Every mammal does it, in fact that's where the word mammal comes from - the mammary gland is what produces the milk for the offspring. After the first few days of breastfeeding I had Nick go pick up The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by the LLLI. In the chapter titled "Latching and Attaching" a sentence reads, "Babies need to choose their own timing. We used to be told to 'latch the baby on' when her mouth was open wide. But mammal mothers never take that much control over a feeding, and babies don't expect it." Now, if you've followed my blog for any amount of time or even read my birth story, you probably know how gung-ho I am about doing things the "natural" way. So if it's so natural and supposed to come so easy... why isn't it?
The day Annaliese was born I got a quick 20 minute "lesson" on breastfeeding from the Birth Assistant and my doula. It was basically, "Try to latch her on. Here is a better way to hold her. Looks good to me." Despite my discomfort and the fact that it hurt I didn't say anything because, well, it looked good to them and they've done it before and this is my first time so I don't know anything. That led to blisters and cracks and bleeding. Feeding became excruciating and I dreaded it.
With help from a lactation consultant we figured out that she had something wrong with her latch. She would latch on correctly but then use her tongue to push only my nipple to the front of her mouth and feed that way. It's called nipple feeding, it's almost impossible to draw out any milk that way and the poor thing was starving.
Since my birth had gone 100% the way I wanted I told myself that if breastfeeding didn't work out I would be OK with that - after all, the most important thing is that my child is fed and if I couldn't do that something else needed to be introduced. Before giving up and switching to formula I made the decision to pump and feed her through a syringe.
It was hard to accept that I wasn't able to feed my child "correctly" but all that mattered to me was that she was being fed. After a few days of pumping and practicing the tongue exercises, the lactation consultant told me to give nipple shields a try. This made it easier for her to latch and figure out how to hold everything correctly in her mouth, while making it less painful for me. Lots of people will preach of the negatives that go along with nipple shields, but I was feeding my child and I'm sure I would have gotten a lot more flack for using formula.
Within 2 days I was able to stop using the nipple shields and we've been breastfeeding successfully ever since! Don't get me wrong, it's still painful and awkward and uncomfortable, but so completely worth it.
I wrote this up in hopes that someone going through the same thing early on will know that it does get better. There are people and resources available to help you through it.