When I had my first child in Zhuhai (Guangdong province), I was quite disappointed as there was absolutely no breastfeeding support from nurses or pediatricians at the hospital. The formula was being pushed, the baby latched so badly which resulted in 2 months of excruciating pain (which I found out few years later was also due to my baby being tongue and lip tied!); a pediatrician at a well-baby check tried to convince me my baby is allergic to my milk when she merely had a reaction to something I ate; I was told by so many people that breastfeeding is bad for me and the baby when they learned I was breastfeeding her past 6 months… I could go on and on!
We did formula for a day in the hospital as I had a reaction to anesthesia and was in and out of consciousness. But my baby rejected the bottle on the 2nd day and even though my milk hadn’t come in yet, she would prefer just to be on the breast every single hour.
She was also born in the year of the melamine scandal in China, so I was terrified about the formula option and was really eager to make breastfeeding work.
Few years later, after having my 2nd child, I decided it was time I took the matter in my own hands and I went through a breastfeeding consultant’s course which empowered me to help other moms through their breastfeeding struggles. While I am a mom with over 4 years of breastfeeding experience, I am still fairly new in the BCLC field, however, I do my best to help those who decide to breastfeed, support them and encourage them.
Here are the things I learned after having 3 babies in China that helped me and my friends with whom I shared my breastfeeding journey to make it work from birth:
- Give yourself a vision of breastfeeding your baby. Read about the benefits of breast milk for mothers and babies.
- Get your family on board. Most important – your partner. Even if your partner and family are not 100% on board, they should at least be aware of your desire to breastfeed. Don’t be afraid to voice it!
- Keep your mind open: breastfeeding is not all or nothing! Even giving your baby breast milk once to couple of times a day will provide him with the necessary protection and benefits.
- Yes, breast milk is best! Note: I am not saying “breast is best” because sometimes breastfeeding from the breast just doesn’t work due to physical condition of the mother or the child, so expressing milk by hand or pumping is an option!
- No, formula and bottles are not evil. They are there to help moms who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed for certain reasons. Also, sometimes a baby needs a supplement due to health issues. So formula is here to help. Unfortunately, it is often pushed to overpower breastfeeding which results in moms feeling like failures.
- There are breastfeeding moms and breastfeeding organizations all over China. There is always at least 1 or more pediatricians who are really pro-breastfeeding. Take your time to find them and advocate for yourself and your baby.
- Once again – advocate for yourself and your baby. When you go to the hospital because you are sick – insist on medicine compatible with breastfeeding. Don’t let yourself be fooled by such phrases as, “You must stop breastfeeding for a number of days because this medicine is not good for your baby”. Or, “You must take this medicine or you will not get well.” Trust me: there are very few cases when a medicine compatible to breastfeeding doesn’t exist. If you have doubt and are looking for a substitute, try checking online for the medicine you have been prescribed. e-lactancia.org/en/ is one of the websites I often recommend for such matters.
- Do your research. Nowadays there are many websites and video materials that help with breastfeeding: kellymom.com, www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/, drjaygordon.com/, www.breastfeedinginc.ca and more! Check YouTube for vast number of materials that will help you in your breastfeeding journey.
- Reach out to friends, family and expats. There are expat moms forums, websites, like Having A Baby in China, La Leche League, where you can connect with people who in most cases will really be happy to help you!
And finally, here are a few steps you can follow when you are getting ready to have your baby:
- Inform everyone that you plan on breastfeeding your baby. You can go to the length where you sign a document which states that you forbid nurses giving your baby any formula without yours or your partner’s consent.
- Try and make sure that you latch the baby to breast within an hour from birth (granted everything is fine with both you and the baby). It is possible with both natural birth and c-sections that are without complications since you are out of the operation room and in your recovery room within 30-40 minutes after birth (i.e. you and the baby have been attended to; baby has been weighed and checked, etc).
- If for some reason your baby needs to receive formula (like all mine did since I had all of them via c-section for one reason or another and I was not able to hold them or nurse them properly in the first 24 hours) – latch or have someone help you latch the baby to the breast first and THEN and only then give your baby the bottle.
- Keep in mind that 100% breastfed babies will lose some weight in the first few days, but usually gain it all back plus some in the first month.
- Download the chart from WHO – http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/who_charts.htm They are much better and explain percentile in more details than the ones you have in your baby’s Chinese medical book.
- You will be told at the hospital to give your breastfed baby water. There is absolutely no need for it according to the newest research (kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/baby-water) if your baby is 100% breastfed.
- Few words about jaundice: you and your baby will be discharged from the hospital even if the baby is jaundiced but the bilirubin is within safe levels. You will be told to give water and/or formula to “flush it down”. In reality, you just need to breastfeed on demand and jaundice will go away by itself. My 1st and 2nd had it for a day. My 3rd had what is called “breastfeeding jaundice” which went away by the time he was 10 weeks old. I continued to give him breast milk and his levels never went up to dangerous markers. You can read more about it here – http://kellymom.com/health/baby-health/bfhelp-jaundice/
- Since in the last few years the Chinese government has been very encouraging about women breastfeeding their babies, you can find various breastfeeding supplies and equipment in baby shops now (various pumps of local and foreign make, breast pads, breast wipes, freezer bags, etc).
- One last thing which I really enjoy in China: NIP (nursing in public). I have nursed my babies without having to cover them up (of course, in a discrete manner, nevertheless) pretty much anywhere – from taxi to police station, to banks and shopping malls. No one ever judged or stared. I would get encouraging smiles from time to time, but usually everyone minded their own business! So enjoy NIP-ing in China!
I wish you a successful breastfeeding journey! You are welcome to comment below if you have more questions or concerns – I’ll be happy to answer!
Varya is a contributor to havingababyinchina.com. She is originally from Russia and has been living in China for over a decade. She is a Mom of 3 , an educator (Montessori, Positive Discipline), postpartum doula, baby massage and perinatal fitness trainer, breastfeeding and lactation specialist. She blogs at creativeworldofvarya.com about multiculturalism and life in China.
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