Friday, August 22, 2014

Milk Mama Diaries: Our Breastfeeding Saga

Welcome to the Milk Mama Diaries Carnival (August). For this month, we write about the World Breastfeeding Week 2014 - Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life and share how breastfeeding can help the Philippines achieve the 8 Millennium Development Goals developed by the government and the United Nations. Participants will share their thoughts, experiences, hopes and suggestions on the topic.  

Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of carnival entries


As I write this post, I'm also watching over my 7-month old daughter who is now crawling more than creeping on her play mat. On occasion, she manages to humor me and do a quick plank or downward dog pose. If she's in a really playful mood, she'll go even further and attempt to coast on her knees! I can't believe how far we've come from our early weeks and days together just a few months ago. 

You see, this wasn't always the case with us. She wasn't always this cute baby with chubby cheeks. She wasn't always this amazing ball of energy, eager to expend every bit for each developmental milestone. My baby definitely wasn't one to take on nursing / latching / suckling / breastfeeding with ease and much gusto. I on the other hand, wasn't someone who had lots of free-flowing breast milk. Well truth be told, I think I just have ample supply for my baby's needs. And in my younger years, I wasn't even for nursing in public (NIP) or even for breastfeeding itself! Long story short, our breastfeeding saga actually started with myths and actual "breastfeeding failure", as most others (including myself) would have called it.

When I found out that this year's Milk Mama Diaries Carnival is about how breastfeeding can help achieve the 8 Millennium Development Goals by the government and the United Nations, I initially thought it would be quite hard to find a connection. But after reading some more, I felt certain that sharing our own experience could definitely help others - especially new mommies who are probably struggling with the same challenges we faced. This is not a run down of breastfeeding benefits and how-to's, and definitely not a put-down for moms who were not able to breastfeed. Far from it! This is simply a mom's no holds barred breastfeeding story - our struggles, failures, learning how to do it, getting better at it and keeping at it. I hope this encourages moms and the people around her to give breastfeeding a chance. 

Our Story

Let me take you back to the start of our journey. I was an excited first-time mom who was about to pop!  I felt so ready, so prepared and quite successful already! And why should I not feel that way? After all, my husband and I have attended seminars on pregnancy, childbirth and even breastfeeding. From the different types of hold and positions (cradle, cross-cradle, football, side-lying), correct latch, schedule, troubleshooting..ahh, we'll be breezing right through. We 'knew' everything from cover to cover, or so we thought!

We planned and prepared for a normal and unmedicated birth. After being stuck in 1cm for a whole day out, I was admitted to the hospital and was immediately hooked on IV and Pitocin. But after 24 hours in the hospital with labor not progressing, we were confronted with the need for a C-Section. I was prepared for anything BUT a CS! And I did not know it then but now I realize how giving birth via CS could jeopardize breastfeeding success. I mean, it is possible but it definitely wouldn't be easy...and how! You could count on your aching incision, general lethargy and all the IV needles to make early breastfeeding such a burden. 

Unang Yakap - I was unconscious when Z and I first met; but I'm glad the medical team followed my request for Unang Yakap and immediate latching which were included in my birthing plan
I could hardly stand on my own the day after the procedure. When nurses came and told me I could start breastfeeding, I was so excited! This is it! Although I missed the Unang Yakap in the operating room (I panicked so they gave me something that made me sleep!), I could make up for it now! So I was walking hunched over to the breastfeeding chair, a nurse advised me to use the breastfeeding pillow and somebody handed me my baby. Like an eager mother, I was waiting for that first latch....and waited...but baby didn't want to latch, or didn't know how. Hmmm, how could this be? Lactation experts in the seminars told us that this would be part of a baby's instinct! Weren't some babies even crawling towards their mother's bosom, and latched? That's the start of me questioning - what's wrong with my baby? what's wrong with my breasts? what's wrong with me? Nobody wanted to admit it but I guess the drugs used during childbirth somehow passed to my baby and made her lethargic. 

And so that's how we rolled for the whole time we were at the hospital - baby was only able to latch for a few minutes only after a nurse or a lactation midwife would assist us (read: maneuvering my mammary gland towards my babe's mouth). In I.T. parlance, we were on a "plug and pray" basis - with them manipulating the latch and me praying hard that we get it right already, that my milk comes plentiful already, that we wouldn't be a "breastfeeding failure" any more.

Our earliest breastfeeding sessions - when baby was fussy and crying hysterically, it was my husband who suggested to do skin-to-skin and get her to latch because, "she needs her mommy and she might be hungry"
Oh, and I also suffered from Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) during pregnancy so baby's blood glucose/blood sugar was heavily monitored from birth. Every 4-6 hours, a nurse would come and prick her heel to get a reading. There was a point when it was dropping significantly which was cause for alarm to the medical team. Probably enough for them to recommend a stop gap, an intervention. And doubts filled us again. What's wrong with our breastfeeding? Isn't it supposed to be the best for my baby? But we stuck with it. Even if I didn't know what the outcome would be. 

The Intervention


So I received a call from the pediatrician. From what I remember, she discussed Z's blood glucose condition, the dangers of hypoglycemia to her brain and body functions and the 'simple' remedy - administering glucose water to regulate her glucose levels. The simple remedy that I chose not to accept. When she heard this, I sensed the change in the tone of her voice. To my postpartum self, it sounded sort of like a threat, and I wasn't comfortable with it. I felt like a bad mom, that I'm forcing to make breastfeeding work even when they had a solution already. That if my baby's blood sugar continues to drop and something happens to her, it would be my fault. And then they said I had to sign a waiver. But as I said, I stuck with breastfeeding, yeah - at first it was out of pride (i.e., that I'm a breastfeeding mom) or my stubbornness. I desperately tried hard, in my hospital bed, to search the web for evidence so I can justify my decision to the medical team, but to no avail. I just knew that given our conditions, it would be the best for my baby and I wanted us to have a fighting chance so she can have the best start - regardless of her lethargy and blood glucose levels.

After the call, the doctor came over and visited us. She reiterated the details of our phone conversation but this time with a more 'caring' tone. She was probing where I got my information and convictions from. Maybe she was trying to see how come a first-time mom would be so opposed to what they, experienced and seasoned professionals, are trying to do. I don't usually like confrontations and getting in the way of other people's work (especially if they're the experts) but in this particular instance, it was empowering. Even if I didn't really know what I was doing! And may I add, it felt right. 

Seeing that I was so convinced we could make breastfeeding work, she let me be but she assigned a lactation midwife to always monitor us and help with the latch, should we need it. But not before the caveat that they will still monitor closely (pricks were gonna happen, still) and if things don't improve, they really have to do what they gotta do.

Challenge Accepted


I don't know what got into me but I thank God for giving me the resolve to soldier on with breastfeeding. I didn't have evidence of it too at the time but giving glucose water to a baby just didn't sound right. As a pre-diabetic / GDM mom, I knew just a few things on the effects of sugar or glucose. That sugar will just give a temporary high; I thought it might not stabilize Z's glucose level, and could possibly be more detrimental. That sugar provides empty calories - how do you nourish a hypoglycemic newborn with only that? And I felt it could impede our breastfeeding journey - less latching = less milk production.  

So the "medical intervention" for baby is still breast milk. I'm not sure how you perceive our photos but let me tell you that every nursing session then was a struggle. I walk towards the breastfeeding chair with optimism, only to be beaten down by our challenges. Every nursing session made me feel like crying. At times I really did. I cried for my sore nipples. I cried because I just wanted to sleep and get some rest too! And most of all I cried because of the very real possibility of failing at this.

I even made an SOS call to Ms. Lita Nery, a lactation consultant, to help me in the hospital. I asked why I did not have milk yet. After she did her lactation massage and assessed the situation, she confirmed (and we saw!!) that I had milk and was even already engorged! She then helped me with some techniques on breast massage, proper use of warm compress, hand-expression and the actual use of different breastfeeding positions. Thank you so much!

Mommy, Z with her great grandmother and Ms. Lita Nery

That's why I'm so thankful for the lactation midwives and consultants who were really heaven-sent. With a few maneuverings, they were able to get baby to open her mouth enough to be able to latch. They were supportive, very much so. But they were few, and were only available during the day. One was even talking to my baby and said, "You know baby, you're very lucky. Your mom is trying her best to breastfeed you." Oh my, I really wanted to break down right then and there. How could she say that, when I didn't have a clue what to do! This was in between her doing hand-expression of colostrum for me. Whatever little amount we expressed, we used the syringe to feed my baby. It was such a simple affirmation that time and time again made me feel brave to give breastfeeding one more day,and another, and another. At night my husband and I tried to manage on our own, and sometimes with the nurse's help. Again the why's - Why is this so hard? Why didn't I know about these things? Why don't these things (breasts) come with a user manual?


Breastfeeding - all wired up and bandaged post-preggy me and baby

A few cc's of colostrum made us celebrate with joy. It was all the more a happy moment for us when the nurses finally told us that Z's blood glucose level was already stable.

My heart was happy that we were hours away from being discharged. Yet at the same time I was sinking to a feeling of helplessness - no more lactation midwives or nurses to call on when we need to latch. It's now really just me and you baby!

Breastfeeding at Home


You'd think by time of discharge I'd be a semi-pro breast feeding mom. We did spend 5 days in the hospital, after all. But it was my husband or mother-in-law's turn to be a latching expert, day or night at home. On the few times I was able to get her to latch, it was just by chance. Yikes! I thought we might end up quitting altogether. There were even times I resented breastfeeding. They said she would be hungry after 2-3 hours but golly this baby wanted me every hour! Sometimes we even had a 2-hour session from 1AM to 3AM. It wasn't until Ms. Lita confirmed that it was normal too, that I felt okay again. 

But Z lost considerable weight. Much more than the acceptable limit and again they were looking into breastfeeding as the culprit and glucose water as the immediate solution! I decided to change her doctor and got a recommendation for a breastfeeding friendly pedia. It was such a breath of fresh air to have someone who is on your team. The first thing our new pedia did is to observe us as Z latched. She then checked my breasts and gave us her recommendations. And the nice thing is she let us continue breastfeeding, but with modifications. We were on block feeding and we were told to watch baby's output (her poop) if it changes color from green to yellow; which means there was no hindmilk/foremilk imbalance. In a few week's time, we were on track with baby's weight gain. Sure there was still soreness and some pain but before Z turned a month old, I could confidently say that we were really getting the hang of it!

Breastfeeding beyond 6 months

I'm happy to say that at 7 months, she's still exclusively on breast milk. If I may say so, it has definitely helped my child deal with her early blood sugar woes. It has done wonders for our bonding and I feel blessed that we are still able to do it. And I'm pretty sure it has done wonders too for our finances as we are able to allocate the money (otherwise spent on formula product) for our savings and other expenses. 

We did not get to practice football or cross-cradle hold but now we get better sleep by doing the side-lying position at night and our standard cradle hold on all other times. We still bring our fluffy breastfeeding pillow when we're out and about. I express milk through breast pump only when needed hence I only have ample stash for emergencies.

Breastfeeding technicalities aside, I think we're okay. The latch is great and I pray she doesn't bite me when she starts teething. But do believe me when I say that breastfeeding moms at this point still need your support, prayers and sometimes, even your acceptance. 

Admittedly, I was only breastfed until my third month and was formula-fed afterwards. That's why I understand when our elders would advise to wean baby from the breast and introduce formula. But I intend to breastfeed until at least Z's second year. And I'm afraid that's where the problem would lie.

While breastfeeding per se is not a cultural norm, I believe it is more difficult for those who choose extended breastfeeding. You'd hear anywhere from "You don't have milk any more" to "Your milk does not have nutrients any more" or "Breastfeeding a toddler doesn't look nice". Awww shucks! What's a breastfeeding mom got to do? Feed her baby of course! 

There are a lot of things I would like to suggest but I guess it boils down to proper information dissemination, understanding and empathy. Right now breastfeeding advocates who came before us are moving mountains! We have nice nursing stations in malls, hospitals, select offices and schools. There are wonderful support groups both local and international who passionately help new ones like me to this aspect of mothering. My take is to include breastfeeding in the school curriculum alongside sex education. Maybe we would be able to eliminate the feeling of it being immodest. Maybe then the youth would understand the most normal and basic way to care for the baby brought about by procreation. Maybe moms in the future wouldn't wonder why it's hard or why they were not handed out a manual. 

Breastfeeding while waiting for our turn at the doctor's clinic
Until then, I hope we can all support all mothers especially the soon-to-be moms & new moms with their breastfeeding goals. Believe me, it is hard as a new mom to push for this when in yourself you know that 'you don't know everything'. And mommies, it really isn't easy so please don't give up just yet, can you try for one more day, for your baby? 

And this is how we achieve the 8 Millenium Development Goals, not by making a clean sweep of everyone but by starting with those who are close to us. One successful mother-child breastfeeding story means we are a step closer towards our goals.

8 Millennium Development Goals (Photo courtesy of: http://www.chroniclesofanursingmom.com/)

Here are many thoughts and reasons why we should all advocate for mothers to breastfeed for the first 1,000 days of life #BF1st1000days 
Jenny shares experiencing the One Asia Breastfeeding Forum
Mec insists to do the Math and breastfeed!
Ams, The Passionate Mom says Breastfeed for a Better Future
Pat says breastfeeding saves money and the planet
Cheryl, the Multi-Tasking Mama, tackles maternal health as addressed by breastfeeding
2011 CNN Hero Ibu Robin highlights gentle births and breasfeeding, even in disaster zones
Felyn stresses that Healthy Moms = Healthy Babies
Monique reminds us that there are second chances in breastfeeding
Normi relates how breastfeeding gave her strength and purpose
Nats thanks Dr. Jack Newman for showing how breastfeeding can be a win-win situation
Em believes breastfeeding is a solution to societal problems
Marge shares what breastfeeding has taught them
Kaity was empowered financially and as a woman through breastfeeding
Madel relates her breastfeeding saga
Jen of Next9 reminds us to do our research and share what we know
Celerhina Aubrey vows to work on one mother at a time
Grace wants to put an end to stories of toasted coffee and similar stuff over breast milk
Diane shares how she prevailed when things did not go according to plan
Hazel appreciates mommy support groups
Roan combines two passions, breastfeeding and architecture
Queenie tackled breastfeeding as the best choice for the environment as well and breastfeeding myths and poverty
Rosa shares how the picture she thought of was realized
Sally believes breastfeeding benefits mankind and our planet Earth
Floraine reminds us that breastfeeding helps combat diseases
Crislyn was happy to realize that she improved her own health by breastfeeding
Armi reminds us how breastfeeding during emergencies is crucial
Arvi tells us how breastfeeding made her look at her body a different way
Clarice elaborates on how breastfeeding saves lives and the planet
Giane reminds us that women empowerment can begin by seeing breastfeeding as more than a feeding issue
Liza thought she was only breastfeeding for her child

4 comments:

  1. I feel you! CSop is really a major bf journey epal. hahahahaha.. Although breastfeeding my baby is one of the reasons why I really tried to sit up 12hours after my operation so I could feed her properly. Because I want her to get the best milk I could offer.

    You have an amazing story. Found your blog thru milk mama diaries. Glad I joined.

    http://www.celerhinaaubrey.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Sis!!! Oh my, sorry I have missed your comment :( Yes, really hard talaga but EBF can be done pa rin, based on our experiences :)

    Hopefully the experiences we shared will inspire and encourage more mommies to breastfeed, despite initial hardships. :)

    Will be dropping by your milk mama blog too, sis! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. hi, may i know the name of your pedia? im looking for a pedia who's a breastfeeeing advocate. thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Bancroft! Our current pedia is Dr. Maybelline Yu-Chua. She practices in Chinese General Hospital (CGH) Blumentritt, Metropolitan Hospital (Metro) Masangkay/Bambang area and another one in Paco, Manila.

      You can reach her by phone, just call/text this landline number: +632 542-3323. Best of luck and you can do it momma! :D

      Delete

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