Breastfeeding Journey Part 1
To me, it wasn’t so much a choice as just a mother’s instincts to breastfeeding. You see, unlike many other mommies who spent a lot of time reading and attending pre-natal classes to prepare them for their bundles of joy, I’m a workaholic mommy who continued to work long hours (from 6.30 am to 10.30 pm or even later) during my entire pregnancy. I continued to carry heavy IT equipment, running around with my big tummy in heels and doing all the taboo activities that a mother-to-be’s not supposed to do.
I worked so hard that I fell down not once but twice due to lack of rest. So with a long list of tasks to complete every day, I barely even had the time to research the benefits of breastfeeding my girl – Baby Cassie.
But breast-feeding Baby Cassie did have to do with one selfish thought – my health.
With both my paternal grandmother and auntie passing away due to breast cancer, my sisters and myself are encouraged by our doctor to breastfeed our little bundle of joys. Watching my sisters breastfeed their children, it seemed like the natural decision for me to breastfeed too, and to lower my chance of having breast cancer. Little did I know that this mother’s instinct of mine would change my entire journey as a parent.
It turned out to be a tough breastfeeding journey with lot of tears, blood, and sweat, as well as a battle with depression.
How hard could breastfeeding be? Breastfeeding is such a natural activity, so it could not be that hard, right? But that didn’t turn out to be true.
Because despite my utmost efforts in breastfeeding Baby Cassie around the clock, she did not put on any weight in her first month. Apart from that, she was not pooping enough to pass out the bilirubin, which resulted in her having a high jaundice level. It was such a heart-breaking experience to see my little baby girl laying in the small cot in the hospital crying her lungs out, yet not being able to hold her and comfort her.
So to ensure her jaundice level did not get any higher, I started pumping around the clock to build up my milk supply. The pain from my sore, cracked and bleeding nipples due to long breastfeeding hours and pumping, the lack of rest as well as support from my husband’s family, topped with their often unkind remarks – all started to shake my determination. Had I made the right decision to breastfeed my girl?
Thankfully, I have a group of supporting sisters who not only donated their own breast milk to my little girl, one of my sisters even drove all the way to my house to pass us her milk. After several days of hard work, Baby Cassie finally came home with us. But we continued to fight her weight gain issue. With the help of a lactation consultant, we finally discovered that Baby Cassie has a tongue-tied issue.
We were told to give up the thought of breastfeeding her directly and only bottle-feed her with expressed milk. At that moment, I felt like I had failed as a mother to her. As advised by the lactation consultant, I continued to pump around the clock to ensure a constant supply of milk for her, but I felt even worse as I saw myself as no different than a milk cow.
I was stuck with the pump machine, leaving me little time with her to bond. Hence, I started reading online to find out how to overcome this issue. With the help of experienced breastfeeding mothers, I start to latch Baby Cassie on directly to my nipple. It was a process that involved a lot of crying on both our parts. She cried very often in hunger, because of the less effective latch and I too cried due to the pain of sore, cracked and bleeding nipples. There was a time my nipples were bleeding due to the improper latching.
I do not know what force kept me going, but somehow I was really determined to continue, and I braved through the pain. And finally after 2 months of battles, I won the war – Baby Cassie finally mastered the proper latch. She started to put on weight and I stopped suffering from sore nipples.
Some unforgettable moments
Once when Baby Cassie was about 4 months old, she was sucking happily on my breast when she suddenly stopped, turned her head towards me and gave me a bright smile before continuing. It was as though she was telling me: “Mom, thank you for the yummy milk”. She continues to do so until today, especially on the days I’m having a hard time at work.
There was also time when she was being cheeky and wanted some “milk shake”; she used both hands and gave my breast a good “rock and roll” before proceeding to have her milk. These are the moments that I would not have gotten to enjoy if I did not persevere through the hard times.
The ONE and ONLY Reason that kept me going
There is a long list of medical reasons and advantages listed in books or on the Internet on why mothers should breastfeed. After breastfeeding for close to 28 months (Cassie was fully breastfed up to 14 months, now supplemented with goat milk/fresh milk), I can firmly tell you that it’s not any medical reason or advantage that encouraged me to brave through the pain from the cracked and bleeding nipples due to long hours of breastfeeding or pumping. It really is the special bonding, the indescribable connection, the closeness and trust that we have built up during those breastfeeding moments, that I have with my God’s gift – Baby Cassie – that kept me strong and determined to give her the best in the world.
Breastfeeding Journey Part 2
Lesson from my first time breastfeeding
When Cassandra was born, due to a lack of knowledge, I missed the golden moment to provide her with colostrum, which I believe was what resulted in low supply back then. Still, since then I have fully breastfed Cassandra for 18 months, and mix-feed up to 28 months. Luckily, I also had the support of a loving sister who had an abundance of milk and selflessly donated her milk to us to ensure I have a successful breastfeeding journey.
Haunted by my past experience, as well as armed with the knowledge that I have gained while breastfeeding Cassandra, I am even more determined to fully breastfeed my second child, Carissa right from the beginning. As usual, my husband aka soulmate is 100 percent supportive of my decision to breastfeed Carissa.
Prior to my due date, he researched online to ensure that our gynaecologist and the hospital are supportive of breastfeeding, so that I will not be pressurised to supplement formula milk but would instead have peace of mind to breastfeed our little one. We also sought advice from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor to start to condition my body, eating all the milk booster foods like Black Sweet Vinegar Pig Trotter etc recommended by the TCM and massaging my breasts to unplug and improve the milk supply 1 month before my EDD. This time round I have even packed in my Medela pump in my hospital bag as I am confident that I will have an abundance of milk.
When the nurse brought Carissa to me for the first time to latch on, I did have a moment of worry – “What if she has the same tongue-tied issue as her elder sister?”. However, this little girl proved me wrong when she latched on like a little champion on the first try; it is a breeze to breastfeed her. We achieved 2 wet diapers on day 1 and my milk kicked in on the second day. To me, it is such a great achievement.
Perseverance despite disapproval from hospital
Due to ABO Blood Group incompatibility, Carissa however had a very high jaundice level @ 280 from day 2 onward. Even though we have chosen a hospital that supposedly supports breastfeeding, I am still “advised” (more like told) to top up formula milk to bring down jaundice level as I will not have enough milk in the earlier days.
Highly “trained” by my Cassandra, I refused to top up formula especially when my milk had already kicked in and we managed to achieve more than enough wet and dirty diapers. Sadly, I am “threatened” by the senior paediatrician as well as the nurses that I am putting my baby at risk for brain damage. Being a stubborn mommy, I requested the nurse to bring my baby to me every 2 hours for feeding. When they refused, I would force myself to come down the bed to walk to the nursery room to fetch my baby, to latch and pump out my milk for supplement after each feed.
Imagine this, I had to endure the pain walking to and fro the nursery to fetch her and deliver my pumped milk after delivering her via caesarean section the very next day. I have been pumping almost 50ml x 4 – 5 bottles = 200 – 250ml per day, with an increase of 10 ml each day. Even with that amount of milk, I am constantly reminded that I should supplement my baby with formula milk as I might not have “enough milk”.
After that, we refused to go back the same senior pediatrician or any pediatrician for subsequent jaundice follow-up; instead we went to a polyclinic. We thank god for making that decision as it proved that we had finally made the right decision: none of the doctors requested for me to supplement or top-up any form of milk. Instead, they commented that I was doing a great job and advised me to continue to breastfeed my baby.
Donating my excess milk
Blessed with good supply, I started to pump out milk to release engorgement as well as to provide my milk for Cassandra. At week 2, I not only had enough milk to feed Carissa and Cassandra, I even have extra to keep in the freezer for any emergency. By week 9, I had already filled up the standalone freezer with my milk even after using up some for a milk bath. Running out of space, my husband asked if I wanted to donate some milk to his colleague’s baby for a milk bath to see if it could improve the baby’s eczema.
Although we are more than happy to put the milk to good use, I couldn’t help but feel heartache to see my milk literally go down the drain. Hence, I started to post online to see if there were any mommies who needed breastmilk for their children. And that was how I start my journey as a “milk cow” (a nickname given to me by Cassandra) for 7 babies to pay-it-forward.
My husband even surprised me by posting a Facebook post to encourage me the first time after I donated my milk.
Although he has always been very supportive of me breastfeeding our children in action, he has never praised me in words. I was totally surprised and touched by his words. Even during Chinese New Year, when our relatives were asking whether I had enough milk, he stood up for me by saying: “My wife is feeding 7 babies in total, do you think she has enough milk?”
On days when I doubt if I will continue to have enough milk to to breastfeed those 7 babies, he reminds me of how I managed to help another mommy to successfully breastfeed her baby boy, with a curtain between us, hours after I gave birth and still recovering from the delivery.
From requesting me to wean off Cassandra at 16 months and supplementing formula milk, my husband has turned into my supporter and number 1 fan in breastfeeding. He has even requested for me to breastfeed our Carissa until she self-weans. I guess this is my biggest achievement in this journey!