03/04/2016 8:51 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

Baby Care Wars: The Battle Between Google And My Punjabi Grandmother

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Nani's wise touch (Photo: Nidhi Dutt)

My 90-year-old Punjabi grandmother summed up the gulf between our birthing experiences as she stood at my bedside in the labour suite. Seeing me blissfully unaware of my sharp contractions thanks to an epidural, Nani candidly asked the doctor: "If she can't feel the pain, how will she give birth?"

A week since the birth of my first child, this question has come to represent the different universes of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting that Nani and I belong to. She became a first-time mum in India in 1946. Seventy years later, I'm following in her footsteps.

Much of her child-rearing chops come from experience, tradition and yes, even superstition.

I had access to modern medicine, obstetricians and nurses at one of New Delhi's top facilities. Throughout my labour, not one foetal heartbeat was missed, neither did a contraction go unrecorded on the monitor that flashed and beeped at my bedside. Having poked around the room, Nani quipped that none of this existed back in her day. Her pleasant surprise seemed tinged with the wish that childbirth had been easier and more enjoyable all those years ago.

Much of her child-rearing chops come from experience, tradition and yes, even superstition.

Still, my Nani wears her hardship like a badge of honour. Pain, of any kind, represents overcoming difficulty for her. Childbirth, according to what I call her 'pain scale', belongs to the maximum difficulty category. She went through it more than three times, the last in 1950.

The day before my son's arrival, I told Nani about the pain creeping across my abdomen. She dismissed my distress with a chuckle. "Oh no, that's not labour pain," she said waving her hand. The pain that was coming would "remind me of my grandmother," she said using one of her favourite phrases in Hindi - "Nani yaad aajayegi." Delivered matter-of-factly by a battle-hardened matriarch, it was like a punch in the guts.

Nani built her parenting portfolio raising generations of children, grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Much of her child-rearing chops come from experience, tradition and yes, even superstition. It is knowledge passed down through word of mouth, from mother to daughter and in my case, from grandmother to granddaughter.

My parenting guide is, at the moment anyway, a mixture of factoids and practical tips learned from family and friends, books and the Internet. Google, YouTube and multiple apps on my smartphone are my trusted advisors, helping me through the experience and yes, often confusing and terrifying me as well with the infinite number of contradictory "expert opinions" and horror stories on my screen.

[I]t has been a battle between Nani's street smarts and our smartphones.

As my grandmother, mum, husband and I debate the finer details of taking care of a newborn, it has been a battle between Nani's street smarts and our smartphones. Nani, unsurprisingly, is unimpressed by the opinions of the strangers at our fingertips.

Like a boisterous Indian news debate show, there have been lively and often loud discussions on the crucial questions of how to take care of a day's old kid.

Here are just a few of the issues and where the Internet and the Nani could not agree:

Why does my baby make strange faces while he sleeps?

Google says: Babies do a lot of moving of their faces and limbs to build muscle and control.

Nani says: For the first month, a baby dreams about his or her past life. That's why he makes all those expressions.

How can I trigger more breast milk production?

Google says: Eat properly, relax and encourage the baby to suckle and the milk will come naturally.

Nani says: Chew jeera (cumin) seeds while sweeping the floor.

What do I do if my baby is not drinking enough milk?

Google says: Every baby is different. Some need a lot of milk to fill up, others not as much. As long as your baby isn't losing weight and is active, it's likely things are fine and you'll begin to notice your baby's own feeding pattern within the first few weeks.

Nani says: Find a stray dog with black fur and feed it the child's leftover milk (once the baby is off breast milk). This will ensure the child drinks milk properly.

How do I help my body recover after birth?

Google says: Get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet and try and be as physically active as possible.

Nani says: For 40 days after birth, traditional knowledge says, you need to avoid certain foods, cold water and even reading.

She adds:

If you read during this time, they used to say your eyes will become weak. After having a baby, everything in a woman's body becomes weak so certain foods can hurt your teeth and cold water will bloat your stomach.

What is the proper way to hold a newborn baby?

Google says: Close physical contact - particularly holding a baby against your chest so he or she can feel your heart beat - is important for newborns because they're still adjusting to the world outside the womb.

Nani says: Never hold a baby against your chest, always cradle him or her in your arms with his or her back straight. The baby will get a curved back if held vertically.

How can I tell if I'm having a boy or a girl?

Google says: Though it is illegal in India, in other countries the sex of a baby can be determined through an ultrasound screening.

Nani says: You can tell by how a woman carries the baby. Boys sit more towards the front of their mother's body and girls more towards her back. Another way to tell is to use a thread to measure the mother's ankles. If the measurement around the left foot is longer, then it's a girl. If the right is longer, then it's a boy.

I'm documenting my first 40 days as a first-time mum supervised by my Nani. This is the second instalment in a series on the evolution of motherhood in India. The first was 'The Baby Bloom Theory: Who Will come First, The Newborn Or The Nani?'

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