Why More Women Should Nurse Without a Cover

Breastfeeding is best for babies and mothers. It is how nature intended infants to be nourished. It is natural, and it used to be instinctive among communities where women breastfed in public without shame. However, with the advent of overt sexualization of breasts in media, breastfeeding became something that many women began to do discreetly. Women started to experience difficulty breastfeeding because they no longer saw it being done by fellow women. Breastfeeding shouldn’t have to be complicated, but it has sadly become so for many women because of society’s sexual objectification of the female body. Many mothers give up on breastfeeding because of lack of awareness and guidance. Many babies suffer because mothers are inadequately supported when learning to breastfeed. My own son was one such baby, and although we are breastfeeding well now, I look back on our rocky start with sadness and guilt.

I gave birth to my son in St. Luke’s Global, which is touted as one of the best (and most expensive) hospitals in the country. St. Luke’s strictly enforces the Milk Code. They do not allow bottle or formula feeding in the hospital, they follow Unang Yakap protocol (skin-to-skin contact of mom and baby right after birth), and they always room in baby with mom if the baby comes out healthy. On the surface, they appear to be highly supportive of breastfeeding. But they failed me and my son. They were not able to provide adequate breastfeeding guidance in the critical first days.

mom breastfeeding newborn baby in hospital
Breastfeeding Wolf at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City
From day one, I followed the nurses’ instructions to breastfeed on demand. They would come in throughout the day to check on my baby’s latch, and they always said that he had a good latch. Despite that, my nipples were getting extremely sore (something that shouldn’t happen if the latch is correct). By the third day, the pain was so bad that I tried using a nipple shield. Before leaving St. Luke’s, my husband and I asked several hospital staff if it were okay to use a nipple shield. We asked two nurses, the lactation specialist who gave us a mini lecture on breastfeeding, and the pediatrician present at Wolf’s birth. They all said without hesitation that I can use it while breastfeeding.

We spent the first week in distress and pain as my nipples became cracked and bled even with constant use of the shield. Eventually, they healed, but by that time, Wolf had gotten used to the shield and did not know how to nurse without it. At his ninth day check-up in St. Luke’s, I asked the pediatrician if I could still continue nursing with the shield, because Wolf wouldn’t latch without it. She said it was not a problem. At that check-up, Wolf’s weight gain was satisfactory.

We switched pediatricians after that, transferring to a relative of Casey who held clinic in Asian Hospital. Continuing to track Wolf’s weight, she noted that he was slow to gain.

When Wolf was 1.5 months, I fell ill with a horrible dry cough that kept me awake all night for two weeks. I noticed at this time that Wolf became very fussy and would often suckle very lightly. I seldom heard him swallowing milk. I felt something was horribly amiss. At his two-month check-up, my fears were confirmed. His weight plummeted from 4.1 kg to 3.8 kg, placing him in the severely underweight bracket of the WHO weight chart. I suspected use of the shield coupled with my falling ill resulted in his weight loss. I tried weaning him from it but failed.

baby at two months
Wolf at two months
I sought help from my dad, an ENT surgeon at Philippine General Hospital. He referred me to a breastfeeding advocate pediatrician, Dr. Au Libadia, with whom I consulted over the phone. She recommended that I schedule a home visit with Ms. Lita Neri, a well-known lactation specialist. The first thing Ms. Lita said when she saw Wolf nursing was to take off the shield. She said that the shield interfered with milk flow and caused a shallow latch, resulting in Wolf’s slow weight gain. The shield was supposed to help with breastfeeding, but all it did, actually, was add more problems! She showed me how to wean him from the shield. The very next day, Wolf was successfully nursing without it. From then on, he began to gain weight more quickly. And on his fourth month, he was no longer underweight for his age.

It was such a relief to overcome all the initial obstacles I encountered, but while I was relieved, I was also frustrated at the lack of guidance I received from the medical practitioners I depended on when I was learning how to breastfeed. To think that I had access to care from one of the top hospitals! I shudder to think of how much worse the miseducation is in smaller health centers.

baby at two months wearing st. patrick
Underweight for two months old at 3.8 kg 😒
baby at four months wearing mothercare onesie
Normal weight for four months at 6.1 kg 😌

Going back to the beginning of this post, the root cause of many breastfeeding problems is that breastfeeding is, for the most part, hidden from plain sight. Women don’t know what a good latch is because they’ve never seen an infant latch. I would love to nurse Wolf in public without a cover, but I don’t know yet how I will react if others tell me to cover up. I don’t want to cause a scene, but at the same time, I know that nursing without a cover will definitely help normalize breastfeeding again. I hope one day I’ll be brave enough to do it. Though if we go to the beach, I’d do it without batting an eyelash, because I can always retort that there are many around me more scantily clad. Haha!

So consider this post as fair warning. If in the future, you run into me breastfeeding without a cover, you better not tell me off, because you’d be wasting your time. I do not want other new moms to have to experience the extreme anxiety and guilt that I experienced. I do not want other babies to go through the distress Wolf had to endure. If I muster up the courage to breastfeed without a nursing cover, I will be doing so not to be indecent, but to help new moms and babies breastfeed well. There is nothing sexual about that! Look away if you’re uncomfortable, but please don’t tell me to cover up. Let’s help normalize breastfeeding! ❀️

asian mom breastfeeding newborn baby
Breastfeeding Wolf at his newborn photo shoot 

My Traumatic yet Beautiful Birthing Experience

I remember that as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I gathered all the information I could on pregnancy and giving birth. I wanted to be able to make the best birth choices for my baby, and according to my research, that meant attempting a vaginal birth with little to no medical intervention. One statistic I came across is that inductions increase the chances of a c section delivery. It was easy for me to gloss over this statistic, until I was induced and became living proof of it.

The estimated due date of Wolf was December 25, 2016. Yes, he was God’s Christmas gift to us! One week before Christmas, my cervix was still closed. Our ob gyne, Dr. Angela Aguilar, said that if I didn’t go into labor within the week, I would be induced on the 26th. I had read about inductions possibly leading to c sections and so I really wanted to avoid being induced if possible. But at that last check-up, Wolf was already quite big, and so waiting past the due date would decrease the chances of him fitting through my pelvic area. I decided to agree to induction on the 26th while still praying that it wouldn’t come to that. The whole week prior to Christmas day, I walked as much as I could to encourage Wolf to descend. During our Christmas dinner on the 25th, my father, who is an ENT surgeon and the one who recommended his friend Dr. Aguilar, took one look at me and said, “Oh, he’s still high up.” My heart sank.

pregnant full term on Christmas Eve
With my sisters on Christmas Eve
pregnant full term with family on Christmas
Christmas Dinner on the 25th

On the 26th, I waited all morning for a sign that I was approaching active labor, but I felt nothing. Accepting defeat, I got ready to go to the hospital. I cried in the shower so my husband wouldn’t realize how scared I was. Although extremely anxious, at the back of my mind, I still believed I would deliver normally.

St. Luke's hospital selfie before labor
The Calm Before the Storm

I was admitted in the afternoon of December 26. Wolf came out via c section at 11:49 pm on December 27. I experienced 33 hours of labor, with no anesthesia for the first 24 hours. I wanted to get through the whole labor without pain medication, but because I was induced, the contractions came hard and fast. I knew that these contractions were medically triggered. They were not naturally initiated by my body. This awareness made it extremely difficult for me to accept and overcome the pain. As each contraction pummeled through my body, I kept thinking, “What if it’s not meant to be this strong or this frequent? What if my body would have timed this differently?” 

After 24 hours, I was exhausted and my baby’s station was not progressing. I realized at that point that I needed to request for anesthesia so I could get a small reprieve, because if I continued without any, sure, I would be able to say that I experienced the full pain of childbirth, but I would not have had any energy left to care for my baby. At that point, I believed that requesting for an epidural was the best for Wolf.

Dr. Aguilar approved of my decision to get an epidural midway, because it gave her the freedom to increase the dosage of the contraction-inducing pitocin without worrying about me being in pain. My husband told me that the nurses said Dr. Aguilar held the record at St. Luke’s Global for the highest number of normal deliveries, and so I was confident she would do her best to avoid cutting me open. She continued increasing the intensity and frequency of induced contractions, but Wolf just wouldn’t go down! At one point his heart rate began to drop due to the stress of the contractions. Finally, she told us that it was time to stop trying, citing failure of descent as the reason for opting for a c section. I was devastated. 

At 11 in the evening, I was wheeled into the operating room and prepped for surgery. I shivered uncontrollably as the doctors transferred me to the operating table. They kept asking me if I were cold. I wasn’t. I was in shock and holding back my tears. I never thought I would actually deliver via CS. My mom delivered me and my sisters normally. My older sister delivered normally. I felt like a failure.

I had read countless accounts of moms describing the rush of joy they felt when they saw their babies for the first time. I did not feel it. What I did feel, as I heard Wolf’s first cry, was extreme exhaustion and nausea as I slipped in and out of consciousness. My husband was not even able to get a proper family picture of the three of us in the operating room because I was so groggy.

husband cuts umbilical cord
Casey cut the umbilical cord, guided by our awesome OB, Dr. Angge Aguilar. ❀️
newborn is cleaned in delivery room
The newborn Wolf, bloated with IV fluid and squinting at the world!

My first birthing experience was definitely traumatic. It was terrible. But it was also beautiful. It may have been really different from how I had hoped it to be, but amid all my disappointment were moments of pure love. The contractions may have been artificially induced, but my husband’s constant encouragement was genuine. With every surge of pain, I felt Casey’s hands knead my back, I heard him remind me to breathe, and I saw his eyes well up as he comforted me.

husband with newborn at St. Luke's hospital
This is just one of the many photos Casey had with Wolf while I was stuck in the recovery room. 😞
mother resting with newborn after giving birth
Resting in our room after the grueling labor

I may not have delivered the way I hoped to deliver. Even weeks after the birth, I was miserable and frustrated. Although looking back, I beat myself up over the method of delivery, but what I needed to realize and appreciate is that without the option of a c section, my baby’s health may have been compromised. I certainly was not expecting a c section, and that is why I was not prepared for it and got traumatized. But it was a c section that kept me and my baby safe and healthy. I am thankful I had a successful birth. It was tough, it was the very opposite of what I had hoped and prayed for, but it was the best for Wolf, and that’s what matters most.

newborn at St. Luke's hospital in Aden + Anais teal swaddle
Baby Wolf, Day 1 ❀️

From Full-Time Banker to Full-Time Mother

If you came up to me a year ago and told me that I would some day consider being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I would laugh in your face. In fact, if you told me ten years ago that I would get married at 24 and have a baby at 26, I would never have believed you. I used to imagine myself growing old tied to nothing but a brilliant career. And yet here I am, wife and mother to my first born, and ready to embrace the life of a SAHM.

When I was still pregnant with my son, Wolfgang James, the possibility of resigning from my job never occurred to me. I was a foreign exchange trader in one of the top banks, recently promoted and with solid opportunities for advancement within reach. My husband and I planned to get a helper even before I gave birth so that we could train her adequately in preparation for my return to work. Little did I know, when raising a child, most plans tend to go out the window.

That was one of the first hard lessons I learned as a parent. My baby changed my life from the moment he gave his first loud cry. It was so different from when he was inside me. Suddenly, his total dependence on me for survival was very real. None of the numerous books and articles I had read on parenting could have prepared me for the overwhelming feeling of responsibility for another human being.

Fortunately, my husband, Casey, took an active role in sharing that responsibility. Together, we endured the long nights of the baby crying, and of me crying. Haha. The first few weeks were very frustrating for me, because I was recovering from an emergency CS operation that I never thought I would have to go through. I hated the feeling of helplessness, of loss of control. I was not used to it. But I am beginning to realize that I will encounter such situations more often, now that I am a mother. I planned for a normal unmedicated delivery but ended up delivering through C section. I planned on hiring a helper for my baby, but I ended up tendering my resignation. 

foreign exchange traders in bank dealing room
I will miss working with my teammates!

The story of my labor and delivery, I shall save for another post. This entry is about how we came to decide that I will be a SAHM. In the first two months after I gave birth, we had a helper, who we trained up to the point that we were confident in leaving her alone with Wolf. However, just when I was nearing the end of my maternity leave, the helper decided to go home to her province to attend to her children’s needs. It was a heavy blow to me, because the reason we hired her early on is so that we would have ample time to get to know and train her. We were suddenly left with no helper and very little time to find another one, let alone train that next one properly.

We extended my leave more than a month to buy us time to find a replacement, but to no avail. We had one helper that stayed a week before jumping ship and numerous leads that didn’t pan out. None of our relatives were available to look after Wolf regularly. We even considered daycares, but we found out that most do not accept infants as young as Wolf. 

I came to the bitter realization that the issues I encountered in finding care arrangements for Wolf are actually rooted in the inadequacy of our country’s maternity leave, a problematic policy that forces mothers to make compromises that they should not have to make. One may wonder why in many developed countries, most working mothers get by without nannies for their babies, yet in the Philippines, most dual-income households hire nannies. The difference in those other countries is the parental leave is long enough so that when the parents need to return to work, the child is old enough to enter daycare. Businesses here in the Philippines may see a longer maternity leave as unprofitable for them, but what they don’t realize is that an inadequate maternity leave results in many female employees needing to resign, causing the companies even greater losses.

At first, I felt so anxious about our failed quest for a caregiver for Wolf. I cursed my bad luck, envying my mommy friends who had trustworthy yayas at their disposal and were back at work. But it was my husband who made me see the light, who saw our situation as a blessing in disguise. Casey told me, “Our experience with these maids being unreliable made me realize that I actually do not want Wolf to be raised by a yaya. No one can replicate a mother’s love.” And as Hallmark-level cheesy as it sounded, I knew it was true. No one else will be as patient, caring, and selfless as I am with Wolf. Staying at home to be his primary caregiver ensures the best care for him. 

baby wearing mothercare jungle pattern onesie
My New Boss! πŸ˜…

Also, staying at home doesn’t mean I can’t work at least part-time. Gone are the days when money can be earned only in an office. There are many online jobs I can pursue. I also can continue to earn from freelance gigs (I play violin as a member of the awesome Manila String Machine). As for my career fulfillment in finance, who knows what opportunities may open up? I can go back to banking later on, or I can use my acquired skills in other ventures. When one door closes, several others open.

manila string machine string quartet philippines weddings
This is my other job that allows me to be with Wolf often. ☺️
breastfeeding in rustans makati philippines
My First Day of Momemployment ❀️

For now, my main focus will be raising Wolf. I will spend the little free time I have on this blog, which I have long wanted to start but didn’t have time for when I was still employed. I am standing at one of the great crossroads of my life. My ambitious younger self always imagined me standing alone. But beside me now, and till the end, are Casey and Wolf. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

A Letter to My Son on His Fourth Month in the World

baby sleeping soundly on my chest

Dear Baby Wolf, 

As I type this, you are sleeping peacefully on my tummy, in a deep slumber that is such a rare occurrence for you. This deep slumber is the aftermath of several hours of fitful naps that left you really tired. Your sleep is often light, causing you to twitch and wake easily even when I shift my body ever so slightly. Your sleep is also never too long, usually just one to two hours at a time. These four months have been exhausting for me. I used to need to sleep at least eight hours to feel fully rested. But these past months, I was lucky to get even three. 

Before you were born, I used to demand those eight hours of sleep every night. I would require the lights out by 10 pm, much to the frustration of your Dad, who would sneak in some PS4 time in the wee hours, playing at the lowest volume and hoping I wouldn’t wake up. When I did wake up, I complained to the high heavens, especially when I was pregnant with you.

I used to be demanding. I used to complain and get my way often. There are a lot of things I used to be that I no longer am and may never be again. Because of you.

You came into this world, and I met my match. You were way more demanding, and way more in need. I was no longer the one who would get my way. I could not sleep when I wanted. I could not eat or bathe when I pleased. I could not go out whenever I felt like it. Your needs and wants would come before mine, because they were more urgent, and you were more helpless. All of this I realized, and all of this, I embraced.

You are amazing, baby. You changed me. I am more patient, more understanding, less selfish. I would say I’m just as passionate and ambitious, but these traits are now mainly focused towards being the best mother I can be for you.

I am exhausted right now. But I am not complaining nor demanding rest. I am gazing at your angelic face and thanking God that you are sleeping soundly.

I love you Baby Wolf. Happy four months! Thank you for making me a better person. Thank you for making me a mother.


Yours always,