Som Yew Ya breastfed her eldest boy for two years, and manged to do so even while she was studying for her Masters. How did she do it? She shares with us her breastfeeding journey.
Like any first time mum, I was tentative, excited and anticipation of what is to come. I relied a lot on reading during pregnancy to counter my cluelessness. Books and resources were devoured during those 9 months and early years of parenting.
Looking back on my journey, it was indeed a challenging one, with unexpected turns.
Pregnancy to the first few weeks
Right from the get-go, I had it in my mind to breastfeed. The latching and breastfeeding positions were very unfamiliar initially and I couldn’t even tell whether what I was doing was right or wrong.
Thankfully, there were the nurses and visiting lactation consultants who came round to support and provide tips. Milk flow was not heavy in the first few days, but that’s expected, so I didn’t stress too much about it. Nevertheless, the feeding time was a bonding session with the newborn and that was really special.
Back home, it took a while to settle into a routine of feeding and pumping. Should I pump periodically – even at night? Or should I pump only when I feel heavy? Should I wake my baby up to feed? Should I time my feeding or practice demand feeding?
In the end, I fed only when my baby called for it because I believe infants have needs and if he is hungry, I will be there for him. Demand and supply really works as not long after, my milk supply was in full swing.
Early weeks to 3rd month: Getting the hang of it
In the first few months, before any outing, I did a fair bit of advance planning. Which shopping mall has nursing facilities? If I go out after this feed, approximately how much time do I have to make that purchase before I have to go to the nursing room?
I even nursed in the car on several occasions, or even especially making a trip out to the car just for an enclosed space to nurse. Over time, my confidence increased with a nursing cover and this really expanded my travelling circumference.
At 3 months, this was my mini-milestone, nursing anywhere and being able to meet people with the babe.
3rd month to 1st year: Challenges
I was pursuing a Masters degree when I gave birth to my son in my second year of studies. I resumed studies on partial load about 2 to 3 months after birth.
Before that, I had family around who had a hand at feeding expressed breastmilk by the bottle, which really helps in those days when I had to attend lectures.
As some school days can be full day, I also started pumping in school and breastmilk bags, storage and transportation of milk with ice bags became routine for me. The home fridge was full of breastmilk stored in bottles and in milkbags.
Sleep was a rare commodity, as I pumped extensively in the night to supply for days when I was in school.
By this time, I was quite confident with breastfeeding in public with my cover and could even eat a meal or read a book with the other hand, while the baby is nursing on the other arm.
However, one of the challenges I faced in this period was engorgement as some days I was not able to pump as regularly between classes.
On a few occasions, the pain and hardening became quite bad and I was concerned if it was more serious than that. I consulted a lactation consultant and even had some other checks done.
Fortunately, it was not mastitis or any related condition and eventually the pain and hardening went down.
It was a lesson learnt; I had to be more disciplined with expressing!
1st to 2nd year: Travelling
By the first year, I could breastfeed anywhere with ease. Besides the wrap, I also started using a carrier. The carrier and wrap that I used actually do accommodate discrete nursing.
However, I didn’t nurse in them as I wasn’t comfortable, probably due to my built and it just didn’t suit me. I prefer to take baby out to nurse.
At that time, I had also lost a lot of weight.
We travelled to the States for three weeks and breastfeeding was such a help! My son was content on the flight and nursing was done as and when needed. We stayed in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles with friends and family and drove considerably.
Breastfeeding was really “meals-on-the-go” and was really valuable especially when we were on the road, or if on a particular day, I do not have access to cooking facilities.
Organic fruit was readily available and we fed purees and mashed food as part of the diet, with breastfeeding making up half his diet. Personally, this phase was good for travelling – at least I don’t have to cook his meals yet.
2nd to 3rd year: Weaning
I had completed my further studies and was initially going into church work but due to lack of vacancy, I returned to the clinical field full-time. It was unexpected and I had a short turn-around 1-2 months prior starting work and putting him in childcare.
Fresh milk was introduced on top of breastfeeding. He took fresh milk in school, while I still did night nursing.
It worked well for us, as fresh milk, childcare and my full time work were already a series of transitions, I did not want to suddenly stop nursing altogether.
It was an adjustment for me too from being a stay-at-home-mum to a full-fledged worker and I really treasured the night feed. I am glad that I have achieved my objective of breastfeeding for at least 2 years right up to when he is on fresh milk.
What Makes Breastfeeding Challenging
Breastfeeding is not only a physical act, indirectly it involves the emotional, mental and physiological components. So much of a person is vested into this. Not forgetting, there are also social and cultural factors.
I have received a fair share of “looks” from strangers and even unsolicited advice about how formula milk is better, and how it makes babies chubbier. I am unfazed by looks, so that’s not an issue.
As for formulas being better than breastfeeding – usually I will ask for citations or the basis of the theory, and also take the chance to talk. There are also times when I engaged with educational information on breastfeeding and challenged age-old theories.
I am sure other women face similar or different challenges. I do see that society is slowly becoming more informed and supportive of breastfeeding mothers, so there’s hope in that.
You Can Do It Too!
My gynaecologist once told me that breastfeeding is actually more difficult than giving birth. Indeed, it really has been a journey and I couldn’t have gone through it without a supportive husband.
My husband has always been very hands-on, helping with sterilising, warming, thawing, and with my breastfeeding choices.
The added encouragement from my gynaecologist and my paediatrician who rallied me on that what I am doing is keeping his nursery illnesses at bay. The journey was difficult, but it was worth it.
The breastfeeding journey will indeed be a unique one for everybody as we all have different situations.
Keep breastfeeding on confidently!
Photos and text by Som Yew Ya.
This was first published in our Breastfeeding with Love e-guide.
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