Monday, 11 March 2013

New Mum Week 1: How I conquered breastfeeding : Suckleberry Finn

I wanted to call this blog "Strictly Come Sucking" - but I was concerned that it might give off the wrong impression should it do the rounds on Google+. This last week, my first week with my new baby, has been all about one thing and one thing only - Breasts! And that got me athinkin about dancing! (bear with me).

Dancing is something that the majority of us feel comes naturally. Some of us have better rhythm than others - but put on "Wake me up before you go go" and we can all click our fingers and shuffle side to side. We don't need 'lessons' before we have a bop and a boogie at a Wedding. I don't want to blow my own trumpet - but I think I'm quite a good dancer. I think I can feel the music and do the hustle with the best of them. I sit at home, mostly eating, watching a show like "Strictly Come Dancing" and think "Pah! I could do that! Easy. I'd be hitting those tens! No problem".

The reality is that I would rock up on the first day of training and the professional dancer would spit in my face at my arrogance before wiping it off with several sheets of intricate mathematical impossible steps that need to be mastered. My point (I told you I had one) is that there are some things in life that 'look' easy, effortless if you will - but turn out to be flipping difficult. This week I found out that breast feeding is one of them.

I am ashamed to say that when I saw a leaflet for "Breast feeding classes" I really did laugh. Firstly - I couldn't think of anything worse than sitting with a load of strangers discussing our boobs. Secondly - If a class was say 30 minutes, I couldn't possibly imagine what would happen after the first two minutes of "Put baby to breast". What did people do for the other 28 minutes? In my head, breast feeding is something that anything with teats can do! Some of the stupidest looking mammals in the world do it innately - so the idea that an advanced human (yes, that's me) would have any trouble doing it was ludicrous to say the least.

As soon as I was able to hold my son I was asked to breast feed him as it promotes bonding. I obliged - an odd sensation - and a wonderful one. I felt very motherly, very womanly. The midwife seemed happy with what I was doing and I thought "Piece of cake! Just like I thought". I was to stay in hospital for a few days and I breast fed my little man on the first day and he appeared happy and all was well. One midwife who popped her head around the curtain even commented "Oooh, you look like a picture from a breastfeeding magazine. Lovely alignment". And I beamed! The equivalent of Len Goodman bellowing "SEVEN!" 

"Yes, all come see me, all hail moi! - Mother Earth - as I nourish my newborn with my milky delight. As I give fuel from my own breast! As I literally enrich my young. As my life gives life to ... this new life. Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural .. woman!" 

A night later, at our home, my partner and I experienced what would become "The Night". Notorious to us now as the night that our baby cried none stop. There was nothing we could do, there was no settling him. There was no 'filling' him. I passed him from left breast to right,  from left to right, from left to right. My nipples ached, they bled, I wept, the baby screeched, my partner and I looked at each other, through exhausted eyes with utter bewilderment on our shattered  faces. While my partner went to the supermarket to look longingly at tubs of formula, I took to Twitter pleading for help. What was I doing wrong? The majority of answers were that my baby "could not be latching on properly".  But I knew that couldn't be right!

The next day the Maternity Support Worker appeared and observed me breast feeding.
I was doing it wrong.
I had no idea.

Telling a new mum that her baby has not latched on properly is second, I feel, to telling a woman she is fat. The bearer of this news is only trying to help (Mother) - but all we can feel is utterly insulted. 

And if that wasn't bad enough, our little man had lost a little too much weight. Never have I felt so terrible, useless or stupid. I was a big fat failure and I was failing my son - and we were only on day 3. I couldn't do what cats and pigs can do! I couldn't perform the most natural and basic act there was. The Support worker told me to keep a breast feeding journal of when I was feeding him and how long and which breast I was using (I shall be auctioning this off shortly - makes fascinating reading). I constructed a large chart like the Teacher's pet I am and went to work. She showed me a better position - it's all about the positioning darling! 

She told me that soon my milk would come through and I would have "Dolly Parton Breasts". "Yes," I said, "It has already come through". To which she suspiciously eyed my breasts whilst raising one eyebrow and doing a face that wreaked of "How small were they before?" A day later I realised that my milk had not really come through at all - I had been wrong about that too. As my breasts, overnight, had literally doubled, doubled again, tripled, and doubled again! (If I was better at maths, I am sure there is a more succinct way of saying that!) To put it plainly - they are now stupidly big and ridiculously heavy (there is nothing sexy about this FYI).

My main issue with breastfeeding was the conflicting information, the terminology and the metaphors used to describe the process. At the hospital I was told by my midwife that I should make sure I swap him from left to right to make sure that both breasts were producing milk and I didn't limit to just one. The support worker then told me that I shouldn't change from left to right so often - I should do up to 20 minutes on the left and then 20 minutes on the right. My community midwife then asked why I wasn't swapping breasts enough. I have a degree! It can't be that difficult to understand! 

I pleaded with each health care professional to explain where I was going wrong and they ALL, without fail, started off on an analogy about a meal with a soup course - followed by roast beef and ending in chocolate pudding. By day 5 I had heard this metaphorical tale from the Health visitor, the community midwife, the support worker and a few hospital midwives and nurses. I would sit with tears in my eyes saying I just didn't get it and they would start "Well, when we go to a restaurant we have the soup course,  then we move on to the roast beef, and the chocolate pudding is the best bit!" Yes, I am aware of this - but how does this help me? 

I set to work and a day later showed my breastfeeding journal to my midwife - hope in my blood shot eyes .... and it was wrong. I wasn't spending long enough on the right boob/left boob and he wasn't getting his God Damn Chocolate pudding. She kept bleating at me about him not getting a proper 'feeeeeed'. "Is this correct?" I would say - pointing at my record of minutes of time that the baby spent on my breast. "Well, it's not a good 'feeeeeeed'!" She would say. 

"Well dear, a feed would be about 20 minutes" 
"Well no, not necessarily 20 minutes every time."
"Well, no dear, you see, there's a soup course, and a beef course..."

Oh Lord give me strength. 

"Just follow your instincts" she said. 

And that was the best piece of advice she gave me. That evening, from out of no where, it just clicked. I finally understood! All this time I had been thinking a 'Feed' was anytime that the baby made contact with a nipple. Whether that be 5 minutes or 10. I viewed that as a 'feed'. I also viewed my breasts as two separate restaurants. For example - the left was a 'Pizza Express', the right was a 'Nandos'! This was wrong. 

What I should have been doing was viewing my baby as a dinner guest and I was in charge of that dinner. I, not he, would say "Ok, you look hungry- time for a meal! And a good meal should be at least 20 minutes (not spread over hours - over a typical meal time). Just as you might sit a ten year old down at the table and say "You're not playing your game until you have finished your dinner" - you say to your baby, "Ok, you are going to have a good meal (feeeeeed) for at least 20 minutes." 

My breasts too were not two separate eateries. They were one! I am one restaurant! 'Nipple Express'! And instead of following scientific dance steps (left-left-right-left-left-right) I should have just been feeling which one was better. I should have thrown those rules away and just used my instincts. It clicked. I just got it. 

48 hours later our baby was weighed again - and to our relief and overwhelming joy - he had put on weight. So much weight that the Maternity Support Worker signed us off. He had gone from below target to above target - and we could all breathe a massive sigh of full fat dairy infused relief.

What I have learnt this week is that if it hurts a lot and you are in agony and have bleeding nipples - you are not doing it right. As hard as that is to accept or hear. It should curl your toes for the first 3-4 seconds the little vampire bites - but then it should be pain free. I have also learnt that people in the online community and other mothers can be exceedingly supportive of you if you bring up this subject. I have learnt that I was, not for the first time in my life, stupidly arrogant and ignorant to expect that I didn't need to research and learn about this subject before I gave birth. I have learnt that when you get it right - it feels amazing. I am now living my life as a giddy milk optic! And now I don't need to use a stopwatch or worry about which breast is best - he stays on one for around 30 minutes and sleeps like the proverbial baby! 

Now I feel I have not incorporated enough breastfeeding puns into this blog - so I will shove them all in here at the end. Breast feeding sucks. Had the worst week in recent mammary. I felt like a right tit. But I think I have now got the right formula. Now I am simply the breast. Goodnight and teat dreams.  

Oooh, the tiniest vampire is stirring in his crypt, I mean crib. Someone wants his soup course. Excuse me.


  1. oh gosh, you poor thing! if people had been bleating that half arsed advice at me I'd have thrown the bloody kitchen sink at them! Soup course indeed!

    I tend to let them feed till they detach, then swap them. and for the next 'feeeeed' I start off on the breast I last used.

    This whole thing about fore milk and hind milk is actually a bit of myth, research is now showing. The fat content does gradually increase over the time of a nursing, but it's not as clear cut as previously thought, it's just that breast milk separates if expressed and left!

    Advice is very conflicting. It used to be to offer both breasts at each feed, then it was only offer one, now it's back to offering both.

    Added to the fact that babies and breast milk is designed by evolution to be little and often and you can have babies feeding for short times very often, or long on and off times yet being advised that they *should* be feeding for twenty minutes every four hours like bottle fed babies which is, to be honest, absolute rubbish.

    So WELL DONE for sticking with it and fingers crossed it's plain sailing from here on!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story - I really enjoyed reading (and I love the idea of Nando's and Pizza Express boobs, brilliant!)

    I understand what you are saying about learning and researching before birth, but really I don't think anything can prepare you - as you say it's very difficult for a health professional to actually describe to you what a 'feed' should be!

    I think perhaps the biggest problem is the medicalisation of it all - if mothers were just allowed to relax and snuggle with their babies as nature intended, it would be a lot easier to just follow their instincts as you describe.

    Good luck with your breastfeeding journey, and I'll look forward to reading more of your posts x


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