Our Wonderfully Imperfect Breastfeeding Journey

Let me get your imagination work and picture this: It’s nearly 12 midnight, the kids are past asleep. I rushed to my work area either to face my laptop and finish a blog post or do some online research, or finish some stuff for the home or the family (clue: DIYs? 😀 ). Or jumped to the sofa to cuddle with my hubby while watching The Walking Dead or any movie. Usually, I would consider this to be my “me” time or “us” time with hubby. Then, in the middle of doing any of these, a soft crying sound of my 18.5-month-old toddler that gets louder and louder would be heard from our room. It’s the Little Princess wanting to nurse. So I would pause whatever I’m doing, go to our bed and lay down beside my little angel as she sleepily pulls up my shirt and reaches for my breast to latch.

This happens all the time. (Except when I fall asleep with the kids while putting them to sleep. I’m even the first one to sleep at times! 🙂 ). Since my little girl was born 18.5 months ago, I’ve always been “interrupted” by her late-night nursing. I’m not complaining! Well, I admit, I take deep sighs sometimes when she begins to cry and I’m in the middle of doing my thing. I’m a human, too. 🙂 But generally I would oblige in her tiny late-night cries to breastfeed her. Because I love breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding is close to my heart. I have developed this love for breastfeeding ever since I experienced this wonderful gift with my first born. It was so beautiful — cradling my fragile little boy in my arms while giving him the best comfort and nourishment he needed. And what makes it even more amazing is the fact that despite the challenges I faced with breastfeeding — what I thought as zero milk during the first 3 days, sore nipples, engorged breasts, the “hassle” of pumping milk at work — I was able to continue nourishing my son with my precious liquid gold until he was 8 months old. He was not 100% breastfed though but I’m still happy and proud that I was able to provide him the best milk in spite of having no knowledge on breastfeeding to begin with.

Yup, you heard it right. I wasn’t prepared to breastfeed the Big Boy. When he was still in my tummy, my OB-Gyn encouraged me to breastfeed because she said that’s best for babies so I welcomed the idea. She even prescribed me with Natalac, a malunggay capsule that aids in lactation, weeks before my due date so that, according to her, I would be able to produce a lot of milk when I give birth. Then my husband, who was informed by his colleague who is a dad, told me that breastfeeding can save money from buying formula milk so we went looking for an affordable electric breastpump, a Precious Moments single electric pump, so I could pump milk. But I did not even make an effort to do my research about breastfeeding. Tsk, tsk. I know. Daddy J was even more informed than I was. So I delivered my precious baby boy with this only breastfeeding knowledge in mind: “It’s just simple. I’ll just let baby latch and that’s it. Voila! Breastfeeding!” 🙂

I hoped it was simple and easy as I thought it was. I suffered from sore nipples on the first 2 nights of breastfeeding my Big Boy. Then after his newborn screening test, the pediatrician informed through the nurse that my baby was almost getting dehydrated! What???!!! Since we were naive first time parents and we didn’t have much idea on how breastfeeding works, we decided to give the Big Boy some formula. So the mixed-feeding started and our breastfeeding ended temporarily. On the third night, milk leaked from my breasts! “Yay, I have milk!” So I tried offering my breast to my baby and he latched. Yay, again! But he slept while nursing. Hmmp. I tried pumping the following day and got a whooping 1ml! Not bad! Hahaha! But I wasn’t disheartened. I just continued latching and pumping combined with formula feeding until I was able to produce more milk.

The Big Boy only directly fed from me for 4 months because he got nipple-confused due to bottle feeding so I resorted to exclusive pumping. I went through blogs and articles online on how I can continue to give breastmilk to my baby boy while at work. I learned some techniques so I pumped every 4 to 5 hours starting 6:30am until 10pm everyday, weekdays and weekends. The Big Boy consumed my breastmilk during the day and formula at night. This went on for 8 months until I finally decided to box up and keep my breastpump in the storage because I already found it so hard and so tiring to pump milk every single day. Our breastfeeding/breastpumping journey ended there. Bittersweet memory.

joshuabmstash

Breastmilk stash I was able to build for the Big Boy when he was 5 months old. Too bad we didn’t have a breastfeeding photo *tear* 😀 (Please forgive the pixelated photo. It was taken using a low-res camera phone.)

But my breastpumping saga didn’t end just like that. It left an inspiration and motivation in my heart that if God blesses me with another child, I will try all my best to exclusively breastfeed him/her. So when I learned I was pregnant with the Little Princess, I knew I had to be ready for the battle! 🙂 How did I prepare for breastfeeding?

1. I educated myself about breastfeeding. I did my research by reading breastfeeding blogs and articles on the internet. What should I expect during the first few days of breastfeeding? I particularly focused on this early part because this is where we had a struggle when I gave birth to the Big Boy. The blog Chronicles of a Nursing Mom became one of my resources even during the Big Boy’s nursing days, in equipping myself for breastfeeding. To share some of the things I learned based on my research:

  • A mother’s breasts always have milk. She just needs to let baby latch and latch and latch to stimulate milk production.
  • After giving birth, a mom produces the first milk called the colostrum which contains antibodies. It is very important for a newborn baby to take this colostrum to protect his body by latching and latching and latching.
  • Colostrum does not flow like the mature breastmilk but it’s there in our breasts. Don’t expect an abundant volume of white-ish milk to come out your breasts right after giving birth.
  • A newborn baby’s tummy is just as small as a marble. The milk that he/she drinks from his/her mommy is enough to fill her very tiny tummy. No need for formula.

I was also planning to attend a breastfeeding seminar at The Medical City or Medela House with Daddy J to be more informed not only me but my hubby as well, but we missed the schedules.

2. I emotionally and mentally psyched myself for breastfeeding. The moment I learned we were going to have another blessing, I ingrained in my mind and in my heart that I would only offer breastmilk to my precious baby. Self-motivation is key and breastfeeding has to be taken by heart or it’s not likely to work.

3. I started looking for a breastpump.  On the 7th month of my pregnancy, I already got myself a breastpump because one, I needed a breastpump ready when I give birth for worst-case scenarios, ie., baby would need to stay at the nursery. Two, I would be coming back to work 2 months after giving birth so I had to build breastmilk stash for the Little Princess. Three, I didn’t want to be bothered about purchasing a pump once the Little Princess arrived but focus on taking care of her and the Big Boy instead. So I researched and compared on the best pump I could use especially when I get back to work. Price, durability, efficiency and double-pump functionality were the factors I considered so the options narrowed down between the two: Unimom Forte and Spectra 3. I settled for the former after a long deliberation in my mind which I got from Babymama.ph. I wasn’t so excited, huh? 🙂 I also looked for some tips on how to sustain breastfeeding while being a working mom.

unimomforte

 Another product of my poor camera phone, my hospital-grade double pump, Unimom Forte, fresh from Babymama (at the time the photo was taken 🙂 ). It’s still alive and kicking until now. Well, the motor. The breastkits need to be replaced as they have loosened already.

4. I prepared myself nutritionally for breastfeeding. I took Natalac malunggay capsules prescribed by my OB-Gyn weeks before my due date to aid in my lactation. I’m not sure if it really does have an effect but I wanted to be prepared given the misconception with the Big Boy that I didn’t have milk. Just wanted to make sure I would have overflowing milk by the time I give birth! Kidding! 😀

5. I made a checklist of the breastfeeding “gears” I needed to prepare and made sure they were packed inside my hospital bag. These were my breastfeeding necessities:

  • Nipple Cream — Based on my experience with the Big Boy, I already had an idea how breastfeeding could hurt because of incorrect latch so I made sure I had a nipple cream inside my hospital bag with the Little Princess in case we don’t get the correct latch right away. It was a must because I didn’t want to “suffer” again. 😀 I got the Motherlove Nipple Cream which I bought online at Babyoutlet.Ph. I was supposed to get the The First Years brand since that’s what I used when I first breastfed the Big Boy and it was very effective in soothing sore nipples but I opted for Motherlove this time because it’s organic and can be used as a diaper rash cream.
  • Breastpump — This is part of the contingency plan in the event that baby would need to stay at the NICU which thankfully she didn’t. I tried using my heavy-duty pump at the hospital and boy, it hurt so bad and not a single drop of milk was coming out! Colostrum phase. 🙂 So we continued direct feeding. 🙂
  • Breastpads — Just in case I get leaky boobs early (assuming me 😀 ) 🙂
  • Nursing bra/s — I had some from the Big Boy’s breastfeeding days so I put it also in the bag so that my breasts wouldn’t be too exposed when I nurse especially when there are visitors.
  • Button-down shirt — Yes, this had to be in the list. I didn’t want to pull up my shirt when breastfeeding and show my 6-month-big-and-dark-and saggy-after-delivery tummy to anyone except my husband. 😀

Apart from being personally prepared, there were external factors that helped make my breastfeeding less difficult. First and most important, I had the full support of my husband. When I was breastfeeding our baby boy, he saw the pain I was going through because of sore nipples so my sweet hubby voluntarily bought me without my knowledge and request The First Years nipple butter at SM Baby Company to soothe my aching nipples. Awww, I was so touched! 🙂 And why wouldn’t he support my breastfeeding when he knew he wouldn’t buy cans of formula every month? Hehe! 😀 Also, remember he was the one who informed me that I could pump my milk? 🙂 I was truly blessed.

Also, the people around me were supportive of our decision to breastfeed exclusively. Being a breastfeeding mom herself, my mother-in-law encouraged me to breastfeed and always reminded me that it’s best for babies. My mom, eventhough she didn’t breastfeed me at all, never persuaded me to use formula over breastmilk. My aunt also provided a strong motivation by always telling me that breastfeeding provides the best nourishment for babies. I’m just thankful and blessed that I was surrounded by breastfeeding supporters. I didn’t have to deal with arguing and explaining why we choose to breastfeed.

It’s also a good thing that the hospital where I gave birth strictly adheres to the Unang Yakap and breastfeeding protocols that the Department of Health mandates. I experienced the “Unang Yakap” and the Little Princess was roomed in with me right when I was transferred from the recovery room and we were able to breastfeed easily. Unlike with the Big Boy, rooming in after birth was not practiced yet by the same hospital so he had to stay at the NICU for a while even if there he was delivered naturally and there were no medical findings. Therefore, I had to visit him in a wheelchair while still recovering from the stress of pushing at the delivery room and the stitches after to breastfeed him.

Being able to give birth to the Little Princess via natural spontaneous delivery also made breastfeeding easier for us. No painful operation stitches that needed to be nursed and endured so I got to focus more on breastfeeding her. Also, based on what I heard from my other mommy friends who experienced C-Section, their babies had to be left at the nursery for monitoring and most of the time ended up getting formula-fed either because the mommy is still recovering and could not breastfeed or does not have breastmilk to offer their babies since milk does not flow like a fountain during the early days of childbirth.

breastfeeding1

Let’s just pretend I was as beautiful as Emma Watson when I gave birth. 😀 (Emma Watson’s photo borrowed from Marie Claire UK). 

So wonderful nursing moments with the Little Princess began at the hospital and it was not as smooth as I expected it to be. My tiny little girl had several crying-at-the-top-of-her-lungs episodes which for some reason was much more intense at night when everybody was sleeping! My husband, though very supportive, was not as well informed and fully determined as I was to exclusively breastfeed especially during the first few days of our baby girl. Remember when the Big Boy got almost dehydrated according to the doctor? Daddy J got traumatized with that experience so he prepared a small can of formula “just in case”, he said.

When the Little Princess’ incessant wailing began, hubby constantly asked me that she might be hungry despite me telling him that she was getting milk from me. I even showed him the tiny speck of milk I squeezed from my breasts just to prove him my point. But his heart went out to her crying little princess that he insisted we give her formula just to make sure she was “getting milk”. I was too tired and restless from my 10 hours of labor plus the pushing and all while delivering our baby plus the crying of my beautiful princess that couldn’t be pacified so, I gave in. 😦 We offered her formula but she wouldn’t drink. She was just playing with the bottle’s nipple. She preferred the real milk from her mommy! 😀 So we went back to breastfeeding. 🙂

When we arrived home, milk generously began flowing from my breasts. Milk issue solved! But there was another struggle I needed to hurdle: my Big Boy in his terrible twos who was so sticky to me was fighting for my attention over his baby sister. He would cry when I cradle the Little Princess to breastfeed. I remember one afternoon when I was putting them both to sleep, the Big Boy refused to lie down and preferred to play. But when his baby sister cried wanting to nurse and I went beside her, he pulled me and began crying even harder. much harder and louder! It was like a crying contest so imagine the chaos! 😀

For the Big Boy not to feel left out with the arrival our new baby and our seemingly endless breastfeeding sessions, Daddy J and I made sure we set special time with him alone. So we brought the Big Boy with us when we go grocery shopping or run some errands or we scheduled a “date” with him. I was able to pump some milk for the Little Princess’ consumption while we were away but hubby thought we could give a few ounces of formula so that it wouldn’t go to waste. I unwillingly yielded because of exhaustion due to sleep-deprivation and the challenge of dealing with a jealous toddler. Thank goodness I was awakened from my daze and decided to put an end to those few formula-feeding instances. I was able to store enough breastmilk for the Little Princess I instructed our yaya to give breastmilk only when we go out. Hence, the formula still ended up getting wasted. No, wait, we gave the still-almost-full can to my mother-in-law for her dog so it was not really a waste. 😀 Beginning her 3rd week, the Little Princess was already formula-free! 🙂 So technically, until now, she is around 99.5% purely breastfed. 😀

breastfeeding2

Still breastfeeding at 16 months. 🙂 Taking a break from walking around Enchanted Kingdom. 🙂

Looking back at how far we have gone with our breastfeeding, I felt a tinge of regret for allowing the Little Princess to get a taste of formula when I knew I could fully provide and sustain her with my milk. I was prepared and have set my eyes on the goal but I felt I “failed”. I could have trusted my breast more. However, I realized that was just “0.5%” of the total 18.5 months that I have been giving my baby girl the best milk and it’s a waste of time to wallow in misery because of that short lapse in our breastfeeding journey. What’s more important is that the Little Princess has been exclusively breastfeeding/drinking breastmilk (meaning no formula) for wonderful 18.5 months now (well, technically, 17.75 months. haha! 🙂 ).

My breastfeeding story with my 2 kids taught me these important lessons:

  1. Breastfeeding should begin at a mother’s heart. If the person who is the source of this wonderful gift does not have any willingness or motivation to breastfeed to begin with, what should we expect? A mother should have the motivation, determination and dedication to breastfeed in order for breastfeeding to succeed. If I did not take breastfeeding by heart, I wouldn’t be able to provide the best milk for the Big Boy for 8 months and the Little Princess until now.
  2. It is very important to be properly informed about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding does not work for a lot of moms because they are not informed about its benefits and the things to expect and do once breastfeeding begins. Though breastfeeding is a natural thing, the availability of infant formula milk tends to take the place of breastfeeding if it is perceived to be not working and the way to combat this misapprehension is by being armed with knowledge about breastfeeding dos and don’ts.     
  3. Our partner’s support is very crucial in breastfeeding success. It is specially needed when the mother feels vulnerable and wanting to give up because of the challenges of breastfeeding particularly during the first few days or weeks — sore nipples, engorged breasts, plugged milk ducts, sleep-deprivation, a newborn who wants to latch every hour, other kids to be taken care of, etc. The partner should offer any help a breastfeeding mom needs, be it reaching for a burp pad while the mom is nursing or changing baby’s nappies so that the mom can take a break or rest. But more importantly, the partner should serve as a nursing mom’s “cheerer” and motivator to keep on breastfeeding despite the odds and not resort to formula feeding.
  4. Our partners should also be properly informed about breastfeeding. In order to provide full breastfeeding support, the partners should be equipped as well about breastfeeding. Had my husband known that formula milk does not answer a newborn baby’s seemingly-endless crying, he wouldn’t have considered offering it our baby in the first place. Had he also known that babies 0-6 months should not drink cow’s milk and that breastmilk is superior milk that that is all needed by a baby, he wouldn’t think twice about throwing the can of formula. Being properly informed will help our partners in giving reminders and encouragement to the breastfeeding moms.

Having told a novel-like story of my breastfeeding journey, let me share a few more things that I learned along the way on how to make breastfeeding successful especially the early days:

  1. Learn how to do correct latching. Incorrect latching is usually the culprit of sore nipples which eventually lead to nursing moms using formula either to rest their aching nipples or to totally succumb to it. Attend a breastfeeding seminar. LATCH, a non-profit organization that promotes breastfeeding education and support, organizes I think a monthly or every-other-month breastfeeding seminar in partnership with The Medical City. The Medela House also holds breastfeeding talks. You can also research the internet. Kellymom.com is a complete resource about breastfeeding.
  2. Let baby latch and latch and latch. Breastfeed on demand. Newborn babies love their mommies’ breasts that they want to nurse to fill their tiny tummies or simply for comfort. It’s normal for newborns to latch endlessly because they need their mommies and that’s the best way they feel secure. Just nurse baby when she wants to nurse. Don’t worry, breastfed babies don’t get overfed.
  3. Look for breastfeeding support. If the people that surround you do not support your breastfeeding decision, there are online groups available that provides knowledge and encouragement to breastfeeding moms. I personally had a lot of questions when the Little Princess was a newborn (like is it normal that she is on my breast almost every hour?) and the breastfeeding group on Facebook, Breastfeeding Pinays, became my go-to support group. There is another Facebook breastfeeding support group, the Breastfeeding Philippines – Mothers, that also provides breastfeeding encouragement and support.

It took me several pauses again before I could wrap up this post. The Little Princess was calling her mommy to nurse. I don’t mind, because breastfeeding is what I committed to do until it is my beautiful toddler who tells me “It’s okay Mommy, you can finish what you are doing. I’ll go back to my good night sleep…”

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