Throughout my breastfeeding journey, I’ve realized that breastfeeding is not easy. It takes commitment and dedication to see it through. In the beginning, it was exhausting to feed 15-20x a day. I have never felt more exposed, and I really felt like my body was no longer my own. Now at 17 months of breastfeeding, while feeding is much less and no longer as painful, it takes the same amount of dedication and commitment to continue and keep my supply up. It is hard work from the day you start until the day you decide to stop.
Truly, breast milk is so powerful and special! I mean, what other drink (or food) can shift its components and adapt to exactly what the child needs? It's amazing how even just a few drops of colostrum is enough to nourish a newborn baby, or how milk with COVID-19 antibodies is enough to protect and keep a child free of COVID-19 despite exposure in the environment. Not many people realize this, but once they do, it is no surprise that they will try to keep breastfeeding for as long as possible.
Before becoming a mother, I thought breastfeeding was a simple task that moms can easily do for their babies. I thought that it was just an option for families who don’t want to include infant formula milk in their monthly expenses. It was very common for me to ask other parents, "Is your child breastfed?". As I became a parent myself to my firstborn, my perspective on breastfeeding changed.
Our breastfeeding journey began during my pregnancy. In my third trimester, my husband was very supportive. He knows better when it comes to breastfeeding essentials – from fixing up an electric pump to choosing the best breast milk storage bags and containers. He even bought all of those for me. But yes, I still felt the pressure was on me!
When I gave birth in September last year, my milk production didn’t kick in immediately. I felt sad as days passed, and still my milk supply was not coming in. I was about to lose hope, desperate to breastfeed our newborn, until one day I prayed and asked God to guide me and our baby in our breastfeeding journey. If He would allow, I asked Him to use me as an instrument to help the preemies in the NICU or the babies in the nursery. I made a promise that once I am able to build a stash, I would donate to public hospitals or NGOs. Day after day, I kept praying. Every time I pumped, I prayed for God's help. A month later, my husband and I decided to purely breastfeed our baby since we both thought that my supply was already enough to satisfy his hunger. It was on that day when I finally collected enough to build my very first stash!
I also realized that apart from the physical benefits, breastfeeding can also contribute to a child’s mental health as it helps moms communicate with their babies. Knowing that newborns are not yet used to the outside world, proper nursing can give them the warmth and cuddle they had when they were still in the womb.
My key takeaway from my experience is if I could do things differently before giving birth, I would definitely educate myself with enough knowledge in breastfeeding. If I just knew earlier that a mother’s breast milk supply is enough from day 1, then we would not have purchased the infant formula milk for my baby, and I would not have felt bad for thinking that I was not enough for my baby.
Yes, breastfeeding is indeed difficult as it requires patience and determination. Having someone who is heavily dependent on you 24/7 can be exhausting. While it may have caused a drastic change in my life – from eating habits to lifestyle, I always kept in mind that the challenges are outweighed by the physical and mental benefits breastfeeding has on my baby’s growing years. I am glad that up until now that he is 10 months old, our breastfeeding journey continues. I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to help in this special way. Salute to all moms and supportive dads that are on this journey!
As a first time mom, I did not have a hard time like I expected to. Despite giving birth earlier, my milk came just in time, so supply was not a problem. Alon also latched like a champ, although he was picky with breastfeeding positions. I had to experiment with what was comfortable and efficient for us both. I had to deal with nipple blisters, ensuring I had nipple balm on hand and that I would ice my breasts in between feedings. Luckily, pain was not much of an issue for me because I have a relatively high tolerance for it. What worried me the most was when I had a bad episode of diarrhea and my supply tanked for a few days. But after much rehydration and eating right, I was able to regain my supply.
In addition, she realized that breastfeeding wasn’t really 100% free. It entailed a lot of effort on her part to express milk, clean and sterilize her pump, avoid mastitis, and take care of herself to be healthy enough to produce more milk. However, Mommy Chax remarks that all of these things made breastfeeding even more valuable than the money spent on formula feeding.
When asked about some of the things that she wished she would have done differently in her breastfeeding journey, Mommy Chax shared the she would have simply brushed off unsolicited advice that she received from people who had never breastfed—especially males. In addition, she wished to have cared less about feeding or pumping in public. Finally, she would have bought less “nursing” tops and just stuck to regular clothes that she could wear even after weaning.
Nevertheless, one’s breastfeeding journey will never be perfect. Mommy Chax even remarks that “challenges will always be there in every stage.” Thus, she advises moms to develop a strong support group, starting from the baby’s father, up until the mother’s colleagues and workmates. She then reminds mothers that they do not have to bear the burden of breastfeeding and motherhood all by themselves.
Finally, we asked Mommy Chax how breastfeeding has made an impact on her relationship with Baby Eli. To this, she replied: “It definitely made “a mother’s unconditional love” more tangible, as the journey to breastfeed wasn’t as easy as I expected.”
Mommy Chax goes even further by saying that as she saw how Eli was able to reach her leaps and milestones healthily, the decision to continue breastfeeding truly proved worth every plugged duct and bite mark.
Another significant challenge Mommy Margo encountered was finding out her younger daughter had food (and environmental) allergies. Her younger daughter, Maxine, has been exclusively breastfeed for 11 months. Being the primary source of her youngest daughter’s nutrition, Mommy Margo had to eliminate certain food in her diet, restricting herself to a limited range of food ingredients. She had to make sure the food she ate was safe for her daughter, a very tricky thing since the food items her daughter is allergic to are in almost every dish out there. Sadly, every rash that appeared on her daughter’s body would constantly make Mommy Margo blame herself for the meals she had the previous day. She knew there was no absolute way to pinpoint what could’ve caused the rash or discomfort, given that multiple factors could have caused it. She says, “I cannot personally say that we have overcome this difficulty yet, but through the help of her medical specialists, we at least were able to determine what food items she is allergic to as a guide for her diet as well as mine.” Thankfully, with the help of healthcare professionals and her personal determination to adjust her diet, Mommy Margo is now able to manage her daughters’ allergic reactions.
Lastly, we asked Mommy Margo what about breastfeeding would she want people to know. Her response was,
“What I want society to know about breastfeeding is that breastfeeding is one of the most natural yet magical expressions of love a mother can give to her baby. The wonders of breastmilk, even up to this day, is something science cannot fully explain. The magic of the mother’s body being able to change her breast milk composition based on her child’s health is just one of the many beauties of what breastmilk and a nursing mother can do. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It takes a lot of dedication, patience and persistence to mold your own unique journey of breastfeeding your child.”
“I realized that breastfeeding is hard! It's painful, it’s messy, it's the most important thing your baby needs and it's a lot of pressure. But it's the labor of love, and it's rewards are beautiful.”
Mommy Anita says this fondly thinking of how nice it is to see Mav 'milk drunk' and fast asleep after a good feed.
Her journey as a first time mother simultaneously took place with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At one point, Mommy Anita came down with a fever. Despite this, her doctor advised her to continue breastfeeding with taking proper precautions, such as wearing a mask.
“I want society to know that breastfeeding is so essential, especially now that there is a pandemic, our babies need the antibodies found in breastmilk to strengthen their immunity. And it doesn't cost a thing!”
Mommy Anita expresses this while advising new moms who are considering breastfeeding to stay healthy, don’t give up and enjoy it because it doesn’t last forever. And lastly, she encourages new moms to donate their extra milk to help fellow mothers and babies in need.
“I think breastfeeding has definitely strengthened my bond with my babies. Even though it was sometimes very hard, it was always my special time with them.”
“It may be challenging but it is the best you can do for the nourishment of your child. It will create several changes in your body. Your body may never be the same anymore but remember, all the marks left are symbols of how powerful and exceptional the woman's body is.”
She and her daughter are able to share intimate moments during breastfeeding that strengthen their bond and bring them closer together as a family. It is in moments like those where Mommy Maloi knows she is giving the best parts of her self for her daughter. “It created a bond between us which has become significant to me in gaining motivation to be more optimistic of what motherhood will cost me as a first time mom.”
Aside from fostering a strong bond between mother and child through exclusive breastfeeding, she knew she was providing only the best for her daughter— “I felt that she got closer and more familiar with me and I felt fulfilled because of being able to provide nourishment to my child. We both enjoyed and showed satisfaction whenever my daughter feeds and I was so happy about seeing how healthy my baby was when I was still breastfeeding.”
However, not all breastfeeding journeys will be easy. Mommy Maloi had her fair share of struggles, “I remember how I cried during the first week while breastfeeding my baby due to painful, sore and wounded nipples. I [also had a] naturally abundant supply of milk but the presence of wounds made it unbearable for me sometimes.” Like a lot of moms, she experienced pains during breastfeeding but it did not stop her from pursuing exclusive breastfeeding. She shares how she was able to overcome those difficulties through manual expression, rest, and medication.
“What I did was I pumped and stored milk for my child and she fed through bottles for the mean time as I let my wounds heal before directly breastfeeding my child again. When I returned to direct breastfeeding after a week to allow my wounds to heal, I applied nipple gel twice a day to relieve pain and soreness.”
Despite the problems she has faced during motherhood and breastfeeding, she was able to persevere because of the love she had for her daughter. When asked if she would have done anything differently when she had first started breastfeeding, she said she wouldn’t have it any other way. Mommy Maloi sees motherhood as a beautiful gift where she is able to celebrate her womanhood and share the gift of life. “A lot of things has always been unpredictable for me as a first time mother, but it positively affected me and keeps me motivated to do better each day.” All the ups and downs of motherhood had all been worth it as Mommy Maloi sees her daughter grow up strong and healthy.
“…it just proves how a woman's body can give life and nourish a life… and that is what makes it valuable.”
Breastfeeding will always be with its stigmas and misconceptions but what Mommy Maloi wants us to know is that breastfeeding is not a thing to be to be ashamed of — “…it just proves how a woman's body can give life and nourish a life… and that is what makes it valuable.”
The lack of public education holds society back by keeping to old misconceptions, which is why she believes that access to the health information is crucial to ending the stigma. “The facts about [breastfeeding] must be strengthened and properly taught to all people, not just to mothers.” She also stresses the importance of breastmilk for the overall health and nutrition of infants and that it is a big factor in their brain development. Mommy Maloi wants mothers like her and soon-to-be moms to know the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding but also to be aware of the possible difficulties that could be faced. “It may be challenging but it is the best you can do for the nourishment of your child. It will create several changes in your body. Your body may never be the same anymore but remember, all the marks left are symbols of how powerful and exceptional the woman's body is.”
Sharing her story, Mommy Maloi hopes that her story will inspire moms and soon-to-be moms to find the time and determination to pursue exclusive breastfeeding for their children despite the challenges that could be faced.
“I must say as a mother to another mother, breastfeeding will cause beautiful changes in your life and will make you appreciate and love your own body even more. Be proud and carry on!”
Dr. Maria Angela "Gela" Villa (φ2011B, Class 2016) is a 2nd year pediatrics resident at the UP Philippine General Hospital (UP PGH). Together with her team, she founded Milk Matters five years ago. In this Express Yourself post, she shares her experiences and insights about the project that has blossomed through the years.
The Little Project that Could
We started out five years ago as a little passion project committed to address this problem: the Philippine General Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (PGH-NICU) had a breastmilk storage deficit of a staggering 16 liters. The goal back then was to help augment the supply for the sick babies who were in dire need of breastmilk. The babies were giving it all they got to survive, and we were committed to give them the only food indicated to help them fight their infections. To help them leverage for a fighting chance at life.
It still is the goal now, but five years into this little passion project called Milk Matters, Phi Lambda Delta Sorority knows there are bigger, relevant goals we can achieve not just for the babies in PGH NICU.
Five years later, Milk Matters evolved into a vision of committed medical students, doctors, community-based health volunteers and parish-based advocates dedicated to provide quality healthcare in the service of the Filipino children.
This vision, and more.
We are aiming towards evidence-based research that would help understand and promote breastfeeding and child health among urban poor communities.
We are aiming towards establishing milk storage facilities located in strategic partner communities to empower and promote child-rearing practices for both the mother and the baby. We currently have two sites: Tondo and Canossa Center in Cavite.
We are aiming towards interprofessional and international collaboration with the private and public health sectors pursuing similar goals.
These goals, and more.
We are not going to be complacent and rest on our laurels after having achieved numerous awards and citations, both in national and international arenas (Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations 2014 Winner, international presentations such as in Consortium of Universities for Global Health, recipient of international grants, etc.), all at the age of five years. These awards are a reminder that we are on the right path, and we are blessed enough to even be acknowledged.
Awards or no awards, we know service is our core. We know who we do this for, why we do what we do, how we will do it. The vision may not be 20/20 clear yet, but we are brave enough, compassionate enough, blessed enough to pursue the path set before us.
Five years, and more.
I thank the Lord for using me as an instrument to have spearheaded this worthy and meaningful project. Everything is grace, indeed. To my Phi sisses, and to all those who have helped us and believed in us and continue to do so, THANK YOU. No one can do Milk Matters alone. We are a dream team. I am beyond blessed.
PS. We started Milk Matters while I was a third year medical student. Don’t limit yourself with what you can do. Learning is not confined within the four walls of the classroom.
Link to original blog post: https://gelaace.wordpress.com/2019/03/14/the-little-project-that-could/?fbclid=IwAR1ta0EQNPB4oM8dsye2B542dUGMAVp-TQz-yPPuRfLTcyaUe1-oajmLpy0
For more information about Milk Matters, please visit facebook.com/PLDMilkMatters
Answering the Call
As a health and religious leader, Sister Yel is an inspiration to many members of the community and part of her advocacy is Milk Matters. She shares that during the early years of Milk Matters, back when it was just a proposal drafted on paper, she welcomed the project with open arms. Likewise, the women at the Canossa Health and Social Center in Silang, Cavite were ready to take part. Health promotion through public health lectures (PHLs) on breastfeeding, proper latch-on, and breastfeeding positions were conducted to educate the mothers and correct misconceptions. Common problems encountered were also tackled in PHLs by asking the moms to share their own personal experiences after which, solutions to those problems were given by fellow moms and by the students.
Together with the PHLs on breastfeeding, Milk Matters also conducts regular milk drives in the community, in partnership with PGH. These drives give mothers the opportunity to donate their breast milk to the babies of the PGH Neontal Intensive Care Unit (PGH NICU).
“The first time Milk Matters came to Cavite, it was quite a success. All the mothers, coming from indigent families, were excited to somehow give a part of themselves and give a contribution to the needs of the babies in the nurseries of PGH.”
Sister Yel describes Milk Matters as a “creative way of answering a need,“ because not only do the mothers gain the knowledge for themselves and their babies, but they are able to share something of themselves to other babies in need. Living in a resettlement area, Sister Yel sees the daily struggles and pains of families in the community. However, despite their situation, the mothers still willingly give what they have.
“They are happy, that even in their own poverty, they are able to share what they naturally have. It added to their sense of self-worth and self-esteem… Its a beautiful thing.”
Milk Matters serves as an avenue for growth for the mothers, the BHWs, and even for the members of the sorority who conduct the lectures. All the women that take part of Milk Matters are able to learn more about themselves and about each other. Sister Yel shares how much she appreciates Milk Matters because of the learnings that are shares, the love that is fostered, and the empowerment it gives.
“...I really saw the joy of the mothers. Sometimes they feel like they can only be in the receiving end of things. It’s not just you found a way to help the babies of PGH, but in a way- is an empowerment of women especially in my set up.”
Sister Yel shares what she taken home from all the years that Milk Matters has been in the community,
“What I have learned in Milk Matters is that poor people can generously assist people in need. It’s easier and more natural for them because there is a certain connection that they feel— they understand the need and are only too eager to give up themselves.”
Milk Matters creates a safe and nurturing environment for mothers to be themselves and embrace motherhood through breastfeeding. Milk Matters has grown and will continue to grow with the help of women like Sister Yel Adre, with the Barangay Health Workers, the sisters of Canossa Health and Social Center, and with the mothers who continuously heed to the call to become of service to others.
For more information about Milk Matters, please visit facebook.com/PLDMilkMatters
In line with our objective to empower Filipino mothers to breastfeed, Milk Matters presents Express Yourself, an online movement that sheds light on the breastfeeding experiences of Filipino mothers, families, doctors, nurses, and other members of society. Our vision is to inspire other mothers to continue breastfeeding through these stories.