I haven’t written anything in quite a while, and not for lack of inspiration. Having a two year old is nothing if not entertaining. I think the lack of writing was more down to exhaustion and being worn out than anything else. But that being said, it was National Breastfeeding Week this week and I wasn’t going to let it go by without writing about my experiences. I still feel that it is a bit of a taboo subject. In my own echo chamber it’s talked about daily. I follow lots of mum accounts on social media, and it’s inevitable that some of them will be talking about breastfeeding and the wonders of it. And it is still a daily topic in my house. But when I am talking to people outside of my immediate mum circle it feels like one of those topics I should tall about in hushed tones. But I don’t. And I won’t here, and this whole post is about boobs and how they feed babies, so consider yourself warned.
Once R and I got in a good rhythm, and once I got over being a bit embarrassed about it, I was quite happy and quite comfortable to feed him wherever and whenever, and to discuss it openly. And I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I wanted to breastfeed and we managed to feed successfully for a couple of years. But the embarrassed hushed tones are creeping back into my talk now because he is 2 and a bit and we are still feeding. I feel like I will be judged for still going. So I try not to mention it if the conversation goes that way. But between the pandemic causing us to be at home together for longer, and the habits we got into of feeding before bed and when he wakes in the morning, it’s been a hard habit to break. And honestly I like the time we have together. Would I have liked to have stopped over a year ago like I planned? Well yes. But I also love the time it gives us together, having a cuddle before he goes to sleep. Waking up and having a few minutes of sleepy cuddles in the morning is a gorgeous way to start my day.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before but we did not get off to a good start. And we have had bumps on the road to where we are now. But those online mums I follow and the mum friends I knew I could text at 4am for help were a godsend. And still are. So I guess I wanted to share what experience I had and give whatever advice I can to anyone who is struggling.
So first things first. Breastfeeding hurts. It fucking hurts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s beautiful, natural, magical; baby gets everything he needs from you; goddess; wonder woman. All phrases and words I read back when I was reading about breastfeeding and figuring out how to tackle it. And while they’re not wrong, they are definitely not the only words that encompass what you are going to experience. Pain. Some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I cried so often because of the pain. And because of the torture I was putting myself through and the guilt I felt when I thought about stopping. Guilt I should add, that I was only putting on myself. I wanted to do it, I wanted to feed him myself, but the pain he was putting me through felt overwhelming. Many times I wanted to stop. And when we did try to give him a bottle of formula, he point blank refused. On the odd occasion he would drink formula we found he was sick afterwards. And not just a tiny bit of baby vomit, proper throw-up-everything-I’ve-just-eaten sick. I actually sat on the side of the bath with him throwing up over my shoulder one night just to save on cleaning up. So I felt I had to keep going, even though there were times when I resented giving him my boobs.
Secondly, there might be blood. In fact, scrap that. There will be blood. And cracks on your nipples. And it is gross. Unpleasant. And only adds to the soreness. I had the added adventure of freaking out when he was about 8 weeks old because there was blood on the muslin after he burped and was a little sick. I started to panic and my brain immediately thought the worst. I was trying to figure out how he could have internal bleeding or a tear in his stomach lining….until I realised it was MY blood. He had ingested some blood while feeding. At least that was my theory. I watched him like a hawk for the next 24 hours on the off chance I was wrong. Thankfully it was the one and only time it happened.
There are some wonderful products out there that help with the pain and soreness and bleeding. I used a combination of things but the two I kept within easy reach were some lanolin cream and some nipple compresses. The cream is more like a gel, and it is weird and sticky and thick but wonderful and also safe for baby so no need to wash off before feeding. The compresses were recommended to me by a friend and they were wonderful. Cold soothing gel on a sheet that you stick onto the affected area and it instantly helps. I went through several boxes of them and will be buying them for any and all friends who decide to breastfeed in future. These are also baby safe, so no need to wash before feeding. I actually found using them before a feed helped to numb the area which made the feed easier.
Things that didn’t work so well – good old fashioned ice cubes. Bad idea. I read somewhere that ice to numb the nipple before a feed would help but it didn’t, not for me. It just gave me a new pain sensation along with the original.
Delaying feeding the kid. Just a bad idea all round. Kid gets hangry and loud, nipples start to leak and get sore anyway.
The only thing that takes the pain away is consistency. Keep going. Power through. It sucks but its the truth.
When he was 10 days old, I was sore all over (thanks c-section) and had to go back into hospital so they could remove the c-section bandage. I asked the midwife for advice because my boobs were huge and sore and cracked and feeding was painful. Her first tip gave me shudders – after your shower rub a rough towel against the nipples – no thanks. But the main thing she had to say was just keep going. Keep trying. It does get easier.
And it did. We had a solid six weeks of hell at the beginning, but here we are, he’s 2 years and 3 months and we are almost out the other side. And we’ve had bumps where he was over-feeding for comfort and the pain and cracks came back. And we’ve had bumps where he point blank refused a bottle of boob juice so I was his sole source of comfort and food (that never changed. Never took a bottle). And bumps where I’ve leaked in public and been so so thankful that the top I was wearing was the right material to not show the leak and to dry quickly. And bumps where he wanted to feed 5 times a night even though I had work at 8am. And bumps where I had to feed him on public transport.
The whole process is difficult. I mean, that’s actually quite an understatement. It can be awful. You are already tired and worn out having carried the kid for 9 months and then birthing him. And then he wants even more from you. The kid wants to cling on to you and be fed by you. Round the clock, on demand. It is exhausting and painful and emotional. But also comforting and rewarding and beautiful.
It is absolutely not for everyone. I don’t know if I would do it again, knowing what I know now. If I went back in time would I stop sooner or never start at all? Maybe. I am glad I did it, and I know I am very lucky that he latched after only a few days of awkwardness. Some women can’t feed, or don’t want to. If anyone tells you you should be breastfeeding or that you’re wrong to just give formula, I will give the best piece of advice I was given when I was pregnant. Listen to them, nod politely, and then ignore everything they say. In one ear and out the other. You know your body and you know your child. Do whats right for you.
Oh, and get a comfortable chair. And lots and lots of pillows.