By Diana Yeow (BMSG Volunteer)
Prior to my son’s birth, I had started reading up about breastfeeding and participated in several online breastfeeding support groups to learn from the experiences of other mothers. I thought that I was more prepared than I could ever be and I was expecting an easy, smooth-sailing, and successful breastfeeding journey. After all, breastfeeding is the most natural and instinctual thing a female body was built for, just like childbirth, right? Boy, was I wrong.
From the time my son was just born, we had latching issues. Coupled with his short hospital stay when he was three to five days old for phototherapy due to jaundice, we were off to a rough start. As an anxious first time mother, I had heeded the misguided advice of a friend to offer bottled formula milk as the “best way to flush out bilirubin”, according to her, and to avoid offering breastmilk which could prolong jaundice. I was desperate to try out any measure that can help my child clear his jaundice as quickly as possible. However, I wanted to try to provide for my child with the best nutrition available. Hence, I began my pumping journey and started pumping breastmilk for my baby when he was barely a few days old until his jaundice levels had gone down.
Without a confinement lady, domestic helper, or other family members around to assist me during confinement, my early motherhood journey felt like an endless loop of latching practice, bottle feedings, 2.5-hourly pumping sessions, diaper changes, and whatever chores I could squeeze in during the baby’s nap time. My body did not respond well to pumping initially and coupled with the stress and lack of rest led to insufficient supply. In turn, the undersupply created more stress which undermined any of my efforts to boost my supply. I found myself trapped this vicious cycle of stress and low supply.
I vividly recall an incident that happened when my stress level was at its peak. It was another regular night with my infant. I woke as soon as I heard his cries and proceeded to carry him to the kitchen with me. I placed a bottle of expressed breastmilk in the bottle warmer and stood there swaying on the spot to keep the baby calm and quiet, with my eyes barely open. After about what felt like five minutes, I reached out my hand to get the bottle from the warmer only to realise there was no bottle there. I also realised I was not even carrying my baby. In my puzzled and shocked state, I returned to my bedroom to find my baby still sleeping soundly in the playpen and went back to the kitchen to find the bottle still cold beside the warmer. While I brushed the incident aside and proceeded to prepare for my usual middle-of-the-night pump session, this sleep hallucination episode got me thinking about how much stress and anxiety I had been under since I began my motherhood and breastfeeding journey.
I also came to realise that I had a lot of anxiety arising from tracking yield amounts and my child’s milk intake. Every day, I found myself tracking and chasing my “KPIs”, setting new goals every week that I had to achieve. I kept to my pumping schedule religiously; if my boy was awake, he would be beside me on the bed till the session ended. Due to my strict timeline, I hardly left the house as that would require too much planning and logistics.
At this point, I am thankful for my husband who took on the night shifts throughout his paternity leave and even on some work nights, which gave me slightly more rest time as I mainly focused on pumping sessions at nights. He even took on his daddy duties at mealtimes, even if he was starving after a day’s work, letting his food grow cold while I ate first.
At times I truly hated this arrangement since we never spent any time together anymore, much less have a meal with each other. At the same time, I also felt pressured to be able to handle all of my duties as a stay-at-home-mum. However, my husband’s only condition at that time was simply that I rest more, which I logically understood. Nonetheless, psychologically, I felt a sense of loneliness. As I was not working then, it almost felt to me like I was trapped at home by myself all the time.
Gradually over time, as our child caring duties got less hectic, things got better and I found myself less stressed and depressed about struggling with motherhood and the loss of couple time. I also realised that over time, as I decided to be less rigid on my pumping schedule and less obsessive about my yield “KPIs”, my breastfeeding journey became more bearable and even fun. Ironically, that was when my yield started increasing.
With the gracious help from my family and my in-laws, we were able to have more outings as I also grew more confident about slotting in pumping sessions while we were out – even where nursing rooms were not available. I have had the fun experience of pumping with a nursing cover at cafes and restaurants, in the cinema, and even in the car to make the best use out of travelling time. We even managed to arrange a trip to the beautiful Cameron Highlands.
The early days were definitely tough but in every challenge is a silver lining and an opportunity to rise out of it. Everything else will eventually fall in place; that would be my best advice for mothers out there who are facing similar predicaments as I did.