It's one of the best things about being a mum - Why I breastfed for 16 months

Posted by ~Summer~ on March 15, 2014
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I have to say that I am a lucky mum.

I gave birth to two lovely girls, I went through two natural childbirths without medical intervention, I got to stay in Europe and became a mum there, I have travelled to at least 30 cities with my family, I am living my dream of being a blogger-cum-SAHM (Stay at home mum). While I am eternally grateful for each of these, the one thing that I am extremely thankful about my motherhood journey is the chance to experience breastfeeding.

The day I became a mum was the best day of my life

Once again, I have to tell you that I am lucky. For the most of my breastfeeding journey, it has been a smooth, enjoyable, relaxing and bonding one. You see those posters that paint a perfect picture of breastfeeding, how it is said to be the best gift for your child, and those saccharine sweet smiles on mother and baby? Yeah, me.

I looked forward to breastfeeding even before I gave birth. My mum did not breastfeed, my mum-in-law did not breastfeed, I didn't (still don't) have big boobs, I didn't read up excessively on the benefits of breast milk, BUT I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. For as long as I possibly could. Perhaps in a way, an optimistic outlook paved the way for a positive start.  

Angel, Born Karlskrona Sweden, 2.97kg, 21 Nov 2009 1547hrs
Remember I mentioned that there is no nursery in Swedish hospitals and therefore your baby will stay by your side 24 hours after birth? This, plus the experience of raising my kid in a foreign land, is something I am very grateful for because in more ways than one, they empowered me to be a stronger mum and gave me the confidence to know that I can do anything. Well, almost anything. Bathe, change diapers, soothe, coax, burp, swaddle, feed, I did everything on my own. The nurses were there if you needed advice and the lactation consultant came in to check if the baby was latching on properly and if the boobs were doing what they should - produce milk.

I recalled the hubby telling me, "Just imagine that your child is starving this very moment. If your milk doesn't come soon, she is going to be suffer." Yeah yeah, we all know it is not as easy as that. My colostrum lasted for about three days before the milk came in. Everything seemed to be going smoothly, the milk supply was establishing, Angel seemed to be latching on fine, and I was enjoying this best feeling in the world.

Did you know? Angel was born in winter and it was snowing outside when she was discharged
In less than a week, I started to feel pain in the nipples. Not just pain, but excruciating pain, which only seemed to get worse with each feeding. At first, I could bear with the pain by clenching my teeth. Soon it began grabbing the armchair and subsequently, biting into a pillow. Or the husband's arm. It is that bad. If I could convince myself that I had a high tolerance for pain since I could survive childbirth without epidural, then this seemed to be worse.

A check with the nurses who came to do a home visit showed that it could be a case of sore nipples due to poor latching in the first few days. I remember I pulled up my shirt to reveal my breasts to her, she took a quick look and said "It's ok, just continue to breastfeed and the pain will go away." When it didn't, I called the hospital and asked if there was any remedy, she told me to get these breast shells which would help in healing. I assumed I must have heard wrongly and it must have been breast shields, so I tasked the hubby to go to the baby store to get those. He returned, with both shells and shields.

I mean it, they were actually seashells from Norway which the lady at the store said they had some magical way of healing the nipples. All you do is apply a little breast milk around the edge and cover it onto your nipples after you feed. Well, I guess at that point, I was willing to try anything.

There is no place as comfortable as a mother's chest
I tried using my AVENT manual pump to express the milk but it was so little that I was starting to get weary and frustrated. I tried to play cheat and let Angel feed on the good breast only but I knew this was going to do us more bad than good. I woke up in the middle of the night to sterilise the breast shield only to learn that she could not suck properly with it in the way. A crying baby, one exceptionally painful nipple, days of immense discomfort were more than enough to make me finally have a meltdown that night.

The next day, I picked myself up and remembered the words of the nurse "Even if it is painful and blood comes out, you still have to let her drink." I laughed and scorned when I heard it but on hindsight, it made perfect sense. You can't just stop, can't just quit and give up when you run into an obstacle. If you can't run around it, you just have to run through it. (Ever read the book We're going on a bear hunt before?) And so I did. I bit my lip, moaned, pinched myself but continued to breastfeed with both the good and wounded nipples. With a little endurance and lots of positivity, the ordeal ended in two weeks.

Wait, I hear you asking, did the shells work? I can't say they didn't and I can't say they did. But I did use them for a long time even after the nipple healed because they helped to protect against friction and rubbing, and somehow it felt good psychologically to think that there was some magic going on underneath my bra.

As compared to many mums who had a much tougher time, I believe I am really blessed to be able to enjoy the most of my breastfeeding journey. It's okay that the baby wakes up every hourly on some nights; it's okay that sometimes I feel like a cow or a milk dispensing machine; it's okay that no one else except me (actually, my boobs) have the power to soothe their cries. I embrace this feeling of being able to satisfy them and make them happy, and I would not trade this for anything else in the world. Not even the temptation of a good 8-hour sleep.

Ariel, Born Singapore, 2.985kg, 22 Dec 2012 1547hrs
I started Angel on formula when she was nine months and breastfed her all the way till she was 16 months. People asked me why and how I decided to start on formula, and I realised I didn't know why too. It was just a hunch that maybe my milk supply was diminishing, maybe she was still hungry, maybe she could drink more.

It was one of the worst decisions ever and till this day, I still don't understand why I wanted to 'force' her to drink formula. I would let her watch Barney, do funny dances, act like a clown to get her to open her mouth. When she rejected the milk in the bottle, I used a spoon to try to make her take in as much as possible. For days and weeks after, she was still not willing to take to the bottle and formula but instead stuck to my breasts.

I started to become a little uptight, perhaps a little pushy, and on some occasions, I tried to force the bottle into her mouth so much so that she would kick up a fuss, bawl and even puke her entire dinner. Bummer. It wasn't till she was 14 months and one day, when we were leaving for a holiday to Switzerland, she suddenly and miraculously took the milk bottle I handed to her and quietly finished the whole bottle. No qualms, no fights, no tears. It was like announcing to the world "I'm ready for the bottle now" and from that fateful day up till now, we had no trouble getting her to drink formula.

Being a second child doesn't make you any less special. You are just as unique and extraordinary as your sister

When Ariel came along, as a second-time mum, everything just seemed to be easier since I was more poised and cool-headed. We requested for the baby to room in with us at the hospital from the moment she arrived in the world, we were the ones who catered to her every need, we were one of the rare few who chose to total breastfeed.

Don't get me wrong, I am not against formula for newborns but I just wish that new mums would try harder to total breastfeed instead of choosing to combine with formula in the first few weeks of the baby's life. To me, even if you think that demand does not equate to supply, even if that means many more sleepless nights for you, even if the baby is not latching on well, you have to at least try. And it's not just try, but try your utmost, your very very best before you decide "No, I'm not going to depend solely on my boobs. Let's bring out the formula."

I might be biased but it is also because I have been how the cultures differ in Sweden and Singapore, which inevitably might result in the different mindsets. In Sweden, at the hospital where Angel was born, I did not see a single mum using a bottle, everyone relied on their breasts. In Singapore, at the hospital where Ariel was born, I took a look at the nursery and saw so many babies being fed with formula by the nurses.

In Sweden, the nurses were very encouraging about breastfeeding, gave us various information booklets and were very kind in helping to see if the baby was latching on well. In Singapore, the nurse came up to me and said "I suggest you let us look after your baby so that you can rest" and I just gave her one puzzled look but politely refused her advice. In Sweden, you can only find two brands of formula in the supermarkets and sometimes, you can't even get the one suited for toddlers because they believe in giving fresh milk after the child turns one. In Singapore, you are spoilt for choice considering the range of brands available, what's more, all the television commercials and print advertisements might make mums have the misconception that formula is just as good, if not better than, breastfeeding.

In Sweden, there was no social stigma about breastfeeding whenever I went. Why, I didn't even own a nursing cover for the whole 16 months that I breastfed. Yes yes, I know, modesty issues for Asians, so I did buy nursing tops and would use a shawl if I had to. Everywhere I went, it was not an unusual sight to see mums nursing their babies while sipping on an afternoon tea. I had a friend who brought another Swedish friend over to my place, someone I had not met and who had a lovely toddler with her, she just asked me "Is it okay if I feed her here?". So, she just breastfed her in the comfort of my living room as we carried on with our chat. Here in Singapore, whenever I breastfeed in public, it is common to get weird looks and stares from passers-by, be it at the coffee shop or on the public transport. Thank goodness I don't really care how people view it or what people say, I just do what a mama needs to do for her child. But, I still bought a nursing cover just to feel 'safer'.  

Breastfeeding can be one of the best ways to coax a baby to sleep
Now that Ariel has turned 14 months, I did not introduce her to formula until recently, I would make 60ml in the morning and night just to see if she wants more. Whenever she pushes away the bottle, still does, and refuses to drink a drop, I don't force it at all. Instead of me deciding on when she should start taking formula, I am going to take the cue from her and let her make the call. If she wants the bottle, take it. If she chooses to stick to my boobs, I am more than happy too.

With the second baby, I was ready to battle any sore nipples and pick up dinner remains. But, I guess with a stroke of luck and lessons learnt from the past, this past 14 months has been a smooth and enjoyable journey for us. Don't mention about how I need to wake up 3-4 times every night, that is part and parcel of being a breastfeeding mum and I can handle that quite well, thank you very much. Of course, being a SAHM makes things much easier and I salute those working mums who persevere and make it past the one-year mark too. Other than that, I am cherishing the time, and milk, I have left in this absolutely fulfilling and amazing journey.

It warms my heart and makes me smile to see how much, and how fast, these two have grown
For mums who wish to breastfeed their children, here are some unqualified tips from me.

1) Trust your maternal instincts
You know how parents and strangers love to say things like "The baby is hungry", "He is still hungry," "Are you feeding her enough?", "How do you know you have milk?", "Oh poor thing, Mummy's not giving you enough milk, right?" and so on. I get plenty of these comments and my advice is to smile and do what Princess Elsa does, let it go. Don't let others tell you what to do or what not to do, you are the mum and if there's anyone you should trust, it's yourself.

2) Latch on in the first month
Forget about stressing over pumping, cleaning, sterilising, storing, washing during the first few weeks of your baby's life. Instead, latch on whenever possible not just to build up supply, but also to get accustomed to the feeling of nursing your baby. Try your best to relish and savour all the happy hormones and oxytocins triggered in your body. If for some reason you don't enjoy the letdown and suckling feeling, don't quit just yet, push on and for all you know, things might just get better.

3) Get ready the essentials
Stock up your home with what you might need: electric breast pump, milk bottles, storage bottles, steriliser, nursing cover, nipple cream, nursing bras, nursing pads and so on. It's better to be safe than sorry, and being prepared also helps to prevent you from fretting at the last minute and suffer from any unnecessary frustration.

4) Don't be afraid to do it in public
Never let being out stop you from breastfeeding. If you need to do it in nursing rooms, plan your route well and include shopping malls which have good nursing rooms. (Check out MadPsychMum's nursing room reviews). If you are like me and don't mind doing it anywhere (I mean it), just arm yourself with a comfortable nursing cover and more importantly, get used to the feeling of breastfeeding in public. Don't let social stigma or good-willed-but-wide-eyed strangers get in your way.

5) Have the right attitude
Lastly, don't get into a panic when the baby does not latch on, don't get too agonised when the milk gets regurgitated or spewed up, don't dread the routine of having to breastfeed a dozen times a day. Smile, laugh it off and move on. Your child will only need you this much when he/she is a baby or toddler. I can't overstress the importance of having happy thoughts, a positive mind and an unwavering confidence to know and believe that you can do it. 

Lastly, remember that breastfeeding does not make you a better mum, but it might be one of the best ways to bond with your newborn and definitely one of the best things about being a mum.

For more of my posts on breastfeeding, read on to find out why breast is best and some interesting facts about breastfeeding.

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This post is part of a Blog Train hosted by Madeline at MadPsychMum. Read on for more heartfelt stories about the breastfeeding journeys of fellow Singapore Mum Bloggers.


Tomorrow, Cen-Lin Ting will be sharing her breastfeeding story on her blog, Miracule.

Cen-Lin Ting applied her "just do it and never give up" spirit to breastfeeding and she had battled the challenges and emerged a "winner" to total breastfeed her first born for 18 months. Nothing can stop her when she is determined, even if it meant waking for late nights feeding when she returned to work or lugging her breast pump plus cooler along the whole of Singapore when she went for meetings with clients. She is now breastfeeding her 11 months old second boy. Head on to Miracule for her story tomorrow!

8 comments:

  1. thank you happymum for the wonderful sharing!
    tis is the best sharing i have read so far!
    and i agreed with you that: You can't just stop, can't just quit and give up when you run into an obstacle.
    coz i went thru it when i bf my #3!

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    1. Hi leechoo, thanks much for reading and for the kind comment! Glad you persevered with your #3! Yeah, I think sometimes if we just try a little harder, we might see the light at the end of the tunnel. =)

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  2. You got my admiration for doing it both times without epidural! And I get what you mean about the sore nipples. I went through both with sore nipples for the 1st 2-3 weeks, which only became better much later. I too gritted my teeth through it!

    I roomed in with #2 and did not with #1 and I have to say, it is much better to room in with the baby. Thanks for sharing! :D

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    1. Yar, sore nipples can be really painful, right??? Haha. Oh cool, that is awesome to know that you loved the room in experience, it might be more tiring but so much more rewarding, I think. =) Thanks for this blog train, Made!

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  3. GULP no epi! two times! ah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i roomed in more with Calla than Poppy but enjoyed both post birth hospital stays :)

    But I really want to see what those shells look like!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    PS I also remember someone telling me "Even if it's pink milk cos of blood, you still have to express and give to your baby!". The things we do hor? :)

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    1. Haha yeah, hubby says pretend no epi in the world and I did. I still love the idea of rooming in, nothing's ever gonna make me trade in that experience. The shells, well, they really look like seashells! =) Yes, pink breast milk is still very precious and nutritious, lol!

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  4. I have always read about how the europe countries are different in encouraging breastfeeding and all, and I thought wow! Its amazing how you birthed in a sweden and had the opportunity to experience births both overseas and in singapore. I especially liked how soft their approach is to helping newbie mothers cope, and I wish singapore will take slow steps to do it here too. I think it will definitely give a boost to our breastfeeding community! Loved hearing your story, summer and your girls are beautiful!

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    1. Thanks much, yes we could feel the drastic differences in mindsets, cultures and approach towards the birthing experiences in two different countries. =) You are right, I much prefer the first experience in Sweden and I think it paved the way for me to be an independent, confident and happy mum, which is so very important! =)

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