As any mum who has breastfed will know, feeding is the activity around which pretty much every other part of your baby’s life revolves.
He’s not sleeping for any length of time during the night? He’s probably not getting enough to eat during the day (because of improper latching).
He falls asleep on the boob all the time? Improper latching.
World War III breaks out? Improper latching, dammit!
Latching is the bulls-eye in the dartboard of feeding and will consume your every waking thought and conversation during the first weeks, if not considerably longer.
There are (I have heard) mums who find the whole thing a breeze.
I salute these paragons of motherhood and wish them well (whilst grinding my teeth quite hard).
Yes, breastfeeding does give us amazing moments of bonding with our little babies, when your heart melts at the sight of those big eyes looking up at you full of trust. Delightful and definitely what you will remember when you’re looking back on the whole experience.
But it’s also bloody hard work.
Time takes on a whole new dimension when you’re in the breastfeeding zone, particularly in the middle of the night.
It can be painful.
From sore nipples and blocked milk ducts, to engorgement and mastitis. This is a totally new world of sensations in areas that have previously been pretty fun and that you quite liked, and it all feels extremely strange and painful to the point of wanting to give up altogether.
Or having a total stress attack at 3am on day four when your milk is coming in (like a tidal wave) and you send your mildly hysterical husband on a mission impossible to the 24-hour shop for baby formula because you “just can’t do it any more!”
It can also be pretty embarrassing
It’s hard not to feel exposed and vulnerable in hospital when various strangers are poking, prodding and painfully squeezing parts of you which have previously been reserved for purely fun activities. Especially when most of your other bits are either still (blessedly) numb or aching like nothing you’ve ever felt before.
Then come the hilarious comments from various family members/friends who hand over your red-faced, squalling offspring with cries of “He needs the milk-maid!” Ha, ha, ha, ha…(grinds teeth again).
It can be upsetting
It’s difficult not to experience a sense of failure when everyone around you is being so encouraging and showing you what to do but you’re still struggling to produce even a few drops of colostrum.
And you are not the only person on this particular journey. Your mini partner in crime also has no idea what he is doing at first, and will be very vocal about letting you know about your own shortcomings in this department. Yes, he has that little animal instinct that he wants to eat, knows where to find the food that he wants and will quickly learn to suck, but getting him to attach comfortably and successfully each time can be a long, uphill struggle.
Many of your older (and theoretically wiser) relatives and friends will tell you that if you can stick it out for the first six weeks, it will get easier. Which is true, to a certain point, growth spurts, illnesses and a myriad of other possible issues not withstanding. Yes, there is great help available from breastfeeding clinics and health centres, and home visits during the first couple of weeks can provide much needed reassurance and assistance.
But although you know that they are there to help, it can feel a little like an exam when you’re asked to demonstrate your latch technique. This is a totally new skill for you to learn and it’s like being asked to demonstrate a triple axle when you’ve only just bought your first pair of skates and can’t really do them up yet.
Particularly given how quickly the tide can turn on practices such as breastfeeding (one year it’s all about the bottle, the next breast is definitely best) I definitely found it invaluable to have a group of other women who were going through the same experience, at the same time.
At different times we all struggled a little or a lot, and just wanted a bit of reassurance that we were not going totally crazy and would get through it in one piece – even if our boobs would never be the same again!