I knew I wanted to breastfeed when I give birth though I knew little about breastfeeding. At that point, the only thing that resonated with me was that breastmilk is best for babies up to two years old. Also, I heard that it’s a way for mom and baby to bond in a way that no other relationship can. That’s all I know. However, I also know that a lot of moms give up on breastfeeding because it isn’t easy. I know there are many articles online and I’ve read many of them. However, there are many conflicting information from both the breastfeeding and formula feeding camps. I myself have been formula fed. I also grew up watching TV commercials of baby geniuses fed with specific formula brands. Watching those made me aspire to have intelligent kids, who are fed with these fortified formula. Then, as I prepare for motherhood, I got bombarded with information on breastfeeding. So ano ba talaga? What’s the real deal? To prepare myself, I bought books on breastfeeding. My reason for buying the books is to arm myself with information so I won’t give up. I was expecting to read about preventing/managing pain, juggling work and breastfeeding, etc. However, reading about it opened my eyes not only to the benefits of breastfeeding, but to the dangers of formula feeding. It solidified my decision to breastfeed exclusively.
The first book I bought was The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League. It garnered high ratings in Amazon so I picked a copy. It is available at Fully Booked. I found it informative, but not as relatable as it supports lifestyle choices that I know I can never make for myself. It also has a tendency to make one feel guilty for choosing a different lifestyle. I’ve read reviews about it so I was prepared for the guilt trip. It didn’t bother me at all, but it left me with a lot of questions on how to fit breastfeeding given my personal lifestyle choices.
The second book I bought was Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. It was recommended to me by a friend. I ordered this from Amazon but have not checked if available in Fully Booked or National Bookstore. It is available in www.babymama.ph
. Wow! The first chapter discusses the benefits of breastfeeding and the wonders of breastmilk. It was an eye opener to me. Suddenly, it made sense why breast milk is best for babies. Just reading about what breastmilk is, is enough to convince me to give everything I’ve got to breastfeed our babies.
I will not go into all the details of breastfeeding, but let me share the things that made the most impact to me.
1. Breast milk is complete. It has all the nutrients that a baby needs. There is no need to take vitamins unless the baby is diagnosed to have deficiencies. Again, there is no need for vitamin supplements.
2. Colostrum, the thick yellow substance produced in the breast during the first few days after birth is packed with nutrients and antibodies. It’s important for the baby to consume it. Hence, it’s important for the baby to latch immediately after birth and every few hours thereafter. The colostrum is like the baby’s first vaccine, except that it’s all natural and perfectly safe.
3. Breast milk is a living substance and it changes based on the baby’s needs. This one blew me away. Really?!!! First, it changes as the baby feeds. The foremilk or the milk the baby gets at the beginning of feeding is more watery and signals the baby to drink a lot. It is loaded with nutrients and antibodies, and it’s also very refreshing. The hind milk of the milk towards the end of the feeding, is more loaded with fat. It makes the baby feel full and satiated so that he/she will stop feeding already. This is why breastfed babies are almost never overfed. Aside from that, the milk also changes when the baby is sick. The baby’s saliva enters the mom’s nipple and communicates to the mom’s body that he/she is sick. Mom starts to make new milk with the antibodies to help the baby fight the illness. Similarly, when mom is sick, her body produces the antibodies her baby needs to combat the illness he/she might get from the mom. I thought it was amazing. There it is, a miracle happening in our body on an hourly basis.
4. Breast milk helps prevent many non-communicable diseases in both mom and baby. This includes diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancer, heart disease, etc. It also lowers the risk of SIDS and allergies among babies.
Given what I know about breast milk and breastfeeding, I cannot, in good conscience, deny my babies what I know to be the best nourishment for them. So, first step, decide to breastfeed. CHECK!
The next step is to prepare. How? By loading up on breastfeeding information. Not just from books, but from experienced friends, support groups, experts. One thing I deeply regret is not taking breastfeeding classes, or any pregnancy classes. If I can turn back the hands of time, I will attend as many classes as I can manage. Anyway, thankfully, there are many resources available. One resource that is easily available is social media. In Facebook, there’s a group called Breastfeeding Pinays. I learned so much from this group. Again, I won’t go into all the details but here are some important insights that helped me through the early days of my breastfeeding journey.
1. Some moms will have milk before even giving birth. Some moms won’t see a drop of milk even days after giving birth. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have milk.
2. Even when you can’t see milk dripping from your breast, there is milk in there. During the first few days, what we have is colostrum (see above). Just let the baby latch and she’ll get that precious liquid gold.
3. The baby’s stomach on her first few days will only be as big as a cherry or calamansi. She will only consume a few drops of milk during every feed. Hence, there is no reason why you would expect your breast to be oozing with milk all the time.
4. Trust your body. When a baby cries, it doesn’t mean she is hungry and she is not getting enough milk. There are many reasons why a baby would cry. It’s not just because she needs milk.
5. Check the poop and pee. As long as the baby is able to poo and pee throughout the day, that means she is getting enough nourishment.
6. Check that the baby is gaining weight. Aside from the poop and pee, if the baby is gaining weight, that means he/she is getting enough nourishment from mom.
If I didn’t know the above, I would have easily thought that I don’t have milk. It was a few days post partum that I actually saw milk coming out of my sore boobs. Yes, they were sore the first few days. More on this later.
Later on, I joined Moms of Multiples by Latch, another FB Group led by breastfeeding advocates, but this one is specific to moms like me who have twins, triplets or more. I also joined South Pinanay or SPin, also a breastfeeding support group, this one is for moms residing in the south (Muntinlupa, Las Pinas, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas). These groups helped me a lot, not just on breastfeeding, but practically with any mom and baby-related queries. I owe my sanity to the moms in these groups, specially MoM during the first few weeks at home.
I decided to pay for a lactation masseuse. She came on day 2, less than 24 hours since I gave birth. She helped us learn how to position the babies for tandem feeding. She also massaged my breasts and shoulders, and placed warm towel on me to help me relax. She also made sure the babies latched properly. This position is our most comfortable nursing position. I still use this position most often, specially at night.
So, we got home and we breastfed round the clock. Was it easy? A big NO! It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. My nipples were sore the first week or two. Even the slightest touch of a shirt was so painful. I was practically topless all day. I let my nipples air dry to help them heal. I had a peer counselor come and check the latch. We also had the girls checked for lip and tongue ties. They were confirmed to have tongue ties and we had them released (Dra. Axel Gerochi of Gerochi Dental is the best!). Other than that, there were two BIG ISSUES. 1) I didn’t have enough milk. 2) My girls weren’t gaining weight the way they should. I will discuss these two separately, starting with milk supply.
LOW MILK SUPPLY
It was a bitter pill to swallow. I didn’t know, or at least didn’t confirm, that my supply was low until 6 weeks later when I started pumping. I followed the rules. The rules say “Don’t pump until the 6th week”. Why? Because direct latching will tell my body how much the demand is, and my body will produce enough to supply that demand. Pumping, along with direct latching, my trigger oversupply, which can pose many problems including painful plugged ducts, or worse, Mastitis
. Like I said, I followed the rules. I latched on demand. Round the clock. Day and night. I tandem fed the girls, almost every two hours. They latched for as long as they want. This means I hardly had time for myself. Sometimes, it would be 8pm and I still haven’t showered for the day. It was hard work. By 6th week, I started pumping. I pumped shortly after latching. I’d get about .5 oz per breast. I was shocked. Is this normal? I asked my breastfeeding groups and they all assured me that this is normal. After all, the babies have already fed. The fact that I still get .5 oz means I have good supply. Still, how am I supposed to build a stash for when I go back to work? I persevered. I pumped a few times a day after latching. I even pumped at night, and early in the morning because they say we get more milk early in the morning. I got the same meager .5 oz per breast regardless of time of day. Note that by this time, I was already eating soupy dishes with fresh malunggay. I actually add malunggay to practically any food I eat. I was also taking lactation cookies, and malunggay capsules. Soon after, I started drinking hot Mother’s Milk Tea in the morning, and cold Milk Flow at lunch. Basically, I was loading up on galactagogues, none of which seemed to work. To make a long story short, my supply never really picked up.
At about 8 weeks, the twins weren’t gaining enough weight. Their first pedia prescribed to supplement with formula. I refused. I switched to a different pedia – someone who will address the twins’ weight issues, while at the same time, support our breastfeeding journey. The new pedia, Dr. Anthony Calibo, asked that we supplement their direct feeding with cupfeeding pumped milk. He asked me to stop pumping, as that will only add to my stress, and instead, look for milk donors. That way, I can focus on direct feeding the babies. I asked for help from my online and offline mommy communities. The first community who responded was The Parenting Emporium. I bought my electric breast pump from them, and I’ve been getting a lot of support from them by way of product information and encouragement. So when I reached out for help in sourcing breastmilk, they connected me with a mom who has oversupply. This mom gave us over 90 bags of breast milk. I remember crying out of gratitude. I was reminded of God’s promise.
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
I prayed and cried out to God many times to increase my milk supply. His answer is different from what I asked for, but he did answer my prayer. He provided what my babies need.
When I went back to work, I pumped 5 times a day. I powerpumped at 6:30-7:30 am, and also at 5:30-6:30pm. Then I do regular 20-minute sessions at 9:30am, 12noon and 2:30pm. I would take home anywhere from 12-14oz. My babies consume at least 30oz a day in the beginning. So basically, my body is only able to produce half of what they need. A lot of people helped, specially from the breastfeeding support groups that I am a part of. Many gave advice. Some encouraged me to keep going, despite my limitations. I am very grateful for these moms who cheered me on, and who continue to push me to breastfeed. That is why I decided to keep latching, keep pumping, and keep breastfeeding. I will do so for as long as there is a drop of milk in my breasts, and for as long as my babies want to breastfeed. I will continue to do so for as long as moms share their milk with my babies. A lot of my regular donors promised to continue to share. I am so humbled by their generosity. I am GRATEFUL
. While my babies are already a year old, and are eating solids, they still need BM because of their weight issues. This brings me to number 2.
SLOW WEIGHT GAIN
On our first check up post partum – I think this is a week after birth – my girls lost weight. I wasn’t alarmed as I read that this is typical. By their second check up, they didn’t gain a single ounce. My pedia was alarmed and asked me to supplement with formula. I was surprised because I thought she is a breastfeeding advocate. I told her I want to keep the babies exclusively on breastmilk. So she suggested I supplement by cupfeeding expressed milk. On their third visit to the pedia, they gained very little. So pedia was adamant to supplement with formula. However, I think the problem is not that they aren’t getting enough milk from me, or from the additional milk that we cupfeed them. The issue is that they aren’t drinking much. We practically had to force feed them with breastmilk. In fact, we continued to force feed them breast milk until their first birthday.
At 6 weeks, I decided to switch to a true breastfeeding advocate pedia. Dr. Anthony Calibo came very highly recommended by all three breastfeeding groups I am part of. His clinic is in St. Luke’s QC. Aside from it being very far from Cavite, the waiting time at his clinic is ridiculously long. I was disheartened at first. However, Dr. Calibo is very compassionate. He takes his time with each patient. He patiently explains things to us. He listens to our concerns and answers all our questions. He spends maybe 40-60 minutes during our initial visits. Because Amaris and Alisa remain active and responsive, he wasn’t very concerned about their slow weight gain. At least not to the point where he feels the girls need to be hospitalized (I’ve asked him about cases where babies fail to thrive and he said our case is different). His three recommendations are as follows:
- Skin to skin contact of Kangaroo Care 16-20 hours a day – Ah yes, that means I will be in bed for most of the day. Basically, the babies will be naked save for their diapers, and I will likewise be topless, so the babies’ skin will be on top of my bare skin. They will nurse and sleep on me. This also meant that we had to co-sleep. While it is challenging to do this for 16-20 hours, it actually helped at night. Before we were asked to do skin to skin, the babies slept in the nursery. Ariel would bring them there after they are done nursing. We had a baby monitor and when they cry, we would rush to the nursery to pick up the babies and nurse. As you can imagine, it can be tiring to get up, go the the other room and pick up the baby, nurse, put them back in the crib. Repeat. With skin to skin, we didn’t have to get up at night. I just need to help the babies latch properly when they get hungry.The pedia also asked me to extend my Maternity Leave so I can do skin to skin longer. Fortunately, my bosses at work were very understanding and gave me the time I needed to care for my twins. I went back to work on the girls’ fourth month. We still did skin to skin at night, and on weekends. We did this until the girls are 6 months old. During this time, I hardly go out of the house. Every waking time is spent nurturing our babies, and I was practically topless the first six months.
- Virgin Coconut Oil supplement – On the first week, we were asked to give the babies 1 ml, 5-6x a day. On the second week, dosage was increased to 2 ml, 6-8x a day. On the 3rd week, we were up to 3ml, 10x a day. Yup, that’s a lot. Virgin Coconut Oil adds to the girls’ caloric intake. In addition, VCO contains lauric acid that has similar anti-bacterial properties as breastmilk. The babies hated it. They cried bloody murder every time we give VCO via dropper.
- Additional breastmilk via cup – Finally, the pedia asked me to supplement our direct feeding with BM via cup. And also to do breast compressions while they are latched so they don’t fall asleep easily, and take in more milk. So if we latch every 2 hours, we had to feed them an ounce via cup in between. Basically, we try to give them milk every hour. This is a bit difficult, specially when the babies sleep. But we persevered.
Once we started the above, the girls began gaining weight steadily, albeit very slowly. Our pedia wasn’t worried and he asked us not to worry as well. He said our goal is to make sure that they gain weight with every visit to the pedia. And they did. Pedia was also kind enough to remind me not to compare our girls with other babies. He reminded us that each baby is different and we should focus on our twins’ individual milestones. That really eased my mind because I couldn’t help but compare my girls with other babies their age. This is why, even until now, we still drive all the way to St. Luke’s QC to see Dr. Calibo. My only regret is that we didn’t see him sooner.
I continue to receive breastmilk donations. We have regular donors who selflessly share their liquid gold with us. When I am feeling down, I’d remember all the moms who shared and continue to share their breastmilk with us. They are testament to God’s faithfulness. More details here.
I continue to breastfeed. I continue to receive support and encouragement from fellow breastfeeding moms. We latch directly at night, and on weekends. This is true even when we are out, like in the church, or in restaurants. We’ve gone out to shopping malls and I’ve learned to breastfeed in public. I feel more comfortable with a cover so that’s what I do. We hardly go out but when we do, I pick shopping malls with a comfortable nursing station. Shangrila Mall has a really nice nursing station. Rustan’s Makati also has a spacious nursing station.
I continue to pump on weekdays. I would powerpump in the morning, on the way to work (6:30-7:30am). Then I’d have 20-minute sessions at 11am, 2:30pm and at 5:30pm on the way home. My supply has even more dwindled when the twins started solids. From 12-14oz, I am down to half – 6-8oz a day. There are days when I feel so lazy – not because I don’t think it is important to pump, but because of my meager output. I guess the more apt word is DISCOURAGED. I mean, I’d spend an hour pumping and all I’d get is 1.5-2 oz. But I push myself to keep pumping. I actually enjoy breastfeeding my girls, so I want to keep pumping to sustain my supply.
I encourage other moms to breastfeed. Some have actually contacted me asking for advice on how to tandem feed. I send them photos of how we do it. I also direct them to the support groups that I am a part of, so they, too, can get the right information and support. Who knows, maybe when the girls are a bit older, I can also get a certification to be a peer counselor. I truly believe in the power of breastmilk and breastfeeding. I sincerely believe that BREAST IS BEST. And while I respect moms who decide to formula feed (no judgement there), I’d like to support those who decide to breastfeed.
Happy breastfeeding to my fellow padede moms!