How to soothe sore nursing nipples: Ode to calendula oil

calendulaoilI love my little nursling babies. But, boy, do my nipples hurt sometimes. I
am talking about the achy, oh, I let him/her nurse for way. too. long.
feeling. (Not thrush, which is that sharp dagger feeling, which in that
case, try grapefruit seed extract or good ol’ prescription Diflucan.)

But if you want your nipples to just feel good again, look no farther than
Wise Ways Herbals’ Calendula oil! This stuff is a miracle. Before I came
across it (at around 4 months into my nursing career with my son), I tried
everything from lanolin to coconut oil to the Motherease Thrush and sore
nipples ointment. Nothing worked. Is it too much to ask to just feel
normal again? No, it’s not. This oil is a miracle worker.

The ingredients are only olive oil and calendula extract. I put it on at
night, with my beloved Nuk brand nursing pads (these are the flat ones, the
only ones I use). And the next morning, your nipples are brand new! I do
this for two nights after I feel them begin to hurt.

Wise Ways Herbals’ Calendula oil is only around $16.99, and the whole bottle
has lasted me through two children! I contacted their customer service
regarding the lifetime of the oil and I received a timely email back
explaining that the shelf life is about four years or until the olive oil
base smells “funny.” (My son is 29 months and I nursed him for 19 months
and my wee daughter is only 4 months at this point, and I know it will last through her as well.)

Advertisements

My weaned first-born

My son is content without the breast. He no longer needs or asks for “mama”. Yes, of course, he needs his “Mama” – but this is without his sweet finger pointing or hand digging or bra unclipping. Over the last few months, John had weaned down to three nursing sessions a day: morning, before his nap, and before bedtime. This worked for both of us and was always a wonderful snuggling time. However, with the exciting news of our pregnancy, my milk supply had all but disappeared by the end of the first trimester.

These last three months of our nursing were a huge blessing. I was able to cherish the last of his “babyness” – even though he will always be my baby. Because of the hormonal change in a woman’s body upon conception, a mother’s milk immediately changes and I was hoping that, if we were blessed with a new life, that John would wean naturally and reject the difference in milk taste. But alas, he still loved our snuggly nursing sessions. It was John who confirmed for us that I was pregnant. With the hormone change and complete difference in milk composition, his poop changed too. Its smell and texture was so different than it had ever been before; I knew instantly when I smelled it that I was pregnant.

After my milk had disappeared, going into my second trimester, I decided it would be easiest to cut our nursing cold turkey. Some days, John would forget the morning nursing sessions if we were rushing out of the house, or we would be out and about and skip the mid-day nursing. He was getting older and more independent. And besides all of this, and most importantly … it began to hurt like hell. Literally. In the third month of our pregnancy, my nipples began to feel so sore; he began biting down harder, I think, because there was nothing but small drops of milk left, and he was frustrated. For two weeks, the pain became excrutiating, unbearable, like the old days of thrush. Knives and daggers going into my breast. This isn’t how I want to remember it. Every time, I began dreading nursing because of the pain. And finally, I just couldn’t bear it anymore, so, for my sake, I decided that we were through.

That night, tears filled my eyes. I told him, “good night and I love you very much,” and Marshall brought him into his room and closed the door. John screamed and screamed for “mama” and “Mama” as my husband held him in his strong and loving arms. Marshall has put him to bed many times, when I am out at choir or I am not home, but never when we have both been there. My heart was ripping from my chest, hearing my boy, who needed me. He needs me, right? But after about five minutes of intense fighting, I could hear, through the door, him calming, his breathing still heavy, but he was beginning to relinquish his will, and give in to his tiredness and the warm strength of my husband’s embrace. He went to sleep. And he slept through the night, just like he has for about the last two months.

We chose to begin this cold turkey weaning over a weekend, so Nathan could do nights, and naps alike. For his nap, I left and read a book on the porch for a bit, so John did fine. That night, I did the same, left for the porch. The next day, John had caught on to our tricks, so there were still tears.

For our Monday nap, it was my turn, to put him down without the breast. He didn’t usually fall asleep at the breast, but we did nurse for about 15 minutes before I put him in his crib. That day, I just held him and said that “mama is all done”. He was upset and mad. He grabbed for it and screamed. I just held him tight. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably less than 10 minutes, he calmed, put his head on my chest, and fell asleep. He did it. My baby did it. The next couple times became easier. By the third day, he didn’t ask for “mama” any more.

I am sad that our nursing relationship has ended, that he doesn’t ask for “mama,” but I am happily surprised by how many more hugs and snuggles and kisses he gives me. He is constantly coming up to me for “night night” – this has become a request for a snuggle, with his head rested on my shoulder. He knows that I am still close to him and will always give him the love he needs. And to be honest, these cuddle times have become even more precious than our nursing together, perhaps because of the pain I felt in the end, but also because he looks up at me, pats my cheek or just makes sure I’m still there. It is a new bond, and I am loving it.

I never wanted to nurse while pregnant, that was never part of my plan. This is mostly because I do want all of my nutrients to go to the baby inside, though all doctors will say that it is completely safe. But mostly, I want to eventually have an uninterrupted breastfeeding relationship with my newborn. I don’t want him or her to compete with an older sibling. I decided it was time. And now that I feel closer to John than ever, with all of our snuggles, I know that stopping has become the right choice for us.

I am so blessed to have my boy and to have nursed him for 20 months. Breast-milk is so nutrient-rich for little ones and I am proud for all that I endured to get us to this point. A friend of mine shared a Scripture verse with me when I told her that Ezra had weaned; it rings so true that it brings tears to my eyes.

“But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2

Generations of Breastfeeding Joy

Breastfeeding is a God-ordained, beautiful process. And I am thankful to feed my son the way He and nature intends.  Thankfully, the support for breastfeeding in my family is abundant. It is normal and natural. It is encouraged. I am thankful for the normalness my family has shown and displayed. I only wish and pray that all breastfeeding mothers would be supported as I have been through this joyful, yet sometimes difficult, parenting choice.

Each of the mothers in my family have nursed their babies.  When I was pregnant, feeding my baby wasn’t even going to be a choice.  It’s not a question.  Mothers breastfeed.  My positive attitude (and to my shame, admittedly, sometimes, judgmental attitude towards mothers who feed differently) towards breastfeeding helped me through the struggle that began my breastfeeding journey.  The start (Part One and Part Two of my Breastfeeding Journey) to my nursing-hood was not easy.  My son, born with a tongue-tie, refused the breast for six long weeks until all the effort he and I put in paid off.  Since then, he has not taken a bottle (much to my delight and also sometimes to my dismay).

Through my struggle, I have met countless women who come from all steps of breastfeeding journeys.  Some whose babies latch instantly and everything is roses and peaches.  Others (like me after we finally got it) who endure the first weeks of nipple blisters, bruises, and welts.  Many whose babies never will take the breast, or never take the bottle.  Some whose milk has only come in in one breast.  Women whose milk dried up too soon.  And some (including some people very close to me) whose milk, literally, never came in.  My own struggles and joys have made me so thankful for the/my ability to nourish my son through my body, and also, have completely changed my thoughts on others mothers’ choices, as well.  I realize that every mother does the best they can.  Period.

My milk, to me, is a miracle every time.  I often wonder, “How is my body doing this?”

Through it all, both before and after I birthed my baby boy, the women in my family have nursed by example and they have supported me.  Here are some examples of their support:

My 80-something year old grandmother, upon my nursing my son in front of her and asking if she was comfortable with it: “Oh honey, I nursed six children, as long as you’re comfortable.  I’ve seen everything, honey….  I nursed when it wasn’t popular and they said formula was better, but I was a pastor’s wife, so why would I go out and buy formula when I had the milk, for free, wherever we went?!”

My aunt while talking to her about her nursing relationships with her two (now grown) children: “I gave both of them all that I could.”

Another aunt: “I remember breastfeeding my daughter on a bench when we lived in England when she was two years old.  It might have been taboo, but I didn’t care.  My daughter was allergic to cow’s milk, so I nursed her longer.”  (She later would go to have two more children, through adoption, both of whom she did not breastfeed.)

Another aunt on the ridiculous nursing capes: “We used those too, I remember using one [with all four of her children], but at least you can look at each other with the boning they use now.”

I remember (long before I was ever married) my cousin talking about the change in her breasts after breastfeeding her first son, “It’s worth it.”  She went on to nurse all four of her babies.

I went to another cousin for nursing advice and even milk! My milk didn’t come in until seven days after my homebirth, so my cousin gave some to us since she was nursing her six-month old at the time.

I have countless friends who have nursed or are now nursing alongside me.  These mothers before me or with me are all amazing rocks in this journey of motherhood.

And my mother. She nursed me (and all four of her children). She talks about her times of breastfeeding as if she had not a care in the world.  When I showed her my (beginning) blisters or the cut from when my five month old bit me, she just said, “No, it never hurt, it was just a wonderful and natural time.”  I think her memory might be failing her, or maybe she was blessed with a no-pain experience.  But she remembers, fondly, the time that she had each of her babies at the breast.

My mother was nursed. I was nursed. My baby is nursed. I hope and pray that his wife will be able to nurse his babies too.

My son is nearly one year old, and I plan to nurse him for at least 18 months. Most of my family nursed their children up to the “magical 12 month mark” and I hope that I will still experience support these next months because we are both not ready to quit nursing.  Above all, it is nourishment for him. I feel happy that his chubby legs are due to all the saturated fat and goodness he is getting from me. He eats solids two times a day, and loves to eat “real” food, but I love to know that he is getting many needed and important nutrients from me.  I make sure to eat well.  I focus on never skimping on saturated fats and eat a lot of assorted beef, chicken, and pork (grass-fed when I can), eggs, cheese, (can’t eat milk or anything very dairy-heavy because my son will spit it up), coconut oil (for lauric acid, we also cook with butter, lard, and tallow), lots of fresh organic veggies, and tons of fruit as well, and I love to eat oatmeal with gelatin too.  I take Vitamin D3, fish oil, and B vitamins as supplements for my breast-milk, but also to ensure my own body is replenishing for a future pregnancy!  I am, by no means, perfect, but like I said above, I do believe I am trying my best.

We nurse for food, but for comfort, too.  I love snuggling him close.  He feels safe in my arms.  I hope that even after our breastfeeding relationship has ended, that he will always feel safe and comforted by me.  More recently, after nursing, he’ll unlatch, and just want to be cuddled for several minutes, and sometimes longer, if it’s in the middle of the night.  I don’t know if this is the beginnings of him weaning, but he still nurses a lot, so I hope he’s not ready yet.  I don’t think I’m ready.  But whatever these next few months bring, I know that breastfeeding has defined much of our relationship thus far.


My Breastfeeding Journey (Battling thrush and teeth)

I wrote about my struggles with nursing when Ezra was just two months old in Part One. Then, I was beginning to get a handle on this joy (and sometimes task). Now, with Ezra in his seventh month of life, I have become a more experienced, and seasoned nurser.

Thrush

Since writing last time, I have only had one more instance of thrush, which went away quickly after, again, taking the prescription Diflucan. (I am convinced, now, that home remedies for thrush, all of which I tried, simply don’t work.) But since then, that seething, stinging, horrendous pain has gone. (But washing/boiling – with salt – all clothes, fabrics in the house is well worth the effort to get rid of the dreaded yeast!)

Pains

Breastfeeding is still painful, at times. My left breast always seemed to hurt during a nursing session. It wasn’t a stinging pain like the thrush, but a pinching, ouch! pain. Lanolin and oils did not help. But then! I discovered Calendula oil! The Calendula flower is one with amazing healing properties and homeopathic gurus recommend putting calendula ointment on anything and everything. I found a Calendula oil which was put in an olive oil base, rather than petroleum, which means it is safe for Ezra to digest. After two-three days of putting this on my nipples, the pain has gone! It healed them! So, most of the time, my nipples have been pain free, and nursing has been enjoyable. The left breast, still, gives me some trouble, but the oil does make it better, or changing to a side lying position helps, too.

Teething

Everything is great until someone gets bit. He got his first two (bottom front) teeth about a week before he turned five months. At times, he would pull off the feeding through biting me. I tell him, “no!” but he doesn’t really understand. One time, about a month ago, he truly bit my right nipple, and the skin broke. This hurt me more than I can describe. I had to nurse him lying down on my right side to be in a position that he wasn’t just scraping at the wound. But after a few days of using a combination of the Calendula oil and Nathan’s family secret: Balsam Compevy (sp?), the wound happily healed. Two more teeth just came in, so I’m sure I’ll get bitten about a hundred more times.

Do I make enough milk to sustain my child?

Ezra only gained 6oz between his four month and six month appointments. Mind you, he was a thriving 18lbs at the four month appointment, so he is not a skinny-minny by any stretch of the imagination, but we were/are concerned. At the time (one month ago) Ezra ate every two hours on every other breast (about 7-8 nursing sessions a day).

This has concerned me tons about my milk supply. I began worrying, and, looking back now, the more I worried, the less milk I had! The more I tried home-remedies, such as Mother’s Milk tea, or Motherlove’s More Milk Plus, the less I got, because I thought about it all the time! Now, we still eat about every 2-2 1/2 hours, but I give him the other breast too, to ensure that he is absolutely full. We also give him two meals a day (at noon and around 5:30pm) since I have the most milk in the morning, after a long night’s rest, so he eats much more breast-milk at the beginning of the day. (More on his food intake to come.) This has worked out wonderfully. We are confident that he is growing and thriving, and stressing out does nothing but deplete my milk supply! I am now giving it to God. And since he has always had great pees and poops, he is a little ball of energy, and making it past important milestones, we are confident that God has his little body in His hands!

No bottles for my little boy

My beginning struggle with breastfeeding has now set us up for another struggle, the fact that I cannot leave my son for more than 2 1/2 hours at a time. To summarize the beginning of this journey: Ezra was born with a tongue-tie, therefore could not latch, I pumped 10x a day and worked with him at the breast for 5 weeks until he finally got it. I hated pumping and bottles and thoughtthat I never wanted to use a bottle again. I didn’t try again for a couple of months. Ezra now has no idea what a bottle is, does not know how to put his mouth around a bottle nipple, and chokes in surprise when milk gets in his mouth. We have tried many times with many types of bottles. We are still trying, and hopeful, for the sake of my Army Reserve weekends (where, last week, my sister watched Ezra on Saturday and Nathan watched him Sunday and I drove back and forth every 2 1/2 hours) and for date nights or sanity grocery runs. But I am not too confident that it will work. Once he can use a sippy cup, hopefully, I can pump and he can get small sips and I can leave for longer.

Public, exposed nursing?

….Is not for me. The biggest reason for this is because Ezra is a very distracted little boy. The room has to be quiet and free from talking. I have to remind my husband of this, because Ezra is so excited to see him or hear his voice, so he excitedly pulls off, so not to miss a beat. This sometimes results in him biting me or pinching my nipples.

If I need to nurse Ezra while out and about, I’ll nurse him if it is an all-women venue, or I’ll prefer my car to a public area. Quieter, and more peaceful. One time, while in a doctor’s waiting room with my sister, I attempted to just ‘whip it out’ and nurse quietly without the big ‘nursing cape’, but a creeper man walked in, and I felt he was staring and I felt SO uncomfortable. I don’t even think he saw anything, because I covered up so fast, but I realized, then and there, that yes, it is my right to nurse in public, but I choose not to, for my own comfort level.

When with family, I choose to go in the other room, or use a blanket or ‘the dreaded, look at me I’m nursing, cape’ out of respect for the men in my family. (Though Ezra has begun whipping these covers away and wants to see what is going on.) Yes, it’s just a breast, but I’ve realized that I don’t really want to showcase them. They are for feeding my child; well, they are for my husband too, so there’s another reason why I don’t really want to show the world. However, I think breastfeeding is beautiful and if women do it in public, that is wonderful and natural and lovely. (Here is a list, state by state, of rights for breastfeeding mothers.)

Joy

These are my thoughts and experiences up until now. I feel blessed that I am able to feed my child and I know it is only through God’s beautiful plan and His strength that I can continue.  I am blessed to have a healthy little one and I thank God every day for the precious gift of being able to raise him. I hope to nurse him until, at least, the one year mark, but I would be more than happy to go beyond that, too.  His precious eyes looking up at me and his little hands moving, stroking my face and sometimes punching me, give me the biggest joy in my heart.

My Breastfeeding Journey (Success with breastfeeding after clipping a tongue tie)

I never anticipated the struggles I would have with breastfeeding.  I had heard, from many mothers, of the pain and of the trouble with milk-flow.  But until I experienced what mothers go through, I was very naive to the reality.  I wanted to share my hardships here to encourage other moms who have experienced, or are experiencing, some of the same issues.  It is important to talk about breastfeeding, in its glory and its pain, because all too often, in our society, this divine process is not encouraged or considered the best for mother and baby.  I persevered with prayers and patience that I would be blessed to breastfeed my little one, and I rested in the the assurance that God would answer me.  I put my faith solely in Him, the Creator of breastfeeding, and that I would have victory through Christ who gives me strength.

My precious son was born at home, therefore he was unmedicated, and I thought would have little difficulty with breastfeeding.  Midwives, and most doctors, encourage mothers to put babies to the breast immediately after birth.  He didn’t have a clue what to do.  His mouth would wander, closed, around the breast.  I tried to open his mouth, but he was simply not interested.  This went on for two days.  He would not try to suck and would not try to suck a finger when we wanted to encourage his sucking reflex.  I literally felt that my baby did not have a sucking reflex, and therefore, could not eat.  I was devastated.  I hand-expressed my colostrum and gave it to him with my finger for the first two days.

We called a lactation consultant and met with her on Friday (two days after his birth).  God orchestrated our meeting.  She encouraged me to keep giving him my colostrum and that “your milk will come in soon.”  We had to ensure John was hydrated, and continued counting poops and pees — which were consistent with where they should be at that point.  She also gave us a curved-tip syringe to more effectively feed him the colostrum and she provided finger-feeding syringes to encourage the realization that sucking comes with a reward — the milk.  She also told us that my nipples were flat, and a nipple shield would help him suck easier and would bring them out.  She encouraged 8x/day pumping to encourage my milk to come in faster.  She also took a look at Ezra and alerted us to two medical problems that may be hindering his ability to suck: 1) He was tongue-tied (his frenulum went all the way to the tip of his tongue) and 2) His jaw looked uneven and his cranial plates may have been moved incorrectly in the birth canal.  I was overwhelmed.

She informed us that, if my milk did not come in within the day, we would have to give him formula (she suggested Alimentium, the pre-digested kind), to prevent dehydration.  I called my cousin and his wife, who have a 6 month old and were still breastfeeding.  Though they lived on the other side of the state, Sam was traveling with their son to see his parents that night!  They were very happy to give John some milk while we waited.  (Just like the wet nurses of our past.)  We were so thankful to them for this sacrifice.  However, the next day, Saturday, I still did not have any milk (only the colostrum).  We began giving him formula because we knew he was hungry and needed nourishment.  We chose to give him the Alimentum brand which prevents colic and food allergies.  We had to give him formula, with a bottle, for 3 days: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  I was heart-broken.  Not only did I not want to give him formula, I also had heard that once a baby receives a bottle, they are no longer attracted to their mother’s nipple.  But he needed to eat.  I worked with him, using a nipple shield, during this time, and continued to give him my colostrum with a syringe, but he still did not want my breast.

On Tuesday (yes, 6 days after giving birth), my milk came in.  Hallelujah!  This seemed like such a long time to me.  What if we didn’t have formula to give him?  Would he have been okay if we had lived a long time ago and had nothing to offer him?  Why did my milk take so long?  Was it stress?  From that point, I was able to pump (with the pump I had bought prior to the birth: our single pump, the Medela Swing Pump, because I thought I would only need to pump on rare occasions).  I pumped 8-10x/day for a couple of days, but became frustrated at doing this with one breast at a time.  We rented an industrial pump, an Ameda Elite, with help from my mom.  After this, the pumping time split in half and was much more efficient.

Our pediatrician confirmed that he was, in fact, tongue-tied, and he referred us to the ENT department at our local hospital.   We went in, a week after his birth, and the doctors clipped his tongue right then and there; this was considered a minor surgery.  It was devastating to see (and hear) John being clipped, but since, he as been much happier being able to actually move his tongue!

Our lactation consultant referred us to a Doctor of Osteopathy in Manipulative Medicine for his jaw.  This DO specializes in working with infants and feeding problems.  I was so thankful to have gone to her several times over the next weeks and knew that it was working because his suck with the nipple shield improved every time.

I worked with John at every feeding.  I let him have some breast-milk with either a syringe or the bottle, then worked with him to latch with the nipple shield (usually fighting/working for 20 minutes or so) then giving him the rest of the milk (2-3oz).  The nipple shield was awful.  He was learning to suck, but I don’t think he ever swallowed much because all of the milk just fell out the sides.  We were both a milky mess at the end.

Afterward our feeding time, I would have to pump for about 30 minutes to have the next bottle ready for the next feeding which would begin about an hour later.  (I would always have 3 bottles in the refrigerator and began stockpiling up in the freezer, producing over 20 bottles in freezer bags.)  This was beyond devastating for me.  I wanted to snuggle my little one.  I didn’t want to pump while I left my week old, two week old, etc. to sit in his bouncy chair, also frustrated.  But I had to do it.  At the beginning, all I could do was cry.  This is not what I had envisioned.  This is not what I wanted.  But I loved him and I knew that my milk was what he needed.  After the first 2 weeks, I came to terms with this reality more and more and became more accepting of the situation.  He is getting my milk; he is getting the nutrients he needs.

I was worried about losing my milk.  Only pumping, and no breast stimulation from my little one.  So I kept working with him.  I did not want to lose my milk.  I brought that huge pump with me everywhere.  If I was going somewhere for more than 2 hours, it went with me.  I did not want to “miss a feeding.”

I continued to meet with my pediatrician, who was very supportive of my determination to breastfeed.  At my second to last meeting with the DO, she suggested we try breastfeeding without the shield.  I was very hesitant, but she helped me try.  Ezra sucked for a few moments!  I was so happy about this because I really hadn’t tried this way at all.  My nipples were no longer flat because of all the pumping, so he was more attracted to them.  For the next week, he latched on a couple times, for a minute or so, without the shield.  It was excrutiatingly painful.  My nipples became a bit deformed from his sucking and both nipples began to blister and crack.  I didn’t care.  I continued pumping and working with him.  The next week, I went to see the lactation consultant again (I had been seeing her at least once a week).  I shared with her the positive news that John was at least slightly attracted to the breast.  She was thrilled and watched me latch him and also showed me the correct way to latch.  He did it!  In her office, he sucked for 20 minutes.  He was feeding on my breast!  Oh, praise you Lord God, praise you.  I would have pumped for 12 months.  But my baby, my precious baby, got it.  He was stronger and he got it.  Oh, I am so proud of all his hard work.

For the next weeks, I got used to the blisters and the cracking and just bit my tongue and tried anything to distract me from the pain.  I pumped on and off to give my sore nipples a chance to heal.  After two weeks, my right nipple felt okay to nurse.  But my left began having needle-like pains during and a long time after the feeding.  (I feed him on every other breast ever 2 hours during waking hours so he’ll have at least 8 meals a day).  I discovered that these sharp, intense pains were due to a yeast infection, “thrush.”  I tried Dr. Jack Newman’s nipple ointment for a week, no relief.  Monistat cream, no relief.  (After using, I always wiped them off with a vinegar-water solution using a cotton ball and olive oil using a cotton ball.)  I finally realized that I needed to use Gentian Violet; this treatment, according to all the gurus, works like a charm, but turns your nipples and your baby’s mouth bright purple.  I had no other choice, my left breast killed and I needed relief.  Now, one week after treatment, I can say that we are yeast-free and happily nursing at both breasts.

I returned my huge pump.  I never want to pump again.  I know I will have to (for Army Reserve weekends), but that is it.  I love my baby at my breast.  It is a bonding time.  It is still not pain-free or always pleasant, but it is a wonderful time.  For the bonding alone, I love it, but it is also more convenient and cost-effective and, most importantly, nutritious!  I have made sure to eat lots of meat, egg yolks, cheese, butter, and veggies as well as supplement with coconut oil, Vitamin D, and fish oil.  Oh, praise God from whom all blessing flow.  Praise Him, praise Him.  I have never prayed for anything more in my whole life and He has given me the desire of my heart.  He is a good and gracious and loving and holy God.