If I don’t find time to write any other post about India, I wanted to make sure to write this one.
Let me start by saying I’m a big advocate of nursing. I nursed my son until 10 months and knew from the start I would nurse my daughter. That was one of the reasons my doctors were okay with this trip. When a child is nursing 100% and not mobile that’s the safest time to travel abroad. You have no water or food concerns for the baby, they don’t yet put everything in their mouth, and they can’t move and get into trouble.
Now, I have never been a large producer. When I nursed my first son, I had a hard time. I never produced enough milk. As soon as I went back to work, I had to supplement, and at 6 months he even lost weight. With my son, we did not go to India until he was 9 months old. I took pills, I pumped day and night, and did everything in my power to make it 10 months so I could make sure he had at least some breast milk when we were in India.
Part of the reason I was determined to go to India during my leave this time was because I wanted to go when I knew my milk supply would be the strongest and my daughter would be 100% nursing. She has been a good eater from the start and while I didn’t have the supply most women do, I had a much better supply than with my son. I left for India confident that we had established a good routine. She was growing as expected and had all the necessary vaccinations needed before 6 months of age. The doctor happily blessed our trip and I was so confident things were going well I didn’t pack an ounce of formula.
Travel is stressful and parts of India were extremely hot. These were two things I did not take into account when I thought about my milk supply. I thought I drank a lot of water but, in retrospect, it was likely only as much as I normally drink, not any more. At some point in the beginning of our trip I noticed that my daughter was hungrier and wanted to nurse more often. I didn’t pay much attention to it, I simply tried to put her to the breast more often. But that wasn’t always easy.
I currently live in the San Francisco Bay area, where nursing in public is common place. Nursing in public in India is generally considered taboo. In India women wouldn’t even sit on a park bench and nurse under a cover. You are expected to go to a room and be away from everyone. I had some difficulty adjusting to this in India. I resented having to leave the conversations with family I don’t see on a regular basis to nurse my daughter. And on the road it’s not always easy to find a place where you can nurse in private. So some times I would have to hold her off a little, if just to find a place to nurse.
Jaipur in Rajasthan, which is in the outskirts of the Thar desert, was extremely hot especially during the day. I drank as much water as I could, but that barely covered my needs. By our first day I noticed that my daughter was extra irritable and hungry. By our second I realized that her diapers were not getting wet and she had not had a dirty diaper in a day or two.
I immediately knew that something was wrong. I was nervous and scared. I had asked the doctor just before we left for signs of dehydration in a baby, but I had expected dehydration in my son, not my daughter. The pediatrician mentioned a sunken soft spot, no wet diaper or no tears. Wet diapers was already a problem. I couldn’t remember the last time she had tears. I was now worried.
I’m very lucky in a that a dear friend of mine was a medical resident who studied pediatric intensive care and worked late hours. My husband and I decided it was time to make the call. I told her the situation, she asked us a few questions and confirmed my suspicion. We agreed that formula was not the best option because water was still a concern and we didn’t know the brands in India. However, I had thought ahead and brought Pedialyte® with me for my son. She suggested we give her a few ounces of Pedialyte nursing to help build her electrolytes and see if that helped.
After nursing my daughter we gave her her first bottle and she sucked it down. This was a girl who wouldn’t even take a bottle before. My heart broke as I watched her drink in desperation. It is hard to describe the feelings I felt that day. So many people had no trouble nursing their children and here I had practically starved mine. I questioned my decision to be on this crazy adventure. To drag two small children around the world. I felt guilty for endangering my daughter and my son. I felt jealous of those large milk producers for whom this was never a problem. But mostly I felt like a failure. And for anyone who knows me, that’s the lowest I can ever feel. I heard all the naysayers in the back of my mind “You are taking a baby to India?” “How can you do that?” “She’s too young”. I couldn’t help wondering if they were right. Had I made a huge mistake bringing her? Did I ruin my chance to breastfeed? The doubt was crushing.
The next morning I awoke and found a wet diaper and was relieved. I nursed and gave her another Pedialyte bottle. She drank less from the bottle this time. We went out and about again, but this time I went with more water and was sure to try and keep her and myself out of the heat as much as possible. Later in the afternoon we were shopping when my son came over and yanked at his sister’s arm. My daughter screamed like a banshee and I looked and saw tears flowing. I had never been so happy to see tears before (or since).
With three or four pedi-a-lite bottles my daughter began feeling much more like her normal self and my body was able to catch up and produce enough milk for her for the rest of the trip. My milk supply never went back to the levels they were before we went to India, but they were enough to keep her healthy and full until I went back to work.
Nursing is hard. Every article you read tells you that your body performs magic; it will automatically produce enough for your child. If they need more, put them to the breast more often and you will magically produce more. Drink more water and you will magically produce more. And for a lot of women that is the case, but it was not for me. That moment when I realized my daughter was dehydrated I felt like a failure. I felt like I couldn’t do this simple thing that every woman is supposed to be able to do, feed her child. And even after she was out of the woods and having regular diapers again, I still could not completely remove it from my mind. I felt like I failed, and I went home feeling defeated.
I have the benefit of time and hindsight now. And looking back I would NOT change my decision to travel. I would still go to India and I still advocate that people travel to India and beyond when they are nursing. But I would do it with a lot more caution now. I would say to those who travel with small children and babies to get to know and watch for those signs of dehydration. I thankfully recognized them, and had a friend I could call. Not everyone does, and it’s daunting to find a pediatrician in a foreign country. Bring Pedialyte, and an emergency packet of formula, just in case. And drink way more water than you think you need. Jet lag and different climates wreak havoc on your body. You will need more water than you normally do.
And if it still happens, just know that you are not the first and won’t be the last. And while at the time it doesn’t feel like it, you aren’t a bad mom. And it doesn’t mean you can’t ever travel again. It may mean you need to slow down, but it doesn’t mean you can’t travel. Since that trip I brought my daughter up to Mt. Shasta for Thanksgiving, and back to New Jersey in winter and spring. And she has been a great traveler. Travel with babies is definitely doable, and is quite enjoyable. But when taking the road less traveled, just be prepared for a bumpier ride.