I am doing a four-parter this month at work in conjuction with Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Breastfeeding is something I feel very strongly about so it is apt that I share this here as well. Look out for the column every Wednesday in August (for those overseas, go to http://thestar.com.my/ and look for Parenting. I'll also be posting it on the blog anyway, so do check in here if you can't find the article online.).
From StarTwo Parenting, The Star, August 4
DIARY OF A BREASTFEEDING MUM
By ELAINE DONG
I WAS not prepared at all for my first baby. Don’t get me wrong; I did everything I was supposed to do. I read the requisite literature on everything baby – how to put baby to bed, how to burp, bathe and breastfeed baby.
I had Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Babyby Tracy Hogg, which I find is the best book on taking care of baby. I bought everything she needed and probably some things she didn’t really need – clothes, nappies, BPA-free milk bottles, blankets, cot, toys and picture board books.
Of the lot, the most important was the breast pump, and I found the mother of all breast pumps after months of research and reading reviews online.
I had it all figured out; I would breastfeed her until she was six months old and then wean her onto formula. I would do a combo of nursing her directly from the breast and using the bottle. This way, when I went back to work, my baby can have an easy transition to the bottle. I had a plan, and the plan was going to make me the best possible mother. As you can see, I was not prepared at all.
When baby finally came, it was a really intense period. The changes my body went through during pregnancy were nothing compared to the changes I experienced after childbirth.
After a relatively pain-free labour (epidural, baby!), the nurse put the baby on my chest and taught me how to position her and let her suckle. The hospital that I went to, Damansara Specialist Hospital in Petaling Jaya, was a baby- and breastfeeding-friendly hospital, so the midwives and nurses gave me some sound advice about what to do. I felt confident and right on track.
When I got home, things fell apart. My body was weak from the exertion of labour. Like all newborns, my baby was very sleepy the first two weeks. Instead of waking her up and making her suckle every two hours on alternate breasts, I let her sleep, because I was so tired myself.
My breastmilk started coming in on the fourth day. From my research, I knew there would be engorgement (it’s the expansion of veins and the pressure of milk contained in the breasts, which happens when the breasts switch from colostrums to mature milk), but I was not prepared for how hard or painful my breast would become.
Every movement caused pain to shoot from under my arms all the way across my chest. As I hadn’t been “training” my baby to suckle, she wasn’t drinking the milk as fast as my body was producing it. I ended up pumping the milk out to ease the pain and swelling.
Then the pace became even more challenging. Every time baby got hungry and I put her to my breasts to suckle, she would scream after five seconds because it took a while for my milk to let down, that is, when the body receives the signal to release the milk. Tired and harassed, I reached for the bottle of breastmilk I was pumping regularly now.
To keep my milk supply up and prevent engorgement, I pumped every two hours. My entire day went like this: pump, feed, burp, put baby to bed. Over and over.
I remember one particular day when I sat in my room, breast pump in hand, my breasts sore, crying and telling my husband that it was too hard. Could I stop?
He was holding my daughter, a first-time father himself, tired from sleepless nights, watching his wife fall into pieces in front of him. But bless him, all he said was: “If it’s too hard, stop.”
Of course, I didn’t, determined that I was.
I kept at it for as long as I could. I stopped breastfeeding at five and a half months.
When I became pregnant the second time, I was determined not to repeat the same missteps. I reread the Baby Whisperer, this time paying real attention. The chapter on breastfeeding alone was worth the money I paid for it. I bookmarked and highlighted all the important bits, and studied like I had an exam to pass. I was going to take breastfeeding by the horns and conquer it!
There was a schedule in the book for the first four days after milk started coming in, which I followed religiously this time. I kept a breastfeeding diary to help me keep track of when she drank, pooped and slept, not necessarily in that order.
There was even a breastfeeding troubleshooting guide that helped me identify problems like engorgement, a blocked milk duct and mastitis, so I was able to prevent them from deteriorating.
I put a hot compress on my breasts on day three, a day before I knew my milk would come in, so that lessened the engorgement considerably.
I also experienced a blocked milk duct, which I could identify and treat before it developed into mastitis. Of course, being a mum the second time gave me the benefit of hindsight, and I wasn’t running around like a headless chicken.
With my second daughter, I could feed her from the breast right from the beginning, and it was only after I returned to work that she went on the bottle. But when she was with me, she drank from my breasts. I learned to read her cues better, and to adjust my timing to suit hers. Every baby is different. Some took hours to nurse, while others were done in minutes.
Mine was the latter, which had me worried that she wasn’t drinking enough, but the book taught me to check her poop, that as long as she was pooping regularly and her nappy was heavy, it meant she was getting enough milk.
I learned to relax and enjoy my time with her when she was at my breast, instead of tensing up and fretting that I was doing it wrong, like I did with my elder daughter.
In fact, feeding her became my only respite in the never-ending cycle of mummy duties. I continued breastfeeding beyond six months. She’s now 20 months old and we’re still going strong. Now if only someone would write the book about weaning.
There are many good breastfeeding books available but I would recommend you buy just one and stick to it. My favourite is Baby Whisperer and another good one is The Complete Book Of Breastfeeding by Marvin S. Eiger and Sally Wendkos Olds.
Next week: Pumping vs feeding from the breast
Here's the link.