Cabbage Patch Tits

Image credit: atoss / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: atoss / 123RF Stock Photo

Motherhood is not glamorous.  I carefully placed cabbage leaves on my breasts and straightened my tight fitting sports bra.  I thought about the irony of my breastfeeding experience over the past four years – at first milk would not come and now it won’t bloody stop.  I am sore, lumpy, swollen and tired.  I want to move on to the next stage of motherhood and leave babyhood behind me, but my breasts are not cooperating.

Cabbages are not glamorous.  I am no scientist but this vegetable hides a wealth of important nutrients and disease-fighting superpowers. There is something in its chemical compounds that act as an anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory treatment.  Whatever the reason, it is nothing short of miraculous for breastfeeding women.  The leaves are perfectly curved to cup the breasts, they are cool, and they are cheap and have no side-effects for mother or baby.

Since becoming a mother I have had a strong relationship with cabbage leaves.  When my first son was born, I was idealistic.  I wanted to breastfeed, it was the best thing any mother could do and of course all new mums want to do ‘the right thing’.  But after five days of only colostrum and with no milk in sight my baby was starving and I had hot, heavy and sore breasts.  The experience was agony all round.  Finally an older midwife secretly (because apparently using formula in a hospital is a serious crime) and quietly asked me if I would like to give him a ‘finger feed’.  I had no idea what this was but heard ‘feed’ and said yes.  She returned with a tiny bottle with a long teat like animal rescue use with joeys.  He drank 30mls of formula and slept for 8 hours.  I rested.  My milk ‘came in’ overnight and we were able to leave the hospital the next day.  But no-one ensured that I actually could breastfeed.  There was a silent assumption that every woman could and should and this was the philosophy of the hospital.

We packed up and moved to a hotel (since home was a flight away) and my husband went across the road to the corner shop for supplies.  He told my story to the woman at the shop who sold him a whole cabbage and swore by it to help with sore breasts from breastfeeding.

I was annoyed that my breasts were being discussed so openly but tried the cabbage leaves.  The effect was cooling and reduced the swelling quickly.  Something in the leaves healed my chafed, cracked and bleeding nipples.  Yet each time I tried to attach my son he could not take enough of my breast in his mouth and only seemed to suck my nipple and make me sorer.  I stubbornly persevered.  He was doing fine but I could not cope with the thought of the next breastfeed and cried at the idea of it.  After being home for about two weeks the pain increased. Each time he fed I got stabbing pains in my breasts that made me scream.  I just kept thinking I was not doing it ‘right’.  I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with nipple thrush.  After getting this sorted I went on to breast feed my son for 10 months but it did not get easier until he was about three months old.

There was something else though.  Each time I fed him I would get strong, surging and conflicting emotions.  These ranged from extreme depression, to unexplainable guilt to overwhelming love for my baby and irrational fear that something would happen to him.

It took me a long time to work out what was going on; that I was captive to my hormones.  That all my education, my career, my sense of identity was gone and my body had taken ‘me’ over.  Finally realising this changed nothing.  I couldn’t change my feelings.  But I could use cabbage leaves and they cooled me and at least gave a physical relief.

After 10 months I had lost some weight and was beginning to feel like I had motherhood under control.  My baby was thriving and I felt good.  Then it happened; I discovered I was pregnant again.

This time I was determined that my breastfeeding experience would be different and so it was. This time it was seven days until my milk came in and I did not get thrush.  What I got instead was more cracking and bleeding nipples as my second boy was big and ravenous and gnawed on my breasts relentlessly.  Again I could not get enough of my breast in his mouth to stop the friction on my nipple and he was feeding every two hours!  Frustratingly, I got plenty of support but no practical advice from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.  So I turned to cabbage leaves again and packed my bras with them.  They helped me heal while I seriously considered formula feeding.  My searing hot breasts were making me sweat so much at night that I would wake with wet hair and clothes.  Each morning I would peel the leaves off my breasts and they were wilted as if my body had cooked them.  But it was like they absorbed the heat and the pain for me.

Throughout this time I beat myself up about not being able to give birth ‘properly’ (both babies were Caesarean) and not being able to feed them ‘properly’.  I reached a new low when I thought that if I formula-fed this baby I would have disadvantaged him somehow.

Then a gorgeous friend offered the use of her breastfeeding pillow.  I’d never heard of such a thing.  But miraculously it positioned my baby properly and took the weight off my shoulders and his feeding stopped hurting me.  I felt a blessed relief and cried tears of joy and bought my own pillow.  I went on to breastfeed for 10 months.

The strange feelings of guilt and depression dogged me though but as my baby was doing so well I repressed them.  I was getting confident again and thinking that two children were more than enough (after dealing with son number two being a non-sleeper).  And then I fell pregnant again.

This time around I actually packed formula in my hospital bag.  I was not going to be intimidated by self righteous midwives.  I would try to breastfeed but if it didn’t work out I was not going to have a hungry baby and a suffering me.  But this time it was different; baby number three fed correctly from the very first day and did not hurt me.  This was a very positive time and those old weird feelings diminished.

Now my baby son is weaned.  My boys are 4, 2 and 1.  They are all strong, healthy and have an insatiable desire to live, explore and enjoy the world.

This morning as I negotiated the obstacle course of scattered toys and books, dress up clothes, doonas, DVD covers, shoes, pencils and other domestic detritus I slipped on a magnetic letter C that had been pulled off the fridge.  I cursed silently as Master 4 said “Hey that’s the letter C, C is for cabbages!”  Indeed.

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