Once More Unto the Breast

As Joanne Robinson readies herself for her last ever breast feed she reflects on the good times, the bad times and the levels of public indecent exposure.

The six month mark has passed and smiley baby Angus’ days at the breast are numbered. Despite his hurt expression as I inexpertly shove a bottle in his general vicinity, he really does only have himself to blame. I concede that it’s still quite blissful at the seven pm feed, with the Archers plodding along gently in the background, and my screaming elder two barred from the room, giving their father the full force of their spiralling pre-bedtime hysteria. However, public feeds have become an exercise in squirming (both of us), biting (him) and frustrated screaming (me). The problem being that my little lad is extremely interested in whatever’s going on around us. Any hint of movement or activity results in him, nipple still firmly clamped between vice-like jaws, moving his head with unexpected speed to try and see what’s going on. I’m a keen supporter of a woman’s right to breastfeed wherever and whenever she likes, but the poor man who accidentally caught Angus’ attention mid-feed last week really didn’t deserve the tantalising glimpse of my greying feeding bra and milk-filled boob. So it’s curtains for the breast feeding and young Angus will have to learn how to use a bottle.

I’ve found giving up breast feeding after a few months surprisingly difficult. I struggled with my first two as I could never get on with expressing, so none of my babies had ever had a bottle. But still, you’d have thought there would be some advice somewhere on the subject. Reams of leaflets, books and articles exist to teach us how to latch on but there’s not much out there when you’re trying to latch off. My health visitor kindly congratulated me on feeding for six months and, on hearing of my difficulties persuading baby to take a bottle she could only offer the advice that perhaps I stick to the breast as that’s what he plainly wants. I can only blame myself at this point as, instead of pursuing the topic, I did what I always do when in the presence of a medical professional, adopted my simpering, eager-to-please, head girl expression and was practically doing a Girl Guide salute as I promised to do my best. With my second child I followed a strict weaning programme which I’d invented myself as I couldn’t find one anywhere else. I’d been either feeding or pregnant for the best part of two and a half years at that point and desperately wanted my body back. Also, I had a date to aim for; a big wedding, which we were attending without the kids and I wanted to ‘enjoy myself’ as I had in days of yore. My planning worked to perfection except that I was a bit engorged when the event came around, having just given up the last feed the previous day. By the time the bride swanned up the aisle, my chest was achieving Dolly Parton-like proportions. After two glasses of champers I was as drunk as a lord and spent the day thinking how lovely all the men were, not realising that it was my gargantuan boobs drawing all the attention rather than my sparkling repartee.

I’m a big fan of breast feeding, not in a small part because I’m too lazy to mess around with bottles and enough of a glutton to find the idea of food on tap is quite fantastic. However, I can’t help feeling that the breastfeeding campaigners may have gone slightly overboard in their attempts to persuade the expectant first timer how simple breast feeding is. Simple the concept may be, but many of us struggle with the mechanics over the first few weeks. Being presented with images of women comfortably breastfeeding whilst they single-handedly prepare a dinner party for sixteen or chair a board meeting, aren’t helpful when you are struggling to shove a nipple into the mouth of a screaming two week old, surrounded by pillows and sobbing that you can’t possibly be doing it right. I’d like to see a picture of a frazzled-looking mum wearing an expression of beatific relief that the baby is finally ‘on’ and no longer screaming, and holding up a piece of paper saying ‘Nipples cracked but hey I’ve got some cream, had 18 minutes sleep last night, but hoping to squeeze another ten in later, and we’re going to sit here until we’ve got the bloody hang of this’. Unfortunately the NHS prefer the catchy ‘breast is best’. There’s nothing like a shining-eyed breastfeeding evangelist to make me want to reach for the formula. I met one at a toddler group last week who was still feeding her three year old. I looked down at Angus chomping on his hand as his sharp little teeth were beginning to pop through and thought ‘not a hope in hell matey, so don’t get any ideas’.

Once the last feed is done I loose the excuse I’ve had to put-off dieting. My most recent attempt at healthy-eating lasted three hours before I was reaching for the Quality Street tin, claiming I was shaking with hunger due to the demands on my body which needed to produce a constant supply of milk. If milk supply was affected by chocolate consumption I could probably feed half of Hampshire’s babies.

I feel quite sad as I look down on the curling lashes of my beautiful boy tucking into his last feed of the day, knowing his days at the breast are coming to a close. But downstairs there is a bottle of chilled Chardonnay with my name on it and the truth is, I’m so besotted with this baby of mine, that if I don’t stop now it could be me at the school gates, popping in at break time with a snack…