Posted in Women & Family

Breastfeeding Awareness.

World Breastfeeding Awareness Week is observed from August 1st monday until today August 6th. Stepped into government’s Children’s Hospital ICH, Egmore (Neonatal) (Institute for Child Health & Hospital For Children) for the very first time in my life where the newborns are housed along with the pre-terms (pre-matured) fighting to make it the big world outside, from their incubators hooked to beeping machines. Young mothers nurse their babies as expectant mothers wait for their delivery. The entire place is buzzling with activity and the corridors are thronged by women of all ages. Yet in the chaos, there seems to be some orderliness. For, I never expected a state run hospital to be so good and efficient and clean. But I should have. I have after all in my younger years gone for procedures at Health centers that were neat and hygienic. And their services were FREE. My house-help delivered her pre-term baby boy here in Egmore hospital where he was well cared for, and having made it successfully to the world from the incubator, he is now working for an IT company. He is the first time graduate of his entire family. This is one family having benefited from government subsidies. People question about reservations and subsidies. I don’t because, I see all the time how the concessions have helped transform and build lives. Before I proceed any more, I have to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for the serving medical professional who mooted the breastfeeding awareness campaign as well as the nursing stuff for nurturing young lives and rekindling hopes in mothers with their babies in incubators.

What is positivity, what is it about making others REAL happy. You only have to step into places like these to know what is life all about. Everytime a baby from the incubator makes it to the real world the nursing staff dance. And that is the dance. Everytime a breastmilk donor gets the milk bank a sachet for a baby in distress, the staff sing and whistle welcoming the literally large hearted and generous mother for her very noblest charity.

Most mothers feel low even after they become grandmothers should they not have breastfed their babies to the best of their ability. I met mothers who shared this sentiment in their 50s and 60s sounding as though they had delivered just a week or month earlier! Their anguish at not having fed their babies to their heart’s content still makes them feel guilty. I do share such an emotion myself for having been a working mom in the 1990s when we did not have breast pumps at least in India. So when women returned to work, breast milk would end up getting emptied into the ladies room washstand. On the other hand some mothers simply did not produce enough lactation. Their babies were on formula feed within a month.

Working conditions are a lot improved in the private sector these days with prolonged maternity leave of upto one year on loss of pay basis to encourage breastfeeding and boost mother-newborn bond. Corporates in last ten years allow women stepping out twice a day for an hour to breast feed their babies.

One of the physicians who took to the dias explained how even having guests could distress the babies and affect the oxytocin produced by the mother which went a long way in helping produce lactation. Stress is an important factor that hampers lactation in mothers. Human psychology and emotions affected our harmones. The bond that must be established between the mother and the newborn gets disturbed and delayed. This was cited as one scientific reason for low level or lack of lactation in some women.

The celebration today was about felicitating mothers who donated their extra milk to the milk bank in the city. This comes to the rescue of mothers not lactating sufficiently or to those babies in the incubators who cannot be formula-fed. I have heard of milk banks earlier but to be seeing real donors and interacting with young mothers and learning of the facilities proved to be very informative and educative. I was toying whether to write about this biological phenomenon about women or miss it. I decided to go for it because, the motive of the campaign is first to spread the word. And we must do it by all means. Some of us women represented NGOs and we gave away nutritional food hampers to new mothers that can aid in lactation.

The nursing staff were very enlightening and entertaining at the same time. In my school days a girl named Ruksana would perform Villuppaattu but today the sisters of the hospital did just that informing the crowds how to save milk and make it fit and usable for other newborns in need. This could save many young lives.

This wonderful young mother of a 4.5 month old baby boy told us that she has so far donated over 30 liters of human milk to the milk bank in the hospital. We gave her a standing ovation. Her target is 100 liters. And she is an IAS officer. She said, the cooperation of the spouses, the parents of the mother and the in-laws have a role to play in enabling women to come forward for donating milk. Milk bank is not strange and breast milk donation is not taboo. Like blood donation, human milk donation goes towards saving and nurturing lives. Just the way the blood rejuvenates within hours of donation in the case of the blood donor, the breast milk too is rejuvenated as easily. There is no loss of milk or drop in lactation for the donor’s baby. That’s the point. Breast pumps are available to milk in the extra milk. There are NGOs who run flying squads to collect the milk in time (which means immediately), run a battery of tests to rule out contamination, then preserve it (or freeze it) so that the milk can be warmed for use when necessary. They literally call it the ‘thanga dravam’ (golden liquid) in Tamil. I can’t find a better word for mother’s milk.

I understand that in chillier weather, breast milk can be stored at room temperature for two to four hours. My own granddaughter was fed the milk pumped from breast from two to six months. In tropical climate like India’s, quicker refrigeration is necessary and the shelf life of the milk is extremely limited. Milk collection also takes time given the traffic. So that is where the flying squad NGOs step in. Their tagline is ‘step up breastfeeding’ and they go out of the way to procure milk from mothers to make it available to needy babies. Really just listening to their awesome service shook me to the roots. Most of these good samaritans are actually men!

There are nobler ways to grow as an individual, evolve into a better human and make people happier bringing them peace. We can gift fellow humans LIFE. The potential to fulfil these divine aspirations is there is every one of us.

About fifteen young mothers were felicitated for their timely breastmilk donation to the milk bank that helps sustain young lives. The mothers came from all backgrounds: from working girls to housewives and blue collar workers. Interestingly they were accompanied by their husbands who they said, did n’t mind staying awake in the night hours to pump the breast milk, to sterilize the feeding bottles, to store/freeze the milk for donation or sometimes even deliver at the milk bank in the hospital. India needs men of this kind.

The director who spoke underscored the importance of breastfeeding. Colostrum or the first breastmilk of mothers is very vital for babies as it contains valuable nutrients that can give the newborns immense immunity. The babies’ physical and mental health (IQ) improves. Breastfeeding babies at least three to six months keeping out the formula feed is a must. Donor mothers and the medicos and the nursing staff said one thing in unison: that there is nothing called NO-LACTATION. They said it is knack to get lactation and the mothers must be primed right from pregnancy as to how to not be tempted to go in for formula at the drop of the hat. The secret lay in persistence, never giving up.

As mothers, as grandmothers it is our duty to spread the news about breast milk donation and the breastmilk bank. The Milk bank is operational at ICH in the last nine years. It is now procuring close to four hundred liters of milk which is a very healthy figure. It goes a long way in feeding pre-term babies fighting for their survival in the warmth of the incubators. And other newborns whose mothers are not able to lactate for various reasons.

I am here talking about the milk bank with ICH only. No idea on private maternity homes. I understand that the obstetricians are in a convincing position to affirm to the donor mothers on the importance of breastmilk donation. Finally it all boiled upto them. Is there anything Chennai does not have? Blood banks, Sperm banks, Milk banks and Placenta or Umbilical Cord banks. Yet if anything has a dearth of donors, it is the milk bank.

Quality time. I have to thank my club for giving me exposure to hitherto unexplored grounds. Even as a mother and grandmother I needed to know better. Its not just about charity, its about our mindset. I have been personally involved in some private charities, but working in tandem with a group is another level. This way we come across altogether new aspects of life and needs for assistance. We can tap into genuine and worthy causes,

Really impressed with the Dean who spoke without batting his eyelid on breastfeeding. Kudos. He was to the point. Never made us women squirm. On the other hand I felt most respectful towards him. He has been delivering in detail on breastfeeding for a week now. Women feel comfortable with him. It is good to be told that a woman’s breasts are the ‘Akshaya Patra’ for newborns and the more you give, the more the mothers lactate. The milk never depletes or recedes just like, lighting a thousand diyas from a single diya (lamp) will not kill the flame or glow from the donor diya. You cannot explain milk donation better.

My ladies have no qualms about talking openly about breast milk and sharing their very private motherhood stories in public. I understand what openness really means. What maturity of a society is all about. And how there are REAL avenues to work on with people and help them in their lives if we truly care. MISSION BREASTFEEDING. May every mother pitch in so that our babies stay off formula feed for at least upto their first birthday.