On extented breastfeeding

I’ve been wanting to start guest posts for some time now because there are many interesting, wise, brilliant mommies (and daddies) out there with some wonderful insights that we can all benefit from. Yesterday my friend Gau, one of the most gorgeous, intelligent, articulate and empathetic people i know put up an Instagram post that fired me up and i just had to share it! Here is her post:

This picture was otherwise only meant to be a #latergram post from a recent trip to continue documenting our nursing journey. I normally let some amount of naysaying slide and don’t preach the virtues of extended breastfeeding to an immature audience. Something happened a couple of days ago that made me extra protective of a bond I care so much for. I went to a doctor for a small infection and was prescribed some broad spectrum antibiotics. I forgot to ask earlier so called her up from home to ask if the meds were breastfeeding friendly. Here’s a snippet from our unpleasant conversation:

Me: Doc, I’m breastfeeding and wanted to know if it was safe to take the meds you prescribed.

Doc: (incredulously, because she had met my son earlier in the day) How old is your child?

Me: 2.7 years old

Doc: Then you can stop feeding him now. They say it’s useless to feed a child that old and you should stop now.

Me: I do not agree and even if I did, I can’t stop tonight which is when I need to start the course.

Doc: No but it’s useless and yes the meds are safe.

Me: Thank you and good bye!

Now I know that not all of the anti (extended) breastfeeding brigade goes around giving unsolicited “useless” advice to nursing mothers and not all doctors are morons. But the most basic facts of life have become so mangled and mired in hate or ignorance that right now I feel compelled to put in my two cents across to whoever is listening.
It is perfectly normal and natural to nurse a child until they self-wean (that is around the age of 6 or 7 years when they lose their baby teeth and along with that also their ability to latch). It is recommended to breastfeed a child for a minimum of two years – this has proven benefits for both the mother and the child. Beyond that age, breastmilk does not become useless overnight. A child nurses because it needs milk but not only for that. A mother’s milk is better for the child, even nutritionally, than another animal’s that is meant for its own young one. Human bodies are dynamic – under normal circumstances, a mother will continue to produce milk for as long as her child nurses. As the child grows, it finds emotional stability and security in this nursing bond with the mother. This aspect of the breastfeeding relationship is most underrated and least understood. The same people who encouraged me to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months later told me that breastfeeding after a certain age is “addictive” and I’m spoiling my son. If you hug your child 20 times a day, every day, you’re not spoiling them, are you? You’re also not cultivating bad habits to last a life time. To use the oft repeated yet meaningful line – children don’t spoil, they just grow up.
While I’m proud and thankful to be nursing my child for this long, I wouldn’t say it’s been easy. Another reason to be supportive of extended breastfeeding rather than discourage mothers by saying all the wrong things. Just as in any other relationship, the success of this one depends on the well-being of both the mother and the child. A mother may want out at any point and lead the way to a gentle and peaceful end of the relationship. Abrupt weaning can cause a lot of grief to both the mother and the child. There are support groups to help mothers in their breastfeeding journey – Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers is one such group and I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some amazingly strong and committed mothers (even fathers) here.
This post is about extended breastfeeding and nursing in public is a natural progression of this extension. 🙂 You can’t feed behind closed doors for three years, you should never have to. But more on that later.

This is the link to her Instagram account:https://www.instagram.com/gauriddg/

I weaned my daughter off prematurely at eight-and-a-half months because of a work related trip to Germany and it still makes my heart ache. Even in that short period, i experienced how unfriendly our society and conditions are for breastfeeding. And this is not just breastfeeding in public which is nightmarish in itself, but also support from near and dear ones at home who are quick to wonder “whether breastmilk is enough” and encourage us to switch to formula before really allowing us to take our time in learning and enjoying this beautiful, natural process.

Power to women like Gau who inspire and educate us with tales like these!

If you have breastfeeding stories of your own, i’d love to hear them.

How we say babies are perfect and then roll up our sleeves to make our improvements upon them

I recently read and loved Aditi Mittal’s tweets directed towards the horrible “fairness industry” in this country. It is brilliant to see people wake up and embrace ‘dusky’, ‘wheatish’, ‘biscuit-colored’ and whatever other gorgeous browns God has gifted us with although it is still miles to go before Indians stop giving skin-color any thought at all.

This starts right at birth, maybe even during pregnancy. If both parents are ‘fair’ then everybody seems to be quite relieved as fairness seems to be guaranteed in this case. But alas, if one parent is a little higher up (or lower down!) on that ghastly shade-card range, in pours the unwarranted advice on masoor and besan-dal scrubs etc, right from Baby’s first bath.

Unfortunately, baby beauty is not just restricted to skin color. The other obsession with us is the shape of the nose. The maalishwali happily oils her fingers and tugs at the tiny perfect nose and shows you proudly how you can ensure a ‘sharp’ nose. “Tase kele nahi tar baal naktach rahil.” (I don’t even know how to translate ‘nakta’; it is the Indian euphemism for ugliness.)  The hair should be thick and dark (Mundans are generally done to ensure ‘good’ hair growth and I don’t know anyone who has been able to explain its religious significance to me), but only till puberty for girls, when that same thick and dark hair becomes unsightly and we resort to waxing, shaving and the like.

The signal that we are giving out to our children all the time is that looks matter more than anything else.  We may say a hundred times that what actually matters is inside, but then we go and slather yoghurt and turmeric on their faces. We are constantly being reminded through media around us that everything is about how you look. How you ‘present’ yourself. How you appear, not to yourself in the mirror but to everybody else out there. How your clothes ‘make or break you’. How much the first impression matters. And while there is enough evidence to back all of these things, there is too little on how to work on yourself inside out. Because nobody has the time, or inclination, to find that out.

I came across the terms ‘Character Ethic’ and ‘Personality Ethic’ in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I think almost all the focus nowadays is on the personality ethic; how to dress right, how to ‘appear’ confident, how to make a good impression, and so on.  Even the effective use of social media entails how to project yourself right, how to sell yourself quickly etc. Are we talking enough to our kids about how to find meaning and fulfillment, how to move towards inner peace, how to master their own demons and how to be their best selves even when no one is looking?

We need to choose our words very carefully. Even when we are encouraging our kids and praising them and showering our attention on them, what are we saying? How much of “You’re looking so cute!” and “Pretty princess” are we using as opposed to “I love how kindly you spoke to her” and “You were very brave when you owned up to breaking that toy”. Kids naturally love to preen and dress-up and look good. Rumi changes her outfits at least 20 times a day. She takes my Dupatta and puts on my glasses and twirls in front of the mirror. The first question she asks is “Kashi distiye mi?” (How do I look?) Pruning her vanity now might mar her confidence for life (I remember being told “Stop admiring yourself in the mirror” so often that I still cannot look at myself in the mirror without a tiny bit of shame). So it is up to us to balance out all the compliments she receives for her looks with concrete words for all the positive, loving, empathetic actions she takes.

Rumi has also been subject to a lot of physical scrutiny. A favorite here is the hair. My husband still goes through that after 38 years of existence with his curly crop.  I cannot imagine why, because he has the most gorgeous healthiest, bounciest, mass of curls I have ever seen and I simply adore his hair. But we hear the odd remark about “Haircut nahi kela ka?” all the time! He in turn loves my brown, straight, fine strands which I have repeatedly been admonished for. (Thin hair equals weak hair: something every single person in my life has told me except for me blessed wedding hairdresser who explained to me, how fine hair does not mean thinning and that my hair was “healthy”). Rumi’s hair is a perfect juxtaposition of the two of us. Really fine, very brown (“blonde”) and curly. We cannot get over it. But the same goes for many others who constantly ask us why we haven’t shaved it off yet, so that it grows back thicker, although our awesome pediatrician laughed when he said “her genes won’t change with one haircut” (haha, he’s so cool).

My Abbu who worries about everything there is to worry in this world constantly reminds me to oil her head, although oiling hardly changed my hair. He even worries about the birthmark on her face; she has a heart-shaped red patch on her cheek which I like to think of as God’s personal stamp at work in my womb. He asks me if we can use any creams etc to lighten it. I wish I could set him at rest and tell him how Rumi is perfection already. And not because of her beautiful hair and eyes and smile. But because of her soul and what she has inside; something that is entirely hers that can never ever be like anybody else’s.

We should worry about her thumb-sucking and TV watching for reasons of health and well-being and not because of spectacles and braces. We should feel prouder of the fact that she fearlessly feeds all the strays than that her blue frock suits her to perfection. It is up to us to watch our words and actions so that we may raise our children to see themselves as well as others inside out rather than outside in.

From Mission Weight-Gain-Rumi to Mission Just-Chill

It happens to me every time we visit the pediatrician. I become a hawk. I can physically feel the transition happening, from tiny, over-smiley young woman to hawk-woman, watching any child that is plumper than Rumi with cold, calculating eyes and running my tongue over my lips (err… beak – do birds have tongues?) Then I politely turn to the mother and enquire very, very casually about the child’s age. If the baby is older than Rums by even a few days I sigh with relief (of course she’s chubbier, she had two whole days extra!) But hawk-woman quickly transforms into a panic-stricken flapping pigeon if the child in question happens to be of the same age, or in many cases even younger than my daughter. A quick pressed-lip glance at Abhi follows, who has obviously come to expect it after having known me for six years. He smiles kindly, reassuringly. At the first given opportunity, he will tell me “Trust me sweetie, the weight does not matter. Look how active she is, how happy!” “Hmmmph active!” I snort. “Active is the go-to word for every mum with a skinny or not-so-plump child.”

When Rumi is put on the weighing scale in the doctor’s office, I can feel the beads of sweat on my upper lip. As the doctor maps her progress on the growth chart I need a hanky to mop my forehead.

“Are you alright, Mrs. Purandare?” the doctor asks kindly.

“Well, her weight has only increased by 400 grams in the last three months” I blurt out desperately.

He guffaws loudly and at this moment I am convinced that we need a new pediatrician.

“When was the last time you checked your weight in grams?” he asks.

“It’s just that I can see her growth curve dropping, it was rising upward and now it has started to drop a little” I reply in what I hope is a cold and dignified voice. He smiles again.

“She’s just burning more calories, now that she’s more active.” Oh how I hate that word! “But if you worry about weight gain, try giving her some high-calorie foods. Potatoes, cheese, even ice-cream.” (I have never given Rumi sugar even once up till now). I smile weakly and we leave.

Next morning it is Mission-Weight-Gain-Rumi – Mission WGR , I say grimly – and Abhi shakes his head knowing that the time ahead is going to be difficult for him. I make Rumi’s kheer with extra jaggery and ghee in it. There it is, brown ragi, positively swimming in fatty goodness. Except that my baby won’t open her mouth. She’s clamped it tightly shut and not even her favorite Fluffy Chicks story is making her open it. I goad, make funny faces, sing “Old McDonald’s” – but nothing.” “Try Mission-Have-Fun-With-Rumi instead” remarks Abhi wryly as he leaves, ignoring my glare. “Maushi, jaude, tichi nehmichi bin-goad kheer aana” (“bring her regular non-sweet porridge”) I scream at the maid. Now my baby gobbles away happily and I fume away, letting my coffee grow cold.

This continues over the next couple of weeks. Rumi refuses to eat mashed potatoes with cheese, vanilla ice-cream or rawa suji. She’s happy to stick to her usual dal-rice, carrots and beetroots. I’m continually fretful and dejected. Abhiraj and Shobha Maushi tiptoe when they’re around me. Mealtimes stop being fun. It takes over an hour to chase Rumi all over the house to get her to eat a few spoons of high-calorie stuff as opposed to a bowl of varan-bhaat that she samples in 10 minutes. It has definitely stopped being fun.

At the next pediatrician’s visit I march into the office and grimly drop Rumi onto the weighing scale. Surprisingly she’s back on track with her weight. A very temporary fluctuation, as is common with all kids. Abhiraj’s sigh of relief is much louder than mine, the ordeal is over.

Now that I have no reason to be a worried, nervous wreck (only till something new comes by, but still!), I can stop to pause and think about it. Healthy is important, but when did fat become a priority for me? Especially since, as an adult I always want to lose it from various parts of my body?

I think all moms in India feel like this or rather, are MADE to feel like this. The words “chubby” and “healthy” are used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. Aajis, Ajobas, Kakas, Kakus – the entire Brady Bunch of relatives wants to see a fat baby. “Kitttnnnaaa dubla hua re mera baccha, Allu kuch khilati nahi kya usko?” (“Look hoooowww thin my poor baby’s looking, Allu don’t you feed her properly?”) remarks my own Phuppi, every time we visit her. Her remarks always upset me and I fret the entire day about how my baby doesn’t gain weight. No amount of rationalizing helps, and I end up almost in tears wondering why my baby isn’t fat.

There are millions of other moms in the same boat. Some get defensive (Oh he’ s just become taller and he’ s sooo active!), others complain and fret about it (She just won’t eat, I don’t know what to do!) and I even know some mothers that hound doctors for a ‘tonic’ that will “increase appetite”!

I am about an inch away from doing the same myself when I chance upon this wonderful book called My Child Won’t Eat. Oh, if only I could squeeze Dr. Carlos González into a bear hug for his writings! All you worried mommies, just grab a copy and read it, read it, read it!

Dr. González doesn’t encourage making food into funny shapes for children or trying to hide vegetables or making plane noises. He believes in giving children healthy options and then leaving them to it: no coercion, no punishments for not eating, nothing. His basic philosophy when it comes to feeding your infant/child is to chill out, parents!  Society pressures us to feed them sooner and more than they really need or even is good for them.  A baby’s stomach is so small, it should be obvious why they might start crying halfway through their meal – they’re stuffed!  Another point he makes is that the growth charts we use today do not take into account the parent’s genetics:  I’m small (and was very small as a child), my husband is small (and was very small as a child), so how realistic is it for me to expect Rumi to be otherwise?

Funny and sensible, the book makes me weep with relief and laugh at myself. Abhiraj is delighted when I open the door with a maniacal grin instead of a worried frown. It’s Mission-Just-Chill I inform him. He laughs and peace prevails at B-301 Anurag Society, if only for the time being.