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Milk and Hugs

Author: Manahil Khan

‘They say nursing is natures lipo’… but they also say it’s a choice… personally I believe it’s a responsibility and a big one that is. 

Before my little Rayyan was born I wasn’t at all sure how the maternal world works – to be fair even whilst I was in labour I had a little cry and when the midwives asked what I was worried about I literally answered ‘what if it’s just an alien?’ 

In other words, I didn’t think my body could do what it was about to do a few hours later. Having said that once all that was done with, I had an aftermath episode, and I was incapable of understanding my surroundings. However, I vaguely remember midwives mentioning to my mum that he was quite hungry and that they would bring out the milk formula. Being so out of it at that point how he fed was not something I had thought about and the nature versus nurture aspects weren’t considered. My only concern at this point was ‘oh my God he is so tiny and helpless I need to do something’ and just then the midwife came over to me and asked’ ‘mummy, are you ready to try?’ 

Whilst I don’t remember replying to her, she put Rayyan on top of me and in spite of the fact I thought I didn’t know what to do, he did! In that moment it felt like we had discovered magic. 

The truth is, whether first time mothers know the secrets of motherhood or are absolutely clueless (like I was), your baby knows. Your baby guides you through all the little things and big things making the transition process into motherhood a breeze. 

I won’t lie by saying I didn’t try and give the bottle because I did. I also tried pumping, but I could not find myself sitting there and just doing this- it was truly a test of patience. Conversely, I can count on my fingers how many times that happened – since from the very beginning he rejected formulas and pacifiers and bottles. My child wanting to be solely fed by me meant I had to be available every few hours; sometimes for a few minutes at a time and sometimes for lengthy periods. It meant having to excuse yourself through the primary ‘we’ve come to see your baby’ visits to sitting in baby feeding rooms at the mall. Eventually it became a routine and it felt natural and sometimes it felt like it was the best escape for you and your baby.

The human body is so intricately designed that words cannot simply stress the gratitude you feel when you think about it. Life begins from one cell to millions. It has so many functions from creating life to replacing torn and damaged cells. From fighting infections and colds to healing wounds. 

The point is that with its infinite functions there is such a synchronised harmony that when a child is inside its mother it is joint by the cord and when it is out, they’re deeply connected by the heart and soul. 

The nursing world also is something like that. For instance, when a baby is hungry your body knows. When your baby is sleeping and hungry it will still tell you. Your baby is the single best authority for when he needs to be fed and when he is satisfied. His internal regulator for hunger and fullness is fine-tuned to his particular energy needs. 

The magic also lies in how much your baby needs which means you won’t have to worry about how many ounces you need to fill up in a bottle to take outside because your body will always have milk and continue to produce milk as much as your child desires.

Mother nature also works its phenomena when your baby is sick; as the composition of your milk changes which means your milk will contain antibodies, white blood cells, stem cells and protective enzymes that fight infections and may help with healing. This denotes that your milk is not only your baby’s food but fluid and comfort. 

In the beginning because you are the ‘newest mama in town’ you find yourself amongst people who will ‘try and help you’ by reiterating methods that worked for them on you. This for me would cause a little anger and a whole lot of ‘I need a moment please’. Yet eventually in my own time and space I began to deal with things my way or what I felt were going to work on my child. I felt like google had all the answers and that I wasn’t just going to be forced. I relied on google to find my answers and through there I learnt although each child and journey is different somewhere some mother and child have been through exactly where I am right now. 

You may want to call me old fashioned (and to an extent I am) but I later began to take some old wives’ tales seriously too. I began to think clearly if there are many people who say one thing maybe there is something to it and if not anything at least it’s another form of help or preventative that I can follow. 

A few days after I had Rayyan my mum had warned me to dry my hair before I went out in the cold, but I didn’t listen. When I came home and fed him that night, he felt unwell – the general idea behind this story was that the milk temperature is determined by the mother and if she is cold her baby will get cold milk. Based on a few random coincidences in regards to other things I became cautious.

My journey for my son originally began from ‘let me see first six months’ to ‘one year’ and once he hit that one year mark my husband felt guilt-ridden that just because he had turned one we may be treating him like he is a big boy  and declared that we ‘give him a little time and then wean’. But let me say that he is now one and a half and he is still nursing. They say the older they get the harder it is to wean off, and there are also those who say children show signs of feeling like they are ready to wean off. I believe that my child and I are in the first set of people. 

I have tried reducing feeding times. I have tried to stretch his playtime out for as long as I can before napping so that he feels so tired he can just sleep. I have tried many different formulas and I have tried different types of milks, cups and flavours. 

The status on our efforts? Nothing. Zilch. Zero. He still wants me! 

Through our first year of nursing I discovered that he would react to quite a lot of foods I would eat so the old wives tales in this instance were true: you need to watch what you eat. There are foods that cause gas (lentils, broccoli, chillies etc…), and there are ingredients in foods or products that you need to avoid (dairy). With my son the patterns were constant, and the results were obvious. Consequently, I took him to the doctors several times till I was heard, and it helped verify that he did react to dairy products that I took, or he took whilst he ate or acquired via my milk.

The signs were obvious and repeated on a daily through the night: tummy cramping, gas, little spots around the mouth and redness. With this realisation I also stopped taking items that contained milk (and even to the point although I don’t drink tea just having dip my biscuits in it would also be a factor that played a role at night.) The struggle for lactose is not only for Rayyan but also for me because it deprives me of foods that can help replenish by body and bones and for Rayyan the pain is just unfair. 

Through my year and a half journey we really haven’t had one full night of sleep but what we do have is several nursing sessions. Sometimes it’s because of teething, sometimes it’s because of comfort and sometimes its due to something he has eaten through the day which caused him pain at night. 

The problem of the matter when it comes to ‘pain and gas at night’ is one with a difficult solution. Yes; there are ingredients at the back of everything and you can avoid those foods nevertheless there is milk (cow’s milk) in majority of items and how much can you avoid or deprive your child of them? In Rayyan’s word he loves ‘bis’ (biscuits) and majority of them contain milk. If everyone is having pizza, then what will Rayyan eat? If I want to wean and he doesn’t like soy or almond or even for that matter lactose free formula milk, then what do I do? He cannot have cow’s milk, so the option left open is me. 

Every time I want to wean and think okay now, I have to be strict, now this is it – the guilt takes over me. I feel like a bad mum. I feel like it’s not fair. I feel like for my own gain and satisfaction of ‘I can take milk and bring my body back to health’ am I pushing and forcing my child off? Am I doing it for selfish reasons? Is this a failure on my behalf?

My need to bring breastfeeding to a close I feel personally and mainly has to do with the fact that one my son has lactose intolerance and two because I take the pill and that causes a decrease in milk supply which mentally upsets and frustrates me (and yes I tried other methods before I chose this one). The debate goes onto maybe it will help him. Maybe I unknowingly had something during the day which may have caused him to feel the pain at night. 

The battle of should I wean or how should I wean secretly is suppressed by my ‘mama’ side. During the nights when I cuddle him or look at him whilst he is busy playing and I see his little face I completely melt. The entire ride wasn’t always so challenging. There were times when I would be available with extreme milk supply and happy to be on demand or I would spoil him and give it to him for comfort as much as I could because he was so sweet and little. There were nights when I wouldn’t even care for a minute’s worth of sleep and there then of course there are those little moments when he’s feeding and looks at me with his cute little eyes and smiles at me that take over my heart. 

For every time any day that felt hard there was always so many good ones to remember. For any time, he was sick, and I knew I could help him I always felt proud of my choice and body to respond to him and help him feel better. For any time, he looks for me in the room it makes me feel happy because for every little difficult night you remember this is all temporary. Before you know it, they become so big they won’t need you anyway. I know when we’re both ready it will happen until then I am his milk machine and he is my little baby- whether he wants it for milk or for comfort I’m there to provide. 

It might be difficult, but it is so worth it. 

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