#WorldBreastfeedingWeek: A conversation with Aloka
Updated: Feb 19
As you may have gathered from the interwebs, it’s #WorldBreastfeedingWeek. Inspired by The Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to do some mini Breastfeeding Photo sessions with mums in Mumbai. For the first shoot, I met with Aloka, who is a mum of two sweet little boys, writes an excellent blog on Healthy Eating and Parenting at Wholesome Mamma and also recently became a certified Lactation Specialist with CAPPA. We met at her home where we chatted over delicious Dahi Vada and Chai while her youngest was napping and then took a few photos before heading out to a nearby park where we were graced by the setting sun’s gorgeous evening light for a few more photos.
Aloka’s passion for helping mums to trust in their innate ability to feed their babies is contagious and I had a lovely afternoon soaking in some of the breastfeeding wisdom that she has acquired from her own experience nursing both her boys and also from her studies in Lactation.
I asked her if she would share some of her journey and pearls of wisdom with us on my blog and she graciously agreed. But before we go into that, I just want to be clear that however you choose to feed your babies, there is no judgment here. The way I see it, the point of talking about breastfeeding is not to put down mums who (for whatever reason) don’t, but from my very limited experience as a doula-in-training, and from stories that I hear from mums and midwives, it seems that we are not doing enough to support and inform mothers about breastfeeding and unfortunately, a lot of that has to do with the corporate interests of formula companies and a broken system of maternity and health care. So please don’t feel judged or put down. However you feed your baby, no one can love and know your baby the way you do, and we love and support you.
Aloka, can you tell us what exactly is a Lactation Specialist and why do we need them? (Can’t I just go to my Paediatrician if I need help with Breastfeeding?)
Tina first let me say thanks so much for doing this, I think it’s so important to be seen breastfeeding and letting others see it too and love that you’re so passionate about birth and breastfeeding. I’m so glad that you wrote that bit about not judging other moms. Because it’s not at all about judgment nor is it about putting down anyone, it’s just about trying to make breastfeeding more normal so more and more women will start assuming it’s an easy and natural way.
Coming to your question, a lactation specialist or educator is just as the name suggests someone who specializes in breastfeeding related queries, more from the standpoint of a counselor. I cannot dispense medical advice for example and would refer someone to a breastfeeding consultant for that.
The early days spent breastfeeding are really really hard for many mothers and having someone encouraging you, pulling you through, holding your hand, listening, giving encouragement is sometimes all a new mom needs. That’s where a lactation educator can come in; someone who is informed with all the up to date science, and who has the time and patience to pull you through the first few difficult weeks.
The paediatrician unfortunately cannot fulfil this role. In most cases many paediatricians give impractical, non-evidence based advice as many still operate from the time when dispensing formula for every time a baby cried was a norm. My kids’ paediatrician is amazing, but he is also a man in his 50’s and not someone I would like to call at a drop of a hat for any doubts with regards to breastfeeding. Recently someone told me that their paediatrician told them not to lie down and feed as the baby would get a ear infection. Where’s the sense in that? Babies are anyway lying down to feed, the mum lying down only gives her more rest and is the practical solution when you need rest. It’s the same reason I recommend a midwife or doula to a woman giving birth in addition to an OB-GYN. She is on our side. The mom’s.
What led you to become a Lactation Specialist?
Even before I had a baby I was very interested in researching and writing about all things natural and evolutionary on my blog. I had changed my lifestyle before I conceived into one that follows a evolutionary type of diet which cuts out processed foods and many modern foods and physically did workouts that were more natural and out in the open. With the result I had lost weight and solved my PCOS problems through healthy eating.
Therefore when I was pregnant I was already eating absolutely clean foods and could not imagine feeding my baby anything processed. To that effect I read and watched Youtube videos and educated myself well about breastfeeding. Since I was already reading so much and knew that breastfeeding was the most natural and wonderful thing I can do for my child I didn’t expect to ever need to supplement.
Once I had the baby I didn’t have any trouble with supply or latch since I was well read on the subject. However when my son was about two weeks old he started getting fussy in the evenings (like newborns normally do.) This was when all the well wishing relatives including my own mom started putting pressure on me saying he may be hungry give him ‘top’ feed.
I had no one to call, or talk to. I didn’t have a guide during these first few difficult weeks (though in hindsight I know that it wasn’t half as hard as some mothers have it). I did call my son’s paediatrician who only said – you probably don’t need to supplement but it’s ok if you do. To top it the paediatrician gave advice like leave him to cry he will stop crying; people who came to see him said, don’t sleep with him he will get used to it, etc. This goes against the natural instincts of the mother.
Just loving guidance and handholding in the first few weeks can make all the difference. Just having someone to talk to, to speak to someone who is been there, done that and has a certification to prove that she knows what she is saying may make a big difference to the mom who is struggling with her resolve to exclusively breastfeed in the first few months.
This time around I don’t need a pump, bottle, artificial nipple, spoon, or anything at all for my 4 month old except my breasts and a sling and we’re all so happy.
If breastfeeding is a natural process then why is it such a challenge for some mums?
Today we have lost the village. There was a time when a young girl growing up saw her mother breastfeeding her siblings, women whipping out their breast to pacify their baby every time they uttered a sound. Today we see pacifiers and bottles all around us. Today breastfeeding is not seen as ‘normal’ as compared to bottles in popular culture.
The advice handed out frequently to new moms like the 2-hour nursing schedule, the complicated nursing positions etc. are based on bottle fed babies.
Birth interventions are at an all time high interfering with the delicate balance of hormones required for birth and breastfeeding. Normal hospital protocol of separating the mother and baby after birth, wiping baby down, giving artificial hormones like oxytocin just doesn’t help with baby’s latching on instincts.
What is one extremely prevalent myth about breastfeeding in Indian culture that you would really like to bust (no pun intended)?
Well there are plenty. One of them is that many seem to think that cow’s milk is super important for kids and are in a hurry to wean off babies from the breast and start giving cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is for baby cows and human milk is for human children. I would prefer my 3 year old drinking my milk over cow’s milk any day.
If you could go back in time and tell your new-mum self one thing when you first started breastfeeding, what would it be?
Babies come with instincts from the stone ages. They come rooting for the breast every time they feel hungry, upset, lonely, scared, or just want to be with mom. It doesn’t mean you have any issues with supply. Just lie down, put your feet up and nurse your baby. Know that taking care of a tiny baby is a huge job and everything else can wait.
The mom of today is a woman with other things to do. To just do nothing but feed a baby while life is passing by is something that a lot of moms can’t get used to. But for breastfeeding to work, the pace of life needs to be slowed down to accommodate the baby.
One piece of advice you would give to families and friends of new mums who want to breastfeed their babies to support them?
Don’t keep saying, ‘”is the baby hungry again, didn’t you just feed her?”
Don’t keep asking, “are you sure you’re getting enough milk?” or “why don’t you give formula?”
Support her with relevant information instead. Get help from a lactation consultant early if she has pain or doubts. Encourage her to feed often and constantly and provide help by keeping healthy snacks and water at hand rather than trying to hold or dance around with the baby. The dad’s support is vital.
And lastly, what is your personal favourite part about breastfeeding?
Hmm this one is a toughie. I could write a whole post on this.
But it has to be that moment when my baby or toddler is crying or worked up or stressed and he latches on and I can see and feel every cell in his little body visibly relax and all’s well in their little world and nothing can go wrong ever again. Yes I have that super power.