Vaishali and her daughter. Following Cues: Breastfeeding Journey
Breastfeeding Journeys

Following Cues: Breastfeeding Journey

After finishing her Masters in Biotechnology, Vaishali B realized that she had zero patience for research and decided to explore her first love of teaching! She got a chance to do so during her stint at the TeachIndia campaign, and she is a high school Biology teacher, now on a sabbatical.

Having lived almost all her life in Mumbai and suddenly shifting to Chennai after marriage, Vaishali had a lot of time in hand to pursue reading, writing and cooking. However, she believes that motherhood has changed her. She has become more hands-on and deeply influenced by natural as well as scientific parenting. And that led to the start of her blog on early learning, the books she reads with her daughter, Montessori education and gentle parenting. You can read more about the dynamic mother-daughter duo on Amma Today on their website, Instagram and Facebook (FB).

Vaishali currently freelances from home and plans to get back to teaching once the little one starts full day school. In the meanwhile, Vivikthya, her 2 year old, keeps her on her toes, mind active and teaches her new lessons in patience, thinking and love every day.

1. Vaishali, you had a great support system in the form of your doctor during your pregnancy. Could you tell us about your birthing experience?

During pregnancy, I focused only on my bump, the kicks, and the delivery that I did not pay attention to breastfeeding. I have been truly blessed and lucky to have found a supportive gynaecologist who conducted monthly prenatal classes. One session had a paediatrician cover the basics of breastfeeding – the whys and hows. In fact, she also emphasized on nursing in public (NIP) being absolutely normal and how to take ‘milk supply is not enough’ comments in our stride.

I had a beautiful pregnancy surrounded by family, friends and chirpy students. Everyone predicted an early delivery; so imagine my disappointment when 2 days past my expected delivery date (edd) there were no signs of labour. My gynaecologist was supportive of a natural birth process but since I had oligohydraminos (water level had reduced greatly), she induced me using a Folley balloon catheter. After 11 hours of labour, my girl made a dramatic entry, vaginally.

2. I am glad you had a delivery, free of unnecessary interventions. How was your first experience with breastfeeding?

The doctors were particular that I be the first one to hold her for a second before she was sent off to get cleaned. She was then brought back to be fed within the golden hour. The nurses, doctors and residents ensured I had no issues in breastfeeding.

The first latch, to be honest, was painful. And all I could see were 2 drops. I did worry if it was enough. The gynaecs and support staff helped me with the latch immediately. The first few days were awkward. Plus V was a chomper and cluster fed a lot. I think I broke down on day 2 when I was already having a hard time, and the hospital’s Lactation Consultant (LC) came for rounds and announced to my husband, “Doodh enough nahi hai (There is not enough milk). Ask her to nurse more. Or else the baby will keep crying.” Well, that was just the beginning.

V had acute colic, and has been almost singularly only with me since birth. It seemed like we were nursing for major part of the day. To add to it, random people would stop me and advise me about my milk supply on hearing her cries. At about 6 weeks, there was a week when she slept through the night and I woke with heavy breasts. That was when I saw with my own eyes that there was enough milk and decided to turn a deaf ear to unwelcome suggestions.

A pediatrician advised to have galactagogue; I wish I hadn’t done that, simply because there was no need. One fine day I decided to stop as I kept gaining weight steadily after having them. Guess what? My supply primarily depended on V’s suckling. Hence, not affected.

3. You did struggle a bit during the initial few weeks. How did you manage?

My husband had to go back to his work city the day after we got back home from the hospital. My dad had to go back to work and mom developed a condition in her shoulder because of which she couldn’t move her hands for the next couple of weeks. Thus, although we had help for other chores, baby care primarily fell on my shoulders.

My girl had severe colic. I used to dread the 4-10p.m window. She refused anybody else and had to be carried and rocked the entire time.

The first few weeks were hard. Due to cluster feeding, I had sore nipples and my back hurt. But once I started nursing lying down, and babywearing her, I think I got some of my sanity back.

Everybody helped in whatever little way they could, whenever they could. My mum looked up lactation friendly recipes and my dad massaged my back while I nursed V during her infant days. After I went back to my husband, he would get up at nights to help burp the baby. He even cooked the next day because I was exhausted from being awake the whole night.

That’s how I managed!

4. It is amazing when you have your family as your little army of support!

Absolutely! I also have to mention the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) FB group which has time and again given me the will to continue on extremely hard days. They made me realize that full term breastfeeding should not be a taboo.

And last but not the least, I have to mention my mommy tribe – my gang of girls to whom I vented out on hard days. They made it seem like it’s okay because, they are going through it too.

I don’t think I can get through motherhood with my sanity intact if it wasn’t for all these loved and supportive ones around me.

5. The start of NIP wasn’t a breeze for you but you surely aced it. Tell us how you did so.

To be honest, I think we can only be made to feel uncomfortable if we let others do that. The first flights I took with my 6 month old were nightmares. She refused to be fed under my dress. She just kept wailing and wailing and I had to take her to the bathroom to nurse her.

The judgmental advice I received from unknown people was crazy. Until I realized that when she isn’t used to it, it’s unfair to ask her to be fed under a nursing cover. I learnt the 2-t shirt method and also to nurse in baby carriers. I also stopped allowing myself to worry about stares.

Suddenly, NIP felt natural. Thereon, I’ve had nothing but positive encounters.

6. At 2 years and 6 months, how supportive are people around you for nursing to term?

Well, this is something I have been struggling with since V turned 1. The ones who supported and inspired me to breastfeed her pushed me to wean her.

There were constant talks about how she was becoming needy and clingy or not sleeping through the night – only because she was still breastfed. Or, how she would embarrass me in public by throwing tantrums for breastmilk. My newly appointed house help also joined the bandwagon by telling my daughter, “You’re almost 2! Why are you still asking amma (mother) for milk?”

Honestly, breastfeeding has helped me more than her. With minimal help in a nuclear setup and a traveling husband, breastfeeding has helped me sail through tantrums, calm an angry toddler, and soothe her when hurt and make a cranky toddler sleep.

I’ve always been headstrong; reading successful and happy stories on BSIM helped me stick to my decision. There were no second thoughts about nursing her for a minimum of the recommended 2 years.

7. Do you believe that children don’t wean unless you force them to?

V started dropping feeds gradually after 18months but she was still nursing through the night on most days. She started teething early (4 months) and had all her teeth by 2. So whenever she was teething, she would literally suckle all night. It was hard. But, at 25 months, on a day I was feeling particular ill, she told me she wanted to sleep on my leg, listening to music as opposed to nursing. And just like that, she was day-weaned!

I got a lot of advice on how I should night wean too. But my point is, what is currently a beautiful journey does not have to end in tears. She will wean whenever she thinks it is time.

“Have you seen a breastfeeding adult? They will wean when they are ready. What’s the hurry?”

V night weaned herself in November (2018), and it happened so naturally and beautifully. I’m glad I trusted her. After a particularly tiring day, she saw me exhausted. So she wanted to sleep listening to stories that night. I thought it was a one off thing but the same happened the next day, and the day after that as well. And just like that she had weaned herself. She still has fond things to say about “mumum” but says she prefers to cuddle or listen to stories. Guess she has grown to receiving comfort through other means.

8. Why do you think new mothers find it difficult to breastfeed?

There is lack of knowledge. Something as simple as baby crying does not equal less supply is unknown to them. The sheer number of random strangers who have told me that my infant was crying because I wasn’t producing enough milk was mind boggling. There is also a misconception on how often to nurse, nursing position; almost everything around breastfeeding is surrounded by a lot of myths.

Then there is lack of support. Partners and families need to step up to their roles and responsibilities. It is unfair and awful to expect the mother to do everything – handle the house, husband and family and then blame her for not being able to take care of the baby. And use that as an excuse to feed the baby with formula. Mothers also need the support to NIP.

It’s also difficult to find the right kind of professional help in the form of LCs.

9. How do you think mothers can overcome these obstacles in breastfeeding?

There needs to be more and more awareness about breastfeeding. More people need to be talking about it. I frequently talk about the importance of full term breastfeeding and NIP on my social media handles.

To every mother – Trust yourself, and trust your baby. Following cues is key. It is hard at first because it is new, but it is definitely easier in the long run. Read up on the importance of breastfeeding and getting the latch right. Get the family on board and a support system in place-real as well as virtual. Reach out for help whenever needed.

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

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