Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I Am Against the Marketing of Formula Milk

Whilst individual mothers fight their own battles to establish breastfeeding in the face of familial and societal disapproval, international organisations are fighting to preserve the practice of breastfeeding across the world. After reading about the illegal Cow&Gate advert I researched a little more about the formula marketing regulations that the UK government is supposed to enforce. Here is the situation as I understand it.

There is a set of guidelines on marketing of formula called the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. This code was prepared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF). It was adopted by the World Health Assembly (WHA) in 1981 as a "minimum requirement" to protect infant health and is intended to be implemented in its entirety. The World Health Assembly is the forum by which the WHO is governed, and comprises the Ministers of Health of the worlds governments, their advisers, and eminent experts in the field of public health. The US originally voted against the code, but in 1994 it was endorsed by Bill Clinton's government so in theory, every member of the WHO supports the code. This information can be found in more detailed form by clicking here.

The International Baby Food Action Network summarises the code as "an international public health recommendation to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes". The code is not binding like a treaty, but implementation of the code is seen as necessary under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Full details of the code can be found here.

In 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considered the UK's implementation of the code and reported:
The Committee, while appreciating the progress made in recent years in the promotion and support of breastfeeding in the State party, it is concerned that implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes continues to be inadequate and that aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common.

The Committee recommends that the State party implement fully the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The State party should also further promote baby-friendly hospitals and encourage that breastfeeding is included in nursery training.

So "aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes remains common" in the UK at the moment. Why is this a problem? We all know that once a mother makes the decision to feed formula milk, it is very difficult to revert back to breastfeeding, even if that is what she would like to do. So the decision to give formula milk should really be made with full knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of using breastmilk substitutes. This is the problem, and the reason that I object to the marketing of formula milk: it is inevitably one-sided, proclaiming the advantages of formula milk without alluding to the fact that breastmilk is better for babies. Information on infant feeding needs to be presented in a balanced, factual manner so that women are informed but not seduced. If, when armed with the necessary knowledge, they choose to formula feed then that is their own decision. But formula milk advertising will never be balanced and factual and therefore it should not be allowed.

I find the current situation, in which advertising of follow-on milk is lawful, to be ridiculous. As the Baby Feeding Law Group points out, companies easily exploit this loophole by branding their follow-on milk products in a virtually identical way to their basic breastmilk substitutes. They also provide websites and operate baby clubs in order to present themselves as authorities on infant care and nutrition. Information on infant nutrition will never be unbiased when it is provided by a company wishing to sell its own products.

The battle to convince more women to breastfeed will not be won as a result of any state legislation or government action. The advice of family and friends is probably more influential than any breastfeeding awareness campaign could be. But formula milk advertisements cannot help any mother to make an informed choice on her feeding method. If an advert is responsible for just one baby growing up less healthily as a result of being formula fed, then that is one baby too many. So I wish that the UK government would start to properly enforce the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, and perhaps one day progress to a total ban on formula milk advertising.


Baby Milk Action press release
World Health Assembly wikipedia page
International Baby Food Action Network page on International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes
Baby Feeding Law Group

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Illegal Advertising of Formula Milk

There is a TV advert for follow-on formula milk that turns my stomach every time I see it. It features laughing babies with a voiceover and on screen text that aim to show that formula milk is equally as good for your baby as breastmilk. Since it is illegal to make a direct comparison between breastmilk and formula milk in a UK advert, no direct reference to breastmilk is made. However claims such as "Helps support some natural defences" are clearly intended to address the fact that breastmilk contains antibodies and formula milk does not. I had intended to research advertising standards on this issue and write a post a about it; however it turns out that the non-profit organisation Baby Milk Action has already had complaints about the advert rejected by the Advertising Standards Authority. The complaint went as follows:
The advertisement promotes the Cow & Gate website and infant and follow-on formula brand name. It features laughing babies and has written text that idealises the use of formula, for example stating: "Do I look like I need more vitamins and iron?", "Do I look like my tummy's unhappy?", "Do I look like I'm worried by others people's germs and sniffles?". This hides the fact that babies fed on infant formula or follow-on formula are more likely to become sick with gastro-entiritis, respiratory infections and other illnesses than infants fed on breastmilk, which is recommended in the UK beyond 6 months (the age at which follow-on milks are labelled for use) and into the second year of life and beyond. Voice over and other text further idealises Cow & Gate follow-on formula, which is specifically shown being bottle fed (making it clear it is a breastmilk substitute, as a bottle is a substitute breast). Text claims that the formula contains "key nutrients", helps promote "healthy digestion", helps support some "natural defences". The formula is branded 'complete care' which hides the fact that it does not provide complete care in the same way as breastfeeding, which contains anti-bodies and other protective factors and other ingredients important for development that are not contained in the formula. The final voice over and text states: "Because healthy babies are happy babies" which again hides the fact that babies fed on the formula are more likely to become sick...... Advertising of infant formula is illegal under the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 2007.

In fact the advert seems to contravene several key points of the law on promotion of breastmilk, which as summarised by the National Cihldbirth Trust as:

It is illegal to advertise or promote formula for babies under six months old to the public. This includes price reductions, displays or other promotions in shops.

Follow on formula advertisements must not feature babies under six months old.

When promoting and advertising follow-on formula to the public there should be no risk of confusion between infant formula and follow-on formula.

It is illegal to use advertising that makes direct comparisons between formula milk and breastmilk.

It is illegal to blur the distinction between infant and follow-on formula in the promotion and labeling of formula.

Advertising of follow on formula should not discourage breastfeeding or compare follow on formula to breastmilk.

What more can I say? Our government claims to support breastfeeding. It sets targets to increase the number of mothers breastfeeding at birth, six weeks and six months. Yet it bends to the financial might of food companies by allowing illegal advertising of formula milk.

Haiku: On the Beginning of the Asparagus Season

Tried asparagus
Baby's wee did not smell odd
Experiment failed

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Idea of Frugality

Gathering missions are conducted from the Cave on a several-times-a-weekly basis. If frugality implies home grown vegetables and knitting then we are not frugal; I would, however, be more accurately described as tight. As in loading up the almost-out-of-date produce at the supermarket, insisting on tap water at restaurants and walking an extra two miles to save on parking. So whilst I enjoy stocking up on bits and pieces from the local market, the highlights of our shopping trips are always our visits to the twin temples of cheapness, Home Bargains and B&M Bargains. If you have never been to either of these shops then you may not be familiar with the glorious cut-price, fell-off-the-back-of-a-lorry nature of the goods contained within. I don't even know how widespread their branches are but let's say you won't find one cheek to cheek with a Waitrose.

I approach them with the anticipation of a poacher visiting his traps, or a fisherman lifting lobster pots, eager to discover what treasures lie within. And what a treasure trove each shop is: perhaps there will be brand name pasta sauces for 50p; perhaps a bar of 70% cocoa solids chocolate for 39p; perhaps a giant jar of creamy mayonnaise for 80p. Or perhaps nothing! That is half the thrill: you have to buy the best items then and there because tomorrow they might be gone. The latest bittersweet treat is Woolworths (RIP) Liquorice Allsorts, even though I do feel guilty for profiting from someone else's misfortune as I eat them. Now a word of caution: you mustn't be caught out by the poor quality permanent stock! The regular visitor learns to navigate past this to unearth the true bargain delights.

With bargains like these, there is even an after-sales bonus: once you have secured a cornucopia of delicacies for your family, you get to laugh at the crazy prices charged for the same items at your local supermarket. "Look at those fools just chucking full price jars of olives willy nilly into their shopping trolleys", I think evilly to myself whilst rubbing my hands together in a Mr. Burns like manner. "Don't they know that they could get them for half the price next door? Ha ha ha." (I am quite evil really).

So for a real dose of wonderful retail therapy without breaking the bank, let loose your inner tightwad, track down one of these shops and get bargain hunting.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Mothers Do (Especially When It Looks Like Nothing) - Naomi Stadlen

Do you know that feeling of relief when you meet another mum whose baby wakes as often in the night as yours, or fights sleep as hard as yours, or eats as pickily as yours, or [insert own baby's difficult trait] as yours. No amount of reassurance from friends and family can come close to the relief of meeting someone who shares your problems. At last you know for sure that you are not alone, and that your baby is normal after all.

Reading this book is like having one long conversation with someone who understands and shares all the difficulties you have faced with your own child. It is not a book to read if you are looking for facts, advice, evidence or referenced research but it is full of the valuable anecdotes and insights that you can only gain from talking to real individuals rather than reading statistics. The author makes it a priority to declare that she is not trying to dictate any particular childcare ethos, though she obviously leans towards a gently attached style. But the quotes from real women that pepper the book, and indeed are its focus, represent a full spectrum of mothers' experiences on such subjects as exhaustion, the loss of the self following birth, the development of a relationship with a new baby and the nature of a mother's love for her child.

I had numerous moments of relief when I read of sentiments that I have thought or felt, but have dismissed as wrong, invalid or hormonal. I learned that other mothers sometimes lose their temper around their baby and can't help themselves shouting to relieve their frustration, but they apologise to their baby and it is OK. And some mothers find that they don't really care about their career after a baby arrives, and that is a real feeling, not just hormones, and that's OK as well. Some feel that motherhood is the first thing that they have been really good at, like this is the job that they have been waiting for all their life. Other mothers sometimes feel bent double under the weight of responsibility when they are the only one that their baby wants, all the time. Many mothers feel guilty that they will be wasting their educations if they give all their time to raising their children, even though a mother's time is exactly what the children need. And probably all mothers feel a bit embarrassed at the end of the day when their partners are telling them about their fast and eventful work days whilst their best story is about the consistency of their baby's poo that day (and they genuinely think that the poo story is really interesting).

Finally, I enjoyed the book's non-judgmental attitude towards other people's opinions and mothering styles. I can be too quick to draw conclusions about other mothers who follow different styles to my own: this is wrong, and in fact I am always proven wrong when I talk to them.

Read this book when you are feeling a little vulnerable, perhaps a little unsure if you have been doing the right thing, or even if you are worried that you have been doing everything wrong. You will find that someone quoted in this book has been feeling exactly the same as you. For me, that is the best therapy and I will certainly be turning back to its pages in my weaker moments. Thanks to Earthenwitch and various other people on messageboards who have recommended this book to me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Watching Baby Sleep

Thin paper eyelids closed, a fragile and precious state of hard won sleep. Defiant toes refusing to rest twitching rhythmically beneath blankets. Feather light sighs of breath and a cherubic mouth periodically dream suckling. Tiny imagined milk bubbles tickling the dark pink lips. In an enforced silence, a necessary calmness is spread to parents tip toeing around the baby.

Suddenly, a violent awakening. Arms flailing, head half raised, panic flying across the face, a small formless cry. "Where am I? I am alone! I have been abandoned!". But sometimes, just sometimes, a heavy warm hand on her chest and a sight of mum is all it takes for the panic to subside and sleep once more to wash over the tiny features and for calm neutrality to return to the face. My baby's sleep is a gift to me and I will return refreshed when she has had her fill of rest.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Working and Attachment Parenting - Incompatible?

July looms. Before then I have to thrash out the decision of whether to return to my previous life as a PhD student or not. Before Cave Baby came along it all seemed so simple: walk out the door, switch off the mother in me and pull on the hardworking researcher self like a cloak. But I suppose every previously employed mother has gone through this same angst: being a mother isn't just a persona that I can adopt or cast off at will.

There are so many questions and they are all jumbled up inside my head. There is the priority of my needs versus hers. There is my past, my future, and our finances. But first there are two questions I need to work through and they are both "How can I keave her?". How can I bear to leave her, when I have been with her almost every second of her life so far? And how can I ensure that her material and emotional needs are met whilst (if) I am away? Being primarily a practical person I find it easiest to deal with concrete logistical problems. But even within these are challenges posed, I reluctantly admit, by my attachment parenting philosophy .

First, will she be nourished adequately if I am not there? She is a great eater (we have not gone the baby-led weaning route, mainly because I had not heard of it, but I am satisfied with our current balance of spoon and self-feeding) but she has shown no inclination to drink anything but my milk, from my breast. At the moment I am happy with this, but I do not want her to become dehydrated in my absence. And call me selfish, but I do not want to wean her down to night feeds only. I love nursing her. She loves my milk and it is perfect for her nutritionally. Why should I compromise on that?

Secondly, how will she get to sleep without me nursing her? She will go to sleep in her slings and even in her pushchair if necessary, but if she becomes over-tired and decides to fight sleep, only the breast will do. I could not bear the thought of her crying hysterically for hours because she needs to sleep and would, if only she could be comforted by me.

Thirdly, how will she cope emotionally without me there? I have no doubt that she would cope and, if I do leave her, she will be cared for by grandparents who love her. But her life has been spent by my side, day and night, so is it cruel to break such a strong attachment for a few hours just for my convenience? And, speaking of hours, how long is too long? Do I have to wean her off my presence by leaving her for longer and longer periods? And if this is the case, is she not paying even more of a penalty for my desire to leave her?

Gosh, these are really tough questions for me and I haven't even got on to grasping the really stingy nettly subject of whether I actually want to finish my PhD and what the heck I will do if I don't.

I love being a attached parent and I would not have it any other way. I am lucky to have her grandparents living nearby who would delight in taking care of her. I am really lucky to have the luxury of considering not going back to my studies - we are fortunate that Cave Father earns enough to keep us all fed and watered. And I know lots of really loving mamas that balance work and children and even manage to continue breastfeeding. But for the life of me I just can't figure out how they do it and I know I'm going to be turning this over and over in my mind until I am forced to make a decision. Are work and attachment parenting really incompatible?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Home Birth Back In The Day

When I was preparing for Cave Baby's birth, an old lady told me about how things used to be before the National Health Service began providing free health care for all in the UK (in 1948). She said it was very expensive to stay in hospital so people like her would give birth at home, attended by a midwife. But this was still expensive - I forget how much it cost but she said that it was about a week's wages. She said that weeks before your due date you purchased a box of supplies that would be needed by the midwife during the birth, and that this box was so expensive and precious that you dared not touch it. In fact she said you never knew what was in it because nobody ever opened them. I can just imagine the symbolic significance of these boxes in the houses of expectant mothers.

I am not trying to make any point with this vignette, I just really enjoyed it at the time, and remembered it today. It must have been really tough to go without health care because you couldn't afford it. It must have been scary to give birth without the back up of a nearby hospital, knowing that the loss of a baby would be a possibility. On the other hand it must have been nice when giving birth at home was normal, and all your friends and family could rally round to help, and birth would just be a normal part of life for everyone around.

Incidentally, the old ladies who had actually experienced home birth all that time ago were some of the most supportive people of my own plans to give birth at home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Home Birth As Safe As Hospital Birth Shock

It is great to see a study in the news today showing that in he Netherlands, between 2000 and 2006, home births were as safe for low-risk women as hospital births (the study compares outcomes for babies; outcomes for mothers are not mentioned). For example, here is how the Times reported it. The study is not perfectly applicable to the UK because the structures of our maternity services are different. But it is still a nice story! And while pondering this news, I was struck by how lucky we are in the UK that our National Health Service does support home birth, even if it struggles to find enough midwives to provide it. We can give birth at home if we want to, and the law will change this year to stipulate that we have a right to a home birth. We have a maternity service run primarily by midwives, with obstetricians acting more as a safety net when problems occur during pregnancy and birth. Community midwives work from clinics and even visit us at home, meaning that we barely have to go near a hospital or a doctor if we do not want to. And, in my experience, midwives have a lot of respect for women's wishes regarding how they wish to labour, what pain relief they require, whether they wish to deliver the placenta naturally and even whether they want to keep it to eat (which I did not).

These are just my little thankful thoughts for the day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Have Yourself a Good Birth

So, my intended birth post. I was fortunate enough to have a satsfying birth experience with Cave Baby. If a woman has a straightforward birth we tend to think she was lucky. But if a woman who ate unhealthily, took no exercise, knew nothing about childbirth and never did pelvic floor exercises had a bad experience of birth, would anyone be that surprised? Preparing well for birth has to have some bearing on the outcome, even it is only 5% compared to 95% good genes and good luck.

Some women are obviously blessed with bodies that are great at birthing babies, and some babies are great at getting themselves in the perfect position for birth. But no matter what cards you are dealt, you must be able to slightly increase your chances of having a straightforward birth. Consider the philosophy of the British Cycling team who won so many gold medals at the 2008 Olympics: they do everything possible, within the rules, to improve their performance. They do nutrition right, they do training right, they take food supplements, they do rest right. They hope that if a competitor neglects to take just one of the measures that British Cycling take, then they will have a tiny advantage over that competitor. What I am trying to say is that by taking lots of small preparatory measures you may be able to make a small difference to your experience on the big day - but that small difference could mean a normal vaginal birth instead of a ventouse delivery, for example.

So here are some ideas that I used last time around, and will use again if I have another baby:

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet throughout pregnancy. This is pretty obvious advice but there is a trend for women who eat really fatty diets to have overly large babies so it is definitely worth being careful about what you eat (I am not talking about dieting).

  • Take moderate exercise throughout pregnancy, without pushing yourself too hard. A certain amount of endurance is definitely advantageous during labour so gentle exercise like walking and swimming has to be a good idea during pregnancy. If in doubt, refer to the "what would a cavewoman do?" test. I doubt cavewomen spent 9 months sitting around their cave - food gathering and housework (or should that be cavework) would certainly still need to be done.

  • Plan a birth that you feel happy about. If you want a home birth, press for one. If you want a hospital birth, visit the hospital to check it out. Research your options for pain relief. Find out about positions for labour and birth. Write a birth plan and make sure your birth partner understands it. It may not (actually, probably will not) turn out as you had planned but you need to feel confident about the upcoming birth and to pass on those good vibes to your baby.

  • In the third trimester, be aware of the position of your baby. Read about belly mapping and use the knowledge to keep a mental note of where you think baby is lying in your tummy. There are things you can do to help your baby to get into, and stay in, the ideal position (this is called Optimal Foetal Positioning). Sit up, crawl on your hands and knees or swim front crawl to get baby to face your back. There are even things you can do to help a breech baby to turn upside-down (doing surface dives in the swimming pool is my personal favourite suggestion). There is loads of information on the Spinning Babies website.

  • Drink raspberry leaf tea. Nobody really knows if it genuinely does tone up your uterus, but it can't do you any harm when taken in the third trimester. It is nice with a bit of sugar in it, or chilled with sugar and lemon as an iced tea. Start with one cup a day and build up to three or four.

  • Surround yourself with supportive people who help you to feel confident that you can do it. Read some nice birth stories. If anybody close to you has a bad attitude towards natural birth then make that topic off-limits for a while.

  • Some people swear by perineal massage. This is not somethiing I fancy but you never know, it might help to reduce tearing when the baby is born.

  • Practice some kind of relaxation for use during birth - but don't get obsessed with it. Some people go the whole hog and learn self-hypnosis whilst others manage perfectly well with a bit of self-taught deep breathing. Personally I think it's mainly instinctive and you will manage best by feeling calm and confident inside, not by the use of any particular technique. But that is just my perspective.

Once again, I know that birth is unpredictable. But when I was expecting Cave Baby, I couldn't help wanting to do whatever was in my power to help myself to have my version of a "good birth", and this list was the result of my reading. If you are preparing for childbirth I hope there might be something in here that helps you. And if you have any ideas that have worked for you please tell me!

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Good Birth

I was writing a future post about birth when I realised I had written the phrase "good birth" several times, as if it actually meant something. So what is a "good birth"? For some it may be a healthy baby and no more. For others it may be an elective Cesaerean. Some demand to experience "ecstatic birth". For the pregnant me, a "good birth" would have been one in which I would have a healthy baby, could be present and aware for the whole process, and would feel relaxed and happy. My post-birth view is still pretty much the same though the healthy baby bit has assumed a much greater importance in my mind - somehow, the pregnant me could not quite comprehend the fact that I would actually be having a baby.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a woman who was about to have her first baby and had planned a home birth with an independent midwife. She had experienced nothing but negativity from her friends and family, one of whom even asserted that she was being selfish to wish for such a birth. Is it selfish to wish for a good birth experience for yourself as well as your baby? Was I selfish to have a home birth?

I have no categorical answer but I instinctively feel that a woman's postpartum mental health is extremely important for her baby's well being, and a happy birth can surely have a great impact on this. Traumatic birth can certainly contribute to postnatal depression. And there is of course a weight of evidence to indicate that home birth does not pose any additional risk to a baby's or mother's health. So no, I do not think it is selfish to wish for your version of "good birth" and whether that takes place at home or in a hospital should be up to the mother and her family. If only society would value "good birth" like mothers do.

If you doubt the safety of home birth, there is a wonderful website here that should put your mind at rest.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Angry Co-Sleeping Post

I am so angry. This myth that co-sleeping kills babies is perpetuated by ignorant journalists who don't know what damage they are doing. In my free paper this week was an article entitled "Mystery Surrounds Death of Baby Boy", beginning:

"A baby died after his mum put him in bed to sleep with her, an inquest heard."

Later in the article:

"Child pathologist Melanie Newbould said: 'There is a history of children dying while sleeping in bed with parents during the first year of life.'"

The article concludes with the coroner's verdict that cause of death was unknown. He said:

"We have an undisclosed or unfound natural cause or it is connected to co-sleeping. But there is no evidence that lead me to either".

So it's actually nothing to do with co-sleeping, just a tragic death. And this poor mother has probably been made to feel guilty for her loving, nurturing actions by countless medical staff and, most recently, a journalist. I have fired off a letter to the paper. I wonder if they will print it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Brain Can Never Rest When Baby Sleeps

Baby asleep in bed. Cup of tea and a sit down would be lovely. But must maximise productivity of tea making process! Have to walk down stairs - may as well grab dirty washing and full bin bag to take down. Boost stair descending productivity by picking up carpet fluff and dusting skirting board with clean side of dirty pants on way down. Collect mail from floor at bottom of stairs. Proceed to kitchen. Put kettle on. Utilise dead kettle-boiling time to put washing machine on, nip round downstairs collecting dirty dishes, eat biscuit, run washing up water, tidy up toys, load up sink with dishes. Make tea. Start washing up whilst tea brewing. Maximise productivity of trip to fridge for milk by putting some previously cleaned dishes away en route. Switch on computer to check emails whilst drinking tea. Take two sips whilst waiting for boot sequence to complete. Hear baby crying. Abandon tea, washing up and computer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eight Lives Left

It has been a scary weekend. I was not ready to write about this on Saturday or Sunday, and I do not intend to make this a diary-type blog, but events shape my thinking so I suppose it is inescapable. Cave Baby is all bandaged up with nasty burns on her ams and torso. As briefly as possible, here is what happened. She pulled a freshly made latte over herself in a cafe. I immediately stuck her under a cold tap but her skin still blistered under her wet clothes. We went to hospital in an ambulance where Cave Baby was plied with pain relief drugs that proved ineffective until morphine was administered (morphine! I can't believe it. I have never had anything remotely as strong as that in 30 years. My poor, poor baby). A couple of hours of waiting later we transferred to a children's hospital with a burns unit (burns unit. Oh my god that sounded so serious when they said it. That was frightening). Cave Baby was high as a kite and therefore happy until a further 3 or 4 hours later they bathed her, rubbing the red exposed blistered skin (poor, poor, poor baby) and applied dressings and bandages.

The burns are only superficial so they will heal quickly and should not scar. However the superficiality makes them more painful as the nerves are intact so each time she has to have the bandages changed, which is every couple of days, it is a rerun of the hellishness of the first day all over again. I wish I could have the burns instead of her. Thankfully they are not large in area so she has been spared from having to stay overnight in hospital, which is one of my have-never-done-it-and-never-want-to things. Will this experience shape me as a parent? I reckon so. We are not even at the baby-proofing stage yet but my lackadaisical attitude to health and safety is going to have to evolve somewhat.

Aside 1: when the children's hospital were considering keeping her in overnight, they checked that she slept in a cot. When I said she slept with me, they were totally fine and said they could get a bed in for us. Way to go NHS.

Aside 2: I had assumed that the tunnel-vision and lack-of-awareness-of-anyone-around-me that I experienced when giving birth to Cave Baby was caused by the gas; however I was totally back in that place when the coffee was spilt. It was obviously due to my body saying, "Right now nothing else matters except dealing with this one thing that is more important than anything else in the world".

Sunday, April 5, 2009

One Moment to be Thankful

I'm as new to the mummy blogging world as I am to mummying. But I have been reading Holistic Mama, The Awakened Heart and Honour and Inspiration and I am amazed how heartfelt, introspective and incisive your posts are. I am obviously not alone in analyzing (or is that over-analyzing) every decision I make. Anyway, a comment on presence: like everyone I find it so hard to appreciate the moments I have been given, always thinking about the next thing, worrying about the past, fretting about what others think of me. I have one moment in the day when I have learnt to just be present. And this is it: in the middle of the morning, after a tiring night, I lie down with Cave Baby in the middle of our bed with the curtains open, light often streaming through our south-facing window. As she suckles to sleep for her morning nap I close my eyes, feel the warmth of the sun on my back and remind myself that this is about as close to bliss as I will ever get. And with that thought my body usually relaxes and I can drift off for some valuable sleep of my own.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Apes Can Teach Us Pt II

My original question (in my last post, What Apes Can Teach Us) was whether a baby would take longer to develop the ability to sit up, crawl and walk if left to its own devices; that is, if it was looked after, but not encouraged to reach the next goal by being sat upright, placed on its stomach or put in a baby walker. As I said in the last post, it is probably impossible to answer this question without conducting unethical and unpalatable trials on identical twins. But I wondered if a likely answer might be obtained by observing the parenting strategies of our closest cousins in the animal kingdom, the great apes. Actually I'm not sure I have got any further with the original question but a cursory bit of research on orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees did yield some fascinating truths about how they bring up their babies - and perhaps how ours should be raised. In particular, I looked at nursing, weaning, baby carrying and sleeping habits. I will cover each in turn but first I think it is necessary to establish whether it is valid to assume that without the influence of society, the behaviour of a human towards its child would resemble that of an ape towards its offspring. Here is my view: a human is a very similar organism to a gorilla, a chimpanzee or an orangutan. Presumably, evolution has ensured that an adult ape instinctively behaves in such a way that its baby has the best possible chance of survival. Since our physiology is so similar, human babies have very similar basic needs to great ape babies. So it seems reasonable to assume that the "optimal" behaviour for a great ape parent would be similar to the "optimal" behaviour for a human parent. No, not identical, but there is surely enough similarity that we can at least think about what apes do, and use it to inform what might be best for our babies. Of course it should be instinctive for humans to behave optimally when raising their children, but unfortunately our minds are clouded with memories of our own upbringing, well-meant advice and so-called expert guidance. Even if we behave in a natural, instinctive way (such as taking our babies to bed) we often feel like we are doing something wrong. Anyway, on to the topics mentioned above.


Katherine Dettwyler wrote a PhD dissertation on the natural length of time for humans to nurse, by studying nursing in great apes. She used a variety of methods to scale up the ape nursing periods; this yielded various periods of human nursing from 2.5 years to 7 years. My brief research showed that great apes nurse for around 3-4 years. So it would seem that "extended nursing" in humans is really normal nursing for our species.

Weaning on to solid food

Great apes begin eating bits of vegetation or fruit, as appropriate for their diet, at around 3 months of age. This is not really that different to human babies - Cave Baby certainly started grabbing food out of my hands at about that age. Whilst I presume that most of the eating that infant apes do is "baby-led", ie they pick it up themselves and put it in their own mouths, I have read that orangutans sometimes chew up some fruit before giving it to their babies. This would seem to provide some justification for the human practice of mashing foods. Perhaps the most "natural" weaning route for humans to take is a mixture of mashed and finger foods, right from the beginnig of weaning, with babies primarily self-feeding.

Baby Carrying

Apes have an advantage when carrying their babies - they have fur, and the babies quickly become strong enough to hold on to the fur. They carry the babies on their fronts constantly for several months (around 6 or more), and when the babies become too heavy, they move to their parents' backs. Since apes use their fur both to keep warm and to carry their young, it makes some sense that humans would make clothes both to insulate them and to carry young. So, without the benefit of fur, perhaps carrying babies in slings is the most natural thing for a human mother to do.


Sleeping with young is so natural and instinctive that it scarcely needs any more explanation; but great apes do indeed sleep with their children for a number of years. It seems from the reading I did that shared sleeping lasts until nursing finishes; perhaps this is a guide as to when human co-sleeping should end - with the end of nursing comes independence and the beginning of a "juvenile" rather than "infant" period of life.

I do not wish this to read like a recipe for how anybody should be bringing up their children. Humans are successful partly because we have society and culture, so societal norms themselves may grant us some advantage that improves survival. But anyone who has chosen to follow their own parental instincts, perhaps baby-wearing or co-sleeping, may recognise a lot of their methods in those used by orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees.

Oh, and to answer my original question - apes are carried almost constantly until they can walk, so I reckon human babies would still learn to crawl and walk without hot housing.