As I watch Aryn stare into my eyes while I’m nursing her, it dawned upon me that this simple act was a nightmare merely 5 months ago. With both my girls, I had a difficult time teaching them (and myself) how to breastfeed. Nevertheless, I managed to feed Rhea exclusive expressed breast milk for a whole 13 months, and Aryn has it from the direct source now.
5 years ago when I was carrying Rhea, I had a vision of me sitting on a cushioned armchair, cradling my nursling in my arms. It was an angelic image where baby was feeding gently on me, filling her tiny tummy calmly while I gaze upon her with a gratifying smile. I could almost see a halo above me in that picture. The actual experience was far from that perception.
To begin with, I prepared the entire family who was going to be around me during my confinement period – The parents, the in-laws and the husband. I heard from many mothers that the older folks are usually the ones who get in the way by constantly encouraging the introduction of milk formula. Who can blame them? They were bombarded with the benefits of formula in the 70s and 80s? Remember the Nespray and Dumex advertisements we watched on TV then? Those were what made our parents believe in formula. More women stepped out to the workforce in the 70s and 80s, mothers were encouraged to feed their babies formula milk for the convenience and the made-believe benefits. Plus, when a newborn is bawling her eyes out (which is very normal), everyone defaults to panic mode and blames the mother for not feeding enough. I encourage all parents to educate themselves before the birth of their babies, to avoid getting caught in a situation where grandparents or confinement nannies takeover the reins and do things their old-fashioned ways. Babies cry for a number of reasons. Wet nappies, gas in the stomach, growing pains, insecurity, etc… they can’t be hungry all the time since their stomachs are the size of a cherry in the first couple of weeks. It is easy to blame the mother when nothing else except suckling, soothes the baby.
In the first 2 days at the hospital after delivering Miss Han, I thought nursing a baby was as simple as stuffing the source into baby’s mouth. And that was what I attempted. The famous head of TMC Parentcraft, Mrs Wong Boh Boi, even came personally to check if she was latching on correctly. “Chia Zah Bor” was what she called Rhea. The little terror fought the introduction to my boobs. Nonetheless, I put up with her temper and pushed on after being discharged. I ended up with sore nipples less than a week at home and didn’t succeed with cup-feeding. And since we are on the topic of cup-feeding, I wonder who invented this absurd method of feeding a newborn? While it appears rather uncomplicated when the nurse does it, it was an impossible feat for me. I would end up spilling the meager but yet invaluable amount of colostrum on the baby. No one told me anything about syringe feeding at that time. It was the breast, the cup or the bottle. So the skin on my teat broke and I bled. I bet Rhea drank some of my blood then. Every latch sent tears flowing down my cheeks. I succumbed to the bottle when Rhea was 2 weeks old. I had to rest my abused bosoms and took a break from direct feeding. The pump gave me agony too, but the pain was not as excruciating. When I got better and wanted to re-latch her on, she had forgotten how to do so and rejected me. The bottle was so much easier, lesser effort on her part. More milk, less time. Rhea was a smart baby.
I continued my breastfeeding journey for the next 13 months by lugging the cumbersome pump everywhere I went. With, or without baby, the pump was my siamese twin. This was what happened – Before Rhea woke every day, I crawled out of bed and pumped away. When I was done, I transferred the milk into the bottle and fed her. This was the same at every single feed. When we were out, I retreated to a nursing room to pump for the upcoming feed. It was an inconvenient task but I was really proud of myself for sticking through it for 13 months.
Oh, did I mention the horrible Mastitis? When I thought bleeding nipples were the worst, along came mastitis. I was hit with cycles of high fever and unbearable chills, and worse, my milk supply dipped drastically. I had to shiver through the night silently, fearing that any groan or sob may wake the sleeping baby.
When I returned to work, my pump sessions were often interrupted by meetings and deadlines. This impacted my milk output and I was not producing enough for Rhea’s daily feeds. Then I made the decision to increase the frequency to 2-2.5 hourly instead of the usual 4 hourly, for 3 weeks. I even woke up at night to pump when Rhea started to sleep through the night. That, together with taking fenugreek, helped.
When Aryn came along, I swore that I will succeed this time with real breastfeeding. Nothing was going to stand in my way. Not even the dreadful pain. I made sure I had the lactation consultant check my latch in the hospital, and she told me it was not going to be easy because I had short nips. What?! I had never come across this in the books I studied; no one ever shared that with me before too. Not even Mrs Wong Boh Boi who helped me latch Rhea on, some 4 years back. I was not about to give up. I kept putting Aryn on me to suckle at every feed, from hospital to home. I bit my lips whenever my nips felt sore, I cringed at the sight of blood in my milk. I needed help desperately if I was ever going to succeed.
A friend recommended a lactation consultant to me – Catherine Soon. She told me that Catherine is a mother of 5 (seriously?!), and is a certified Doula who helped her with the birth of her 2 beautiful daughters. I called Catherine and she popped by the same day. Catherine was Godsend. She noticed that the milk was all clogged in my areola, causing it to swell and making it difficult for the little one to take. She helped cleared the blockage and practiced the latch with me until we (me & baby) got it perfect. The 2nd time I called for Catherine, was when mastitis hit me bad. My left breast was engorged with patches of redness and was pain to the slightest touch. My fever wouldn’t go away after doses of Paracetamol and I was unable to care for Aryn. When Catherine came, she spent more than an hour massaging my breasts to unclog my ducts. Milk was squirting all over the room, and I felt more pain than I did in the labour room (I had epidural, of course). But I couldn’t be more thankful for her service, I felt so much comfort after she left, and fever departed that very night.
By this time, I was in the 2nd week of breastfeeding, the same friend who recommended Catherine to me, motivated me with frequent words of encouragement. My ex-colleague also introduced me to a facebook page for breastfeeding mothers where one can find support and seek answers to uncertainties. Day by day, week by week, I overcame the challenges and today, I am proud to say I have conquered breastfeeding! Throw on a nursing shawl and I can nurse everywhere, anytime.