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“Is formula milk good for infants?” A question that haunts new mothers who need to use it. A mother’s experience on guilt-free feeding.
My baby shower was a surprise, planned by some close friends and my husband. I’m not one for big parties – I enjoy one-to-one conversations more. But this get together was different, it was very special. Very.
After everyone left, I opened the gifts excitedly. There were the usual baby clothes and toys, and then there was this huge box. We live in Bombay and for those of you who do, you know space is a luxury. Fitting in yet another big box in an almost zero storage house? It was not a task I was going to enjoy; most definitely not in the eighth month of my pregnancy. The huge box had a huge baby feeding bottle sterilizer. I got a little irritated with my best friend; why did she gift me this? I was going to breastfeed. I may require a sterilizer at some point, but right now how the hell do I store this? I stuffed it into one of the bed drawers, into a corner.
My daughter was born in July, last year. In the peak of the Bombay monsoon. It was a caesarean. Forty minutes after the surgery she was brought to me for her first feed. Nature never ceases to amaze me. How does an hour-old infant, one which has been inside a dark and cosy space, suddenly know how to suckle? She latched on beautifully on the first feed, the nurses gasped and congratulated me. Like it was a personal victory for them. I felt exhausted and slept off.
When I woke up it was time for her next feed, and an attending nurse had left a prescription next to my bed. On a small chit of paper was scribbled the name of an ayurvedic powder. One that helps mothers lactate better. I didn’t quite understand the urgency for this since I had just fed her once. I was told that this powder is time-tested and really helps improve lactation, an initial problem with a lot of new mothers. I was also given a long list of dos and donts about my diet.
It’s strange you know, how the focus from the mother shifts completely to the baby. And the goal is only one – to be able to breastfeed.
It’s strange you know, how the focus from the mother shifts completely to the baby. And the goal is only one – to be able to breastfeed. No one is really bothered about the pain of stitches, sleep deprivation, the innumerable overwhelming feelings that a new mother goes through. Not even the mother herself.
In the first week of feeding my daughter, it was very clear that my lactation was very poor. I was also going through post-partum depression and this inability to feed did not help. I had tried everything to help improve my lactation, but hadn’t succeeded. I had begun giving her two to three feeds a day of infant formula. Each feed of the infant formula was accompanied with a lot of guilt. And a lot of tears. My sleep deprivation increased and my depression worsened.
The first question you’re asked in this country, if you have had a baby is, “Is the baby drinking your milk?” “No she’s not, actually my lactation is very poor”, I’d say. I would get a lot of shrugs and sighs in response. A lot of well-meaning friends suggested all sorts of remedies. I tried everything from different foods, to home-made powders, to medicines. Nothing worked. We would go to public gatherings and clinics and hear no end about how fantastic breast milk is, and how infant formula is just a new age fad. “Nothing can replace mother’s milk, my dear, nothing”. “ We have decided to breast feed our baby exclusively for a year”. “Oh, you must give it a shot again”. I would come back home and feel really small, feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. I wondered why formula milk was looked down upon.
My day would begin with the fear of not being able to feed, followed by an exhausting time in trying to feed, to a frustrating time in sitting and expressing milk for hours together and ending up with the guilt of not succeeding at any of these.
This very exhausting and painful cycle went on for a month. My day would begin with the fear of not being able to feed, followed by an exhausting time in trying to feed, to a frustrating time in sitting and expressing milk for hours together and ending up with the guilt of not succeeding at any of these. I had no confidence in my ability to bring up a healthy baby. I had, at some level of my psyche, decided that I was not a good mother. Women create this vicious cycle of self-blame. And perpetrate it further. However, they forget that if the cycle must be broken, then only they can break it.
At my daughter’s 45-day health check-up, I was in for a pleasant surprise. By now, my daughter was fully on infant formula feeds, as my lactation had completely stopped. She had gained more weight than she should have. I stared hard at the weighing scale, then at her paediatrician, and then at her. I couldn’t believe it! How did she put on weight on infant formula?
That’s the day I decided, no more guilt. If I was going to bring up this baby on infant formula, then I was going to make each feed full of love, joy and pride. A mother is a mother is a mother. And no one can take that away from me. Not even myself. I was going to break this vicious cycle of guilt and stress. For good. When it was time for her next feed, I got up, sterilized her bottle, played some groovy music and talked to her while I fed her. She loved the feed, but I loved it more.
A mother is a mother is a mother. And no one can take that away from me. Not even myself. I was going to break this vicious cycle of guilt and stress.
My daughter is nine months old. She’s a healthy and more importantly, a very happy baby. Her developmental milestones are advanced and she has some fantastic energy levels. Her immunity is building slowly and she has had her share of falling sick, like all the other babies around. Her weight gain is perfect and so are her other growth parameters. But this didn’t happen overnight; it has been a patient nine-month journey, one that is full of hard work, perseverance and belief. A journey I am very grateful for, and very proud of.
Here are a few things I’d like to tell new mothers, going through a similar journey.
When people exclaim now, “Wow, your daughter is super energetic”. I tell them that yes she is, and that she is exclusively formula fed.
The bottle sterilizer, is one of my most cherished possessions today. It has made this journey easier. Bottle feeding is very time consuming. It comes with the whole paraphernalia of washing- sterilizing- washing-sterilizing. And then repeating it again. The sterilizer takes away a huge chunk of this time-consuming chore. I love it. I am thankful for it. Except, when we travel, I can’t carry it. The issue is the same. It takes up too much space.
Image of a baby drinking milk via Shutterstock
My name is Vidyashree Rai. I live in Mumbai, India. I am 33 years old
Completely relate to your story. For me the worst experience was interacting with the Pediatricians coz the ones I found were so rude and discouraging that it was a constant struggle to find the right one for my daughter. Also, emotional support is needed so badly during this period but few family members realize it. An experience which is supposed to be happy turns into a disturbing one 🙁
Absolutely love what you’ve written. Having gone through the same experience from day one of being a mother, from the physical pain of trying to extract milk to the emotional trauma of guilt and inadequacy, now when I see my healthy child I feel it was all pointless. I wonder why women even ask what the child was fed.
I loved your story. My story was similar too! I managed to breastfed my baby till 10 months. Initially she was breastfed. Then after 3 months she refused to latch on. I shifted to becoming a pumping mom. Struggled with it and made peace with it till she turned ten months. After that I raised my hands and switched to formula. I wasn’t ready to go on with pumping milk any more. I wanted myself back 🙂
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