August 5, 2021 5:30:17 pm
It is World Breastfeeding Week till August 7, and I can’t help but think of an image that had recently caught the world’s attention. The image was of Indian influencer Diipa Buller-Khosla wearing a glamorous yellow gown with a pair of breast pumps attached to it, taken at the annual Cannes Film Festival. She won praise for highlighting issues most first-time mothers face: judgement, shame, and the consequent anxiety over how they choose to feed their infant.
While breastfeeding is no doubt beneficial for both parties involved, it comes with intense scrutiny on mothers, with minimal support. My own experiences around breastfeeding were traumatic. Post childbirth I was told, like many other C-section mothers in India and perhaps world over, that I was not producing enough milk for my son. Add to that the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns meant I could not regularly go see a lactation consultant to fix his latch, at least in person.
View this post on Instagram
All I knew was that I had failed. That giving him formula milk was wrong. But most importantly, I certainly didn’t feel the bond that breastfeeding is supposed to establish between a mother and a child. All I felt was anxiety and fear as I would try and get him to latch in the early days.
Just two months in, and I could tell that direct feeding wasn’t working out. Both my son and I were struggling. At one point my husband suggested that I should stop breastfeeding our son altogether, because it was driving me to the point of insanity.
So, like many mothers, I too turned to pumping in the early weeks itself. And while there exists plenty of support for breastfeeding, fixing latch, and so-called supplements to boost ‘supply’, resources around exclusive pumping, especially in India, are just not as freely available.
Yes, there are several Instagram accounts, YouTube videos all ready to explain the process of pumping. But it is rarely presented as an option to women, perhaps the first one they can choose, even to those who can afford it. Pumping typically ends up being the last resort for many like me, as we realise that direct feeding is just not working out.
At home too, my decision to pump more often than direct feed was viewed with a lens of judgement and puzzlement. While pumping did save my breastfeeding journey, such was my fear of failure, that I put in place a grueling schedule of pumping and direct feeding.
I set myself daily targets, downloaded an app to keep track of how much I pumped, which milk was stored in which bottle, and pumped my nights and day away. I pumped seven times a day without fail for six months, terrified that dropping even one pump would impact supply.
For those who think pumping is the easy way out, here’s what my schedule was like:
Pump at 12.30 am in the night, then pick the baby up before he wakes up and dream feed, which is basically letting them feed while they sleep. Wash bottles and put them in steriliser so everything is ready for the next pumping session.
Wake up and pump again at 4.30 or 5 am. Wash bottles. If my son was awake, the nanny would feed him the pumped milk, which was earmarked for that period.
This was followed by an 8 am pumping session, an 11 am one, a 2 pm one, one at 5 pm and the final one at 8 pm. And yes, I would still keep trying to directly breastfeed my son, because somewhere I felt that pumping, despite all the results it was yielding, was an inferior method compared to directly feeding
Even though I had sort of mastered pumping by two months and weaned my son off formula, I felt inadequate. Never mind the amounts I was pumping, it still felt like a failure. And any session in which I pumped less, I was terrified and confused, because I didn’t know the reason. The lack of knowledge around exclusive pumping makes the job even harder.
For example, I didn’t know when I started that the white ‘valve’ in my pump parts was the most crucial piece of the puzzle. That even a tiny tear in this valve would destroy suction and limit output. Or that middle of the night pumps were crucial to building supply when I started out.
Or that I had to change valves every four weeks. Or that I should pump on a schedule. Or that the body takes time to respond to the pump and outputs get better as you go on. In fact, when I pumped in the early days and only got a disappointing 30-40 ml, it was like getting punched in the stomach.
And it doesn’t help that the pump itself comes with the worst set of instructions possible, which only leave women confused. But perhaps what would have helped the most was knowing in the early days itself that exclusive pumping is just as good as breastfeeding, that giving formula doesn’t mean you are harming your child, and it really is a choice that one can make.
The last one is perhaps the most important bit of information and it would have made life a lot easier for me and other women. Frankly, it is time we let go of the halo around exclusive breastfeeding and let mothers choose how they wish to feed their infants, be it breastmilk or formula.
📣 The above article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional for any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.