By Dilasha Kumar Chandra
My journey as a breastfeeding mum can be described as amazing, nurturing and a gift that you get only once you have given birth to your little miracle. Well, that is what the ideal situation would be reported in a magazine, but not mine! It was a unique experience for me, one filled with several challenges. When I look back on them though, I would not change them. I breastfed my little one for 2 years and 1 week and still remember the last feed, as I knew it will be the end of a long and eventful journey. As I sit here and reflect on probably my toughest experience being a mum, I share with you my story.
I remember the first hour after delivery I had a serious complication of hemorrhaging which made skin to skin difficult, which I now realise is the first and crucial component of breast feeding. What I do remember is seeing a mysterious little face looking at me trying to do her first crawl to the smell of milk to what I assumed was a proper latch. I was expecting this moment of connection and instant knowledge of what I was supposed to do. Yet, it was quite surreal as I didn’t feel the connection to my baby instantaneously. It was very painful and I couldn’t understand why it hurt so much and I had various thoughts flying around in my head on whether I was doing it right.
Being an expatriate, I had little idea on how the healthcare system runs in Singapore and how staff approach and talk to patients. Being bed bound for a few days and in country foreign to me, I had to accept what came my way.
The Lactation Consultant came to my room a few days after my delivery. She left within 10 minutes of giving a mini spiel about how I hardly had any nipples and offered me a nipple guard. I did not even get a chance to talk or discuss any issues. I now realise this was challenge number 1. I had it engrained in my head that I needed to use this shield everywhere I went and keep it attached all of the time in the hopes that it would relieve the pain. The pain did not subside as the nipple shield was making it difficult for my baby to obtain a proper latch. I resorted to seek help from other Lactation Consultants at Mother & Child who helped me to wean the shield off, practice breastfeeding with a right latch and keep calm and relax through the breastfeeding sessions. I was advised that there would be some pain and discomfort when starting a new breastfeeding journey but once proper latching is established, it should fade with practice and time.
Challenge number 2 was encountering influence and pressure of words from others. I was born in a generation where formula was seen as the most important thing to make a child healthy, chubby and intelligent. I kept getting told I was not producing enough milk as the baby was perpetually hungry. These constant voices around you can lead to a lot of self-doubt. I would now say push back and listen to that inner voice and let it speak! I remember one early morning I sent my husband running to a convenience store to look for formula because my newborn had spent several hours crying. Looking back, I now realise my baby just wanted cuddles, and was not necessarily hungry according to our elders.
Challenge number 3 – body changes. I remember many bouts of blocked ducts & mastitis. Being in tears from excruciating agony. But with time and just following sound breastfeeding advice, you get through it. I also remember looking in the mirror never feeling good enough from the body weight that wasn’t shedding. Statistics say that when you breast feed you lose weight. That was not the case for me immediately, I lost some weight albeit very gradually. That is key, give it time, nothing happens overnight.
With all these challenges, the one thing that motivated me to continue breastfeeding was a mantra, take it one day at a time. It is not easy and can be exhausting, draining, and a pain that doesn’t have an end date in sight but that comes hand in hand with motherhood. Looking back, breastfeeding seemed a breeze compared to dealing with a toddler! I would say surround yourself with a network of mums who support and shape your own journey. These people will be your pillars of strength; making you strong, and enabling you to share your own story with another new mum.