“That can’t be right. Is it the wrong way up?” The first time I tried to breastfeed, I studied a rudimentary sketch of a round circle (a breast), a smaller circle in the middle (a nipple), and a scribbled blue ink outline of a baby’s mouth, then tried to force my actual, real-life baby into position to fit the drawing.
What on earth was I doing? Trying to get her to latch properly – and that was only the start of it. Breastfeeding: it isn’t as easy as it looks. And believe me, everyone looks.
Here are just a few things you’ll only know if you’re a breastfeeding mama.
1. What it’s like when your milk comes in. It’s day three and holy hell, your boobs are like footballs. Actual balls that have been pumped up too full of air and grafted to the front of your chest. You will stand transfixed for hours, looking into the mirror. They will be hard and lumpy and you will probably cry a lot. But don’t worry, you got this.
2. It hurts. It really hurts. Nipple shields, numbing cream, cabbage leaves left in the freezer for hours – none of it makes much difference. Those first few latches still have you gritting your teeth until your jaw aches, wanting to scream as though you’ve put your hand through a window. Because that’s what it feels like: broken glass. Oh, and the blisters... who knew nipples could blister? Grim.
3. Lanolin nipple cream is the only stuff that works. Slather if on, bathe in it. Don’t bother with “organic rosebud home-grown nipple cream”, you want the really good stuff. Baby can feed on it, too.
4. Babies smell you and crawl towards your boob. They will throw their head at you and frantically peck your neck or shoulder to get at you. Like a tiny, blood-sucking vampire. Baby may also try to latch on to other people’s nipples, too – including your other half’s. This hurts, do not try this at home.
5. There is such a thing as the ‘slidey boob’. You’re hot, you’re bothered, you’re leaking – fresh milk is hella slippery. That little mouth greedily rooting around under your jumper slips around all over the place and sometimes (usually in the middle of a busy café) slides right off, leaving you exposed and gushing like a fountain.
6. Beautiful nipples are a thing of the past. Oh, how I mourn for my perky, 20-something points. I would’ve got them out all the time, had I known what would happen to them – on the beach, at the local lido, even sashaying down the high street. It’s actually fairly terrifying to pull away once baby is latched on because the nipple keeps stretching. And stretching. Like Play-Doh (though at least Play-Doh can be squished back into shape).
7. Breast pumps can be a pain. You’ll suffer the ignominy. The sound, like a cow labouring for hours. We are bovine, ladies.
8. Your boobs will tell you when it’s time for a feed. With that intense stabbing, pins and needles aching, dull throbbing. Wait too long and they’ll let everyone else know, too. Did someone say wet patches? And, if you sneak a night out on the wines, you’ll end up having to manually pump in the toilets at a Thai restaurant on your best friend’s hen do to both release the pressure and get rid of the alcohol-contaminated supply before going back to dance to Beyonce... or so I’ve heard.
9. Labelling expressed milk before putting it in the fridge is pretty important. Especially if you’re pumping in the office toilets. Or don’t – and let Dave from accounts (who always steals everyone else’s lunch) add it to his coffee, just for the lols. Cheers, Dave!
“If you sneak a night out on the wines, you’ll end up having to manually pump in the toilets at a Thai restaurant on your best friend’s hen do."”
10. Getting hot and bothered means your baby will, too. He or she will start flailing around with one or both arms, determined to expose your naked breast despite that ridiculous modesty cape you paid £29.99 for online. It’s like a pop-up tent with poles around the neck, and your baby is a stiff gust of wind.
11. Babies can burp and be sick on your actual boob. Yep.
12. Angry boobs do not like to be touched. I repeat: get your hand away from the boobs. There is no such thing as sexy nipple fondling while breastfeeding. There might be (in three years). But it’s doubtful.
13. People will watch. Sometimes it’s your dad.
14. Nursing tops are a myth. They don’t actually exist! They don’t. You can’t convince me otherwise. Oh, sure – there are weird wraparounds, with extra, indecipherable panels, confusing zips and strange compartments you lose the baby in completely. Don’t bother. Use a pashmina. Other than that, the only outfit that works is a drop-down bra, vest top and baggy T-shirt.
15. Wearing something at night is crucial. A crop top, ideally. What you want in the middle of the night isn’t easy lovin’, but easy access. Otherwise, in the morning your mattress will be soaked through with sour milk – and that’s definitely not sexy.
16. While feeding, your boobs will be magnificent. They’ll be a double F – and glorious. After feeding, you will be the owner of two sad and deflated water balloons. Your baby has sucked all of the life from them. Start saving up for the best push-up bra on the market.