I’m done breastfeeding GBM. Yippie. I stopped on the fourteenth of this month – that’s 18 months of being a dairy cow and drinking orange juice only. M is apparently going to buy me jewelry in honour of the services rendered and all.
I was very pro-breastfeeding till I actually started breastfeeding. When I was pregnant, M and I signed up for prenatal classes and a lactation consultant was one of the people who handled the sessions. She was very positive about breastfeeding and its benefits (obviously) and I was fully sold on the idea that breast is best and formula is evil. I also assumed that breastfeeding would be easy – I mean, it’s natural, right? All you have to do is position the baby correctly and it’s going to do its job. I read a lot about pregnancy, labour, and delivery but I didn’t read much on what comes afterwards. It’s like being ready for the wedding but not for the marriage.
M and I made a joint decision that I would breastfeed till at least a year and we wouldn’t give the baby any formula. So when the pediatrician asked the nurse to give the baby formula soon after birth – she assumed I wouldn’t want to feed since I’d had a C-sec after a very long labour and it was 11.15 PM when I delivered- M refused to let the nurse do so. A lot of C-sec babies are born slightly dopey because of the anesthesia but GBM was wide awake and already sucking on the cloth they’d wrapped her in. By the time I was brought into the room in my stretcher, she was ravenous.
I put her to my breast, feeling very maternal though I was so exhausted. She latched on immediately. But she was one hot-headed monkey. If she didn’t get what she wanted IMMEDIATELY, she’d turn red and scream like there was no tomorrow. She would scream so much that I was terrified of her. Because of the operation, I was not supposed to sit up, so it was really difficult to hold her while feeding. This meant that all the other well-meaning people in the room tried to help, only making GBM madder and madder.
I was sure I was going to be awarded World’s Worst Mother any second. The first night at the hospital was a nightmare. I really thought I’d go deaf with all the screaming she did. The duty nurses were pro-formula and one of them even told me that my body didn’t have the ability to feed my baby, so I should just give formula. I knew I was producing colostrum and that this was very essential for the baby, so I gave her a stony stare and said no. I had just been through a revelation of how wonderful my body was and its amazing endurance in those long hours of labour and I had new respect for it.
The next day, my gynec (who has my eternal gratitude), taught me how to breastfeed after chucking everyone out of the room and telling me that I just had to trust myself. I began to get comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding after that. I mean, at least, I gained some confidence that I wasn’t completely useless at it. Later, a nurse told me that the medical staff in the hospital was mighty impressed by my commitment to breastfeeding and that the duty doctors were all praising me. I felt like someone had given me the medal I felt I so deserved.
I’d never held a newborn or any kind of baby before GBM. I’m not one of those people who can pick up random babies and coochie-coo. I like kids but not ALL kids. I was afraid of handling GBM and I would quickly give her off to M or my mum to burp her every time I fed her. M was comfortable holding GBM the second she was born. I don’t know how but he just was. He was the one who bathed her when she was that tiny and knew by instinct just what to do.
The first month or so, GBM would want to feed every 1.5 hours. Day and night. And we were also idealistic parents who used only cloth nappies. This meant that she’d pee and poop while feeding, would have to be changed mid-way, get super-angry, and then feed with a vengeance. I was so sure I was going to die of exhaustion. If her feed time was a bit delayed, I’d have my clothes soaked in breastmilk and I’d have to go change. Not fun. It was impossible to go out anywhere because I was forever worried that she’d get hungry and I’d have to feed her in public – she wasn’t a quiet feeder and I was quite sure I’d never be comfortable feeding her without privacy.
After this period, we sort of settled down. I began to trust myself as a mother. I got comfortable carrying her, comforting her. Loving her. It was still exhausting but I was gaining confidence. I’d earlier thought I’d introduce her to solids after six months but around four months, I thought she was ready. She was showing interest in the food we were eating and was able to support her neck without any issues. When she was four and a half months old, I introduced her to raagi.
Now I thought this would give me a break from breastfeeding but introducing solids brought with it its own set of problems. By then, my mum had left and I had no help with the baby. So this meant that I’d have to cook the food, cajole GBM into eating it, and clean her up after that. And if she refused to eat, breastfeed her. It was another kind of exhaustion. GBM is actually not fussy at all (in retrospect) but she was my first experience with babies and every time she didn’t eat solids, I’d end up wondering if she’d EVER stop breastfeeding.
Once, I was just waiting for M to come home at six and relieve me because GBM had refused to eat and I was so tired. I heard his car come in and I was waiting for the door to open so I could just give her to him and take a break. I waited and waited but he didn’t come. I peeped out of the window and he was chatting with a neighbour. I felt unbelievably furious and I actually called him on his phone and asked him to come at once. But M who has developed Himalayan levels of patience after becoming a father didn’t get pissed at all. He told me to go if I wanted to and I went for a long walk and came back feeling peaceful.
Around six months or so, I bought a breast pump because we were going to Chennai and I wanted to be able to go out and meet my friends. This was a good decision and I did have some baby-less outings. But I never used the pump much when we were back home. It just seemed to be too much of a pain to wash and sterilize for every feed. It was just additional work for me. I also felt too pressurized every time I pumped – maybe I’d have become more comfortable with it if I’d done it often enough, who knows.
Anyway, at around 8 months or so, GBM took to solid foods very well and I started dropping feeds. Just after she turned a year old, we traveled to Delhi (I was part of Bookaroo, the children’s books festival) and I would feed her once in the morning (if she was awake when I left) and once at night. Prior to this, she would wake up frequently at night because she was teething and demand feeds but on the advice of the pediatrician, we gave her sugar water instead of breastmilk – she’d have a good dinner, so it wasn’t hunger, just the need to chew on something!
Finally, when she was about 15 months old, I dropped the bedtime feed and would feed her only once a day. As she began to like and eat more and more solid foods, I reduced the time she spent on feeding. At around 17 months, I started joking to her about how she was ‘chumma chumma’ feeding and she’d laugh because she knew it was true – she didn’t really need it but was feeding just for comfort. And finally, on the 14th of this month, I told her that the time for ‘chumma chumma’ had ended because she was now a big girl and she can drink mango milkshake instead. Woohoo. She thought that was funny too and is happy with her straw bottle now.
I was able to breastfeed GBM for so long probably because I work from home. I’m pretty sure I’d have given up a long time ago if I had to work outside and pump in office spaces. I also had no medical issues or problems with supply. And though GBM started teething quite early and was a biter in the initial stages, she quickly gave it up after I told her firmly biting was not on.
In retrospect and after reading the experiences of other mothers, I don’t believe formula is evil or shouldn’t be given to the baby at all at any stage. There are plenty of formula-fed kids who seem to be doing just fine.
Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t know how beneficial it has been – my daughter has never been ill for more than a couple of days and never seriously -is that because of the immunity I gave her by feeding? Or is it because she takes after me in this department? I almost never catch a cold, so maybe it’s just her genes. I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s been a tough journey and one that has made me laugh even harder every time someone says women are of the weaker sex. Son, you’ve no idea what you are talking about. Now, where’s my vodka?