Madhu was born in India but has lived in many countries outside of India for most of her life. She spent most of her childhood in Nigeria, Lesotho and Kenya and her teenage years (secondary school onwards) in South Africa. She did a Business Finance degree in university and then did her board exams to qualify as a Chartered Accountant. After finishing her training contract, Madhu moved to Dublin, Ireland for work. She met and married her husband in Ireland after about 5 years of living there and moved to Cork to be with him. They have 2 sons of age 7 and 3.5 years. Madhu currently works in the Finance department of Apple. She is a co-admin on one of the largest support group, Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM), on Facebook.
1. Madhu, we heard you had a difficult first delivery. How was your breastfeeding journey as a first time mother?
I had a tough start to my breastfeeding journey with my first child because he had a very traumatic birth and ended up intubated and in the NICU. After a critical emergency C-Section, I was in poor shape too. Our first feed was more than 12 hours after his birth, but he latched like a pro which made me very happy. He was given some formula in the hospital due to bad information and advice. But I managed to completely wean him off the formula within the first week of his birth. I was very determined to cut out the formula so I just kept putting him to the breast more often and worked through a few days of constant nursing until my supply caught up with his demand. And he was exclusively breastfed after that point. We did have our usual issues of blocked ducts, working through growth spurts and other sleepless nights!
He started cutting down on his feeds towards the end of his second year and was down to one feed at bedtime for a few months when I got pregnant with his brother. He then fully weaned when I was around 16 weeks pregnant and he was just over 3 years old.
2. Some doctors advice against breastfeeding while pregnant. Were you adviced the same?
I actually never brought up the fact that I was breastfeeding while pregnant with health professionals as my elder son was down to only a bedtime feed at that stage and I had heard from others on my breastfeeding support groups that the fed through pregnancy without any issues.
I didn’t really develop nursing aversions as such, but I did get nipple sensitivity a few weeks into the pregnancy at which point I found the latch uncomfortable. I was pretty happy with my son’s decision to wean at that stage because I suspect that I would have developed severe aversions if I had to continue feeding through the discomfort.
3. I believe you did not read about breastfeeding during your first child. But you were experienced and armed with a lot of information the second time round. How different was it as compared to the first time?
Yes, I didn’t read much on breastfeeding the first time. I was pretty clueless!! I thankfully had a much better start to my breastfeeding journey with my younger son. Although he was also born by emergency c-section, it was a much gentler process. I made sure he was safely in my arms and latched on as I was wheeled out of surgery into recovery. He had a good long first feed of around 2 hours and all the medical professionals were amazed by him. I had an overactive letdown for the first few weeks but was able to overcome this with doing laid back nursing. After that, we have had a very smooth journey and he is still going strong at 3.5 years. When asked he says that he will never stop having ‘mikky’.
I believe in natural term nursing, ie allowing the child to decide when they are ready to wean so will just wait till the younger child is ready to move on. I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding or both for nearly 8 years and sometimes I just want to be done with it, but I know I will miss it when he stops!
4. Both your children were born in Ireland. How has your experience with doctors and nurses been during your hospital stay?
I found the support was very hit and miss and depending on the medical professional’s own experience rather than following the best guidelines regarding breastfeeding. I was much better informed the second time and so they largely left me alone to carry on with feeding. The first time I had some very helpful and supportive midwives and others were just handing over formula at the first sign of a question.
5. How did you manage breastfeeding your children when you went back to work?
I didn’t go back to work with my first till he was 14 months old so never needed to pump for him. My second child was around 9 months old when I went back to work so I pumped for him till he was around 1. He had little interest in drinking the pumped milk so his childminder used the milk as a topping on his cereal. Both children fed as normal on weekends and in the evening / night so there was never really much impact on our nursing journey.
6. Nursing in public (NIP) is perceived differently in different countries. How would you compare it Ireland with India?
Ireland is a country where formula feeding is the norm so I hadn’t really seen people NIP here and my initial few times I used a nursing cover. But once the baby hit around 3 months, he hated to be covered. So I just wore a slightly big t-shirt and started nursing him out and about and never had any negative experiences with this – in fact many older ladies came over to compliment us and tell me that they hadn’t seen anyone nursing for a long time and how nice it was to see.
We only visited India on holidays a couple of times and I just fed as normal on public transport but otherwise didn’t have much opportunity to NIP as we were visiting relatives in their homes.
We have travelled extensively around Europe and other countries and I have always found NIP such a great way to be able to do this without any hassles.
7. Nursing older children comes with its own set of myths, unsolicited advice and pressure to wean. Did you have to face any of it? How did you deal with it?
Thankfully by the time my first child was a toddler, I heard about a local LLL meetup for older children. There, I met a few lovely mothers feeding older child who have since become friends and so I had a good support network. I was in a nice bubble where most of my friends were feeding older children.
I am a very analytical and scientific minded person. I like evidence and backup to anything people say so thankfully I was able to overcome or argue against many of the myths that were thrown around by well-meaning relatives and health professionals.
I love feeding a toddler – there is so much engagement from them and I love hearing their thoughts on what they like about breastfeeding. My older son used to go around telling everyone to that ‘mikky’ would stop their child from crying and my second always says that ‘mikky’ will help him if he gets hurt or is unwell. It’s a lot more fun than just feeding a tiny newborn.
8. Tell us about how you became the admin at BSIM.
Adhunika, founder of BSIM, and I met in Ireland when I was pregnant with my second child. We were both on an Irish breastfeeding support FB group that was started by a friend of mine a few years before. I had posted on the group when I was in hospital at 20 weeks pregnant and she lived nearby so came to visit me with some delicious chicken curry J! Over the few days, she told me about a group she had started for Pune Moms and she added a few of us from the Irish group to help out on the group. Once word on the support group spread, she started getting members from other parts of India and changed the name to BSIM. As the group grew, she recruited a few of us to help her admin the group – I was one of the first co-admins with her and at the time we couldn’t have imagined how much the group would grow and what a resource it would become in the years to come.
9. New mothers face numerous issues in the form of less knowledge, myths, post-partum depression (PPD), no / less support and more. What would you suggest them to do to better their breastfeeding experience?
I don’t think breastfeeding is particularly difficult. But there is such a lack of awareness of normal newborn behaviour and all sort of people selling books/services/formula who are right there to make you doubt your instincts which can all lead to making breastfeeding more difficult than it should be.
PPD is for real. Thankfully, I did not face it but I know it is an issue that many mothers face. I did a parent to parent training course to be able to offer support to new mothers/parents and one of the big areas of focus was PPD. It is important to reach out for help and not blame it on the hormones or term it as a usual behaviour.
New moms, try to build a support network before the baby arrives, if at all possible. If you have local support groups then try to get to them otherwise join online support groups like BSIM so that you know where to turn to if you need help after the baby arrives. Not all health professionals are informed about breastfeeding, so don’t blindly rely on advice – read up, do your own research.