When breastfeeding is a big problem

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 Photo: Getty Images

When my first son was born I was determined to breastfeed - or at least give it a go. But, as with all the best laid plans, it wasn't meant to be.

Lying in the hospital bed I was manhandled by multiple nurses. They'd parade in with their clipboards, all keen to tick the 'can breastfeed' box, and they'd wrestle my very large breasts into all manner of shapes.

The older midwives were less than gentle, grabbing my nipples and squeezing them until I almost screamed. They'd say things like "don't worry, you've got this" and "it's just a matter of practice" before pummeling my breast like some fresh piece of dough.

The younger midwives were more tentative and kind, but this only exacerbated their struggle to help.

By day three I was really stressed. My son was hungry and I felt like a failure. My breasts were sore and I'd resorted to the painful and excruciatingly slow process of expressing colostrum by hand. The lactation consultant was called.

Sitting next to me, she was patient and understanding as I relayed my concerns through ill-disguised sobs and leaking snot. She nodded patiently and, rather than preparing my breasts to go into the oven to rise, she was gentle and reassuring.

When I left hospital, I felt slightly braver and continued trying to breastfeed, but my son never truly latched on.

The struggle became mentally and emotionally draining for us both. Added into that was also the persistent fear I had that my son was going to suffocate.

Being blessed (or rather not so blessed, in my opinion) with ample breasts, feeding safely, comfortably and discreetly added another layer of challenge.

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No matter how I contorted myself, my son was always smothered in breast. His little head would become enveloped and I'd have to hold my breast aloft to ensure he was able to breath. It wasn't a restful or bonding experience for either of us.

When I was out, I found the whole process even harder. Already conscious of feeding in public, I'd juggle with a blanket while simultaneously trying to prise my watermelon breast out from its extra-reinforced bra.

I'd flail around like an octopus trying to keep my dignity, feed my baby and prevent a health and safety hazard all at the same time.

It wasn't long before I gave up trying to breastfeed, and I certainly attribute my breast size as adding to my struggle. Of course, I'm far from alone.

In a recent interview, Australian blogger, Sophia Cachia, spoke out about struggling to breastfeed her four month old with her 12GG breasts, particularly in public.

"It was often physically impossible," Cachia said. "My boobs are quite large and when your milk comes in, they often double in size, so it wasn't me being embarrassed. It's more an issue of 'can you do it?'"

Cachia said that when it came to breastfeeding she would often, quite literally, need a helping hand from her husband, Jaryd.

"I often needed my husband to help me because your babies are so little, there's a risk of suffocating your babies, which people laugh at when I tell them but it's actually a serious issue."

Lois Wattis, a lactation consultant and author of "New Baby 101 – A Midwife's Guide for New Parents". She acknowledges that breastfeeding can cause challenges for large breasted women, but says that there are ways to overcome these.

"I would encourage all women to attend a breastfeeding class before their baby is born to understand about how the breasts work and the principles which enable optimal positioning and attachment of baby to the breast," she says.

Wattis says that big breasted women usually find the underarm hold (football hold), is a better position to view their baby while latching effectively to breastfeed. She also suggests rolling up a face washer or small towel and placing it under the breast to lift it.

"This is often helpful with positioning and ensures the weight of the breast is lifted away from the baby's chest," she advises. "Breastfeeding while side lying can also work well for large breasted women."

Wattis notes that seeing a lactation consultant during pregnancy can be beneficial for women with concerns about their breasts' ability to function. This may be due to problems such as gestational diabetes, thyroid imbalances, flat or inverted nipples or previous breast surgery.

"A lactation consultant can review an expectant mother's history and devise a plan for after the baby is born," she says. "They can also help women with flat or inverted nipples by advising on the correct size, application and use of a nipple shield."

Like all new mothers, Wattis says that large-breasted women benefit from expert breastfeeding help after giving birth and aren't any more likely to choose not to breastfeed, or to give up sooner than women of other shapes and sizes.

"Breastfeeding is a new skill which can challenge new mothers and babies for a range of reasons, but almost all problems can be overcome with the right help."