Last year, I had the honour of doing a mini-breastfeeding shoot and interview with the lovely Aloka of Wholesome Mamma on the blog for World Breastfeeding Week. This year, my hands are full with my own little milky face so I haven’t been able to do another shoot but I did put on some nice clothes (i.e. other than the PJs that I am living in most of the time these days!) and set up the camera for my husband to take a few photos of Kai and I breastfeeding and thought I’d share a little bit about our journey of breastfeeding so far.
Even though I educated myself – reading books, online forums and learning from other mamas – before Kai was born, it wasn’t smooth sailing for us from the get-go. Our first days were extremely painful for me and seemed to be really stressful for Kai. BUT, because I knew that this was not normal, I knew to seek help as quickly as possible. I knew that some pain in the early days is normal at the start of a session but not throughout a session. If there’s pain throughout a session of breastfeeding, it’s most likely a case of improper latching and so I tried and tried to correct our latch in every way I knew how, taking advice from friends and our midwives and yet the pain didn’t subside. Along with the pain in my perineum from the birth and exhaustion, having a painful breastfeeding experience was frustrating to say the least and something that I really wasn’t expecting. We had a homebirth, no interventions that might have affected our breastfeeding relationship, plenty of skin-to-skin time right after the birth, our latch was as good as possible so why was I in so much pain?
We decided to refer to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and after examining Kai, she showed us how Kai had a tongue-tie that was restricting his ability to latch on correctly. After doing our own research and seeking advice from our friends and family, we decided to have Kai’s tongue-tie snipped in a very quick laser procedure. The surgery, while very quick and painless was really difficult to watch. Robert had to hold Kai down while his mouth was held open and the procedure done and he screamed his way through it – not because it was painful but simply because it was so uncomfortable and obviously scary for him. The evening of the surgery, he cried like we’d never heard him cry before and all we could do was hold him close and let him get it out of his system. By the next day, he was okay but it still took us a good few weeks before we finally were comfortable breastfeeding and now everyday is better than the last. We are slowly but surely becoming experts and I have even nursed him in public spaces a couple of times – a truly liberating experience!
So while breastfeeding is totally normal and is the natural progression from nurturing your baby in the womb to nurturing him after birth, sometimes you might come across some hurdles and here’s my twopence for new mama’s:
- The time to learn about breastfeeding is during pregnancy or even before, not after the birth. If you are in India, there’s an incredible Facebook forum called Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers where you can learn so much from your peers. I would also highly recommend reading La Leche League’s book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. If you read only one book during pregnancy, let this be the one.
- Be prepared to seek professional help and be sure to budget for this contingency in advance so it does not cause any stress. Birth India has a service directory that you can refer to for IBCLCs and other Breastfeeding Support Professionals in your location.
- Do not panic. Clichéd as it may sound, trust your body. Just think about how it grew a small human being with eyebrows and everything. This body won’t suddenly give up on you. Trust it. Keep calm, keep close to your baby and keep latching on.
- Interventions during birth can interfere with breastfeeding so be aware of these consequences. Your care provider may not educate you on this so do your research.
- Many hospitals in Indian cities unfortunately are formula pushers. If you give birth in a hospital, insist on skin-to-skin right after the birth and don’t give in to the ‘top-up trap’. “Your baby is hungry,” they will say. “Your milk hasn’t come in,” they will say. In the first few days, you will produce colostrum. It will not be much but it will be enough and your baby really needs this incredible few drops of life-altering fluid. Breastfeeding works by demand and supply, and ‘top-ups’ or ‘supplements’ mess with that system.
- One of the best decisions I think that Robert and I took was give ourselves some alone time right after Kai was born. We loved this intimate time that we had as a family, getting to know Kai and figuring out this whole new life. If we struggled with breastfeeding, there weren’t a million voices or opinions around me to confuse things. There was quiet for me to listen to my instincts. There was privacy to be skin-to-skin with Kai if we needed it. It was blissful and I would recommend this to everyone. Of course, when my parents and Robert’s mum came to visit was blissful too but by then Kai and I were in sync with each other to a large extent and I really think that the alone time we had together in the first few weeks helped to establish that.
- I’m going to just quote Aloka on this last point because it gave me so much comfort and I often go back to it:
Babies come with instincts from the stone ages. They come rooting for the breast every time they feel hungry, upset, lonely, scared, or just want to be with mom. It doesn’t mean you have any issues with supply. Just lie down, put your feet up and nurse your baby. Know that taking care of a tiny baby is a huge job and everything else can wait.