Question…(Destiny’s Child)

Last week I got asked by another woman, a mum no less, “why are you still doing THAT?” A perfectly innocuous question I hear you cry. But the THAT in question was breastfeeding. And THAT was said with such disgust that what she could have been asking was “why are you still mutilating small dogs and locking them in disused refrigerators?” Well everyone knows I am a cat person. Why indeed.

This question really got under my skin. As a first time mum you are always on the cusp of a guilt trip. You are convinced that you aren’t doing it right MOST of the time, so you don’t need any help feeling bad about your choices. But of course I said nothing. Of course. So, warning up front, this may get a bit ranty. How you feed your baby is such a personal decision and there is no one right way to do it. I am still breastfeeding Bella at eight months, and I have got to say I have not felt wholeheartedly supported in that decision. I did not expect to feel bad for breastfeeding. A few weeks ago the Royal College of Midwives announced they were putting new emphasis on supporting mums who bottle feed as much as those who breastfeed, which is great because I think that support is THE most important thing. Whichever way you choose to go, whichever way you can go, as you can’t always choose, will ultimately work for you and your baby and should be supported.

So when I was asked why I was still breastfeeding, despite myself I felt guilty. Maybe she IS too old; maybe if I don’t stop now she will still be supping on my boobs into adolescence. I will have to turn up at her university Fresher’s Ball to make her a White Russian (only classy cocktails for my gal). I will have to live under her dorm bed. I will be a 50 year-old husk of a woman, dedicated only to feeding my daughter, with two spaniel’s ears for breasts. I will be like one of those really sad dairy cows you see on the news, tied to a fence with pumps on their udders for 23 hours a day. The spectre of “Bitty” looms menacingly on the horizon. I need to constantly remind myself that she is eight months not eighteen. I also feel guilty that I am depriving Phil of father-daughter feeding bonding time (although nowadays there is more meaningful time spent over a piece of avocado than milk). And I feel guilty for not getting away from her more often as breastfeeding does tie you to four hour increments of freedom at most. Listen to that, I feel GUILTY that I can’t take time to myself more often…I am actually ridiculous.

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One thing I will not miss about breastfeeding….the classic Friday night spent in with the breast pump, a Magnum and Love Island (well the last two can stay)

So why am I still doing THAT eight months in? Well it’s not because I just love how my veiny, baggy, puppies-in-a-sack boobs look (FYI, so sexy). Firstly it was so ridiculously hard in the beginning that I resent giving it up when it is now easy. My nipples bled for almost four weeks. Bella was constantly sicking up a hideous pink mixture of old milk and my blood. I had to sleep with nipple balm under my pillow so it was warmed up and therefore soft enough to apply at any given moment, before, during and after every feed. And Bella fed a LOT. A LOT. At the beginning she was a classic cluster feeder. At one dark point she chowed down every 45 minutes between the hours of 5pm and whatever time we all crawled into bed. At the end of every night (I say end, ha) I wanted to scream into a pillow whilst simultaneously hitting myself in the face. So because breastfeeding was so hard won, part of me doesn’t want to give up on it now it’s simple.

And breastfeeding is great now, both practically and emotionally. In pure practical terms Bella is a lean, mean, breast-emptying machine. She is done in five minutes flat. And it’s convenient; I don’t have to carry bottles with me, I can just flop out said saggy boobs whenever, wherever (a lesser known Shakira song). It’s also cheaper, nay free. Phil made this very pertinent point, as he and his excel sheet are masterfully keeping us afloat during these perilous statutory pay times. And lastly, someone told me that breastfeeding burns between 200-500 calories a day. With my continued addiction to Nutella and my ball-bag stomach I need all the help I can get. As well as practical plus points, emotionally there is also no doubt I feel close to Bella when breastfeeding, especially when she stops, looks up and beams at me halfway through. Heart. Melts.

Saying all this my breastfeeding days may soon be coming to an end. Why? Because Bella has just developed both two teeth and a penchant for clamping down on my nip like a rabid terrier with a bone. Those teeth might be small but they are like two tiny razor sharp knives when applied to what was once an erogenous zone. This is NOT a fun game. THE PAIN. THE PAIN. So the finish line is in sight, but until then, yes, I am still doing THAT.

I’m expressing with my full capabilities (NWA)

So, let’s talk about boobs. Yesterday whilst Bella napped I decided I would clean out my underwear drawer (it was that or watch The Bachelor, which I know for a fact actively kills brain cells). After I had consigned to the bin an array of off-white, off-pink, off-cream granny pants I put on a normal bra for the first time in five months. Not for the whole day, not for keeps, but just for fun, because I was nostalgic for the simple pleasure of a Primarché, two-for-£8, fabric so synthetic you need to keep away from open flames, balcony bra.

Post birth, it’s not enough that your stomach turns into a ball sack, your boobs also turn on you. Three things happen. Firstly your size A’s (OK fine, AA’s) turn into veiny, lumpy barrage balloons, at times so bloated that actual sailors stranded at sea could use them to float home on.

Secondly they start doing their own leaky thing, sometimes at the most inopportune moments. Like a faulty faucet they constantly drip, forcing you to invest in breast pads (think Tampax for your bra), which I swear gave me the boob equivalent of nappy rash. I also did not realise that milk would squirt out of the breast like a jet powered shower head with no Off switch, leading to the constant risk of splashback.

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A young Bella (aka Winston Churchill) in a milk coma post breastfeed

Lastly, your boobs are no longer your own, as you effectively lease them out for as long as you breastfeed.  And the start of that rental agreement can be a war of attrition, as your besieged nipples adjust.  Mine were bleeding with every feed at one dark point, and nothing makes you feel worse than seeing your baby vomming up your own blood.  So your boobs are there only to provide the all you can eat breast-buffet (customers of Chez Linds may complain about the lack of variety).  If you aren’t actually breastfeeding, you are expressing breast milk, a process so damn farmyard it will put you off dairy for life. And when your boyfriend has seen your nipples stretched to over an inch long strapped to a pump, there is no longer any romance left in the world. Whatever sexual desire wasn’t killed by seeing a baby rudely ejected from your vagina will swiftly by extinguished by seeing the breast pump in action. Phil can’t watch as I express, for fear if he looks the pump in the eye it will turn him to stone.

Alongside changes to my boobs, I have also made changes to my wardrobe, changes that facilitate the seamless unveiling of a nip at any given moment.  Gone is the plunge, the balconette, the push up, the strapless, the nipple tassels (no? me neither) and here to stay is the nursing bra. This tarp-like contraption is designed to give maximum coverage and is feed ready, with a handy flap that unstraps to reveal boob. It is the mum equivalent of the flasher mac. You could also use it to cover SW17 when it rains.

I also invested in a range of absolutely rank nursing tops; vests with straps that clip undone and T-shirts with flaps of loose fabric that I can stick Bella’s head under. All of these are just plain nasty and despite the breast pads, are constantly milk stained. I now smell like the underside of an udder. You could bottle my odour and sell it as ‘’eau de lait’. I have become one of those people that you avoid standing next to on buses.

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Yep, an udder…

So it was with great joy that for ten glorious minutes yesterday morning I was not a MILK-BOT, I was just a girl in a reasonably priced bra dancing round the bedroom to Trevor Nelson’s rhythm nation grooves. I will take that.

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Happy with the a la carte menu?

 

 

 

 

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