Candid, not Candied

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Untold Horrors of Breastfeeding

Again let me remind you of some disclaimers

1. Perverts - BUZZ OFF! 

2. Breast feeding is a sensitive topic. Some might even consider discussions on the subject, shameless. For what it is worth, I have decided to put away the shame and hence the stigma revolving around this topic.

3. Again, the following is what I experienced. You may have a totally different tale to tell. If you are already a mother AND did not have to face whatever I had to, please do not try to sell me how wrong I am. I know what I went through. If you are a mother to be, I suggest you read and do not obsess over it. This might be an eye-opener and for your mental preparedness.

4. If you are no where near mothering, read for entertainment! Hope it'll help you in your future. What else can I say?

5. If it is some husband reading this, please continue doing so. It'll help you get a better understanding of why your wife might be ready to throw things at you every time you speak. (Or, if she is not preggy yet, you'll know where to come when she gets there)


I was sent home with strict instructions to strictly breast feed my baby. Formula was to be used only in case the baby wasn't satisfied with the b-milk.

My knowledge about breast feeding was limited to what and how it is shown in the television ads. Let me tell you, that those ads are grossly misleading. They were for me. The pain that I experienced in the hospital during the initial trials of b feeding was supposed to wear off. The milk was supposed to come in and I was supposed to be able to enjoy the whole thing. That was the ideal picture.

Like I said, I was to b feed every time Aa was hungry and not give the formula. This meant that I had to offer b feed much more frequently than I did at the hospital. The feeds were 1.5-2 hrs apart, each session on each side lasting for 15 minutes. All that latching, de-latching, re-latching and unlatching led to some cuts on me. They did not bother in the beginning.

It was at the end of the day that I became sore, red and bruised. The suckling on a raw bruise led me to cry. I would cry throughout the feed. Not only did the bruises keep getting worse during every feed, but also my ability to bear the pain. Imagine a scraping an arm and someone gnawing at the cut at regular interval. Well, this pain was much worse. Post partum women's breasts and nipples are a very very sensitive area.

Anyone who heard of my problem were kind enough to tell me that suffering was a part of the package. This is perhaps the last thing you want to hear from a bunch of ladies who seem to have taken on pregnancy and childbirth by its horns. What would shock me was their standoff-ish attitude and inability to empathize.

Guests had started coming in to stay for Aarnavi's naming ceremony on the thirteenth day. Instead of getting any easier, it was getting more and more difficult for me. The pain would be so unbearable that I couldn't let her finish off the feed, which invited some earful from my mother and my aunt. I wondered how my tears, my clenched fist and teeth failed to communicate to them how much painful it was for me. And, I wondered how my swollen eyes would look to the guests, wondered what would they think might be the reason behind them.

At such times, even a casually spoken comment hurts a lot. Like the time my mother said, if you cry for this pain, I can't imagine if you had had to go for natural birth. All I could think of was, natural birth happens once, but here I am bearing excruciating pain every day at every two hour interval and for god knows how long! It makes you feel like you are the worst mother ever, who cannot bear a simple pain. I started blaming myself for being selfish and thinking about my pain instead of feeding my baby with all that nutrition and immunity booster filled b milk. I couldn't free myself from these on shuffle, on-loop thoughts.

All this was not without drama from my little one. She would howl every time she latched on. She would howl every time I detached her from myself because obviously she was not satisfied. I even tried to express milk manually (tried the pump later) so that at least my scars would heal and my baby would still get what she needs. That did not seem to be working either.

Things got so bad that one day while feeding, my scars on one side bled and my nipple on the other side tore. Not a cut or scrape but a tear! The doctor did prescribe application of ghee and an ointment for the dryness, soreness to go away. None provided relief.

The only person who saw the pain and spoke it out, was my husband. One day he sat next to me, held my hand and cried saying, "I cannot see you going through this." Even though my aunts and my mother might have understood, they used the reverse psychology. My mother believes in firm words instead of soothing touch. I do too. It gives courage. But not this time. This time I did not need courage. I wanted to be let to be weak and break down.

Crying was now my daily routine. I was in tears for both the reasons - for suffering the pain and for not being able to provide for my daughter. The mental torment didn't cease. In addition to that my doc was hell bent on getting the b feeding done.

Well, a major player in the confinement period is the woman who comes for massage et al. She is one knowledgeable doctor who has gathered all that not from books but by experience. Her expert diagnosis told me that my milk wasn't getting expressed in a way that it should and that is why the baby cries so much when I offer her the feed. Of course, being newbie myself, (and do not forget the mind tends to fog at such times) I believed her. And it made sense, since my baby was not getting it as easily, she was trying hard at suckling, which meant more scraping on my nipple.

My mother got another reason to obsess. She started to worry continually on why this was happening. We tried every trick to boost the milk supply. Most suggestions were related to me eating right. Some said I needed to eat rice porridge, some said mutton curry would do the trick. My cousin insisted methi kheer (sweet pudding made of Fenugreek seeds) would help. Still someone else suggested I eat jowar bhakri (flat bread made of Sorghum grain). And of course, the doctor increased the dose of Satavrex (natural galactogogue) added milk from two glasses to three a day. Again none of which worked in a way it was supposed to be. The only thing increasing was my weight and going down was my self esteem.
 Seeing no results, my mom started getting tenser by the day. By now, I was totally done with b feeding. I struggled to find that special bond. It was not something I looked forward to. I hated b feeding with gusto! There I said it!

The last straw was when the masseuse commented that I did not try hard enough - I break down soon and bearing pain is not my cup of tea. According to her, I gave up too soon too easily. I was not offended by what she said because it was true. Every person has different tolerance level and perhaps mine is really low. I know I gave it my best shot. I know how much I have wished to be like one of those ladies on the television ad - feeding their baby with a contented look on their face. But no one tried to understand that I wasn't doing it on purpose. No one seemed to care that I wanted to try and failing each time was a resounding slap on my face. The guilt, the shame, the failure coupled with sleep deprivation was stressing me out. And that is perhaps why I wasn't able to give my 100%.

I hated it to an extent that I prayed my milk run dry. I was sick of the physical pain. I was no longer in a position to accept anything said against me. All my efforts to be the ideal mom seemed to take so much of my energy that I stopped enjoying the experience altogether. I thought if only I did not have to b feed! And I couldn't, for the life of me understand why my mother was getting all paranoid about "not enough b milk". The baby was getting some nutrition. Why should I feel guilty? I am not doing anything purposely. Nor was I starving her. If there was an option to b milk, why not adopt it because this fiasco was going nowhere, except put me through pain and keep the baby hungry!
 The trials for successful b feeding were still on. On doctor's suggestion we bought silicon nipples to be attached over. They too proved futile. Also with the breast pump I couldn't gather enough milk, although my breast felt pretty heavy and full. This inability to completely empty my breasts gave me a sore spot on one side. It was hard to touch and I feared if it was a formation of a lump. It was backed by fever too. My mom had to experience this and she said it could be a possibility of a lump.

I saw the doctor for confirmation. She said it was not a lump but a breast abscess symptom which has happened due to blocked milk ducts. I was given oral medication to treat it. With that not only did the hardness disappear but also the milk supply to that side. With some pain taken off,  I was relieved but I knew better than to let my thoughts be heard.

From that day onward, the b feeding pain went down many notches. Because of the lesser milk supply, I was not obligated to feed for long or so frequently. This gave my cuts time to heal and I had longer breaks in between pains.

By the time Aa turned 3.5 months, the b feeding had completely stopped. Although everyone else seemed to grieve about it, I was feeling happy. My torture had ended. If today I were to choose between a year more of sleepless nights or a month long b feeding, I am ready to sacrifice my sleep.


  1. I went through a similar horrifying experience..while my nipples went sore only for a few days and I did manage to breastfeed upto almost a year, my b-feeding sessions would last for as long as one hour for the first three months!
    And, R wouldn't even nap for that long to give me a break. His nap would last only for 15 mins and then he'd be ready for his next feed in another 15 mins and then the cycle would begin.
    I hated the b-feeding session for all of those 3 months after which of course, the session came down to 15-20 mins and the gap between 2 session also became 2 hrs, giving me some time to breathe.
    But I vividly recount the horrors of the first three months where I'd be unable to even take a 10 min leisurely bath, leave alone take a nap during the day :-(
    So, I hear you, sistah! don't worry you are not alone and its not shameful to talk of these things.

    1. Every b-feeding story is different. Only when people shared did I know I was not alone in suffering and feeling what I felt.

  2. I love you! Although my experience so far has been different, I can relate to the post partum pressures well. Hugs to you! I think people forget that all women and babies are different. Too much pressure is put on women who are expected to suffer. But people forget that if it comes naturally, it won't pain! Sometimes stuff doesn't happen the way its supposed to be, but its OKAY. doesn't make you a bad mom if YOU don't BF, nor does BFing make you a good one.

    And BFing does come with its share of issues. Agree with Uma

    Ohh and the maalish wali! Epic proportions of 'expert advice' gets thrown at you and your little one daily!

    Hugs to you on being so brave! I know Aa will grow up to be a strong and healthy lady, not coz of the way she is fed but because she has such a strong role model in you! :)

    1. Thank you very much, Rachana! I can do with some nice words for what I went through. Hope you are doing well in every mommy department! :)

  3. Wow... Once agn, good to know I am not alone.. My story is almost on the same lines...but so much worse...I'm feeling so bitter that I am not able to proceed with my own blog.. glad that the phase is over...for both of us... :) Hugs.

    1. well you began all this sharing business. Yes, pretty glad that the phase is done with! :)

  4. Hey..great job writing it down.. it surely will help someone prepare for the phase.and not be guilty about it..

    1. That is my objective. to reach out to some other woman who might be in dire need of some support, even if it is just some words. :)

  5. read through your pregnancy and motherhood journey...was a nice read.. i too don't understand how people say its all a cakewalk.. i had no problems during pregnancy but only in breastfeeding... but still, thinking of those first three months, i still get jitters..
    hoping to see more updates.. :)


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