Adhunika Prakash, the founder of Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM), is a mother of two, a babywearing and cloth diapering enthusiast and a firm believer of attachment and gentle parenting. She completed her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Symbiosis in the year 2007 and was working in the IT sector until she got pregnant with her first. Within a year of her first’s birth, BSIM was born. Now, a huge portion of her time is spent managing BSIM and its affiliated activities.
1. Adhunika, your breastfeeding journey began 5 years ago. How was it for you back then?
Yes, my breastfeeding journey began about 5 years ago when my son was born. I had read about the importance of breastfeeding when I was pregnant with him, and in spite of that, he was administered one feed of formula, which (I later learned) could have been avoided. After he was born, I remember having loads of questions and not having a network of breastfeeding women to ask them to. I had attended a La Leche League meeting when I was pregnant with my son, and had learnt loads from those meetings, but, those in-person meetings were conducted once a month. With time, I found out the reliable sites where I could get accurate breastfeeding related information, and started keeping myself well-informed.
My son used to nurse very often and it made me wonder if he was getting enough nutrition from breast milk itself. Once solids were introduced, we continued to offer solids often and nurse on demand. He didn’t start eating reasonably well until he was 2.5 years old! Until then, he got most of his nutrition from breast milk itself. I know quite a few nursing mothers whose babies survived primarily on breast milk until much after solids were introduced. It was in line with our parenting philosophy to be child-led.
I did deal with the regular comments about not having enough milk when the baby nursed often, but by then, I was aware about growth spurts and cluster feeding, so I would just ignore those comments and tread on.
2. You got pregnant with your second child while you were breastfeeding your older child. Some doctors advice to wean the child as stimulation of the nipples can cause issues during pregnancy. How true is it?
Even before I got pregnant, I was aware that one doesn’t need to wean the child off breastfeeding when pregnant, if it is a low risk pregnancy. I got pregnant again when he was a little over 2.5 years old and I nursed him on demand during my pregnancy. Since mine was a low risk pregnancy, I didn’t mention it to the medical professionals I consulted that I was continuing to breastfeed.
I ran a few tests after I found out I was pregnant and had no deficiencies whatsoever in spite of me nursing him on demand for over 2.5 years. All my nutritional needs were met by the food (without taking any supplements), and this was done by ensuring that I ate a nutrient dense varied diet.
I dealt with nursing aversions when I was pregnant with my daughter, but they weren’t as severe as what some of my friends dealt with. Those friends partially/ fully weaned their child during the second pregnancy. Nursing aversions are a huge part of breastfeeding journeys, but it isn’t something that people are well aware about. I ate well and tried to rest when I could with the support of my husband.
3. When the first journey doesn’t go as we wished, we only hope that things are better the second time around and we have things our way. How did it go the second time?
My first birth didn’t go the way I wanted it to. Even though I was well read about the effects of interventions on birth, I received a cascade of medical interventions. Even though mine was a vaginal delivery, there was nothing normal about it.
The second time round I was determined to have an intervention free birth. After a lot of planning, my daughter was born at home in an intervention-free, planned home birth and was nursed within the first hour of birth until she unlatched on her own accord.
From the time she was little; she was an efficient nurser and slept through the night.
She took on to solids well from the time they were introduced. I didn’t deal with many challenges when breastfeeding either of my children. It did help that I had read about common nursing behaviour when I was pregnant with my first.
4. Tandem feeding can sometimes be exhaustive as both children are trying to meet different needs. That means you need to be available round the clock.
My son would wake up more often than her sometimes. I would offer to nurse my daughter first and then my son would nurse. The first 3 months were extremely hard, but it got better after that. I nursed both of them on demand for almost a year. At the end of the year, it got very hard because my son was waking up very often at night and nursing.
I was barely getting any sleep and it was affecting my parenting. I night weaned him very gently and it didn’t involve any tears. I didn’t even know this was a possibility, goes to say that he may have been ready! After he was night weaned, we all started sleeping much better.
He will be 5 soon and nurses between 1-4 times a day. I hope to let them self-wean and let them decide when they don’t want to nurse any more.
5. Your children were born in Ireland and India. How would you compare the support in terms of delivery and breastfeeding?
With my first, when we were in Ireland, we didn’t have a lot of interaction with medical professionals. The time we went for check-ups, there was no cause of concern since he gained weight adequately.
We moved back to India when he was about a year old. Even though we found one paediatrician who was supportive about nursing for two years, even he said nursing after two years wasn’t useful. Thankfully, we knew better. After a certain point, we didn’t go out of our way to mention that he was breastfed.
With my second, I am much more confident about breastfeeding and have never raised it as a problem or something that one needs to worry about.
6. As a first time mom, how comfortable were you with nursing in public (NIP)?
The first time I stepped out and was supposed to nurse my baby at a coffee shop, I had positioned my family members so that they could see me from different angles. I was gesturing at each of them to ask them if anything was seen at all. That is how nervous I was! With time, I got used to NIP and have nursed both babies absolutely everywhere ranging from railway stations to train journeys. Keeping aside one exception, I have always been welcomed and have never had a problem breastfeeding my children in public.
7. Some mothers always face lack of support from their husbands and immediate families. Was it the same for you too? How do you deal with the unsolicited advice?
My family is very supportive of my parenting choices and my decision to wean my children when they are ready. My husband is a staunch supporter and used to baby wear our baby and head out when I was exhausted, he even ensured I was well rested during my pregnancy when I was nursing on demand through it.
My mother has now become a breastfeeding proponent and is very proud of my decision to nurse to term. My brother and sister-in-law are very supportive as well. In fact, my niece is past infant hood and is nursed on demand as well.
I did get pressure to wean from ill-informed relatives, but that didn’t change my resolve to nurse to term. It did pinch a bit initially when I didn’t counter any of that advice, but now, if anyone asks, I try to engage in a respectable discussion with them to ask them why a child needs to be weaned on to cow’s milk which is perfectly designed for baby cows.
8. Can you tell us a little more about extended breastfeeding?
I personally don’t agree with the term ‘extended breastfeeding’, it implies that one is nursing for a period longer than what is normal by extending it. Until a few generations back, most children were nursed until they self-weaned. There are members on our group who speak of their grandparents being nursed way past what society describes as normal today.
I believe in full-term breastfeeding which means you let the child until when the child wants to nurse until.A breastfeeding relationship is between the breastfeeding parent and the child, it should be continued until one of them is ready to stop.
9. You have been breastfeeding for 5 years now and you still have a few more years ahead of you. At any point, did you feel like giving up?
I found it hard to nurse during my pregnancy and tandem nursing soon after my daughter was born. I kept telling myself not to take a nursing decision on a hard day, and ‘this too shall pass’. When I dealt with nursing aversions, I used to try and rest some more, do something for myself (it gets hard to constantly provide for little babies all the time), and increase my water intake. In most cases, it used to help.
I didn’t deal with severe Post-Partum Depression (PPD) with my first, but I dealt with a lot of Post-Partum Anxiety (PPA) and PPD after my second. I knew it was entirely hormonal, but there was very little I could do to feel better. I spoke to my family members and friends (mostly online) who had undergone something similar. Just talking to people who had been through something similar was very reassuring. Thankfully, it didn’t affect my breastfeeding journey adversely.
10. In your breastfeeding journey, when did you feel the need to start BSIM? What was the need to form a support group when there are plenty out there? How different did you think / want it to be?
My son was close to a year of age when I had started sending out emails to my breastfeeding friends about the importance of breastfeeding. I would also talk to my friends who were dealing with breastfeeding issues. I was a part of an Irish breastfeeding FB group and thought it would be useful to have one for the Indian population, where questions specific to India would be raised. When I set up the group, initially the target audience was mothers from Pune, but as my friends started adding their friends from all over India, I changed the name of the group. This is also when I asked my friend Madhu if she would like to help admin the group, since she knew where we wanted to take it. With time, we increased our admin team and now we have a team of 5 admins (Madhu Panda, Asha Dsouza, Lata Chauhan, Chetana Ajit and me) and 5 moderators (Megha Kamat Wagh, Neha Gera Chawla, Nisha Srinivasan, Parigna Pandya Shah and Srividhya Narayanasamy). In all, we have about 35 members in our team (including our wonderful Peer Counsellor team) that help manage and run BSIM. Each of their contribution is vital to BSIM.
We endeavor to provide a platform that welcomes parents irrespective of their parenting style and philosophy. We limit ourselves to being information providers and leave the decision making to the parents themselves.
11. Breastfeeding is supposed to come naturally to a mother, then why do they still face challenges?
Even though breastfeeding is natural, it is learned. We need the support of other breastfeeding mothers, to understand what is normal breastfeeding behaviour, what are the breastfeeding issues they dealt with, how did they cope, how did they overcome temporary problems and the like. We need the support of breastfeeding friendly medical professionals who can aide us in reaching our breastfeeding goals.
12. What would be your advice to expectant mothers?
To arm themselves up with knowledge by doing their own research. Gone are the days when access to information was low; with access to the internet, most information is accessible and one must utilise the opportunity of having the information easily available.
Pregnancy is the best time to read up about breastfeeding since it is hard to read up right after the baby is born when one is already exhausted with the lack of proper sleep. I did, and that made a huge impact on my breastfeeding journey. We often request members to add their pregnant friends to BSIM since that’s the best time to educate oneself about breastfeeding.
I add all my expectant friends and family to BSIM as soon as I find out they’re pregnant with the hope that they will benefit from the resources and support available through BSIM.
13. What are your future plans with BSIM?
Even though BSIM has been supporting breastfeeding parents for 4 years, we registered ourselves only recently. We hope to steadily increase our offline presence by increasing our team size. We will then focus on spreading awareness about breastfeeding through our offline initiatives while continuing to support parents online.
We hope that parents that have benefited from the support provided by us, donate to our cause so that we can reach out to more parents about the importance of breastfeeding.
We hope that we can reach out to as many parents as possible and aid parents in reaching their breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be.
Thank you so much for your time Adhunika. Your journey has been quite informative and we can’t thank you enough for starting BSIM and reaching out to thousands of mothers across the world. We wish you all the best and are sure BSIM is going to grow leaps and bounds.
To our readers, if you support the cause and the noble deed by the team, however small, a contribution will help them in their services. For more information on the same, visit their website.