Breastfeeding Problems: Nipple Trauma and My Journey to Better Latching
When Bastian was three months old, I was able to go from supplementing 16oz (about 450ml) of donor milk (breastmilk donated from other families) to nothing over nine days. I’ll go into that in detail in another blog but after that I felt invincible. Nothing could stop our breastfeeding relationship and I thought that by having read lots about breastfeeding problems I knew it all. I was about to be knocked down a few pegs though, because as much as breastfeeding or nursing or chestfeeding is amazing for children and the parent feeding them* the reason why so many of us struggle to reach our goals and nursiversaries is because of problems cropping up when we least expect them or life and changing family structures cropping up like little rocks on a path.
I didn’t realise for a while that things were getting so bad and I was getting nipple trauma. Breastfeeding had never been the most comfortable but we were getting into it and used to the way it worked. Having bottle fed Ayla for much longer than I’d fed her at the breast because we never got on with supply lines. So it was almost like nursing for the first time and the way to hold a baby to breastfeed is much more different than the way to bottle feed. I literally had to say out loud Tummy to Mummy to consciously remind myself to face me.
We have always battled because of my surgery; I’m BFAR (breastfeeding after reduction, that’s bilateral breast reduction surgery) The skin on my breasts and around my nipples, the areolae, is paper thin and it feels that baby starts off with a good latch but gets a mouthful of loose skin which hurts my nipple a bit. Normally it doesn’t become a problem but after we stopped supplementing, Bastian had to feed often to get the milk he needed from me. I may still have the milk ducts needed for a full supply, but there is still damage there from the surgery. The longer I breastfeed after surgery, the more the milk canals repair themselves, known as recanalization or recanalisation, but we’re still at a bit of a disadvantage. The problems for us eventually worked their way out as his mouth grew and he was able to take more skin and breast tissue in: a better latch. But while we were on holiday together I found the problems started again because he was nursing for hydration and comfort more than usual.
Nipple Trauma: What Is It?
Nipple pain from various causes including a bad latch, where perhaps the child isn’t taking enough tissue or at the right angle or there are oral problems like tongue tie. There are problems like nipple blanching (Raynaud’s or vasospasms) and sometimes if you have bad nipple pain it can lead to severe nipple trauma. Toe curling agony is how I’d describe it! I have damage I think might be permanent because of the tissue at the end of my nipples getting so raw and lacking in blood.
I went to see my local peer supporters, midwives, health visitors, GP and I was told it could be thrush and given creams. I remember another mum getting really angry with me because I wouldn’t specially order this cream she said had worked miracles but I’d already invested in all sorts of creams and tinctures and gels and patches. I was expressing sometimes when the pain got so bad I was sobbing and the milk looked like strawberry milkshake. I hear that blood isn’t a reason to stop feeding your baby but I don’t think I fed him those pumps! In the end it was a visit to my La Leche League leader again (you can see why I sing their praises) that helped, as we talked about latching. I’ve researched it and found that loose skin can be a factor in nipple problems especially in post-surgery. If you see this LLL article on bariatric surgery and lactation (gastric bands etc.) it mentions it.
So the most helpful thing I found in dealing with nipple trauma was to get a better latch with the help of a breastfeeding expert, then give your nipple time to heal by exclusively pumping on that side. As aslways, I’m not a breastfeeding expert so please check this information out with a breastfeeding counsillor (LLL or NCT perhaps) or an IBCLC or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, but this blog is intended to help steer other nursing families in the right direction. Hope it helps someone.
*Please note the gender neutral terms I’m trying to add to the Tree of Opals blogs now. Chestfeeding is a term used by a growing number of families who (for whatever reason) don’t feel like breastfeeding covers the way they relate to their bodies.
Please also note that this blog might contain affiliate links, meaning I get a small reward for referring you at no extra cost to yourself. I only recommend products and services I use myself and love.