Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Mother's Christmas

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! December's carnival is all about keeping healthy during the festive period and there are (or shortly will be) links to the other wonderful posts at the bottom of this one. Enjoy reading them, and have a lovely Christmas time.

Christmas is a time for families to be together. We have always made an effort to spend time with our parents, brothers and sisters at Christmas, even if it meant that by the end of the holidays we were more exhausted than at the beginning.

Things were no different last year. I had a four month old baby, breastfeeding most of the time and waking me up at least every couple of hours through the night (in fact every hour is probably more accurate). But in those early days of motherhood I still believed that I should be trying to have it all. Yes, I should be taking it easy and spending lots of time nursing my baby, but I should also be cooking fantastic Christmas meals, hosting family at my house, making mince pies, buying gifts for everyone and generally being the life and soul of the party. So, as usual, we arranged a punishing Christmas schedule that would allow us to be all things to all men, as is expected at Christmas. We spent the big day and Boxing Day with my parents, then Cave Father's parents arrived to stay at our house; on the 28th we hosted a party for all the family, and the following days we continued to wait on our house guests.

It was about as far from "fun and relaxing" as you can get. We ended up absolutely exhausted, and Christmas felt more like an ordeal than a pleasure. Instead of enjoying ourselves, we longed for the time when our parents would go home and we could spend some time alone with our baby.

So we are determined that things will be different this year. But if we believe that Christmas is a family time, how can we balance our needs with the needs of our relatives?

Family means more than grandparents, aunts and uncles. Though it sounds strange to my ears, my partner, my daughter and I are a family unit now. Our family bonds needs nourishing, just like the bonds with our extended family. It is too much to expect a new mother to play host to her relatives as well as breastfeeding and caring for a baby. That is just a recipe for illness. So this year we are going to concentrate on nourishing the relationships within our tiny family. We are going to spend Christmas Day at home, cooking a small but (hopefully) perfectly formed Christmas dinner and going a bracing walk with Cave Baby in the backpack. We are going to visit my parents, but not push ourselves too hard by staying the night. We are going to see Cave Father's relatives at New Year, when there is less pressure to conjure up forced Christmas cheer. Above all we are going to put ourselves first for a change - not in a selfish way, but in a "we really just need a break" way. And we are even hoping that (whisper it) Cave Father and I might be able to have sex! Just think of it! After weeks of illness, colds, teething and worry, there has been precious little romance around here.

So here is my recipe for a new mother's healthy Christmas time. See your family, but let them do the cooking. Have guests, but only the ones who will help out around the house and won't complain about you sitting on the sofa breastfeeding all day. Space out the festive activities with luxurious time at home spent enjoying the family that you work so hard for all year.

Most importantly, make sure you make time for your baby and your partner, because the closest bonds are sometimes the ones that get forgotten at this family time.

Happy Christmas.

Photo from Daily Mail.

And while you're here, why not have a look at the other carnival posts:

Mama Knows Breast: A Breastfeeding Poem: Twas the Breastfeeder's Nighttime
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Don't Forget the Pump!'s Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Breastfeeding and Dehydration
Accidental Pharmacist: Motherhood Statement
Hobo Mama: Breastfeeding and the holidays: How to take care of yourself
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Taking Care of Yourself and Your Baby During the Holidays
Breastfeeding Moms Unite: Caring for a High Needs Baby During the Holidays
Breastfeeding Mums: Looking After Yourself During the Holidays: 7 Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers
Mommy News & Views: The Holidays And Being A Breastfeeding Mom
Happy Bambino's Blog: How to Take Care of Ourselves During the Holidays
The Adventures of Lactating Girl: Breastfeeding and Holidays

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Happened To My Breasts?

Things are confusing around here. There is Christmas, and a tree, and shiny decorations, mince pies and mulled wine. There is also the prospect of a life affected by Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. These two things do not go together, and my brain is struggling to cope. So I will use that time-honoured technique to cope with something that upsets me: talk about something else.

So, in other news, something strange has happened to my breasts. They used to be round, fleshy, not quite the same size, a bit saggy, but perfectly serviceable. You know, I had no complaints. Then pregnancy happened and they got bigger, but not stupidly big, and that was interesting. They got a bit smaller as I lost weight post-pregnancy but I am still breastfeeding so they have maintained a certain modest size. And I was pretty happy that my body had been through all that with nary a stretch mark in sight.. but then, the other day, I noticed something a bit disturbing. You see, my boobs might look fine most of the time but the skin has lost a certain elasticity. Remember the "pinch the back of the hand" test you used to do at school to see how youthful your skin was? Well my boobs would now fail. What happens is, if the skin stretches a bit (say, I lie down to feed my daughter and I let my boob flop down towards the bed) and then unstretches (say, I put the breast back in my bra) then the skin does not spring back to its previous state. No, it goes wrinkly. For a few minutes I have crepe paper cleavage. It's not a good look.

But come on, this is me writing. I'm not going to complain about the loss of my youthful skin stretchiness. I'm going to celebrate the work that my body has done, and will hopefully continue to do for more babies (just like these women). And apart from this unfortunate development, my body seems to have come through pregnancy and birth pretty unscathed.

Is it rude to ask whether your boobs are wrinkly as well? Hey, it probably is, but this is my blog and I can write what I like. So, go on, tell me what lasting effects of pregnancy and birth your body has sustained.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thoughts On Weaning

In my last post I discussed how upset I was when my doctor told me I might have to wean my fifteen month old baby to allow me to take medication. One thing that really came through to me from the comments was the wide range of emotions that people have in relation to weaning.

Some comments implied that I would feel guilty about weaning; others simply that I would be sad. In reality, my anxiety stems from the prospect of changing the whole manner in which we look after our daughter: weaning would mean changing the way we sleep; the way we achieve calm after upsets; even the way we chill out when both of us need a little break.

For me, guilt doesn't come into it. I know my daughter has had a great start, and I know that she could manage perfectly well without any more breastmilk. I really hope that other people are not made to feel guilty when they wean. I believe that babies deserve to be nursed for as long as their mothers can manage, and after that they should be weaned with love and patience. For many people, modern life just isn't compatible with long term breastfeeding. Sometimes you just have to wean. Maybe you're going back to work, going on to medication or having another baby. Maybe you just want your breasts back. If it's a good enough reason to wean then you shouldn't be feeling guilty. Let's face it, if you choose to wean off the breast at six months, your baby will have been receiving breastmilk for longer than 97% of the babies born in Britain. You can't feel too bad about that.

Though I wouldn't feel guilty about weaning at fifteen months, I can't say that I feel a great sense of pride for making it this far. I have had it so ridiculously easy. It is the people who have battled cracked nipples, thrush, mastitis and pumping regimes that should feel proud - I just happen to have a baby who loves breastfeeding. I feel a bit uncomfortable when people congratulate me for nursing for this long. I've not done anything special. All I have done is what nearly every mother in the history of mankind has done.

Before I finish, there's just one caveat I have to put on this "Weaning is OK" message. I have never understood why breastfeeding mothers feel the need to replace their milk with formula at a certain age (often six months). They don't wean their babies off milk per se, but for some reason they think that their babies are too old to breastfeed. I watched several people with babies the same age as mine go through this, and I never figured out why they did it. Why spend money on powdered milk when the stuff that comes free out of your breasts is much better? Well OK, I think I know the reason really - they have read too many books that say you need to get babies off the breast early before they get used to it. God, don't you just hate western parenting "experts"?

All this is academic, because we are not weaning. But I would hate anyone to think that I disapprove of other people's decisions to wean, just because we have chosen to continue breastfeeding for an extended (or shall we say natural) length of time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Never Knew What Nursing Meant To Me...

...until I was told, today, that I might have to wean my baby.

It turns out that the digestive problems I have been having are something more serious than Irritable Bowel Syndrome after all, and a series of unpleasant tests and investigations will shortly be inflicted upon me to determine what is really the problem.

"If it is Inflammatory Bowel Disease, what's the treatment?," I asked.

"Well you can take medication, but you would have to stop the breastfeeding."

Oh thanks. To make matters worse, if they could be (and believe me, they could be really bad), I was then told that I was "making a rod for my own back" by co-sleeping and still breastfeeding at 15 months. Oh, the old classic line. First time anyone's actually said it to me - I suppose it had to happen sometime.

I know I should have been upset by the diagnosis (or lack of it) but what really cut me to the core was the prospect of having to wean my baby for a disease that doesn't even seem to affect me more than once a month or so (touch wood). This was what had me crying all day. I can't do that to my baby. It's just not what I want. I suppose I have got so used to the idea that we will be nursing for years yet and that I might even be tandem nursing a new baby one day. It all came crashing down in one horrible moment.

But since I have trained as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter I have learnt a thing or two about breastfeeding and one thing I know is that lots of medications that doctors say can't be taken during breastfeeding actually can be taken. A cursory bit of internet research has revealed that sufferers of Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis can have babies and can breastfeed, even when taking their medications (by the way, if you're reading this for information, please don't take what I'm saying as gospel. Research it further and if possible, ask a Lactation Consultant for advice).

What a fucking horrible day. All I can say is, at least I'm going to be able to sleep knowing that I probably won't have to wean. I say probably.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Why are we the only family in the restaurant whose baby refuses to sit in a highchair for any longer than the exact time it takes to stuff down a dozen pieces of pasta, then insists on walking around the floor while her mother's dinner goes cold?

Am I the only mum whose baby wakes up coughing every five minutes?

Am I the only breastfeeding mother who occasionally feels like a walking dummy and is sometimes expected to get her boobs out every fifteen minutes, all day?

Am I the only mum who has had literally no time to herself for an entire week?

Does everyone find it this hard?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Unnecessary Doulas?

There was an interesting article on doulas in The Telegraph yesterday: Doulas jeopardise care?.

The crux of the article is that doulas could interfere with medical decision making in a negative way. But, to be fair to Dr Chakladar, the author of a piece in the British Medical Journal online, the popularity of doulas in the UK may be a result of the decline in one-to-one mudwifery care. He says it very well, so I'll just quote him:
"This trend may be a sad reflection of failures in the delivery of medical and midwifery care, a sticking plaster concealing greater problems. Availability of this commercial service indicates that current social structures do not support pregnant couples adequately; healthcare professionals may not be able to support their patients as they would like to.

"Are we no longer able to make common sense decisions without asking a hired friend?

"Traditionally, emotional support came from female relatives; more recently the modern father has stepped into this role. Partners, friends, and family—those who know the mother best—should provide this support.

"Sadly, this position cannot withstand chronic understaffing, shift work, midwifery care that is less than one to one, and European working time directives, making continuity of care impossible. Nor can it withstand single parenthood and increasingly detached nuclear families."

Here's my point of view. I wouldn't want a doula because I would prefer to have people I really know supporting me, not someone I had only met a few times. I had a home birth partly so I could guarantee one-to-one attention from a midwife, and partly to minimise the interference from doctors. I am very wary of obstetricians (who I imagine, very unrealistically, to be bloodthirsty butchers wielding forceps and calling for epidurals and c-sections at any opportunity). I am also fairly confident that if there was an emergency, my parter would properly represent my views to medical staff (and there was no stage during my labour when I was so out of it that I couldn't talk to the midwife anyway). Also, I'm tight. I'm not going to pay someone when I know most people manage without a doula (though I do wish I had a close female friend who I trusted enough to be present at a birth, as women have done for millenia).

But if I felt that my wishes would not be respected - perhaps if I was a teenage mum, or if my partner was not supportive - and if having a doula would help me feel more confident about giving birth, then where's the harm? One of my friends has felt 100% more confident about the upcoming birth of her second baby since she she has hired a doula.

There's one thing to remember though. Doulas aren't midwives. They offer moral support but not clinical expertise. We must not confuse the two things.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Carrying Quandary

So, carried babies are supposed to prefer slings to pushchairs, right? They reject the remote machine-like trolley in favour of the warm, loving, organic sling? My faith in this principle has, I admit, been a little shaken.

I have had a poorly tummy for a couple of weeks and when I became well enough to go out with Cave Baby, I still didn't fancy having the not inconsiderable weight of an almost-fifteen-month-old baby bearing down on my back. So, with some hesitation, I dusted off our pushchair and strapped her into it. Now, this was not something I did lightly - in fact I think my ears were still ringing with her anguished cries from the day, almost a year ago, when I took her into town shopping in her pushchair. God, it was an awful day. I walked up and down streets to get her to sleep (it didn't work), I fed her numerous times, I changed her nappy. Nothing stopped her crying. I came to the conclusion, all that time ago, that she just hated being so remote from me, and I carried her everywhere from that day on.

Fast forward a year and I have still resisted using a pushchair, even though she is approaching 24lbs. So when it was time to take the plunge, you can imagine my surprise when it quickly became clear that she was having a whale of a time. She waved at people, said "Boof" to dogs and didn't complain, not even once. After a few pushchair trips she seems to have become an enthusiastic convert, even going so far as to walk me into the dining room, point at the pushchair and say "That" in a way that leaves me in no doubt as to what she wants. A part of me is screaming "But what about your principles?" every time I take her out in it, whilst another part is just glad to have a rest from carrying her. I can't believe that after all I have said about the benefits of babywearing, I end up with a baby who prefers to be pushed!

If I had written this yesterday, the tale would have ended there, but this morning my baby was feeling poorly and I had to go out to run an errand with her. I took her in the pushchair thinking she might enjoy it, but it was only 20 minutes before she was complaining and asking to be carried. So, my little prercious, I think I understand things a little better now. When you are feeling well and full of energy, you like the novelty and independence of being pushed. But when you're a little bit under the weather and you want some mothering, you want to return to the safety of the sling. Ah, I feel vindicated after all.

Babywearing rocks but sometimes the pushchair is going to have to come out, if only for novelty value. I hope that it is the closeness that my baby has experienced over her first fifteen months that has given her the confidence to be a little further away from me now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pain Hammered My Blog

I find these "why I haven't posted in a while" posts a bit self-important. Does anyone really mind if I take a bit of time out? Of course not. But anyway, despite my reservations, here is one of those very posts.

I've been ill for a whole week. I'll spare you the details, but it started with me scratching at the door of A&E to get some pain relief from my stabbing abdomen, had an unbelievably uncomfortable middle phase where I was carrying more trapped wind than I thought possible, and is finishing (hopefully) with constant abdominal cramps and a fear of travelling too far from a toilet.

I've had similar attacks before so I'm going to try to take it really easy for a bit. If it is IBS then it is obviously related to stress and I need to keep that out of my life as much as possible. In other words, I'm going to try putting the kettle on and sitting back instead of diving for the computer the minute my daughter falls asleep. Maybe I'll post once a week for a while. Whatever. I thank anyone for reading, and I am sure nobody is particularly bothered how frequently I write!

In other (good) news, Cave Baby is walking really confidently on her own now. Although everybody had warned me that I would never be able to sit down again, I am in fact finding that things are much more restful than the last six weeks when I had been holding her hand ALL DAY. Walking seems to have brought slightly better sleep and a new found independence, both things that I am incredibly grateful for.

So, to rest and relaxation. A bientot.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Bit Of Blog Lurrrrve

I have never done a blog love post before, so it is high time for one. I have written before about my lack of time and I don't get as many chances as I would like to read and comment on other blogs. Most days I have to choose whether to spend my free hour writing a post, reading and commenting on others, writing something else that I am working on or doing the washing up. But the truth is I do read most of the posts of the blogs I have linked to in the column on the right, and some posts from other blogs that I've discovered more recently.

I don't really like saying which are my favourites, because I like them all for different reasons. But in the interests of not sitting on the fence any longer, here are my current absolute faves:

Breastfeeding Moms Unite
Hobo Mama
This Is Worthwhile
Honest To Betsy
The Feminist Breeder

(Please don't be offended if I read your blog and I haven't put you on the list - you know how it is, as time goes by we become complacent. I love you really.)

And here are a few newly discovered ones that I am also loving:

Mummy Zen
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives (odd title, great blog)
Global Mamas
But I Digress (she's recently had a baby -congrats)
Global Mamas
Fighting Off Frumpy (this is a really funny blog)
Motherhood Moments

And to anyone who has ever linked to my site, I just want to say a great big thank you. I am a soft-hearted sentimental girl and I am always totally chuffed whenever I get a new subscriber or linker! Huge thanks also to anyone who reads or comments on this blog. I really appreciate the fact that you bother to pay me a visit - you make a little corner of my life a lot more interesting.

Enough of the mushy stuff now - back to normal service in a few days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Difficult Babies and How To Cope With Them

What a promising title for a post! If only there was truly a one-size-fits-all solution to coping with life with a challenging baby.

"Difficult babies" is the top Google search term that brings visitors to this site. So, if you're visiting from Google, welcome. You've come to the right place - I've certainly learnt a thing or two about difficult babies over the last year and a bit.

First of all, let's get a bit of semantics out of the way. "Difficult" makes it sound as if the baby is deliberately trying to annoy you. Some people prefer "challenging" or "spirited". The most official sounding term is "high needs". I like this one because it states quite plainly that the baby is not manipulating you - it has needs. And high ones. It can't help this. It's not the baby's fault and it's not the parents fault. You haven't done anything wrong to make your baby the way it is. It's time to accept the baby's needs and do your best to meet them.

So what is a difficult baby? My little one had all the following endearing traits as a tiny baby:
  • Never sleeping for more than an hour or so at night

  • Not napping for more than twenty minutes during the day, unless she was in the pram or being carried in a sling

  • Crying for hours on end every evening because she was overtired from not getting enough sleep

  • Wanting my nipple in her mouth all the time (OK, this is normal for all newborns)

  • Waking up without fail if I ever tried to put her down in her moses basket

  • Crying if she was ever put down in her bouncy chair

  • Crying if her pram stopped moving

  • Never being content to just sit and watch what was going on around her - needing movement all the time.

I could go on but I think you get the idea of what it is like to have a high needs baby. And if you have Googled "difficult babies", it is highly likely that you are sitting with one right in front of you (or perhaps even latched on to your nipple) and hoping that someone, somewhere is going to be able to help you figure out how to survive this nightmare.

I spent many hours searching the web and the bookshelves for answers. Nothing anybody had written seemed to apply to my baby - she just didn't do what the books said she was supposed to. Reading general parenting forums can be an exquisitely depressing experience for the parent of a high needs baby because everyone else's babies sound so easy (even though their parents still complain about them).

I can't really offer answers, because every baby is different and every parent is different. All I can do is tell you what worked for me, and that was dealing with night-time by taking my baby to bed with me, and buying a sling so that I could easily walk about with my baby during the day.

If, like thousands and thousands of parents of high needs babies, you have found that co-sleeping is the only way you can cope with your baby's fretful sleeping then I just want to say to you: it's OK. You are not making a rod for your own back. Believe it or not, plenty of people do it out of choice. Provided that you follow some basic safety advice you are not putting your baby in any undue danger. You can transition your baby to a cot after as little as six months if you want. Or you might end up liking your night-time cuddles, and sticking with it for a year or two. And you know what else? You will still be able to have sex with your partner even if you co-sleep.

Slings are really helpful for high needs babies. If you wear your baby in the house you can get on with jobs you need to do whilst providing the baby with the movement it needs to calm and soothe it. I love my ring sling because it is great for breastfeeding in, but lots of mums use stretchy wraps like the Moby because they are so comfortable.

As your baby gets older, you will learn what works for it. Maybe it loves being outdoors, in which case a walk in the morning might be just enough to keep it happy for a couple of hours. Perhaps it loves the company of other babies. Getting out to baby groups is the best way of relieving the tension of being stuck at home with a moany baby. And please don't worry that your baby will be the only one crying its head off at the group: babies cry. Everyone understands that. It doesn't reflect badly on you as a mother.

My daughter is 14 months old and I can't say that she has become easy. But things have improved, albeit very slowly. As her personality began to emerge, I fell in love with her for the person she was. I cannot imagine her being in any way different, and I honestly would not change her spirited ways for anything else. Who wants one of those boring babies that lie around staring at the ceiling? You have been chosen to parent one of the bright shining star babies. Accept it and make the most of it. Read the Dr Sears website, where they really understand all about difficult babies. Join an attachment parenting forum where you will find loads of parents of high needs children. Do what you have to do each day and don't worry about anything anyone else says. Anything that makes you and your baby happy is the right thing to do.

Ultimately, we have to learn to trust our babies and accept that their crying and fussiness indicates that they need something - and love and attention is just as valid a need as hunger. You may even begin to suspect that all babies share these needs, but the "difficult" ones are just a lot more determined to make themselves heard. My final consolation is that just because your baby is difficult now does not mean that it will be a tantrumming toddler or a troublesome teenager. In fact it may be the extra love and care that you give it now, as a baby, that helps it to grow up into a confident and happy child.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Baby, How You Make My Heart Melt

Five things that make me smile, laugh or feel so proud:

1. You know when you hum and run a finger up and down over your lips to make a sort of "Wibble" sound? Cave Baby loves doing that. And she has a rapidly developing repertoire of "Iggle" and "Diddle" sounds. If you didn't know better, you really would think she was having a real conversation from the range of noises she makes.

2. Have wet hands? Then wash your face! It doesn't matter whether they are wet from splashing in the cat's water bowl or being rubbed in spilt orange squash - that face has to be cleaned.

3. "Boof boof", her version of "woof", when she sees a dog. How cute. She even has a version of "Moo" that she trots out for cows, horses and any other large four legged animal. Have you ever thought about how difficult it must be to differentiate between a brown cow and a brown horse?

4. The cutest grimace/smile ever. It's a sort of screwed-up-face/teeth-bared kind of expression and it is doled out without restriction to anyone who flashes her a smile. Random strangers are always telling me what a lovely happy smiley baby she is - they probably say it to everyone, but it still makes me feel special.

5. Cleaning. Give her a wet wipe, tissue or cloth, and prepare to watch while she wipes everything in sight for the next half an hour. Nothing makes her happier. She may in fact be a girl after my own heart.

I could go on for ages, but five is enough for now. What makes your heart melt?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Premature Babies and Co-Sleeping: Would You Do It?

A recent comment on another post set me off wondering about whether I would co-sleep with a baby that was born prematurely.

The standard advice is always to not co-sleep with a premature infant, but if you were a strong believer in the benefits of bed-sharing and your baby is healthy, I am not sure whether this advice would be enough to convince you not to do it. Personally, I think I would co-sleep with a baby that was born only a few weeks short of term and was otherwise doing well.

Advice on the web is fairly thin on the ground because most sources stick to the usual co-sleeping recommendations without discussing the reasoning behind them. However the benefits of skin-to-skin contact and frequent breastfeeding for premature babies are well established, and as a result kangaroo care is routinely used in neonatal intensive care units. It would seem that co-sleeping would offer a method for parents to continue this close care at night, and it has certainly been demonstrated by researchers that bedsharing does increase night-time breastfeeding. The other benefits of bedsharing (more stable temperatures, more regular heart rhythms and fewer pauses in breathing) would presumably still be present when co-sleeping with a premature baby. A study in Biological Research for Nursing shows that co-sleeping helps to establish a premature baby's circadian rhythm.

The problem is that these benefits might be outweighed by the increased risks associated with co-sleeping with a premature infant. Whilst dangers like overlaying and suffocation can be mitigated by following standard guidelines, research has shown that there is an association between prematurity and SIDS. Since co-sleeping also increases the risk of SIDS (at least theoretically, though most studies lump sofa sharing and drunken co-sleeping in with the figures), combining the two risk factors might be considered one step too far.

Even in full knowledge of the facts, I think I would still co-sleep with a premature baby if my gut instincts told me that it was strong and healthy enough. This is really one of those questions that cannot be answered in the general case; each family needs to weigh up its own situation and make its own choice. It is worth noting that there are products such as sleep positioners that can be placed on an adult bed to safely contain a tiny baby and keep it on its back. They would certainly make side-lying breastfeeding difficult, but if they help to allay parents' fears about co-sleeping then they might be worth the expense.

The real reason I have written this post is to find out about real people's experience of co-sleeping with preemies. Did you have a premature baby and did you consider co-sleeping with it? Did you wait until it was 40 weeks from conception or did you start straight away? Even if you don't normally comment it would be really interesting to hear anything anyone has to say.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bent Over the Cot With My Boob Hanging Out

Yes, this is indeed how I spend a few uncomfortable moments each evening as I put my little darling to bed. You see I always try to get her to sleep in her cot for a while each evening - at least long enough that Cave Father and I can have a few minutes together downstairs and a cuddle in bed before we move the baby through to join us.

But putting my baby to bed on her own is always a huge lottery. She has never been easy to put down and lately she has been even more difficult. I nurse her to sleep in a ring sling, wait half an hour, walk upstairs and lay her down in her cot, at which point she inevitably wakes up, shouts something incoherent (when does she shout anything coherent anyway?) and shakes her head violently from side to side as the realisation dawns that there is no nipple in her mouth. This is when I have to bend at 90 degrees over the cot and dangle my breast into her mouth for anywhere from one to 10 minutes, until she is deeply enough asleep for me to leave her again. It is most unbecoming, especially as I always leave the curtains open (drawing them would create a dangerously loud noise and I like the gentle light of the streetlamp outside). I do wonder how many people have watched me in my ridiculous pose and have puzzled over what the hell I was doing.

Before you rush in with "Why don't you teach her to go to sleep on her own" comments, don't even bother going there. Cave Baby is not a going-to-sleep-on-her-own type of child. She doesn't really stay still unless she is physically restrained (which is why a sling works so well). She cries, very loudly and very longly (you know what I mean) at anything that she doesn't like. She would not drop off to sleep on her own without a huge amount of crying, and that is not something I am going to inflict on her. So let's leave it at that.

So until I give in and resign myself to nursing her to sleep in our super-kingsize bed right from the off, I am going to have to perform this ridiculous display of contortionism every night. Ho hum. Do you do anything really stupid to pander to your children?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paddling Furiously Beneath the Surface

People don't frown in photos. In photos, everything is hunky dory. Mothers are the same with our out-of-the-house faces. We are experts at putting on a brave public face even when chaos and frustration reign at home.

Do you ever look at another mother gliding along, calmly pushing a pram, and wonder how she manages to be so competent, so together? I read an explanation for this (was it in What Mothers Do? I'm not sure) and it went roughly as follows. We all feel such a sense of relief when we manage to get organised enough to leave the house that we are bound to look a bit calm and happy as we walk along. Let's face it, the afternoon stroll is the highight of the day when you're caring for a newborn and you're pretty pleased with yourself for getting your shit together long enough to step outside the door (plus the fact that this may be the first time in the day that the baby has stopped crying). At the same time as you're looking at some other mother and wondering how she manages to be so organised, she is probably looking at you thinking how confident you are.

Our own mothers can be just as unhelpful when it comes to understanding how bloody hard motherhood can be. I have already forgotten just how bewildering the first few months were (I don't think I got enough sleep to actually form memories). If I've forgotten after a year, imagine what it's like after 30 years. They remember the good bits (the human brain does have a tendency to forget bad things anyway) and it is the good bits that they tend to talk about. Hence, insecure new mums like me wonder why we are so much less competent than our mothers were.

I think blogs also tend to give a false impression of how great other people's lives are. You read about what a wonderful day some blogger and her family had, you see pictures of attractive children kicking up autumn leaves in dappled sunlight, and you think, "How come my life isn't as perfect as that?". But what the blogger doesn't write about is the tantrum the child had at breakfast time; the fact she had to be bribed to put on her wellies; the way she cried when she was put in her car seat. I'm not criticising anyone for writing nice things about their families; I am just saying that we naturally tend to edit out the worst bits and write about the things that went well, that we enjoyed.

The point of this post is to say that intelligent, self-aware people tend to be self-critical and, when comparing themselves with others, to find themselves wanting (at least, I do). Mothers are no exception. We always think everyone else is coping so much better then we are (I do anyway). But I have met enough mums in real life to know that when you scratch the surface and get past that public face, we all have the same worries and problems. Even a confident, capable, charity-working, volunteering, supermum-of-three, long the subject of my admiration, admitted to me yesterday that she feels she can't cope when her toddler plays up. I know that shouldn't make me feel better, but it does.

So what I am trying to say is that it is easy to look at other people and imagine that their lives are more enjoyable than your own, or that they are much better parents than you, or they are happier than you, or whatever other metric you use to measure your own self-worth. But I don't think it's true. I think other people look at you and think exactly the same thing. I think mothers in particular are brilliant at putting on a brave face. In reality, we all appear to be gliding serenely while beneath the surface we are paddling furiously. This is the nature of things and it will never change. So (and I am saying this more to myself than to anyone else) chill out, make the best of things and stop thinking that everyone is so much better at motherhood than you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nursing Wisdom

Welcome to the October Carnival of Breastfeeding! This month's theme is "What I Wish I Had Known..." and links to all the other posts in the carnival will appear below during the day. Enjoy reading them all.

There are two pieces of advice that would have totally changed the uncertain scary, sleep deprived early days with my daughter. They are simple tips yet I never read them in a book until I was given a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, eight months into my mothering adventures. So many mums I have talked to have agreed how useful these pieces of wisdom have been to them - in fact I have often wondered why they are not more widely advised. So, without further ado, here they are.

First: the best way to get your baby to nap and to get some sleep yourself is to lie down beside it, nurse it to sleep and allow yourself to rest with it until it wakes. This is so obvious, yet most of us believe we "should" put the baby down in a basket or crib and sleep on our own somewhere else. Every book advises new mothers to sleep when their babies sleep, but if you are breastfeeding in a chair and your baby nods off in your lap, what are you supposed to do? So, to any new mothers out there who are reading this: feel no guilt about cuddling up in bed with your little one for a gorgeous nap. Treasure every moment you get to spend in such a lovely yummy way. And get someone else to do the housework. (Even daytime naps like this count as co-sleeping, and as such, should be done safely. Though, it must be said, it is safer to intentionally co-sleep with your little one in a bed than to drop off on a sofa with the baby on your knee).

Secondly: get a sling that you can breastfeed in. Seriously, this changed my life. A sling is such a warm, cosy place for a baby to be, and when you add the comfort of suckling it becomes almost impossible for a baby not to settle down and sleep. What is so great about nursing a baby to sleep in a sling is that it untethers you from the sofa: whether the baby is awake, asleep or in the process of dropping off, you can wander about the house, go outside, use a computer or do whatever else that appeals. The sling also provides a familiar environment for the baby wherever you happen to be, so it will fall asleep more easily in strange surroundings. What is perhaps most useful for parents of spirited, high needs babies is the fact that it is easier to put a baby down without waking it when it is in a sling than when it is just being carried. And if you do manage to put your sleeping baby down, you can enjoy some precious moments of me-time because you should be able to slide your body out from within the sling without disturbing the baby. I found my ring sling incredibly useful for this and I still use it nowadays to hip-carry my 13 month old daughter. I am sure a stretchy wrap would be equally as good.

The fact that these simple tips, that can make such a difference, are omitted from standard childcare manuals amazes me. I think it owes a lot to our society's irrational fear of letting our babies control us that we are afraid to do such natural things as napping with our babies or carrying them around. So, without wishing to become some kind of annoying advice-giving know-it-all, I spread the word whenever I can (and almost always find someone who completely agrees with me, and, like me, can't understand why we all had to learn these things the hard way). May you, dear reader, have many happy and restful days with your baby.

Fancy Pancakes: Wish I'd Heard More Good Things
The Milk Mama: When breastfeeding begins badly, and what I should have done about it
Hobo Mama: What I wish I'd known when I started breastfeeding
My World Edenwild: What I Wish I'd Known Then: A Poem
Happy Bambino: I wish I had known then…that it wasn’t up to me alone
Three Girl Pile-Up: 4 things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding
Birth Activist: What I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: You Don't Have to Grin and Bear It
Momma's Angel: What I Wish I’d Known Then – My List For Next Time
The Starr Family Blogg: I Wish I Would Have Known
Whozat: If I'd Known Then
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: What I wish I’d known back then about breastfeeding
Fighting Frumpy: When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong
Breastfeeding Mums: 15 Breastfeeding Facts I Wish I'd Known as a First Time Breastfeeding Mum
Mum Unplugged: What I Wish I'd Known Then
Blacktating: Breastfeeding is life changing
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Trust Yourself and Your Body

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Gift I Want To Give

If there is one thing that I hope for my daughter's future, aside from her being healthy, it is that she will grow up loving the natural world. I hope she will know how calming and restorative a walk in a green space can be, even if it just a park. I hope she will have the confidence to pick up a map and a compass and set out to wander the outdoors. I hope she will find it rejuvenating to fill her lungs with air scented with grass and manure. And I hope that she will delight in watching wild animals and birds whenever she can.

My parents worked long and hard to give me this gift. They put up with incessant moaning from my brother and I when they dragged us all out for long walks at the weekend. They took us on holiday to remote caravan sites beside windswept coastlines or craggy mountains, and hauled us up hills and down cliffs to catch elusive sightings of shy birds and animals. It must sometimes have been hard to maintain enthusiasm in the face of our cynical complaints. But do you know what? After all those years, something in us clicked. We started asking to go out for walks. When we left home for city universities we found that we missed those doses of country air. We bought tents and sought out quiet green campsites. We started looking for opportunities to watch wildlife. My parents really did succeed in giving us that appreciation of nature.

Will I be able to give my baby the same gift? I feel that I have so much to live up to. I remember so many wonderful moments, and I wonder if I will be able to give my daughter the same memories. I remember my first, thrilling view of a fox hunting at twilight; going out at dusk to watch a family of badgers emerge from its sett; visiting frenetic colonies of nesting seabirds; peering through binoculars at bobbing seals; seeing salmon leap up a weir; eating sandwiches in a hide while waiting to catch sight of a woodpecker; spying a weasel scurrying along a grassy bank. My best memory of all is watching a family of bluetits fledge from a nestbox on the front of our house.

Though I know it is going to be hard to give my daughter the same fond memories, I know that if I can, I will be giving her an escape route from the grey rush of urbanity. So I will do my best at every opportunity to escape the suburbs where we live and to immerse us in fresh air and greenness, in animals, plants, birds and insects.

Of course it's not even a given that there will be so many plants and animals for my daughter to look at when she grows up. If you have a moment, consider signing the RSPB's Letter to the Future that aims to show the UK government that millions of us humble citizens wish they would plough as much money and effort into safeguarding the natural world as they do into saving the economy. You don't have to be an RSPB member and you don't have to give them any money, though I think you have to be a UK citizen. It's a really good idea, and the more people that sign, the stronger the message becomes. Happy pledging.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Co-Sleeping in the News

A new study in the British Medical Journal has linked co-sleeping with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But read between the lines and it quickly becomes clear that, like all SIDS studies, there are many more factors at play than the fact that the deceased baby was sleeping with its parents.

For a start, it is a startling fact that among the 80 mothers of babies who had died, 25% had drunk more than 2 units of alcohol in the previous 24 hours. This compares to only 2% of mothers in a control group (though these figures may be skewed by the fact that the mothers of deceased babies were questioned at the weekend, when they were more likely to have been drinking). When drugs were also taken into account, the proportion of mothers of deceased babies who had been affected by drugs or alcohol climbed to 31%.

The finding that has hit the headlines hardest is that in 54% of the 80 cases of SIDS, the baby had been sleeping with a parent (which means that in 46% of the deaths, the baby was sleeping on its own). But this does not mean in a bed, safely adapted for co-sleeping. In fact 17% of the SIDS children had been sleeping on a sofa, versus 1% of the non-SIDS cases. The use of pillows was also found to be a statistically significant factor in the SIDS cases. I wonder how many more had been in a chair, sleeping on a parents' knee after a night feed where the parent had desperately tried to stay awake to avoid the terrible risk of taking the baby to bed.

Factors that were also found to be associated with SIDS, but which are less likely to be associated with co-sleeping were swaddling, maternal smoking during pregnancy, preterm birth, ill health, stomach sleeping and sleeping alone (not in the parents' room).

The presence of bedding over the head or face of the baby, a side sleep position, excessive bedding and clothing and postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke were not found to be associated with SIDS.

Tellingly, the researchers themselves said that co-sleeping should not be demonised. Their conclusions support what co-sleeping advocates have been saying all along: parents should be educated about safe co-sleeping before birth. That means not consuming alcohol or drugs prior to sharing a bed with a child, not smoking, not co-sleeping on a sofa or in a chair and not co-sleeping if the parents or the baby are very ill (though this is perhaps the occasion when our instincts make us more likely to bedshare). It also means keeping the baby next to its mum, having a safe sleeping environment with no dangerous gaps, keeping pillows and duvets away from the baby (which should preferably be on top of the covers with its own blanket, though I only did this for six months) and making sure the baby sleeps on its back (or possibly its side).

I know that having my baby in a cot in my room is in theory the "safest" sleeping arrangement. But I also believe there are positive benefits to sharing a bed, and my child would miss out on these benefits if she slept alone. It is very easy for the medical community to recommend using a cot, but the reality on the front lines of parenting can often make that a very difficult ideal to achieve. My daughter cannot usually be placed in a cot without waking, so cot sleeping would necessarily involve a lot of crying and that is not something I am prepared to inflinct on her. That is just my experience; it is possible that if she had been an "easier" baby, I would never have bedshared at all.

Cot sleeping became popular as bottle feeding went on the rise. Breastfeeding babies feed more frequently and for longer than bottle fed infants, and can only be fed by their mother. The night-time parenting of a breastfed baby is therefore easier if the baby co-sleeps some or all of the time. Co-sleeping is much more compatible with breastfeeding, and as breastfeeding numbers increase it is inevitable that more mothers will co-sleep (a recent study in the north-east found that 65% of breastfeeding mothers sometimes co-slept).

The NHS and UNICEF have not changed their advice to parents - cots are safest, but if you co-sleep, follow the above safety guidelines. Now, a study into SIDS where the co-sleeping babies were all doing it safely in a bed with responsive parents... wouldn't that be something?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Time, Or Lack Of It

Gosh, I don't know how all these so-called mummy bloggers find the time to post several times a week, especially those with more than one child. As Cave Baby gets older (13 months and counting) things don't feel like they are getting any easier, and my free time seems to be in shorter and shorter supply. Her naps get ever shorter and her night-time sleep shows no sign of improving. When she is awake she wants to practice walking ALL THE TIME. I can forget about doing anything on the computer when she is around unless I want more of the keys to break following one of her keyboard mashing sessions (only the equals has succumbed so far). And what with my "other projects", not least the preparation for imminent bathroom refurbishment, this blog has been way down my order of priorities.

But in lieu of a proper post, may I encourage you to click on The Feminist Breeders article on breast vs formula. It is just the kind of rant I would be too scared to write. She is a brave blogger with real integrity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Swipes, Scratches and Bites

I often wonder how other parents manage the baby/animal interface. A typical baby/cat encounter in our house goes roughly as follows. Cat finds a quiet place to lie down. Baby spots cat (cue pointing and cries of "Dada dada"). Baby crawls towards cat. Baby prods cat in face. Cat looks annoyed. Baby pokes face again then strokes hair. Cat looks more annoyed. Baby grabs handful of fur. Cat raises paw threateningly. Baby pulls fur. Cat places paws (claws out) on either side of baby's head and menacingly approaches baby's face with teeth bared, remembers that this scenario has previously concluded with the delivery of quite a hard kick from the mother of said baby, and runs away.

I do my best to prevent Cave Baby from tormenting our cat, but short of banning the cat from the house, there is not a whole lot I can do to keep them apart. Besides, the cat seems to actually gravitate towards the baby. It must be her sadist streak. Or, rather more sadly, it may be her attempt to get attention from the humans who have neglected her for the year in favour of their precious baby.

Well, actually, maybe I could try harder to keep them apart. But I am not an over-protective sort of person and I kind of think that learning to deal with our vicious cat won't do Cave Baby any harm. Granted, she has had quite a few scratches so far. But on the positive side, she is learning to respect animals and she's maybe learning a little lesson about the world not being completely fluffy and cute and nice.

So I probably could do a little bit more to keep them apart, but I'm trying to let them sort it out themselves and I'm hoping that eventually they will reach a state of mutual respect and understanding.

What I want to know is, do other people have this problem with their cats and dogs (or whatever other creatures you have running around your house)? How do you deal with it?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cleanliness Anxiety

At what point in the last ten years did I turn into one of those women who can't function unless the house is clean? It's been a slow transformation, from a relaxed studenty attitude to dirt, through the easy solo living days to my current anxiety-filled quest to maintain cleanliness in the face of a rampaging crumb-scattering baby. I'm not stupid about cleaning: a quick vac once a week, cleaning the bathroom when it smells or gets spattered with toothpaste, a bit of dusting once a month and a daily wipe of the kitchen surfaces is quite enough for me. But I just can't stand it if things get out of hand and the place becomes dirty.

Last week I was stressed out, all week. And I am ashamed to say it was all because I felt like I was drowning under a weight of housework. We had been away for a long weekend, meaning that the previous week had been mostly about preparing for the trip, so very little washing or cleaning had been done. That meant this week I had to do several loads of laundry, clean the kitchen and vac the house as well as the usual daily washing up. I know this doesn't sound much to a normal person but to a sleep deprived mother with a trying-to-walk baby clinging to her legs, it feels like climbing a mountain.

Every day I put the washing out on the line, only for it to rain again and soak it through. My dad came and did some DIY which coated our entire bathroom and landing in dust. Then he threw a cup of coffee down the stairs. And of course Cave Baby was going through one of her "difficult" weeks which meant she refused to eat her normal meals and preferred to throw food all over the place instead. Three times a day. Ahhhh.

The fact that this all gets me so stressed out is probably related to my SAHM inferiority complex. I think that if I'm at home, the least I should be able to do is welcome Cave Father into a clean house at the end of the day (Feminism? Never heard of it). When I worked full time I didn't really care about dirt because (a) I was only at home when it was dark, so I didn't see it; and (b) I had much more important things to worry about. But now I spend many daylight hours here in my house I have far too much time to look at the state of my carpets and stress about how on earth I am going to find time to clean them when I have to go shopping and take Cave Baby to this or that baby group and meet my mum and make a cake and check my emails and blah blah blah blah. I wish I could have Lisa from Edenwild's healthier attitude towards cleanliness.

Thank god for my mother who came on Thursday and did all those niggly little jobs that Cave Baby just won't tolerate me doing. That helped a lot. But what shocked me the most was that on Friday, when I did manage to vac the house, I instantly felt a hundred times more relaxed. Now isn't that so sad? My anxiety genuinely was caused by my need to clean. I really am turning into one of those women who have to have a clean house. And that's not who I want to be!

Let's just set a few pledges out right now. I am not going to be one of those people who wipes my baby's face or washes her hands in the middle of a meal. I am not going to worry about her picking up soil. I am not going to ask anyone to take their shoes off at the door. And I am going to try not to ever let staying clean get in the way of having fun. I shall have be mindful about reigning my cleaning urges in. Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Human Babies Should Be Carried

Babywearing is becoming increasingly popular, but it is usually chosen for convenience and is rarely thought of as a biological necessity. However there is strong scientific evidence that human babies are biologically adapted to be carried, just like gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees, and that babywearing is the best way to meet our infants' needs.

Firstly, a human infant naturally assumes a bent-legged, curved-spine position that allows the baby to be carried astride its parent's hip. Baby apes adopt a startlingly similar position when laid down. Furthermore, a baby carried on a hip instinctively clings on by gripping its carrier's waist with its thighs. And humans may have lost their fur but babies retain the strong grip that allows their their ape cousins to hang onto their parents' coats. Even without our fur, have you ever noticed that human skin has a lovely non-slip quality that really helps support your baby's weight when you are naked and you are carrying a naked baby? The first time I took my baby into the shower I was amazed at how much easier it was to carry her without the bulkiness of clothes between us. Newborns even have reflexes that help them to maintain a strong grip on their parents' bodies. It has been shown that when a carried infant is startled, triggering a "Moro" reflex, its grip on its parent actually tightens.

Evidence for our carrying needs also comes from the composition of human breastmilk. Mammals that habitually leave their offspring alone (while out looking for food) have high-protein, high-fat milk and their babies feed very quickly. Their babies can be sustained by a quick feed every few hours. In contrast, species that produce low-protein, low-fat milk are also characterised by the extensive contact that takes place between a mother and her babies. Their young are carried or follow their mother if they can walk. These young also feed fairly continuously. Unsurprisingly, great apes and humans are examples of mammals that make low-fat, low-protein milk. Great apes do maintain constant contact between mother and babies, and do feed continuously. Biologically speaking, humans should.

A baby's distribution of body fat even contributes to the evidence in favour of carrying. Dark fat cells, that provide insulation, are more densely distributed on a baby's back than its front. A carried baby is therefore able to absorb heat from its parent on its front without losing too much warmth from its exposed back.

Finally, the facts that human babies defecate readily and cry when they are left alone support the theory that they expect to be carried by their parents. In species which are usually left alone, the young do not defecate without assistance to avoid creating smells which would be detectable by a predator. Similarly, they do not draw attention to themselves by crying when the parent is absent. Human babies can defecate and cry at will because they have evolved to be with a parent at all times.

So, babywearers, it seems you are not just making your life easier by carrying that heavy baby around with you. You are meeting your baby's biological needs for constant contact and company and you are providing the right conditions for your child to regulate its milk intake and maintain its body temperature. Next time you strap your baby on, you can do it with the confidence that you are meeting your baby's biological needs and expectations. And that can't be bad for a baby's first experience of life.

This information and more can be found in "Natural Parenting ― Back to Basics in Infant Care", a paper by Regine A. Schön and Evolutionary Psychology, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sleep, One Year On

This post is for the Sleep Deprivation Carnival at Sleep is for the Weak so pop over there next week for lots more sleep deprived posts.

Six months ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a piece about how we began co-sleeping to cope wth our daughter's inability to sleep on her own. It went as follows:
Like most parents we had intended to sleep our baby in a moses basket and then move her into a cot when she was older. She was born at home, in a planned home birth, in the early hours of the morning. About an hour after she was born she breastfed and she was then put down, asleep, in her moses basket where she slept soundly until 9am or so, when she fed again. She did a lot of sleeping in her first few hours but by the evening of her first day of life she had already figured out that the moses basket was bad news. My memories of the days after the birth are hazy, but I recall that the first night we struggled to get her to stay asleep in her basket for more than a few minutes until about 4am when Cave Father got her to sleep on his chest, and kept her there for the rest of the night. The following night saw a similar performance. At this point you might well be thinking that the baby simply had her nights and days mixed up. But on the third night, after a couple of hours of messing about with the moses basket, I gave up, took her into our bed, lay down and nursed us both to sleep. And the remarkable thing was that she then slept the rest of the night, waking briefly to feed but never crying or fussing. The baby who could not sleep for more than a few minutes in a moses basket could sleep soundly for two hours nestled next to her mother with open access to the breast.

To a mother primed to expect nights broken by the cries of an infant, the peace and serenity of co-sleeping was a revelation. When people asked how she was sleeping, I honestly had to answer, "Really well. She never cries at night." But even while my baby was showing me how she wanted to be mothered, I was feeling guilty for parenting in the "wrong" way and I continued to struggle to sleep her in a moses basket. Needless to say, my stone age baby was having none of it and made sure that she took her rightful, natural place beside me every night.

My self-doubt arose from a clash between what books and "childcare experts" were telling me, and what my baby and my instincts guided me to do. Six months on, having read more deeply into the subject, I am so grateful that I have co-slept with my baby since the very beginning and I consider it a gift to both of us.
My daughter is now over a year old and still finds it difficult to sleep for more than three hours in a row. But that's OK, I can cope with it. I have bad weeks when teething is troubling her and she only sleeps from 10pm to 7am in two hour stints, and I have good weeks when she goes to bed at 9pm, sleeps until 7.30am, and manages a five hour stretch in the middle. In the middle of a bad patch it can feel like I am always tired, but equally I can feel energetic and capable when things are going well. The wheel always turns so that on the worst of days, I know there will be some better sleep coming along in a week or so.

Co-sleeping is still keeping us sane and on the nights when we do manage to transfer her, asleep, to her cot (as rare as that is), we even get to spend some hours alone in our huge bed. But after co-sleeping for a year, it honestly feels like the most natural thing in the world. I do not begrudge my daughter her place in our bed and I know that such a spirited, independent little girl will have no hesitation in telling us exactly when she has had enough of sleeping next to her parents.

Bedtime battles, sleep training and baby whispering are not for us - just night-time cuddles and a very loud, very heavy baby-shaped alarm clock.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SAHM Inferiority Complex

This is how I feel about being a stay at home mum. I feel inferior to mothers who go out to work. I feel that I am not pulling my weight in the household. I don't believe that the work I do each day, caring for Cave Baby, cooking and keeping the house clean, bears any comparison to a real work day. I feel that I'm exploiting my kind partner who goes out to earn the money. I feel embarrassed that we can afford to have just one of us working, when other people have it much harder. I feel like my education is going to waste. I feel that my family must wonder why I'm squandering my talents. I wonder when my partner is going to come to his senses and realise how unfair the arrangement is.

Why do I feel like this? I'm not short of stay-at-home role models - my mother took seven years out to look after me and my brother, and my mother-in-law never worked. My partner thinks it is perfectly right and reasonable that I should look after our daughter while he earns the money to support the family. He says I am doing a valuable job. He knows how hard it can be sometimes.

I think that I have been brought up in a culture that places a very high value on mothers going back to work. My family was full of very strong women. My mother has had a successful career, both my grandmothers had good jobs and worked until retirement, my aunts are both wealthy high flyers. Our government constantly encourages women to go back to work by offering money off childcare and withdrawing benefits from those who do not find work once their children reach a certain age (yet at the same time, politicians bemoan the collapse of the family unit and the resulting social problems).

But I am here at home because my partner and I have agreed that it is the best thing for our daughter at the moment. We think it is good for her to have her mum all the time, and we know that we are very fortunate to be able to make this decision. She has quite high needs and the parenting philosophy that we have developed over the past year means that we would feel uncomfortable about handing her over to someone else to care for until she is a little older (though again, I know we are privileged to be able to make this choice).

Being a stay at home mum can be frustrating but I am under no illusion that it is about a million times more fun than going to work. I have never had a job I liked and I have never looked forward to going to work. I cannot identify with women who say they need to get out of the house and work, though I do not doubt that their feelings are perfectly valid. Many studies have shown that stress at work is often caused by a lack of control over your own time, and one of the great aspects of being a full-time mother is that you have almost total control over what you do each day, baby mealtimes and naps permitting. There is a lot of angst amongst full-time mothers (not least amongst bloggers - see recent posts by Mon at Holistic Mama and Jessica at This Is Worthwhile) and I can empathise with their themes of martyrdom, isolation and compromise. I know staying at home is hard - I really suffer from a lack of any time to do anything on my own, for example - but I am satisfied with my lot. I am confident I am doing the right thing for our family and I can't really believe how lucky I've been to have the opportunity to be a stay at home mum. In fact I wonder how long I'm going to be able to get away with the improbably good deal I've got.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

When Only Daddy Will Do

It's mummy mummy mummy most of the time. I spend the day with Cave Baby, feed her to sleep and lie beside her all night. But dads have special powers and sometimes they can do things that us mums can't. This morning, CB woke up at 6.15 and decided it was time to get up and crawl. Now some unfortunate souls might be thinking, "6.15, that's not too bad", but in our house nothing exists before 7am. There is just no way I will entertain the possibility of getting up at a time that starts with a 6. If she wakes up too early I try to get her back to sleep and if that doesn't work, I just keep on lying her down and sticking her on the breast until 7am, when I give in. (By the way, don't get jealous about the sleep I get - she never goes to bed before 9pm. But I prefer late nights to early mornings).

So this morning I tried in vain for ten minutes to get her back to sleep. Sometimes the breast just doesn't work - in the morning suckling seems to wake her up rather than put her back to sleep. She was fed up with the whole business and turned away from me to face her daddy. I don't know why, but in these circumstances Cave Father seems to have special baby sleep powers. All he does is put his hand on her and shush, but somehow it works where all my efforts fall short. Perhaps it's the weight and firmness of his hand. Perhaps it's the depth and resonance of his voice. Whatever it is, thank the lord that it works. I got an extra hour's sleep and a warm feeling that perhaps one day, if I keep my fingers and toes crossed, daddy will be able to put her to bed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Your Beco Becomes You

Who doesn't love babywearing? Since inspiration is still rather thin on the ground around here, I thought I would write a little about my Beco baby carrier.

The Beco is a soft structured carrier based on the design of a mei-tai, with adjustable straps and buckles. The baby sits in a pocket of fabric (so the baby is not in direct contact with the wearer, unlike a mei-tai) and there are shoulder straps, a waist belt and a chest belt. In addition there are two adjustable straps at the top of the pouch that allow you to change the depth of the pocket of fabric that the baby sits in.

When you get the Beco comfortable, it is really comfortable. Cave Baby weighs something like 23lbs now so carrying her is no picnic, but I can wear her for hours on my back in the Beco if I have to. I can certainly feel every one of her 23lbs, but I have never got sore shoulders or back pain from wearing it.

Although soft structured carriers should be among the easiest of slings to use, there is certainly an art to perfecting the weight distribution in the Beco. First of all you have to figure out whether to wear the waist belt on your waist or hips. Then there is the task of getting the baby to fit really snugly against your body: do you make the pouch smaller or tighten the shoulder straps? Or do you leave the shoulder straps looser and tighten the chest strap? It took me a month or so to work out how to get a front carry really comfortable. Then, when CB got too heavy to wear on my front, I had to figure everything out again for the back carry. Perhaps the complexity of the various straps is a blessing in disguise, for whilst it takes a while to get your head around the various different straps, they do mean that the carrier can be adjusted to suit any body type. We are very lucky that Cave Father and I are a very similar size.

Back carries are fairly straightforward. Now I can easily do it on my own, and while I was learning, I only (nearly) dropped my baby on her head in public once. There are several ways to get a baby on your back: you can put the baby in the carrier, sit it in a chair and pull it on like a backpack; you can put the baby in the carrier, rest it on your hip and swing it round to the back; or you can put the carrier on your front, insert the baby, then scoot the whole apparatus round to your back. I do the latter - it takes me a minute at most.

For anyone who has come across this while looking for information about getting a Beco really comfortable, here is my advice. Put the carrier on and put your baby in, making sure that its bottom slightly overhangs the waist strap. Loosen the shoulder straps and get the waist belt really tight, experimenting with moving it from your waist to your hips. When you feel that the waist belt is supporting the baby's weight and is secure, tighten the shoulder straps until you feel them beginning to take some of the weight off the waist belt (it's a bit like finding the biting point of a clutch). When you feel the weight shift, stop tightening. That should be you all set to go.

I don't know how the Beco compares to a really comfy wrap; I can't wrap my baby as tightly as I can get her in the Beco and as a result I find the Beco more comfortable, but I would imagine that a pro wrapper would probably disagree. But I have to say that I am really pleased with how comfortable it continues to be now that my baby is getting heavy.

If you are trying to decide between soft structured carriers, there are a couple more features that attracted me to the Beco. Firstly, it has a fabric panel that comes in loads of designs, so the carrier is actually quite pretty. Secondly, it has a little hood that fastens on to the carrier that can be used to keep the baby's head still when it falls asleep, or as a rain hood.

I gather that Becos are quite popular in the US but there are not many stockists here in the UK. We bought ours from a shop called Slumber-Roo (who are not paying me for a plug!). And now the bad news: if you want one, be prepared to wave goodbye to the best part of £100.

To be fair, I have not used any other SSC so I cannot tell how the US-made Beco would compare to a home-grown, cheaper SSC. But for us it has been a great purchase that has been used most days for the seven months we have had it, has washed well, and continues to be useful now. It is ideal for walking with your baby or toddler for long periods and it can be adjusted to fit any member of the family perfectly.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Breastfeed My Cat

Well I don't actually breastfeed my cat, though I did once give her some expressed milk in a saucer (she rejected it). But this woman does!

Yes, this strange woman found that her baby would not breastfeed (don't get me on to the subject of babies who "won't" breastfeed) but, not wanting to waste her milk, she gives it to her cat. This does not simply mean offering the milk in a saucer - no, this lady actually feeds the cat directly from her breast.

How do you teach a cat to breastfeed? And, more to the point, how does a cat latch on without sinking its alarmingly sharp teach into your delicate flesh? I mean, cat's faces are pretty immobile; they surely can't mould their mouths around the breast like a baby can. Am I thinking too deeply about this one? I can't help it, it is just so damn weird and intriguing!

This story appeared in Closer magazine last week. Having just admitted, though not explicitly, that I read such shameful rubbish (albeit on a very occasional basis), I must say that the magazine is, on the whole, very supportive of breastfeeding. The following week they printed a very sensible letter asking why, if the cat woman was so averse to wasting her milk, didn't she express it and donate it to a milk bank? And I also came across this article debunking myths about breastfeeding.

So, you see, Closer magazine is not so rubbish after all... Now excuse me, I must get back to that article about Jordan and Peter.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mother, Introverted

In a book I read recently (The Other Hand, Chris Cleave), the fictional female narrator was said to have taken two years after the birth of her son to emerge from the introverted phase of motherhood. This got me thinking - am I still in the introverted phase? Am I just introverted anyway? Or am I outwardly "normal" and just inwardly preoccupied with my own thoughts?

When her baby was 12 weeks old (and mine a similar age), a friend of mine said that she felt she was just coming out of the fog that she had been in since giving birth. At the time I thought that I was already out of that new-mother bubble; the bubble that makes you feel like nothing exists in the world apart from your baby, your house and a gigantic pile of dirty nappies. But I wondered if I was kidding myself; if I was really still lost in the fog but didn't know it.

Months later, with hindsight, I think I was correct back then and I had already broken out of my bubble. And now, at a year postpartum, I think I am still suffering maternal tiredness from broken nights but I am basically back to my old self. I have weeks when I have no desire to associate with anyone except my family, and weeks when I want to go to tots' groups every day. And, symetrically, I have weeks when I have no desire to go anywhere near the internet (like this week) and weeks when I am obsessed with it. I don't think I am caught in a spiral of introversion - in fact I deliberately build bridges so that I do have reasons to get out of bed each morning (aside from the baby-crawling-all-over-me reason).

But am I mistaken? Is there really an introverted phase that lasts as long as two years? Am I still in a fog so enveloping that I can't tell whether it is there or not? In another year, will I emerge from the mist, look back and realise how wrapped up I was in my baby for all that time? And does it even matter? Maybe the fog has a purpose. Maybe that fog is what helps mothers to give so much to their children without worrying about what they themselves have given up.

Who knows. I'll just keep trudging on, doing my best and hoping that I'm doing something right at least some of the time.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

I'm feeling rather uninspired at the moment. It could be something to with the lurgy that has struck down myself and my baby, forcing me to spend most of the last week on a settee with a sleeping baby on my lap, staring at the TV.

So, the title of this post is about neighbours. We actually have great neighbours. Not the type to pop round and have a coffee with, but the type you could borrow a ladder from if you were short of one.

Anyway, I was not intending to write about real neighbours. I sat down to write about Neighbours, the only soap worth watching (on weekdays on Channel 5 at 5.30, at least). Any Aussies reading this will probably think it's hilarious that some of us sad Brits still watch this guff. And yes, I have visited the real Ramsay Street.

Anyway, Bridget is breastfeeding her new baby (they seem to be giving bottles too, but hey, I don't really expect continuity from a Neighbours scriptwriter). And they even mentioned her leaking. It's so nice to see breastfeeding mentioned as a normal, run-of-the-mill thing in a soap. It gave me a little smile when I watched it yesterday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Myth of Follow-On Milk

Follow-on milk is a formula aimed at babies over six months old. It is marketed as a milk that meets the needs of the older baby better than standard formula. The advertising tells us that it contains nutrients to support an older baby's immune system as well as the iron that a six-month-plus baby needs.

Lactation Consultants do not recommend using follow-on milk. They recommend standard new baby formula for any age of baby. This is because new baby formula has a high whey content as opposed to the high casein content of "hungry baby" and "follow-on" milks (whey and casein are the proteins present in cows' milk, the proportions of which must be altered to make the milk digestible by human infants). Casein is more difficult to digest than whey and sits in the stomach for longer. Baby's systems are not designed to have food sitting around in their stomachs - breastmilk passes through in a couple of hours. This is one of the reasons why formula fed babies are more likely to have stomach upsets and constipation.

I discovered by reading the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog that follow-on milks have not caught on in the US like they have in the UK. I wonder why that could be?

Could it possibly be that they were invented to circumnavigate the UK restrictions on advertising of formula milk for babies less than six months old?

Could it be that they have not caught on in the US because formula milk advertising is not banned there, and hence the companies have no need to artificially create a product that they can legally advertise?

Could it be that follow-on milk is completely unnecessary, but formula companies have used marketing to convince UK mothers that their babies will be healthier if they buy it?

Just some idle thoughts. But pretty shocking ones.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Birthday!

It's my baby's first birthday!

I couldn't let the occasion pass without a little post. The last couple of days have been fun as we have reminisced about what stage of labour I was in this time last year. My labour started slowly and I was contracting for a good 36 hours before I was officially in "established" labour. But I certainly felt every one of those unofficial contractions, let me tell you! And during them I picked some blackberries, baked some gingerbread men, ate some cheese on toast and knelt down with my head on the settee a lot.

Happy Birthday little one. Your father and I are confident that this grand old age will bring a new level of maturity to your sleeping habits, ie you will sleep for more than one hour in your cot or three hours in our bed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cow Colostrum - A Bit Wrong?

Is it just me, or is drinking cow colostrum a bit, well, icky?

The antibody and growth-factor packed first milk is the latest performance enhancing supplement for daft cyclists (including Olympic silver medallist Gustav Larsson).

I know it's really no different to drinking cow's milk, but I just can't get away from the feeling that it's a bit wrong. I mean, aren't the super antibodies and growth factors designed for cows not humans? And what about the poor calves?

If it's not speed then it's EPO. If it's not EPO then it's caffeine. Those cyclists just can't get enough of their freaky supplements. And if you're not a cycling fan, you will probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

Cow colostrum. Not for me thanks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Overdue Babies and Threatened Induction

As I mentioned in my last post, this time last year I was in my 41st week of pregnancy and hoping beyond hope that my baby would arrive before I was under pressure to be induced. As anyone who has gone over 40 weeks will know, the phone calls from family and friends start on the due date and do not stop until the baby put in an appearance.

I felt, just like any first time mother does, that my baby was never coming. I just knew I was going to be pregnant for ever. The mental leap from pregnancy to motherhood was just too big for my brain to cope with. Birth was a black hole that loomed ahead of me and sucked all thoughts of the future into its depths.

I was booked to have a home birth and idea of going into hospital to be induced absolutely petrified me. I had got myself into the right mental space to cope with birth at home and I felt certain that if I ended up in hospital I would find it vastly more difficult. So I did what I always do: jumped on the internet to reseach overdue pregnancies.

The Home Birth Reference Site is an invaluable source of evidence-based information on pregnancy and birth, whether you plan to give birth in hospital or at home. It has a brilliant page on postdates pregnancies, and here are the main points that helped me to decide what to do if I went overdue by more than 10 days or so:

* The death rate for apparently "normal" babies (with no congenital abnormalities) doubles after 42 weeks from 1 in 1000 babies to 2 in 1000.

* We are often told that beyond 42 weeks, the ageing placenta cannot deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to the baby. This sometimes happens, and sometimes does not. Research is unfortunately thin on the ground. Many people have had healthy babies after 43 and 44 week pregnancies.

* Most 42 + week pregnancies have just been dated wrong; very few accurately dated pregnancies go on for this long.

* Your body may be delaying labour for a good reason. The baby might be badly positioned for birth, for example. Sometimes we just have to trust that mother nature knows what she is doing.

* You do not have to undergo induction of labour unless you want to. Like any medical procedure, it is offered and you are free to refuse. Furthermore, the date of induction is negotiable. In the UK, induction is usually offered at 10 days or 12 days overdue, despite the fact that the "normal" length of pregnancy is anything from 38 to 42 weeks. You can delay or refuse induction if you so choose.

* The UK's National Institute of Clinical Excellence says that after 42 weeks you should be offered an ultrasound examination and twice weekly checks of the baby's heart rate.

* You can still have a home birth after 42 weeks. Your midwives might be happy to support it, or they might be reluctant. If you are really stubborn, you can insist on staying at home when you finally do go into labour. Nobody can force you to go into hospital.

* You are much more likely to have meconium in your waters when your baby is overdue. This is often enough for a mimdwife to recommend a transfer from home to hospital. But if you are overdue, it is not necessarily a cause for alarm. An experienced midwife should be able to judge the colour and thickness of the liquor and decide whether or not to recommend a transfer. This is what happened to me, and my midwife kept me at home. I am eternally grateful to her.

So here is what actually happened to me. I went to the antenatal clinic for my 41 week appointment and was offered induction. I refused it, totally flummoxing the midwife, who then called for a consultant to reason with the mad pregnant woman. The consultant was straight with me and, after discussion, accepted my wishes to avoid induction and agreed to monitor me if I should go beyond 42 weeks. A senior community midwife then came to talk to me as well and told me that they would support my desire for a home birth beyond 42 weeks. Hooray! This made me feel a whole lot better about things.

My bravery in the antenatal clinic turned out to be unecessary in the end because after two "vigorous" membrane sweeps at the aforementioned 41 week appointment, I went into labour and delivered my baby 42 hours later. The membrane sweeps felt a bit odd and uncomfortable, but I think by that stage of pregnancy I was ready to experience a bit of pain, and if it was going to help me to go into labour then I was all for it (and if you are contemplating having a membrane sweep then I would say that it is absolutely nothing to worry about). I do have a feeling that I would have gone into labour without the sweeps as I had begun to feel "twinges" prior to my appointment. I also wonder if my prolonged pre-labour was caused by the intervention. But I will never know the answers to these questions and I don't really care because I was fortunate enough to have a straightforward labour and home birth and I was blessed with a healthy baby.

I think the main thing to remember if you do go overdue is that induction is not inevitable, and is not necessarily the best thing for your baby. You always have options and if you present your views with enough conviction, medical professionals will have to listen to you.