Some time ago while trying to google for the kinds of sucking a baby does while breastfeeding – yes, there are different kinds which you can watch for to know if the baby is actually drinking or just playing – the automatic search suggestion that got came up was “breastfeeding sucks”. Clearly enough people think so for this to come up as the first suggested search term. So much for breastfeeding being presented as this natural, warm, glowy time for mom and baby.

I’m sure it is for some people. Even most people.

But everyone I know struggled with breastfeeding. At the very best, with sore cracked nipples. And anxieties about milk production. And problems with the baby latching on. And problems with the milk coming too fast. Or too slow. Yes, I mean “best”, not “worst”. The worst is worse than mere pain. This is apart, of course, from the usual sleep deprivation from the baby waking up every three or four hours to feed at best. Again, the worst case scenario would be baby waking every hour or two. Rendering the mother basically on permanent milk booth duty. I’m sure the breastfeeding brigade has helpful solutions to each of these problems. Whatever. I know from experience that these solutions are on paper and are not so easily implemented or just do not work. Blessed are those for whom they work.

Consider my own possible woes, which have been repeated for both babies, who are extremely gassy:

1. Baby won’t get a good latch because I have – excuse the gross revelation but I am beyond being coy – have large nipples. Lactation consultants tend to repeat the same stuff – get baby to open wide, if doesn’t relatch blah blah. But if they stuck around long enough, they would see that this just doesn’t happen. The baby just doesn’t want such a large thing in it’s mouth. Even if they latch properly, they adjust in a couple of minutes and I would spend hours latching and relatching. Thus baby feeds with a bad latch resulting in:

a. Swallowing gas and therefore gassy and fussy baby.

b. Not being able to access fatty hindmilk (I think – not sure)

c. Sore nipples (though mine seemed to have just given up and toughened up).

2. Fast letdown with baby gasping and pulling on nipple. But one cannot be actually sure if it is fast let down. If breast physically feels full, it probably is. But when it doesn’t, does it mean let down is not fast and actually baby is irritated because not enough milk? No way of knowing because breasts are not transparent. Unfortunately.

3.  Foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. Because breaetmilk is not breastmilk. The supposedly wonderful thing about it is its versatility. The milk that comes out first – fast because baby is hungry and thirsty – is light and sugar filled to quench thirst. A baby like mine who for various uncomfirmed and uncomfirmable reasons drinks for 10 minutes and then comes off the breast – due to a cramp, a burp, milk coming back up due to reflux, or if lucky just not hungry – is possibly only getting the foremilk and this can cause gas.

I wrote all this a while ago. Since then my problems with breastfeeding have changed. From suspected fast letdown and too much milk, I am now at too little milk and baby pulling on nipples impatiently. From avoiding bottle feeding like the plague so baby does not get nipple confusion to then despairing trying to get the baby to take the bottle I am now struggling with a baby who prefers the bottle to my boob but I need her to suckle at the breast so that my supply does not decline. Alas. There is no winning.

Breastfeeding, like giving birth, is another of those things that is spoken about with this romantic glow as a great bonding experience. I’m sure it is so for some women. When Benji was really little and for the couple of weeks when he was breastfeeding peacefully it was. Ditto with Mimi.

But overall, if I’m honest, it’s just a pain in the boob. There was a thread on the baby forum I frequent asking mothers to post on why they love breastfeeding to encourage new mums to breastfeed. I agree with the sentiment of encouraging new mums to breastfeed. But the thread got a surprisingly few entries.

And I suspect it might be because many mums who breastfeed, like me, are not so warm and fuzzy about it. Like natural labour, we opt for it because we believe it’s best for our babies. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.