Look away now if you wince at the word breastfeeding or blush at the sight of an areola. ‘Cause I’m going to be talking about nipples, and it ain’t purty!

Delaney, 5 months old, June 2010

You would think that — this being almost half-way through the first year of Baby Number Four — I would have breastfeeding down pat. Well, I could have it mastered by now, except that my body begs to differ.

In my breastfeeding experience, I’ve gone through the whole gamut of pain levels — from initial latching-on problems to cracked nipples (and eek! when a cracked nipple sticks to a breastpad or bra — ouch!) and through the waves of mastitis.

In fact, I can confidently say that I’ve got mastitis beat. At the first hint that something’s amiss in the mammaries, I eat two cloves of garlic — finely minced up — in a spoonful of honey and the infection disappears. (An anti-inflammatory drug like Ibuprofen dulls the pain, but it doesn’t actually fix the infection.)

But nipple thrush has reared its ugly — uh — fungus, and it didn’t take long before I knew about it. The infected breast (or breasts) aches with shooting pains, even between feeds. Let-down is particularly awful, and the nipple is painfully tender.

After several feedings, often the nipple becomes raw and cracks, which then starts a horrible cycle of blood-soaked feeds where my baby drools blood like an infant vampire. And later on I’m reminded of the agony by discovering a very full nappy that looks like something died inside the baby and decomposed in a couple of hours before she pooped it out. Seriously. You remember meconium? It’s like that — except in a crawler’s quantities. Not pretty.

I’ve been using miconazole gel for several weeks, with very little improvement. Recently, I’ve discovered a bit of relief between feeds by wearing a nipple shield. It feels better, so during the day I walk around like a lopsided Lulu with one perky nipple poking through my shirt. (When others are around, I cover up with a chunky woollen sweater.)

However Delaney refuses to feed while I’m wearing the shield, so I curl my toes, try not to tense so much and grimace a smile at my darling baby who is hurting me oh so much!.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just the fact that redheads feel more acutely than others (which is scientifically proven, people!). This is just torture.

I find myself dreading the next feed. As we arrived home yesterday, I groaned in anticipation. David asked what was wrong, and I explained that I had to feed Delaney. Maybe it’s time to start solids, but I’m not going to quit — not yet anyway.

Delaney, 5 months old, June 2010

Sometimes I think breastfeeding isn’t supposed to be painful, and I try to remember the last time it was “pleasant”. At this point, pain-free breastfeeding is a vague memory, like a lovely dream that has receded into the back of your mind but you can’t grab hold of again because you’re stuck in reality.

The reality of painful feeding will continue for me — until the nipple thrush clears up. The advice I’ve read tells me to avoid refined sugars, alcohol, dried fruit and peanuts, cantaloupe (rockmelon) and grapes, fruit juice and Vegemite as well as taking all the usual steps to improve my and the baby’s hygiene.

So I persevere — despite the pain. And why?

Because I at look at Dell who pulls off and gives me a big, milky grin.

Delaney, 5 months old, June 2010
Yep, it's still worth it all.