Thus far, I’ve parented for 37 months and breastfed for 21 of those. Not bad, considering my less than impressive rack (debunked myth number one – small boobs can feed just as well as big hooters). I find expressing the work of the devil so it looks like it’s going to be Moo, me and my udders for the duration. So far with her, so good. In fact I had a pretty good run of it with Mouse too, save for a couple of instances of badly blocked ducts. And I mean SAVAGELY blocked ducts.
The first time, I was at a group and flinging Mouse up in the air to “Drunken Sailor”, wondering if I ought to try rum again (rum might be an olive type thing – you only truly appreciate the taste when you’ve hit the age of 30). Ooh, that smarts a bit, I remember thinking – I must’ve have trapped a nerve. A quick stealthy grope reveals a solid mass the size of a plum in my right boob. It wasn’t there this morning so I know it’s nothing sinister (please, all comers, check your breasts regularly, please). On our walk home, pushing the buggy with one hand and reading the whole interweb on my phone with the other, I familiarise myself with La Leche League’s suggested diagnosis. “Mouse, you’d better be hungry, old girl. This could take a while.” As soon as we’re through the front door and I’ve had a wee and amassed a few casino chip stacks of hobnobs, we set to work. Bless her, she feeds and feeds and feeds. During the intervals where she’s lolling about on my lap utterly milk drunk, I hand express into a tissue. It would almost be a sexy scene if…actually no, nothing about this is sexy. For starters I’m wearing one of those god awful navy and white horizontal striped nursing tops that all the first time mums think are a good idea.
Hours pass. Days. My husband has to forage in the garden for wild garlic and nettle leaves for his dinner. A time lapse video would show the layer of dust on the coffee table reach a level that Kim and Aggie might faint over. My eyes look like a shattered windscreen. I get bed sores. My arms are numb. In reality we’re there for about two hours but you get the drift.
Finally, release – the blockage has cleared, Mouse has drained the bejesus out of me and it now feels like she’s sucking wet sand through my nipples. Man alive, no one told me how much breastfeeding can hurt. Still, I feel like we’ve conquered and won, our dream team of two.
A few months down the line, it happens again. Same boob, different duct. I know it’s not mastitis, and I carry out the same tried and tested course of treatment as before. Mouse feeds, oh she feeds until she’s sick. This blockage is a stubborn swine though, and before long I’m googling the shit out of it in desperation. I’m getting my hair cut at 3pm for the first time in years, and I’m not going to waste this opportunity for an hour to myself by discreetly nudging my boob under the plastic cape to see if it’s righted itself.
I scrabble together a 3-point “try this” list. First up, your standard massage with a warm flannel, sniffing your baby’s sleepsuit that you’ve not managed to get through the wash yet, and looking at photos of her on your phone. No cigar.
Second – a mercilessly hot shower and a wide toothed comb. Yep, I stood in the bathtub and COMBED my breast, starting under my armpit and moving in towards my nipple. I later told a friend about it and she stared at me blankly. “You did what?” she asked. “I combed my breast. It didn’t work.”
Third – try a variety of feeding positions. I select my stance, which the page politely refers to it as “kneeling downward facing dog”. In layman’s terms, this equates to doggy style. I lay Mouse on her playmat, apologise to her, and sort of flop onto my right shoulder so my arse is sticking in the air and my boob hangs vertically over her face like a suspended pink, lumpy pendulum. My husband walks in. “Bloody hell…is she alright down there? Is that legal?”
“Don’t speak to me. Can you bring me a digestive?”
I let out a low, sonic moan as something shifts in my breast and i have a letdown like a tidal wave. Poor Mouse can’t deal with it so I grab the nearest soft garment and milk myself until I have an empty, normal shaped boob. They say some kids remember being born. Fine with me, as long as she never remembers that morning on the playmat.
When people tell you that breastfeeding is easy, they’re usually trying to encourage you to keep going, rather than brag or preach. You have to work hard at establishing it of course, and that is no joke – it can feel like a lonely and painful place when your baby is naffing around at the nipple and neither of you can quite get the hang of it. But it is my absolute most favourite element of being a mummy and I know that once Moo self-weans, I’ll cry and wish that I could do every single night feed again, twice over. Mother Nature loves a tease though, so she does.
-SJW June 2016