Minutes after giving birth to my first child, it was clear my breasts were no longer my own. As soon as the midwives cleaned her up, they took hold of my breast and nipple, placing my new baby firmly on top of both. Within seconds she was sucking away. I was relieved. Breastfeeding was something I’d hoped to do. Love drunk, full of endorphins and morphine, I stared in awe at this amazing little person attached to me. Apparently she was “a good sucker.”
The baby stayed in that position for hours. Every now and again I’d feel a little tugging and pulling sensation as she latched on in-between naps. As the initial ecstatic loved up hours went by, the toe curling pain began to set in. The tickly, tugging sensation was replaced with a feeling more akin to being sliced with razor blades. My nipples began to crack, one started to bleed. It was agony. It seemed like self-harm to keep placing the baby back onto my red raw, cracked, bleeding nipples. This couldn’t be right, I must be doing something wrong.
My sister (breastfeeder to 3 herself), stressed to me the importance of using Lanisoh cream before and after feeds. I did as I was told. Mum was staying with us and also encouraged me to persevere, promising the pain would ease and it would be worth it in the end (breastfeeder to 3 herself).
I did as I was told again. What did I know? This baby thing was a whole new world to me, one in which I was learning the truly amazing capabilities of my body for the first time in my life. My body had made, grown and housed a little human. My boobs had suddenly started producing milk, apparently to provide enough nourishment to sustain this little human for the next few months. This still amazes me. It’s all so natural, so why does it hurt like hell?
I remember references to milk ‘coming in’ on day 3 in the antenatal classes. Mine followed this rule to the letter. Day three, I stood up to go to the bathroom and nearly fell to the ground with the weight of the two balloons hanging from my chest. Not blessed with the largest of breasts previously, this was a new one for me. I looked down, initially in shock at the enormity of them, followed by a little internal smiling at my perfect, round, enormous boobs and then…ouch! Throbbing, heavy, achy, hard and sore.
After day three, the thick creamy colostrum turned into a more familiar type of milk, the kind of milk I was used to pouring on my cereal. It was at this point I experienced 'engorgement'. My body, not yet in tune with the baby's needs went into overdrive, producing more milk than the containers could cope with as the milk leaked out of my nipples.
I picked up my baby to feed her and within seconds she was coughing and spluttering, drowning in a fountain of milk as it squirted in her face and down her throat. I felt an instant relief as my balloons began to soften and deflate. Meanwhile my little bubba was doing her best to keep going, gasping for air and pulling away at regular intervals.
It was soon thereafter that I learned the benefits of cold cabbage leaves on engorged breasts.
As often as I’d craved larger boobs throughout different phases of my life, I wasn’t too keen on the heaviness and discomfort that went along with these two treasures. It soon became apparent that breastfeeding breasts were about the furthest thing from sexy imaginable. I was a soaking, soggy, sore, cabbage smelling breastfeeding mummy.
Luckily, within a couple of weeks things improved. Lanisoh, gritted teeth and some hard core nipple weathering enabled the rawness of my nipples to ease and the cracking to heal. As the engorgement happened less, so too did the need for cabbage leaves down my bra.The leaky boobs continued, however less frequently, as my milk supply became more in sync with my daughter's demand. At the early stages of breastfeeding I daren’t leave the house without a breast pad firmly in place. On the odd occasion I forgot, I’d find myself blissfully unaware of a big wet patch spreading its way through my bra and across my top.
I am currently breastfeeding my second child. My breastfeeding experience has, on the whole, been similar. I was lucky to have two “good suckers.” I've surprised myself with my comfort and ease at breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere when my babies require.
In the beginning I awkwardly covered up in an effort to preserve my own modesty and ease others’ embarrassment. As my breastfeeding journey has progressed I’ve relaxed, and sometimes, in a panic to get the screaming baby to my boob – I just forget to cover up all together. My youngest currently climbs on me and helps herself, no care in the world for where we are or who is around.
To me it’s the most natural thing in the world- just as we use our mouths to eat and our feet to walk, breasts are a vessel with which to provide babies with the food and nourishment they need for the first few months of their precious lives as well as offering them comfort.
Often breastfeeding is ‘on the go’, when the baby is in the carrier, or I'm on the phone, typing on the laptop, eating etc. However, now and again I’m stopped in my tracks, suddenly aware of her presence. I feel her stroking or patting my chest, fiddling with my necklace. I look down at her, her mouth swallowing up my breast, and I see my child. Her vulnerability and need for me never more apparent than at this moment. My love for her and the connection we share ours alone. I tickle her leg and see her eye glisten, a quivering smile forming at the side of her mouth. The smile forces her to pause sucking, however she doesn’t let go. If I could bottle up this moment and save it forever, I would.
My youngest daughter (15 months) is a breastaholic. As I mentioned, she climbs on me to help herself whenever she fancies a top-up. As soon as access has been granted and my boobs are in her sight, she squeals delightedly jumping up and down in joy.
We have now reached a point where I am having to accept the time has come to wean her. The reasons for this are practical: I often breastfeed her to sleep, so she now depends on it to get to sleep, making it impossible for my husband to put her to bed, leaving him feeling frustrated at not being able to comfort her.
The end of this era brings mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, I’m looking forward to a little more freedom, hopeful she will learn to self-settle and be less attached to me. On the other hand, I’m completely heartbroken to be ending the beautiful connection and special time together that only we have shared.
Whilst I’m sure there are many people whose preference is not to breastfeed, I do have friends who have not been as fortunate as me with their experiences. The initial pain too much to bear, unable to produce enough milk, the baby not latching on properly or continual bouts of agonising mastitis.
As my mummy journey continues, the fact that all babies and mummies are different, is continually reinforced. Some can't do as they wish, some wish different things. I wished to breastfeed and was fortunate to be able to do so. Breastfeeding gave me, my boobs and them (my babies) so much more than just milk. I will always be grateful for that unique bond we shared.