A beautiful journey of formula to breast.
Breastfeeding Journeys

Formula to Breast: Breastfeeding Journey

Sanyukta Bardhan completed her graduation in Commerce from Calcutta University. Although she always wanted to pursue a career in fashion designing and creative art, she moved on to learn digital designing for Arena Animation Academy. She also completed a course in Montessori and taught for 2 years. Sanyukta has hosted a couple of television shows before her marriage. Post-marriage she joined advertising and had her heart set on it. When her elder daughter was born, Sanyukta chose to quit her job of 5 years and has been a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) ever since. She is now slowly beginning to learn and work on handmade objects and is looking forward to develop it into a business someday. Read on to know her journey from formula to breast.

1. Your breastfeeding journey with your older daughter was far from what you had expected. What went wrong?
I had an unnecessary C-section when my older daughter was born. It seemed quite normal back then because I was pretty young and whatever the doctor said seemed just right. He asked me if I preferred a certain date to deliver my baby. I nodded, and out came my first bundle of joy. With almost zero knowledge about breastfeeding and the lack of guidance, I didn’t even know how to establish a breastfeeding relation with her. They dint give me my child after birth but brought her for feeds at an interval of 4 to 5 hours. Obviously I wasn’t lactating and baby was taken away from me only to be brought back during visiting hours. The hospital had most definitely started delivering formula and I had little or no say in it. Deep down the guilt of not being able to breastfeed was killing me but I was made to believe that I wasn’t capable of nursing. I wasn’t bothered and kept trying to hand express but milk had still not come in.

The baby we brought home would be so calm and rarely demand feeds. Dehydration led to jaundice and a couple of tests revealed that she was lactose intolerant, was in danger zone and had to be hospitalised as soon as possible. By then I had started lactating and was pumping and feeding her at the hospital. The doctor informed us that my milk won’t suit the little one as she was lactose intolerant. That was far from the truth, impossible to say the least, which I learnt later. With a heavy heart, she was moved to formula. The doctor sent her blood samples to Australia because he feared that she maybe Galactosemic which meant that sugar would wreak havoc and the mother’s milk was not even an option.

I still had my doubts. So when she was 6 months old we took her to a renowned doctor in Mumbai to check her vitals. It was found that she was perfectly fine, no galactosemia and not lactose intolerant under any circumstances. I can’t tell you how happy and devastated I was at the same time. While I was extremely happy that she was perfectly fine, I was heartbroken to have missed out on offering breastmilk to my first child. Now research shows that you can feed your child through any sickness. One can also feed their child even if she’s lactose intolerant by completely eliminating dairy from the mother’s diet.

2. I can’t even begin to imagine what you must have gone through. I am sorry for the very hard start you had. So, were you well armed with information when it came to your younger daughter?
I did not read up much during pregnancy as I was expecting it to be natural and easy. Although reading helps to quite an extent, living it up in reality is far different from the knowledge that you gain from reading. I knew I had to breastfeed my child but I wasn’t ready for what lay ahead.

With my younger child, again I had a C-section because the doctor didn’t want to take any risk. But this hospital did everything possible to ensure that the child gets breastmilk immediately after delivery. I tried to latch my baby on as much as possible but she wouldn’t. So I requested the nurse to offer formula (she did hesitate) as I needed my baby to have something. The Lactation Counsellor (LC) at the hospital helped to latch baby onto me as much but we were failing. So I frantically started hand expressing and offering breastmilk in bottles. She had jaundice too but recovered within 2 days.

After we came home, I started expressing day and night to offer my milk but when I got exhausted I would offer a bottle or two of formula. A great friend added me to the Facebook group, Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) and that opened a world of knowledge and information galore on breastfeeding and milk production. I silently read through the posts (on the group) in the first one or two days and then posted on how to go about feeds because hand expressing was wearing me out. The admins took up my case and showered me with the best solutions to go about direct feeds. On a post, Adhunika Prakash (the founder) mentioned that breastmilk works on a supply and demand system; and that got hammered into my brain.

Thus, I set out on the journey of weaning my baby off her bottles. She hated the breast as there was a whole lot of work involved in extracting milk and loved the bottle due to its fast pace and less work. But hours of dream feeding and constant effort to latch paid off and magic happened one fine day. She was given the bottle but kept refusing it and demanded feeds from me. Ta daa, there was no looking back ever since. It involved a lot of cluster feeding and sleepless hours but why complain when you know that your baby is getting the best. 🙂

3. Tell us a little more about how you switched from formula to the breast.
What most of us don’t know is that, when you have delivered via c section, milk usually takes around 3 to 4 days to come in. In those few days, you are made to feel that you cannot produce milk. You are made to believe that you do not have the milk that your baby needs to thrive on. So like anybody else, I was also made to believe that I had no milk for my little one. Out of fear of dehydrating her, I signed papers giving the hospital my permission to offer formula to my child. But truth being said, the nurses and attendants were aggressive and kept telling me to latch baby on to self as much as possible. Baby wasn’t latching well and hence milk production wasn’t getting established. I decided to hand express to feed my child.

I would do that day and night and bottle feed my little one. On BSIM, I was advised by Adhunika to feed directly instead of expressing and offering bottles which was actually wearing me down. Then came in the challenge. Baby was used to the bottle and wouldn’t want the breast because sucking is hard work compared to the entire fast flow from bottles where they didn’t have to work at all. So I read and did my own research. Kellymom helped a lot along with the experience of other BSIM mommies. I started taking kangaroo steps and would dreamfeed my child whenever I got the chance. We took a nursing vacation and did a lot of skin to skin. And that’s how the magic happened because baby then got used to Momma’a comfort and would avoid the bottle. She directly latched and once you have perfected the latch half the battle is won. I still lacked a little confidence and went on to meet an IBCLC based in Bangalore. I wanted her to check my latch and she said it was perfect and there has been no looking back ever since.

4. Dedication and perseverance pays off and you are a perfect example. Having to fight through a situation like this requires a strong support system too. How would you describe yours?
We have a nuclear family setup and hence there was no one to discourage me. The help although was worried if I made enough for the baby. My husband was super supportive and excited; I think that was mainly because we could all sleep well through the night and he dint have to wake up to offer bottles.. hehe.

My mother did insist that I offer a little powder milk so baby gains weight but I never listened. In fact I educated her on the same and she’s been supportive ever since. There’s no pressure from any of my family members to wean and thankfully my relatives aren’t interfering and some appreciate this completely. I can happily say that I am not a victim of myths and bad advice. Thank God for that.  I have always fed my little one in front of my sister in law and brother and they have been equally supportive.

In short, my support system has been awesome but I wish the hospital doctors were a little more reassuring (like the experience I had with my second one). With my first kid, the experience was just terrible. They didn’t even try to help me with establishing a breastfeeding relationship with my daughter. Instead they fed her formula without my knowledge. It is important for every hospital (that takes up pregnancy and delivery cases) to have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to help new mothers.

There are various stages of post-partum depression (PPD) and the last stage can be terrible. The prime cause of PPD would be lack of support which only family members can provide. If a mother has to handle everything on her own then it becomes quite difficult; especially in the initial days when baby needs to be fed for almost round the clock. Breastfeeding mommies need support and that’s a very little thing to ask for.

5. You joined BSIM for help with your journey and with time you turned into a Moderator on the group. Tell us more about it.
I have been with BSIM for almost 34 months now and last January was asked to work as a Peer Counsellor on the group which I readily accepted. Then dearest “Amma Doodh” (admin profile of BSIM) messaged me a few months back and asked if I would like to be a moderator on BSIM. Nothing in the world could have sounded sweeter than those words. I’m lucky and so honoured to be a part of this amazing group! Recently, we conducted an awareness drive in our city; we are hoping for better times ahead.

6. Congratulations on this milestone and thank you for touching lives and making a difference through the group. Has nursing in public (NIP) been a breeze for you?
Well, I have breastfed her everywhere, starting from restaurants to airports to malls etc. Now airports and malls have feeding rooms. But there were times when she would be super hungry and we didn’t have the time or energy to make a run to the baby room. We would nurse wherever we were.

Breastfeeding in public for the first time definitely makes one jittery. You wonder what if that one person sees you and then perceives you as a shameless person with no manners. Mostly you fear that an outsider would catch a glimpse of your body part which is as private as your breast. Haha. But slowly, as you begin feeding you feel that a gentleman or lady won’t even bother looking at you and would mind his/her own business. And when it comes to ignorant and arrogant people, it’s mandatory to feed even more in front of these people because they need to realise the importance of breastfeeding and feeding babies in public. Feeding your little ones in public is a matter of pride and not shame. Once you break the ice you would only continue to feed your child with little care of the existing environment.

7. Why is breastfeeding considered difficult?
Life gets a little difficult post-delivery and we blame breastfeeding for the same when we can’t find a proper excuse. But as you continue feeding your child for long, you realise that breastfeeding is the best thing that could have happened to both of you.

Breastfeeding is only a little exhausting in the initial days when the baby has to be fed almost all the time. But if you ask me, I would say that breastfeeding is a blessing. That’s the only way to get rest while feeding because you could mostly feed while lying down. Breastfeeding helps in making your child sleep easily, comforting your child when sick or hurt, or through teething or even plain simple as connecting with the mother.

You want to give up when you are not well rested, expecting another child or have loads of work to finish up. Or, the baby wants to feed non-stop because of a developmental spurt and/or illness. So sometimes, when I haven’t slept well, I may have wanted to give up on breastfeeding but then some kind and gentle souls (on the BSIM group) have reminded us, time and again that it’s all a phase and it’s most important to not give up on a bad day. These gentle souls would be Adhunika Prakash and Madhu Panda (both founders of BSIM). I love them.

8. The WHO recommends a minimum of 2 years of breastfeeding; are you planning to wean your baby soon?
Well, we completed 3 years this October. The feeling is fantastic and at this stage I really don’t want to wean the child. Of course I will let her wean on her own. My daughter cannot imagine a life without it and I am not going to snatch this happiness away from the either of us. She nurses all the time; to sleep, the moment she’s back from school, when she’s hurt or unhappy about something. She feeds for comfort too. That’s all extended breastfeeding means to us with the ever consistent nutritional value of the milk topping the chart.

You have had different experiences with respect to breastfeeding with both your children. How do you think new mothers should prepare themselves?
1. Join BSIM
2. Try to latch your child on to you the moment she’s born. Attempt to latch every one hour till baby learns to do the same.
3. Watch deep latching videos before birth or once child is born.
4. Don’t panic if milk doesn’t come in immediately. Your milk will definitely come once the baby starts suckling. And that will only happen when you are making multiple latching attempts.
5. Don’t panic if baby is not latching. Meeting an IBCLC would help as they would be able to guide you to work on that perfect latch.
6. Offering formula in the initial days will work against your milk production. Formula fills baby up for longer hours and the fast flow from bottles only makes matters worse. If your baby is getting fast flowing heavy milk in the form of formula, why would she/he work hard at sucking? So let baby suck as much as possible and avoid the top up trap. If you are already offering formula, it is never too late for the journey from formula to breast.

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

8 Comments

  • Vaishnavi

    This is such a well written interview. As a person who also transitioned from formula to ebf in the first two weeks.. it resonates a lot. We recently gently weaned at 3 years.. so bf is a bittersweet topic for me.

    • T&S - Threads & Shuttles

      Thank you. Kudos to you for making the switch.. the weaning must have been hard on you too.. emotionally. Much love. <3

  • Aishwarya Sandeep

    I had a planned C-section, the hospital that I delivered forced to breast feed my child and would not offer formula until and unless I was helpless and could not fill my baby’s tummy. But unfortunately I could not do it for more than 40 days because of the mental stress. One thing nobody tells you about is the direct relation between breast feeding and mental stress.

    • T&S - Threads & Shuttles

      You did the best! <3 The pressure to breastfeed can be stressful adding to other underlying conditions for PPD and depression. The right kind of support is what is lacking today.

  • Lavi

    This reminds me of my case, reminds me of the mistakes I made, listening to elders etc. Reading all these, I now feel, I should have ignored all those.

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