To many mothers-to-be, breastfeeding seems to be a feat that comes naturally to any woman with the slightest bit of maternal instinct. Afterall, women had been feeding their babies like that throughout the course of history. Literature also says that breastfeeding is a “painless, easy and nurturing” part of motherhood – a special bond mothers build with their child that no one else can enjoy. Needless to say, I looked forward to the day when I would get initiated into the fraternity of noble mothers who sacrifice their sexy lingerie for dowdy, totally unattractive nursing bras.
So imagine my horror when little Claudia was born. At the hospital, the nurses would bring a wailing baby into my ward every three hours and shove her into my breasts. There we were – a mentally-unprepared mother, a ravenous baby and many a nurse who had different opinions on how the baby should be latched on. I watched the complementary video on breastfeeding repeatedly in the ward, until my husband thought that his wife’s IQ was flushed out together with the amniotic fluid during delivery.
Things did not become easier when I got home 2 days later. Everyone had different ideas about breastfeeding in the family.
“How much did she drink? Are you feeding her enough or not?” asked Mother-in-law. (Sure. Let me get my measuring cup.)
“Dear, you must try to give our baby all your Mama Nutrients, ok?” encouraged Husband. (Easy for you to say! Why don’t you do it?)
“You grew up on formula. You made it to University, didn’t you? Just give her formula lah.” cooed Mum. (I got my stubborn streak from you. Don’t try to dissuade me.)
“Just hold the baby tighter. In this way, she will drink more milk.” suggested Auntie. (I will not talk back, I will not talk back.)
The truth is, no matter what everyone in the family said or did to show their concern, I felt very lonely on the road of breastfeeding. No one in the family could fully empathise with the sore nipples, engorgement and insecurity about milk supply that I had to contend with.
Some days later, I decided that I would express my milk so that we can monitor how much the baby was drinking. After 30 minutes of looking totally unsexy with horns sucking away merrily at my breasts, I would only yield 60ml of milk. That was a devastating blow to my self-esteem, which was already fluctuating with my depressing post-natal hormones. It did not make things better when even the maid exclaimed “Wah, so little!”
A friend suggested that I see her lactation consultant, who helped her sustain breastfeeding for 14 months. After much pleading, I managed to secure a slot to see her that very day. At the clinic, my breasts were knocked about and my nipples pinched until they were about to drop off – to unblock the milk ducts, you see. The LC also told me to stroke my baby’s chin if she fell asleep while feeding. “Do it like that.” and she nudged my chin until my head bobbed up and down. I was also told that I had low milk supply and should pump every 3 hours, even at night. That would “deceive” my brain into thinking that the demand for milk is high.
Two days later, I found myself “zombiefied” and totally depressed. I had not sleep for more than 2 hours at a stretch and my milk supply had dropped to 10ml. I was mollified. I never felt more vulnerable in my life – the social pressure of breastfeeding weighed heavily on my shoulders. All the other mothers are doing it effortlessly, why can’t I? I was so angry with the breastfeeding books that I had read. Nursing a baby was painful, exhausting and not at all fulfilling!
I decided to turn my back on all unsolicited advice and just focus on my child. I visualised her being healthy and happy, even if it meant I had to supplement her feeds with formula milk. So what if other mothers are busy giving away their excess breast milk or buying new freezers to store them? I am not a cow.
For two months I was able to breastfeed Claudia exclusively but I did not make any effort to pump out the excess. I returned to work and milk supply dropped because of the stress. I pumped just enough for her feeds the next day. It was tough but I held on.
All the above seem to be a haze right now. I am into my thirteenth month of breastfeeding (2 pumps a day and latch on at night). It has been an amazing journey. I still struggle with milk supply. I still feel slightly envious of mothers who have an abundance of milk for their babies. I still think I have been fooled by the books. But I think the whole experience has equipped me with a determination I never knew I possess. Perhaps, the next challenge will be weaning my baby of breastfeeding – something that both she and I will miss very much.
Advice to mummies who are struggling with breastfeeding:
1) Ignore unsolicited advice – no one knows fully what you are dealing with here. Listen to your baby instead.
2) Try to breastfeed in front of a TV or somewhere where you can read. Babies tend to fall asleep at the breast and if you are the indulgent type, it helps to have entertainment at hand while Junior snoozes.
3) Try to lie down when breastfeeding – this is especially useful at night!
4) There are milk supply boosters (Domperidone, Fenugreek, Motherlove, tapioca leaves, fish soup…) – figure out what works for you. Do consult a doctor first, though.
5) Talk to other mummies, especially those who have gone through breastfeeding. Help and share your experiences and you’ll realise you are not alone.
Join the Breastfeeding with Love Group to find out more and be part of our breastfeeding online community!
Contributed by Angela Yong
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