Saturday, August 28, 2010

Breast is Best

'Breast is BEST.' Have you heard this phrase repeated in books you read during pregnancy, on websites you surfed before you delivered, and during antenatal classes - an introductory preview to what your little bundle of joy really is about? Well, it can't be more true, but it also can't be all that easy...

Before I delivered, I read all about natural deliveries and how your newborn baby can suckle immediately once delivered. I even saw this scene on YouTube videos. I was sure I was going to deliver naturally and have my baby feeding naturally straight after birth. My OBGYN was Dr Kek Lee Phin, and she knew what I wanted, but she also warned that my arthritic condition may impede natural delivery and having an epidural may also not be possible. Yet, I just so badly wished for a natural delivery that I almost expected it. I also thought that I'll start breastfeeding immediately after birth.

Yes, you guessed it. Things didn't go my way. I was in labour for 26 hours. Dr Kek tried her best to help make my dream natural delivery possible and she explained each development every step along the way. After 25 hours, my cervix was only 2.5cm dilated and she knew if I didn't deliver soon, my baby would be in distress. Eventually I needed an emergency C-section. The anaesthetist's assessment was that it had to be done under General Anaesthesia because of my arthritic condition. I was promptly wheeled into the operating theatre and baby Tiffany was delivered in less than an hour, at 1747h on 21st July 2009.

Late in the evening, when I woke up, I didn't see my baby. All I saw were my friends and relatives. I drifted off again. I didn't know how long had passed but nurses came in with baby Tiffany and started to help me initiate breastfeeding in a side-lying position. Tiffany seemed to have latched on and she looked like she was nursing so I thought, "Hey, this is easy." Little did I know that Tiffany wasn't latched on properly nor getting any colostrum or milk from me! Nobody said I was not going to have milk! I thought milk just appears once the baby is delivered. How ignorant I was! The nurses then handed me some pamphlets and in it, I read that for some, milk doesn't come in till 3-5 days after delivery. I freaked out when I found out that Tiffany wasn't getting anything despite suckling and crying so hard. I think the hormones were also surging at that time so I was frantic and fearful.

Thankfully, the doctors, the lactation consultants and nurses of Mt Elizabeth Hospital held my hands throughout the entire trying phase.

Dr Kek prescribed some medication to stimulate my milk producing hormones, and she also prescribed rest and relaxation. She asked me to reduce visitations, darken the room, listen to classical music and to sleep as much as possible. She kept encouraging me to eat nutritious food and to drink lots of water and soup. I guess her surgical skills were pretty good as on the very next day after the surgery, I was up and about, attending breastfeeding classes and walking to and from the nursery. I could very quickly start breastfeeding with the cradle hold. The quick recovery with no complications at all made it a lot easier for me to focus on breastfeeding.

Dr Irene Chan, Tiffany's paediatrician, constantly updated and assured me of the health of my little starved infant and she encouraged me to perservere for the sake of giving Tiffany the best. She even shared her personal experiences with me and listened patiently to me as I broke down and cried in despair (I'm sure I had the blues then.) With Tiffany under her care, I was always assured that she was doing okay without the first few days of milk.

The lactation consultants (LCs) were also going many extra miles to encourage and help me establish breastfeeding. The first thing they worked on was the latch. Tiffany has a very small mouth so latching on correctly wasn't easy at all. The LCs came to my room at almost every feeding just to see if I needed help. The nurses also helped me almost at every feeding and encouraged me to keep trying, giving me invaluable tips which worked. After the 3rd day, I still wasn't getting any milk, not even a single drop of colostrum! I was so envious of the mothers who had droplets of milk flowing just at the sound of their babies' cries. I attended breastfeeding classes religiously and worked on the latch. One of the staff nurses invited me to use the classroom to view a video by Dr Jack Newman to learn more about the correct latching technique. Although I was extremely tired, I asked the nurses to wake me when it was time at night to nurse. And during those wee hours of the night, the nurses would accompany me till Tiffany latched on properly before leaving and they always gently encouraged me to keep going. I always remember how comforting the nurses were when I was so fearful and tired then. That happened almost every 2-4 hours. One LC, Guat Choo was her name, was particularly candid and skilled. She tried to brighten things up with her chirpy disposition and she helped me to get my very first drop of colostrum. She was very skilled. She pressed and massaged my breast and nipples until eventually, my colostrum started flowing. Sure, it hurt, but it was only through pain that I gained my very first drop of colostrum! I was also taught how to use the breast pumps and I pumped when my baby was too tired to suckle because of jaundice. On day 5, my milk came in and I was the happiest mother on earth! Every drop I pumped was so precious. I almost couldn't bear to wash the milk bottles. Every drop Tiffany had was the result of perseverence, sweat and tears.

Back then, I felt that breastfeeding was the hardest thing to do. Hearing my baby's cries and knowing that I couldn't nourish her with my inadequate supply of colostrum and milk was especially hard for me. But I am very thankful for the tremendous help I had received. In retrospect, the pro-breastfeeding culture at MEH could probably be what had helped me to eventually give Tiffany the very BEST.

12 months on, I'm still breastfeeding Tiffany. She absolutely loves to breastfeed. Not only is it a source of nutrition, during difficult periods like illnesses, vaccinations and teething, it is also her source of comfort. I love cuddling her while she feeds and lying together with her as she nurses every day. I have also saved A LOT of money as I have not spent a single cent on formula milk. I don't have to wash any bottles now as I feed her directly every day. When she accidentally bumps her knee, breastfeeding comforts her. After her injections, she's rewarded with breast milk. When she wakes at night with a fever burning, breastfeeding helps her to feel better. I thoroughly enjoy the breastfeeding relationship I have with her and I don't intend to stop unless she wants to. In the meantime, let me savour this beautiful gift from God and enjoy breastfeeding for as long as Tiffany wants it!