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The ‘painful’ truths about breastfeeding

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By Terrie F. Yu

Breastfeeding? It won’t always be a breeze, and each mom will surely have a unique story to tell. Mine wasn’t exactly an easy experience. I was all prepared for labor (although that had its own surprises) after attended quite a comprehensive birthing class, but I discovered there were way more crucial things to learn about breastfeeding!

Mommy knows best the author with her baby, who makes the "zombie" moments worth it

Mommy knows best the author with her baby, who makes the “zombie” moments worth it

Perhaps one of the biggest fears of first-time moms is not having enough breast milk for her baby. I know this to be true from personal experience, and so does the many moms in my Viber birthing class support group.

The fact that “breast milk is the best for babies” and is proven to the supreme nourishment for newborns adds to the pressure. How can moms choose formula over breast milk when the going gets tough? That’s downright wrong and less motherly, right?

Truth is, there is no mother who would want to give anything less to her child. And when you finally get to experience the ordeal mothers go through when breastfeeding, then you will be more open to understanding the baby feeding choices they make.

So here I’ll share some of the most common difficulties, doubts, and fears of first-time moms about breastfeeding, and the valuable things I learned from experts, fellow moms, and my own experiences. I hope this would help you, or a loved one who may be going through the same experience.

Fear #1. Breastfeeding is exhausting

It’s one of the best ways to bond with baby, on top of the many other health benefits it brings to both mother and child. But breastfeeding is a tough, tough commitment, especially since you need to do it right after delivery and every two hours (sometimes every hour) thereafter, 24 hours a day, every day. So after giving birth there will be very little rest for moms. This often contributes to postpartum blues. So husbands, being there to support your wives will mean the world to them.

The good news: The toughest phase is mostly on the first week—when you try to learn the ropes and work out a routine convenient for both you and your baby.

My personal experience: I had my “zombie” moments on week one. It was tough dealing with the pain and discomfort from my C-section, postpartum bleeding, the exhaustion from 12 hours of labor and then the need to breastfeed on the dot. I tried deep breathing exercises to calm me down, and getting some rest as much as possible by joining baby while she’s asleep.

Tip: Minimize baby’s crying fits by offering feeding ‘ahead of schedule.’ Crying is the last sign of hunger, so if baby usually wakes up every two hours to feed it would be best to initiate latching 30 minutes before. Less crying means less stress for you and less gas for baby.

Fear #2. Breastfeeding is painful

Most if not all first-time moms will experience breast engorgement, soreness, and nipple wounds on their first weeks of nursing as they learn how to properly latch their babies for breastfeeding. Not to mention an aching back and just the overall feeling of soreness and throbbing pain from the pulls and tugs of your newborn on your chest.

The good news: These are all treatable, and you don’t have to look farther than your own breast milk for a first aid remedy to your sore, cracked nipples.

Tip 1: Lactation expert Lita Nery advises against the use of lanolin or other oil based nipple ointments to treat nipple wounds. Her words to me: “With slippery ointments baby’s mouth will tend to slide down to your nipple instead of latching correctly to your areola, making the situation worse.”

My personal experience: I used lanolin and suffered for days. Good thing Tita Lita came to the rescue, and advised me to apply my own hand-expressed breast milk on my nipples and areola. My nipples were much better in 24 hours, and I could breastfeed again only after about three to four hours of rest. Best of all, I didn’t need to spend for any medication!

Tip 2: On blocked milk ducts, this is really one of the most painful parts of breastfeeding. I’ve suffered from this too many times as I try to juggle my hours as a working mom. To prevent it, breastfeed or pump as often as possible. If your milk duct is sore or gets blocked, massage and breastfeed. Sometimes baby won’t be able to remove the blockage in one feeding session, so take a hot shower and let the water massage the affected part of your breast. Take deep breaths, rest and then let baby latch again after a few hours. The swelling will eventually subside and your baby will be able to remove the blockage.

Tip 3: Always monitor your nipples for any white patches of milk that could be blocking the milk from getting through. Remove this by rubbing cotton dipped in warm water and hand-expressing.

Fear #3. Breastfeeding may not be for me because I don’t produce enough breast milk

Moms feel frustrated in the first few days of breastfeeding because they don’t seem to be producing enough milk for the baby. This appears to be so because we only release a few drops of colostrum at the onset, a fluid filled with nutrients that help baby fight off infection. Colostrum is almost transparent in color, which makes it seem like nothing is coming out even when our babies suckle hard.

The good news: Just carry on with the breastfeeding as your baby needs the colostrum, and in a few days this will be replaced with milk. Your body knows that baby has arrived, and the milk glands on your breasts have been signaled to start the milk production process. Have faith, think happy thoughts, and the milk will follow.

My personal experience: I had the same doubts and anxieties though I kept on breastfeeding, fearing that my body will stop producing milk if I don’t breastfeed. I sought Nery’s advice and she pointed out: “Don’t ever think that you’re incapable of producing breast milk, because it would send the wrong signal to your body and the baby.”

Tip 1: If you feel tired, frustrated, and your breasts are engorged, ask for help from a lactation expert. I also thought I wasn’t producing any milk and needed all the help I could get.

Lita Nery is a phone call or a text away (63918 555 7565) and her expert hands can massage your back and unclog the milk ducts on engorged breasts. She will also teach you how to massage your breasts to maintain good circulation and keep the milk flowing.

Tip 2: Go easy on the malunggay capsules and other supplements as too much of it may cause breast engorgement and clog your milk ducts. I had several episodes of this, so now I just take a supplement once a day. Try how your body responds to supplements. Nery advises taking natural malunggay soup instead and drinking lots of water.

Tip 3: To properly maintain good circulation on your breast, Nery’s advice is to (1) cover the breast with a hot towel (except for the areola and nipple areas); (2) massage the breast in small circular motions; (3) breast feed your baby and proceed with hand expression and/or pump; (4) apply a cold towel on the breast (again, except for the areola and nipple areas).

Tip 4: If you have serious doubts that baby is not getting sufficient milk or is dehydrated, consult with your pediatrician immediately. There are moms who will not be able to produce enough milk for their baby, and that’s okay. I’m one of them, and I’m not ashamed to admit thatI support baby’s feedings with formula once or twice a day.

So go for it, mommas! Breastfeeding may have its challenges but in the end, it becomes a character building experience, and the ultimate opportunity to bond with your baby.There are no hard and fast rules for this—only your best intentions, nurturing care, and boundless love.

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  • sheilakippley

    I tried everything for very sore nipples according to LLLI. The treatment that worked best was recommended by a doctor’s wife. Use the warm air on the breasts from a portable hair dryer after nursing and frequently during the day. It worked within 24 hours. I know one mom who was bitten and had an open sore. When it looked like it was healing, the baby’s nursing opened the sore up again. She use the treatment mentioned above and the sore finally healed.