It’s World Breastfeeding Week. Honestly I did not even know such a thing exists. I have worked in the HR function (for a medically oriented and female population dominant organization) and still had not heard of this. Why then such a global importance attached to an act so natural and so vital. In infancy, no gift is more precious than breastfeeding, yet barely one in three infants is exclusively breastfed during the first six months of life across the world. (Source: TOI) According to UNICEF statistics, in India, early initiation of breastfeeding stands at a mere 40.5% (provision of mother’s breast milk to infants within one hour of birth is referred to as “early initiation of breastfeeding”) and exclusive breastfeeding for babies less than 6 months is at 46.4%. For an act so natural, simple and cost-effective why such low numbers? The answer is plain to see actually: breastfeeding is not easy. Breastfeeding is not encouraged. Breastfeeding is doubted. Breastfeeding is underrated.
I admit I was wet behind the ears too when it came to breastfeeding. Don’t blame me, I had no immediate examples of pregnancies or breastfeeding around me. What I had heard or learned from was that breastfeeding doesn’t happen to every mother and its okay if breastfeeding isn’t done. But I knew I wanted to breastfeed for all the benefits that baby would get. Luckily for me I found a support group on Facebook – Breastfeeding Support for Indian Moms. It amazed me that such a group was needed and when I joined, I didn’t expect to be hit in the face with the horror stories and misinformed mistakes that new mothers posted about there.
Today I am proud to say babyT is exclusively breastfed. We are currently on 7+ months. Our goal is to take it to two years. But none of my family, including my husband know about it yet, because I am not sure how they would react or respond. So I am planning to cross that bridge when I get to it.
In light of WBW, I thought I would chronicle our journey a little bit and write about what has worked for us.
- Be prepared – I had no live examples of pregnancies or baby rearing in front of me to rely on. All my closest friends & family were either abroad or raising babies when I was still out there partying like there was no tomorrow. I had to rely on research. This came in the form of books like What to Expect, or Facebook communities like BSIM. Read all you can about breastfeeding, what is breast-milk, colostrum and why it is important (I have read painful stories of how some people consider colostrum as bad milk and pump and throw it away.), growth spurts & how breastfeeding can help, feeding on demand and the funniest, most ridiculous myths surrounding breastfeeding. I remember I spent the last trimester of my pregnancy on breastfeeding support groups or forums, reading all the queries and the responses (by ill informed mothers as well as the experts) such that I could separate fact from bad practice and use it when my time came.
Also spend some time reading about formula and how it is dead nutrition. Breastfeeding on the other hand is alive, constantly changing to suit baby and his environment. I read that if a breastfeeding woman is in a room with a person who has sneezed, her body immediately sets about creating precious antibodies, which work to build immunity for mother and baby from an impending viral attack. Neat, huh?!
- Practice makes perfect – No, this is not a typo error. But I also don’t mean you should borrow a baby and try to latch on. What immensely helped me was the countless YouTube videos I watched showing the various positions of breastfeeding for new moms.
Positions for moms who had delivered naturally and those for mothers who had C-sections. Positions to rest your back and positions as nature intended it to be. Watch them over and over again, let it be ingrained in your being and it will help you when the baby arrives. Scurrying to read or understand this once baby is here can be very stressful and time consuming.
- Work quickly to rectify any early roadblocks – It is also a big truth, that not all babies latch on like pros and start feeding immediately on birth. Some need help. Tongue ties and lip ties are very real. No, they are not a deformity, so don’t be alarmed should you find yourself in this situation. Seek help from a Lactation Counselor early on. I insisted on an LC visit within the first three days of babyT’s arrival. Fortunately we were not having any serious issues, but she did give me some useful tips on breastfeeding positions and how to get some rest while feeding.
Also breastfeeding for first time moms can be incredibly painful in the early days. I used to writhe in pain as tiny babyT tried to feed, I’ve had sore and bleeding nipples. But I give thanks to my friend in the USA who delivered six months before me and told me of the miracle that is Lansinoh. Stock up new mommies.
- It’s basic economics: Supply meets Demand – When friends and loved ones visit us, I feel sorry for them when they say, “Oh we did not exclusively breastfeed, my supply was low.” This cannot be further from the truth. You will have enough supply to meet all the demand from baby. I trusted nature completely to do its job. In the early days, babies tend to just latch on and feed all the time. BabyT would feed sometimes for over an hour and still want milk in the next thirty minutes and again go on for half an hour. Sometimes it is about hunger, but many times it is just baby wanting to be in the warmth of your body, finding comfort and security. But the early constant latch ons and extended breastfeeding is really working to set up your body’s factories for producing more milk, if that analogy can be helped. There are days when your breasts will feel empty and soft and some when they will be engorged with milk. Its just your body working through various permutations and combinations to establish a good routine.
- Just keep feeding, Just keep feeding – Growth spurts are scary. And they are abundant in the early weeks and months of baby’s life. A growth spurt is characterized by babies feeding constantly and also are accompanied by sleeplessness or sleepiness. Talk about lack of a pattern, eh? But most new mothers start doubting their milk supply during such a spurt. Despite all my endeavour and research I did too. My husband grabbed his keys and said he was off to buy a tin of formula. He was only testing me of course. That was enough of a threat to me to stop all self doubt and just do what I knew was best for babyT: keep breastfeeding him.
Also don’t follow the clock, don’t time the feeds and don’t wait for x hours to pass before you feed baby. Many doctors and literature will tell you to feed babies every two hours, but that certainly doesn’t mean you let a wailing baby wait for the clock to strike. Also, left breast xx minutes, right breast xx minutes is all hog wash. Please let your baby be the judge of what he wants. He will unlatch once he is done on one side and you can try and offer the other side, if he hasn’t dozed off already or try and dream feed in the early days. If he doesn’t latch on, then maybe he is full and doesn’t want to drink for now.
- Babies cry – This one’s for every time that I got told, “Oh your milk is not sufficient.” A newborn baby has just spent nine months of his existence in a cosy, warm place (your womb) and now is exposed to the world at large. He has to meet and greet a hundred different relatives, doctors, nurses, objects, sights and sounds. The whole thing is a bit too overwhelming for them. So they will cry. All babies cry. But it is not for milk every time. Most of the times it is and a boob offered to a baby will tend to calm him down. But I also found that babyT cried when he was too hot, too cold, a little wet, when he had pooped, when I went out of the room to pee, when I sighed a bit too loudly or just because he didn’t know what else to do. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your milk is not sufficient. Try and find out what is bothering him and work on it.I also want to add here that it is important to pick up babies cues early on. They do share universal cues for when they are hungry or sleepy. BabyT had a word for hunger. Or a sound rather. He said ungii when he was hungry and ungaa when he was sleepy. We figured this out around month two and it helped us care for him better. He didn’t always get it right, sometimes he was too confused if he was ungii or ungaa but we managed well.
- Trust nature to do its job – Nature is on the job of helping you to breastfeed successfully. I really feel there is no need to pump to build supply, especially in the first eight weeks. If you are on maternity leave and have nowhere else to go and attend to, then resist the need to pump milk. Of course if you have to get back to work or have latching issues, then the next best thing is pumping and feeding baby breastmilk. But if its not the case then do not pump. This tends to send our wrong cues to your body and you face excess supply and engorgement issues, which can then lead to mastitis etc. which will further threaten the breastfeeding journey. Similarly there is no need to empty the breasts after a feeding. Your body is a wondrous creation and the creator had a plan for every little thing. So trust your body to do the best. My personal philosophy is to provide as little intervention as possible.
- Lie down and feed – I cannot emphasize enough what a boon this has been. I have a weak back due to an accident many years ago. And early breastfeeding was a nightmare for me. I was perpetually smelling of pain balms (breastfeeding friendly ones) and had to even pop in a painkiller occasionally.
But after much trial and error, I started to lie down and feed. No, it doesn’t cause ear infections or choking if done in the right manner. I only saw benefits: all my backaches vanished. BabyT also had better sleep as I no longer had to pick him up and take him to my side of the bed for a feed. We did co-sleep right from the beginning so the move to this position was fairly easy for us. I also felt that because we co-slept and fed lying down, babyT got better nutrition and put on good weight.
- Forget everything else – We mothers do have it really tough. Carry a baby in the womb for nine months and for many moms pregnancy is not a pleasant experience. Once the baby arrives, it is not a feeling of exhilaration either. You are recovering and have to take care of a tiny human at the same time. Add to that exclusive breastfeeding, cloth diapering, natural parenting. We have a tough job on hand. It is not going to be easy. So pat yourself on the back for at least endeavouring to give your baby the best there is. And try not to stress about other things. Ignore the laundry, the house can be unclean for a bit. Order take out, ask for help. Try and catch a break even if it is ten minutes in the bathroom with a book or smartphone. I caught the final season of Dowton Abbey in the first few weeks, it really calmed me down and took me to a nice place. I did watch it in bits and parts but it was incredibly relaxing.
- Be kind to yourself –
Somewhere when babyT arrived, I made the mistake of forgetting I exist. At a point I felt like I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do. I didn’t step out of the house, for fear that babyT would be hungry after I was gone and I couldn’t get back in time. But you could talk to me endlessly about cloth diapering, breastfeeding, baby milestones what have you. I burned out somewhere down the line. Relationships got a bit strained. I think its natural. We all want to do the best for our bubs. But before it impacted the way I cared for babyT and my sanity, I quickly took stock and made a few changes. I taught mom how to do the cloth diaper laundry, I upgraded the helps to take on more tasks at home. I eased on what I was not eating (there’s really no need to restrict certain foods) and did things I enjoyed – watching a movie while baby slept, making this blog. Be kind to yourself. Exclusive breastfeeding is not easy. But don’t let it takeover your life.
Our journey has been good so far, we have had minor challenges but our perseverance and support from family has helped us sail through. And I can safely say that if it were not for breastfeeding, we would definitely be worse off. I recovered from my Csection much faster because I was breastfeeding. BabyT has been relatively healthy, with no major complaints and I completely attribute it to breastfeeding. I am sure we will have to fight some battles along the way ahead, but breastfeeding will make them easier. Breastfeeding is indeed my super power!