Only Bad Mothers Don't Breast-Feed Their Babies?

World Breastfeeding Week can leave bottle-feeding mothers feeling guilty and resentful of society's judgemental pressure.

Picture this. A newborn child is brought to the mother for its first feed. Mother and child both glow with health and happiness as they bond over this age-old ritual, which has well-documented benefits.

But in the case of Simran Jha, 28, the experience wasn't quite like this rosy picture. "It was embarrassing as I tried to breast-feed but couldn't produce milk for over an hour," says the accounts executive. The fact that all her relatives were around, trying to figure out what was going wrong, only added to her woes.

Jha eventually opted for bottle-feeding a month after her baby was born but resents the labels that come with the decision. "Women who don't breast-feed their kids are accused of being selfish and lazy," she says. "To people who make such harsh allegations, I say: it is my breast, my milk, and my child."

The benefits of breast-feeding have been well established -- it is nutritious, economical, and boosts the immunity of infants, besides reducing the chances of breast cancer in women. But as a massive campaign to promote World Breast Feeding Week kicks off, it has left a number of bottle-feeding mothers feeling alienated and defensive.

Rina Bhatnagar*, 25, a homemaker, hates it when she watches TV and comes across an advertisement that encourages breast-feeding: "It is all fake; the mum looks happy, her skin is glowing and healthy -- very unlike what actually happened in my life."

Bhatnagar didn't have an easy delivery. After a caesarean section, her wound didn't heal for a couple of months. "While breast-feeding, you are asked to sit up straight and feed your kid. That was very painful for me. I have on many occasions given my kid a milk bottle as I didn't have the energy to sit up or feed him."

Dr Anjali Malpani, author of How To Have A Baby, says, "There are young urban mothers who are preferring bottle milk for a variety of reasons. But it is rare that society understands their position. These mothers are faced with societal pressure and feel guilty for not breast-feeding their children."

Doctors say that high stress levels and demanding jobs among young mothers along with fewer public facilities for breast-feeding are aggravating the problem. "The city lacks a breast-feeding culture and it is rare to find nursing rooms at public places where mothers can breast-feed their kids," says gynaecologist Rashmi Nair. "In restaurants, mothers are asked to use the most uncomfortable place to breast-feed their kids -- the toilet. So when out on parties or at work, if the mother happens to forget to pump her milk, she will usually ask the nanny to give bottle milk to the kid and, over a period of time, bottle milk replaces breast milk."

While most mothers insist that what they feed their children is a personal choice, the spiral of negative emotions can cause reluctance to seek support on bottle-feeding their infants. For Kurien, lack of information on bottle milk was a disadvantage. "I once placed the bottle with the milk inside the microwave to heat it. Later when I removed the bottle the plastic had melted. It is taboo to speak about bottle milk when you have a young child at home. If you try to speak to doctors and relatives about how to proceed with bottle milk, you get a lecture on breast-feeding instead. There is little information and literature available on what can be given to kids who aren't breast-fed."

For Jha, World Breastfeeding Week is not a happy prospect. It is likely to be filled with phone calls from relatives to tell her how wrong she is in not breast-feeding her child. "Neither my parents nor my in-laws live with me," she says. "So during the week, they will take the opportunity to remind me of my responsibilities."

Breast-feeding advocates are adamant, however, that there should be more promotion for breast-feeding as the rates are falling.


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