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

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Would An Inuit Mother Do?

It sure is snowy around here. We've got ten inches sitting in the back garden and more forecast over the weekend. Pushing a buggy is impossible unless a snowplough precedes you. But what do the Inuit do in such conditions?

Oh I see, they babywear! It works for people the world over, and it's working great for me too. Carrying my daughter in a backpack is allowing us both to get out in the gorgeous snowy outdoors and we even help to keep each other warm. I admit that I fell on my bum a few days ago, but with her legs tucked either side of my body she was completely safe.

And just because I love snow, here's a snow picture taken in our local park:

Happy New Year to everyone.