Why Can't I Stand Nursing Anymore? A Tale of Nursing Aversion

How Nursing Aversion Led to the Weaning of my 15 Month Old

I was bombarded by a range of emotions when breastfeeding, one of my favorite things in the world, started to make me recoil. I thought something was wrong with me, I thought I was failing motherhood in some way, and I started slipping into a pit of depression because of it. After much research, including reading about other mother’s stories, I realized that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t failing as a mother, that my feelings of revulsion were the result of my changing hormones, and that there was something that I could do.

Tips for Weaning

If it wasn’t for the nursing aversion, I was hoping to nurse Julian until he was at least two years of age and/or let him self wean, but alas, that did not happen. Reading through my story may resonate with you as you are on your own journey, but you also might just be looking for some quick weaning tips, so I’ll give you those right away. 🙂

  • Gradual weaning. Sure, you can go cold turkey, but with risks of mastitis and lots of tears, I advise a more gradual approach.
  • Get through the night. Save night weaning for last. If your little one gets over tired, all he/she will want to do is nurse anyways, so just get through the nights at first.
  • Don’t offer, don’t refuse. If your child wants to nurse, let him, but don’t offer it.
  • Distract, distract, distract. Keep your child busy, busy, busy with his/her favorite activities.
  • Replace nursing with milk. If you haven’t already, start sippy cups of milk. We like using raw whole cow’s milk, but use what works for you.
  • Give plenty of food. Make sure your child is getting a nourishing diet so that he/she doesn’t need to breastfeed for the calories. Milk is high in fat and protein, so keep that in mind too.
  • Find other ways to bond. If your child loves nursing for the closeness and cuddles, make sure you’re providing plenty of other opportunities for physical closeness. My favorite is reading. We can cuddle up and be close and the book provides a nice distraction! (Check out my blog about reading with babies here and my favorite books for babies here.)
  • Nurse as long as you can. When my nursing aversion was in full effect, I could only nurse for about a minute. I would literally count to 60, and then say, “Ok, that’s enough.”
  • Tea tree oil. When Julian started catching on that I didn’t want him to nurse, it was like it made him want it even more! So, I put a bit of tea tree oil on my nipples, and one taste of that and he was like, “NO WAY!” Yes, it felt kind of mean, but I was getting pretty desperate at this point.
  • New bed time routine. If you’ve always nursed your little one to sleep, you’ll need to start a new routine. Having a sippy cup of milk, a silky, reading three books, and singing a song became our new routine. Did he cry a bit at first? Yes, but never longer than a minute or two. (Read more about setting up a bedtime routine for babies here.) *Some people have success with Daddy taking over the bedtime routine and nighttime wakings, but with me being a stay at home mom and Daddy working, we never got to this point.
  • Nighttime weaning. Getting them to bed is the hardest, after that, maybe you’ll get lucky and there won’t be any night time waking! (Ha, yeah right!) But if there is, you have to use your best judgement to get through the nights. Can you nurse long enough to get through it or are you so completely over it that you’re about to lose your mind? If the latter is the case, then maybe a few tears will need to be shed until the transition is over. I hate, hate, hate the idea of “cry it out”, but inevitably, all of my children have cried a little bit during this transition period…not hours and hours of “cry until you puke” crying, but protest cries only after all of their needs were met.
  • Know that “This too shall pass”. When you’re in the thick of a situation, it may seem like it will never ever ever end, but rest assured that there will be an end to this.

My Story

If you’re experiencing nursing aversion due to fluctuating hormones (due to pregnancy or the return of your period), I hope that by reading through my story, you will know that you are not alone! I was feeling so miserable and so guilty, and once I started learning that nursing aversion was actually a thing, I almost wept with relief. So here is my story: the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

The Moment It Happened

The gradual annoyances with nursing that I started to feel when Julian was 15 months old were nothing compared to the moment that nursing aversion hit me with full force. Julian was 18 months and it was the middle of the night. He woke up to feed (like he would about two times every night), and I laid him down in bed beside me, ready to close my eyes and fall asleep as he nursed. But as soon as he latched on, my eyes popped open, and I bolted upright into a sitting position completely overcome with a feeling of utter revulsion. I looked at him intensely trying to figure out what was going on thinking that maybe he got a bad latch or something.

But alas, his eyes were closed and he was sucking away with a perfectly normal latch. Regardless, it just felt different. It was as if he was lightly flicking the tip of my nipple with his tongue instead of getting the deep latch that he usually did. It felt weird.

I tried to fight this intense urge to just push him off of me.

Instead, I flung my legs over the side of the bed and tried to get him to detach on his own (like he usually does when he’s done nursing and ready for sleep again). I got lucky and was able to gently pull him away and lay his sleeping body into his crib.

He didn’t wake up the rest of the night (thankfully), but I was worried about what it would feel like the next time we nursed. Usually, I nurse him every morning when he first wakes up. It’s always a fun way to cuddle, bond, and start our day. So the next morning, I got in my nursing chair (hoping the night before was just a fluke), wrapped him up in his silky, got my phone ready in case he fell asleep again so I could browse, and settled in to nurse.

The second he latched on, that revolting feeling took over, and it took every ounce of my willpower to not immediately rip him off from my body. Once again, I was sure his latch had to be off. He had tongue tie surgery at 6 weeks old, but we never fully got rid of it, and nursing did always kind of hurt a little bit. Or maybe with all of his new teeth that came in, his mouth was just different…

I kept nursing him as I tried to figure out this weird feeling. It wasn’t pleasure, and it wasn’t pain, it was just weird. If you could translate nails on a chalkboard into a physical sensation, that is the best way I can describe it. The feeling of wanting to make it stop was some kind of primal urge like when you get an itch and find yourself scratching it without even thinking.

This Has Happened Before…

Then, I remembered feeling the EXACT SAME WAY with Elliot when he was 18 months old. He went through the same thing where nursing didn’t put him to sleep anymore, and he just wanted to nurse more and more and longer and longer, getting more aggressive and grabby with each nursing session.

I remember the weird feeling from nursing Elliot got so bad that pain became a welcome distraction. I would dig my nails into my arm or bite myself as I nursed just so that I could continue. When my husband noticed I was drawing blood, he was like, ‘Something has to change’.

I wondered what was wrong with me. Why would I feel this way? What was I doing wrong? What was going on???

What is Nursing Aversion?

First of all, nursing aversion is not feeling “over-touched”. You know that feeling when everyone needs you at once and you feel like you’re standing on a little chair trying keep snakes away with a little stick? Well, it’s not that.

It’s not a choice. It’s not a failure. It’s a primal and physical reaction based primarily on fluctuating hormones due to pregnancy, tandem feeding, or menstruation.

Abby Theuring (The Badass Breastfeeder) explains how it made her feel.

“I was overcome with a physical [sensation] in my nipple of stinging, prickling and buzzing and a creepy crawly feeling all over my body; an emotional feeling of disgust mixed with fear mixed with irritation mixed with the heebeegeebees.”

On the La Leche site, Barbara from Minnesota gives her definition of nursing aversion.

“The best I can do is to say it felt like bugs were crawling all over my body, and I couldn’t brush them off. It started out difficult and annoying, and soon became intolerable. People used to ask me, ‘Does it hurt?’ And I’d think, ‘I wish!’ Pain, I could deal with. This was so beyond pain. It was just icky. Really icky.”

I like Kate’s definition of nursing aversion.

“The toe-curling, blood-boiling, rip-your-hair-out, bite-the-back-of-your-hand and want-to-go-running-down-the-street-screaming feeling that you may get when your toddler asks for the boobies (again).”

My Definition of Nursing Aversion

After much curiosity and research (there’s not much information out there about this), this is my perspective on nursing aversion.

During birth, we are completely flooded with oxytocin which helps us to bond with and breastfeed our babies. Whenever I nursed, I could feel the flood of this love hormone surging through me. I loved nursing (once we got all of the kinks worked out), and I always looked forward to this special time with my babies.

Many people talk about nursing aversion occurring during pregnancy. (La Leche League also calls it breastfeeding agitation and explains how it effects nearly one-third of women during pregnancy.) And although Ruby and Ophelia self weaned during my pregnancies with Elliot and Julian, I never experienced nursing aversion. Yes, nursing became a bit more painful during pregnancy, my milk changed, and they really seemed to lose interest, but it was NOTHING like what I’m experiencing now.

At any rate, as Julian and Elliot became older and my period returned, I believe that oxytocin was released in gradually diminishing levels during our breastfeeding sessions until it just wasn’t there anymore. Without oxytocin, prolactin isn’t released either and this is what stimulates let down. Without oxytocin or prolactin, the body starts to halt the production of milk, and this is what I imagine usually leads to weaning. As my body began to produce less and less milk, this is probably what caused Elliot and Julian to get progressively more grabby with longer nursing sessions as they desperately tried to hold on to one of their primary mode of comfort.

The Guilt

With Elliot, and now with Julian, I felt like breastfeeding was the best thing I could give to them. It was so nourishing, it was bonding, and they LOVED it.

How could this thing that was so nourishing, bonding, and wonderful make me recoil so intensely?

With Elliot, I weaned him quickly because the gradual weaning seemed to just make him want to nurse more and more and more. I didn’t like he results of that at all. To this day (he’s 5 now), I think he has suffered from it. He always has these fears of me abandoning him and always needs lots of extra cuddles.

Now, with Julian, I didn’t know what to do, so of course I did everything wrong at first. 🙂

Weaning By Quitting Cold Turkey

The revolting feelings I had nursing Julian were so intense that I just didn’t think I could handle one more nursing session. He was drinking plenty of milk and eating lots of solid food, and I felt like it would be best to just quit cold turkey.

That night, I put my salt light lamp by my rocking chair, set up a stack of books, and got a sippy cup of milk ready for our new bedtime routine. As I sat in the rocking chair, he arched to nurse, but I pulled him into a sitting position, read three books while he sipped on his milk, and laid him down. He cried for about 15 seconds (like he usually would after I would lay him down if nursing didn’t put him to sleep), and he was quiet. “Well that was easy!” I gloated to myself.

When I thought about our two upcoming nighttime feedings though, my heart sank. I had no idea what to do. My husband and I talked about it, and I said I was going to try a sippy cup and books (I even had a bottle on hand). During his first waking, I tried giving him the sippy cup, and he HATED it. He pushed it away and tried desperately to nurse. Knowing how it would feel, I just couldn’t bring myself do it, and I laid him in bed.

He screamed for about 5 minutes. I couldn’t stand it! My heart was breaking for him.

Just when I was about to get him, he stopped crying. As I finally drifted off to sleep 3o minutes later however, he woke up again…crying for me. I tried the sippy cup again, and put him back to bed crying. This happened a few more times, and it was awful, but somehow we made it through the night.

Weaning with More of a Gradual Release

The next day, I was determined to be vigilant about not nursing (because of what we had gone through the night before). While I was talking to my sister Lisa about everything, I started getting my breast pump ready. I have this one super boob that produces the bulk of the milk, and it was super duper full at the time.

When Julian saw what I was doing he bee-lined for me. I felt like if I were to nurse him, everything we went through the night before would have been for nothing, but I just couldn’t refuse him, and so he nursed. My engorged breast was so full that nursing was actually a relief, and I barely noticed the weird feeling that I could tell was just lingering under the surface.

I knew he didn’t drain me all the way and that we would probably need to nurse again later. “Maybe a gradual release would be a better way to go about this after all?” I wondered. (Ummm…yes!) I decided that I wouldn’t nurse him to sleep, I would try not to nurse him during the day (don’t offer, don’t refuse), and that I would nurse him (for as long as I could, even if it was just a minute or two) when he woke up in the middle of the night.

A New Problem Emerges…Mastitis

My right breast still felt pretty full at bedtime that night, so I nursed him quickly and then transitioned into our new bedtime routine of reading books. He went to bed that night without making a peep. Even after I nursed him, my right breast was feeling pretty sore, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up in intense pain. My right breast was throbbing, and I felt awful. I could feel myself burning up with fever, but I was shivering and shaking. I felt like I might be sick, but I just took some ibuprofen, put an electric hot pad on my breast, and somehow went back to sleep again.

When Julian woke in the night to nurse, I massaged my sore breast and realized that there were some major obstacles buried deep in there. Plugged ducts…masititis…oh no!

The details of my recovery from mastisis would best be saved for another post, but just know that it was awful. I had to nurse him like crazy to get rid of the lumps…and every time I did it was so painful that the nails on a chalkboard took a backseat! But at least in all of this, we established a new bedtime routine that didn’t involve me nursing him to sleep.

Where We Are Now

Overall, gradually weaning has been an easier and more gentle method for Julian (although I personally would have preferred cold turkey). I had to nurse him a lot at first to help me get over the mastitis, but once that was done, I was able to go back to “don’t offer, don’t refuse”.

I tried really hard to keep us busy and to keep him distracted so that he wouldn’t think about nursing. When he did want to nurse, I wouldn’t get the silky or even get very comfortable, I would just pop him on the breast and let him nurse for about as long as I could tolerate it (maybe a minute or so). On one of the first days, I put some tea tree oil on my nipples when he wouldn’t leave me alone, and it was VERY effective at keeping him away! At night, if he leaned down to nurse, I would nurse him quickly before going into our new bedtime routine.

Now, when he wakes up to nurse in the night (usually twice), I let him nurse for about 1-2 minutes, and then I put him back to bed. Sometimes he cries for about 15-30 seconds, sometimes he babbles the ABCs, and sometimes he’s just quiet. If he cries for a longer period of time (or if he’s quiet for a bit and then cries again), I repeat the process. Occasionally, if I’m worried that he might be genuinely hungry for some food, I’ve taken him into the kitchen to cook up his favorite food – dippy eggs and toast.

*3 Months Later: Now that three months have gone by, I wanted to give an update. At 21 months, Julian goes to sleep after his bedtime routine every night without a peep, and most nights, he sleeps right through the night (unless he’s feeling sick). If he does wake up, I give him a sippy cup of milk and either go through the bedtime routine again or just rock and cuddle him until he falls back asleep. As we finished our gradual weaning, I would always make sure to stuff him full of food before he went to bed and he just started sleeping through the night. Yay! After about 3-4 weeks of not nursing, he stopped lifting up my shirt (although now he is obsessed with my belly button…and his own for that matter) and seemed to gradually just forget about it.

Julian (18 Months) and I Hanging Out and Happy!

Julian (18 Months) and I Hanging Out and Happy!

In Conclusion

I wrote this blog to help me understand what I was feeling when breastfeeding gradually became less enjoyable and then suddenly repulsed me. I learned a lot from reading about other mother’s stories, and I hope that by sharing my story, I can help other mothers realize the same thing.

All in all, I think that nursing aversion is nature’s way of saying, “It’s time to move on.” This mama dog trying to wean her puppies is a really good visualization of this. 🙂

How to Identify and Treat Oral Thrush in Babies

How to Identify and Treat Oral Thrush in Babies

I remember nursing my six week old baby Ophelia, when I noticed some white spots in her mouth that didn’t seem to go away. After a bit of research, I learned that the shooting pains I had while nursing and the white spots in her mouth were both signs of thrush. I had been battling a yeast infection throughout the last half of my pregnancy with her, and I thought I had gotten rid of it…but apparently not. It was quite an ordeal to identify and heal from this fungus, and I just wanted to share my journey of what I did and what I learned along the way that helped us to finally get rid of Ophelia’s oral thrush and my nipple thrush, which essentially saved our breastfeeding relationship.

Oral Thrush in Babies

Oral thrush occurs when there is an overgrowth of the fungus Candida Albicans in the mouth.

Oral Thrush in a Baby

Oral Thrush in a Baby

Candida Albicans lives in the gastrointestinal tract of most adults and children as one of the microbes that helps to break down undigested food. It is only a problem when it grows out of control.

Human_tongue_infected_with_oral_candidiasis

Even though this is a child with oral candidiasis (after taking antibiotics), it gives a really good image of what thrush looks like.

Oral thrush typically presents itself in the fourth week of a baby’s life. It is very rare in the first week of life and after 6-9 months of age. As many as 39% of infants will develop thrush in the first few months of life.

Nipple Thrush in Mommas

Because breastfeeding provides a warm, moist, sugary environment, which is precisely where Candida thrives, babies can easily pass their oral thrush to the mother’s nipples, especially if they are already cracked or sore because of a bad latch. If the thrush isn’t treated, it can pass back and forth between mother and baby.

Causes of Oral Thrush

  1. Yeast Infection During Vaginal Birth: New babies are born with a clean gastrointestinal tract void of any microbes whatsoever. Within hours of birth, however, they start to build their own gut flora through exposure to the mother’s vaginal and fecal flora during a vaginal birth, breastfeeding, and exposure to the environment. If the mother has a yeast infection during a vaginal birth, however, the yeast will be one of the first microbes entering a baby’s clean and pristine gastrointestinal tract.
  2. C-Section Birth: If a mother delivers her baby by c-section (as one-third of mothers in the U.S. do), the baby will not getting any of her vaginal or fecal flora, which helps to populate the baby’s gut with healthy microbes. This new study shows how the baby’s gut flora can be disturbed for up to 6 months after a c-section birth, and this study shows how a c-section delivery leads to more pathogenic microbes (including Escherichia coli and Clostridium difficile) populating the baby’s gut. When the good microbes aren’t there first, it makes it very easy for the bad ones to take over.
  3. Antibiotics: If a mother tests positive for group B strep (which affects 25% of women), she will be given antibiotics during labor that will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Routine antibiotics are also given after a c-section (and sometimes before) to ward off infection. Antibiotics wipe out all bacteria good and bad, and when a newborn baby is having something introduced to its system that wipes out all of the bacteria before there is any, it makes it easier for something like Candida to take hold and grow out of control.
  4. Steroid Use: When Elliot was about 8 months old, he got a really bad case of croup and we took him to the doctor where they gave him a nebulizer and inhaled corticosteroids. Fortunately, it helped him to breathe again, unfortunately, inhaled steroids that get in the mouth can lead to thrush.

Signs of Oral Thrush

  1. White Patches in Baby’s Mouth: It might look like little milk spots in your baby’s mouth, but unlike milk spots, they won’t go away on their own. If you tried to scrape them off, you’ll notice that it’s actually an inflamed lesion that may bleed.
  2. Refusing to Nurse: Your baby may refuse nursing or be reluctant to nurse because its painful.
  3. Fussy Baby: Your baby may seem particularly fussy or up a lot in the night.
  4. Yeasty Diaper Rash: Sometimes a yeasty diaper rash will accompany oral thrush. Look for a diaper rash that’s red and inflamed with small blistery lesions that won’t go away with typical diaper rash treatments. I battled this with my son on and off for months. We tried the pharmacist’s recommended “magic butt paste” (which is just regular diaper rash cream mixed with Monistat) which kind of worked, but once we gave him some probiotics, the rash immediately went away and never came back again.

Signs of Thrush in Momma

  1. Painful Nursing: Nursing should not be painful. If it is, it might be a sign of thrush, especially if you’ve ruled out a bad latch. I remember Nursing Ophelia (who was two weeks old at the time) in front of my sister (who was pregnant for the first time) and she looked at me in shock and horror as I all but howled in pain as Ophelia latched on. The intense pain subsided after a bit and I just thought, well, this is part of nursing. But after I treated the thrush, the intense pain went away. (With her being my third baby, you’d think I would have known better, but I have had some sort of breastfeeding problems with all of my four children!)
  2. Shooting Pains: You may feel a deep shooting pain that occurs during or after feedings because the thrush can embed itself deep within your breast tissue.
  3. Cracked Nipples: Your nipples may also be pink or red, shiny, flaky, and/or have a rash with tiny blisters.
  4. Yeast Infection: If you have thrush, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a yeast infection too.

How to Cure Momma’s Thrush

  1. Eliminate Sugar: Thrush is caused by Candida and Candida feeds on sugar. You don’t have to give up sugar forever, but if you can get rid of Candida’s food source while treating thrush, it will be much easier to get rid of.
  2. Probiotics: Probiotics, such as lactobacillus, feed on sugar too, and unless they are wiped out by antibiotics or a poor diet, they will keep the Candida in check. You can get them from fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough, kimchi, keifer, and yogurt. When battling thrush, however, I suggest getting them in a stronger format as well. My favorite probiotics for treating Candida are Bio Kult Candea and Custom Probiotics.
  3. Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral miracle worker. I tried every remedy under the sun, but when I used apple cider vinegar, I was finally able to eliminate the thrush. This is what I did.
    • First, mix a solution in a peri bottle with about 2 T. of apple cider vinegar and the rest filtered water (chlorine free).
    • Then, after every breastfeeding session, squirt some onto some cotton balls and wipe your nipples, then throw those cotton balls away!
    • *If you’re pumping and/or using bottles, you have to really sterilize these components after every use. You can use apple cider vinegar, but really hot water will do the trick too.
    • In addition, wash all of your bras and anything your nipples come in contact with hot water and with apple cider vinegar added to the rinse cycle.
    • You can also mix 6 T. per gallon of water (or about 1 t. per 8 ounces) and drink throughout the day to heal from the inside out.
  4. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a soothing anti-fungal topical treatment. After I cleaned my nipples with apple cider vinegar, it felt really soothing and healing to dab a little coconut oil on them. You can also heal yourself from Candida from the inside out by eating it.
  5. Fresh Air: Candida can survive in oxygen, but it really thrives in dark, oxygen free areas. Going shirtless will not only feel good, but your husband/partner might get a kick out of it too! Get some sunlight on those nipples for extra measure because that also kills the fungus.
  6. *Gentian Violet: They say you can paint your nipples with this to get rid of thrush, but when I tried it, it caused Ophelia to go on a complete nursing strike. It was awful. I do not recommend using this on your nipples unless perhaps you plan to pump and bottle feed.
  7. *Grapefruit Seed Extract: I’ve heard that you can mix this with equal parts water and clean your nipples with it, much the same way that I did with the apple cider vinegar. I did not try this method, but it seems like it might work.

How to Cure Baby’s Thrush

  1. Coconut Oil: If you leave some coconut oil on your nipples, your baby can get some that way. You can also dab a little coconut oil on the thrush spots.
  2. Infant Probiotic: I really like this infant probiotic. If you had to have antibiotics for any reason or delivered by c-section so your baby didn’t get any good bacteria from your vaginal tract, I would highly recommend a good probiotic supplement regardless of whether or not your baby has thrush. But if your baby does have thrush (obviously, because that’s why you’re probably reading this) this will really help your baby to populate his or her gut with beneficial bacteria that can crowd out the yeast and help to get rid of the oral thrush. You can mix a little bit with your breast milk and feed it to your baby with a dropper, and/or you can make a little mixture and paint it on the thrush spots with your finger or a q-tip.
  3. Gentian Violet: Gentian violet is an anti-fungal that can be used topically to help get rid of thrush. When Ophelia’s thrush progressed from a few white spots to her entire tongue being coated white (after I misused Grapefruit Seed Extract), I turned to Gentian Violet as a last resort. It tastes awful, it can cause your baby to have an upset tummy, and it shouldn’t be used excessively because there are claims that it can be a carcinogen (when used regularly for two years at 600 times the recommended dose, sorry mice) and lead to mouth ulcers (when not diluted), but after three days of meticulous treatment, Ophelia’s thrush was totally and completely healed. I highly recommend this as a cure for baby’s oral thrush. Here’s are a few tips for using it so that it will be effective:
    Treating Ophelia's Thrush with Gentian Violet

    Treating Ophelia’s Thrush with Gentian Violet

    • Gentian violet will stain everything purple, so put some Vaseline or Bag Balm on your baby’s lips and around her or his mouth before applying it. This will make it easier to clean up the purple drool.
    • Dress your baby in clothes that you don’t mind ruining. (This goes for you too.) I found it helpful to put a bib on Ophelia as well.
    • Get the 1% solution, and mix with equal parts water. (It is too strong if left undiluted. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it will be more effective if you don’t dilute it.)
    • Using a q-tip, paint every part of your baby’s mouth, especially the tongue. This stuff tastes awful and your baby will hate it. I found it best to paint once in the morning, maybe once in the afternoon if it wore off, and once at night. (Don’t exceed three dosages in a day.)
    • Do your best to make sure your baby doesn’t swallow any. It can lead to an upset tummy.
    • You need to do this for three full days/nights. If you miss a dosage and don’t complete the cycle, the fungus will come back stronger and be even harder to treat.
  4. *Grapefruit Seed Extract: I read a lot of articles, reviews, and blogs about Gentian Violet and grapefruit seed extract when Ophelia had thrush, and I decided to go with the grapefruit seed extract first, but it did not go so well. First of all, I made the mistake of not diluting it, so maybe it would actually work if you didn’t do this. (It should be more effective if it’s stronger, right? Not.) I painted it on the thrush spots in her mouth, and they seemed to completely go away in a day, but then the next day, there were more and more and more spots until her entire tongue was coated white. It was like in the absence of the Grapefruit Seed Extract, the fungus grew even stronger and completely took over. It was at this point that I turned to the Gentian Violet which totally worked.
  5. Nystatin: Nystatin is what your doctor will probably prescribe if you take your baby to the doctor to treat the oral thrush (which I don’t recommend unless this is your last resort). Nystatin is an oral medication that is meant to be used topically on the areas where thrush is appearing. There are claims that it’s 80% effective, but that seems a bit high to me. When Ophelia got thrush, I combed threads on the Internet (not always the most reliable sources, I know, but I like reading about personal accounts) and read time and time and time again about how mothers would go to the doctor, get Nystatin for their babies, deal with the side effects of: mouth irritation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, rash, skin irritation, and/or allergic reactions, have the first dose not work, try another dose, still not have it work, and eventually give up on breastfeeding. I actually knew someone who got thrush at the same time as I did with her new baby and she used Nystatin as a remedy. It did not work, and she ended up not being able to breastfeed anymore. Personally, I would try all of these other remedies before turning to Nystatin as an absolute last resort.

In Conclusion

Dealing with oral thrush was probably one of the toughest postpartum things I’ve ever had to deal with, and through much trial and error, I’m glad we were able to finally beat it. With baby number four, I made darn sure to get rid of my yeast infection during pregnancy so that we would not have to deal with this again, and let me tell you, prevention is a much easier path! I also enjoyed researching and learning about why pregnant women are more prone to yeast infections, and I learned some fascinating information along the way. The bottom line is that thrush is nasty nasty business and it is worth all of the effort to prevent it and get rid of not just the symptoms, but the root cause as well.

How to Identify and Deal with Lip Tie and Tongue Tie

After having problems establishing a breastfeeding relationship with our first three children, I discovered what a lip tie was. After having our fourth child, I finally learned what a tongue tie was. Had I known about these two conditions from the very beginning, it would have made things a heck of a lot easier! This is the information I have gathered doing extensive research, talking to experts, and through my own experience. This is the information I wish I would have had with my first child from day one and what I would like to tell anyone else who is going through the same thing.

First of All, Let’s Talk About Frenula

Frenula is the plural form of frenulum. A frenulum (also called frenum when in relation to the upper lip) is a small fold of tissue that secures a mobile organ in the body. The maxillary labial frenum is the membrane  that attaches the gums to the upper lip and the lingual frenulum is the membrane that attaches the base of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.

When a baby is growing in utero, the tongue starts to develop at about 4 weeks. By 6 weeks, the frenulum cells attaching the tongue to the floor of the mouth begin retracting from the tip of the tongue increasing the tongue’s mobility. Disturbances during this stage cause ankyloglossia, or tongue tie. The tip of the tongue will continue to elongate after birth which is why some people believe that the tongue will “stretch” with age and growth, although that is not the case.

Look at Your Frenula

Before going any further, I suggest that you look in a mirror and lift up your upper lip. You may notice a stretchy piece of tissue hanging out up there, and you might even be able to feel it with the tip of your tongue. You may also feel nothing. Next, lift up your tongue and look for the stretchy piece of tissue lying underneath. Move your tongue around and notice the range of motion you have. Then try sticking your tongue out. Notice how far you can stick it out. Can it go down the length of your chin or up to the tip of your nose or does it barely leave the confines of your teeth? After you explore your own frenulums, examine your spouses. The two of you will probably be much more willing participants than your children and will give you a good insight as to what to look for as genetics will probably play a role in the type of frenulums your children have.

Are the Frenula Causing Problems?

The mere existence of frenula does not constitute a problem, it is when they are so restrictive that they lead to a host of other problems that are diagnosed by the specific symptoms that both you and the child are having that there is a problem. When the frenum of the upper lip or the frenulum of the tongue start to cause problems, they are referred to as lip ties and tongue ties. If there is a lip tie, there is probably a tongue tie also, but a tongue tie does not necessarily indicate that there will be a lip tie.

What is a Tongue Tie?

Being tongue tied is medically defined as having ankyloglossia, which is caused by having an unusually short or thick membrane under the tongue that is attached abnormally close to the tip of the tongue and causes restricted movement of the tongue. People with more severe cases of tongue tie cannot stick their tongues out very far beyond their teeth.

Tongue Tie, Photo Credit: Kate via Flickr, 2008

Tongue Tie, Photo Credit: Kate via Flickr, 2008

This can cause breatfeeding problems with babies and speech problems as they get older. As an adult, the worst of the lingering effects are typically the inability to french kiss properly and the inability to lick an ice cream cone. Here’s a great 2 minute video describing what tongue tie is, the symptoms associated with it, and what it looks like to get it removed using the scissor method.

What is a Lip Tie?

Having a lip tie occurs when the membrane under the lip is unusually thick and attaches under the gum line. It is not as common or severe of a diagnosis as being tongue tied, although it does have its own host of problems. I’ve read that severe lip ties will usually correct themselves by the time a child reaches adulthood due to tripping and falling or any other number of accidents that can lead to the lip tie being torn, but Dr. Kotlow, a leading expert in tongue and lip ties, believes this is not the case. He explains how if a severe lip tie is not corrected, “it can lead to dental decay on the upper front teeth, gaps (diastemas) between the two front teeth, orthodontic or periodontal problems later in the child’s oral development, and poor lip mobility or function, especially during smiling and speaking.”

Lip Tie

Lip Tie

Other resources that I’ve looked at say that once all of the permanent teeth come in, the gap may just fix itself. explains that lip ties will not go away on their own. Here’s a great 2 minute video describing what a lip tie is, the symptoms associated with it, and what it looks like to get it removed using the scissor method.

Different Classifications of Tongue and Lip Ties

Although you cannot diagnose tongue and lip ties by looks alone, it’s a good place to start. One of the first things to look for to see if your baby is tongue tied is to see if your baby’s tongue makes a heart shape when he or she cries. This is a tell tale sign that it is being tethered too tightly to the floor of his or her mouth.

One of the best ways to look for a tongue tie is to lie the baby on his or her back on your knees with his or her head facing towards you and his or her feet facing towards your knees. Then, tilt the baby’s head back and stick your fingers underneath the tongue to elevate it. You can also get a pretty good look when he or she is crying. To look for a lip tie, look to see if the top lip flanges out while nursing. You can also simply lift up the top lip and look.

These pictures below have been compiled by Dr. Kotlow, one of the most renowned pediatric dentists, known for his skill at correcting tongue and lip ties. He comes highly recommend by Mommypotomus who also has a great blog about tongue ties. You’ll notice that there are many different classifications.

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Symptoms of Tongue and Lip Ties

Looking at the symptoms related to tongue and lip ties is actually the best way to diagnose them. So here are a list of symptoms to look for in both mom and baby that could be the result of tongue and/or lip tie.

  • Symptoms to Look for with Mom
    • Nipple pain and/or erosions
    • Nipple looks pinched, creased, bruised, or abraded after feeds
    • White stripe at the end of the nipple
    • Painful breasts/vasospasm
    • Low milk supply
    • Plugged ducts
    • Mastitis
    • Recurring thrush
    • Frustration, disappointment, and discouragement with breastfeeding
    • Weaning before mom is ready
    • Tired momma, from being up in the night every hour for feeding night after night after night
  • Symptoms to Look for with Baby
    • Poor latch and suck
    • Unusually strong suck due to baby using excess vacuum to remove milk
    • Clicking sound while nursing (poor suction)
    • Ineffective milk transfer
    • Infrequent swallowing after initial let-down
    • Inadequate weight gain or weight loss
    • Irritability or colic
    • Gas and reflux
    • Fussiness and frequent arching away from the breast
    • Fatigue within one to two minutes of beginning to nurse
    • Difficulty establishing suction to maintain a deep grasp on the breast
    • Breast tissue sliding in and out of baby’s mouth while feeding
    • Gradual sliding off the breast
    • Chewing or biting on the nipple
    • Falling asleep at the breast without taking in a full feed
    • Coughing, choking, gulping, or squeaking when feeding
    • Spilling milk during feeds
    • Jaw quivering after or between feeds
  • Symptoms I Had: With our fourth baby, Julian, I was not getting very much sleep because he was up every hour or two (or sometimes every 30-45 minutes) to nurse. And when I would nurse him, I wasn’t able to just lay down and nurse, I had to either sit up on the edge of the bed or in the rocking chair to help him latch on. My nipples weren’t really sore (after four babies, they are pretty tough), but he was rolling the nipple around in his mouth and falling off the nipple repeatedly. When he would nurse, there was a noticeable clicking sound from his inability to form a secure latch. He especially had trouble maintaining a latch during my letdown and he would sputter, choke, and pop off the breast. He would also fall asleep mid feed and as a result he didn’t fully drain the breast. This led to me getting plugged milk ducts (which I massaged away after applying a hot compress and drained completely using a breast pump) and I believe that this is what led him to have a lot of green poops. He was also taking in a lot of air during feedings which resulted in him being gassy, needing to burp and fart a lot, and getting the hiccups. When he had gas (which was often), he would get really fussy and squirm, wiggle, and grunt…even in his sleep. He would also puke a lot, but he also would nurse a lot, so weight gain was not as issue. Finally, at his six week checkup, the midwife noticed that he was tongue tied. Once I started researching the symptoms, it all made sense.

Temporary Relief

If you are waiting for a corrective procedure or trying to decide if you will get one, the following strategies can help to provide some temporary relief.

  • Stretch the Lip Tie – To help with stretching out both Ophelia and Julian’s lip ties, I would put my finger under their upper lips and roll up. I tried to remember to do this before every feeding. To help them latch on, I would have to grab my breast and angle the nipple down, wait until they opened their mouth, and then torpeedo my nipple in there! Once they latched on, I would sneak my finger under their lips to flange it out. By the time they were three months old, I didn’t have any problems with their lip ties anymore.
  • Sitting Up and Leaning Forward to Nurse – Getting a good latch is difficult enough as it is, but when you’re dealing with a lip and/or tongue tie, it’s even more challenging! This seems to help.
  • Burp Often – Because they are taking in a lot of air, it can help to burp during a feeding by either patting their backs or putting them up on your shoulder. I would also try to angle their bodies to make them more upright while nursing. Also, keep burping periodically even long after the feeding.
  • Hold to Sleep – Now, I’m a really light sleeper, so this works well for me, but it can be dangerous, so use this strategy with caution! What I do is prop a big tower of pillows in a U-Shape around me for support. Then I sleep with pillows propped under my arm and my head leaning against a pillow. When we sleep, I hold his upper body upright and about every 3o minutes or so when he gets fussy, I would pat his back, bounce, and rock him until he calmed down. We are six weeks after the procedure and Julian is 3 months old, and I still actually hold him while I sleep every night. I think I’m just used to it now!
  • Belly Band Over the Boobs – You know that thing that you put over your pants when you’re pregnant so that you can leave your pants unbuttoned as your belly grows? Well, I pull that over my breasts because my nipples are just so dang sensitive. It’s a much more comfortable alternative to wearing a bra at night and makes it easier to nurse too.
  • Air Time – Putting breast milk on my nipples and just walking around without a shirt on felt good (I just had to remember to close my curtains!)
  • Lanolin – I put lanolin on my nipples if they got sore, but I’m not sure how helpful it was.

Options Moving Forward

You have several different options depending on your specific situation. You will want to consider the following: the problems you’re having breastfeeding (Is it preventing you from getting any sleep because your baby is nursing every hour and then spitting up or is it just slightly uncomfortable?), the availability of a skilled practitioner in your area or your capability of traveling, your financial situation and insurance coverage, the age of your child, and so on. Here is a list of the next possible steps.

  1. Wait and See – If your symptoms are not that bad or if you feel like they may be caused by something else (a poor latch, strong let down, flat nipples, etc.) you might want to take a wait and see approach. Dr. Kotlow, a leading expert in tongue and lip ties, however, strongly advises against this for a lip tie because he does not feel that it will get better with time. With Ophelia and Julian, however, their lip ties were not that serious and I felt like I was able to stretch them out by rubbing my finger under their lips regularly and flanging their lips out while nursing. It was really hard to get a good picture, but you can kind of see how it is there. It attaches below the gum line and was kind of tight at first, but seemed to stretch out over time. 

    Julian's Upper Lip Tie

    Julian’s Upper Lip Tie

  2. Best Time to Act – Keep in mind that the younger the child, the easier it is to deal with this procedure. Once you go through with the procedure, not only will your child have to physically heal, but he or she will have to learn how reuse his or her tongue based on the release and the new muscle use related to the increased mobility. The best time to get a procedure done is before the child is 3 months old, and really, the younger, the better. Usually, when the child is over 6 months old, the doctor won’t do the procedure in the office, and it will have to be done in the hospital with anesthesia.
  3. Pediatrician’s Opinion – We did not need a referral to get an appointment with a specialist, but you might, and this would be a good place to start to learn about your options. Just keep in mind that some pediatricians are not familiar with tongue or lip ties or worse yet, might not believe in them and make you feel silly for even asking. We took our fourth baby, Julian, to see his pediatrician because we had no idea where to even start. She said, “Yup, that’s a tongue tie!” and suggested that we see an ENT for a frenectomy (also known as a frenulectomy, frenulotomy or frenotomy – which is the removal of a frenulum). When he cries, you can see the heart shape of the tongue and how it is tethered to the floor of his mouth.

    Julian's Tongue Tie

    Julian’s Tongue Tie

  4. ENT – That’s an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist in case you didn’t know (I didn’t). Some people feel like this is the best place to go for getting a tongue or lip tie procedure. For us, we needed something close that was in our network, and this was the only option. We had to pay $45 for the office visit and we were quoted that the procedure would be $450, but six weeks later, we have yet to get a bill. (Maybe insurance is covering it after all?)
  5. Pediatric Dentist – Some people feel like this is the preferred specialist for this procedure. I think that it all depends on what is most convenient for you. If you can travel and money isn’t an option, then you might have the freedom to research all specialists nationwide and find the best of the best.
  6. Scissor Method – This is the most common way of doing the procedure. Depending on the severity of the tongue tie, a topical and/or local anesthetic may be used, the membrane may be clamped to stomp blood flow, a nurse (and you if you can handle it) will hold the baby down, the nurse will prop up the tongue with q-tips or some other tool, then the doctor will go in with one or two snips, and then he or she will then cauterize it with silver nitrate if there is a lot of bleeding. When Julian had his cut, I was really shocked by the amount of blood, but the doctor assured me it was normal. He breastfed right after the procedure and the bleeding stopped after a few minutes. (His next poop was pretty black from all of the blood he swallowed.) There is a concern with this method that the doctor won’t cut enough (I’m sure it’s scary going into a little baby’s mouth like that with a pair of scissors, especially if they are screaming!) and there won’t be a full release. We did not have this problem.
  7. Laser Method – Some say that the laser method is superior because it can penetrate through more of the tissue for a more complete release and immediately cauterizes the wound, but it is not easy to find someone who will do this. (It takes a steady hand and a lot of skill.) Here’s a list of nationwide providers that will do the laser method.
  8. Questions to Ask – If you have several options within your area, it might be a good idea to ask some of the following questions to narrow your search such as: 1) How often have you done this procedure? 2) How often do your patients come back for a revision? 3) What is the procedure like? 4) What are your thoughts on the scissor method versus the laser method? 5) What do you recommend for aftercare?

After Care

After the procedure, some say that doing exercises to help the muscles learn what they are supposed to do and to make sure the tongue tie doesn’t reattach and scar tissue doesn’t form is absolutely crucial. I personally felt that my son would strengthen his muscles by nursing and that the wound would be given sufficient time being stretched every time he cried. (I mean, I wish I could soothe him perfectly so that he never cried, but that has yet to happen.) To be honest, I felt like he had been through enough and I could tell he was in pain when I tried to do the exercises, and I just couldn’t bear to put him through any more. I can see how the lip tie would reattach if the lip continued to not to flange out while nursing, but I can’t imagine that the newly detached lip wouldn’t flange out. At any rate, you may want to rub a finger over the wound periodically to ensure that it doesn’t reattach.

Typically, babies feel discomfort for the first 24 hours after the procedure. Older babies and toddlers will typically feel discomfort for the first 48 hours. Breastfeeding and skin to skin are the best first lines of defense. Arnica is a good natural method for pain relief, or there’s acetaminophen (dosage should be given based on the child’s weight not age). Ibprofen should not be given to children under the age of 2 months and topical numbing ointments containing benzocaine (Orajel/Anbesol) should not be given due to health risks.

After Julian’s procedure, he was in a considerable amount of pain for the first 48 hours. I ended up giving him some acetaminophen every couple of hours for the first two days and then periodically after that as needed. The wound was white for about the first 10 days and then it looked pink again. They say that with a successful tongue tie revision, you should be able to see a diamond shape. It was really hard to look under Julian’s tongue to see if this was the case but I could tell things were better based on our nursing relationship.

The Ideal Diamond Shape After a Tongue Tie Release

The Ideal Diamond Shape After a Tongue Tie Release

We are now 6 weeks past our frenectomy date and I feel like I am finally noticing a difference. To be quite honest, he improved ever so gradually, that it was hard to notice on a daily basis, but when I reflect back to the way things were 6 weeks ago, it’s really a night and day difference. The clicking went on for some time until it finally faded away. He still pops off the breast during my let down from time to time, but that could just be due to my really powerful letdown. He is sleeping better and best of all, I am able to nurse laying down! He still wakes up to feed every 2-3 hours, but that is WAY better than every 45 minutes! At first, I really questioned whether or not getting the procedure was worth it, but now I am definitely glad we did it. I think that maybe we would’ve had a better experience had we found a pediatric dentist who could do the laser procedure, but that just was not an option for us.

Body Work

Some people recommend chiropractic or CrainoSacral Therapy both before and after the procedure to help release the muscles needed to nurse. CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on approach that releases tensions deep in the body to relieve pain and dysfunction and improve whole-body health and performance. In her article, CranioSacral Therapy: When Can It Help, by Dee Kassing, BS, MLS, IBCLC, she states that,

“If there is misalignment and imbalance of the skull bones, this can affect the function of the palate, tongue, and other structures of the head. This can cause the palate to be too high or uneven, or the facial muscles to be too tight. Imbalance of the structures of the head, as well as trauma from the birth process itself, can cause constant irritation to the nervous system. This constant irritation may also cause hypersensitivity, which can sometimes be the underlying cause for babies who gag and cannot accept anything in the center or back of the mouth.”

We took Julian to get some CST before his tongue tie release when he was about 5 weeks old, and while it didn’t make breastfeeding better per sae, it changed him in both subtle and powerful ways. He always seemed to be just a little bit fussy, and afterwards he was SO CALM. I would definitely recommended CST for every infant after birth (But that’s another post!). I kept meaning to take him for some post CST, but the timing just never worked out. It is definitely something I would recommend to anyone getting a frenectomy. To find someone who does CST, you can call chiropractic offices that specialize in infants and see if they recommend anyone.

Happy Julian

Happy Julian

More Personal Stories

Like I said, all of our children had either a tongue tie, lip tie, or both. Too bad I didn’t learn about what they were until recently.

  • Ruby – Looking back, we had a very rough start to our breastfeeding relationship, and now I know that it was due to her having a lip tie. She couldn’t get a good latch, she was constantly popping off the breast, she spit up A LOT, she couldn’t drain the breast and had green poop, she took in a lot of air while nursing because of the constant on and off and as a result she was very gassy. Now she is five years old and has a noticeable gap between her front teeth. And sure enough, when we lift her upper lip, there’s a lip tie. It doesn’t seem to be too serious, however, and we are hoping that the gap will close when her permanent teeth come in.
  • Elliot – Looking back, I can see that I had a lot of the same problems with Elliot that I have had with Julian. I just had no idea about tongue or lip ties at the time! I nursed Elliot until he was 18 months old, but had to wean him (before either of us were ready) because it was just too painful. Now, he is four years old and has some speech problems. He cannot say the /r/ or /l/ sound and has trouble with the /c/, /g/, and /th/ sounds. We had the ENT look at him when we were there for Julian’s appointment and he said that it was there, but that it wasn’t bad enough to warrant surgery. We have decided to just work with him on correctly pronouncing his letter sounds and hope for the best.
  • Ophelia – Our midwife pointed out that she had a lip tie right away. I had no idea what that even was at the time. I worked on stretching it out as she suggested and flanging her lip out when she nursed, and it never really became a problem. When her baby teeth came in, there was no gap in between her top front teeth.
  • Julian – I noticed that he had a lip tie right away, so I was able to stretch it out and it wasn’t really an issue. I asked our midwife to look at it during our 6 week visit, and she discovered that he was actually tongue tied. And that is when all of this research began. Full circle.

For more reading on the matter, check out these resources: Breastfeeding a Baby with Tongue-Tie or Lip-Tie (Resources)

12 Breastfeeding Tips to Read Before You Give BirthPostpartum Recovery

12 Breastfeeding Tips (You’ll Want to Read This BEFORE You Give Birth)

Through many ups and downs, I have successfully breastfed my own four children, and these are the things I learned about breastfeeding along the way. I don’t presume to know the “right way” to breastfeed, and I’m not trying to prescribe a “one size fits all” solution to make breastfeeding a more prevalent fixture in our society (although that would be nice). These are just the things that have worked for me, and maybe while reading about my journey and my discoveries about breastfeeding, it will spark something within you as well.

1. Choose Breastfeeding

Before I became pregnant, I obviously knew what pregnancy was, but I didn’t really know what pregnancy was until I was pregnant. I felt the same way about breastfeeding before I was pregnant. I knew about it, I assumed I would just do it…easily, and that was that. But I am obsessed with research, and when I researched breastfeeding while I was pregnant, I learned not only about the tremendous benefits of breastfeeding, but also the unfortunate struggles that kept 21% of women in the U.S. from ever even breastfeeding at birth and only 49% still breastfeeding after 6 months (according to 2014 CDC data).

Once I began to realize that breastfeeding might be challenging, I accepted it, and I did my best to prepare myself for it. I was choosing to breastfeed. I was making a stand to myself that I was going to do it no matter what. I didn’t say, “Oh, I’ll give it a try,” I said, “I am going to do this.” Despite the odds, I was determined to make it work.

2. Have a Support System

Knowing that my mom had successfully breastfed all five of us children gave me the confidence to think that I could do it too. I knew that she might not remember all of the little details of her breastfeeding journeys, but I knew that I could rely on her for support. I knew that I could count on my husband to support me too. He was right there with me every step of the way as I shared the findings of my research with him as we would spend our evenings cuddled on the couch, sipping tea, and preparing for our future. My in-laws, siblings, friends, job…everything in my life was there supporting me in my choice to breastfeed. This made a huge difference.

Somewhere in my research, I stumbled across the La Leche League, which is an incredibly helpful breastfeeding organization where I learned a lot about breastfeeding just from going to their website, reading their articles, and using their forums. I made contact with my local La Leche League Leader before giving birth, and it was the best thing I ever did. I even attended a few meetings while I was still pregnant and enjoyed meeting some other breastfeeding mothers. After I gave birth and had some problems breastfeeding, my La Leche League contact was able to talk me through them and I totally credit her with saving our breastfeeding relationship.

3. Birth Experience Effects Breastfeeding

I can’t speak to what it’s like to have a hospital birth, but I did have three amazing, beautiful, peaceful, and relatively pain free home births and one pretty traumatic and painful birth center birth. Guess where I had an easier time breastfeeding? Now, I know that going through a first birth and breastfeeding for the first time are all singular activities, but when I gave birth at home, something magical happened every time that made breastfeeding come easily.

Breastfeeding Elliot Right After Birth

Breastfeeding Elliot Right After Birth

Even though at both my birth center birth and my home births there was low lighting, soft music, minimal interventions, and the opportunity for Scott and I do be left alone to “follow my instincts”, the home births felt dramatically different. When I was at the birth center, I was constantly tense and on edge as I watched the clock and wondered how long it would be, but when I was at home, I was constantly putzing around in my own environment and getting things ready for when the baby came so that I hardly noticed the clock.

And then when our babies came, and I got to pull them up to my breast for the very first time, there was something completely magical about feeding them in our own home surrounded by all of my comforts. I was completely at ease and so happy to snuggle up in my own bed with my new little angels. Breastfeeding came very easily for my homebirths. In the birth center, however, there was this pressure to nurse right away because we had to leave (four hours after giving birth…can you believe it???), and it was a very stressful situation. Breastfeeding was not so easy at the birth center.

I can only imagine what it would be like to breastfeed a baby in a completely sterile and unfamiliar environment with bright lights, lots of nurses and doctors, and the effects of anesthesia or an epidural making both me and the baby tired and sluggish, and then to go home and try to essentially learn how to nurse all over again but without the false sense of confidence from the in-house nurses helping to provide 24 hr care and pushing formula at the first sign of breastfeeding trouble. But according to CDC 2012 data, only 1.36% of women in the U.S. have home births, so it is hardly the norm.

Just know that if you have a hospital birth, breastfeeding might come easily, but it might not, and just give yourself time to figure it out before you succumb to formula. Your baby only has a marble sized stomach for the first few days and just needs a few drops of colostrum here and there. I wasn’t able to get Ruby to latch on for 48 hours, but I pumped my colostrum and fed her with a little dropper until we finally got the hang of it.

4. Skin to Skin

After giving birth, I pulled every one of my babies onto my chest for skin to skin. They weren’t whisked away to be washed, weighed, and measured, and I was able to snuggle them close to my heart and whisper soft words into their ears as I rubbed the patches of vernix into their supple skin. In these amazing moments after birth when both me and my babies are completely awash with oxytocin, the rest of the world melts away and we are in a cerebral place where only the two of us exist, and we fall deeply madly in love with each other. There should be no pressures or time constraints placed on this precious time. Mother and baby should be allowed to bond and figure out breastfeeding for as long as it takes, which should be an hour at least, before anyone separates them.

Elliot and I Right After Birth

Elliot and I Right After Birth

Babies are born with the natural ability to root, where the they will open their mouths if you touch their chin or cheek as they look for the nipple. They are also born with an instinctual reflex called the breast crawl, where if you put a newborn on his stomach, he will scoot himself up to the breast and latch on by himself. I heard about the breast crawl before my fourth birth, and I kind of tried it, but I just wanted to cuddle him close rather than make him work to find me. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool how babies are designed perfectly to get their needs met.

5. Getting a Good Latch

This seems to be one of the most crucial aspects for establishing a healthy, long-lasting breastfeeding relationship. With all of my babies, I have seemed to struggle one way or another with getting a good latch for a variety of reasons, and it made breastfeeding very difficult. Here are some things that helped me to get my babies to form a good latch.

Breastfeeding Julian Right After Birth

Breastfeeding Julian Right After Birth

  • Open Wide: Make sure the baby’s mouth is wide open. You can stimulate this reflex by rubbing your nipple on his or her upper lip.
  • Nipple Flip: Flip the nipple into the baby’s mouth for a deep latch.
  • Roll the Nipple: If the nipple is flat, roll it until it becomes hard.
  • Pinkie Trick: If the baby is having difficulty latching on, put your pinkie into his or her mouth (nail side down) until he or she establishes a good sucking motion. Then, do the old bait and switch by pulling out your pinkie and quickly inserting your nipple.
  • Break the Latch: There might be a bit of pain initially as you get used to the feeling of breastfeeding, but if the pain persists, break the latch by inserting your finger in between your nipple and the baby’s mouth and start over.
  • Keep Trying: If the two of you are not getting a good latch right away, don’t stress out about it. Just keep switching sides, taking breaks, and trying again. You’ll get it eventually. If it’s really taking awhile, you can pump some colostrum and feed it to your baby with a dropper. Their stomachs are the size of marbles at this point, so they don’t need much.
  • Avoid Nipple Confusion: I would avoid using nipple shields. They might work in the short term, but it will be even hard to get your baby to latch on to your nipple after successfully latching on to the nipple shield. I would also avoid all pacifiers and bottles for the first few weeks to avoid nipple confusion.
5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

6. Get in Position

When I first get started with breastfeeding, I make a conscious effort to be sitting correctly. After awhile, I know that I’ll be able to breastfeed upside down on the top of a mountain in the dark with one hand, but it takes a little while to get there!

I have always found that it helps to be in a comfortable seated position where I can lean forward slightly. This can be achieved sitting on the side of a mattress on the floor (which is how we sleep because I like how it’s easier for young-ens to crawl into our bed) or sitting in a rocking chair with a Bobby (or cross your legs to bring the baby closer) and a nursing stool, and with some experience, sitting in bed propped up by a lot of pillows.

7. Hold the Baby Correctly

There are so many things to think about while breastfeeding, that I sometimes forget one of the most important aspects of all, the position of the baby’s body! When I look down at my breastfeeding babies and see that their legs are facing up, I know that I have them in the wrong position!

In order to hold babies correctly while nursing, you want to have their stomach facing yours, with their legs stacked on top of each other. You should be holding them up high, right above your navel. Using something like a Bobby or My Breast Friend or crossing your legs can help with this positioning.

When I’m holding my babies, I always like wrapping them up in one of my homemade silkies. I love the feel of these blankets and when I cradle it under my babies’ heads, it prevents them from getting all sweaty. Plus, I love to stroke their faces with it and cover up their eyes as they fall asleep in my arms. (I now sell them on my Etsy site…custom ordered!)

Using a Silky While Breastfeeding

Using a Silky While Breastfeeding

8. Take Care of Your Nipples

The first two weeks of breastfeeding are the toughest. As a first time mom, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could, but I was a bit discouraged during my first two weeks because of how much it hurt. After two weeks, however, my nipples weren’t as sensitive, we were figuring out the whole latch thing, and it suddenly became much much easier. After a month, I felt like an old pro, and after 3 months, I was nursing in my sleep. Here are some tips for dealing with sensitive nipples.

  • Use a Nipple Cream: I liked this and this, but just choose one brand and stick with it, otherwise your baby will be surprised and angered by the differing flavors.
  • Use Breast Milk: If your nipples are just a little dry or sensitive, give them a little milk bath. It’s very healing.
  • Let Them Air Out: Walk around the house with your shirt off or just cover up loosely with a robe. Your husband will love it!
  • Cover Them Tightly: I have always been a sleep in a t-shirt kind of girl, but when I’m nursing, I hate the feeling of fabric rubbing against my nipples. I like to bind them up with a bellaband. The pressure feels great, and it prevents them from leaking all over the place.

9. Feed on Demand

I have never tried to feed my babies according to a schedule or get them on a routine, especially when they were newborns, even though I read many books, blogs, and forums that tried to convince me otherwise. Look for these cues that your baby is hungry and just know that they’ll need to eat about every 2 hours for the first few months:

  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Sucking on objects
  • Rooting around your chest
  • Getting a little fussy
  • If you wait until your baby is crying, it’s too late. They are now beyond hungry, and now they are upset, and it’s not easy trying to feed a crying upset baby without them taking in a lot of air, getting gas, and then getting even more upset.

When I feed my babies on demand, they always get really chubby. I love the rolls upon rolls and the squishy little cheeks! But some people are worried about fat babies, and they worry that fat babies will turn into fat kids who will become fat adults, but rest assured the opposite is actually true. Studies show that the fatter the babies, the skinnier the adults. So feed those babies!

10. Drain the Boob

I always have one boob that produces an insane amount of thinner more watered down milk and another boob that produces but a fraction of the amount, but it is thick, rich, fatty milk. I typically like to nurse on just one side at a time. If I can’t remember where I am in the cycle, I’ll just start with my little boob and then give them the bigger boob the next time around. Sometimes after feeding on the little boob side, they still seem hungry, so I’ll immediately go to the bigger boob. Usually, I’ll burp in between.

At any rate, you want to nurse on each side until the breast is fully drained. If too much milk is left behind, it can lead to plugged milk ducts and mastitis over time. Also, it’s usually the thinner, more watered down milk that comes out at the beginning of the feed (known as the foremilk), and the thicker, fattier, more nutrient dense milk that comes out towards the end of the feed (known as the hindmilk), so you don’t want to stop nursing before the cycle is complete.

11. Set Up Comfortable Nursing Stations

Once you get the hang of breastfeeding, you’ll want to make it easy to breastfeed everywhere in the house. In the beginning, I know that I’ll be spending a lot of my time breastfeeding in my bed, so I made that my central station for breastfeeding. You’ll notice in the picture below that I have my nice stack of pillows, a soft salt lamp with a dimmer switch, a newborn sleeper, some diapers and wipes, water, kleenex, a rocking chair, and a crib (that won’t be used for 6 months at least).

Our Bedroom is Set Up for Nursing

Our Bedroom is Set Up for Nursing

My nursing station in the living room is the one I really spend the most time setting up. I know that I will be sitting there a lot with my new little peanut, and so I stock this station with everything I could ever need. I have a comfortable rocking chair, a nursing stool, a good size table to hold all of my things, a breast pump, water, kleenex, a NoseFrida (nasal aspirator) and saline spray, some finger nail clippers, some magazines ( love reading Above Rubies for inspiration), and the tv remote and a wireless mouse to control it. I also make sure to have plenty of things for my other kids to do around the room so that they can stay busy while I nurse.

My Living Room Nursing Station

My Living Room Nursing Station

12. What Goes In Will Come Out

I feel like I am at my hungriest when I’m nursing, especially when they start to get closer to that 6 month mark. The time right before they are introduced to solid foods, but still somehow gaining tremendous amounts of weight, all from my milk! I love it!

When babies are in the womb, they have our bodies and the placenta to help them filter through whatever food we’re eating, but when they are nursing, they have to go through digestion alone. This is why it is even more important to eat a healthy diet and stay well hydrated. A healthy diet for pregnant and nursing moms should include plenty of raw milk, pastured eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, grass fed beef, wild caught fish (like salmon), bone broth soup, organic soaked grains, and organic fruits and vegetables.

I have also found it beneficial to stay away from coffee and alcohol completely for the first three months until they are better at metabolizing it. Every baby is different, but if you notice that your baby is particularly fussy, this might be why.

In Conclusion

I will always treasure the special time I’ve had with each of my children as I’ve nursed them. In the first few months as we’re figuring each other out, we spend a lot of time together up in the night, and even though I’m tired, I cherish these times more than anything in the world. It is an honor to bring life into this world, and it is an honor to be able to sustain the life that I delivered with nourishment from my own body. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.