7 Things I Learnt About Breastfeeding… The Hard Way

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.02.54 pm

I never really thought about breastfeeding before I had kids. I mean, what was there to think about? Baby + breast = breastfeeding. Right?


I had no idea how simplistic that was, and the formula for successful breastfeeding was way more complicated than I’d ever imagined.

Here are seven things I learnt the hard way:

  1. Breastfeeding does not always come naturally.

Books and classes gave no indication that breastfeeding was anything other than “easy and natural”. There was zero attention paid to the fact that breastfeeding can be difficult. And painful. There was no real acknowledgement that breastfeeding could be a jaw-gritting process of trial-and-error; instead, it was sold as a spontaneous miracle of nature, like rainbows and lactating unicorns and babies who sleep through the night. Turns out, like any acquired skill it required a lot of practice, with equal measures of pain, doubt, frustration and anguish.

  1. Breastfeeding can not be taught using hokey props.

During our breastfeeding class we role-played using plastic babies and crocheted breasts with pink floppy nipples. It felt a bit stupid at the time, and in hindsight I realise that it felt stupid because it WAS stupid. Crocheted breasts don’t have flat nipples, engorgement, fast let-down, slow let-down, undersupply or oversupply. Plastic babies don’t have tongue tie or jaundice, and they don’t scream because they can’t attach properly or because the flow of milk is too fast (or slow). In fact, plastic babies are wonderfully compliant. And they don’t bite.

  1. The shape of your nipples is a thing. And it matters.

I never knew how substandard my nipples were until I had a baby, and I discovered this in a most unspectacular fashion at 3am one morning:

Me: (pleads) Why can’t my baby attach properly?

Midwife: You have flat nipples.

Me: (looks down at nipples) What the hell? They’re not flat.

Midwife: Yeah, but they’re not very good for breastfeeding.

It became the first in a long list of complaints I generated with my post-baby body. I was forced to compensate for my inadequate nipples by slapping a plastic cone on them every time I needed to feed, for two kids and 38 months in total.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.06.31 pm

  1. Breasts that are full of milk do strange things.

I never knew my breasts would explode in size when my milk came in, and be rock hard. Like a melon. Or a Metallica album circa 1986. I had no idea it was possible to go from a B cup to a GG cup within 12 hours. No-one told me that my boobs would leak: that if I looked at my baby or even thought about my baby the entire front of my shirt would be soaked. Or that they would explode with milk when I heard any old baby crying – it didn’t even have to be mine. The ability to shoot breastmilk across the room was pretty cool, though. I miss that.

  1. Breastfeeding can hurt. Even if you are doing it right.

Breastfeeding boobs malfunction in so many ways: thrush, blocked ducts, cracked nipples, mastitis, vasospasms. And they hurt. I had no idea that breastfeeding would set off a hormonal chain reaction that led to uterine contractions which felt like early labour, and I didn’t realise that it can be painful even if you are doing it right. With both of my children, breastfeeding was a mostly unpleasant exercise in toe-curling and teeth-gritting for the first 6-9 weeks, while we worked through an assortment of painful-yet-common issues. And then I discovered niplash.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.09.12 pm

  1. Breastfeeding is really time-consuming.

I had no idea it could take up to an hour to feed a newborn and I was completely oblivious to their intense feeding schedules. I couldn’t believe they needed to feed every three hours. For weeks on end. I spent so much time on the sofa with a baby clamped to my boob that I feared I would never get my life back – until I discovered the joy of pumping. I could now spend hours attached to a breast pump in lieu of dairy cow duties. So liberating! And even better than being hand-milked by a midwife while some random husband sitting directly opposite stared intently at the floor like he was trying to burn a hole through it with his newly discovered eye-lasers. #awkward

  1. Breastfeeding soothes all manner of woes.

So it turns out that boob juice is a marvellous, all-purpose cure for a variety of baby complaints:

Hungry? Boob.

Tired? Boob.

Upset? Boob.

Hurt? Boob.

Bored? Boob.

Who the @#$% knows? Boob.

There was one more thing I learnt the hard way: I would come to cherish breastfeeding so much that I sobbed inconsolably when I weaned my eldest. I had no idea how special that relationship was going to be, and feel incredibly blessed to have shared it. Signing off with soppy shit and representing for International Breastfeeding Week.

58 thoughts on “7 Things I Learnt About Breastfeeding… The Hard Way

  1. I’m one of those annoying people who didn’t really have trouble with breastfeeding (no pain etc) but I didn’t enjoy it at all! I did it for about 7 months, will try for longer with no 2, but I just didn’t get the whole bonding thing. Truth be told I think I had a dash of PND going on in there. Anyway I am so impressed you came to love it so much despite the nipple cones and the pain. I hope I get me a bit of that loving it vibe next time.

  2. I am pretty sure I worked through all the hard bits like dodgy latch, resultant undersupply, 1 woeful bout of mastitis and am still waiting, almost 3 years on, to be morphed into the lactating unicorn you describe. It can’t be far off now!

  3. I was convinced it was going to be really hard with my first. He was pretty easy – except for the 2 hourly feed thing. My second, I thought was going to be easy, was 5 months of 2 hourly screaming. Then we gave up. Seriously, nature, sort yourself out!

  4. I seriously wish breastfeeding classes were more reality based. I had no clue it was even possible not to make enough milk to exclusively breast feed before I had my twins. You just will I was told! Well I didn’t. Fuck I was devastated too. It’s amazing how betrayed you can feel by your body. Hormones. Thanks fer nothin!

    • Absolutely. Looking back, it was like they were too reluctant to admit any of the negative possibilities. I went to a breastfeeding friendly hospital which was fantastic, but they really did push it in a single-minded way.

  5. Oh we’re on the same page for boob is the answer for every baby demand. I never had a tight strict schedule of feeding times. Just a rough idea and made my boys fit in with me. If the boob works go with it was my motto! I was a jersey cow for milk, I truly thought (being an a cup to a proud c) I’d be rewarded for all my milk leaks, hard boobs and sore nipples with permanent size c cups, but alas no! They shrivelled back up and continue to hide in my push up bra. Haha! Very lucky to have been able to do it. Enjoyed the bonding moments.

  6. I will never look at a cabbage leaf the same way again! And I forgot about the biting – thanks for bringing back the lovely memories of when my tornadoes first got their teeth… I too sobbed when Mr TT weaned because I knew it would probably be the last time I breastfed (no more tornadoes planned for this house). I just count myself as very lucky that I was able to do it and enjoy doing it.

  7. I think the idea that breastfeeding is easy is nothing more than an urban myth and it was probably propagated by men. As for the crochet breasts, are they for real?!

  8. Great post! I was going to write one similar and now I don’t have to! It totally didn’t come naturally to me at all. The first time was a fail (I had an impatient baby who refused to latch – too time consuming!) so I pumped for 4 months instead and the second one I managed to breastfeed no problem (well, minimal fuss anyway! It still hurt like a b**** to begin with!). One thing I would add is that not all babies are the same, you can have issues with one and no problems with the next like I did.

  9. There were no lactating unicorns at CAsa East World either. There was, however, cracked nipples, nipple shields, low supply, oversupply and repeated mastistis! Raffles wasn’t a great latcher, probably because he wanted a plate of lobster thermidor or freshly baked fairy with unicorn juice icing instead. Sugarpuff, AKA The Sucubus, was the opposite and drained me with the fervour of a baby Nosferatu every time she attached and would leave me wilted and weakened on the floor. But although it hurt, a lot, for months, I managed to breast feed them for 18 plus months each and, like you, when it was time to wean (both times led by them) I was devastated. Bloody ingrates! 😉

  10. Boob is the answer for everything! Well, for newborns anyway. I also miss the superhero power of shooting milk across the room. They were pretty awesome times. Thanks for a great read. x

  11. I think the early days of breastfeeding was the single most hardest thing I’ve ever done, even harder than giving birth for me. “Venus Engorgement” is a thing and I got it both times, huge boobs (when normally I have nadda) with nothing coming out, cabbage leaves, frozen peas, frozen nappies, lactation consultants squeezing colustrum into a syringe – dignity was left far behind. I’ve never been able to feel the same way about my boobs since, I persevered for 7 months both times and was sad to end it as I did love the bonding and having that tiny baby looking up at you. I ended it when teeth came though! x

    • Oh, shit I spent HOURS hand expressing colostrum into a syringe too. Fuck, that sucked. It all came as such a shock to me. You finally get through a long pregnancy, go through the hideous labour and birth and then this breastfeeding shit hits you when you are already at your lowest. And most exhausted. It was not something I was expecting to be so hard – it was a massive learning curve!

  12. I was fortunate not to have too many issue breastfeeding, apart from not really enjoying it as much as I thought I would. It took me a while to get over the feeling that there was something wrong with me. But I fed my first for 9 months and second for 7 months so we managed okay. I do miss the close cuddles it brings though.

  13. I have had no issues with breastfeeding but am so supportive of my friends who do. It definitely doesn’t come naturally to all and there are so many factors that determine whether you can breastfeed or can’t. Thank God for formula and the ability to feed our babies. This is a great post and should be shared on all baby sites! x

    • Thanks Bec! I wish more people had that attitude – this is one of those issues that really brings out the “judgey” in people. Everyone does the best they can for their kids and their families, and every situation is different. End of story.

  14. The pain first time around was horrific. No one told me I could possibly be holding my breath and counting backwards from 10 each time I had a let down. Luckily this time around was nothing like the first and I was able to just get them out to heal all. I have weened Leni now because I couldn’t keep up the supply when I was run down so I found it hard to manage. I am still carrying random leaky boobs though. It feels like a waste when I wake up with a wet pj top.

  15. Oh yeah, you are so right on all of these! Luckily she is down to 3 feeds a day and they only take 10 mins but I remember when she was a newborn and I’d feed her for a good hour! But the pain is still there for me now… biting… grrh for teeth! She’s 10 months now so Im weaning her. Sad times 😦

  16. Boobs, amazing things really! I count myself lucky that mine have never leaked, I’ve had friends who sprayed all over the room when their babies were at that curious stage of constantly unlatching.
    It made me tears for a long time to look back on the last time that I breastfed my son, because I didn’t know it was the last time. Of course there was no break, my daughter was born the next day..

    • Yeah, it’s funny… I knew with my first that it was our last feed because I had to wean for IVF, so it was a massive milestone moment. With my second, there was no such pressure so we just kind of tapered off naturally, and I didn’t even realise at the time it was our last feed. I can’t even remember it!

  17. SO MUCH YES. All of it. And on top of my deformed and malfunctioning boobs, I also had the joys of hormonal migraines in the first few days of breastfeeding. Fark. It is such a freaking tough gig. But so powerful all at once. Great post, as always lady. x

  18. I was never able to breastfeed properly. Tried three times and only ever lasted three weeks at most. I personally didn’t enjoy it (there were lots of issues for me) but I still tried each time. It is not a natural thing to do and I’m in awe of everyone who can work through the issues and successfully breastfeed. You are all amazing!!!!

  19. Possibly the only time in my life I’ll ever again be able to lay on the lounge for hours at a time and be waited on hand and foot. ‘Water! I need water!’ Sigh… I did enjoy breastfeeding once the initial eye-popping pain phase passed, but after 15 months feeding my second bub I didn’t feel too sentimental about hanging up my maternity bra for good. The biting helped with that.

  20. I really wish that the midwives at my hospital had told me that it was normal to feel pain for about 6 weeks. I gave up after a week with my first child. With my second, I was at a different hospital where they explained the 6 week rule and they were spot on- at 6 weeks, the pain stopped and we continued with breastfeeding until 13 months. With my last child, no pain whatsoever. It’s so frustrating to think that because of a misinformed so-called professional, I gave up breastfeeding my eldest. Great to share this info with other mums! Persist, it does improve, but don’t feel guilty if you can’t.

    • This seems to be a very common reaction. Lots of us are led to believe that breastfeeding kind of happens automatically and seamlessly, when the reality is often very different. It actually seems more common for people to struggle, than to get it right straight away. That is the biggest myth that needs busting.

  21. What a huge surprise it was to find out how difficult breastfeeding was for me.. Grazed, bleeding, nipple shields, lanolin… oh my. I was told by the health nurse to hang in there until she was 6 weeks old as it would get easier and it did. I wish someone would have told be how difficult it was going to be.

  22. I learned I have unusually large areolas…. I made this discovery with my first baby because every time I’d be breastfeeding my son and a midwife walked into the room she’d tutt tutt and take him off me and then grab my boob and his head and attempt to mash them together because apparently he didn’t have enough nipple in his mouth – despite sucking beautifully and zero discomfort.

    It happened again with my second baby but as the midwife grabbed my boob – without consent – I said “whoa, I’ve got this”. Apparently my babies don’t look attached, when they are.

    And yeah, I also had NO IDEA how time consuming breastfeeding was. Or how often babies fed. Or that “feeding 2 hourly” really meant – feeding for an hour, not feeding for an hour, feeding for an hour, not feeding for an hour…. and so on.

    • ZOMG yes, the feeding times. Seriously, that is so whacked and a total evolutionary fail. And LOL, there is nothing like pregnancy and childbirth to make you realise just how messed up your body can be.

  23. Yes to all of this.

    By my third baby, I was actually grateful that breastfeeding was so time-consuming. It gave me a chance to hide from my other two kids – and more often than not, get out of doing the dishes each evening. Best.

  24. I had so many issues with my first. Then the second one comes along and I think I’ve got it nailed – until I actually do it, and have BREASTFEEDING NAUSEA. No shit, I nearly puked on the baby every single time for six months.

Leave a Reply to hugzillablog Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s