The following article is presented by HBIC contributor Valerie Wiens. Valerie has been supporting breastfeeding families in China since 2008. She is a La Leche League leader and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
This is part 2 of a two part series. To view the previous post, please click here.
In the last post, we looked at the first 4 questions based on the below email from a foreign father married to a Chinese wife. In this post, we will look at the remaining questions.
“My wife and I have a two-week baby born via c-section who has been fed formula the first three days at the hospital, and since coming back to the house breastfeeds very slowly, preferring to snack at the breast and chow down on the bottle. He also falls asleep at the breast every five minutes or so, and if breastfed fully takes two to three hours of constant engagement to be full (this has only happened a few times; most of the time my wife is too exhausted to continue and we have to top him off with formula). Our day-only yuesao prefers to have him sleep during the day (feeds him formula and water when he cries, or quiets his cries with songs and loud voices until he submits and calms down). Our son is usually far more hungry at night, often releasing the full facility of his vocal cords (which are quite impressive), which is troubling my wife because she doesn’t have the energy to stay up after trying to nurse him during the day, and she has slowly been sinking into further postpartum depression as the baby continues to get full off formula and refuses to really take her milk as a main food source, preferring to fall asleep at the breast rather than eat.
My wife wants to exclusively breastfeed. Right now as we are living at the parents home, that seems to be an impossibility with the yuesao’s feeding methods and the fact we didn’t hire her (my mother-in-law did) so to cause any issues would cause a major breach of face in the home. We will return to our home in about three weeks, at which point we hope to transfer our son from formula to Mommy. We’d like to attend some of the Le Leche meetings and become members if my wife can handle the long trip, but I wanted to talk to you first to let you know our situation and ask if you had any advice and if exclusively breastfeeding after this very stressful month would even be possible.”
5. yuesao prefers to have him sleep during the day
Yuesao are trained in all the special things that a Chinese mother is expected to eat, or do, or not do during her 40 days of confinement. They are hired to care for the mother and baby, which is a nice idea in theory, but it feeds into the notion that a new mother is incapable of caring for her own infant. The ancient Chinese tradition of “zuo yue zi,” often translated “confinement month”, was undoubtedly a way of protecting society’s most vulnerable – new mothers and infants. The good side of this tradition is that mothers do not return to work or do much of anything, but eat and rest during this time. Rest is important for a new mother. This kind of protected, restful environment should be a perfect place for a new mother and baby to learn to breastfeed in, but the result is often the opposite. Because there is an “expert” in the home, a mother defers to her. The yuesao often turns out to be more like a police officer who reprimands the new mother for breaking the rules and constantly makes her feel like she’s not doing things right. Support shouldn’t feel like that. Add to that the yuesao’s lack of good breastfeeding training and you get a situation like the one this father is mentioning.
This article, written by a Chinese lactation consultant, suggests Chinese mothers reconsider hiring a Yue Sao: 拒绝天价月嫂，养宝宝可以靠自己.
6. “My wife wants to exclusively breastfeed.”
I find this true of almost all Chinese mothers. Chinese mothers know that breastfeeding is best for their babies and they want desperately to provide it, but they doubt themselves and those around them doubt them too.
Breastfeeding is the only thing that ONLY the new mother can do. This is why it is so uplifting and wonderful when it goes well and can lead to depression and self-doubt when it does not. “she has slowly been sinking into further postpartum depression.”
7. “living at the parents home,”
A foreign man married to a Chinese woman should expect heavy parental involvement when the baby is born. This usually means his wife moving in with her parents or her parents moving in with you! This can be a shock to a Western father. It’s hard in China, where saying things directly is frowned upon, but in a situation as important as breastfeeding, a frank conversation with the in-laws may be in order. If your wife wishes to have her mother stay with her to help with the baby, then encourage her to communicate clearly with her mother what is helpful and what is not. This is difficult in the culture, but I see no other way. I welcome suggestions from those who have been through this.
8. “we didn’t hire her (my mother-in-law did) so to cause any issues would cause a major breach of face in the home. “
This father has decided it is not worth it to “breach face in the home”. I can understand that. However, I have also worked with families who have been able to respectfully establish boundaries with the elders in the home and for the sake of the child and mother have said things that they might not normally say. It is a good idea to anticipate these issues before they come up.
Expectations can be clarified long before the baby arrives and, though it still won’t be easy, it will help. The most successful Chinese breastfeeding families I’ve worked with are the ones who came to my La Leche League meetings as a whole family! Even Grandfather comes along! If they are all given information about breastfeeding, then they will all be on the same team.
The in-laws may be very willing to come along to a free breastfeeding or childbirth class. You might as well accept that they will have influence, so help them have the right information.
See www.muruhui.org for lots of breastfeeding information in Chinese you can give your relatives.
9. “we hope to transfer our son from formula to Mommy.” “if exclusively breastfeeding after this very stressful month would even be possible.”
This wonderful father and mother are very committed. They are waiting eagerly for the time when it will just be “them.” I don’t think most couples realize that they will have these feelings when considering starting a family. A realization that these kinds of feelings may come up might lead to healthy discussions, decisions, and limits long before the baby arrives.
As far as being able to exclusively breastfeed, the answer for this family is that “yes!”, exclusive breastfeeding is possible, but with such a poor start it will take work. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. After a month of low demand leading to low supply this family will have to increase the milk supply by seriously upping demand – breastfeeding around the clock and probably pumping.
Education, communication, and commitment are the keys to navigating this tricky cultural land mine. If you are a foreign father or Chinese mother who has dealt with these or other issues, please comment on this article and share your experiences. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that all Chinese mothers and foreign fathers are identical. There are mothers who are quite traditional and those who are quite non-traditional. Foreign fathers of course vary greatly too! There is also the case of the foreign mother married to a Chinese father…that’s a whole other article!