Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Diary of a Breastfeeding Mom - Part 3

Check out this week's instalment below. Online version at

From StarTwo Parenting, The Star, August 18

18 August 2010



WHY didn’t you breastfeed us, Mum?” I asked my mother, out of curiosity.

“No one taught me how,” she answered. “When I first squeezed my milk out, it was yellowish. Now I know it’s colostrum, but your grandma said it was dirty and made me throw it out.”

And so my two siblings and I were raised on formula.

I suppose it was a different time, more than 30 years ago. The world was not as well-connected as it is today. There was no Google. My mother could not get information at the press of a button and so had to rely on the well-meaning (and often unsolicited) advice of the people around her.

I wouldn’t say things have changed that much today. The various urban myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding remain, proudly handed down from generation to generation.
Unsolicited advice still abound and the same old myths make their way into every new mother’s personal space.
Some of the gems that came my way include: “People invented formula for a reason – because breast milk is not nutritious enough”, “Your baby is too skinny, I think your breast milk lacks something”, “Are you sure you’re doing it right?” and the mother of all unsolicited advice: “Don’t breastfeed for too long, it’ll give you breast cancer”.
On the other side of the coin, I’m sure non-breastfeeding mummies get it bad, too.

I have had so many mothers tell me that they’re racked with guilt for not breastfeeding and made to feel like the worst mothers in the world. A friend disclosed that she was indirectly told that she was selfish, and by feeding her baby formula, she was feeding her child fungus cultivated DHA!
Another friend alerted me to the “dangers” of guilt-induced breast milk worship, for lack of a better phrase. There are mothers who stick to it despite feeling overwhelmed and tired, resulting in depression. Then there are mothers who, made to feel too guilty about not breastfeeding, stubbornly stick to it, without properly monitoring their baby’s weight gain and progress, resulting in severe dehydration of the baby.
Every situation is different, and many factors came into play, such as a proper support system, whether the mother suffered from post-partum depression, and getting the right information and advice.
For me, it worked because my husband was very supportive. When I got snide remarks from the nanny (whom we shall call Madame X) about how my baby preferred the taste of formula to my breast milk, self-doubt settled in immediately. He would simply tell me: “Ignore X. She (the baby) is your child. You decide what’s best for her.”

When Madame X insinuated that my baby was constantly crying because my breast milk did not fill her up, he reminded me that breast milk gets digested faster. “Just tell her to feed the baby more often,” he calmly said.
In my hometown of Sibu, the elderly give infants a ground rice porridge (which is rice ground into powder and cooked into a thin gruel) mixed into their formula. It was hinted by Madame X several times that I should feed my baby this gruel, too. She fed her sons that when they were growing up.
According to her, this gruel is nutritious and will bulk up baby’s weight significantly.
Well, if you ate a double portion of carbohydrates every day, wouldn’t you bulk up, too? It’s just empty calories. They’re also forgetting that rice is starchy, and hard to digest, especially for an infant whose digestive system has not fully matured.

Surprisingly, my mother who never breastfed a day in her life, was fully supportive.

Once in a while, she would ask me whether I was feeding the baby water (which I didn’t in the first six months of exclusive feeding), but each time I would remind her that my breast milk was both food and drink for baby for the first six months. “In that case, you better drink more chicken soup,” was her reply every time. It can’t be helped; I am Chinese, I was raised on chicken soup.

My mother-in-law made chicken tonic for me every week, for which I am thankful.

Now that I’ve been breastfeeding for so long, I’ve learnt to ward off unsolicited advice and snide comments or better yet, just let them roll off my back. I suggest you do the same.

Eating right

THERE are certain foods that I eat to make sure my breast milk is healthy for baby. I pretty much stick to a balanced diet, like how I ate when I was pregnant.

I eat a lot of protein, which used to be a lot of chicken, but now I am substituting with plant-based protein like tofu and beans. Once in a while I’ll take fish, but the quality of fish in this country has deteriorated so much I hesitate. I have an egg a day and take a multivitamin.

I have double-boiled chicken soup once a week, try to eat more vegetables and fruits and drink a lot of water.

When I was still pumping, I discovered one day that my breast milk had reduced significantly. I thought it was drying up, but it was because I happened to eat some foods that can stop milk flow. Peppermint, chives and hibiscus, all in one day! I ordered hibiscus tea (of all things!). So stay away from these foods if you don’t want your milk to stop.

As you can see, I did not have to make any special arrangements diet-wise. The key is to eat a balanced meal every time because it is not only good for baby, but for you, too.

Next week: 20 months and counting


Yi Ling said...

Hi Elaine,
It's me again. I doubted myself during first confinement when my confinement lady kept on telling me my baby was not full whenever she cried after breastfeeding. I felt I failed as a mum by not producing enough milk. Then my MIL would be harping telling me I must feed breastmilk. My mum who was here told me to rest well and if the baby did not want to latch, so be it. It was overwhelming and depressing!
During the second confinement, armed with more experience, I could breastfeed more efficiently and I learned to ignore my confinement lady saying my baby was not full. I think most confinement lady/ nanny dislike breastfed babies because they usually cry to be latched and they will poo a lot.
I think success in breastfeeding depends a lot on mothers' mentality. If we think it is OK to sacrifice our sleep for one year plus in order to breastfeed for a healthier baby, we will think it is worth it. Most of mothers that I know are horrified with the fact that they have to wake up at night to feed their baby. I will usually tell them it is better than waking up at night to take care of a sick baby.

Elaine said...

Hello Yi Ling,
I'm glad you had a better second experience, like me:) And I do agree with your last comment. I shall use that next time!

GT said...

Hi Elaine,

I'm glad you have this blog and that it's on The Stars too. Breastfeeding is part of natural process that made us 'mammal. Sad but true, it disappeared from the urban society during a big chunk of time.

I breastfed my two sons as well. Elder one till he was 1 year 7 months (because of the second one on his ways and had to stop due to full day 'morning sickness.) The second one was till he was 2 and a half.

The mystery about 'I don't have enough milk' as baby keeps on drinking is the 'killer' of the process. People didn't relate to baby's growth spurt period that well at all. Many of my friends had stopped just around that time.

The other scary factor my neighbour experienced was the confinement lady. She disliked breastfeeding as it interrupted her feeding schedule. Every time I popped in her house, she gave me the mean look as 'here she come! The breastfeeding witch!"

Cabbage is also not milk-producing friendly. For the same reason as it can accelerate the 'goiter' problem, it slows down the milk production.

Enjoy breastfeeding!

Elaine said...

Hey GT,
thanks for your comment:) yes, I find usually confinement ladies are anti-breastfeeding, which si quite sad really.

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