Akshaya Abhilash is a teacher by profession but quit immediately after having her baby as she did not want to miss out on enjoying her baby’s formative years. She was always keen on doing something from home as that would keep her busy and allow her to be around her little one too. Akshaya now runs a small business of handloom sarees (from home) and also teaches the most dreaded saree-draping, Akshaya Drapes – all with the baby in tow. Breastfeeding and babywearing has only made it easier for them rather than difficult.
1. Akshaya, how do you manage to teach saree draping and nurse the baby at the same time?
Saree draping is something I teach at home and I connect to clients through my page drapes and more. If I have to breastfeed her while attending to a client I do so. It rarely happens as she’s 16 months old now and doesn’t nurse that often. I usually wear her on my back and attend to clients, and the session is a breeze. If she does want to nurse, I wear her in the front and nurse. Our work does not stop. Recently, we also organised Pune’s first babywearing FlashMob, all with the support of fellow babywearing moms and the only thing that helped me is the fact that I still nurse her. We nursed before, after and even during the practice sessions!
2. How prepared were you with the idea of breastfeeding and doing it in real
Breastfeeding to me wasn’t just nourishing my child. It was about the emotional connection more than anything else. Every time I pictured myself as a mother I’d have a mental image of me nursing my baby. When I conceived, I read up on the benefits and was determined to breastfeed my child successfully. My paternal grandmother was a huge support for me (she passed away recently) and so is my husband.
I delivered my daughter via c-section in a small nursing home and the nurses there although helpful, misinformed us. They had to help me initially to help nurse her as I couldn’t sit up so they used to time the feeds. After 10 minutes they’d say that’s enough and make her burp and take her away. I found it dissatisfying. She would wake up crying frequently and they forced formula saying your milk hasn’t come in. I objected strongly as I could feel my breasts getting engorged and leaking right from the second day of giving birth. I complained to the doctor and by then I could get up and sit. So I stopped the nurses from taking my baby away. I let her nurse as long as she wanted so she would be satisfied and top feeds weren’t required at all. Husband helped me a lot in this.
We did have our share of issues such as cracked nipples, engorgement and latching issues. Latching issues were due to my oversupply. She would refuse to nurse from my right breast and I had to express a little then try to latch her. I even tried feeding her lying flat on my back with her on me. This continued till 5 months and was fine once my supply was established. I had read up a lot, and still do, so I knew it was just a phase that we would get through.
3. Did you have an issue with supply? While there are some genuine cases of difficulty, how difficult do you think is breastfeeding?
A lot of people tried to convince me of having low supply, and I ended up having food items (shatavari, leafy veggies) to increase my milk and I ended up struggling with oversupply. I used to leak buckets and was engorged all the time. In reality, there is no supply issue. Every newborn nurses round the clock. Nursing continuously is what sets your supply for the baby. But due to a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of new mothers fall into the formula trap.
Breastfeeding is not difficult but it’s a skill that needs guidance. It’s something that comes naturally and all that a.new mom needs is someone to hold her hand and say “You’re doing a good job! I’m here, don’t worry. This is the best thing you can do for you and your baby. Don’t give up.”
4. I try to ask this in most interviews, as we get to hear a new thing every single time. So, what are the myths of breastfeeding that you have been fed with?
— The low supply myth is quite common and thrown at a new mother by every second person.
Only when my daughter put on some weight, people stopped discussing my supply.
— Breastfed babies dont eat solids.
My baby is 16 months old and nurses on demand. She is an extremely adventurous eater and is game for trying any new food item you give her. She balances solids and breastmilk perfectly and doesn’t let it affect her appetite for food.
— Since she is breastfed she is clingy.
My baby got stranger anxiety early at 6 months and people were ready to jump at my throat that it was due to me nursing her. Apparently, she wasn’t going to anybody because she was breastfeeding. (Whatever that really meant) Every baby goes through periods and phases of stranger anxiety and that is just normal. Breastfed or otherwise, all babies need their mother. There is no two ways about that.
— Breastfeeding is embarrassing and difficult when outside.
I find that breastfed babies are extremely travel friendly and even if I don’t carry a snack for her or she doesn’t want to have something outside, I know my baby won’t be hungry as she has breastmilk to nourish her. Even before she was born I was prepared with nursing wear to nurse in public (NIP). Initially, I did struggle with it being discreet and fumbled with nursing aprons but slowly got the hang of it. We nurse in a baby carrier too and that works great for us. And now we nurse anywhere and everywhere, with or without the carrier.
5. Lot of women struggle with getting support even from their husbands. It is the harsh reality. How has your support system been?
My husband is extremely supportive of me breastfeeding and helped me tackle all the problems I had early on. He was my pillar when I suffered from post-partum depression (PPD).
PPD hit me right after delivery but somehow I ignored it blaming it on the hormones. After a few months I lost my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, both of whom I was close to. I thought their death has made me bitter. Soon I realized I’m always unhappy! No matter where I was and no matter what I was doing, I was depressed. One night I had a dream about harming my baby and that’s when I knew this is not normal. I wept bitterly and confided in my husband. He and a few close friends helped me overcome this. We attended a few counselling sessions and now we’re enjoying each day with our daughter.
At 16 months, there is a lot of pressure from old people to wean the baby and I have told them bluntly that till the day we both are comfortable, I’ll continue nursing. And all of this is possible only because my husband stands beside me, backing all my decisions! Even during teething or when the baby was ill, I have had my phases of wanting to wean as she would want to nurse every half an hour at night, for weeks together. But it was my husband who stepped up to support me and we powered through it.
Breastfeeding is something that will surely bring you closer to your baby. Every mother should believe in herself to breastfeed (unless there is a medical condition). They must read during their pregnancy to be well informed as a lot of people take advantage of the fears of a new mother. If possible, get your husbands on board too. It’s a wonderful gift for you and your child.