Are mothers and mother-in-laws unintentionally creating difficulties in a woman's breastfeeding journey?
Pune: Hetal’s (name changed) mother was pestering her to start feeding her 2-month-old baby formula milk because breastmilk was ‘obviously’ not satisfying the little one’s hunger. Her mother’s assumption was based on the baby’s ‘lean body’.
Mitali (name changed) was facing a tough time explaining to her mother-in-law that she be allowed to nurse her baby whenever her one-month-baby asked for it, instead of following the ‘2.5 hours’ diktat.
What Mitali’s mother-in-law refused to acknowledge was the fact that a mother produces breastmilk based on the concept of demand-and-supply. Hetal and Mitali are not alone. Scores of new mothers are facing unexpected hindrances when it comes to feeding their newborns – from their mothers or mothers-in-law. Young women are fighting to make a baby’s grandmother understand the importance of breastfeeding and the science behind it.
“The percentage of grandmothers who genuinely want to help in a new mother’s breastfeeding journey is very small,” said Pune-based Lactation Consultant Amrita Desai.
“Just this morning, a grandmother of a 2.5 month-old baby asked me when is it safe to start bottle feeding,” Desai said.
While everyone mugs up ‘what to expect’ during pregnancy, very few bother to do research about breastfeeding, it’s importance and possible difficulties.
Times have changed
Pune’s reputed gynaecologist Dr Mangala Wani, who is also India’s first International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) stressed on the need to make a woman aware about the breastfeeding facts which might not be same as those in the previous generation’s time.
“A mother has to exclusively breastfeed a baby for six months now,” Wani said, adding that more than the mother, it’s the grandmother who encourages top-feed or complementary feeding after 3-4 months.
The World Health Organisation also instructs mothers to nurse a baby for at least two years. Young mother also faces pressure to wean the baby off mother’s milk after around 1 year.
Sometimes, there’s jealousy and ego at play, when a grandmother sees the baby with a mother all the time, feeling left out with the nursing duties, said Wani, who is also the President of Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (Maharashtra).
Daddy to the rescue
Women know that a breastfed baby has a stronger immune system and robust IQ, however explaining this to her mother-in-law is not always a successful mission. This is where the father of the baby steps in.
“We ask the entire family to attend ante-natal classes. In my experience, fathers are very pro-breastfeeding and their support is instrumental,” Wani observed. Desai echoed the sentiment, saying if the woman is unable to convince the grandmother, the father is generally successful in convincing his mother.
- It is a problem, but solutions are available, said Adhunika Prakash from Pune, now based in Bahrain and founder of a Facebook support group, Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) that has more than 90,000 members.
- Grandparents want the best for their grandchildren. Educate them. Share links and articles which talk about it.
- Take grandparents with you for visits to breastfeeding-friendly paediatricians. Grandparents are more likely to believe a medical professional.
- Stand-up for your baby’s health. Be firm and assertive and explain to the grandparents the reason behind your stand.
- Talk to someone who has undergone a similar problem and ask them what that helped them. Online and offline support goes a long way.