Annika’s Story: Overcoming Obstacles and Breastfeeding Advocacy
By Annika Lundkvist, Stockholm region, Sweden.
At the beginning, nursing my son was a seamless experience. A few minutes after his birth in November 2013 in Honolulu, Hawaii, he was at my breast and, with a little assistance from the nurse, latched on beautifully and was eating away. He nursed until around the age of two years old. I recall feeling how beautiful and basic this bond felt — biologically as well as emotionally. Breastfeeding provided nourishment and comfort.
Shortly after birthing my daughter in March 2018 in Danderyd, a municipality north of Stockholm, Sweden, I recall feeling very confident about beginning my nursing journey with her. Everything had gone wonderfully with my son; why shouldn’t it be the same now? I remember feeling proud as, a few minutes after her birth, I positioned her at my breast with full confidence that I had done this before and could, of course, do it again.
Well, within a day I began to feel an excruciating pain in my breasts. I knew breastfeeding wasn’t supposed to be painful, but I had no idea what was going wrong. I took to the Internet to read other women’s experiences and solutions for nursing pain. I asked for advice from the midwives working in the patient hotel where we spent the night after she was born. They were very casual which, in itself, was helpful in bringing my growing anxiety down. It was probably positioning and latch, they told me. One midwife offered to come to our guest room before we checked out to head home to check on my positioning while I was nursing her.
As helpful as the midwives’ tips were, the pain worsened when I got home. Over the coming days, the first week of my beautiful baby girl’s life, breastfeeding was a very difficult experience. I recalled how some mothers I had met over time shared that they had wanted to breastfeed their babies but it had been too painful and they couldn’t continue. Before, I never really could understand these women’s experiences as nursing my son had been so easy. Now I understood.
If you haven’t experienced this type of pain during breastfeeding, be glad. One common descriptor is that it feels like multiple knives in your nipple at once. I really wasn’t sure what was worse — the week of intensifying contractions I had up until labor or this awful feeling that was interfering with the experience and ease of nursing my daughter.
My daughter had a shallow latch, which is a common reason for nursing pain. As a pediatrician put it when she observed me nursing that first week, my daughter was like a little shark — she snapped onto the nipple very fast. By days three and four, I was dreading nursing but also determined. I was doing everything I could to ease the pain and also ensure that my daughter was getting my milk. Her milk. During those first couple of weeks I was hand expressing all the time, and sometimes my husband would take over feeding our daughter, dropping milk into her mouth with the feeding syringe as I worked on expressing more milk. I sent him out to get pumps and bottles (to store the milk). I think I tried every nipple soothing cream available on the market here. I used warm compresses & massaged. I did all of this round the clock.
I cried a lot. I was completely overcome with emotions (hormones, too, of course) over the birth and now presence of my beautiful baby girl, but I was also distraught about this obstacle in nursing. I was not going to discontinue breastfeeding because of the pain but managing my way through it was stressful.
One of my strategies was to let one breast heal while I nursed primarily from the other. All the strategies combined seemed to have a good effect as, a couple of weeks after her birth, I brought her up to my right breast (the one I had taken a break nursing from) and, as she began to suck away, I didn’t feel any pain.
Soon I was nursing pain free from both breasts. My daughter is now almost five months old and has been nursing regularly ever since.
I think back to the beautiful, two years long nursing experience with my son. The experience is so valuable to me because it gave me the lay of the land of motherhood. Everything revolved around nursing those first several months with him. We lived on Oahu at the time and I loved adventuring around the island with my baby boy, nursing at the beach, in parking lots (this really became a thing — parking the car, turning on some good radio and hopping in the back seat to nurse him and relax), at cafes, in flight to Hawai’i island to visit my family, or wherever we were.
I knew instinctively that breastfeeding fulfilled a biological need as well as emotional needs. I knew instinctively that this bond was about milk but also protection and comfort. When my children nuzzle up to me for milk, it is not only because of hunger or thirst but sometimes also a sense of connection and relaxation.
While I always considered myself very “pro-breastfeeding”, I never really thought about getting into breastfeeding advocacy work until recently, influenced by the experiences I had early on nursing my daughter. I know the pain that some women experience prevents them from going on. I also am aware that there are women who are discouraged by those around them to nurse or who face discrimination for nursing in certain places.
La Leche League has been on my radar since I learned of the organization several years ago, but it wasn’t until July 2018 that I decided to find out how I can get involved and with time provide support to women in any way I can. I look forward to beginning a beautiful journey with this wonderful and very necessary organization and contributing to the essential work they do worldwide.
Editor’s Note: As Annika wrote, pain experienced early on is often the result of incorrect positioning or latch. You can find more information about proper positioning on the LLLI website at www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/positioning/. There may also be other reasons for experiencing pain while nursing. You can read more about this topic at www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/breastfeeding-sore-nipples/ and www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/pain-general/.
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