Someone asked me the other day what the hardest thing about having Ollie was and I can absolutely definitely say – breastfeeding. Why on earth does that cruel bitch Mother Nature make something so natural, that every animal in the world manages to do, so blooming painful?
When Ollie was born the midwife put him on me to feed, oh don’t worry I totally left my dignity at the door when I entered that birthing centre, he suckled and we thought everything was great. That was until the next morning when I realised my nipples were turning a lovely shade of purple. I had the latch wrong and he was actually consuming my skin! The nurse told me just to bear with it and it would get better – “all new mothers go through this to start with” she said. Oh really?? I totally understand why so many people reach for the nearest bottle at this point but I was stubborn and determined I wanted to breastfeed my baby.
It got to the stage when I dreaded feeding, my toes would actually involuntarily curl in pain and I would grimace and writhe about in agony as Ollie fed. The biggest problem was feeding him would make him poo and he would then have a total meltdown as I changed him so the only way to calm him was… yes grimace and feed him – ouch doesn’t even come close.
My lowest point came when Ollie was 5 days old and I could bear the pain no longer so I expressed some milk, only to find it was pink in colour – yes it was so bad there was actually blood in the milk. Through my tears I called the breastfeeding helpline number I had been given, just the start of ‘things you think you will never need to do’. It was Easter Sunday so nowhere was open but there was an emergency session happening nearby so I packed up my little bundle of screams and headed down to a local bookshop where I sat with a coffee and my boobs out so a lady could hand lactate me – and that wasn’t the strangest thing – the strangest thing was the whole experience felt entirely normal. I have never ever ever gone topless before, not even on a beach in Ibiza, I am a pretty coy person but had no qualms about sitting in a book shop with my boobs out! It was almost as if they weren’t attached to my body anymore or really anything to do with me. They were the source of Ollie’s nutrients and that was all that mattered.
The breastfeeding expert, or boob whisperer (as I liked to call her) showed me how to get the latch right and finally, I’m not going to lie, after a few more days of toe curing pain, we got the hang of it. Before I knew it Ollie was feeding from me every 3 hours and my toes were staying straight and there were no tears from either of us.
The next challenge was feeding in front of people, I had all the scarves and everything but still ended up hiding in the toilets to feed if we were out – I just couldn’t whip out my boobs in front of anyone – especially not friends husbands. One day we went for breakfast in a very busy cafe and Ollie decided he wanted breakfast too so I positioned the scarf and started to feed, the scarf slipped, my husband shouted that I was exposed, everyone looked, I went bright red and then the tears started – involuntary, overtired, overemotional, irrational tears – god they were bastards those moments – so it was back to the toilet cubical wherever we were!
A few weeks later a friend gave me a better scarf, this was amazing, it hid everything you wanted to hide without suffocating Ollie and I could see what was going on as well – it was fantastic. I ended up using this scarf wherever we went – problem solved. I managed to keep a little bit of dignity while feeding my child – even in front of male friends!
I went on to solely breastfeed Ollie until he was seven months old and grew teeth – I didn’t fancy being bitten and, after much negotiation, Ollie finally agreed to take a bottle.
The reason I am writing this is just to tell people it does get easier. For being one of the most basic, natural human instincts – to feed your young – it isn’t always easy and painless – it is bloody hard but it really does get easier and is so so worth it if you can get through those horrible first weeks.
As an aside, if you can’t breastfeed – as a lot of mothers just can’t – it isn’t the end of the world, it doesn’t change anything, formula is amazing and most importantly you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it at all and in any way. I would love to see anyone be able to identify the difference in how any child was fed – either breast or bottle – I have the upmost respect and admiration for anyone who manages to bring up a child at all.