Breastfeeding – A Stigma to Break!

It was World Breastfeeding Week from 1-Aug to 7-Aug and we couldn’t think of a better topic to write about this time. We are living in a 21st century world, but breastfeeding is still frowned upon and a taboo topic. There is a plethora of information available at your fingertip, but there is still a stigma surrounding breastfeeding – be it in private or public places. Majority of mothers, almost allover the world, say that they cannot breastfeed their child in public. Every now and then we hear a story about a nursing mother being kicked out of a public place like a restaurant, stores, parks or public transport etc.

Breastfeeding has been a natural, necessary and an integral part of human life for centuries. It is a matter of shame and ignominy that our society fails to provide safety and comfort zone to the nursing mothers despite being part of such modern era. We cannot understate the importance and advantages of breastfeeding. Breast milk is often referred to as ‘Liquid Gold’ and has many advantages for both, the mother and the baby. Here, in  this blog, we are trying to rise above the stigma and awkwardness around breastfeeding, share some insights on pros-cons, myths-facts, breastfeeding v/s formula feeding etc. and with that, I pass the baton to Megha for penning down this blog article with her own experience and in her words.

Hello Folks. This is the first time I am writing since my first article Inception – The Beginning a year ago as I am more of an input giver than blog writer. But I am glad and happy to write about one of my most cherished phase of being a mother – Breastfeeding Vritima. My breastfeeding journey started from the first night after delivery. While my husband Abhijeet was trying to overcome all the chaos and hullabaloo, I was exhausted and almost knocked out with all the pain and pushing in the delivery room. Then, within the first hour it was time for little one’s ‘Birth Crawl’ – baby’s first feed. ‘Birth Crawl’ is when the baby pulls herself to latch on and feed for the first time.

Knowledge Fact – During the first feeding, the flow doesn’t look like milk, but more like a thick lotion substance known as ‘Colostrum’. It includes important nutrients, immune-boosting antibodies that promotes growth and fights deceases in infants.

Luckily, Vritima did not face any trouble latching on right from the first night and I did not have any issues with breast milk supply. Thanks to the right knowledge and support from family, I was ready since my pregnancy days to breastfeed Vritima for as long as it is needed. For me, as a mother, breastfeeding was one of the most satisfying and cherished phase which helped me form a strong emotional bond with Vritima right from the first feeding. Of course, not all days are Sundays, I too had my share of bad days. Vritima had a good appetite, she was feeding every 2-2.5 hours, for almost 30-40 min at times that made my back ache a lot, I felt so exhausted and tired with lack of sleep and without proper rest. But all that pain and exhaustion felt totally worth when I used to look at the calm and tummy-full Vritima falling asleep in my lap, still latched on to my breast. 

I continued breastfeeding till Vritima was 15 months old and never introduced formula feed or bottle feed at all (a decision I am extremely proud of even today). When she turned 1, she was already more on solids but still continued to breastfeed at least 8 times a day. Then, suddenly when she was 15 months old, I had to wean her off overnight due to an unfortunate breast engorgement and infection. It was extremely difficult to wean her off overnight all of a sudden that it affected her badly. I was determined and prepared to continue breastfeeding Vritima at least for 2 years or even longer, not bothered about whether people think it is too old to wean your child from breastfeeding. But unfortunately, it didn’t go as expected. She was so used to the sense of security she felt while latching on, that weaning off made her clingy and she developed anxiety. We made a mistake of turning her to bottle feed, and oh boy what a huge mistake it turned out to be, it gave us nightmares to get her off the bottle feed (which is a story of another time).

During my pregnancy and even after delivery, I did a lot of reading and research, took help from doctors and family to clear all my doubts and awkwardness around breastfeeding. I learned the importance of breastfeeding, busted some myths v/s facts etc. Below are some of the things that helped me, and I hope that helps other nursing mothers too.


Importance of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is recommended around the world as the safest and healthiest source of nutrition and hydration for the newborn babies. Breastfeeding is equally important to the mother and the child as well. It ensures a nourishing and healthy growth of both. Along with satisfying baby’s hunger and nutritional needs, it creates a strong bond between the mother and the baby. Even the WHO and UNESCO recommend and promote breastfeeding for at least first 6 months (and the longer you breastfeed the greater the benefits).

Babies who are breastfed exclusively for at least 6 months are less likely to develop:

  • Gastrointestinal infections
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Asthma, Diabetes or Obesity in adulthood.

For the mother as well, breastfeeding helps support quicker recovery after delivery, the Oxytocin hormone helps contract the uterus, bringing it back to it’s original size and reduces bleeding after giving birth. Breastfeeding may also lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure problems.


How Long Should You Breastfeed?

As per World Health Organization (WHO), it is recommended to ‘exclusively’ breastfeed your child for at least 6 months. Exclusively means feeding only breast milk, no water, no other fluids or solids, not even formula milk (as much as possible). A newborn baby should breastfeed at least 8-12 times per day for the first month or two, post which the child normally nurses 7-8 times a day.

Knowledge Fact: A newborn should not go more than 4 hours without feeding, even during the night.

It is a general practice to introduce complimentary food (water, solids etc.) at 6 months of age while continuing breastfeeding for up to 1.5-2 years or as long as it is comfortable for you and your baby. Ultimately it is a personal choice. Many times we hear things like ‘breastfeeding after 1 year becomes an addiction’ OR ‘it just pacifies the child and has no benefit’ OR ‘your baby won’t eat if you continue to breastfeed’ etc. Remember, breast milk naturally evolves and changes volume & composition according to the time of day, nursing frequency, and age of baby. So DO NOT succumb to the pressure of what others have to say about weaning off your child from breastfeeding after certain age/duration.


Breastfeeding v/s Formula Feeding

Now this is a bit tricky and little controversial topic. There are advocates and critics of both – breastfeeding and formula feeding. Health experts believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants. However, breastfeeding can be challenging, stressful and painful sometimes. Some babies have difficulty latching on or suckling properly, some mother’s have problems like low milk supply, breast engorgement or infection that may affect breastfeeding. For many, the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, and specific medical situations.

Bottle Milk and Formula Feeding are trending these days among new mothers – especially the working ones. They complain about lack of time, they don’t want to commit their time in nursing the child. Mothers these day consider formula feeding an easy alternative and substitute to breastfeeding. ignoring the fact that an infant is a fragile and delicate soul who needs lot of care. Most of these mothers are either unaware or ignorant about the issues which may arise due to lack of breastfeeding. According to various studies and researches, it is found that the infants who were breastfed possessed higher IQ level and had greater academic achievements than the infants who were formula fed.

Mothers who find it difficult to breastfeed for any reason can opt for pumping their breast milk and storing it for the baby – which is still a better alternative than opting for formula feeding. It might seem daunting at first, but pumping isn’t complicated at all once you get the knack of it. Also remember, Pumping is only half the story: You’ll also need to know how to store breast milk. Expressed milk can stay fresh at room temperature for up to four hours, you can also store in the refrigerator for up to four days and in the freezer for six to 12 months. 

It is important to note that the supporters of breastfeeding are not against the formula feeding mothers. In fact, they are against the formula companies and their dubious marketing strategies which makes the mothers doubt themselves, and affect their confidence. Remember, formula feeding is a supplement and not a substitute of breastfeeding. Again, it is a personal choice and the idea is NOT to judge or shame the mothers who depend on formula feeding, but to provide right information and guidance to the new mothers, and create awareness about benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding.

Fun Fact: Many celebrities, Indian and Global, such as Lara Dutta, Neha Dhupia, Aishwarya Rai, Lisa Haydon, Emily Ratajkowski, Hilary Duff, Miranda Kerr, Olivia Wilde etc. are supporting and helping to normalize breastfeeding.


Myths v/s Facts

As a new mom, you often get to hear many advises about breastfeeding – many of these turn out to be myths or false awareness. Some of these myths do a major damage to the new mom’s confidence, her awareness and sometimes even her self-esteem. I too had heard some advises (rather myths) like – you need to drink more milk to produce milk, OR Don’t wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed, OR formula is same as breast milk etc.

Let’s bust top 10 myths related to breastfeeding that I have heard during my 4.5 years of being a mother:

Myth: You have to drink milk to make milk.

Fact: Drinking milk has nothing to do with her ability to produce breast milk or the supply. It is, however, important for the mother to remain hydrated with any form of liquid.


Myth: You must eat only bland food while breastfeeding.

Fact: While it may be applicable for only first few weeks, it is important for breastfeeding mothers to eat a balanced diet. You should avoid alcohol or excessive caffeine. In general, there is no need to make drastic changes in your food habits.


Myth: Wash your nipples before feeding.

Fact: Not at all. This myth comes from the use of bottles. But, it isn’t the same for breastfeeding. Putting the baby to the breast actually helps to prevent infection.


Myth: You shouldn’t breastfeed if you’re sick.

Fact: Mothers can usually continue breastfeeding when they’re sick. In fact, it helps to pass the antibodies your body makes to treat your illness on to your baby, building his or her own defenses.


Myth: Small breast can’t produce enough milk.

Fact: It’s not the size that determines the amount of milk produced as it’s the functional tissue and not the fatty tissue that produces the milk. Breast milk production is determined by how well the baby is latched on to the breast and the frequency of breastfeeding. Under normal circumstances a new mom makes exactly enough breast milk for a newborn’s needs.


Myth: It’s hard to wean a baby if you breastfeed for more than a year.

Fact: There’s no evidence that it is more difficult to stop breastfeeding after one year, but there is evidence that breastfeeding up to two years is beneficial for both mothers and children.


Myth: Breastfeeding always hurts.

Fact: Contrary to the belief, Breastfeeding should rarely hurt. Many mothers experience discomfort in the first few days, but with the right support and positioning the baby for breastfeeding, sore nipples can be avoided.


Myth: Breastfeeding is an excellent contraceptive.

Fact: It’s true that during breastfeeding you’re less likely to conceive but it’s not always true. Studies have shown some women are more fertile during breastfeeding.


Myth: Formula is the same as breast milk.

Fact: This is completely false. Formula is not like breast milk AT ALL. Formula is more like “medicine” than a food. If your baby needs to have formula for certain reasons, that is okay. But it is important to seek unbiased information on formula and other products that replace breast milk.


Myth: Don’t wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed.

Fact: Unless your baby is older than three months and a proper breastfeeding schedule, this statement is not true. In order to create a regular breastfeeding routine and provide your baby with the necessary energy, you need to wake up your sleeping baby. But you need to take care of the angle while feeding a sleeping baby as sometimes milk may get accumulated in the Eustachian tube (pipe connecting ear and mouth) and may cause ear infection.


The process and experience of breastfeeding is sometimes confusing and a mystery for many new moms. Also, the question still remains – how do we stop the stigma surrounding breastfeeding? Unfortunately despite it being the 21st century, breastfeeding in public still remains a taboo. However, this World Breastfeeding Week, let’s spread the awareness, normalize this most basic expression of motherly love and it’s about time we end that stigma around Breastfeeding.

And, if anyone EVER questions your capability as a mother, ask them – I make milk and breastfeed my child. WHAT IS YOUR SUPERPOWER?

 – Megha & Abhijeet

(Imperfect Parents)

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1 Comment

  1. Very well articulated and informative 👏

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