Archive for October, 2012

Crystal, my lovely niece from Ipoh, had just given birth to her first baby last week. Both mother and child are doing well. But my elder sister said each day, her daughter is still struggling to breastfeed her baby. I can image what she is going through now. This reminds me of the same journey I had taken when my children were born more than a decade ago.

Contrary to many people’s belief, especially the menfolks, to breastfeed a human baby is not as simple as ABC. Unlike animal mothers, human mothers do encounter some difficulties getting their offspring to suckle, especially for first time mothers. They needs lots of patience and practices before breastfeeding could be established. Guidance from nurses and family support are equally important.

Nicholas was born via Caesarean. When I woke up after the operation, the pain from the incision was so intense that I could neither move nor sit up. I could only weep uncontrollably and begged for some pain killers to be administered immediately. Contraction of the uterus followed closely to add even more pain. That was the moment when the nurse brought in the baby to be fed. I cannot fault her for doing so. Fresh from his bath, he was so hungry that he kicked up a big storm and wailed on top of his lungs until his tiny little face turned crimson red.

A first time mother, I was panicky despite being in great pain. All the nurse could do was to shove my baby’s mouth towards my breast while I was lying on the bed sobbing. It was very traumatic for us both – one was crying from pain and the other from hunger. When his eager mouth could not latch properly onto my nipple, he yelled louder and cringed in deeper frustrations. It took him several minutes before he finally found his way. Then sucking contentedly, he quiet down at last. Nothing in the books about breastfeeding prepares me for all this. Now, I knew better.

I managed to breastfeed my son exclusively during the two months when I was on confinement leave. When it was time to go back to work, I have to place him under the care of a babysitter near our house. She was not a very friendly or helpful person. She was not too happy when she heard he was a breastfeed baby. “Give him formula milk lah! It’s more convenient that way!” she snapped impatiently when I passed the baby to her. Afraid to lose my job at that time and with no one else willing to take care of him except she, I have no choice but to wean him off early and put him on formula milk.

It was a decision I regretted later on when I found out that once a baby was introduced to formula milk, he will no longer be interested in breast milk anymore. You see, formula milk is sweet and thick while breast milk is tasteless and watery. Moreover, formula milk can keep him fuller for a longer period and thus, he can sleep longer while the babysitter can go about doing her own chores or even drop by at the mahjong parlor which she did.

Alexandra came into our lives a year and a half later. The same trauma was repeated at the hospital – the nurse shoved her to me when I could barely open my eyes after the operation and there she was, wailing so loudly that my ears almost explode. Like her brother, she was breastfed exclusively during the first two months of her life. By the time the confinement period was over, I had found another babysitter for both my babies. This lady was much younger and more compromising when I requested her to help me keep Alexandra on breast milk for as long as possible.

Each morning before I go to work, I would manually express the milk into a few sterilized bottles and passed them to the babysitter so that she could keep them in the refrigerator and warm them up whenever the baby is hungry. For her willingness to help me out on this, I gave her an extra one hundred dollars on top of the five hundred for each child. I thought all was going well until a few days later…..

“Did the baby finish up all the breast milk I gave you this morning?” I asked the babysitter one evening when I went to fetch my babies home after work.

“Oh yes, she finished them all up, every drop of it!” she replied happily.

“What a good girl you’re,” I said, giving my baby girl a loving kiss.

Back home that night, my baby passed out some stools with much difficulties. They are very solid. They stunk too. A baby who was exclusively breastfed would pass out watery and odorless stools, almost like the shape of smashed soya bean curd. And breastfed babies will never constipate as they are well hydrated. Obviously, she had been fed formula milk without my knowledge. I began to suspect the babysitter has not been honest with me. By now, I was no longer the naïve and inexperienced mother the way I was when I gave birth to my first child. Experience had taught me to be wiser and firmer with my demands.

“Tell me straight, have you been feeding my baby with formula milk?” I questioned her the next morning.

She hesitated at first but finally admitted. “Yes, it’s rather troublesome to warm up the frozen breast-milk as your baby is rather impatient when she is hungry. In the end, I just gave her the formula milk which her brother is drinking. She seems happy drinking them,” she replied without looking at me.

“Then what happened to all my expressed milk?” I asked her.

“They turned staled after a few hours, so I threw them away,” she answered without any guilt.

“You threw them away just like that? Do you know how super nutritious they are and how long it took me to express them each morning?” I almost wanted to break down and cry. Nothing antagonize a mother than knowing her precious breast milk went down the drain; that they did not get to reach her child’s stomach and benefit the little one.

“Aiya, so sorry to you lor, I didn’t know you treasure your milk so much. Not enough space in my refrigerator to keep them mah, so I just threw them away lor,” she tried to defend herself in such a despicable way.

She could easily just give them back to me but no, she chose to throw them away. Even to this day, I still think it is a great sin to throw away a mother’s milk. It’s her blood, her sweat and her tears – it’s her greatest gift to her baby. I believed in the power of breast milk – they could not be replaced by any other milk in the world. Breast milk could strengthen a child’s immune system and it’s the foundation to a life-time of good health. Breast milk is best, it’s nature’s wholesome food for babies.

No, I did not bring my babies back to her the next day. From this episode, I learnt that I cannot rely on an outsider anymore to do what is best. I took a one month unpaid leave to take care of them. When the leave was over, I immediately resigned from my job so that I can continue to breastfeed Alexandra exclusively which I managed to do so for the next eighteen months. She thrived so well just on breast milk and nothing else until she was almost two years old. What a healthy baby she turned out to be. I am glad my efforts and sacrifices paid off handsomely.

Breastfeeding does have its light moments too. Mine happened one morning inside the Burger King restaurant at KLCC after a family outing to the park and children’s pool. Nicholas was very hungry and his father took him to queue up for some burgers and drinks, leaving me and his baby sister waiting near a corner table.

Minutes later, my sleeping baby woke up and feeling very hungry, she whimpered softly before all hell broke loose. Without having the time to look for a nursing room, I breastfed her there and then, it was such a spontaneous reaction that modesty was the last thing on my mind. All I wanted to do was to fill up her empty stomach before her crying would bring down the restaurant’s ceiling!

As I looked up while breastfeeding Alexandra, I could see a sea of curious, amused and embarrassed faces staring at me. My family was the only locals as the place was filled up by patrons from some Middle Eastern countries. The men stared at me with amusement while the ladies in black burqas were whispering among themselves in hushed tones. Disbelief and bewilderment were written all over their faces. Maybe they found it difficult to understand why a mother would breastfeed her baby in such a public place. Am I bothered by their stares? No, not at all. When you are a mother, your child’s well-being comes first. I’ll feed my child on demand and location is simply a non-issue.

I hope Crystal will not give up so easily. When you are convinced that what you are doing is the best for your child, nothing can stop you. The course of true love never did run smooth can be applied to breastfeeding too, don’t you agree?

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How soon should you start to teach your child? It really depends on the mother. Learning is a life-long process; no one can be too young or too old to learn.

One day, when I was about 24 weeks pregnant with my first child, I went to see the gynecologist and got an ultra-scan done.

“These are your baby’s ears, they should be functional by now,” he said to me, pointing to a small grey patch visible on the computer screen.

“Does this mean I can now introduce him to some music?” I asked, full of hope.

“Yes, why not, I am sure he will love it!” the doctor replied encouragingly.

That night, before going to bed, I put a cassette into my Walkman and gently placed the headphones against my bulging stomach. Then I pressed the ‘play’ button. Sure enough, within minutes, my sleeping baby began to react to the vibrations produced by the music. He began to roll actively inside my womb. It was a tickling sensation and I gave out a delightful squeal.

You see, a mother’s womb is a dark, silent and watery sanctuary for the growing baby. But it can also act as a classroom for the baby and a very conducive one too! With this in mind, I began to look out for the right materials to be introduced to my baby. No, I am not a “kiasu mom” but hey, what’s wrong in giving your child a head-start in life? For me, it’s more a case of stimulating his brain.

I started with some primitive music produced by Mother Nature. I got hold of some tapes of birds chirping in the forests, humpback whales humming in the oceans and horses neighing in the fields. My baby seems to love it. He became very active whenever he heard them. Each music session produced series of jumps, kicks and punches inside the womb – perhaps his way of telling me that he heard them too.

After a few weeks, I switched to some classical piano recitals. Later, I began to play him one of the most soothing Buddhist mantra there ever was – the Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra. I alternated them each day. Each time when we shared the music together, it was like we were communicating with each other. It was awe-inspiring to be able to feel your baby moving so actively inside his little abode.

When I got into the third trimester, I decided to change the materials. By now, he was getting bigger and there is simply not enough space for him to somersault or rotate freely anymore. I thought it would be good to get him to sit still and listen to lullabies and children’s stories. Each night, I played Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White, Aladdin, Cinderella and many other classical children’s stories to my baby.

Sometimes he would stretch himself so hard that I could see the shapes of his little limbs jutting out along the surface of my stomach. Once, I saw him putting out his little feet against the uterus wall. “The little fellow must be getting bored by all the songs and stories by now,” my husband teased me.

After Nicholas was born, we would often play the same music, songs and stories to him whenever he refused to sleep or cried incessantly. He could recognize them at once, quickly quieted down and curled up into a fetal position. Before long, he would suck his thumbs and doze off to sleep.

The same procedure was repeated when we have our second child. But something even more amazing happened one night after we came home from the hospital.

Not long after breastfeeding Alexandra, I dozed off to sleep but soon, I was awoken by a familiar sound. Lying in her crib, my baby was trying to mimic the sounds of humpback whales humming in the ocean! Twisting her little rosy lips, she purred soft sounds similar to humpback whales humming. Foouii…. Foouii ….. Foouii …. Foouii….. This was the sound she was exposed to for a long time while still inside my womb. I woke my husband up and we both stared at her in marvel. It was a very astounding sight and something we could never forget even to this day. Too bad we did not have any gadgets to record that beautiful moment but it stays forever in our minds.

“She was trying to mimic the humpback whale; that’s for sure!” her daddy cried delightfully and gently blew a loving kiss on her forehead. We stroked her little rosy cheeks while she purred on. She did that for almost eight minutes before closing her little eyes and drifted off to a blissful sleep……

For a marvelous performance which she repeated night after night for the first few months of her live, we gave her the nickname, “The girl who hummed like a whale.”

Now, don’t you agree babies can learn even before they were born?

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