placing his tongue on the tip of my nipple so he could breathe between gulps. This rubbed my nipple raw. His spit up usually had an orange tint from the blood. I had to apply a magic concoction of 3 creams to my nipple multiple times per day to help it heal, plus I tried to pump instead of breastfeed on that side so that I didn’t get a clogged duct, etc. This brought on its own problems, like leaking through breast pads in public when I couldn’t have my pump. I was a hot mess.
So, I decided to go to the breastfeeding support group they had advertised in the material from the hospital. It was a strange place and I felt so guilty because most, if not all, of the women here were unable to give their babies enough milk. Yet, here I was complaining about having too much milk! We sat in a circle in the banquet chairs and nursed the babies while we went one by one to express (no pun intended!) our concerns and have a consult with the lactation specialist. I still remember my baby’s animal-like grunts from under the nursing cover and being embarrassed that he was so loud, gulping away. When it was finally my turn, most women weren’t paying attention so I felt more at ease to share my problem. The solution was to unlatch the baby and catch the milk in a cloth diaper (where were you, magical haakaa?!?) while the let-down was happening and then let him latch back once the flow was more manageable for him to keep up with. It felt wasteful and it didn’t stop him from crying, but it eventually worked itself out. As he grew older he was better able to handle the speed of the letdown and we both did just fine. He only nursed on one breast each feeding, so I often pumped the other side after he finished his middle-of-the-night feeding so that I didn’t explode with milk in the morning. I breastfeed him for 16 months total without any further complications.
The moral of the story is this: breastfeeding is different for everyone (and, isn’t for everyone). Don’t feel guilty or embarrassed about your problems just because they are different from someone else’s. Do your thing, but ask for help. Don’t continue in pain, it can be easier and there is someone else who has been in your shoes before. Also, buy a haakaa.