At 2 am I woke my husband up with my sobbing. Or the baby woke him up with hers. No one really knows as it's all intermixed together.
"What's wrong?" he asked concerned as I held her and bit my lip in pain.
"It. hurts. so. bad." I managed to get out. "I hate breastfeeding."
There's nothing he could do (men and their worthless nipples) but he sat with me a while as I cried and attempted to try again while wishing this was just a tiny bit easier.
It's always been this way for me. Even with a lactation consultant each time, and assurance that I was doing it "right" and our babies had no issues to cause breastfeeding pain, there was no answer as to why I had breastfeeding pain for so long.
Related: My Struggle with Breastfeeding (And How I Got Through It)
With my first child, I felt completely shamed in even admitting nursing was painful. Friends who had babies around me seemed to have minor issues, and if they experienced pain it was just for a few days after getting used to breastfeeding. I was constantly told I must be doing something wrong when I reached out to ask about the pain, and given the flippant response of, "Then just formula feed her." What I really wanted was to breastfeed, so I dug my heels in and continued.
In the meantime, I went looking for help where I'd found community already - online. Turns out, I'm not the only woman who experiences unrelenting, unresolved pain while breastfeeding. According to research published with the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) on breastfeeding pain "...studies have shown that one, or even several, instruction sessions on proper positioning and attachment during the first few days after birth did not result in longer breastfeeding or fewer breastfeeding problems. This highlights the fact that faulty positioning and attachment is not the only cause of nipple pain." (emphasis mine)
I breastfed my first child for 15 months, and my last for over three years. Each time, the pain dulled a bit over the months, but with my first, it never completely subsided. To counter some of that, I pumped exclusively for a while, used nipple shields, and bought nipple balm to use religiously.
While I wish I had some definitive answers as to how to counter breastfeeding pain, I can offer some solidarity and support for anyone else who is experiencing this and wants to continue nursing. No matter what you decide as you continue, know there are thousands of other women who can relate.