I never really thought about breastfeeding before I had kids. I mean, what was there to think about? Baby + breast = breastfeeding. Right?
I had no idea how simplistic that was, and the formula for successful breastfeeding was way more complicated than I’d ever imagined.
Here are seven things I learnt the hard way:
Breastfeeding does not always come naturally.
Books and classes gave no indication that breastfeeding was anything other than “easy and natural”. There was zero attention paid to the fact that breastfeeding can be difficult. And painful. There was no real acknowledgement that breastfeeding could be a jaw-gritting process of trial-and-error; instead, it was sold as a spontaneous miracle of nature, like rainbows and lactating unicorns and babies who sleep through the night. Turns out, like any acquired skill it required a lot of practice, with equal measures of pain, doubt, frustration and anguish.
Breastfeeding can not be taught using hokey props.
During our breastfeeding class we role-played using plastic babies and crocheted breasts with pink floppy nipples. It felt a bit stupid at the time, and in hindsight I realise that it felt stupid because it WAS stupid. Crocheted breasts don’t have flat nipples, engorgement, fast let-down, slow let-down, undersupply or oversupply. Plastic babies don’t have tongue tie or jaundice, and they don’t scream because they can’t attach properly or because the flow of milk is too fast (or slow). In fact, plastic babies are wonderfully compliant. And they don’t bite.
The shape of your nipples is a thing. And it matters.
I never knew how substandard my nipples were until I had a baby, and I discovered this in a most unspectacular fashion at 3am one morning:
Me: (pleads) Why can’t my baby attach properly?
Midwife: You have flat nipples.
Me: (looks down at nipples) What the hell? They’re not flat.
Midwife: Yeah, but they’re not very good for breastfeeding.
It became the first in a long list of complaints I generated with my post-baby body. I was forced to compensate for my inadequate nipples by slapping a plastic cone on them every time I needed to feed, for two kids and 38 months in total.
Breasts that are full of milk do strange things.
I never knew my breasts would explode in size when my milk came in, and be rock hard. Like a melon. Or a Metallica album circa 1986. I had no idea it was possible to go from a B cup to a GG cup within 12 hours. No-one told me that my boobs would leak: that if I looked at my baby or even thought about my baby the entire front of my shirt would be soaked. Or that they would explode with milk when I heard any old baby crying – it didn’t even have to be mine. The ability to shoot breastmilk across the room was pretty cool, though. I miss that.
Breastfeeding can hurt. Even if you are doing it right.
Breastfeeding boobs malfunction in so many ways: thrush, blocked ducts, cracked nipples, mastitis, vasospasms. And they hurt. I had no idea that breastfeeding would set off a hormonal chain reaction that led to uterine contractions which felt like early labour, and I didn’t realise that it can be painful even if you are doing it right. With both of my children, breastfeeding was a mostly unpleasant exercise in toe-curling and teeth-gritting for the first 6-9 weeks, while we worked through an assortment of painful-yet-common issues. And then I discovered niplash.
Breastfeeding is really time-consuming.
I had no idea it could take up to an hour to feed a newborn and I was completely oblivious to their intense feeding schedules. I couldn’t believe they needed to feed every three hours. For weeks on end. I spent so much time on the sofa with a baby clamped to my boob that I feared I would never get my life back – until I discovered the joy of pumping. I could now spend hours attached to a breast pump in lieu of dairy cow duties. So liberating! And even better than being hand-milked by a midwife while some random husband sitting directly opposite stared intently at the floor like he was trying to burn a hole through it with his newly discovered eye-lasers. #awkward
Breastfeeding soothes all manner of woes.
So it turns out that boob juice is a marvellous, all-purpose cure for a variety of baby complaints:
Who the @#$% knows? Boob.
There was one more thing I learnt the hard way: I would come to cherish breastfeeding so much that I sobbed inconsolably when I weaned my eldest. I had no idea how special that relationship was going to be, and feel incredibly blessed to have shared it. Signing off with soppy shit and representing for International Breastfeeding Week.