baby

'I thought breastfeeding would be a no-brainer. The reality was much more brutal.'

Have boobs, will breastfeed. At least, I thought that would be the case.  

As an elderly primigravida at age 44 (insulting at first to hear it from the doctors, but it's basically the Latin for old, first-time pregnant lady) my focus was on having a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby.  

While pregnant, I didn’t give breastfeeding a second thought, apart from the self-satisfied, va-va-voom of seeing my petite A cup equipment swell to a respectable double-B and thinking, “Of course I’ll breastfeed. That’s what women are built for.” Right? 

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In my mind, breastfeeding was a no-brainer.  

Breast is best. For manifold reasons, that’s just a fact. And I sported the glands necessary to perform this important maternal act, so assumed it would be easy-peasy.

But between the stress of requiring an unplanned c-section at 39 weeks, being sent home from hospital during a flood (it was January 2011, Brisbane was awash with a once-in-forty-years deluge), in-laws who were stranded in Brisbane and lobbed up on my doorstep, well-meaning visitors arriving unannounced, poor latching, a dehydrating baby rushed to the emergency room on our second day at home, nipples that were on fire, mastitis, the excruciating pain of a killer haemorrhoid the size of a grape, and a partner who was ready to stick a bottle of formula into our newborn’s mouth every timed she uttered a peep, I didn’t stand a chance. 

Consultants and visiting aftercare nurses propped me up with towels rolled into the small of my back, cushions under my arms, a stack of phone books upon which to elevate my feet, and still I couldn’t get the posture right. 

The football hold and all other holds were a flop. 

With their one hand clasping my breast and the other guiding my baby’s mouth into a pucker, nurses tried to connect us… but neither my baby nor I seemed to come naturally to the task.

My daughter would attach to the outermost nib of my nipple and suck for dear life, before long rendering me with chaffing so sore, so red, that I had to walk around the house bare breasted. 

How wrong had I been about “Have boobs, will breastfeed”? I was a disgrace to the mammalian class.

Image: Supplied. 

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By the second day at home my baby hadn’t produced the required minimum of two wet nappies that indicate she was hydrated, and in the pouring – no, torrential – rain that night I presented to the ER, drenched to the bone but with my baby safe and dry in my arms. (It’s quite something, post-caesarean, to carry a golf umbrella and a newborn at the same time in horizontal rain.)  

One bolshy nurse threatened me with a feeding tube down my baby’s throat if I didn’t start getting with the breastfeeding program.  

I was close to tears: if only she knew how hard I was trying to make it work and how stressful I was finding things! 

It was at that moment that a more compassionate member of the medical establishment recommended (for I was in no condition to decide for myself) that my baby should be mixed fed; formula as the staple with as much breastmilk extracted by pump that I could produce… which clearly wasn’t much.

(Just a side note about formula: choosing the pharmacist-recommended formula was a mistake. 

For reasons unknown, my immaculate, divine infant began farting like a wharfie who’d binged on Polish sausage, but a kindly and experienced community nurse quickly hooked us up with the right brand for my baby. 

And we didn’t look back: she gained weight, was weeing and pooping normally, no longer reeked unspeakably, and was meeting milestones.)

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Unfortunately, the physical circumstances (my environmental stress) didn’t really improve and in hindsight it was no wonder that my milk production was scant.  

Was I disappointed not to breastfeed? Yes. Very. Like most mothers (and not to mention, the World Health Organization) I wanted my baby to experience all the benefits of breast milk. 

But was it the end of the world? No.

I had the business of bringing up baby to get on with. To new mothers, I would only say this: give yourself a fighting chance postpartum, do your utmost to eliminate as much stress and as much interference as possible, rest as much as you can, stay hydrated, keep your eye on the weather forecast, and persevere as long as you can… but go easy on yourself if you find breastfeeding isn’t working.  

Feature Image: Supplied.

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