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My Breastfeeding Experience

~ by Woo Lai Chang

Vivi Vivi at 2-1/2 years old

Why did I choose to breastfeed? The answer is simple: I wanted the best for my baby. It had taken us three years to conceive this little miracle. I started reading all about pregnancy and baby care, and joined any discussion forum on the Internet if the topic was pregnancy. As the pregnancy advanced, so did my knowledge of breastfeeding. By the end of nine months, breastfeeding was no longer a matter of choice. Even the pamphlets produced by formula companies said breastmilk was best!

Then came the birth, and the beginning of my battles. First the paediatrician, who had earlier supported my decision to exclusively breastfeed, forced formula supplementation on us because my baby was severely jaundiced from blood ABO incompatibility. He said it was necessary to help clear the bilirubin from the babyís system. My baby was placed under bili lights in the nursery, and the nurses brought her to me to feed every three hours, always with a supplementary bottle of formula in her bassinet.

My baby ended up staying in the hospital for ten days, but I got myself discharged on the third day. Big mistake! I pumped every three hours round the clock at home, and had my husband, whom the nursery staff came to call "milkman", deliver the EBM to the hospital every morning, but the baby was getting bottles instead of my breasts. The night we brought the baby home, nobody got even a minute of sleep. The baby would cry, latch on for a few seconds, pull off and resume crying. By morning, when my mother hinted that perhaps I didnít have enough milk, I was ready to give up - not just the breastfeeding, but the baby herself. I remember at one point sternly telling the ten-day-old baby, "You had better latch on and drink, because you wonít get anything else!"

Another mistake was having my mother take charge of my confinement. I understand why so many Chinese women say they donít have enough milk, or think their milk is not good enough for the baby. What could anyone expect from a no-vegetable-no-fresh-fruits-no-water diet? We were constantly warring over what I should and should not eat. It was a most stressful confinement. There were the criticisms too. My grandmother asked why I bothered at all. My mother-in-law urged me to give up this "inconvenience". My sister-in-law, then expecting her second, warned that it would be too exhausting for me. My other sister-in-law, with a preschooler, advised me to give water in a bottle between feeds. A distant female relative, with a horde of grandchildren she has helped to raise, advised weaning soon to avoid problems when I went back to work. My mother repeated all these "expert" advice to me twenty times a day. What did I know, I was a first-time mother! Nobody they knew had even tried exclusive breastfeeding, let alone succeed at it with a full-time job. When I stubbornly persevered through the first, then the second month, they assumed I would give up this "foolishness" once I went back to work.

I returned to work, and rearranged my working hours so that I could drive home during lunch to nurse my baby. By pumping during the morning, lunch and evening feeds, I stored up more milk than my baby could take. My baby was growing beautifully, so nobody had any more arguments against the breastfeeding, but I faced the "When are you going to stop?" question at every family gathering.

I particularly remember the argument with my father-in-law when my baby turned six months. He insisted it was time to wean to formula. I insisted formula was not good for the baby. He almost thundered, "What do you mean, no good? All my children grew up on formula. Even your husband took formula. Heís just fine now!" How does one answer this line of attack? My husband IS fine, or I wouldnít have married him, but - Fortunately my husband stepped in and smoothed things over, in the same quiet way that he has supported me through all this. I suspect he was a bit half-hearted about the breastfeeding at first, but he is now an ardent supporter. He takes particular pride in showing off his beautiful, healthy little darling to everyone, never forgetting to mention that she is breastfed.

Now, a year later, my family has come to accept my breastfeeding. Only my grandmother still asks when I intend to stop. My youngest sister-in-law sometimes compares her three nieces and one nephew, and tells me breastmilk is making all the difference in the world. I am really glad I persevered, but I came dangerously close to giving up in those crucial first weeks when everyone around me voiced discouragement. I had my share of sore nipples and even broken, bleeding skin, but they were minor discomforts in comparison.

Fortunately, stubbornness is my trademark; the more everyone assured me I could not hope to exclusively breastfeed such a big baby (who grew so big on my milk in the first place!) while holding a full-time job, the more determined I was to show them I could. I turned to the Internet for the support I could not get at home, and joined a breastfeeding email list which taught me a lot about breastfeeding beyond the four to six months recommended by health practitioners in Singapore. I am at present still breastfeeding my walking, talking toddler and have no plans to wean anytime soon.

Woo Lai Chang, mommy to Vivi (born 23 Jun 1995)
(Appeared in "Keeping Abreast" Apr-Jun 1997 Issue)

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