When Shantamma had just delivered her little girl, she was often overwhelmed while breastfeeding her baby. She breastfed starting on the right, went to the left side and had to at times feed her on the right again. She was tired, but she was happy. That was until her mother arrived. She and her husband had known the inevitability of Shantamma and her mother locking horns after the baby’s birth and were mentally prepared. On the day of discharge, when the grandmother complained to the doctor about Shantamma’s inadequate milk (merely because the baby would suck for long), the doctor examined her latch and positioning and approved of both but instead of assuring them to be patient, the doctor rather carelessly started the new mother on Perinorm tablets (a milk production booster).

Shantamma later tells me how her determination to breastfeed came a little undone when she heard her doctor say that she might be making less milk. What the doctor did was detrimental to Shantamma’s budding self-confidence as a new mother. As she continued to breastfeed and mentally block out her own mom at home, Shantamma found it harder to cope. On her follow-up visit with her doctor, she mentioned how she barely slept and how the baby was sucking non-stop. The doctor smiled politely and asked her to try a pacifier.

Sucking continues being the one-stop solution to all of baby’s problems. And the baby is not the only one who benefits from this non-stop suck-fest.

The mother’s milk production gears up to meet the increasing demands of the growing baby but that does not mean the mother lose her mind by having the baby attached to her for twenty-four hours a day.

Once in a while, rocking and singing him to sleep, or just handing over the baby to the father and running off to nap is also important for the mother’s survival.

Many advocates of exclusive breastfeeding have found themselves ignorant of the concept of baby sucking for comfort. And they have introduced pacifiers to the baby to fulfil the need for sucking for comfort. Giving a pacifier to the baby, especially in the first month, is like throwing a spanner at the spokes of the milk production. The breast is deprived of its stimulation (which comes from sucking only!) and the pacifier is not going to yield any gold by being sucked upon. The baby’s sucking needs are met by the pacifier, but the breasts’ sucking needs are not met because of the pacifier. The first one month is hard but you have to take one hour at a time, take power naps and brave your way through the haze of sucking marathons. A pacifier will not benefit you if you want to exclusively breastfeed.

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She was rather carelessly prescribed a drug for the patient’s ‘less production’ superimposing on all the doubt that floated around. Slowly, yet surely, Shantamma internalised from her doctor as well as mother that she may not be cut out to exclusively breastfeed. On her follow up, an actual physical saboteur – the pacifier, was thrown into the picture. The more the baby used the pacifier, the less the breast got stimulated to up its milk production. Eventually, on the third-week weight measurement, the couple discovered their baby’s weight gain was not as expected. The pacifier was the actual culprit for her child’s sucking needs to be met by not real nutrition but rather a dummy nipple. The paediatrician asked them to start two additional formula feeds a day. This in turn became alternate breast and bottle feed over time. And by the end of the six weeks, Shantamma’s attempts at breastfeeding were thwarted successfully by a BPA-free bottle and an orthodontic pacifier.

Women tend to pick out the negative and hold on to it way more ardently. It’s way easier to not believe. The doctor had sowed the seed of doubt in her heart. In addition to not encouraging, the doctor told the mother to unlatch the baby in fifteen minutes. Smaller babies are slower suckers.

On an average, a baby of less than a month old will suck for a total of forty minutes on both sides.

It could be for as short as twenty minutes or go on for as long as one hour. They nap in the middle very often and a drowsy sucking session is a rather slow one. Her doctor should have told her to try to alternate methods of pacifying, should have explained the need for sucking for comfort, advised the grandmother to be supportive and should have reassured them both about the new mother’s abilities.

The most important takeaway from this story is: don’t take away hope and self-belief from anyone. It is probably all they have got.


*Disclaimer: The views expressed by the writer are in their personal capacity only and aren’t to be replaced with medical advise.

Dr. Farah Adam Mukadam

Dr Farah is a family physician based in Bangalore. She is the author of the bestseller Newborns and New Moms, an urban woman’s guide to life after childbirth.

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