Breastfeeding can be absolutely glorious, but for many  it can be really challenging. Not only is it a skill that needs to be learned, its a ‘case by case’ thing. . Each mother is different. Each child is different (feeding my third baby was the most painful) . In Rhiannon Boyle’s case it was her inverted nipples that made breastfeeding a struggle. Here’s a summation of the roller-coaster ride her and her boobs went on:

  • No one 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 with no problems at all.

  • ‘I guess I won’t worry then.’ I thought.

  • The reality of breastfeeding with inverted nipples is very different.

  • Breastfeeding with no nipples is kind of tricky. To say the least.

  • Needless to say my first-born wouldn’t and couldn’t latch on. It was a bit like trying to feed a kid an ice cream through a window. A closed one.

  • Imagine that for a second. The eager bobbing back and forth. The wet lips slipping this way and that, sliding around on the smooth, flat surface.

  • ‘Just make sure you get your nipple right to the back of her throat.’ They said. Erm, what nipple? Oh, you mean these two dents? My shy, deformed dimples that stopped me going topless in Ibiza circa ‘95, and – in my pre husband days – were the reason I always kept my bra on during sex. (These things seem so trivial now)

  • ‘Get your nipple to the back of the throat’, was like telling me to eat soup with a freakin’ fork.  

  • Now, immediately after giving birth I tried and failed to breastfeed.

  • This meant a stranger (a very nice midwife) milked me. Like a cow. And guess what – I didn’t like it.

  • It felt very weird and intrusive having someone squeeze juice out of my bare breasts and put it into a syringe.

  • She then took my baby away from me, sat on a couch at the far end of the room and fed her.

  • I can’t begin to tell you how utterly heartbreaking that was.

  • I wish she’d given me the choice of feeding my baby. But no. A total stranger fed my newborn baby for the very first time. And that was that.

  • It made me feel like a pretty shit mother.

  • The hours and days that followed went from bad to worse.

  • They kept me in hospital for days.

  • My baby cried from hunger. A lot.

  • 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 that one who was impatient and frustrated. She pinched and shoved, tutted and rolled her eyes. I felt crushed.

  • Forty-eight hours or so later I was sore, bruised and emotionally/physically drained.

  • My baby continued to cry from hunger, which to this day is the worst sound I’ve ever heard.

  • She started turning yellow from jaundice.

  • My shell shocked, bewildered husband was sent out to buy nipple shells, shields, and a pump. It all felt so frantic, desperate and unnatural. I wanted to go home.

  • My newborn cried and cried.

  • She was weighed and was losing weight fast.

  • They took her from me and gave her blood tests.

  • I felt horrendous, like a mother cat whose kitten had been suddenly plucked away.

  • I was anxious, stressed and exhausted.

  • I felt utterly hopeless.

  • Why couldn’t I 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 suppose it’s important to note here, that no one was actually forcing me to breastfeed. It was my choice.

  • But shouldn’t someone have been doing that thing mechanics do when your old banger is fucked and the cost of fixing it is more than the car is worth? As in, telling me not to bother?

  • I suppose I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. I desperately wanted to crack it and 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. I just needed to stick at it and everything would be fine.

  • It took three whole months for it to be ‘fine’. Three long months of dreading every feed because of bleeding and soreness. My inverted nipples being yanked inside out six to eight times a day.

  • It was toe curling. Excruciating. To me it was worse than labour.

  • Because of my inverted nipples I had to use shields, which meant my baby could never get enough milk.

  • One day I remember my baby grizzling and fussing at the boob more than usual. She seemed unable to suck any milk through the shield. I gently pulled her away, removed the shield and noticed it was blocked with a piece of flesh that had torn away from my nipple. It was similar to a piece of gristle that you sometimes get inside a sausage and had left a rather large, raw hole. Blood poured out of my baby’s mouth and down her cheek.

  • I sobbed and sobbed.

  • The pain of the hole meant I struggled to fully drain my boobs at each feed and so inevitably, I got chronic mastitis.

  • I spent every day in a different breastfeeding support group.

  • In group I was advised to feed my baby upside down to drain the blockages, which were at the top of my boob.

  • I’ll never forget how much we laughed when Joan – the lactation consultant – held my baby by the legs upside down and she let rip the biggest, loudest fart in her face.

  • Those women were truly wonderful. I’ll never be able to thank them enough – Jeanette, Joan and Tatiana to name a few. They held my hand, wiped my tears and picked me up when my spirit was crushed.

  • Unfortunately 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 you’ll know they’re inverted because the lactiferous duct, behind the nipple is too short. Unless you have an operation to snip it, your nipples will always be held in that inside out position. Yes, 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 was ‘giving up.’ Failing.

  • I was determined not to fail.

  • But why is it seen as a failure when a woman chooses not to breastfeed?

  • Is it because it has been drummed into us that breast is best? Probably.

  • Is it because bottle-feeding is seen as lazy, selfish or vain? Maybe?

  • 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’? We’re bombarded with reams of pictures of mums on social media with their suckling babes snuggled at the breast. That’s bound to make you feel like crap if you can’t do it.

  • Surely just – fed is best?

  • The Royal College of Midwives’ new position statement makes it 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.

  • So, why am I writing this?

  • I’m definitely not saying don’t breastfeed if you have inverted nipples. And I’m not saying it can’t be done, because it can. Just be aware that it may not work, and it will be hard. Really hard.

  • Also if you decide to move on to formula remember you do have a pretty decent reason. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Try not to feel like you’ve failed or ‘given up’.

  • So, can you breastfeed with inverted nipples? Yes. I did. The support I received was nothing short of amazing. So if you are determined to do it – you can, and you will.

  • After cracking it I breastfed both my babies for thirteen whole months 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’m proud I stuck at it and succeeded, but would I put myself through it again? I dunno.

  • Think of your own wellbeing I say, because breastfeeding with inverted nipples is the hardest thing I’ve EVER done. Harder than pregnancy, labour and taking a dump at Glastonbury, all rolled into one.

  • So if you – like me – are smuggling dimples, and your nips are more pits than peanuts, then brace yourself.

  • I wish you all the luck in the world and just remember – fed is best.

** Find Rhiannon at and my insta @the_daily_boyle. Photos by Gemma Griffiths Photography .**

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  • Reply loulou April 12, 2019 at 7:41 am

    Oh Rhiannon. Every word of this resonates with me. This was me with my first. I too have the pleasure of dimple nipples and I had no idea it would be so hard. I too stayed in hospital for days having been milked by a healthcare assistant day and night and been refused a pump.. finally when my nipples were so raw and bleeding my husband put his foot down and demanded to try a bottle of formula so we could go home. Thankfully I had the most amazing midwife who came to see me that first day at home. She cried with me and said I had to stop trying for at least a week and let myself heal, to pump instead and then we’d try and start again. Which we did. It certainly wasn’t plain sailing and it tried for 4 months before finally deciding to admit defeat and stop. For my sake and Arthur. I still wish now that I’d just stopped sooner and listened to my brain but my heart was in overdrive and I so wanted it to work. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Means a lot xx

  • Reply Christina April 13, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing. This resonated so much with me. My baby is 8 weeks. I stopped at 5. The last 3 weeks have been heavenly. My body is my own again. The pain had gone away. I haven’t fully healed though. I do find myself justifying the bottle. I miss breast feeding. When it worked it was empowering and beautiful, when it didn’t it was painful, horrible, stressful and made me scream with pain at my poor hungry baby. Happy mum = happy baby. He is now much more relaxed, feeds are peaceful, he sleeps through the night. Life is good. I feel good. The guilt of stoping will fade away completely eventually. I hope. X

  • Reply Kendall April 14, 2019 at 7:00 am

    I could have written this exact post. Luckily like you I had wonderful support and managed to feed my little girl for 6 months. But being told on day 2 of her little life that we had to give her formula otherwise she’d likely end up in a&e was the most soul crushing thing, as was the panic every time we had to leave the house in case she needed a feed and wouldn’t be able to latch and would just scream as she was starving. When I look back it makes me wonder why i persisted but I’m a stubborn old bat. Would I breastfeed again if we were lucky enough to have a second? I think I probably would, but I wouldn’t be so hard on myself this time around if it didn’t immediately go to plan. Thanks for your post, it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one as it felt like I was at the time x

  • Reply Caroline April 14, 2019 at 7:21 am

    Oh gosh all this brings back the memories and the fact my little boy had a tongue tie that a paediatrician failed to diagnose and made me feel like the most awful mum for thinking he had one when she said he didn’t. Anyway after him not gaining weight in the first 7 weeks I turned to expressing full time for 9 weeks and then at 16 weeks his tie was cut. It honestly felt like a miracle. We are still feeding at 27 months (too long I know) and so glad that he’s had what he needs from me but does make me think about bottle feeding the next cause then I wouldn’t have the issues but can I be arsed with bottles at night. No thanks 😂

  • Reply Siobhán April 14, 2019 at 8:45 am

    It’s such a relief to see someone else talk about this. I felt like the only person in the world experiencing this with my daughter and turned to exclusive pumping. Noone could help – every support group, helpline and health visitor just kept telling me to keep trying without really understanding. My baby got what she needed but I was totally wrecked. I’m now 6 months pregnant again and have promised to spare myself the torture of exclusive pumping this time. I’m hoping for a mixture but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Go you for talking about it.

  • Reply Jan November 29, 2019 at 12:43 am

    This was me thirty years ago, except there was no support. I always assumed it would be impossible for me to breastfeed because of my severely inverted nips (the type that never come out, ever, not for any reason). No health professional ever suggested that it might be possible, so this re-enforced my belief. So I formula fed. Back then, there was no pressure but at the same time, no support. I don’t feel guilty, I know I wouldn’t have got anywhere without support (or a pump).

  • Reply Caz November 10, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    This post reasonated with me so much. I struggled so much with breastfeeding my first child. It was a constant cycle of trying to get him to latch/ending up using a bottle/pumping to get the milk out. It took 6 months before we could ‘exclusively breastfeed’ and at 7 months he decided he didn’t want the boob anyway!
    When I see celebrities posting glamorous photos and talking about ‘normalising’ breastfeeding I feel frustrated and inadequate. I would have had no issue with breastfeeding in public if it hadn’t been such a traumatic experience every single time (hungry, screaming baby/nipple shields flying around/me desperately trying to get him to latch with tears rolling down my face). When people talk about how it’s ‘easy to be discreet’ I think they need to reflect on just how lucky they are to be in that position. It was NEVER discreet for us! It’s also hard to open up about. People will say “Oh yes, breastfeeding can be hard but it’s so worth it”. It’s not just hard, it can be a physical impossibility.
    I am pregnant with my second and I have promised myself that I will switch to formula earlier on if it doesn’t work out. I can’t put myself through it all again, especially with a toddler to look after as well! I really enjoyed reading the comments too so thank you.

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