I Had Problems Nursing My Newborn–Here’s What Helped Me Cope

The day I became a mother, I became committed to the idea that I would only worry about things I could actually control. (If you’re a parent, you probably understand that this is an inherently limited list).

I don’t subscribe to mom-guilt because I just don’t think it’s productive, so I’d cut myself a lot of slack when it came to sleeping patterns, eating patterns, and mommy self-care. The goal for year one was simple: no casualties.

I always knew I wanted to nurse my daughter, but I also objectively knew that it was probably going to be difficult (the stories friends told about babies that wouldn’t latch!), painful (cracked nipples!) and exhausting (I’m sorry, they eat how often?).

I thought if the day came before her first birthday when I had to let nursing go, I would handle it with dignity and grace and a non-judgmental mind and heart.

I’d cut myself a lot of slack when it came to sleeping patterns, eating patterns, and mommy self-care. The goal for year one was simple: no casualties.

Then I got mastitis.

To those of you who are unfamiliar, congratulations! Women who have experienced mastitis and partners who have witnessed its agony understand that it is so much worse than a mere infection in the breast tissue. If the blinding pain (the sort that pulses with every single breath you take or from every brush of fabric) is not enough, there’s also the fatigue and the fever and the chills and the sweats that come along with it. At least that’s what I experienced. And those issues aren’t even the worst part.

Mastitis alone won’t tank your milk supply if you’re a nursing mother. But it does create a perfect storm of high fever and dehydration, and those few things together will probably stress your body to the point where it won’t produce milk anymore.

For me, it happened fast, so when I tried to nurse my tiny human only to find that my milk wasn’t there, I gritted my teeth through the pain and searched for help. Dignity and grace, folks. They’re what I live by.

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Courtesy of Mallory Viscardi

I ended up finding the Tennessee Breastfeeding Hotline. This hotline is for Tennessee (where I live) residents, and is staffed 24/7 by lactation consultants who are on call to answer your questions.

The lactation consultant listened patiently and then very candidly told me in no uncertain terms what I needed to do to get my supply back up: sleep as much as possible when I could, do skin-to-skin contact with my infant when I was awake, let her nurse as much as I could stand, and drink water like there was a heat wave.

They also pointed me toward prenatal vitamins (which I had gotten lazy with in the bleary weeks of new mom-hood) and fenugreek, which is a supplement that may help some women boost and maintain their milk supply.

My doctor, who I contacted afterwards, echoed these ideas with enthusiasm. All of the suggestions were, in my fever-crazed mind, an absolute miracle—especially since they actually helped me!

To help aid in the production of my milk supply, I took up to three fenugreek capsules (up to three times a day) and the difference I saw in my supply was remarkable. Why? As my lactation consultant explained, the fenugreek helps glands do their job.

My doctor did tell me to watch out for excess gas in my little one (she didn’t end up having a problem) and that my sweat would probably smell a bit like maple syrup. (Spoiler alert: It absolutely did, but I love pancakes so I didn’t mind a bit.)

I also found things like taking a breastfeeding class, talking to a lactation consultant, joining a nursing support group, and becoming mindful about nutrition to be really helpful. (I ate healthy when I had the bandwidth to think about it—but I’m going to level with you: I spent a lot of those first weeks as a new mom on auto-pilot, learning how to keep another human being alive.)

I found things like taking a breastfeeding class, talking to a lactation consultant, joining a nursing support group, and becoming mindful about nutrition to be really helpful.

Although I did get mastitis again six weeks after the first time it hit me, my supply didn’t drop, even in the face of the high fever and fatigue. I healed much more quickly than the first time I had mastitis, and I think that’s because I had plenty of tools and coping mechanisms.

Now that I have all my resources in place, I can breathe a sigh of relief and sink deep into the moments of joy and happiness with my little one, knowing deep down that I am prepared for whatever is thrown my way.

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