Journalist, public speaker, dancer, explorer, and mum to a cheeky one-year-old, Dilraz Kunnummal aims to live life to the fullest. She has a decade of experience working in the media industry across India and the Middle East, across newspapers, magazines and radio.. A lifelong expat, Dilraz loves travelling and meeting people from all over the world, and learning more about different cultures and traditions. Her goal as a mom is to raise a child who knows empathy, kindness and compassion, while also being confident of reaching his own potential whatever that may be. Dilraz often pens her thoughts on motherhood, and life with her family on her blog, mommydil.com
1. Dilraz, you were part of a parenting and birthing support group in Doha during your pregnancy days. So, technically, you were quite informed about everything related to breastfeeding (BF). I am using the word technically because in spite of reading and learning so much about breastfeeding, we always have surprises just waiting to hit us. How prepared were you?
I think I always knew I wanted to breastfeed. Yes, I was part of a Facebook (FB) group called Positive Birth Doha during my pregnancy. And I treated that group pretty much as my school – I diligently spent time everyday reading posts on it. I don’t think there is even one post I missed during those days. Based on advice received there, I attended antenatal classes – 2 five hour sessions with my husband, Sujid – on hypnobirthing and childcare for newborns. We learnt some important lessons, especially things like minimising interventions, trusting our body, and golden hour. This helped in giving us, both me and my husband a clear understanding of his role in parenting as well – the need for his support in breastfeeding, and the importance and value of breastfeeding. He knew, and he used to read a lot about it too. But the classes really helped. I then attended a ladies-only session on breastfeeding as well. Learnt about the importance of a good latch, how to know if baby is getting enough, and so on.
I had a clear birth plan going into the birth process. And the hospital respected that. As soon as Ayan was born, they took him for about ten minutes – cleaned him, and gave him his initial shots, weighed him, with Sujid in the room, and brought him back to me for skin to skin. During the skin to skin, the nurses helped initiate the breast crawl and in getting the baby to latch.
Over the next two days at the hospital, I called the nurses often to help me with the latching, and they obliged. Baby was given one feed of formula (with our permission) when I was too exhausted and he was crying too much. But that I am proud to say was the first and last bottle of formula fed.
I felt all the reading and learning definitely helped and we were on track.
2. It seemed like everything was in control. Was it the same once you were back home?
We came home, and then the struggles really began. His latch was off and I was in nipple pain hell. Bruised but determined. It also really helped that we did not have a formula pack at home “for backup”. My husband was incredible. He brought Ayan to me and helped in getting the latch. Took care of Ayan when I wanted a break. Every step of the way he had my back.
With the advice of moms on the Positive Birth Group, I soon got in touch with an Australian Lactation Consultant (LC) Tracey Tootell, who visited us at home, spent about 2 hours with me explaining latch, and other details. The first time she put my nipple into his mouth, I was aghast. I mean it looked like she was shoving it into his mouth. But it worked, and soon I got the hang of it. I will be eternally grateful for her timely advice. Even though she got lost, and her phone conked off, she came. She found a small phone shop, charged her phone and called me to apologise and get to me.
I also bought a feeding pillow soon after. And that was such a great investment! Feeding has since been a fairly easy route. Except for the time he started biting. A few days of stern NO from me and his dad, and unlatching and we were back on track. My hand was always near his mouth during those days, in case I needed to dive in and free the nipple!
Funny story – recently, he bit me again. It was unexpected, so I kind of yelped, unlatched and told him not to bite. Silly little monkey roared at me – like the lion in his book! 😀
Vasospasm was a nightmare. Shooting pains which always made me feel like the left side of my body was on fire. I could not even place where the pain was originating from. After going back and forth with a doctor who misdiagnosed it to be fibromyalgia, I finally realised the pain started at the breast. I then went to my friend Google, and came to the conclusion that it was vasospasm. And the solution – keeping it covered. That was it. No more pain.
I have had my wars with engorgement, milk blebs and blocked ducts. Most often than not, feeding my child was the only way for relief. But sometimes it was so engorged that he couldn’t latch. Yes! I have cried in pain! Haven’t we all? In fact, I had the worst case about a month ago, when my boy was 1.2 years old. And it caught me completely off guard. It was painful and awful and took a while to sort.
3. You delivered Ayan in Doha. The gulf countries are known to be very pro-breastfeeding and they don’t battle an eyelid even if you had to nurse in public (NIP). How has your experience been with the doctors and with NIP?
During my regular check up with my ob-gyn during pregnancy, breastfeeding didn’t quite come up. But when I presented my birth plan to my delivery doctor, she was supportive. And I have had only good experiences with the ob-gyn and nurses team at the Cuban Hospital where I delivered. As for pediatricians, I did my research before picking them. My son’s doctor, Dr Ghada Nusrat at Fetomaternal is wonderful. She supports the family in whatever they choose to do and gives advice accordingly. She has always been supportive of my choices to feed and never made me doubt myself. Till he was about a year, she didn’t even worry too much when we were concerned about his eating habits – because she knew he was breastfeeding. Then we both did consider offering solids first (without really reducing breast milk (bm) intake) to see if anything changed in his eating habits. But since his weight is fine, and he is meeting all milestones, we are not really worried.
The other doctors whom I have consulted, are BF friendly and I recommend are Dr. Renu Angwin at International and Dr. Nesrin El Khatib (Elite Medical). We go to the government health clinics for vaccinations, and almost all the doctors there have given me a figurative pat on the back for continuing to breastfeed. And we’ve had to see a few other doctors as well (yes! I do see a doctor pretty often. With my boy, it is always better safe than sorry) – always encouraging and appreciating me for continuing to feed. Only one doctor wondered why we hadn’t moved to solids more. Both the husband and I nodded our heads and moved on with life.
Qatar and Bahrain (where I call home) are Islamic countries. The Holy Qur’an almost mandates two years of breastfeeding. So it isn’t a big deal at all here. Obviously, you can’t pop your breast out in full view. But no one looks down upon breastfeeding. In the initial days, I used a nursing cover. It was just more comfortable for me that way. I got the apron covers with the rim on top, which gave me a clear view of my baby. It just made life easy for me. I’ve fed when guests were home, in cafes, in parks, in shopping malls, on flights – pretty much everywhere! Once I got the hang of the two t-shirt method, I have fed that way often too.
Also – for moms who are not quite comfy with NIP yet, almost every mall has a feeding room in Doha. And pretty much every place in the country has ladies’ prayer rooms.
4. Lot of new moms are affected by the myths that literally engulf them. How different was it for you?
See – I am a journalist. And both Sujid and I read a lot. So logic, science, objectivity, evidence – all play a big part in our life decisions. We both are also fairly evidence and research based parenting couple. If I hear something believable, I google it. My training allows me to sort through the sources and see if it is fact or myth. I also check the Positive Birth Group and see what other moms say. So, no! Myths never came in our way.
I guess it also helped that we were not living with “well-wishers”. My in-laws and my parents have been lifelong expats too, so they don’t believe a lot of these myths themselves, and they trust us to make our own parenting decisions. So there was not too much unsolicited advice given to us. No one asking “is the milk enough for the baby?”; no one telling me “don’t bath and feed the baby immediately after”, and no one insisting I eat too many galactogogues.
5. You went back to work when Ayan had completed 2 months. Can you explain your pumping sessions to meet his nutritional needs?
The Maternity Leave here in Qatar is 50 days. Including my annual leave, I had about 2months off. So yes, I went back to work when my boy was exactly 2 months old. And yes, I have been pumping. It has been a year plus now.
In the initial days, I used to pump a lot in the night. I used to feed him from one side and pump from the other. My feeding pillow was very handy to angle him in the right way without disrupting his sleep. So I would pump around 1am and around 4am, and around 7am when he has his morning feed. Occasionally, I used to pump before going to bed as well.
In office, I used to do two pumping sessions. Our office has a female-only prayer room. So that was great. There actually is a pumping room with a fridge as well. But I always found the prayer room cozier. So, the sessions used to be around 11am and around 1/2pm. My team and my boss at the time were fabulous. It also helped that I tried to complete what was required of me that time before heading to pump. So there was no gap in the work itself.
I had the entire Medela kit. Freestyle pump. Tote bag. Cooler bag with ice pack. So I would pump into the bottles, pack up and go home. The thought of using the office fridge didn’t appeal to me. Anyway, I didn’t need to either. At home, I would portion it into the next day’s feeds and keep in the fridge. I also had a freezer stash. Initially, I used to freeze all of it. Then after some reading and learning, I realized cold was better than frozen, so I started pumping each day for next and keeping it cold (while having one or two packs in the freezer – as back up).
Maybe about 7 months ago, I stopped the night sessions. But of course there were days when there just wasn’t enough for the next day. So I would try and pump every 2 hours or so while feeding him on the other side over the course of the day. Now that he is older, he hates it when I pump while he is feeding. He obviously does not like anyone stealing his milky. So he tries to grab the phalange. Nowadays, there is only one pumping session in the afternoon. And about 4oz milk for the next day.
There has been wasted milk and heartbreaks, and desperate times when my pump has not worked well. I once didn’t sleep the entire night because my pump was not working well. I felt so lost and confused. But I went the next morning and changed the pipes and all was well again. I know it usually helps to see pictures of baby when you pump. But my go to was candy crush (HAH!). I guess not worrying about anything and focusing on the silly game really helped me stay calm and pump more.
I started pumping at 2 months and still pumping at 1.6 years. I know I don’t have to. But I can. So why not? For now, I find that it is the perfect bribe to help him settle in his car seat on our way back home.
Some days when I think about it, I am surprised myself. Wake up twice a night to pump? WHAT? HOW? But yeah. It happened. I have even written a tongue-in-cheek blog post about it – to make myself believe its not fiction I guess!
6. How comfortable and co-operative was the nursery with feeding the pumped milk to Ayan?
I have to mention a special shout out to my son’s nursery, Eldertree Nursery in Al Luqta. They are outstanding and care so much for the kids there. But even in terms of breastfeeding, they have been incredibly supportive. Warming the milk properly, handling the milk bags and ensuring it goes into fridge/freezer. In the initial days, I used to give 2.5oz per feed. But his caretaker told me to try increasing, and they practised paced feeding – even before I knew what the term meant. They even taught my boy to hold the bottle by himself.
Even now at 1yr+, I sometimes do ask about giving cow’s milk. But his caretaker, Ms Eman always encourages me to continue pumping if I can. Tells me breastmilk is better, and if I have the chance, I should try and continue to pump.
7. I believe you’re in a nuclear setup. It can be overwhelming. How has your support system been?
My husband is a one man army when it comes to being my support system. Even on days when I am exhausted and thinking maybe a formula feed might not be bad, he says take a break and then try again. He is the backbone of our breastfeeding journey. People say that breastfeeding is a sole bond between mom and baby. I don’t agree. A breastfeeding journey is one taken by the entire family.
I had baby blues. More like separation anxiety. The moment my baby was not with me, I was miserable – even if he was in the next room. It was just awful. Breastfeeding – to me – was a solace. It actually helped me stay calm. And my husband took a few days of to stay with me during those days, and to make sure I had everything I needed.
Apart from my husband, our families – mine and Sujid’s (even though they were not with us in Qatar), the wonderful ladies of Positive Birth Group, the ladies of Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM), KellyMom, my son’s doctors and his caretakers at the nursery have been a huge support.
Even though we don’t live with our families, I know they are proud of our journey too. I have heard my dad tell family friends that my boy is exclusively breastfed (ebf) – despite the fact that I am working. My aunt was very surprised when I told her I pump and feed, and she was telling our other relatives too! 🙂
So far, everyone is pleasantly surprised and supportive! We’re at 1.6 years and I definitely plan to feed till he turns 2. Most likely after that too. Will take it as it comes. I suspect it will break my heart when it does come to an end. Some days, I think yay I’ll be free, but I am sure it will be a sad moment too. But such is life.
8. Breastfeeding is natural. But it does not come naturally to most mothers. What should they be doing to get through the difficult phases?
It is difficult. No doubt. But I honestly feel it is the first few days that are the hardest. It really comes down to being prepared – read, speak to other mothers, and join support groups if you can. Despite being the most natural thing in the world, it is not the easiest – Knowing, understanding and accepting that is step one.
Support is essential. A husband who believes in you and your ability to feed is important. Asking all those who are negative and questioning to step back (even if it is caring grandparents, and these are questions of concern) is necessary.
9. Would I be wrong in saying that there is no mother who feels like giving up at some point, irrespective of how their breastfeeding journey has been?
Every nursing mom goes through this. Times of wanting to give up, times of just wanting another 5 minutes of sleep and many more. But try and look at the bigger picture. Try and see it from the baby’s point of view. They don’t understand aversions. They don’t understand sleep. And keeping in mind that this won’t last and someday it will be the last time I breastfeed my baby helps me keep going. I also try and remind myself that I am lucky and blessed. Not everyone gets that opportunity.
10. You were a peer counselor, and now moderator at BSIM. You help hundreds of moms on a daily basis. It is truly amazing what you do. How else do you spread awareness about breastfeeding?
I am just paying it forward. I had a lot of support and help and a lot of people who had faith in me. So many people took time out of their lives, and answered my questions and queries patiently. So I try and do my bit to give back. I am on a few mom groups and I am fairly active. I try my best to share advice on breastfeeding. Mommies in my circles know I will support their choices no matter what it is, but at the same time, I will try to ensure that they are making an informed decision.
My blog – mommydil.com- is a go-to for a lot of new moms in Doha (YAY!). And I try to use my blog to share what I have learnt, as well as what people in my circles have learnt, and their experiences. For example – I have interviews with mommies who are using SNS or have been through relactation – both areas I don’t have personal experiences with. I have also had a post published on The Better India website on the importance of breastfeeding education and awareness in India.
11. Wow that is awesome! So what would be your advice to new mothers?
- Read up as much as you can. And make sure your husband has the information too. You two are a team.
- Have a birth plan in place – and insist on skin to skin as soon as possible. Definitely aim to breastfeed in the first hour at the very least.
- Understand that it is not easy for a while. Hang in there.
- Set short term goals. Tell yourself you hope to feed baby for 2years + but your goal now is to reach 1 week, 1 month, 3month, 6month and so on.
- Please join support groups, and ask if you have doubts. It is perfectly okay to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed. Earlier the better. Knowledge and information is and always will be power.
- More than everything else, have faith in yourself, in your body and in your baby.
It is so so important to realize that YOU are the child’s mother. That only you and your husband have any right to take decisions for the baby – especially when it comes to how the baby is fed. Not grandparents or aunties or uncles or friends. Mom and Dad. Only Mom and Dad.
Moms sometimes feel pressured, but they shouldn’t. If someone can conceive, develop and grow a baby, then that mother has the full ability to take care of the child too. Noone has the right to come in between.
You got this momma! <3