Jasmine: Clearly, this post could not have been written by Andrew. Heh. Anyway, our little one is approaching 6 weeks old (where did all that time go? how did he suddenly grow from 3kg at birth to 4.6kg now?) and I thought I would share some thoughts not just on the story of breastfeeding Dylan, but also how breastfeeding itself has become such a contentious issue among parents.
I must preface though that while I have chosen to breastfeed, I am not judging parents who choose to use formula. I must say “choose”, to preclude the very small minority of mums out there who truly cannot breastfeed due to medical reasons/ history. This disclaimer is here because I have met my fair share of judgemental parents and parents-to-be whose smugness and rudeness regardless of which camp they’re from always irk me. Being a new parent is tough enough, let alone having to deal with thinly veiled criticisms from other parents.
For those of us who have never needed to know about breastfeeding vs formula (I certainly didn’t, at this time last year!), here is a quick rundown. I am no expert but am just sharing what I have read up on:
When it comes to feeding babies, there exist two camps, pro-breastfeeding and pro-formula, with seemingly no middle ground. Those who believe in breastfeeding cite medically proven health benefits for both mother and child, such as studies showing how breastfed babies have higher IQs and better immunity in the longer term than formula-fed infants.
Those who believe in formula will say that formula contains the same nutrients as breastmilk and the child sleeps longer between feedings as he is fuller, making it easier for parents to control their feeding schedules and therefore return to their normal lives more quickly.
However, from my reading, I additionally found out that:
Formula originated in 19th-century England for orphaned infants, who would almost certainly have died without breastmilk.
It is technically accurate to say that formula contains all the nutrients that an infant needs. However, this is the result of adding nutrient supplements to a nutritionally inferior product.
Formula cannot replicate the antibodies found in breastmilk, which is customised for each child to protect him from allergens and illnesses in his environment.
Formula keeps babies fuller longer because it contains chemicals and complex ingredients that take longer for the body to break down. This is also why breastfed babies have several bowel movements a day, whereas formula-fed babies have just one. (Andrew: Oh yes, that is definitely true. BabyD changes diapers at least 6-8 times a day and sometimes it can be a few within the same hour as he will suddenly have a flood of poo.)
Formula always tastes the same, but breastmilk varies slightly based on the mother’s diet. (It is usually slightly sweet. Don’t worry, eating curry won’t suddenly turn your breastmilk spicy. Anything you consume has to be processed by your body first. Heh.) It has been said that breastmilk is thus a way to gently introduce baby to the flavours of her culture. (Andrew: Judging from this, I think BabyD has been very well inducted to the flavours of Lays Sour Cream and Onion and Ruffles Cheddar cheese chips. Would that be part of our ‘culture’? Heh.)
Formula composition remains the same for a 1-day-old infant or a 1-yr-old toddler. Breastmilk composition, however, changes based on your environment and baby’s needs. Breastmilk composition can even change during each feeding, from the watery foremilk to the richer, creamier hindmilk, which is higher in calories and fat.
World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the following ways of feeding babies: 1. Breastfeeding. 2. Expressed milk from the mother. 3. Donor milk from a wet nurse or milk bank. 4. Formula. Yes, in that order.
What is often overlooked though, is the emotional (not just physical/ medical) benefits breastfeeding has for mother and child. Breastfeeding forces me to put my legs up and take time out for my child and I. (In other words, the perfect reason to chuck household chores to your husband. Thanks Dear.) The physical closeness builds rapport between Baby D and I- it’s become a time when I tell him how much Mummy and Daddy love him, introduce him to my favourite pieces of music and stroke his downy hair.
Because of the abovementioned emotional and health benefits, I chose to breastfeed Baby D. I can honestly say it was the toughest part of becoming a mum. This brings me back to my point about there seemingly being no middle ground between breastfeeding and formula. While I am proud to say that I am exclusively breastfeeding Dylan, I have used formula (shock and horror) and I also express milk, and think it okay to do the following two things:
1. Take 1 or 2 sample –sized bottles of formula when being discharged from the hospital.
This is my modification of my doctor’s suggestion to stand by a tin of formula for the day that the milk hasn’t come in. If you are like me, and just looking for something to tide you over till your milk comes in, it makes sense to get a sample bottle rather than a whole tin to see baby through one or two feeds. And in any case, most hospitals are adequately supplied with such samples courtesy of the formula companies. Many extreme breastfeeding advocates will warn you to refuse all formula, even these samples, but my doctor shared the advice about the formula as she had seen many mothers getting unnecessarily stressed about something that was simply beyond their control. I have since proffered this piece of advice (as something that really helped me, not something which I am imposing on them) to a few of my expecting friends, but have been met with cynicism and disdain each time 😦
However, my advice stems from one of my earliest and most draining (no pun intended) experiences of breastfeeding: When Baby D was 5 days old, my milk hadn’t come in and the colostrum (the stuff that the body makes before it starts making milk) had run out and Baby D was hungry. I mean, really hungry. I fed him for 6.5 of 8 consecutive hours (which also meant increased pain from being in the same 1 or 2 positions post-delivery, not to mention soreness) but he was still wailing desperately and gutturally. His little face was scrunched up and turning red.
If he was not suckling, he was screaming (and if he was suckling, I was screaming, heh). He was miserable and so was I. Could he have survived? Maybe. Could he have waited for my milk to come in? Maybe. But in that moment, it felt like my newborn was starving and I was shattered from the 8-hour marathon and the frustration of not being able to provide for him. That was when I caved and asked Andrew to run out and buy a tin of formula.
2. It is ok to “outsource” night feeds so that you can rest. No, you are not being a bad mother, just a sensible one.
When preggie, I had planned to take all the night feeds. However, I grossly overestimated myself. I was exhausted from sleeping 3 hours a night in 30-min stretches, and being woken at at 11pm, 12am, 1am, 2am, 330am, 5am and 7am for feeds. I did this because my milk supply was still building itself up and while I could breastfeed him, I could not express enough milk for night feeds and did not want to use formula. (Expressing milk is what lactating mums do to remove excess milk out from their breasts using a manual or electric pump. This milk can then be fed to baby in a cup, syringe or most popularly bottle.)
With persuasion from my mum and husband, we let our confinement nanny take over the night feeds with whatever precious few ounces of milk I could express, and then top up with formula (this happened maximum two times). Within a week, with more rest at night and the joys of hearty, heaty confinement food, we were able to express enough milk (and then some!) for the night feeds, which had gone from several breastfeeds to just two or three expressed milk feeds.
Anyway, six weeks on, we are exclusively breastfeeding and have not had to use a drop of formula in the past five weeks. Thank God, on top of the breastfeeding, we have even put 10 bottles of expressed milk in the freezer to prepare for my return to work!
Andrew: I’ll just add a tip here for husbands, where applicable. When your kid is first born, it is always a fine line to balance between providing for your child and also ensuring that your wife has sufficient rest to recover well. In the initial stages, I pushed for the use of some formula, even though I had read that breastmilk was best, because I saw how much distress and physical pain it was causing Dearie. An unrested mother is unable to provide well for her child.
Support your wife in her journey of feeding her child both emotionally and physically. There are many things a father can do to help, like just sit by the mum and child when they are breastfeeding to calm the child down. There are moments when babyD gets so angsty that he refuses to latch on, and having someone else there to help calm baby down helps the mum too to be composed. Also, the dad can help the mum do simple things like turn on the fan, bring her a magazine, turn on the TV etc. to make breastfeeding much more enjoyable. I’m sure there are more things dads can do, but a final tip would be to seize these breastfeeding moments as family bonding moments, not just mother-child bonding moments. Even though you are not directly involved, it is a good time to lie by your wife and talk to her and baby together. It’s tempting to leave your wife alone while you turn on the TV and read, but that will be a moment of bonding wasted. Just my two-cents worth as a young dad. 🙂
Ending off with one of the happiest photos of BabyD, kindly edited by his auntie Charlene!