by Jeana Dibu
In a developing country like India, breastfeeding is especially important. I saw this with my own eyes, working as a doctor in the Department of Paediatrics at Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, Tamil Nadu. I have seen many babies brought in with malnutrition, frequent infections like diarrhoea and respiratory diseases, just because they were not breastfed adequately. I have even witnessed the death of twins who were brought in by a poor mother who had been encouraged to bottle-feed her babies. I don’t know how she could afford to pay for the formula milk and then she lost both the twins to a simple but deadly disease: diarrhoea. Our Department of Paediatrics in the same hospital at Vellore is doing a great job by advocating exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
My experiences at the hospital were the initial motivation for my decision to breastfeed my twins, who I conceived after IVF treatment. While pregnant, I did a lot of reading and discovered La Leche League International. I know I couldn’t have breastfed my twins without the support of this organisation. I particularly appreciated two books published by LLLI: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and Mothering Multiples. These books were amazing to read and answered my questions. If I had any doubts, my LLL Leader was always available to talk through my concerns.
I am proud as a mother to say that I exclusively breastfed my twins for six months and continued to breastfeed them until 18 months old. I stopped breastfeeding when I became pregnant. This time, the pregnancy occurred without IVF, and breastfeeding during the pregnancy was exhausting for me. It was really sad for me to stop, but I had a lot of pressure from home.
Breastfeeding my twins was such a blessed experience for me. It wasn’t easy, I assure you. Some days I sat on my sofa feeding them for hours. Sometimes they fed together, sometimes I fed them separately. But I believe my effort has already paid off and will continue to do so as they grow older.
My twins Hannah and Joel were born at 37 completed weeks of gestation. This was a great relief. They were healthy and had adequate weights of 2.7 kg and 2.5 kg, so they were immediately brought to my side and I could start feeding them right away. I did have my share of cracked nipples and had to feed them expressed breastmilk for a few days with a paladai cup feeder. However, after only a couple of weeks they were able to suck well.
Breastfeeding was not easy because most of my family members did not support my decision to breastfeed. They kept on saying I was not giving my babies enough milk. If the twins cried, they said it was because they were starving. My husband was a great support because he too is an obstetrician and he knew how crucial it was for our babies to get the benefits of breastfeeding.
Initially I had doubts as to how often I should feed them. When my LLL Leader recommended feeding the babies on demand, I must say it was a relief for the babies but exhausting for me. I was determined to feed them exclusively, but of course that meant I had to make some sacrifices: I missed out on quite a bit of sleep, my eating schedules changed, and I never got to finish a meal in peace or go to the toilet peacefully.
Despite this, I wouldn’t give up the experience I had with them for the world. Many people can’t imagine that a mother can feed two babies at a time. This was a new concept for the babies’ grandparents too. But the babies adjusted so well, and even late into their toddler months they loved to feed together, which made life much easier for me.
I have seen my twins growing adequately: they are not obese and not too slim, and they have very few infections. I believe the breastmilk has done a lot of good for their brain growth too. Because I was exclusively breastfeeding them, I could do it anytime and anyplace. I never had to bother with the extra effort and cost of buying and sterilising bottles or making up formula feeds. The bond that breastfeeding creates is amazing; you may think it is exhausting that they are so bonded to you that they never want to let go. I always feel good when someone tells me that my babies prefer to be with me than with someone else.
My humble request is that we need to encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months. Mothers need a lot of support for this from their doctors and families. I believe every mother wants to do the best thing for their children, and there is nothing more rewarding for a mother than being able to breastfeed her little ones. The benefits of this precious gift will last a lifetime.
Close to the Heart Vol. 12, No. 3 (Late-Year 2011)
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