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The joy of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding my daughter Stella, who just turned one.

By Daphne Osena Paez
UNICEF Philippines Special Advocate for Children

August 2010






I’ve spent the past eight years, either being pregnant, having babies or breastfeeding. I now have three daughters – Sophia is 7, Lily is 4 and Stella just turned 1 – all were breastfed for at least 12 months. I’m still breastfeeding the youngest. That’s a long time to be giving up one’s body for the sake of her children. But it hasn’t felt that way for me at all. These eight years have been the most beautiful and powerful time of my life.

It’s not like all I did was drown in domestic bliss either. I continued to work throughout pregnancy, motherhood and nursing. These years have been the most productive for me – independently producing and hosting a TV show, discovering a new talent for designing jewelry and building a brand of home products. Unlike most working mothers, I did not have maternity leaves. With Sophia, I was back at work after 4 weeks. With Lily, I shot a TV commercial on the 10th day after giving birth. With Stella, I had 5 weeks before shooting a commercial and going back to work. I exclusively breastfed all three girls for the first 6 months despite the demanding work schedule.

Whenever I share this story, I get “oohs” and “ahhs” like I deserve a medal for being a breastfeeding mom. I don’t know why it impresses people. I was just doing what, for me, was the most normal and natural. It all went hand in hand – pregnancy, motherhood, breastfeeding, building a family, raising children, breastfeeding, working, starting a business, breastfeeding. It was just a matter of being organized. I wish my situation is more the rule rather than the exception. But in this country only 34% of mothers exclusively breastfeed their children in the first 6 months.

People always ask me how I did it – work and breastfeed. I wish I could say it’s as easy as bringing a breast pump and expressing milk every 3-4 hours. I mean it is, but it also takes more than that. Breastfeeding is a choice and a commitment. Yes I brought a manual breast pump with me everywhere I went. I also carried an insulated cooler-type lunch box to keep the milk refrigerated while in transit. I pumped in the car, in mall fitting rooms and in the makeup room. I had established a system of refrigeration and freezing. I did all that, but not all by myself.

The success of my breastfeeding relied heavily on the support of my husband, the entire household, my doctors, my work colleagues and friends. Everyone knew I was a breastfeeding mama. I made it known to them – so that they could help me.  My friends knew I had to pump every now and then. We stayed away from smoky and polluted places. The shop girls at the mall knew I had to borrow their dressing rooms when I had to pump. My house staff knew how to store and thaw the milk. My husband was supportive and proud, and he massaged my back whenever I needed relief. More importantly, he took on the job of burping the babies after a long feed. That was his bonding time with the baby. Even my older kids participated. They were in charge of making sure the pillow on my back stayed in place. The people at work during shoots, knew I had to take occasional breaks in order to express. They sometimes stood as my human fitting room, holding up my shawl to help cover me up. As much as I’d like to take credit for successfully breastfeeding all three kids, I couldn’t have done it without the help of the people around me.

I don’t even remember why I wanted to breastfeed. I don’t think I gave myself a choice. Like I said, it was just natural. I never once considered giving my newborns milk formula. During my first pregnancy, I developed a blood clot in my uterus on the 3rd month and this threatened the survival of my baby. I was on complete bed-rest for almost two months. I had a lot of time to read and research on breastfeeding. We also took birthing classes. Before giving birth I told my OB-Gyn and pediatrician that I plan to breastfeed. I had normal deliveries for all three. And all three babies were put on my chest the moment they were born. All latched on within minutes. None of them have developed any allergies or asthma. They never got diarrhea or caught infections when they were babies.

I will tell you that breastfeeding is the most natural and normal part of motherhood. But it is also a learned skill. It isn’t the easiest at first, and it can be painful in the start, but once you establish a rhythm, it is the most convenient and beautiful process. All three kids have travelled on long-haul flights with us when they were infants and toddlers. Breastfeeding was the most convenient thing – no bottles, no snacks, no powdered milk, only the comfort of being on my breast.

I nursed my babies everywhere – in malls, restaurants, airports, cars, parks. I do not own a fancy cover-up bib. I simply used a shawl in places where I felt required discretion. People are still not comfortable seeing mothers nurse in public. But it was comforting to get smiles and approving nods from other mothers (and fathers) who were going through the same thing as I was. It was like we had a secret code of approval and support. I wish to have a better culture of breastfeeding in this country.

I am far from being an expert at breastfeeding. I’ve read up on it, had a few sessions from experts, and the rest I’ve learned from just doing it. But all babies are different. With my second child I encountered some difficulty because I was doing things wrong. I fell into a trap. I thought an electric pump would increase my milk production, but instead I ended up with an infection. After three weeks of medication, I went back to breastfeeding again, got rid of the electric pump and stuck to my manual pump for when I was working. By the time I had my third baby, I learned how to hand express during the first month when everything was sensitive.

In a few months or maybe even weeks, my youngest daughter will start to wean herself. I can see the signs. She’s distracted. She’s got 8 teeth. She’s walking on her own. I’ve fed all three babies on demand. And I can tell that with her newly-found independence, she is demanding less milk from me. I take cues from my kids and let the weaning process happen naturally. No pills, no medication. We go through it together.

It has been eight years of being a dedicated and hands-on mother. But this, obviously, is not the end. Mothering never ends. I know I can’t breastfeed them forever. With each weaning I felt extremely emotional. I had enjoyed every moment of being their source of nutrition and love. It may have been the first language of love between my kids and me, but, of course, there are many. Now we are all armed with a strong sense of security and an even stronger bond. And I know, in my heart, that I gave them the best start in life.

My advice to mothers

 

 
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