Photos taken in collaboration with Ang Wei Ming
Ah, breastfeeding – a topic that touches all mums personally. Breastfeeding is a really personal subject. As a new mum, I had heard much about how painful and tough it can be. But like everything, one can only appreciate the difficulty after you have experienced it.
I’m no lactation expert, and there’s plenty of available literature on how to overcome challenges such as improper latching or low milk supply, so I won’t belabour those points.
What I do want to share is what got me through my challenges as I grappled with believing that I could give my baby the “liquid gold” he needed.
BREASTFEEDING CAN BE A VERY SOLITARY EXERCISE
Breastfeeding is quite an isolating experience. On most occasions, I would find myself alone in the room, trying to latch my baby as he squirmed or fussed on one breast, while making sure that the contraption holding the letdown milk on the other breast wouldn't drop and waste what little breast milk I had.
This activity, in my humble opinion, should qualify as some kind of Olympic sport or circus act.
In the nights, it required summoning all my strength to wake up diligently at 3 a.m. to express milk because despite one's tiredness, your motherly instincts take over to ensure that you are feeding your child.
But imagine, after 30 minutes of pumping alone in the dark while you watch your sleeping husband with envy, you yield a grand total of 50ml of breastmilk. All the effort and fatigue – and it wasn’t even enough for one feed! Not to mention needing to wash all the pump parts before I could go back to sleep.
There were many moments like this that I really wanted to give up.
DON'T WORRY, OTHER MUMMIES ARE HERE!
What helped get me through the toughest stretches of the journey was a support network of mums who were going through the same experience.
Besides advice on tips and tricks to breastfeed well, the main benefit, I believe, was just having other people who could relate to the painful challenges. We just needed some emotional support to get us through the trying moments.
I would like to share some collective wisdom that saw me through:
1. Don’t obsess over the “right” technique
As a new mum, you will get schooled on latching techniques, many of which are really very helpful.
However, my main takeaway from the entire experience is that what works for others may not work for you. That said, it's true that wrong techniques will hurt your nipples, so it's best to ask for feedback from a specialist if you're in prolonged discomfort.
After giving birth to my son, it looked like I was on the right track with latching him. However, his mouth's position differed from diagrams of the “correct” latching position.
Concerned, I went to see a lactation consultant to get advice on how I could improve on my technique. The consultation seemed helpful, but when I got home and tried out the tips I was given, I still couldn't get my baby to latch correctly.
As such, it became a very frustrating experience for both of us, and I even contemplated just feeding him my breast milk through a bottle.
Thankfully, I persisted, exploring my own techniques of latching until I found one that worked and never looked back.
2. Don’t let the measurements get you down
As humans, we compare, reference and benchmark against what is “normal”. That is how we get a sense of whether we are on the “right track”.
This “track”, however, can be very demoralising when you learn that your milk supply is lower than what others are pumping or is less than what your baby “should be” having.
I wasn’t expressing a lot of breast milk at the start, hence it would get to me when I saw people having so much excess milk to donate. My postpartum massage lady would tell me about how some of her other customers had so much breast milk, which, for a while, made me feel bad.
"It's okay lah," she would say to me. "You can supplement with formula."
I did take her advice anyway, and during those formula feeds, I left the feeding to my husband and treated myself to a nice, relaxing nap. Not a bad suggestion at all.
Today, my supply is much more adequate and I am able to feed my baby with breast milk entirely – it saves on the formula too.
3. You are enough
This final one is simple, and yet possibly the hardest to grasp. When the going gets hard, hold firmly to this belief and put all that self-doubt to rest. We've got some breastfeeding to do!