Friday, March 19, 2010

Fact or Fiction?

Over the last month, I've been bombarded with all sorts of advice about how to care for Zara - to the point where my mind is quite boggled with plenty of Do's and Dont's.

I suppose it is quite natural for people to want to offer tips when they come across a first time mother, even if some of those tips seem rather strange.  

The question is, how many of these tips are proven, and how many are simply Old Wives' Tales? I did a bit of research to find out for myself, but for those I could not prove, can anyone out there share their own experiences on whether they have any basis?

Babies should not sleep on their backs because their heads will become "leper" (flat).
According to people I've spoken to, there is no real basis for this claim. Some flat-headed family members say they were made to sleep on their stomachs as babies and still ended up flat-headed (flat-headed genes, perhaps?). And according to The American Academy of Pediatrics, it is recommended for babies to sleep on their backs or sides. More importantly, putting your baby to sleep on her back reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Pinching your baby's nose will make it sharper.
The jury's out on this one. Here are a couple of things I found on the net but nothing close to a medical explanation for this theory.

Keeping babies up during the day will help them sleep throughout the night.
The jury is also out on this one as different websites have different answers. But I'm more inclined to believe Jo Ryan, a paediatric nurse and author of the parenting book "Baby Bliss". Ryan refutes this claim, calling it a 'complete fallacy' and saying instead that 'sleep begets sleep'. Newborns should not be awake for more than an hour at a time, she says, and an overtired baby is more likely to end up being restless and unable to get fitfully back to sleep.

Babies need to be fed water.
Not true. Breastfed babies get all the hydration they need from breast milk, which changes consistency according to the weather. If it's a particularly hot day, breast milk becomes more watery to ensure your baby gets enough hydration (Isn't that amazing? Allahuakbar!). Formula-fed babies can be fed water (after all, milk formula is mixed with water anyway) but it is highly recommended that you avoid giving babies water on its own. This is a good article to read if you have doubts.

Breastfed babies should feed from the right breast first ("Nasi") and only then from the left ("Air").
Not true. Lactation consultants advise that you feed on alternate breasts to ensure you don't suffer from engorgement, hence you don't necessarily have to start on the right all the time. Some women believe that you need to feed a baby for a maximum of 20 minutes on one breast and then switch to the other to ensure you don't get lopsided breasts. This is also a fallacy. Make sure that you empty whichever breast you start from before you offer the baby the other breast. If the baby is full on one breast, express the remainder in that breast (if any) as well as from the other.

Cutting babies' eyelashes makes them grow longer and thicker.
I have no idea, but if the responses from these websites are any indication, I guess it doesn't make any difference, and only puts your baby at risk of having her eyes poked with a pair of scissors! Not good!

Sticking a small square of wet tissue on a baby's forehead can cure her of hiccups.
True! This is one tip I actually tried on my baby and believe it or not - for some unfathomable reason - it works! It has also worked on all the other babies in my extended family. Give it about 3-5 minutes to take effect.

Holding your baby often or in a sling will cause your baby to 'berkepit' (become clingy).
Now I don't really care whether this is true or not, because I feel there's absolutely nothing wrong with holding your baby. Contrary to belief that this results in a clingy baby, a lot of recent research is showing that babies need to be held and that this makes them happier and more secure as they mature. Plus, methinks a sling is an excellent way to cart your baby around because it leaves your hands free to do other things!

I'm sure there are many, many other "tips" out there - many of them unwanted - from well-meaning friends, family and in-laws. I think the best thing to do when offered such advice is to do what I'm learning to do... smile, nod, be polite and then do exactly what you feel is best for both you and your baby (and it helps to do your research too!).

Good luck to all of us! 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pantang Oh Pantang!

My confinement lady Kak Zarina holds up Zara.

~ Confinement: Day 21 ~

Its been 25 days since I gave birth to Zara and 21 days since I discovered what it's like to undergo 'confinement' or pantang.

When my mother - an Australian - delivered me 30 years ago, she went through confinement Chinese-style, which proved to be quite a culture shock to her. She was stuffed with ginger on a daily basis and her menu consisted of plenty of 'heaty' food. She was also forbidden to wash her hair for 30 days - yuck - although I do believe she managed to weasel her way out of this clause. But I think that was pretty much the worst of it.

30 years later, and here I am going through the same thing - but in my case, because I married into a very diverse family, I opted to go Malay-style. And yes, it's been quite a culture shock to me too. I'd been told that my confinement would roughly consist of a daily regiment of urut, a strict diet, something called 'tunku', and that I'd have to bathe using water boiled with a mixture of leaves. OK, I'd thought, I can manage that. I mean, how bad can a daily massage be? And in all honesty, I thought I'd be in for quite a pampering!

The day I checked out of hospital, I met my confinement lady - a lovely lady called Kak Zarina who travelled all the way down from her kampung in Yong Peng, Perak to care of me for three weeks.

That was also the day I discovered that urut pantang isn't pleasant at all - in fact, it's really quite painful. The whole point of urut during pantang is to re-align your urat (veins) and to push your uterus back into place. You can imagine how that might feel after you've had your uterus enlarged and hanging out for 10 months! By the third day of my pantang, I had bruises on my hips, back and lower abdomen and was really not looking forward to Day Four.

My urut session each day  was followed by tunku - essentially a hot river stone that is kneaded into pressure points along your body. This was a little more pleasant than the urut, but there were occasions when the stone would be so hot and pressed into my bruises so hard that I'd wince and pound the floor in pain. And no, I'm not being dramatic! 

Mandi daun - now this wasn't bad at all. The idea is that bathing with water boiled with leaves should tighten the skin and help shrink those loose flabby bits you're left with once you've delivered.

Tangas - Another ritual to tighten the bits, but this one specifically for the nether-regions! I had to squat over a pail of steaming water that had been boiled with something or rather I can't recall. This was pretty manageable.

Asam Jawa wash - Yep, another remedy for the nether-regions, but this one to help heal the wounds caused by the delivery. It did sting a little initially but it helped to relieve the itch caused by the stitches!

Barut or bengkung - This is one of the mainstays of a traditional Malay pantang... the body wrap. Traditionally, this would be 44 yards of cloth that had to be wrapped tightly around the body after applying a mixture of kapur and lime on the belly. Thankfully, these days you can buy or make a barut that resembles more of a corset. It's a lot easier to put on and more importantly, remove when you desperately need to pee!

A 'heaty' diet - OK, so I've never really understood the whole 'heaty' and 'cooling' foods concept. I mean, what makes some foods 'heaty' and others 'cooling'? And I especially don't get why most fruit and veges are banned during confinement because they are too 'cooling' - I thought fruit and veg were supposed to be good for you! Still, out of respect for the entire process, I am going along with it, although I am SO looking forward to a good fruit smoothie on Day 45!

Socks - It's funny how when I went to the hospital for my one week check-up that I could immediately tell who else in the crowd had just had a baby. Every one of these women, including moi, were wearing socks with their slippers - something so unfashionable there can only be one reason for it... confinement! The idea behind this is that socks prevent angin or wind from entering your body. I hope someday someone will be able to convincingly explain to me what all this angin stuff is all about.

Imprisonment - Yup. I am under house arrest for 44 days. No going out unless there's a doctor's appointment - although I do know of some women who forgo even that for the sake of fulfilling their pantang. In Chinese pantang, I believe it's 30 days. I'm not sure about Indian confinement, but I'm pretty sure the Malay pantang is the longest. It's not a bad thing I guess. It does ensure I'm at home resting, which knowing me, I wouldn't do otherwise. I also don't have much time to go out anyhow - as I spend most of my time with the baby at my boob. Still, it can be torture when you're stuck at home while Mothercare is on sale and the country is going through a ridiculous heatwave. Let's just say I am definitely looking forward to going out on April 9th... and my first stop will be Starbucks for a Chocolate Cream Chip Grande with Whipped Cream!

Kak Zarina left for her kampung on Day 18 of my confinement - which means the urut, tunku, tangas and mandi daun part of the regiment is over. The day before she left she bathed me in lime water to 'cleanse' me, a ritual I'll need to repeat on Day 45 on my own.

A lot of people may think pantang is a waste of time - and to a degree, even I questioned the effectiveness of some of the rituals I was meant to follow. Still, I decided before I delivered that I wanted to go through the whole thing... at least for the experience of it. And if there needs to be any proof of the effectiveness of the regiment as a whole, I'd say the fact that I've lost almost 15kgs in the last 25 days is proof enough!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Zara Meets The World

It was an exciting weekend for our little Zara.

On Saturday, extended family from the HMS clan (including from as far as Singapore) descended upon Semarak to help out with the preparations for the Cukur Jambul ceremony that Zara would share with her 2.5 month old cousin Mika.

From the setting up of a massive tent to the slicing of hundreds of bawang and chillis, the house was abuzz with activity up until the wee hours of Sunday morning. Aunty Sakinah and Uncle Karim brought their secret recipe mix of rempah and special long grained Briyani rice all the way from down South to cook up a menu that would include my favourite combo of Briyani, Dahlcha and Pachree.

My mother-in-law even had cute little blue and pink pillows made to go with the decor she had put together in the living room. By 5am she was still up pottering around the house with last minute things to do. I dont know how she manages it, but at her age, she can certainly put any strapping young man to shame.

The little goodie bag my MIL and aunts made for the guests...

As if the house wasnt already full to the brim with helpers, by Sunday morning it was practically overflowing as more family members showed up to help out. By 2pm, everything was ready and all that was left to do was have a quick shower and get dressed.

I have only ever been to a Cukur Jambul twice, and both times - to give way to family members - I sat outside until the proceedings were over. As a result, when the marhaban entourage made their entrance, I had no blinking idea what to do or expect. So... as I've done since the day I got engaged and accepted this completely new culture, I just observed quietly and followed the cue of everyone else around me.

Blearrrccchhh mummy... what are they doing to me?!

Initially I was so worried that the cutting of my baby's hair would leave her half bald, but thankfully, the snipping was left to just the head of the marhaban troop and a few selected elders. There was also a little rite that included touching a gold ring, a date, a raisin, a spoonful of honey and a spoonful of air zamzam to the baby's mouth to wish the baby a life full of sweetness, faith and a number of other good things which in my kancheongness I didnt manage to catch.

Snip snip!

Before I knew it, the whole affair was over and it was time to makan... and of course... cam-whore.

Proud Abah and Mummy

Despite all my worrying that Zara would scream throughout the entire ceremony, my little girl was on her best behaviour - sleeping the entire time and squirming only when I had to open her mouth for the air zamzam.

That day, her abah and I were probably the proudest mummy and daddy on earth.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Got Milk?

Today, my little Zara is 18 days old and looks very different from the day she was born. Her cheeks are filling out and she's no longer jaundiced so she's turning out to be quite a pretty wee thing.

She's also quite a hungry baby, on good days needing to be fed about once every 4-5 hours, on not-so-good days more like every half hour!

I decided before Zara was born that I wanted to try exclusively breastfeeding my baby. What this means is that from the first hour she came into the world, she was immediately put to the breast and fed that way ever since - no bottles, no pacifiers, no formula supplementation. My paediatrician refers to this as 'breastfeeding fanaticism' but honestly, after all the research I did about breastfeeding prior to Zara's birth, I didnt see why I couldnt at least try.

Deciding to exclusively breastfeed your baby isn't an easy decision to stick to. I made every preparation before my delivery to ensure I would have realistic expectations about breastfeeding - even seeking the services of a lactation consultant - but even that couldn't prepare me for how painful and trying it would be.

The first time I tried feeding Zara, she latched on enthusiastically enough but I wasn't producing enough colostrum yet to fill her up. As a result, I spent the first two nights in the hospital without any sleep at all trying helplessly to feed my desperately hungry little girl. It was almost heartbreaking to watch her cry and wonder if I was making the right decision not to supplement her with formula. I know many mothers who have given in at this point and asked the nurses to bring on the bottle.

After two days, (heck, after the first night!) my nipples were cracked, bleeding and incredibly sore from feeding her so often. I was sure something wasn't right about the way I was feeding her because Rita, my lactation consultant, and all the breastfeeding resources I had read had assured that breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt. Nurses at the hospital all had different opinions about how feeding should be done, from stuffing my nipple into Zara's mouth to using the scissor technique to compress the milk out. I was really at the end of my tether at this point - even beginning to doubt my abilities as a mother - but I pressed on.

Eventually, after three days of producing minute amounts of colostrum, my milk started coming in. I could have cried from joy when I finally saw evidence of the little white droplets that truly, completely, made me a mother. Zara began to calm down a little during feeds, bearing less of a resemblance to a ravenous boob monster. Still, I was constantly in pain during feeds and the process of latching Zara on felt like someone slicing my nipples off with a knife.

Two days after being discharged, Rita popped by to the house to make sure I was ok. When Zara needed to be fed, Rita observed that Zara wasn't opening her mouth wide enough to ensure a good latch, and so she ended up sucking mostly from the nipple. On top of that, I had a couple of nipple "blebs" that were also causing me quite a bit of pain. Finally, to ensure Zara was getting enough milk, Rita taught me how to compress my breast to improve my milk flow and to help remove any blockages in my ducts.

For the first time, I experienced what it was like to feed my baby without searing pain. I began reading up voraciously online for more tips and started guiding myself using breastfeeding videos online to improve my technique.

It's been 18 days now, yes. Latching on does still hurt occasionally when I'm too sleepy to focus but my feeding times with Zara have improved so much that I can actually look her in the eyes now while she's sucking away and feel not just milk but an immense amount of love flowing through me into her. It's really quite indescribable.

Would I go through all that pain again just so my Zara could have the best form of nutrition God could have created for a baby? For sure. That's what being a mother is all about, isnt it?

Friday, March 5, 2010

... And I thought pregnancy was hard!

It would have been nice to start this blog in chronological order, but it wasn't an easy pregnancy and the few times it was, I spent most of those procrastinating!

Finally though, and possibly because I'm in confinement and bored senseless, I am at a stage where I have decided to stop making excuses and write about this extraordinary experience I'm coming to know as Motherhood.

This blog is for my daughter Zara Aaliyah Nazrudin, who was born 10 days ago after 20 agonizing hours of labour.
This was taken at about 11am after I had been in labour for 8 hours. Little did I know then how much longer it would take for Zara to make her appearance!

We had been advised the day before by our lovely ObGyn Dr Alex that it would be best to induce labour since she was already a little overdue and her head had still not engaged. And so we prepared to check in the following morning at 6am for the procedure.

It's funny how she seemed to know that she was gonna have to come out that day, because lo and behold, at 3.30am on February 23rd, I had my first contractions. I wasn't sure what they were at first, but after a few more that lasted a good 30secs and came about every half hour, I knew I couldn't be mistaken.

We went to the hospital at 6am anyway as planned, and just as Naz and I prepared to solat subuh in the labour room, I had my bloody show.

So that was that. I'd wished for a normal delivery and I was going to get it! Yay!

Well, almost.

By 9am, despite increasingly strong contractions, I still wasnt dilating. Dr Alex popped a fanny tablet up my nether regions to soften the cervix and speed things up. Sure enough, the contractions started getting worse and closer together, but not enough to dilate me further.

At 12noon, my anaesthesiologist Dr Chua came in and asked if I wanted an epidural. The pain was still almost bearable so I said I would hold off until I couldnt any longer.

By 4.30pm, after 13.5 hours and yet another fanny tablet, I was getting tired and the contractions increasingly painful. I gave in and begged for Dr Chua. I had indicated in my birth plan that I preferred a low dose epidural that would allow me to still move around and feel the contractions. Yep, I wanted to be a hero. But when Dr Chua was about to insert the needle into my spine I had a panic attack and started hyperventilating. Naz gave me some Entanox (laughing gas) to calm me down but because I was breathing so fast, I got a bit high and started to cry. Silly me.

So there I was, on my partial epidural, at what seemed like a gazillion hours later. I'd brought magazines and books to pass the time (what was I thinking?!) but of course, when you're in labour, all you want to do is just get the baby out and get it over with!

At around 7pm, I was only about 3-4cm dilated so Dr Alex popped the waterbag, again hoping that would speed things up.

Still, by 9pm, I only managed up to 6cm. Dr Alex gave us an hour to decide how we wanted to proceed - an injection of pitocin to strengthen the contractions or a C-Section. Because I had been in labour for so long by then, Dr Alex was concerned I would be too tired to push. I began to resign myself to the idea of a C-Section - something I really didn't want. But it had been 19 hours and despite the partial epidural, I was in agony.

And then... Suddenly... Magically...

At 9.30pm, as if Zara too didn't want the trauma of a C-Section, things began to turn around. Strangely, I felt like I had to shit. Seriously. I told the midwife, please, I really need to shit NOW.

And all she did was smile calmly at me and put her finger up my fanny. Ah, she said, there's the head! And invited my poor husband to take a look (which he did).

So it was that Zara was born 28 minutes later - and sure enough, it did feel, like my aunty had warned - like shite-in' a football.
Still, every single minute of those 20 hours was worthwhile when I watch her suckling peacefully now at my left boob, as if she was always meant to be here.