by Evelyn Chen
“Wow, you are still breastfeeding your big baby?” I’m often asked this question when I nurse my little girl, who is now 20 months old, in public. I usually reply, “Because she likes it and I have plenty of breast milk” or “Because it is good for her.” But if I think about it seriously, then I would say it is because of my love for my child; I demonstrate this love by giving her precious breast milk.
Breastfeeding my daughter has gone smoothly, partly because I was determined to succeed after a negative experience trying to breastfeed my first baby nine years ago. Looking back, I can see that I was poorly informed about breastfeeding, and I depended on the advice of people who were equally poorly informed. Upon the advice of a very good friend, my bag to take to the hospital contained a can of formula milk powder, which I was told should be given until my own breasts started to produce milk. (I’ve since learned that a mother’s first milk, colostrum, although small in quantity, is perfectly designed to meet all a newborn baby’s needs.) My son was born 20 days early and he seemed so small. During the first two days after he was born, my mother, who came to help, fed my little baby boy with the formula milk. My breasts started to produce milk, but my left nipple was short and seemed difficult for my tiny baby to latch onto. As my breasts got fuller, they became very hard and sensitive. The doctor said my mammary glands were blocked and arranged some electrical breast message.
After leaving the hospital, I went back to my hometown in the countryside and stayed there for my maternity leave. In the first two weeks, my little boy cried a lot and my family thought he was not getting enough breast milk. I felt helpless and decided to continue giving him supplements of formula milk. My mother always said that my breast milk looked so clear and watery, it couldn’t be enough for my baby. (During my second pregnancy I learned that it is normal for the milk to be clear when the breasts are full, and this is good to relieve the baby’s thirst). Consequently, the quantity of formula milk gradually increased while my own milk supply declined.
Approaching the last month of my three-month maternity leave, my little boy had infantile diarrhoea which lasted for a couple of weeks. I took him to a private clinic where he was given some medicine, but that did not stop the diarrhoea. I worried that the mixed feeding might be the cause of the problem. Being unaware that breast milk is the best thing to help babies recover from illness, I made a stupid decision to wean my little boy suddenly, hoping that this would help him recover from the diarrhoea. I also thought it would be more convenient for me to go back to work in the city and leave my baby with my mother - at that time, I never heard of breast pumping. This was one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life, which I have often regretted.
Thus, my boy grew up raised on formula milk. He was big and tall, but he often got sick and even got colds every month while he was in kindergarten. Those years were tiresome for me and the whole family. I worried that his poor health might be because of the formula milk.
Seven years after my first pregnancy, I fell pregnant again in 2017. Thankfully, since 2016, all couples have been allowed to have two children in China; in fact, the one-child policy began to be relaxed in 2007. I decided that I would really like to breastfeed my second baby and for as long as possible. During my pregnancy, I approached my old friend Missy, who I knew had nursed her son for many years and is a La Leche League Leader in Xiamen. I told her of my determination to breastfeed and my interest in attending LLL meetings. She was so happy that I had approached her, and she invited me to join a meeting the following weekend.
a mother and child, and I learned that almost every mother can make enough milk for her child. I felt very encouraged to follow my determination.
Later, through articles from the LLLI website and books from the LLL Group library, e.g. Making More Milk, I learned about babies’ milk needs from birth to two years old, how lactation works and how the demand and supply cycle is established between mother and baby.
My little girl was born at the same hour as her brother, 8 pm. After she was cleaned and dressed, she was put next to me in the bed, with her big and bright eyes watching me. I tried to nurse her for the first time: she suckled successfully, although it was short in duration. I was thrilled! That night, she slept next to me in the hospital bed and I nursed her twice. Still in doubt, I asked the nurse to check if my breasts had already started lactating, and the answer was yes. How pleased I was! It was a great start to our nursing relationship. I never opened the can of formula milk which my family had insisted on putting in my hospital bag.
In the coming months, I did come across some common problems like fluctuating milk supply and decrease in volume after returning to work. But every time I met a problem, I felt calm and searched for the most reliable sources of information I could find on the internet, and I also consulted with Missy. The help of Missy and other mothers from the LLL Xiamen Group really inspired me. They are my allies and their support has been invaluable.
Although my baby girl’s health has been more robust than her brother’s, she has had some episodes of sickness that I remember very well. When she suffered from infantile diarrhoea or fever, she refused to eat any table food. Luckily, I have always had breast milk for her. Whenever she wanted to nurse, I was there for her. I did not need to worry about what she should be eating or any adverse reaction to food. Since nursing could always comfort her, I always had the ability to take care of my sick baby.
I have explored the book How Weaning Happens and I’ve decided that I’m in no hurry to wean my toddler. In contrast to the experience that I went through with my first child, I have gained confidence through continued nursing. Every day when I get home from work, my lovely girl will pad to the sofa where we usually sit when nursing and she says the few words she’s learned to say: “Mummy, ne-ne” (our term for nursing). With my little angel in my arms, with her tiny month on my nipple and looking at me contentedly, my heart feels full.
The close relationship with my child through nursing, and observing her good health, has brought me great confidence and pleasure, which invigorates me to continue this amazing journey with her. I enjoy loving my child wholehearted.
Close to the Heart Vol. 20, No. 2 (Mid-Year 2019)
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