13 June 2008

Breast is Best

Was I going to breastfeed my baby? Of course.

But when the time came, my baby wasn't with me to breastfeed. She was in ICU.

Recovering in the ward, I watched as nurses pushed babies in cots to their mothers to be breastfed. There I was, still with a big tummy (it doesn't recede so quickly), no baby beside me, you wouldn't be able to tell if I had given birth or not.

On Day 3, I woke up in the middle of the night. Hmmm...I should be producing milk for Vera right? Suddenly, I recalled reading about how important giving newborns colostrum was. Now, how am I going to do that? Alone in bed, I was totally clueless. I called in the night duty nurse and asked her how to do it. There, at 5am in the morning, I somehow managed to produce 5ml of colostrum! My first drops of milk...I was overcome with an immense sense of achievement. Finally, there was something positive that I could do to help my baby.

The initial euphoria didn't last long. Hours later, engorgement set in. A Lactation Consultant came by to help. She massaged, pressed, squeezed, kneaded my breasts. It was an excruciating ordeal which brought me to tears. "No pain no gain" she said.

Sitting in bed cupped with cabbage, I felt like a battle-worn soldier. "There MUST be another way," I thought to myself. There was. A gentler, more effective way.

On Day 4, I visited B's Lactatation Consultation Doris. She showed me how to coax the milk out. Minus the pain.

From that day on began a rigorous schedule of expressing milk every 3 hours. That's all I remember doing during my 1-month confinement. Eating, expressing, sleeping.

Ian would shuttle to and from the hospital, bringing what little I could produce to Vera in ICU. Without a baby to stimulate my breasts, they would produce milk, but not in the copious amounts of breastfeeding mothers.

During those first weeks post-partum, still feeling weak and constantly exhausted, getting up every night to express milk wasn't easy. But I had a very supportive husband. When my hands ached from wrestling with the stubborn clogged ducts and I could massage no more, he lent his strength. I realised then how much I loved Ian.

Today, Vera feeds from a tube inserted through her mouth to her stomach. Babies with T18 have a weak suck and swallowing problems so breastfeeding even bottle feeding is not advisable.
I never got to breastfeed Vera. Do I miss having that experience? Not really. Because what mattered was that she got to drink my milk. And that I gave her all that I had.