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As a new mom, getting back to work while still breastfeeding your baby can be challenging. If you think you're alone, read this inspiring story of a mom who had to brave the odds every day to pump breast milk for her son
‘Only the first 6 weeks will be difficult, after that it gets better,’ they said. As a new mom, I naively believed it, completely oblivious to the fact that my college would require me to join back just 10 weeks after delivery. I was doing my dental postgraduation when I got pregnant. A postgraduate female dental student who gets pregnant is a hard label to deal with. We are treated like traitors who plotted to escape the grueling tenure of medical training which is on par and sometimes more stressful than war zones.
My son was 2.5 months and still breastfeeding when I returned to work. My first shock was when I realized there was no room or provision in the entire college where I could pump breast milk in privacy. My professor mockingly said, ‘Why don't you use the female restroom?’ My blood boiled but my hands were tied.
Some of my well-meaning colleagues offered their cars as pumping rooms, and I would sneak into the parking lot and pump. One day I was caught by a patrolling security guard who fled the scene, terrified by what he saw, and complained to my department head. A mother pumping breast milk for her baby in public- shameless, they said. Complaints were raised and some chastising was carried out by my 'well-meaning' women professors. To this day, what hurts me most is that I was so poorly educated about the rights of a breastfeeding mother that I felt ashamed when I was caught and lectured.
I was so terrified they would fail me in my final exams or sabotage the thesis research, that I never stood up for my basic rights as a woman. But my instincts as a mother weren't curbed. I managed to sneak out of my department every four hours on the pretext of a break, while my father waited for me at the back gate of my college. I would then run to a house nearby to quickly pump for my baby. I would wake up at 2 am and 4 am to pump and compensate for the next day’s feeds. I was sleepless and exhausted, but my baby was fed. That was my win.
‘You could have just fed formula,’ some moms would argue. What I really should have done is made some noise and demanded the privacy to breastfeed as I pursued my postgraduation.
In India, 80% of the children are not exclusively breastfed till 6 months of age. The lack of support that breastfeeding mothers face at workplaces is the reason. Maternity leave is considered a holiday, or a privileged vacation when in truth, a new mother is working twice as much at home as her male colleagues. Unless we educate our society to accept breastfeeding in public and normalize women taking a break from work after delivery, we will be failing our future generations.
As spoken by Dr Arulmozhi Nandakumar, dentist and parenting coach, to Kerina De Floras Felix.