Breastfeeding struggles: Real Stories

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) organizes the World Breastfeeding Week from August 1st – 7th every year to mark the anniversary of Innocenti Declaration.

Innocenti Declaration is the UNICEF breastfeeding support programme “On the protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding”. It recognizes that “Breastfeeding is the unique process that provides ideal nutrition for infants and contributes to their healthy growth and development.”

The slogan for World Breastfeeding Week, 2018 is Breastfeeding: Foundation of Life

I am breastfeeding my now 22 months toddler. Earlier I assumed that breastfeeding is natural and easy. All I needed was to pop out the breast and my job was done. When I was wheeled out of the labor room to general ward, I barely knew anything except I gave birth to a boy. Though I have heard the skin-to-skin contact during pregnancy. Yet, I forgot about it as soon as I deliver the baby. Almost an hour later, after everyone in my family had cooed over the newborn. I was asked to nurse the little one. I tried breastfeeding with my earlier rosy expectations. Newborn Penguin tried to have a latch and suck hard. Within few minutes, he turned his face away and started crying. Someone screamed, “Oh the mother hasn’t produced milk yet poor hungry infant!” The struggle had just begun.

Before I go more on the struggles, let me walkthrough the word Breastfeeding with my blogpost on “Stages of breastmilk”

It was hardly couple of hours when people started pouring in to have a view of my newborn. Most of them have a unique way of asking same question – Are you producing enough milk?

A new mother maybe tired of labor, overwhelmed with her baby or volatile to face such questions. People needed to say something, and I had to listen. Few days later I choose to snort in my mind and ignore the so-well-intended words. Wish I had done it earlier though. Yet few arguments made me raw. The changes in my body was gigantic. By third day the engorgement made me anxious and baby decided to feed 5 minutes at every 30-minute intervals. Then came the well-wisher who convinced every adult under the roof, except me, to feed only at strict 2 hours interval. I swiftly moved to other room and fed my wailing child. His 30-minute break was over, you see! Few months later my breastfeeding struggle was talk of the small town. Few unwanted yet unavoidable characters and few unknowns might have avoided persona entered my space. Antagonist being, hyperlactation. I have shared my experience with Hyperlactation in another blog post “Hyperlactation – The story of too much milk”.

I asked few mothers to share their journey. Read on their journey it might help you or your friends.

Sonia, is mom to an adorable 21 months old daughter, she exclusively breastfed her baby for 6 months. She found a great supporter in her husband. The moment when she almost gave up, he pulled her through. Isn’t little one’s Dadda amazing?  In her words,

Unlike all new parents, we were hell anxious about what is going to happen once our baby arrives. I wasn’t sure if I will be able to deliver normal (vaginal), but I was determined about 6 months exclusive breastfeeding (EBF). The very first moment when I saw my tiny daughter, latching on my breast, I took a sigh of relief. But soon I realized EBF is not my journey alone, the whole village was all behind me and my husband. Scrutiny if she sucks thumb or other’s finger, cry, pee, poop, and urge me to feed. When I say these were tip of the iceberg, trust me. People passed blunt hurtful comments.

So, your breast milk is not enough, you should start formula feed.

We (as mother) have given you formula, don’t you look good and healthy.

We have had babies too. You both don’t know anything about it.

Our effort to convince them never worked. Enormous comments were passed. We both were judged that we are not good enough for our own baby. The pressure was immense it was just a week. We were anxious how to pull 6 months mark. Then we had a Paediatric consultation who gave us chart stating 100 ml to pump in one go. We were disheartened to see expressed milk was mere 20 ml.

My husband suggested to change the Paediatric doctor. After discussions and arguments, we landed at Dr. M, our new Paediatric doctor. I shared my concern of low supply with her. She checked my flow and corrected my baby holding position. She confirmed my milk supply was good. And it was the best moment.

It’s been 21 months. Yes! I am still breastfeeding. No outside milk has started yet. Dr M quotes “All animals give their milk to their babies. They don’t ask for human milk. Then why the hell we social animals (human being) don’t trust our own production”.

Sonam, is a food blogger and food artist. She exclusively breastfed her child for a year. She voiced out that during that period she came across certain challenges which were more of an emotional let-down rather than physically hurting.

I had large duct glands which ensured the milk was stored well and the baby could make the most use of it.  But anything in excess can also be bad.  So, I had to establish a routine on when to pump and when to feed my kid.  As months progressed by the supply did get regulated but I had to constantly massage, give hot compressions and timely use pump so that I don’t end up in terrible pain and prevent engorgement. General rule of feeding from both breasts at a given feeding session did not apply to me.  As I had oversupply, I had to offer just one breast to my kid so that no lumps should be formed. Whereas the other side would always be heavy.  The day I fed him from both the breasts in a given session my breasts would become like bricks and extremely painful and had to do extra massages to get them back to normalcy.

Further, in the first 3 months of my breastfeeding days.  I use to get up in a puddle of my own milk. I tried many breast pads but ultimately accepted the fact that my clothes and Bedsheets are going to turn messy, come what may.

One of the biggest issues I had to deal with for entire one year was baby slept off while breastfeeding. I was so frightened by the end of the year that I use to worry on how would I wean him. To my knowledge I understand all breast-fed kid sleep while drinking. but I was super stressed about this habit as I kept thinking how much will he cry when I wean, how will I wean, how will my husband support, will I cry, can I do it…  It was so much of a mental agony.

Moreover, my kid started teething when he was six months old. He was fortunate to have two set of teeth so early, but that did not work in my favor. His constant biting made my nipples sore and at times I got scared to even feed him.

Even Kritika, mother of 3 years old mischievous boy faced excess breastmilk issue.

I was in pain with stitches, fever and severe back pain after undergoing c-section. It was most unbearable to see my baby crying for milk and is unable to latch with my breasts. Whenever the nurse brought him to my breast he will start to suck and immediately start crying.  The conclusion the nurse had given me is I didn’t have enough milk and my little one had to have formula Milk. Here starts the first ever MOM Guilt.

The next day my breasts had become hard because of stagnant milk, seeing this my gynaecologist advised the nurses to clean the nipples, pump little milk out of my breasts and then try latching again.  Pumping out milk was really painful and tears rolled out. Still, there was no success and the latching problem continued.

We consulted a child specialist when my baby was just 19 days old, who asked a nurse to check my baby latching and suggested an x-ray to check for mucus which might stop him from latching and cause breathing problems. Thankfully, the x-ray result is fine.  Surprisingly, I got to know that the problem is I have excess supply of breast milk and the baby being unable to cope with the speed of the milk flow he cried whenever I tried to feed him.

My elder sister finally found that I have breast engorgement. She put a soft cloth into the warm water and put it on my breasts, press and pumped out milk. I started feeling light. That DAY my baby latched, had milk and slept peacefully in my arms. My sister also bought me a breast pump using which I practiced to press out some milk every time before I feed my baby to reduce the milk flow speed. End of first MOM GUILT. Our breastfeeding journey lasted till my baby was 18months old.

I can relate with the ordeal these mothers went through. The breastfeeding experience is different for every mom, what works for one might not work on other. A mother is born along with baby’s birth. Just like baby they also need care, attention and love. The support system around them also plays a pivotal role. A healthy support system helps keep mother stress free, happy and satisfied with their choices. According to a study, most women had to discontinue breastfeeding because of enormous pressure.

All a new mother needs are little love, support and a filled water bottle. She would appreciate your efforts.

As a new mother what were your encounters? How did you face them? Do share your thoughts.

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