The Three-Week Hurdle of Breastfeeding

By Jillian Franklin

I always knew I wanted to nurse my children. When I was pregnant with my first child I had visions of myself sitting in my beautiful new glider chair, next to an open window with sunlight streaming in, listening to the breeze blow through the trees as my tiny newborn quietly drank nature’s perfect food from my body… Nobody told me then how unrealistic my fantasy was. In real life, I nursed in hospital beds, on the couch and in the dressing room at Target. Sunlit windows were replaced with dark bedrooms and my newborn wasn’t always so calm and serene. Reality can be disappointing.

I was also never told that if I wanted to succeed at breastfeeding, I might have to fight for it. I heard the horror stories of cracked nipples and mastitis, but all of the books I read said that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, something is wrong. I was one of the lucky women whose baby latched on perfectly from the get-go, whose milk supply was good and whose baby gained weight right away.

But breastfeeding hurt. It wasn’t childbirth level pain, but it was enough to make me curl my toes and shriek every time my daughter latched on. That initial agony would last for 30 seconds or so and then it would fade. None of my books gave me any reassurance or answers.

I found myself wondering if it was going to be like that every time I nursed. Every day I would hope that I would turn the corner and be one of those women telling other women that they were doing something wrong if it hurt, but every day I was disappointed to feel that screeching pain shooting through my whole body every time my daughter began to eat. I didn’t want to stop nursing, but I didn’t know how I would continue for months if it was going to feel like this.

It was at this point that I received a piece of advice that I am so thankful to have gotten: do not give up during the first three weeks. It sounds so simple, but to a scared, hormonal, sleep-deprived new mom, it was comforting to have a time limit on my suffering. If at the three week mark I was still in pain, I would allow myself to entertain the idea of quitting. Until then, I committed to gritting my teeth and doing what I had so desperately wanted to do for my children.

Then something strange happened.

The pain just faded away in my daughter’s third week of life. I didn’t do anything to make it go away. It just did. I ended up nursing my daughter for two years and that pain never returned, nor did it return when either of my sons was born.

I am not a doctor, or any kind of medical expert for that matter, but I give that same piece of advice to every friend I watch cringe through the early days of breastfeeding. If there are no latch problems or medical issues causing the pain, it will pass. Just give it three weeks.

The information contained on this site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant.