Friday, November 07, 2008

22 October 2008
Breastfeeding - Don't let them influence you against it

Being a new mother is a challenge in many ways. Not only must you learn to take care of yourself when you are pregnant and then learn to take care of your tiny bundle of immeasurable joy who nevertheless is extremely demanding, but you also need to put up with never ending advice from everyone around you about what to do and what not to do. Sometimes the advice come handy but most of the time, they are tossed at you from people who have never been in the position themselves like men for instance and others who have never been pregnant! Its a little like an old granny giving advice to Sachin Tendulkar on how he must handle Shane Warne. Well, as some one said, a pair of ear plugs must be made part of the maternity wardrobe and I couldnt agree more. I was subject to much advising and I hope to deal with these in subsequent articles. But I want to dedicate this one to breastfeeding.
To breast feed or not is not a question that causes confusion in India primarily because its unthinkable not to breast feed your baby unlike in the west where it is a fashionable thing to do like yoga! The benefits of breast feeding is slowly being made popular to would be mothers all over the world. But it is still acceptable as an option that the mother decided. Much like opting for an epidural or a Cesarean if you feel you can't bear the pains of labour. By the way, the use of the word labour is completely justified for those few hours of child birthing experience. But in India if a mother were to decide in favor of a less painful method of child birth she would be considered a renegade or insincere. An old uncle once told me that mothers are more attached to babies that are born naturally rather than a Cesarean. Like all outdated things of the past best laid buried, I bury that bit of preaching. The doctors recommend that the baby be breast fed exclusively for six months. But in India we have a tradition of starting on outside food much earlier. In a month most babies start on cow's milk. And then other feeds like wheat/barley porridge or mashed fruits and vegetables are begun in 4 months time. With the advent of formula milk and baby food, these have caught on, particulary favored because of the ease of preparing them.
I and my husband had decided on feeding our baby exclusively on breast milk. Our daughter was born three weeks early and was consequently small. She weighed 2.8 kilos and was thinner than other babies. But she was a very active child who came kicking and suckling her wrists voraciously. Breastfeeding her turned out to be a nightmarish task for me. Her hunger never seemed to satiate and I was literally feeding her round the clock. All that marathon feeding caused me to be in constant unbearbable pain for two months.She hardly slept in her first three months preferring to feed and when she did sleep, I lay down feeding and after a while we both would drift away tosleep. Once I had figured this out, I managed to get some sleep at night and my girl would sleep for 4-6 hours at night. But she was awake the whole day. And if I was lucky would take a small nap in the afternoon. Her doctor said that it was nothing to worry and that most of it was comfort sucking and quite normal. But around the time after her first month, I was put under pressure to start her on formula milk. I refused of course prefering to wait and watch. I saw no reasons to believe that the baby was under fed. I had to change nappies almost constantly and inspite of putting her on a diaper at night changed about 20 nappies a day. Her stools also seemed normal and healthy.
Telling a woman she had less milk for her baby was like telling a man he was impotent. With almost everyone who saw the baby saying she just didnt have the size of babies her age, I was worried and did a lot of reading on the net. Even my gynacologist during the first postpartum check up at 1-1/2 months made me believe that the baby was not getting enough milk and recommended milk boosting tonic. In her words, babies that were well fed would sleep a great deal and play when not feeding or sleeping. I adamanlty refused to believe it. Even after hours of breast feeding I could always express some milk. I stopped having the tonic after few days. More because I couldnt come to terms with the fact that it would work. I had suffered the pains of engorged breasts a few times and my theory was that if milk is produced in proportion to the demand, then what good will excess milk do if the baby is not able to drink it? I would only end up with more engorgemet. I read somewhere that the more the baby drinks the more mik is produced and so I didnt understand how outside milk would make things better. If anything it would further reduce breast milk production. I persisted with breast milk. Besides, though she still looked small, she was gaining weight slowly and steadily. At times my resolve would falter but my husband stood by me. We decided to wait until she was four months old. I was anxious lest my stubborness cause health concerns to my little one but deep in my heart I knew I was right. I did not even feed her water. She lived totally on breast milk.
Today my baby is four months old. And weighs a good six kilos. She looks chubby and healthy. A far cry from her skinny days! She has started to roll on her tummy and is fine in every other way. Touch wood.
So don't listen to others. There is no substitute for breast milk. Persevere now and your baby will carry the benefits for a long time. Breast milk is high on fat and fufills all the nutritional requirement of your baby. It is free from contamination. And most of all, it gives your child a means to bond physically and emotionally with you which will help him or her develop into a secure and confident child (see postscript). And here's a very good reason if these weren't enough. Its the best way to lose all those extra pounds you gained during pregnancy. You really lose weight!
You are getting enough milk if:
You need to change more than 6 nappies a day.
The baby poo is a mustard yellow with/without a curdled look. The baby may poop 3-4 times a day or may go without pooping for couple of days. That is quite normal.
The baby doesnt look listless. Crying is okay. Look out for any signs of sickness though. Check with your doc when in doubt.
The baby gains weight steadily. The actual weight gain will depend on the sex of the baby and his or her birth weight. A weight gain of 150 - 200 gms per week is the norm, although there can be variations. The doc will know best.
Happy breastfeeding!
PS: Latest research indicates that babies that are breast fed and spend their early months with their mothers breastfeeding, sleeping and being carried about more often are easier to discipline and grow up into confident caring and happy individuals. Taking off your baby from your breasts too early can give rise to insecurity in them. Ideally continue feeding till baby is two years old. And remember, never let a baby be left alone to cry. Pick her/him up as soon as you can.

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