Why six months is not a deadline for breastfeeding
It’s International Breastfeeding Week and time to celebrate the bond that breastfeeding creates between you and your baby. The World Health Organisation recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding to babies. But it does not say when to stop breastfeeding.
We have all been there. Once the lactation clock starts ticking, it’s a race to finish first (or last, depending on which side of the weaning philosophy you are on). The WHO and most doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. So most women plan their careers, their sex lives, the next baby, their tummy tucks, whatever, by factoring this in. Clocking in these six months means ticking off a major milestone in the whole motherhood business.
During this period, every conversation with a fellow nursing mother inadvertently turns into a lactation journal.
Woman A: How often do you feed? Woman B: I think ten times a day. Maybe twelve? Woman A: That’s it? I end up feeding at least fifteen-sixteen times a day. I am just making too much milk I guess. My breasts are engorged all the time.
Woman B: Maybe you should express.
Woman A: I do! Sometimes I can fill four bottles at a time. I think I have enough milk to feed the city.
By this time, Woman B is feeling really small and dejected, wondering if she is milk-challenged and quickly calling experts to figure out how she can produce more.
Almost everyone starts out a believer in breastfeeding. Passionate, committed, patient. But when feeds get longer and more frequent and me-time becomes more and more elusive, women begin to find their ways around it. Expressing milk is the one thing that can help you get your life back, at least one hour at a time…the hour that you can use to wax your legs or get that pedicure.
Privacy also is a much underestimated thing in the whole breastfeeding business. I was lucky to live in a two-bedroom apartment with just my mother and my baby around most of the day. For many women, this is not so. There are small flats, more people to deal with, and seldom does the mother have a room for herself and the baby where she will have no intruders. In my case, after the initial clumsiness and hiccups, breastfeeding had more or less been a breeze and the easy way out most of the times. I fully endorse it and would recommend it for as long as you can. Breast milk is full of good stuff, builds immunity for the baby and protects it from disease, besides offering emotional and physical security. Yes, it takes work, but in the end, it is totally worth it.
But one of the ironies of breastfeeding is that the buck will always stop with you. Baby is crying = Baby needs milk is a weapon used by husbands, family, friends, strangers, anyone, everyone. It is something that absolves anyone else from the care-giving process. ‘Got milk? Give breast’ seems to be the easy way out for anyone who doesn’t want to hold a baby for longer than two minutes.
After having been to several La Leche League meetings, and exchanging stories about nursing and related hurdles and complications, I have come to realise the multi-layered aspects of nursing. And how much strength and perseverance it takes to keep it going, and how our society is strangely anti-lactation even though it claims to be otherwise. First of all, there are really no public spaces to nurse. Women are constantly being asked to wean, else the child will get exploitative, they are told. In such a scenario, to stick it out is no mean feat. Post the first few months, not a day passed when I didn’t get asked, ‘When are you planning to wean?’
Nursing became my little secret. Despite all the scary stories and the formula fiends around me, I chose to go the full-boob way. It was a no-brainer to me. The choice was natural vs processed. I chose natural, like I always do. It’s a decision I have never regretted, despite the fact that there were days when it got overwhelming and I felt like I needed a breast sabbatical. Or there were days when I just missed my cleavage-enhancing underwire bras and hated the sight of my mommy bras. Or days when I wondered when I would ever have my breasts to myself. Or days when I was reminded of the song, ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ from Reservoir Dogs, whenever my little boy demanded his elixir, pointing to my girls, and exclaiming, ‘Mimmi!’
But I had a smiling baby most of the time (he smiles more than most children even now, at six years), and I hardly ever saw the doctor (yay for super immunity). More importantly, by giving him the emotional security through the constantly nurturing physical contact that comes with nursing, I was perhaps helping him become his own person. The bond it formed between us was just too special to tamper with. Maybe I am a lazy mom. I learnt to diffuse any situation, any tantrum, any crying fit, any irritability just by popping out the boob. It always worked. There were the minor hiccups of nursing in public in an emergency, but I learned to treat it as a wardrobe malfunction.
(Excerpted from the book I’m Pregnant, Not Terminally Ill, You Idiot)
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