Breast Bruising and Head Bobbing

Have you heard the latest?   The latest and most up-to-date techniques to help women breastfeed?  Listen up, it’s cutting edge!  There are two in particular that I think will interest you: Bruising and Bobbing.

I have been working with breastfeeding families for 17 years and have been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for 5 years, and was not aware of these techniques until just today, when I conducted a post partum consultation with a client I will call Mandy.  Mandy is a lovely, educated, aware woman.  A pleasure to be around, easy to talk to, informed.  She was planning a home birth, but ended up with a hospital surgical birth instead.  Unfortunate, but not uncommon, and not the topic for this particular blog.

Shortly after I arrived on day four post partum for an in-home consultation, Mandy described to me the treatment she received at the hands of a health care professional who was ‘teaching’ her to breastfeed:   The story began to unfold as I was showing Mandy how to gently massage her breast tissue before hand expression to soften her engorged breasts and release milk from the swollen tissues.  As I was doing so, Mandy casually remarked “Oh, is that how’s it done?  When I was in the hospital, Nurse Number Two [name has been changed] was squeezing and squeezing and squeezing my breasts super hard and for a really long time!  It hurt like crazy.  I remember thinking ‘do I have to do this to myself every time the baby wants to feed?‘.  She was squeezing so hard, she was gritting her teeth.  Like this …[Mandy bares her fangs at me].”

“Whoa…” says I, thinking I had misunderstood. “The nurse was massaging your breasts so hard that she was gritting her teeth?”

“Yeah.  Like this…[Mandy bares her fangs again] and this…[more fangs].”

I was mortified when I heard that… but like all good breastfeeding experts, I bit my tongue and simply made a little comment about how upsetting that must have been for her.

Later, when I had Mandy leaning her breast into a bowl of hot salt water in an effort to draw out some of the engorged milk, she spotted a funny mark on her breast and asked what it was.  I told her it was a bruise.  A rather large bruise,  about the size of a large thumb.  I’d never seen such a thing before – and I have certainly seen lots of breasts and nipples in different stages of wounding and healing!  Examining the bruise more closely, I could tell by its yellow and green colour that it was a number of days old; suddenly, the full weight of the treatment that this mother had received at the hands of someone who was supposed to be helping her,  became apparent for both myself and Mandy.  “Nurse Number Two,” Mandy proclaimed. “It was Nurse Number Two!”

Later, during a latch demonstration, Mandy was explaining how Nurse Number Two attempted to get their new baby daughter, whom I will call Dawn, attached to Mandy’s breast:  “She held the back of her head and just kept bobbing it into me, bobbing it into me…she was gripping Dawn’s little head so tight and bobbing it around like a toy… it was going back and forth, back and forth [Mandy waves her hand around, demonstrating a jerky motion] again and again’.

‘Gosh, that sounds violent.’  I say, mortified.

‘It was,’  was all Mandy could say.

The irony was not lost on me:  Just moments before, Mandy and her partner had told me about the ‘lecture’ they received in the hospital about the Period of Purple Crying, and how the person telling them about it went on and on and on about how dangerous it was to shake a baby.  My mind wandered at this point and I could not help but wonder if Nurse Number Two had heard this lecture and watched the video?*  As a matter of fact, I must admit that my professionalism slipped just a little and I actually said something out loud about whether or not Nurse Number Two was qualified to work with newly born humans and the women who birthed them.  I could hardly hold it together at that point, folks. 

*No disrespect is meant toward this program or it’s volunteers/staff, I am simply relaying the experience of these parents.

Listen, I am all for team work and a multi-professional approach to health care, especially when it comes to reproductive health issues.  I am aware team building requires relationships with other health care professionals, and that such relationships are built on trust, respect and good faith.  I am loathe to bad-mouth any other health care professional, knowing full well that I myself have made some mistakes as I offer care and expertise to breastfeeding families, and I’ll likely inadvertently do it again sometime.

But, you know… Mandy’s situation is NOT all that uncommon.  Ineptness and incorrect information seem to be the name of game when it comes to medical-system based breastfeeding support and expertise.  It’s like most of the health care professionals are just shooting in the dark, and hoping for the best!  And the results are frustrating, heart breaking, and down right shocking.

After all, Breast Bruising and Baby Head-Bobbing… is that what we call quality health care?  Is that what we call expertise?  Is that breastfeeding support?!?

I’m going to call it like it is:  SICK.  There, I said it.  It’s sick.  Treating a newly born human person so roughly that her little head is bobbing around, like an ocean buoy in rough seas, is SICK.  Squeezing breast tissue so hard that you cause bruising the size of your thumb print is SICK.  It’s sick and it’s wrong, and worst of all, it’s HARMFUL.  I’m not afraid to stand up and say it!  I’m not afraid to stand up for my clients, for mothers, for babies, for us all and say what needs to be said: 

Stop doing what you don’t KNOW what to do! Stop acting like an expert  in something that is beyond your scope of experience!  Admit it when you don’t know how to help, and seek assistance from someone who does! Stop disrespecting the individuals under  your care and treating them roughly!  Stop ignoring what mothers are saying to you!  AND, ABOVE ALL, BACK OFF AND GET YOUR OWN BREASTS!!!”

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  • Amanda  On August 5, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Reading this brought back my horrible experience! Actually reading this sounded exactly like my situation!! I had the bruise (the way they expressed the milk hurt me but I thought maybe it was normal since this was my first go, then I was told differently from my LC) and the head bobbing (screaming baby as well when this was going on) shoving babies face into me I cried several times!! If I had of known I Would have told the nurse to just leave and let me do it on my own. But being a first time mom and someone who doesn’t always speak their mind I didn’t, I cried many times for the first 2 days in hospital… Every mother (especially first time mom) should have a professional LC after birth in the hospital!!

    • kgibclc  On August 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm

      Aw, hun, I’m so sorry to hear that you experienced that. It is oft quoted in lactation, birth, and medical circles that hospitals need to ‘do more’ to help women succeed in breastfeeding. I disagree; I think they need to do LESS.


  • Teresa  On August 5, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    I just cringed reading this, but sadly I hear similar stories from mothers as well. Glad you were there to help!


    • kgibclc  On August 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Teresa. We do what we can, true, but unfortunately, LC’s are seen as the ‘magic fairies’ of breastfeeding, there to sweep their wands across the mom and babe and fix all the problems that have occured to that point. Education and prevention are the key, in my mind. Hopefully, hospitals will hire more LC’s to focus on breastfeeding and breastfeeding alone.


  • Alice Hunnersen  On August 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    That was absolutely Disgusting!! The harm done to this mom and baby is Not acceptable.This one you heard about how many others think this is normal.
    I appreciate your comment at the end but are the people (nurse #2) going to read it!
    I would like you to take the picture back to at least nurse #2, if not the head nurse.(With the mother’s permission of course) along with your comment.

    • kgibclc  On August 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm

      It is not my place to make a formal complaint, third-hand, on behalf of this mother. It is her place, if she so chooses. This blog was my way of saying ‘enough is enough’ and of getting us all talking about it.

  • Marianne Trevorrow, ND  On August 5, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Good grief KG–that doesn’t seem acceptable at all. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to see more investment in ‘health-promoting’ health care with trained people.

    I was very fortunate when my son Ricardo was born prematurely 20 years ago that the hospital we were working with had a dedicated lactation consultant who was very helpful. It’s rather ironic, now that I think of it, that this was in Chicago, is the supposedly less-enlightened US. Still, the HMO that ran the hospital could see the cost savings if they used LCs, so they did.

    I don’t know if the situation is similar here in Victoria, but I expect it’s probably not that different, particularly for women who go through conventional birth providers (i.e. not midwives). We do have one GP here who is also an LC (and whom I’ve collaborated with), but it seems here also that LCs are out of the loop.

    ~Dr. MT

    • kgibclc  On August 6, 2011 at 7:31 pm

      IBCLC are working hard to become an equal partner in the health care team, but we still have a long way to go. Till then, are hands and feet are in the trenches, working directly with the Milk Makers who seek us out.

  • Erin Lamarche  On August 6, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Oh my. When I had my daughter in hospital, I waited for days for a lactation consultant to come to my room. They never did. Luckily, I had taken a breastfeeding class with a lactation consultant prior to my having Willow and I felt so empowered and educated that I was able to feed her.

    However, if the hospital had someone like Fleur (Nurtured Child) whom I spoke with after I had Willow (in the wee hours of the night no less), I would have been able to get help with engorgement, help with proper latch, avoided the bleeding/scabbed nipples and most of all, had confidence that what I was doing was correct.

    During my hospital stay, I ended up getting a bloody discharge from my nipple (rusty pipe syndrome) and when I showed the nurse she said, “Oh my, I don’t know what that is… let me get you the lactation consultant” and even then, no one showed up to my room. So, I Googled what it was and figured out that I should nurse off the other side for a couple of feedings and let the bloody discharge dry up a bit and I did and it worked. Google – 1, Hospital – 0.

    Hospitals need to figure out a way to provide MUCH better support and bring in highly trained lactation consultants. People that can speak directly to that area of caring for our newborns. So many people I know give up on breastfeeding because they don’t have the full scope of knowledge required and the support to do it.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    • kgibclc  On August 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm

      Hi, Erin. Thank you for sharing your experience, so glad you were able to find the help you needed.

      I must disagree, though, with your comments that ‘hospitals need to figure out a way to provide MUCH better support…” because I don’t believe that its the hospital that the problem. I think this is GOVERNMENT POLICY issue and that medical plans need to cover lactation health care for all women, at all stages in the breastfeeding journey (from 3rd trimester to weaning).

      And… we’re working on it! ;->

  • fitmommaboom  On August 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Wow, this is just awful. I have been doing a lot of reading lately on how hospitals are not always supportive. It makes me so sad. I actually had quite the opposite experience. We found that everyone, except one nurse who my husband will still fume over, was incredibly supportive. I was able to see a LC whenever I wanted. I saw one two times during my stay. The one nurse my hubby was upset over insisted I put a drop of formula on my nipple to encourage my son to eat, just a few hours after he was born. It made him very angry. I don’t recall being too angry but I think I was still utterly exhausted and on that labor high. Overall though I was happy with the help there. My hospital even has a weekly free program/meeting/group for nursing mothers to attend if they want. I went once when I had a pumping question two months in and it was answered quickly and very helpful. They are hosting an ice cream social soon to support world breastfeeding week. I did take a BF class prior to having my son through them. I also found that class extremely beneficial. I wish EVERY hospital would get with the program. Breastfeeding is not an easy task. It is hard, tiring, and selfless. However, it is incredibly rewarding, lovely, and amazing too. Once you get past the tough parts it is truly a beautiful thing that I wish every single woman would be able to experience for any amount of time. I am over 6 months into my BF experience. I really feel the first 5 months were the toughest and now it is much easier. I am actually looking forward to how easy these next 6 months are going to be compared to the beginning. I feel like it is the reward for all of my dedication and hard work! To all the BF mommas out there, keep up the AWESOME job, no matter what anyone tells you! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!

  • Alice Hunnersen  On August 6, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    You sure have people talking and that is great! Your right it would be up to those who have these horrible experiences to make a complaint! M.A.

  • Mama Tortoise  On August 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    What a story. I do not work in healthcare, but from what I have read/heard, the topic of breastfeeding is only a small or sometimes non-existant part of their training. It seems odd that something so important should be seen as an ‘extra’ for the professionals who care for mothers who are pre/post natal. I’ve often wondered if the powers-that-be put as much resources into education about breastfeeding as they do towards vaccinations, we’d have a very different society.

    • kgibclc  On August 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm

      You make a good point, Mama T. I think the key lay in PRENATAL EDUCATION on breastfeeding for each woman, based on her individual health, wellness, lifestyle and past experiences. The way lactation health care is delivered is woefully inadequate – it’s bascially putting out fires, too little, too late.

      Thank you for your comment!

  • JSMmommy  On August 15, 2011 at 4:34 am

    KGC I can believe this… I am so glad that I consulted with you prior to the birth of my child. I encountered so many problems with breastfeeding and very little support from the medical community. I was advised by one pediatrician to just pump or simply give my child formula if it was too painful or difficult. He didn’t rally offer any reasonable solutions to the problems we were experiencing.. Keep up the amazing work!!!

    • kgibclc  On August 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks for your comment, J. So glad you were able to persevere in the face of all your challenges. You have always been such an inspiration!

  • Darbados  On September 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    This “so called” Nurse should be reported! Obviously they are not getting proper training!

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