‘Every mammal breastfeeds its young one’.
Little did I know that this statement learnt in school would have such an impact on my life once I have a baby and little did I know that I would value this act as a noble and divine one as well.
Swati Jagdish is a psychologist by qualification who later turned into a Lactation educator counsellor (LC) out of sheer passion towards breastfeeding. She was into behaviour analysis, training and development and had been working with corporates and students, until she got pregnant. After which she decided she was going to have a midwifery birth and hence quit her job to travel for antenatal visits and Lamaze classes. Swati has a 3-yr old daughter, Maya, and is breastfeeding her. She has been doing antenatal classes and home consultations in the brand name Bond & Beyond and is also the admin on a parenting support group, Coimbatore Parenting Network (CPN).
1. Wow Swati! I think it is amazing to have the confidence in yourself and your body and go for a midwifery birth. So did all the classes that you attended prepare you well enough for the first latch?
I was lucky enough to have attended elaborate sessions on breastfeeding and lactation as part of my prenatal classes. Having collected all the necessary information on breastfeeding I believed it was going to be a cakewalk. I opted for natural birthing and gave birth at a birth centre at Cochin with my husband and lovely midwives by my side. I knew I had to breastfeed my baby immediately after her birth and when I did, I could see that she was struggling. I was surprised as I had believed it to be a natural response of a newborn but I didn’t expect any of this confusion and struggle.
Then I remembered. The Latch! I had to make sure my baby had the right latch. My midwife helped me ensure the latch was right. There. Now she drank like a pro. I was glad I figured it all out, but the following days had me in a constant questioning mode.
2. I am going to say you were so lucky with your latch. You had the right person around you which does not happen in most hospitals. But what led you to the constant questioning mode in spite of the extensive sessions you went through?
Though I had learnt that one should breastfeed on demand, I didn’t know that the baby had to sometimes drink every twenty minutes. I used to keep a breastfeeding journal on the request of my midwife and I remember at two weeks, she fed 20 to 22 times in a day. That was a whole day of breastfeeding. Though the classes had made these things clear, witnessing and experiencing them for real was in no way compared to the theoretical knowledge one gained. Several times I doubted my supply. Is the baby getting enough? Am I making enough for my baby? Is this feeding round the clock normal? My midwives ensured, ‘it’s all going great and this is how it will be’. I was relieved and thus began this beautiful journey of bonding and love.
3. It is said that breastfeeding is your one stop solution to everything for a baby. How true is it?
Breastfeeding was a savior all the time – through vaccinations, gas pains, travel and sleep deprivation. To comfort my baby in a minute, to make sure she slept peacefully, to tell her I was near her, I nursed her. Whenever she demanded, I trusted myself to be doing the right thing, just as nature intended to do.
I should also mention that breastfeeding was not just something I did for my baby; it was for myself as well. I lost my mother when my baby was three months old and my father passed away too just a month later. Those were days of grief and bereavement. I had a little baby to take care of and I also had a lot of other responsibilities to fulfil. But I can’t believe the kind of respite and peace that I got by breastfeeding my baby. I found the truth behind what I learnt, that breastfeeding relaxes you and calms you down. I also had to stay strong for my baby fearing my stress will get passed on to her, thus ensuring I mourned the death of my parents, but with lots of emotional maturity.
4. I am extremely sorry for your loss, Swati. It must have been a really tough period. Maya was very young when you were going through a difficult phase. How did you get through the breastfeeding challenges a new mother experiences?
As a mother you are under a lot of pressure. Numerous questions are going on in your mind every minute. There was a point when I was filled with too many queries and doubts. Should I give my baby water before six months, can I lie down and feed, how to express and store milk while am away, how many hours can my baby go without feed, why did my breasts stop getting engorged, is my supply dwindling, why is my baby drinking for a shorter duration, is my baby getting disinterested, and so on. None of which I could get a satisfactory answer from elders at home or even several doctors.
Just when I was about to explode with these questions, I got a wonderful support group on Facebook. Many many mothers across the globe, helping each other with evidence based research and up to date information on the dos and donts of breastfeeding. This group titled ‘Breastfeeding support for Indian Mothers’ (BSIM) also had lactation consultants, counsellors and breastfeeding friendly doctors who cleared every single query of a mother who was desperate for information. I got all my answers, and breastfed my baby exclusively for the first six months of her life without even giving a drop of water, which I never thought was possible.
5. Were you affected by Post-partum Depression (PPD)?
I’ve read Marsden Wagner’s creating a birth plan during pregnancy and nothing about breastfeeding. All I had was a 2 hour session on lactation by my midwives, which didn’t go into a lot of details, but got me motivated to breastfeed despite any struggle that would come up. I didn’t experience PPD in the true sense but baby blues were real. There were days when I felt very overwhelmed and angry. But I was always used to calming myself down, thanks to my profession. I didn’t let it get to me.
6. What kept you going after the 6-month mark?
When I introduced solids at 6 months, I got another peer support group on Facebook with the same set of mothers who follow the principles of ‘Baby led weaning’ where babies are encouraged to self-feed right from six months. The group strongly believes and practices the World Health Organization (WHO) principle of breastmilk (or formula) being the primary source of nutrition till the baby turns one. WHO also asks mothers to breastfeed till the age of two due to the immense benefits to the health of a toddler. For many mothers who were misguided by their own doctors to stop breastfeeding and wean off their babies at one, this was a beautiful ray of hope to continue giving all those antibodies and nourishment to their baby and hold on to that wonderful bond. I met a lot of amazing women who also practice extended breastfeeding so the toddlers are allowed to self-wean. I am planning to do the same.
7. You were well aware of the benefits of feeding for a minimum of 2 years. How did you dodge the well-meaning weaning advices?
There was no one to question me or my practices, as my mother, my mother in law and my husband were always there to support my choices. I was grateful to have got a breastfeeding friendly paediatrician as well as I knew of many mothers who were subjected to grave misinformation with regard to breastfeeding either because of their family or even medical professionals who made them believe they have low supply and instead of helping them out with information and assistance, pushed them into the formula trap.
My husband is my biggest motivator and I really believe breastfeeding is the responsibility of both parents. If the husband is sidelined during the later stages of pregnancy and during the early months of a baby’s birth, he doesn’t get the opportunity to learn about lactation and its intricacies. If he understands how complicated it can get, it helps the mother tremendously after she gives birth, especially when everyone else around her start doubting her supply or start misguiding her with myths. Now I am breastfeeding a 3 year old. Except my husband and my support group members, I don’t discuss about this to anyone in my family or friends circle, as I know for sure it won’t be seen in the right spirit. People who are important to me are supportive of my decision and that’s all that matters.
8. How would you describe the 3 years of your breastfeeding journey? Has it been overwhelming? Has it been easy?
It’s been 3 years of an amazing journey and I owe my child’s health, well being and happiness to breastfeeding. As each year passed, one thing I felt very strongly is that breastfeeding is a lot more than just milk. My toddler states my milk tastes like vanilla cake. Just a week back she said it tastes like jalebis. She says she comes to me for ‘paappam’ (that’s what we call breastmilk) to feel happy and calm. When I sip my morning tea, she wakes up and comes to me for her morning beverage. She has no plans to wean and I don’t wish anything else too.
Sometimes there are days when she is sick or uncomfortable, and never lets go. Those days, I’ve genuinely wished she weaned, but I remember what Adhunika Prakash (founder of BSIM) says, ‘Never quit on a bad day’, and that’s the best quote any breastfeeding mother should go by. We’ve gone through nursing strikes, sleep regressions, growth spurts, teething, food aversions and all of those things with the same principle. We’ve been through a Hand foot and mouth disease and several fevers that lasted a week or even more, with just breastfeeding. My child doesn’t take medicines, no matter how much of coaxing or begging is involved, and I have to say all these 3 years have passed by without even a dose of paracetamol. Thanks to breastfeeding and a very supportive paediatrician.
I am really a very happy mother today.
9. What (or who) inspired you to become a LC?
My journey into the field of Lactation was triggered by the innumerable posts on the breastfeeding support group that I was on, which had a common point of focus – the lack of enough lactation professionals. I did my certified lactation educator counsellor course from UCSD extension and have been working at GKNM hospital, Coimbatore for the past 1.5 years. After having counselled thousands of women with various breastfeeding issues, the amount of learning and confidence I have earned is incomparable. I spend a minimum of 30 min with a client during my hospital rounds and, a minimum of 2 hours during home consultations. I make sure my classes and individual sessions are filled with humour, as breastfeeding doesn’t always have to be serious business. If their counsellor breastfeeding her 3 year old becomes their biggest motivation to breastfeed, I don’t mind feeding my child for another 5 years, ha ha.
All my clients are in touch with me, and today I can very proudly say, many of them are feeding their children for up to 2 years, and some, beyond.
10. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for touching the lives of so many mothers and guiding them through. Apart from being a LC, you are a helping hand in a lot of other ways. Would you like to tell us more about it?
I was also actively involved in local support group initiatives, conducting meets in my city on breastfeeding, babywearing, introducing solids, cloth diapering etc. Now our support group has also started collecting donor milk from big-hearted mommas, to donate at our local milk bank.
11. Wow, that is truly amazing! As a LC, what would be your advice to new mothers? How must they prepare themselves for a wonderful breastfeeding journey ahead?
I wish every pregnant woman goes through a detailed lactation session with her husband before giving birth. After the delivery, listening to a counselor for an hour is not possible. I wish more women and men are aware of not just the benefits of breastfeeding, but also about giving the right kind of support to a nursing mother.
I also wish the innumerable myths and taboo surrounding breastfeeding ends for good. Mothers should be encouraged to nurse in public (NIP) and she should be made to feel proud of providing nourishment and care to her little one. I consider each day of my breastfeeding journey an achievement and an accomplishment and I hope every mother should feel the same.
Breastfeeding has no doubt enhanced the relationship between me and my baby and has also been a wonderful transformative experience.