Let the oxytocin flow

By Hand On The Hip - 9/24/2021

Hello my lovelies!

Hope you're all having a great day! If you are a mamma, you might have comprehended from the title itself what this post is all about! :) For the rest of you, "oxytocin" is a hormone that's released when a mother breastfeeds her child. It's a happy hormone that ensures that breastfeeding is a delightful experience for both mother and child. I personally have had a very fruitful and fulfilling breastfeeding journey and it won't be fair to not share it with you guys. If you're a new mum or mum-to-be, then this is going to be really useful for you. So hold on tight as I share every little detail with you! But for the rest of you, this might just be too much information! Please feel free to skip this one.

Before I had my bubba (now 17 months old), I was terrified of 2 things - nipple cracks and labor! Little did I know that breastfeeding would be the most amazing part of being a mother! I did have my fair share of challenges in the initial weeks, but all in all, it's an experience that I wouldn't trade for nothing. That being said, every mother has a different experience and I want to put it out there that formula is just as good! Research shows that oxytocin can be released even when you're bottle-feeding or even when the baby's dad or a loving caregiver is bottle-feeding the baby! But the bottom line is, with a little bit of guidance and information, every mother can have a positive breastfeeding experience. 

The initial week of madness

When Neel was just born, I wasn't producing any milk for almost a week, probably because he arrived a few weeks early. I did produce quite a bit of colostrum, but for a whole week there was no sign of milk! I was heavily encouraged by the midwives in North Shore Private Hospital to not give up! Every 2 hours, I would put the baby on the boob for 20 min or so each side so that he could stimulate the flow and also use a breast pump right after while my husband would top him up with 30 ml formula. I was beyond exhausted and almost gave up several times, but my husband and the midwives were constantly supporting me. After 7 days of doing this, I wasn't producing even one drop of milk. When it was almost time to go home, I woke up feeling extremely cold. My efforts had reaped the benefits as I was exhilarated to notice that I had soaked myself and I had finally started producing milk! I cannot express the joy I felt in that moment! We stopped topping him up with formula and since then, he's been exclusively breastfed.

The first week in the hospital

Do we really need a feeding schedule?

After we came home from the hospital, it was a wonderful road ahead. The initial few weeks were a bit chaotic because I would breastfeed him A LOT! Being new parents with zero support or guidance, we were clueless as to why bubba was even crying. We were told by a lot of mums that this is the way it is and that we need to "feed on demand"! I was super exhausted as the baby was feeding every 30 mins in the evening. It made no sense because he had JUST had a full feed! How can he hungry already! This vicious cycle had to end! Because of the excess feeding, Neel was somehow uncomfortable every time we'd lay him down on his back and spewed quite a bit. We paid the pediatrician a visit at 6 weeks who diagnosed our poor little bean with reflux and prescribed medication. We were still clueless about his cues or the lack thereof, so we also decided to go to a Mothercraft nurse soon after who helped us with a feeding and sleep schedule. It changed our lives! We realized that we mistook his sleepy cues or the fact that he was possibly overstimulated for hunger and that he was using me as a soother. We started spacing out his feeds, following wake windows religiously and putting him down for naps based on the same and the rest is history! We followed what's called a "Feed-Play-Sleep" cycle and that, my dear mums, is a game changer. Of course, there were times I would comfort feed him if he needed it, but on most days, I stuck to the schedule very strictly. Having a schedule not only helps the parent but also helps the baby as they thrive on routine.

Comfort feeding while flying to Melbourne

How do I know if my baby is full?

When I asked all of my mum friends this question, they'd confidently tell me that their bubs unlatch when they're done. This wasn't the case with my boy! If I'd let him, he could spend the whole day sucking on my boobs! So I did my research and found out that if the baby is chuckling the milk while feeding, your breast feels a lot lighter after a while, it means he has had a good feed. I would feed him for 10-15 min per side every 2-3 hours in the initial months and religiously noted it down on my tracker. Additionally, we also closely monitored his weight gain (he was always off the charts wrt to height and weight) and took a note of the number of wet nappies (8-10 should be decent) and that gave us a good indication that he's getting enough.

The face of a satisfied bubba

How important is latching and position of feeding?

Nipple cracks were something I never had to deal with because I could get him to latch properly in the early weeks itself. The key is to insert the entire areola in the baby's mouth rather than just the nipple. I also learnt that the position of breastfeeding is really important and since every boob is different, it could take a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best. Eventually I managed to do a football hold on one side and a cradle/cross-cradle on the other. I would either feed him on the sofa at home or on the bed with pillows supporting my back. I used a U shaped feeding pillow throughout the time I was breastfeeding Neel and would even carry it to parks, cafes, while visiting friends etc. It has been an absolute lifesaver! To add to that, comfortable clothing helps and you don't necessarily have to spend $$ on maternity wear. I was perfectly comfortable in my regular tees and didn't really invest in any maternity bras either. Also wanted to mention that there have been a few times when bubba didn't feed properly and I have had clogged ducts. I did try hot showers, hot baths, hot water bags etc. to get some pain relief but eventually the only thing that helped was feeding the little one!

The only maternity dress I own

Expressing - not my cup of tea!

Expressing milk is something that I never got comfortable with. I purchased a variety of breast pumps beforehand just because I was somehow under the impression that pumping is easier! (I still have an unused $400 Medela double sided pump if anyone's interested! :D) I really salute those mums who have to express every few hours because their bubs wouldn't latch or they had to go to the office early on because it's something I never figured out. It would take me about 40 min to an hour to pump like 2 ounces! That just wasn't worth the effort! Since I was home all day and WFH, I found it much more convenient to just breastfeed him directly and since he's never really had a bottle, it was easy to transition him to a sippy cup.

Do they not bite when they have teeth?

I was warned by some of my mum friends that once they start popping teeth, breastfeeding is going to be tricky and not as enjoyable as before. But now that I have experienced it, I'd beg to differ. Neel got his first tooth when he was about 5-6 months old. By the time he was one, he had around 6-7 teeth. Yes, there was a little bit of discomfort initially, but it never came in the way of our breastfeeding journey. I was even comfortable feeding him with his molars popping out! I mean, yeah, he did bite me a few times, but every time he'd do that, I'd unlatch him and latch him back again until he figured he's not supposed to bite mamma!

What should mamma eat or drink?

Something that a lot of Indian mums stress on is what a mother should be eating while breastfeeding. The old school advice we often receive that whatever a mother eats affects the baby can only lead to mom guilt. So let me bust this myth for you - Honestly, it does not matter! Breastmilk is produced by blood, so no matter what you eat, it won't do any harm to your bubba. That being said, I generally eat clean, so I did not have to alter my diet a lot. I definitely was more careful the first few months, but I still ate whatever I wanted to, in moderation of course. As long as one isn't binge-drinking gallons of coffee or wine, it's absolutely okay! Oh yes, you can drink a glass of wine even when you're breastfeeding! I had my first glass of wine when Neel was 6 months old. As I mentioned before, it's your blood that makes the milk. So as long as there's alcohol in your blood (which is about 2 hours for a glass of wine), you are good to go! It's the same logic as driving after a drink! 

Weaning off was a cakewalk!

Weaning off, I believe is something every mum struggles with. I'd be lying if I said I belong to that category. Since Neel was always on a feeding schedule, it was SUPER EASY to wean him off. I never fed him to sleep, so thankfully, he never really built that sleep association. Since he had reflux, we were asked to introduce solids when he turned 4 months. And we were extremely lucky that he took to it immediately! As and when I increased his solids intake, I would cut down on a feed. Right from the start, he hasn't necessarily woken up in the middle of the night due to hunger. Since he only lost about 5% of his birth weight in the first week, our pediatrician recommended keeping night feeds 4 hours apart. When he was about 3 months old, he was down to one night feed and by the time he turned 8 months, I had successfully night weaned him. Of course, when he needed some extra comfort while he was teething or going through developmental leaps or was sick, I never hesitated to pop the boob out. By the time he was a year old, we were down to one feed and I could have easily weaned him off then, but I wasn't ready. Weaning off is painful for both mum and child. I wanted to have that closeness with him a bit longer although he was getting all of his nutrition from solids. Finally, when he was about 14-15 months old, I was ready to let go. My boobs were mine again!

Some pics from our last few moments of breastfeeding

That's pretty much it. I really hope this post was helpful. I am so glad that what used to be terrifying for me is something that transformed me. To me, it has been an experience I will cherish, an experience that helped develop a bond with my little one, an experience that's shared between me and my boy and nobody else! :)

Hand On The Hip

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