Monday, April 5, 2010

Breastfeeding - the right to choose?

There was a recent report here that talks about how exclusively breastfeeding can save more lives every year. The report states that new moms should not be blamed but instead lays the blame on latching on problems and grandmothers dissuading against the practice. I breastfed each of my children exclusively for 6 months and then almost till each was almost 13mths and 19mths respectively. I can tell you what an effort it took to stick to my beliefs. First of all my children were diagnosed with a dairy allergy so that if I took even a spoon of any dairy product, they would pass blood in their stools. I went through 2 excruciatingly painful months for mother and child when we put baby(ies) on a special formula and waited to flush the dairy out of their system. All this while, I still wanted to keep my supply up and ended up pumping and throwing - I know how much it hurt to throw 30 to 40 ounces of pumped milk each day while my children would refuse to drink that nasty smellling formula. All this while, the doctors kept telling me to stop eating most of the food that I eat because they were making my children gassy until all that I was left with eating was rice, green beans sauteed in a little oil and chayote squash cooked with mung beans every single day for 3 months! There was not even a gaurantee that I could go back to feeding them myself if they didn't stop the symptoms. Once I started work at 6 weeks, there were other challenges. My employer fortunately is one of the few that have made provisions for breastfeeding moms (and deserves a kudos for taking these steps) - our sites are fully equipped with rooms that have pump bases and refrigerators and access to support groups to connect to other working and breastfeeding mothers. However, when you go back to work after a baby, you are already aware that people are watching how much you let that affect your work. When you take 15 (and sometimes 30 minutes) every 3 hours to pump to keep up supply and baby's needs, there is a ton of guilt associated with that. That of course is my problem to deal with because at the end of the day, I was lucky that my employer had provided the facilities and once they do that, they are aware of the time spent with the activity. I however know other women that have not had that luxury - some of them have actually used a restroom and a hand pump and tried to relieve painful mastitis because there was nowhere for them to pump! Employers also do not take kindly to a woman that has just come back from a 6 week "vacation" (a lot of single guys would ask me when I was going off on "vacation" to have my baby:)) taking off what would amount to a hour of each day trying to pump milk to keep up breastfeeding. The other aspect that needs mentioning are lactating consultants. While what they do is laudable and they do help so many women with supply and lactating issues, many of them come across very strongly and refuse to consider the possibility that mom is actually trying hard but baby just will not drink. One woman told me how much the lc blamed her for not trying hard enough that she ended up thinking she was committing nothing short of a crime by switching to formula. The "grandmother" factor is very strong too. My children were advised not to have any solids till they were 6 months old and to be fed exclusively on either breastmilk or formula during that time. I met a woman on the flight back from India who was shocked that any one would consider "starving" the baby that way (and she was'nt a grandmother to be sure - she had a baby girl 4 months older than my son at that time!). It was quite annoying to listen to someone tell me I was starving my children after all the trouble I went through to stay off dairy just to be able to breastfeed them. And ofcourse the numerous people around that will jump up and say that baby is crying so much because mother probably doesn't have enough milk? Or to be made to feed the baby within half an hour of feeding because baby was making sucking motions with his mouth in his sleep which can only be interpreted as hunger again? No wonder women find it hard to stick to exclusively breastfeeding their baby, with all the pressures they face today. The benefits are many, I believe in them tremendously. However, like the right to choose, I do believe this is one issue that is a mom's right to choose and she should be allowed to make that choice without society blaming her for being a bad mother or predicting doom for baby.

PS: Since I last wrote this, I came across an article here detailing that President Obama has signed into that it is mandatory for companies with more that 50 employees to provide a private, secluded area for mothers to safely express breastmilk. Awesome!