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.