Author: Soma Hashmi
I’ll be honest and tell you that breastfeeding was never on my mind. At least not until I was about to deliver Aiyaana. It was during those last few doctor visits when I was told I could pop any time soon that I started to google things like “how to take care of a baby”. It was also during this time that a blogger I followed was about to have a session with a lactation consultant. Lactation consultant? What’s that? I had never heard of such a thing before. Their session led to a sudden curiosity within me and I began reading on the topic all the time. I wanted to know how the entire process of nursing works. It was during this time I was also told that I might end up having a c-section. A whirlwind of thoughts began. How will I get the baby to latch if I’m still unconscious or in pain when she comes out? Who’s going to tell me how it’s done? Will the doctors and nurses be in favour of breastfeeding or will they try and convince me to give formula?
Aiyaana was born, on 25th October 2018. She was the tiniest, pinkest thing I had ever seen. She was so fragile that I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to hold her, let alone try and get her to latch. She was a premature baby which also meant that she was slightly underweight. Feeding her was a bit of a challenge because she would drift into sleep and had to be woken up and force fed all the time. Now that I think back I actually laugh because I had so many struggling helpers hovering from all sides while I tried to feed her. I remember all their little phrases like “make a scissor with your fingers”, “hold her head properly” “put a pillow underneath your arm for better support”, “I think sitting on a chair with your legs raised will help”. I tried every possible position to make it work and although challenging, it eventually did.
Soon after she developed jaundice and had to be kept in the nursery under UV light for 24 hours. That is when I was introduced to the crazy world of endless pumping. It’s honestly fascinating and magical to see what a woman’s body can do. Having said that, it’s also so important to be patient about it and to understand how the entire system works. Unfortunately, women especially in our culture are not well-versed with how breastfeeding works. Initially, once the baby is delivered, most moms if not all, only secrete a little amount of yellowy substance called Colostrum which is actually very good for the baby and not at all ‘dirty’ as thought by many people in our near and dear surroundings. It’s only 2 to 3 days after latching that the mother starts to secrete milk. It’s during these initial 2-3 days that the baby is usually taken away from the mother and introduced to the bottle (formula milk) which allows no time for the baby to latch onto the mother. Breastfeeding works on a very simple mechanism: demand and supply. The more the baby demands, the more milk a mother will make. If the baby is not given the chance to latch it will obviously not demand and therefore mothers start to panic and in not wanting to keep their baby hungry they give in to formula.
Of course, formula works fine too, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with giving formula. The point I want to make here is that it’s just the lack of knowledge that leads to such a situation. Women are not left with the option to choose because to them it becomes the only way forward. When they are unable to breastfeed they start to internalise a sense of failure, blaming their bodies or themselves for not being able to provide milk. Breastfeeding is not at all easy, it requires months of sleepless nights, social sacrifices, anger, tears, sweat, hunger and an incredibly sore back (and that’s not all).
Aiyaana is now 6 months old and our journey of breastfeeding has been going strong. When I started I never had a set target in mind, I had just read online that feeding exclusively for 6 months was the best thing I could do for my baby but I didn’t want to think that far yet. Although these six months have gone by in a jiffy, when I sit to write and recall my experience with feeding her, I remember the first few days, especially the first month. She had to be woken up and fed every two hours no matter what. Which meant I had to set alarms all day and all night. I’m not sure how to justify how it felt at that time but I’ll try. You just begin to work like an auto-tuned machine after the first few days. You’re sleep deprived, nervous and not sure if you’re doing the right thing but you still keep doing it anyway. You don’t care how your hair looks, how scruffy your clothes are or how long you’ve had a proper meal in. It’s like being in a bubble, where everything apart from your baby looks hazy. You want to be on your own with just your baby but you also want everyone around for help and support. You feel so lonely, and sometimes angry, but you also feel content and emotional when you see your little one innocently attached to you. You watch the world go by as you’re sat in one position for sometimes 2-3 hours at a stretch. You feel resentful towards your partner and wish God gave him the super power (yes!) to breastfeed.
Another challenge a woman faces during her journey of breastfeeding is not being able to feed openly in public. Very honestly, I would be uncomfortable too and it’s probably just because of how I’ve been socialised into believing that something so natural is awkward and shameful if done in front of people. Bless the person who invented nursing covers for mothers like me. The first one month, feeding outside my room never really crossed my mind because I think I spent most of my waking and sleeping hours on my bed or couch. It was only after, when life started to get back on track that I began to worry about ways to feed Aiyaana other than in my room. Again, bless the human being who invented the pump and thank goodness for the fact that breast milk can be stored in the fridge and freezer – it truly is a blessing for working moms. Again, not many moms here know about this but breast milk if frozen in a deep freezer can last for up to 6 months and if stored in the fridge, it can last for up to 3 to 5 days. There’s another thing I learnt through my own experience even though I had read otherwise on the internet. It was to never offer the baby a bottle or they would eventually refuse the breast and choose the bottle as it requires less effort to drink from. Again, of course every baby is different so it’s hard to draw conclusions but in my case this wasn’t true.
I gave Aiyaana pumped milk right from the start, not because I had it all planned in my mind, but just because my lifestyle called for it and living in a joint family is always a blessing in this case. Every time i’ve had to go out, her Daadi has been the knight in shining armour. I’ve actually had quite a few adventures with pumping and storing milk which I’ll probably leave for another time, another post. Despite the fact that planning my feeds and not knowing where I’d be feeding while outside my house, while looking back, I realise that I actually enjoyed the challenge. Experiences during motherhood actually teach you to act as and when required. You learn that no matter how many plans you make in your head, situations will always arise that make you act spontaneously. There have obviously been moments when I’ve wanted to and have had to take Aiyaana along and that’s when I’ve always had to hide her under the nursing cover to be able to feed her. The first time I fed her was on our road trip to Delhi. I was nervous about the funny sounds she might make or at the fact that she might feel suffocated under the cover but to my surprise it wasn’t hard at all. From there on there was just no stopping! I’ve fed her in changing rooms, in malls, in cars, on toilet seats in restaurant washrooms & in aeroplanes (which btw actually helps a lot with air pressure). Personally, I love it. It’s so hassle-free, there’s no having to worry about boiled water or sterilised bottles, no having to worry about how old the formula pack is, no having to predict when the baby is hungry so that the milk is ready before she starts to cry her lungs out.
Nursing changes a woman’s body. It really does. I had read online that breastfeeding helps a woman lose weight and honestly, I’m not sure why that didn’t apply to me. I actually gained most of my weight post delivery and am still struggling to lose most of it. Nursing makes me so hungry, it makes me want to gobble down all the biscuits and sweets in the world. Not just that, this crazy experience also changes your wardrobe drastically. Clothes stop fitting and you actively start searching for button down shirts wherever you go.
Breastfeeding has also turned me into a multitasker, it’s that one time when I’m sat in one place but somehow I manage to get a lot of work done. It has also become my downtime, especially during bedtime feedings when I sit with a cup of flavoured tea, turn on my laptop and aimlessly scroll through Instagram or watch “made in heaven” episodes back to back. It’s the kind of time that’s taught me patience, it’s taught me to remain at a standstill and to simply enjoy that moment of silence. That moment where it’s just my baby and I. That moment where I am able to comfort her and simultaneously feel at peace myself. It truly is a bond like no other. It makes me feel close to my little Aiyaana. It makes me happy that I can instantly comfort her. It makes me smile when she stares at me with those big shiny eyes. I’ve watched her grow each day right in my arms, from a tiny fragile creature to a naughty little girl who now bends backwards each time she hears a loud sound, who now gets excited each time I start talking to her, who burps loudly and tries to sit up to tell me her stomach is now full. Honestly, there are days when I’m exhausted. When I just want Aiyaana to fall asleep in a second. When I’m feeding her and she still won’t stop crying. When I’m sat for hours trying to get her to sleep at night. It’s these times when I feel like giving up, just not doing what I do anymore. There have been times when I’ve sat the entire night and slept, because she just wouldn’t let go. There have been nights when I’ve finally put her to sleep and just as I’d be dozing off, she’d wake up and start crying. You actually feel really, really angry but there’s nothing you can do about it and what keeps me going is when I read mum’s saying “don’t give up on your worst day” and it’s true, I wake up the next morning and I’m ready for all of it once again.
I’ve been told that the longer you nurse your child, the harder the process of weaning becomes. Like I said earlier, I haven’t thought that far and neither do I want to. I’m open to trying other things, of course, but I’m in no rush. I feel as though there’s a natural time for everything and it’s not like I’m going anywhere. Let’s see where this journey takes me and my little baby, Aiyaana. For now, as long as it makes her happy, it makes me happy. As long as it helps her sleep at night, it obviously helps me sleep at night too 😉