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Newsletter #34: Lynn’s Story

Finding Valuable Support as a First-Time Breastfeeding Mother
by Lynn, as told to BMSG Editorial Team

While many expecting mothers are naturally excited to breastfeed their newborns due to arrive, for many, it can be a daunting task when the day arrives.

For Lynn, a first-time mother, the challenges she faced during her early days as a new breastfeeding mother left her feeling worn out and troubled. “(Breastfeeding) was definitely a steep learning curve for me,” said Lynn, a mother of a 20 month-old daughter, who recalls the early days.

Lynn and her husband were excited to meet their baby but soon realised that there was more to breastfeeding that meets the eye.

Steep Learning Curve

Lynn was shocked to learn that when she first tried to breastfeed, getting baby to latch and eventually getting a letdown was not as easy as what she had always expected and imagined. “When I went for the hospital briefing prior to giving birth, I watched a video where it seemed as if milk will just flow for a new mother who has just given birth. I realised I had also been influenced by what I had seen on television; that breastfeeding was something so natural and instinctual. I was totally unprepared for the real thing,” added the 39 year-old.

It was only later on when she began to seek support from like-minded mothers and breastfeeding counsellors whom she met from the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (Singapore) (BMSG) did she start to realise the amount of “bad” information she had been getting. “I only felt affirmed after I had discovered BMSG. After being part of the closed support group, I managed to correct some of my own misconceptions about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding became a lot better after that as I had a more realistic expectation of it,” Lynn added.

Companions who Provided Emotional Support

Knowing more about breastfeeding since then, Lynn went on to seek company who provided her much restraint and healthy distractions when the going gets tough.

One of the things Lynn feels most poignant about is the mental struggle that comes with caring for a baby. For many mums in their postpartum period, a significant number feel a form of baby blues. This could be manifested through feeling sad or unhappy, as the body’s hormones start to settle after a long period of pregnancy. She was fortunate to have the support of her family members. “My husband, my mother, sister and brother told me to acknowledge my feelings; it was OK to be unhappy if I feel unhappy,” said Lynn, who has since returned to work when her baby was almost five months’ old.

Her husband, especially, has been her rock. She loved that he took the trouble to learn with her during her breastfeeding journey. “He has since always supported my decision to breastfeed. He is quick to defend me when we meet family members, friends or even doctors and nurses who may doubt the benefits of breastfeeding,” added Lynn. Some of the things he has defended include how breastfeeding makes a mother weak, or that breastmilk is useless for older babies; Lynn and her 20 month-old bub are still going on strong and it doesn’t look like she will be weaning her baby off anytime soon.

Meeting other mothers were a crucial factor in helping Lyn adapt to what is normal in breastfeeding.

Finding Comfort in Other Mothers

Lynn also sought her motherhood “tribes”; she went on to make two good mummy friends whom she chatted up at the playground. “These “veteran” mummies showed me what was normal with breastfeeding,” added Lynn. She also sought support with the babywearing community, such as Babywearing SG, and found that it empowered her to be more independent as a breastfeeding mother. “I did things I never knew possible. I could now go to the toilet without having to hold my baby AND finally being able to have frequent meals, all while babywearing,” she quips.

Most significantly, she also finds joy in a group of like-minded mummy friends whom she still depend on today for support, ideas and humour. “Our growing children throw all sorts of antics, be it new breastfeeding stunts, growing new teeth, or surprise growth spurts. Tough nights always warrant some online time in our private ‘thinktank’, ” she said.

Lynn built mental resilience, which helped her overcome the challenges that came her way.

Mental Resilience

At the end of her maternity leave, Lynn was ready to return to the workforce. Her strong support, especially in the form of her family and friends, helped her to ease into the transition. When she started working again and had to pump milk for her baby, she faced some challenges.

“The nature of my job is that I have no fixed working place,” said Lynn, who works as a consultant in business risk management. As a result, when it was time to pump, she may be at a location that doesn’t allow it. Fortunately, she has also met understanding clients and co-workers who help her to find a suitable place to pump. “It’s heartwarming when they (clients) offer me their nursing rooms or cordon off a private space for me, just to pump,” said Lynn. Of course, there were times when such luxuries were unavailable and she was asked to pump in toilets or told off about her needing to pump. She had also received comments such as “You can’t work on overseas projects if you breastfeed,” a misconception she has since proven untrue.

Lynn is also an archery coach, a hobby she is passionate about. But similarly, when she is carrying out training sessions, pumping on-the-go or “in the wild” as she jokes, was a regular occurrence. She is fortunate to have very supportive trainees who understand her need to pump when the time arrives.

Lynn’s support system is the reason why she feels satisfaction towards breastfeeding.

Support System Biggest Reason for Success

As we can learn from Lynn’s story, success doesn’t come without struggles and challenges. With the right support and mental resilience, a breastfeeding mother can overcome the odds. Lynn’s story was not without pitfalls, and like many other mothers, she had met her fair share of challenges. Her story is also a reminder that there is a lot of work that continues to be necessary in helping the immediate community a mother lives in understand that a breastfeeding mother wants to be valued and supported. The narrative that breastfeeding is a mother’s job alone is incorrect; together, with strong support from families, employees and friends, a mother who wants to breastfeed can make that intention not just for herself, but as part of a collective effort in bringing up future generations in a way that the mother and her family feel best.

Newsletter #33: Breastfeeding & Caesarean Sections

By the BMSG Editorial Team

Some mothers-to-be know that they are going to have a Caesarean-section, but some end up in the operating theatre with an emergency C-section – and may not know what to expect. Either way, you absolutely can breastfeed even after a C-section. Forewarned is forearmed; what are some of the difficulties of nursing after a major surgery and how can you prepare for them?

1.     General anaesthesia vs local anaesthesia

Most C-sections in Singapore are carried out under local anaesthesia; that is, a spinal block or epidural. With an epidural, mothers will be awake throughout the entire procedure and can even have skin-to-skin in the operating theatre. Having an epidural also means that once the baby is ready to be passed to you, you can initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible, whereas with GA, you may not be able to meet baby for a few hours after the procedure as you slowly awaken from the strong anaesthetic. In fact, both baby and you may be too groggy at the beginning to breastfeed effectively. However, even if you need to undergo GA for medical reasons, you can still breastfeed your baby.

Deborah Su, a mum of two children, breastfeeding her baby post-operation. (Photo credits: Deborah Su)

2.     After-effects of anaesthesia

Many mothers will endure some side-effects of anaesthesia, such as uncontrollable trembling, chills, and nausea. These side-effects can be quite strong as the dose of anaesthesia that is given for open surgery is much higher than the dose for a vaginal birth.

One mother, JoBeth Williams, recalls that she was trembling so hard after surgery that she did not dare to carry her baby at first as she was afraid she would drop her. It was not until the trembling subsided after about half an hour that she was able to initiate the first latch. Another mother, Wendy Sim, experienced dizziness and severe nausea for up to nine hours after the procedure. Wendy shared that even though she had such extreme side-effects, she persevered in having her baby close to her so that they could benefit from skin-to-skin contact. Despite this seemingly rocky start, both JoBeth and Wendy went on to have smooth breastfeeding journeys with their babies!

A mother who has had a c-section can initiate breastfeeding just like she would with a normal delivery,

Also, remember that after delivery, a C-section baby may be quite sleepy as she also feels the after-effects of the anaesthesia. Skin-to-skin contact will certainly help, as will rubbing baby’s feet or chest to rouse her. Secondly, C-section babies may post a higher birth weight and slightly higher initial weight loss due to IV fluids given during the surgery. Keep this in mind, as studies have shown that babies whose mothers received more IV fluids before birth urinated more during their first 24 hours and as a result lost more weight. Therefore you should not worry too much about a slightly higher initial weight loss, as long as you can see baby is drinking well and producing the right amount of wet and dirty diapers.

Wendy shared that even though she had such extreme side-effects, she persevered in having her baby close to her so that they could benefit from skin-to-skin contact. Despite this seemingly rocky start, both JoBeth and Wendy went on to have smooth breastfeeding journeys with their babies!

3.     Protecting your wound while nursing baby

The C-section wound can be very tender and painful in the first few days or even weeks. Many mothers have difficulties bending, sitting up, and walking. Try and arrange for as much help as possible to have baby brought to you, or safely co-sleep with your infant so that you do not have to move too much. Mother of four Chng Bee Wee recalls how after all her C-sections, all she did was rest in bed and breastfeed!

You can also experiment to figure out which breastfeeding holds work best for you. Many websites will recommend side-lying to nurse, but some mothers actually find this very difficult as the wound is not comfortable when lying on the side. You may find it easier (although it might take a bit longer for you to get ready) to sit up and nurse with cradle hold instead. Deborah Su, who had two C-sections, is one of many mothers who prefer to use a breastfeeding pillow which can help to protect the wound area, while other mothers may find that the pillow presses on the wound and is very uncomfortable. Many lactation consultants recommend the football hold as this keeps baby’s body away from the wound, but again, some mothers find the position unnatural while others welcome how easy it is!

In the end, it is really a matter of figuring out what works for you! The most important thing is to keep an open mind and be willing to try as many things as possible so you can decide what is the most comfortable and effective position for you and baby to breastfeed in.

Nursing pillows can help to cushion the c-sect wound during breastfeeding.

4.     Preparing for your milk to kick in

Contrary to popular belief, a C-section actually does not affect how fast your milk comes in. Since milk production is kickstarted by the removal of the placenta from the uterus, a mother who has had a C-section will make milk at the same rate as a mother who has had a vaginal birth. As always, it is important to nurse your baby on demand and latch baby as often as he cues for it with rooting motions, small sounds, and rubbing his face with his hands. The best way to get your milk supply up and running is to tell your breasts to make more by nursing your baby as often as possible.

Since you will likely be at the hospital for a couple of days, make use of your time there to get as much assistance from the hospital lactation consultants as possible. Enlist your hospital LC to help you attach baby to the breast as soon as possible after delivery, and ask for them to check the baby’s latch and milk transfer if you are not sure if things are right. Don’t forget that you can and should continue to seek professional support after going home! Nurul Huda Alkhatib was lucky to have picked a hospital with a proactive parent support system. “The lactation clinic from the hospital called me post-discharge just to ask how I was doing and if my breastfeeding was okay. They assured me that I could just call them if I had any questions or worries,” she says.

Ask your doctor for breastfeeding-friendly painkillers.

5.     Ease your pain

Some mothers are afraid to take painkillers, worried about the effects that the medication might have on baby. Don’t worry – after a C-section, it is standard practice for doctors to prescribe antibiotics and painkillers that are safe for breastfeeding; if you are concerned, it is always good to check in with your gynaecologist or even the nurses in the maternity ward.

Why is it important to take your meds? Firstly, the antibiotics serve to ward off possible infection of your wound. Secondly, remember that a C-section is in fact major surgery, and you need to take care of yourself as well. This includes relieving any post-operative pain, especially if it is making it difficult for you to cope with caring for your baby or even with day-to-day life. While it is true that what you eat and drink while you are breastfeeding make their way into your milk supply, where it can then be transferred to your nursing baby, it is important to remember that your baby only gets a tiny fraction of what you put into your body – and that these breastfeeding-friendly medicines, at their appropriate dosages, should not have an adverse effect on your nursing baby. Of course, the painkillers are optional, and if you are able to manage well with your level of unmedicated pain, you may wish to go without.

Surround yourself with good support and getting your partner on board can make way for a smooth start to breastfeeding.

6.     Surrounding yourself with support

One thing that all the C-section mums we spoke to agreed on was that support was vital to successful breastfeeding. Some mothers recruited their relatives to help out, such as their own mothers or sisters who fully supported their decision to exclusively breastfeed their baby. Others were lucky enough to have spouses who could make flexible work arrangements to stay home and help. Some of them were even able to hire pro-breastfeeding confinement nannies who were knowledgeable and experienced in assisting C-section mothers nurse their babies.

This sort of support is invaluable also in settling things like all the household chores and childcare for older kids so that the new mama can stay in bed, rest, recuperate, and concentrate on feeding the newborn. According to mother of two Ashtalaxmi Dinakaran, having a supportive husband and family was crucial when it came to breastfeeding. Nurul Huda agrees, saying, “If my mother had not given me words of encouragement, to remind me to pump especially when I was already so exhausted, I don’t think I would have the perseverance to exclusively breastfeed for the last 11 months.”

Another way that your support network can help is to prop mama up in her decision to breastfeed. Nili Seah, who has a baby daughter, absolutely hated people asking her to give the bottle to baby, as well as other unconstructive remarks. “I feel that I want to nurse her whenever we both feel she needs or just wants to nurse,” she says. Making sure that you have someone solidly on your side at home can be really uplifting for a vulnerable new mother, who needs encouragement that she is doing the right thing for her baby.

“I feel that I want to nurse her whenever we both feel she needs or just wants to nurse,”