A baby is the purest being, the only one that qualifies to be called an angel by virtue of its very existence. Babies epitomise innocence. They are as God made them, unmarred by sin, unstained by artifice.
As parents, we are overwhelmed by the responsibility of bringing up our children right, even as we feel ourselves consumed by our love for them. We promise ourselves that no matter what other milestones we may or may not clock in life, no matter what goals we may or may not tick off our bucket lists, this bringing-up-baby business is something we will get right, even if we have to spend our whole life doing it.
Before the birth of La Niña, I attended a breastfeeding class at the maternity hospital at which I had registered to give birth. The lecture was organised by the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI). The lecturer emphasised the importance of breastfeeding, the most basic nutrition for babies in a practice that dates back to the dawn of civilisation.
Having written an article on the subject of breastfeeding for the first magazine I worked for, I was aware about the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby. But the lecturer opened our eyes to the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother too. I was a willing student, and hung on to every word that she spoke. Her words resonated within me, and gave life to a resolve that I had not yet encapsulated in words. There and then I decided that I would breastfeed my baby exclusively for six months. I would be her primary source of nourishment and nutrition. My body would assuage baby’s hunger pangs and thirst. My milk would be the blood that flowed in her veins.
It was a resolve that gave me many sleepless nights. Well wishers who came to see the baby over the next few weeks chided me for what they referred to as “irrational” behaviour on my part. They told me that they had formula fed their children in their time, and that their kids had suffered no harm as a result.
Others told me that while I may choose to indulge myself in the day by breastfeeding her, I should formula feed her at night to ensure that she slept well, thereby affording me a good night’s rest too. The unspoken assertion was that in refusing to formula feed her at night, I was disturbing my wee one’s slumber by not slaking her hunger pangs effectively.
The logic was incorrect. The truth is that breast milk is easily digested, causing babies to wake up and cry for more, whereas formula, being hard to digest, induces a longer period of rest.
It was not a line of reasoning that appealed to me. I was prepared to sacrifice my sleep even if she woke up three times each night for her feeds and kept me up for 45 minutes each time. I was determined to breast feed on demand, no matter how often the demand was made.
My maternity leave exhausted itself four months after La Niña was born. I was forced to resume full-time work, a fact that challenged my decision to breastfeed her exclusively for the first six months of her life.
A quick phone call to the BPNI lady showed me the way to continue breastfeeding even as I fulfilled my duties at work. The lady instructed me in the right way to express, store and transport breast milk. It was a huge commitment on my part, but I could not have done it without the cooperation of my in-laws who looked after La Niña with intense dedication, and my boss, who let me excuse myself thrice a day, for 30 minutes each time, so I could express milk for my baby.
I had told my boss that I would need to take time off for expressing milk only for two months, until La Nina turned six months old, but she encouraged me to do it for as long as I wanted for the benefit of my child. For the next five months, I was always lugging an array of small steel containers in which to express the milk, besides an icebox in which I stored the steel containers. It was inconvenient, but the positive implications of my actions were quickly evident.
Thrice a day, I would go to a spare room in my office clinic, and there amid the sterile and spartan surroundings, I would express milk for my child in the steel containers. I would store these containers in the fridge during the day, then get some ice from the office canteen for my icebox, and carry the steel containers containing my ‘liquid gold’ home.
Once home, I would sterilise six steel katoris, by washing them well and drying them over the heat of the gas burner, the way the BPNI lady had taught me. I would then pour the milk from the steel containers into these katoris.
The following day, my in-laws would pull out one of these containers about 15 minutes before La Niña’s feeding time, and warm the milk by keeping the containers in hot water. Breast milk should never be microwaved or heated on the gas. La Niña’s indulgent grandparents would then feed her the milk using a spoon.
We had already decided against using feeding bottles for a number of reasons. The plastic is never 100 per cent safe, nor is the silicon nipple. Nor does extensive boiling of the feeding bottle apparatus make it as clean and safe as breast milk.
Having observed the power of breastfeeding firsthand, I was doubly motivated to do the same for El Niño. Today La Niña is five years of age, while El Niño is two-and-a-half. Our paediatrician’s file for both kids consists of no more than 5-6 sheets. Almost 90 percent of our visits to the doctor have been to get the kids their vaccination shots. On the rare occasion that the kids have fallen ill, as a result of a sudden change in the weather etc, I have observed with gratitude that both of them have recovered within a day or two. Another pleasant byproduct of the fewer doctor visits is that their immune systems have not been forced to endure doses of antibiotics.
I have seen many kids falling prey to infection after infection, their parents forced to take time off from work once too often. The Husband and I have almost never had to take time off to take the children to the doctor.
I have now become something of a breastfeeding evangelist. Whenever I espy a pregnant woman on the train or bus, I gingerly and tentatively bring up my own experiences, and if she seems receptive, I let her know about the many positive effects of exclusive breastfeeding for both mother and child. I tell her of the physical, mental and social development of the child, of the strengthening of the child’s immunity, a gift that lasts almost all through life.
With my breastfeeding efforts having yielded such great results, I was determined to ensure that the effects of the immunity did not wear off. My father had introduced me to the benefits of eating amla, and I sought to share this treat with my children. They didn’t take to it with the same gusto though, so I learned to make amla candy. Now they can enjoy the benefits of eating amla all the year round.
I haven’t stopped at that in my endeavour to boost their immunity. When they stopped being covered by the all-encompassing power of mother’s milk, I introduced them to Dabur Chyawanprash. Fortunately, it wasn’t an acquired taste. Having seen me and their paternal grandparents enjoying a spoon of this mixture every once in a while with obvious relish, they too began demanding a tablespoon of the same.
The first time they tasted it, the expression on their faces underwent a radical roller-coaster upheaval. But they soon took to this part-sweet, part-spicy taste. They are the only kids I have ever seen that lick the Chyawanprash spoon clean with the concentration that most other children reserve for lollipops.
I also make sure that my children eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables and dry fruits every day, that they play around and sleep well too.
When it comes to boosting the body’s natural defence mechanisms, mothers must ensure that nothing is left undone.
My kids are healthy and well.
What more can a mother ask for?