I’ll be very honest. When I gave birth to our first baby, my first-time mom experience was not a bed of roses. It was very difficult. But it was the best learning experience I had.
My husband and I settled in a small condo unit after we got married in 2007. It was our own little place in the world, where we can grow together and start building a family. When we finally conceived after 2.5 years of medical intervention, tears, and prayers (a whole lot!), we wanted the best for our baby. We downloaded a list of all the baby stuff we’ll need, and started preparing for our baby’s arrival. We enrolled in a child preparation class. We read books about pregnancy and breastfeeding. Halfway, we figured that our small home may not be the best place to raise a baby. (I was particularly concerned about ventilation because windows and doors were always closed and an airconditioned closed space is not a very good environment for a baby. I wanted him to get as much fresh air as possible.) We decided to tell my parents that we will be staying with them after I deliver because the house is quite spacious, and we requested them to find a good nanny to take care of our son when I return to work. Of course, the grandparents-to-be got all excited and they planned to renovate one room in the house for us to stay in.
A few months later, we transferred some of our things to my parents’ house, getting ready for the big day. I requested them to prepare everything because I cannot personally attend to it as I had several deadlines I needed to meet. (Aside from my stress for the upcoming delivery, work was also very demanding as we were in the middle of a global re-organization. Timing was really a pain. My stress level was at the highest, as far as I can remember. And I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia on my 38th week AOG.)
Few days passed, and on June 23, 2010 I safely delivered our baby boy via emergency c-section. We initially planned to room-in but my blood pressure was still elevated and I can barely move after I was transferred from recovery room to our room. I was very dizzy and tired. I tried to socialize with family and well-wishers who came to see us, but my body was too weak and I was seeing double – my body underwent an arduous ordeal and it deserved some rest. Breastfeeding at this point in time was out of the question.
With my condition, my husband instructed the nurses to bring our baby straight to the nursery. He was wary of all ‘germs’ our visitors brought to our room. Our baby in the nursery was the safest place as far as density of germs is concerned. And the pediatrician instructed the nurses to give formula to our baby so I can recover. It was not a big deal for me and my husband because our parents were not against it. And so the formula-feeding began.
The following day, I got up and walked to the nursery (…the stitch in my tummy was unimaginably painful!) to nurse our baby. He latched correctly. I was teary-eyed. I wasn’t beside him on his first 18 hours of life and I felt guilty. So to compensate, I devoted time to nurse him so as to give him colostrum. Although I can’t see if he was getting any from me, I assumed he got some. I tried my best to nurse him every three hours, getting out of bed and walking slowly to and from the nursery and our room, but then my blood pressure was not very cooperative and the doctor advised me to stay in bed to recover. It was heart-breaking not being with our baby. And it was also extra painful not to nurse him as I had planned.
After 5 days in the hospital, we were ready to bring baby Arden home. On our way to my parents’ house from the hospital, I called up and asked if our room was ready and if the baby cot was all set-up. The nanny said that our room was prepared, but they were having some difficulties setting-up the baby cot. I felt quite uneasy but then again, I didn’t want additional stress. When we arrived, we immediately went to our room, but we only stayed inside for one minute because the smell of paint was still strong! My parents had our room re-painted and the smell was still lingering because there was no aeration as the door was always closed. So my parents offered to switch rooms with them. We had to move all our stuff and I was really stressed. Arden was awake and was crying loud. I tried to offer my breast but he would cry and cry and won’t latch. I asked the nanny to prepare formula so I can cup-feed him (similar to his feeding routine in the hospital nursery), but he doesn’t want to feed and just kept on crying. Being a first-time mommy, I was getting more confused and stressed and scared out of my wits because I know he was very hungry. So my husband opened the box of feeding bottles and had them sterilized immediately. And we gave Arden the bottle - on day 1 after coming from the hospital.
The feeding bottle was a big help for my husband because he was able to feed Arden anytime without disturbing me. We took turns taking care of Arden and sleeping. My parents went on business travel, and my 2 younger siblings were always out and I can’t count on them to help me with Arden. We were not comfortable giving Arden to the nanny yet, so it was just the two of us taking care of him. After 2 days, my husband had to report to work. So I was left at home with Arden and the nanny. I thought it was going to be just fine, but then I became all emotional and found myself crying all the time. I felt I was a failure. I was sick. My blood pressure was going haywire. I can’t breastfeed. I felt helpless. The nanny offered help, but I shooed her away. All I asked from her was to take care of my food and watch over Arden while I take a bath. When my husband got home, I was already feverish and my blood pressure was high. My husband did not sleep that night. He took care of Arden and me. The following morning, after staying at my parents’ house for 3 days, we both decided to transfer to my in-laws’ house so that I won’t be alone and my stay-at-home parents-in-law can help me with Arden.
Transferring to my in-laws’ place was another stressful task we had to do. Space was limited and although we had a room to ourselves, I was not very comfortable. It was my first time to live with them. I had to adjust. But I was quite happy as I had several nights of undisturbed sleep when Arden sleeps in my parents-in-law’s room. Aside from the support I got from people around the house, bottle-feeding was a big part of my road to recovery. My husband and I agreed not to stress myself out by forcing to breastfeed. Add to that the fact that I was too shy to breastfeed with my in-laws around. It just didn’t feel comfortable. I slowly recovered from hypertension, and after a month, the doctor advised me to lessen my daily intake of anti-hypertensive medicines but still monitor my blood pressure twice a day.
Two weeks later, when the doctor finally declared that my blood pressure is back to normal and I was fully recovered from post-partum maladies, I decided to go up to our room and lock the door for some privacy. I re-introduced Arden to my breasts. But he won’t latch anymore. His preference was the plastic nipple. I surrendered and decided to just pump and give him breastmilk. I borrowed the manual single breastpump from my sister-in-law (earlier on, I decided not to buy a breastpump because I planned direct-feeding during my maternity leave, and was still undecided which model of breastpump to buy) and pumped, hoping I’ll get some breastmilk to give to Arden. But after 15 minutes of pumping on each breast, all I got was an empty bottle. I was all dried up! I cried so hard out of frustration.
But I’m done with all the helplessness I felt during the first few weeks post-partum, so I took this as a challenge. For the next 2 days, I armed myself with knowledge. I went online and started to research more about breastfeeding, relactation, increasing milk supply, pumping schedule, the works. I also got in touch with Melody Tan, a LATCH counselor, who was referred to me by one of my close friends from college. (My friend told me that Melody would pump in her work station every 3 hours, and that he was already used to the sound of the electric breastpump as he was just adjacent to Melody’s work station in the office.)
The week that followed became a critical test of my determination and patience. Melody and I were communicating via SMS exchange and calls. She was a vital instrument to my breastfeeding journey. She had the experience and was very accommodating in answering my questions. She encouraged me. She helped me build the foundation of my breastfeeding relationship with Arden.
At 1.5 months old, I re-trained Arden to latch properly. I did it whenever he was about to sleep or shortly after waking up. It took quite a while because of his nipple preference/confusion, but he finally got the hang of it. And I was proud of him for doing a great job. Even if I didn’t have milk, I continued to make him latch so that my breasts can get proper stimulation. After all, a suckling baby is the best stimulant there is (even if he was just using my breast as a pacifier). In between latching, I would use the manual pump to continue to stimulate my breasts. But I got all worried with carpal tunnel syndrome because pumping for 15 minutes on each breast every 2 hours, with my bare hands, was very exhausting.
It so happened that I had the opportunity to meet up with Melody in Makati that week when my boss asked me to attend an engagement session for employees concerning the upcoming re-organization. (The global re-organization was such that all employees were ‘terminated’ from their current positions and we were all required to apply to 5 different job positions of preference. The headcount needed for the new organization was about 2/3 of the original. Our company was downsizing drastically due to economic reasons.) And so I went to my office to attend the 2-hour session, and then met up with Melody in Greenbelt for lunch.
Prior to the meet-up, we already discussed about the Medela PISA – an electric double pump. I did my research online and I came across good reviews of this particular breastpump model. Melody had an extra unit because her dad bought her one from the US. She was willing to sell it to me cheaper than mall prices. She brought the unopened box with her when we met up and I decided to get it. I needed a hospital-grade breastpump and the Medela PISA was the next best thing I can get hold of. (The discussion with my husband on getting a Php 20k+ breastpump was another story, but I was able to convince him that this piece of equipment was an ‘investment’, not an ‘expense’.) Melody was also very kind to demonstrate how to use the Medela PISA as she also brought her own breastpump when we met up. She showed me how to use it at the HAB boutique. The store staff was accommodating and allowed us to hide beside the counter during the demo.
As soon as I got home, I made Arden latch on to me, and then I continued breast stimulation using the new breastpump. Switching from a manual single pump to an electric double pump was a big relief! I was able to pump both breasts in 15 minutes and my hands were not wiped-out. I did this for the next 3 days - latch and then pump for 15 minutes every 2 hours round-the-clock. I kept myself well-hydrated. I always had soup beside my plate during meals. I took fenugreek tablets (which my husband bought for me from Healthy Options) – 1 tablet after each meal. During the night, Arden slept in my parents-in-law’s room while I wake up and religiously pump for 15 minutes every 2 hours. It was wearisome and exhausting, but I had to do it diligently. It was so easy to give up, but I didn’t. All the sleepless nights and my efforts paid off when I began to see drops of milk coming from my breasts. Foremilk! I was so happy! It was the longest, most tiring week in my life so far, but I completely forgot everything when I finally saw that I was producing milk! The feeling was liberating :)
After the week-long struggle, Arden still continued to latch on to me. I continued to pump every 2 hours but only during the day. My husband made me sleep well during the night while he feeds Arden formula through a bottle. When Arden turned 2 months old, I was getting around 0.5 to 1 oz per pumping session. The amount may be little for most moms, but it was already a sizable amount for me. And I was gaining confidence in handling our baby and in taking charge of everything that’s happening. We decided to move back to my parents’ house where we settled for the remainder of my maternity leave, and in which I also took the time and opportunity to have a massage done by Lita Nery, a massage therapist for pregnant and nursing mothers.
After 2 weeks, my maternity leave was over. I received a call from the office the previous week and I got a job offer for my current position. That was a huge blessing for us since we were not ready to become a one-income family yet. I was in no position to extend my leave, so I reported to work promptly. I brought my breastpump with me every day and used the mother’s room in the office to pump every 3 hours (9am, 12nn, 3pm) so I can maintain my supply, albeit low. One of my officemates who I met in the mother’s room suggested that I take domperidone for a month to increase my milk supply. She said it was prescribed by her lactation consultant and it worked for her. So without hesitation (and a bit of desperation) I bought some tablets and popped 2 tablets after every meal. My milk supply improved a bit, but not much. Instead of producing 6-7 oz after work, I was able to take home 8-9 oz. That was my record high. I stopped taking domperidone after a month for fear of its side effects.
Being a working mom, I had to make some adjustments with regards to sleeping time so I can get sufficient rest during the work week. Even if Arden was sleeping through the night at 3 months old, I felt I can get more quality sleep if Arden is nursing from me, instead of getting up and mixing formula for him in the wee hours of the morning. So we tried exclusive breastfeeding during night time. Whenever Arden needed to feed, I just turned and offered my breast. It worked. We didn’t give him the bottle and he was not complaining. We were happy to realize that I was capable of giving him satisfaction and nourishment during the night.
And so it continued for the next 3 months. I was pumping in the office Monday to Friday, and direct-feeding at night and during weekends. But I was not able to breastfeed exclusively. We were still giving Arden formula on top of my breastmilk. Once I tried not to replenish the almost-empty can of formula so my body can react and produce more milk. But my body was not up for it. My supply level was still the same despite all the positive-thinking, rest, food and supplements I had.
A few days before Arden turned 7 months old, we learned that we’re going to have another baby! My husband and I decided not to have any form of birth control because we waited so long for Arden and we did not want to wait another 3 years for his sibling. (And it was also our goal to have 2 kids before I reach the age of 35.) I stopped pumping in the office but I continued to nurse Arden at night. But I slowly had to wean him from my breast because I did not want to force him to stop when my tummy gets big.
When he cut his first tooth, he was still looking for my breast during night time and whenever I’m with him on weekends. He bit me several times but he is a very obedient boy and learned that biting hurts mommy so he doesn’t do it anymore.
Today, Arden turned 10 months old. He would occasionally pull my shirt and look for my breasts, and I would dearly indulge him. He is still on formula. He eats solids twice a day. In his first 10 months of life, he caught colds only once (during Christmas holidays) and had roseola infantum (which was quite common for babies). I owe his healthy body and alert mind to the breastmilk I was able to give him. With breastfeeding, I had peace of mind - knowing that I was able to give him the best milk available.
Looking back, my whole breastfeeding experience was a team effort. With friends and family’s support, my husband’s love and encouragement, and Arden’s willingness to learn - we succeeded.
I guess Arden will completely forget about nursing from mommy when his baby brother arrives in a few months. But who’s to say? Maybe he will also try to compete, haha! Just thinking about this makes me ecstatic, especially now I’m well-prepared to exclusively breastfeed :)