If motherhood is a wonder of nature, shouldn't breastfeeding come naturally to a woman? Does it really need to be taught?
"Of course, breastfeeding is a natural and an extremely beautiful and fulfilling experience for any woman. But newborn babies need careful handling and first-time mothers need guidance," asserts Sonali Shivlani, who is probably Mumbai's first breastfeeding counsellor.
Shivlani, 36, who has a Cappa Certified Childbirth Educator or CCCE certificate from the US, where she specialized in lactation and lactation counseling, says, "There can be many problems during breastfeeding. Generally, new mothers learn to feed the child by trial-and-error methods - inflicting lot a of pain on themselves and on the newborn, who howls when not getting a sufficient feed."
Sharmila Thadhani of Kandivali, a suburb of Mumbai admits, "I had a problem with breastfeeding. The doctor and nurses at the clinic where I had delivered told me that the quantity of breast milk wasn't enough for my baby, who was a big child. This upset me a lot."
On hearing of Shivlani and her lactation counseling centre at CLAY Institute for Wellness and Lifestyle Enhancement in Bandra, the Thadanis contacted her. "My baby was just a fortnight old. I was almost crying at my inadequacy in handling my small and helpless child," recalls Sharmila Thadani, a former BPO employee in her mid-20s.
Thus at the small, tastefully furnished serene cottage-style clinic, which shuts out the noise of the mega city, expectant mothers are prepared for motherhood and breastfeeding depending on the counseling course in which they have enrolled.
When Thadani arrived at her first session, she was advised to simply relax and forget about her problem. "A mother's milk is never insufficient even if triplets are born to her," Shivlani reassured the new mother. "Unless there is some medical problem, which is rare, the breast-milk flow is enough to satisfy a child."
Even the little one was treated with the utmost care. Thadani's baby was asleep so Shivlani advised her not to wake up the infant till it woke up on its own. The counseling session, however, continued with Shivlani explaining methods of breastfeeding theoretically. Of the many tips given, Thadani was instructed not to bend while nursing - as that can lead to a backache. In fact, she suggested that new mummies hold the baby on a pillow.
According to Shivlani, in most maternity clinics the obstetrician's role comes to an end once the baby is delivered; and the gynecologists are largely concerned about the mother. Thus, unless a highly specialized neo-natal department is attached to the maternity home, the simple, pleasurable task of feeding a newborn can become a nightmare.
"Women start squeezing or pinching their breasts to express the milk. This can lead to very sore breasts or chapped nipples, which can be terribly painful. Unconsciously, a woman's body stops emitting milk to avoid that pain. Sometimes the breast milk starts collecting in the breast at which point surgical intervention is required to smoothen out the flow," explains Shivlani.
Another new mother, Shweta Mazumdar, 27, who lives in Bandra, approached Shivlani when her baby was two months old because she felt her child wasn't getting enough milk. "Shweta was highly tense because of some family problems and this had affected the milk flow. I just massaged her shoulders for five to six minutes. I also taught her husband, who accompanied her to the classes, to do the same. Then everything was perfect," recalls the counsellor with a smile.
Shivlani has come to the rescue of many mothers - over 300 women at the various hospitals she is attached to, including the renowned Beams at Bandra. But she decided to join CLAY Wellness so that she could lend a hand to expectant mothers too.
Madhushree Bhaiya, who is in her late 20s, regrets not having received the right advice when she had her first baby. She couldn't breastfeed her daughter. Raised on bottle feed, the child has suffered from many infections and digestive problems. When Bhaiya heard about CLAY Wellness, she decided to join even before she delivered her second child. "I received a lot of moral support and am happy that I was able to breastfeed my second daughter without any pain," she says.
According to Shivlani, in many hospitals if the mother isn't able to feed well or if the baby isn't able suckle properly, she is advised to switch to formula milk, which definitely isn't as healthy as a mother's milk. Many nurses and older women often advise mothers to not breastfeed in the first 48 to 72 hours, as the colostrums (the first milk after the delivery) is thick and not good for the baby. "This is a myth. It is the best milk and helps babies become immune to several health problems," asserts Shivlani.
Debunking another myth, she says, "Sometimes women nurse the child only on one breast at a time. This is wrong and can become painful. About 15 minutes on each breast is enough for a baby. "
"At our centre, we aim to educate parents-to-be and new mothers on the benefits of breast feeding, correct positioning of the baby, duration and frequency of feeds, enhancing milk supply, problems encountered while nursing and weaning," she says.
A session, which lasts for an hour or two, costs Rs 600 (US$1 = Rs 39.90) per sitting. The ante-natal programme, spanning over 12 hours; and the post-partum telephonic counseling session cost Rs 4,000. "Counseling is extremely essential as an increasing number of women are succumbing to stress. Consequently, nursing becomes difficult," says the counsellor.
Keen to impart counseling skills to nurses and even midwives in the larger interest of many more mothers, Shivlani plans to do another two-month course from the US so that she can offer a certification to her students; unfortunately, no institution offers this course in India.
By arrangement with WFS
1. Baby being breastfed under license with Gettyimages.com
2. Sonali Shivalani