What was the World Health Organisation (WHO) thinking?

12 Aug

So as we all know WHO is on a rampage about promoting EBF.( If you do not know the full form of EBF, stop right there. This article is not for you).  I was handed pamphlets and what not, and thoroughly being educated about EBFing throughout my pregnancy. And I REALLY wanted to do it. Like REALLY. So I read up on it like crazy. (Don’t even start with the it’s natural why did you read about it, angle. Don’t even)

So now my baby is around four months + and I have successfully been able to EBF till now. And no this is not a gloating article, NO. I hope it doesn’t sound like one.  I just had to share how this journey has been for me so far. I need to say this out loud, the “support”, appreciation and innumerable BIG pats on the back that an EBFing mother, or any mother for that matter, deserves is, something I don’t see around me at all. She is to say the least, terribly, under appreciated.  Forget appreciation, instead she is also judged, heavily. Being an Indian, we have the custom of having a lady for the first 40 days after birth (which is also a period of seclusion) who is there to take care of the new mother, I don’t know what she is called, or if she has a special name. but she is here to give you exclusive care  .I keep hearing about cultures where mothers don’t get any such grace period, and how they have little to no help right after having a baby. That sounds terribly sad. However, I , being in india, did have a lot of physical help. (I am grateful for it)

The key word here being physical.  There are people to do the dishes, wash clothes, cook etc etc. “Physical” help which is of course a very vital part of mental health, if you are too exhausted it will most definitely affect your mind. That being said, I think , for new mothers, it is important that they get the adequate mental support, as much as the physical help everyone keeps offering. Or am I asking for too much. The minute a woman steps into motherhood, in any form, she is subjected to constant scrutiny. Constant intense scrutiny. Nothing is ever good enough, and this begins from the hospital. From the nurses in the hospital. I had extensively read about EBFing and even met with a lactation consultant before baby and then she routinely visited after. I had heard horror stories of cousins and sister in laws about how they gave up BFing before even beginning, and I didn’t want this to happen to me. This is my layman’s take on the importance of mental support for this crucial face for a mother.

  1. Don’t belittle it as “natural” and something everyone has done for ages.

The biggest problem with all things related to motherhood is , it has been going around for ages, and everyone from the street sweeper to Gwyneth Paltrow has a baby through the same mechanisms. But the point is no matter how many women have done all of this it is the first time for this particular woman. And yes, not the first time in the world, but it is tough. Coming to EBFing, it hasn’t been around for ages. People never fed colostrum, never had the intense pressure of “Exclusive” thrust upon them till now. Exclusive is not easy, so belittling it to something supposedly everyone is doing and calling it “natural” is not helping anyone. Yes it is natural, yes it is free, but it is NOT EASY

  1. I had a very painful experience BFing. It may not be the same for everyone, but at least largely BFing first time mothers have a very tough time. Now what comes into picture is “pain” threshold. My pain threshold is poor, and I am not ashamed to say that. I am not anyone who earns a living depending on my pain threshold. So please don’t say the horrible statements “she can’t  even take that much of a pain? ” it’s not a little bit, its horrifying pain. The only thing that can beat it is of course, labor pain. Don’t even get me started on that.

Here I digress to say how to survive the horrifying initial pain. Bite through it. Yes. That’s it. End of advice. No ointment, do this apply that, its wrong latching . no! It isn’t wrong latching, no matter what your lactation consultant aunty tells you. If you are an FTM, 90% chances are it will hurt like hell. My only words of advise, are , Watch a lot of TV, first 40 days (if you are in seclusion, and you are not allowed to read/watch TV, like some of us were, all the best. God save you!) and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel is very very long, and after 9 harrowing months it is not a tunnel you are looking forward to, I know. All I can say is I survived it, and I am a very low pain threshold person, so you can too. There have been many days, where I have been on the verge of giving up, but somehow I survived. And during these crucial phases, the 40 day lady should ideally tell you, you are doing a great job girl, keep it up. But what mine did, and what usually they do, is give us those judging looks. In spite of the fact that my doctor was very happy with my baby’s weight gain and in spite of the fact that I was always ALWAYS feeding, she had to say how I was “timing” my feeds and I should remember that all the milk is FOR the baby. Yes exactly, she was there to “help”, and I was pretty sure if I had the energy in me I would have killed her.

Here, I would like to add another statement, yes “mother’s milk is best”. But sometimes while seeing the extremities we have to undergo to get it done, and if you think you are losing your mind, just supplement. Don’t kill yourself over it. Yes there, I said it. Try your best, don’t give up too fast though. But your sanity is also important. For one, I wasn’t bfed (at all) and I turned out OK.

At least where I come from, all the help you can get is only physical. There is absolutely zero mental support, everyone has to judge you. At every step, always. If the baby as much as sobs, you are, almost definitely starving her. So your choice to EBF will be questioned always throughout. You wonder why the , you chose , this path. Only to blamed for everything that your baby does, if her poop is green (which is natural), you will be asked about why you aren’t having enough rice. Do you even have enough milk, with that disgusted look on their face.

So today I took my mother to the dentist leaving my 4 month old with my husband for an hour. My husband can easily handle our baby. Not to mention it was for hardly one and a half hour, and it wasn’t for vanity reasons, it was so that I needn’t have to carry my baby to the dentist. YET, the min, I returned my kaamwaali had to say how my baby STARVED. Needless to say I lost it. And when I lost it , I was asked why I had to respond to all these “silly” stuff. At least the people who I pay to work for me shouldn’t be judging me (keep dreaming!). So if I was supplementing my baby, of course, I wouldn’t be starving her even if I was away for an hour. So what was my mistake? Yes of course that I am  EBFing. That I chose that path and then decided to step away for an hour.

Word of advise here, you need to leave your kid with someone who can handle kids.  the key word being HANDLE. Trust is a given. So someone whom you trust AND can handle children. children cry out of boredom, they cry because they are sleepy, and within an hour of feeding most babies at 4 months WILL NOT Be hungry. So if the person you decide to leave your kid with cannot rock a baby to sleep, or play with him/her, you are going to be called back in 10 mins, saying she/he is hungry, when she/he may not be. My husband is someone who can handle kids, so though, my silly kaamwali thought I left my baby for “vanity” (btw, everyone is just waiting for a mother to turn vain, to call you a BAD mother), I was NOT called back in 10 mins because of a wailing baby. But as long as you are EBFing, you will not be able to stay away, without having that massive burden on your shoulders of having starved your child thrust upon you. And because BFing in public is NEVER easy, most mothers, if they can, just stay at home put. But of course I couldn’t, I had to travel a lot to “show” my baby to ageing great grand parents and family members. Which means get lot of nursing covers, and try your best, to go to places with child care rooms.  I spent a bomb on these, especially because I chose air travel for even the smallest routes, and even if I was judged on this , I didn’t care.

My intention in writing this article is to SUPPORT women who are struggling even when they have lot of physical help around including mothers and aunts and other help. Who get too much advise, who get discouraged from EBFing, because they are blamed for everything or because it is too difficult.

The first 40 days is the toughest when it comes to EBF. Because the baby is tiny and your body is recovering from a major physical ordeal. Baby needs to feed constantly. And you just want to sleep. But you cant. You cant sleep at night, or day. All I can say, is , please don’t compare yourself with those million women who did it before you, and how you are too weak that you are finding it difficult No you aren’t, you deserve a very HUGE pat on your back and a big warm hug for even trying. After 9 testing months to have another 40 days of this. And I need to specifically add that, this hasn’t been done for millions of years. Colostrum wasn’t fed to babies till recently. Its various antibody medicinal properties are being hailed, and God bless. But feeding colostrum is a very tough act, and when you add the word exclusive to colostrum, then you will be in lot of pain. So if the older generation, doesn’t get it, it’s because they were never asked to exclusively feed colostrum. In India, you get physical help, try to get mental support too, and mostly you won’t get it from your family. Unless you have young cousins who just have been through it. That’s the benefit of friends, the family that you chose, they are from your generation, they are people who won’t judge you, they probably had babies recently, as against your family, who probably can’t remember a thing about their struggles 20 plus years back. There are also lot of groups and online forums for those lucky ones who can and are allowed to access internet in the 40 day period . if nothing else, I am here to support you. You go girl!

If you have a lenient family, get a TV in your room, chances are they won’t allow that., but you could try. Get a good set of (non humorous movies if you had a c section) to watch while b fing. In fact you can start collecting this during your last months of pregnancy. So that you don’t feel like it’s never ending. Because believe me first 40 days you will be at it 24 hours of the day.

The night feeds, and the sleepless nights. What helped me? One word answer: Entourage. And no, you don’t have to stop reading if you don’t know what it means. It’s one of the best things to happen to TV and the best thing to happen to a sleep deprived me. A series, whose seven seasons  hand held me through the sleepless nights.

The 40 day bright light shining end of tunnel. Once this never ending 40 days is over, things will look good. For one, the lady who has come to “help” (whom you have been praying to leave), will leave. You can step out. You can walk around. Your BFing frequency will reduce substantially. SUBSTANTIALLY. The next challenge is however about staying close to your baby, for the next 6 months.

I have 2 more months left to cross the WHO mark. And I pray that I survive, though the struggled have reduced now, i have to wakeup at least 4 times every night, and I have everyone in every home I have ever been to,  telling me that my baby is hungry always all the time. and I still can’t step out anywhere without thinking a 100 times over, vanity or otherwise.

For one, what this journey has taught me is to not JUDGE any mother. Ever. I survived this ordeal, they may not be able to. It could be a million reasons, which is incomparable. Every mother has their own set of reasons and their own set of “individual” struggles. And every mother, is a GOOD mother, EBF or otherwise. Every single one of them.

This is dedicated to four wonderful women in my life, who have helped me through this journey, Zareen, Lavanya , Sreeja, and my dear Rakhi. Four amazing mothers, not amazing, but PERFECT mothers.  

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