Establishing breastfeeding is one of those activities that makes you wonder whether evolution can possibly account for the species’s survival. For many mums and babies it is unexpectedly tricky, painful, and stressful; watching your tiny monkey flail furiously away, millimetres from the milk s/he can’t seem to find, leaves you astonished that any baby ever made it in the days before formula. Early on with The Bird, a health visitor mentioned something about what we’d be able to do when we were in “the easy stage” of breastfeeding, and I was dumbfounded: there was going to be an easy stage? It seemed unimaginable.
Part of the problem is that it feels as though, for breastfeeding to work, everything has to be perfect — and this at a moment when “perfect” has disappeared from your life, or at least from the spheres of your life that relate to sleep, household upkeep, self-care, basic cogency, sentence construction… Yet, for the baby to feed properly, you need to sit just right, get the baby’s latch just right, even get your timing spot-on. And the stakes are pretty bloody high. Do it wrong and you’ll get chafing, then cracked nipples, then engorgement, then mastitis; the baby will fail to thrive,and lose weight, and clog up with jaundice, and, essentially, start to starve. It feels so cruel that you have to sort this at just the moment when you’re recovering from perhaps the greatest physical trauma of your life, and (for most first-time parents) from the greatest emotional and identity upheaval you’ve ever been through. Why can’t the daft things be born with three months of fat reserves to live on, like tiny wriggly camels?
Well, we never really managed “perfect”, but we got breastfeeding sorted in the end. (I don’t intend this blog to preach, but it helped us a lot in fact to let go of the idea of perfection and embrace the crunchiness of “biological nurturing” and “laid back positioning” — worth a look for anyone who’s struggling with feeding.) With The Bird,I felt like I was getting somewhere when I was confident enough to feed her in the forest, leaning up against a tree, looking as nonchalant and cool as you can imagine that looks. (Read: hoooo boy no.) With The Bee, I’ve had to get to this, well, louche phase of breastfeeding a lot sooner, since his sister’s view on my sitting down quietly to feed him for forty minutes (for forty seconds, for that matter) is clear and loud and negatory. So far I’ve nursed him while pushing her on the swings, while squelching around twenty acres of mud passing themselves off as a farm, while answering the door to a delivery guy who was very evidently coming around to Nigel Farage’s views on this subject, and at a music group while doing the hokey cokey. The latter may account for why, despite the fabulously easy start to breastfeeding he gave me, I now need to pack myself off to the breastfeeding clinic to put a stop to the nice blood chaser he is currently getting with every milk feed. When this kid grows up with a taste for minute steak, we’ll have the hokey cokey to blame.