My sons Abhiyan, 7, and Aarambh, 4, were exclusively breastfed until they six months and continued breastfeeding until they were two years old.
I felt a rush of happiness and satisfaction as I typed this sentence. I feel blessed that both are healthy, intelligent, and happy boys: I firmly believe that the super powers of breastmilk had a lot to do with it.
Breastfeeding has not been without challenges for me, especially the first time around. It was very daunting. After a prolonged labour, I had to undergo an emergency C-section at Patan Hospital in Kathmandu. Due to risk of infection, Abhiyan was kept in the neonatal unit for the first 24 hours. When I first saw my baby, I couldn’t breastfeed him immediately and easily. I was not sure about the breastfeeding techniques, even though I had trained many women on breastfeeding and its importance during my career. My family members were very worried about him being hungry and were desperate to feed him formula. That made me more stressed. I also kept hearing about many illogical taboos and myths around lactation that prevail in our society and those did not help either! I had never imagined that something that I had been consistently promoting would turn out to be so difficult for me. Recovering from the birth, and unable to take care of the baby by myself, I felt quite helpless. This continued for a whole week.
My determination to breastfeed remained strong and I decided to seek support. I made an emotional plea to a senior pediatrician at the hospital. He visited my hospital room and calmly told my family that “a mother’s milk is made in the brain and that the mother needs to be encouraged and kept stress free, and that the baby should be constantly put to breast and the breastmilk would come.” The doctor also ensured that I was frequently visited and guided by a Lactation Consultant at the hospital.
Very solid support came from my logical husband. During pregnancy, I had shared with him the logic behind the “Three Es” (Early, Exclusive and Extended) of breastfeeding. Being a first time dad, he was unsure, but realized that he had to do something about the situation. On the seventh evening after the delivery, he organized a quiet and relaxing environment for me and we tried breastfeeding again. After half an hour, I felt an unusual tug and we suddenly realized that the baby had started suckling! As he suckled, I produced milk.
From that moment, Abhiyan was breastfed exclusively until six months and continued breastfeeding until he was two. The second time with my younger son Aarambh, breastfeeding was a lot easier. Both times, the unwavering support from my husband was instrumental in helping to convince those around me who thought the breast milk only was not enough for the first six months. I also feel very grateful to my work supervisors who understood the importance of breastfeeding and providing me with the support I needed.
Looking back, I have a deeper understanding that breastfeeding, indeed, is not just a one-woman job. Even a nutritionist like me, in a relatively privileged and empowered position, could not do it alone. In addition to a nutritious diet and good rest, a mother also needs ample support and encouragement from those around her — health workers, family, friends, employers and co-workers. Following relevant national and international regulations to create enabling environment will certainly make the breastfeeding journey easier for mothers around the world. After all, breastfeeding is a smart investment with super powers to lift the economy of a nation!
Sophiya Uprety works as a Nutrition Officer in UNICEF Nepal