It’s World Breastfeeding Week. We’re all reading and listening to articles on the importance of and benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby and how we must normalize breastfeeding in public. I am for all of the above, but my story shows that the breastfeeding journey can hold both unexpected joys and challenges.
Prenatal Breastfeeding Education is So Important!
My pregnancy was the usual: trying to eat right, going for prenatal yoga classes, increasing my knowledge almost on a minute to minute basis on what one must do in pregnancy to ensure a SMOOTH and EASY birth, making a pregnancy journal, putting cute baby pictures in my room (because apparently whatever I see, my baby will look like; god forbid I saw a monkey everyday or else my genes would change places in the animal kingdom and, bingo, I would have had a cute little baby monkey in my lap).
The prenatal yoga classes I went to were amazing. My teacher did everything she could to train us on topics related to pregnancy and the baby which included diet and nutrition, breastfeeding, labour and baby care.
But, most of all, she really stressed the importance of breastfeeding and took an elaborate session on the entire process. She used a doll to help us understand the various positions. This doll was scientifically designed and could move in a way so as to help us understand how to get the perfect latch. She explained the importance of good posture which included using a good breastfeeding pillow, keeping the mother’s back upright and having legs rested on a stool if we were sitting on a chair or sofa. She used her elbow to depict the breast and the nipples, because these lectures were also attended by husbands. This was a really effective way to explain what the areola is, and how a large portion of it must be inside the baby’s mouth. This, along with the doll, formed the perfect combination to help us visualize the entire process.
The First Feed Went as Planned
The day I gave birth to my first baby girl, Savannah, I had sworn to feed as soon as he/she was out, and I did! Everything went as per the plan. I held her in my arms and fed her as I had learned. The position, the latch, the areola… all these words were ringing in my head and I felt like a pro.
While I settled in my room post-delivery, I remember my nutritionist saying, “feed on demand.” It’s a common term most moms know, but for those who don’t, it simply means “feed whenever the baby wants to.” I still remember my first day in the hospital, I fed my daughter for two hours nonstop, thinking that was how it was supposed to be. Little did I know, my body had plans to put a kink in my grand plan of breastfeeding and doing other mommy duties!
My Breasts Were as Hard as Rocks!
I felt this weird pain in my chest; something I hadn’t experienced ever before. I felt my breasts and, to my horror, they were as hard as rocks. “What the hell is this?!” I thought. I was scared! The hospital maushi came in and quickly started massaging and pressing my breasts, but the pain made me shriek at the top of my voice. I was freaking out, but the maushi was operating on Zen mode! She wasn’t the least bit perplexed, probably because she had seen this a million times in her career span. What followed this was sore nipples. Again, the questions came, “What is this?” I thought I was doing everything right.
A Breast Pump Helped with Engorgement & Mastitis
I was discharged from the hospital. I reached home and once again the same feeling started creeping into my chest area. I had massively engorged breasts once again, and this time accompanied by a very high fever. A frantic call was made to the doctor, who advised that the engorged breasts need to be relieved first. The massaging and pressing was too painful to bear and so an emergency visit was made to the local chemist for something called a breast pump. This was used to pump out the excess milk, as babies cannot feed on engorged breasts. Soon, I fed my baby and she slept peacefully. However, the fever was there to stay. It lasted for four days. Doctors suspected mastitis but I refused to take any medication. The reason being that whatever I ate or drank would enter my baby’s body through my milk and “no chemicals for my baby,” I said.
So I had a newborn, a high fever, a pair of sore nipples and a mind which wouldn’t think of anything but breastfeeding; the adventure had just begun. I was advised to use nipple shields. These offered some relief but every feed was still painful. The sucking sensation was really strong and put pressure on the baby’s mouth and every nursing session lasted longer than usual. Lanolin, which is a nipple cream, also came to my rescue. I now admit that every time my baby cried, I feared the pain that I was going to experience while feeding her.
“Clocking Each Breast” Was Bad Advice
The gynaec advised me to “clock each breast.” Naïve as I was, I started timing my sessions. I was told 35 minutes on each breast, and I remember there were times when I was feeding with tears in my eyes. This not so favorable advice offered some relief physically, but my heart knew it wasn’t correct. Nursing sessions were too dramatic. Not to mention the discomfort of sterilizing the nipple shields every time before a feed. Nursing also gave rise to weird pains in the body. I felt as if some nerve was being pulled right from my breast up to my back. This reflex is called a letdown and is normal, apparently! I developed a massive pain in my back and couldn’t even sit or stand. A lactation consultant was called. She tried really hard to guide me with postures to help with the pain but I had no luck. I can never forget my friend Camille, who took videos of herself nursing her son and sent them to me, so that i get a real time view of how the position, latch etc must be. An angel she is.
We Finally Achieved the Perfect Latch!
I was determined to breastfeed, however, I was stuck in a vicious circle. The sore nipples needed time to heal, but how could they find the recovery time since the baby was constantly suckling onto them? I was flooded with advice at this point: “Express your milk and feed from a bottle or use a spoon and bowl, give formula, etc.” But I was adamant. “There has to be a way out,” I thought to myself. The only solution was to get rid of the nipple shields, endure the pain and ensure a latch that wouldn’t cause the nipples to rupture further. After about a month of contemplation, I gathered all my courage and tried to do just that. I get goosebumps as I recall the pain, but I did it! We achieved the perfect latch without shields and my nipples started to heal. It was a euphoric moment, I tell you!
My body had gone through a big change. After all, it created another human being inside me. I had new hormones running wild and breastfeeding also took a toll on my body. My energy levels were at an all-time low and I was hungry all the time, but I knew there was nothing better than breastmilk for my baby.
Breastfeeding Was My Magic Wand
Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition that has the ability to dynamically change as per the baby’s needs. I had a magic wand: baby’s hungry? feed, baby’s tired? feed, baby’s sleepy? feed, baby’s unwell? feed, eye infection? pour drops of breastmilk in the eyes, heat boils/mosquito bite/skin infection? apply breastmilk. Also, feeding through breasts had some super emotional benefits for my baby. It gave a sense of security to my baby because she could smell me, hear my heartbeat and experience all that she had in her nine months in my womb. It was her home. The more she fed, the more I lactated. It was also an excellent way to lose postpartum weight. Without an iota of doubt, I realized that all the struggles that came along with breastfeeding were worth it.
I Fed My Baby On An Elephant Once!
I learned to feed everywhere and my nursing cover became my superman’s cape. We went on a trek and at baby’s call, I fed her in the fields. We went for a boat ride and at baby’s call, I fed her on the boat. I fed her in restaurants, cars, rickshaws, trains and not exaggerating, I even fed her on an elephant once! I was a breastfeeding pro by now. I could feed my daughter just about anywhere. And I continued to do so for 2.5 years.
I Felt Like a Breastfeeding Pro By the Time Baby No. 2 Came Along
Soon, I got pregnant with baby number two and my doula asked me, “Do you need help with breastfeeding after your delivery?” I exclaimed with a sense of pride and confidence “No way! It’s child’s play for me, literally!” The day arrived and my younger daughter, Rumi, joined our gang. Just like the last time, I fed her as soon as she was born with the umbilical cord attached. The nursing sessions lasted really long just like before. But this time, nursing gave me a high. It was like having my magic wand back.
Supported by a Lactation Consultant
The first two nursing days in the hospital went easy and smooth but on the third day, I felt a pain in my left nipple. I was over confident and couldn’t imagine that things could go wrong the second time around. My doula asked me to check the latch. “Latch?!” I thought, “Of course I know the latch. What could be wrong with the latch?!”
I was discharged from the hospital. To my dismay, I started facing the same breastfeeding issues all over again. Bruised nipples, back pain etc. I shuddered at the thought of nursing. I was in the same boat again. I had learnt a few lessons from the past. I never clocked my breast, I fed to release the engorgement and refused to use the nipple shields, but everything was going wrong. I was in massive pain and discomfort. Again, I took the help of lactation consultant and kept applying Lanolin. Eventually, I came around and soon all pains vanished. Rumi is 7 months old now. I exclusively breastfed her for the first 6 months. And, while I am beginning to introduce solid foods to her, I will nurse her for as long as I can.
“Labour is the easy part because it ends in a few hours, but breastfeeding is the real deal.”
Breastfeeding isn’t easy. You can never practice breastfeeding until you actually have the baby in your arms, crying and asking to be nursed. While we are pregnant, our entire focus is on the labour, but I always tell expecting moms, “Labour is the easy part because it ends in a few hours, but breastfeeding is the real deal.” Though it is so natural for a woman’s body to nurse, it comes with its challenges. It’s important to equip yourself with knowledge. Breastfeeding issues must be discussed and a comfortable environment must be provided to nursing mothers. Family and friends must be empathetic towards nursing moms.
Breastfeeding Can Be a Struggle, But It’s Worth It!
For some moms, breastfeeding feels like a breeze right from the word “go,” but not for everyone. Some of us are able to overcome the struggles and still nurse, and I’m sure some battles are lost too! But it’s alright! Breastfeeding is beautiful. It is the best thing for your baby, so unless you are unable to breastfeed for unavoidable reasons, please breastfeed your baby! That being said, motherhood is a blessing and every mom loves her children. I know every mother will always do what’s best for her baby!
My breastfeeding journey has had its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t be a happy nursing mother if it weren’t for these people. Thank you so much! My prenatal yoga class teacher, Ms. Rolly Sapru. Her classes changed my life in every way. She is a gift to motherhood. My lactation consultant, Ms. Manisha Gogri. Her calm, patient and positive approach can help you sail through all the storms that breastfeeding can bring. My dearest friend, Camille. A thank you isn’t enough. She came, she saw and she conquered my heart. My husband, my pillar, my rock! Neeraj Manchanda without whom i wouldn’t be able to be the mother i am today!