Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why Do We Still Have to Prove Breast is Better?

It's time for another breastfeeding rant. Oh yes. I am totally behind the curve here, but it came to my attention that The Times and The Mail printed some poisonous anti-breastfeeding articles last week. God, how this annoys me. Newspapers are not exactly well known for their accurate reporting of scientific studies but they have really excelled themselves here. Breastfeeding not really any better then formula feeding? Pull the other one. Thankfully, UNICEF has issued a statement explaining why the negative reports on breastfeeding are guff. Only they won't print an article on that, will they?

I could go on and on about the proven risks of formula feeding: higher chances of respiratory tract infections, stomach upsets and ear infections; higher incidences of type II diabetes, leukaemia, eczema and asthma. And I could stress the benefits to a woman of breastfeeding: lower probabilities of getting breast and ovarian cancers. But that is enough about the proven benefits. Let's explain very simply why we know formula milk is not as good for babies as breastmilk.

What is formula milk made from? That's right, cows' milk. Milk that was lovingly crafted by mother nature to be perfect for a baby cow. We take the milk from the cows' udders, take it to a factory where we mess about with the proportions of proteins in it, add some vitamins and minerals, and hey presto! Formula milk. FORMULA MILK IS COWS' MILK. Picture a baby suckling from a cow. Is that really an acceptable alternative to breastfeeding?

And that omega 3 that formula companies are so keen to tell us about? That comes from fish scales and fish eyes. Yum!

Now, why do formula companies spend time and effort to improve their formula milks? Well it's really to get an edge over the competition. But to get an edge, they spend all that money trying to make their products more like breastmilk. Implicit in their advertising is the admission that breastmilk is the ideal. And why would you want to give your child second best if the ideal is sitting, literally, right in front of you, hanging off your chest?

I'm not upset at mothers who feed their babies formula. A few have to, and for their babies it is a life saver. Most are simply the victims of a culture that drip-feeds us the message that breastfeeding is weird from the moment we are born. It is the formula companies, and the media that print and broadcast their propoganda, that I hate.

If you are pregnant and reading this, think about whether you really want to gve hundreds of pounds of your own money to some greedy executives who are laughing because they have managed to convince you that chemically altered cows' milk is just as good as your own, free, human milk.

I might have strong views on this topic but I am entitled to my opinions and, as Noble Savage recently pointed out, those of us who breastfeed sometimes feel we have to defend our choices just like formula feeding mothers do.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I love allgrownup's blog, so I kindly accept her tag to complete this questionnaire. Here goes.

1. Who is the hottest movie star?

Being obvious, Brad Pitt. Less obvious, Steve Buscemi (those teeth).

2. Apart from your house and your car what's the most expensive thing you have ever bought?

A safari in Tanzania.

3. What's your most treasured memory?

This is too predictable, but I would have to say giving birth to my daughter in my bedroom.

4.What was the best gift you ever received as a child?

Really tough. I had a musical Eeyore that I loved. And I still have my cuddly Tom Kitten (as in The Tale of Tom Kitten).

5. What is the biggest mistake you've made?

Working for the government. Boring, boring, boring. I felt myself shrivelling up.

6. 4 words to describe myself

Friendly, stubborn, determined, indecisive.

7. What was my highlight or lowlight of 2008?

Highlight: the birth of my baby, of course.

8. Favourite film?

I've answered this before. So let's change it to favourite album. Fragments of a Rainy Season by John Cale. One day I will write a whole post about this record. It is just beautiful, amazing songwriting, wonderfully performed and always a joy to listen to.

9. Tell me one thing I don't know about you

I ran a rugby supporters' website for several years. And I don't even know that much about rugby. The site is still going strong, though I handed over the reins a long time ago.

10. If you were a comic book/strip or cartoon character, who would you be?


Now I know I am supposed to tag some newly discovered blogs, but the sad truth is that I have barely had time to think for the last month. Hence there are no newly discovered blogs. But if you want to join in, post a comment and I will add a link below.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Academic Exposure

I am all for breastfeeding proudly in public but even I have my limits, you know?

I had arranged to visit my university today and I had even found a kind university-based volunteer to look after Cave Baby for an hour while I was there. So, I merrily made my way to the train station this morning swinging my baby on my back and mentally rehearsing what I would do when I got there: go to common room, give baby a quick feed, drop her off with babysitter, go to meeting. Simple enough.

Suddenly I realised what I was wearing - a short, tight fitting brown flowery top, only recently reinstated into my postnatal wardrobe. Short is good for breastfeeding: easy to lift up over the boob. But tight is bad: feeding involves full wobbly midriff exposure, which is not a good look. With this particular top, discreet lifting is pretty much out of the question and the only option is hoisting the full boob over the low neckline and letting it hang out for all to see.

It was too late to turn back so I carried on to the university. When it was time to feed Cave Baby I strategically planned where in the room I would sit to feed her: a nice quiet corner, away from the other people in the room and with my back to them so I would have some privacy and Cave Baby could look at them as she was feeding (she hates to feed when there is something more exciting going on behind her). She settled into the feed surprisingly well, only unlatching and flashing my full exposed breast every 30 seconds or so - pretty good for her. But it was only a minute before I realised that in my calculations I had failed to take into account that I would be sitting right opposite the main door to the common room. From that moment on, a steady stream of dusty male academics filtered through the door, just in time to be treated to a lovely full view of naked, pale, wet breast as my baby turned to flash them her winning smile. What can you do in that situation? Smile like you don't give a damn (which actually I don't) and watch them avert their eyes in embarrassment. It might not be something they see every day in the postgraduate common room but at least it probably gave them something to chuckle about later on.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Breastfeeding As Art

Isn't it lovely to see a nursing mother depicted in a piece of art? I never understood the significance of the mother and child image until I had my own child. Now I am a nursing mother myself, I see the beauty and grace that has inspired so many artists. I was delighted to see a woman breastfeeding openly (albeit carved from marble) in the entrance hall of Heaton Hall in Manchester last weekend. Excuse the poor quality of the photographs: I only had my fairly crap mobile phone on me.

Mother and Child by Edward H. Baily

And you know what, I bet nobody has yet been offended by this open display of public breastfeeding.

To anyone in the Manchester area, Heaton Hall is in Heaton Park and it is open free over the summer. It is a nice child friendly weekend destination.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Language of Co-Sleeping

Do you "co-sleep" with your baby or have you "not got it out of your bed yet"?

The language that you use to talk about co-sleeping is loaded with connotations, both positive and negative. Co-sleeping has an image problem but those of us who have researched it know that when practiced safely, it is just as valid a choice as separate sleeping (which must also be practiced safely). I have noticed that, because of the image problem, Cave Father and I can be rather sheepish when we talk about co-sleeping.

We have nothing to be ashamed about, and I kick myself every time I speak apologetically about my choice to co-sleep. For it is a choice I have made, in full possession of my faculties. I know the advantages (more sleep, no getting up, more breastfeeding, less bedtime stress, more securely attached child, better support for sleeping infant's natural physiology) and the disadvantages (more frequent waking, less freedom to move in bed, fewer mummy and daddy cuddles, difficulty transitioning child into own bed).

It is not as if I shout from the rooftops about our co-sleeping. I never introduce it into a conversation. Most people wouldn't be interested anyway. But if somebody asks me how Cave Baby is sleeping, I will mention it. I don't think it should be kept as a guilty secret. The more people talk openly about co-sleeping, the less strange it will seem (and research does show that a lot of people do it but don't admit to it). If it is acceptable to talk about cots in a conversation, I don't see why I should blush at the mention of co-sleeping.

You can convey so much information about the acceptability of co-sleeping in the way you talk about it. The phrases "she's still in our bed" or "she still sleeps with us" both imply that co-sleeping is just a failure to move the child into a cot. They both say that the bed belongs to the parents and the child is no more than an interloper. They both sound apologetic. They invite further questioning: when are you going to move her out?

I prefer a phrase that communicates the fact that we have made a positive decision to sleep with our baby: "we co-sleep" or "we bedshare". Both imply that we are all equal partners in this arrangement: we "share" a bed rather than "letting her sleep in our bed". But my favourite way of putting it is: "she sleeps beside me". It is an accurate description of what happens. It conjures up a rather lovely image of a little baby curled up next to its mama, and I think it conveys the fact that we have made a positive decision to respond to our daughter's need for company at night.

If you co-sleep, do you find yourself apologising for it? And if you choose to sleep separately, do you find that other people apologise for it when they admit it to you?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Heart My Ring Sling

I am in the midst of a love affair... with my ring sling. It is just the most useful thing ever. I have a sling like this:

...but I covet one like this:

It is perfect for a quick trip out of the house, to the park or the shops. People can't resist talking to my baby because she's right there at eye level with them. When she gets tired in the house I just scoop her up and load her in the sling and she's pacified. I can clean, wash dishes and cook with her in it, and if there are knives about or the stove is on I just swing her round behind my arm where she can't reach anything. She associates the sling with going to sleep and she's usually off within ten minutes when I feed her down for her naps. I can pop it in my bag and take it out with me when I know I'm going to have to get her to sleep. She even slept through an entire airport experience, from check-in to boarding, in the comfort of her ring sling. And it must be easy to use, because even Cave Father has finally come round to using it.

It should be writ large in every baby book. Get yourself a ring sling! Your baby will love it, you will love carrying your baby in it, and it will make your life so much easier!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Continuum Concept - Jean Liedloff

I scarcely felt I needed to read this book since I have seen so many quotes and reviews in all the attachment parenting literature that I have read. In fact I feel that it has become a bit of an attachment parenting cliche to justify any childcare practice by saying that the Yequana people of South America do it. But, nevertheless, rather than prejudging, I thought I should read the book and make up my own mind.

So, if you have not already heard of it, The Continuum Concept is one of the original attachment parenting texts: it is a parenting classic. It came out in 1975 after the author, Jean Liedloff, spent two and a half years living in the South American jungle with a tribe called the Yequana. She observed that they had a much greater sense of well-being than was customary in the West and, through her observations of their lifestyle, concluded that it was the way they raised their children that gave them this greater self esteem.

The idea of the "continuum concept" is basically to live the life that evolution prepared us for. She argues that evolution has honed humans to occupy a specific ecological niche and that in order to make the most of our bodies and minds, we need to live in the conditions that evolution has led us to expect. In particular, she says that if babies meet conditions that are not as they expected, they cannot fully develop and mature. The conditions that babies expect, she says, are constant carrying during the day and co-sleeping at night. The "in-arms" phase, as she calls it, lasts until the baby can crawl, from which point it should be allowed to explore its surroundings without restriction.

She goes on to describe how just about every human failing can be traced back to a break in an individual's continuum. Since virtually everyone in the West has a wonky continuum, due to an unfulfilled in-arms phase, we have totally lost sight of what "healthy" is. For us, "normal" is broken.

Actually I agree with her theory that in order to develop healthily, we should bring up our babies as our ancestors did. I think she is quite right that it must be damaging to live outside of the niche that we evolved to occupy. At the very least, it must make it very difficult for us to completely fulfill our potential. Humans are designed to be carried as babies and we are designed to co-sleep (why else would we synchronise our breathing with our parents?). Cots and prams are modern inventions which are totally baby-unfriendly, but to say so out loud in Britain is to be looked upon as some kind of weird extremist.

However, if I wanted to be cynical about this book then there is a lot to be cynical about. For a start, how does she know that the Yequana people are happy because of their childhoods? Could it not be because of the food they eat or the surroundings they live in? Everything about their lives is so very different to ours that our differences cannot be pinned down just to our childrearing techniques. Her arguments really hit the buffers when she admits that the neighbouring Sanema tribe, who also live by the continuum, have a habit of raiding their nearby villages, stealing their women and slaughtering their menfolk. I can see why she kept that one quiet until the end of the book. But I suspect that if I voiced my misgivings to Jean Liedloff she would say, "Ah, but you would say that because your continuum is broken so you don't understand." She really has the perfect argument - everyone in the West is damaged so none of us are qualified to disagree with her.

The book might be flawed but that doesn't really matter, because it has provided a great talking point for over 30 years, and I am sure that Jean Liedloff is quite satisfied with that. It might not be a cast iron theory, but she planted a seed that has grown into attachment parenting with its central tenets of babywearing, co-sleeping and breastfeeding. As a scientific argument, it didn't really work for me. But as a piece of history, as a hugely influential text, it was definitely worth reading. If you have seen the quotes and heard the theory then I would recommend giving the original book a go.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Baby is Crawling!

Cave Baby is crawling. Not just shuffling a bit, we're talking really crawling now, on the other side of the room if I turn my back, trying to pull electrical plugs out if I leave her for 30 seconds. Her world has expanded from zero dimensions (a point), through one dimension (a line), right to two dimensions (a plane). And with her already pulling herself up against furniture, she's nudging that third dimension too.

This is such a sea-change. I feel like I'm having to learn to be her mum all over again. I am trying to imagine how incredibly exciting it must be to go from sitting like a blob in the middle of a room to being able to reach anything and everything you want. I'm trying to think of times when my own freedom underwent a step change: when I first started taking the bus; when I learnt to drive; when I left home. But none of it can compare to the hugeness of going from not moving to moving. And it certainly makes me feel proud as a mum. I made that baby, and look at her now, mobile as a, erm, mobile thing. She's developing! She's just like all the other babies! She is my baby and she is the cleverest, most surprising, most unique little baby on the planet!

Now, let me go and belatedly baby proof this death trap of a house.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Singing In The Rain

Sometimes you've just to get out of the house, you know? It had been stormy this morning but at lunchtime it was only spitting so I thought it would be OK, weather-wise, and we trotted down to the park, both in our summer dresses and Cave Baby riding on my hip in a cotton ring sling. And the park was deserted because of the weather but we had a lovely time although the rain did seem to be getting a bit harder. It had definitely moved on from spitting to just plain raining. In time it got hard enough for me to think that we'd better set off home before we got too wet so I sheltered under a tree to put the babe back in her sling: holding an umbrella and loading up a baby is beyond me. A couple of minutes later the heavens really opened and it all started feeling a bit futile.

When it rains I am programmed to try and keep myself dry. You know how it is, frizzy hair and wet shoes. Not good. But do you know that point when you get so wet that you realise that it doesn't matter any more? That the damage is done, so you may as well just enjoy it? It is a great feeling. Cave Baby was grinning from ear to ear as she watched the rain bouncing off the path in front of us. Water was sloshing out of my shoes with each step but for once I was able to stop worrying and embrace the moment. I felt happy and it was a nice change because I had been all ready to write a post about how glum in spirit I had been, what with the feeling of my baby growing up and me doubting whether she really needs me any more (she is crawling, eating well, drinking from a lidded beaker, pulling herself to her feet, cutting down to one nap a day and almost sleeping through the night).

I know she does need me really, but I have just been doubting myself and feeling that she was accomplishing all these things despite me rather than because of me. And since I have to meet with my PhD supervisor soon and break the news that I am not going to continue with it (because I think I will try to write up an MPhil based on one day a week's work), I am once again cross-examining my decision not to go back to work in favour of staying home to look after my daughter. On top of all this I am feeling a bit lonely because I have had my man every day for a whole two weeks while we were on holiday, and now we are back in the usual evenings only routine.

But then you get a good night's sleep and you go out and have a nice time in the rain, and everything feels a lot better. So I'm fine actually, and I think I might be finally resolving to actually try hard to get this MPhil done so that I will have a shiny new qualification when the time does come to look for a real job.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Unbearable Heaviness of Boobs

Why do I get this agitated antsy feeling when my boobs are getting full of milk? I can't concentrate. I stop anything touching my breasts so as not to bruise them in their firm ripeness. My mind keeps wandering back to milky thoughts. I wonder when my baby is going to wake up. Basically, I can't think about anything except breastfeeding. This is not an ideal situation since full boobs combined with milky thoughts tend to produce an embarrassing shirt wetting letdown.

I certainly don't physically feel any different when my breasts are full. They are not tender or sore. I only know they are full by touching them and feeling the hard bumpy texture, the rocks-in-the-bra effect.

I wonder if my full boob anxiety is purely psychological, a syndrome that I have developed because I know that I put myself in danger of suffering blocked ducts and the like if I allow my breasts to become engorged. Or, I wonder, does it have a physiological root? There are mechanisms that regulate milk production in the human breast, slowing the production down as the breast fills up. One protein that we produce is called FIL (feedback inhibitor of lactation). FIL works by the process of negative feedback: it is produced at the same time as milk, so the longer you go without removing the milk from the breast, the more the FIL builds up. The more FIL is present, the slower the production of milk. When you breastfeed, the FIL is removed from the breast along with the milk. Perhaps the presence of the FIL in my body has some small effect that tells my brain that I need to empty my breasts.

Or maybe I want to breastfeed because my body is accustomed to its regular fix of oxytonin and prolactin, the two hormones that are stimulated by suckling. Perhaps I am addicted to the hormones of lactation.

Or is it possible that I have a psychological addiction to the regular comforting ritual of breastfeeding?

It really wouldn't surprise me if the human body, in all its wonderful interconnected cleverness, had figured out a way to make a lactating woman feel an urge to breastfeed when her breasts became overfull. Just as prolactin promotes a feeling of calmness and well-being during and after a breastfeed, it would make sense that a chemical of lactation regulation might promote the urge to nurse.

Does anybody else experience the same mildly anxious feelings when a feed is overdue?