Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Boob Juice Chronicles.

My breastfeeding experience so far has been a challenging one, to say the least. Granted, there are women out there who've had worse experiences, but I'll be honest when I say that I do understand why choosing to fully breastfeed can be a difficult decision for many.

I remember writing back in early March that I intended to exclusively breastfeed Zara until she was 2 years old. This meant that Zara would not be given bottles, pacifiers or infant formula. It also meant that on the occasions that I had to leave her with someone else, I would have to express my milk and have her caregiver feed her using a cup or spoon. Lactation consultants recommend cup or spoon feeding over bottles because they are believed to prevent "nipple confusion".

Nightmare in Semarak

And so it happened that I decided to go back to reading the 8pm news part-time at ntv7. Taking the advice of my lactation consultant and armed with all the research I had done on the internet, I bought a special cupfeeding device from Medela, expressed several bottles of milk, and left Zara with my mother-in-law.

The evening turned out to be a complete nightmare.

During the three hours I was away, poor Zara - about 2 months old at the time - screamed the entire time I was away, desperate for milk but unwilling to take it from the cupfeeding device. Most of the milk ended up on her pyjamas, and my mother-in-law (bless her!) was left so frustrated and upset from Zara's wails, she herself was almost in tears. 

When I returned from work, I was shocked to see my little one all purple in the face from crying, and when my mother-in-law passed her to me, Zara began desperately searching for my boob. After finding it, she drank as if her life depended on it. Emotionally drained, my mother-in-law suggested trying the bottle, but I - resolute in my beliefs - refused to give up or give in.

A Battle of Wills: Mummy vs Zara

Over the next few days, I tried to train Zara to accept the cup, but all that resulted was a lot of wasted milk and a very unhappy little baby. And when my turn to newsread came up again, the cupfeeding nightmare continued.

After three nights of the same drama, I realised I couldnt bear to see my little girl upset like that ever again. We had to find a solution... and fast!

From that day on, we tried everything we could think of to feed Zara. We attempted feeding her before she was hungry. We waited til she was too hungry. There was the spoon. That was as much a failure as the cup.

Eventually, we caved and tried the bottle. I bought her a special Tommee Tippee bottle that's supposed to resemble the breast as closely as possible. And after a few painful days, she eventually began to accept it. I felt like a failure that I wasn't able to stick to my "No Bottle" plan, but with my daughter's emotional health at stake, something had to give.

With the bottle, we thought we had solved our problem. A few weeks went by peacefully, and it seemed as if I would be able to go back to newsreading without worrying constantly about Zara.

Mummy Wins... Or So We Thought!
(a.k.a. "Take That, Mummy!") 

And then, our reverie was shattered. Out of the blue, Zara began rejecting the bottle. Try as we might, no one could get her to drink from it. She went back to crying for three hours, preferring to retire from exhaustion than take even one sip of expressed milk. It was the straw that broke Naz's back. He gave me an ultimatum - solve this problem or stop newsreading.

I decided to take a month's break from the roster, and formulated a plan to train her to accept the bottle. Everyday, after her evening bath, I would add a bottle of expressed milk to her routine. For a week, she screamed and spat out every drop of the milk I had spent valuable hours pumping.

But I persevered.

I would keep the teat in her mouth as she screamed, even if she drank none if it, hoping she would get used to it, hoping she would learn that no amount of screaming would remove that dreaded bottle. When she calmed down, as she usually did after sometime, I would remove the bottle and comfort her, before rewarding her with what she wanted - boob.

After about a week of doing this - a wretched week's worth of heartache from watching my baby cry - finally... finally... 30 seconds into her screaming, she stopped suddenly and lapped up an entire bottle. Just like that. I nearly jumped for joy!

It's been a month now, and ever since - touch wood - she has accepted the bottle calmly with no tears at all, even caressing it gently as she drinks.

Going...Going... Gone!

You'd think that with the bottle problem solved, everything would now be hunky dory, right?


Just when Zara started accepting the bottle happily enough, my menses returned after a year AWOL, and without warning, my milk production dipped to an all-time low. In panic, I consulted my ObGyn, who referred me to a lactation consultant.

Following her advice, I increased the regularity of my pumping to boost milk production, started taking calcium magnesium to supplement my blood calcium levels, and on my own initiative, began a regimen of  3 capsules, 3 times daily of the herb, Fenugreek.

I had taken Fenugreek before with great success. From pumping a measly 2oz per session, after a day of Fenugreek I could easily express 5-6oz.

But this time, it was different. No amount of pumping, calcium magnesium or Fenugreek could get my milk to flow. Zara began getting increasingly agitated during feeds, and to top it all off, I had an overseas wedding to attend, and not enough milk stored away in my freezer.

I went on a pumping frenzy, desperately trying to squeeze as much milk from my sore, sagging boobs as I could. And still, all I could extract was a pathetic 1.5oz.

Thankfully for Zara, her twice daily solid food diet was keeping her from starving. Unfortunately for me, my overseas trip - tickets booked and all - didn't look as promising.

The idea of going anywhere without Zara and not leaving behind enough milk was making me so anxious, I was almost in tears everytime I pumped less than an ounce. I told Naz to cancel my ticket, and to go alone for the wedding. But the dejected look on his face was so heartbreaking, I knew I had to find a way to get there.

And so, this is how, after all my well-meant intentions, we started Zara on formula.

Of course, Zara being Zara, she rejected it for a few days, but tonight, she finally accepted a 2oz bottle of Enfelac A+.

What I Have Learnt So Far...

I plan for this to be only a short term measure, until I get back from my trip and resume with full breastfeeding. But as with all my 'plans' so far, I am now also prepared to be realistic. I can say now that the most important thing I've learnt about parenting is that the best-laid plans - even the noblest - must make way for what's necessary at the time.

What matters most is that your baby is healthy and happy, and that you - as a parent - keep doing your best. If you fail, keep trying, and if you continue to fail, take heart that you tried.

This is why, in honour of World Breastfeeding Week, I urge all new mums out there to at least give breastfeeding a try. It's OK if you fail, but at least just give it a shot - a real shot - and be assured that you have put your baby's best interests first. And if, after all your attempts, you find it's not working for you, at least you know you've tried to give your baby the best headstart in life. 

Despite my own failures, and my overwhelming guilt at having succumbed to formula (albeit briefly), I wish all breastfeeding mums out there, Happy World Breastfeeding Week. Bravo to you all!

And to those who tried breastfeeding and didn't succeed, give yourself a pat on the back that you tried anyway!