Check out this week's instalment below. Online version at parenthots.com
From StarTwo Parenting, The Star, August 18
18 August 2010
DIARY OF A BREASTFEEDING MUM
By ELAINE DONG
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.
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