It's World Breastfeeding Week, and this is my breastfeeding story - how I started exclusively pumping, the struggles that we went through, tips for frustrated parents and how breastfeeding can be the best feeling ever (even though it sucks, pun intended)! Find out what Hakuna Ma Tatas mean at the end of this blog post ;)
DISCLAIMER: This article is based on my personal experience, I'm not expert in breastfeeding so the terms I use may not be the exact ones you should look out for - and my advice may not be for everyone. I'm just sharing my story and what worked for me - you'd have to figure out what works for you!
Let's time travel back to the day that Gordon was born, 23rd September 2016 (read his birth story here!). My little prince was born at 39 weeks gestation, exactly one week before his due date - you'd think he's too excited to come into this world right? Nope, he spent most of his time sleeping when we were at the hospital. Even when the nurses brought him to me wide awake, he'd doze off in my arms - so there weren't many chances to latch at all!
My little sleepyhead - just let me nap for 5 more minutes please!
Here's my first mistake, I didn't make much effort in seeing the lactation consultant. Gordon was born on a Friday night, and lactation consultants usually don't visit over the weekends. We managed to get a lactation consultant to briefly drop by on the morning that we were getting discharged, but he was catching up on sleep no matter how hard we tried to get him to latch - we were given tips on successful latching and told to visit a lactation consultant if we needed more advice/assistance on it.
I started pumping as soon as we got home to stimulate the supply, but there was another hurdle waiting - postnatal confinement! Don't get me wrong, everyone has their own beliefs and tolerance for the levels of confinement they want/have to go through, and I was thankful to have it done - but being covered in sweat, Chinese herbs and Jamu wraps just doesn't appeal to Gordon very well, so he rejected latching. In fact, he would try to latch then get turned off (even though I wipe before doing so!), make a "ewww" face and just totally refuse to latch after. After this "ordeal", Gordon would turn his head away every time I try to latch him - and so begins my journey as an exclusively pumping mum.
Tip: To all expecting mothers out there, don't say I didn't warn you - but breastfeeding HURTS. It'll go away once your body gets used to the feeling of getting your nipples tugged, but the first few weeks could make you feel like giving up. Get help from lactation consultants on the proper way to achieve a good, deep latch with your little one - and prepare some nipple cream to help soothe the soreness!
Gordon was on a mix feed of formula and breastmilk because I was having low supply,
I'd pump out my breastmilk then give it to him in his milk bottle.
The routine gets mentally exhausting, having to pump every 2-3 hours means I only have a little over an hour to spend with Gordon before I'm stuck with my machines again. Some days, I get real motivated to provide the best for Gordon - while others, I just feel like a milk cow :( It takes about 8-12 weeks for your milk supply to be regulated (meaning your body knows how much and how often it needs to produce breastmilk), so I was just fighting my way through.
Tip: Make yourself comfortable when you're breastfeeding/pumping! It's exhausting work for your body, so always prepare some snacks, water and entertainment to keep the boredom away. I would watch Korean drama shows on my laptop while pumping, it helps to pass the time well - especially when I'm power pumping!
My milk supply started to regulate at around 12 weeks, this was a proud mama moment!
Fast forward to 30th November, 2016 - about 2 months since I started pumping breastmilk. I was having a hard time because my parents weren't really supportive of me exclusively pumping, they grew up at a time where mass media brainwashed everyone that formula is always better (well then, why do women produce breastmilk in the first place?) and it was just tiring for them too since they had to look after Gordon while I pumped. Gordon was fussing for his milk but my parents were still warming it up, so I tried to calm him down with direct latching - to my pleasant surprise, he successfully latched on for a good 5-10 minutes! It turned out to be just a one-time thing (he never, ever latched on ever since), but it was an "awwww" moment for all of us.
Tip: Find your own support group! It's important to have support throughout your journey, reach out to other breastfeeding mothers or join Facebook groups - our families may not always support/understand us, but we are definitely not alone. If someone you know is breastfeeding, please give them your support - little things like helping to prepare for a pumping session, feeding the baby while we're busy and helping out with simple tasks (yes, we get thirsty a lot!) would be so much help to us! Never, ever say negative things like "you're not producing enough" or "your milk doesn't make the baby full!" because we're very hard on ourselves already.
Precious moment captured in a photograph, and yes, those are stretch marks!
First comes confinement, then comes complacency! My next mistake is being complacent when I started oversupplying, and that then led to my supply decreasing. About 4 months of consistently pumping every 3 hours (yes, even in the middle of the night!), I had an oversupply to the point where I ran out of storage cups - so I started to skip the night pumps and catch up on sleep to save my sanity - but I always ended up engorged in the morning and couldn't pump efficiently to clear my breasts well. The result? Blocked ducts and milk blisters came to say hello, and my supply dropped to a point where Aunty Lynn and Jean helped me out with breast massages to clear them away.
Tip: Getting enough rest would help you keep your sanity - so please don't sacrifice your sleep all the time! It's okay to skip once or twice, but make sure you clear your breasts well in the morning - and keep up with your pumping schedule too. If you're direct latching, get your little one to help you clear a blocked duct - or doing a heat compress or take a warm shower while massaging towards the nipple would help. Use a sterile needle to poke and scrape off milk blisters, but get help if you're not comfortable with doing that on your own!
My stash of breastmilk when I had oversupply, each cup had around 100-160ml of breastmilk, while Gordon was only taking about 90-100ml per feed at that time.
My health was bad in the first trimester, so I deferred from my polytechnic studies for a year. When Gordon was around 6 months old, I had to go back to school to finish my final year - it was my promise to my parents in exchange for keeping Gordon, that I would go back to school and graduate with my diploma after having him.
I wasn't ready to give up on breastfeeding, so I ended up pumping even when I was in school, and that's where things started downhill. First of all, I discussed with my course director for over 4 months before we found a solution that we could all agree on - I was given a spare room to pump in, and the freedom to leave the classroom whenever I needed to pump (approved by all my understanding lecturers, of course). There was no fridge that I could borrow, so I went to school everyday with two bags - one for my laptop and books, and another for the breast pump parts, storage bags and tons of ice packs to keep the milk cool for 12-14 hours from the moment I left the house till the moment I reached home.
Tip: If your school/work environment isn't breastfeeding-friendly, try to work your way around it! I know of working mothers who pump while eating during lunch break, use a nursing cover while pumping at the desk, wake up at 4am to pump and cook their child's meal before preparing for work - it'll take a lot of discipline and resilience, but it'll all be worth it :)
It was a tough time for Gordon because he has never spent that many hours without me, so he'll always stick to me when I get home from school - one of the best stress relievers too!
But with that great power, also came great responsibility! While I was doing my job as a mother, I started lacking on my role as a student. Missing out on classes mean I was falling behind in my studies, juggling between project deadlines and looking after Gordon also proved to be a challenge as the months passed by - I was often rushing my meals to catch up on school work and staying up till 2am to complete my assignments before doing a midnight pumping session - then having to wake up by 6am to prepare for school and settle Gordon's needs before leaving home.
Tip: Is your little one not finishing his/her milk feeds? Don't throw the leftover breastmilk away! Keep them in a separate milk storage cup/bag and use them for milk baths. All you have to do is put the milk into a tub of water and let your little one have fun in it, no need for soap or rinsing after - just pat dry with a towel :) I usually do about 160-300ml of breastmilk in a tub so that it isn't too oily/fishy (totally normal for breastmilk but the smell could turn you off so start with a small amount first!), it's great for relieving skin conditions like cradle cap, dry skin, minor abrasions, diaper rash and many more!
Gordon enjoying his milk bath when he was 7 months old!
About 2 months before the end of my semester, it was the hell week of report submissions, project presentations and exam preparations - one day, I just got so mad at myself for not having enough time to do everything and losing my milk supply from all the stress and lack of sleep that I packed all my pumping equipment up and gave them away. That was the day that I gave up on pumping, after exclusively pumping for over 10 months - 2 months short of my personal goal to breastfeed for at least a year.
Tip: Reach out for help from the people around you, and try to pull through whenever it gets hard. When you tried everything to make things work out, don't let your goals get the better of your health and mind - don't be too hard on yourself because you tried your best, and your little one would not love you any less because you are the best mother your child can have.
Sometimes, I look back and regret stopping before my goal - but I also know that it was the wisest decision at that point in time because it was stressing me out so much and causing me to lose focus on family and school. We don't see many stories of people struggling with breastfeeding, but that doesn't mean it never happens!
Another thing that you may want to consider doing is to make breastmilk keepsakes when you made up your mind to stop breastfeeding (whatever your reason may be!). I customized a necklace with Keepsake by Ryo which stored my breastmilk and Gordon's umbilical cord in little hearts inside a pretty locket with our names below, we all loved it so much that they made it into a new product :) I also had breastmilk bar soaps, liquid soaps and lotion made by Beyond the Milkyway and they lasted me so much longer than I expected, I still have several bar soaps left for Gordon and I!
My breastmilk and Gordon's umbilical cord encased in a glass locket!
Breastfeeding is one of the best ways that you can bond with your child, but it's not the only way you can do so. To all the mothers out there, know that your child would love you unconditionally because the decisions you make would always be in the interest of your family! We often have so much expectations of what it is to be a good mother that we become hard on ourselves and forget that we are not masters at parenting, but just humans giving our utmost love to our children.
PS. Thank you for taking the time to read my entire blog post! Have you been wondering what Hakuna Ma Tatas meant? Hakuna Matata roughly translates no worries/trouble in Swahili (better known as a song by Timon and Pumbaa in Lion King), where Hakuna means "there is not here". Hakuna Ma Tatas is just my playful way of saying "my boobs are not here!" because most of the time, breastfeeding mothers don't feel like our bodies (especially our milk holders) belong to us anymore - and well, they sometimes disappear after we stop breastfeeding too :X
Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman -
the promotion of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility.