Ah. Breastfeeding. One of the perks of being a mother. Or not.
What images of a woman does the word ‘breastfeeding’ evoke?
I guess the answer to the question really depends on who I’m asking.
Now, get this, I’m talking about breastFEEDING i.e. a mother using her breast as a food source for her children.
I’m not talking about breastFEASTING.
It never fails to shock me that our society seems to confuse the two.
Is it because we have become so used and desensitized to the sexual objectification of the female body that we cannot comprehend how Nature has equipped our aesthetically amazing form to also Nurture young human lives?
Judging by the controversy that this Time Magazine cover raised, I would think yes.
Then there was this whole other cyberstorm of protest when Facebook deemed photographs of women breastfeeding as obscene.
Unlike Time Magazine, who obviously needed a controversial headline, I would never go as far to state that breastfeeding is only for the dedicated Mother. Motherhood is really way more than being just providing milky sustenance to a child. Really. I think it is awful for anyone to insinuate that or think less of any mother who does not breastfeed her own child, whether out of volition or condition.
In return for my respect of all mothers, nursing or not, I do ask that you also respect my story.
With that out of the way, let me share with you my experiences as Milkmom.
My Time As MilkMom
If you’ve been following this blogtrain, you would have noted that I’m sharing about a breastfeeding journey that has hit, and still going past, the 48 months mark.
48 months = 4 years.
The reality is, I’ve gone on longer than 48 months.
My eldest is 5.5 years old. He’s almost 100% weaned. He doesn’t need to nurse for sustenance of course. He actually doesn’t nurse at all anymore. And while I cannot recall the exact date he weaned off nursing, I do think he’s nursed well until he was 4, and almost nearing 5.
My second is 3.5 years old. He nurses to nap every few days, and I’m working on weaning him off nap-nursing. He still gets up too often in the night to nurse. We co-sleep most nights. I don’t know when i can succeed weaning him off but I hope it is soon because frankly, I want freedom. Yet, I am not sure how that would feel. I’ve heard stories from friends who cried when they weaned off their last child. And I’m pretty sure right now that I’m not having another.
Some Breastfeeding Lessons I’ve Learnt
#1. Breastfeeding is a personal choice.
This needs very little explanation. Your breasts, your choice. My breasts, my prerogative.
#2. No two mouths are alike.
After nursing my firstborn for 24 months by the time my second was born, I had thought I would have a breeze with the second. Was I wrong. Gravely wrong.
I had the same breasts I used to nurse Lee.
But baby Zee had a different mouth and different suckling abilities.
He had a weak suckle according to the lactation nurse, and then I wondered if it was because I didn’t bond with him enough prenatally.
To compound those post-natal ‘rubbish imaginations’, my presumptuousness about breastfeeding ease, and hence being almost nonchalant about it, my secondborn landed up in hospital in a very critical condition. He had critical jaundice. He was placed under 5 UV lights and had 6 hours to have lower serum biribulin levels. If not, he would have to undergo the blood exchange procedure.
I cried buckets and buckets. Thankfully, after a 3 day stay in hospital, Zee’s jaundice was under control but it would take me 6 weeks before his jaundice finally cleared.
#3. Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t often come naturally to a mom.
In the hospital, it was taking me 40-60 minutes each feed to latch Babe Zee and he wasn’t suckling well.
How can anything natural be so hard to do?!!
For the first 4 weeks of Zee’s life, I had a challenging time trying to nurse him. He drank mostly breastmilk from the bottle. My firstborn did not take to the bottle. But Zee had no issues.( And that I believe was because I had used NUK instead of Avent. )
However, I really wanted to be able to latch Zee. I just felt that the bond of breastfeeding was different from bottle-feeding and I really wanted to be able to nurse him as I did for his older brother.
My first month with Zee was a very tearful one. I resorted to seeing the lactation nurse at Mt Alvernia. And a dear friend, mother of 3 and breastfeeding advocate, came to my house. When Zee was almost a month old, Serena came and spent TWO hours with me trying to help me latch him.
I was hungry and tired and frustrated. I wanted to cry and scream. Baby was hungry, tired and frustrated as well. He was shrieking.
But there was no way Serena let me bottle feed him. So we pressed on.
How can anything natural be so hard to do!
But finally, after 120 minutes of a battle, I latched him on. And for the first time in 4 weeks, Zee and I finally bonded through nursing.
I didn’t think after almost a month of bottles, Zee would be able to nurse. But he did. And he has been since.
#3. Just as there is nothing wrong with nursing, there’s nothing wrong with nursing for comfort.
I’m not providing any medical opinion save my personal conviction. For what it’s worth, let me tell you I’ve faced my share of ‘criminal’ persecution for choosing to nurse my child. In the early years of my motherhood, we lived in Macau. And it was just incredible just how many negative comments and stares I got when the locals found out I was nursing.
I will never forget how this museum security guard, in her 50s, looked at my little 3-month-old sitting in my sarong sling and said in Catonese, “You’re such a pitiful thing. Ask your mother to give you formula milk.” She proceeded to tell me how malnourished my son look by pointing to what she said was an oversized forehead. My son then was in the 95 percentile of growth charts.
Of course as my firstborn grew older, I’ve also been made to feel terrible about him nursing for comfort.
By the way, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and then “continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond” . Back to my boys, they have gone beyond 2 years of age and I continued nursing them.
The key reason, I guess you can say, I was a weak-willed mom.
Weaning has been a LIVING NIGHTMARE.
So I guess I chose the easy way out, trying to limit my exposure to their shrieks and tears.
I’ve also come to see that breastfeeding is NOT breastfeasting. Children’s minds are innocent.
Young children who still want to latch on to their mommies for comfort are not the same as men burying their faces in bosoms of women.
So really, I would appreciate it if the public gets some education before opening their mouths and making mindless and perverted comments like ‘Eee.. How old are you already? Still drink Mummy’s milk?’
Yes, eventually children who are nursing at 3 or 4 or 5 will wean off. They are not going to develop into sexual perverts. And they are NOT perverts for wanting to nurse for comfort. And their mothers also do not have the Jocasta complex.
#4. Breastfeeding benefits both child and mom.
Often, in our very child-centered world, we forget that not only is breastfeeding beneficial for children. It also holds health benefits for breastfeeding moms. These benefits include being a natural birth control method (98% effective), reduces breast and ovarian cancer risk in later life, weight loss and lowers obesity rates.
I loved that I lost my pregnancy weight pretty quickly, eat and not grow fat while nursing.
Most of all, I loved not having to deal with my monthly periods! I was period-free for 4.5 years ( 5.4 years if you include the months I was pregnant with my firstborn.)
Oh! But it doesn’t work well as a birthcontrol method. I conceived my second boy even though I was still actively nursing, and had no period.
#5. Breastfeeding is intimate.
It’s very hard for me to describe just what it feels like to be able to nurse my children.
But while there have been frustrations and pains, it has also been rewarding. It’s a special bond I’ve shared with each of my children. I just wish I had taken photographs of those moments.
#6. Breastfeeding is personal.
And again, I end off with this. Because it is a personal decision and an intimate experience shared between Father, Mother and Child within a family, it is better for us to reserve our comments and judgements about breastfeeding for our own consumption.
Yes, there is a whole body of medical research out there to show for the benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk over other forms of milk.
However, let us not forget that everyone is different.
Our choices and values are different.
But I do have this to say to any new mother:
Breastfeeding is one of the privileges we are given as a woman and mother.
I really do think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience every mom ought to try at least once.
While sometimes challenging and just plain difficult, it is worth giving your best shot.
The experience of holding a wee babe in your bosom, the milk flowing out of you into his body and seeing that liquid plump him up – priceless.
But when all nursing attempts seem to fail, do not feel like you’re a failure or are alone.