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It’s in the genes!: My review of the CircleDNA DNA test service

I saw it randomly as an advertisement on my Facebook feed and out of curiosity (and maybe boredom), I clicked to find out more. I’ve always been intrigued at the idea of using DNA material to unlock information about health and diseases, especially since I have relatives with hereditary diseases like cancer, diabetes and stroke.

While I still think there is something a tad Black Mirrorish about the idea of using DNA to organize society, (can DNA test for intelligence? If yes, should these results be used to determine access to universities and other privileges?) it cannot be denied that genetics can help us access information to benefit our lives. In my case, the information I wanted to learn most about was the health risks we might have managed to pass on to Jan Andres.

And as you’ll find below, was I glad I did!

So I bought two Premium kits for me and my son (husband didn’t want to lol), paid for it at the website, and waited for the kits to come. You can choose from around 3 options with various price points but I got the premium one because it seemed to be the most bang for the buck with 500 reports in 20 categories.

It only took a few days before I got the kits sent to me via FedEx (price is all-inclusive) and I opened the boxes immediately to to extract the DNA. It was a straightforward process of swiping the provided cotton swab in one’s inner cheek and then putting the swab in a vial with a solution. You then seal the vial and put it in the FedEx bag (also provided) with a pre-paid stamp to send back. In my case, I sent it back the same day through the fedex guy. You download an app and wait 3 weeks for the results.

The results came a bit earlier than the date on the app and I excitedly downloaded them. Will share some interesting things from our results.

For my son, apparently he’s 53% European and 47% — something that my European husband is chuffed about because, in his words, there’s more of “him” ( I carried that boy for 9 months, was bedridden for one month, and apparently that doesn’t matter?? 😫🤣).

We were also quite intrigued upon learning that his European side is predominantly Eastern European. Considering his Dad is Dutch, it must mean that their European ancestors migrated from Eastern Europe, close to Russia. According to his results and mine, I am also more East Asian than Malay — another bit of surprise.

The entire document they send you for the premium kit is quite a long PDF file with several categories, of which ancestry is only one. You get diet and lifestyle, behavior, health and disease, family planning, and drug response.

For behavior, for example, my results say I am not so agreeable. (I’m not sure I agree! Haha!)

I’m only going to post a small sample of our results to give an idea of the information that can be retrieved via DNA testing. (I will also not post any results on intelligence and aptitude, particularly of my son.)

I also found very helpful the portion on sports and fitness because they tell you what workouts are optimal. As you can see, my fatigue resistance is below average and I should go for high endurance workouts.

The disease risk was what was very important to me, and you get to that after a LOT of information — including mosquito bite risk (apparently I’m at high risk for mosquito bites. 🤷🏻‍♀️). They start you off with the common diseases. These are my common disease risks. I have 7 common disease risks out of hundreds of common diseases so I guess it’s not so bad.

Then they go to the big guys. Luckily, my son and I tested negative for cancer-mutating genes. Thirty five types of cancers were tested and we were negative for each one. But the test was quick to remind that there are non-genetic factors as well.

But here’s the biggest part — we learned something big and concerning in Jan Andres’s test results. We found out that he is a cystic fibrosis carrier. As you can imagine, it was quite distressing for us, but especially for my husband who had two relatives who passed away from cystic fibrosis.

The fact that the test was corroborated by real-world evidence (ie, the deaths in my husband’s family) spoke to its reliability, at least in the testing of disease risk. I frantically did Google research and found out that an individual only develops symptoms if BOTH parents are carriers. Since I tested negative for CF in my own results, it reassured us that my son will not develop symptoms. However, his future partner will need to be tested to ensure they don’t pass it to their kids.

So for that piece of information alone, the cost of the test was worth it.

Do I recommend the test? It depends. If you’re like me and want to be prepared for any contingency, like if you want to know if you have the cancer gene to maybe prepare financially for it in the future, then go ahead. Our DNA never changes so you can get your kids tested and it will be relevant information even two decades from now.

But I also have friends who say they aren’t emotionally prepared to be confronted with unpleasant information and prefer to live life unburdened — I totally get that too. I also know people who don’t want to know if their kids will be genetically good in Math, Languages or the performing arts because that encourages a fixed instead of growth mindset, and I kind of agree so yes, I took that information with a giant grain of salt. The reason I’m not even posting it here because I can’t risk my son seeing it 10 years from now.

Overall however, the health and disease aspect is immensely valuable for me.

For those with no kids, you can also get the test to help your lifestyle and wellness goals. I think the cheapest variant of the test gives you insights on workouts, nutrition and overall wellness and maybe that’s important too.

If you want to know more about CircleDNA and get a 30% discount on kits, you can use my referral code by clicking here. 🙂 https://ambassador.circledna.com/l/1JAYEBEKEMA71/

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Home fitness routines: pandemic edition

A question a friend asked me at the start of the year was: what is the one thing you hope won’t end when the vaccines come. My answer came easy — zoom fitness classes! I just love how I only need to throw on my workout clothes literally 5 minutes before the class and as soon as the class ends, I can hop right back in to what I was working on in my laptop, or whatever it is on my plate for the day. No traffic, parking, Grab issues. No temptations to pass by that smoothie joint located just outside my gym (although admittedly that was nice).

Today I’m going to talk about some of the online-based fitness classes I’ve managed to try and why they’ve worked for me. If you’re like me, you’ve probably made your fitness goals for the year. Maybe this will help. Obviously this is not an exhaustive list — just a very short list of the things I’ve personally tried and liked.

For yoga, I’ve tried a few yoga classes at Urban Ashram. What I like about them is they have different classes for different skill levels. You never have to feel shy about being a beginner. They also have different yoga practices so whether you do Hatha or Ashtanga or Vinyasa, you’ll be right at home. They also have restorative or relaxing yoga, which is more meditative, and I like to do that at the end of a long day (or a long zoom webinar!) They often have promos, especially for beginners, so you can try it out first at a budget-friendly price.

For those who don’t like live classes because their schedules are erratic, I recommend the Down Dog app. Their primary thing is yoga, but they also have HIIT classes. What I like about it is you can choose the body part to focus on, the skill level, the music genre, the pace, and even the voice of the instructor. Here’s their website in case you’re interested.

My home fitness habit, however, and my online “home” for all things fitness is Plana Forma. I’ve been going to their studio since 2014 (albeit on and off) so I’m familiar with the Plana Forma barre routine. But more than that, unlike a lot of studios, they transitioned to virtual really well. Booking for the class is intuitive and done through the website, they send you a zoom link and when you enter the zoom meeting room, everything feels organized and professional. There’s an “admin” that first announces the house rules, then the teacher comes in to brief on the movements, then 50 solid minutes of hard work. It’s fun, never repetitive, and there are always modifications in case your body wants to take it easy for the day. The teachers are friendly and accommodating to newbies. Check them out here.

Do I miss the socializing at the gym? Or the quick coffee date after a yoga class at the studio? Yes, of course. But that will come in time. Meanwhile, there are lots to be happy about in just clicking a zoom link and pulsing at the barre (or makeshift barre aka dining room chair) or finding yourself in Warrior 2. Also you can snore during shavasana and no one will mind!

As a yoga company said, nama-stay at home!

My workout buddy and me
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Boracay in 2021? Yes please!

After our experience with COVID-19, we have always been extremely careful about virus exposure. We limit our discretionary activities, avoid crowded places, say no to social gatherings, and of course, wear masks whenever we go out. But the months indoors in our little condo in Quezon Cityhave started to weigh down on us, we had leave days from work that we did not want to waste, and we had airline travel credits that would make our flights free (well, not free, but prepaid). In the end, however, what tilted the decision in favor of traveling was the requirement of RT-PCR tests. “Every tourist in Boracay would have had a negative swab test before flying in, going to Boracay will be safer than going to Megamall on a weekend,” my husband pointed out.

Friends have asked about the details of our trip — from the pre-trip preparations and paperwork, airline and hotel health protocols, what to expect during the trip, restaurants that are open — so I have decided to write about our Boracay 2020 experience. To guide you, yes, but also to encourage you, because, number one, the health protocols are really strict, and second and equally important, I’ve been to Boracay maybe 10 times already, and this is the most beautiful I have seen it. I hope that our Boracay 2020 experience will be helpful in planning your Boracay 2021 experience.

Beautiful Boracay

PRE-TRIP PREPARATIONS

As you probably know, an RT-PCR test is required 72 hours before your flight. The 72 hours is counted from the time of extraction. Our provider of choice is the Philippine Red Cross in Mandaluyong because on both times that we got swabbed there, we got our results via email in 7 hours. You don’t even need to call them, they have a very reliable booking platform that you can access here. Cost per head is PhP3,800.00, which you can pay via credit card. Make sure you come 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment. Please note that parking is rather difficult in the premises, so either go via taxi/Grab, or bring a driver. Process inside Red Cross is very straightforward and the staff is kind and know what they are doing (they disinfect like, literally every minute). If your group has a senior citizen or a child, you get priority seating. Speaking of child, they are so nice and patient with children. The swabber was so good and fast that my son didn’t cry at all, and when he was done, they all said to him, “Congrats, Superman!”

When you get the results via email, now you need to send them over to the Aklan LGU. Everything you need to know is in this link. Make sure you have your flight itinerary, hotel booking information, and a photo of one valid ID per guest, which you will email together with the swab results to this email: touristboracay@gmail.com. If you are a group, you can email the documents in one go, just make sure that the file names are properly labeled. If staying in the same hotel and having one flight itinerary, you can have attach one document only, but there should be separate documents for the IDs and swab tests. My experience has been that they respond very quickly (within an hour) and they send a QR code per person via email.

It is possible to just save the QR code in your phone and show it digitally, but printing it on paper for each person is so much better, especially when travelling as a group. Why? Because you will show that QR code at least three times before you get to the island, and if in a group, one person can just have all the documents with QR codes in hand. Holding 6 sheets of paper is easier than holding 6 mobile phones. You may also want to print your swab results as this will be asked in the airline check-in counter.

And for my last pre-trip tip, if travelling through NAIA Terminal 3 airport, download the TRAZE contact tracing app on your phone at home. It is necessary in the airport, and it eats up a lot of time if you download the app and register your information in front of the counter.

AIRPORT AND FLYING

NAIA Terminal 3 is comfortable and there are not enough flights yet for social distancing to be an issue. The main differences are the temperature checks, the contact tracing (via the TRAZE app), and the stricter health protocols upon check-in. In addition to ID cards, the check-in personnel will ask to see your swab test results, your QR code and your hotel booking. This makes the process longer, but one of course understands. I would say, to be sure, arrive in the airport 2.5 hours before your flight, especially if you have check-in luggage. Of course, it goes without saying that you need your face shield and your mask.

After check-in, you can proceed to your gate as normal. Some, but not all, restaurants and cafes are open. You’ll have enough to choose from, I guess, should you find yourself hungry while waiting. We travelled via Air Asia this December (flight credits!), and one issue that I have with them is that they sell food in a one-hour flight. This means that some people would be taking off their shields and masks. When I travelled via Cebu Pacific in October, the airline had a very strict face mask and face shield policy, which I found comforting. Cebu Pacific also had a one-seat-apart rule while Air Asia did not. (To be fair, we traveled via Air Asia during the holidays when there were more tourists travelling.)

TRANSFERS

Upon disembarkation, everyone queues for the check of the QR code. There are many counters, so this will not take long. There are personnel to speed up the lines and ensure social distancing. I have to say, I was really impressed with Aklan LGU for the efficiency of this process. It does eat around 15 minutes of your time, but it also makes you feel safe. After passing through the counter, you now look for your transportation provider to the resort. We had Klook credits, so I booked Boracay transfers from them. The provider is Southwest Tours. IMHO, you might be better off booking hotel transfers or exclusive transfers if you want to feel super safe.

There is another queue to check the QR Code before getting on the boat. It is still possible to do everything DIY, but it really helps to have pre-arranged transfers because they guide you on what to do and the boat tickets are bundled with the price. Even if you’ve been to Boracay before, the new procedures may be a little confusing.

HOTEL

After what may seem like a looooong process after the plane ride, you’re finally at your hotel. On our first night, we stayed at the Hue Hotel, and on our second to fourth nights we moved to the Henann Regency in Station 2. (Why two hotels? We decided to fly an earlier day and instead of adding one day to our paid booking at the Henann, we chose to experience another hotel.) Hue Hotel was great — very very clean rooms and everything was sparking. My only issue was that most of the small food stalls in Station X were closed (or had closed down?) and that was why I wanted to stay in Hue in the first place.

Poolside at Hue

We then moved to Henann Regency the next day. I had good memories of the Henann Regency from several years ago, and since we wanted to be close to restaurants (and were afraid that some food places would still be closed) we decided to book there. Although the beds were still comfy, the rooms do show signs of age.

Both Hue and Henann were very good with health protocols. We received sanitation kits in both hotels, with alcohol bottles and face masks. There were temperature checks as well.

THE BEACH.

BORACAY. IS. GORGEOUS. Full stop. One look at the sunset and I knew I made the decision to bring my family here.

The sand is still blindingly white, the sunset still spectacular, and the ocean the bluest I have ever seen it. Boracay has amazing restaurants, world-class hotels, great massages — but at the end of the day, it is all about the beach. And the beach is still flabbergasting.

Of course, we did get to try some of our favorite restaurants in Boracay and I am happy to report that the oldies but goodies are still around. We ate in Lemoni Cafe and Aria, and it’s nice to know that these two well-loved restaurants are still alive and kicking. Another excellent find was Cha Cha’s Beach Cafe, which was so good we ate there twice. Just look at that Poke bowl!

Poke bowl at Cha Cha’s

And finally, I should also recommend the Mandala Spa. When we went there, all services were at 60% off! It was so good that I told my husband it was the best spa experience of my life and we should plan to go there for our tenth anniversary. It may also be worth noting that the masseuses were in masks, shields and PPE the whole time.

Mandala spa

And as a final word (and gentle reminder) on going to Boracay in 2020, or Boracay in 2021, there will be a lot of a locals offering services from hair braids to boat trips to Henna tattoos to what have you. It will be repetitive and, at some point, exasperating. Please remember that these locals have gone without livelihood for months. Tourism is their only source of livelihood and that source was plugged twice: during the cleanup of 2018, and the pandemic of 2020. Patronize when you can (and PAY FULL PRICE, NO TAWAD!), and if you cannot, say no gently.

I hope this post was helpful and that your takeaway message is: Go to Boracay in 2021!

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Work-away-from-home Mom (and happy to be)

My son goes to a baby class every Saturday. Many times I join him, but the nature of my work sometimes requires me to work on weekends. So there have been times when only my husband goes, or Leizl, Jan’s trusty Tita-yaya.

Last Saturday, I was there, after many Saturdays not being there. The teacher assistant, with a bright smile, told me: “So good to see you today, Mommy! I guess you have no work today! It must be so hard for you when you have to work on weekends.” I think she meant nothing by it, of course, but it gnawed on me nonetheless. I felt reproached, attacked, and — most of all — guilty. Because, well, I realized that it has NOT been particularly hard for me when I have to work on weekends.

In 2019 in the Philippines, or at least in the urban middle-class section of it, work-away-from-home moms (my boss gently corrected me when I described non-stay at home moms as Working Moms, because all moms are working moms 😊) are the norm. Women don’t get judged for pursuing careers. But it seems that women still get judged for loving their careers or overtly coveting professional success. It’s like, yes ok you can work, but please be pained about it, please fulfill our social expectation of you as a reluctant, agonizing, guilty career woman. (In contrast, men are told to be as driven and as ambitious as they can possibly be.)

See, I love my job. I love it with a passion. I like that I am able to help influence national policy and legislation, particularly for women and children. I know myself enough to know that I cannot be a SAHM — I don’t have the patience for it and honestly, I can only read Green Eggs and Ham a maximum of two times a day (I do not like it Sam-I-Am..) before I go crazy. And yes, I do recognize the privileges I enjoy that allow me to pursue the things I pursue, and I know that these privileges are not available to a lot of women.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s super important to be present in your child’s life. I won’t miss any of his milestones. I’m happy to take a leave from work if he falls sick. I’ll cheer wildly at all his sports games (or spelling bees or master chef competitions). But I’m also going to put on my office clothes and high heels with a pep in my step, not with a huge albatross around my heart.

There’s this famous commercial in the Philippines that asks “para kanino ka bumabangon?” (Who do you wake up for?). And it suggests that people wake up and slug it out in the rat race for their family and the people they love. I’ve always felt ambivalent about that commercial because, well, I wake up for my family, but I also wake up for myself. I wake up to a new day to make me a better person, to be part of the conversations that matter, to improve and develop the parts of me that aren’t necessarily mommy.

And, at the end of the day, doesn’t THAT make me a better mommy?

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Visiting a DevPed: what to expect, how to prepare

When I told some friends that we were going to visit a Developmental Pediatrician for our son, many told me it was a needless expense. There’s nothing wrong with your kid, they all said. He doesn’t have any learning disabilities, they assured me. Yes, Jan was hitting all his milestones, but I was still concerned about what I perceived to be a speech delay and wanted to discuss with an expert how best to navigate a trilingual household with a toddler.

It was just one visit, after all, and we do monthly trips to the general pediatrician to check if all moving parts are working. Shouldn’t we make that one visit to a devped to see if our child is developmentally at par with his peers? I felt that the answer was yes, and after our visit with the devped, I am more convinced that all parents should see a devped with their babies at least once.

We didn’t know what to expect for our first visit, honestly. There also weren’t many resources online, especially for Manila-based folks. I thought this little guide might be helpful for first-timers like us:

1. Set an appointment way in advance and prepare to wait.

There aren’t a lot of devpeds in the country. For a population of 108 million, where young people are the majority, we only have around 51 devpeds as of 2018. When we called to make an appointment for a devped in a hospital convenient to us, I was told that the next availability was February 2020! Good thing we found a schedule with Dr. Melinda Francisco Best. I called in June and got a schedule for August in Pasig Doctors Medical Center. Don’t be picky with the location, as a devped isn’t like a regular Pedia where you have to go monthly.

2. Make sure your child gets lots of rest before the appointment.

There will be lots of tests so it’s not a good idea to come with a cranky child. Make sure he or she gets a long nap before the visit and is well-fed and comfortable.

3. Come early

Coming early means your kid can get used to the environment first. Also, sudden tantrums, hunger issues, diaper issues can be addressed without rushing. This is really important because the child will be given a series of tests to test his skills and he or she needs to be in the right frame of mind.

4. Come with the child’s daily carer

A lot of questions will be asked about the daily routines of the child, questions that can be a challenge for the work-out-of-home parent, no matter how involved or loving. It is important to bring the daily carer of the child — yaya, grandparent, primary caregiver parent. Not only because the doctor will ask questions about the daily routine of the child, but also because advice will be given on how to interact with the child moving forward.

5. Be encouraging but don’t pressure!

The child will be subjected to maybe half a dozen of tests. Shape-sorting, identifying parts of the body of him/herself and of another person, matching household items with uses, grouping together same colored objects — all these tests in quick succession. It can be a bit stressful (naimagine ko na sarili ko pag nag-uUPCAT anak ko lol) but don’t show stress or anxiety to your child. Encourage good work, don’t look disappointed when your child can’t do some of the tests (it’s a diagnostic, not qualifying test!) and most of all don’t pressure.

6. Answer questions honestly.

Most parents’ natural tendency is to brag about their kids, but the clinic of a devped is not the place to overstate or go on and on a child’s achievements. Save that for mommy dates or shindigs with other parents. The point is to diagnose problems, and to diagnose them early. The doctor is trained to ask questions that will ferret out development issues, and honesty is absolutely critical.

7. Disclose.

Nobody wants to be shamed for how they parent, but full disclosure is important in allowing an optimal exchange between doctor and the parents. If your child is exposed to gadgets and TV has become a substitute nanny, that information has to be shared to the doctor. If parents are working through marital issues and they think it has been affecting the child, that information should be discussed as well.

8. Have a list of prepared questions.

Maximize the consultation by having a list of prepared questions. In our case, we wanted to ask questions about our peculiar language arrangement at home, about Skyping with his Dutch relatives and about encouraging speech.

9. Ask for tips

Similar to number 8, don’t be shy to ask for tips. Our doctor gave us a number of tips on how to stimulate our child’s brain development and language skills, considering that he doesn’t get to socialize with other kids. These included enunciating words very clearly, finding opportunities for interaction with other children, reading books several times a day.

10. Make sure you get the written evaluation of your child’s development

Your doctor should give you a written evaluation or your child’s development in all areas tested. It was helpful for us to see the areas where our boy was ahead of the pack (reasoning skills of a 2-2.5 year old, lol, hello future annoying teenager) and where he needed more help. If we come back after a year (our doctor said we might want to, just to check progress) then the written report is a helpful baseline.

***Our devped is Dra. Melinda Francisco-Best. You can contact her through her secretary at 09161128267. For the list of devpeds in the Philippines, check this out.

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There’s a baby on my bed

When I gave birth last year, my husband and I were VERY clear about the fact that we would not co-sleep. Nope. Uh-uh. No, sir. “Our marriage bed is ours alone”, “He needs to learn independence” — these are some things we told ourselves even when our son was a month old. For my husband, it’s the only parenting style he knows. For me, to be honest, after the long days of maternity leave and the rhythm of breastfeeding and baby caring, I welcomed and needed the, well, adult ‘energy’.

We even got ourselves a sleep coach who taught us all about routines and schedules. We knew our son wanted to snuggle in between us and could always sleep faster when burrowed deep in one parent’s armpit or splayed on one parent’s chest, but we wanted him to grow accustomed to sleeping alone in his bed. And for a while, he did. Fast forward to now:

Humble pie, right? 😂 We were as smug as a bug in a rug until we, umm, had to share the rug.

I think I know how it happened, and when. My husband — who had been running our small businesses and previously worked on his own time — got himself a job in BGC and found himself out of the house for long hours. He would come back to a sleeping baby who he had barely enough time to be with in the morning. So when Small Jan would cry for his midnight feed, Big Jan would scoop him up and put him next to us. It was his time with his son.

But sooner than soon, “baby energy” was all over our bed, along with toys, milk and random drops of pee. And of late, this baby energy also moves and kicks like crazy. And bends it like Bekema. (Haha. Yay me, good one.) This baby energy has colonized our bed completely. Husband barely gets sleep — last night, he actually moved to the sofa bed in the nursery after a particularly strong kick from our little tyrant. Me, I wake up earlier than I need to. A baby shaking you at 5am tends to lead to that outcome. And owing to all these, mornings feel stressed and harried.

This is not going to be a post with some big-ticket message at the end on how the nights are long but the days are short blah blah. This is a post about pee on the pillow, a happy meal toy poking up one’s spine, and all the other oddball 2am things about parenthood that don’t get written in hallmark cards.

And a shoutout to fellow harried parents just to say: hang in there, you’re not alone.

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Sick, sad or scared

When my son was around seven months old, he contracted a fever. It wasn’t really very high, and his pedia told us it was probably brought on by a tooth making its way out. But he was grumpy, woozy and wanted to be in my arms all the time. It’s not easy holding a baby through a long night, it’s harder still when the long night follows a long day at work. But every time I tried to put him down on his crib, he would start crying like crazy. And every time I brought him closer to my chest, his tiny body would visibly relax. He would bury his little self as deep as he possibly could into my chest, as if finding in it an escape from the world.

Two thoughts occurred to me. First was absolute amazement that I — with all my imperfections, insecurities and uncertainties — was all this other human being needed at that moment, nothing more and nothing less. I was his safe place, his perfect home. Second was panic: that this moment will not last forever, that he will grow and be independent. And he will start finding his own way and needing things I cannot provide.

As I was rocking him gently, I found myself making him a promise. I call it the “Three S promise”. When he is sick, sad, or scared — any or all of those three — no matter how old he is, no matter where I am and what I’m doing, if he needs me to hold him, I will hold him. My arms will always be his home.

Whether he is three and scared of a thunderstorm, thirteen and down with a tummy ache, or thirty three and blindsided by life, as long as I am around and as long as he wants it, I will hold him. And he doesn’t need to explain if he doesn’t want to. No questions will be asked. No judgment will be made. He just has to say he is sick, sad or scared, and I will hold him as long as he needs to be held.

It will be our code word for a lifetime.

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Best breastfeeding supplements in Manila

Two mommy friends who read my earlier blog post about how Trying your Best is Best asked me what I did to sustain breastfeeding for a year, given my undersupply problems. I told them that I tried virtually all the breastfeeding aids in the market in my zealous quest for more milk (this I was not a lazy mama about!)

So then they requested me to write this blog post to share what I thought of these products, considering that I tried them all. Just a small disclaimer: these are all just based on my personal experience. Some products that worked for me may not work for other Moms. And another thing, obviously, one should keep drinking lots and lots of water and eat healthy.

Let me break down this review into three categories: capsules and supplements, lactation goodies, drinks and teas.

I also want to say at this point that I bought ALL the supplements I tried.

1. Capsules and supplements

I experimented with a lot of capsules and supplements in the early days of breastfeeding. I tried Fenugreek, but I really did not like how it made my sweat smell like maple syrup. Hearing a lot of good reviews about malunggay supplements, I tried 4 brands for two weeks each: Mega-Malunggay, Natalac, Life Oil, and Atienza Naturale Malunggay. What I liked about Life Oil is that it doesn’t give off that “matcha burp” — that distinct matcha grassy flavor you get from the other supplements. It is likely because it is made of oil and not of dried leaves. Atienza Naturale, on the other hand, is the cheapest of all 4 supplements (not by a lot, though). So if you are price-sensitive, you might want to consider that. However, after the one month of experimentation, I noticed that my milk supply increased the most with Mega-Malunggay, and I get stronger letdowns. I didn’t like the matcha burp but, oh well.

Another kind of supplement I tried is the Legendairy line. They come in different variants, which you can read more about here. For me, Pump Princess worked the least and Liquid Gold and Lechita worked the most. Mega malunggay helped the quantity of milk supply and Liquid Gold and Lechita made my milk rich and fatty. I cannot going to be scientific about this — all I can say is that I definitely noticed that my milk became creamier after using Legendairy for a week. I used to take one capsule thrice a day of the mega malunggay and two capsules thrice a day of Liquid Gold or Lechita (alternating between the two month on month). This combination sustained me during the first six months when my son was consuming nothing but breastmilk.

2. Lactation goodies

I tried so many Lactation goodies, and to be honest, many were yummy but I cannot be sure if they helped my milk flow. My favorite and the yummiest for me was MilkingBombsbyABC. Those things are seriously addictive. I wolfed down cookie after cookie while breastfeeding and it does feel packed with ingredients, like flax seed and such. Another favorite of mine is MamaChows oatmeal cookies. I cannot be 100% sure, but it did seem like I had stronger letdowns after snacking on those two goodies. I take these goodies once in a while only because I’m scared of the calories hehe.

3. Drinks and teas

I love iced tea so it was great to discover that there was such a thing as lactation iced tea. I drank a lot of MQT Moringa Tea, and love the subtle lemongrass flavor. I am not a big water drinker so this helped me get my liquid intake up.

But I think what helped the most was Lactablend coffee mix. I was at a steady 4-5oz per pump session from the supplements (malunggay + legendairy) and when I tried Lactablend, my output shot up to 6oz per pump. It’s not the greatest tasting coffee, which was my biggest challenge because I need quality caffeine in the morning. What I do is I take the Lactablend at home, then when I go to the office, I get myself a proper cup of java.

SUMMARY:

So in sum, here is my tried and tested lactation support routine during my EBF days:

Morning – 1 capsule mega malunggay + 2 Legendairy, lactablend coffee

Lunch – 1 capsule mega malunggay, 2 Legendairy, MQT iced tea

Dinner – 1 capsule mega malunggay. 2 Legendairy, MQT iced tea

Mamachow and MilkbombsbyABC for snacks. MQT iced tea as thirst quencher throughout the day.

Now that my baby is 1.3 years and eating solids, I took out the Legendairy (too expensive!) and substituted with 2 capsules of Mega Malunggay thrice a day and Lactablend in the morning.

Baby Love My Baby Love, Uncategorized

Trying your best is best

I remember one afternoon, while on holiday in Singapore, I was breastfeeding my child at a nursing area. A woman and her child then sat on the seat in front of me. I smiled the mommy-solidarity smile, and then looked curiously at the bottle, only because it was of an odd shape. She caught my glance, misinterpreted it, and then said, “yeah, breast is best, right?”. I was startled for a few seconds, not knowing what to say. Finally, I just said, “no, no, I was just looking at your bottle. That’s an Interesting thing inside.” (It turned out to be a vent system against colic). She then smiled, like she didn’t believe me, and we went our separate feeding ways. Then when she was done, as she was packing up and leaving, she glanced at me and said, “For me, fed is best” and then walked out. I didn’t know how to react at that moment, but felt several things: resentment at being lumped into a ‘camp’ I didn’t want to be in, and whose members I actually dislike (the sanctimonious nursing-nazi camp), compassion for moms that feel judged all the time, sadness that there are even camps to begin with.

Few things divide moms as much as the “breast is best” vs the “fed is best” debate. Let me get one thing out of the way: I think there is enough peer-reviewed scientific evidence to demonstrate the superior benefits of breastmilk compared to formula. For this reason, I have chosen to breastfeed my child exclusively for his first year. I also think that the tag “fed is best” is problematic even semantically, because, err, feeding your child is the minimum. Starvation is, I think we will all agree, unacceptable. How can fed be the best and the minimum at the same time? Lastly, there are credible reports of milk companies that use predatory practices to aggressively push formula, and this should not be countenanced.

AT THE SAME TIME, I think something really needs to be said about the self-righteousness of “breast is best” advocates, and how this self-righteousness is really not helping further the breastfeeding agenda. Women are made to feel they are not trying hard enough, and are shamed for considering mixed-feeding or switching to formula altogether. In a breastfeeding group I used to belong to, moms were always told “unli-latch lang yan!” to virtually each and every breastfeeding difficulty reported on. Do they have any clue how hard it is to have a hungry, wailing child at the breast because no milk is coming out? Because I do. Do they know how stressful it is to be pumping like a fiend in the middle of the day, between work meetings, and then getting only 2 oz after thirty minutes of pumping? Because I do.

Yes, I soldiered on. And yes, I successfully exclusively breastfed my child for his first year, but it’s not because I’m some wondermama. it’s also because I’m in a position of privilege. I have a job where I know I won’t get fired for taking long breaks to pump milk. I was given maternity leave in accordance with law. These are things that are not readily available to a female worker working in a factory or fastfood joint on contractual status. Are they any less a wondermama than I am? I think not.

And so this is my alternative formulation for women (like me) who feel caught in the middle of ‘breast is best’ and ‘fed is best’: Trying your best is best. For mommies, let’s try to breastfeed our children, because the evidence of its benefits are incontrovertible. But if it doesn’t work out, we need to tell ourselves that we are not lesser moms for looking for acceptable, medically-sound alternatives. We need not only to forgive ourselves, but to trust that the best we can give is truly the best for our child.

For communities that surround mommies, for families and friends of mommies, the ‘trying your best is best’ framework means that, while we ensure the availability of information and resources to enable breastfeeding, we are not allowed to second-guess women when they say that they try but that it’s not happening. We are allowed to heckle pharmaceutical companies that push formula to moms, but we are not allowed to make mothers feel inadequate for the choices they make. We put the needs of babies as paramount, but we should not ignore the mental health needs of new mothers who are already overwhelmed by this bewildering new frontier called motherhood. Most of all, we need to trust that all mothers want the best for their child and would give an arm and a leg to nourish them in the best way possible.

Because when mothers give their best, they give enough.

Uncategorized

On her First Mother’s Day, please spoil her rotten

Dear husband of first-time Moms,

I am writing this to you because this might not seem so obvious. Maybe you’re one of those people who say things like “Valentines is just a way to milk money out of guilty husbands who ignore their wives 364 days in a year”, or “Santa Claus is capitalism in a fat suit”. Maybe you hate crowds and being a bandwagoner. Or you tell yourself that you don’t need an occasion to tell your wife she’s an awesome mother.

All valid (though the Santa bit is a bit of a gray area). But let me tell you this: if this is your wife’s first Mother’s Day, please PLEASE pull out all the stops.

Think about it. If this is her first Mother’s Day, it means that she probably is still healing from the delivery, whether Caesarian or normal. She will probably not have lost that baby weight, and is saddled with insecurities every time she looks at herself in the mirror. Maybe she is struggling with postpartum depression, maybe she isn’t. But she certainly is overwhelmed AF, struggling with providing for the 24/7 needs of a little human being completely dependent on her. She is up at 3am everyday, nursing or pumping — some days feeling nothing but pure waves of love for the creature on her lap, but some days thinking longingly of night outs with friends or date nights with you and feeling the weight of isolation.

So no, her first Mother’s Day is ABSOLUTELY not the time to talk about how it’s all Hallmark commercial crap and hell no you’re not a sucker. Spoil her, fuss over her, pamper her, tell her she’s beautiful, because guess what, she’s flailing. And she needs a day when it’s not about her baby, it’s not about your cute new family, it’s about HER.

So please daddies, go crazy on the First. ☺️

P.S. I personally didn’t have a pull-out-all-the-stops First Mother’s Day. But it was because we had just arrived from an emotional trip to the Netherlands with our then two-month-old where we said goodbye to my father in law. My Mother’s Day celebration was at a Chinese restaurant at the mall closest to our house, on the Monday after. It wasn’t exactly what I imagined, but it was the best at the time. ❤️