When I was pregnant with my eldest son in 1996, I was so ecstatic and excited! I started reading everything on pregnancy and baby care.
Breastfeeding was a topic that both amazed and scared me. I’ve heard quite a few horrifying stories about breast engorgement, bleeding nipples and the classic "I-don’t-have-enough-milk". Of course I read about breastfeeding and attended the pre-natal classes offered at that time. After attending the 1-hour class on breastfeeding, I felt pretty confident that I will breastfeed my baby for two years!
When the nurse lay my newborn son in my arms, I was so excited and overwhelmed. We attempted our first feeding.
"OUCH!!!! It hurts!!" I didn’t know that breastfeeding will hurt! I was shocked!
"Of course it hurts. What did you expect?" said the nurse.
In my ignorance, I believe her and tried to bear with the pain. I lasted 5 minutes before switching breast. It didn’t get better and baby was getting frustrated. Then he started screaming, and I tried to push my abused nipple back into his mouth.
The nurse then commented, "Ayo… you don’t have enough milk la, that’s why baby cannot suck. See he’s hungry. Better give him a bottle."
Give him a bottle?!!! What about my breast?!!
The nurse assured me that baby will need a little formula to take away his hunger so that he can learn to suck better next time. Because I could not bear to hear Damian screaming, I relented. Nurse shooed me out of the nursery and proceeded to give baby 60ml of formula while I stood outside looking through the half glass wall. (I was in a hospital which has a policy that did not allow babies outside the nursery for security reasons and mothers were allowed only to breastfeed within the nursery.)
After that I attempted to breastfeed every two hours, but Damian was either too sleepy or I was in too much pain. My nipples felt like ten thousand red-hot needles were being poked into it. I was in tears and feeling like a huge failure because I knew that Damian was not feeding off my breast properly and after every failed attempt, he was given a bottle.
When baby was 3 days old, I started experiencing breast engorgement. Wow, my breast had grown at least 2 sizes bigger, a size I fantasized about, thinking that it’ll make me look really sexy! But boy, I would do anything to get these hard rocks off my chest! I was advised to pump out the milk that’s trapped inside my breast. When I started pumping, to my horror, blood spurted out!
That’s it!! That’s as much as any mother could handle!! I was too frightened to go on.
I was in so much pain from breast engorgement and sore nipples that I was in tears all the time. Using hot towels and cabbage leaves compress and a motorized rented breast-pump, I suffered through the first few awful days. And Damian was given formula.
By the end of the first week, I was pumping every 3 hours after every unsuccessful attempt to breastfeed. I was only getting ½ oz of milk from both breasts! Oh dear. I don’t have enough milk!!!! How can I ever hope to fulfill Damian’s need of at least 3 oz of formula per feeding?!
The situation didn’t improve after that. I finally returned the rented pump on the day of Damian’s fullmoon and convinced myself that formula is just as good as breastmilk.
Of course I was wrong. At 1 month, Damian was constipated and suffered from terrible body rash. We also went through 3 horrible and hair-pulling months of baby colic. He was crying morning, noon and night!! Thank God he still grew up!!!
I had my second baby in San Francisco, USA. Before delivering, I had already made up my mind not to breastfeed as I think I fall into the category of women who "does-not-have-enough-milk". So, why bother?
Much to my amazement, when Stephanie was born, I was told that the hospital we were in is a "Breastfeeding Hospital" and no babies were bottle-fed!! Given no choice, and with the help of a wonderful lactation consultant, I successfully breastfed Stephanie. It was a lot of hard work. I still experienced some sore nipples initially but after being taught the right latch-on technique, both Stephanie and I got better at this breastfeeding business.
In the USA, somehow a Milk Company got news of my pregnancy. Cans of formula samples were mailed to my apartment even before my delivery. I frequently gave in to temptation by giving Stephanie the free formula instead of fully breastfeeding her. That was a mistake for my milk supply started going down. And all the old insecurities about not having enough milk came crashing back. I breastfed Stephanie for only 4 months, and even then it’s mixed with at least 3 formula feeds a day.
When Josephine, my 3rd baby came along, I was determined to make this time the "real deal". Having armed myself with so much information (which I have gathered through my voluntary attachment to the breastfeeding clinic in San Francisco), I know failure is not an option.
I successfully breastfed Josephine exclusively for almost 1 year until I got pregnant with Jeremy. And Jeremy too was exclusively breastfed until he weaned himself when he turned one.
When it comes to breastfeeding, it’s of vital importance that we educate and prepare ourselves with facts and not just hearsay. I regretted that I did not empower myself more for Damian. Among my four kids, he’s the one with the most health problems. Although Stephanie was breastfed for only 4 months and even then not exclusively, I recognized her higher level of immunity against illnesses. But Josephine and Jeremy are the absolute proofs that breastfed is indeed best fed.
I now make it my mission to educate as many parents as possible on the truth of breastfeeding. I believe myself to be in the best position to do this, for after having four babies, I had overcome most of the challenges and experienced the joys of exclusive breastfeeding.
My hope is that through my education and research, you and your babies will be the beneficiaries. It will bring me much joy and satisfaction to know that another baby has been added into the small statistics of "Exclusively Fed on Mommy’s Milk".