Question: Can you breastfeed with inverted nipples?
GreatMum Sh*tMum (that’s me) stands at the side of the road, arm outstretched. Her thumb is pointing upwards. In the distance she sees a large vehicle. It’s slowing down. As it grinds to a halt beside her she reads the big, bold letters emblazoned on its side – ‘Bandwagon.’ The passenger door flings open and she jumps on board….
Gonna talk about breast v bottle-feeding after last week’s news:
‘The Royal College of Midwives’ new position statement makes it explicitly clear that women should be supported if, after being given advice, information and support, they opt to bottle-feed using formula milk. Although breast is best, often some women struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding, says the RCM.’ (see full article)
No shit. Yeah, some of us struggle.
After reading a few of these articles, I spoke to a lovely midwife friend of mine and asked her views. She said she has always advised and supported mothers, no matter how they choose to feed, and so I think it’s important that midwives are not given bad press here.
Having said this, some new mothers out there must feel that they were not fully supported with bottle-feeding otherwise they wouldn’t have issued this statement, would they? Whatever the reason, I think the RCM’s new position statement must be seen as a positive for mums struggling to breastfeed. It’s now there in black and white, that women who have given it a good go, who’ve made a thoroughly informed, carefully considered decision to bottle-feed, will not have to feel second-rate. Surely that’s great.
What’s bizarre is that no one really warned me how hard breastfeeding might be. They just gave me that NHS DVD where a woman with nipples the size of jumbo Wotsits shoves it to her baby, and breastfeeds easily with no problems at all.
Oh great! That looks like a breeze!
I guess I wont worry then. I’ll go back to listening to my hypno-birthing podcast and I shall not give it a second thought. (smiles, closes eyes, pops earphones in and sinks back onto the bed)
But the reality of breastfeeding for some of us is very different.
As you’ve probably guessed, I have inverted nipples, and let me tell you, breastfeeding with no nipples is kind of tricky… to say the least. Needless to say my first-born would not and could not latch on.
Immediately after giving birth I tried and failed to breastfeed, and so a stranger (a very nice midwife) milked me like a cow. It was very weird and intrusive having someone squeeze juice (the colostrum) out of my bare breasts and put it into a syringe. She took my baby away from me and sat on a couch at the far end of the room and fed her. I can’t begin to tell you how utterly heart-breaking that was. I so wish she’d given me the option of feeding her myself. But no. A total stranger fed my new born baby for the very first time, and that was that.
It made me feel like a pretty sh*t mother. (enter Sh*t Mum stage left)
The hours and days that followed went form bad to worse. My baby cried a lot from hunger. Different lactation consultants and midwives came and tried to get her to latch on. Most of them were amazing, kind and gentle, but I’ll never forget the one who was impatient, angry and frustrated. She pinched and shoved, tutted and rolled her eyes. I felt crushed. Forty-eight hours or so later I was sore, bruised, emotionally drained and physically frazzled.
My baby continued to cry from hunger, which let me tell you, is the worst sound you could ever hear. She started turning yellow from jaundice.
My shell shocked, bewildered husband was sent out to buy nipple shells, shields, and a pump.
My baby still cried and cried. She was weighed and was losing weight fast, so they took her from me to give her blood tests. I felt horrendous, like a mother cat whose kitten had been suddenly plucked away. I was anxious and exhausted. I felt utterly hopeless.
Why could I not feed my baby? All I want is to be able to… FEED MY BABY! Am I a worthless woman? Am I a bad mother?
At this point it would have been good if someone had slipped me a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
I’VE GOT NO BLOODY NIPPLES FOR F*CK SAKE!!!
I suppose it’s important to note here, that no one was actually forcing me to breastfeed.
But come on!
Shouldn’t someone have been doing that thing mechanics do when your old banger is f*cked and the cost of fixing it is more than the car is worth? As in, telling me not to bother? We can’t get those parts in love. EVER!!!
I suppose I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. I really wanted to crack it, and so all the professionals were supporting that choice. Passionately willing me on. They all told me it could be done with inverted nipples. They’d seen it done many times before and I just needed to stick at it and everything would be fine.
It took three whole months for it to be fine. Three months of dreading every feed because of bleeding and soreness. My inverted nipples were being yanked inside out six to eight times a day and so pieces of the soft skin tore away and left raw, open wounds. It was toe curling. Excruciating. To me it was worse than labour.
Because of my inverted nipples I had to use shields. This meant my baby could never get enough milk. I struggled to fully drain my boobs at each feed and so inevitably, I got chronic mastitis.
My breastfeeding tale was almost identical with baby number two. I was advised it would be easier second time round, because my first baby would have drawn my nipples out. Except she hadn’t.
If you know anything about inverted nipples (I do, because not only do I own a pair, but I’ve also Googled the shizzle out of it), you’ll know they’re inverted because the lactiferous duct, behind the nipple is too short. So, unless you have an operation to snip it, your nipples will always be held in that inside out position. It’s true, the duct may stretch, but for me, after stopping feeding first time round, they contracted, and I was back to square one.
So, why didn’t I just give up and turn to the bottle? (formula not vodka) Well, there’s your answer right there. I felt that choosing to stop breastfeeding was ‘giving up.’ Failing.
I was determined not to fail.
But why is it seen as a failure when a woman chooses (for whatever reason) not to breastfeed? Is it because it has been drummed into us that breast is best?
Is it because bottle-feeding is seen as lazy, selfish or vain?
There’s a definite stigma attached to bottle-feeding. So much so you always hear bottle-feeding mums justifying hard their reasons for doing so. This makes me sad. Some women just can’t breastfeed. End of. Surely that’s fine.
Perhaps another pressure is that breastfeeding is very ‘in’ at the moment. Reams of Insta mums are posting pictures of their suckling babes all snuggly and happy at the breast. That’s bound to make you feel like sh*t if you can’t do it. Right?
But surely just fed is best?
So, why am I writing this? I’m definitely not saying don’t breastfeed if you have inverted nipples. Just be aware that it may not work and it will be hard. Really hard. Also if you decide to move on to formula just remember you do have a pretty decent reason. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and try not to feel like you’ve failed or ‘given up.’
Can you breastfeed with inverted nipples?
Yes. I did. The support I received from the NHS midwives and breastfeeding clinics was nothing short of amazing, and so if you are determined to do it – you can, and you will. After cracking it I breastfed for for thirteen whole months with both of my babies, and it was the most wonderful and beautiful thing in the whole wide world.
Was it worth those first three months of hell? I’m not sure. I am proud I stuck at it and succeeded, but would I put myself through it again? Maybe not.
Think of your own wellbeing and sanity I say, because breastfeeding with inverted nipples is the hardest thing I’ve EVER done. EVER.
Good luck to you all and remember… FED IS BEST!
Great Mum Shit Mum hangs out the window of the bandwagon waving joyfully as her her saggy, breastfeeding boobies flap happily in the wind. It chugs off into the sunset in a lovely orangey-yellow cloud of dust.
PLEASE SHARE THIS POST (ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER OR TAG ON INSTAGRAM) WITH ANYONE YOU KNOW WHO IS – PREGNANT, BREASTFEEDING, BOTTLE-FEEDING OR ANYONE WHO HAS STRUGGLED/IS STRUGGLING WITH FEEDING.
THANKS AS ALWAYS FOR READING X