Breastfeeding my son Tristan has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever had to face, yet at the same time it has been the most rewarding and satisfying. I think all moms can agree on this—the act itself requires a whole lot of discipline, determination, patience, understanding, and most of all, LOVE. And nothing would have prepared me for this amazing role. Who knew I could be a source of nourishment, love and care, at the same time be able to go on days without much sleep, proper meals, baths and even clothes?! I could never have imagined motherhood to be this way, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I remember those crazy months when my son was just a newborn and I didn’t even have time to shower or go to the bathroom. Breastfeeding was the only thing on my mind, and I was hell bent on doing it right. On most days I was very fearful that my supply wasn’t enough, or that it would wane if I stopped eating (this was the reason why I gained 35 pounds after giving birth). When that happened I just tried my best to focus on what was happening at the moment and took it day by day. But wow, those were the craziest months of my life! It was very similar to when I tried showbiz life and only slept every other day (lol). This was way worse though, because I was still bloated from pregnancy, healing from giving birth to a 7.3-pound baby, and my hormones made me feel out of control, emotional and yes, a little off the rails. Motherhood has been quite a ride, and apart from all the love there is the daily struggles that comes with it that are just too real on most days.
To those of you who are pregnant or planning to have a baby, you have to know that what you’re about to get into isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Motherhood involves a lot of pee and poop (changing diapers constantly, cleaning up spit ups, and washing poop-stained clothes), nursing every three hours round the clock (this means no proper sleep and not enough time to cook or clean, much less shower or use the toilet), bringing your entire house with you when you go out to do the groceries (you will need plenty of diapers, lampin, changes of clothes, alcohol, baby wipes, your breastfeeding cover, a hat and gloves for the baby, a blanket, etc., etc.), using your breast pump everywhere (and having to store expressed milk properly, or else it spoils), and completely forgetting who you were before the baby (don’t worry, you will rediscover yourself again after a year or two). It is so hard, especially when you don’t have a support system. So I suggest as early as now, surround yourself with positive, pro-active people who will support your breastfeeding and motherhood journey. Mine was my husband, family and friends (special mention: the Baby Barangay moms who has been my rock throughout pregnancy and after giving birth).
So, okay, you’re here to find out about breastfeeding. Let me share with you my insights and experiences from nursing my son for more than two years (actually, I haven’t weaned him yet, so my journey continues). Here’s the real deal about breastfeeding your baby.
1.) Your boobs will grow, and you won’t even recognize your nipples.
One of the perks of breastfeeding is that you will have boobs. Of course, if you already have them, this might pose a problem, but for women like me who have been wearing the same cup size all our lives, well, this is something new. Get ready to deal with things like having to buy bigger bras (I got my nursing bras from Marks & Spencer and Mamaway), choosing to wear different styles of clothing (more modest, but with easy access for feeding), wearing breast pads (you will be leaking everywhere, believe me), and having them get in the way when you walk, run, or do anything. The downside is: (at least for most of us mommas) you don’t really feel that sexy! For me, my boobs became breasts, and they were simply for feeding my son. I’m not sure if this was something to be sad about but, for the most part I was happy because I’ve realized what they are really there for. And the nipples–well, I didn’t even recognize mine! Haha can I just say that before giving birth I don’t think I would’ve had the guts to talk about my nipples, yet here we are (we are talking about breastfeeding after all). Apart from them turning super dark (its so the baby can see where to latch), they will be so sensitive and raw from feeding. Which brings me to the next thing you should know about nursing.
2.) Initially, breastfeeding will hurt.
Honestly, I didn’t think it would hurt that much, until I tried it and omg, it really hurts! Your nipples will get super raw and painful from all that latching, and it will get tiny little wounds that will make you cry actual tears. And then the pain eventually goes away (I remember trying to psych myself every time by repeating to myself, it feels good, it feels good (100x) and at some point I think it kinda worked). It will take several weeks or months to get used to breastfeeding though. Like, you nipples will be raw, then it will heal then it will get raw again, and repeat 10x. The best remedy for it though is: breast milk, then you leave it to dry until the next feeding time. Because of this, you will not want to wear any clothes (at least the top) so get used to being topless at home all-day.
3.) It is all about the latch.
If there’s one important thing you have to know about breastfeeding, is you have to perfect the latch or else it will really hurt. I remember how the lactation consultant at St. Luke’s Global showed me how to do it: she basically got my boob and shoved it inside Tristan’s open mouth (newborn babies have this thing when they’re hungry where they open their mouth wide and kind of go for the boob–its called rooting reflex). Okay, maybe not shove, but something a little gentler than that haha. But she made sure my baby didn’t just suck on the tip of the nipple (ouch), but also had some boob in there. In the beginning you might hesitate to give your breast to your baby, but that’s the wrong way to do it. You have to do it with a little confidence (haha), and kind of just give the whole thing. You will get better in time, so don’t worry! Though if you really feel like you’re doing it wrong, call a lactation consultant. They can very easily show you how the right latch feels like, and you and your baby will be breastfeeding like pros in no time.
4.) The more you do it, the better at it you will be.
As they say, practice makes perfect, and breastfeeding is no different. Anyway you will really need to nurse as often as you can in order to keep your supply up (yes, our boobs know basic economics), so try as much as you can not to miss on a feed (the recommended for the first several weeks is every three to four hours). You’ll find that as you go along, breastfeeding gets easier, and your baby should agree because he/she will communicate that to you. Now that my son is two, he nurses and does all kinds of acrobatics while attached which I find so crazy haha. That might be TMI, but heck, we’ve already tackled nipples so we are good.
5.) Get ready to strike anywhere.
In the beginning of my breastfeeding journey, I was super shy and hesitant to breastfeed in public. Even if I had a cover with me I felt like people could see through it so I always looked for a room or private area where I can nurse. Eventually I got used to it and was able to breastfeed Tristan pretty much anywhere (except the bathroom or anywhere gross or dirty, of course). I have done it in restaurants and waiting areas, when traveling I did it in public transportation like buses, trains, etc., in museums and famous landmarks (haha), parks and many more. I still wear a nursing cover though because I still cant find the courage to go bare (I wont be able to stand the looks/stares).
6.) Using a breast pump lets you rest.
Okay, so you know how I said you need to breastfeed every 3-4 hours round the clock? Well, you really need to do that, but there are times when you can skip so you can rest. The last thing you want is to get sick, so yes, of course, you are allowed to sleep on some days. And using a breast pump allows you to do that. How? Well, by collecting and saving your milk you can let other people to feed your baby via bottle (your husband, mom, MIL, nanny, etc. can do it) which gives you time to get a good six hour sleep! Some experts recommend that you start using the breast pump a few months after giving birth, but I started on day two after Tristan was born. This increased my milk supply by A LOT, which was kind of scary and overwhelming in the beginning because I didn’t know what to do and it kind of hurt feeling so full. But I got used to the feeling, and my body adapted (again, supply and demand). So I ended up feeding Tristan, and pumping the rest after to relieve the “full” feeling. I then began storing milk in the freezer and let Carlos feed Tristan with a cup (the nurses of St. Luke’s taught him how). Having frozen breastmilk at home allows you to go out without your baby, and eventually go back to work. Though of course, you will need to bring your pump with you because you have basically turned into a walking cow.
7.) There are ways to increase your supply.
So, aside from feeding every 3-4 hours (to regulate your supply) and using the breast pump to express all the milk out (thus creating demand), there are other ways to increase your milk supply. I’ve tried them all and yes, they have worked for me. The only problem is that I cannot guarantee that it will work for everyone because our bodies are different. But its worth a shot, right? Leave a comment below if you’ve tried these and if they have worked for you. (a) Eating food like green leafy veggies (malunggay especially), carrots, yams, shellfish, soups and oatmeal have been known to increase milk supply, as well as (b) taking malunggay supplements like Natalac, (c) drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated all-day is a must, (d) giving your baby only your breastmilk (you can do this either by direct latch, cup or bottle), and (e) direct latching as much as possible to stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.
8.) Breastfeeding helps you burn calories, but that doesn’t mean you should go all out on the sugar.
This is what happened to me! I thought that since breastfeeding makes you slimmer (you burn 300-500 calories a day), I could eat whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted. This was so wrong (especially in my case). You can actually eat as much wholesome, healthy food as you want but you shouldn’t overindulge in sugary treats. Not only does sugar cause you to gain weight rapidly, it never makes you feel satiated, and it even causes your baby to be fussy (oh yes, I’ve tried this theory many times and it’s true). The fussy baby theory also applies to most food and drinks with caffeine, so try to cut these out of your diet for the meantime, moms.
9.) Breast milk has to be stored properly.
Apart from always washing your hands and keeping your breast pump attachments super clean and sterilized, you have to learn how to properly store your breast milk. You need to buy those breast milk storage bags to be able to freeze your milk in neat packets and have them lay flat in your freezer (to save space). I used to bring a cooler with me at all times, and inside I had my ice packs to keep the milk cold for a few hours. When I got home I would put the milk in the freezer, and when I needed to use them, the storage bag (with BM) had to heated by soaking it in a bowl with hot water (never put it in the microwave or boil it directly over fire). Then you can transfer to a cup or bottle and have someone give it to your baby, preferably when you’re not in the room (if your baby is like mine, he/she will be able to smell you and wont take the milk from another person so you have to be far away). It takes a lot of work, but better safe than sorry. Oh, and don’t forget to write when you expressed the milk on the BM storage bags–so you know if it is still ok to give to baby. Here’s a guide: for freshly expressed milk you have 4 to 8 hours in room temperature, in insulated coolers you have 24 hours; for refrigerated fresh milk you have 3-8 days, for thawed milk it will keep for 24 hours; frozen milk (do not refreeze thawed milk) in self-contained freezer of a refrigerator will last for 6 months, if its a separate deep freezer its 12 months (source: www.kellymom.com)
10.) If it doesn’t happen, don’t be so hard on yourself.
As moms, we already feel so much pressure to deliver, nourish, care and even look good. If it doesn’t happen for any reason, it’s okay. You tried your best and that’s all that matters. It doesn’t make you any less of a mom. What matters is that you love your baby and will do anything to see him/her thrive and grow healthy. I always encourage fellow moms to breastfeed, but I also don’t like pushing it on them so much because what works on me may not work on them. We are not all the same, but we are all mothers. So we should always love and support each other as moms, because the world is a crazy place as it is and we should at least be there for each other.
I hope this post was useful to you. I’ve been wanting to write this for awhile now, but only got around to doing it now. If you have any questions at all, leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer right away. Take it day by day, momma. You can do it!