It begins with excruciating pain as the baby learns to latch on. Every time they grab the nipple, you want to scream, push them away from your breast and cry. Not necessarily in that order. The only thing that keeps you from following through with this is looking at the little, wriggly mass in your arms; eyes tightly shut, little fists flailing in the air and a mouth desperately searching for your breast. You get used to the pain (if you’re lucky to discover the magic of Lansinoh cream soon enough) and transition into the baby being an extension of your boob. Yeah. One is never without the other, it seems.
At this point, your boobs are no longer part of the gorgeous package that is you. Your beautiful lingerie sets disappear in the deep confines of your ‘intimates’ drawer and are replaced by those awful looking nursing bras. You can no longer remember what it feels like to sleep through the night. You are floating away in dreamland and there is a cry. The cry doesn’t make sense as you are dreaming about a bubble bath in your severely underused used tub and a glass of wine that you haven’t had in close to a year. “Wangari! The baby is crying.” Baby to the boob as you try your damnedest to stay awake.
Still, it would be very remiss of me to speak of the difficulties of breastfeeding without highlighting its beauty.
I love feeling needed by my three-month-old. I really do. I look at Kamau, so independent that he barely has time for a kiss from mommy (I have to beg to give him one let alone be on the receiving end!), and I realise how precious this time- when Kui’s world revolves around me- is. I love looking down at her as she busily suckles away. I live for those moments when she will look up at me, letting go of my boob with a noisy “plop!” and give me that big, beautiful smile. There is a tug on my heart whenever she starts to nod off. She is pure innocence and I tightly wrap her blanket around her; my way of shielding her from everything and wrapping her in love.
Breastfeeding doesn’t work for every mother and baby. Some babies do not take to the breast and sometimes a mother doesn’t have enough milk to satisfy her baby’s needs. Before you give a mother that is bottle-feeding some unsolicited, backhanded advice, stop and think about the situation she may be in. We have all read the studies. It is worse when the snide remarks are coming from a person that has never breastfed or tried to. If you are not offering words of encouragement, stay away from the topic.
I went into my second breastfeeding experience with a clear cut game plan.
See, with Kamau, I did really well right up till he turned five months and the doctor informed me she was concerned that Kamau wasn’t putting on weight. I had to begin supplementing breast milk with formula. I was heartbroken and I felt like I had failed him. I wasn’t going to go through that with Kui and right from day one was determined to feed her exclusively on breast milk for six months. She is doing so well, Blogiary. I went through a period, a couple of weeks ago, when I started doubting that I had enough breast milk and after discussing it with R we realised I had, in my effort to “get back in shape,” fallen off the eat-well-for-baby wagon. I am happy to report that I am back to needing nursing pads. My bosom is ample and overflowing with white gold.
There are a few things I vouch for in my quest to keep my supply flowing. The first thing they tell you is that breastfeeding is a mind thing and stressing about it only works against you. I believe this. There are days when I will be worrying about something or the other or anxious about something and these are the days I really struggle. The rapport between Kui and I is strained and she is fussy and seems frustrated. It really does begin with your state of mind. When I talk about the baby seeming like an extension of the breast, be encouraged if this is your situation. They say that the more the baby feeds, the more milk is produced so keep at it, new mommy. Do not doubt yourself when you feel like the baby is struggling to get milk. The more he/she feeds, the more your body produces to meet his/her needs. This, I imagine, is the same argument behind expressing milk. Expressing isn’t just good for having a ready supply of milk in your freezer for when you’re not around, but it also encourages the production of more milk by your body.
The best breast pumps for expressing milk
The other thing that I honest-to-God did not know when breastfeeding Kamau is the importance of water. During the weeks after Kui was born, when I was struggling with my spinal headache, I would take a large glass of water every thirty minutes as water is supposed to relieve the headache. When I was better and didn’t feel the need to drink as much I noticed a change in milk flow, so much so that I looked up the correlation between drinking water and breast milk. I have a pitcher of water next to me at all times of the day; the rule is to have a glass of water every time the baby is feeding and as you express.
There’s a couple of other things that may not be scientifically proven but our mothers swear by.
1. Soup. I have never been able to take it, but my mom still insists I should and I remember my friend, Wanjiru, describing how well it works for her. I am not talking about mushroom or carrot soup. Nah uh. I mean the kind you boil from bones bought at your local butchery. The one that you add salt to for flavour. That kind of soup. I imagine some mommies have found a way to make it interesting. Please share.
2. Uji. Kenyan Millet Porridge. The traditional kind that they bring for new moms is the fermented one. I can stand it just as much as the next mother, but it honestly isn’t my cup of tea. I, however, do not mind the other kind. The one that takes about ten minutes to make. My mom has this really nutritious mix done where they put all kinds of things including omena. In between restocking on my mom’s supply, I buy Winnie’s Pure Health Uji Afya. There are so many stories/myths surrounding uji, the one that most bothers me has to be about it expanding your waistline. As R keeps telling me, there will be plenty of time to worry about snatching up my waist once Kui gets to six months.
3. Njahi. Black beans. I am glad that we have someone that prepares them really well. I eat them because so many moms swear by their milk production power. Carrots and coconut powder have proved to be two magic ingredients in the quest to improve their taste.
4. Hot Chocolate. Patty told me about this when I gave birth to Kamau. She would bring me a flask every day while I was at the hospital. Moms, you know that feeling as if the blood vessels in your boobs are going to burst when baby hasn’t fed for a while? I swear I have this feeling every time I am taking a cup of hot chocolate. I kid you not.
5. Fennel tea. This I found out about when I shared a post on Instagram about a brand of tea bags called Mother’s Milk. The tea contains a herb called fenugreek and a friend recommended fennel tea. Wanjiru (we talk anything/everything baby as our little ones were born a month apart) then introduced me to the Fenugreek seed capsules sold at the Healthy U shop at Galleria mall.
Breastfeeding, I have found, works best when one has a support system.
I don’t know what I would do without R. He reminds me why I am working hard at it. Just yesterday, I told him about my hairdresser’s comments regarding my hairline. That it is beginning to thin. Even worse than my fear about my waistline has to be a receding hairline! Have you seen my forehead?! I cannot imagine hairline issues on top of this! R sat with me and, after mentioning that it is barely recognizable, told me not to worry as it would grow back. It is difficult to keep on the breastfeeding path without constant encouragement. I should know. We also need to have that conversation that acknowledges that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone and that babies can indeed be just fine if they did not get breast milk. The stigma against mothers that have really given it a shot without success and the anxiety that they have to deal with is not fair. Being a new mother is difficult enough without society making it any harder.
So far, so good. I am praying that this time around I will not be a Cow & Gate customer
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