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Jul 11

No magic formula

One of the most frequently asked questions about breastfeeding is whether there is any magical pill that one can pop and voila – milk will flow like coffee from a vending machine. I have searched every resource, including browsing through every breastfeeding-related book at bookstores, but have not found an answer.

New mothers may feel that their milk supply is inadequate, and refrain from persevering with breastfeeding after a few days’ trial for fear of starving their babies. It takes weeks to establish a routine and unless a mother has ample support, she may resort to the easy way out by allowing formula to take over.

I was so earnest about getting enough milk to feed my premature baby that I pursued every makcik, Indian lady and my Chinese breastfeeding counsellor for some magic potion.

I spent hours looking through the Internet (which proved to be an invaluable source) and finally concocted many recipes which did increase the supply of milk. At one point I had 5 litres of expressed milk in my freezer stored in more than 30 milk bottles and other containers. I guess it does no harm to try the following suggestions:

·Consume lots of oats, whether in its gluey, boring form like those served in hospitals wards, or in the form of biscuits and oats bars.

·Help yourself to lots of nutritious soups, herbal brews normally prepared for confinement mothers, milk and other healthy drinks. I read that milk glands work almost the same way as our sweat glands. Thus taking a hot drink before feeding makes you sweat and also helps with the milk flow.

I learnt from the Internet that fenugreek or biji halba (small, brownish seeds) can increase milk supply. This is a spice commonly used in fish curries. Fenugreek is available in capsule form in Western countries for the treatment of several ailments. I also found organically grown fenugreek from Australia in bigger supermarkets; these are meant to be brewed as tea.

I used fenugreek in my soups and even resorted to swallowing a teaspoon of it when I was too lazy to cook. Do go slow on the quantity you consume because it may cause stomach upsets. An Indian lady who sells spices at the wet market told me that it is consumed to warm the body.

An Indian staff nurse told me that the Indians like to eat baby sharks (ikan yu) during confinement.

·Eat lots of fish, especially the white variety like kurau, senangin (threadfin), garoupa and white pomfret, and cod or salmon if your budget permits.

I would like to share this amusing episode related to the consumption of salted fish. My breastfeeding counsellor told me that her Malay neighbour who has plenty of milk recommended drinking salted fish bone soup cooked with tofu.

As this is one of my favourite soups, I made a big pot of it and drank bowls of it in one sitting. I was so ecstatic when my milk quantity increased by more than 100% a few hours after I drank it. I could express 270ml of milk in 20 minutes. But guess where my milk ended up? Down the drain! The milk that I produced tasted like cod liver oil and even my preemie who was less than three months old (he had a gestation age of 38 weeks) could discern the taste and rejected it! So what you eat does affect the quality and taste of your milk.