Breastfeeding is much harder than I thought it would be 

Out of nowhere breastfeeding recently became incredibly difficult and painful again. Poppy has two bottom teeth now and everything changed overnight. She is biting me, nursing badly and grazing my nipples, and having bad feeds where she growls, thrashes, bites, and claws me as she comes on and off my breast repeatedly, giving me ‘niplash’ in the process.

It’s been horrible. She bit me badly enough to make me bleed on Christmas, and that nipple swelled and became extremely painful. My headspace rapidly crashed as each feed was more difficult and more painful. Within a couple of days I was crying frequently, my head was overloaded with ‘I hate myself’, and I couldn’t reach out for help because I was swamped by the conviction that my friends all loathed me. Reaching out at that point takes a hell of a lot of ‘brave’. I asked for suggestions online and called our Breastfeeding helpline, but all the suggestions were things I have already been trying. Unfortunately as it’s Christmas/New Years, the other resources I trust (lactation consultant and physio) are away. So there’s no easy answers.

Someone suggested Poppy’s moderate posterior tongue tie, which we elected not to revise, may be causing troubles. Thinking back, Rose and I recall that we were warned by our lactation consultant that troubles can return around 4-6 months as her face grows.

So, in between crying I’ve been reading a lot. I read my way through a couple of tongue tie groups on facebook – the good, bad, and ugly of ties and revisions. I read through Pinky McKay’s blog. I came across a thought provoking article about tongue ties, which mentioned functional lactose overload in an offhand way, and planted the seed of an idea about synchronicity between mother and baby during feeds. Tongues Tied about Tongue-Tie So I did some more hunting and found a couple of useful articles about Lactose Overload and Lactose Intolerance.

I’ve trialled block feeding (the solution for lactose overload) and Poppy has reduced vomiting to less than 1/3rd of her usual amount over the past 48 hrs. I was going to try this earlier to help manage strong letdown, but I’ve been anxious about reducing supply and the oversupply seemed to settle down on its own. But now I think I’m on to something. She is less fussy, less windy, and her nappies are now normal for breastfeeding instead of green, acidic, and frothy. I’m thrilled! How has no one else mentioned this possibility? 

As for biting – what I’ve been trying for Poppy before feeds:

  • teething gel to numb gums
  • cold wet frozen face-washer to chew
  • various other fridge cold baby chew toys
  • rubbing her gums with my fingers
  • letting her chew on my knuckles
  • yelping when she bites
  • taking her off the breast when she bites and making her wait before nursing again
  • ignoring bites and continuing to nurse

For my damaged nipples I’ve been using:

  • cold wet face washer
  • multi-mams bio gel
  • breast milk and air drying
  • thrush treatment gel
  • antifungal and antibacterial cream
  • resting from nursing and pumping only while very damaged

They are finally healing. It seems some kind of infection was going on because it wasn’t until I pulled out the antifungal/antibacterials that things improved, and fortunately they then improved quickly. So I’m doing 3 hourly block feeds (feeding only on one side for 3 hours then switching to the other for the next 3). 

Biting is being caused by 2 things, I think… Frustration, caused by slow milk flow when breast is running out, or by pain of teething, or gas pain etc. She often warns me by growling, wriggling, squeezing my hand in her hand and so on – now I’ve tuned in more I’m picking that up and taking her off the breast before she bites.

The second thing is when she is startled. Her startle reflex has dramatically increased the past few weeks, she’s also having nightmares. Gone is my little baby who would sleep through the dog barking. I’m wondering if that’s partly developmental (increased awareness), partly related to being in pain because of the teething… And partly because my nervous system is in fight/flight due to how stressful it is to be bitten. I think we are setting each other off with stress – she bites and scares me, I yelp and scare her. Feeds become scary for both of us. Muscle tension makes feeds more difficult physically for her – the movement of tongue and mouth are impeded. High frustration increases biting…

So my current theory is that we are in a negative spiral of distress as both our nervous systems kick into sympathetic arousal for feeds. I am the Mum here, my nervous system has to the be the one that calms hers down, she can’t lead mine to feeling safer. 

So I am grounding and settling myself before nursing, paying close attention again to her position, freedom of head and neck, good body contact between us, allowing her to wrap her arms around my breast to control her latch, and we are doing much better. Sometimes I need help from others like Rose to help me calm so this is possible, but I think we’re on the right track and hopefully given some extra care, nursing will once again become easy. 

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