Material Moms, The Mothership

[Material Moms] The Truth About Breastfeeding – Kelly Ang

With the recent furor about mums breastfeeding in public, we thought it was time that everyone knew what the experience was like so the public would be more sympathetic to the plight of young mums. Material Mom Kelly Ang tells us more. 

I never thought breastfeeding would be such an uphill, constant battle for me. When I pictured breastfeeding, the images that popped into my mind resembled some warm and fuzzy notion of a sleepy baby cosying up to his mother’s comforting bosom, suckling peacefully in the moonlight. Or perhaps some zen, gentle Earth mama from whose bountiful bosom sprung abundant milk for her young who eagerly and gently drinks it all up.

Who knew that so much pain and suffering would be involved in breastfeeding?

Who knew that so much pain and suffering would be involved in breastfeeding?

Now that the baby has come and I’m four months into this whole motherhood thing, probably the only thing about aforementioned image of serene nursing or calm nature goddess that has materialized is… the bosom. (Oh yes, exponential expansion and hello rock hard boobies!)

Some idea of how it was like for me in the earlier days: I had gone through a Cesarean to deliver my baby as he was breech, so first and foremost, I had that pesky wound on my belly to contend with. So, all nursing positions which involved baby draping across my belly were a no-go for me in the first week or so. I was taught from the beginning to use this awkward hold where I grab baby like a football under my armpit and angle my breast towards my baby’s hungry mouth. This hold is (very imaginatively) named The Football Hold. I had initially stacked up a mountain of pillows with which to balance baby, my wrist twisted to support baby’s head and my husband’s hand to help hold baby in this really uncomfortable position. Needless to say, all participants of this rather odd-looking formation were exhausted by the first day and going positively psychotic by the end of the first week.

And on and on, our journey went. From toe-curling bad latches to a yeast infection of both baby and the nipples, to marathon cluster feeding and non-stop guzzling during growth spurts which seemed to happen every week… I’ve seen it all. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars seeing lactation consultants, hoping they would be able to help correct my baby’s constant “bad latch”, only to be told he probably had a tongue tie which I refused to snip until he was 14 weeks old and I was blistered and sore and ready to call it quits on breastfeeding for probably the hundredth time.

No, I am not one of those moms who crusade for the benefits of breastmilk for my child. I breastfeed my baby because I believe in it, and I certainly hope that more mamas do it too, but I don’t frown in disapproval when other moms tell me they couldn’t continue to breastfeed their babies for whatever reason. Surely, every mother wants the best for her child, so who am I to judge? In fact, I faced strong disapproval from friends and lactation consultants when I turned to the bottle to feed my baby with milk I had pumped out, when the nipple pain was too unbearable. “Never introduce the bottle before six weeks or your baby will risk getting nipple confusion!!” they said to my battered, exhausted self. But you know what? I did what I did to survive and not go batshit crazy from pain and sleep deprivation. And my baby, thankfully, did not experience the dreaded nipple confusion that has to be the bane of many a breastfeeding mother’s existence.

So here I am today, still blistered on one side but hoping things will only get better from here. Baby G has started sleeping through the night at about 2.5 months, and for the first time since he was born, I’ve managed to sleep my first six hour-stretch of blessed, uninterrupted sleep. Never underestimate the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation.

(Although, I should add that he has begun to wake a couple of times in the night again, but that isn’t the tough part at all right now. At four months old, he has begun to learn to do a lot more with his body, like rolling and spinning around – and for some reason I cannot fathom, he likes to practice intensively in the wee hours of the morning.)

What made me soldier on, in spite of the seemingly never-ending problems I had with breastfeeding? Other than sheer stubbornness on my part to prove to myself and God-knows-who-else that I could do it, I found myself biting my lip and getting on with it for four very real reasons:

1) Breastfeeding has, most practically, been a massive money-saver for me in the expensive task of baby-rearing in Singapore and most of the world today. I’ve spoken with moms who formula-feed their babies, and the oft-repeated chorus of “You have no idea how much money you are saving by breastfeeding your baby!” has convinced me that I am, indeed, saving some decent amounts of money. I am told that on average, babies who drink formula cost their parents an extra $200-$300 a month, depending on the brand of formula. The cost of feeding my baby? Absolutely free! (I did however spend some initial money on a decent double-electric breast pump for days when my nipples were far too sore and cracked to let baby G latch on, or when I had to work. Also, I had to buy a fair number of different brands of bottles – as we all know, babies can be awfully picky about the type of bottle teat they guzzle their milk from.)

2) Remember the initial mental picture I had of a peaceful baby snuggling up to his mother as he suckled? Well, for every 10 times that I have a wriggling, distracted, angsty, ravenous baby trying his hardest to chew off my nipples, there is that one precious, golden time that he drifts off to sleep peacefully on the breast. When he does, I want to remember the feeling of my baby’s warmth snuggled up to me, of his sweet baby smell, of overwhelming love I have for this other little human being, of his blissed out milk-drunk face; I want to keep all these close in my heart for always. To me, all the grouses I have with breastfeeding are worth it, just for every single of these all-too-fleeting moments.

On this note, the act of breastfeeding is supposed to release a whole bunch of the “bonding” hormone, oxytocin. So, the fuzzy feeling of closeness you feel when you nurse the baby isn’t just all in your head – it’s actually a chemical reaction between you and your baby!

3) The purported health benefits of breastfeeding for my baby, of course. I say “purported” not because I doubt that there are, but simply because so much has been said about this already. Breastfed babies are supposed to be smarter, healthier, less prone to being overfed and hence overweight, have the upper-hand in jaw development… While these are important to me and they are not by any stretch my main reason for carrying on breastfeeding, they definitely make me think twice about stopping.

4) There’s even something for myself in this whole breastfeeding journey! When all has been said and done, a small, selfish part of me wants to continue breastfeeding because it makes me feel awesome about myself. I look at Baby G’s oh-so-cute chubby chipmunk cheeks and I think to myself “Oh my, I did all this, no one and nothing else but me!” When he smiles in his milk-drunk stupor and gives out a really contented and loud burp before drifting off to sweet slumber… This really gets me through the days when I look down at my chewed up nipples and rue the day I decided to let my baby suck on them.

So, for all moms out there, I share this with you in the hopes that you continue to breastfeed, in spite of the reality of the whole experience. I’m four months in and I still have days when I am so tempted to just stop for good. The constant fear of blocked ducts, engorgement whenever I am out without my baby and I need to pump, not being able to wear clothes without relatively hassle-free access… And need I say more about breastfeeding a teething baby?

All this being said though, I’ve read and heard that it gets better. And truly it does, as the days go by. Baby will wean before I even realize it, so until that day comes, I’ll just sit tight and let my baby hang out on the boobies.

KellyAbout the author: Kelly is a first-time mom who has found her life completely changed by motherhood. Although never the maternal sort, she left her full-time job in corporate communications to bring up her baby. She is now a full-time mom and part-time writer, working whenever her son is sleeping or being cooed at by his doting grandparents. When she still has any time left over, she enjoys reading, experimenting in the kitchen and shopping. She occasionally blogs here.