By K. LIM
Like any parent I want what’s best for my baby. I read books, magazines and surfed the Internet for information on breastfeeding. What I hadn’t know then was that the shape and size of a woman’s nipples could determine the ease to which a baby latches on, nor how uncomfortable it was for me for the first time.
I soon discovered the reality of breastfeeding wasn’t the cosy picture we see in books, where it appears so simple and natural. Not all mothers are that lucky.
After giving birth I did all I could for my first-born to latch on to my breasts. With each unsuccessful struggle I’d feel more and more frustrated and disappointed in myself, thinking that I had not read or tried hard enough.
I was very close to giving up and reaching for the can of formula milk when a midwife examined my breasts and told me the nipples were very large and flat, making it difficult for baby to suckle directly. My breasts were also very badly engorged.
“But that doesn’t mean you don’t have milk; just that it needs help coming out,” she said. One of the more informative books I have, What To Expect When You’re Expecting (by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel), does cover flat or inverted nipples and how it will be a challenge for mothers to breastfeed. For all my life, I’d always thought my nipples were normal so I skipped that part of the book mostly.
I learned the hard way. The midwife took me to the lactation room where breast pumps were kept for new mothers to use. She taught me how to put together the gadget and in one swift and very painful move, she placed the pumps on my breasts to express the milk. The amount that trickled out was just a little over a tablespoonful.
“So little,” I thought to myself. I wondered if baby would need a full bottle to be satiated. The midwife reassured me it was plenty. “Babies don’t need much when they are a few days old. If they seem hungry and want more, just give a little formula to supplement the breast milk, and not the other way round. Just keep trying to breastfeed or pump. It doesn’t matter how you feed your baby, what matters is what you feed him. At the end of the day, what you want is the exclusivity of breast milk to ensure the best start in life,” was her advice.
She then explained in simple terms how to ensure that I produced enough milk for my baby. It was all a matter of economics – demand and supply. Mummy needs to express as many times as baby feeds a day.
The first few days were rather iffy for me. I managed to only express about 60ml of breast milk at each feed for eight times a day. I set my alarm at every two-and-a-half hours to express milk in the day, and at intervals of four to five hours at night. It was very uncomfortable and after each session I had to apply cream to soothe my sore nipples. But I was determined to carry on even if baby didn’t latch on directly. By the end of the first week, I was expressing about 90ml at each feed. I was very pleased with my progress and decided the pump would be my choice.
By the time baby was two weeks old, I stopped supplementing his feeds with formula milk as my supply had stabilised at almost 150ml every two hours.
The writer’s excess frozen breast milk from her second child. There was enough even to supplement the elder boy’s growing-up milk. (The kids are now aged four and two.)
My breasts were at their optimum, producing close to two litres a day. An awesome achievement, I must say, for a mother who did not manage to get her baby to latch on!
“You won’t produce as much milk if you don’t feed directly” or “Yes, you may think it is easier but your supply won’t last” were familiar refrains directed at me by doubtful folks who thought they knew better.
No one knows your body best but yourself. I gave expressed breast milk to my baby fully for 11 months. The overwhelming excess was packed in a hundred six-ounce (about 180ml) bags and kept frozen for when I decided to stop expressing milk.
With my second child I made the same choice of using the pump. Mind you, I did try to directly breastfeed him by putting on a nipple shield. In the end, expressing milk was again a great accomplishment (it lasted 18 months) as I not only had enough for my younger son, but also extras for the elder boy. Both times I continued expressing milk after I went back to work.
Fellow mothers, don’t give up easily on breastfeeding; do what you can to know your body and your breasts better. Only you know best what is right for you and your baby.
Tomorrow: Learning and breastfeeding