To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, we showcase Mums we met who prevailed through challenges in nursing, parenting and health - despite the odds against them.
When Kristen Kiong found out that she had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) at age 23 during a routine immunisation, not once did she think that it might one day impact her ability to breastfeed, what more her feelings about being a mother. In fact, conceiving was not easy when she got married at 27 as she used to have her periods only once every 7 months. She remembers trying for a baby as an exercise in perseverance for herself and husband J.
Now, with her happy and healthy 18-month old baby Blueberry by her side, all her struggles are worth the tears and pain. This is her story.
What were your thoughts about breastfeeding before birth?
I'm honestly not someone who does a ton of research. I'd heard that breastfeeding is hard of course, but I didn't realise that it would be that hard for me. Though I knew that breastmilk may take a while to come in, I didn't know what to expect with my own body when it was my turn, so I didn’t anticipate anything.
Did that change or evolve for your during pregnancy or after birth?
I remember early on in the journey being very sure that I wanted to breastfeed exclusively, but post-birth, my daughter Blueberry's bilirubin levels were climbing at an alarming rate. It was to the point that the lactation consultant (LC) kindly remarked that as much as she was supposed to encourage breastfeeding, she was concerned that the jaundice would get out of hand if I chose not to supplement the feeds. As much as it was difficult, my husband and I decided to prioritise baby’s safety and heed the advice of our LC.
So your milk was not coming in or was insufficient for Baby B. Was there any specific cause for it?
The night when Blueberry was doing phototherapy, I googled "delayed milk", and realised that my condition checked off many risk factors, including bleeding during birth and PCOS.
It was a huge concern for me to not have enough breastmilk. My confinement nanny knew how I felt so she made all the food that might help increase milk supply. She was also very understanding and let me try to breastfeed baby as much as I wanted, but also gently kept the bottle of formula available and ready at any time.
There were days when Blueberry would still wail hungrily after I had latched her on for what seemed like ages. Only after she was given a bottle of formula milk would she settle down quietly. That hurt.
But with some perseverance, my supply slowly started to build, and soon my pumping supply finally matched up to the amount she wanted to drink.
What are some of the reasons you decided to persist with breastfeeding despite these challenges?
I'm not the sort of mum to read books and articles to prepare myself. But even I knew, without being told, that breastfeeding has so many benefits for B. Even if I were to quit eventually, I wanted to have given it my absolute best. When Blueberry’s fat folds started coming in, it was all worth it.
There was one article I chanced upon about interval feeding; that truly changed my perspective on nursing. I learnt that “women with a smaller breast storage capacity had a healthy milk production over a 24 hour period and their babies had good weight gain… but might need to feed more frequently to access this healthy milk production."
And this was what kept me going, low supply or not.
We’re so happy that you reached a good place in your breastfeeding journey! How are things like right now?
I ended up exclusively breastfeeding Little B, mostly because I was too lazy to pump and wash stuff! We had to get her back on the bottle when I went back to work when she was 6 months old. It was tough, but it worked out.
Also, I dropped night feeds because she started sleeping through the night. But because of that, I also stopped pumping at night as well. My supply pretty much dried up by the time she was 10 months old and we made a transition to formula. By 11 months, she was completely weaned. So although I am no longer breastfeeding, I'm proud of how far we got!
What's the most memorable part of being a Mum for you?
I think having highs and lows are both memorable parts about being a Mum. I remember not being able to wrap my head around why Blueberry would cry for me until the confinement nanny said, “because you are her mama”. That’s when I realised that despite all my insecurities, I’m everything to Little B.
Having said that, sleep training baby was an extremely low period for me. There was a night when she cried for hours and just didn’t want to be put down. It ended with both of us on our tummies looking at each other, with me talking to her and telling her how precious she is. And that ended up being a high!
I’ve had many of these precious moments, often in the middle of the night or right after B has a cry-fest. But it reminds me that after a storm, there’s a rainbow, and that it’s always important to make things right.
How would you encourage a fellow mummy who may be facing similar challenges as you did and is struggling with PCOS and/or low supply?
I would tell them to persevere! For me the lesson in perseverance was waiting years before we finally conceived Blueberry, due to my PCOS. And then having a low supply was an extension of that patience.
But I would also say: do what you think is best for your child. Don’t let someone else (or Google) pressure you into making certain decisions; because you’re the mum of your baby and Mum knows what’s best for her child.