Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Amatul Wadood Nazli, Mansehra, Pakistan
Photo: Sebastián Puenzo
Breastfeeding is very common in our district of Mansehra, northeast Pakistan, an area with lush, feminine beauty, with high green mountains, fields of grass, and crops of maize, wheat, rice, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. The word Mansehra combines the Hindi words mahaan sehra, meaning “flowers in abundance.” Here, rural women with little formal education breastfeed for at least two years, often nursing their babies in front of family members and breastfeeding openly at female-only gatherings. While traveling around Pakistan, I have seen rural women, though fully covered, confidently feeding their babies in public places.
Perhaps due to encouragement by the media, many urban and educated women initiate breastfeeding, but they can be reluctant to nurse in front of other people and often wean their babies sometime during the first year, often depending on how much support a mother receives from her husband. Women from older generations are very happy to see young mothers breastfeeding their babies, but we Pakistanis face some challenges exclusively breastfeeding during the early months.
I have not always lived in Mansehra, and some of my own breastfeeding challenges may sound familiar to you. When I first became pregnant, we were living in Germany. My husband found The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding for me, and I studied this book carefully, making my own notes because I was only borrowing it. I learned a great deal from this book, but you know how in practice things can be quite different.
My baby girl, Maha, was born at home in Göttingen. I put her on my breast immediately, and experienced a powerful feeling of love. I was so happy and my baby was so alert and eager to take the breast, I didn’t think too much about how long I would breastfeed her. However, some of my relatives in Pakistan said that one year of breastfeeding is enough, and I started weaning at 15 months. My daughter wanted to continue, and she cried a lot. My mother did advise me to continue as long as Maha wished, but I stopped breastfeeding.
My son, Adeel, was born at home in the Chitral Valley, northwest Pakistan, which shares borders with Afghanistan and China. This is one of the most undeveloped areas of Pakistan, yet it is also one of the most beautiful parts of the country. At first Adeel wanted to sleep the whole night, but, my breasts were full, so I woke him up and nursed him, as I remembered reading in The Womanly Art that it is good to breastfeed frequently in the early weeks.
When my son was just over a month old, we held some celebrations for World Breastfeeding Week at a few government girls’ high schools in our area. I gave lectures on the benefits of breastfeeding and organized mini-workshops for the village mothers. The workshops were very practical and, of course, Adeel always accompanied me. It was a fantastic experience, and I felt very motivated. However, I began to have to answer questions about why Adeel wanted to be in my lap all the time. This was not a problem in Chitral, but, when I visited other cities, my relatives would ask why he was always sitting on my knee.
After a difficult pregnancy, our son, Anis, was born in Mansehra at only 33 weeks and was very small. As a premature child, Anis needed extra special body warmth, so he was always in contact with one of our family members—especially with my husband and me—throughout the first year of his life. This experience had a rejuvenating effect on me and I felt young and energetic again.
Every child is unique in his behavior. If the mother breastfeeds, she becomes sensitive to her child and is able to meet her baby’s needs appropriately and according to his individual nature. Each of my babies had different beginnings and in different homes. Breastfed babies become more confident, more loving, more trusting and also respectful toward their parents as they grow.
Amatul Wadood Nazli is an LLL Leader. Together with her husband Hidayatullah Neakakhtar, she founded the Resource Center for Development Alternatives. The couple is active in natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and parenting groups. Her story was first published in LLL Asia’s Close to the Heart and has been adapted for Breastfeeding Today.