I breastfed all of my children, some fed better and longer than others. The other day, I was reading an article about breastfeeding and like a bolt out of the blue I was suddenly jolted back to those early days of learning to breastfeed my new baby. So I thought a lot about those moments and decided to write about the things that came as a complete shock at the time, because no-one had ever mentioned them!
- It’s not something everyone can do and it certainly wasn’t by instinct! So, I found it very difficult to breastfeed with my first child. I believed that breastfeeding would come naturally to me and baby. She was delivered soon after I had been given pethidine and she slept for 12 hours straight after delivery! So, the rush was on to have her feeding from me as soon as she woke up. There is nothing that could have prepared me for the moment when my daughter tried to latch on but just couldn’t. She had a tongue tie which went unnoticed for a few days. So by the time I had been wrestled about by each midwife who came on shift and failed to get my sleepy newborn to latch on to my sore nipples, we were given formula. It wasn’t an instinctive process at all.
- It’s messy. I hadn’t quite grasped the anatomy of the breast, for breastfeeding purposes. I certainly did not expect to flow like a watering can spout! I remember vividly the amazement when I realised that the milk with some pressure, could squirt from several places in the nipple! I hadn’t even heard of breast pads until I needed them! t took me a little while to figure out that dots all over our bedroom carpet were coming from me. A leaking breast is a messy affair, not to mention the stale smell of breastmilk following you around all day. No-one mentioned that when you express one side, the other side ‘let’s down’ too!
- It’s unrelenting. Newborns need to feed up to 12 times a day? No-one told me that! After 4 weeks, my little one was diagnosed with reflux and I couldn’t make enough milk fast enough for her to consume momentarily and then throw up next to me. Which meant I was in feeding position all day and night. But then, when my baby finally stopped throwing up and went off to sleep – I became engorged or leaked! Either way, my boobs were ‘on call’!
- Toe curling pain – I wish someone had given me advanced warning at how painful breastfeeding can be! “It can hurt.” you’ll be told by a smiley health visitor (who has never breastfed a child) Well, for me it was like having your nipples slammed in a car door, repeatedly. Sometimes, i would bleed and small sores would appear. Each time my baby latched on, they would open and crack a little more. I became infected. Breastfeeding can be such a deeply emotive sensation, but for me it was just bloody painful. Little did I know that a tongue tied refluxy baby was never going to feed properly.
- You never get dressed! In our house we cover up to walk around – pop a dressing gown on while waiting for a bath to run. But when breast feeding, even the slightest touch of material irritated my bloodied nipples and I found myself merging from one feed to the next, before I’d even had a chance to get dressed after the last one. It was easier to walk around topless. All modesty went completely out the window after I was advised to heal my wounds by popping savoy cabbage in my bra. Nothing quite beats the smell of dried milk and warm cabbage!
- It’s expensive. I always thought the benefits of breastfeeding for me, were that it meant no expensive formula milks in the weekly shop. True, the milk doesn’t cost anything, but everything else does! New nursing bra with front loading cups, the breast pump kit, sterilising stuff, cabinets full of creams and emollient – every brand available; each used once. Gel pads, nipple shields, breast shells, protective pads, cabbages and ibuprofen. No one told me about the costs.
Having said all that, I do believe that the unique and intimate sensation you get from breastfeeding, far outweighs the pain, inconvenience and expense. I am glad I ‘had a go’ with my three children.