Breastfeeding Journeys

Challenging Obstacles: Breastfeeding Journey

Challenging obstacles is something Parigna loved doing through her determination, perseverance and hard work. Before we see it through her breastfeeding journey, let us learn a little more about her.

Parigna has done her Masters in Counselling Psychology and a Masters in Gujarati Literature; for which she has been awarded a gold medal for topping the University. Parigna began learning Indian Classical Music at the age of 6 and has sung for ads, TV serials, private albums and for Gujarati and Hindi films till college years. Post her 12th grade, she got into dubbing and went on to become a full time voice artiste. Some of her appreciated dubbing jobs are Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, Peaches in Ice Age, Gwen in Ben 10 and Chhota Bheem in Chhota Bheem. Other films (dubbing) in her kitty include Angry Birds (movie), Independence Day, Resurgence, X-men and more. Parigna is the Disney approved singing voice of Minnie Mouse. She has also explored the field of acting by doing a couple of Gujarati plays called ‘Jaagine joun to – Narsainyo, ek musical gatha’ and ‘Mari Vani, Meghani Sarvani’ with renowned actor Utkarsh Mazumdar. She also did a serial called ‘Muktibandhan’ for Colors TV in 2011 and acted in a short film ‘Kabira calling’.

When asked, Parigna describes herself as a psychologist by education, singer/dubbing artiste by profession and an actor by passion. Post baby, she does selective work and her most recent prestigious project was voicing (hindi) for Emma Stone in her latest movie – Battle of the sexes.

1. That’s a very impressive profile, Parigna. How prepared were you for this new journey you were to embark on?

The hospital I had chosen to deliver in followed the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). The gynaecologist(s) are staunch supporters of breastfeeding and are active in the Maharashtra chapter of Breastfeeding Promotion Network India (BPNI). Right from the time a woman is pregnant, breastfeeding is promoted. There were lectures arranged not only for the expecting mothers but fathers too, to introduce them to the importance and basics of breastfeeding.

I had taken a prenatal class along with my family members with a lactation consultant (LC) working at my birthing facility. I learnt about its importance, challenges, common issues and their solutions; in theory. I had seen my mom nursing my younger sister, other women in my extended family nursing their babies and I thought to myself – how hard could it be!

2. It looked like a good start. A little theory knowledge does help you recognize a situation when it arises. How much did all the information help you?

I had a normal delivery and I nursed my baby right on the delivery table just a few minutes after she was born. The first two days were pretty uneventful apart from the major sleep deprivation that was paving its way through my life, for years to follow. 😉

My milk volume increased on the third day. And I got super engorged pretty soon. It was not only difficult to latch the baby on the breast hard as rock, but next to impossible to be able to express without going through excruciating pain. People tried to help; from my husband to my mom and sister.

The LC taught me the expression technique, but it was too painful to even touch my breasts. Since none of us could bring ourselves to inflict so much pain upon me, a nurse, of course with the right intentions, volunteered and expressed with totally wrong techniques that my right breast was bruised and it continued to pain for a month. I can easily mark that day as the toughest day in my life with regards to enduring physical pain.

Simultaneously, my baby developed neonatal jaundice. She was given light therapy in my room itself. The physical pain of engorgement coupled with emotional pain of seeing that tiny thing in a box under blue lights was overwhelming.

3. Definitely not the start you had expected. Did things get better once you got home?

Fortunately, things seemed to get better after a day and we came home. I have always been a very sincere and dedicated person. I try to give my best in everything I do. And if I can’t do something to the best of my abilities, I don’t do it at all. But in certain things, you can’t quit. Some things are way too important to be left at the mercy of fate and breastfeeding is one of those.

I had a mission in front of me – ‘6 months of exclusive breastfeeding’. So, I put alarms and nursed my baby every 2 hours. Next evening, we were called for weight check. My baby had lost 90 grams of her weight in 24 hours. We were shocked and immediately rushed to the pediatrician. She checked my daughter, observed her and told us that the baby was lethargic. Her fingertips and soles were slightly blue and she wasn’t nursing efficiently. The pediatrician herself was surprised because she had been coming to the maternity home where I delivered from day one and according to her, my baby had been the most active baby around. She advised my daughter’s admission to NICU for observation.

4. I got goosebumps. I cannot even imagine your plight. What happened next?

Within a few minutes, I was left in the general ward of the children’s hospital smelling my baby’s clothes almost thinking that I had lost her. There was no bed/room available at the hospital and I stayed the night with my husband sitting on the staff bed and went inside the NICU every couple of hours to nurse my baby.

Eventually we had to be in the hospital for 3 more nights. Numerous tests were done and all the reports were perfectly fine. The doctors came to the conclusion that the baby must not have received enough milk because of my super engorged breasts. Apparently, the baby was suckling, but was unable to transfer any milk. This really shattered me. All I was supposed to do was feed the baby, and I couldn’t do it!

Before my baby was discharged from the NICU, the doctor once again examined our nursing session and wasn’t happy. She asked me to pump a bit and feed the baby at the hospital. When the nurses and I tried to pump, nothing came out. Not even a drop of milk. We were all aghast.

5. Heartbreaking, to say the least. Clearly something wasn’t right. Did you find out?

It left me wondering how it is even possible! Just the other night, I could pump 3 ounces in 10 minutes and now nothing? The doctor told me that my baby needed to put on some weight quickly and advised me to start top milk. To me, it sounded even worse than “we need to admit your baby in the hospital”. I was completely heartbroken.

At home, the struggle continued. I breastfed, gave some expressed milk and then offered formula. After lots of tears, my baby learnt to sip milk from an open cup. A 10 day old baby drank milk from an open cup. We never used bottles to avoid nipple confusion. But there were other struggles too that came with formula.

My daughter refused to accept it from me. It had to be handled by my husband or mother. There have been times that my husband had to come in between work to offer formula. I was so engrossed in my failure; in the ocean of guilt and worry and in self-loathing that I never utilized my time to connect with my baby.

6. Tell us about your journey of eliminating formula.

I only kept listening (to many well intended but poor advice from people around me) and reading (whatever I could find off Google about breastfeeding). My paediatrician had assured me that I will be able to wean my baby off formula one day. So, I just followed her instructions.

I made charts of our nursing sessions, her pee/poop counts and weight gain. After a fortnight I was asked to stop offering formula at night. After a few more days, I was asked to discontinue with 2 more day sessions of formula. Then one more, and so on. Finally when my baby turned 1.5 months, I was given a green signal from the pediatrician to start exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) my baby.

7. So, was it a successful journey towards EBF?

The 1.5 months mark was also her 6 weeks vaccination. It was also the mark for growth spurts to kick in. I had already stopped formula and had no idea about the tornado that was just around the corner.

My baby cried and cried some more. She was fussy all the time; wouldn’t sleep, cluster fed for hours and still cried. I was disheartened once again. Even though her pee and poop count were perfectly fine, I only blamed myself for not being able to feed my baby enough milk.

After trying EBF for three days, I went back to the paediatrician. She assured me that the baby was doing fine on breast milk. But I wasn’t convinced and seeing me worried she said I could resort to formula as and when required. I restarted formula; once or twice in 24 hours, for a few more days.

After the baby turned 2 months, we had gone to meet my gynaecologist. He had kept a watch on my baby post-delivery and knew all about our journey till date. He casually asked if I was EBF and I broke down. That’s when he told me something that worked miraculously.

“Formula is your back up. You want to fall back on it in difficult situations. You’ve found a support in it. What if there were no alternatives to breast milk? Go off support. If you don’t let go of the side wheels on your bicycle, are you ever going to learn to ride it?”

Parigna’s Gynaecologist

That hit straight home and I knew what I had to do. I was more determined. I never gave my baby formula again. But I kept maintaining her urine output chart until she turned 6 months to ensure I was on the right path.

8. When you were struggling to set your breastfeeding relationship, did you not find the need to look out for support groups?

Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t even sure if such groups existed. I did not even have the time to look at my phone. After I weaned my baby off formula and got a little guilt-free, I could breathe a sigh of relief. When she turned 4 months old, I felt a little normal. That’s when I gradually got back to my phone for things other than googling information.

A friend added me to a mom’s group on Facebook. Having done a lot of research on breastfeeding and attended multiple LC sessions, I knew some terrible and ignorant advices on breastfeeding were imparted. I tried to refute but the moms ganged up on me.

I figured there had to be a group that focused only on breastfeeding and stumbled upon Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM). People were given the right information. The admins were ever so polite and tolerant. I started commenting on people’s queries with whatever knowledge and experience I had. I also got to learn a lot after reading the admin answers on posts. Loved every bit of it.

At one point, I mentioned that I had successfully weaned my daughter off formula. Adhunika Prakash (Founder, BSIM) requested me to share my story under the group’s weaning off formula post. I did and so many people liked and appreciated me. It felt like a pat on my back for something that I had put everything into. It felt out of this world.

9. Joining a support group to help mothers through your experience and knowledge is commendable. Tell us about your journey from a member to an admin on BSIM.

I joined the Mumbai chapter of BSIM. Coincidentally, the admin there was stepping down and wanted volunteers to conduct meet-ups in Mumbai. I volunteered. Adhunika took me through the BSIM guidelines for meet-ups and I conducted them in various parts of the city. Meanwhile, I was actively answering queries in the group. After a while, I was asked to be a Peer Counselor (PC), then a moderator and now an admin.

10. It goes without saying that weaning off formula was one of the toughest parts of your journey. What other challenges did you face?

I am not sure if there was any obstacle that I did not face. Engorgement, sore, cracked and bleeding nipples, perceived low supply, milk blisters, plugged ducts, deep gashes on nipples during teething and how can I forget the numerous myths that I was subjected to.

11. How was your experience with nursing in public (NIP)?

For the first 10 months, I rarely went out as I was depressed and breastfeeding was still not easy. If I did have to step out, we nursed in the car, available nursing room or at the doctor’s clinic.

When Aaratrika was about 10 months old, I flew with her to my uncle’s place for a wedding. It was literally my first brush with NIP as I had to nurse her during take-off and landing. I breastfed her in a nursing cover bought just for the travel. It was difficult as she wasn’t used to being covered. On our return, we followed the 2-shirt method which we were comfortable in, in the rare occasions we fed when outside. Worked like a charm. There was no turning back and there is no place I have not breastfed her.

The credit for this entirely goes to BSIM. I had seen few women posting their NIP photos and the way they were appreciated and celebrated was incredible! I was super inspired. Apart from the confidence I got from BSIM, I was also able to internalise the fact that my baby had the right to nurse whenever and wherever she needed.

If only I had joined BSIM earlier and known of the perks of NIP, I wouldn’t have missed out on my social life for so long. And that sure would’ve helped me get over my depression a little bit.

12. You mentioned depression. Could you please shed some light on that?

I have done masters in counseling psychology. So, I know that I suffered a full blown Post-Partum Depression (PPD). It’s so real and so brutal that I still feel vulnerable when I think about and relive those days. In my case, the depression multiplied as I had to offer formula to my baby. It made me feel worthless, rejected (by baby), useless and hopeless. I remember crying for hours every day. I was so unsure of my abilities to take care of my baby that I used to be scared if we were alone in a room for even a few minutes. The joy of motherhood was an alien concept to me in the initial days. I was clouded by guilt and worry.

Moreover, it also made me push my limits. My sheer hard work and the support of my mom, sister and husband helped me overcome the self-doubt and wean my baby off formula. It worked as light for me and things gradually started becoming better from then onwards.

13. It was a challenging and demanding first year. How do you think you would cope without any support?

I couldn’t have survived the first three months without my sister and mom. They were there for me right from the day I delivered. My mother visited us every day, from morning to evening. My sister stayed for a month and helped with the baby day and night. She formed such a strong bond with my daughter with early days’ caring and skin to skin, that they are inseparable. My daughter, who has major separation anxiety, doesn’t miss me at all when she’s with her Masi (aunt). Their bonding is to die for! After 3 months, I stayed at my mother’s place for a while.

Ketul (my husband) was super supportive and helped at nights. He motivated me and kept my morale high even when things seemed extremely difficult.

14. How long do you plan on breastfeeding Aaratrika?

Since I had taken the prenatal LC session with my family, everyone knew about the importance of nursing for a minimum of two years. After struggling so much with breastfeeding in the initial months and winning my battle with a lot of efforts, I was determined to nurse for at least two years.

But it was BSIM that introduced me to the concept of self-weaning and natural term nursing. By the time Aaratrika turned a year old, I decided we are going to nurse to term. So, at 3 years 11 months we are going strong and weaning is not on the cards. But we have set boundaries. We nurse on demand but only at home and my mom’s place.

15. Having come this far, why do you think breastfeeding is difficult in spite of it being natural?

It can be really challenging in the beginning and especially for a first time mom. Theory knowledge gives you an edge but practicality can be different altogether. We say that breastfeeding is natural, but we must understand that we no longer approach anything naturally.

The last half a century has left no stone unturned in undermining breastfeeding and that’s why we need lactation experts, more research done on breastfeeding, more and more promotion of breastfeeding. We need to be more natural in our approach to breastfeed our babies. Every mother needs to be more instinctive and follow the cues given by her babies. We must also listen to our body. A body that nourished a baby for 9 months craves to nourish it even after birth.

We need to tune into our body and baby and listen to it … for it talks to us. What is engorgement? Our body is asking us to feed our baby more often. What is a plugged duct? Our body is telling us that we are not paying enough attention on emptying that particular breast.

We also, while growing up, need to see more women breastfeed for it to come naturally to us. We need to lift the taboo and address breastfeeding as a natural process.

16. What is your advice to help other mother prepare for breastfeeding?

I read a little during pregnancy and the same information is now available on an app called ‘shishuposhan’. It can be downloaded on Android devices from play store and is a must have for pregnant women and new moms.

To mothers I will say, know the benefits of breastfeeding along with the risks of not breastfeeding. Prepare yourself mentally. Be determined. Stay focused. Stay away from negativity. Be in tune with your body and baby. Be receptive, be responsive. Trust yourself. You got this.

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

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