Breastfeeding Obstacles: Help! She Forgot How to Nurse!

I started breastfeeding Rissa within a few hours after she was born. She spent a lot of time at the breast during our two day stay at the hospital. The nurses and lactation consultants commented on what a good little nurser she was and complimented me on positioning and technique.

Breastfeeding your baby has its challenges. I know, because I almost gave up a couple weeks after my first baby was born. This is my story of overcoming a breastfeeding obstacle when my newborn forgot how to nurse.

They said it was obvious I attended a breastfeeding class and prepared before Rissa's arrival. Certainly I had nothing to worry about, right? I felt like all my fears of “will she nurse ok?” were silly. Things were going to be just fine.

We were naturals.

Like old pros.

The day we were discharged, Rissa clusterfed like nobody's business. She was CONSTANTLY at the breast. It made for a difficult morning because I could barely break away to go to the bathroom. The nurses and lactation consultant seemed pleased with this though. A couple nurses told me that my daughter was a baby that needed to do extra sucking, which may be part of the constant cues to be nursed. I was shown how to let Rissa suck on a clean finger, nail side down, to assist with her need to suck if I needed a break from giving her my breast since a pacifier wasn't recommended yet. The nurse also said that is helpful for calming her down.


Overall, things were going well with breastfeeding after we got home. But, it didn't take long before I started experiencing pain. My back started to kill me, I was experiencing quite a bit of pain when she initially latched, I didn't always release suction properly when removing her from my breast, and then the cracked and bleeding nipples started.

The back pain was from hunching over her and bringing my breast to her. I knew I was supposed to sit up straight and bring her to my breast, but I was too focused on trying to see her to make sure she was latched correctly and she didn't leave much time with her mouth open.

I still am not 100% sure why I was having pain at initial latch. It could have been related to my strong let down in the beginning or a shallow latch. It wasn't easy to tell, but since the pain didn't last after she started swallowing, I just kept working on positioning and a deep latch.

I learned how to break suction better. It was hard though, when she would be latched on improperly (that I could tell for sure, it hurt WAY more than anything else. Definitely pain and not just severe discomfort.) it hurt and was awkward for me to get a finger there to unlatch quickly. I had one hand behind her head (cross cradle) and the other supporting my breast (U hold). I learned real quick why you don't want to just try to pull it out of the baby's mouth. YE-OWch! What I had been taught was to press my finger down on my breast close to baby's mouth until there was a release. This wasn't working very well for me. She would just suck me back in right away! Instead, I read somewhere to try placing my finger at the corner of her mouth, on her cheek, and gently pressing the corner of her mouth away from my breast. This worked better. Plus, it was easier to slip my finger in as I slipped my nipple out, so she could suck on my finger for a bit.

But try as I might… scouring the internet and my class materials on latching and positioning…. I couldn't see anything as blatantly wrong. She seemed right.

They told me I was great!

So why was I experiencing nipple trauma? I had cracked and bleeding nipples. Not just soreness (some of that too). Everything I read said that was not normal. They shouldn't be bleeding or cracked.

I decided to call the hospital to schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant to get hands on help. The appointment was scheduled for a couple days out.

At this point, Rissa was about 2 weeks old. The day before our appointment is when our biggest obstacle came.

The obstacle that almost ended our breastfeeding relationship.

Or, at least, it had the potential to end it.

It was a Thursday morning. The night before had been a little rough with getting her to stay asleep once I laid her down. I admit, I had gotten a little frustrated and said in a tone with little patience something along the lines of “I guess I'll just be awake rocking her all night.”

I usually have a lot of patience, but it goes away faster when I'm tired… like it does with anyone.

I think I ended up nursing her again after saying that and was eventually able to put her to bed. But the next morning… she wouldn't latch.

I kept trying and trying, but she just wouldn't latch. She would mouth at my breast, doing a light sucking motion, but she kept slipping right off.

I didn't understand. My boob was in her mouth. She was sucking. How was she not latching and drinking from me? We did this just a few hours ago!

She tried and fussed and I kept trying to latch her on. Switching sides… nothing. She fell asleep. But then, if I tried to move her, she'd wake up and cry. We'd try again. We'd get no where.

I started to panic.

It was like she forgot how to nurse. How the hell could she forget? What did I do?

I started crying, like really crying and asking her what was wrong and why she wouldn't eat.

My husband heard and came to the nursery. I told him what was happening through blubbering tears. He tried to look up some information and he found some people talking about “baby amnesia,” where the baby seems to have forgotten how to nurse or was on a nursing strike.

I kept trying. Different positions, different places in the house, different sides, different pillows. The poor thing would fuss and cry for a bit then fall asleep without really eating.

I called and left a message for the lactation consultant at the hospital, asking for help.

In the meantime, my breasts continued to swell. I tried so hard to help my baby eat, but she couldn't or wouldn't. I was leaking like crazy. I think she would get a little bit from this during our attempts. She became increasingly upset.

I became increasingly upset.

Sobbing.

My husband was such a great support. He rubbed my back and told me everything would be ok. He suggested I call the pediatrician since it'd been a couple hours and the lactation consultant hadn't called back.

I called, I sobbed on the phone to the nurse, trying to explain the situation as coherently as possible. She tried to reassure me and said we could come in to see the doctor.

Yes, I hate to say it, but she missed several feedings. She hadn't eaten for about 6 hours or so, which at her age was quite a long time, especially for during the day. She, surprisingly, didn't really cry much until shortly before going to the doctor. I would have figured being hungry she would have started wailing hours ago and not stopped til she was fed something.

When we got to the doctor's office, the nurse asked me to try feeding her so she could see. Rissa tried, but just suckled. At this point, my boobs were disgustingly engorged and leaking everywhere. Nursing pads were of little help. They hurt to the touch. The nurse discussed that as I became more engorged, it was even harder for Rissa because the tissue around my nipple wasn't as soft. This made it harder for her little mouth.

Next we met with the pediatrician. He reassured me that I hadn't done anything horribly wrong and that this can happen sometimes. He said it's hard to know what triggered it. He asked if I had a pump to give her expressed breast milk. I said no, but I was planning to buy one at my appointment tomorrow. A good one.

We discussed getting a  hand pump in the meantime, at least to help bring me relief.

He asked to feed Rissa a bottle. She was clearly hungry. I said yes, because she needed to eat, but I cried.

He fed her some of the ready mixed formula. My poor baby sucked it down – completely emptying the bottle.

He gave me some formula to take home until I could pump enough to give her breast milk. He encouraged me to continue trying to nurse and that with patience and persistence, she would likely start nursing again.

On the way home I bought a hand pump. It was such a rough day. My husband continued to provide me with strength and support. We also discussed that if we had to, I would exclusively pump. In between feedings I started to feel some relief. We fed her breast milk when I had enough pumped out, so it was given to her between formula feedings.

She could still get breast milk from a bottle. I also thought about how formula isn't the worst thing in the world, if we have to… but I want to nurse her. I want the BEST possible food for her.

Then at each attempt to nurse and she couldn't latch… I would break down crying again.

The next morning we saw the lactation consultant. She reassured me that the two main things to take care of when a nursing issue arises are:

1 – Feed the baby

2 – Maintain milk supply

I was so afraid that she would shame me about letting her have a bottle and formula, but she did not. She also reminded me that breastfeeding is a relationship between me and my daughter. She said that any issues we have are not just about me, that she is a partner in this too.

She held her and checked her mouth out. She put a gloved finger into Rissa's mouth and commented on what a tight suck she has, which contributed to my discomfort when latching and unlatching. She also said that Rissa's tongue was all over. Her sucking was disorganized.

Rissa fussed as the LC wiggled her finger in her mouth. She said she was “petting” her tongue, doing suck training. She did this until Rissa's tongue was down over her lower gum and lip and curled around her finger.

She then gave her to me. Rissa latched right now! Just like old times!

I felt such a wave of relief. The feeling I had when she latched again was so powerful. And, she looked quite happy, sucking away and looking up at me.

The LC even said, “Aww, mom, we've reconnected.”

She weighed her before nursing and again after, she was 2.5 ounces heavier. She said my supply didn't seem to be an issue.

She complimented my technique and positioning again. That apparently was not an issue. She gave me some cool gel pads to help heal my nipples. She also gave me instructions on how to work with Rissa if she doesn't latch at a feeding – only give a little bit of milk from a bottle if she's having trouble, just to keep her from being too upset and hungry and try again; to pump to maintain my supply; and to help her organize her sucking with my finger.

I felt so much better.

The next feeding she wouldn't latch again, but I kept trying to work with her, between tears. We were supposed to attend a family dinner that evening but we didn't… we were under too much stress and I was too embarrassed about the situation. It took some time before I could comfortably talk about what happened with family and friends. Now, I can talk about it without a problem (ok, I'm a little misty-eyed) but maybe it will help someone else out.

Before bed, she latched!

The next day was crazy though. She latched with no problem (or would need a little suck training and then be able to latch), but suddenly she was ravenous! I could do little else that weekend besides feed her almost every hour for at least 20 minutes.

I called the LC and she said that it was a good sign and was probably a growth spurt. It just had bad timing with the no-nursing situation because my supply was behind by about a day. Things were back to normal within 48 hours.

I could have given up, but I didn't. I had a lot of support and I reached out to people that I knew could help me and my daughter. If you ever have a breastfeeding obstacle, just know it doesn't mean you have to stop.

Oh, and you know who called me that Saturday? The pediatrician. Yep, he called to follow up and see how we were doing since he'd seen us on Thursday.

Whew, that was long. Thanks for hanging in there with me! I hope sharing my story helps you.
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