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THE INITIAL BREASTFEEDING DAYS – ACCEPT HELP FROM NURSES AND LACTATION CONSULTANTS
When I first had Ray, the initial few days in attempting to breastfeed him were so bumpy. I was in the hospital, all worn out after an excruciatingly painful labour (I’ll concede that I’m a wuss and have a low pain threshold), though thankfully, it was a short one. That doesn’t make the pain any lesser, mind you, just shorter. Anyway, a perfect, tiny little thing named Ray was born, and this adorable little baby would open his mouth and try to suckle from my nipples, which is really cute.
As a mom, after the baby latches well and suckles, you’d feel the rush of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for squeezing your boobs from within to release milk for your baby, or in those early days, drops of colostrum. It also relaxes you, which is good. It also makes you sleepy when you’re too relaxed which is bad, especially when you’re exhausted from the 1000 new challenges and foreign experiences thrust upon you, compounded by your baby demanding milk/colostrum from you every 2 – 3 hours!
3.5 months down the road, those days seem so long ago! Haha. Looking back on those learning days, sometimes Ray would open his mouth widely and clamp down perfectly on my nipple, drawing milk. Most of the time though, he was either clamping down on air or 50% (insert other varying percentages) of my nipple, while I furiously tried to stuff my boobies into his mouth. It was such a foreign journey fraught with uncertainty, where success or failure in picking up this new skill was equally dependent on this little baby picking up his own skills too.
During those days, I was all hands and fingers and boobs; terribly crappy at getting Ray to latch well. What really helped me in my breastfeeding journey though, was that NUH had a pro-breastfeeding culture, and the supportive culture made me more relaxed and eventually, more confident about learning how to breastfeed. The nurses who helped me in my initial breastfeeding efforts would take my boobs and flatten it, sorta, into a boob sandwich for Ray, and plump out the nipple so that it is easier for him to munch with his toothless gums.
So just imagine, every 2 to 3 hours, some nurse would come into my room as I readily strip off my top, and they’d press, squeeze and nursehandle my boobs and nipples so that another tiny little human could chomp on it. And it’s all good, because in helping me to get Ray onto a good latch, they’re helping him to learn to feed well, and it is all a happy upwards spiral of breastfeeding goodness and joy.
So for first time moms, though you may want to be as independent as you can and try to take over breastfeeding yourself instead of letting the nurses help you, DON’T. During those first days in the hospital, try to receive as much help as you can in breastfeeding your baby, even if it’s not your first child. Every baby is different, and no matter how confident you feel, there’s always no harm in receiving help or rehashing old breastfeeding skills through the nurses who deal with it on a daily basis. Take it from the PROs, be humbled, and learn. You have plenty of days thereafter to slowly refine your art.
AIDS TO HELP BREASTFEEDING – THE NURSING PILLOW
Over time, with the help of a nursing pillow, I became pretty confident and adept at feeding Ray. By the way, GET A NURSING PILLOW if you’re a first time mom trying to feed your baby. It is so incredibly useful because the baby can be placed at the perfect height and spot where his mouth meets your nipple, and you can concentrate on learning how to make a boobwich for him. When Ray got older, and began developing a more sensitive gag reflex, I slowly phased out the nursing pillow as I had to feed Ray in a more upright/inclined manner. It really helped me to latch and feed him well in those early days though, such that he regained his birth weight and more, within 5 days after his birth.
Placing baby on the nursing pillow in the early days can help you to focus on latching him well
SECRET TO ESTABLISHING AND INCREASING THE BREASTMILK SUPPLY
That said, here comes the bit which moms are usually interested to know – how to increase your supply? In the weeks after giving birth, I had the happy problem of OVERSUPPLY. A cousin asked me what my secret was to having lots of milk, and I replied that I had none. This was true in the sense that my diet remained the same. I did not take additional supplements or things like papaya fish soup, nor do anything special. I just had milk, lots to spare till I had mastitis.
After returning back to work, and finally getting to work in expressing my BM, I found my supply dropping a little compared to the first day when I returned to the office. This was when I realized that perhaps all along, I had maintained a good supply simply by latching Ray on. I cannot emphasize how important it is for your baby to latch on, because a baby draws out milk from your boobs in a way that no breast pumps, no matter how expensive they are, can imitate. The tongue action of your Little One will also stimulate your nipple, encourage the letdown reflex and send hormones and chemicals through bodily contact that will encourage milk production. After a week of being at work, and feeling worried that my supply would eventually dwindle to nothing, I was surprised that my supply was back up again on Monday morning, after a weekend of latching Ray. So mommas, to build up your supply, especially during the first month after giving birth, try to latch your baby as much as possible to build up your supply! Thereafter, you can pump and latch to maintain a good supply of BM for your baby.
For those that are doing express pumping, pumping often makes all the difference too! You shouldn’t go too long between pumping sessions. Try to pump every 3 hours. To get more out of each pumping session, you can apply a hot compress/towel to your boobs, which serves a dual function of helping you to relax and to get the milk flowing. Then, do a quick massage to remove any blocked ducts, before pumping. After pumping, if you still want to get more milk out, you can hand express. Thankfully for me, I find that pumping alone is enough to maintain my supply. I had a girlfriend who swore by having a massage aunty do a massage for her, which she said effectively cleared all her milk ducts, and milk sprayed gloriously lol. You can try the massage macik too!
During my maternity leave, I would also often eat oatmeal for breakfast, and I think that probably helped to keep the supply up as well. Do take lots of fluid too, as being dehydrated would also interfere with your breastfeeding efforts. I drank lots of milo during my confinement, not sure if that helped with my supply too, but definitely, latching the baby often made a difference!
Other solutions that others offered was to try VCO (Virgin coconut oil, which is said to improve quantity and quality), papaya soup, fennel tea, fish, etc. Lotsa luck!
PAINFUL NIPPLES FROM PUMPING/BREASTFEEDING
In the initial days, my nipples felt sore from feeding the baby, due to a mix of factors such as frequent feeding, poor latch and unoe, it’s a whole new world where my nipples are concerned. So I bought Medela Nipple cream, and I don’t know whether it’s the placebo effect, or that it really helped, but I think it helped.
I bought a small tube instead of the big one, and I think it’s sufficient to buy the small tube, because once you get the hang of breastfeeding, the strain on the nipples will be less. Additionally, with time, your nipples will toughen up, so you might find a big tube redundant.
When applying the cream, be sure to express out some breastmilk, rub it on your nipple, and let the milk air dry as a protective layer before applying the cream. If you don’t have the cream, doing the above will also help to protect your nipple!
Pumping also can make your nipple/areola sore, so do check out the size of the flanges and whether it fits you before making a purchase.
OVERSUPPLY OF BREASTMILK – PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED AND SOLUTIONS (MASTITIS, FOREMILK/HINDMILK BALANCE etc)
For those who have the happy problems of oversupply like me, try not to walk down the path I did and get into a case of mastitis, where I experienced a fever that wouldn’t go away. Mastitis means breast Inflammation, and one can get that due to blocked milk ducts from engorged breasts, and it is painful/sore, with redness over the inflamed part of the boob, accompanied by fever.
Prior to giving birth, I had read up a lot on breastfeeding and I knew that if I kept pumping my BM on top of latching Ray, my boobs would get the signal that it is empty, and continue to produce even more milk, which would lead to a case of engorged breasts in a state of permanence. As such, I swung to the other extreme and refused to pump out milk, which eventually led to engorged breasts, blocked milk ducts, and finally mastitis.
The key then, for mommies with oversupply issues, is to express out enough milk in order for your breasts to feel abit of relief from all that fullness, and to feel soft enough, but not to empty it to the stage where it is really soft because your boobs will then get signals that it needs to produce even more milk to meet demand.
After my mastitis episode, I would express just enough milk during my showers (yes, I showered during confinement and I am perfectly fine! My mom did buy those herbal packs, and boiled lemongrass and ginger for me to shower with though) so that my boobies are not engorged, and over time, my supply has corrected itself to meet demand (Mr Ray), and I no longer have engorgement nor oversupply issues today. I don’t even need to pump milk during the night even if Ray doesn’t drink a sip at night.
In those early days though, for mommies with oversupply issues, you may want to express milk from the boob that you are going to feed your baby with, (usually, I’d just express them into the sink hurhur) so that letdown occurs then. This is because letdown from moms with oversupply is usually more forceful, and can cause baby to sputter and gag with the sudden gush of milk. You would also be expressing out abit of foremilk so that your baby can get more hindmilk in his feed.
Moms with oversupply also have more foremilk. Let me explain with an example. Let’s say the typical foremilk/hindmilk balance in boobs is 50/50, and a typical mom’s boobs contain 100ml, whereas oversupply moms contain 200ml, it means that the oversupply mom’s boobs contain 50ml more foremilk than the average mom. If the average baby drinks 150ml at a single feeding, it means your baby is only getting 50ml of hindmilk, and 100ml of foremilk, compared to other babies who may be getting 75ml each.
Or course, the above is an overly simplified explanation of the foremilk and hindmilk balance. In reality, the balance works in a much more complex way. The first milk that is expressed during a feeding session is thin and watery, much like barley water, and this is known as foremilk. Gradually, as the feeding progresses, the milk becomes creamier, as the foremilk slowly transits into hindmilk. Both the foremilk and hindmilk are equally important for a baby’s development. If you notice that your baby’s poop is extremely frothy, he may be getting too much foremilk. However, if in the middle of changing diapers and your baby poops, and it’s extremely frothy, this is normal too, cuz babies also have a lot of gas. If the poop has somewhat settled and is still somewhat frothy, then you may want to express out a little foremilk so your baby can get more hindmilk in his feeds. Hindmilk also helps babies to full fuller. Additionally, you can feed from one boob per feeding session instead of offering both breasts, to correct the foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, if any.
The last thing I want to advise all breastfeeding moms in this post is that, should you, the mother, get sick from mastitis or a cold/fever/any other ailments, please do NOT stop breastfeeding your child. You may get ill advice from GPs and older folks to stop breastfeeding your kid because you’re sick, but in reality, the best thing you can do for your kid is to continue breastfeeding, because there are antibodies present in the breastmilk fed to your baby that helps their immune system to stave off bacteria and viruses. Your antibodies are churned out in reaction to fight whatever ailment you’re suffering from or have been exposed to, and will help to protect your baby instead of passing on the sickness to him. So stand firm! Unless of course it is serious conditions like HIV etc, which is another matter altogether.
Good luck on your breastfeeding journey!
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P/S: Lately, I have the problem of bottle feeding my baby, but that is another entry for another day. Once I’ve found the solution to get him to bottle feed, be assured I will share the secret, cuz I FEEL YOU PARENTS OUT THERE in this same shitty situation as me! Presently, Pips and I are in such a desperate fix to get him to bottle feed, we really are almost at our wits end. Learn from my experience! Bottle feed before your baby is 6wks old, otherwise you may experience the dreaded bottle refusal! Sighs! WISH ME LUCK. Will write an entry on bottlefeeding once I find the Bottlefeeding Holy Grail.
Ray’s “I HATE BOTTLE” look. When you see him in real life, he can make much scarier and angrier faces. Shudder. I’ve got my fingers crossed and hoping for a miracle. 2.5wks and counting…