"I almost gave up breastfeeding, but then, I looked at my son"

"I almost gave up breastfeeding, but then, I looked at my son"

This doctor mum shares her painful breastfeeding journey caused by refilling pain and how she overcame it.

Everybody says that breastfeeding is the most natural thing that would come to a mother. Well, for most first-time mums, it is not as easy as it is thought to be. Here is the story of Ajeet - a doctor and a first-time mum who had a painful start of the journey. In a Facebook post in a breastfeeding support group, she shared her journey. 

Like most of the new mums, she never thought that breastfeeding would be so difficult! In her own words, 

"I would like to share my breastfeeding experience. Little did I realise it would be so difficult. At the beginning, it was almost like a never ending horror story. As a doctor, I was very optimistic, before my baby was born I thought 'how difficult can breastfeeding possibly be? Just latch baby on the boob and the job would be done!' Unfortunately, it didn't work that way."

The initial few weeks were difficult. Ajeet and her son underwent a few tests, and conditions were ruled out, one by one.

"The first 6 weeks were a nightmare. My left breast was so painful, I can't even describe the pain in words. Every time my boy would need a feed, my heart would stop. I hated the shower; the mild drops of water on my breast produces an excruciating pain. I was treated for thrush, then mastitis, my boy referred to tongue tie clinic and there was no tongue tie and I was finally referred to NHS breastfeeding clinic. (I was looking for private lactation consultant here in Glasgow but I can't seem to find any). "

Imagine the stress she must have gone through when the baby was tested for a tongue tie! But, the diagnosis was never confirmed. 

"Finally, after speaking to a lactation specialist we felt symptoms could be due to 'refilling' pain. Hypersensitivity to prolactin when it stimulates milk production hence pain in milk ducts after a feed. I was also told that I was expressing for too long, which again I have no idea about."

That is when she decided to take things into her own hands. 

"I wasn't prepared that breastfeeding could be so difficult. I went for two antenatal classes and both discuss benefits of breastfeeding, nothing about reality.
Things became a lot better for me. I couldn't have done it without the help of my partner. He put up with my irritability due to pain and my cries. I set a target of 6 weeks and if things did not get better, I was going to give up. What is the point of being in constant pain? I'd rather be happy and enjoy my baby!"

Her patience paid off!

"It was a struggle but things became better. I'm glad I persevered. But even if I had given up, I'd be happy that I attempted.
If only I knew, I would have been better prepared. Whilst it can be easy for some, it certainly is a tough journey for others.

At 11 weeks, things are back to normal. I'm managing to breastfeed everywhere I go. Even in my favourite restaurants whilst having a meal myself"

Refilling pain

Most of the new mums experience some kind of discomfort while breastfeeding, at least in the initial few days. The milk production is adjusted based on the demand of the baby. Initially, even the babies do not feed like a clockwork. We cannot forget fatigue. All of these may result in engorgement, leading to a painful breastfeeding experience. 

While most of the painful breastfeeding experiences are due to a painful letdown, refilling pain is different. It happens after you have fed the baby. This is not an exactly established diagnosis. However, the hypothesis points towards a hypersensitivity to the milk-producing hormone - Prolactin. 

It is important to rule out organic causes like thrush, any bacterial infection, other causes of mastitis before this one is arrived at. Thrush or yeast infections are really tricky as they are passed back and forth between the mother and the baby. If you have any doubts, please contact your doctor/lactation consultant.

You may think that being a doctor makes it easy. Well, it is the exact opposite. When it comes to diagnosing in the family, the thoughts run wild. And that is why most of the doctors choose to get treated by other doctors.

Ajeet's breastfeeding woes are over. Now, she can confidently feed her baby anywhere. In fact, this is the part that inspires me the most! Wherever she goes, you can see a feeding cloth she carries with her!

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Ajeet's advice to mums

You will also agree with me that Ajeet's story needs to be told. We contacted her and she was happy to help the fellow mums out! Here is a summary of the interview. 

How did you cope up with the pain?

I had to take regular painkillers (paracetamol and ibuprofen) both of which are safe to use during breastfeeding for at least 3-4 weeks. I discussed this option with my health visitor and she was supportive of my decision about regular analgesia and she also gave me dressings to apply locally. My partner has been extremely supportive and had to tolerate me on the days when I was in pain and was being fussy. My mum has also been very encouraging and told me that it could be difficult initially but it would get better with time. 

Did you feel like giving up? What motivated you to continue breastfeeding despite the pain?

Of course, I did. So many times! I kept thinking 'why am I doing this' but then I thought of the benefits of breastfeeding of my baby, I persevered. I did have a target of 8 weeks, and if I could not tolerate the ongoing pain by then, I would have stopped.

When should a mother consult a lactation consultant?

As soon as possible if she is having problems with breastfeeding. With some external help, she might find it easier and perhaps likely to continue breastfeeding.

Any advice for new mums?

If you are planning on breastfeeding and succeed initially, well done! For those who have problems, you are not the only one. Breastfeeding can be extremely difficult and nobody tells you that. Seek help as soon as possible. However, if breastfeeding is too stressful, introducing formula milk is not a bad idea too. You do not need to feel that it is a failure as you have tried, and it is not a failure as well if you decide that breastfeeding is not what you want to do. Most importantly, enjoy the time with your newborn.
Ajeet's son is nearly one year old. Their life may not be back on track, however, the family is happy, and this is apparent on their faces!


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Written by

Anay Bhalerao

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