She was inspired by a breastfeeding support group she was part of in Ireland. One new mom had an idea to help out other new mommies in her locality in Pune. And one thing led to another and it snowballed. In a very short time, the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers has exploded into one of the largest platforms for all matters related to breastfeeding. And this is the BSIM story.

For many women all over the world, the group has become a safe space to ask questions and queries. Because they know full well that there is no judgment – only support and information.”

Its founder, Adhunika Prakash, is a high energy, multi-tasking full time mother of two. She firmly believed in the value of breast milk and in the need for awareness and education and support when it came to breastfeeding mothers. So, she started a Pune moms breastfeeding support group based on an Irish group she was part of. The intent was simple – sharing advice and learning from others’ experiences in the Indian context. Slowly and steadily, Indian moms from all over India started joining. Adhunika soon realized she needed help to manage and invited her friend and ardent breastfeeding activist, Madhu Panda, mom of two, to come on board as a co-admin.

The BSIM Story – Growth & Expansion

The group has witnessed a remarkable growth since its humble beginnings in July 2013. Now just four years later, it has over 50,000 members. Even non-Indian moms who had heard about the value that the group adds to a breastfeeding mommy’s life have started joining the group.

“When we started off, I don’t think we expected it to become this big,” says Adhunika. “But, now, as the group is growing at a very fast pace, we understand that it is a big responsibility. We are trying to ensure that the parents who are part of the group get the support and advice they seek.”

She added that the BSIM team had expanded over the years too. It started with one, and then two, and currently has 35 members running the show. The team includes lactation consultants, breastfeeding counselors, and experienced moms. Madhu explains, “The team consists of admins, moderators and peer counsellors. They are spread across the globe and across different time zones. This helps us in providing support 24 x 7. The team plays a huge role in verifying join requests, closing off topic posts, and in deleting spam. Thus ensuring that the group is clean, to the point and most importantly – a place where mommies feel safe and comfortable to share their thoughts and breastfeeding related concerns.”

The BSIM Story – The Team

The member undergoes some amount of screening before being invited to the team. “We try to include members who are well read about breastfeeding and are answering the questions well on the group. One of the most important criteria is to pick members that are respectful of diverse parenting styles. Our goal is to help breastfeeding parents reach their breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be – regardless of their parenting ideologies and beliefs.”

Nisha Srinivasan, a moderator at BSIM explains, “It is needless to add that the responsibility to ensure the 50k strong group functions smoothly and the responsibility to ensure the privacy and safety of the members is quite a task. So from approving requests to join the group to ensuring kindness, empathy and sticking to offering breastfeeding support, the team works harmoniously. This is a bunch of passionate women who probably have never met, but have made life long bonds.”

Adhunika adds, “Apart from the BSIM team, there are a lot of other members who take time out of their schedules to share experiences and advice. And they play an important role in sharing information, raising awareness and providing much needed support. We are truly grateful to every person who has responded to the queries and discussions and added value to bSIM.”

After a while, the team realised that they were answering similar questions day in and day out. To tackle that concern, the team researched for evidence based practices and information. They built a database of infographics, standard responses and photo albums to help with the frequently asked questions. This meant that they could easily guide the mother to a wealth of information, and inputs from other moms in one click.

The BSIM Story – Goals

The team is made of volunteers and are committed to one goal – sharing breastfeeding information, and helping parents to make informed decisions in order to achieve their own breastfeeding targets.

BSIM’s mission is to not just support mothers, but the entire family unit. The group is a mixed gender group. Fathers, grandparents and anyone with a deep interest in breastfeeding are welcome to join. “Partners are often the first line of support that a breastfeeding parent needs. There are situations when the partner needs to be educated about breastfeeding even though breastfeeding parent is very confident about their goals. This could only be done by including partners. We are glad to have a mixed gender group even though a huge portion of our member base is female,” says Adhunika.

The BSIM Story – Concerns & Challenges

One of the key concerns and challenges of running such a large group is that people may not always be respectful and gracious in their responses. “We only see a little part of their life, when a query is asked. There may probably be a multitude of factors that affect the life of that family, and so we need to always be careful, and empathetic about any concern we get.”

“We are a respectful parenting group. We ensure that  parents who don’t breastfeed aren’t shamed for their circumstances. Even though there are some members that aren’t careful with their wording, the team makes an extra effort to ensure that we don’t pass judgement on parents that aren’t breastfeeding.”

Asha D’Souza, who is an admin on the group adds, “There are always challenges with large groups such as BSIM as we need to be respectful of members and their choices even if we don’t always agree with them, but at the same time provide factually correct information & resources wherever possible, keeping in mind the cultural nuances.”

The BSIM Story – Ethos & Mission

The group’s ethos reiterates that breastfeeding is not about being a better or superior mother, but just about aiming to give the baby the best possible nourishment. There is a wide belief that “lactavists” are anti-formula but that is untrue. “We aren’t anti-formula, we are against the marketing strategies implemented by formula manufacturers that make breastfeeding parents question their milk supply.”

And there in lies BSIM’s biggest concern when it comes to breastfeeding. “It is the ubiquitous marketing of Artificial Baby Milk (ABM) that hampers the breastfeeding relationship in most cases. It is everywhere, on TV, on hoardings, beautiful displays at supermarkets, and unfortunately, even doctors sometimes advocate formula before addressing the breastfeeding concern. We can find a breastfeeding solution, but most jump to artificial baby milk at the first instance.”

The BSIM Story – Survey

BSIM recently conducted a survey, which saw the participation over 1000 mommies who stated that their babies were fed formula at the hospital right after delivery – without their consent. Adhunika adds, “Since the marketing of artificial baby milk has been going on for several decades now, it has caused nearly every breastfeeding parent to question their own milk supply.”

“Most new moms may not have an actual supply issue. A perceived low milk supply is usually the case. Not an actual supply issue. We all have questioned our milk supply at one point or the other. Most of us have well-meaning but ill-informed relatives and friends who keep asking us if your supply is adequate for our baby’s needs. People question the supply of the breastfeeding parent, every time the baby cries.”

According to her, having the right support and correct information is key to reaching one’s breastfeeding goals. Ideally, one should definitely aim to read and arm themselves with as much knowledge as they can when they are pregnant. “It is often too late to read up after the baby is born. Because of the influence of formula manufacturers, even the previous generation is quick to suggest ABM when the child id crying. The first few days after the baby is born, one is often in a haze. And reading up at that stage or for that matter, even contesting relatives becomes a tough battle.”

Her advice to new moms – “Have faith in yourself. We need to truly believe that we have the ability to provide for our babies.”

The BSIM Story – Future Plans

The group has many plans to mobilize support for breastfeeding across the country. To start with, they are petitioning the Indian government to seek consent from parents before giving them formula. The group has also become a registered entity. We now have started a bank account where supporters of the cause can donate to. We will use the money raised  to organize more educational campaigns and support activities on ground. They hope to streamline their offline initiatives so that members who are looking for in-person support can benefit from it.

The BSIM Story – Achievements

And helping women understand their own inherent strength and capabilities when it comes to breastfeeding is one of the major achievements of BSIM. “We are very proud to say that we have been able to help a lot of mothers become more comfortable with themselves. And we have helped them understand their abilities to breastfeed their baby. Some mothers have decided to follow their child’s lead and decided to let the child wean after learning of the importance of breastfeeding. To us, that is awesome news!”

Sneha Dutta, one of the moderators at BSIM says, “BSIM provides an incredible support network for a new mom, listening and sharing, round the clock. On any given day, we answer hundreds of queries. We share virtual cheers and hugs are shared. We hopefully make a difference to their breastfeeding journeys, and in turn their and the baby’s life.”

Fellow moderator Raksha Raghavan says she owes the group for helping her achieve her breastfeeding goals. Her motivation to respond to queries comes from knowing that maybe her response will “help some mother enjoy what I have with my baby because I was there to answer a question at a time she needed it.”

Madhu sums up the journey of BSIM so far. “It takes a lot of hard work and time from all the BSIM team. But receiving messages of gratitude and seeing our members delight in achieving their breastfeeding milestones makes all the efforts worthwhile!”

To find more about BSIM, visit the website, the FB Page, or the FB Group.