I sometimes wonder how our parents’ generation managed with breastfeeding. Were all new mothers magically endowed with the ability to breastfeed naturally or did some of them suffer in silence? I certainly know from experience that breastfeeding isn’t a walk in the park for all mothers. For some of us, it takes more. Let me tell you my story.
I could only breastfeed my firstborn for the first three months. Moments after his birth, I was left to navigate this curious phenomenon they called breastfeeding, with the nurses at the hospital I had chosen leaving me to my own devices. As a first-time mommy, I fumbled and when help finally arrived, I was told to dispose of the yellow-tinged substance that emerged from my breasts before latching my baby on. I listened and did as I was told. I later learned that this vanilla substance was actually colostrum, a potent golden elixir designed to nourish a newborn baby. Little did I know.
My first delivery experience left a bitter taste in my mouth. Immediately after my son was born, I was wheeled out to the general intensive care unit, surrounded by strangers recovering from a slew of diseases and illnesses. My family was not even allowed inside to visit me. My exuberance was instantly shrouded by a sheath of gloom. I wasn’t allowed to enjoy my newfound maternity. And somehow, I never learned how to breastfeed properly.
When I conceived my second son, Pavanraaj, I was more mindful of the maternity landscape in Bangalore. My sister had delivered on Cloudnine a short while earlier and I remember drawing differences between the way that she was cared for and the way that I had been when I delivered. The differences were stark, and I was more inclined than ever towards booking my second delivery on Cloudnine. Somehow, my plan didn’t unfold the way I had intended and I ended up registering with the same hospital I had when I was expecting my first son.
That’s when things began to move south.Around my 26-week mark, during a routine checkup, my doctor plainly pronounced that the amniotic fluid housed in my womb was low.“
"We must perform a C-section within a week and get you started on steroids right away,” he proclaimed.
If I agreed, my baby would be a preemie, and his chances of survival would be 50:50. If that weren’t enough, they would whisk him away to the neonatal intensive care unit of another hospital two hours away while I would be stationed in this hospital as I recovered from childbirth. I was horror-struck. This was a family doctor whom we had consulted for years and it was hard to question our faith in him. But I wanted to be sure before taking a decision and I dialled my sister right away.
“Meet Dr. Brunda Channappa now,” my sister exclaimed. Dr. Channappa had been her obstetrician throughout her pregnancy on Cloudnine. I met Dr. Brunda the very same day and underwent a series of diagnostic tests. She then put me onto a radiologist. They both confirmed the same prognosis: my amniotic fluid was normal, my baby was growing adequately and there was nothing to worry about.
In my thirty-second week of pregnancy, during my monthly checkup, Dr. Channappa noticed that the blood flow from the umbilical cord to my baby’s brain had started to dip. She was concerned and decided that the safest route was to perform a C-section. Pavanraaj was born on 23rd March 2016, a whole eight weeks early.
With Pavanraaj, I had an opportunity to redeem myself as a breastfeeding mother. But since he was a preemie, I had to be careful. I met Sister Ruth to learn the best way to feed my baby and in turn, she taught me a range of useful techniques. She advised me to pump my milk and alternate between breast feeds and bottle feeds to avoid cracked nipples from all the pressure. She also coached me through massage routines for my breasts to soothe the pain. Since Pavan stayed in the hospital for fifteen days after his birth, Cloudnine became a second home for us. Ruth would regularly visit me to observe my progress and to watch over me. She would monitor my milk flow to check if it was increasing. She taught me how to cradle and hold Pavanraaj, who was tiny from being so premature. She was my saving grace.
Now, one year and three months later, Ruth’s advice still rings loud and clear in my ears. I continue to breastfeed Pavan today and I intend to continue as long as I can. There’s a special something about breastfeeding that I completely lost out on with my first pregnancy. I only wish I could reclaim all that lost time to give my firstborn the same nourishment as my second baby. Oh, well. As they say, “Experience is the teacher of all things”.