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My struggles with breastfeeding

A personal story about how some struggle and may give up breastfeeding, or not

Mom and baby's hands-self

I love Comedian Ali Wong on Netflix who shares a retort from her experience on breastfeeding-

“Giving birth ain’t nothing compared to breastfeeding! Breastfeeding is brutal. It is chronic physical torture. I thought it was supposed to be this beautiful bonding ceremony… Breastfeeding is this savage ritual that just reminds you that your body is a cafeteria now! It don’t belong to you no more.”

I became a mom somewhat 3 months back. It’s an exhilarating feeling, especially because he arrived into our lives after a long battle with infertility and is a test tube baby.

The upside was that I had so much time to prepare myself mentally, physically and emotionally for this beautiful new chapter in our lives.

My coach helped me throughout the pregnancy days until the last week to remain fit to welcome him. But what we did not prepare for, was breastfeeding. And neither did I do much research, discussion or preparation as I thought it would come naturally to me.

All the while we both partners had a notion that nature will take its own course and the flood gate would open and we would be able to breastfeed our child which I so wanted to, being aware of its millions of benefits for both the child and the mother.

But it did not happen so.

When the day arrived, the labour was tearfully long – nearly 30 hours. However due to fetal distress at the last moment, we had to undergo an emergency c section, coupled with a myomectomy. It was tiring for both me and the baby. But grateful to God that all was well once the new life arrived.

Recovery was slow and painful for me. And he was so tiny and fragile, tinier than what we had imagined.

I had pined for that first skin to skin contact and kept preparing for it with my doctor beforehand. But when this moment arrived, it was so short because I was in between surgeries and he had to be checked that muconium had not entered his lungs, in the ICU.

The first breastfeed delayed.

By the time we had our moment it was a few hours later in our room. He latched a bit but struggled. So did I, with the pain of the surgeries.

By the second day he stopped latching altogether. His cries at the breast made me hollow with pain but I kept trying.

In the first week, being adamant on our choice and thinking, to stick to just breastfeeding, we ended up dehyderaring our baby for more than 2 days and he didn’t pass urine. We got scared and after a few calls to the doctor I convinced myself and my partner to give back formula to the baby to get his system going. That was a turning point.

I was generating a little colostrum which I was trying to pass to him so his antibodies can develop well. For the deficit he was given top feed.

Days went by and the struggle with the milk flow and latching continued. A vicious circle, whereby I wasn’t able to produce much milk and he couldn’t latch as he was getting hardly anything.

I did not leave breastfeeding still. But formula took over the front reigns and so he became a combi baby. Breastfeeding continued to be a challenge despite all the right nutrition. As a result my baby started crying profusely at the breast, so much so he started detesting it.

We continued feeding him formula with a spoon and glass so that he could go back to the breast without bottle exposure. But then came the problem of colic. So we had to invest in a couple of anti colic bottles.

After few rounds of family discussions and help from the lactation consultant I started using a nipple shield. And a whole month went by, whereby I spent good bonding time with my baby through the shield but still not much production.

I became to doubt my self worth and question my motherhood. So many tears and sleepless nights did not help at all. Relationships were strained too.

Then with a suggestion from a friend who 100% breastfed her children, we bought a breast pump. The lactation consultant too suggested that I should use the pump 8 times a day before feeding my baby. I calculated if I did so, then with a 2 hours process of pump followed by feeding the baby I would be spending 16 hours pumping milk. Leaving rest of the time for other things, I would hardly sleep. Which is against my thinking, so I pumped just 2-4 times.

Again days went by, but the pump or the shield didn’t do much to increment the flow.

Until a month and a half later my sister suggested to give it a try without the shield. I did try earlier sometimes but to no success, still I gave a try again. And it worked. He latched finally!

It was a magical moment.

Like my partner said comically- “I think his OS had an upgrade.”

Then started a gradual move process from shield to no shield over the next couple of weeks. More tears and pains followed.

Until I tried another suggestion from my sister. A skin to skin session on one private evening. And voila, it was beautiful!

So much struggles as compared to Ali Wong who said in her latest show-

“I didn’t take any classes on breastfeeding because I just assumed it was going to be this very easy intuitive thing where the baby sucks on your nipple like a straw…. But apparently, you have to get the baby to latch on at a very specific angle. You gotta tilt their head and do geometry to get them on properly… And every time I would do it, it was like parallel parking. I don’t know how I did it! It’s a mystery. I was never properly trained, but I just did it.”

In India there is no sense of privacy. Starting from the OT room where there are so many female and male doctors and specialists, to the hospital private room which is not really private as every few minutes someone keeps popping in. The sheer volume of staff is so high that there is not one person but many who are invading into your privacy.

Neither is there privacy, nor there is proper sleep which is so much needed for recovery.

Ditto at home with the help and support system, which is supposed to help but in this case it doesn’t. Maids are constantly working around you and there is no room where you can have privacy for more than a few minutes.

I wish I could run back to our other home in the UK for a private moment and things would have been different surely. Or maybe not.

I just wanted to summarize from my experience, what worked for me and what didn’t-

What worked

1- The determination to still breastfeed, no matter how little.

2- Skin to skin contact and the positive energies of a friend/sister.

3- The solitude needed to make the skin to skin work.

4- The trial of several positions until the one that clicked best for me. Just get creative.

5- A stress free environment where I wasn’t put into pressure for giving milk everytime the baby woke up crying for satiating his hunger. Supporting words by the family attending to the baby whilst I got ready to sit down helps ease the pressure and keeps baby in a good mood to latch.

6- The right nutrition- I always had a nutritional diet during pregnancy so not much changes were made in my diet except I increased my milk consumption and took to an Ayurvedic granules called Shatavari. My capacity to eat increased post delivery as a mother actually eats for 2 post delivery.

What did not work

1- Lack of sleep which is inevitable for a new parent but the family staying to support at that time should ensure at least the mother gets good rest whenever possible, besides helping with the baby.

2- A misalignment of expectations with respect to being able to breastfeed vis-a-vis formula feed. Gap in expectations always creates sorrow. I adapted to a change in mindset soon due to the gravity of the situation in the first week (dehydration) but my partner took long and he kept mounting pressure on me by asking doctors why the milk is not flowing, and what can be fed to me to increase the supply. I felt objectified.

3- The mishandling of my breasts starting from those nurses in the hospital. Everyone was trying to help with the position and squeezing from here or there which really upset me. Especially because the nurses were hardly 20-25 and with no personal experience of the process they were doing their job to help but it did not!

4- The lack of enough privacy as I mentioned before. That constrained my peace of mind which is very important for feeding.

5- The delay in skin to skin contact.

6- Maybe sometimes I think it’s age or the IVF reality that prohibited appropriate milk production.

I was completely knackered in the first month and then when my mental situation improved, the flow started increasing. It’s still not enough but good enough to pass the goodness to my precious baby. Plus the bond we share during feeding is ethereal.

Picture this: The other day while taking my boy to the hospital in our car I saw a poor woman sitting in the back of a Tempo, squashed with other women and men. She had a tiny baby in her lap whom she was holding with one hand and the other hand was on the top handle of the tempo to avoid falling off with vehicle jerks. Her baby was latched to her and was feeding in that precarious scenario which appalled me and brought some perspective about our blessed lives.

The reality of our lives is that very few babies feed 100% on the breast. I came to this conclusion after reviewing with all my close friends on their experiences. Barring a handful most of the women’s babies are combi babies due to struggle with either latching or flow or hungry babies.

I chose to breastfeed despite all obstacles but I do respect those who decide not to. It’s a personal choice and no judgements should be passed. 

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