Breast feeding is a loaded word. Those who do are labeled ‘lactivists’ and those who don’t are labeled ‘lazy’ or even worse, ‘bad mothers’. Unfortunately arrogance and a feeling of superiority come naturally and easily to many of us. The idea that ‘if I can do it so can she’ has sadly pressured many mothers to actually lie about it and pretend to breastfeed while their baby is on the bottle- only to escape harsh judgment.
I never really knew I was going to exclusively breastfeed my baby as it was never an agenda for me. However, during pregnancy I read up a great deal. Like a LOT of reading of online articles etc that brought with it hordes of merits of breastfeeding. The benefits are surely endless, but the pressure is seriously uncalled for. Honestly, we need to relax about it. Yes your kid will have hyper-immunity and will be well nourished and blah blah. There have been many not-so-smart/healthy kids who have been exclusively breastfed and a ton of bright babies raised solely on formula. Immunity is also relative, it’s where you live and what precautions you take also really matter. In the struggle to breastfeed we do not need to be so hard on ourselves.
My personal breastfeeding journey has been a very tumultuous one. You may find out more on that here. Initially, while the baby was in the NICU, he had formula only. They advised me to pump but I couldn’t cuz a) the adapter for the electric pump burnt down at the most unfortunate moment (yes, talk about bad luck) and b) I tried to manually pump but was oozing blood instead of milk due to the anxiety. After the baby got discharged we discovered he had dehydration fever and the Default Pediatrician told me to alternate between breastfeeding and formula. Instead of Feed on Demand, he advised me to give him milk every two hours, (another absurdity if I may opine). Anyway, thankfully we visited another pediatrician recommended by many friends. He told me to dump all the formula and try to exclusively breastfeed on demand. Since that day I have pumped milk three times and have been breastfeeding exclusively.
When my baby was sick and in the hospital, I learnt about the importance of mother’s milk and why it is called liquid gold. It is a truly very amazing thing. There is no way to deny that. But in the stress to breastfeed we forget the bigger picture. We forget that it is way more important for the mum to be stress free, to be relaxed and happy while you bond with your baby. Yes, those early days are crucial and important and your baby needs you. He deserves that you try. But what he doesn’t deserve is a mom who is constantly crying and fretting over not making enough milk. New moms stress so much that even when they breastfeed they pass on the stress hormones in through the breast milk. That makes the baby crankier and has them up at night, which makes the mother more sleep deprived and hence even more stressed. It’s an evil unending cycle. So, if you can happily and peacefully try to give your baby your milk without bleeding to death yourself or becoming near suicidal, kindly do so by all means. But please for the love of God, don’t be harsh on yourself and make it worse for yourself and the whole family. Stop judging yourself. I have done this and trust me as soon as I relaxed I was so much better. When we went to the new pediatrician, his calm and relaxed manner brought us so much peace it was like being in therapy. It was then that I tried in a calmer and gentler manner and the milk just came in. The more the baby feeds the greater the supply and the balance of hind and fore milk. A lot of the benefits that are touted are actually true. There is really no denying that. It is a very magical process. How the baby extracts what is needed, in the quantity and the quality (the balance of hind and fore milk) that meets his individual needs.
The three times in my life that I pumped I felt that it was too much work and that the balance of hind and fore milk was getting messed up. The milk looked very watery to me. And I will also let you in on a secret: I am too goddam lazy. I couldn’t be arsed to pump and clean up all the various parts and then sterilize them if I can easily just stick the boob in his mouth and get on with life. Except at times you don’t.
Breastfeeding is a commitment. Ok, let me go into a superlative here: exclusively breastfeeding is really the greatest commitment you will ever make in your life. Yes, even more binding than marriage- where you can’t get in and out as easily. Honestly. It ties you to a little person inextricably, indelibly, very very permanently. The first six months when the baby is not weaned are tough, but then it does get easier. And as time passes you do also get used to it. But it’s a huge sacrifice. You have to PLAN when stepping out of the house. There is no more ‘get up and go’. No way. Its constantly, ‘what if he is suddenly hungry and I’m not around’. He’s asleep in the room and you set the monitor and are in the middle of a movie and he starts yelling for you. Can you imagine the kind of discipline that requires? To cater to the needs of a tiny person every single moment of every single day. Much greater than the fatigue is the emotional exhaustion. What do you do when those sleepless nights take a toll on you. You want to pull out your hair and you internally beat yourself up for not starting top feed or not hiring help. Those fellow mums who know what I’m talking about, have you noticed how we beat ourselves up so bad in that internal dialogue inside our heads. We are literally kicking ourselves and swearing at ourselves and running through the merits and demerits of breastfeeding. Why? I really don’t know.
And I haven’t even reached the toughest part–the HUNGER. I’m feeling exhausted just thinking about HOW I can articulate this physical NEED. The breastfeeding hunger is not hunger, it is a gaping hole, an abyss, a can’t-think-can’t-see-can’t-feel kind of feeling, where you have lost all perspective of our surroundings and you are sure, nay positive that the sky will most certainly and not proverbially fall if you don’t eat this very second. THIS. VERY.SECOND.
I had snacks (walnuts, almonds, dates, biscuits) and three bottles of water on the night stand next to me. Wait, not nightstand, the water bottles wouldn’t fit so I laid all the water bottles next to me on the floor. Just thinking about that crazy a level of hunger and thirst is making me cringe. It was such a difficult time. But I have to pen this down. I have to write about this and revisit the pain. I need to document this to remind myself that I made it through it. And I will make it through it once again. And it’s so good when you are on the other side. It’s so precious when your baby rolls over, when he gurgles, when he starts to crawl and respond to your gestures with smiles and frowns. It’s a difficult journey and a painful one (physically, mentally, emotionally) and so many people go through it. You are not alone. Just remember, you’ve got this. Relax. Breathe. Occupy yourself. It may be very boring but it’s not impossible. Read, write, text, browse, watch shows. Just don’t focus on the current misery. Pump some milk and take a break. If I could go back in time I would advise myself this: take some time out once a week and go to a salon guilt-free or go catch a movie. Just don’t sit home and sulk please. Don’t worry if you are fat, and you have no clothes. No one really gives a shit anyway. Your sanity and comfort takes priority. Don’t beat yourself and your husband up about it. Not everyone has parents they can leave their baby with, so consider yourself luckys. Enjoy the journey. Live.