When breastfeeding doesn't go with the flow

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It didn't occur to me that I would do anything other than excel at breastfeeding. Naively, the thought didn't even cross my Type A mind.

In the first two weeks after my son's birth, I sat at home on the couch feeding every few hours and learning all about the Ahh Bra and life insurance from morning television. "I'm 32 and a non-smoker," I'd say along with Jenny or Jim or whoever was getting a quote that day.

Wendy Kingston with her morning news updates became like a trusted confidant, coming into my lounge room every hour. I'd time my feeds on my Baby Tracker app: right boob, 21 minutes, left boob, 19 minutes. I felt like a breastfeeding machine, a well-oiled, finely tuned, breastfeeding goddess. Until I wasn't.

After two weeks of feeding bliss, it all went to hell in a Huggies gift-basket. I perused FAQs and troubleshooting tips via Dr Google as if my breasts were a malfunctioning white good.

I called a breastfeeding helpline. "You have a flow issue," the counsellor said. "I think your milk is coming out too fast. Have you tried lying down?" I hadn't, and it sounded idyllic. I soon discovered it was anything but.

I took myself to the local breastfeeding clinic at the early childhood centre. "Hi," I nodded to the woman next to me as I settled into a chair. It occurred to me how odd the situation was: a bunch of complete strangers, boobs out, at what could best be described as a kind of breastfeeding masterclass. In an unsurprising moment of Murphy's law, my baby fed perfectly. Where was the thrashing around, the angry tears, the breast refusal? I started to wonder if I was imagining it all.

Back at home on the couch, with Wendy as my witness, the feeding problems continued. I called a lactation consultant who asked me to save some dirty nappies for "analysis". She corrected my technique like a ballet mistress ("sit up straight") and, with gloved hands, inspected my son's poo.

"You have a foremilk/hindmilk issue," she pronounced.

"A what?"


"And you need to stop drinking coffee."

Decaffeinated and disillusioned, I went to my GP. "You have a supply issue," she said, prescribing Motilium, a medication used to increase lactation. Within 48 hours, my milk was abundant; my breasts ached. I stuffed cold cabbage leaves down my engorged cups to soothe the pain (another lactation consultant tip) and felt confident we'd finally solved the problem.

My baby continued to cry and thrash and arch on my lap.

My temporary stint as a Motilium-enhanced Dolly Parton didn't last long. I experienced some adverse side effects and stopped taking the magic milk pills. My supply quickly dwindled.

In mothers' group one morning while talking about settling techniques, right on cue my son started to grizzle. I fumbled with my top and attempted to feed him. Unlike the breastfeeding masterclass, however, this time he swiped at my chest. And howled. I left the room like a naughty schoolgirl removed from the classroom.

Out in the corridor, a clinic nurse tried helping my son latch on, manoeuvring him about like a doll. As he opened his mouth widely in protest she looked at me, triumphant. "He's got a tongue-tie! Did you know that? You have a latching issue!"

I had known that; after his birth, the on-call paediatrician had informed me that the tongue-tie was small, "insignificant" and wouldn't interfere with breastfeeding or speech. Now I was hearing the opposite. "He simply can't latch on properly," the nurse said. "You're going to have to wean and bottle-feed."

Do you think I listened? Well, sort of. If I couldn't breastfeed, I was going to express. Armed with my pump, my new breast friend, soon I was pumping for Australia. The hum of the machine became the soundtrack to my days.

One morning, while out for a walk, I looked down to discover my red shoes had acquired small white polka dots. No, not polka dots, I quickly realised; this was breastmilk.

That unintended fashion statement was a new low; lower still was the moment I almost filed for divorce when my husband accidentally knocked over a bottle with 50ml of precious, painstakingly extracted liquid gold. "There's no use crying over spilt milk," he said meekly. " Too soon," I muttered. "Too soon."

I tried, I really did. But the reality was, I just couldn't produce enough, and madly expressing around the clock left me exhausted and weepy.

After six long months, it was time to let go.

In the chemist I nervously waited for the looks. The judgment. The kind lady who served me didn't even blink. I wanted to hug her. I almost did.

At home, I tore back the foil and made the first bottle. My son sucked it down, ravenous. With a full belly, he slept and slept. He put on weight, became delightfully chubby. In short, he thrived.

My only regret was that I didn't do it earlier, that I'd been too conscious of the shame I associated with "giving up". That and the nagging thought that somehow not being able to breastfeed made me incompetent as a mum.

Oh, how far from the truth this is. And how clarifying hindsight can be.

Breast is best; except when it's not. And in our case, it most definitely wasn't.