Breastfeeding Indian Mums Get Unique Support From Dedicated Facebook Network
pictures courtesy Breastfeeding Support For Indian Mothers (BSIM)
It all started in June 2013 when Adhunika Prakash, founder of the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM) group, was breastfeeding her 11- month-old son. She realised how hard it was to breastfeed a child who fed a lot and often. Nobody had told her about this phase. She wondered why it was so that the fascinating facts about breastfeeding were not known to most. Keeping that in mind she set up a Facebook group to connect with other women and make them feel less lonely. She would post every day about lesser-known facts about breastfeeding, about how women can decipher if they’re making enough milk for their child or not.
As times change, we have to change as well. Change is the only constant in life. Traditionally wisdom would have been passed on from mother to daughter. In a joint family system everyone pitches in and there is always someone who knows the answer. Now in the world of nuclear families, we have to make, create and innovate. How does the group go about this?
The group has taken up the route of internet and Facebook which is a craze for old and young alike to get through into spaces where there are no lactation professionals. Their current team of 45 administrators, moderators and peer counsellors some of who are certified lactation professionals work on a 24x7 basis from around the world to support families in their breastfeeding journeys. They have successfully used the follow-the-sun model to implement uninterrupted service to breastfeeding mothers worldwide.
What started as a city-based support group has grown to 97,000+ members across the globe. The team entirely consists of mothers and they are quite passionate about breastfeeding. But as babies grow, the mothers might get busy and also there is a burn out from engaging a lot on Facebook, so they tend to have people that slow down. They are constantly recruiting new team members from the group and training them to help out in the support group.
The fact is until a few decades ago, the only way to nourish a baby was Breastfeeding. If the mother wasn't confident of producing enough breast milk or if the mother died during childbirth, a lactating mother in the family or neighbourhood would step up to feed the baby. Then suddenly there was an influx of formula companies and by way of underhand marketing, they made people feel that formula feeding was better than breastfeeding. BSIM as a group is trying to normalize breastfeeding and making people understand that breastfeeding is the natural way to feed and nourish the baby.
The group has been actively supporting breastfeeding parents on their journey to optimally nourish their children by helping them make informed decisions on a daily basis over the last 6 years. The only prerequisite to getting support from the group is to have a smartphone with an internet connection. Their members are spread across major cities and towns and even villages today.
“Breastfeeding may be a biological norm but the truth is the journey is far from normal. It’s trodden with struggles and the advice received from the core support system is filled with a lot of misinformation, a lot of myths, a lot of processes so strongly rooted in culture and tradition. BSIM then was the shelter I found, a safe haven, a place where I could just open the app and see a range of questions being asked by thousands of other mothers like me, who were as naive as I was and who’ve trusted this group to be their saviour in times of distress. No matter what the time of the day or night, there’s always a person to address your concerns. What I like more than anything else about the group is it led me share my inhibitions about nursing in public,” says Michelle Austin Noronha.
They not only provide support for direct breastfeeding but also pumping. In their journey, they have traded information and now have a huge database of information that people have come to trust. They do not solicit members and have grown purely by word of mouth and now media mentions as a recognition of the impact that the group has made in lives of breastfeeding parents.
They also encourage parents to breastfeed babies till natural term weaning viz breastfeeding till the baby is ready to wean without any societal pressures. What differentiates them from others is that they provide the right information, support families and stand by them when they make an informed decision with kindness and without judgement. It is a sisterhood that supports each other. They try and provide breastfeeding solutions to breastfeeding problems. Busting breastfeeding myths, explaining body changes due to breastfeeding and pregnancy, helping families understand that working and breastfeeding are not mutually exclusive, normalizing nursing in public, reassuring mothers that sleepless nights are normal and supporting breastfeeding till baby and mother are ready to wean, supporting mothers who breastfeed a child through their pregnancy, being there for parents of multiples who exclusively breastfeed their babies, helping parents completely wean off formula and continue to exclusively breastfeed, induced lactation for adopted parents, helping mothers/babies with specific illness breastfeed are just some of the things that the group deals with on a day to day basis.
“BSIM helped me to learn how to breastfeed my adopted baby. Although I knew that one need not give birth to breastfeed, I got the right information and more importantly lots of support from the group. The members encouraged and cheered us on, and I had a virtual village to share our journey with. Fast forward to four years later, now we are continuing to breastfeed and continuing to grow with BSIM”. - Chetana
Members from the group have gathered together and stepped up to help mothers who can’t breastfeed by donating breast milk. There was a case where a mother in Chennai had premature twin babies and lost one, a request was posted on the group and the baby got enough breast milk going for a few weeks. There was also another case of a mother who had passed away. A friend posted on behalf of the family, the members of the group came forward to donating breast milk for the baby.
The group launched the #FreedomtoNurse campaign when a nursing mother was asked to nurse her baby in a toilet in a mall in Kolkotta. For which, Adhunika Prakash received Web Wonder Women award from the Ministry of Women and Child Development in March 2019 from then Minister Maneka Gandhi.
As a group they encourage mothers to ask for help in the right place and time and not suffer in silence. It is a mother’s right to breastfeed and no one should stop her from doing it. While breastfeeding is meant to be all natural and beautiful, the truth is it is not something that is easy for many mothers. It is not just a mother’s journey alone, there has to be support from the entire family and friends circle and government policies to keep it going.
“Initially, I faced a lot of issues with latching. My baby was a poor gainer and all the paeds scared me that I'm putting my baby in grave danger by exclusively breastfeeding her. They also said she will get dehydrated and she needs formula. But the pee count was good enough and I didn't give her a drop of formula ever. BSIM is the reason for this and that confidence in me to exclusively breastfeed her helped us with our breastfeeding journey so far. We are 17 months into this and going stronger,” says Sneha Sindhia Mukkamala.
The number of join requests that come in every day (100+) shows the need for support and the gap in the system and where and how they can help. The Facebook group insights show that they are answering more than 4500 queries a month. The group engagement shows that there are more than 85,000 active members out of 97,000.
Some of the recognition that the group and the founder have received include regular mention of the group and founder in different media. Adhunika Prakash spoke at the Mashable Social Good Summit (in partnership with United Nations) at New York about the positive impact social media can play in the lives of people. Adhunika was selected as one of the top five Community Leaders in residence by Facebook and the group was selected to receive up to $1 million to fund our community initiative.
The handful of testimonials that they get each week shows how they have positively influenced so many mothers. Each testimonial tells a unique story.
“BSIM Gave me the confidence to trust my supply. Made me to bring my son back to breasts after weaning formula and I fed him till 2.5 years Made me to Trust my body and make sure to see what is best for my baby. The amazing women including the admins and mods pushed me to a level that I couldn't even imagine. Gave me confidence to nurse in public, how to manage judgmental people and the list goes on. I will definitely be more than grateful for what BSIM has done to me.” writes Bhargavi Vishwanathan.
Priyanka Rathi-Kankariya had her baby at 29 weeks. The little girl was only 1.4 kgs. This was a second child for Priyanka and by now she knew the importance of breastmilk. With the support from the group, she exclusively breastfed her baby and now her six month old baby is 5.8 kgs.
A gynecologist on the group mentioned how the group has helped her gain information that she had not known and helped her exclusively breastfeed her little girl and has also helped her support her patients.
A mother who had to travel 2,000 km away from her baby for work, still continued to nourish her baby with breast milk by pumping and bringing it back every week to her baby so her baby could continue to get the best.
A mother who had adopted her child went through induced lactation and was able to provide enough for her child with the support from the group.
A lot of mothers breastfeed their toddlers and older children while still pregnant or tandem nurse their newborns with their older children.
Exclusively breastfed twins are quite common in our group, thanks to the support from other twin mommies