Breastfeeding is something that gets pretty much rammed down our throats from the second we pee on a stick and those magic blue lines appear.
Once the excitement (hopefully!) has died down and you get to reading up on what this pregnancy thing actually means for you and your life, breastfeeding is the thing that comes up time and time again.
You research maternity clothes, and find most have some kind of nursing access too for after the baby is born. You buy baby books and they inform you that breast is best. You meet your midwife, and they explain why breast milk is the tits, so to speak.
But what’s the reality of breastfeeding? Two kids in and I have learned the secrets to mastering this dark art, but I can tell you, it ain’t pretty. Here is the truth about breastfeeding.
1. It hurts
No one explained to me the various ways in which breastfeeding can hurt. I had no clue it would be so uncomfortable.
About one week in to breastfeeding my second child I would wince whenever she latched on because it felt like someone had taken a razor blade to my nipple.
Then she surprised me six months in when she started to bite down, prompting a big four-letter outburst from me and a lot of tears from her. It took ages to heal and it hurt like hell.
People may tell you that if breastfeeding hurts, you’re not doing it right. This is not a helpful statement to a mother surviving on one hour’s sleep and worrying she’s already f***ing it all up.
The fact is that while you’re learning to breastfeed, and most people do need to learn it, it will hurt. Getting through the pain is hard, you wouldn’t see a man carry on doing something that gave him a kick in the nuts every two hours. This is why women carry the children!
2. The leaking
I remember waking up in the middle of the night shortly after my first was born to find myself soaking wet. I was covered in breastmilk and my boobs were enormous.
I had no idea that when your milk “comes in” it’s like a tsunami.
It’s also incredible how far your milk can squirt. Your letdown, where the milk is squeezed out of the breast by your milk ducts, can be surprisingly powerful.
My second baby would often be overwhelmed by it and pull off the breast without warning, squirting milk halfway across the room. Not great when you’re out for coffee, though it saves people getting up to ask for extra milk from the waiter.
3. You lose any sense of shame
My boobs were manipulated and squeezed by pretty much every midwife on the ward after I had my first baby.
I was so desperate for help I really didn’t care. Please grab my boobs and help me, this baby just will not feed properly!
4. Engorgement is hell
Sometimes you get a clogged duct or overly engorged because your baby hasn’t fed for longer than usual.
This can leave you with a middle of the night dilemma. Do I leave the baby to sleep on for goodness knows how long while I lie here in agony, or do I wake them up and risk them not going back to sleep at all tonight. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Anyone who has tried hand expressing will know that when you’re engorged it hurts like hell and doesn’t solve the problem anywhere near fast enough.
5. It’s bloody hard to get that latch right
Your baby is born knowing that milk comes out of your boobs, however for some reason many are born not knowing how to latch on without causing pain and in a way that enables them to access the milk. This is an evolution fail!
Working on the latch is exhausting and frustrating at a time when everything is exhausting and frustrating enough as it is.
6. It’s thirsty, and hungry, work
I would drain pint after pint of water and raid the fridge at regular intervals throughout the day.
It’s like you’re still pregnant, without the excuse of a baby for your tight jeans.
7. Most people are nice, some are dicks
When feeding in public the overwhelming response from fellow human beings is either indifference or helpfulness. Some may even bring you a glass of water.
However some people believe breastfeeding shouldn’t be done anywhere and everywhere. These people are known as a***holes.
Apparently it’s ok to have a big breasted woman in a tight tank top flaunt her cleavage with pride, but heaven forbid she stick a baby onto those boobs and use them for what they’re actually there for.
8. Everyone says “it gets easier”
I was peddled this line even by people who never breastfed their kids. It is indeed true though, it does get easier.
The problem is it takes several weeks to get easier, and those weeks feel like years. The crying, cluster feeding and pain make it a real ordeal.
9. Stopping is hard
You may find yourself constantly changing your mind about stopping.
Should I keep going to six months? Should I do it for a year? When you do decide you’re ready to stop, then emotion comes into it.
You start to feel sad about stopping, and worry you’ll miss the closeness with your baby.
Once you’re over that it’s then the practicality of stopping. If you’re baby has never tried a bottle they will probably put up a lengthy and angry protest. Plus there’s all the engorgement to deal with as you drop feeds.
10. There is no one-size-fits-all guide
Every baby and every mother is different, therefore every breastfeeding journey is different.
If you find breastfeeding too much, that’s cool.
If you decide to only breastfeed while lying down, great.
If you decide to breastfeed for one week, well done.
If you choose to breastfeed for one year and beyond, nice one.
If you decide to exclusively pump your little one’s feeds, good for you.
There is plenty of advice out there, but use your instincts as with all other areas. Feed how you want and for as long as you want. Try to drown out any noise that makes you feel negative about yourself.
Do you have any advice for breastfeeding mummies? I would love to hear from you.