Breastfeeding Journeys

“Breastfeeding is not a natural act, no.”: Breastfeeding Journey

Nisha Srinivasan worked as a litigator in Mumbai, India for a couple of years before moving to Melbourne, Australia, after getting married. She found it difficult to find employment there for a couple of years. Six months after finding a job as a legal secretary, Nisha discovered she was pregnant. She worked till the end of 8 months pregnancy and began her maternity leave for a year. Nisha rejoined employment when her son was 11 months old. She is also a moderator at one of the largest Facebook breastfeeding support groups, Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM).

1. In India, in lot of cases, there is always a fight as to what the baby’s first drop of milk will be – breast milk or formula. How different was it for you since your son was born in Melbourne?

Before I could even let the long 38 hour journey of labor that led to the birth sink in, the midwife took matters in her hands and said, “He must be tired and hungry!” She helped me latch on the baby for the first time and it felt surreal honestly.

The midwife in the next shift was even more amazing. She encouraged me to feed and motivated me by saying that I was doing a good job, when all I wanted to do was forget the pain and just sleep. I was very thankful for the support the midwives and nurses provided me and they always encouraged me to breastfeed.

However, upon our return home latching went all awry and a nurse on a visit to my home recommended nipple shields. My only real struggle in breastfeeding was using nipple shields because my son wouldn’t latch properly. It gave me such relief that I wondered why dint everyone use them. That’s when I started reading a lot on breastfeeding and especially the shields. Amongst other things, I read that shields caused the transfer of the milk to be much lower – prolonged feedings and disproportionate supply for the baby’s demand which would lead to slow weight gain and low pee output. I made an appointment at the hospital where I delivered with a Lactation Counsellor (LC) when my son was 10 days old. The latch improved briefly, but it went back to square one pretty soon.

We found out much later that my son had severe tongue, cheek and lip ties which prevented him from latching on properly. We ultimately had the ties reversed at 18 months but by then breastfeeding with nipple shields had become the norm.

It was either feeding with the shields, or not at all for us. At 2+ years, we still use them. I read everything I could on the pros and cons of a shield but determined that if I were to breastfeed, this is probably our normal.

If I were to breastfeed another baby, I would probably try a lot harder before letting the shields become normal for us.

2. Breastfeeding is not a cakewalk for everybody. It takes a lot of determination and patience. Although, by now you have made peace with your ‘normal’, did you ever feel like giving up?

My breastfeeding journey has been full of support of my husband, family and various care providers. I wasn’t a part of BSIM till much later in my journey and my son was already 7 months by then. I had only KellyMom to dispel any doubts I had. I did flirt with the idea of formula because it was the norm in our families, maybe due to lack of knowledge. But my local health care providers kept saying “put the baby on the breast”.

The difficulty lies in the mindsets of the people around the mum and dad. As vulnerable and overwhelmed parents, they are going to listen to all advice others have to offer. The USP of formula is such a comfort that it’s crazy – selling sleep for over tired parents and particularly mums, and saying the formula has this, that and the other benefits and nutrients – the advertising also fools people.

Sleeplessness can do weird things to a person! In such times of frustration, a sneaky voice says, “so, options other than lying down on your side and letting child nurse quietly and self-going to sleep include…. patting, rocking, screaming, swaying, singing, walking… umm no thank you!” So, there was no giving up whatsoever!

A lot of women across the world want to give up for various reasons. Women as a whole are not made to have self-confidence about their ability to nurse and I believe it’s important to seek help.

Breastfeeding is not a natural act, no. It will not simply happen unless it’s given a fair go.

3. At what point in your breastfeeding journey did you need to look out for more support through support groups? How did you become a moderator on BSIM?

It only happened by accident. I was on another mother’s group and was suggesting something related to breastfeeding to someone. Another person posted a link to the BSIM group and I was surprised that there are groups that provide such particular support! I was only ever a part of the one group before.

Although I had crossed mostly all initial struggles and had nothing to ask for myself, I was fascinated by the group and felt the urge to help mums who were fortunate to be in this group seeking support. I became a Peer Counsellor (PC) in around 2 weeks of joining (I was forever trolling the group!). Moderatorship was given to me in September 2016.

I would like to thank the admin and mod team for the help, support and fun we have and for making friends with people I haven’t met and yet share a deep ever-lasting bond! Also, a note of gratitude to the PCs who make it so much easier on the admin and mod team!

A vote of thanks to the members who express gratitude to our efforts! We note the gratitude and return with thanks!

4. You went back to work when your son turned 7 months. How did you manage your pumping and stashing sessions?

Yes, I pumped briefly when I had to return to employment at 7 months. It was then I flirted with the idea of introducing formula because I had a manual pump and hated pumping.

I sought counsel of my local nurse and Australian breastfeeding Association counselling and felt encouraged to pump. I realised it would be difficult to get my supply back if it went long term.

I bought a pre-loved double electric pump and started building a stash from 10 months as I had to rejoin employment at 11 months and continued till 17 months. I was able to pump in my own room in office as I had the privacy needed and of course it was required of an employer to accommodate such a request.

At my workplace, I was pumping twice a day and able to produce 240 ml per session which I would count as two feeds. This continued till my son turned 16 months. I reduced the time gradually.

My pump started dying and I eventually stopped at 17 months because I felt I was putting too much pressure on myself to “meet” a number.

I have hung my pumping boots and he only nurses at bedtime and in the night. He doesn’t have any other drink during the day and is a fair (albeit moody) eater, which is normal for any kid his age, I believe.

5. Mothers, who are unware, are adviced to wean by the 6-month or the 1 year mark. Some even 3 months! How often were you pressured and had to come across unsolicited advices?

My son turned 2 years old in June and is still nursing. I haven’t planned on weaning him because quite frankly it suits me for now!

I am part of many local and Australia wide communities which promote breastfeeding. Fortunately, people here don’t really make it a business to know what you are feeding your child. I have generally received positive feedback for saying I breastfeed my now 2 year old.

That is not to say that many mums I know stopped breastfeeding for reasons that included sleep training or owning their bodies again or they thought their supply could never meet the child’s demands.

In my head he is still a baby! I haven’t received much unsolicited advice. Our families don’t say much and largely leave parenting to us. If I did, I would probably try and educate or if I know it’s a lost cause, simply ignore.

6. What would you describe as the challenges you faced during your journey?

The idea of simply giving a bottle and baby to someone else has been something I secretly harboured during long nursing sessions. One particular instance when my son was 5 months old, he cried so inconsolably and wouldn’t nurse that my husband ran and bought formula. We were to fly back home from India that very night and it was so stressful to have a wailing baby.

I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as he gulped a bottle with such apparently gratefulness. We fed him formula on our way back on the flights just so to avoid any dramas mid-air.

He started having green frothy poo and I stopped the formula as soon as we landed in Melbourne. I haven’t looked back since.

7. Were you subjected to a lot of myths?

The most common myth is obviously food impacting milk supply and baby. I did eat whatever was given to me mostly because of indifference and graciousness of someone (my mother in law and mum) taking care of me. Since then, I have realised it was probably not needed.

The other myth was formula was absolutely required because women in my family hadn’t been able to breastfeed for various reasons and some of them have been perceived as opposed to being a medical reason.

8. Did nursing in public (NIP) come easily to you?

I was very conscious initially but got over it. I have been lucky to have an obliging baby who was happy to feed under a cover. I was vary of exposing my breast for tad longer because of nipple shields but I learnt fast!

9. You have had your own set of struggles but you kept going. What would you say to other mums?

When I was pregnant, I was so pre occupied with the joys of pregnancy that I never gave a real thought to breastfeeding. I just forgot what the baby would eat after coming. Some part of me assumed formula, too! Although, you can never really be prepared, I would suggest reading up and being informed.

Believe in yourself if you have had a healthy pregnancy – if you could care by yourself of the baby in the womb, why not take care of nutritional needs when outside!

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

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