My breastfeeding hell and how I got through it

Illustration by Emily Jenkinson www.theladybites.co.uk
Illustration by Emily Jenkinson www.theladybites.co.uk

The other day, I received a Facebook message from an old-school friend. She had her baby four weeks ago and, despite this being her second child, she’s struggling: “Em, you need to write an article on breastfeeding. I feckin’ hate it!”

The sad truth is that, while yes, breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world; for most mothers, it can also seem the most unnatural. Indeed, it can feel just as bizarre, laboured and painful to us ladies as it would were a man’s chest to fill suddenly with milk and a mewling, biting infant latched onto his nipples looking for food 24/7.

The sad truth is that while breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world; for most mothers, it can also seem the most unnatural.

Before my daughter was born last May, I attended NCT classes. They taught me the importance of skin-to-skin immediately after birth, showed me a lovely video of a newly born baby crawling up its mothers’ stomach to latch on, and gave me lots of information telling me how important it is to breastfeed.

They failed to mention that, three days after giving birth, my boobs would be engorged and agony, my nipples cracked and bleeding; that every time my baby fed (which was all the time) I would cry with pain, or that MOST MOTHERS have an absolutely hellish time breastfeeding for weeks on end after they have a baby before it becomes “natural” and “easy”.

I sought advice from various breastfeeding counsellors, who didn’t help, before I discovered Clare Byam-Cook, who did. The Gina Ford of the breastfeeding world, she is a controversial figure for reasons I can’t quite fathom. Not a qualified lactation consultant (but a very qualified and experienced midwife and nurse), she has helped thousands of women on the verge of giving up breastfeeding, and in those dark early days, that was good enough for me.

A week or so after giving birth and with much damage already done, ouch, I paid Clare a visit and had my first pain-free breastfeed. Later, when Martha was choking and screaming throughout and after every feed due to my milk flowing too fast, she was the only one to suggest nipple shields (which, fyi, helped loads until Martha was grown enough to cope without them).

We took it one day at a time, and after that awful, hellish start, ended up going the course for six months. And you know what? I felt quite sad to give it all up.

CLARE BYAM-COOK‘s breastfeeding tips 

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Do your research

In the ante-natal period, read and research books that will help you to breastfeed your child effectively and anticipate any problems. Ask your friends which books helped them and who they found helpful if and when things went wrong. Research the equipment that you may need. If it was down to me, every single mother would have a breast pump – the Medela Swing is really easy to use and quiet.

Recognise the difference between good and bad sucking

If your baby is feeding well, he will start off with fairly short quick sucks then start doing deep, rhythmic sucks. The top and bottom of his jaw will be moving and his ears will wiggle slightly. If he has fed well, he will fall asleep on the breast and stay asleep when you put him down in his cot. You shouldn’t get sore. If you do, you are getting something wrong.

If it goes wrong, get help as soon as you can

One problem leads to another with breastfeeding. If you get the latch wrong and your baby isn’t feeding properly, you will most likely develop sore nipples and engorged breasts, which in turn can lead to mastitis.

Listen to alternative views

If you hired a plumber to fix a leak and he didn’t fix it, you would find another plumber who could. The same goes for breastfeeding counsellors. If you are shown a correct latch, it should stop hurting immediately.

Just because breastfeeding is natural, doesn’t mean it always works

Ask any dairy farmer and he will tell you that while some of his dairy cows are prize milk producers, others can’t produce at all. It is the same for human mothers and the reason why there used to be a village wet-nurse.

If you are not producing enough milk, you can try pumping after each feed and taking Fenugreek tablets to stimulate supply, but if it’s still not working, give formula.

Many a lamb has been bottle-fed for the same reason and no-one will be able to tell the difference when your child is walking down the aisle!

Nipple shields can be a lifesaver

Mothers are often told not to use nipple shields as it will create nipple/teat confusion, but they can be very useful if a mother has huge breasts and very flat nipples, or if a mother has a very fast flow that is choking the baby. My advice is to give it a go and if it helps, then that’s a good thing. Medela and NUK are both good brands. Be sure to choose them based on the size of the baby’s mouth rather than the size of your nipple.

Think about what is best for the entire family

If you have exhausted all possible solutions to any problems you are experiencing and breastfeeding is making you, baby and the rest of the family miserable, think about what is best for the entire household. Mothers can suffer from post natal depression because they are trying to achieve something that is just not working and it’s important to remember that babies can and do grow into happy, healthy children and adults on formula.

  • For more tips from Clare Byam-Cook, I can highly recommend her book “Top Tips for Breastfeeding” (I took it everywhere with me for the first nine weeks) and also her DVD “Breastfeeding without Tears”. They can be bought via her website  To book a consultation with Clare call 020 8788 8179.

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