We were in the hospital for four nights when I was recuperating from my c-section, and Oscar slept a lot – which I only really realized was a lot once we got home because he certainly doesn't sleep like that any more! He was also constantly at the breast. He was (and still is) a very hungry little thing, and his need to be on my boob from minute one was simply relentless.
I've always said to myself that I would breastfeed. And I've always assumed that I would be able to, that it would be one of the most natural things in the world. Boy, was I living in fantasy land. Again.
I had read loads and loads about breastfeeding – the physiology behind it, the benefits, the techniques – and I was a bit nervous, mainly because I was worried that it would hurt and I wouldn't be able to stand it. But I never thought I would find it as difficult as it turned out to be.
When I first fed Oscar some colustrum when I was in recovery from surgery, it did hurt. I needed help to get it working because I was lying down, and the nurse squeezing my nipples was painful but it was also a relief to see the clear liquid coming out. There wasn't much, but it was a start for him, and I felt better once I knew that I was at least producing something. I never had any leakage before when I was pregnant, you see, so I was worried I didn't have anything in there.
Anyway, according to common wisdom and techniques, breastfeeding has to be learnt – by both of you – and at the beginning, it can be a bit painful, because your nipples aren't used to it and need to toughen up. It's all about the latch, I was told, and the best way to get a good latch is to get the nipple and as much of your boob into the baby's mouth as you can, when his mouth is at its widest. And you need to shove it in there quick, because if it's closing when you do it and he latches just onto the nipple alone, it can hurt. That is what is known as a "bad latch". And, according to my mother (who does know about these things), if the latch hurts, then the baby's on wrong.
I was determined to get it right, and so in the early days I was careful to set about it by ensuring I was sitting comfortably, and he was positioned correctly across my lap, "shaped like a croissant" (thanks Mum). Meanwhile, he would be ducking and diving his head in his mouth around the bullseye that was my areola. I started coaxing him with the words, 'Come on darling, big mouth for mummy now,' before waiting for the opportune wide and gaping maw and striking with the mouthful.
We were lucky, he was a good learner when it came to the latch, often sighing with huge relief once he was on and sucking greedily, but even so, for a few days I did have latching issues. And they recurred again down the line but more about that some other time.
Oscar fed constantly those first few weeks – at least every two hours, and it seemed my boobs would never get used to it. I went through large quantities of pure lanolin cream to try and protect them from all the action, on many occasions it wasn't even fully absorbed into my skin before he was on there feeding again. I would chuckle to myself as he fell off the breast, milk drunk and drowsy, his face shiny with nipple cream, completely oblivious to the havoc he had caused in our lives.
As it happened, breastfeeding wasn't the only thing I found difficult to handle in the early weeks – there was plenty more where that came from. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the whole experience of welcoming a newborn baby into the world – and into your life – is a shock that nothing can prepare you for. Maybe that's just me. Or is it?