Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Return of Menses

Several people have emailed me to chat about their own concerns regarding the return of postpartum menses, so I know it's something that lots of people are interested in. I'm pleased to report that my cycles have finally returned! My period started 2 years and 25 days after giving birth, and in future I shall treasure this time in amenorrhoea instead of worrying about it.

Did I ovulate? I don't take my temperatures, so I don't know for sure. But I know I had several days of fertile mucous and some serious mittelschmerz - the latter is something I had never experienced before. Thirteen days after the ovulation cramps subsided, I began to bleed, so I can only guess that I did ovulate.

Was my period any heavier/lighter/more painful than usual? I was expecting the worst but actually it has been very normal and perhaps slightly less painful than it used to be. I hope this is a taster for things to come!

What prompted my menses to resume? There doesn't seem to have been any change in Cave Baby's suckling habits. If anything, I would say she has been suckling more (particularly at night) in the last couple of months. Maybe her sessions are a bit shorter. I have been taking the herb agnus castus (usually called vitex in the US) for two months now. It is meant to stimulate hormone production and is generally purported to be a fertility wonder drug, so perhaps that has made the difference.

So when am I going to start trying to conceive another child? Cave Father and I need to have "the conversation". But I would like a 3 year age gap, so I think we'll start soon. Having said that, I really want to have a winter baby this time so it will not be the youngest in its school year like Cave Baby. Maybe I'll have to wait a bit longer. If I can. Aaah, baby lust.

Oh, and another thing. Cave Baby, the incredibly attached, booby-loving, tantrum-having sweetheart, went to sleep for her daddy when I went out for my first ever postpartum evening out! I wouldn't have predicted it. She's a clever little thing. It seems that when I'm around, boobie is all that will do, but she can actually get herself to sleep quite happily when boobie is unavailable. They know a thing or two, these babies.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Clearing My Throat.. Ahem.. It's Been a While

It's been a while. So what's going on? Well, I've been:
  • Going on holiday

  • Starting breastfeeding counselling training

  • Reading tons of books on breastfeeding

Cave Baby is now two and she's starting to go to sleep without boobie! I thought it would never happen but suddenly, out of the blue, she sometimes prefers to unlatch, turn over and be shushed to sleep. Unbelievable, I know. It even makes me believe that one day she will self-wean. And that is hard to comprehend. She has even been sleeping through the night occasionally, though that hasn't happened for a few weeks since the latest molars started to make themselves known.

So what else? I've starting taking vitex agnus castus to stimulate my body to ovulate. I'm six weeks in and I finally have egg-white cervical mucous, so it might be working. It's time to admit now that I would really like to have another baby.

Oh, and I'm still sworn off shampoo. A bicarb wash every four days is quite sufficient at the moment. It makes me woder why I spent all that money on shampoo in the past.

So another summer has gone and the wheel of the year turns again. I'll try to catch up with some of the blogs I used to frequent, though breastfeeding counselling training comes first.

Happy autumn.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Bicarb Quickie

This is a quick No Poo update. It is almost three weeks since I last washed my hair with shampoo and, contrary to my expectations, it feels soft, clean and not at all greasy. I want to make it clear that I would not be saying this if it was not true; I did not go into this expecting bicarbonate of soda to work.

My hair does feel a little different to how it used to. It is slightly heavier and fuller than it was after a normal shampoo. After two days without a wash it feels even heavier and thicker, but not as greasy as it would have done two days after a shampoo wash. The appearance of my hair is much the same as it always was, only now I don't have to use serum or blow dry it to get it to look smooth and nice. The biggest change is to my scalp. Previously it was dry, flaky and itchy. All of that has stopped now that I am not using harsh detergents on it.

My routine is currently: put bicarb mix on scalp (about 1/2 tsp bicarb to 1/2 cup water); massage and leave 2 mins; rinse well; squirt on some dilute cider vinegar (about 1 tsp to 100ml water); rinse. I am still doing this every two days. I have tried going longer but I don't like the heavy feeling of my hair; maybe I will be able to leave longer between washes as time goes on.

I am curious to see how things develop and if my hair changes further. The transition period is meant to last anywhere from two weeks to two months, so I might still be in it. I would urge anyone who has a passing interest in No Poo to give it a go because it really is so much less scary than I imagined, and if you have a sensitive scalp then it might be the solution you have always been looking for.

PS I'm going on holiday now so please don't think I'm rude if I don't respond to any comments for a while.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Different Strokes (Or Why I Hate Crying It Out)

When you're encased in your happy little attachment parenting bubble, it's easy to forget how differently some other babies experience their first few years. So I have to admit that I was shocked when I spent the weekend with a family who err on the stricter side of things. My thoughts on this are all in a bit of a jumble, but I wanted to get my reactions down while they're raw. These are my opinions - they may be right or wrong, but they are mine.

First of all there is the discipline issue. This other family seemed to be overwhelmingly negative in their approach to discipline. If their baby girl (just over 1 year old) did something unwanted, like put something in her mouth, their first strategy was to say "No". If that didn't work (and of course it didn't because she was only just 1) then they punished her by removing her from the place of interest or picked her up so she couldn't do anything. There was no attempt to interest her in a safer or more desirable activity - it was just "No, that's it, no more fun". To me it just seemed so joyless.

Our family's approach to discipline is to first consider whether the activity really is undesirable. For example, should I really tell my daughter off for digging in the flowerbeds? Should I accept that she's copying me and learning? Should I direct her to a bit of the garden where I don't mind her digging? If something is unsafe or I really don't want her doing it then I say "No" and direct her to an alternative activity. I am not one of these parents who refuses to tell their children off, but I just think we need to give them a bit of space to explore and learn in their own way. That's just my opinion and it fits with my personality and upbringing. Different people do things different ways.

The thing that really shocked me was the crying it out. There I was, trying to nurse Cave Baby to sleep, while across the hall this other child was screaming her lungs out trying to get her mum to come and comfort her. I fucking hate crying it out. What's so bad about giving the baby a quick cuddle and sitting with it while it dozes off? The particular parents in question are not totally insensitive bastards and they did eventually relent, at which point the baby went to sleep quietly, easily and calmly. But I could not understand why they were so reluctant to sit with it in the first place. How have several generations of parents been persuaded that they should forget all their instincts and ignore their quite plainly desperate babies?

Don't get into the whole "I was at my wits end and I was about to break down and so I left him to cry" business. I understand that, and I understand that sometimes you just have to shut the door and take a deep breath. What I despise is systematic, repeated crying it out. It's not necessary. It stresses babies. Done frequently, it could harm their mental health as children and adults. Why are we, as a society, so afraid of admitting this? We are afraid to say out loud that formula feeding kills babies and we are similarly petrified of saying that crying it out harms babies' brains.

There, I said it. I put my cards on the table. I fucking despise crying it out. It troubles me more than any other parenting issue. I was almost crying myself when I had to listen to that baby's pleas. As my lovely partner himself said, "That baby is such a free spirit, I hope they don't damage her".

I know there are many people out there who are going to disagree with me. But this is what I think. If you are interested in this issue, I would suggest reading "Why Love Matters" by Sue Gerhardt. In the meantime, do tell me what you think about discipline and sleep training.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Reality of Child Mortality

Have you noticed any of the recent articles on child mortality across the world? Here in the UK the headlines have told us that we have the highest death rate of under-5s in the whole of Western Europe, with 5.3 deaths per 1000 live births. That compares with Sweden's 2.7.

But the figures from other Americanised cultures are equally as bad: Australia had 4.7 deaths per 1000, Canada had 4.9 and the US had a shocking 6.7.

Child deaths are falling across the world, in developing as well as developed nations. But I still have to wonder why they are higher in American-type cultures than European countries. The reasons are obviously very complex but increases in obesity, fertility treatment and average maternal age are surely important factors.

Could the private American health system also be to blame for it's terrible child mortality? The UK's National Health Service is far from brilliant, but at least every mother has easy access to quality obstetric and paediatric care if it is needed.

Years ago, before the NHS was established, my great great aunt lost her two year old son to diptheria because she could not afford to take him to hospital. She never had another child and for the rest of her life she cursed herself for failing to save him. This is the reality behind child mortality.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bicarbonate of Soda Actually Works

I was expecting to come out of the shower with hair as greasy as when I went in. But this week's revelation is: bicarbonate of soda does actually clean my hair.

I've used it twice so far and my hair feels pretty much normal. However I have two things going in my favour:

a) I only washed my hair every two days anyway, and I didn't use much shampoo; and
b) We have really soft water.

For anyone interested, I read around a few websites and decided to use a softly-softly approach to begin with. So I am only using one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed with a cupful of water (200ml to be precise). I pour about half of that on my head, massage it into the scalp for a couple of minutes then rinse. I thought I would gradually increase the dosage if it wasn't working, but so far it seems to be cleaning my hair well enough.

I still have a bit of conditioner left in a bottle so I've been using that after the wash. When it has run out I'll start experimenting with cider vinegar.

I keep wondering why I've been using shampoo for thirty years when that bicarbonate of soda sitting in the kitchen cupboard would do the job just as well. It's quite amazing.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Not Crunchy, Just Kind

I'm going ahead with the whole no 'poo thing. Under normal circumstances I would have washed my hair today but instead I gave it a rinse, so I suppose today counts as day 1. When it gets disgustingly greasy I'll get to grips with bicarbonate of soda and I might go to see if Holland and Barrett have any cider vinegar (though I'm not getting my hopes up since I live in one of the most un-healthfoody places in the country. In fact it's a wonder that our local one makes enough money to pay the rent, let alone make a profit).

But why, I find myself wondering, do I want to ditch the shampoo? What's my motivation? You see I'm not really your typical crunchy attachment parent (if there is such a thing). I'm not really very crunchy at all. Well, maybe just a little bit.

I think different people do crunchy things for different reasons. Some, like the blogger Maman a Droit, have found that religion has led them to live more in harmony with nature. In her profile she explains:
I try to do things naturally 'cause I think that's the way God designed them to run, so I come to a lot of the same conclusions as my liberal sisters!

Others might be motivated by general respect for nature and concern about the impact humans have on the planet.

Personally, I think I come from a more scientific angle. I want to live in the manner that my body is biologically adapted for. I just think that my body was designed to work a certain way and I will feel mentally and physically better if I allow it to live in that way. Furthermore, I am instinctively thrifty and I love any opportunity to save money. Crunchiness and frugality seem to go hand in hand.

Speaking of hair in particular, I look around at the other hairy animals that inhabit this planet and they all seem to have lovely coats despite not lathering themselves with detergent every two days. I'm pretty sure that humans haven't been doing it for more than a few hundred years either. I have no doubt that human hair can look good without being drenched in harsh chemicals on a regular basis so goddamn it, I'm going to give it a go.

This train of thought has got me wondering what motivations other people have for doing crunchy things. What's your story?

Monday, May 17, 2010

On a Slightly Different Note: Baby Toiletries

It is warm, finally. The sun is shining. Looking after my baby is getting easier and easier. I am getting excited about my breastfeeding counselling training and things are starting to fall into place around the peer support I am currently involved in. Life is good. So what is a formerly angst-ridden mother supposed to write about?

I have found my mind turning towards the old "no 'poo" thing. You know, no shampoo (the other thing would be unhealthy). Since Cave Baby was born we have probably washed her hair with shampoo about three times. I remember in our antenatal class the midwife told us not to bother with baby toiletries, so we took her literally and bought none. (This caused some consternation to the midwife who visited the day after the birth wanting to bathe Cave Baby and wash the blood off her head. She could not imagine not putting any products in a bath). Despite our shunning of hair products, Cave Baby has the softest, cleanest, most gorgeously baby-smelling hair. All we do is rinse it under the shower every three or four days, and we don't use any skin washing products on her either.

What I want to know is whether this clean un-shampooed hair phenomenon is a consequence of her being a baby, or whether it would work for me too? Will there come a time when her hair does become greasy and we have to resort to shampoo? I have mixed feelings about taking the no 'poo route with my own hair. I like the idea of saving money but on the other hand I take quite a lot of pleasure in shopping for a really yummy smelling shampoo and conditioner every few months.

Even if I don't wean myself off shampoo, I'm still keen to keep my baby product-free and I will try bicarbonate of soda-based concoctions if they become necessary. I'd love to hear of anyone else's experiences of keeping their babies shampoo-free.

On a slightly different but related point, does anyone have any good remedies for baby eczema? Despite our avoidance of soap and a daily slathering with aqueous cream, Cave Baby still has patches of red itchy skin. I have used hydrocortisone cream which does sort the problem out temporarily, but the eczema just returns when I discontinue using it.

For anyone interested in reading more about No 'Poo, there are loads of bloggers out there who have written about it but I can particularly recall Top Hat's no 'poo chronicles. And the post that inspired me to write this one was Joe's on here new blog Slightly Frugal. Sometimes Hippie. Always Busy.

Enjoy reading and please tell me if you've any advice for me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I'm Touching Wood, But I Think Things Have Got Easier

I can finally say it: things really do get easier. Sometime around the 18 month mark things started to fall into place. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what has changed, but I feel better, calmer, more contented.

I wake up most mornings feeling rested, much like I used to do before I had a child. It's not that I don't get woken in the night, but the night feeding sessions are shorter and less frequent and they just don't seem to affect me like they used to. During the day Cave Baby doesn't stress me out as much as she did in the past. For a couple of months she seems to have become less clingy. It's just little things that make the difference; in the past, for example, she would scream if I put her down while I was getting my breakfast and now she's happy to potter around the kitchen instead. I can honestly say that I am now feeling like the person I was 20 months ago. And that is a good feeling.

I'm not writing here as much as I used to and that's because I don't have that same frustration inside me that needed to vent somewhere. I have come through the most difficult days with my first child and I can look back with a little distance at my experiences. I don't have that immediate sense of anger at the way society was telling me to bring up my child. I can see how and why different people are motivated to raise their children in different ways and I am confident that the close, loving care that I chose to lavish on my baby was the right thing for her. I can even talk objectively to new mothers about the pros and cons of attachment parenting without feeling that my choices need to be justified or defended.

I still want to shout from the rooftops how we need to hold, nurse and love our youngsters but I have found other ways to do it besides blogging. I help mothers to breastfeed at a support group and I provide friendship and support at a coffee morning. And I am about to embark on training to become a full-blown breastfeeding counsellor so I can provide real practical help to get more women breastfeeding. Most importantly, I have built a network of like-minded mothers who keep their babies close, sleep beside them at night and refuse to do anything remotely resembling crying it out. Finding support online was absolutely invaluable for me when I was deep in the hardest parts of my first year as a mother, but the real life support I now have is even more reassuring.

So if I'm not updating this blog quite as often, these are all the reasons. The challenges posed by a 20 month old toddler just aren't as immediate and stressful as those posed by a high needs, boob-loving, sleep-dodging baby. Having reached this point in my life as a mother, I am even finding myself telling new mothers how it will eventually get easier and more comfortable. I no longer feel the need to justify my decisions all the time because my daughter is the walking talking evidence that attachment parenting works (though I still hate the term).

So if you are reading this from the bottom of the pit of new baby exhaustion, please believe me when I say that you will eventually feel better. It might take a year, or 18 months or 2 years but you will some day feel like your old self again. Just knowing this is going to help me to survive the hard days that I still do occasionally have. But it also casts a new light on the idea of having another baby; when will I really be ready to submit myself to another 18 months of tiredness and anxiety? (By the way, there are no worries about having another one just yet because yes, I am still anovulatory).

Did you notice a point at which your life became easier? And did you find it hard to contemplate embarking on the whole baby adventure for a second time?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ovulation, Delaying Nursing and Some Other Stuff

This post is going to go into a little more detail than you may be used to about something that we don't often talk about: cervical fluid. But it's also about breastfeeding and how I'm getting on with delaying my daughter's nursing, so it's not all icky. Don't worry.

I'm still period-free after almost 20 months of breastfeeding and whilst I'm not worried about it, I would quite like to get back into the old routine some time before I hit the menopause. According to Sheila Kippley, 8% of ecologically breastfeeding mothers (that is those who feed on demand night and day, co-sleep and do not use any artificial nipples) go for over 2 years postpartum without having a period. So I'm not alone.

But the thing is that if you are one of those people who have a long amenorrhea, your cycles tend to need a bit of a kick to get them started again. Basically your body gets in a really nice groove with the constant flow of ovulation-suppressing prolactin and even if your baby feeds a little less and the prolactin decreases slightly, you don't necessarily ovulate. La Leche League suggest kick-starting ovulation by making an abrupt change such as avoiding breastfeeding for 24 hours. This gives your ovaries a break from the prolactin released during breastfeeding and allows them to raise you oestrogen level high enough to trigger ovulation.

I'm not going to do the 24 hour break thing because it wouldn't be fair on my daughter. But my body has been giving me signs that it is trying to ovulate, so I am hoping that if I help it out a little I will be rewarded with a cycle. Cave Baby's night-time sleep has improved a lot recently and she often wakes just once in the night, so I am already nursing less than I was. A small reduction in daytime nursing might be all I need to get my oestrogen level over that threshold.

So how do I know that my body wants to ovulate? Your cervical fluid (the stuff that your cervix makes and which makes a white patch on your pants) can tell you a lot about what is going on in your body. In a normal cycle you start by having a period then your vagina is fairly dry for a few days. As you approach ovulation your ovaries produce oestrogen in increasing quantities. The oestrogen causes your cervix to produce fluid. Most people will first experience sticky whitish cervical fluid, then a couple of days later it will become more lotiony like hand cream. Finally, a day or two before ovulation, the cervix makes a clear, stretchy fluid that is perfect for sperm to swim through. It's your body's way of making your vagina a welcoming place for sperm so that you are more likely to get pregnant.

If you are experiencing a period of anovulation like me, your cervical fluid does not follow the usual pattern. In fact I currently have sticky or lotiony fluid all the time, and it is this that tells me that my oestrogen levels are quite high. Sometimes it even starts to get a bit stretchy like true fertile fluid, but then I am required to sit through a nursing marathon and the ovaries are squashed back down again. I am obviously making a lot of oestrogen, but just not quite enough to cause an egg to be released. By the way, I know what my cervical fluid is like because most days I wash my hands then use them to feel for my cervix and take a sample of the fluid surrounding it.

So without wishing to do anything drastic like weaning, I'm just seeing if delaying nursing sessions will make a difference to me. I read all the advice on my last post and I think it helped me see that everyone reaches a point where they want to adjust the nursing relationship a little bit to fit around their lives more comfortably. And I am not reducing the amount of nursing we do purely to help me regain my fertility; it is also about my convenience since the frequent feeds were starting to become a nuisance. So at present I am not offering the breast (though I never have done; my little girl has never needed reminding to feed!) and when she asks for it, I am routinely offering food and/or a drink and/or a distraction to see if the breastfeed can wait. It has struck me how ironic it is that in the early days I was concerned that my baby should feed only when she was hungry and not just for comfort, whereas now I am avoiding the hunger feeds and trying to restrict myself just to the comfort ones!

In my head, I am now playing the part of the ewe who starts to kick her lambs away occasionally when they want to feed but she would rather walk to a juicy new bit of grass instead. Placing restrictions on nursing seems to be a perfectly natural thing to do at this stage in the breastfeeding relationship. I will give it a month or two and see how things go. I am not going to be worried if I do not ovulate in the next few weeks because I know it will happen eventually (she says, keeping her fingers crossed).

Have you any experience of altering your nursing patterns so that your body can resume monthly cycles? Or have you used fertility awareness to help you avoid or achieve pregnancy?

PS If you are reading Liz, I have finally read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and I thank you for the recommendation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When To Wait to Nurse

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we're writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I have no hang ups about breastfeeding in public. I nurse my 19 month old anywhere and everywhere - indoors, outdoors, in shops, cafes, museums, parks, supermarkets or wherever we happen to be when she asks for a feed. But I must admit that I sometimes tire of my breasts being permanently available. It tends to happen on those velcro days when my daughter puts her hand down my bra every fifteen minutes.

I accept frequent feedings as part and parcel of the toddler nursing experience, and when we're at home I just put up with them. But I can get sick of them really quickly when we're out. Actually it's worst when we're at tots groups, and it is not because of embarrassment.

The thing is that the minute you get your breasts out to feed a toddler, you make it pretty obvious to everyone around that you are a fairly keen supporter of breastfeeding. I feel like a bit of a breastfeeding ambassador and the last thing I want to do is turn other mothers off breastfeeding because they think it will make their child needy like mine. In reality she is just a normal toddler, but we are not used to seeing children of her age nursing so any requests to nurse in public tend to be seen as over-demanding.

I was at just such a tots group recently and Cave Baby, having one of her velcro days, was on and off my boobs every few minutes. I was feeling a bit annoyed about this, but not so much that I would deny a request to nurse. Anyway, I happened to be talking to a lady who is extremely supportive of breastfeeding and had nursed her youngest child for three years. But I think she sensed my discomfort because at one point in our conversation she said, "Soon, you'll be able tell her to wait until later to nurse".

This comment sent my brain into one of its customary tailspins. Had she been trying to suggest that my daughter was too old to be nursing so often? Was she giving me a hint that it was time to start telling her to wait until we get home? Was she just saying what she thought I wanted to hear because I was annoyed with my daughter? Did she think that I was uncomfortable with the idea of nursing her in public? Did she think I was in need of permission to refuse to nurse?

Later I wondered when is the right time to ask a child to wait to nurse. I don't want to refuse my daughter, but sometimes it would be nice to say "Wait until we get in the car" or "Wait until we get home". Again, this is not out of embarrassment but rather convenience. I don't want to have to rearrange my clothing in the middle of the supermarket. Breastfeeding is a two-way relationship that has to work for both mother and child, so I have to get things my way occasionally.

Kellymom says that delaying nursing works for children over the age of 18 months or so. Reading other people's experiences (like Hobo Mama's here), I think it takes many toddlers a bit longer to learn to wait. I don't believe my daughter is ready yet.

So, dear readers, I need your help. What I want to know is whether you ever delayed nursing your child, and at what age you felt they were able to understand that they had to wait a few minutes. Please give me the benefit of your wealth of toddler nursing experience. I'll be so grateful!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Sat By The Canal

It's the nicest day of the year so far. I took my baby to a park and when she wanted feeding I sat on the grass beside the canal and nursed her in my lap. Ducks squabbled in front of us.

It was heaven and I love spring.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Leaving My Baby At Night

Readers, I need help. I'm in a dilemma. I just don't know whether I can leave my dear baby in the evening yet. I'd love to start a course that will involve roughly one evening out per month, but I just don't have any confidence that Cave Baby will allow her daddy to put her to sleep in the evening.

We are very attached. We spend all day together. I can count on my fingers the number of times I have left her with someone else for a few hours. She is gaining a sense of independence but that does not mean that she doesn't want her mummy there, watching her from a safe distance. And for my part I have grown used to being there with her, and I can feel antsy if I'm away from her for more than two or three hours.

There is obviously a balance to strike between my needs as an adult and hers as a baby that I brought into the world. I have parented her in an "attachment" style; I can't just bail out on her now. But if my desire to study means that she suffers an evening of stress, crying and wondering where her mummy is, then I don't think that's fair.

I sometimes wonder how different things would have been if we had had an "easier" baby. If Cave Father could walk her to sleep in a sling and then put her down to sleep on the bed, without her waking, then I wouldn't be in this dilemma. But we just don't have the luxury of that kind of arrangement. She wakes if she's moved. Therefore she has to go to sleep in the place where she is going to stay, and that currently means me nursing her to sleep in bed. She will sometimes oblige by dropping off in a pushchair, but that's not a given. His only other option would be to put her in bed, switch the lights off and sing to her until she gives in and goes to sleep. The problem is that there could be a lot of crying in the interim. And don't even mention controlled crying (or gradual withdrawal, which would amount to the same thing). She can cry for ages if we're there - I can only imagine the state she would get into if she was on her own. Aside from my ideological objections to sleep training, it doesn't seem worth the effort to deal with a problem that only presents itself once a month.

Maybe I should wait another year or so. But I hope that by then there might be another baby on the way, and I also believe in grabbing opportunities when they present themselves. An opportunity is staring me straight in the face and it kills me to say no to it.

Am I just worrying too much, or is this a situation that other mothers have found themselves in? This is the type of dilemma that many parents would laugh at, but to me it is very real. I genuinely don't want to cause upset to my baby, but I do want to pursue my interests. Aaahhh! Are there any attachment parenting whizzes out there that can sort me out?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ideal Birth

Do you ever wonder if the natural birth community over-idealise the drug-free natural vaginal birth? The reason I say this is that as a home-birthing mama, I've lately begun to feel some of my own performance anxiety when I read other people's drug-free labour tales. And I'm not the only one: Betsy B. Honest has written a brilliant blog post on birth performance anxiety.

I like to do well at whatever I try; maybe it's because my parents praised me too much (or maybe not enough). It seems faintly ridiculous that anyone should feel pressure to "do well" at birth. Yet I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that we do feel this pressure to have the "right" kind of birth. I used gas and air to help me deal with the most painful part of the first stage of my labour; does that mean I am in any way inferior to someone who manages without any pain relief at all? I don't think so. But the natural birthing community does celebrate the drug-free home birth above all other ways of birthing. They don't mean to say that other ways are less good, but that is perhaps the message that they give.

A "good" birth is one on which the mother and baby are healthy, alert, unharmed and happy. This is physically best for the baby, enables the mother to recover quickly and gives them the best possible chance of establishing breastfeeding successfully. A drug-free home birth certainly achieves this, but it is not the only way. Sometimes mothers feel safer in hospitals and sometimes it is best that they are there just in case something goes wrong. Sometimes the judicious and timely use of pain medication may enable a mother to have the birth she desires. I am not ignoring the fact that the use of pain relief can trigger a "spiral of intervention", but sometimes it can help rather than hinder. Here is a lovely birth story of a lady who says that without pain relief and hypnobirthing to help her through a long and difficult back labour, she believes she would have ended up having a c-section.

Do you remember a couple of years ago when the press blamed the pressure to breastfeed on a woman's suicide? It was a typical piece of media sensationalism but the truth is that breastfeeding difficulties (not pressure to breastfeed) can contribute to the emergence of post-natal depression. A traumatic birth can equally lead to PND. I wonder if a failure of the childbirth experience to live up to the longed-for "ideal" can also contribute to depression?

All I am saying is that if we raise women's expectations of birth too high, they are more likely to be disappointed with their real-life experiences. Midwives tell us to expect the unexpected, and though I believe strongly that women should prepare and plan for a natural birth, it is also necessary to understand that sometimes things don't go to plan. Painful and dangerous childbirth is a consequence of our babies' large heads and our bipedalism, and it is only our large intelligent brains that have allowed us to develop methods to overcome the dangers inherent in human childbirth and reduce the maternal death rate. So I think it is wrong to assume that all interventions are automatically "unnatural". I am sure that humans have been looking for ways to ease our babies' paths into the world for as long as we have been on the earth.

Perhaps all I really want to say is that the drug-free home birthing experience is great if that's what you want, but that other satisfying birth experiences should be valued equally highly. Anything that is healthy for mother and baby should be celebrated.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Brain Fry

I was going to write something deep and meaningful about the over-idealisation of natural birth or perhaps my increasing understanding of my body's slow return to postpartum fertility.

But my brain is fried, so maybe you can help me answer life's really important questions, like:

Why am I wearing two pair of knickers? (OK, the answer is that Cave Baby offered me a pair when I had already put my pants on, and she said "Bum bum" so authoritatively that I had no choice but to put them on. Then I forgot and put my tights on top).

How do you keep a coat on a toddler who has learnt to take it off?

Is it a bad idea to let my toddler play with open boxes of breakfast cereal just so I can do the washing up?

And does the fact that I cleaned the living room yesterday have any bearing on the answer to the previous question?

Is singing the "Baa baa baa, baa Babybel" jingle all around the supermarket a sign of madness, or is it acceptable for those with small children?

Eating crisps with a fork: can anyone explain why?

Maybe you'll get something more coherent later in the week. Maybe not. Ta ta!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Male Perspective on Co-Sleeping

I told Cave Father about the co-sleeping essay contest and asked him to write something for the fathers' category. To my surprise, he really liked the idea and he dashed these paragraphs off in ten minutes while I was getting Cave Baby to sleep. What I love about his essay is the way his acceptance and enjoyment of co-sleeping comes through loud and clear. He's normally a man of few words, and even when pushed he doesn't really say too much about our parenting choices. We try to make joint decisions, but, if I'm honest, it's usually more a case of me making the decisions and then checking that he doesn't object.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are Cave Father's thoughts on co-sleeping.
I don't think about co-sleeping much. It's just something that we do. After a few weeks of sleepless nights we figured out that our daughter didn't like the idea of sleeping on her own in an empty cot. Shame we didn't figure it out straight away.

Not many people agree with us. Friends and family are convinced that we are crazy. After a while though you find out that a lot of them ended up co-sleeping to various degrees. Why are they ashamed of it? I think it's great. You don't have to get up in the middle of the night to comfort your baby when she is teething. No need for Mum to stay awake half the night breast-feeding, just manoeuvre baby to the boob and she will happily suck away until full. First thing in the morning when you are dreading the idea of going to work you can play with baby instead from the comfort of a warm bed.

Bed time becomes fun instead of something to fear. She even wants to go to bed - well, sometimes. But at least if it is one of those difficult evenings when the baby energy levels seem never ending, all you have to do is go to bed, turn off the lights and 20 minutes later she will be asleep. OK, sex is a bit tricky but I guess that is why they invented the sofa!

By the way, when he talks about manoeuvring the baby to the breast in the middle of the night, that's him doing the manoeuvring! Sometimes I sleep so deeply that I don't stir when Cave Baby cries and it is him that wakes up, puts her on the breast and sees that she settles back down. Now that is a real benefit of co-sleeping!

You can read my co-sleeping essay here and enter one of your own by clicking here.

What does your partner think about co-sleeping?

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Co-Sleeping Essay

I finally got round to writing my entry for the co-sleeping essay competition. So here, in 247 words, are my thoughts on how we intended to use a crib, and chose not to.

Our moses basket was dressed in soft beige velvet sprinkled with applique teddy bears. It sat on a wooden stand that my partner had lovingly crafted. A handsome pine crib stood in the nursery waiting expectantly for its owner to be born. We had scarcely given a thought to how we would care for our first baby, let alone where she would sleep. But we knew that other babies slept in cribs so that is where we expected ours to go.

How wrong we were! After less than 24 hours of life it became clear that our little girl was determined to teach us a thing or two about nighttime parenting. There was no way she was sleeping in that basket! It took us just three nights to discover that the only way she would be prepared to sleep - and to let us sleep - was nestled in bed beside her mummy.

Like many parents, we were initially worried that we were doing the wrong thing by sleeping with our baby. But we soon realised that we were in fact giving her exactly what she needed: warmth, comfort, protection and the opportunity to feed whenever she wanted. What was even better was that I got to sleep through the night without getting up once, and my partner got to wake up to his daughter's beautiful smile each morning.

Eighteen months later we are still sharing peaceful, happy nights with our little one in our new, kingsize bed.

You can read Cave Father's perspective on co-sleeping by clicking here.

The closing date for the competition is 23rd March so there is still time to enter your own essay - click here for entry details.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Parental Pat on the Back

Every parent needs a pat on the back every so often. And if nobody else is going to give you one, you may as well give it to yourself. We are all our own harshest critics, but if you can find it within yourself to feel good about one little thing each day, then you are probably doing a much better job than you realise.

This sounds like a good idea for a meme doesn't it? I may or may not repeat this at regular or irregular intervals; let's just see what happens.

Here is my pat on the back for today. This morning I took Cave Baby to buy new shoes. Sounds easy? It would have been, had I not made the mistake a month ago of taking her to buy shoes when she was feeling poorly. The mere sight of the shoe measuring lady turned her into a screaming animal. We left without shoes but with a new found fear of foot measurers.

So, on to today. I had waited long enough since shoe-gate that I thought she might have forgotten all about it. Not so. Once again the crying started the minute the innocent-looking measuring device was produced. I thought we could maybe Face The Fear And Do It Anyway so I encouraged the lady to measure her feet despite the crying. We got a rough idea of her size, but she was left thoroughly traumatised by the event. Not wanting to give up, I let the lady fetch some shoes while I did my best to calm her down. We tried a bit of nursing first (I'll get my boobs out anywhere nowadays). That got her quiet until the new shoes appeared. Shoe trying was definitely not going to happen with her in that state, so I pulled out all the tactics at my disposal: carrying her around the shop, talking to old ladies, looking in the mirrors, bouncing on the chairs, taking her outside - you know the drill. Eventually, after a good 20 minutes, I managed to get her to sit on my knee, near the new shoes, without bursting into tears.

We continued to persevere, and after another 10 minutes I managed to get shoes on her and get her to walk in them! It was slow going, but my baby managed to try on about four pairs without complaining. And much to my horror, she took a shine to the garish purple patent ones with lights that flash when you walk.

So why am I proud of this? Well I could have given up again, but we managed to navigate this little shoe buying storm and by the end of the visit she didn't want to leave the shop. It may have taken an hour, but I guided her through an event which, to her, was frightening. She's delighted with her new shoes and I hope that next time she will remember that there is a reward at the end of the process. And did I buy her the tasteful brown pair with funky pink stitching? Did I heck. I went for the yucky purple patent flashy ones. They're for her, not me, and I respect her wishes.

Just think for a minute, and I bet you can come up with something parenting-related that you did this week that you're proud of. I'd love it if you told me in the comments, and it might just make you feel good too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do You Love Co-Sleeping?

If you've been here before, you'll know I don't post product reviews and giveaways and I don't plug other websites just because they have asked me to. But I thought I'd make an exception for a co-sleeping essay competition that I was emailed about. If you love co-sleeping, and you love to tell everyone about it, then this could be for you.

A company called Humanity Organics has compiled a book of parents' positive co-sleeping experiences called Are You Co-Sleeping? Me Too!. They are looking to add a short introduction to each of the book's seven chapters and you, my friends, have the opportunity to write these introductions.

The good news is that if they pick you, you win a co-sleeping aid thingy. (By the way I checked it out, and it is not one of those baby positioner things that actually separate you from your baby. It is essentially a large, thick sheet with a roll of foam attached to one side so you can put it on your bed, lie on it and the foam stops the baby falling out of bed. Actually it looks like quite a good idea, and they are not giving me ANYTHING free to make me say that.)

Essays must be no more than 250 words long and should be on one of the following subjects:

1. Oppression or negativity you received (Mother-in-law, parents, media, doctors, general society).
2. How bed-sharing enriched your parenting experience.
3. How bed-sharing helped breastfeeding (extended duration, adverse physical limitations, etc.).
4. How they got better sleep.
5. A Dad's perspective, written by a Dad.
6. How it saved your child's life.
7. How you intended to use a crib, and chose not to.

The bad news is that you only have until 20th March. But since they only emailed me today, maybe they're short of entries! To enter you just write your essay and submit it here.

I'll take the "How you intended to use a crib and chose not to" one! Best of luck.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thoughts on Childbirth

I am sitting on front of "One Born Every Minute", a documentary series on childbirth. It's the first time I have seen it and I quite literally cannot watch the babies being born without crying. It was the same when I was pregnant; give me good births, bad births, high definition or grainy Youtube footage and I'll cry. I thought the crying might have stopped since I gave birth myself but it evidently hasn't.

I don't know how some ladies manage to watch birth video after birth video when they are pregnant. For me, they are just too loaded with emotion. Even having been there and done that once, it still scares the hell out of me. And I had a good experience! The day after I gave birth I thought "I want to do that again!", but 18 months later the fear has returned. How much did it hurt me? Did I make as much noise as the ladies on television? Did my labour hurt more or less than theirs? Would things go as well if I did it again? Would I breathe through my contractions more calmly or would I shout the house down all over again?

Television has also provided lots of birth footage via "Lambing Live", a bizarre show in which springy haired wildlife presenter Kate Humble delivers spring lambs live on air (if any sheep are cooperative enough to coincide their labours with the one hour broadcasting slot). What strikes me about this programme is how much the farmers know about natural birth. If things are progressing as normal, they leave the sheep alone to get on with her labour. When the lambs are born they place them in front of the sheep so she can lick them clean. They know how important it is for bonding that the lamb is given to its mum immediately after birth. They quietly watch on to check that suckling takes place soon after birth and they see it as essential that each lamb gets a bellyfull of colostrum before they go to sleep. If a lamb does not suckle spontaneously, they help it to latch on, and if that does not work then they milk the sheep and give the colostrum to her lamb through a feeding tube. Nursing is valued highly because it produces stronger, healthier lambs and is cheaper and less labour intensive than bottle feeding.

All of these practices are equally important in human births. But during the twentieth century we managed to convince ourselves that unnatural practices like keeping babies in hospital nurseries and formula feeding were beneficial. We went so far away from what is natural and instinctive that expensive academic research was required in order to persuade us that skin-to-skin contact is good, and mother's milk is far better than any artificial alternative. What a waste of time and money, when farmers could have set us straight all along!

Now be honest - do you cry at birth videos too? And are you as scared as me?

Photo from Independent.co.uk.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing

You can be as convinced of the benefits of natural parenting as you like, but don't you sometimes have moments when you wonder if things really will turn out all right? When little worries about being different start to snowball into bigger worries, and you need a boost to make you feel good about your choices? I just read a book that has given me that shot in the arm I needed. It's called Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing an was written by a lady called Sheila Kippley back in the late 1960s.

I've written before about how I am concerned about my continuing infertility following childbirth. I gave birth 18 months ago and have yet to see the return of my periods. So I went looking for more information on breastfeeding amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) and found this book that was recommended by La Leche League.

The book did not give me any more information on the biological mechanisms that are keeping me in amenorrhea. But what it did brilliantly was reassure me that my experience is completely normal for a mother following the "seven standards of ecological breastfeeding". More than this, it reminded me, on almost every page, that I am doing a good thing by giving my time, my love and my milk without restriction to my daughter.

So what are the seven standards? They are:
  1. Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, giving no water, juice or food;

  2. Allow your baby to suckle for comfort as well as nutrition and do not restrict its time at the breast;

  3. Don't use bottles or dummies;

  4. Sleep with your baby at night;

  5. Lie down with your baby to get it to sleep for a nap during the day;

  6. Nurse frequently day and night and do not schedule feedings;

  7. Avoid separation from your baby.

This programme is 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy for the first six months postpartum. After this, there is a 6% chance that a nursing mother will become pregnant before having a period. When menstruation resumes, infertility may still persist for several months. Most women can expect to go without periods for some time between nine and twenty months postpartum.

The figure of 14.6 months as the average length of amenorrhea originates from this book, and actually refers to mothers who are following the seven standards. The actual time you spend without periods can vary according to your body chemistry, age (older women go longer) and how much your baby likes sucking. I am unintentionally following the seven standards, I am 31 and I have a high needs baby who really likes suckling, so I guess it's no wonder that I'm coming in a little above average.

A thing many natural parenting books suffer from is the need to constantly justify why natural practices are good. Nobody ever questioned Gina Ford as to why it was good for a baby to sleep through the night at 6 weeks, but it seems that extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping need to be explained repeatedly. This book gets around this problem very neatly because it is actually about child spacing. It basically says, "If you want as long as possible without periods, this is what you do. Oh and by the way, this is a really good way to bring up your child." Science justifies the advice, but experience shows that it is a wonderful way to meet a child's emotional and physical needs. A long amenorrhea is clearly nature's way of allowing a woman's body to prepare for the next pregnancy, while giving her child as much time as possible with its mother before it has to compete for attention with the next baby. Evolution has made us this way because it helps us to survive, and this in itself is a good justification for following a natural parenting approach.

The book made me realise how much our attitudes towards natural parenting have changed in 40 years, but also how far we still have to go until these healthy practices are fully accepted by society. Some bits are quite shocking, like doctors advising that babies should be given cereals at two weeks of age, and the author recalling how her breasts were bound tightly after birth. I am glad that breastfeeding in public has become a little more acceptable and that doctors now "allow" us to give birth naturally, but we still have a long way to go in convincing mothers that babies do not need food before six months and that breastfeeding beyond a year is a good idea.

What I did not like about the book was its Catholic undercurrent. I'm not religious and I don't buy a book on breastfeeding in order to be lectured about the evils of contraception. The religious bits could put a lot of people off the book, but I'm glad I read it because I've been walking about on a bit of a cloud of happiness ever since I picked it up. I'm happy because I know I'm not the first person to be totally attached to my baby, to breastfeed her to sleep every day and every night and to want to stay with her all the time. Even if I sometimes have a hard time explaining to other people why I bring up my baby like this, I know that lots of mums have done it before me and raved about it.

Forty years ago, mothers were saying exactly the same things about natural parenting as we are now, and that really comforts me and gives me a stronger conviction that I am doing the right thing after all.

Do you know what I mean about needing a boost every so often to convince you that you're doing the best for your child? Can you recommend a book that gave you the shot in the arm that you needed? Have you experienced a long amenorrhea? All comments gratefully received!

Monday, February 22, 2010

On Being A Parent

Overheard: two mothers with babies, each around six months old, discussing teething.

Mother 1: "He's been waking up in the night, crying. I normally let him cry, but..." [said as if we would disapprove if she did not let him cry, that we would tell her it was her own fault that her baby was waking her up because she was not tough enough].

Mother 2: "Yeah, mine's always got her hands in her mouth".

Mother 1: "He was sick the other night. Not like baby sick, proper sausage and beans and everything."

Mother 2: "Oh yes, teething can do that."

Mother 1: "Yes, he was crying and crying and after half an hour it was totally doing my head in so I went in to him and there was all this sick everywhere."

Doesn't it make you sad? That in our therapy and psychoanalysis obsessed culture, we still think it is acceptable and even desirable to leave a baby to cry by itself for half an hour? I'm hardly going to jump down anyone's throat and tell them they're doing the wrong thing, because everyone does what they believe is right, but I happen to believe that leaving a six month old baby to cry itself to sleep in the middle of the night for half an hour is wholly unacceptable. It's a hangover from the austere Victorian era and it is high time that it stopped. What damage does it do to a child? I can't believe that it is harmless.

And while I'm on my soapbox, this weekend I read this slightly depressing article on packing your children off to "kids' clubs" when you go on holiday. The article's author even puts his five month old baby in the resort's nursery! A five month old? Poor little thing. Do you ever wonder why some people bothered having children in the first place, if all they want to do is pack them off to a nursery the minute they catch sight of a beach? Isn't the fun of being a family in doing family things, together, en famille? I guess holiday resort kids' clubs must float some people's boats, but when I was a child they would have been my worst nightmare. Strangely enough, I actually enjoyed doing things with my brother and my parents! And I shall certainly not be wasting any precious holiday time with Cave Baby by sticking her in some dodgy resort's nursery. No siree. We shall take our holidays as we take the rest of life - united as a family. I hope I can give her as many jolly holiday memories as my parents gave me.

OK, rant over for the day. I hope you weren't too enraged by my opinions but, as always, leave me a comment to tell me what your angle is.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Life Happens To A Family Bed

When we started co-sleeping, I wasn't so sure about the term "family bed". I thought it sounded a bit twee and nursery rhyme-ish. But I get it now. You know how sleep experts advise us to use our beds only for sleep and sex? Co-sleeping totally blows that out of the window. The bed has become a kind of hub for family life. I don't know why I bother to make it every morning - it's rarely straight for five hours before the first nursing session or nap gets it all messed up again.

The dirt that our family bed sees is in a totally different league to its pre-baby days. This weekend, when I changed our sheets, I calculated that those sheets, which had been on the bed for a fortnight, had been exposed to:

  • Soil. A walk at the park tires Cave Baby out and she usually crashes as soon as we get home. Hence, dirty feet in the bed.

  • Sand. Our local park has a massive sandpit. Cave Baby's favourite hobby is transporting handfuls of sand from the sandpit to the wobbly elephant thingy. As I said before, she usually goes to sleep as soon as we get home. Ergo, we have sand in the bed.

  • Wee. Sometimes her nappy is so soaked in the morning that a fresh pee leaks out the side. The sheets therefore have to absorb a modest amount of wee. Am I going to change the sheets every time this happens? No way. Poo is dirty, wee doesn't count.

  • Biscuit crumbs. I like it when Cave Father brings me a biscuit in the morning. So does my daughter. She is a much messier eater than me, however.

  • Breadcrumbs. Sometimes you're in the middle of a nice sandwich when you get the urge to climb on the bed. Do you know what I mean?

  • Sweat. We have all had a stomach flu type thing. We all had temperatures for a day or so, and we sweated a lot. Our trusty sheets took care of it though.

  • Milk. My breasts don't leak, but my baby sometimes goes to sleep in the middle of a full-blown nursing session so there is sometimes a little milk still leaving my nipples as she unlatches.

  • Saliva. Hey, we all dribble when we're sleeping. If you say you don't, you're lying. At least baby dribble smells a lot sweeter than mine though.

Isn't that a lovely list? Doesn't it make you glad that I shower in the morning? Although this list might seem appalling to childless couples, I suspect that anyone with a baby in their bed will be nodding their heads in recognition. By the way, I am quite clean. I change the sheets every fortnight. But life's too short to wash them every time they see a bit of life. Isn't it?

So what I want to know is, what life does your family bed see?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Busier, More Popular, Nicer, Richer, Thinner etc

Just got to get this out while it's on my mind: I must stop comparing myself to other people so much! It's like a disease that eats away at the mind and it never has a positive outcome. I am never good enough.

I don't know where this tendency comes from, but I think a lot of people suffer from it. Whatever company I'm in, I always find some way in which I do not measure up. One morning I might be at a meeting for a voluntary organisation; following the meeting I will feel like I didn't take on enough responsibility or assert myself enough. Another day I might be chatting to breastfeeding mothers at a support group; after the group I will feel like I didn't fit in well enough. On another day I might meet up with some slinging, cloth-nappying attachment parenting mums; afterwards I will feel like I'm "not AP enough" because I don't do cloth nappies or elimination communication or some other such activity. I can even find fault with myself on a visit to the park: maybe I don't look good enough, or I'm not attentive enough to my daughter, or I'm on my own so I feel like I must look like an outcast.

Yet at the end of the day, I'm happy with how my life is. I don't want to take on more responsibilities, because they stress me out. I don't want to overburden myself with tasks because the whole point of staying at home with my daughter is to give her my time and attention. I don't want to get bogged down in so-and-so's parenting ideology because I do what I do because it works for me. I am friends with people that I want to spend time with; I don't waste my time with hollow meaningless relationships. And I enjoy spending time on my own, or with just my daughter: if I am too busy, I long for these quiet days.

So I actually don't want to change who I am in any way; I am, for once, content with how I look and behave. In fact the only thing I would change about me is this infernal voice in my head that is constantly telling me I'm not as worthy as someone else.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dolphins Nurse and Carry Their Babies, Just Like Us

Dolphins are incredible, intelligent animals - more intelligent than chimpanzees, according to some scientists. They are also mammals, which means they must give birth to immature, helpless calves and nurse them until they can fend for themselves. The mammals of the sea might seem very different from us, but the differences are not so huge when you look closely at the ways they look after their young.

A few weeks ago I wrote about dolphins' births, and how they are sometimes attended and assisted by close relatives of the mother. In this post I am looking at how dolphins nurse and carry their young.

Dolphins breastfeed their babies for around two to three years. The mother usually weans her calf when she is pregnant with a subsequent baby, but a calf has been observed nursing up to the age of ten. Like other intelligent mammals, the mother-baby bond seems to be very important and mothers only leave their calves when they need to find food. Even when they are apart, they use sound and echo-location to remain in touch.

Dolphins do not have protruding mammary glands like primates, but evolution has found a way for them to breastfeed and remain streamlined in the water. The mother's nipples are hidden within slits on her belly. A baby dolphin must locate the nipples and latch on with its mouth, forming a tight seal that prevents any salt water from mixing with the milk. Dolphins obviously need to go to the surface to breathe, so a mother helps her newborn baby by lying on her side near the surface so that the calf can feed safely, close to an air supply. As the calf gets older, it is able to find the nipple without such assistance.

The act of releasing the milk, which we call let-down in humans, is under the voluntary control of the mother dolphin. The milk is richer and fattier then human milk, meaning that dolphin calves do not need to spend as much time feeding as human babies. Newborn calves feed around four times per hour but each session lasts for a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

Infant carrying is seen in all land-dwelling primates, and ocean-dwelling manatees and sea-otters also physically carry their young in the water. So it is no surprise that dolphins have evolved a method of "carrying" their offspring. When the babies are very young, the mother-calf pairs swim in "echelon" position with the young dolphin by its mother's side. It is thought that the flow of water around the pair's body creates pressure that keeps the infant close to its mother and helps to propel it along in the water. Older calves swim in "infant" position below their mothers where they have better access to the nipples and are possibly given more protection from predators.

I think it's astounding how many similarities there are between the ways dolphins care for their young and what we humans do. As I wrote last time, we both have assistants attending childbirth (at least some of the time) and, if we are behaving as biology intends, we nurse our babies for similar lengths of time. For the majority of the global population, baby carrying is the normal method to transport a human infant. And though they do not have arms and legs, dolphins also have a way to carry their young. Most importantly, we both form close mother-infant bonds that last many years before a youngster is ready to leave the care of its immediate family.

Although we walk on land and dolphins swim in the sea, there are clearly many behaviours that bind us together.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stories and Songs Meme

Is there a special song that whisks you right out of the present and sends you back to a memorable time in your life? I was tagged by A Mother's Ramblings to take on this meme, so here is my song.

I had to think long and hard about this one. So many songs have formed a soundtrack to my life, from the Stones and Cliff Richard when I was a child, through Kylie Minogue when I was learning what music was, through R.E.M., James and The Velvet Underground in my teens, David Bowie and The Smiths when I was at university, and finally to Nick Cave and John Cale at present. But a song that conjures up a particular moment to me is (and you're not going to like this)... Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive".

It was the end of a long, hot dusty day almost seven years ago. Cave Father and I were on our first trip away together, travelling around California and Nevada by crap rental car, and we were just on our way back to Vegas after visiting the Grand Canyon. We were tired from so much driving and it was dark, and I was feeling a little mournful. The choice of radio stations in the middle of the desert is not that great and we were stuck with a typical country rock station when "Wanted Dead or Alive" came on. After exclaiming his disgust at the lameness of the record, Cave Father (to be) proceeded to sing the entire song to himself under his breath. I watched him from the passenger seat, staring at the road and singing in deep, deep gravel tones. But his voice was so human and sweet and gorgeous, I just sat there in the dark silently swooning, and that was the first moment when I thought, "God, I really love this man". And though I've never even told him about this moment, I still remember it whenever I hear that bad, cliched, but somehow perfect song.

So there you go. Feel free to play along if you wish, and by all means leave a message to indicate that you have done so (I'll stick a link to you as well).

Sunday, January 31, 2010

With Nipples Aflame

Have your nipples ever turned blue? Have they ever felt like they were burning from within? Have you ever had such intense nipple pain that you were unable to concentrate on anything except crossing your arms over your breasts to protect them?

Have you heard of Raynaud's phenomenon?

I suffered from Raynaud's for years, without realising what it was. I can recall one occasion when I was standing in London waiting for a coach, feverish with the start of flu and with nipples that burned so intensely that all I could do was walk round and round in circles with my arms wrapped around my chest to distract myself from the pain.

It's caused by cold, you see. Many are the times I have been found kneeling on the floor with my chest pressed up to a radiator in an effort to warm my breasts up and stop my nipples from screaming at me. I remember my grandad showing me his white, bloodless fingers when he went out in the cold, and that was also Raynaud's.

The Wikipedia entry for Raynaud's phenomenon says that it can cause discolouration of the "fingers, toes and other extremities". I guess my nipples come under "other extremities". It is caused by constriction of the blood vessels delivering oxygen to the affected part, and can be triggered by stress, cold and... you guessed it... breastfeeding. If you're sensitive to strange images of nipples, then look away now. But here, courtesy of Better Health's Weird Medical Problem of the Week, comes a picture of the bizarre colour changes that occur when a nipple undergoes an attack of Reynaud's:

If you're wondering, that's white, then cold, cold blue, then finally red as the blood flow returns to the nipple.

It seems that some women experience Raynaud's during and/or after breastfeeding. It can be confused with the pain caused by a poor latch, so may often go undiagnosed. I have been one of the lucky ones; I have not experienced the condition since giving birth, though it had worsened during my pregnancy. It could be that childbirth and breastfeeding have cured it, or it could return in the future. Maybe I'm not suffering because we are heating the house more generously than we did pre-baby.

Raynaud's probably affects loads of people, but it is not serious enough to warrant investigation or treatment and hence it remains fairly unknown. Medications to relieve it are available, but knowing what causes it and avoiding the triggers are probably the most sensible courses of action.

Has your breastfeeding been affected by any bizarre disorders? I hope not, but leave a comment if it has! And if you've not experienced Raynaud's, I hope you enjoyed the picture anyway!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Toddler Nursing Guest Post At Hobo Mama

My first ever guest post is now up at Hobo Mama's blog. It's about toddler nursing and it's called It's Not About The Milk. If you've ever nursed a toddler, you'll know exactly what I mean. Please read it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Missing: Period

If you're looking for a discussion on the finer points of sentence completion, you're going to be disappointed. No, I'm talking about that icky subject that we don't always like to discuss in polite company: menstruation.

The thing is, I just can't help wondering when my periods are going to start again. I have had none since I gave birth sixteen and a half months ago, apart from a couple of tiny, tiny bleeds (too small to even rank as "spotting") that occurred a couple of months ago.

Don't get me wrong - I am enjoying the break from the monthly bleeding. It's a great side effect of breastfeeding. But I am also starting to get a little anxious for them to return, just to give me a sign that my body is all back to normal, working properly and ready to make another baby if and when I want to.

Maybe that's the thing - my body isn't ready to make another baby. I tend to think that the human body is a lot cleverer than we think it is, and that the delayed return of menstruation is precisely to prevent us from creating another life that we are not ready to support. Things have undoubtedly been tough since Cave Baby was born. I have missed out on a lot of sleep, I have been stressed, anxious and jumpy and I have rarely been able to physically rest my body. She is, in most respects, a "high needs" child. And at the end of last year I was ill to the extent that my GP thought I might have cancer (which I don't have, I don't think. At least not in my colon. Don't worry about this admission). So is my body perhaps withholding my periods to give me time to recover?

But on the other hand, I seem to be generally healthy. I am sleeping better now, I am always well nourished and I get plenty of gentle exercise each day. I don't smoke and I drink a little wine. Before getting pregnant I always had regular periods - not exactly every 28 days, but never with a gap of more than five weeks between them. Since I have never suffered from bad PMS or period pains, I don't dread the return of menstruation like some women do.

On average, a night-and-day on-demand breastfeeding mother's periods return at 14.6 months. That makes me two months longer than average already. I'm really interested in any other mothers' experiences, and particularly whether you think that your body delayed menstruation longer as a result of your child being a lot of work. Should I just trust that my body knows what it's doing? Should I put it down to co-sleeping and frequent breastfeeding? Should I just enjoy the time off periods?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dolphins Are Midwives Too

Dolphin researchers have recently claimed that dolphins should be considered the second most intelligent animals on earth, second to humans but ahead of chimpanzees. That means that dolphins have a rich and complex social life complete with culture, learning and tradition.

The underwater world is so foreign to us humans that I find it hard to imagine what a dolphin's life must be like. But we share so may of our childrearing practices with land-bound apes that I wondered if we would also have methods in common with dolphins. I'm interested in birth, breastfeeding, weaning, infant transport and any other facts about infant care that I can lay my hands on. So, to start at the beginning, I found some information about how dolphins birth their babies.

After a twelve month gestation, dolphins give birth in the water. The fluids released during labour are attractive to predators and put the mother at risk, so the birth is usually attended by several other dolphins who may well be members of the same family. These doula dolphins are putting themselves at risk by attending the birth, but the calf will also carry their genes, so the practice carries an overall evolutionary advantage.

The baby dolphin's tail is born first so that there is less danger of the calf drowning during the birth process. The removal of the newborn calf from the mother's body may actually be assisted by one female midwife dolphin; the practice has been observed in captivity, and stillborn dolphins with teeth marks in their bodies have been found washed up on beaches.

Following the birth, the umbilical cord snaps easily so the new dolphin's movement is not restricted. Calves are able to swim on their own within minutes of birth and will normally make their own way to the surface to breathe. If this does not happen, some dolphin mothers have been observed moving their calves to the surface.

Dolphins do not just make great midwives for members of their own species; they can actually assist at human births too. A Russian male midwife called Igor Charkovsky has helped pregnant women to give birth underwater in the Black Sea aided by dolphins. The animals are reputedly very gentle with human infants and they grant a sense of calm to both the human mother and her baby. Dolphin-attended waterbirths are also said to occur privately in Hawaii.

The sophistication of dolphin birthing practices has taken my breath away. Come back in a week or so if you would like to know more about how dolphins feed, carry and look after their young.

Photos: The Best Photos