This week is “World Breast feeding Week”, celebrated every year during the first week of August. It is sponsored by Organizations such as WABA, WHO, and UNICEF, with the goal of promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. This goal is really important in our country, where the first major cause of death in infants is infection, which include diarrhea caused by unhygienic preparation of human milk substitutes. Teaching our population sterile preparation of milk is traumatic and frustrating (for the health care professional) who faces so much resistance caused by a lack of awareness. Most mothers and grandmothers feel that the bottle is sterile if it has been rinsed once a day. Questioning their cleanliness is almost a personal assault. Bottle feeding is therefore definitely not advisable.
So I agree with the concept of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. There are innumerable benefits to the mother and the infant- without a doubt. But I find myself not as enthusiastic about breastfeeding as I used to be. I find the aggressive supporters of breastfeeding at times ruthless.
And increasingly I find immense pain associated with breastfeeding promotion.
“You didn’t breastfeed your baby, that is why he is falling sick all the time.” By a mother in law.
“If you had breast fed our baby properly, he would have gained weight better.” Said by a father to a mother whose infant’s growth was below the curve.
“I didn’t have enough milk, and so I breast fed him only for 2 months, is that the reason why this happened?” Asked by a mother of a child with Down’s syndrome.
“You probably did not feed the baby properly on the left side, that is why this happened.” Said by a nurse to a mother who had a breast abscess on the left side.
“We try and try to make her eat more, but she just doesn’t eat. If she doesn’t eat, how will she have enough milk for the baby? Please, doctor can you give her some good advice?” Said by a grandmother about her daughter, who is refusing to eat nonvegetarian food.
“If the baby does not gain weight at the next visit, we might have to admit her. It is better that you feed her well, keep trying.” Said by a doctor to a mother.
“If only I could have breastfed her, she would have been much healthier and smarter” A mother whose medical condition prevented her from breastfeeding her infant.
“I tried and tried, but not a drop would come and the baby would keep crying the whole night. Finally, I had to give her cow’s milk. What could I have done?” By a mother who was guilt stricken.
“I am going to give him one nice tight whack if he bites my nipple again.” Me, when suffering from sore nipples.
“My mother did not breastfeed me for long because she was pregnant with my younger brother soon after. I think I still resent my younger brother for taking my mother and her milk away from me.” By a 59-year-old accountant.
I wish all of us would remember this:
BREASTFEEDING IS NOT EASY
Like all good things in life it comes at a cost.
Breastfeeding is pain.
It is back pain, sore nipples and engorged breasts.
It is physically challenging, and a continuous emotional struggle.
‘What kind of a mother am I if I don’t feed my child’- culturally supported hypotheses.
It is stressful.
Caused by societal pressures to breastfeed.
It makes some people feel sick and nauseated.
Some mothers have giddiness and nausea after or during feeding.
It is embarrassment.
When the little one is nudging on your private parts in public/ at the gathering/ formal occasions.
It is sleep deprivation.
Breast milk is easily digested and hence breast fed infants feed more frequently, even in the night.
It is loss of independence and a social life.
Being the only source of nutrition for an infant means that you have a little something (I call them creatures) attached you for the entire day and night. If you do manage to get away for an hour, you will have obsessive thoughts about what would happen if he/ she gets hungry before you are back.
It is loss of personal space and boundaries.
Sometimes you wonder, why they didn’t stay where they were a few weeks back, and you know the answer, which is that you couldn’t wait to get them out.
Why I do the ‘breast feeding supporter’ write about this? Because I believe when we make a choice, we need to know both the sides. We need to educate about the pain as much as about the advantages and benefits. If we don’t, we are not giving mothers a choice.
So why would you still want to breast feed, knowing it all?
That feeling of being absolutely wanted.
The feeling of holding your own flesh and blood close to you, watching him latch on, breathe, sigh, feed, pull in their cheeks, to drink of what they think is rightfully theirs. Fight their sleep till they give in and then burp- the sweetest sound in the world. (This ‘good feeling’ while feeding is apparently caused by hormones. The baby’s sucking brings on the release of oxytocin and prolactin and causes a euphoric state. More about hormones.
It is knowing that you are doing for your baby, the best you can.
It is a commitment. It is just for 6 months. What does that compare to a life time?
So is it worth the pain?
Yes, every bit of it.
If you for any reason decide or are left with no choice to breastfeed your baby, that does not mean you love him less.
It does not mean that you have not given him/ her the best he/ she could have had.
Expressions of love come in many ways.
Sacrifices of love are inevitable.