My breastfeeding Journey: The manna principle

I gave birth to a small for gestational age baby boy who was hypothermic, hypoglycemic and since he is having chills, bound to drop his sugar even further, he was needed to be admitted to NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).

Before I proceed, let me give you a little background about myself. I am a breastfeeding advocate. I guess I have been one since I was old enough to watch tv and see the formula milk which were so common in our lifetime say how great their milk product is and yet at the end, no matter what brand, without fail, would always say: Breastmilk is best for babies until two years of age.

My faith in breastmilk was reaffirmed when I was in college and our pediatric nursing professor made two lists on the whiteboard dividing it from breast milk and formula. She then listed the advantages of formula milk. It didn’t take long. Then she spent the rest of the class listing the benefits of breastmilk. At the end, she asked us, “So, ladies, who among you here would breastfeed?”. Well, I don’t know about you but if the disclaimer on formula milks were not enough about breast ilk being the best, this lecture sealed the deal. I was sold. From then on, I have this conviction: I will breastfeed.

Fast forward 10 years later from that fateful lecture. I was pregnant with my first born. We’re having a boy! I was so psyched on breastfeeding, I have read  articles on how to increase milk supply. I ate lactogenic food-even oatmeal which I hate! I was 8 months pregnant then and I kept telling myself I need to produce a lot of milk when the baby comes out. I drank water. A lot. My husband would monitor how much I drank each day. I thought, I have always wanted this. I’m ready. We never bought bottles. We were aiming for direct feeding. I have to establish my milk supply. I have to avoid nipple confusion. And so it goes.

Then I gave birth. To this precious little angel. So precious and yet so little. We tried to latch but he couldn’t get anything. He was crying. I held him. We cuddled. He was hungry. I tried to give him my tiny breast. There was nothing. The nurse came and checked on him. He was hypothermic and hypoglycemic. They tried to keep him in the warmer but his temperature wouldn’t go down. They had to place him in the incubator. I was heartbroken. That was not part of my birth plan. I wanted a chubby baby and an abundant milk supply. I prayed for it! Why is everything not going according to plan?

They suspected infection. He was started on IV antibiotics. The neonatologist talked to us about formula milk. My husband was angry (well, at least he sounded angry), I was crying and incoherent. I just spent Monday evening to Thursday on labor. I gave birth 9:23 a.m. and this conversation is happening 3-4’ish. I had not had a decent sleep in what felt like ages. I am in pain. I was broken. There was no way I could deal with this right now. I begged the doctor to let me breastfeed. The doctor said it is expected that newborns drop their weight the first two weeks of life but we could not afford that because he is too little and already hypoglycemic. We cannot wait for a day or two until my milk comes.

I wept. I have been a mom for barely a few hours and I was already a failure. I couldn’t even produce milk to feed my son. “Why Lord? Why?” We conceded. We let them feed him formula but on one condition: I feed him first before they offer the bottle.

I seek the help of lactation consultants. I was desperate but I am not giving up. I wanted this for as long as I can remember. I have wanted this for other babies–how much more my own? I remember the moms asked for my advice while I urged them to breastfeed. I am practicing what I preach. The nurses and my lactation consultants would tell me, sometimes it takes about 2-3 days for the milk to come in. It will come. Just you wait. I couldn”t wait. I pumped round the clock after trying to nurse my son. I pray silently everytime: “Lord, provide milk for my son as you have provided manna in the dessert for your people. Please Lord, let me feed my son as you have designed it.”

I relearned different feeding positions-all of which had new meaning to me now that I am the one actually doing it. I was taught to massage my breast. I was taught to drink lots of fluids and to get as much rest as I can. I was too stressed out. This is Friday already and I have yet to see a single drop of milk from my breast. I am getting depressed. I visit my son every two hours in the NICU. I was still in pain. I had to walk several hallways to get to see him and then get back to my room. We fed every two hours. I would go there before 12 and he would latch for so long, he would fall asleep on my breasts. We’d end at around 1 and then they would give the formula. I would burp him, sometimes they do. I would leave around 1:20’ish and go back at 2. This goes round the clock for several days. I felt like I could collapse anytime. I was so tired. It would have been easier to give up. But I didn’t. I was glad I didn’t. I’m still glad I didn’t.

He was jaundiced. I found out our blood was incompatible. We’re living in Northwest Indiana and although it is still summer, it is almost fall. The days would soon be shorter. There are more grey days and on those precious and rare sunny days, the wind was chilly. He was given poly-vi-sol for iron and vitamin D. I continued to breastfeed. At this point I was able to express 5-10ml. They would give it prior to giving formula. I would still feed him directly prior to the bottle. The blood results came back and showed he had no infections. Thank God! I breathe a sigh of relief. They weaned him off the IV fluids and the incubator. He was able to tolerate room temperature for the first time. I cried happy tears!

Sunday came and at 3 p.m we were finally discharged. I still couldn’t produce milk. I couldn’t feel it.  I couldn’t see it dripping from me but I let my little one latch on me. He had a good latch. We’ll be alright. The LCs (lactation consultants) assured me that my milk would come anytime now. Sometimes, I think if it’s easier to give up but I think of all the benefits of breastmilk and the ingredients on the can of formula samples several milk companies sent me. I shuddered. I prayed for strength. I prayed for determination. I prayed for milk.

We went home. I ditched the formula. We were given a lot of formula milk to take home but used up only two bottles then I told myself, “No. Stop. Go cold turkey”. I do not want to rely on formula. I am enough. I breastfed Jacob despite not seeing or feeling milk in my breasts. On Monday night, my transition milk finally came. What the doctor said was not enough milk was colostrum. Of course it was not overflowing. In fact, it was to be expected. I was deceived because I was not well informed. The things I read were not enough. I thought my milk, my capacity to produce food for my son was not enough. I was deceived that I was not enough. The formula milk remain untouched.

My journey started a year ago on August 15. We are celebrating our breastfeeding anniversary soon! It was not an easy road. He had colic. I eventually had engorged breasts from too much milk (oh the irony! And I later found out I was not supposed to pump the first 6 weeks). He could not empty both breasts. He had reflux for 6 months. He latches for a long time and falls asleep. I had to feed him upright for 5 months and 2 weeks which means that for 5 months and 2 weeks I almost mostly spent most of my days and time (even sleep) in a sitting position. A few days after he turned 11 months, I was added by a friend to a group “Breatfeeding Pinays (BFP)” and I have been blessed to finally have the support I needed for the past 11 months of my journey alone which included only support from my husband because we are living far form family and friends.

Breastfeeding is hard work. It made me wonder how I am still alive after so many sleepless nights when my baby could only rely on me for food and God is so good. He provides the strength and resilience and grace enough for each day and we just somehow always make it through. It is hard work but NEVER impossible. I believe it takes more will power and commitment more than anything. God made you. He designed you. Women from thousands of years ago had been breastfeeding. You can too. Just last week, I found out that he has a lip tie. That is a different story to be told at a different time but now, some of the problems we encountered during Jacob’s first 6 months finally made sense.

Maybe most of the things I wrote doesn’t matter to you, but you know what kept me going?  It was the thought that God made our body so unique that everything that happens in it is such a wonder. Can we fathom how a human is formed inside us? How wonderfully we were designed for child birth? How God provides even for the newborns that He made food for the little ones that not only is free-but so perfect and ideal, that it provides all the nutrients a growing baby needs and that the nutritional content of the milk changes as the baby grows? Can we fathom how this body, this human body can generate this liquid gold that has been, over decades and decades past, tried to be replicated by formula milk companies and yet they can never come to doing something exactly like it? Manna was given to the Israelites for forty years so they may have food while they wander in the desert. Women are given breastmilk to provide nutrition for our newborns. It is as God has designed it. Do you know when manna stopped coming down from heaven? The day after the Israelites have eaten the produce from the promise land. If we are supplementing with formula, how can we expect to keep up with our supply when the baby has a different source of food? In short, the law of supply and demand applies here as well.

I could go on and on about this but it’s so hard to squeeze in a single entry. My breastfeeding journey has yet to end. I am now still breastfeeding my son and enjoying the perks-the bond, the nutritional content, a milk perfect for brain development among many others, it’s also his first immunization and last but not the least the cost (it’s free!). I still have have sleepless nights. I have things yet to learn. But the most important thing is, I went on. I did not give up and finally, I am giving my son the best thing only I can provide and glory to God for it.




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