The Madras High Court recently posed a query to Center that why it isn’t obligatory for mothers to breastfeed their newborns. The judge delved into various researches and studies to emphasize that “breastfeeding is important for the babies to keep them healthy and also the feeding mothers”. This was one of the fifteen queries placed before the centre which revolve around women’s right to procreate, the maternity benefits, including maternity leave and other issues like provision of mother’s milk to a newborn child.
The intention behind the Chennai High Court’s query is sincere, however, it lacks thought.
The concern of the judge is not misplaced. Mother’s milk is indeed the most natural and sterile form of nutrition for an infant. However, every woman’s body is different, and so is their experience with lactation due to their varying physiology.
Also, often parents and family members do not pay attention to hygiene while top feeding a newborn. The milk is produced inside the mother’s body, and the baby is able to consume it by simply latching on to her breast. We all know that breast milk is very nutritious, and provides the baby with immunity, which is yet to develop in his or her own body. In an ideal world, mother’s milk is the only food fit for a baby below the age of six months. But we all know, that reality is far more complicated.
If only we could operate our breasts with a switch! So that we could start producing milk the minute our child was born. Many women struggle with breastfeeding in initial days of motherhood. It is not as simple as placing one’s teat in the bawling newborn’s mouth. Both mother and child struggle to establish lactation. Sometimes, a child does not want to latch on. Or a mother is unable to produce any milk after childbirth. Most mothers are not able to produce enough quantities to satiate their babies’ hunger.
Nothing breaks a mother’s heart more, than having to watch your baby crying with hunger, and not being able to produce enough milk.
I certainly know the pain too well. Like many women, I struggled with breastfeeding. My memories of the initial days of motherhood are mostly about the frustration I felt at not being able to feed my child properly. I was the experimental cow for the doctors, the nurses, the masseuse and family members. Who tried and tested every possible trick in their kitty. From massaging my breasts, to pouring warm water on them, to pinching my teats so hard that I cried from the pain, to “unclog” the milk ducts.
By the third day, postpartum depression and my failure to feed my baby got to me. I was crying inconsolably. This struggle continued for a month or so. I was fed every possible jari booty.Other lactation inducing foods know to increase production of milk in women, and I suspect cows and buffaloes. There were times when I felt like giving up on it entirely. Yet I kept feeding my child whatever milk I could produce, and then supplemented the deficit with top feeding. I visited several paediatricians and gynaecologists, to know what I was doing wrong. But no one had the solution for my problem.
The first few months of motherhood, which should have been spent fawning over the cute little thing, were instead spent in deep guilt at failing my child.
My struggle, like that of many mothers is a proof that lactation is a much more complex task than it seems. Yet, everyone seems to be ready to pass a judgement against a woman who opts to top feed her child. No one asks her why she is doing so. No one tries to find any solutions. It is hard for people to understand that this is an actual struggle for many women. In such times they do not need to be put down for not being able to feed their child.
Giving a working woman six months of paid leave, or making workplaces and public places breastfeeding friendly is a great idea. It will indeed be a boon to many women, who give substitutes to their children, because of their lifestyle or surroundings. But then telling her that it is obligatory that she breastfeed her child, is not fair. Instead of fighting over whether or not we should feed babies with formula milk, doctors should try to understand what circumstances lead parents resort to it.
Breastfeeding cannot be made obligatory without thorough research on cases of women who struggle to produce enough milk.
Having a formula fed baby is not easy for parents. The product is expensive. You have to maintain proper hygiene, along with deafening cries throughout night and day, while you prepare the milk. So, breastfeeding is also a more convenient way to feed babies.
Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.