THE day my milk 'arrived' my colleagues threatened to visit. I prayed they wouldn't and they didn't. It is hard to be friendly when you have your breasts swaddled in frozen cabbage leaves. When overnight you have gone from having an average-sized chest to having breasts the size of melons that hurt more than toothache. Until the moment was upon me I had not seriously considered breast-feeding. But it is difficult to call off the dinner party as the food is being served. With the ordeal of actually producing the baby over, I was suddenly faced with this small defenceless creature with a mouth as wide open as a chick waiting for a worm. During antenatal classes I had paid vague attention to the theory of breast-feeding. I wondered why the lecturer suffered attacks of mirth when warning mothers to get plenty of rest in anticipation of what was to come. Warning bells might have sounded faintly, but subconsciously I went deaf. After all, like many of my peers, I was not breast-fed. Bottle feeding was fashionable in the '60s. I even survived cow's milk - which is completely taboo today. So I assumed the sophisticated formula now available would be the best food for my baby. That was before I was made aware of the combined opinion of the medical fraternity that breast was best. That was also before I ran into midwives who learned bullying tactics from Greenpeace. As long as the mother is healthy and has normal breasts (size, apparently, is irrelevant), there is no such thing as not being able to breast-feed, the experts say. 'Babies fed entirely on breast milk ingest a perfect food, purpose-built for humans, easily and simply digested and absorbed by the body,' said Alison Lovett at the antenatal classes run by Everdawn Midwifery Counselling Services. 'A major advantage of breast-feeding is that human colostrum [the clear liquid the baby feeds on immediately after it is born and until the milk 'comes in'] and the later breast milk contains large amounts of antibodies against disease. 'When the baby is fed exclusively on human colostrum and breast milk, recent medical evidence has shown these substances act together as a kind of 'protective paint' along the gut, which sets to form a lining along its wall,' Ms Lovett said. 'The ingestion of substances other than human breast milk interrupt the formation of this protective lining and therefore deprive the infant of a vital form of protection,' she said. Although the guilt string had been tweaked, I still sneered at the strange breast-feeding jargon. The expression 'when your milk comes in' sounded like a food train pulling into a station. Ms Lovett spoke to our class of November babies about strange things like 'good latches' and 'let downs'. 'Yeah, yeah,' I thought, 'that has nothing to do with me.' When she showed the class a breast pump, I shrieked with laughter. When she told us about amaternity bra, I turned up my nose. Zippers on your underwear? How wanton can you get? That was before I was humbled - before my milk came in with more drama than any food train and before the midwives at Matilda Hospital swaddled me with frozen cabbage leaves to ease the pain of breast engorgement. It was while I still had some pride, before the vegetable matter started to defrost, making me smell like canteen soup. Now, I appreciate the value of a breast pump - an ingenious device which allows you to sleep for more than two hours in a row. It enables you to express milk and let someone else feed the baby when it wakes up to be fed at three-hourly intervals. Very sensible. The zipper or quick-release mechanism on a maternity bra means cold cabbage can be stuffed in as fast as possible. More importantly, it means you can whip out dinner in a flash when your peacefully sleeping baby turns into a screaming purple monster, and before the neighbours call the RSPCA. The 'latch' - the way in which the baby suckles - turned out to be important. And suddenly, I wished I had paid more attention at antenatal classes. There is nothing funny about cracked nipples, especially when you are wrestling with a floppy baby with surprisingly strong jaws. The 'let down' (milk being released) does not happen when you are tense, tired, irritated and desperate all at once, not unusual in someone who manages just two hours' sleep a day and rarely in one stretch. Hormones which should instruct your brain to tellyour breast to let go of the milk when the baby is nursing frantically are not released when you are at death's door. By this stage your nipples are war-damaged, postnatal depression has set in and it is time to go home and sleep all night with the baby, without a nursery to send it to, and no pethidine. I had to admit defeat. I had never even considered taking the Everdawn package ($3,600 for nine postnatal visits) imagining I was perfectly competent and capable. Suddenly, it was easy to admit I was desperate. That the most natural thing in the world does not come naturally at all. 'If you can't visit me, I can't leave hospital,' I said, meaning every word when I begged them to fit me in at short notice. To cut a long and painful story short, the Everdawn angel saved my life (not to mention my husband's sanity). She cajoled, she bullied, she comforted. She kept telling me I would feel thrilled with myself. She refused to let me quit. When I told her to go to hell she ignored me. My daughter is now seven weeks old. Apart from the odd leakage at inopportune moments (you can always pretend you spilled something), I have to confess breast-feeding has to be one of the best things I have ever done. Once you make it past the first month,it is magic.