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Mothers' Psychology of Breastfeeding – When the Milk of Human Kindness Turns to Sour Cream

Breastfeeding, unlike Hugh Jackman’s butt is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Anyone who has suffered the toe-curling experience of trying to breastfeed with sore, cracked, scabbed and bleeding nipples, will understand when I say I once broke the footrest off a rocking chair with my foot, whilst breastfeeding my four-day-old dearly wanted and treasured baby daughter.

Babies have a stronger suck than both engines of a jet plane. And believe me, that’s something else I do not want to stick my breasts into.

And just as powerful is the magnetic pull of glossy covered books and magazines telling us just how NATURALLY easy and wonderful it is to breastfeed babies. Don’t you hate reading covers that say if only you buy this book/magazine/DVD you too can become a beautiful, serene mother with bountiful, luscious bosoms swollen with nutritious milk elegantly feeding a serene, angelic looking baby?

And not only is it supposed to be possible to change a dirty nappy with one hand but it is also possible, and expected, to write the best seller ‘How to Achieve Success and Respect whilst Breastfeeding in the Oval Office or at a Board Meeting’ with the other.

I want someone to write the book that shows a middle-aged, un-made-up, harassed mother with hair scraped back and four grubby toddlers all blowing their collective noses on her hem-hanging skirt and trying to breastfeed a newborn, squalling infant at the same time. Flat, unperky, south-bound nipples stuck on the end of pendulous breasts, resembling wet socks hanging on the line, rather than rotund, barking at the moon, objects of male lust. In today’s society, it would appear that mother’s breasts need to learn how to multi-skill in order to keep the whole family happy.

In my reality book, one hand is holding back acres of flesh-coloured jelly – two fingers prized open to allow a swollen, cracked and bleeding nipple to protrude up and out – and the other trying to connect a red-faced, screaming watermelon. And just when enough milk has been exchanged for a good bout of colic to develop, baby pukes the lot up all over the couch.

It’s high time the Military Maternity Machos brought Motherhood into the Age of Reality TV, depicting the average mother of a baby and two grubby toddlers. Let’s watch Resentful Real Mum scrape and scrub the kitchen to screaming perfection and vacuum the unlimited lego off the lino whilst “elegantly breastfeeding a serene angelic newborn baby.” Just as Doting Dad walks through the door desperately wanting to dump his day onto someone else.

And what about ‘afterpains’? No, not the ones which last for the next eighteen years. These are the pains that occur when a hormone is released from what is left of your brain and the milk letdown process begins. This hormone also stimulates your uterus to contract back to its pre-pregnant shape. However, as we all know, when air is released from a balloon, it never quite regains its previous shape.

So not only are your nipples excruciatingly mangled every one to four hours, but your uterus, obviously feeling its heyday is over, now gleefully starts contracting in time to the baby’s suck – and your screams. Talk about adding insult to injury. We now have conclusive evidence that God is most definitely not a woman.

I remember sitting in the breastfeeding chair in the nursery in a pool of blood and clotted matter too terrified to move lest the dam burst completely and flood the entire room. My tortured nipples were on fire and in the end I did what I do best, I burst into tears and cried like the baby that was causing all my pain.

Eventually we did sort of come together and my baby must have got some sort of nutrition from me because she put on weight and ‘thrived’. But I was not the sort of mother who could effortlessly whip out her breasts and hold bubs with one hand and a cup of coffee with the other. I needed two hands just to keep her from being smothered. I would watch other mums at playgroup open their lycra maternity bras, flash beautifully sculpted breasts, wave baby in the general direction and attach with military precision.

I searched the southern hemisphere for industrial strength metal maternity bras, then gave up and spent the best part of my day in a smelly dressing gown surrounded by an Everest of cushions.

I will never know how or why I persevered for ten months. I am glad I did, but my second two children were on the bottle within eight weeks. I then had fifteen years of unrelenting guilt at not having breastfed for longer. In fact, I have only just got rid of the last remnants of the shame that used to curdle my conscience.

It took me that long to acknowledge that ‘artificial feeding’ is still highly authentic.

And just when I thought breast-feeding couldn’t get any worse, I was told I had inverted nipples. “They are NOT inverted,” I said, “they are just too damn scared to come out.”

That’s when I ended up with mastitis – which is when the milk of human kindness turns to sour cream – and I finally realized.

I could have my breasts back. Well, sort of.

Mothers' Psychology of Breastfeeding – When the Milk of Human Kindness Turns to Sour Cream


Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at iinet.net.au


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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2009). Mothers' Psychology of Breastfeeding – When the Milk of Human Kindness Turns to Sour Cream. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/unplugged/2009/05/mothers-psychology-of-breastfeeding-when-the-milk-of-human-kindness-turns-to-sour-cream/

 

Last updated: 4 May 2009
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