My Breastfeeding Story
Considering that my children are now in their teens and tweens, my breastfeeding story seems to have unfolded in another age and era. Surprisingly though, I remember it vividly as if it was yesterday. I gave birth to my older son in London and to my younger one five years later at the other end of the globe – in Singapore. Even though the places are geographically and culturally as apart as light and day, the breastfeeding story in both the hospitals -one a public hospital and the other a private one – was similar, if not same.
On both the occasions in the initial period post a C-section childbirth, I struggled synchronizing my baby’s latching with my milk flow. When one part of the balance worked, the other obstinately refused to oblige. The result was that even though I was lactating, my baby could not benefit from it. My baby seemed to be hungry and frustrated and a sense of guilt and failure engulfed me. I remember feeling really exhausted after the surgery which had followed an arduous labour. I remember feeling frustrated trying to latch my baby over and over again and failing to pacify him. The fact that I was still groggy, recovering from the anesthetic and still hooked up to an IV didn’t help matters. Worse, my post-natal hormones seemed to be playing havoc.
I reflected later that I was most vulnerable then, as I believe all new mothers are. This is the time every new mom needs reassurance that she is doing her best and that it will get better. Unfortunately, it is at this very vulnerable moment, that everyone tries to tell the new mum how she should just allow the baby to be fed formula milk as he is hungry and she is unable to nurse or that her milk is inadequate!
The lactation consultants at the hospital try to do their job but they are not around all the time. The well-meaning nurses , especially those on night duty, are quick to suggest you give the baby glucose water or formula milk, so the baby and you can both get rest. Can anyone blame the drained-out mother in yielding to that pressure and allow the child to be formula fed? I yielded too the first time round, especially as I had no support system beyond my spouse, who was even more clueless than me, given that we were first time parents in a foreign land. This made it harder for me to initiate breastfeeding when I was back at home and my milk had started flowing – my baby was reluctant to make the change and I faced an uphill task convincing him.
The second time round, I was wiser and more confident and had learnt my lesson. So, though people and hospital staff had similar advice, I knew that things would get better, that I just had to be patient. I also knew that the little milk I was producing was enough for my baby and if I let him take formula milk first, it would be harder to bring him back to breastfeed. This time round, I persevered and succeeded. I breastfed both my kids till they were almost 2 years old.
I have often reflected on my journey and these are some insights that I can share with new mums – things that no one tells you these about breastfeeding:
It doesn’t always come naturally – Yes, most pregnant mums and new mums start lactating in the last trimester of pregnancy but lactation alone does not mean that breastfeeding follows naturally too. (Some women do not lactate immediately as well, especially after a difficult child birth or if they are on medications.)
Breastfeeding is more complicated; it is a multi-fold process involving both you and the child. It’s about learning to hold the baby correctly, about him/ her latching on properly, it’s about getting the rhythm and sync right. It is a trial-and-error process and takes patient practice.
You are not starving your baby, period – For the first 3 days of the baby’s life, he or she is carrying reserves and only needs the colostrum, the yellowish first milk produced by the mother. It’s hard to imagine that tiny bit of milk can sustain your baby but it can and does. Later on, if the baby is gaining weight well and is pooing and peeing adequately as per his age, he is getting enough milk.
It can be painful – Incorrect latching or latching on one breast for too long can result in the mum experiencing pain. Sore and cracked nipples and engorged breasts are common issues that need to be addressed so mums can continue to nurse the baby smoothly. Mums might need to pump the milk to feed the baby via bottles rather than latch at the breast to give their nipples a chance to recover.
It’s exhausting – physically & emotionally – Breastfeeding is not purely a physical activity. It also takes a toll on the mother emotionally. While on one hand, it encourages deep bonding, it also causes anxiety and pressure as the mum realizes that it is her milk that is sustaining the baby. Feelings of inadequacy and guilt make it harder for mums who are struggling. In the initial weeks after birth, the baby feeds frequently, taking tiny feeds, also latching on purely for comfort. It can be both physically and mentally challenging as mums need to latch the baby on for hours in a day and frequently at night.
It does get better with time, so don’t give up – Ignore well-meaning but unsolicited advice from people (especially those who think you are not producing enough milk). Trust your instinct and follow your child’s doctor’s advice. The toughest period for breastfeeding is right at the beginning. Remember that things will get better as the baby learns to latch on and starts to have a set sleep-waking up schedule and you are able to distinguish between his cries for hunger from other needs. The key for successful breastfeeding is not to give up early. As in all good things, perseverance pays.
Let’s make breastfeeding and work, work!
The benefits of breastfeeding are well known and they outweigh the initial trials and tribulations. Hence, for women who are reluctant to breastfeed as they feel they won’t be able to sustain it after they resume work, it is worth nursing your baby as long as possible. Fortunately, in most developed nations these days, workplaces are more conducive, making it possible for mums to pump milk while at work. Most malls, event areas, airports have easily accessible nursing rooms. There are plenty of options available in the market to pump milk while at work and store it for future use, making it easier for working women to continue breastfeeding as long as they want. All that they need is support, love and encouragement!
Check out other postpartum stories and advice here.