Just The Two of Us (and the nipple shields)

Part of the Yes Bebe breast feeding series for World Breastfeeding Week 2018: <<read more>>

Before I had my baby girl I was relaxed about breastfeeding; I knew that it was cheaper and burned about 400 calories a day, but formula feeding meant the effort and bonding could be shared amongst the family. If breastfeeding worked then great, but formula feeding has its benefits too.

After I had my baby girl, I wasn’t relaxed about anything. I was exhausted, hormonal, and uptight.

She didn’t latch. She had jaundice and had to be practically force-fed formula whilst barely awake. My milk was begrudgingly coaxed in with a squeaky manual breast pump on round-the-clock pumping sessions while my husband fed her formula. Pumping hurt: toe-curling pain which I spent the time between sessions dreading. The Lansinoh I had bought to help with breastfeeding was instead smeared on my knuckles, which were cracked from endlessly washing, sterilising, and drying pump pieces and bottles.

When she was near my breasts she would furiously bob her head around and writhe and cry with frustration, whilst not latching.

After about a week she did latch, with a combination of swaddling and nipple shields and some persuasive squishing.

Then she fed. Close-mouthed, bite-latch fed, seemingly endlessly, with her eyes screwed shut. When I look back, the visual of me feeding her is like Thelma and Louise driving off a cliff, hands locked together. Two wretched souls in a grim embrace.

Other new mothers squirted jets of womanly milk from their ample breasts, while my boobs felt like a pair of raw, mean, wrung-out teabags, wearing silly hats. Other mothers strolled about town with their contented newborns, while we sat shell-shocked on the sofa all day, grinding it out. For weeks.

And then it wasn’t so bad. Her latch didn’t hurt. The feeds spaced out. She opened up and became a happy, engaged baby. Breastfeeding was a normal part of our routine.

Now at 19 months, she still insists on nipple shields. She feeds in the morning, before her nap, and to sleep at night. Sometimes more frequently. Feeds are (usually) a sweet cuddle while her needs are met, and I’m (finally) relaxed about when we will wean.

When she is ill or teething and off her food, I am so glad I can feed her. She resists sleep, but usually drifts off calmly in my arms as she feeds. We can be stressed and wilful and at odds, but not at the end of a feed.

This has been my experience of breastfeeding to date. Averagely troubled, and ultimately worth it.

Tips for potential breast feeders:

  • Your ability or decision to breastfeed does not reflect on you AT ALL as a woman or a parent. Enjoy your baby as much as you can
  • Prepare to have your boobs out a LOT, and possibly scrutinised by healthcare professionals
  • Support! Breastfeeding counsellors, mum friends, family, Google, health visitors, Facebook groups. Ask! Admit!
  • Everyone has an opinion; surround yourself with people who value yours
  • Double breast pumps can halve your workload
  • Think about your sterilisation system and ideally have it ready at home before you have your baby
  • One up one down! Wear a vest under a loose top: pull the top up and the vest down to feed. No need to flop your whole boob out unless that is how you roll
  • Washable breast pads: because things will get moist in the brassiere
  • Keep drinks and snacks within arm’s reach of anywhere you plan to feed. Replenish. Survive.

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