Support is one of the prime reasons why women gravitate towards these groups, opines Rashmee.
At 12.37 am, the phone buzzes. It’s a WhatsApp text from a new mom who’s worried about her four-month-old baby not feeding enough; he’s distracted and won’t latch on to her breast for more than half a minute, she says. Even at this odd hour, help comes in the form of another text message, sent by a more experienced mom, who suggests more tummy time, burping between feeds and feeding in a quiet, dimly lit room.
These are the kind of conversations that unfold on the ‘Infants Breastfeeding MSL’, one of the several mommy-oriented WhatsApp groups that are part of the Mumbai Sling Library (MSL) network, a chain of Whatsapp groups run by moms, for moms. The groups have been around for about three years and deal with various aspects of childbirth and childcare, right from the third trimester onwards, up unto early childhood. Each group, which has over 200 participants, focuses on a specific topic, like infant feeding, breastfeeding/weaning, sustainable cloth diapering, babywearing, etc, while those that focus on mommy well-being tackle issues like fitness and postpartum depression.
In search of support
Rashmee Gajra, founder of MSL – a babywearing initiative – is the woman who kick-started all these groups, with the help of other like-minded mums. “My first-born, who is now 14-years-old, was a pre-term baby. Feeding was a challenge and I felt the crazy need to get support from anyone. There were times when my own mom and mother-in-law couldn’t understand what I was going through,” says Rashmee. Succour came through online interactions with members of an international breastfeeding support group and years later, these interactions would inspire Rashmee to start her own motherhood-focussed initiatives.
Support is one of the prime reasons why women gravitate towards these groups, opines Rashmee. “A lot of new parents are living in nuclear families. Maternal folk of your family might stay with you for a month or two, but then you’re back on your own. You might also be new to a neighbourhood and have no friends or neighbours to bank on. These groups then become your support system, the village you need to raise your child,” she says and also adds that the groups also include women who have become mothers through surrogacy or adoption. On these groups, mothers can also be candid about issues related to their bodies or babies. “You might have a blister on your nipple or your baby might have bitten you; you can’t discuss these things with your neighbour, but you can with fellow moms on the group,” she adds.
An updated approach
Prachi Dedhiya, Founder Admin of MSL, says that these groups provide up-to-date, research-backed information and advice to the new generation of moms, and all of it is better than what a random Google search throws up. “This is validation of the information that’s available, and a more filtered version of it because somebody has already tried it. We also follow World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and stick to verifiable tips and advice. We discourage new moms from giving advice until they are well-read themselves,” she says, and also mentions that the groups have as its members' mental health experts, lactation counsellors, fitness trainers and other professionals who contribute reliable insights. In her words, these groups are ideal for “more informed moms, who want to believe in the more modern sciences or read up on it before following anything.”
Mother of a four-and-a-half-year-old, Lakshmi Wankhede, talks about how these groups can be particularly helpful when, as a mother, you make a decision that is scientifically sound but goes against traditional notions of childrearing. “Most of the mothers go through the pressure of people, including their own mother’s, telling them to stop feeding by the time the kid is a year or a year-and-a-half old. According to them, it could turn into an addiction. I’m still breastfeeding my daughter and I tell other mothers too that it’s scientifically-proven to be okay to breastfeed your baby, even up to five years of age,” she shares.
A matter of convenience
When asked why WhatsApp was the preferred platform for these groups, Prachi talks about the reach and accessibility of the platform. “WhatsApp is right there, in peoples' hands, whether they’re feeding or rocking their babies. Half of the problems crop up in the middle of the night when you don’t know whom to call as not all doctors and paediatricians are available at that hour. A message on this group can get you an instant solution because there are other mommies awake at odd hours too. Also, everybody can view every post and anybody can answer. Since participants are added through referrals, it makes it easy for us to add mothers as well,” she shares.
The rules of the group are simple, that views should be shared gently, and in a non-judgemental fashion, because the purpose of all these diverse groups is the same – to ask a struggling mom, "what's up?" and provide a listening ear and a kind word when she unloads her worries.