Shyamala Sathiaseelan loves to travel and she considers herself a nomad. She finished her Engineering in Computer Science in 1994 from Coimbatore. Shyamala worked in the IT industry for 14 years before quitting her job to take care of her children. She tried her hand at teaching, interpreting and writing before she ended up becoming a lactation consultant (LC). Read on to know how Shyamala stuck to her breastfeeding instincts with both her children to nurse them to term.
1. What was your first idea or thought about breastfeeding?
For me, breastfeeding was the only way to feed a baby. I had seen my aunts and cousins and two of my best buddies in Ireland breastfeed their babies. It showed me how easy life could be if I just stuck to breastfeeding.
They made it look so easy that I thought that it was natural and there would be no problems. Even though I attended the mandatory antenatal classes, I never thought of reading up or researching much on breastfeeding. Although, I wish I did.
2. How different were your breastfeeding journeys with both your children?
Thankfully I had no problems as both my kids fed like a champ from the word go. When my son was born, the nurses sent me home with free bottles of formula; “just in case” I wanted to use them. I did not use any of it and gave it all away. Because I did not do my homework, I ended up starting solids and water early. At six months I found out that he had serious allergies to dairy, peanut, and egg. I always wanted to have my two babies as close to each other as possible. When my son was 14 months old, I was pregnant again. I didn’t want to wean him off and that created a huge problem for everyone around me as they felt I was doing it all wrong. My doctor was the only one who was supportive and said I could feed my baby as long as I continued to eat healthily. He self-weaned when my supply was low in the third trimester.
With my daughter, I was stubborn not to get those formula bottles home, and thankfully I wasn’t even offered. I had a wonderful midwife for my second delivery who put my baby to breast real quick after her birth. As for doctors, they were always supportive mostly. Sometimes I did hear the odd comment from someone but I learnt to ignore it.
After my daughter was born, my son would ask once in a while. My family looked at me strangely when I even mentioned slightly about feeling sorry for him. One fine day I decided enough was enough and fed my son. And continued to feed him at nights till he self-weaned for the second time when he was around 4.5years. He just decided one fine day that he had enough and he didn’t want to feed anymore as he was a big boy. My daughter continued to feed for 4.5 years and self-weaned when my supply hit a low again. They both still talk about feeding and how it was special for them.
I would have fed longer if only I could. It was a special bond between my children and me.
3. Did you tandem feed? How did you manage nursing them together, or even at different times? Was it overwhelming?
I was never an assertive person till I had my children. I put my foot down when it came to breastfeeding. My son was fed till the twentieth month, through my pregnancy and then tandem fed later. My daughter was fed till she was four and a half years old. Heads turned when people saw me feeding a toddler. Feeding toddlers is not easy as they do not sit in one position and feed. Also, you are constantly at logger heads with your own family and friends that supported you in the initial six months. But it is definitely worth it.
I tandem fed my two for a while. My son would feed only at nights, just before he slept. The three of us would go to bed together and the kids would feed just before we all fell asleep. It was overwhelming on days that I was tired and wanted to sleep rather than have two feeding at the same time. But otherwise it was a special time together.
4. We always say it is important to have the right support system. When did you seek help?
I wish I had the support system we have now on Facebook then. My research began only when my son developed his allergies. I swore to exclusively breastfeed the second baby for six months and continue to feed till natural weaning age.
While my problems weren’t directly regarding breastfeeding, my son had temporary lactose intolerance and that took me to a La Leche League meeting. There was a lot of confusion but with support from all different directions my problems got solved. I became a member of the Extended Breastfeeding Support group of Ireland through a friend who had her baby the same time as I had my daughter. That is where I “met” Adhunika and Madhu; the founders of the largest support group in India, Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM).
I am proud to say that I was one of the first few members of BSIM. Adhunika changed my life when she added me to the group. Even though my kids had weaned off by the time I joined BSIM, I realised I was gaining more knowledge and was helping others in some way so I continued to stay there. I tried to become a La Leche League leader. I was in Italy the past three years and my nearest English speaking group was 350kms away so I gave up on that one. This year I finally did my Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC) course from University of California San Diego (UCSD). That has now made me a moderator in BSIM.
5. Your babies were born in Ireland. How different is it from India?
Apart from starting solids quite early, I ignored most of the myths. Thankfully I had an Irish friend who was like a sister and I learnt quite a bit from her. Another close friend taught me a lot of things I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Sisterhood is very important when it comes to support.
With my first born I was still working. My maternity leave was six months. With all my extra leave I had, I had managed to get seven months. I was also working from home. I was prepared to leave him at day care if the need arose. But his allergies made me have a rethink. I continued to work from home and feed him. He continued to feed normally and his schedule was not affected at all. When I got pregnant with my second, I quit my job. That just made my life that bit easier.
As a first time mom, I had got everything any mother on earth would ever need from friends as hand me downs. That included a pump too. I used the pump maybe a couple of times. It was put to use once when my son had a cold and refused to feed and once when I had to go out so I could leave some milk for my mother to feed him. After that, the tubes of the pump became toys for my son to drag along while crawling around the house.
6. How has your experience been with nursing in public (NIP)?
I was prepared for NIP from day one. I had tailor made breastfeeding tops when I was just three months pregnant and that helped me immensely. It was quite discreet and I breastfed anywhere and everywhere. I have NIP my kids in few different countries from day one into toddlerhood. It is funny how it was easy to feed my babies outside than at home. Sometimes I got told to go inside a room and feed or everyone walked out of the room because I picked up the baby to feed. There was even one instance when someone walked into a room I was feeding in and threw a towel at me just to show their opinion of me NIP. None of that stopped me.
When my son was born my husband had a broken leg, which meant I had to get out and do things from the very beginning. I have fed him everywhere from airplanes to two wheelers stuck in traffic, temples, churches, markets, hotels and anywhere I had to be when my child was hungry. I refused to get up and go to restrooms to feed him. Unfortunately, I just have one photo of feeding my baby in a public place. I never thought of taking any pictures at all.
Sometimes it was tough to get family to support NIP, tandem feeding or just plain listen to what I had to say.
7. The way formula is sold, a lot of mothers fall for it. Did you have to give in at any point?
When my son was two weeks old, he was crying all night, probably because of a growth spurt. And with family suggesting that I might not be producing enough I nearly tried formula. Thankfully my son just didn’t want anything other than my boob. So that was the end of trying formula for both my children and ever since then I have never doubted my supply.
8. How has the reaction around you been with regards to full term breastfeeding?
For my first baby, the family was supportive but misinformed. By the time I had my second, I had started teaching them. Even then I would hear a lot of comments about feeding my child who was into her third and fourth year of life. A lot of time I got told that she was clingy; she was not eating and all because of me continuing to feed her. Every time people heard I was feeding my school going kid, I was told that it would be difficult to wean her and that she would sleep and eat better if she weaned. I just refused to listen because I could see first-hand how breast milk was helping her build her immunity. Nobody knew about me nursing both my children at the same time, so I didn’t get any comments on that.
9. Did breastfeeding come easily to you?
For me, breastfeeding was never difficult. In fact, it was the easiest thing ever. As mentioned in the beginning, I am a nomad and I love traveling. Anywhere I went, I plonked my baby in the car seat, took a set of clothes, nappies and some wet wipes and I was off. I didn’t have to worry about rockers to put my babies to sleep or calm them down. Thankfully I did not have any latch problems, nursing strike, etc from the baby’s side; and nursing aversions, engorgement, etc from my side which made life really easy.
Even though I had gained some amount of knowledge, I did not know about growth spurts. I just fed my babies on demand, no matter what their age was. It worked brilliantly well for me.
10. We always hear about stories where the breastmilk has benefitted an older child. Did you experience something similar?
One incident that I will always remember for life is my then 4-year-old son falling sick. He was down with pneumonia and was in a critical condition. I got him admitted to a pretty big hospital and had told them about his allergies. He was in the ICU and unfortunately they had given him milk in spite of me asking them not to. That created more problems and he was intubated.
When they removed him off the ventilator, the child was very sick and could not even swallow anything. I instinctively put him on the boob and within a day his throat was healed. And he was ready to eat normal food. He was put on medication for six months to a year but within a month and a half all his medications were stopped. He was “perfectly fine”. All thanks to breastmilk.
The nurses at the hospital laughed and ridiculed me. They even told me the chief doctor would not be happy to see me breastfeed a four year old. They told me how my milk had no nutritional value at that age and I refused to listen. Till date I pat myself on my back for not listening to anybody and continuing to feed.
11. What would you suggest to pregnant or new mothers?
With my first born, as I said, I had no experience. He was on water and solids quite early. I realise now how important it is to be informed. I did read up while I was trying to conceive and a bit during pregnancy. But I learnt a lot of things between my two babies. By the time I had my daughter I was better informed than when I had my son.
Any pregnant woman or new mother I see in my family, I talk to them about breastfeeding. I try and help them if they have any problems. Not just family, even friends and friends of friends too. I try and be a support system to any mother that asks for help.