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A Second Chance

Kathy Hand
Oxfordshire, Great Britain
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, p. 22

I had been looking forward to breastfeeding William. I have two other children, who were ages eight and 10 when William was born and I had breastfed them with no problems. As soon as William suckled I noticed it was very painful.

We spent two days in the hospital because William was jaundiced, tired, and not very eager to breastfeed. As I had to get him to feed properly before we would be allowed to leave the hospital, a nurse spent a lot of time helping me try to get him to latch on properly. In the end I gave him a bottle of donated expressed breast milk.

Once we got home, Will was feeding every hour or so, and it was still painful, but it did not alarm me as I remembered my nipples hurting for a little while when I had my first child. However, I began to notice a white pinched look to my nipples followed by cracking and bleeding. It was very painful and there was not enough time in between feeds to heal. After about a week, my nipples were damaged and the pain was indescribable. I would often cry when he was feeding, my toes would curl, and I would sweat. My midwife checked the way he was nursing and said that it was okay but that I should bring his shoulders in more.

I persevered but after 10 days of breastfeeding I felt a very bad pain in my nipple and when William let it go, I saw blood. My other nipple was so badly damaged that Will could not nurse on it so we began using bottles. I used hydrogel patches to try to heal my nipples quickly, but they didn't work. My husband encouraged me to try to breastfeed Will but I was worried that my scabs would come off. I tried to express milk but nothing came out.

Weeks of tears and depression followed. I asked my visiting health practitioner for help but all she could offer was a shoulder to cry on. I felt that there had to be someone who could help. I telephoned Sally at my local breastfeeding clinic. What she told me was very unexpected. She said if I felt that badly about my experience and was determined enough, why didn't I try to relactate? I didn't think it was possible as seven weeks had passed and my milk had dried up. She referred me to a La Leche League Leader for more information. The LLL Leader, Kerry, explained that it took a lot of work and that I would need support from my family because of the time and effort involved with relactation. I felt that I needed to try this before I finally threw in the towel.

I started taking medications and expressing each breast for 15 minutes with a pump, getting up during the night when possible. Ideally, I was aiming for eight to 12 pumping sessions a day. With a young baby and two other children to care for, this was no small task.

I got a lot of satisfaction from feeding William at least some of my milk from a bottle. I tried to get him to latch on, but he would scream at the sight of my breasts. We spent a lot of time having skin-to-skin contact, getting him to love the smell of my skin. I also used a nursing supplementer, a bag of milk I hung from my neck with two fine tubes running down to my nipples. Will didn't like this. I tried using special nipple shields with a notch missing so that he could taste my skin, but he would not latch onto them. In the end, I resigned myself to expressing as much as I could and giving him my expressed milk.

One day when he was five-and-a-half months old, I noticed he was licking my t-shirt. I offered him the breast and he latched on and fed like a complete natural from that day forward. I was able to fully breastfeed him! He became a much more contented child and I felt a much closer bond with him, though it was hard to imagine the bond could have been much closer.

It was a hard and very emotional battle but worth every bit of effort. I look at him now and feel very proud of what we achieved. Part of the credit goes to the women who encouraged me every step of the way.

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