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.