Hi, I’m Mei, a first time mum to a baby girl. I never knew breastfeeding can be so heart warming. Every time my daughter smiles or looks at me when I’m nursing, it melts my heart.
I’ve always wanted to try breastfeeding when I become a mum. Yes, try, because I wasn’t confident that I could fully breastfeed. My mum told me that she couldn’t breastfeed my sisters and me due to low supply. I too, came to believe that I may face the same situation when my time comes. When I got pregnant, I decided to give breastfeeding a go. I did my prep work, read up on it and bought all the necessary items. I was all ready, or so I thought. I knew that it won’t be an easy task but I didn’t expect it to be such an arduous one.
My baby girl was delivered naturally with epidural. And she latched on immediately in the delivery suite, I couldn’t sit up long due to my anemia and the loss of blood, hence, we had to stop latching after a short while. During my stay at the hospital, I latched my daughter every 3 hours to ensure my milk supply would kick in. This was the start of my painful breastfeeding journey when my nipples got really sore. It was agony with the hospital gown chafing my nipples. Despite this, I still had to latch my newborn regularly.
My girl was given formula top-up in the hospital as I did not want her to go hungry. When we came home, the plan was to direct latch in the daytime and formula feed at night. Her first feed at home was twice as much as that given at the hospital and I was shocked by it! Being the clueless mother that I was, I believed the confinement lady who said that my baby was hungry whenever she cried. It was only later on that I found out the confinement lady we engaged was not pro-breastfeeding and this became one of my first few obstacles to successful breastfeeding.
The most challenging period post-birth was my confinement period. In addition to a tired and pained postpartum body, I was battling low supply and sore nipples. If I thought my nipples were sensitive during pregnancy, this was 10 times worse with extreme pain thrown in. I was aghast to see my nipples cracked and scabbed and I wished I could have gone naked 24/7 at home. No amount of lanolin cream help. Even wearing a top was agonizing. Every latching session was a painful experience and breastfeeding felt like a bane.
On the 4th day postpartum, my milk supply finally got going after I spent a full day latching my daughter with minimal formula milk top up. With her being a mere 4 day old infant, she kept dozing off on my breasts and I had spent almost the whole day in my bedroom nursing. That night, I knocked out at 9pm, totally drained from the breastfeeding. It was more exhausting than the actual labour process.
My postnatal jamu masage sessions started on the 2nd week postpartum. As a result of the jamu wrap, I had to express my milk with a pump. The lack of direct latching may have contributed to my low milk supply issue. It was depressing when my milk supply remained low despite supplementing with milk producing food like fish with green papaya, fenugreek, blessed thistle and even domperidone. I also believe having a confinement lady that doesn’t suit my parenting style made the situation worse. Whenever I spent close to an hour in my bedroom breastfeeding or whenever my daughter cried in the room, I would hear knocks asking to give formula milk top ups as my daughter seemed too hungry. Several times, I gave in to mummy’s guilt, not wanting my baby to go any hungrier. I was told that my breast milk was “water” and would not satisfy my baby since I managed to express only about 40ml.
By the 2nd week, my daughter was already given twice the amount of milk I could express. It felt like a game of catch up to meet her feeding requirements and I had my doubts that I could fully breastfeed her. Now, I know better that her cries may be due to other reasons, like difficulties in soothing herself to sleep.
I broke down a few times during this period when breastfeeding took a toll. At times, I felt like a prisoner in my own bedroom, latching the baby so often and for such long hours. What made it worse was that she wasn’t even satisfied after her feeds and we had to supplement with formula milk. Wearing a top became a fearful thing and it wasn’t until I discovered breast shells that I regained a bit of my sanity. Then, there was the discovery of milk blisters (it was horrifying to use a needle to prick myself) and the frightful plugged ducts that would send my mood spiraling downwards. I endured hours of painful breast massage just so that the plugged ducts wouldn’t develop into mastitis. After each bout of plugged ducts, it would be days before my decreased milk supply would return to normal. A step forward and 2 steps back indeed. Between each feed, I had to squeeze in time to pump and my life was all about breast milk then!
I am thankful though that my daughter never had an issue with nipple confusion and latching. And I have a wonderful husband that reassured me and supported any decision I made. All these made me feel like I was the weakest link. I’ll never forget how challenging it was to get my milk supply going.
The turning point came when my confinement ended, my milk supply started inching up. I realised that stress was a major contributing factor to my low supply. Not wanting to miss out on bonding with my little one, I decided to just take it easy. If I could not produce enough breast milk, I’ll just provide whatever I could without fretting. After all, motherhood is more than just about breastfeeding. Gradually, my milk supply increased despite being hit with plugged ducts a few more times.
I’m happy to say that my baby girl is finally entirely breastfed after 9 weeks. In retrospect, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume my baby was hungry every time she cried and wanted to suckle. Once I learnt her cues for comfort latching, I gained confidence that my milk is enough to satisfy her appetite. “Coincidentally”, my supply suddenly became enough. More importantly, I didn’t have a baby stuck to me hourly. All these helped to lift my mood and allow me to enjoy breastfeeding now.
I think it’s crucial to surround yourself with people who are supportive and non judgmental from day 1 when you decide to breastfeed. It’ll really help to seek out a support group and not be so hard on yourself in the feeding choices you make. All the wonderful people I met gave me the confidence to know that my milk is adequate and that I would probably get there somehow. The pediatrician also said that low supply is a myth (for most people). There was hardly an issue with low supply in the olden village days when one had no alternatives to feed an infant. I definitely kept that in mind when the going got tough.
It’s an amazing feeling to be able to nourish my child with my breast milk. I do not have an over supply and am unable to freeze a stash still. But I’m comfortable with just about enough milk. I’d rather savour the moments and watch my little one grow.
Thanks for sharing your experience. A first time mum myself, i went through a very similar experience and can totally relate to this.