Now that I’m (more or less) back to blogging again, I thought that it would be useful to do an entry on my breastfeeding journey (both for myself for future reference, and for other mums who are looking up on breastfeeding info). To date, I’ve been exclusively breastfeeding Crystabel for 15 months 1 week – and what an amazing experience it has been!
Unlike other mums who did all their research on breastfeeding from the day they found out that they were pregnant, things were a little different with me initially. Yes, I did decide that I was going to breastfeed when baby was born, but being the ‘blur queen’ first-time mum, it didn’t occur to me that many others were struggling with issues like insufficient supply or baby not latching properly during the newborn phase. But I spent a fair amount of time researching on the best breast pump, as I knew that I’d be needing this. After reading reviews upon reviews, I finally set my sights on the Medela Freestyle.
Maybe it was a good thing that I did not spend too much time surfing the Net on things that could go wrong with breastfeeding during the early stages. This would have made me worry unnecessarily about whether baby was latching properly during the first few days. The only preparation I had was when a friend added me to The Breastfeeding Advocates Network Facebook Group, when she found out about my breastfeeding plans. “You’ll find all the answers you need whenever you face any issues in breastfeeding,” she said.
Breastfeeding during the early days
I was nauseous, dead tired (and hungry – after being deprived of food for 10 hours!) after the delivery that I did not manage to get Crystabel to latch on immediately after birth. I requested for the nurses to bring her in the room a bit later on, and they told me that they’ll be back in 1 hour.
So, after a short rest and some food, Crystabel was brought in to our 1-bedded room. The nurse taught me how to hold her, how to latch her on properly, and how to check whether my milk supply has kicked in. She pressed my nipple, and there were droplets of colustrum (liquid gold!) – which was a relieve. I guess I was also extremely lucky that I my baby was an eager sucker, and it must have been Day 3 or 4 that milk finally kicked in.
The days and weeks that followed were tiring but rewarding. She was a milk monster who treated me like a milk machine! And I was breastfeeding every 1.5-2 hours.
The smooth flow
Once our breastfeeding routine was established (I fed on demand), things went quite smoothly from there. Despite losing 200g after being discharged from hospital, Crystabel gained another 400g a week later – which meant that she’s got plenty to drink. I experienced engorgement during the early weeks, but that was easily settled with cold cabbage leaves and by bringing my milk machine to my boobs. I started pumping about 2 weeks later to clear any excess, and also for backup when we need to give her a bottle. But this was rare during confinement, as I was determined to avoid her having nipple confusion.
After confinement, things was mostly smooth sailing. My supply gradually picked up, and by the 3rd month I had a freezer full of milk! So I did not have to worry about supply when I went back to work at 16 weeks. Only issue we had was that Crystabel was rejecting the bottle out of a sudden. This tough cookie would rather starve and wait for me than take expressed breastmilk from the bottle. Thank goodness we managed to resolve that just before I went back to work. All that we needed to do was to change to the Pigeon bottle (which has softer teats), and shelf our Avent bottle set for the time being.
Once Crystabel started solids at 6 months, my freezer supply was crazy up to the point that I was having a hard time arranging the milk bags. I requested for a chest freezer from hubby, who gave me a flat “No” – as space was limited in our 4-room flat.
Hubby suggested that I donate my excess milk to help a mum in need. And so I found out about the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Facebook Group, where mums post up the details of their excess breastmilk (e.g. how many bags, dated from when, brief overview of diet, baby’s age, collection place). Those who were looking for donated breastmilk would then contact the mums to make arrangement for collection. No money is involved here, this milk sharing act is done purely as a good deed to help other mums.
However, sometimes milk bags may be given/requested as a small token of appreciation – like in the case of my first round of donation. The daddy who came to collect my frozen breastmilk gave me a box of storage bags in return. I did 2 rounds of donation in 2013, and gave away about 30 bags each time. After that my freezer got more manageable, and I started storing more milk per bag to save space.
While my breastfeeding journey started off quite smoothly, the minor hiccups start coming in around the 8th month. You see, normally I’d pump 1 last time at night after latching Crystabel to sleep to empty my breasts. But there are times when I was just so tired that I fell asleep instead. Of course I woke up with rock hard boobs. If it gets too tight and painful, I’d wake up at 5am to pump. If not, I’d sleep through till morning time when Crystabel will also wake up to latch – and then go back to sleep again.
It must have been due to my ‘laziness’ of not clearing my breasts properly that I got my first episode of blocked ducts. No matter how long I pumped, I just could not get that hard, sore feeling from one side of my left boob. And I was also pumping out less milk than usual. To cut the story short, I made an appointment with the lactation consultant at Mt Alvernia Parentcraft Centre who helped (and taught) me to massage and hand express the milk instead of pumping. She also told me that getting baby to latch on is the fastest and most effective way to clear the blocked ducts. If that’s not possible, the next best alternative is to do hand expression. She emphasised that the pump should be my last resort, as it does not clear the breasts fully, even on the highest speed.
Although I’m enjoying every single moment of breastfeeding, a part of me keeps thinking that perhaps I should make plans to slowly wean her off. After all, Crystabel is drinking more out of comfort these days rather than hunger (so far she’s quite keen to try new foods). I’ve tried different ways and means of doing this – dropping a pump session or cutting short my regular pump session – which of course, gave me blocked ducts again! So far this year, I’ve been having frequent episodes, with the latest one that happened just last week that nearly ended up as a case of breast abscess. Thank goodness the course of antibiotics prescribed by my doctor worked, and it got better by the next day.
I know that ideally, I should work towards weaning her off when she’s ready. But will I still have the strength to carry on if I keep having blocked ducts almost every month?
Well, I guess only time will tell. But thinking back, I’m really amazed by how far (and long) I’ve gone with breastfeeding her exclusively – considering the fact that I’d set out to do this for just 6 months initially. Now that I’m nearing the 1.5 years mark – I hope that I can sustain until her 2nd birthday this December.
Mums, how long did you breastfeed your little ones for? And what was your breastfeeding journey like? Share your views by commenting below 🙂