While I was pregnant, getting closer to my due date, I did all the research I could on what to expect once the baby was in your arms. Research calms me. It gives me a semblance of control over a world of chaos. And Boy! Was my world going to get chaotic!
The one thing I never looked into was breastfeeding. I knew I wanted to breastfeed my baby but never researched it because I thought I didn’t need to. It’s the most natural thing in the world, they said. It’ll happen automatically and immediately, they said.
Breastfeeding is not a natural talent
Breastfeeding problems are not uncommon among new mothers. However, breastfeeding awareness is shockingly low.
Let’s start from the very beginning.
As soon as my baby boy was out and his vitals checked, he was handed to me for a quick suckle at the nipple. More of a comfort thing I was told, as the milk wouldn’t have come in yet.
Once we were settled in our room, the nurse had to guide me on the correct breastfeeding position. Babies might suckle at the breast, but they don’t extract milk from them if not latched properly. You need to guide them; hold them at a certain angle; and wake them up to continue nursing if they fall asleep mid way. And you need to do this every two hours from the time you started nursing…not two hours from when you ended your breastfeeding session.
My son’s weight was lower than average and therefore everyone was worried he wasn’t getting enough milk from me.
Step one was to check if I was producing enough milk. My breasts did not leak with milk (as some women’s do just at the thought of their babies), they gave me a breast pump which didn’t extract more than a few spoonfuls, and the baby would be crying again soon after a round of feeding. Conclusion: NO…not enough milk at all.
Breastmilk or formula?
Everyone wanted me to supplement with formula. I didn’t want to, but didn’t think I had much of a choice. I tried to get my baby to latch on properly, got a breastfeeding pillow for support, and got a breast pump so that I could extract whatever little I could and give him that instead of formula.
I felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I feed my baby? The benefits of breastfeeding are astounding and I wanted my baby to have all the advantages it provided. But everyone around me just heard him crying all day and fed him bottles of formula milk. When he would fall asleep immediately after, they’d be vindicated. See? They’d tell me. Now his tummy is full so he’ll sleep well.
Getting back your mojo
It took me a month or so to regain some of my strength and confidence as a parent. I started my research.
KellyMom is the best resource for every new parent. Another thing that really helped me was a support group for breastfeeding moms on Facebook (Breastfeeding Support for Indian Moms). Look for support groups in your localities, online or in person. It makes you feel less lonely on this journey and you get some pro tips.
Busting some breastfeeding myths
Listed below are some of my learnings. I’ll try to avoid an angry rant as I relive those moments.
- Just because your breasts don’t leak with milk, or the pump is unable to extract enough milk from them, doesn’t mean you are not producing enough. The only way to know if the baby is getting enough milk is to see the number of wet (and heavy) diapers in a day. At least 4 to 5. If not, check if the baby is latching properly before blaming your milk production.
- Babies cry. It’s how they communicate. They’ve just entered a scary world and apart from food, they need comfort. Boobs provide food and comfort. Long after they’re done feeding, babies will continue to suckle for comfort. My baby loved to suckle for comfort. In fact, he continued to suckle at night to help him sleep till he was 18 months old and I had stopped producing milk.
- The formula that he was being fed through a bottle was way too much. Babies don’t know how to remove the bottle, or even that they need to. He was overfed, which tired him out. He slept but it also gave him gastric issues. He would be gassy and cranky every evening. And what would everyone do to calm him? Give him another bottle.
- Like adults, all babies are different and so are their weights. The average weight of a baby is different in each region and depends on a variety of factors. A better indicator of health is if your baby is active and not showing any signs of lethargy and deficiencies. Mine was perfectly healthy. He was just not the chubbiest of the lot. The number of times I’ve rolled my eyes at someone saying how weak he looked!
Tips to help breastfeeding
Meanwhile, to increase my supply of milk, I let my baby suckle all day and night. For a week, literally every hour I would take him to nurse. I was co-sleeping with him so he’d nurse at night too. The increased suckling lets your body know it needs to produce more milk.
When he wasn’t suckling, I tried pumping whatever little could be extracted. It took a month, but he was finally off the formula milk.
It was not an easy journey and there was no one around me who could support me. The paediatrician didn’t know much about breastfeeding basics (which I thought was a shocking gap in the medical syllabus). They just focussed on the weight.
Rantings of a breastfeeding mother
My husband, who is super supportive otherwise, had even less of a clue than me so, he just focussed on what the doctor said. He insisted we need to get his weight up. Just look how chubby my nephew was!
My mother says she remembered going through a similar time when I was born and everyone had suggested formula feeding to her too. That’s what she advised me to do as well. That, and eat all the various powders and concoctions to boost milk supply.
I felt so grateful for the access to information that is so readily available to me. If not for the Internet, I’d have given up completely on trying to breastfeed, as I’m sure so many women have.
I continued to breastfeed till he weaned himself off at around 18 months. I side-slept on one side so he could latch on without waking me up. (I ended up with lopsided breasts because of it so make sure to switch sides people!)
Breastfeeding on demand was tough. I felt like a dairy cow, always available with a boob out. But, I was glad I could endure it for those few months. It helped me develop a bond with my baby and he found his comfort in my arms.
I would like to add that not all women can breastfeed. Some don’t produce milk, and for some it’s very painful to breastfeed a baby. Even those who can, sometimes chose not to. Let’s not make women feel as if they’re not doing their jobs if their bodies don’t respond as expected. Listen to them and support their choices.
End of rant.