A rough and painful start - Rae

I have always had anxiety surrounding breastfeeding. I remember in my early twenties looking at down my chest and thinking, ‘These two better not be done growing coz I really want to be able to breastfeed my future babies comfortably.’ I was ignorant.


So naturally when I did fall pregnant at thirty, I found myself obsessively reading up on breastfeeding and how to “do it right”. By this time, I had witnessed a friend who had a smaller chest than mine breastfeed with ease so at least I was no longer anxious about size.


In the middle of my second trimester, I bumped into a Facebook video of a lady who had been breastfeeding for what appeared to be the first time and was screaming in excruciating pain while being assisted by two more women. Needless to say, this sparked brand new anxiety. In the comments section I learned that breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt at all! This stayed with me.


After preparing for a natural birth for 8 months, I had to undergo an emergency c-section due to complications of preeclampsia. This would literally change EVERYTHING. 


  • I did hours and hours of research but somehow, I was silly enough to skip all c-section related literature because I wanted a natural birth.

  • I had prepared for my baby to be on my chest as soon as I pushed him out, but he wasn’t brought to me until after they stitched me up. 

  • I had planned to breastfeed immediately after birth but I only breastfed hours after I’d been in recovery.


When they eventually brought my baby to me, everything I thought I had learnt about breastfeeding went out the window. I literally just became dumb and started over-thinking it so much that the nursing sister came to assist me. I was anxious and scared and clueless. The sister grabbed my nipple with her thumb and index finger and shoved it into baby’s mouth and then it seemed he was latching but it did not feel good. I remembered I knew that it would hurt in the first few days but will improve after that. 


The doctor suggested a “top up” (formula) and I agreed because I was terrified my baby wasn’t getting enough milk. The nurses kept telling me I don’t have enough milk. This immediately depressed me. 


We had decided that we would raise the baby without any “elder” present because we wanted to do it “our way”. Eventually I was discharged, and the most excruciating pain journey began. My partner and I had no idea of the huge test our relationship was about to endure. (Nobody tells you this!)


After two or three weeks of the worst pain I’ve ever felt, I realised that something was wrong. People advise - “Breastfeeding hurts; you just get used to it” or “Maybe breastfeeding is just not for you; I stopped at two months too”. I remember asking everyone I knew for advice on breast feeding, so many people gave different advice and I tried everything. I even consulted with a nurse at a 24hr pharmacy, and I remember walking away thinking that I didn’t get any new or helpful information because the nipple shield they gave me soon gave me lumps in my breasts.


They also gave me Jungle Juice which did not help.


I decided I’d post on a Facebook group and that was the best decision! Someone on that Facebook group recommended La Leche League South Africa and I eventually got in touch with a La Leche League Leader and our lives changed forever. My baby wasn’t latching properly and was hurting my nipples so that they changed shape!


Better positioning would provide temporary relief. Unfortunately, the pain continued despite changing positions as advised.


The ongoing pain caused great frustration and resentment for myself and my partner. I felt like he didn’t always believe me, and I also felt like it was my fault. We argued at every breastfeed. I’d weep with pain and then explode when he suggested giving up and switching to formula.


The emotional toll was so evident that on one of our many visits to our La Leche League Leader (who was gracious and patient with us) she noticed and gave us a small therapy session outside of lactation.

Little did she know that she would help keep us together. She continued to encourage us every time she saw us, explaining to my partner things I wished I could communicate but hadn’t been able to.  


The LLLLeader tried everything to solve my breastfeeding pain but any relief was temporary. I would still end up crying in pain and my baby wasn’t getting enough milk. The weigh-ins at my doctor confirmed this.


The LLLLeader looked inside my baby’s mouth and tongue and questioned whether my son had a slight tongue tie. We would need to get it checked and might get permanent relief by having it surgically cut. We got a list of doctors and dentists to try to get an appointment (it was in the middle of festive season, and most were closed). One of the dentists assisted but was unable to cut the tie as my baby was too little. She suggested having the procedure done in theatre. 


We left to think about it. They sent a quote of +- R16k which we felt was too much after the medical expenses we had from the birth. Our LLLLeader also let us know that there was a possibility that baby might grow and get better at latching with time.


I had three options:

  1. Have the surgery - improve his latching.

  2. Stop breast feeding and change to formula.

  3. Take the chance and the pain. Continue breastfeeding, and if necessary supplement with paced formula feeding so that baby can get enough milk.

The first option was loaded. I felt bad to put him through a procedure he didn’t necessarily need (there’d be circumcision a few weeks later as well) because of my pain. 


The second option I was not even willing to consider! The suggestion made me fume! No! I would not stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for me was the one gift that only I could give my baby and I was determined to do so. 


I knew that taking the pain and continuing to breastfeed was my only option. I noticed around 3-4 months that breastfeeding was not painful anymore.


My baby is 8 months old now, and he’s a breastfeeding champ with the cutest chubby cheeks. My family is eternally grateful to our La Leche League Leader for taking this amazing journey with us, and our family couldn’t be happier. My boy and I both love and enjoy feeding times and that’s a gift that keeps on giving.


Rae Rachel Rusa (August 2022)