Friday, August 31, 2012

My Breastfeeding Journey

I have long wanted to write about my breastfeeding experience but life got in the way. In celebration however of World Breastfeeding Week (update: okay, I started this before August and never got around to finishing it - story of my blogging life - but since it technically still is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month here in the Philippines, you know what they say right, better late than never), I am finding the time to buckle down (read: blog when the baby's asleep using an iPhone in the middle of the night) and share my journey.

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My initial goal was to exclusively breastfeed for six months. I did not know what it was going to be like. As a first time mother, the months leading up to M's birth was filled researching about what to expect in every stage of pregnancy, the 40 weeks leading up to labor and delivery. If there is one advice I could give all expecting mothers who are intent on breastfeeding it would be this: Be well-informed.

Read up, prepare yourself and your mindset, educate yourself about breastfeeding facts. Information is key. And the world wide web is your best friend and teacher. Technology is amazing and anything you really need to know nowadays can be answered by Google. With the lack of or complete absence of breastfeeding classes or lactation counselors in Cebu, the Internet was my resource. I armed myself with the necessary information and just kept on reading and reading, during and in between feeds. I kept track of M's feedings, sleep and wet diapers by downloading a free iPhone app called the Baby Feeding Log. I turned to, and The Leaky B@@B. Locally, there's the Chronicles of a Nursing Mom.

There is so much misinformation and misconceptions going around about breastfeeding-- some mothers feel that they don't have enough milk and give up or that it is hard to do when one works full time. But there are ways to get around that. Add to that the pressing issue of late regarding the "Monster Bill" or proposed watering down of the Milk Code here in the Philippines which will restrict marketing and promotions of formula milk companies to babies 0-6 months of age when the original bill restricts it to up to three years of age, the passing of which will send the wrong message that it is okay to substitute breastmilk with formula after six months. The Department of Health advocates breastfeeding for two years and beyond. More on this issue from the Chronicles of a Nursing Mom here

Breastfeeding is a personal choice but what is important is you make it an informed choice.

Back to my personal experience. Off the bat I was blessed with a lot of milk. An oversupply in fact. Yes it was a blessing but at the same time I also had to endure engorgement and a lot of (recurring) plugged ducts. When these happen, the only thing that helped was hot compress. I found out that the best hot compress is a diaper soaked in hot water since it would stay hot compared to gel packs. Taking lecithin proved to be very effective too and gave much relief since it made the milk less viscose and made it flow more. The most efficient way to remove a clogged duct is to feed direct though. Never underestimate the power of a little (hungry!) vampire baby.

Of course, a strong support system helps. It really does take a village. My mom has always been a staunch supporter of breastfeeding and as far as I can remember, when talking about her experience in raising five children, she would always tell me to breastfeed so the choice came naturally for me. Friends and family were all very encouraging as well and their own experiences and inputs helped me along with my own journey. And at home, while I was recovering from childbirth, my mom, MIL, husband and yaya were all there to help me in my new role as a mother.

I will not lie though. Breastfeeding is not easy. It is painful in the first few weeks. I read that at the very least- try it out for six weeks before making the decision. Six weeks is when the pain goes away and it starts feeling like the most natural thing in the world. That is when you can finally understand and relate to the ads you see on television and in magazines with the mother sitting on a rocking chair, ever so peacefully feeding her son. That is when the dark clouds part and you see a rainbow or two appear and hear the sound of angels singing. True story.

But yes, the journey to that mental picture is a winding one. I watched endless videos and read up on how to get that all-important right latch (lower lip touching the breast first, mouth wide open, fish lips kissing a wall and all that jazz). It takes perseverance, commitment, sacrifice and selflessness. When not breastfeeding, I would pump (which may have lead to the oversupply in hindsight) to store milk. The rule of thumb I followed was to pump or feed every two hours in the beginning, every three to four to maintain supply and every five to six to lessen. I really had to pump or I would suffer from engorgement and the dreaded plugged ducts. I read up on milk storage guidelines and shopped online for all the necessary tools- milk bags, pump converters and the like.

It all paid off. When I went back to work, M would have enough milk stored for when I was away so there was no need to supplement. I would pump everywhere- at my desk, in the mall, in the car, even in meetings when need be (okay only maybe once or twice with people I was comfortable with). Dressing up was another story. It is so much more challenging when you're a breastfeeding mother compared to when gestating. Showing that cute belly bump is such a joy. Limited clothing options and necklines to suit a less than ideal bust size when you're used to being able to wear anything... not too much. Button down shirts and V necklines were the way to go for easy access.

Breastfeeding really is an art and has become a lifestyle, a part of my daily life. It is not easy, but anything worth doing never is. You are assured that they get the right vitamins and nutrients at every stage since breastmilk is the perfect milk- it adjusts to the growing needs of you child, imagine that. The many proven benefits to your child's health and immune system is invaluable and worth more than anything tangible you can give... the bonding moments priceless. I told myself that my baby is only little for so long. A few years of sacrifice will be worth it when looking at the bigger scheme of things.  And as long as you've got the routine down pat, commit to it and really just incorporate it into your everyday life, not much will change.

Breastfeeding may be hard, it may be painful but I am here to say that it does get better. And I would like to think that my experience proves that purely breastfeeding your child is possible even when working full-time. You did not think I'd be locked up in my room just doing this the whole time did you? I do lead a normal life, juggle two jobs and numerous clients, travel, and have the occasional night out with friends and a drink or two (one glass of wine or bottle of beer stays in your system for 90 minutes only; hard drinks 13 hours so the tequila shots and lemon and kamikaze drops will have to wait ), all while pumping and feeding in between. I'm telling you, it is an art. But more importantly, it is one of the best gifts you can give your child.

I surprised a lot of people, myself included when I went past the six month mark, and after that the one year mark. After all, here I am, still on this wonderful journey, one year and six months after. Yes, still breastfeeding M, and blessedly so.

Happy National Breastfeeding Awareness Week! What was your breastfeeding journey like?

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