12 – 15 years ago the term BREASTFEEDING was not a cool word mothers want to associate themselves with, here in Malaysia. It simply was NOT chic to say you nurse your baby. In fact, I started breastfeeding feeling dejected because the nurse at the hospital from where I gave birth to my first son, Cheeky Koko, now 12, took one mean glance at the miserable 1 oz breast milk I managed to pump after hoarding the hospital pump for 2.5 hours at Day 4 postnatal (we have readmitted to treat Cheeky koko’s jaundice) and declared me a non-productive failure.
At home most visiting relatives told me I was starving my baby because he was crying to be fed every one to two hours. “He must be hungry because you don’t have enough milk!” was the most common comments because they got used to seeing placid, gentle babies who were formula fed and slept through 3 to 4 hours per stretch of nap time.
If there was only one good thing about me, it must be that I was courageous (and rebellious) in my love for my baby enough to prove them wrong. I embarked on a journey buying just about every nursing books on the book shelf and reading up just about every breastfeeding website information there were to know on what to do and how to do it right. Once I mastered the arts and loving every minute of it, I decided to share the knowledge with all the new breastfeeding moms out there who felt the failure as I did. With a writer friend we started a breastfeeding support forum that went on to be one of the most vocal groups to advocate nursing in Malaysia. From then I have been asked to visit some new moms we got to know during their first days in the journey to show them how to latch on right and basically give them the emotional support they need as they learn to give the best nature has intended to their babies.
Some moms are a natural when it comes to breastfeeding their newborns and their babies come naturally adapted to “working” at this beautiful act with just the perfect latch and calm personality and without what is commonly known as the newborn tongue cut, or feeling too drowsy to nurse and etc, which could frustrate and make a new mom feels easily tired out at even trying further.
While I am no longer able to contribute in the online group due to my work commitment, I have continued to encourage friends, relatives, colleagues to trust in their maternal ability to nurse naturally in the last 7-8 years. Something that I always observe that is a major hurdle to breastfeeding among Asian moms is how traditional values can crash with the basic dietary needs of a nursing mom.
When I still had the loving support of my mother in law (who now resides in Heaven), she would gently and lovingly remind me not to drink too much plain cold water because I was supposed to be in confinement. Water is too “cold” for a new mom. But because I was breastfeeding, I was guzzling down 3.5L water everyday! I felt so thirsty I swear I could drink up a whole water tank! And that was on top of the 2L or so of the sweet red dates soups that I drank daily. The only thing I didn’t drink was those supplementary wines like what most moms would do because I just couldn’t take its bitter taste.
As I am also very Westernised in my health approach (thanks to my own mom who worked close to 30 years in the health field), I believe that there are certain health benefits to proper dietary supplementation for nursing mothers. It is in fact well-documented in the scientific literature that a mother’s diet (and her overall nutritional status) can influence the vitamin, mineral, and the essential fatty acid (EPA and DHA) composition of her breast milk, all of which impacts the overall nutritional quality of the breast milk, and ultimately the overall health of the breastfed infant.
In my case, I continued to take my pregnant multivitamins, and on alternate days, supplemented with colostrum supplement (a year after giving birth), fish oil, organic spirulina and milk alternative such as organic oat milk. And when I got sick, I took antioxidant supplements to get well faster and naturally.
Of course, all mothers intending to nurse should always consult with their own doctors about supplementing their own nutritional needs. Special thanks to Seven Seas Malaysia for sharing with me these findings when I told them that I was going to write an entry about the importance of eating well for nursing mothers:
1. Journal Title: Fatty acid composition in maternal milk and plasma during supplementation with cod liver oil
Cod liver oil influences the amount of essential fatty acids in mothers’ breast milk. Supplementation of lactating mothers with even small amounts of cod liver oil promotes increased DHA concentration in breast milk. Also, the amount of EPA in breast milk increased in all the supplemented groups.
2. Journal Title: The effect of maternal supplementation with linoleic and gamma-linolenic acids on the fat composition and content of human milk: a placebo-controlled trial.
Total fat content and therefore total energy content and the content of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in milk are known to decline with prolonged breast feeding. In a placebo-controlled study a variety of evening primrose oil rich in linoleic and gamma-linolenic acids, or a matching placebo were given to 39 women for a period of 8 months starting between the 2nd and 6th months of lactation. Total fat and EFA contents of the milk declined in the placebo group but rose in the primrose oil supplemented group. A surprisingly high proportion of the supplemented dietary fatty acids could be accounted for by appearance in the milk.
3. Journal Title: A randomized controlled trial of the effect of fish oil supplementation in late pregnancy and early lactation on the n-3 fatty acid content in human breast milk.
Dietary supplementation from week 30 of gestation and onward more than tripled the LCPUFA content in early breast milk; supplementation limited to pregnancy only was much less effective.
4. Journal Title: Antioxidant capacity of human milk
Studies have reported the effect of maternal dietary vitamin intakes and vitamin supplementation on human milk, showing that higher intakes results in a higher concentration of the respective vitamin in milk.
Because I am a working mother who eats out a lot, I don’t always have the convenience and much choice in choosing to eat healthy food always, supplement was also a necessity for my own well-being.
It’s also important to note that besides supplementing, a nursing mom must clock in sufficient good-quality sleep, especially because being a mother can be such a tiring and stressful job. In order to nurse well, do keep yourself hydrated sufficiently – think of your body as the ultimate milk machine, you just need to feed it well with the right ingredients such as water, protein, vitamins, fruits, vegetables, add in good emotional well-being and a good night rest, pretty much nothing else can defeat you!
Despite the initial doubts and hurdles, I went on to nurse all three kids spanning the last 12 years, each baby for 2 to 2.5 years of extended breastfeeding. At the end of the day, I reckon I couldn’t have done it all without the most important ingredients of all — the tremendous love and support I got from Daddy Joe, my mom and also my sister in law, Cathy.
May you believe in what you are capable of as a mother and do it fearlessly anyway and may you live each moment count. Happy breastfeeding, moomies!