Of latches, flanges and nursing covers: A breastfeeding mom’s honest-to-goodness thoughts on breastfeeding

Note: This would be quite a long post with lots of blabbering. Honest-to-goodness, as raw as it gets. Also, I don’t mean to offend anyone, especially non-breastfeeding moms. I know that moms would always give the best to our children, under our own circumstances. These are all just based on my thoughts and feelings as a breastfeeding mom myself.  🙂

 

Over the last few weeks, I have been into a major decluttering frenzy at home. One day last week, I decided to keep my trusty pump in the box. I haven’t pumped in months, except for one day last month when my son’s gastro-pedia wanted to check my milk supply so she asked me to pump again for a day. As I stored my pump at the top cabinet, I suddenly got so emotional and nostalgic over the fact that our breastfeeding  journey is about to near its end. And so, I decided to write this piece.

Even before I gave birth to Tino, I already made a promise to myself that we would breastfeed (BF) for as long as possible. I didn’t come cold as I read blogs and books on breastfeeding and armed myself with proper knowledge. I joined a breastfeeding group on FB that strongly and passionately advocates breastfeeding. For me, being able to breastfeed my son was one of my greatest feat as a mom. Up to this day, I am proud that we were able to last this long. But of course, it wasn’t a breeze. I had concluded that nobody really gets lucky with breastfeeding (unlike what most people think when they say, “swerte ka, malakas gatas mo”  (you’re lucky you have good milk supply). You work for it and you commit to it. And it’s not just all about your milk. Along the way, you’ll also encounter tests that may bring you to ask, “was it really worth it?”. 

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They say it all starts with the perfect latch. I took this rule to heart. I remember at the hospital while undergoing the early signs of labor, I took a mental photo of how to properly assist my baby to get the first latch perfect. I have read that most breastfeeding problems are simply caused by incorrect latch. But thank God, this was never really a problem for us. Tino was a pro from the start. It actually took a few days for my milk supply to flow out and I knew my son’s perfect latch contributed to it.

Our first major BF bump happened around the second month when I had an allergy attack. Regular antihistamines were not enough so I had to take steroids for 3-5 days. That meant my son cannot latch nor take my milk while I’m on medication. No latch equals dwindling supply. The only way to keep it up is to pump as regular as possible every 2-3 hours. So imagine the exhaustion between changing diapers, preparing milk in bottles, burping in between feedings, pumping, no sleep, and the emotional pangs (hey, post-natal hormones!) of not being able to nurse my son. I almost gave up then. Was it worth continuing? Before I even got to answer it, I was off the steroids and back on track.

So it was all steady until I needed to go back to work around the 3rd month. By this time, I was already so much into breastfeeding, I was firm there was no other option for us but this. I was ready with my pump, cooler, ice packs, storage bags and bottles. My office was even so considerate with my pumping schedule. Then came one of the most dreaded problem…nipple confusion! At some point, my 3-month old son started to refuse the breast and preferred the bottle instead. I remember coming home after work looking forward to that quiet, fulfilling nursing time with my baby, but in the end getting frustrated and ending up crying because we weren’t in sync anymore like before. It was more emotional for me at the time because I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding and all the unexplainable emotional connection with my baby that it gives me. I started to blame other things and other people – accusing my husband of not understanding what I’m going through (even though I know in my heart he was doing all his best), my son’s caregivers for not willing to learn cup feeding or spoon feeding or even syringe feeding, even that breastfeeding group for brainwashing me that breastfeeding and direct latch are the ONLY way! Yes, I was that irrational then! I don’t remember how we got over it but we eventually did. Commitment really does wonders on everything. And sometimes, so does stubbornness.

And then came plugged ducts and mastitis. These are pretty common, you say, but when you got them, you would almost wish for your body to stop building supply (which of course, you wouldn’t really want to happen because that would be the end of it). How many times had I called in sick and took a leave from work because of aching boobies. It is this time that you would realize the importance of the right flange size and a reliable, efficient pump. Investing in a good pump may cost you a little too much but if you’re in it for the long haul, a good pump will be your wingman and bestfriend!

Then there are those little discomforts (or sometimes perks!) that made me wonder for a sec what if I didn’t do this. Like bringing a pump bag and a cooler filled with ice packs everywhere I went. And dropping everything I’m doing at all cost because I’m due for my next pump session. Or having to cap off a good nightout with my girlfriends or officemates at 9:00 PM (“what, we only just started!”, they would say) because my liquid gold should be refrigerated in 30 minutes time or it won’t be good to store anymore. Most of the time I simply begged off from any social activity. Or having to change most of my wardrobe for BF-friendly wear and thinking that nursing covers and infinity scarves are the best accessories ever. Was it really worth it? Yeah, I eventually learned to live with all of it.

The biggest question for me came just recently when we were already breastfeeding for a full year. For months now, we have been struggling with my son’s weight and height (I have mentioned about it in my previous post.) Nothing is probably more painful than hearing people, including family and those close to you, mention that your baby seems smaller for his age and somehow implying that your milk is the culprit. In my most doubtful times, heaven would sometimes send a stranger or two who would assure me that it’s normal for breastfed babies to look smaller than formula-fed babies. Still, it brought me to do the comparison myself and ask “was it really my fault that I decided to extend breastfeeding and now my baby is lagging behind in the scales?”. I only wanted to give the best for him! Maybe I have given too much. Maybe I should have stopped at 6 months. Was it really worth it after all??

Over these last few months I have considered this question without a firm answer, especially after each visit to his pedia.  Until that day I decided to keep my pump in the box. Looking at the flanges, the tubes and all its parts brought me back to the day I first bought it. I remember the conviction I had that day to only give my liquid gold to my 3-month old baby and nothing else. I remember every pumping session I spent in our office pantry, in an empty conference room, in malls’ pay lounges and breastfeeding rooms, and sometimes even in restaurants while having a social or business meal (!) and the satisfaction I felt each time. I remember the chubby, healthy, happy baby I held in my arms for over 9 months when my milk was all that sustained him. I remember every nursing session with him and feeling each time like it was the most magical, most amazing, most blessed moment I have ever had. I remember every prayer of gratitude that I would whisper each and every time I feel my milk’s let-down, knowing that God blessed me with a capacity to nurture and nourish my son like no one else can, in the most natural way that God designed it.

And then I looked at my son, happily playing in the corner of our disorganized room, jumping and throwing things around with a strength you wouldn’t imagine little children had, so full of life and vigor. I look at how he’s grown over the past 15 months, how he’s become so healthy (it’s true, he rarely gets sick!) and smarter for his age and loving. I thought of how much of me have I poured out into this little walking miracle and how much more I could still give him. At that moment I knew the answer to my question.  I  knew that we’ll get over this phase soon and I’m doing the best I can to complement his feeding.

So, was it really worth it? Yes, definitely. With all that I’ve lost and gained over this whole journey. Breastfeeding was worth it. My son was all worth it. I would do it all over again.

And that’s why my trusty pump is still sitting in the top cabinet for future use.

Mom, you’re doing great!

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How apt that I am writing my first ever post on motherhood on Mother’s Day!

This year was my second Mother’s Day celebration. Yes, motherhood has too much of wonderful, incredible and unbelievable rewards. In fact, I can tell that most of my posts on motherhood will be about the amazing things it brings. But being a mom for a year also proved that the sacrifices, struggles, and uncertainties are #real.

Mother knows best. We grew up thinking that moms are always right and that they always know what they’re doing. They are more amazing than the superheroes and more magical than the fairy godmothers in our books and fairy tales. But here’s one secret of motherhood that I’ve just realized – that there are times, if not most of the time, that we don’t really know what we’re doing. Mothers doubt themselves, too.

I’ve had my own share of these concerns. Some are pretty simple and petty like “is the diaper too tight?” or “is he comfortable in that position?” or “am i doing this or that right?”. But there are those that, probably coupled with raging hormones every so often, lead to real insecurities.

Recently, I’ve had to deal with a major one. Tino’s weight gain has slowed down to almost insignificant pace in the last 2 months. We have been breastfeeding since birth and we’ve started complimentary feeding of solids at 6 months, but it was about the same time that his weight started to stall. I’m also a full-time mom now and is very much hands-on with whatever we feed him. And so, all these brought me to ask myself the painful, painful question: Am I not giving him enough? Am I not doing enough?

Being the praning mom that I am, I began to google the whys and hows, read through blogs after blogs, joined forums and groups, hoping to get some sensible advice and secretly wishing that someone would validate that it’s alright, that we are doing just fine. It bothered me so much that I began to question not only his feeding pattern, but every little thing that I did for him in the past. Did I make the right decision to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding him? Did I feed him the wrong food? Did I disrupt his routine when I decided to become a full-time mom?  It became very frustrating that every day was like a race to a number in the scale. Meal times turned from fun to forced. Even our nursing sessions turned to some sort of MMA match where we would grapple on the bed and I would end up pleading to Tino to keep still and nurse. Of course, most of the time he wouldn’t. That’s when the insecurities started to set in. I began to think I wasn’t cut for this job of being a full-time mom. That maybe the best I could have done was to sit on my office desk, continue on with my heroic pumping sessions in between and take home my liquid gold at night, while Tino grows consistently at the 50th percentile – exactly how it used to be when he was younger and I was a working mom.

So, it went on like this for a while until it hit me one day that I was no longer being the mom that Tino needs me to be. I began to realize that I was so engrossed with his physical progress that I fail to see how he is developing in other aspects. That’s when I appreciated what a healthy and smart little boy he is. He very rarely gets sick, not even the usual cough and colds. He started to walk earlier than most babies his age. He is smarter and can communicate better – he can say words like “dad”, “mama”, “there” to point at something, “bu” for books, “bao” for ball, “an” for one, “am” for food, “arara” for flower, “lala” for bell, among others, wave his hands while saying “hi” or “bye”, and shake his head for “no” and a whole lot of other adorable antics . He is full of energy and full of life everyday.

I also started to be more sensitive again to his actions and feelings. Like when he would stop playing and suddenly come up to me to give me the warmest embrace while calling me “mama”. How his eyes would light up upon seeing me or his dad after a few minutes or hours of errands, squeal in delight, and jump up in our arms. These are precious moments and milestones that I almost missed because I was so obsessed with his weight. And while I had those questions and insecurities and was looking for answers elsewhere, Tino was already giving me the answers and assurances that I needed. It was his own way of telling me “Mama, you’re doing great.”

Us, moms, know well that we are not really invincible and that everyday we are confronted with worries and fears big or small. What I learned so far is that while we can’t help but have these doubts, most of the time the answer lies in our natural motherly instinct rooted in our deep love for our children. It’s not always the scale at the pedia’s office or the threads we read in mommy forums. I believe that the best validation can only come from the recipient of that love – our children. And of course, with lots and lots of prayers, I know nobody else does it better than us, moms.

And to all of us, daughters and sons, let’s not forget to always show our appreciation to our moms and erase any doubt or fear that more often we don’t hear from them. Believe me, they always have one everyday. Give our moms a hug, a kiss, a thumbs up, cook for them, send lots of smileys or dancing GIFs! The best assurances should come from us, their offspring. We don’t need to wait for another Mother’s day to do just that.

🙂