I gave birth to a healthy, lively, plumpy-umpy little baby girl at 5:46 AM on July 26, 2014. She was 50 cm long, weighed 3.61 kgs and had an Apgar score of 10.(Read more about Sophia’s birth story here.) Part of my birth plan was to exclusively breastfeed my baby and we discussed this with my OB, our pediatrician, and my family. After a quick clean up, the nurse brought her to me for our “Unang Yakap”. She was such a beautiful baby! She had chubby cheeks, dimpled elbows, round tummy, and chunky thighs. While I was lying on the operating table getting stitched up, Sophia snuggled on my chest and she took her first suckle. I was ecstatic! She was a pro at breastfeeding and I felt confident that I would have more than enough milk to fill her tummy and start a stash.
I knew that I would be breastfeeding my baby even before I got pregnant. For me, a mother nursing her child is one of the most beautiful things only a woman can do. To prepare myself for our breastfeeding journey, I read books, consulted Mr. Google, talked to breastfeeding mothers and joined breastfeeding support groups.
My little one continued to nurse as soon as we got back to our room. I didn’t mind the pain of my C-Section incision nor the magnesium sulfate injections. Never mind that I was unable to sit up on my bed or have it reclined. I asked for a nurse to help Sophia latch on to my breast so she could drink the colostrum that she much needed. Everything was going as planned as far as breastfeeding was concerned. But I did not anticipate my Preeclampsia to develop into Eclampsia and that Calcibloc was not enough to control my hypertension. To help manage my blood pressure, my OB prescribed stronger anti-hypertensive drug.
We continued nursing after being discharged from the hospital and the doctors and nurses were happy that we were determined to exclusively breastfeed our baby. She had a great latch and I would remind myself that my nursling would always have a full tummy because I have an abundance of milk. Your success in breastfeeding is based on your confidence to breastfeed, right? A mother needed to believe in her capability to produce enough milk to nourish her child.
However, I noticed that she would always cry even while she was nursing and if she wasn’t sleeping; she was crying. I thought it to be normal. Babies cry all the time. Probably she was cold, she wanted to be held, or she needed a nappy change. Maybe she had colic.
Three days after we got home, I started to get extremely worried because she hadn’t pooped yet. Newborns were expected to poop at least once a day. But Sophia only produced 3-4 wet nappies and no dirty ones. And although breastfed babies lose about 7-10% of their birth weight on their first week, I was scared that her weight loss was not normal.
We took Sophia to her first pediatrician appointment a week after she was born and when she was weighed, she was only 2.98 Kgs. My suspicion was confirmed. She lost almost 18% of her birth weight! The doctor also helped her poop and my heart sank when I saw that she still had meconium in her system. I was devastated. This wasn’t part of the plan.
As I feared, our pediatrician advised us to supplement with formula milk. 15 ounces of breastmilk and 15 ounces of formula every 2 hours. I cried in her clinic while we listened to her instructions. A part of me was still in denial that I didn’t have enough milk to feed my newborn. I wanted to give her the best and I knew that there were no alternative that can compare to a mother’s milk. I felt betrayed by my body and I felt like a failure as a mother. I starved my baby for a week. Why wasn’t I producing enough milk for her? Our pedia tried to comfort me and said that it was not my fault. The hypertension medication that I was on affected my milk production. She asked me to consider supplementing for the mean time while I was still on the meds.
On our way home, my husband and I discussed our options and I expressed my reluctance to formula feed our baby. I told him that I would contact a lactation consultant, increase my intake of galactagogues, and I would even ask for breastmilk donations if needed. I would do anything because I wanted to stick to the original plan of exclusively nursing Sophia. But my baby was hungry.
That night, she had been suckling for an hour and I could see her frustration on not getting enough milk. Tears poured out my eyes while I watched her cry for more milk. I saw her ribs poking out of her chest and I tried to look for her double chin and dimpled elbows, but they were all gone. She was plumpy-umpy no more and my heart broke into a million pieces. I only wanted what was best for my child and I did not want her to be hungry any longer. So I asked my husband to buy a can of formula milk right away.
That evening, Sophia stopped crying because finally, her tummy was full. She wasn’t a colicky baby. She was just hungry.
She was happy,content and hungry no more. We were able to see her cheerful and bright personality. She was a quiet baby who rarely cried.
It took one month for my blood pressure to get back to normal. I was so relieved that I could now focus all my energy on taking care of my happy baby (she rarely cried now) and not worry about my health. The medicine left a chemical smell to my milk and I was happy that she didn’t have to drink my amlodipine-laced breastmilk.
We had been supplementing for more than a month but I was determined to wean her from formula milk and get her back to the breast. I moved Sophia from the crib to our bed while my husband was away for a work project. During daytime, I would give her formula milk then had her latch to my breast after she finished a bottle. But at night, I ditched the formula and nursed her solely. It was a wonderful arrangement because I didn’t have to get out of bed and make formula milk, I just offered my breast and that was it.
I researched on galactagogues, food that can help increase milk production; and stocked up on rolled oats, fresh malunggay leaves, malunggay capsules, and Milo. Malt is a galactagogue and Milo is rich in malt. I even tried drinking beer for its malt content. I was chugging on water and Milo, day and night. (Gosh! That’s why I gained so much weight!)
My milk booster stash
About 2 weeks before Sophia turned 3 months, I observed her refusing the bottle. She wouldn’t even swallow the milk. She would reach for my breast instead. This went on until we wasted probably half a can of formula. I was amazed at my wonderful smart baby. She weaned herself off formula milk. Babies do know which milk is superior and she chose mine.
Sophia is now 14 months old and I am happy that we are still exclusively breastfeeding. It would have been easy to have given up and say “Oh, we failed at breastfeeding because I didn’t have enough milk.” Or, “Not all women can produce milk.” I would have shrugged my shoulders and acted nonchalantly but deep inside I would have been seething with frustration and disappointment with myself. I knew that I would have felt anger and envy towards all the mothers out there who proudly breastfed or breastfeed their children. So I tried my best not to give up and my baby felt my will and determination so she didn’t give up nursing from mommy either.
Mothers only want what’s best for their child. My journey taught me that sometimes plans get derailed but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get back on track. It took us less than 3 months to resume exclusively breastfeeding. It may take longer for others but it is possible to ditch formula and get your baby back to the breast. All you need is a lot patience as well as support from the people around you.
I also learned to respect mothers who chose to formula feed or mix feed their babies. They have their reasons for their decision to give formula and they don’t have to defend themselves all the time to people who judge how good a parent they are based on the milk (breastmilk or formula) they feed their babies.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our story. Please feel free to send us your comments, rants and raves. We would be thrilled to hear from y’all.
Have a great day!