Raksha Raghavan, a certified Breastfeeding Mother Supporter had a bittersweet (as she calls it) breastfeeding journey. Read now to know more.
Breastfeeding Journeys

A bittersweet journey: Breastfeeding Journey

Raksha Raghavan was born and raised in Bangalore before she moved to Singapore after marriage. She did her engineering in information technology and worked with IBM, Bangalore for around 2.5yrs. After moving to Singapore, she worked for BNP Paribas for 1.5 years before moving to London in the same job for another 2 yrs. Raksha later joined an American bank for 1.5 years before she went on her maternity leave.  After the government stipulated leave period of 12 months, she is back to building her career with JP Morgan. Raksha is an avid reader and a crochet artist. She also used to write a lot until a couple of years ago. Apart from the above mentioned Raksha is a crusader for breastfeeding and is a certified Breastfeeding Mother Supporter. Read on to know more about Raksha’s bittersweet breastfeeding journey.

1. Your breastfeeding journey comes with a mixed bag of emotions. Please tell us about how you overcame your challenges to reach so far and continue nursing your 2 year old.
My hospital sent us some reading material and makes us attend breastfeeding antenatal classes. I even registered for a paid 4 day antenatal session for both hubby and myself. Apart from this, I’ve lost count of how many books and reliable websites I’ve read! But all of this was far from our reality.

Our breastfeeding journey has been bitter sweet and full of drama. My daughter Sankya was born through a normal vaginal birth. She latched on very well soon after birth. But she just couldn’t latch from the next feed in spite of trying everything we could and knew.

The nurses and the Lactation Consultant (LC) at the hospital could also not get her to latch. So, for the first 3 days I was hand expressing colostrum 24/7 with hubby’s help. Once my milk came in, I started pumping. But to keep up with her demand I literally didn’t sleep at all. My hubby bought a pump as soon as we got home. I was exclusively pumping for the first nearly 3 weeks; all the while trying different latches, positions and persistently trying to get her to latch.

I had to use formula for maybe two feeds in the third day after birth because I had just started pumping but I wasn’t getting the output to match her needs. But by day four after pumping non-stop every two hours, I had more than enough supply and never used formula after that.

I had always dreamt of breastfeeding my baby and this left me heartbroken and feeling like a failure.

2. I am so sorry for what you had to go through. Your baby was born in the United Kingdom (UK) and I have always heard about how they have communities that are very pro-breastfeeding. Did you reach out to anybody else for help?
Yes, the community support for breastfeeding in UK is excellent and a Breastfeeding Counsellor (BC) came home at 2 weeks to help me. Surprisingly, where everyone else more qualified failed, she succeeded in helping with techniques that worked.  I had to hold the breast like a sandwich for the baby to get a deeper latch. After a lot of trial and error, we settled down for a football position for one breast and the cradle position for the other. And whenever possible, it was the laid back or biological position. It wasn’t easy but I was determined and dint want to give up yet – I tried to get her to latch for every single feed before I resorted to pumped milk. For the first time in my life I actually cried tears of joy. I can never forget that feeling of going from the depths of despair to the highs of joy in an instant.

The BC encouraged me to visit my local breastfeeding support group as she suspected there was a different issue as compared to latching. I went the very next week, and honestly it was difficult. Although we made it on time with my mother’s support, I was majorly sleep deprived and had to push myself. Even hubby couldn’t be my side because he had to rejoin his work.

This day has been etched in my memory as it changed everything in my breastfeeding journey, bringing in a ray of hope.

We met the same LC who had come home and she did a detailed study of our feeding session. Based on the study, she examined Sankya’s mouth carefully and suspected a posterior tongue tie and referred me to the local hospital. The advantage of having the health care funded by the government is that everything is of high quality and free too. The disadvantage is that the wait for a simple examination too takes long and we had to wait till 6 weeks.  In the meantime, I was continuously working on the latch and pumping when she failed to latch.

3. What happened at the examination when you went after 6 weeks?
They confirmed the tongue tie and snipped it immediately. It was quick and my baby cried much less as compared to a vaccination. She latched immediately after the procedure and I could feel the change immediately. Her latch improved overnight and I stopped pumping gradually.

Our problems didn’t end there though. All the early pumping had left me with an oversupply, causing baby to have severe colic and silent reflux. We went through a month long nursing strike at 6 months. At around the same time, I was added into the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) Facebook group by a friend. It was the best support I could get and at the right time as even my doctor who had been very supportive of breastfeeding had suggested I start supplementing with formula. Thank heavens I listened to the advice on the group as not only did my daughter go back to the breast but she gained weight significantly and my doctor herself complimented my commitment. And that was the end to the troubles in my breastfeeding journey.

Now breastfeeding has gone from being the problem to the solution to all my problems, be it teething, toddler tantrums, difficult journeys and every other instance.

4. You had to pump for close to 3 weeks. Could you throw some light on your pumping schedule that helped you keep up your supply?
I was exclusively pumping for about 3 weeks and then pumping along with direct feeding till my daughter’s latch improved. At that time, I was religiously pumping every two hours round the clock. Since she needed it for every feed, I only had a small stash of 2 feeds in the freezer for emergencies. After that I only pumped on occasions that I had to leave baby with my husband.

I had to put her in nursery at 12 months as I had to start interviewing for jobs. At that time I pumped twice a day and sent the milk to nursery. She took it initially but after a while she refused to drink even a drop. Since she was 14 months by then and was eating food well I gradually stopped pumping and since then she feeds only when we are together.

5. How would you describe your experience with the doctors and nurses in UK?
Here in the UK, the healthcare is government funded and there is a heavy emphasis on breastfeeding. The good thing is they genuinely care about your well-being because the more health issues you have the more it’s going to cost them.

I had an excellent team taking care of me through pregnancy and birth and very good support with everything including breastfeeding. My baby’s doctor is also supportive of breastfeeding. Sometimes when she’s been very unwell from flu on the weekend and we’ve had to take her to urgent care even the doctors there have praised the fact that I’m breastfeeding and emphasized how that’s the best thing I’m doing for her.

6. Breastfeeding has been really tough on you. Did you see yourself slipping into post-partum depression (PPD)? How has your support system been?
PPD is a very real thing and it can happen to anyone. I think I was slipping into PPD when I lost my job. My mother had just returned to India, I was still struggling with a few feeding issues with my then 2 month old and this came at a very vulnerable time. I honestly believe breastfeeding is what kept me going. The fact that I had to focus on this beautiful person while feeding her, and the rush of love hormones when I breastfeed instantly lifted my mood and left no room or time for negative thinking. With my husband’s constant support, I was lucky I didn’t slip into PPD but I have seen it affect mothers very strongly.

My husband has been my pillar of my support system. My mother played a very crucial role in the early days by taking care of us and motivating me when I used to feel low. If not for that timely support I might have given up. After she left it’s been just hubby and I. He took on all domestic responsibilities of cooking cleaning etc till I slowly got into a routine and started pitching in. Even today he continues to do more than his fair share as I’m still getting used to balancing work and life. He’s always believed in me and I think that’s very important as a new mother lacking confidence.

My father and in-laws are also very very supportive and have always helped me out when they are with me. My sister-in-law exclusively breastfed her daughter till 2+years and her twin boys till 2 years and has been an excellent role model.

Last but not at all the least, I don’t know what I would’ve done without the professionals and volunteers who helped me in the initial days and BSIM which gave my journey a rebirth.

7. A lot of new mothers are worried about how to breastfeed in public. Your thoughts on this?
I think the key element to successful breastfeeding is that the mother should have as normal a life as possible with the baby. Breastfeeding should not be a hindrance to going out or traveling. Nursing in public (NIP) plays such a crucial role.

In the initial days, given our challenges with latching I had to expose quite a lot of skin for a long time to get a good latch and so I used a feeding cover as I was not comfortable doing this in public. For the first time I went out with my husband and that gave me some confidence. I wish I’d known BSIM then and learned of the two t-shirt method and about clothes that will work without feeling conscious.

But after maybe 4 months my daughter wasn’t very happy with the cover and I decided to ditch it unless I was very uncomfortable. Once I learned the two t-shirt method, I was completely free.

Having travelled across UK, Europe, USA and India, I feel wherever you go you’ll have nice people around you. You might also get stared at for NIP no matter which country you are in and in these situations I make eye contact with the person and give them a big smile. It does the trick every single time. So far long flights, trekking, hiking etc have been a breeze because all I needed to carry apart from food was a bottle of water for myself! My baby’s favourite milk was always ready when she wanted it at perfectly the right temperature and with no chance of contamination.

8. After you joined BSIM, how did you go on to become the moderator on the group?
The group helped me immensely and helped me with strategies to get more sleep; feed baby the right way and more and I am ever grateful. The group came into my life at a point when I was on the verge of giving up due to the nursing strike. I really wanted to pay it forward so I started answering questions of other mothers to the best of my knowledge. One of the admins and they asked if I would like to officially be a peer counsellor. I was truly honoured to be asked and I took it up.

Watching the team work together inspired me to get my certification. I then registered with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABA) to take up their mother supporter module and gained my certification in a month. This is something I am very proud of because I started and finished the course while working full time in a brand new job, balancing home and baby and at the same time was still active as a peer counsellor.

After this I was asked if I would like to do more by being a moderator and I gladly accepted.

9. You have come a long way overcoming your challenges. Do you plan to wean your baby any time soon?
The challenges were many –baby not latching, tongue tie, silent reflux, nursing strike, bottle refusal, biting while feeding and more that I don’t remember now.

Since I gave birth in London, I was shielded from unsolicited advice from relatives and others. My mother was with me and she believed in certain diets and practices like not drinking plain water. Thankfully, she is a person who is very open to information and was co-operative when I explained to her how those are just myths.

When I visited India, I got tons of advice from “aunties” to wean to which I just smiled and nodded as it’s never a good idea to waste your energy fighting with every person you come across. New mums have to choose their battles wisely.

My daughter is now 2 years old and still going strong. I plan to let her self-wean at whatever age that might be. I am aware that I might face nursing aversion myself and might not be very happy about continuing it. If that happens I might take a call on whether I should gently wean her. I believe that a breastfeeding journey should keep both the mother and baby happy and if either one is genuinely not in it then it is ok to let go.

Somehow nursing a baby whether in public or private is encouraged and people smile warmly at you. Those same smiles turn into looks of horror when you feed a toddler. But I know what’s best for me and my baby. I try not to worry about what anyone will think or say. When someone asks, my standard response is, “I will have to negotiate that when she leaves home for university”.

10. Do you think breastfeeding is indeed a difficult journey? Did you ever want to give up when you were facing some really tough times?
For me, it was quite hard. But looking back I realize a lot of it was because I didn’t have the right guidance. My mother breastfed both me and my brother but she was not equipped to deal with unique situations like mine. Also there is not enough importance given to information on normal new born behaviour of cluster feeding and growth spurts in general pregnancy or baby books. This is why groups like BSIM are so crucial. I feel like my journey would’ve been so much less scarier and very smooth if I had joined when pregnant.

We all have bad days! In the words of a good friend – never make nursing decisions on a bad day. The best way to deal with growth spurts is to make the sofa comfortable. In addition, order food in, put on a list of movies or Netflix and feed, feed and feed. Don’t stress over it. The kitchen can be cleaned next week no problem.

With nursing aversions what’s worked so far is that I remind myself the happiness my daughter has from breastfeeding. I remember the cute things she’s said or done. For example when she was saying her first words she said “ummm yummy yummy” after a feeding session. If I remind myself what this means to her it makes my aversion feel better.

11. How do you think we can spread more awareness about breastfeeding and what to expect during the journey?
Every mother goes through a unique journey of their own. It is important for everyone to share what they have been through. It will help new mothers, especially when they know that they are not alone.

At the moment I’m using up all my spare time and more to do my best as a moderator on BSIM. I also volunteer with my local mums groups to help anyone who’s having trouble latching. Or even if they just need someone to help navigate the health system to access the right support.

My advice to every mother is to trust your body. If you can grow a human for 9 months, you can definitely nourish the same human for another 6 months. Reading up about normal behaviour of a breastfed baby is very important in pregnancy itself. So that you know what to expect in the first few days.

Building a good support system around you is equally important. Take your partner with you to breastfeeding and antenatal classes. Do take him to a Breastfeeding friendly doctor too to understand the importance. And take all the help that you can get!

If you know of a pregnant mother, educate her today. Ask her to join support groups and be prepared. She may be too exhausted just after delivery to take in any information. And if she is already equipped with the right information, she can do wonders from the first latch itself. You need to understand that all journeys are not smooth. There will be hiccups on the way. Hence, I say I had a bittersweet journey.

Sapna Krishan | Breastfeeding Advocate | Mompreneur (nursing products) | Blogger | Motherhood | Parenting |


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