Lakshmy Ramanathan: Five years after I’ve had my little girl and written a book about it, I can safely say that every child gives birth to a mother. For some women, this transition takes place overnight. For many, it takes longer and is bumpier. Today, we are here to cherish, challenge and critique this transition so that the voices of mothers are heard amidst the chaos of birthing and raising a child in India.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: So what was the most difficult or exhausting bit about being a mom?
Jayati Bose: Getting them to eat healthy.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: You know, fortunately, my kid happens to eat all vegetables and fruits, but she hates milk. I think every child has a 'I will not put that down my throat' thing. For the longest time, my family tired to force milk on my kid but then my doctor turned around and said, "Don't force it on your child." Forcing food sort of worsens the child's equation with that particular food type. And he, in fact, encouraged us to look for alternative calcium sources. So instead of milk, we make sure our child has lots of curd (which she laps up), cheese and paneer etc. So Jayati Bose, how do you deal with this issue?
Jayati Bose: I am a 'Hitler Mom' when it comes to eating, since my child is a fussy eater. All I do is, "Eat it or else we don't eat anything." Sometimes, I do have to give in or lure her with her favourite book or park time etc.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Jayati, yes, I think sometimes onlookers get judgemental, but only the mum knows what the child's last meal was and how to get the kid to eat. And we fail and succeed alternately. What works one day many not work the next day. In fact, I was told to distract the child with birds or TV even to get her to eat but what worked best for me and my child was minimum number of people in the room, minimum fuss around, fewer distractions and she seemed to eat with more focus and interest in food.
Anjali Tralshawala: Works with my little one as well!
Mythili Devarajan: Hi Lakshmy, is it true that if we regularly apply kajal on babies eyebrow, it will get dark and grow in a nice shape?
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Hi Mythili, no! That, in fact, is a myth. People do it to the eyes too, but most paediatric doctors recommend that we apply things to children's eyes only after they are old enough to convey any sense of itching or burning, that is ideally after they are four or five years old. In the past, sure more people applied kajal and other things to children and when the child rubbed its eye out of irritation, they must have thought it was out of sleepiness.
Mythili Devarajan: Thank you, Lakshmy, for the information.
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Shanthaa Raghunath: Lakshmy, when do you give a new born Cerelac or kanji maavu? Is it fourth or sixth month? Some say that until third or fourth month, the baby should be given only mother's milk?
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Hi Shanthaa, as a mother who has not given food out of a box, I would like to refrain from commenting on Cerelac. But homemade or readily available kanji maavu is super healthy.
Shanthaa Raghunath: From when?
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Ideally, any solid food should be started only after six months. All international and national agencies insist on this. It is also because the child's neck would have steadied by then and prevents any instance of choking. If the child is not coping up in terms of weight and other milestones, then check with the doctor. Solutions can range from correcting nursing positions to introduction of solids.
Shanthaa Raghunath: Thank you, Lakshmy!
Mythili Devarajan: Lakshmy, also, most of the times, babies do not take any food for the whole day. Is it something that we need to change the food menu periodically?
Lakshmy Ramanathan: How old is the baby?
Mythili Devarajan: 1.9 months. Although, she does not take food properly on some days, she is active throughout and plays regularly.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Mythili, you would be glad to hear know that an active baby is the first sign of good health as per doctors. So, don't be too hassled. My child, who is five now, was a very very fussy eater until two and a half. Keep trying with several flavours, cereals, millets, roti and all kinds of cuisines. You have to keep a keen eye on what flavours or textures the child prefers and keep introducing that. My child used to love sambar and rice as a two-year-old. She is fully into roti and subji now, so their palates keep changing.
Mythili Devarajan: Oh! Thank you!
Suganya Velumani: Hi! I read something in a book by Vairamuthu, Karuvachi Kaviyam. It's been intriguing me ever since. A baby dies in the story, despite being in an advanced city with good medical facilities. A local mid-wife says that a pinch of the dried cow-dung could cure that. Sounds very unhygienic. But I also think it would work, since cow-dung is proven to be antiseptic/anti-bacterial.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: I think we need to know why or how the baby died. Cow dung is considered antiseptic, but is not useful for everything. And certainly should not be brought near infants because it is not sterile.
Suganya Velumani: True that. The mid-wife goes and does it anyway, to the protagonist's child. If I remember correctly, the other child dies due to an infection in the umbilical cord. Also, I read recently that stalling three minutes after the birth (after the child starts taking its first breath) to cut the umbilical cord has many benefits including bone health and added nutrition. Do you think any such practice is followed in India?
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Yes, in Assam, in fact, a tribal community do not cut the umbilical cord and take baby to the breast immediately after it is born. The iron levels in a baby for a lifetime is improved by this simple delay in cutting the cord.
Suganya Velumani: Wow! Really fascinating!
Arti Jha: They say you shouldn't let others watch while breastfeeding. Is it just a social stigma or does it have any other reason behind it? Like, the child feeling insecure or something like that?
Lakshmy Ramanathan: It's a myth Arti. I think it was invented probably to give the mother and child some alone time, where they were able to bond quietly without being interrupted for numerous things. Also Arti, some babies can get distracted very easily while feeding. Someone watching would obviously be a source of distraction. So, I guess that is a logical explanation. However, nursing your baby at all times in a room by yourself can get lonely. Talking to a family member or trusted friend or aide is one way of multi-tasking during nursing time.
Soumya Anandan: There are two ways to look at this issue. 1.Logically infants can't concentrate to one thing. So, it is better you feed alone, so that the baby is comfortable to suck and have milk 2. As a newly-delivered mom, you will need your own space to feed. Once your comfortable feeding, you can start doing it in public as these days we get so many maternity feeding attires. However, if you believe in drishti and stuff, then you better trust your instincts. Everything has a meaning, be it scientific or faith.
Arti Jha: Very insightful indeed! Thank you, Lakshmy and Soumya!
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Also, I have and I know mothers who have nursed their babies while reading a book, watching TV and in front of others. Babies, mothers and onlookers also tend to get used to the sight of a mother nursing her child which really is the most natural thing in the world.
Suganya Velumani: This reminds me of something else that I read. That the mother's body can detect the health issues of the child's body and alter its nutritional content to cure it. For example, if the child has a cold and is being breastfed, the saliva of the child gets into the breast. The mother's immune system work on the pathogen detected from the child's saliva and creates appropriate antibodies. These antibodies are then fed to the child via milk during the next round of breastfeeding, so that the child's immune system can work against the cold. It's just really fascinating how the human body works.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: The breast may not be a foolproof detector, however, it is very intelligent. In fact, it requires more resting time than even the brain, according to a WHO study. Breast milk is even temperature regulated for the baby. It is warmer in the nights and cooler in the day. It couldn't get more scientific.
Suganya Velumani: Wow! Endless things to learn about the human body!
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Did any of you bust any myths on your own journey to motherhood?
Hemalatha Ramani: I was always a rebel. I followed my own intuition even in parenting, not that I did not heed my mom's advice. I had liberal parents, so no worries there, But even as my kids grew, I followed my heart instinctively.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Great, Hema! But so few women have the power to go by their own instincts.
Hemalatha Ramani: That is where you come in; to answer most logically. Such a treasure your book is. A new mother's bible!
Lakshmy Ramanathan: I think as a new mother, one is so unsure of oneself, unsure about why the baby is crying/ not sleeping etc and you are also so anxious to get it alright in front of other spectators, that I hardly think it possible to get in control and stay in control. I took quite a bit of time to take charge of my own pregnancy, of my child and of myself and my emotions as a young mother.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: I remember I was told not to get near fire, in other terms start cooking, after delivery as it would dry up my milk. But, I had to start cooking soon after I delivered. And luckily I found that my lactation cycle was on cue even after 18 months. While writing my book, I realised why our ancestors had this rule. It was a way, the 40-day ban on entering kitchen, to secure rest for a new mother and relieve her off her every day chores. Of course, in more orthodox homes, they viewed their women as impure for the first forty days after delivery. However to be in fear that one's milk will dry up upon getting closer to heat is unnecessary.
Suganya Velumani: Sounds similar to the ban during periods.
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Yes!
Lakshmy Ramanathan: Thank you everyone for joining. I hope every family member–mothers-in-law, grandmothers and husbands realise that we are all on the same side, on the side of the baby and the new mother. So let's strive our best to secure the best for them! You can reach for more queries on how to balance age old myths and practices alongside new age norms at my FB page For Bumpier Times. Adios!