Benefits of breastfeeding
There are so many benefits of breastfeeding. For example, it reduces the risk of obesity and developing type 2 diabetes; it decreases the risk of breast cancer and possibly ovarian and uterine cancer; lessens the severity and sometimes alleviates the risk of postpartum depression as it releases oxytocin (a.k.a. love hormone) and prolactin, hormones that help with relaxation and stress reduction … the list goes on.
But let me share with you how it has benefited me personally.
It burns calories and I believe this has helped me to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight (and lighter) within 28 days. It is also known to help shrink and contract the uterus to return to its normal size— I actually felt severe contractions (like that of cramps) post-delivery when I started breastfeeding immediately (on day 1).
It is environmentally friendly— no waste, no packaging, no pollution. It saves time— there’s no need to purchase, measure or mix formula milk or warm it in the middle of the night. Fresh breastmilk is always perfectly mixed and at the right temperature. Plus, I’ll never leave it behind as it’s always with me (or in me)!
And best of all, it is free. Even if you’re pumping, a good pump and accessories are far less expensive than formula milk. The average nursing mom spends over $2000 a year on formula, while a good quality breast pump can be found under $400.
For Noah, there are endless benefits as well— as breastmilk contains antibodies, there’s a lower risk of him getting sick and having allergies. Breastmilk also changes according to his growth and development. At birth, it’s full of colostrum, which provides him with immunities and protects his gut. By the 6th week, breastmilk has its highest concentration of antibodies. By the 3rd month, it is full of calories to bulk up for his upcoming developmental milestones. When he gets to 6 months, breastmilk is high in omega acids which are essential for brain development and by the 12th month, it will be high in calories and omega acids for muscle growth and continued brain development.
Just how wonderful has Mother Nature made us to be?
Goals and Challenges
That being said, breastfeeding does come with its own set of challenges and I must say, it can be really daunting for a first-time-mom, like myself. My personal goal is to breastfeed Noah for as long as I possibly can. I have not put a time frame/limit to my breastfeeding journey as I don’t want to stress myself too much over it. I’m determined to keep my supply going, and to never quit on a bad day, but that’s about it. I’ll allow Noah to self-wean when he’s ready to.
While breastfeeding sometimes may seem like a natural or easy experience, it’s not always the case. It’s hard and you really have to fight to keep at it. It’s tough but it is worthwhile. Being prepared will definitely help to save you from lots of fears, stress and feelings of failure.
The sore/cracked nipples at the start, the sleepless nights, getting the right latch, regulating the supply (over supply / under supply), engorgement, mastitis, are just to name a few of the challenges a breast-feeding mum could face. I’ll be sharing my personal journey and challenges and I hope they help you.
My Journey and Supply
During pregnancy, I did a lot of reading and research about breastfeeding, hoping to ease myself into it, and to make sure I was as prepared as I possibly could be. I booked a session at Parentcraft in Mt Alvernia with Sister Kang, a lactation consultant, who was extremely pro-breastfeeding and taught me A-Z about it. I also had the privilege of being friends with Yen from Madam Partum, who’s on the board of Breastfeeding Mother’s Group, who never failed to offer me her advice and help. She also arranged pre-natal massages which helped to stimulate breastmilk production. I attribute my oversupply of milk to these massages during my pregnancy.
So this was how it all began: I started latching right from Day 1, during skin-to-skin with Noah immediately after he was born. This was what Sister Kang, my lactation consultant advised. She said it was a natural instinct for the baby to search for the boob and want to latch. True enough, that was what Noah did. I was so happy. Many fellow mom’s tell me that there’s no milk supply at the start and milk kicks in only a few days later but I was quite stubborn about this train of thought. Latching Noah immediately helped to stimulate milk production, and by the time I was back in the ward to meet him, my milk kicked in. I actually had no idea. A lactation consultant popped by to check on me and asked how it was going. I told her, I haven’t fed him yet because my milk isn’t in. She squeezed my boobs and a few drops of milk (colostrum) oozed out. I was pleasantly surprised. That was the start of my breastfeeding journey and I felt so excited to be able to provide for my baby.
I knew getting a good latch was important but I was still learning, and so was Noah. A good latch meant that the baby would not just suck from the nipple but should be nursing from most of the areola. So every time the latch was not good, I had to gently break his suction by placing a finger at corner of his mouth and trying to correct the latch. I tried the different breast-feeding positions that were taught during the Parentcraft workshop and tried to get myself familiarised through hands-on experience with Noah.
By Day 3, my nipples started feeling sore. I did the following to help ease the pain from the soreness:
- Expressed a few drops of milk and gently rubbed it on my nipples with clean hands. They say breast milk has natural healing properties
- Use lanolin cream or a nipple balm/ointment that is safe for breastfeeding.
- Wear a soft cotton shirt so there’s little or no chance of further abrasion.
By the first week in, my milk supply kicked in and my breasts started to feel really engorged. I engaged Madam Partum for postpartum massages and I found that it helped me a great deal.
I was not sure whether I should latch 100% or to latch and pump out the excess milk as that was causing the engorgement. They said that if I left it in there and pumped less frequently, I would risk getting mastitis.
For the entire first month, I would latch at every feed (2-3 hours) and pump around three or four times a day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, once in the evening and once before going to bed. It was quite tiring as my entire day revolved around pumping and feeding. It was 24/7 around the clock.
My yield in the morning after the 1st month was around 250ml from both sides and throughout the day around 150ml after a feed.
As I completed my confinement in the first month and started to ease myself back into work, I found it harder to pump/feed as often/regularly. For occasions where I’d be out for stretches longer than 2 hours, James or my nanny, would feed Noah with my expressed milk in the fridge.
However, this routine as of late, has caused my engorgement issues to get worse. Just last week (around the second month post-delivery), I had an episode of mastitis. I woke up at the 5AM feed with my right boob feeling extremely swollen, tender, throbbing and ROCK HARD. Even lifting my arm made my boob feel really sore and in that same day, I developed a fever. I immediately arranged for another massage session with Ling from Madam Partum. It was probably the most painful massage of my life, but my fever subsided shortly after.
Ever since then, my milk supply has dropped drastically. I still latch on at every feed, hoping to clear the little pebbles that have formed and hardened on my right boob, and try to pump twice a day. My yield is about 80ml after feeding lately (mostly from let-down).
It is slightly discouraging that my supply has dropped so much but in the last few days, I’ve been eating well and trying out foods and supplements that are meant to increase milk supply! I’ve been seeing some very positive results so far, but I’ll keep going at it to hopefully get my supply back up.
Getting support is key. There are breastfeeding groups that exist like Breastfeeding Mother’s Support Group, which you can always go to to get help and advise. Lactation Consultants like Sister Kang (amongst many other really experienced ones) are able to journey with you and guide you along the way.
Ask fellow mommies out there. You can chat with me too, I’m more than happy and willing to share my two cents worth. But know that this experience is very personal and different for everyone. Many moms have shared with me via Instagram that “demand = supply” and I should stop pumping so much because it’s signalling to my boobs to produce more milk but cutting back on pumping so quickly caused me to get really badly engorged and mastitis. Then many of them shared with me about breast massages (which I did) and taking sunflower lecithin (I haven’t tried this yet). There really isn’t one solution for the breastfeeding challenges you face along the way but any advice/help makes you feel like you’re not alone. Just know that, it is challenging but it is all worthwhile. I’m here, if you ever need someone to speak to!