A unique motherhood experience.
Breastfeeding – some new mothers love it, others find it challenging, some feed their babies for years, others wean their bubs off (or their babies do it themselves) at the first opportunity, some mums love the skin-to-skin contact and others would much rather pump and let their partners bottle feed instead. No matter what their experience has been, most breastfeeding mothers realise that it is different from what they expected. Many admit that the information, images and advice about nursing can be confusing and they wish they had also heard more stories from mothers like themselves beforehand. And so, here are some honest and heartfelt breastfeeding tales from Hong Kong mamas.
Editor’s note: Some mothers have shared their breastfeeding tales but requested that their names be changed for privacy.
My breastfeeding tale began with me being told that I might struggle because of how engorged I was. That sent me into a bit of a tailspin at the start of my journey! Thankfully, as I really wanted to be able to breastfeed, my daughter and I learned together and she was a great help, offering signs when it was time to feed and then the best position for her. I went through the rollercoaster that is leaking boobs, nipple pain and reduced flow on returning to work but I’m pleased that I continued. We got into a great rhythm and I now find it easy to feed her on demand (even in random places, such as while suspended in a cable car!).
While we’re no longer connected by her being on the inside, I can continue to feel bonded on the outside (and my husband can bottle as well with expressed milk). The other evening she was feeding and she stopped, gave me the most glorious smile and little giggle, then went back to it! It was a lovely moment to show that she realises that we’re in this together (at least, that’s how I took it!).
Tip for other mums: Try not to panic too much about how much milk your baby is getting. I obsessed in the early days over the amount of time she was feeding for and constantly worried that she might not be getting enough milk. Knowing now that she was growing extremely well (as each paediatrician appointment confirmed), I wish I’d spent less time looking at the clock and just enjoyed watching her.
I loved it for the convenience, bonding and ease. It came naturally to both of us and it allowed me to sleep through the nights, travel anywhere with my child without concern of feeding and nap time. I remember waking up every morning with my breasts exposed and my baby lying next to me, peacefully asleep. My husband would remark, “Ummm…Growing up, when I dreamt of waking up next to a naked woman every morning, this clearly wasn’t what I expected!”
If I had to do anything differently, it would be finding an alternative way to help her fall asleep. Until she was 14 months old, the only way she would sleep was on the boob, which meant no one else could put her to sleep except me. After 14 months, that became a bit torturous.
Tips for other mums: Don’t stress about it too much before birth and psyche yourself into not allowing it to happen. But more importantly, ensure your doctor brings the baby to you within the first half-hour of birth to latch on.
My first baby couldn’t breastfeed directly. So many lactation consultants tried to help (even with Skype sessions!), but for many reasons, my daughter just couldn’t or wouldn’t latch. Some professionals told me that I am shaped wrong and hadn’t prepped my misshapen body adequately for breastfeeding. I am nothing if not stubborn, so I persevered – I expressed and fed my daughter for 11 months.
Before my son was born, I went to Annerley for a consultation and was reassured that I wasn’t shaped weirdly, and was, in fact, completely normal! When my son came along, he learnt how to latch naturally and instinctively. I did get engorged on the third day though (which I hadn’t experienced with my first) and I was convinced that no one else had borne this much pain before and was moaning most pitifully to my husband. He was sympathetic but also told me that it would pass. And it did, quite easily, in a day or two. I went on to feed my son for 16 months. After experiencing both expressing and directly feeding, I must say that what I loved most about direct feeding was the convenience, more than the bonding. I hated the pumping and sterilising cycle, so I am grateful that my son spared me the effort.
Tip for other mums: Your pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding will rarely go as planned. Don’t beat yourself up for the choices you make or the circumstances you face. You are the best and the only mother your baby deserves and you will do the right thing for him or her. Trust yourself!
I had every possible problem at the start of my breastfeeding journey. Cracked and infected nipples, mastitis, vaso-spasms, Raynaud’s Syndrome, breast thrush and serious abscesses. I would have thrown in the towel early on, but my daughter has an immune deficiency and I knew that breastfeeding was one thing I could do that could actually protect her, and I believe it really has. The pain and complications felt like they would never end, but when my daughter was about three months old, it was suddenly like everything fell into place. That’s when I finally started enjoying the quiet moments in the early morning or late afternoon when it was just the two of us, and it really helped with my baby blues. I pumped for over 18 months and continued to direct feed until she gently weaned herself around two years old.
Tips for other mums: Try not to compare your breastfeeding story to anyone else’s – whether it’s a day, a week, a month or a year. Don’t be intimidated by mums who find it the easiest thing in the world, don’t judge those who don’t breastfeed. Focus on making the time for you to find a rhythm that works best for you and your baby.
When I became a mother, I possessed the naivety and optimism of a new mum and believed the pain, the blood and the mastitis were a rite of passage and part of every breastfeeding tale. I was determined to give the best to my child during her first few months. But, I only breastfed for two months because I wanted to appear “professional” when I returned to work. I was in my dream job when I got pregnant in a male-dominated industry. That was incompatible (in my opinion) for an employee who also wanted to be a mother. When I planned my maternity leave, I scheduled two months for breastfeeding, one month for weaning, and then thought I would return to work exactly as before maternity leave. I didn’t want to pump at lunchtimes or leave a client dinner early to breastfeed. In my perspective (that I now consider wrong and immature), a mother who had to make domestic concessions was mutually exclusive from being a full-time professional. So even though I was getting the hang of breastfeeding and experiencing the positive emotional associations as a by-product, I forced myself to wean.
Tips for other mums: In hindsight, I regret the decision but believe each mother will ultimately do what she thinks necessary at that time and should have the freedom to decide how to feed her child.
Oh God, what an experience! Two weeks in and my son would not stay on a latch. The only time he was calm enough to direct feed was in the middle of the night when he was drowsy or first thing in the morning when he was hungry. There were times when I Googled “Can a baby have ADHD?” In the end, I almost exclusively pumped and then bottle-fed. What I’ve now learned is that this very active baby has turned into an extremely active toddler – all the signs were there early on!
My favourite (not!) tale about breastfeeding has to do with the lack of support when I was returning to work (in a completely different industry). I was required to sit for a 5-hour group practical exam with a government department to continue working. When I brought up that I may need to take some time out to express for my breastfed baby, I faced resistance from the department and examiners. Thanks to an amazing employer, we fought the discrimination and I was able to continue with my exam and returned to work. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t tried to put my body on a return to work schedule so soon. It didn’t co-operate! I’m now pregnant with my second and hoping to take each day as it comes. I, unfortunately, don’t have the fondest memories of breastfeeding and I’m hoping things will be more positive with round two coming up!
Tips for other mums: Persevere and get help at the first sign you might need it. Don’t wait the day, or even hour if something isn’t quite going right. There’s always help out there whether it’s from a lactation consultant or trusted friend or family member.
I found nursing came quite naturally and so I never stressed too much about it. I loved as newborns how they would snuggle in and fall asleep afterwards, it’s a very special time that doesn’t last long so I tried to remind myself at 4am how fleeting those moments would be.
Tips for other mums: You don’t need a fancy expensive breast pump – I loved my little Medela hand pump, it was easy to travel with and I could stick it in my handbag if I needed to pump while I was out.
If I am honest, I wasn’t someone who totally fell in love with breastfeeding and therefore I didn’t have any emotional reaction to ending my nursing journey. With my first, I found myself working way more than I did with my second so I really struggled with pumping and keeping up supply at times. I dreamed of being the person who would open the freezer and have tons of pumped breastmilk waiting to be used. Instead, I was one of those mums who was counting every ounce I had in the fridge to make sure I had enough for when I was away from my baby (I had to keep reminding myself it’s not about feeding the freezer, it’s about feeding the baby!). For my first, I didn’t have any issues with feeding. She latched on right away and seemed to know what to do which was great as I was totally clueless (as I had read zero books to prepare for motherhood!).
Even though I didn’t go gaga over the breastfeeding experience, I specifically remember when my second baby was born and he breastfed for the very first time. It brought back so many amazing emotions. I didn’t expect that and it was great to have that feeling because two weeks later I ended up with mastitis. I really clung to that wonderful feeling I had to get me through it and to continue breastfeeding until the six month period.
Tips for other mums: If you are going to pump at all, invest in a hands-free pump bra. I had this Simple Wishes one and I was unsure of it when I got it at my baby shower but it ended up being hands down the best gift I received.
Read more: Where To Buy Nursing Bras In Hong Kong
Breastfeeding on demand from the day she was born was all-consuming. I was incredibly grateful for the lactation support and guidance I got during the 48 hours we spent in the hospital after she was born. The piece of advice I took most to heart was “It doesn’t matter if you just fed her. If she is crying it is because she is hungry.” In the first six months, this meant that at times I would be feeding her every hour which was exhausting but on the flip side, this meant that we had a super relaxed and easy going baby that rarely cried or complained. This changed when by the age of two I still hadn’t completely managed to wean her. Nursing her to sleep and the serious sleep deprivation caused by multiple feeds in the middle of the night really started taking its toll on me but we got through it.
Thanks to what the lactation volunteer told me after Celia was born and the amount of travel we did in her first six months of life, I mastered breastfeeding almost invisibly in plain sight. The bigger she got the easier it became to be more discreet about it. I managed to breastfeed her as a two-year-old standing right next to my friend without him noticing it.
Tips for other mums: I was never breastfed and most women in my family returned to work within three months after their babies were born. Growing up, I also did not hear any breastfeeding tales nor did I see a lot of examples of breastfeeding women around. In the early stages, I put myself and my daughter first and bounced off criticism from some family members about “exposing” myself whilst breastfeeding her in my own home. My tip is to focus on keeping yourself and your baby fed, calm and content.
I breastfed my daughter for two months and loved it, but then my daughter lost weight one week, and I was told I had to move to formula. I was so unhappy about it, especially as she put on weight the following week and I always wondered whether the same thing would have happened had I carried on feeding her.
Everyone has a funny breastfeeding tale! I remember sitting in the bath and not realising how full of milk I was and shooting my toes with milk. Who knew warmth got the milk flowing that quickly?
Tips for other mums: Don’t give up easily if they don’t put on weight for a week. Try a bottle but keep expressing so you can continue to feed.
This is part of a special series, “Sassy Mama Supports World Breastfeeding Week, in partnership with Gleneagles Hospital Hong Kong“. For more posts on breastfeeding in Hong Kong, click here.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images, other images shared by mamas featured in this article.