1. Hi Vandana, we heard you had a difficult pregnancy. Would you like to tell us a little about it?
I am a 33-year old mommy, homeopath by qualification, and was practicing till I conceived. I have always been underweight and by personal choice I postponed my pregnancy till I could gain some decent weight. Although I dint gain any weight, I did manage to conceive at 33kgs. My gynecologist was horrified as she believed underweight pregnancies are too risky. Honestly, I was also terrified initially due to the death of a cousin during childbirth (she was underweight too). I feared the same would happen to me and lived in denial for the longest time. Thankfully, family and friends made me believe that I would live and my cousin’s was a one-off case.
From the first month onwards, I struggled with severe morning sickness. Eating was a task and I was happy to see the numbers increasing on the weighing machine. I always thought I would work through my pregnancy, but my health did not allow me to so I stuck to reading in bed. By the 5th month, I suffered severe hyperemesis and a horrible nonstop backache as the baby was growing and couldn’t accommodate in my small body. My spine was almost bent at one point. I couldn’t manage alone anymore. I was in and out of the hospital every 2 weeks due to nonstop vomiting. At 6 months, I was 40kgs, but I began to lose weight again and the fear of death returned. The back pains felt like labor pains, and I would stand the entire day. Each passing day was a struggle and it was only getting worse with the unwanted advices from relatives. Panic attacks set in and I fell into huge depression.
Psychiatric drugs were started in the 7th month. The initial days felt normal and I slept for 2-3 hours with sedatives but after a point that stopped working too. By the end of the 7th month, I was sure I wasn’t going to make it and said my goodbyes to everyone who visited me in the hospital. On the last day of the 7th month, I broke down in the hospital. I cried inconsolably and kept pleading to the doctors to save me as the pains were unbearable. That’s when my gynaecologist decided to have my delivery.
A scan was done to check for the baby’s viability. The placental insufficiency was huge due to zero food intakes and I was rushed for an emergency caesarian. Inside the operation theatre, I eagerly waited for that epidural shot. When I got the shot, I was pain-free and wanted to stay under the epidural effect forever. My baby was born at 32 weeks with a weight of 1.6kgs. He had a little difficulty in breathing so was shifted to the NICU for care n observation. I was shocked when I saw him the first time. He was fragile; as tiny as a mouse. There was no love at first sight. I felt so fragile myself that I was sure I wouldn’t be able to take care of him. I felt like running away from everything. Severe Post-Partum Depression (PPD) had set in.
2. I am so sorry to hear of everything that you have been through. I wish there was more support for mothers to deal with PPD. It is real. We will keep this for another day. PPD plays an important role in the breastfeeding journey. How was it for you?
Since the baby was weak, he was unable to latch directly. I was asked to express milk and send it to the NICU. I knew nothing about breastfeeding or electric pumps as I had left reading in the 5th month. Hubby got me a manual pump but I found it really hard to express as my hands hurt from weakness. The stress of expressing with manual pump and PPD made me give up on breastfeeding even before it could start. Manav was put on formula immediately. He was fed with a syringe as all other methods failed and we came home with a tiny baby. I don’t even remember loving him in the early days. I would just sit and stare at the wall, cry or talk nonsense. I had become suicidal. My back pain was gone and I thought I would finally sleep. But unfortunately, due to the sedatives I couldn’t fall asleep. I ended up taking more psychiatric drugs. I would have small periods of lucid interval where I would feel normal and that’s when I tried pumping for the baby. There was very little milk in my breasts. Visitors did not have anything nice to say. My depression worsened and I had thoughts of killing my baby. My husband, who was being strong and supporting me for so long, broke down at this stage. That broke me as I saw him cry for the first time. And I decided to get a hold of myself and take control.
The first thing I did was packed off the not-so-helpful relatives. Next, I just stopped all the drugs at once as they weren’t helping much. Although mechanically, I did everything myself for Manav. Started reading and connecting with friends and anyone who could help me and guide me. By 2 months of the baby’s age, my chest had become completely dry as I didn’t pump regularly and the psychiatric drugs had suppressed the milk hormones. I tried hard with the manual pump and failed miserably as it was hard.
3. When did you begin to bond with Manav?
Babywearing helped me overcome my depression. It is true. My wrap was a boon. When I wrapped Manav on my chest for the first time at 40 days; that was the first time I felt love towards him. I started bonding with him whenever I wore him. I wore him as much as I could. It not only helped me boost my milk supply (skin to skin hormone effect) but also helped me heal. Plus he would nap well and get so cozy and comfortable inside the wrap. I would just wrap him and keep staring at his sleeping face. I could sit and take rest or do other household chores that maids don’t do. I could eat comfortably. In fact, I must say I owe my life to babywearing. Every time I got suicidal, I would wear my baby. That one day I cannot get out of my head – I had tied a dupatta to the ceiling fan and was going to end it all. But a flip second and I thought of wearing my baby – maybe for the last time. But I sat there crying looking at the fan. I couldn’t do it. My baby needed me. Of course, now when I think of it, I am laughing at myself.
4. All of this sounds so hard that I cannot imagine it. So, did you give up on breastfeeding?
At that point, I did because I did not know better and I couldn’t keep going. I continued my research on breastfeeding and stumbled upon various articles on Relactation, babywearing and the electric breast pump. After a lot of research and determination, I decided to induce relactation. The electric breast pump was SO easy. All I had to do was attach the pump to my chest, press a button and sit. It was so simple and pain-free. I started pumping religiously but I had empty bottles for several days. The feeling of failure is horrible and it was setting in again. I picked myself up as there was no looking back and I really wanted to breastfeed Manav. I continued to pump and after 11 days a few drops of milk came in and I was jumping with joy. I fed him those few drops with a spoon as he still couldn’t latch.
5. Tell us more about Relactation.
Everyone around thought I was mad as in a few months Manav would start solids and was doing well on formula. But I was determined to give my best shot at breastfeeding. I continued to pump religiously every 2 hours. I was practically glued to my machine. Sit topless all day, pump for 20 minutes and then manually express what the pump couldn’t. Followed by attending to Manav (feeding, diaper change, et al) and wrap him naked on my naked chest till the time we both were comfortable. After 2 hours, I would unwrap him, put him on the bed and start pumping again. I did this for 3 whole months in a military schedule, without missing a single pumping session, including the middle of the night pumping session (MOTN). I ate all the right food and added galactogogues and supplements to my diet. I also fashioned a DIY hands-free breast pump bra by cutting holes in my sports bra. This was really helpful as I didn’t have to hold the two flanges and bottles of the breast pump. My hands were free to play and interact with bub. I would keep everything that we needed on the bed before I started pumping.
6. How did you manage all of it alone?
Honestly, all of this was possible only because of my husband and his never ending love and support in everything I did and was doing. I kept a maid who would come in daily for the cooking and cleaning. After she left I had the whole house to myself. I could afford to stay half naked for my 2 hourly pumping sessions. All I did the entire day was pump, sterilize stuff and take care of bub. Each day the milk volume I collected in my expression bottle kept increasing and that reduced the quantity of formula I fed Manav. And in exactly 55 days, I had a full supply of milk. In fact after a point, I reached the stage of oversupply. My fridge was full and it looked like a milk bank. Bub was completely on breastmilk now.
I didn’t travel anywhere all those days and didn’t sleep enough but all the efforts were worth it. Doing all this helped me overcome my guilt and depression. There were times when I felt like giving up. I felt miserable for missing out on precious time with Manav because of the pumping sessions but this was something that I had to do. I did not want to live with the regret of not trying.
7. Did you try to get your baby to latch?
Relactation has been the toughest thing I have done in my life and I am really proud of myself. The next challenge was to make him latch for direct feeding as it was hard to travel anywhere with a pump and milk bottles. If the milk got spoilt due to change in temperature, I had to feed him formula (and I hated it!). I kept trying every day to latch him in between pumping sessions but no luck. Suddenly at 10months, when I lay down tired after a pumping session, he crawled over me and latched. I was ecstatic. It was an out of the world feeling. I felt like he knew everything that I went through. The latch was not good enough to suck milk but he was trying – soothing himself and my soul.
Finally it all felt normal. It was a mix of direct and bottle feeding. The pumping sessions reduced gradually as his demand was reducing too. At 18 months, Manav just refused to latch. I wish I knew why. He switched back to formula, twice a day. With a heavy heart, I stopped pumping too. It was kind of relieving too as I was free from the machine.
After a few days, he latched again to soothe himself. He kept latching for comfort and my milk returned. This annoyed him and he stopped coming to my chest again. Could it have something to do with taste? I don’t know. Although he weaned abruptly, I am satisfied that I did everything that I could do.
8. You are a fighter. It’s been a roller-coaster of a journey and I am glad you did not take that drastic step. Manav is definitely lucky to have a mother like you. We would like to wish you and your family a splendid life ahead. Anything you would like to sign-off with?
Yes, I would like to just add a few things for all mothers…
The capability to breastfeed is all in the mind. If you are determined and confident, you can breastfeed successfully. Your mind is the only obstacle. Make up your mind and believe in yourself. Don’t let anybody talk you out of it.
Read, read, read. Read as much as you can. A well-read n well informed mind is at peace. Knowledge is the biggest antidote to fear. Any kind of fear or stress is not good for a breastfeeding mother. It hampers your supply.
If you have to pump for whatever reason, please invest in a good electric pump. You will get economical ones too. Please do not waste your time, money and energy on manual pumps only because it is quite affordable.
Consult a lactation expert at any point you feel confused or stuck. Talk to them, join support groups, or talk to people who have dealt with similar problems. Always stay connected, even if it is just virtually. DO NOT isolate yourself.
Get help of all sorts possible. If you are stressed ask for help – with just about anything – cleaning, cooking, washing or whatever it is that is stressing you. Create a team, if possible. A supportive hubby is the team leader here.
Keep yourself happy and ignore the stress giving people. Don’t let anyone disturb your mental peace.
I will sign-off with a couple of things I learnt…
1. When u are in a situation where you know a melodrama or stress is going to unfold, or you come across people who create unnecessary stress and drama in your life… Don’t walk away from them. RUN. RUN. RUN away from them…as fast as you can.
Believe in yourself. We are quite capable of moving a mountain.
I am leaving all of this behind me and pursuing my passion in Arts. See you around.