Breastfeeding versus formula feeding has been the centre of discourse among new-age mothers. But this debate, like many others, is a double-edged sword –for mothers are judged heavily whether they choose to breastfeed or not. The beautiful natural act is often sexualised and tabooised, while its medically-acclaimed alternative villainizes the mother.
To breastfeed or not to breastfeed?
A quick skim through these statistics should give you the lowdown on the extent of the problem. An estimated one to five percent of all women have the inability to produce enough milk for their babies. Even fewer, around two percent of women, cannot physically lactate or have problems that lead to the inability to breastfeed. Amongst the remaining 95 percent of mothers who do have the ability to breastfeed, 81 percent try to breastfeed. Seventeen percent exclusively breastfeed (meaning only breastfeed, without even occasionally using formula) until the baby is three months old. The number further drops to 14 percent by the time the baby turns four months old. According to the NHS 2010 Infant Feeding Survey, in India only one percent of women continue to exclusively breastfeed until the baby is six months old.
However, a global public health recommendation states that all infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. But, according to research, a new-age mother, especially in India, faces a lot of stigma while nursing in public, potentially inhibiting her desire to continue.
These theoretical findings were further bolstered by 33-year-old new mom Shruti Katyal’s own horrifying first-hand experience, on her first-week visit to the doctor after the birth of her baby girl. “It was my biggest nightmare. While we were stuck in Delhi’s slow moving traffic, my daughter started crying uncontrollably. I got nervous, since I was totally unprepared for this. I managed to cover myself up, even though it felt like I was suffocating her, but I managed to feed her. All that while, I got awkward stares from the people around, some even trying to peep in,” she narrates.
A nightmare dressed like a daydream
The first thing she did, after returning home, was look for the feeding options available in the market – but was intrigued by the fact that there were none that were up to the mark, or ‘socially acceptable.’ It came down to making a choice between giving up her social life entirely or to start a formula-feeding cycle for her child, even though the doctors advised against it. “Those who breastfeed in public feel embarrassed since our society hasn’t normalised the idea of breastfeeding. And those who formula feed their babies are labeled as super-lazy and looked down upon, for ‘poisoning’ their child,’ says Shruti.
Another hindrance is the lack of knowledge and support from the spouse, and peers. “Breastfeeding can be hard work, and mentally exhausting at first. Getting the right support and knowledge about the benefits of breastfeeding are crucial to help them continue,” she says. Research has also proven that a woman with a supportive spouse is significantly more likely to still be breastfeeding at a year than a woman with a husband who isn’t.
This encouraged her to first change the conversation from "I can't believe you're breastfeeding here” to "You look totally awesome!"Secondly, provide women the most comfortable and stylish clothing options, to make breastfeeding a smooth process. These were the building blocks of O’HappySunshine.
“When I went out in search of a good nursing wear, I was quite disappointed because all I could find was nighties and night suits. There was no segment for stylish and functional nursing apparel that helps a new mom to integrate breastfeeding into her lifestyle,” says Shruti.
Twinning with happiness and sunshine
At the time, the Bachelors in Computer Engineering graduate from Thapar Patiala and a decade-old patron of the software industry was working at IBM. During her maternity, she started working on this idea day-and-night, even as her baby was merely three months old.
But both her mums – her mother as well as her mother-in-law – got into hyperdrive, recognising it as a real problem that they also remembered facing when they were nursing. They cradled the new mom with encouragement, support and an extra hand, and in turn, prepared her to cradle her two babies as well. She thus launched her website , www.ohappysunshine.com that gave users both functional and stylish nursing apparel to help them integrate breastfeeding into their life. She designed her own kurtis which had concealed zippers on both sides, making it very discreet for a mother to feed anywhere.
Looking at the response in the first month of the launch, it was a no-brainer, deciding whether she was ready for her plunge.All the signs prompted that she was ready to leave her job with IBM, to pursue this and her new role as a mother, full-time. “It was a tough start, and felt like taking care of two babies, both demanding a lot of attention and care, but my parents, my husband and his parents supported me greatly and that made things a lot easier,” says Shruti.
All her designs are manufactured in-house at this stage. The new portal has over 40 products listed, including casual kurtas and nightwear. But Shruti is working on introducing party wear salwarsuits, because a large chunk of her customers requested her to stock up in the category.
“Being a new mom myself, I understand the million worries we have with our little ones! These feeding tops have made my life easier and I hope they give a new mother that confidence to never have to worry about breastfeeding in public again,” she says.
Over the last year, the venture, run by a seven-member team - has grown entirely on word-of-mouth,becoming profitable and cash-flow positive. It gets about 300 visitors a day,including a sizable number of hits from US, Canada and UK. She is already clocking 200 orders a month, with an average ticket size of Rs 1,200 per transaction - even before she undertakes any advertising on social media or search engines. “We have received numerous messages, phone calls and thank you notes from mothers on making their life easier,” says Shruti. The website now boasts of over 100 solid five-star reviews from customers and is among top three search results on Google, for Nursing and Feeding kurtas/kurtis in India.
The new mom army
Pune-based Uzazi Fashions Pvt. Ltd says it is India’s first maternity fashion brand, and also offers nursing tops which come in multiple layers. The market is estimated at about Rs. 800 crore by retail consulting firm Technopak Advisors Pvt Ltd and growing at around 15-17 percent a year. Some of the players in this space include Momzjoy.com, as well as the funded Firstcry and Babyoye, which are not focussed solely on breastfeeding apparel albeit have a wide range of options in the category.
Currently bootstrapped, Shruti has plans to outsource her manufacturing along the way, and expand her value offerings such that O'HappySunshine becomes a one-stop shop for all the nursing needs for a new mother.