Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Lonely, Bitter Sweet Breastfeeding Journey

I have come to the end of my breastfeeding journey about 2 months ago, 2 weeks shy of Hannah's birthday.

Somehow, when I think of breastfeeding, I can only conclude the experience with being bitter-sweet. A love-hate relationship.

In today's modern society, science and education tells of how "Breast is Best" when it comes to feeding our newborn, and without a doubt, I was determined that I would give my baby nothing but THE BEST.

After all, breast feeding is so noble and all the mothers look so good and glamorous in those breastfeeding advocate articles. Besides, everyone I meet kept advocating how breastfeeding is great and how formula is fake.
My "best friend" for the past year. I am almost always with it.

What is there not to like about breastfeeding?

I was ignorant.

Maybe it was because I lack sufficient knowledge and preparations about breastfeeding.

Maybe it was because I didn't expect breastfeeding to be hard, at all.

Maybe it was because I was too focused on the process of pregnancy up till the delivery and completed neglected preparing and learning more about the process of breastfeeding.

Reality is such that I just suck at breastfeeding.

I mean it.

I completely fail at it. I am bad at it. I don't like it. I can't do it well. And it made me feel terrible about myself and the way I look at myself.

Of course there were precious moments - like how Hannah was placed on my chest for the first time and instinctively started suckling - an unforgettable bond.

But subsequently, whenever the nurses brought her to me for feeding (which was very frequent, once every 2 or 3 hours) I felt interrupted, exhausted and impatient.

Is there even milk?

All I wanted after the difficult delivery was sleep, but my excitement of finally being able to see Hannah in person keeps we awake and yet, when I do fall asleep, I get woken up again to breastfeed her when I don't even see the milk/feel the milk coming out. I am totally unsure how much she is drinking; or worse still, I wonder if there is even milk in there to feed her?

Nevermind there's no milk, my breasts were sore n the skin was tearing.

I did not expect the skin to tear! Afterall, she is 1 day old, how much suction power do I expect from a 1 day old?

Besides, we were educated that if you latch on right, this will not happen, and with the experts around, they have always ensured the latch is right when they bring Hannah to me before they left us, right?

Absolutely WRONG!

When the skin started tearing, I just felt angry, in doubt of myself, and generally upset cos I am already bleeding and in pain from the bottom and now I get it at the top too?


Am I a cow or what?

Back at home, things became more depressing.

In the hospital, feeds were supplemented by formula, where they advise new mums to cup-feed formula milk since milk has not "come in yet" for the new mum and also to prevent baby from having too early exposure to the bottle teats in case they got confused n preferred bottle teats than the real breast nipple.

And so, when we brought her back home, we insisted for our Confinement Lady (CL) to cup-feed her (of which she gave us "that look" but did as we told her to) until there was no more problem in me being able to direct latch her, independently and fully breastfeed her exclusively.

So this is what happens during a feed:

- I breastfeed her, and after 15 mins max, she cries even louder, n when I try to latch her back on, she will impatiently suck n cry out loud again

- CL will take the formula and cup-feed her, but because she is so hungry and the milk is so hard to drink from the cup, she struggles amd spill it all over herself and CL will continue and try to feed her more but she wails and struggles more.

So at the end, you get an unhappy mother with sores all over,  physically tired and mentally drained; and a poor baby who is stuggling to get fed, who after 25 - 30 mins of "feeding", is still hungry, half-soaked in milk.

A few more rounds of the above-cycle actually led to Hannah pushing and rejecting my breast whenever feeding time came. It obviously showed something was wrong. 

Either the latch was wrong, or there was no milk, or the flow was not coming out smoothly.

The terrible cup-feeding experience!

Let's persevere and work it out? 

No, we don't even have the luxury of time and patience to work it out/trial and error because all that will come at the expense of me denying my baby the most basic need - milk - and the idea of her going hungry so that I could "bond" and breastfeed her was just RIDICULOUS.

What bonding is there when a baby cannot be fulfilled when that is the only, very thing she needs- milk? 

What bonding could there be when mummy feels like a rejected cow- I mean, cows have milk - I don't even fit in the category of being a cow now.

Ultimately, I decided that the priority was to feed her. 

Breast or formula, whatever!


Thank God it took me only 3 days to have the eyes of my heart opened up and we decided to feed her with a bottle instead of going through what might be a tramatic experience for a baby like her.

If it was formula milk, it is fine. 

If I had breast milk, it is fine too.

That was the BEST decision, EVER.

The load of having to be there 24/7 to directly breastfeed her, the question of whether I had enough milk, the pressure of having to make enough milk when I don't even know how to "make" breastmilk - everything painful and stressful just DROPPED big time.

Now, I could now focus on resting and recovering.

I could pump milk at intervals that fits my comfort and convenience in a less stress mode and still feed her whatever breastmilk I expressed.

More importantly, she is well-fed, so she sleeps better.

It is a cycle. 

She feeds well = sleeps well = better routine = less crying = less stress for everyone = more breast milk

So while continued being bottle-fed with a mix of formula and breastmilk (since I was not producing enough yet), I continued to express milk via pumping. My goal was to pump til I had a smooth flow and then direct latch her.

The initial days of breast pumping was utterly bitter. 

I could pump about 5 times a day for 20 min per breast and I would yield a pathetic amount of 10ml per bottle. That makes a total of 20ml. 

This makes up for less than 1/3 of her intake of 60ml in the initial days, and this intake will only go up and not down.

It is unbelievably little.

How in the world am I going to be able to fully breastfeed her?

How in the world do other mothers produce 200ml and me - a pathetic 10% of what they produce?

Obviously, on hindsight, I have learnt that if I were to pump 8 times or 10 times within 24 hours, it will come, that meant pumping once every 2 to 3 hours.

Unfortunately, I didn't have that kinda energy then, and I was already struggling to keep at 5 - 6 pumps a day.

I checked for remedies on what soup or drink I could make to increase the milk (ie. Green papaya fish soup, 3 litres of fluid intake, red date soups etc.), but sadly nothing worked.

2 to 3 weeks went by with me crying here and there from helplessness and toggling between wanting to just give up the whole idea of breastfeeding.

And one fine day, probably in the 4th week or so, the milk seem to have increased from a meager 30ml per session to about 60ml and though it was still not enough for her single meal intake (at that point where she drank up to 90 or 120ml) it was enough to give me the strength to carry on.

Then, I made a conscious decision, you know what?

Motherhood is to be enjoyed, to be celebrated, to be grateful for that little bundle of joy...

Motherhood is to embrace her and be filled be wonder and love.

It is NOT meant to be miserable, stressed out, resentful from the lack of sleep and filled with unhappiness about how I should breastfeed her fully in order to fulfill my duty as a mum.

And suddenly, I realised something so important- that my duty as a mother is far beyond just supplying breastmilk.

Let me say it again: 


Darn with all those articles about how breast is best.

Darn with all those insensitive questions and suggestions about "you know, you should breastfeed".

It is MY life, MY motherhood, MY journey, MY baby and I will deal with it using the best means I can.

With that revelation, suddenly the world seemed brighter and I no longer had the pressure to "perform". 

30ml is fine, 60ml is great. 

I am no longer subject to the stress of fully breastfeeding her. I will just continue to express that milk and do my best.

But then, I questioned- if I just continued to express milk and feed her without latching on, will there be a lack of bond? 

I am telling you - NO. From experience, not at all.

The way you bond with you new born does not depend on whether she suckles on your breast or not. It is very simply about how you hold her close and tight and appreciate whatever quality time you have with her whether you are feeding her, or singing to her or even taking a stroll with her.

With a renewed mindset, the milk flow followed suit and soon, I was pumping about 160ml in the morning and between 80 to 100ml thereafter, though it does dip to 50 to 60ml at night. But I am absolutely at peace with this. I am happy to give her what I will consider "the best of both worlds" - half breastmilk and half formula.

The first time I accumulated such an incremental yield,
so had to take a photo for momento!

I am completely not ashamed of it. 

And if you choose to go full on formula, there is nothing to be ashamed of either!

With my commitment to pump and feed, now it is all about endurance. Lugging the pumping set around and having to constantly wash the parts is so ... NOT funny.

My pride - as a supplier of human milk - well, 60% at least,

And just like the other breastfeeding mums, I had to go pump milk in the nursing rooms when I am in a mall, wake up and pump in the middle of the night, as well as excuse myself to do so at work.

And this is why I conclude that the journey can get a little lonely. Because in all these moments of pumping, I am alone and there is no baby beside me. I am sometimes tempted to give it up since I am not supplying 100% breastmilk either.

What my bedside looks like -
getting ready to pump in middle of the night, and that meant 3, 4am kind.

Lonely pumping station at work

But it helps that my thoughts are often with my baby, and I find comfort in having a supportive husband and family who supports my decisions. 

I never really did latch her unto my breast much after this due to 3 things:

1. The fact that I preferred to be in control and  fully aware of what her exact intake is since I was also partially sleep training her; and

2. She seems to be more impatient is she doesn't get the milk flow she wants, and yes, I am impatient too; and 

3  I find there NO lack in quality bonding time with her, regardless of whether she latches on or not.

All in all, after close to 1 year of being a "non-exclusive" breast-pumping/ breast-feeding mum, I must say that this journey is filled with so many little self-discoveries. It is an experience even though it is something that isn't all glorious and fun, I believe I will miss it. Weird as it seems.

But for now, I have graduated.