Neha Dhupia talks #FreedomToFeed

Neha Dhupia talks #FreedomToFeed

The actress chats with City Times about her important initiative to start a conversation around breastfeeding

By Enid Parker

Published: Thu 8 Aug 2019, 12:03 PM

Last updated: Sun 11 Aug 2019, 10:38 AM

Neha Dhupia recently launched an inspiring initiative that not only channels her experiences and emotions as a new mother but also starts a powerful conversation on breastfeeding that is long overdue. The Bollywood actress and talk show host marked International Breastfeeding Week, which concluded on August 7, with the #FreedomToFeed initiative by means of a powerful video that she posted on her Instagram account.
City Times caught up with Neha, who is married to actor Angad Bedi, and gave birth to their daughter Mehr in November last year, to understand what compelled her to kickstart this revolutionary initiative.
"For me I think the most important part was that more than the campaign or more than any initiative, I just really wanted to start a conversation. That's what inspired me. I wouldn't have been able to do this if I wasn't a breastfeeding mother. I wouldn't have been able to do this if I hadn't gone through all these problems, all these lack of facilities, if I hadn't seen how people look at it (breastfeeding). I feel that nothing except sheer experience has made me start this." 
Fair share of problems
For Neha, it's a cause that's "extremely close" to her heart.
She says, "When you're a new breastfeeding mother and a first time parent, you feel like you're doing this all by yourself. It's amazing and beautiful and wonderful to be breastfeeding, but it comes with its fair share of problems, whether it's the mentality, when people look at you a certain way, when you're trying to breastfeed in public, or the lack of facilities."
She feels there's a kind of judgment involving new mothers too which needs to be done away with. "When you talk about freedom to feed it's not just about mums who want to breastfeed but also mums who choose not to breastfeed. It's their freedom, it's about who decides that we're going to cut short our breastfeeding time and then we're going to shift our kid to formula. Or mums who have problems with latching on, and then saying, hey, this isn't an easy way out for us, we'd rather use a breast pump."
Changing attitudes
According to Neha, it's "actually an initiative that comes absolutely free of judgment, because I've been in almost every situation."
"Mehr was a pro at latching on and we had absolutely no problem with her, but our problems were the flip side of it, that because I wanted to breastfeed, there were lack of facilities, and there is a school of thought that comes from a place where you don't need to be conscious at all. You can literally take your breast out just anywhere and feed your child which I did do, and as a result of that people end up making you feel so conscious about what you're doing."
"And because all this was going on in my head, I was like the time is right and I need to talk about it, because I've exclusively breastfed Mehr for six months and still continue to do so, and as a woman and a mother and someone who has the ability to say things I felt like I have a voice and I should use it."
She hopes that the attitudes towards breastfeeding in public will change as a result of #FreedomToFeed.
"I feel like you need to start a conversation around it. I feel like you need to have better facilities. So if you are feeling conscious about it, then why isn't there a place for women to go and feed? You go to airports and you see smoking rooms and you see other facilities all across - and you have like video gaming rooms! So why don't you have 50sq ft by 50sq ft (for women who need to feed)?
"So, we can change mentalities and we can provide more facilities. It's not an either/or, there can be both. So when you have a smoking room, it's easy for the smoker and the non-smoker. Everybody has it their way then. It's comfortable."
'An immense reaction'
Neha is happy that her initiative is reaching out to women far and wide. "For me I feel like #FreedomToFeed is an initiative that has just started and my heart just beams with joy now when people have started calling it a campaign; the idea was to start a conversation and see where it goes. The reaction has been immense; we've had women from the Philippines, Botswana, Chicago and rural parts of India and mommy bloggers coming forward and talking about it and I feel so glad that everyone is doing what I wanted them to do - that is, using their voice."
Has becoming a parent changed her priorities or reorganised them in any way?
"At times I had to reorganise for sure. There's no doubt about that. I do prioritise my life around my daughter's schedule. It's great to have grandparents around because I let them take over as well. We make sure that we invest our time and we invest our life in our daughter as much as we can, but I am a working mother, there's no shying away from that. 
"I remember being on a road trip and taking her to 9 different cities when she was three months old. On that road trip I was feeding her everywhere, from behind trees to in cars and at red lights. I would have her in my arms and feel I'm going to do it no matter what. It also makes you feel like there is so much that we as humans are capable of and we give ourself such little credit."
She credits her 'mommy brain' for her evolving parenting skills.
"The day I had her I was like, will I ever be able to be good enough for her? As days pass by, you shock yourself with what all you're capable of. Especially the mommy brain, I've said it in my video, it works on autopilot. Nobody teaches you how to rest your baby's head right, nobody tells you how to burp her or when the feed is done but you just learn. These are things that no one can teach you but it's you and your autopilot brain that works."

On balancing a career with motherhood & help from hubby
"My thoughts are that it's never going to be an either/or. I feel like my work is my saving grace and coming home to my daughter is the most beautiful thing I can do. There are times when you need to have a cut off point. And I don't think my daughter, when she grows up, would be proud of any other quality of mine except that, yes, I have a mother who is independent and a working mom and she would be proud of the fact that I did these things so that it would give me and her a great life."
Neha is also all praise for hubby Angad Bedi and his constant support. "Having said that I'm not going to take away from the fact that that's where fathers need to come in as well. I have a great support system in my husband. He understands what being a new parent is, he understands what being an actor is and not having a schedule or a routine and being on call all the time, and at the same time being a doting father. So yes, it's a great balance. There were times when I would feed her, and he would burp her and then breastfeeding also gives you the munchies so he would know, that I would be 20 minutes into my feed with Mehr and that in 25 minutes a snack should be ready!"
"It's a great journey and it is a very lonely, dark and isolated place if you make it that. There were times when I felt like that and he tapped into it and if we had to feed her and if I was expressing milk, he was thawing a packet of frozen breast milk. So he was always there. We were in it together."

Neha's Upcoming projects
We last saw Neha in Helicopter Eela alongside Kajol; would we be seeing her on screen again soon? "I don't have any upcoming movies right now but I'd love to take up some really interesting projects. I have an ongoing show on air called Roadies; I've also just finished a fabulous season of Vogue BFFs, and I also have a company, Big Girl Productions, so I may be producing some more content with my own company. I had no idea that my calendar would get full and I'd be so involved in this wonderful initiative and this great movement. I know World Breastfeeding Week has come to an end but I hope this conversation never stops."

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