‘Your baby is six months old now. Start solid food and cow milk for her from the bottle. Stop breastfeeding, it will make the baby skinny, not healthy,’ said a senior family member and everyone else nodded in support.
I was aghast. I had never heard someone speak ill about breast milk and in reply I just said ‘My baby is not a calf. It is human and I will feed my baby my milk till the time she is two or till the time I can give her as much as she needs.’ (Although I really wanted to say that you have no right to tell me to feed cow milk to my baby. It is my personal decision.)
I am Ekta Bhatnagar, a mother to a now 4 year old talkative, naughty, active and healthy girl and I breastfed her for 2 years and I am so proud about it. (The WHO and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding till 2 years. After 6 months the baby’s diet should receive complimentary food items along with breastfeed.)
There are many myths about breastfeeding a child, especially in India. Since we consider cows as holy animals, the cow’s milk is supposed to be of greater nutritional value than a human mother’s milk. Fair enough- cow milk does contain good nutrients but it needs to be given to children at the correct age, in a correct amount. I gave my child cow’s milk after she turned 2 years. Till that time I was happily breastfeeding her and giving her all the health benefits of my Breast Milk.
Even before I gave birth, I knew that I will be breastfeeding my child. I wanted to give her all the benefits of breast milk. Breastfeeding is also a special experience for a mother and child and the bonding between them grows with it. Thus I equipped myself with all breastfeeding essentials- a good breastfeeding pillow, nipple cream, nursing bras that are comfortable and gave me good support, a good nursing cover up (to use when nursing outside home). You could also buy breast pumps if you do find the need and are planning to exclusively breastfeed your child.
Little did I know that breastfeeding would not be so easy at first. When my child was born via an emergency C-section and brought to me for nursing, I had no clue as to how-to do that. The nurses helped me and my kid to get a latch and thankfully she was just a natural. She latched properly and started feeding as though she already knew what is to be done. This feeling of seeing your baby feed for the very first time brings in a mix of emotions inside you. I was overjoyed to see this little creature happily having her food while I felt weird at something like this happening, but was happy that I could provide enough milk to filmy baby’s tummy.
It does take time. You might not have enough milk initially to support your child. So did I. For the 3 days that I was in the hospital my child was given some formula feed at night because my milk was not enough. In a few days, with a proper diet, my body could manage to produce enough Breast Milk.
Yes, initially it does hurt a little bit and your breasts may feel sore but that is all normal. It doesn’t hurt very badly. If that happens then you should immediately tell your doctor. I always produced more milk than was required, but then I made sure that I fed on demand. Whenever my baby needed it, I was there for her- whether it was every 2 hours or every half an hour. In this manner, my breast milk also kept on building.
Breastfeeding is not an easy task. Of course, you don’t have to sterilise bottles or warm up the water, but breastfeeding isn’t that easy. I always felt hungry after I fed my baby. So I made it a point to always carry with me or keep on my bedside healthy snacks. At times my baby would cling to my breasts for the entire night and though she would sleep in between it left me with many sleepless nights. I would cringe for her to leave my breasts and was unable to understand why she became so needy at times. The doctors said it can be anything- from an emotional need to teething troubles to even growth spurts. But I was always available whenever she wanted to feed. Some days were easy when my baby breastfed every two hours, but the moment babies start growing up; their body demands more and more.
Breastfeeding is an emotional journey. For nine months, your hormones have been going haywire to support life inside you and now they are trying to get back to normal. Emotions can run wild. You are sleep deprived due to breastfeeding, your hormones are raging- thus irritation, anger, emotions are something that you will definitely be fighting with. These are different when the weaning process comes. That in itself is a hurricane task because you need to put all the extra food in your baby for her to grow and support, while limiting her breastfeed intake.
People say not to feed the baby if either of you are sick: If your baby is sick breastfeeding is the best medicine that you can offer. Your baby gets all the antibodies from your breast milk. Even if you are sick, it is not unhealthy to breastfeed, unless your doctor says so or if you have some serious health issues.
There are so many myths about breastfeeding. The one that I was told as to my baby would not be chubby and fat if I breastfeed her! So I need to give her formula or cow milk to support her growth. I didn’t need a fat baby- I just wanted a healthy baby!
Breast milk is the natural balance of all nutrients like carbohydrate, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. It is easier to digest and absorb by the baby. Colostrum or the breast milk produced just after delivery is the perfect first food for your baby as it is similar to receiving first vaccination. This colostrum is filled with antibodies and immunoglobulin A (IgA) and is also rich in protective white cells called leukocytes which defend against microbes. Thus breast milk boosts immunity. The chances of infection like diarrhoea, cholera are extremely low in breastfed babies.
I was also told to start formula milk since my baby was not sleeping through the night. I did not. Sleep depends on sleep patterns and growth of the baby. Sometimes teething issues also cause lack of sleep. So I just fed my baby my milk and had a lot of sleepless nights myself as long as I had the support of my family members.
I was told by a friend of mine to only eat bland foods and nothing spicy or junk. Though I ate home cooked meals, I did not compromise on my taste buds. I had my daily dose of ghee, milk, cheese, greens, proteins from non-vegetarian foods and legumes and occasionally treated myself to cakes and some deserts.
The only thing that will sail you through the breastfeeding journey is your commitment towards it no matter what, if you choose to EBF (Exclusively Breast Feed) your baby without the support of bottle or formula feed. People may oppose at times and you are going to have issues as a breastfeeding mom but it’s important that you never give up. Don’t let the negative opinions of others get to you.
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