Extended Breastfeeding- My journey of making the best of this free gift! (Preeti Birla Nair | Mumbai | June 2016)
I share my story here, not as a prescription on the motherhood journey, but as a live instance for those who are thinking of or are curious to know and explore the experience of extended breastfeeding (beyond one year). I am sure you will choose the path that appeals best to you.
5 April 2011: A few weeks after my daughter Radhika was born, in a meeting with my Lactation Consultant Effath Yasmin, I was asking her; “So Yasmin, what is the recommended time to nurse, is it 3 months or six months?” She had simply said, “When your baby’s all needs are fully met, she will wean on her own”.
26 July 2016: Radhika is more than five years old and she continues to nurse – maybe once a day or sometimes once in 3-4 days; for a few seconds. On other days, she is happy just checking in on her “mamma dudus” to see how they are doing, give them a big hug- her most adorable friends!
To me the simple logic intuitively appealed- Why do I need to put a stop to the nursing process when I am certain I will not have a nursing teenager! Do I need to interfere with a natural process? Can I trust this natural process and let go of my urge to control? I did not need to intervene for my baby start talking, start walking or even start nursing, then why is it me who decides when to stop nursing. I am sure when the time is right, her body and mind will lead her to wean away, I thought. At the same time there were few doubts too, honestly, it seemed like a long long long long way …and I wondered if I would have the wear with all to continue nursing, especially given that I would be resuming full time work by the time she is six months old…. I decided not to worry too much about it and just take a day at a time. Here was a chance for me to give the best nutrition possible for my baby’s body and mind, and I wanted to make the best of this opportunity…that’s it!
If I can call my aunt’s sister on the other end of the world for the best crib, if I can travel in horrid traffic to get her the best clothing, surely I can try to give the best nutrition available for her body and mind, sitting right inside me for as long as she needs. (and in a sense it also allows me to continue to be lazy!)
Of course this has not been a very easy journey, but honestly it has not been that difficult either, once I was internally convinced and also received the right support. This has been a journey which primarily involved 3 Ps (the management jargons don’t leave easily!) Planning, Persuasion and Perseverance.
The first crucial phase which helped to later sustain extended breastfeeding was the transition back to work. I had a meeting with my lactation consultant Yasmin weeks in advance, to plan the transition. This helped me be prepared at my end and also to become familiar with some of the unexpected situations that may arise. Without this preparation, focusing on breastfeeding can become quite a challenge as the work front transition also requires a lot of time and effort after the maternity break.
My consulting sessions with her helped me to identify the type of breast pump I needed. I gave myself enough time to familiarise with using this machine. I could deal with the initial phase of hardly being able to express few drops of milk as I was still at home. (this phase can demotivate any mother, if it’s too close to the time of joining work, which causes stress, which in turn impacts expressing efforts) By the time I was ready for work, I was at ease expressing and had already stocked up the freezer with ‘Reserve Milk Supply’!
I had also pre-selected a day care close to my office, which allowed mums to come in and nurse the child. While the initial months of nursing were manageable, I did have to negotiate my way through with the day care when it came to nursing Radhika beyond 1 year. The toddler section had certainly not experienced mums coming to nurse. This might sound strange, but here is when my daughter came to my rescue – there was a night when I spoke to her in bed about my challenge of continuing feeding her in the afternoon as the caretakers were finding it an additional task to put her to sleep after she woke up to nurse…Since the next day, till the day I stopped the afternoon nursing session, Radhika slept through all her afternoon feeds! I would tip-toe to her mattress, tuck myself next to her, she would nurse in her sleep, while I found my solace with her and went back to work refreshed from our quiet time together. I chose to do this every afternoon, because I had learnt that having mothers milk externally while provides the nutrition, takes away the suckling opportunity which has its own benefits both in terms of physical and psychological development. (This and many other such facts was shared by my LC which started strengthening my conviction to nurse by baby as long as she chose to)
The work transition plan also included a session with my peers and seniors at work – to talk about my nursing plan. This helped build expectations, so I could excuse myself from office, during my lunch break. This preparation included me being comfortable with myself – to utter the word ‘nursing’ / ‘breastfeeding’ , in front of my Boss, or other male colleagues too – especially as I was working in a male dominated work environment. So I said to myself, “Madam, is your discomfort with the words more important, or feeding your baby what she deserves and can get only from you?” The answer was obvious.
I realised that when I communicated my requirement with conviction, I received the support I needed be it from my office, the day care or even at home with my husband or parents. Many times, with our cultural mindset, we end up giving our needs the last priority. We also create the myth of being indispensable at work and feel guilty of stating our own needs – which may need a bit of adjustment and allowance from others. This was a new way for me to approach being at work too. I had to remind myself to not burn myself out in trying to fit into this image of a SuperMom in some cereal and detergent ads. I trained myself to seek help both at work and at home and to forgive myself if I fell short of my perfect standards. This helped me create time for my baby. Our nursing sessions in the evening and nights helped me reconnect and bond with my little one and de-stressed me too. It also meant catching up with work at odd hours after baby slept – was certainly not complaining about that!
I also learnt to plan my working day better, with greater focus at work and realised how some of the corridor talks or unplanned events eat up time. The time I created for myself, I used to express milk at office, once or twice a day, or sometime none. (while not the ideal way, but my office had decent wash rooms for me to feel comfortable to express milk). I used to store the milk in the office refrigerator and then transfer it to the Day care fridge in the evening for them to use for Radhika the next day. Expressing milk at night time, which over a period of time became an easy practice was used to keep the freezer stock. This was my best decision as there were many days when I was too tired, caught up with work and then, I did not have to worry about her milk supply for the next day!
By now I was so convinced that I was doing the right thing for me and my baby, that one day at work in our ritual of sharing a ‘health or safety moment’ before a long meeting starts, I decided to share about the importance of breastfeeding in a room of 7-8 men – and I was the only woman. To my pleasant surprise we had a good 10 min conversation on it! Ok so let’s add a fourth P – Passion!
Co-sleeping helped me have restful nights too. I was grateful that with this decision, I did not have to get out of bed and sit upright every time to feed her. It meant rolling over to her in my sleep so she continues to suckle in her sleep!
Challenges: The answer was in the resolve and in being creative
And surely there were challenges – like any other aspect of life!
Other sources of my support apart from Yasmin were books on breastfeeding, stories of women around the world who have been in very challenging circumstances as compared to me and yet were committed to breastfeeding. Also becoming a member of the La Leche League (LLL) library helped me borrow books that were relevant to my stage of nursing relationship. While I could not attend too many group support sessions, but the LLL group meetings is a great place to share joys and challenges with like-minded nursing moms which also goes beyond learning about feeding to other aspects of attachment parenting.
My Lactation Consultant Yasmin who offers a myriad of resources for mothers like me including running a LLL Library as a part of her NGO initiative also offered a workshop - the parenting communication skills workshop which opened up a whole new world of communicating with children, very different from the notions I held earlier.
The other challenge has been to deal with questions and disapproving looks and body language from some of the close family or friends who may not be alignment to this approach of extended feeding. It has at times led me to re-assess my own decision, which more often than not would fly away the moment I would see Radhika comforting herself after her hard day’s work (if you think being a toddler is an easy job, think again! So many new things being thrown at your face each moment and coming to terms with so much of discovery is no child’s play!). From logical explanations, to skirting the issue to laughing it off, I’ve tried to be creative and compassionate and at times abrasive too!
Over a period of time, by the time Radhika was two, the demand for nursing started reducing. Of course by now, even for me this had become such a natural and integral part of our life that it clearly did not feel like an “additional task”. It was part of our play time, bed time, morning fun etc. Then suddenly, there was a phase where she went back to frequent nursing. As soon as I would get back from work, she would want to nurse. Her garden time also shortened and she would get back and nurse again and then again before going to bed. At one point I started getting irritated with this behaviour, even my husband mentioned that maybe it is time now to end – anyway I had done ‘more than enough’! I decided to call Yasmin to talk it through who allowed me a deep space of acknowledgment from her. Here is what I realised after my call with her, based on my reflection to some of her well-directed questions – What I was calling ‘frequent nursing’ was hardly that – yes, she seemed to need me more, but not like she was nursing for 15- 20 mins, each time…it turned out to be barely 5 mins! I noticed that I had been quite busy at work of late and this was Radhika’s way of saying - Mamma I miss you and need you – how beautiful. I also realised that my irritation was placed in the pace that I had unconsciously allowed myself to get into (the wannabe SuperMom was getting the better of me!). So I took a deep breath, relaxed, let go and loved my baby and our nursing moments were of course a part of it.
And I am ME too..not just MOMMY!
And then there are times - few and far in between though…when a No was a No. When I have just not been in the mood to be giving in, when I really was dead tired…by now Radhika was old enough to understand Mamma’s firm No. I would let her know how I felt at that time and that today was no dudu time, or I would make it Dad’s turn to put her to bed with a storybook.
I had decided that upto the age of three I would not spend the night away from her – and that’s how things turned out for me. I could live up to that – at times it meant that the entire family went on my business trip, but what the heck! My company supported this arrangement but after I had asked for what I wanted without making my own assumptions.
Post that I was ready to go out - the first time, a long way off, to Houston, for ten days on business. Radhika did great, along with her dad. She did not cry for her favourite time, did not miss mama dudu – and the moment I was back, it was back to our ‘usual routine’! The words of advice from Yasmin turned good friend by now rang true that your baby senses your need and will support you when you really need it. I saw that happening for real. I had of course prepared her well in advance of my long absence and so she knew what to expect. (that should lay to rest the common myth of breastfed babies being clingy!)
After this there have been innumerable trips, on work, training and even a girl gang goa trip! Only to come back to the tight hug from her- I guess these little away times helped us both!
Memorable Feeding moments:
Here are few of the many memorable moments, which I may have missed, if I did not continue our fun feeding time as she grew. While I am writing this I am also thinking, its like, I put in all the hardwork to get the feeding rhythm right, the positions, the expressing, the night time sessions etc. and what a shame had I given up just when it started becoming fun and easy ! - where we play more than drink, where we only have night time swigs, rather than full meals, where we hear the little one tell you what all does “dudu” taste like (honey, strawberry – and my favourite- it tastes like YOU Mamma !), where their imaginations run wild – from ringing the ‘door-bell’, to climbing the ‘mountain’, from purring there and rolling in laughter, to having naming ceremonies for her two best friends, to having a feeding session under the waterfall – and I could go on..You also get to know how close she feels to her friends based on whether she wants to share mamma dudu with the friend or not!!
A month or so ago, when Radhika did not ask to be nursed even though we were doing Storytime in bed together at night, I thought to myself the next morning..looks like this beautiful journey is nearing its end and my eyes were moist. Would our closeness be this close I wondered, sure it would, in a different language though, I assured myself.
I felt proud of myself and very fulfilled and satiated that I chose to go all the way… and had amazing people and life circumstances that supported me.
And as if the universe was watching this quiet moment of mine.. I got a call from my close friend to watch the rehearsal of their new play they were opening – my jaw dropped when I heard what was the play about. It was a play on Hirkani – the brave mother in Shivaji’s kingdom who despite all odds, climbed down a dangerous cliff to breastfeed her little son. And as I watched the play, with me as the only audience, I rejoiced and celebrated my journey. On my way back home, I got a call, checking if I could write my experience on extended breastfeeding! From just having watched a story, to writing one of my own! What can I say! Life Is Beautiful and I am grateful.
Extended Breastfeeding Credits:
Thank you Yasmin, Rakesh, my parents, my home-help, my Organization and…. Radhika…and my nursing shawl!
Extended BF – the lazy mom’s joy
Tips from my experience:
Preeti Birla Nair is also a freelance HR consultant, Life Coach and Playback Theatre practitioner. She was working with BG Group, during the phase of her journey described here. She is more than happy to share her experience with natural birthing and extended breastfeeding and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
You can reach my Lactation Consultant Effath Yasmin and access her numerous resources such as parenting communication skills workshop or even her LLL Library here www.nourishandnurture.in