Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Breastfeeding In Public

Above: The window display of The White Stuff

"If a multinational company developed a nutritionally balanced and delicious food, a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by the consumers' needs, the very announcement of their find would send their shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breastmilk, since the beginning of human existence" - Gabrielle Palmer

Recently, whilst on a family day out, my son, who had been under the weather for a while,  became restless and agitated. We were in a restaurant, waiting for our lunch to arrive. My son began fidgeting, getting more frustrated. He went from a smiley boy to a ball of frustration, his flaming red cheeks warning of an impending tantrum. He was really not happy.
And then he said "I want mummy milk". 
I was worried. I do breastfeed him at home, normally when he wakes in the morning. However, since he's been below par, he has asked for a breastfeed more frequently. At home I will oblige. In public, I feel differently. 
For a start, he is three years old. Some members of the public freak at a newborn being breastfed in public. How would I fare in a busy restaurant?
He also likes to chat a bit during the feed. Mostly about what the milk tastes like (interestingly, he can tell me what I've been eating - he caught me out with marshmallows, one day!). Ordinarily, I wouldn't be worried. In a restaurant where tables are shared by everyone, it's not quite considered polite chit-chat to have your breastfeeding child give a critique of the taste of his mother's milk, is it?
I was worried I would be accused of being "disgusting", or told that what I was doing is "wrong", or asked why I hadn't yet given up feeding him. 
Or, worst of all, that I would be asked to leave (which, for the record, I wouldn't have). 
Before long, my son was crying, and tugging at my top. I had to do something. So I took a deep breath, and  then let him feed. The waitress who was serving us knew I was breastfeeding, but continued as normal. The couple sitting next to us glanced over a few times. The woman even smiled at me.
I felt elated! I did it! I breastfed my three year old in public, and nobody minded me doing it!

How utterly ridiculous that I felt this way, though. 
I really struggle with this. Some members of my family don't understand why I breastfeed. I know they think I'm bonkers, extreme, neurotic; and they have found it bizarre that I would continue to do so. Until now, I haven't broadcast the fact to most people because I know they will think I'm strange. 
But I'm not. Honest! 

Breast milk is known for its immune-boosting properties in babies. But did you know that the presence of antibodies actually increase in milk in the second and third year and during the weaning process? The immune system doesn't mature until around the age of 6 years, so by breastfeeding for longer we are helping to boost and protect our little ones.
There are studies which show that babies who are breastfed have a higher IQ; are unwell less frequently; are less likely to develop allergies; and are less likely to be obese later in life;  the mother has a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis or breast or ovarian cancer. Here is an interesting article which discusses the natural age of weaning

At the end of the feed, my son was calm, happy and relaxed. He no longer felt tense. He sat in his seat, sipping his drink and toying with the food on his plate, quietly chatting. No tantrum, no screaming, no fidgeting or restlessness. Magic!
My daughter rounded off the whole experience by saying, "Mum, you shouldn't worry about what others think. He loves his mummy milk, it makes him better!"

Out of the mouths of babes...

A wobbly image of me feeding my son in the restaurant. Not a particularly flattering photo!! :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

the shadows in the early hours

"The mention of my child's name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears. If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of his name. It soothes my broken  heart and sings to my soul" - Author unknown

It occurred to me that this blog is largely about healthy babies and children, and hasn't really touched upon unexpected events or problems. Today I want to reach out to those parents and friends of those who face difficulties and sadness along their path of parenthood; for I am in awe of you. 
I find your strength inspirational. 

A few years ago, I went to see my friend, a week before her third baby was due. We had lunch, chatted in the sunshine, laughed at our children playing together in the garden. As I hugged her goodbye, I clearly remember saying, "the next time we meet you'll be holding your baby in your arms! Good luck for your labour!" 
Several weeks went by, and I didn't hear from her. I thought she was probably snowed under with 3 under 4's on her hands, so didn't contact her until about six weeks later, when I left a message for her. She phoned back a few days after to tell me that her son had been stillborn. She had given birth to him on her birthday. I was so shocked I didn't know what to say. We were both crying and I wanted to see her and hug her, to share her tears. She needed that precious space and time to grieve with her family, and I understood that. I gave her what she needed. But I felt devastated for her. She later moved away with her family. For the first couple of years I would send a card or email on his birthday, but then I began to wonder whether it was somehow inappropriate. Happily, they had another baby and settled into their new life. I have all but lost touch with her. I think of her often, wondering how they were able to deal with the heartache. 
I know of close friends who have lost a baby, too. As someone who has been fortunate enough not to have suffered this kind of loss, I cannot begin to imagine how it feels, and all I can do is give them love and time.

I try to think about how a bereaved parent must feel to know that the baby they love is gone. Their baby will never know how it feels to experience the sand and the sea, the sunshine, ice creams, the swings. They will never have the emotional first day at school, the day their child learns to ride a bike without stabilisers, the first lost tooth and the fairytale of the tooth fairy. 
They will never face a day where they feel like they are at breaking point with toddler tantrums, or trying to teach their child to go back to sleep when they awake in the early hours. They will never experience the cold toes and fingers as they creep into bed with their mummy and daddy and wriggle around all night, keeping them awake. 
Instead, they will sleep, and wake in the early hours, to a brief amnesia; before it is replaced with the flooding grief, the shadows of the darkened room engulfing their hearts, the silence of the hours deafening them. 
To anyone who has been bereaved in this way or another, I am so sorry for your loss. I can't take your pain away. I can't bring your loved one back. But if you know of a friend or loved one going through this pain, you can be there for them.
Say to them: "Tell me about your baby. Tell me everything you can remember. I will listen, and laugh with you. I will share your joy. I will comfort you. That person has left an imprint on your life, so show me what they looked like, the colour of their hair. Tell me how it felt to hold them in your arms, if only fleetingly, not for the lifetime you had dreamed of. I will cry with you, I will celebrate their life and I will love them with you. And when you feel ready to take the next step, I will support you in the next part of your journey." Don't shy away from talking to them about their baby, but be respectful of their need to grieve and have the space, the time to come to terms with what has happened to them. 
You can't make them suddenly better. But you can give them your love, compassion and time. You can give them space and give them the opportunity to talk if they want to. Take their cues, and listen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rewards and Consequences

"The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change" Carl Rogers

Let me start by making one thing clear: I know that I am not a perfect parent, and I never will be. There is no such thing. I try my best. 

I work hard at trying to understand my children, taking their feelings into consideration, and teaching them right from wrong. I try really hard to be patient with them, not shout, not get cross, and "model good behaviour". I really try my hardest, each day, to listen to them, share in their wonders, try to understand what is causing their frustrations/anger/dismay or fear. I bend over backwards each day to make sure they are warm, comfortable, well-fed, clean, and happy. I will forgo any of my own comforts, desires and needs in the name of love. 

But oh, my. 
They really know how to push my buttons. 
They know what makes me tick.
They know how to cause a massive distraction in order to influence a situation to their own advantage.
They can expertly make me look as though I am a rubbish mother in one moment, and a crazy, disorganised, ranting cow in the next.
My daughter is an expert negotiator. I am considering sending her on a mission with Kofi Annan. 
She knows how to argue her case, giving a reasoned and well-thought defence, leaving me occasionally baffled as to an appropriate, "I am the parent, you are the child" response. What do I do?

Sometimes, I can be a shouty parent. Each time I shout I feel guilty for shouting, which makes me feel like I am out of control, which ultimately makes me feel like a bad parent. 
These are the days when, as I tuck my children into bed in the evening, and I look at their little sleeping faces, and they are peaceful and beautiful, I feel a prick of self-resentment at having failed to be in control, calm and serene in the face of the challenges that children bring. I feel that failure all over, and it sometimes makes me feel so sad that I have lost my temper with them, all the while knowing that they are little people, with thoughts and feelings, who will one day grow up and be big people. I wouldn't shout at an adult, so why do I shout at my children? For me, the answer is feeling stressed, but that is no excuse. So in that case, I need to work out how to  manage stress. Simple, eh?!
What I find hard, is that I spend so much of my day trying to explain about "using kind hands" or "using kind voices", or "doing good listening", "doing good sharing", and "being kind to each other", and yet they argue, snatch from each other, ignore what is being said to them, show disrespect, and do the opposite to what is being asked.
 But often, they play nicely together, help each other out when stuck with something, chat to each other to make each other laugh, hug each other, help me by tidying up their toys, "cleaning" the bathroom (baby wipes come in very useful), reading books together, comforting each other if one of them is sad, and are simply gorgeous together.
 It really bugs me that for the past four years, at each meal, I ask my daughter to "sit nicely at the table, please do not sit cross-legged on the chair". She still does it, after all this time. There is a good reason: if she sits like that, she tends to spill her food down her clothes, which has been pointed out, but yet she still does it. Why? Is it habit? Is it to annoy me? Is it to show she wants control? Is it because I am too prescriptive and because I am not letting her get away with the little things? Or is it because she expects to hear me saying it? I really don't know - but it really annoys me that I have to say the same thing to her at every meal. The result: inward Arrrggghhhhhhhhhhh!
And the consequences of not following the "house rules"? Time out, and if they don't go, there will be a loss of treats, or a loss of bedtime story or evening TV.
The time out corner is not a place to go for punishment. It's a place to go to calm down, to retreat into themselves, to find a way to settle back into their usual state of being. I used to ask them to stay for one minute for every year of their age, but now I encourage them to come back to join in with whatever we are doing when they are calm and appropriate. I don't go over why they went to time-out, but they often apologise, and we have a hug. These are the days I feel in control, feel as though I am a good, authoratitive parent.

But just as important is the positive stuff: rewarding good behaviour with praise, star charts and spontaneous rewards (an unexpected treat, like staying up a bit later, a magazine, or an ice lolly). 
But the most important part of parenting, in my opinion, is love. Everything I do for them is borne out of love, including the discipline I endeavour to give them each day. It is because I love them and want to nurture them that I try so hard, because I want them to grow up as rounded, compassionate, empathic adults, who know right from wrong, are respectful and kind, and are secure and happy with themselves and their lot in life. 
I remind myself every day how lucky I am to have two gorgeous children who are happy, healthy, and full of life and dreams.
I can't describe how wonderful it is to find little notes from my daughter at least once a week, saying "dear mum, I love you", with lots of hearts and kisses. That is my spontaneous reward. My son tells me several times a day that he loves me, and gives me the most life-fulfilling hugs. Together they are my guiding light in the world, they are leading the way.
I am willing to continue to educate myself so that I may learn and change, and ultimately, pass this philosophy onto my children.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reading for Pleasure

"In the beginning was the word and the word was ours..." From Michael Rosen's poem, "Words are Ours"
Above: me, reading to my daughter, aged six weeks.

I can distinctly remember the first time I read The Gruffalo to my daughter. I was 38 weeks pregnant with her, my little baby who was tucked inside me, curled up in a tight spot, and probably wondering where all the Room had gone.

I had one of those big bouncy ball things that are great for exercising, toning up wobbly bits, sitting on to do figure-of-eights to try to get Baby into the optimal birthing position, and great for using in labour. They're also a pain in the neck to store safely without them taking out a small child like a bowling ball, but that's another story...

On this particular occasion I was sitting on the ball whilst reading The Gruffalo aloud to both my daughter and my husband. "Are you paying attention?" I asked him. He looked a bit distant, but nodded. "Good. Because you're going to get to know this book very well!"
I continued reading to the end, at which point my hormones got the better of me, and I shed a tear. I felt quite soppy at the time, mostly because it was the first book I ever bought to read for my baby, and reading it for the first time felt almost like a ceremony, a beginning of something.

But I read that book every day until she was born, and we continued to read this book, and lots more besides, every day to both of our children. 

It is so important to read to our babies. Why? Because it helps them with their vocabulary and speech development; it helps them make an association with words and pictures; and it is great for bonding, too. It also sets a habit in place, where reading is an integral part of their daily life, intended for pleasure, cuddles, fun, laughter and chats about what's happening in the book. Here are some tips on reading with your baby

However, it doesn't stop with reading. Talking through what you're doing whilst holding your baby, walking around with them, pushing them in a buggy, carrying them in a sling, bathing them, peeling potatoes, putting the rubbish in the bin, tidying up - anything and everything can be verbalised with your baby. Communicating with them, explaining what you are doing - even explaining that you're going to change their nappy and the reason why, in simple language, is not only respectful (even if you're unsure whether they understand or not, if you consciously do so repeatedly, they will soon learn what the word "nappy" means and what that soggy uncomfortable feeling is), it is engaging them in what you are doing, and it enables the baby to understand more about the world they are getting to grips with. 
My son particularly enjoyed lots of time in the sling. I would alternate between having him facing me, and facing outwards, so that he could see what I was doing. He enjoyed watching me prepare food, and I would give a commentary on what I was doing: "I'm peeling this carrot which is orange. Can you smell the food I'm burning in the oven? That's because Mummy forgot it was in there until now! Oh, look, it's raining outside! I'll have to bring the washing in, now!" etc. That was a typical day for me, but I digress...

The National Literacy Trust has tips and suggestions on how to communicate with your baby, and includes their qualitative research report for their face-to-face project. One of the most fascinating facts is that at birth, a baby's brain has an enormous capacity for learning, and the greatest potential for learning is within the first two years of its life. So if you feel self-concious about talking to your baby, remember that it is helping their speech development, and it is developing your bond with them, too. The more you talk to them, the more natural it becomes.
When they start talking to you, it becomes a fascinating new experience and insight into how they view the world. Allowing them to ask questions, listening to what they are saying, repeating back to them, are all important aspects of communication. When they learn what the word "no" means, everything changes again, but that's the joy of parenting: it is a constantly-changing whirlwind experience!
But for me, the most rewarding aspect of reading to my daughter, is that she reads to me, now. It is a wonderful gift to hear your child read to you, not only understanding what the word means, but to be able to explain the text in their own language and relate it to their own experiences or ideas. Of course, spelling out words that she previously didn't know, such as "Could you pop to the shop to get me some c.h.o.c.o.l.a.t.e, please?" no longer holds any water, as she's onto me in a flash. Perhaps that's why I've lost a bit of weight, lately...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nurture yourself

"At work, you think of the children you've left at home. At home, you think of the work you've left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself, your heart is rent." Golda Meir

When my daughter was just over five months old, I returned to work. It wasn't my choice; my maternity leave had finished, and we needed the money. It was a time I had dreaded. I didn't want to go back to work. I was enjoying my time with my daughter - she was becoming very interesting. And she was very, very cute and beautiful. I was still breastfeeding her, and had decided to express to give to the nursery whilst I was working. I had arranged to breastfeed her at lunchtime, being that she was in the building in the next street.
On the first day I reluctantly handed her to one of the nursery staff. I stroked my daughter's cheek, said a cheery goodbye, and left the building. I heard her crying as I left; I instantly found myself crying with her as I walked into work.  I felt like I was the worst mother in the world for leaving her. When I arrived, I was greeted by my colleagues, then left to get on with it. A full clinic after six months off. It was time to turn off my baby brain and start thinking, again.

In my coffee break I locked the door to my room and expressed some milk, whilst gazing at a photo of my daughter. I was in a rush - I had patients to see, and paperwork to catch up on. I had found the morning challenging so far, but also wanted to get to see my daughter at lunchtime, to feed her, cuddle her, smell her and hear her laughter. I was in a hurry to get my work done before lunchtime so that I could see her.
My life went on like this for two long days per week, for several months. I found it incredibly difficult to work and be a mum. It was a difficult juggling act - not from a time point of view - but from the guilt I was experiencing. I felt terrible that I was leaving my daughter in a nursery, when she should be with me; and I felt terrible that I seemingly wasn't performing to the standard I had reached before going on maternity leave. I wanted to be the best I could be - as a mother, and in my job. My coffee breaks were spent expressing; and my lunch breaks were taken up with breastfeeding my daughter and then rushing back to my desk, to eat lunch whilst doing my admin before starting my afternoon sessions. As a result, I lost social contact with my work colleagues. My morning coffee session and lunchtime visit meant that I didn't see them at all. We worked in our own rooms, so unless I needed to ask them something or saw them walking past, I had precious little time to interact. Overall, it was an intensely painful, lonely experience governed by guilt and feelings of inadequacy, capitalised by the need to be the best I could be. And for who? It wasn't for my daughter - I would have preferred to be at home with her; it wasn't for my bosses - although resentment built up over time because I felt that I had been ignored and overlooked, and that they had no idea of the mammoth effort it was taking me to do my job; it wasn't for the sake of finances - despite the ridiculous situation I was in, where I needed to work to boost our money pot, which by the time I had paid tax, NI, fuel, nursery fees, pension, and packed lunch I was effectively working one day a week for free and was a constant source of frustration, anger and irritation; 
I was doing it for me:
 I was putting myself through all of this in order to ensure that my daughter continued to receive the breastmilk I felt she needed to give her the best she could have despite the awkwardness of doing so; and I was working to the standards expected of me by my bosses, colleagues, patients, and myself. I was putting an enormous strain on myself, with perhaps unrealistic expectations of my abilities as a mother and in my job. I felt the guilt of my choices and hated the situation I was in. Guilt led to resentment, frustration, anger and helplessness; and was only remedied by the passage of time, and my daughter's developmental milestones.

However, in retrospect, I feel that those early days at nursery were brilliant for my daughter. She settled after a couple of months, and became very sociable. She also caught every bug going, resulting in lots of sick days (and more guilt when I had to stay at home to look after her instead of working, knowing that I was causing a great deal of inconvenience and annoyance). She thrived on those two days in nursery because she met lots of other babies and toddlers, and was cared for by other adults. I partially attribute her outgoing, bubbly nature to her social interaction from such a young age. We have a wonderful relationship with her: she is unharmed by those early days. She also has a strong, healthy immune system, thanks to the multitudes of viruses and bacteria she came into contact with at the nursery!

If I could go back to see my younger self 6 years ago, I would mother her. I would reassure her that guilt is not necessary. I would explain that it is not the quantity of time spent with my daughter, but the quality of time we had together. We went for walks, went swimming, to music time, the library, the park, shopping, reading, painting, collecting leaves. Those days were the days in which I showed her the world in chunks of time that were meaningful, enjoyable, and fun. I would give myself a hug, and say, "you are doing brilliantly, enjoy the moment, enjoy the time, because this stage will pass and will be replaced by something else to think about, plan for and make changes. Guilt will only make it harder for you to get things done, and most importantly, it will stop you from enjoying the simple pleasures of motherhood". Whether I would listen to my own advice would be debatable, since I was in a cloud of my own self-determination to succeed - but it may have helped!
Several years later and I am still experiencing guilt - not spending "enough" time reading to my children, not playing with them for long enough because I was too busy, not taking them to the swings or the beach frequently enough. Or forgetting to be the tooth fairy for my daughter's first lost tooth. It was a particularly bad moment, whereby the previous evening had  been spent in excitement at the process of putting her tooth in a box under her pillow, only for me to be too tired and forgetting to replace it with some money before I went to bed - resulting in tears and disappointment the following morning. "Don't worry", I told her. "The tooth fairy was too busy last night, but you're first on her list for tonight!"

Parenthood is full of these examples. How we deal with it is dependent on our own conscience, our own standards, and our own childhood experiences. If you can, view guilt as a reminder of why you do what you do - not a moment to self-criticise how you do it and how you can do things better. If you can ask yourself why you did something a certain way, listen to the answer, react to your own feelings and then release them without fear, then you're on the right tracks. 

See your children as your teachers, for they can show us how to nurture ourselves as we nurture them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Food, Glorious Food

"Food is for eating, and good food is to be enjoyed... I think food is, actually, very beautiful in itself." Delia Smith

By the time I went back to work after the birth of my daughter, when she was 5 1/2 months old, she was ready to wean. I duly set about buying a few items of fruit and veg to puree for her. Her first taste of food was a baby spoon of banana  puree, mixed with a dash of breast milk. She loved it, even though most of it ended up dribbling down her chin, with very little of it actually finding its way into her stomach. 
At the time, there was frustratingly little information given to me by the health visitors: only that I should wait until she was six months old before starting the weaning process. I was confused by the information around about what to give her when, and worried about giving her something that she might be allergic to. 
I was given a book on weaning by my friend, which became my bible. It made a lot of sense to me because it was written by someone with a lot of knowledge about biochemistry and nutrition, so the weaning process was based on providing the exact nutrients needed for the baby, using a wide range of foods. It was written by a vegetarian, and she pretty much (not in so many words) condemned meat in the first chapter, but I ignored that bit, although I am now a trainee vegetarian!
I am not joking when I explain that when my daughter was ready to eat breakfast, I would drop her off at the nursery with a pot of porridge which consisted of: uncooked, ground-up oats, brown rice, quinoa, bran, and pearl barley. You should have seen what it did to my mixer! The idea was that these ingredients contained a huge amount of vitamins, proteins and fibre, and were perfect to help develop her immunity, organs and generally make her into Superbaby. But that wasn't the whole sum of the breakfast; oh no no no! On top of that, to complete her perfectly-balanced breakfast, was a defrosted cube of pureed, cooked courgette, and a sprinkling of brewer's yeast, all mixed up with 50mls of mama's finest, creamy milk. 
Understandably, the nursery staff looked at the green splodgy bowl of porridge with disgust, and at me with hidden contempt: how could I feed my daughter such muck?! But I only cared about making sure she was able to eat the best I could give her. My feeling at the time was that I had breastfed her to make sure she got the best; and for the next six months I was determined to give her the best start to her eating career. On reflection, perhaps I tried a bit too hard with her as far as feeding her went - but she ate EVERYTHING I put down in front of her. 
This could be because at breakfast time she was so hungry that she ate the sloppy porridge I fed her just to satisfy her need for food; which, as disgusting as it was, made everything else I offered her taste like the food of the Gods. She ate liver (bleugh) when she was seven months old, one of my proudest moments - if only because I managed to hide my disgust whilst helping her put it into her mouth. I even apologised to her as I sat down at the table with her to feed it to her - but she loved it! (she wouldn't touch it now, though).
And so it went on. Lots of finely-tuned food, biochemically matched to within an inch of a bottom quark (feel free to tell me what one of those is, because I have no idea, although it sends me into schoolgirl sniggers every time I hear or read the words), enough to provide my daughter's gastro-intestinal tract with an abundance of superfood in her first year of life. Each week, my partner and I would spend an hour chopping, boiling, stirring and whizzing up a concoction of brightly-coloured ice-cube trays, which was laborious but always seemed better after a glass or two of wine, banter and food-tasting.
We have asthma in our family, so I was very careful about introducing some foods. She was a year old before she had anything dairy-based or containing wheat. She had refined sugars after her first birthday, and once she had discovered the miracle of cheese, nothing could stop her enjoying a wider variety of foods.
However, my careful diet and desire to give her a great start in life did not prevent her asthma. Although difficult to diagnose in babies, she was frequently wheezing, and required several hospital visits for nebulised Ventolin, and was under the care of a consultant to treat her symptoms. She was so wheezy that she was unable to crawl without coughing or getting out of breath, so she bypassed the whole crawling stage until she could cruise around the room. I couldn't imagine how much worse things would have been if I hadn't breastfed her, or if I had given her dairy at an earlier age.
Then, at the age of three, she developed an intolerance to cow's milk protein. I felt terrible that I had somehow caused it (which I obviously hadn't, but mother's guilt had taken over), but it's apparently quite possible that she developed an intolerance to cow's milk protein following a viral illness.
Happily, things are fairly well-controlled now, and she can tolerate some dairy, but she prefers goat, soya or oat milk. She is nearly 7, and a very good eater - although she likes to take her time at the table, which is a mixed blessing!
By the time my son was born, I had read  Jill Rapley's paper on baby-led weaning, which seemed to make so much sense. I decided to opt for this method of weaning, which is a natural progression for breastfed babies. 
The reason it clicked with me is that it primarily allows the baby to make its own choices about what they eat: putting a selection of foods in front of them, and allowing them to pick up what appeals to them. Hard foods like carrot will need to be cut into matchstick-sized pieces and par-boiled (not presented raw and whole, as in my picture, above!), and constant supervision is required, but the baby can feed themselves as soon as they are able to. It's also fantastic for generating a social atmosphere for the baby to be involved in: sitting at the table with the rest of the family, eating the same food as everyone else.
Developmentally, a baby will only pick up what it is able to. For example, a big piece of carrot is easier for a 6 month-old baby to pick up than a raisin. A piece of cooked carrot is unlikely to cause choking. If an adult places a raisin into the 6 month-old baby's mouth, it is possible that it will cause them to choke. Babies will regulate what they put into their mouths and what they will swallow, spit out or play with or throw onto the floor. The mature pincer grip doesn't develop until the baby is able to swallow a piece of food as small as a raisin. It's a feature of safety in nature, and to me this makes perfect sense. Why spend ages mashing food up and then spoon-feeding a baby, when it can explore, learn about, and play with its food? Breast-milk should still be a main composition of a baby's diet until around the age of a year, with the weaning process taking a gradually greater role from the age of six months. 
My son's first food was a slice of grilled lamb which he stole from my plate, whilst I had him in my lap. He didn't "eat" it - he picked it up, shook it a bit, then put it into his mouth. He sucked on it, pulled a face, put it back on my plate and picked up a piece of tomato. He tried to put it into his mouth, but he dropped it. This was the beginning of his exploration of food, and one he is still engaging in. He will try anything I give to him, but won't necessarily enjoy it! At the age of 3 he will use a knife and fork; he grazes throughout the day and eats whatever it is that he needs. I don't try to get him to clear his plate - to me it is about providing a feast for the eyes, from which he decides what he puts into his mouth, and how much of it. He's healthy, in proportion, and following his centiles.
So why wait until six months before beginning weaning? There are a variety of factors relating to an increased risk of allergies, gastrointestinal infection, and taking less breast-milk than they need, resulting in a reduction of the nutrients they require. There was a study, published in 2011, in which the authors concluded that weaning breastfed babies before six months would be beneficial. The study was flawed, and three of the four authors had previously worked in the formula or baby-food manufacture within the past three years. Please read this analysis of the paper, disputing their "evidence". 

I understand how tempting it is to begin weaning early, but the process should be about looking at the baby. Look for the signs they are ready to wean, take things slowly, have fun, and enjoy watching your baby's next developmental milestones.

My children have a healthy attitude towards food. They tend to graze on healthy food during the day, eat their main meals (as much as they want to eat, with some gentle coaxing if they're tired or distracted), and they know why it is important to eat healthily. 

Having said this, as I type there is fish and chips in the oven (slutty food, as I call it) because I have been too busy to make anything fresh today - but with this sort of food it means they get the rough with the smooth, once in a while, so that they know what's right and what's not! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Every Drop Counts

"O, thou beautiful damsel, may the four oceans 
Of the earth contribute the secretion of milk
In thy breasts for the purpose for improving
The bodily strength of the child
O, thou, with the beautiful face, may the child
Reared on your milk, attain a long life, like
The gods made immortal with drinks of nectar" - Sushruta, translated

I took these photos three years ago, as part of another blog project I undertook, during which time I was a breast milk donor. The hands above belong to Charlie, and his mum, Tracey. Charlie was born 12 weeks early and was in SCBU until he was strong enough to go home.

Charlie, like many premature babies, received donor breast milk in order to protect his gut from developing a life-threatening condition where the bowel becomes leaky, resulting in death of the gut wall tissue; and often has fatal complications. This condition is caused by varying factors, but can be treated with human milk. Babies who are given formula milk have a three to tenfold increased risk of developing the condition, compared with babies who are given human milk.

The UKAMB are a charity which supports milk banks as well as being involved with ensuring the safe practice of milk banking, where donor milk is collected. Donors are screened prior to beginning donating. There are 17 milk bank centres in the UK.

Premature babies also benefit from kangaroo care, which is where the baby is kept skin to skin on the mother's chest for as much time as possible. The benefits of skin to skin contact are important for all babies, whether term or premature, formula or breastfed; but it seems even more crucial in those babies who are born early. Research is showing that babies who are kept skin to skin rather than in incubators stabilise more quickly, and has major implications for the psychological and overall well-being of the parent and the baby.
Recent research has shown that babies can attach to the breast from as early as 28 weeks, and be fully breastfeeding from 32 weeks, so this plus kangaroo care in the premature infant is vital.

As a nurse with 15 years of post-registration experience, including five years in critical care, I have seen the massive benefits in technology and medicine, and the fantastic advances that healthcare provides. I am in awe of the brilliant minds that have enabled what has been previously regarded as unthinkable, or impossible to achieve.

And yet my eyes are being opened wide to the brilliance of our own bodies, the wonderful, incomprehensible, microscopic abilities of the human being. We have all we are equipped to deal with, right here, inside of us all: if only we could tap into every aspect of that in an instant! If an infant is more likely to survive by being given breast milk, which contains so much to protect them; in comparison to a medicine which increases their chance of death, which would you rather provide them with?

If you're a breastfeeding mum and would like to find out more about how to donate, click on the UKAMB link, above. You don't need to donate much - just 30 mls can make a difference - every drop counts. If you're a parent with a baby in SCBU right now, find out as much as you can about breastfeeding and kangaroo care. I hope that you and your little one stay strong and do well.

If you're wondering about Charlie, I do hear from his mum every now and then, and know that he has some health difficulties, but it sounds like he's doing brilliantly.

Above: Some of the 19L of milk I donated in the six months I was eligible to do so. At first, I was only able to express 20mls or so, but by the end of the six months I was able to get 120mls in one go - and feed my son, although it took a lot of time and patience.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Fog: Birth of a New Life

"A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for." Anon

The time has come. The moment you have been waiting for has arrived. You've been ticking off the weeks, days and hours, counting the minutes between contractions - or you've found yourself in theatre gear - ready to meet your baby. In one moment, your baby is still enveloped in the darkness within; the next moment, it is subjected to 100% sensory saturation. You breathe a sigh of relief; feel emotion encircle that moment in time. It is a moment that is forever imprinted in your mind. A flood of complex thoughts, feelings and emotions; coupled with a sense of completion mixed with the start of something new. It's not just your baby who is experiencing a new life: the entity of you as a family unit are a new life in which you are to move forwards together, feeling your way as you go. 

The following hours are filled with love, tears, euphoria, laughter, relief, pain, stress, sleep-deprivation, exhaustion, phone calls, text messages, visitors, medical intervention in one form or another... the fog of new parenthood is slowly descending around the new family. Gradually, it seems, the old life has faded away, and been replaced with something unknown, something new, awkward and a little-bit-massively scary. This fog has the ability to bend time, where two hours can feel like a day ago; it can change thought processes, where a seemingly simple decision (jam or marmite on your toast? Tea or coffee?) can feel like a confusing moment when the answer isn't as clear-cut as it could be. The fog sucks every aspect of life into a twisted, dense cloud of matter and emotion, to be cleared momentarily, only to build up again as soon as a challenge presents itself. Every decision suddenly feels like a huge responsibility, and is daunting even for the most practically-minded, clear-thinking, confident person. 

So much emphasis is based on the moments leading up to the birth, partly because it is almost indescribable to someone who has not stepped into the fog of brand-new parenthood. All that can be done is to read, educate and inform ourselves in whatever way suits us - be it through literature, through antenatal classes, television or through our family and peers - to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I've heard women say, "Why did nobody tell me how difficult this was going to be?" For me, my inward answer is, "because it's too difficult for us to hear before we've been through it". For many, just getting through the labour safely and holding their baby is as far as the mind is willing to travel. 

So many of us feel we have failed in some way: Either related to the labour; or feeding; or not changing a dirty nappy "quickly enough"'; or responding to a cry; or leaving the baby too long/not long enough between feeds; or sleeping through a feed;not realising the baby is hot/cold; or not being able to get dressed for an entire day because of a fractious, crying baby; or not getting out of the house all day because frankly, you're too tired, still in your pyjamas, or you think you look terrible; or because every time you put your baby down to go to have a shower they start to cry and so you have to go through the entire feed/shhh/nappy change/singing routine without wanting to cry, yourself - in the hope that at some point between now and your baby's first birthday, you'll get to have a shower, and brush your teeth. 

I personally find it hard to ask family and friends for help unless I have a problem. I'm hardwired to get things done no matter what. I don't see asking for help as a weakness, I see conducting my life without help as the norm. But that's me, and I can't change that, even if it isn't the easiest way of doing things. I hated the thought of anyone other than my husband being around in those early days where we were able to bond together as a family, and treasure those moments quietly, without fuss, scrutiny or judgement. Having had two caesareans, I found it highly irritating and frustrating that I couldn't "get on" with things - having to rest was hard, but it is what I needed, and what my babies needed. Here is an interesting article about how mothers are cared for in non-Western cultures, after birth.

I believe that the gentlest way of getting through the first days after birth, is to put no expectations on yourself, your baby or your partner. Live moment to moment. Sleep whenever you can - even if you feel you want to carry on - force yourself to sit or lie down and close your eyes. Eat well, drink plenty of water, indulge yourself with something that gives you a feeling of well-being, remind yourself how amazing your body is to have grown, carried and delivered a baby. If things aren't going according to plan, surround yourself with the support you need to overcome any difficulties. Remember that your hormones are going through highs and lows, and that by day three or four, you'll possibly be experiencing euphoria and sleep deprivation in combination with some stress; and possibly trauma of your birth experience; all in combination with the sudden realisation that you've hit the ground running.

But in my opinion, the best gift a prospective parent can give themselves, is kindness. Kindness for themselves, and their partner. It is this kindness that will nurture you in those early days and weeks after the birth of your baby. The kindness of remembering that you don't know what you don't know; so how can you get things right straight away? Your baby can only cry to let you know that something isn't right - even the baby doesn't know what it actually is that doesn't feel right - so how can you, as a brand new parent, expertly identify what that need is? 
The kindness of recognising your limitations - and your success - and allowing yourself to take things moment by moment. 
The kindness of knowing that things will change. You will get to a point when the fog will start to lift, the tiredness will ease, the confidence will build, and you will look back on those early days with wizened eyes. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sleep...precious sleep

"People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one" - Leo J. Burke

If I were to have another baby, I wouldn't stress about sleep. I wouldn't worry that they would cry each time I tried to put them down in their cot. I wouldn't frustrate myself or my baby by spending an hour at a time trying to teach them to go to sleep on their own. It was all a waste of time and energy.

I wouldn't worry, because I wouldn't expect them to go to sleep all by themselves, I wouldn't spend ages trying to teach them to lie in a cot and go to sleep. I remember what those early days are like: an hour spent feeding, followed by trying to transfer a sleepy/asleep baby from my warm arms, into a cold cot, then leave them alone, only to feel the despair when, just as I sit down to eat my dinner (which has gone cold), the baby wakes and the whole process is started all over again. This was a common theme with both of our children, to the point where we wondered whether they had an inbuilt mealtime detector that alarmed just as the first mouthful was about to be devoured. 

The reason I wouldn't worry, is because I would do things differently. When my daughter was born, she slept in a cot in her room. In the middle of the night, when she woke for a feed, I would go into her room, feed her (feeling cold and shivery), then spend ages putting her in her cot and trying to get her to go back to sleep. We would take turns at the 3am baby-calming routine. Sometimes, I would bring her to our bed, feed her, fall asleep, then wake up and put her back into her cot, at which point she would wake up for a feed or cry for a cuddle and the reassurance that we were there for her. It was stressful, hard work for all of us, and I look back on those nights with a sense of guilt that I didn't take her cues, choosing instead to "fit" her into our way of doing things. 
With my son, I started off in a similar way. The problem with him, though is that he had oesophageal reflux, so whenever I laid him down, he would scream. I would pick him up again to soothe him. I tried to find ways of propping up his cot to tilt the head end, but it didn't make any difference. In the end, all I could do was to feed him, then keep him upright on his front on my chest, and wait for him to settle. He would cry, throw up, have more milk, doze, then wake up for more milk. The night time feeds became a routine of sitting upright in bed, which ended up being nearly all night, because that was the only way I could keep him comfortable. It took its toll on my spine, though, and I was having a terrible night's sleep. Putting him in his cot was impossible to do for a night: he would spend only a couple of hours each evening in it.  

Then I heard about co-sleeping at my breastfeeding support group. At first I was worried about it. I didn't trust myself to roll onto him in the night, or that it would risk him being suffocated. However, I soon realised that we got more sleep throughout the nights, because he was in our bed, and could be easily breastfed without the rigmarole of getting up, feeding, settling, and going back to bed, again. 

There are benefits to co-sleeping with breastfed babies. Please click here to find out about safety guidelines and considerations if you are thinking about co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is used to describe your baby sleeping in the same room as you, as well as in the same bed. Co-sleeping is different to bed-sharing, where the baby sleeps with the mother in the same bed.

It is easier to breastfeed if your baby is next to you. Crucially, the hormone prolactin, which stimulates milk cells to produce milk, is released in higher levels at night. This means your baby is getting more milk if it feeds overnight, and it helps to establish and maintain milk supply. This is why it is important to feed your baby at night, rather than try to leave them to sleep. Breastfeeding at night is easier if the mother and baby are bed-sharing.

Frequent feeding at night also helps to ease and treat engorgement, which can lead to blocked ducts and mastitis. Our bodies are designed to feed our babies around the clock, not just during the daytime, and the fact that prolactin is higher at night is evidence of our biological need to feed during nocturnal hours.

Babies who bed-share have a lighter sleep pattern, meaning they are less likely to go into a deeper sleep where they may have pauses in their breathing (apnoea). This is thought to be one reason why SIDS is lower in breastfed babies who co-sleep with their parents. Also, mums who bed-share and breastfeed have a lighter sleeping pattern, too, so are more aware of what their baby is doing, even if they're not consciously aware of it. Interestingly, there is no such lighter variation in sleeping patterns for mums who do not breastfeed but do bed-share with their baby.

The baby will have the benefit of skin-to-skin contact, which has many benefits. One such benefit is the way in which the baby's temperature is regulated. The body temperature of the mum will vary to ensure that her baby's temperature remains safe and within normal limits - so if a baby is too warm, its mum's body temperature will cool until the baby's temperature comes down. Conversely, if the baby is too cold, its mum's body temperature will rise. Babies also regulate their breathing with their mum's. Isn't this amazing?!

Bed-sharing allows the baby to feel safe and protected, which has a positive effect on their psychological well-being, bonding, and physical needs.

There are safety factors to take into account if you decide to bed-share with your baby.

Mums who are bottle feeding should not share a bed with their child. Partners, siblings and other care-givers are not as sensitive to the sleeping patterns of the baby, so should not sleep with the baby in the middle of the bed, but at the mother's side.

Don't over-dress your baby - dress them in the same number of layers that you're wearing - to prevent them overheating. Keep their head uncovered, and make sure that pillows are kept away from the baby.

Make sure your mattress is firm and flat. If you can, get a queen or king-sized bed. 

Sleep with the bed against a wall so that the baby cannot fall out or get stuck.

Don't bed-share if you or your partner smokes, or if either of you have been drinking alcohol, taking any drugs or medication that can make you drowsy.

Here is some reassurance if you think your baby should be sleeping through the night.

We still have nocturnal visits from our 3 year-old. He climbs in, settles down, and goes back to sleep. We are often joined by our daughter in the early hours of the morning, too. It's all fine until the bickering starts, or worse, if one of them decides they'd like us to read to them, at which point it's common to get jabbed in the eye by a tumbling picture book at 6.30. But at least we're all warm, and it's actually lovely to have cuddles with them - we know it won't last much longer before they'll grow out of it!

Sunday, February 12, 2012


"Every baby needs a lap" - Henry Robin

Once, I was asked by a pregnant friend, "What do I need to buy for the baby?" I struggled to answer her. I think her expectations were a long, concise list of everything her baby needed. I started to write a few things down. "Lots of nappies. A few items of clothing - but don't buy too much, because you will be given lots by others and then gifts of clothes, too. A good quality car seat. A sling. A cot or a moses basket. A baby changing mat. Lots of tea bags, biscuits, and sugar." My list started to dwindle. I couldn't really add too much more to the list. My friend looked bewildered. "Is that it?" she asked. "Nothing else?" "Well," I responded, "some big pants - big, scary, old-lady pants - you'll be amazed at how comfortable they are in the days leading up to the birth, and in the first couple of weeks. You don't believe me now, but just wait!" 

I consider late pregnancy and the early days following birth as the absolutely only time in which big scary old lady pants are a perfect item of underwear - essential for comfort and support. Even if nothing else, big, scary old-lady pants make a practical solution if you need an emergency blanket or a sling for your baby, or if in the event of a colander malfunction, I imagine they'd be great for straining your potatoes. They could even come in useful in a damsel-in-distress, railway children sort of way, as a signal to others of your overwhelming tiredness and fatigue, when you find yourself trying to feed the parking meter wine gums; or if you accidentally pour coffee into your change bag whilst soothing your crying, frustrated infant, pretending that you're fine and everything is in control, when in reality you're in need of a hug, a sugar fix, and a few hours of quiet, uninterrupted sleep.

We live in a society where accessories and technology dictate our lives. We are encouraged to think about "teching" out our baby's life, where it's possible to monitor our baby not just from a listening aid whilst in another room, but we can actually spy on them whilst they sleep, by putting a camera in their cot so you can look at them on a tiny screen if they start to cry, rather than attend to them in person. There are apps to tell you when your baby is next due a feed; mats to place in the cot which alarm if your baby stops breathing for a few seconds (and are, so I've been told, fairly unreliable as they can alarm even if the baby is absolutely fine); super-funky buggies; bottle warmers; scientifically-tested formulas which claim to be so brilliant they are almost as good as breast milk...the list goes on and on. 

How far do we need to go? Isn't is time to just pause the technology, and instead focus on humanity? Beneath the plethora of books, accessories, technology and on-trend gear is a human being. A baby which will be exposed to the latest technological advances throughout its entire life, so why not allow it some time to adjust to the world in a quiet, calm, peaceful, non-intrusive way? Does "less is more" have no meaning, these days?

I don't doubt the safety benefits of some equipment. For example, the mats which sound alarms if the baby stops breathing could be very useful in a premature baby's cot, or for babies that have existing breathing problems. But in a healthy, term, breastfed baby which is placed on his back in a cot without any pillows, cot bumpers or anything else which may be a potential danger, is that a necessity? How much does our market rely on paranoia to sell products? Monitors are useful to hear if a baby is crying, but do you really need to see what the baby is doing, too? The chances are, that if a baby wakes up and starts to cry, they need a feed, they're poorly, they need a nappy change, or they just need some reassurance from human touch and voice. What's a camera going to do? 

Trust your instincts. Listen to your baby. Follow their lead. 
A baby needs love, warmth, to feel safe and protected, and food. You have all the mechanisms in place to provide these things.
 Anything else is an added bonus!


Above: Tammy breastfeeding Izzie. Thanks to Tammy for allowing me to use this image for my post!

Anyone reading this blog so far will have gathered that I am pro-breastfeeding. Why wouldn't I be? There are so many reasons why breastfeeding is the best choice. What I am asking from you as the reader is that, from this point onwards, you either read with an open mind; read to re-affirm what you already know; or read with the possibility that your perceptions of breastfeeding may be positively changed. But to anyone who wants to "shout" and tell me that breastfeeding is wrong/disgusting etc etc - arguably, you are the ones who need to read this more than anyone else.

Ten advantages of breastfeeding:
1. It's FREE
2. It's ready-made, and just right for your baby. No mixing, no measuring, no warming up, and the milk changes to match your baby's dietary requirements
3. Breastmilk protects against ear, nose and throat infections, urine infection, gastro-enteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting). If all babies were breastfed exclusively for at least 3 months, the NHS would save £50 million a year on the treatment of gastroenteritis alone
4. Breastfeeding mums who come into contact with a viral illness will pass on a degree of immunity to her baby (which may prevent the baby from developing the same illness, or lesson the effects of it)
5. Breastfeeding can reduce the likelihood of developing allergic conditions, such as eczema, or asthma
6. Breastfed babies are less likely to be obese in later life
7. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop diabetes
8. Mums who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing breast cancer by 15% for each year they breast feed their baby and for each subsequent breastfed baby 
9. Mums who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer
10. Breastfed babies are less likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

My first main point is this: up until the mid 1800's, when powdered baby milk became available, we, as a human race had lived on breastmilk from birth and survived. In fact, it could be argued that breastmilk has helped to preserve the human race from the perspective of immunity and protection of illnesses and diseases, not just from a calorific, free-at-the-point-of-delivery perspective. This means that, in ancestral terms, you are here because your ancestors breastfed! 

Secondly, I really dislike the term "breastfeeding nazi". I find it quite offensive, because those who attach this label on to anyone who promotes breastfeeding are simply ignoring the huge amount of money that formula milk companies invest annually into promoting their own products, and the sneaky ways the companies use to compete with each other; and how they advocate formula over breastmilk; let alone the obscene profits they make at the expense of our society. In my mind, the execs at the top of the formula companies are equal to the greedy bankers who are tucking into our pockets. Just something to think about: when was the last time you watched an advert on TV which promoted only breastfeeding?
There are now tight controls on breastmilk substitute companies for the protection of babies all over the world, particularly in developing countries, where formula milk is ridiculously expensive, and dangerous if not prepared safely, which puts millions of babies at risk each year. Breastfeeding advocates aim to protect these lives, as well as the well-being and health of babies in all countries. So let me say here that I am a breastfeeding advocate for all the right reasons, not to impose my opinions or criticise those who choose to formula feed.

 In addition, those stories you may read in the newspapers about those poor mums who have been told to leave cafe's or restaurants because they are breastfeeding their baby - in most, if not all cases, discreetly - are in the minority. It makes a good story because it divides opinion. 
What society need to acknowledge, is that breastfeeding is normal. As soon as this happens, the "outraged onlooker/cafe owner told breastfeeding mum to leave their premises" stories will no longer be newsworthy, because nobody will be "offended" by it. Breastmilk substitutes are an alternative to human milk. 

When I had my daughter, I was determined to breastfeed. I was going to succeed at it because I am actually quite stubborn (but don't tell anyone I admit to that), and I wasn't going to allow myself to fail at something I had set my mind to. But I didn't get enough of the right support at the beginning, so I ended up having some problems. I had trouble with getting my daughter to attach properly, and ended up with mastitis, which - as anyone who has had it will know - was excruciatingly painful.
I was more prepared with my son, and also had a lot more help available from a breastfeeding support group - which, by the way, I recommend as an essential part of your maternity "toolkit" - find your nearest group when you're pregnant, go along to them and meet the mums, breastfeeding counsellors, and peer/mother supporters before you have your baby, to find out more about breastfeeding. Even better, go with a friend and make some more friends in the process!

Breastfeeding isn't always easy to get to grips with, especially at the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it's such a rewarding experience. Getting help and support is essential to ease any difficulties you have. In an average breastfeeding group, it's highly likely that at least one mum, breastfeeding counsellor or peer supporter will have experienced at least one problem with breastfeeding, so they'll understand how you're feeling and will have some suggestions as to how to overcome your difficulty. 

If you're reading this and you're a mum who has not, for whatever reason, breastfed their baby, I am not here to judge, or criticise your decisions. If you tried, but gave up - well done for trying - even one breastfeed is an achievement. If you chose not to breastfeed, I don't want to criticise anyone for giving formula over breast milk. It's your baby, your choice, and I respect that. If you are breastfeeding but having some problems, or aren't sure if you're "doing it right", then read on.

The most important thing a mum who is finding it difficult to breast feed can do, is to seek help from someone who can help. Find your local breastfeeding group; talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP; or contact the national breastfeeding helpline on 0300 100 0212, or click here for more information. Most breastfeeding problems can be overcome with the right guidance and support. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I read lots of stuff about baby-rearing the first time around; however, although I tried to fit a routine into my second baby, it didn't quite fit. It seemed that most parenting books focused on the first-time mum - as if anyone who has ever had a baby will automatically go to the top of the class for knowing-it-all as soon as they experience the first bout of morning sickness.
Imagine the sheer audacity of absolute knowledge of all-things-baby in a second-timer; compared to the wilderness of know-how for a first-time parent. It couldn't be easier to fit a baby into the packed, busy life of a mum with a child, work, and family life to juggle, can it? What could be simpler than trying to feed a baby at set times, in between taking their older sibling to preschool/school, or picking them up from after-school clubs or play-dates at their friends on the other side of town? How effortless it is to be able to do the school-run, go shopping, feed the baby, do the housework; and prepare a family meal at the height of the "witching hour" of colic between 5 and 8 every evening, whilst fitting in some quality time with the older child, helping them with homework, bathing them and putting them to bed; then settling down for the evening for some grown-up time with their partner, for some scintillating, intelligent conversation. All on 3 hours of broken sleep, with a big, beaming smile on your face, clean, ironed clothes which don't have any stains from milky vomit, or felt-tip pen marks from a fearsome colouring-in session at the table with the older child (one handed, naturally, as the other arm is occupied with holding and feeding your baby). The second-time mum knows Everything There Is To Know About Routine, right?
Well, not me, anyway.
I am not going to name names as far as baby-rearing books go, but generally, there are two camps to choose from. In my first pregnancy, the books I looked at from the first camp were laughed over and thrown away within two chapters, as it was so rigidly prescriptive, I couldn't imagine ever trying to raise a baby with the suggestions put forward; the second was better and helped me to establish myself later on, when my daughter was a few months old, and had naturally settled into a routine of her own. It was this book I tried to follow after my son was born, but I put it down and ignored it within a couple of days as it just did not fit my routine at all. Why? Because I was taking cues from my son, and letting him show me the way.
Baby-led, or demand feeding is the ideal way to breastfeed your baby. Your baby knows when he or she is hungry. He knows that something doesn't feel quite right, and learns quickly that if he suckles on his mummy's breast, he will get something warm, comforting and tasty as a result. Your baby knows that the breast is a source of survival, and she will tell you when she needs it. Amazingly, your baby is working alongside your body so that your milk production is just at the right pace for that particular day, hour, or feed.
Your body has been preparing itself for breastfeeding for several months before your baby came along. When your baby is born, your brain switches on the hormones that make milk. This means that any stimulation to the breast (sucking, licking, pulling at the nipples during skin-to-skin contact) will trigger milk manufacture. So after your baby has been born, even if you don't attach her to the breast straight away, the movements and nuzzling at the breast is enough to get things going. The more the baby does this, and the more the baby attaches and suckles at the breast, the more the hormones (oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes the "let-down" where milk is released from the breast's milk ducts, and is the hormone which makes you feel that devotion and love towards your baby; and prolactin, which stimulates the milk ducts to make milk) are released. More frequent feeding will release more hormones, which make and release more milk. Your baby will want to feed frequently for several days after birth, so allowing that process will result in several things:
Your baby will feel comforted and satisfied
Your body will be ramping up the milk-making process
You will be full of oxytocin, which induces feelings of love, and with the bonding process between you and your baby
Your body will be working hard to get back to its pre-pregnant state. Oxytocin helps to shrink the uterus back down again (some women feel "let-down" pains in the early days during breastfeeding, due to the oxytocin release, which can be painful for some, but do settle down)

So how can demand-feeding a baby be possible when there are lots of other factors to take into consideration (for example, an older child)?
Well, it may not be easy to start, but in the long run, you may find it works better than trying to slot a feed into a space where your baby doesn't want to; or worse, try to do other stuff whilst your baby is hungry, but as far as you're concerned isn't "due" a feed. This goes for night-feeding, too.
Try to invest in a good quality sling (please read this guide to buying slings before you buy one). Slings are great because they keep your baby close to you. Your baby wants to be near you in those early weeks. They want to feel your warmth, they want to hear your voice, your heartbeat, and they want to feel safe. They have their security and comfort with you, because that was all they knew, until they were born. You are not "spoiling" your child by having them close to you, and they won't learn bad habits. If anything, they will feel safe and calm and be more settled, than if you are trying to get them to go to sleep in a cold moses basket, away from you. Also, when you are happy with breastfeeding, you can feed them in the sling whilst you play with your child. Or go shopping (just be careful if you have to reach shelves above head height, to avoid slurping noises, followed by accidental breast exposure, shocked onlookers and a cross baby. Not that I'm talking from experience, or anything...).Or when you're making dinner. My son loves watching me cook, chop and stir, which I attribute to his observations in the sling when he was a baby, because he wanted to be near me whilst I cooked the evening meal. I can safely say that it cut down on the witching hour aggro considerably, and probably prevented me from going bonkers.
This form of parenting takes a little getting used to, and some patience. But I found that it revolutionised my own routine because as soon as I accepted that I couldn't squeeze my son's feeding regime into convenient blocks of time around the rest of my life, a weight was removed from my shoulders. I fed him whenever and wherever he needed to be fed. I even attached him whilst in the sling, on my way up the hill for the school run. Nobody knew. He'd had his fill and fallen asleep by the time I got to the gates, the result of which was one happy boy, one happy girl who had a bit of time with mummy before her baby brother woke for his next feed, and one guilt-free mum who wasn't beating herself up over how inadequate she was at not being there for both her children when they needed her.
Here is some information about baby-led feeding, including recognising when your baby is asking for a feed.
Here is some information about biological nurturing, or laid-back feeding, which you may find helpful.
Please note that I am supportive of breastfeeding, but skin to skin contact and slings are just as helpful for babies who aren't breastfed, too, it's just that you may need to be a bit more resourceful when it comes to feeding and looking after older children. I don't judge, just offer a different option!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Arrival

On one, dull March lunchtime seven years ago, I went to my midwife appointment for my 40-week check. I had been having contractions throughout the morning, so I asked my husband to drive me. He didn't really believe that I was in labour, which meant either I was hiding it well, or he was in denial. The midwife checked me over, then confirmed that I was in labour, advising us to contact the hospital to let them know. She added that we might like to do this, quite soon.
We went home, had a cup of tea and some toast, watched Neighbours, and listened to the silence of the house. My partner put the bag into the car, went around the house checking windows were locked, turned lights on, and put the radio on - the routine he did when we went on holiday! I remember feeling excited, nervous, and apprehensive. A sense of calm had descended around me, making me feel like I was in a protective bubble. As we left the house and I shut the door, it occurred to me that when I next walked through the door, I would be a different person. I felt as though I had shut the door on a part of my life which had passed.
I remember three things about the car journey:
1. It was the most uncomfortable trip of my life
2. I had a contraction at a set of traffic lights, where a man in a white van next to our car was watching me with an expression of fear mixed with fascination
3. The trees along the road leading to the hospital were budding, awaiting the signals of the arrival of Spring

When we got to the hospital, the birthing pool was occupied, so I waited, hoping that it would become available soon. But the calm, quiet birth I had hoped for wasn't to be, and so several hours later I found myself in theatre having an emergency caesarian section. The sensation of being in indescribable pain in one moment, and feeling completely numb the next is a surreal experience. My daughter was delivered, bundled into a towel, and handed to my husband.
I waited an hour for my first cuddle with her, and later was sent up to the post-natal ward. My daughter and I were separated by a cot, the spinal block that prevented me from moving for several hours, and a "no lifting" policy which the staff told me meant that they were unable to help me sit up to attempt to feed my baby. They were too busy to help me, so it was hours before I was able to properly cuddle her and feed her, giving her the skin-to-skin contact she needed. Needless to say, within a couple of days she became jaundiced and required a few periods on the bili-bed, of which I was given no warning, other than the NICU nurse arriving suddenly late into the evening, stripping my baby girl down to her nappy, and putting her onto the bed. The nurse left without explanation. I was furious, confused, and upset.
In my mind, I had failed my daughter. I had failed to bring her into the world quietly and calmly; I had been unable to give her the skin contact I wanted to; and I had failed at feeding her enough milk, resulting in jaundice which required medical intervention in order to make her better. When I reflect on this experience, as a trainee breastfeeding counsellor I know that the problems I had with feeding her - painful nipples, difficulty latching on, and later mastitis was because I wasn't attaching her correctly to the breast, and she was unable to suckle properly. The midwife breastfeeding co-ordinator at the hospital was simply too busy to spend any length of time with me to observe a feed and help me with positioning and attaching, but she did, at one point, grab my boob and push my daughter's head onto the breast! I am pleased to say that this is a no-no, nowadays - but at the time it added to my feelings of failure and lack of confidence.
Four years later, and I was about to have my son, this time as an elective c. section. We had moved to a different part of the country. My midwifery care was excellent all the way through the pregnancy. I was told about a "natural caesarian" where the baby is placed onto the mum's chest after delivery to optimise skin-to-skin contact. I opted for this and had a wonderful, beautiful, calm birth. This time, though, I didn't have my partner with me, as our childcare for our daughter had fallen through at the last moment, so he stayed with my daughter. The staff invited them to sit on the "sidelines" of theatre, separated by a screen. After spending some time nuzzling and staring at me, my son was taken to meet his daddy and big sister. Behind the screen, his cries were hushed as my daughter quietly sang "twinkle twinkle little star" to him. It was a moment to cherish, and one we remember and recount to our son.
The staff helped me with skin to skin contact, breastfeeding, and put all of my ghosts of the birth of my daughter, to bed.We spent hours just staring at each other, my daughter and partner getting close and cuddling, too. He attached himself to the breast and with some jiggling around a little, and some slight shifting about in the bed, we got going very quickly, and with only a little discomfort. It was a fantastic experience!
It seems that, within a comparatively short space of time, care and practice for skin to skin contact has advanced and improved greatly. Skin to skin contact after delivery and in the first weeks of life help with all sorts of things. Immediate placement of the baby onto mum's chest (or dad's if mum isn't able to do so) helps to mix the parent's natural skin bacteria with the skin of the baby, which helps with the newborn's immune system; it also helps to regulate temperature, raise the baby's blood sugar levels; regulate heart rate and breathing, and any nuzzling, suckling, or even touching the nipples by the baby will help to stimulate the hormones required for milk production (International breastfeeding centre). You can read more about the importance of skin to skin contact here.
What could be more rewarding than, at the end of labour, to snuggle up with your baby on your chest, resting, staring into each other's eyes, with partner and siblings cuddling and stroking your newborn's skin, and getting to know each other...apart from a cup of tea?!

About Me

My photo
I am a mum to two children, a registered nurse, a trainee breastfeeding counsellor, reiki practitioner, photographer, and generally into keeping things natural. Going back to the basics in life, respecting nature, the planet, and each other. Teaching this to my children and others who are interested. This blog comes from a good place, and is intended to give the reader an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and make an informed choice. I welcome constructive comments and would like it if you could share (acknowledging me as the source) and follow the blog. Many thanks!