Five things books never tell you about breastfeeding

What breastfeeding really means: wardrobe malfunctions, pride, anxiety and lack of fashion choices

Eager for the real thing: Louis  drools and reaches as he watches me eating, intensely following the food from plate to mouth.

Eager for the real thing: Louis drools and reaches as he watches me eating, intensely following the food from plate to mouth.

 

After more than 500 hours of loyal service, my feeding pillow is sagging under the weight of my no longer little five month old.

The weaning chatter among my virtual mammy group has ramped up, sharing photos of happy baby smiles beaming out from messy mouths encircled in carrot puree (oh, they give us such innocent hope of healthy eating until one day they learn about choice and say “carrot bleurgh”).

Louis has a few weeks to wait until he gets his first taste of food but he’s getting impatient. He drools and reaches as he watches me eating, intensely following the food from plate to mouth. It’s like having dinner with a friend on a diet who decides not to order chips but really really wants one of yours.

His time is almost up as an EBF baby (parenting-speak for exclusively breastfed, making it sound way more glamorous than the reality). My journey towards increased independence also moves closer. While I should be excited, the sadness has surprised me.

Despite going to classes and reading a tree’s worth of literature, breastfeeding has been full of surprises. Here are a few:

1) Being okay with ‘wardrobe malfunctions’

When Janet Jackson exposed her breast during the 2004 Superbowl her “wardrobe malfunction” created global headlines. I haven’t made it to TMZ but in the past five months I have bared my bosom to distant acquaintances, waiters, air stewards and many randomers who looked my way at a critical moment.

There’s the “unexpected caller wardrobe malfunction” when the doorbell rings mid-feed and I realise only afterwards why the delivery man couldn’t look right at me. There’s the “fumble fumble wardrobe malfunction” when finishing a feed in a cafe, balancing his head on my knee while trying to eat a sandwich.

But these aren’t really malfunctions to me. It feels so normal. And that’s the surprise. It’s just a natural part of feeding my son and people are very accepting.

2) The great panacea

It has amazed me how breastfeeding can quiet the small whimper, the big cries and the over-tired howl. No matter what’s wrong or where we are. “Here, have some milk, as much as you want as often was you want, perfectly warm, designed for your particular needs and ready at a moment’s notice.” And SSSHHH, don’t tell the so-called sleep experts but I even fed him to sleep every night until recently and we happily survived! If only life stayed so simple.

3) Slower return to ‘me’

When it comes to mammy fashion I’m less Kylie Jenner and more Biddy from Glenroe. But after five months of the same “breastfeeding tops” (in three colours with wraps or flaps), even I crave something chic and new. It’s one of the ways breastfeeding is slowing my post-pregnancy return to self (whatever self is once you’re a mammy). Some of the literature boasts that breastfeeding helps “get your figure back”. But being the sole food source for a 20lb baby makes me, like my baby, almost always hungry. Even waking in the middle of the night, hearing not a cry, but a rumbling tummy grumble. However, there is a lovely rare “me time” in eating a bagel with peanut butter at 3am alone and in silence as the two children sleep.

4) Doubts

I was surprised by the niggling doubts about it “working” this time, despite having breastfed my first son. Lying with my unsettled newborn in the hospital bed, those middle of the night questions came like a wave: “Is he actually getting anything?” “Maybe it won’t happen this time?” The whispering late night misgivings revisited at three months when he was waking every two hours. “He’s a really big baby, is he getting enough?” But the pile of clothes washing always restored my faith in the form of five outfits a day dirtied by spit-up or poonamis. Thanks Louis.

5) ‘I did that’

I get a tingling surge of daily pride when I look at him. As my giant baby moves into clothes for one year-olds with ridiculous friction pads on the feet for walking, I think “Wow, I did all that.” I’ll miss that feeling. But he’s becoming Louis, his own self. And that will make me proud too.

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