A Must Read for all New Moms: Breast is a Test
I gave myself a B- through guess work; not an A because I didn't continue feeding till the optimal 3 years.
not a B+ because I will admit to sneaking a few drinks now and again.... yep, I said it. I'm sure there probably is a grading sstem in the hysterical breastfeeding world and they just downgraded me to a D-. As a mother you will never, ever make all of the judge and jury (other mothers) happy all of the time.
My family thought I was crazy to feed my sons myself and took every opportunity to call me a hippy and my husband's family thought it was desperate that I didn't at least feed for a year. I never, ever thought that I
would breastfeed my kids as I was not brought up in a home/culture that deemed it the “done thing”. I once asked my Mam when I was a kid if I had been breastfed and I was very relieved to hear that, no, I’d had formula. Damn though, I could be an astrophysicist now with a killer immune system.
My next encounter with breastfeeding was when I visited my friend Michelle in Italy when her baby was a few months old. She was the first of my friends to get married and have a baby and I almost fainted when I saw her take an engorged, blue-veined boob from it's ugly harness and put it in the baby’s mouth. I didn’t know where to look and it felt like I was intruding on a hugely private moment. I was also supremely pissed off that my drinking buddy was still not able to get wasted with me, totally selfish on her part. Now I had to wait months till I had the old Michelle back: I wasn’t to know that when a friend has a baby, you never get them back as they once were. I took out my duty free and got her husband drunk and we played Yahtzee loudly and got shushed frequently. I was ignorant and I didn’t understand and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.
A few months after meeting my now husband, we were dining alfresco (having a burger) in Kusadasi when the subject of breastfeeding came up (I must've exhausted my-go-to-date conversation of bowel-movements). I wrinkled my nose in disgust and said "you won’t catch me doing that". He looked genuinely shocked and asked what I thought the purpose of breasts were.
I sniggered and gave a lot of reasons that can’t be typed here, as I may make you blush/feel nauseous. Realising that I was losing the argument I bristled and tried what I thought was a feminist viewpoint. I argued that my body was not my own for 9 months and was I to suffer further, unable to take Solpadeine on a whim or drink or have the odd fag? He gave up in the face of my ridiculous indignation and had also possibly scared himself talking too soon about having kids with an unstable, Irish female.
However, the seed had been sown… not literally... that took another four years! From the moment I planned my pregnancy, I became an insane nurturer, guzzling folic acid and prenatal vitamins and feeling an urge to wrap myself in organic/non-toxic cotton wool for the next 9 months. I didn’t touch alcohol (bar a couple of glasses of red wine/guinness at social events for the iron content - naturally), gave up smoking and read baby books voraciously. As soon as my beautiful firstborn son was put in my arms, the midwife asked how I was planning on feeding him, I said breast of course (a little smugly). I put him to my nipple and… nothing. I tried every position, football hold and all.. nothing. An expert was sent to me from the upper echelons of Holles Street and that didn't work.
My baby was hungry now and I was beginning to sweat. One of the nurses rubbed some formula on my nipple to make it more appealing, like Frank’s Sauce on chips (try it..omg). My hormones were raging and I was starting to get mad at this stubborn little baby. I could actually hear the baby in the next bed suckling and I tried to push my nipple into Conall's mouth and it all felt wrong and slightly abusive.
I got home and the public health nurse would come daily to weigh him and shake her head saying he’s lost more weight and I was frantic. I asked if I should give him a top-up and I think I had my fingers crossed with hope behind my back. She dragged her heels and almost before she could reply I had Ossie at Tesco buying formula. It turns out he wasn’t that great at sucking from bottles either and then I got myself in a panic reading about nipple confusion. I really wish that at some point somebody had looked me in the eye (instead of my nipple) and said “this is HARD… it’s ok, persevere and you’ll get there” instead of scratching their heads like they’d never seen the likes of it before. I felt like shouting, “hey, these bad boys have not had any complaints before!”
I continued trying even though my nipples were cracked and bleeding at this stage.
I pumped to keep the flow going and often it resembled a strawberry milkshake. I was also fighting a bad kidney infection and I was bedridden and broken.
Two weeks later when I was feeling better and my million fanny stitches had dissolved, I decided to give breastfeeding another go but on my terms. I gently guided Conall to my nipple and… he sucked! I cried and cried happy tears. I had spent my life giving up when things got hard and for once I persevered and it paid off. The feeling is incomparable, him suckling sleepily, every so often maintaining eye-contact and sometimes massaging my boob with his tiny fingers as if to increase the flow.
Sometimes I would fall asleep with him guzzling away and have strange dreams where I couldn't understand why my nips felt so weird. I continued combine-feeding him and it made the weaning at 7 months so much easier. I was lucky to have the full support of my partner, although my mother would turn her eyes up or seize on any sickness Conall had to say “look, look he’s not immune”. It’s ok Mam, I know it always came from a place of guilt and I don’t blame you for not breastfeeding me, I’m fine…. atchoooooo! I think one of the main issues women have in this country is the scarlet factor. I was slightly awkward when feeding Conall publicly and would opt for a bottle.
I did however manage to send a picture of Conall in the hospital on my breast with my areola on display to my entire inbox and the replies were mostly "is that your nip?" and not "congrats on your new baby!" Also my poor Dad once pointed at my top with his eyes lowered to the ground and when I looked down I had two massive wet circles at my boobs.
Another time I was out for a walk and hadn't fed or pumped for awhile and as I pushed the buggy, I could feel my boobs straining against the confines of my summer top. My cousin, Jen was with me and gasped at their size which was a surprise considering her own knockers aren't that shabby. The moment was immortalised when a car beeped at me and some guys made lewd gestures.. I think Jen may have yelled "she's lactating, assholes!" My second son latched beautifully, as did my third and I didn’t even require lanolin. I fed both of them exclusively for 9/10 months and had become a pro at feeding in public. I'd use a muslin cloth so as not to "offend anyone" but if it dropped I couldn't care less and was prepared for someone to comment... they never did. My first and foremost concern was my baby's well-being .
I only had problems when I tried to introduce a bottle or when they grew teeth. Koray bit me a few times and it almost forced me to fling him, the pain is unimaginable. When it comes to stopping, there is so much emotion and guilt, it's awful trying to give your baby a bottle as they nuzzle for your breast but there comes a time when you need that solpadeine/night out and are sick of waking up with a sodden breast pad in your armpit and a soaked bra/t-shirt. It is also fantastic to sleep bra-less and have your boobs back for other purposes. The major downside, as far as I’m concerned, with breastfeeding is that you are the baby’s sole food bank and that is exhausting mentally and physically. It was a struggle as I am not one for schedules and I fed on demand.
There were times when I would load the dishwasher/washing machine with baby number three latched to my boob and a toddler wrapped around my leg. I look back and can’t believe I survived, but I did and I’m proud! I also look forward to the future and telling my teenage sons I breastfed them while they hang out with their peers; revenge for the nipple biting and sleepless nights.
Give it a go, you'll be surprised. It is so handy to leave the house with just a pack of wipes and a couple of nappies; no steriliser, bottles, formula... you'll save a fortune. You can also sit and eat cake as the baby literally sucks the fat out of you and NO PERIODS! You will also have porn boobs (the classy kind). What's not to like? It is a test, but if you put in a minimum of effort, you'll pass and maybe raise that astrophysicist with the super-human immune system!
Disclaimer: I'm aware that some people can't feed for medical reasons and that's cool, I'm asking the others to give it a go... it's my slogan.. Leslie Knope style.
Do you have any breastfeeding tales? Leave a comment below.