mama story: when breastfeeding is f*cking painful


Katie Burness of Redmond, Washington thank you for sharing your sweet mama story with us!

Before I had our firstborn I told my husband, "I don't want to be stressed about feeding him. I want to try to breastfeed, but if it doesn't work I want us both to be on the same page and be happy that our child is fed. It seems like a lot of moms really stress out a lot about feeding, and it just doesn't seem worth it. Fed is best, right?" My husband nodded in approval.  

I gave birth at a "baby friendly" hospital, which really just means they encourage breastfeeding.  Within an hour of his birth, the nurse was showing me how to latch Calvin. I had watched countless YouTube videos and memorized "a good latch," holds, what to watch for, how to know if your baby has a tongue or lip tie, etc. 

What surprised me was how uncomfortable breastfeeding was. 

No, I take that back, how F*CKING painful breastfeeding was. Nothing about it was "uncomfortable*, it HURT. Cal had to have a tongue or lip tie, right? Nope. The nurse gave us high marks and said to expect discomfort. 

The day after birthing your baby, the hospital encourages all new mothers to attend a breastfeeding class. The instructor was great and offered to help us individually if requested.  Again, we were given good marks. "Yes, it will hurt. Just keep it up! You'll get there!" 

Three days after birth, each new mother and baby make a return trip to the hospital for a weight check and another lactation consultation. My nipples were raw by this point. The lactation consultant recommended a few things to try to better our latch. My son was gaining weight well, so we knew he was getting milk, but I was in a lot of pain.  The consultant didn't seem worried and said again, "You're doing great. Yes, it does hurt. What you're feeling is normal. Just use lanolin."  I kept saying to my husband, "How has nobody told me about this? I expected labor to hurt, but I never expected breastfeeding to be so painful."

Each feeding was more unbearable than the last. 

I would literally break out in a sweat when my baby would cry just anticipating the pain. I would cry through every feeding. My stomach would be in knots. I truly believe that I would have birthed him (no epidural) every single day rather than feeding him one more time. 

At this point my nipples were 75% open sores. When my son would spit up, it would be blood. When he had a bowel movement it was dark (from ingesting so much blood from me). I was furious at my husband when he kissed our baby and the baby mistook his nose for a nipple and then was instantly hungry. "HOW COULD YOU TRICK HIM INTO BEING HUNGRY!" I'd have to physically kick our mattress while he was eating while simultaneously have my husband squeeze my shoulders as hard as he could. 

I was in agony  Remember that person who said she wanted to be okay with trying to breastfeed, but if it didn't work out that she wouldn't stress? I had no idea where she had gone. There was something inside of me that made me keep trying. 

I loved our baby, but I HATED feeding him. 


There were a few days where he cluster fed and I wasn't sure I was going to get through the day. Exhausted and bloody I called for one more lactation consult. If I went to this appointment and they said what I was going through was normal, that was going to be it. I was going to call it.

I just didn't understand how women did this.  How had nobody told me?  How was this normal?  My mom nursed me and my two older brothers. She said she enjoyed it. I couldn't even fathom enjoying breastfeeding. I didn't want to leave our house. How could I navigate the awkwardness of a first time breastfeeding-in-public mama while also quite literally kicking and screaming?  

I walked into that last lactation consult wary. 

A woman in her early 50's, JoAnn, came in with a smile on her face. I explained what was happening and for the first time since our son was born, I was told what was happening was NOT normal. I should not be in this much pain 1.5 months in. 

I unlatched my bra and JoAnn gasped. 

She gave me a hug and said, "I cannot believe you've still been nursing him through this.  You deserve a medal. I am going to help you, but please know that nobody can say you didn't give it 110% if you decide to stop." Tears started streaming. Finally. It was a combination of pure pride and utter relief. 

JoAnn took the next 45 minutes talking to me and showing me - over and over again - how to latch and unlatch my son correctly. Small tweaks to how I was holding him. It still hurt like hell (as one would imagine nursing a child from open wounds), but for the first time I had hope that we were on the right path. Day by day my nipples slowly healed. By the time he hit two months, we were old pros. I no longer dreaded his feedings. Without JoAnn, I would have absolutely given up. 

I still absolutely believe that fed is best: breastmilk straight from the source, expressed milk, or formula. 

You do you and be PROUD that you are feeding your baby. Moming is hard work. Feeding is hard work. For whatever reason, there was something inside of me that just wouldn't allow me to stop trying. I'm very grateful that we are on the other side of things now, but I'm also oddly grateful for my experience. I will happily be a resource for friends and family who may find breastfeeding difficult. It might be "uncomfortable," but it should never be kick-your-mattress bad. Most of us know that there are resources out there for help, but sometimes it helps to hear a real-life person's experience to know you are not alone. 

I wish all my fellow mamas luck in their journey, and for those of you who aren't sure if you can get through another feeding, I wish you a JoAnn.