Monday, July 9, 2012

Breastfeeding: Ground Beef Nipples & Some Tips. But Not Beef Tips. Ha.

Some nipples can't quite take the heat of nursing a baby. Whether it's from continual improper latching, sensitive skin, or who knows what, sometimes, they crack, and even bleed. Sometimes, they turn into ground beef. Yum. Hamburgers, anyone?

I was one of the lucky ones who got to enjoy a severe case of my nipples not quite taking to nursing babies. After Ethan, my first baby, was born, the lactation consultants at the hospital helped me help him latch and he seemed to latch well, which is the trick to avoiding sore and cracking nipples... for most people. But, he wanted to suck all the time and the nurses were very pro feed, feed, feed, and very anti-pacifier. Since he was my first baby, I decided to listen to them and not stuff a pacifier in his mouth when he'd be crying to suck and comfort himself, and instead would latch him on again, even though he had just been latched for an hour and a half and wasn't hungry - my boobs were definitely producing.

After a day or two of having a baby constantly on my nips, they started to feel "quite sore". Like, "Oh God it's time for him to eat again? Noooooooo" sore. After a week, they were cracked and bleeding, and I would cry from the pain when latching him on, and throughout the feeding. Finally, my nips were so torn up that one night, when I went to pump off a little bit of the engorgement, all that came out of my boob was blood.

Of course, I freaked. I was sobbing and frustrated and ready to quit breastfeeding. In sheer panic (how the fuck am I going to feed my baby if all I'm producing is blood?) I called my friend who had had a baby seven months previously, (those friends with kids, man... they ROCK) and when she somehow got the gist of my situation through my sobs, she said one simple, lifesaving thing:

"Why aren't you using the nipple shield I gave you?"

~Cue the singing angels and the bright, ethereal sunlight streaming through the parting clouds~

Me: What? Nipple shield? What the hell is that

Her: It's that Medela thing I gave you, it's a clear nipple-shaped thingy that you put over your nipple while feeding and it protects it from the trauma of baby sucking.

I tore back to my bedroom, a trail of blood in my wake, dug through my drawer, and found the coveted Medela nipple shield. It looks like this:

And it is the BEST THING EVER. I highly recommend that you buy one to have on hand, just in case your nipples do not initially like breastfeeding. Shit, buy two or three just in case you lose one or don't feel like washing it at 3 a.m. Those things are gold. Target and Babies 'R Us sell them, and probably tons of other places, including, perhaps, the lactation center at the hospital. Or maybe you can even just ask for one at the hospital and they'll give you one. And at the end of this post, I go over a couple of things I dealt with with the shield so be sure to read that part.

Speaking of lactation centers...
...that was my next stop the very next day. Because while the nipple shield was great and saved my breastfeeding life, I still had the problem of the sorry shape my nipples were in. The lactation consultant asked if she could see my nipples so she would know how bad they were and how they needed to be treated. I opened my bra, and this woman who has probably seen it all actually gasped and recoiled when she saw the bloody carnage that my nipples were. She put her hand over her mouth and I swear, she wanted to cry for me (and probably throw up). She said they looked like ground beef.

Hungry, anyone?

So the lactation consultant first called my doctor and asked him to write a prescription for a topical medication to heal my ground beef. Then she confirmed that I should be using the nipple shield. Then she warned me that my nipples, in that condition, were prime candidates for transmitting bacteria into my breasts and causing a breast infection, also known as mastitis, so I needed to be really careful about keeping them clean and focus on healing them quickly. Then she asked me to bring the baby in so she could watch him latch and eat and see if there was something wrong there that she could correct (nothing ended up being wrong - like I said, my nips just can't take it). Then she gave me some nipple cream (lanolin) and gel pads to help along the healing.

Speaking of lanolin and gel pads.... 
Those are two other things I also recommend that you have on hand and I recommend that you begin using them right away, as soon as you start breastfeeding. After each feeding, just apply a little bit to your nipples to soothe and protect them. The lanolin that I preferred was Medela Tendercare, but Lansinoh's is fine, too. Lansinoh's is just a little thicker and "stiffer" than Medela's, so when you squeeze some out, press it between your fingertips for a few seconds to warm and soften it up for easier application.

Breast milk also works at helping nipples heal; it has natural healing properties. Just smear some on after each feeding and try to let it air dry. (Thank you, Vanessa, for the reminder!!)

The gel pads I used were the Soothies brand but Medela makes some that I've heard work beautifully, too (thanks, E.B.!). Store them in the refrigerator and the cool gel pads feel really nice against your nipples and something in the gel helps soothe and heal them. The great thing about them is you can use the same ones for a couple of days before you have to toss them, but keep them clean so you don't transmit bacteria via your nips. AND, you can even cut them in half so you get a bit more for your money.


And if you start to feel too much pain during latching and the feeding, then start using the nipple shield. After, of course, doing what you can to make sure that baby is latching properly in the first place.

More nipple shield info....
I used the shield for all three babies; I had to. My nips just weren't up to the task after each birth and took a long time to adjust, but eventually they did and I didn't have to use the shield. The only problem is that Connor (the second) actually became dependent on it and refused to latch without it, so only use it as long as you absolutely have to. I used it too long with him. With Ethan and Brandon, it was maybe a week, two tops. After four months of using the shield with Connor, I finally was able to break him of it but it was tough, really tough. I would recommend that when your nipples begin to heal or feel less sore, start alternating using the shield for one feeding and not for the next feeding to help wean.

And you can bet your ass that when I had my next two babies, I took a fucking pacifier to the hospital, and I fucking used it. I know it's not "recommended" and some people will want to slay me for saying that, but fuck it. Babies want to suck. They want to suck like they're goddamn vampires. If, after they have eaten and aren't having problems latching, then stuff that paci in their mouth and be at peace. 

We're not supposed to use a pacifier for the first couple of weeks to avoid nipple confusion in the baby but I don't entirely buy that. Babies can and do figure it out. I mean, what if you bottle feed and give them different bottle nipples? What about when all the nurses and parents let the baby suck on their fingers to soothe them? What's the difference between a finger and a pacifier? But I've seen countless breastfeeding/medical professionals do it. What about the nurses that give the babies those blue Soothie pacifiers in the nursery? I'm not saying let the baby live with the paci in their mouth, but if it's needed for a bit to calm the baby (who isn't hungry, and who is gaining weight and peeing and pooping) and give mom a break, then go for it. 

When I figured out that Ethan simply wanted to suck and wasn't actually hungry since he had just eaten, I went out to the nurses station and begged them for a pacifier, and they refused to give me one. He hung out on my boobs for 20 out of 24 hours a day and if there was ever anything that made me want to quit nursing; it was that. Well, until the blood....

When we got home from the hospital, I pacifiered it up and the peace it brought me, and Ethan, made me want to drop-kick the nurses and all the "experts" who tell us not to give our babies a pacifier in the first two weeks.

With me and my boys, pacifiers didn't hinder the breastfeeding relationship, they saved it.

***A lactation consultant told me that the Avent pacifiers are great ones to use in the early days, whether it's a Soothie or one of their other kinds.

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