Until a few days back, Payal Bhattacharya thought her biggest challenge would be to labour in a mask and deliver a baby in the middle of a lockdown. And then, the baby arrived and the real challenges began. Just a few generations ago, breastfeeding was the norm, the most natural way to feed a newborn. Somewhere down the line, it became more political, with many women feeling like they were set up to fail even before they could begin. This Breastfeeding Awareness Week, new mother Payal writes about her first experiences, and how the earliest days are make-or-break for a successful breastfeeding relationship.
I am only 11 days postpartum but my breastfeeding journey began a long, long time ago. It started when my sister had her first born 7 years back & I saw, first hand, how passionately she felt about breastfeeding. She had an underweight baby who needed to be supplemented with formula to bring up his birth weight. My sister got her 2kg baby home & took a tough call. She threw out the formula & decided to give her body & her baby the chance to do it’s work (All with bated breath because there were so many ways she knew this could backfire!) Thankfully, her gut worked & her baby was soon on the right track in terms of weight gain.
This set the stage for me when I delivered recently.
I had read up about breastfeeding while I was pregnant & decided I knew enough to start off on the right track. I read up about galactagogues (lactation supplements, shatavari etc) & after some research, decided against it until I faced an actual problem. I reminded myself that demand leads to supply! I knew the importance of skin to skin, golden hour, liquid gold etc. We even got a doula on board to make sure there was someone on our team to help with the baby’s latch & giving us the first uninterrupted hour we had dreamed of.
Cut to the actual labour, and the most dramatic few hours of my life. All I remember doing was screaming at the top of my lungs & begging the doula & my husband to just let me sleep. It turned out to be an entirely drug free vaginal birth even though I had hoped to have laboured in water. Life (and covid compliance) threw those plans out of the window too!
I was exhausted.
A few hours later, my little girl with a head full of hair arrived & I was ready for my first special hour with her. But life had other plans. She was rushed to be observed because her lungs weren’t cooperating. If that wasn’t stressful enough, add to that the anxieties of having given birth in the middle of a pandemic & being exposed to an entire hospital of staff & patients. I did not panic.
I kept wondering when I’ll get my chance while being sutured up & bleeding away. Thankfully my husband was with her. But 2 hours later I was informed she needed to be sent to the NICU. I’m not entirely sure what gave me the strength then, but I still did not panic. I just decided to do what I thought was best for my little girl. I decided to pump as much or as little colostrum I possibly could & send it her way through a tube! In my first session I got 1ml !!! Half of which was obviously wasted in transferring into that little syringe. 90 minutes later I pumped again. This time there was half an ml. I pumped a 3rd time with the promise that in a couple of hours the head paediatrician will arrive & give us an update. When I still didn’t receive any updates, I marched up to the NICU in my freshly sutured state & requested to see my baby.
“Covid times Ma’am…. We cannot allow it!”
I was then informed that if she takes her next feed well, she will be sent back to the room to her parents. I went back to the room, waiting! It had been a long grueling night but I was at peace. I kept reminding myself of the repercussions of stress on my milk supply. The moment I decided to take a quick nap to be a little rested for my babies arrival, she arrived! A whole 11 hours after she was born, on a tummy full of formula (22ml I was told) I found her in my arms, no doula or Lactation consultant in sight!
While I was marveling at this tiny human we had created I noticed a few minutes later that she was sticking out her tongue & crawling towards my chest. Here’s where my maternal instinct kicked in & I tried to latch her on, & what a natural she turned out to be!!! My little Nan-dini was a Pro.
We spent the next 3 days just nursing constantly without a break. I requested the hospital staff to not supplement her with formula, but just allow me to feed. And though this meant I didn’t get a moment’s rest, I was happy!
What might have also worked in our favour & the silver lining to Covid was that there were no other voices giving me a thousand instructions. No one to tell me I’m not making enough or ask why the baby was crying or make me doubt myself, my body & my little girls abilities to make sure she gets enough. I would have drowned out the noises anyway, but it helped to not have to tune anyone out! My husband had been listening to my eagerness to breastfeed for a few months now & he trusted me entirely!
He woke up every 30 minutes to bring me our crying newborn so I could nurse, never once questioning if we were doing the right thing or wondering if she’s still hungry!
We came home on day 3 & we’ve been figuring out our rhythm. Bleeding stitches, uterine contractions, pubic pain, pelvic floor pain, aching hips, engorged breasts & all the world’s problems can’t stop me from feeding my baby with joy! I haven’t been able to sit in 11 days. But I have somehow managed to lie down and feed. I stay mega alert in order to not squish my baby, because the alternative is not feeding her at all. The day we think we’ve figured out a pattern, she’s unpredictable all over again. But we’re doing well. Me, her & her father!
He, who is turning out to be the key resource for me to have started & continue my breastfeeding journey without a hitch. I have not recovered yet & am focusing all of my energy on feeding her. But I can do that only because he is an equal caregiver. He burps her, changes her diapers, swaddles her & puts her to sleep. We have no hired help but my amazing parents are here. My mom helps with any diaper change we ask her for with open arms. My father cooks delicious food for us everyday. When my sister visits, she looks on proudly while I breastfeed her niece & I think she knows, I could never have done it without her perseverance 7 years ago!
Co-founder of Tura Turi and brand new mum, Payal Bhattacharya is currently reacting to sounds that may or may not be her baby crying.