Mother of two year old Alisha Saffana and one month and three weeks old Atikah Saffiya

 

Breastfeeding was not a serious issue for me until I began a short working stint at the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). I had hardly thought that a woman’s act of nourishing her baby with clean and pure food from her body could actually be endangered! Why “endangered” one might ask? Just look anywhere, your TV, the billboards, the newspapers and magazines, a walk down supermarket aisles, the sponsors for any child related or children’s event or a medical professionals seminar or event, on hospital walls, flyers in your children’s bag, baby toys with a “cute” little baby doll and a bottle – you name it – they all promote formula feeding, and, feeding with a bottle. This artificiality is so in your face you begin to think that it is normal to formula feed with a bottle and that women who breastfeed are doing something abnormal and hugely difficult!! Thanks to the WABA experience I acquired something of an all round view of the challenges to breastfeeding. So when I was pregnant, I knew for sure along with my husband’s support, how and what we wanted to feed our baby. We were also prepared for a phase when I would possibly have to be a stay-home mother with occasional desk-based research and writing work to keep my brains oiled and updated. We would have to be more economical than we already were with one person’s salary, but then we could never buy the time we would spend in nurturing and watching our babies grow. This is a 24/7 occupation but the rewards are worth more than a fantastic well-paying job!

 

My first daughter Alisha Saffana was a tiny wonder with a huge cry!! I had read that sometimes a first time mother may not get milk the first two to four days, but I still felt distressed that I did’nt produce any milk the first day. My husband calmed me with his characteristic humour and there was wonderful Sr. Quah who kept my spirits up. But I was getting a bit desperate as the nurses informed me the very next morning that my 2.1kg daughter was in danger of having low sugar and consequently jaundice. She was below the normal weight range but her reflexes and response to stimuli were good. They sent a rather stern looking lactation nurse, who unfortunately scoffed at me for being a breastfeeding advocate but not being able to breastfeed my own daughter. She knew me from the World One-Minute Breastfeeding Wave for 2007 World Breastfeeding Week. I felt horrible, here I was looking for quality help, absolutely exhausted from the labour and sitting on a painful episiotomy, having spent most of the night on a workable latch-on with my daughter and under dimmed night lights of the ward surreptiously practicing skin-to-skin contact.

 

I began to think that perhaps I don’t have the natural motherly instinct that is supposed to jog the love hormone called oxytocin to influence the milk to flow. Just then friends from WABA came in with cheerful faces and a dear friend and lactation consultant Chris Mulford – cheerful faces really brightens up any hospital setting! She listened to my woes, tried to understand what was the core problem, showed me how to massage my breast and help the milk flow out. In a few minutes I got a few drops and I was so thrilled and relieved that I could now feed my baby – and I do have Oxytocin!!

 

Just as we were trying to get the important “latch-on” suitable to baby and me, the nurses had to take away my daughter to the neo-natal ward as her glucose level had dropped considerably, even after I requested for one more try. However, though they felt for me, they were obliged to follow set hospital procedures. I was close to tears, but Chris counseled me to relax and go with the flow, and not to blame myself and get overly stressed. This interaction with her and how she responded perfectly to my feelings and needs guides me when I give support to breastfeeding mothers.

 

At the neonatal ward my little Saffana had already been given formula – no waiting or trying again to breastfeed eventhough I asked and wanted to do it. They themselves seemed powerless and bound by hospital procedures. She was also undergoing phototherapy for jaundice and had to stay in that phototherapy contraption for long periods. So now my and husband and I had to figure out how to balance the time she had for breastfeeding and the time that she had to stay in phototherapy. It was’nt easy and I was soon moving towards having a painful engorged breast; however, Dr. Balkees a very committed breastfeeding advocate and lactation consultant did her utmost to help under the circumstances. She gave me “technical” guidance on how to latch-on properly and the emotional confidence in my ability to feed my daughter.

 

Having developed a sort of feeding and phototherapy schedule, I would do my utmost in breastfeeding her and when my husband came from work he would patiently coax her to drink from the cup or spoon, sometimes staying on till 2:00am or 3:00am. We stayed close to her, hugged her, talked to her, and sang to her gently – today we know that such contact by both parents helps the baby recover faster. It increases her innate instinct to survive.

 

Eventhough I had equipped myself with all the facts about breastfeeding and was determined to breastfeed my daughter, there were times when I felt undecided as to whether I am giving her “enough” milk, whether I am doing the right thing for her under the circumstances. The health professionals, the doctors, the opinions and hospital procedures overwhelmed me. I questioned myself about whether I am more concerned about breastfeeding being her unspoken right and my right as a woman or whether I was just allowing my tired body to take over my mind. I wished so much to just be with my baby in my cozy bed at home allowing all the natural hormones and chemicals to do its job in breastfeeding my baby and removing all the niggling leftover pains of labour; but here I was, tired, aching all over, cold, bedraggled and rather despondent. This is when my husband would listen to my ramblings patiently and without ever uttering a negative or a harsh word he would constantly encourage me to stick to breastfeeding first and appreciating the efforts I made. He reminded me that God provides what is “enough”. I am grateful to him for that kind of gentle and encouraging stance.

 

We were out of the hospital but we had a new problem, little Saffana grew a tooth at two weeks!! She was uncomfortable when feeding and I was getting bitten; we had a different type of “latch-on” problem and there are no books or Wikipedia references to turn to!! In addition, her tooth hurt the hemangioma that she was born with on the upper lip. A hemangioma is a reddish skin formation that disappears over time and can occur for no specific reason, it is sensitive and unfortunately her tooth cut into the hemangioma and caused blisters. We resorted to spoon and cup feeding as the blisters hindered latching, and sucking was painful for her. The dentist had to extract her sharp little tooth; she was his youngest patient in his 30 year practice! In her third month she had another tooth but by now we had established the “latch-on” that we were both comfortable with and the hemangioma was reducing. Saffana is a very active and happy girl with a sweet smile and an ear for music.

 

My second daughter Atikah Saffiya latched on easily and would not let go! She was 3.2 kgs at birth and at 1 month was 4.65 kgs. The second time round, I was a lot more confident and my husband and I were more aware. So when my second little one was diagnosed with low sugar levels, due to my insulin-dependent diabetic condition, I stepped up the breastfeeding without any doubts about whether I am doing the right thing. Despite this, she had to be put on a glucose drip. Procedures were beginning to take power again! The neo-natal ward for rooming-in mothers was fully occupied and there was a long waiting list too. So once again I was this super exhausted mother walking up and down from my ward to the neo-natal unit, sitting on a hard plastic chair and breastfeeding my baby along with another determined mother for two days and two nights. It was back-breaking but I was confident that I had “enough” milk for her needs.

 

On the morning of the third day, I saw a doctor shake her head in worry and mention that this glucose level is not good. Apparently, little Saffiya’s levels had gone up so high that there was no number reading!! I was very upset, just the night before I had asked if it was necessary to continue the drips since the reading seemed to be normal; but was told that they would consider it in the morning when the specialist would be in. Now they were talking about giving her insulin to bring the levels down. My husband and I had had enough experience to say no more and requested them to stop any treatment. We knew we just had to bring her home and breastfeed her. We know that mother’s milk responds naturally to the exact physical needs of a baby and all we had to do was to breastfeed her in a comfortable and caring environment. She improved that very evening and was fine in a few days.

 

I currently breastfeed both my daughters, though the older one does it more to ensure her connection with me. Sometimes she would just move in for a “sip” while her sister is also feeding and then scramble off to continue playing. It’s her way of saying thanks for the little sister but don’t forget I still need your attention!! In the beginning tandem nursing was uncomfortable and difficult, sometimes it still can be, until Novia a working mother and an MMPS mother kindly shared her experience with me and offered some simple tips. She had tandem nursed her daughters for two years and she is a full time working mother. I felt encouraged to continue.

 

Now it’s amusing to watch the two sisters bond while feeding. It gives me a great sense of contentment to see my older daughter play with her little sister’s hands and cheeks while feeding and the little one responding with little gurgling sounds and happy little kicks. I hope and pray that this effort will help them develop a lasting bond and friendship with each other.

 

Breastfeeding is a family commitment, a commitment that a community and country must protect, promote and support. I hope that some day soon, Penang will be the first Baby-Friendly state inMalaysiaand perhaps the whole country will. It just needs the kind of determination that mothers have when they breastfeed their babies against all odds.

 

From : Sabrina Sunderraj, Malaysia

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