Friday, 18 October 2013


Only once have I likened my wife to lactatian bovinae (fictional genus for the dairy cow) and I stress it was very much in jest. Be that as it may, it was a brief moment of severe misjudgement; repenting took some serious grovel, in addition to the doing of chores and the cooking of cutlets. I should have known her flagellating self-assessments weren’t invitations for mimicry; the term “milk maid” was also forbidden.

Lactatian bovinae - not my real genus.
Feeding every three or four hours for four months has been Anna’s lot (amongst other things). Frequently, though not originally, she has wished I was capable of breastfeeding our ever-hungry son. Getting out of bed to routinely feed our little man has caused perpetual tiredness in Anna; add to that engorgement and cracked nipples, and it becomes more than just a draining demand. (I have often thought it something I would love to do, though admittedly, such musings are simply and innocently done from outside the confines of biological possibility.)

Of course, like many would-be parents we always hoped to nurse our baby. We thought it would be straightforward. And though it is now, after some considerable persistence and optimism from Anna, it did not seem that way for the first six weeks.

Freddy refused to latch au naturel for a month. He had a penchant for silicon and a primitive short fuse. For every feed, we tried to convince him the nipple was his only fountain of life. He knew what to do. He would instinctively bob his head over Anna’s chest searching for what he must have thought was a mirage. He simply couldn’t grasp how to do it.

Each feed, mother and baby would strip down. Skin-to-skin, they would begin the ritual. Mother gently guiding the offspring towards food, offspring blindly bouncing back and forth (in Freddy’s case) the rock hard mammary-filled milk mounds. When he got close, his own hands reaching to the nipple as if he’s trying to rip his way to the sustenance, an adult hand, placed between his shoulder blades, would press him face-first into a firm, but fleshy, boob. He’d suck or nibble and then drop, like a frog slipping off a mossy rock.

Different positions and both sides were tried over 15 scrambling and frustrating minutes. Freddy’s desperate hunger would go unsatisfied, every failed attempt angering him and boggling us. We made excuses for him – his mouth was too small; the breasts were too hard; the fact he didn’t latch in his first hours of life may have set this path. After trying, we would give him a bottle of expressed goodness, thankful there was enough of it for him to drink.

Anna was hopeful, yet the feeding became a rigmarole – limbs and tears flying everywhere in a struggle to perform a play we were supposed to “know” instinctively, but which none of us really knew how to produce. Anna fought the perception of rejection, but she questioned whether this meant a near future of detachment. She’d look at women breastfeeding their babies in cafes with envy, thinking she would never be one of them.

I desperately wanted to be part of the process, but most of the time I didn’t know how I could help. I wasn’t satisfied with just being “there for your wife” as the midwives had advised, but knew that was probably all I could do. Although I was devoted to the cause of being assistant #1, my help was futile. I was the proverbial tit on a bull. Although I did feel paternal when I held his hands from getting in the way of his mouth, my energy was best directed to Anna. At any hour, I would rub her back reassuringly. I was enthused during lactation consultations. When Freddy transitioned to a nipple shield, I became an expert on those rubber Mexican-hat-looking contraptions my son’s life depended on. I celebrated the wins, as rare as they were in the early days.

But, I gave up on the process. I wanted the stress to end and Anna’s mood to lift. I knew there was nothing wrong with feeding him from the bottle; long-term, he wouldn’t be known as the only bottle-fed kid in the playground. I kept this to myself. Anna had other ideas. She’s determined.

The day he reached six weeks, it all clicked. No nipple shield, no bottle, just mouth on nipple. It was a momentous occasion.

Breastfeeding is no fait accompli. When it doesn’t work, mothers feel they miss out on vital interaction. We were fortunate we had a good milk supply and that we all remained healthy. In reflection, I felt privileged to be some kind of a helping hand even if it was for fringe assistance or clich├ęd words of inspiration. I can now see that just being there and helping in those first few weeks brought me closer to the entire bonding session of “the feed”, closer to him, and closer to my wife.


  1. It's certainly no picnic... well, perhaps it is actually, depending on point of view. I'm still BF'ing my littlest at 11 months and we have the opposite problem - she wouldn't take a bottle for the longest time. So, I was literally the only one who fed her day and night for about six months. Talk about exhausting!

    1. I have definitely developed a newfound respect for breastfeeding, though I have also developed a respect for those who, for one reason or another, can't breastfeed. Freddy's love for silicon certainly does have its positives, Lani. The main one being that he and I can spend a day together to give Anna a day to go get massages, spa treatments, manis and pedis (Oh dear, listen to me.) ... *clearing throat* ahem ... which frees me to go to the local pub with the boys and my son. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Breastfeeding is so damn hard! Out of 6 kids, only 3 managed to click and I quit on one of those 3 due to severe reflux at 3 months! I am feeding my 10 month old daughter now successfully but that was a battle for a good two months of hell. My youngest son weaned himself at 16 months and he was such a BF success! We clicked from day one! I thjnk the important thing to remember about BF for women is that the memory of the nurturing and bond lasts a lifetime. It's not about the milk but that bond that is just so magical. That's why we kill ourselves trying to do it - it is an extension of the pregnancy and really is a beautiful experience when everyone's got the hang of it!

    1. It seems a few people were discussing how difficult breastfeeding was in the media over the weekend. This was published in Fairfax's Sunday Life magazine:

      The bond that has developed at our place between mother and baby (although difficult at first) is beautiful.

  3. Oh BFing is not as easy as 'they' say - I've had three darlings, in 3.5 years actually and only one of them was an easy child to BF - the others were such hard work that I stopped. Thanks for sharing and for the honesty!

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