Now, you know when you put together a piece of furniture from IKEA. You have the instructions and everything but the bugger just .. won’t … buggering…. bloody well … fit together right. You know how frustrating that is? Well now imagine if that furniture had only two pieces. Then imagine a group of furniture building professionals all standing around whilst you are trying to do it telling you slightly different ways of doing it, or indeed, insisting you have it right whilst it’s patently obvious it’s all falling to bits. Oh! …. and then into that delightful mix add in the fact that it appears that someone is taking a brillo pad to your tits. Oh yes people – today the blog is all about breastfeeding.
My nipples were always a pretty good feature of mine. After many pints my sisters used to shout out loudly in pubs that they were like ‘little mouses noses’ to pretty much anyone who would listen. Pregnancy obviously hits you like a hammer physically but in the boobical area, apart from a small increase in size (one cup size -woo hoo!) they remained untouched. So heading into breastfeeding my nipples were frankly like two fresh faced teens. They were keen, naïve – and goddarn it! – they were perky. Now… they are more worldly nipples. They have been hurt and they won’t trust again so easily. In Grease terms they are wearing the leather catsuit and dancing with John Travolta. Nowadays they shrug out of a bra with a ‘bof ‘, while puffing on a Gauloises. I have even occasionally heard them snort with derision at the London marathon when a runner goes past with those worrying pink streaks. They are not worse actually but most definitely different.
There are some people out there who have no problems at all with breastfeeding and feel the joyous connection of mother and child at the breast from minutes after the birth. I call these people unicorns. But for a lot of people – and I have done lots of asking around of pretty much every mother I meet – breastfeeding is actually pretty shit for quite a bit. I reckon out of my circle we are talking 70% that had problems at some stage or another. And there is a huge amount of fear about talking about the fact that it can hurt (a lot), that it may not feel natural and that it can feel positively overwhelming – may mean that people won’t try it. I did NCT classes before my first child and in the breastfeeding session it was almost farcical how positive everything had to be. We were shown videos of natural latching on where newborn(!) baby wriggles up the mother to successfully latch on by itself. You can practically see the smug face mother going ‘look! No hands’. And they literally talked not once about nipple cracking, mastitis or indeed how it might feel if you struggle. Friends of mine had gone through breastfeeding issues so I asked about problems and was told they preferred not to talk about them and that we could just call the support line if there was a problem.
To me it seems frankly mental, and a recipe for people quitting, to not talk about or prepare people for issues that are commonplace and that will affect you at a time when the emotional rollercoaster that is pregnancy and birth leaves you feeling about as vulnerable as the Israeli guys my friends and I once took to a Lebanese party (yes sadly lacking in geopolitical awareness). You are exposed to multiple images that are ridiculously positive such as the ‘lady no hands’ video, or, posters of flat tummied glamazons in leopard print bras casually doing it with a child on one hip. But not one image of a sobbing 30+ year old in bed, with a baby in one arm and an iphone in the other, google imaging ‘correct latch’ at 4 am. So instead you feel so useless that it’s barely started and you are already proven to be a bad mother. I once wailed in bed that pigs could do 12 piglets at the same time! lying down!! – piggy fuckers. There is nothing so lonely as this!
And you know what? Most of this stuff is actually fixable. My sister breastfed her first baby successfully and happily for seven months and this is the person who when her child was a few days old panicked when she saw something in the baby’s mouth – and then she realised it was a part of her own nipple! FACT. She managed to get through this and get things sorted at a breastfeeding support group. This was free and the people were nice and literally everyone had their tits out even if you weren’t actually feeding at the time – quite liberating really, I nearly joined in despite the fact I was only there as my sisters dedicated c-section driver – and they even give you tea and biscuits. And this was all for free through her local Surestart centre.
But also make sure you do whatever you need to get through it. Try and make the system work for you. I can guarantee that if you take out a nipple shield in a breast feeding support group you will get looked at like you just shat on the table. I know people who would never have been able to continue on breastfeeding successfully without using them for a bit – they are not the devil. So don’t tell support people if you need to use them. And not all breastfeeding group leaders are nice like my sister’s and compliment you on your cardigan (she obviously had excellent taste). Some of them are a bit weird. So shop around – you are not tied to one centre try them all!
If you are struggling and not sure whether you can carry on then please know that at the very least you are in some seriously significant company – and that you are not a failure. Instead you are already an exceptionally clever lady that has already grown something amazing inside herself. And loving that bad boy (or girl) is what being a mother is all about. Obviously it’s a really good thing to try and do for a bit, or as long as you want to, what with all the antibodies and stuff. So get help if you can and give it a good shot. But you know what? If it does not work out, it does not define the relationship between you and your child. You do that with love and cuddles and closeness whether or not your nipple happens to be in their mouth at the time or not. The image of a woman gazing lovingly into her newborn baby’s eyes as she feeds is pretty much a myth. As a correct latch with a newborn basically means that they are staring about 2cm below your armpit, and I promise my children and my armpit do not have a particularly close relationship now.