How many new mothers have been stressed out about breast feeding? It probably wouldn’t be wrong to say almost all! I am a gynaecologist and laparoscopic surgeon, and mother of two children – a 2 ½-year-old toddler and a 4-month-old infant. I thought sharing my breastfeeding journey along with a few tips would help all those anxious new moms and moms-to-be. There are so many myths and misconceptions that I hope I can help clear the air in my small little way.
Post-delivery is indeed a very overwhelming and stressful time for all mothers. Each mother wants the best for their baby. My first delivery was an emergency Caesarean section after about 20 hours of labour. I was quite exhausted! Everyone in my family was excited at the arrival of my little angel. I was equally excited but deep down I was stressed out about the journey ahead.
The cycle is exhausting: feed, sleep, change diapers, and repeat. It is definitely not an easy task!
All of us have inquisitive minds so questions and comments keep pouring in. One of the comments I heard was, “Since you are a doctor, you know everything so you won’t have any problems!” It was rather funny because I was also just a first time mom trying to cope with the overwhelming situation. The common saying that ‘doctors are the worst patients’ holds true because we know exactly what to anticipate, both good and bad.
Just like most new mothers, I believed my milk supply was inadequate. Truth is, the little ones are so new to the outside world, you cannot expect them to learn the breastfeeding technique as if by magic. Therefore, the latching problems, which are absolutely normal. Nearly 99% of new mothers sail in the same boat! It is definitely a learning curve for the mother and the baby, just like anything new we attempt for the first time.
For about a week after my delivery I needed to give my little one formula for a few feeds a day till I moved on to exclusive breastfeeding. I give complete credit to a few people for this achievement, starting with my paediatrician, one of the most breastfeeding-friendly paediatricians I’ve ever met. He insisted there’s no other way. My lactation consultant was a blessing who spent hours with me for a couple of days till I was confident. And my mother gave me the confidence that I was going the right way.
All of us know the unmatched benefits of breastfeeding, and we want the best for our baby. It was definitely a struggle for the first month and a half but after that it was like clockwork! The key to a successful exclusive breastfeeding journey is your own patience and the support of everyone around you.
Our country is full of traditions and cultures. Some of the old wives’ tales and grandmothers’ advice may be helpful in certain situations, but often the ‘advice’ should be taken with a pinch of salt. It is better for a new mother to ignore such advice rather than getting stressed out about it. After all you are already dealing with a lot.
Many family members and friends will come to meet you and ask questions, which don’t have any answers! They share their own experiences, usually from 30-50 years ago, which unfortunately do not apply today. I dealt with a lot of these with just a smile and most of the times, no reply!
I have heard such comments from random people:
“Are you completely breastfeeding?”
“Are you able to feed properly?”
“Is the milk supply enough?”
“Is the baby getting enough milk?”
“What are her feeding times?”
“Does your baby sleep through the night?”
I would think to myself, “Do my answers really even matter to them?”
Some of my close relatives have said things like:
“Don’t stress about breastfeeding. If you can’t manage just give formula; it doesn’t matter in the long run!”
“There’s no harm feeding a newborn with a bottle.”
“How do you have the kind of patience to sit in one place and feed all the time? You need to start getting out of the house!”
“We can’t be of much help to you since you are breastfeeding. If you were feeding with a bottle, at least we could help you rest a little!”
All this was being said by people who belong to the so-called ‘educated class’ of society. I would wonder how women, most of whom have been mothers and even grandmothers, could say such things! At that point of time, it was not at all easy to deal with all this. Looking back now, I find it quite funny!
Hasn’t the government of India decreed six months mandatory maternity leave? There has to be a valid reason for it. You are expected to spend maximum time with your newborn. You should feel happy if you are busy with chores related to the baby because that’s exactly what that timeline is meant for! The bond that you create with your baby in these initial few months lasts forever! I fail to understand why anyone would think of it as a burden.
You might start questioning yourself whether what you are doing is right. In reality, you should just be sitting back, relaxing with a book or watching television, and breastfeeding your baby on demand. That’s what passes on good vibes to the baby.
Research studies have shown that one of the biggest misconceptions and most common reasons for supplementing formula is family members insisting that the breast milk is not enough for the baby. In reality, the concept of ‘not getting enough milk’ and ‘milk not being enough for the baby’ does not exist!
Medically speaking, breast milk secretion is due to a complex hormonal pathway and it is always a demand-supply mechanism. Your baby is the best tool to maintain your milk supply. The more your baby suckles, the more are the breast secretions. No amount of lactation enhancing drugs, food or pumping can match your baby! So, please remember, most of the times, you are bringing on the ‘lactation failure’. The only thing you are probably doing wrong is not feeding your baby on demand and supplementing with formula in between. In fact, a sure shot way of interfering with your natural milk supply is supplementing a few feeds in between with formula.
Remember that every cry is not brought on by hunger; there can be a million other reasons why your baby is trying to attract your attention. Human babies are quite a helpless lot – the only way they can communicate is by crying!
There is no point presuming the baby is not full and supplementing breast milk with formula. The only real parameters of sufficient breast milk are adequate wet diapers and weight gain.
So, please take only that advice from elders in your family and friends that you think is suitable: ignore the rest and most importantly, stay calm and keep breastfeeding!
That’s what I did! I exclusively breastfed for six months (no water, no gripe water, no ghooti, no honey). I continued to breastfeed even after starting my baby on semisolids. I resumed work after six months, and I used to express breast milk and refrigerate it – my babysitter fed my baby expressed milk with an open cup from six months onwards. It was definitely an effort to pump and store milk and make sure it was being fed in the right way but at the end it was all worth it. My little one did not need a bottle at all. She made a smooth transition from breastfeeding to an open cup, the easiest way to avoid infections. I opted for a mixture of baby led and traditional weaning for solids and weaned her off breastfeeding completely by 14 months.
I followed all the recommended guidelines as far as I could, but it is definitely not mandatory to! It’s your child; you decide and follow what you feel is best for her/him. No one can be judgmental about this. But please don’t fall into the trap of having a stressful and depressive postpartum period. It’s a wonderful time which will never come back.
There were times when I have felt that I was the only one sitting at home the whole time and going through this alone. Such feelings are bound to come to your mind on and off. It’s how you deal with it that matters!
As I said, though I’m supposed to know exactly what happens, I sometimes forget I am a doctor when I am actually going though all this. Theory and practical are completely different! It’s wonderful being a mother and experiencing it yourself. As a gynaecologist, I have definitely become much more empathetic towards my patients after traversing this wonderful journey!