Nipple Feeding (Patience with Breastfeeding Part I)

Like many new breastfeeding mothers, I struggled with getting Levi to have a “good latch.” At four months, he still doesn’t have what we typically describe as a “good latch.” That is, he doesn’t take in much of the areola at all. Often, at least on one breast, his top lip is not flanged. Essentially he is nipple feeding, and I have learned to be okay with that, because 1) it doesn’t hurt and 2) he is gaining weight.

In the beginning, like many other newly breastfeeding moms, I suffered from bruised, bloodied, and blistered nipples. It hurt so much that when he wanted to nurse there were so many times when I thought I just cannot possibly nurse him again right now. My nipples still hurt from the last feeding.

We went through two lactation consultants in addition to the great breadth of wisdom from our midwifery team. Nothing seemed to help. I always thought if I could just make it to the next appointment with an L.C., then I would be “saved” from the difficulties of breastfeeding, but that was not the case. After awhile it stopped hurting, but his latch remained very shallow. I became obsessed with getting his latch to meet the descriptions that I read in all the breastfeeding groups and all the helpful online resources. There is SO MUCH emphasis on this thing we call a “good latch.” There are pictures and videos and ample descriptions everywhere.  Even before I had a baby, I knew the importance of “the latch.”  Friends of mine who are purposely child-free and no nothing about babies or breastfeeding know enough to ask about his latch. 

I understood the mechanics of the good latch, but Levi refused (and refuses) to open his mouth wide. I was told “don’t let him do that.” I was told that I was creating “bad habits.” I was told to unlatch and re-latch, to fight him on it early on to make breastfeeding better in the long run. I tired of every breastfeeding session becoming a battle of getting the proper latch. Finally I gave up.

At a recent La Leche League meeting I described his shallow latch but also explained that it does not hurt me and that he is gaining weight (enough that the pediatrician shows no alarm). Should I continue to worry, I asked? Should I continue to battle him? To my great relief I was told, NO. That if it is comfortable to me and he is gaining, then it is a “good latch.” One woman described to me that in other non-Western cultures it is normal to nipple feed. That in some cultures mothers even pull the child back purposely in order to have him/her on the nipple. I tried to research this information to see if it is accurate and could find nothing to verify this, but the thought of it made me feel a whole lot better. 

This less than perfect latch is one of the less than perfect things that I have been willing to accept as I’ve become a new mom.  While I have made peace with the idea that Levi insists upon feeding only on the nipple, I am self-conscious about it. I recently had a breacongresspark181stfeeding photo shoot done, and leading up to it, I worried about how the latch would look.

When other women post photos to the Facebook group for breastfeeding moms that I am a part of, I examine them closely looking for a good latch, comparing how Levi’s latch looks to others.  I take tons of photos of him breastfeeding, and have only ever posted one.  Over and over in my head I recall reading a comment that someone left on a photo of a breastfeeding child:  picstitch“It looks like he is nipple feeding.  Doesn’t that hurt?”  The response, I read as defensive, “He is not actually nipple feeding, and no, it doesn’t hurt.”  I read that comment as “you’re doing it wrong,” and I really struggle with that.

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