An architect by education, designer at heart, and poet by passion, Yaman Banerji is now an assistant professor at an architecture college in Mumbai and a certified babywearing educator / babycarrier consultant. She thoroughly enjoys multitasking – her work and juggling time with her family, friends and her bundle of energy #littlemissRu. Along with a bunch of amazing friends, she runs the Mumbai Sling Library (MSL) and a bunch of support groups for mothers that encompasses everything from breast feeding, fitness, cloth diapering, sustainable menstruation etc.
1. You’re quite a multitasker, Yaman. And all of this along with breastfeeding – I am sure a lot of mothers would love to be able to do just half of what you do. Yaman, in India, lot of hospitals give newborns formula without the parents’ consent. Did you face something similar?
The first time ever my daughter was fed, was formula through a syringe, even before I was completely aware of what was happening. After birthing via an emergency c-section, I was unconscious for a while. And though the nurses at the hospital constantly tried to help my baby latch, she was being formula fed intermittently on the first two days. I doubt if anyone at all from the family was asked, may have been informed, but not asked according to the best of my knowledge.
This is where I regret not being aware about lactation counselors beforehand.
2. Did #littlemissRu latch easily once you were back home?
I was hell bent on breastfeeding. We kept trying and after days of hand expressing and feeding with a ‘vati chamcha’ (bowl and spoon), we were set for a smooth journey that lasted for about three years. Luckily I was surrounded by my family who knew that I wouldn’t believe in superstitions, and follow random suggestions, so most did not bother.
It took us a good while for the latch to happen successfully. Though I tried each time she woke up crying, it was far from easy. Nurses felt that the nipples were flat, and tried pulling it out with a syringe, and slowly we were getting there. Thankfully, I was hand expressing (very painfully though) into a small bowl and feeding her through a spoon and didn’t have to face engorgement during this period.
3. You went back to work after #littlemissRu turned 6 months. How difficult was it managing work and to meet her nutritional needs from breast milk?
I was on a break for about 6 months after which I resumed work as a visiting faculty and would be away for half a day, three times a week or so. I had a manual breast pump ready, to pump and store for the time I was away. Luckily by that time solids were introduced, as well, so I didn’t need to build a big stash. I used to pump just once a day, for one feed for her, the next day. It did take me some time to figure a time in the day where I’d get the best output.
As a working mother, breastfeeding (along with babywearing) was very, very special to me. It in a way helped me bond with my child and make up for the time spent away from her. After breastfeeding on demand for a long time, after around 18 months or so, I had a sort of feeding routine set around my schedule. So feeds typically would be early morning before I left, around early evening, and nights before she’d go off to sleep. Of course at many times, there would be feeding on demand, but this routine helped me from getting too worked up, and since Ruhani wasn’t a fussy eater, it made things a little simpler for us.
4. Did nursing in public (NIP) come easily to you? Many mothers nurse on the go while babywearing too.
Initially, I was definitely wary of NIP, though I am blessed that my family was totally okay with it throughout. It was after being a part of a few mommy groups perhaps, when I started perceiving it beyond it being my body in an awkward position, but my baby’s right to have her primary source of food and nutrition.
I realized that my usual attire, the kurtas that I wore were not really the most convenient things to nurse in. A loose T-shirt, or a short kurti worked well, along with a few front buttoned up shirts and gowns I wore. Now that I think about it, perhaps I would NIP more if I had a few more nursing-friendly clothes. Nursing in a baby carrier was very comfortable, and littlemissRu would be happily amused when we did so. Even in public, we would be totally discreet. But in these cases, having a deep neck, front open or nursing friendly clothes surely help.
5. You mentioned nursing till Ruhani turned 3 years. I am sure you were not spared the “well-meaning weaning advices. Tell us about it.
My gynecologist and a few people here and there had casually mentioned that there was no ‘need’ to continue breastfeeding over 12 to 15 months. But I haven’t been a mother who goes by the books. I instinctively wanted to cherish the moments that my daughter loved as dearly as I. At times, it was obvious that she’d be nursing not because she is hungry, but because she loved to be on my lap, and looking at those eyes lit up, who could deny the child of something so basic, yet so powerful.
Another reason, why extended breastfeeding was a blessing for me, was that we could travel at ease. My partner and I love to travel, and Ru has been enjoying it as much. Thanks to breastfeeding, I knew that she would never go hungry or thirsty, as long as I was around. It was like always having backup food, as healthy and uncontaminated as can be.
There were raised eyebrows at times, and curious questions, as to when I would wean her, but then if you are a mother, who is convinced that she knows what she is doing, there is little that deters you. They were usually dismissed with humor or looks which clearly told people to not bother with my business.
6. As a breastfeeding mother, a drop in feeds is close to heartbreak. How did you and Ruhani cope?
Since she was almost 3 by that time, she was nursing only for comfort, typically once, if she woke up in the middle of the night. Gradually, the late nights turned to early mornings, just around the time I needed to wake up to get ready for work. She would perhaps be hungry, and not let me go after a short 5-10 minutes session. This got really stressful for me, and with a really heavy heart, I thought that perhaps this was indeed the time to let go. My husband had to deal with the cranky child in the early mornings for a week or so, and distracting her by offering her favorite fruits helped, while I just hid myself or rushed out!
Weaning her off (about a week before she turned three) was among the toughest thing I’ve had to do. It was totally my call that I was done, finally. With the husband’s support and a lot of talks to convince a three year old, who was in disbelief that her milk was gone, we did get through. After 6 months now, I still get asked occasionally, if there will be restocking of the supply. 😛
7. I have heard of a lot of mothers being hungry all the time while breastfeeding. Some mothers would eat less while some would eat regularly. Which one were you? 😀
Breastfeeding definitely wasn’t as much of a cakewalk, as it usually seems to be. Other than the grueling first week, as a new mom, I used to be ravenously hungry ‘all the time’. I had a lot of aunts and grannies coming over and giving me traditional home-made nutritious dry fruits/ methi/ dink ‘laddoos’ and I devoured them unapologetically as my mid night or mid meal snacks. An overall well balanced food intake, took care of my health otherwise, along with a moderately active lifestyle.
I started babywearing walks when she was 5 months old, and started focusing on fitness and shedding the gained weight around the time she was one, and perhaps breastfeeding along with proper diet and exercises, did help me, eventually getting back to better shape than I was pre-pregnancy!
One of the main triggers to keep a watch on my weight and get back to an active lifestyle was my mother. Though very active, she was overweight, and often told me how she never got back to her pre-pegnancy size, post me. I knew that I would never let my child be a reason or excuse to not look after myself. Healthy eating and exercise have now become a lifestyle rather than a need, and I am very proud of it.
8. How important it is to be informed in advanced about what to expect during breastfeeding?
On hindsight, I feel being a little more aware about the start to the beautiful journey and ways to go about it would have surely helped. I got to know of the support groups much later, but thankfully new moms now, have a lot of resources.
It always helps to be well informed before you take decisions. But then, over and above all of this remember to trust yourself, as a parent as your instincts will seldom mislead. Cherish the opportunity of being able to raise a precious little being along with the pain and the joy that it gets along.