A Bollywood enthusiast, extremely strong willed and energetic, Laxmi Denis Dsouza is a total Mumbaikar by heart and soul. Her friends call her a “Powerhouse”. Out of the 22 years of knowing each other, she celebrated a decade of marriage to her partner in crime (not literally ;)), Denis. They have a 4-year-old naughty little toddler named Yohaan. Let’s read about how she took slow and steady steps towards a successful breastfeeding journey.
1. Laxmi, let’s begin with your birthing experience.
I delivered Yohaan whom we fondly call as Yohu after 5.5 years of our marriage. We had a very difficult journey right from conceiving him until delivery. He happened to us post several surgeries, medications, hopes and prayers. Our chances of conceiving naturally were at 50%. I am thankful to God that it happened. Since, I was a high-risk patient from the word go, I knew it was going to be a C-section.
I had neither read about anything related to breastfeeding, nor did I know about concepts like skin-to-skin, the importance of colostrum or even exclusive breastfeeding and its benefits to the child. I delivered Yohu in October 2014 around 5.30 pm and was out of the operation theatre by 6.30 pm. Everybody was busy clicking pictures with him and exclaiming how cute he is while I was just lying down with no energy to move. I had not even taken him in my arms, forget breastfeeding.
2. Did you breastfeed immediately?
I was ignorant and absolutely unaware if my baby was fed anything between 5.30pm to 10.30pm. I guess it did not cross my mind because he was sleeping peacefully. The nurse came around 10.30pm and said she is taking him for a feed; even then, I did not question her. They took him inside, gave him something and brought him back. The nurse said I couldn’t feed him that day as I was on IV; “let him drink ‘outside’ milk and sleep in the cubicle made for babies”. In the middle of the night, the nurse came and placed him beside me. I remember waking up and seeing my cute little potato properly for the first time.
3. When and how was breastfeeding initiated?
It was only the next morning. I took Yohu in my hands and froze. I remember the feeling till date. The big moment to feed him had just arrived. The nurse asked me to try feeding and she left. I was a little conscious about feeding him in front of my mother-in-law (MIL) and mother. I still tried a few times but was unsuccessful. The nurse tried to help but declared that I did not have a milk supply yet. I was trying to be strong when another statement from my MIL broke my heart into pieces. She said, “You drank a lot of milk during pregnancy; where did all of that go?”. A drop of tear rolled down my cheeks and I silently said sorry to my son.
4. I am so sorry that you had a difficult start. Did it get better the next day?
No, it did not. They fed him powdered milk and kept him away from me too. This continued for another two days. I remember each time trying to feed him and failing miserably. The stress and tears were back. One nurse asked my husband to get a pump. He was really supportive and followed every instruction to help me breastfeed. I was discharged with advice to keep trying, some tablets and a big box of powdered milk.
5. I wish you weren’t discharged till you began breastfeeding. How was it after you got home?
I wished the same too. The real struggle began after we got home. I just did not know how to hold my child. He howled every time he was brought near my breasts. I was convinced that I wasn’t making any milk. But my breasts had started to pain miserably, which was confusing to me.
Next morning, the massage woman helped me relieve the pain and told me that I have a lot of milk for the baby. Those words were comforting. The struggle was getting severe with each passing day. Yohu was on formula and a little pumped milk. My hands hurt from manually pumping. I was also stressed and crying constantly for not being able to feed him directly. Not having the right information also led to us giving him cow’s milk one night as he was crying continuously.
As suggested on discharge, we tried the nipple shield. Some days he would drink through the shield and some days from a bottle. However, he refused to nurse directly.
A month went by and it was time for his first visit to the doctor.
6. Kudos to you for trying. Why did you not reach out for help after the first few days itself? Was the visit helpful?
I was ashamed and in guilt for the first month that I wasn’t able to feed Yohu. Also, I wasn’t aware there are specific groups on social media or experts called as Lactation Counselors who help mothers like me.
We were in for a shock during the doctor’s visit – Yohu had lost considerable weight. The doctor was upset and extremely rude. He ‘assumed’ that I wasn’t nursing to maintain my figure and get back to work earlier. He also labelled my child as cranky with behavioral issues. I broke down and explained that I was doing my best but it just wasn’t falling in place. All he said was that it is a natural process. He showed me some techniques and asked me to keep trying. I felt extremely insulted by the doctor and I was determined to get it right for my son.
Postpartum Depression (PPD) made it worse. Nothing and nobody was helping the situation. One day, I had a huge fight with my husband while feeding Yohu formula. He said some really nasty things and that he wished he had breasts so he could breastfeed our son. He believed I was purposely not feeding Yohu and depriving him of nutrition.
In addition, the constant taunts and lack of support was breaking my willpower. The rare times that he latched on, he would bite so hard that it added to my frustration. Those were nights that I can never forget – pumping, trying, crying, and cursing my son and myself. I finally told my mother that after 3 months, we will start him on solids as I can’t keep going any longer.
7. This is heartbreaking. I wish you had more support to help you during the initial days. It’s disappointing that the doctors failed you too.
I started discussing my problems with a few friends and that’s when I was slowly heading in the right direction. They helped me with tips like ensuring the areola is completely in the baby’s mouth, starting with the nipple shield and while he was nursing to slip it off and many more. They helped me bring back the positivity that I felt was lacking and I was slowly beginning to feel confident again as their tips were working.
A friend added me to a mommy support group on Facebook (FB). While skimming through some posts, I came across a suggestion on Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM), FB group. Out of curiosity, I joined the group and that changed my entire perspective towards breastfeeding. There was no looking back after that.
I spent every free minute on that group reading inspiring stories and struggles – they were all informative. I gathered the courage and told my story, seeking help. The response I received was tremendous and motivating. I was not giving up after this; especially after knowing the numerous benefits of breastfeeding.
I wasn’t sure if I could completely get rid of the formula and nipple shield. I decided to take it one day at a time; slow and steady. It took me about 2 – 2.5 months to establish a feeding schedule with Yohu who was completely dependent on formula.
At 2.5 months, the day I was longing for was here; the day my boy started drinking only his mumma’s milk.
8. Oh my god! This is absolutely brilliant. Like they say, it is never too late!!
Yes, I was ecstatic and over the moon!! When he was 3.5 months, we moved into a nuclear setup. The days were long and nights longer, but nothing was stopping us. He was latching like a pro, gaining weight and we were both enjoying every bit of this new journey we embarked upon.
Through BSIM, I learnt about discreet breastfeeding on the go. We dint have to lock ourselves up just because my baby had to breastfeed. We nursed easily in public – parks, cars, malls, family functions, church, temple, crowded Mumbai local trains; almost everywhere!! We have even nursed in front of the men folk in the family without any discomfort.
I would like to mention an instance where I felt empowered as a woman due to breastfeeding. We were in a crowded local train when my son started crying for milk. Without covering him or myself, sitting between two men, I fed my baby. He dozed off and I felt like a warrior.
I got an electric pump as I had to join work after Yohu was 6 months old. We nursed directly every time we were together and through the nights.
In other words, breastfeeding was the solution to everything – temper tantrums, meltdowns, mood swings, crankiness!!
I continued my journey until he was 2.4 years and I so wish we could go on a little longer. However, my job demanded a lot of travel at that time and I had to wean him off.
9. Can you tell us about your weaning process?
It was a gradual process. He was 20 months when we started his full time daycare. He automatically day weaned. I was sure that I wasn’t going to threaten, scare or apply anything bitter. We started off by talking about it. But my son was too smart to fall for my talks. 😉
A friend suggested an idea that worked for her. I drew a few criss crosses on my breasts and chests with a red marker. That night I told him I wouldn’t be able to feed him as it would hurt me and I could instead hug him to sleep. Surprisingly, he took to it very calmly. He said it was okay and he would sleep without milk. I cried bitterly through the night with the thought that this was the end of our beautiful journey.
10. Although your breastfeeding journey came to an end, your passion for it did not.
I started talking about breastfeeding to my friends, family, and at work.
Due to the knowledge that I had gained over 3 years I realized that I could actually help so many. A trainer by profession, talking in front of an audience is a breeze to me. I started giving sessions on this topic in a few hospitals, small conferences etc. The moment I see a pregnant woman, I start my session with her. I have also conducted sessions for pregnant women in my organization.
My long-term goal is to become a Certified Lactation Counselor and to help new mothers sail through this journey. I do not want any mother to go through the struggle, initial fears and taunts that I went through. However, I have helped few mothers through calls and visits to their homes. This is my small way of giving back to the society.
11. Truly commendable. Breastfeeding seems to have got you in touch with another side of you.
The benefits of breastfeeding are visible every single day in my toddler. In the past 4 years, my child has rarely fallen sick; his immunity is tremendous. Touchwood! His bones are strong and he is so sharp for his age. I wish I could have breastfed for a little longer but I am extremely content every time I think of our journey.
Yes, breastfeeding has had a positive effect on me too. I feel more determined, confident, outspoken, opinionated, and clear in thoughts and most importantly more empowered.
Thank You for giving me this opportunity to relive such a beautiful phase of motherhood.