Notes for New Moms

So I had a baby; he’s amazing and we’ve called him Finn. In other news, my right breast is a horror show and looks like it’s been attacked by an ice-cream scoop.

This is why after three months of self-imposed digital hermitry, I’m writing and posting another piece. There are a bunch of things I wish I’d known when I was still pregnant, but I went in to motherhood like a wide-eyed doe, and that’s made being a new mom harder than necessary.

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If you’re prego, and are planning to breastfeed, here are some handy tips to keep in mind for when your Noo arrives:

Tongue-Ties

Finn was born tongue-tied. This means that the little strip of skin under his tongue was closer to the tip than normal, and prevented the poor little guy from sticking his tongue out of his mouth.

With such a limited lick, he couldn’t massage my areola and stimulate milk flow. So he just chewed the tips of my nipples (!) and got meagre dribbles of food. Unfortunately, his tongue-tie was only spotted when he was a week and a half old. So, for 10 days I tried to feed, panicking about my low milk production, and not knowing why my baby was always crying or why my nipples were so raw.

What you can do: Remember to ask your midwife, gynae or paediatrician to check for a tongue-tie.

Nipple Laser

I refer not to the pew-pew variety, but rather the healing kind. I was actually checking out of the hospital, and moaning about my sore nerps when a nurse mentioned the treatment to me. I wish I’d known to request it, because if I’d had the laser done while I was still in hospital, medical aid would have covered it.

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I ended up having a few sessions on my poor nips in the first week of Finn’s life, and it helped instantly; as in the very next feed was much less painful. It’s not THAT expensive, and it toughens up the ole puppy dog noses.

What you can do: Request the treatment if your nipples are making breastfeeding really sore. Breastfeeding is NOT supposed to be really sore…

Nipple Prep

In our antenatal classes, we were told that nipples are meant for feeding, so they can deal with the feeding. Mine could not, and I wish I’d taken time to toughen them up in preparation for my hungry infant’s nomming.

What you can do: Spend some time with your naked nips pointing skyward. Just 3-5 minutes a day in the morning sun does wonders. Even if you’re already breastfeeding, this helps so much with sore nips. And it’s free. I recommend applying the good lanolin, and hanging the washing up topless. It feels fantastic.

Lanolin

Forget Bennet’s nipple cream, or Elizabeth Anne’s, or anything white and pasty. When your nips are sore, you want the soft caress of sticky lanolin. Heck, if you can squeeze it straight from the sheep that’s first prize. Second prize = 100% pure lanolin in a tube.

What you can do: Buy it from pharmacies or baby stores. Seriously, don’t mess around with the other stuff. Ask for Lansinoh or Medela Purelan.

Blocked Milk Ducts and Mastitis

Ok, this is pretty common, and it hurts. Basically you get sore red patches on your boobs and you need to give yourself a painful shower massage to work your milk through the blocked ducts. Ultrasound sessions followed by massage can also help. If it’s super bad you’ll need a course of antibiotics.

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Unfortunately, as I found out, all manner of horrific things can happen when mastitis or blocked ducts are not dealt with properly.

What you can do: If the red patches have just appeared, hit the shower and do the warm water boob massage. Lather up and rub from the outside of the patch towards the nipple, so the milk flows out.

Afterwards, put some chilled cabbage leaves in your bra, under the breast pad. These help to ease engorgement. They smell REALLY bad, but they help. I was advised to just use the soft frilly edges of the leaves, not the hard crunchy bits close to the base. Your best options are the great sprawling cabbages you find at veg markets, not the neat, cling-wrapped ones from the supermarket.

Covered in dirt = yes. Covered in plastic = no.

Leave ‘em in your bra over night. Your bedfellow won’t thank you, but your breasts sure will.

If the red patches don’t go away, if they keep returning, or if they get excruciatingly sore, get a doctor to check you out. Do it pronto. I learnt the hard way.

Abscesses

This is where my story gets interesting.

I had this recurring patch of redness that got increasingly more painful to the touch. So I went for a few ultrasound sessions, and the midwife got my gynae to prescribe a course of antibiotics. The redness kept coming back, the pain got worse, and one day I asked my baby clinic to refer me to a breast doctor.

She did an ultrasound-imaging scan and found what looked like a cross section of the Death Star. A 4.5x2cm mass, which she called: ‘an organised abscess’. Now your regular garden-variety abscess is a slacker with no ambition. It can be drained with a needle and some local anaesthetic. Not so his organised cousin. Dum dum dummm.

I’d been trusting the opinion of a well-meaning lactation specialist, but I should have gone to a doctor. The doc who did the scan referred me to a surgeon on the spot and said “Get thee to a hospital.”

The surgeon took a look, and less than an hour later I went under general anaesthetic to have a squash-ball sized abscess drained and removed. Fortunately I received the expert ministrations of the best boob guy in the area.

The worst part of the treatment for an organised abscess is the recovery, because the site is not stitched up, it has to heal as an open wound. For a week, I had a drain in the wound, and had to go in to hospital every morning to have the dressing changed. One time I made the mistake of looking, and I nearly died. Seriously.

Now, three weeks later, I still can’t look at it. Luckily my hubby is made of sterner stuff. He rinses it out and reapplies the dressing twice a day, while I stand in the shower with my eyes shut, stoically thinking of things to put on sandwiches.

I’m still breastfeeding, but can’t feed on Frankenboob, because the wound is right next to my nipple. So left boob is doing all the work, and I am she of lopsided boobage. The good news is that my boy is healthy and happy, and getting plenty of food, because our bodies are amazing things that adapt to situations better than our psyches do.

At the moment I’m struggling with a severe case of the downers as a result of the whole ordeal. My breast will never be the same, and this is a really hard reality to accept.

It’s also damn tough to care for a 7-week-old baby when your right side is super tender. Even picking things up is a challenge.

What you can do: Not that much unfortunately. My surgeon told me to accept the mystery (his words), and that 1 in 10 breastfeeding women develop abscesses. The trick is to catch it early on. Be super aware of any red patches, and if you’re at all concerned go to a freaking doctor immediately.

I know my breast will heal and life will go on, but I wish it had never happened in the first place. If you know anyone who is having a baby, please tell them about how they can avoid these scenarios, so they can spend those first precious first few months of motherhood enjoying their baba.