So why do we stick with it? Why do we persevere with nursing if it can be so difficult?
Many, many women do not.
Others go back to work by three months, and they either pump and have their caretaker bottle-feed the breast milk, or use supplement formula during the day and nurse only in the morning and at night.
I, myself, was about to give up but I’d committed to try for three months, so after reading the entire Internet and Breastfeeding for Dummies, I found a lactation class in my neighborhood for $25. (Private consultations cost hundreds of dollars.)
Turns out, I wasn’t the only woman blindsided by how difficult and time-consuming nursing is.
“We have removed breastfeeding from nature,” said Beverly Solow, a lactation consultant for the last 30 years. She said if it were so “natural” we would see it every day, all around us and know what proper breastfeeding looks like.
(Instead, women hide their nursing babies under curtains.) She compared it to walking — we’d know that someone walks crooked because we know what correct walking looks like.
“May I?” she said, asking permission to pinch my breast and quickly push it into the baby’s mouth to improve her latch. She also showed me not to hunch over so I wouldn’t get shoulder cramps and told me to wake the baby during feedings to make sure she ate enough.
(While the pediatrician said she was gaining fine, the consultant weighed her before and after a feed and said she needed to eat more.) Another mom told me where to rent a hospital-grade pump, which would help increase my milk production.
But it wasn’t until a few weeks later at the same clinic with a different lactation consultant that I learned I might actually have a problem. “The baby might have a problem with her tongue,” said Heather McFadden, who also told me which supplements to take to increase production (fenugreek and milk thistle).
“The problem might not be your supply, though,” she said, and referred me to Dr. Linda Dahl, an ENT who specializes in helping infants of breastfeeding moms.
“Probably a third of women have a hard time nursing — but instead of fixing the actual problem, most of the advice is to try to control everything else around it,” Dr. Dahl said, noting that experts find things wrong with the mother, like her breast is too big/small/inverted/flat, instead of asking, why can’t the baby nurse?
“It seems really obvious: The baby is trying to get food. If they get tired when they want to eat, they fall asleep,” she said, describing my exact issues. “The problem almost always is the baby can’t open her mouth.”
Dr. Dahl advised a frenulectomy, a simple procedure that releases the lingual frenulum under the tongue, which would allow the baby to open her mouth wider for a deeper latch. (It’s similar to the procedure performed on babies with tongue tie, which is a more serious condition that can also affect speech as well as breastfeeding but is usually identified at the hospital.)
I agreed, although I had to close my eyes while a nurse held my daughter down in my arms. When the procedure was over, there was a little blood and I was sobbing, until but my daughter happily suckled at the breast.