Breastfeeding in pain, ouch!
I had ten minutes before my first class and I had set up all my Medela equipment and found a relaxing spot at my lesson planning table to pump. As usual, I wasn’t trying to get any schoolwork done while I expressed milk, I was just relaxing so the oxytocin could flow better and produce more milk for my little guy. As usual, I had my smart phone out and looking at pictures of my kids and meandering around facebook and Pinterest. About a minute into the normal routine, I looked down to check my progress and was horrified to see about an ounce of pink milk settling into the bottom of the left bottle. Up in the breastshield I watched my nipple being pulled in and out while smearing bright red blood all over the plastic. I freaked out. I ripped the piece off my breast, wiped it off with a cloth (which left red smears all over one of my favorite prefolds) and horrified, I examined my nipple to see where the blood was coming from. It was oozing from a single spot and continued to ooze after I’d dabbed it, but I could see no cut. My hypochondria kicked in and I started imagining that one of my milk ducts was broken and producing blood instead of milk which lead to terrible fear that my nursing days would be cut off way too soon. I wiped myself down again and stuck that breast back in its boulder holder and tried to refocus. I still needed to be relaxed because I didn’t have enough milk for my little buddy yet. So I pumped from just the one breast while texting photos of the pink milk to my sisters because we have a tradition of oversharing amongst ourselves. I filled the one five ounce bottle just as the bell rang and I rushed to put away and clean all the pieces of the pump as my 9 th graders started filing boisterously into the room. Soon, the pink milk was all but forgotten as I entrenched myself in the particulars of present tense verb conjugation and ser vs. estar.
Two hours later it was time to pump again. I checked the left breast. No blood. Phew! I repeated the steps to fill my bottles and again, wasn’t watching when the milk first started flowing. After maybe 30 seconds, I looked down to see more pink milk filling my bottle. WHAT ON EARTH?!?!? I freaked out again. More this time. My heart was racing and I imagined the worst. Not only was I broken, but I must have cancer. I was dying. The world was ending. And I’d probably been turning my sweet little boy into a vampire all morning because who knew how long I’d been producing mixed drinks. I did a Google search in vain. Anyone online who was dealing with blood from their nipples was usually a new mom getting accustomed to breast feeding for the first time. I’ve nursed a child through toddlerhood already. Not only are my nipples quite tough, but I’d never once seen blood in them before this moment. And they weren’t hurting. Not at all. Why else would they be bleeding but not hurting? I was certain, I was dying. It may sound funny to you, but I’m serious. I started lamenting the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to see my boy walk his first steps or say his first words as I dialed my midwife’s number with shaky hands. I left a message with the receptionist and tried to swallow the fear so I could fill another bottle from the right breast (poor thing had been doing all the work all morning!) When I finished I still hadn’t pumped nearly enough milk. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough for my own son rather less enough to donate as I usually do. I decided to try to hand express from my left breast. It was a relief that when I did so, no blood came out.
The milk was perfect and my heart stopped racing while the surging fear got a bit of a kick in the head.
The morning passed as mornings do and I was more than grateful when it was time to go home and have lunch with my kids and get them settle down for their nap. Over the course of the afternoon, through conversations with my midwife and her nurses, we figured that Baby Bear had probably nicked my nipple with one of his new, little teeth. She let me know that since I had no fever or warm, painful spots on my breast, she was confident I didn’t have mastitis. She said that it was encouraging that when I hand expressed, no blood came out. She gave me a couple of tips on speeding up the healing process of my bitten, left breast.
1) No more pumping for 48 hours. “Pumping is really hard on nipples,” she told me.
But I could hand express. And I did. I was eager to keep the milk production even on both sides. Also, I’d just gotten my production up to a point where I could donate an extra 20 ounces a week and I was trying not to lose all that work.
2) It’s totally safe to nurse on the injured side. The little bit of blood won’t hurt the baby. Also, a baby isn’t as tough on the nipple as the pump. So when I was home with my son, I nursed more from the healing side and when I was at work, I pumped only from the uninjured side.
3) Rotate baby’s position so that he’s not rubbing his teeth on the sore spot. This will also help him empty the milk ducts evenly. In other words, if you normally do a football hold while nursing, switch it up to side lying or the cradle hold.
4) Use lanolin just like you did when you had a newborn. Lanolin is great on sore nipples.
5) Make sure the baby knows not to bite. If he bites, take him off the breast for a while so he knows that behavior is unacceptable. Cry out in pain too so he associates that result with his action.
I followed my midwife’s advice and within a few days my nipples were back to normal.
Now I try to be a little more vigilant when I pump. I investigate the nipple before pumping and I watch that first milk flow to make sure it’s okay. Nipples cracking and nicks from new teeth happen when your breastfeeding, but it doesn’t have to mean the nursing stage is over. As long as you take steps to take care of both your breasts and your milk production and you teach your baby not to use his (or her) teeth, the nursing relationship can continue after a couple of adjustments.
Have you ever experienced anything like this? Did you discover the cause or worry like I did? Please share your experiences.