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‘The Day I Stopped Feeding My Child Formula, It Was A Proud Mommy Moment For Me!’

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"My baby wasn’t latching at all despite my best efforts, but magic happened one fine day—and I learned to be more compassionate and less judgmental," says Priyanka Koteeswaran. Read on to know about the ups and downs she faced during her breastfeeding journey

‘The Day I Stopped Feeding My Child Formula, It Was A Proud Mommy Moment For Me!’

"I gave birth in Los Angeles, California, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. My lack of breastfeeding knowledge became apparent just hours after giving birth.

Just like many new moms, I had basic knowledge about breastfeeding before delivery, and thought that if every other woman could do it, I could too.

I was under the impression that only moms of preemies (premature babies) struggled with breastfeeding, while the rest of the moms had it easy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mom and baby are separated

My baby Ishaan was born full term, I had a normal delivery. Everything went well until I heard that my little one had respiratory issues—meconium aspiration syndrome. I was told that it occurs when a newborn breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid into the lungs at the time of delivery.

So my son was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). As I watched him being taken away, I realized I had missed out on feeding him during the golden hour of breastfeeding, which I had heard so much about before he was born. Ishaan and I were not able to have any skin-to-skin contact, which is also highly recommended by lactation specialists.Ishaan was in the NICU for three days, but it seemed like an eternity to me. As I was away from my son, I was introduced to pumping, but due to stress and other factors, the milk was not adequate. Doctors told us that my son must get around 30ml feed every day to flush out the toxins. So, for those first three days in the NICU, he was fed formula. I pumped in my room and sent the colostrum in swabs to feed him.

Latching troubles begin

On the third day, I got to hold my son for the first time and breastfeed him. But it wasn’t as easy as I expected—my baby had trouble latching. From that day onward, it was a constant struggle for me to make him latch on for a good feed.

We came home from the hospital on the sixth day, but the battle with breastfeeding continued. From then on, every day, I diligently tried to teach him how to latch on for hours, but he simply didn’t know how to do it and would start crying, as all the efforts made him hungry. Every time this happened, it left me teary-eyed.

Some friends asked me to visit the lactation specialist at the hospital, but at that time I had no means of transport to visit one and was hoping that soon I would learn how to feed my son. But there was no end in sight to bottle-feeding.

Every time my mother-in-law, who was staying with us at that time, took away the crying baby for bottle-feeding, I was heartbroken that I couldn’t breastfeed my child. I almost fell into depression, as not being able to breastfeed my baby was affecting me mentally.

Seeing me struggle with breastfeeding, my husband stepped in and told me, “Don’t try too hard to feed him, it’s okay if he’s formula-fed as long as he’s healthy.” But I didn’t give up, and tried to feed my baby every day but without success.

A ray of hope

Some nights, both my baby and I would cry simultaneously after yet another failed attempt at feeding. Once, unable to sleep from my son’s constant wailings, my mother-in-law got up and offered the little one a pacifier. He slept off peacefully after some time.

This continued till his fourth week when he latched magically. But it was an improper latch, and that left me with sore nipples. By that time, I started to pump and feed him occasionally through a bottle.

Around seven weeks after birth, my baby started preferring only formula feed. I was so disheartened that I finally met with a lactation consultant. She told me that our little one had severe nipple confusion due to a combination of pacifiers, feeding bottles and direct feed.

I was more stressed, but continued my routine of direct feed, expressed milk and formula feed. That was the time I faced all breastfeeding-related issues like improper latching, engorged breasts, sore nipples, and low supply.

Turning to breastfeeding support groups

That was also the time when my in-laws left for India and we were on our own. With no other options left, I started searching online breastfeeding support groups for advice. With some sane advice from an online support group, I slowly started cutting down on infant formula. I also realized that stress and food habits can impact the supply of breast milk. I started taking care of my food habits by including garlic, fennel and soaked fenugreek in my diet, and I tried not to get stressed out about my failures at breastfeeding.

For better latch, I started doing skin-to-skin at night and tried different breastfeeding positions. Then I used a nipple shield that matched the feeding bottle, and started going by my son’s cues for feeding. As he used to get impatient, I tried to express just before feeding. All these techniques seemed to work. As we were spending more time in each other’s company, slowly but surely he learned how to latch properly, and finally, we achieved success. The day I completely stopped formula-feeding, it was a proud mommy moment for me!

Busting myths, learning lessons

Many people told me that babies never learn to latch once they are around a month old, but my baby learned it when he was 4 months old. Some told me that once babies are fed formula, they will never go back to breastfeeding, but we did exactly the opposite.My struggle with breastfeeding is still fresh in my memory, even though it’s been more than two years now. That experience made me more compassionate and less judgmental toward all, especially moms. Moms go through a lot not just during pregnancy and childbirth, but also during breastfeeding—all we need is some patience and understanding from our near and dear ones.

Now, Ishaan is 2.5 years old and still feeds at night! Currently, I’m looking for ways to wean him off breastfeeding."

By Priyanka Koteeswaran

(As told to Monali Bordoloi)

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