August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month

This article is in the Sunstar Newspaper and Online Edition on August 17, 2017.

Based on magazine pictures, I thought breastfeeding would be the most natural thing in the world. In my case with my first child, it turned out to be dramatic, complete with cracked and bloody nipples. Painful rock-hard torpedo tits, that would not produce a drop of milk, were frustrating.

I wanted to mix-feed with formula, but my lactation consultant in JFK Medical, NJ mentioned nipple-confusion. Say what? Holy Confucius! That left me even more confused. I was really ready to throw in the towel, but she insisted I persevere.

I am glad I listened because breastfeeding ended up to be, well, super easy. I could feed while laying down, no bottles to sterilize, it’s free, and most of all, I could bond with my baby. I ended up breastfeeding my oldest for 18 months, while my middle child breastfed for 2 years and 4 months.

No more milk

Ten years after giving birth to the eldest (8yrs from the 2nd), my youngest child came. He was the only one who debuted via C-section due to pre-eclampsia. Since he was unexpected and I spent most of my pregnancy on bed rest, I was depressed. I questioned my newborn parenting skills and sanity. They had given him a few bottles in the nursery, and I felt like there was just no milk after many years of hiatus.

I remember holding the crying newborn that seemed to have this aversion to my nipple, asking God in tears why is this happening. He was clearly listening because at that point, in walked my best friend, Mia Montalvan-Castrillo.

Peer counseling to the rescue

Mia happens to be a trained breastfeeding peer counselor and one of the founders of LATCH (Lactation. Attachment. Training. Counseling. Help), a non-profit organization established in 2006 that offers support to mothers who want to breastfeed. I am so thankful that she came to my rescue. She still managed to like and support me at that stage in my life wherein I didn’t even really like my own self.

I recall her taking the baby from my arms, swaddling him, and then gently rocking him to sleep. She said in her ever calm and soothing voice: “Han, how can your own baby not know you? It’s not your nipple that he doesn’t like. Remember, not all cries mean he is hungry.”

True enough, my baby was not hungry but sleepy. When he woke up, Mia showed me again the different techniques on how to hold the baby, how to do skin-to-skin contact, and how to do proper “latching on” of the baby’s mouth to the nipple for the “letting-down” of the milk. Most of all, she gave me one my most precious and used baby items: my ring-sling baby carrier.

The green sling with my last baby!

Old school advice

I’m really amazed at how things turned out for Mia because she herself admits to not having had an easy start with breastfeeding. Her oldest Nadine, now 15 years old, was barely fed on her mom’s breast. Mia was convinced back then that she did not have any milk.

Since Mia’s own mom, grandma, and mother-in-law did not breastfeed, they were constantly worried if the baby’s cries meant Nadine was hungry. She said, “Of course, I was scared too. As a new mom, we don’t want anything bad to happen to our babies. I listened to their advice. I kept on supplementing with formula, until there was indeed no milk left.”

Fighting formula

By the time she got pregnant with her second baby, Raya, Mia was determined to breastfeed. She said, “I told myself how could that be? Breasts are really meant to feed children. Breast milk also contains special antibodies that help nourish brain development. The sucking of the baby even helps contract the uterus back to its old size. Nature intended it to be. So it is really impossible for me not to have any milk. What I did was I armed myself with information. I read books and went to the web.”

She learned about the law of supply and demand. The more the baby sucks, the more milk the breasts produce. She shared: “I did not prepare any bottles for Raya. I invested in breastfeeding clothes. One of the women that I met was tandem feeding twins. At one point, she had to have an appendectomy, but she managed to re-lactate. If she can do it, so can I. That was my inspiration.”

Mia ended up breastfeeding Raya into the toddler stage. Later on, she was also able to successfully breastfeed her two younger daughters, Alyssa and Cerise.

Advocacy to help

Her rough start with breastfeeding motivated her to help other women. She strongly believes that everyone who wants to breastfeed should have the information, encouragement, and support. Together with her friend, Buding Aquino-Dee, they stared discussions with concerned doctors in the Medical City in Mandaluyong on how to best help mothers. After undergoing training, with 7 other mothers, they established LATCH.

Mia said, “I recall Typhoon Milenio hit while we were having one of our trainings. We ended up staying in the hospital because it was the safest place to be. It was great to be in the company of other like-minded mothers who shared the passion in spreading the many benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child.”

Often, many women are led to believe the myth that they have no milk. She said, “Of course, stress plays a huge factor in milk production. That’s how most new moms feel. I really believe that what most need is just encouragement. Someone to assure them that they’re doing a good job! If new moms need someone to talk to, there is always someone there ready to listen.”

Here in Cagayan De Oro, Mia mentioned that there are more and more breastfeeding advocate doctors like Doctor Jessa Sareno (Ma.Reyna Hospital). She also noted that the Modern Nanays of Mindanao are active in spreading breastfeeding awareness and offering support.

Breastfeeding is always the most ideal choice. But should other moms not find success in doing this, it is perfectly okay. No judgments. All of us mothers are designed to be available to our babies and to have their best interests at heart. We are the warriors that help babies make a transition into this big, bad, and sometimes crazy world by teaching them to love, trust, and feel good about being alive.

Taken with the youngest kids who fed on our breasts. They are now both in school.

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