5 crazy things I did not know about breastfeeding: An open letter to my wife
"I could see how exhausted you were, and urged you to get some rest. You did but before you knew it, baby was awake again and crying for food. You latched her on and gave everything your body was able to give..."
I’ve spent the last 3 months watching you breastfeed our newborn, I’ve learned many new things, but here are the five that stand out the most.
1. Breastfeeding is like running 10km a day
Breastfeeding burns up to 1,000 calories a day. It might not look like it but the breastfeeding mum’s body runs 10km every day.
2. Breastfeeding is biological miracle
Breast milk has many incredible health benefits, but one of the most fascinating things about it is that your body functions like a satellite immune system for the baby.
If the baby gets sick, the bacteria or virus gets passed to you through latching, and then your body creates antibodies specifically targeting the baby’s infection, and it gets passed back to baby through the breast milk to help the baby fight the infection.
3. Breastfeeding can save you $3,000 a year
Seriously. Formula is expensive.
4. More biological miracles
A mum’s body is just amazing and adjusts the nutritional value of the breastmilk to make the perfect concoction for baby, including even adjusting the water content higher when it’s a hot day and baby needs more hydration.
5. Breastfeeding mums are the bravest, toughest people
15 minutes after Shan was born, you gave your breasts for the first time as the source of life to another being. It was supposed to be painful as hell, but perhaps the joy of our newborn in your arms overcame the pain, and you didn’t show any suffering.
Lucky for us, she latched well, but boy was she hungry and needed to be fed every 2 hours.
We went home a few days later, and that’s when I start to truly comprehend how hard this is going to be. We took baby Shan back into her room for the first time, and we sat next to each other, and we hugged and we looked around the room. We were grateful that everything went well with the delivery and gave thanks for our new life together.
But before you could even catch your breath, Shan started crying for food. She latched on, and you gave your best to feed her, but seemingly she was not satisfied.
You tried again, latched her on again. She started sucking, I saw the grimace you were trying to hide. Still we were not sure if Shan was satisfied. Somehow she was a bit more settled and fell back to sleep.
I could see how exhausted you were, and urged you to get some rest. You did but before you knew it, baby was awake again and crying for food. You latched her on and gave everything your body was able to give.
And for every two hours for the rest of the day, you did it again. The first day went by like a daze, all the way into the night. Midnight, 2am, 4am, 6am, 8am, 10am, repeat. All I could do was to struggle to stay awake and helplessly keep you company.
By the next morning, you were spent, your nipples were cracked and sore. Every time she latched on, I could see the surge of pain as if someone had just hit you with a cane.
She would latch on and suckle for a bit, and then she would let go but continue to cry. And then you would get her to try again, despite the pain every time she latched on, yet she still didn’t seem satisfied.
Somehow we put her back to sleep, and in between feeds, I saw the anxiety and anticipation from your eyes. I knew you were looking at the clock and thinking, “it’s 4pm, is she going to wake up now?”
We were lucky that our nanny came that night and immediately spotted that you had blocked ducts and engorged breasts (which could have turned into mastitis, wouldn’t that have been a nightmare?).
With heat pads and massage treatment and screams, going through more pain than I have ever seen you in, nanny help unblocked your breast and got your milk flowing. At least now Shan was a bit more satisfied after a feed, but the pain of feeding clearly did not go away.
The first week flew by, life became breastfeeding, and everything else became gap fillers. You did everything you could to make sure you had enough milk supply – oatmeal, spinach, salmon, fenugreek, coconut oil and almonds.
Didn’t matter if you didn’t like them, you chucked them down anyway. And then came the opposite problem, within a week you had an oversupply of milk and you were so engorged and uncomfortable you could barely sleep. Yet you keep feeding and pumping, resulting in more nipple cracks.
Then next week came. The newness of it all passed, as we found ourselves really in the trenches, getting into a routine. The awareness and acceptance that this is our life now dawned on us — we were in for the long haul.
One feed at a time, every 3 hours. Feed, diaper, sleep. Feed, diaper, sleep. More pain, engorged breasts, nipple cracks, still a useless and helpless husband sitting on the sideline.
Within two weeks, we had to both start back at our work. You have a startup to run and so do I. I would start going to office and you would work from home. One less person to help out with Shan. In hindsight, I realized how much more stress that had to put you through. I am sorry I didn’t stay home longer.
After two weeks
Then you started going in to your office too, at least half the day. I could see the struggle, spending half the day nurturing the one thing you love, and then having to voluntarily be torn apart from her.
But dreams and goals and targets don’t wait, the best you could do is to be a mother and your own person at the same time, seeing the bigger picture, trying to make your children proud.
Some days, you had to take meetings between feeds, and had to cut them short because you were about to leak and soak through your dress. More latching, more pain.
And then I had to fall sick. As if you did not have enough to deal with. Ice packs and pills and water refills. More conference calls, more latching, more pain.
The mother and CEO and wife soldiers on.
The struggle was in every feed. The temptation of formula ominously present — it was right there, all you had to do was to open up the can and all of your suffering would go away.
Every three hours, every day, you were presented with the option, you chose pain and sleeplessness and sacrifice every time, because that was the best thing you could give to her. She may never understand it, not until she becomes a mother herself many years later, but you don’t need her to, right now.
And then, one day you start noticing, she sleeps for a bit longer at night, and then suddenly she sleeps throughout the night. And your supply becomes regulated, routines get established. You got stronger, you figured it out, you became a natural at it.
You could hold her in one hand, breastfeed her, while taking a conference call, and write down a shopping list for me at the same time. You realized you became good at it, that you were even more than you thought, that you came close to breaking point and then you went past it, and you came out the other side greater than you were.
Happy Mother’s Day to the bravest, toughest person I know.
Your husband, Darius