Monday, February 20, 2012

My Breastfeeding Story

"So do you plan to breastfeed?", asked my mother-in-law during last Chinese New Year.

"Yes, of course. Why not?"

I was still in my first trimester, trying to get used to my pregnancy and what to expect once our little one pops. I had been fervently reading books and learning about stuff about pregnancy, infant care and breastfeeding. My MIL even printed articles from the internet and passed them over to me to read. Based on what I read in the books and internet throughout the 9 months, I know about what is colostrum, hindmilk, foremilk, the various breastfeeding positions, sore nipples, mastitis, engorgement, expressed milk and many, many more

In my mind, I was mentally preparing myself for sleepless nights as a newborn would want to nurse frequently. I was ready to accept that the fact that I will not have milk for my baby till a few days later, and colostrum was sufficient. It is just how the process works, I kept telling myself. So how hard would it be? Just follow what the books say.

Boy, I was so wrong.

The minute DC was born, the nurse placed her onto my bosom and she suckled almost immediately. First step done as per the book, I thought. So far so good.

However, the next 24 hours was a nightmare. No matter how much I nursed DC, it never seemed enough for her. She kept on crying and crying after every feed, and I just do not know how to pacify her. The nurses come in and out the ward, and all kept saying baby is hungry. 

But I just fed her! Do I have colustrom? Is she latching on correctly?

"Sure got one! See? See? Here's the colustrom...she is a clever baby, latching on correctly...You not feeding her long enough!" One of the nurse start pressing on my nipple and some creamy liquid came out from it. I then have to nurse DC again, and the cycle continues the entire night. Sometimes I didn't let her latch on long enough, sometimes it is the position I held her. No matter what I do, I just could not get her to stop crying. There were a couple of times I got lucky, she managed to suckle till full, and could sleep for a couple of hours before the next crying begins.

During the second night at the hospital, there was a nurse who helped position me to a lying down position with my baby so I could just nurse her even when I am sleeping. It was a great relief that method worked for me and DC, and we both could have a sound rest that night.

Just when I was getting used to the hang of breastfeeding DC, came my next biggest and most unexpected challenge - my confinement lady. The minute she came into the room and found DC crying non-stop, she quickly carried her and told us baby is hungry, need milk. I explained to her I plan to breastfeed DC but she immediately shot me down.

"Where go milk? Now baby is so hungry. Faster go buy a tin of formula for her"

I told her again I don't plan to give her formula. Her reaction was almost of horror.

"Your baby hungry and you don't plan to give her milk? You know your milk won't come in till a few days later. Then your baby drink what?"

It was so tiring trying to explain to her that baby do not need so much milk in the beginning, and that I have colostrum at the moment. In the end, we reached a compromise that we feed her water, since baby stomach can be filled up with water. It is definitely not the right thing to do, but I do not have other choice as husband is also supporting CL's suggestion to give DC water.

The next few days was simply Hell. 

I kept getting reminded by my confinement lady that my baby is hungry, and I do not have enough milk. Her suggestion to give formula always fell to deaf ears but my husband did consider buying a tin as back-up.

"If you ever buy a tin, she will certainly use it!" I answered my husband angrily when he suggested it aa second time.

"But you are already so stressed out! You are supposed to be resting during confinement, not being even more tired."

By day four, I decided that I should do something to prove them wrong.

I'm going to prove to them that I have milk for baby.

I took out my Philips Avent manual pump and attempted to express some milk out. Upon the first press, I was screaming in pain! My poor nipple was already sore from baby's latching. The pump just made it even more sore. Tears welled up as I endured my first pumping session. After half and hour, I had just a few precious drops of milk. I showed it to my confinement lady who bluntly responded "How you expect to feed baby with so little milk?" 

I refuse to give up, and continued to pump after every feeding session.

I kept a log on what date and time I fed baby, which side she nursed on and for how long, how much I expressed and for how long.

I prayed hard that I will have sufficient milk for DC.

I even give pep talk to my milk factory and my baby before each nursing session.

"You all must co-operate with mummy, ok? We must prove Auntie that we have enough milk!"

It went on like that for the first six days.

Then something happened on my seventh day.

I managed to expressed my first oz of milk.

Major breakthrough! I was estatic! What an accomplishment! I showed this to my confinement lady who then smiled.

"Very good! Your milk come in already. Now you just need to keep your supply, but a lot of  mothers I took care of always not enough milk for baby..."

I didn't care. It's already been one week and DC is still growing strong and healthy after recovering from jaundice. I maintained my schedule of expressing after each nursing session.

Slowly but surely, my supply increased from 1oz to 3oz per session. The confinement lady will then feed baby once a night with the expressed milk so I could catch up with my sleep. However, I still nurse her at night too as the expressed milk can only be sufficient for one session.

Just when I thought everything was OK, I got hit by a very bad pain on my left nipple during my third week. At first, I was worried that it may be a yeast infection or mastisis but upon checking with doctor it was just a more severe case of sore nipple. She gave me some gel pads to apply, and within a week the pain was gone.

By the end of my confinement period, DC was directly latching on to me, and drinking expressed milk via bottle fed by my husband. I always had around additional two bottles of 3oz expressed milk in the fridge as back up for her next feed.

For the next few months, my time basically revolves around feeding DC and expressing milk, not to mention washing bottles and the breast pump. I was zealously ensuring that I have enough milk for DC, so I kept storing whichever excess milk that I can expressed.

Here's how my supply looked like during my 3rd month :

Eventually I transitioned over to exclusive pumping out milk in December 2011 as I was no longer able to breastfeed DC properly without her kicking a fuss when nursing. I believe it is my position of carrying her but I was not able to get into a comfortable position each time I tried. I also think she already prefers the bottle teat to nipple. It became very stressful for both myself and DC so sadly I decided to just bottle feed her from then on.

At one point in time I had too much milk and no more space to store them, so I learnt how to space out my pumping schedule while still maintain my supply. Initially I used to express every 2 - 3 hours, but now have stretched it to between 4 - 5 hours and my output is still consistent, which is around 4 - 5oz each session.

Here's how my freezer space looks like now :

Noticed I have only one small section for meat? All have to make way for milk!

Here's what I learnt during my breastfeeding journey so far :

1. Reading all from books doesn't make one an expert on breastfeeding. EXPERIENCE does.

I read and read so much, and yet there are things books don't mention about - mainly the actual experience. Yes, the books talk about engorgement, but does it tell you how an engorgement actually feels like? Or on the right latching position. In theory yes this is the position, but am I doing it right? I can't just be looking and comparing with the picture in the book, it is better to asked an experienced midwife to check and advise because they have the experience to do so.

2. Support from family member is IMPORTANT

The breastfeeding process is tougher if the mother is not mentally prepared for it, especially when it comes to sacrificing your sleep to nurse baby.However, the spouse and other family members have to be equally supportive as well, so that the mother is getting enough encouragement to continue.

My husband has been supportive, though no so intially. He almost purchased the tin of formula if not for the milk coming in on the seven day. He did complaint I spent my time expressing when I could be resting but now I supposed he had gotten used to it. I am also glad to have a supportive mother-in-law. She took the initiative to read up about breastfeeding and encouraged me to nurse/pump whenever I can. Oka-san was also supportive of my efforts although she did made that strange comment "Breastfeeding means no formula at all?"

3. Get into a Breastfeeding NETWORK/SUPPORT GROUP

Support from family is one thing, I realised that being in a network which supports breastfeeding is equally important as well. During my first couple of weeks, I had to keep on asking my friend KW on all sorts of breastfeeding questions, as she was the only person I knew who was breastfeeding her then 8 month old son. Sometimes she don't have the answer as well, and I felt demotivated and frustrated.

One day, someone added me to a group called The Breastfeeding Advocate Network (TBAN) on Facebook. There I found so many like-minded mummies who are determined to breastfeed their little ones (LO) and who are more than willing to impart knowledge and help those in need. When my supply dropped one day during my 2nd month, I quickly asked a question, and got a response within the hour. Seems that I was not expressing frequently enough which signals to my breast that I don't need so much milk (I expressed every 5 hours that time, which by then engorgement already set in). I need to express as frequent as how my baby nurses. Within that week, I managed to retained my supply to a reasonable level. Thank you to TBAN! 

I have now reached my 6 month milestone in providing breastmilk to DC, and I look forward to my next milestone which is 1 year. Looking back, it was definitely a turbulent journey but I strongly believe I made it through with perseverance, a "can-do" mindset, lots of support, and of course prayer helps too :)


Lilium said...

Glad you make the breakthrough. I only manage to BF both kids up to 3 months =(.

I don't believe in CL. I think they are too old fashioned and more of a burden to a new mum, telling you NO to this and NO to that. I am glad I never have one and can do things my way =)

thisisfarhana said...

wowwww! I am amazed with all those breast milk monopolizing your freezer!!! i hope i will be able to do the same too for my future daughter. :)

Aan Andes said...

Hi Nileey,

Came across ur blog about washi tape (back in 2010) and read ur first page and found this story.

I feel you! BF is not an easy journey. But I'm glad you are well prepared and very firm and belive in yourself that you can BF DC. I know it's hard, especially dealing with CL (they will come up with every excuses that ur LO need FM).

Breastmilk is the best milk for our kids. All the best and enjoy breastfeeding! It's an amazing feeling to watch LO latch on us, secured and loved.

Geri said...


I find your story very inspiring. I am gonna be a new first-time mummy too (3-4 weeks to delivery~!) and I hope that I can persevere with BF. Hopefully my CL won't be so annoying keep on saying I don't have enough supply.

I've been constantly engaging in TBAN and yes I agree the forum is amazing!

Sandra Yin said...

My story is exactly like your story. End of the day I win the breastfeeding battle with my CL.
The same lame saying "No milk no milk no milk". Next stop I wanna go to a 100% breastfeeding centre where there is no pantang and no hard feelings to 'fight' with MIL and CL.