Sunday, 29 August 2010

Breast is Best: the backlash

You're probably aware of the NHS slogan "Breast is Best", and perhaps also the recent media attention suggesting that it's actually having the opposite effect on new mums by suggesting that breast is not the norm. I've been experiencing another unwanted side effect...

I've written before about Baby Cafe, a lunchtime session at my local Sure Start centre where mums can chat and get support while feeding. From the start I've noticed that the formula feeding mums tended to stick together and reassure each other that it is OK not to be breastfeeding. I'm guessing this has something to do with the way that "Breast is Best" is pushed by the NHS during pregnancy, and also that much of the feeding support offered to new mums is focussed on breastfeeding. It's obviously very easy to end up feeling like a failure when being told "at least you tried" and no new mum needs that on top of the other anxieties.

There's always been a mixture of breastfeeding and formula feeding, but I'm finding myself increasingly in the minority as mums are switching over to formula. I'm actually beginning to feel ostracised, as if the fact that I am breastfeeding is somehow an unwelcome reminder that there is an option other than formula. This week I was chatting to another breastfeeding mum (the only other one in the room) about the rights she had when returning to work as a breastfeeding mum. Someone commented "surely you won't still be feeding her when you go back?" to which I answered without thinking: the more I think and read about formula, the less I want to give it to my daughter. You could almost hear the tumbleweed. I heard myself reassure the rest of the group that I respected every mother's decision to decide how to feed their child, but formula just wasn't for me.

I resent this. I'm actually going to retract that statement. I respect all the mothers who have been unable to breastfeed for medical reasons: milk not coming in; medication making their milk unsuitable; babies or mothers too unwell to feed. I sympathise with all the mothers that were not given the necessary support to make breastfeeding work; also those who were pressured into using formula by well meaning relatives. I really don't respect those that simply decided not to give breastfeeding a go; those that did it for a month but decided it was only fair that they got their lives back. When I made the decision to have a child, I committed myself to bringing that child up as best I could, and part of that commitment was to keep that child as healthy as possible: fresh air, exercise and a healthy diet. Why on earth would I choose to use a commercially synthesised version of the perfect food provided by mother nature? Why would any mother? I simply don't understand, I'm done with pretending to agree that it doesn't matter and I don't apologise for it.

Image: healingdream /

Friday, 20 August 2010

Oh, the Guilt...

It's amazing how little sleep you learn to deal with. I browse the Baby Centre forums quite often, and find myself jealously cursing the mums with babies (mainly formula fed as far as I can see) that sleep through the night. The question in my mind is this: do you do whatever it takes to get enough sleep to function or do you follow all the rules and make like the walking dead the next day?

Left to her own devices, Baby Badger wakes roughly every two hours to feed during the night. Take away the 20-30 minutes required to move to a chair, feed and burp her and I'm left with 90 minutes until the cycle restarts. That's if, of course, I've managed to get her into her crib without waking her. It doesn't take a genius to work out that I'm not really getting enough sleep.

Obviously, over the last few months I have found ways to get additional sleep, or else I wouldn't be capable of typing right now! Father Badger, or perhaps a grandparent, takes her for an hour or so while I sleep, but I'm not really one for daytime naps - I'd much rather tick off a few tasks on the list so I have "achieved" each day. I've found a fairly reliable way of getting more sleep at night, but it comes loaded with guilt: co-sleeping.

The term "co-sleeping" is applied to more than one scenario. Sometimes it simply means having baby in the same room as parents, which is advised for the first six months to reduce the risk of cot death. Sometimes it refers to having the cot or crib next to the parents' bed. And other times it means having baby in bed with mum. In my case it's the last of these: I've found that if I feed Baby Badger lying on my side, I can drift off and she simply falls asleep once she's finished. She sleeps much longer, presumably because she feels full, warm and protected snuggled at my side. Strangely, she also seems not to need burping (I've not seen any evidence of spit-up).

The problem is this: co-sleeping my way is contraversial. There are risks associated with it: duvets or pillows can smother, baby could fall out of bed, or a parent could roll on to baby. Parents who smoke should not co-sleep, nor should you if you are a heavy sleeper or have been drinking or taking drugs. On the other hand, co-sleeping is in many cultures the natural way of keeping your infant at night, and there are ways to reduce the risks. I honestly believe she is safe this way. I keep the covers off her, my body surrounds hers with a hand on her bum, and I wake up in exactly the same position, as if I instinctively stay in the protective position. I awake when she stirs to feed, usually well before she feels the need to cry out of hunger. Surely these are all positive reasons for co-sleeping?

Last night we introduced an additional dose of guilt; something I swore I would never do. After the midnight feed I gave Baby Badger a dummy (usually referred to nowadays as a soother, but that makes me think of throat sweets). She slept until 4:40, giving me four hours of sleep in one lovely stretch, at which point I brought her into bed, fed her and fell asleep for another couple of hours (back to source of guilt number one). We'll try the same again tonight and if it works I'm just going to have to admit that a dummy has its uses.

Further information on co-sleeping:

Image: winnond /

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Volcanic Eruptions

It seems to me that early motherhood is about liquids of various sorts.

The obvious one is milk, in my case breastmilk. It's already become second nature to latch her on and I'm becoming a dab hand at multi-tasking: one-handed typing; propping Baby Badger on a pillow so I can eat my cereal; and this morning even found myself walking round, one arm supporting her, while I filled my handbag ready to go out. A month ago I wouldn't have thought it possible, but although I've become accustomed to breastfeeding, it doesn't mean that a break wouldn't be nice. Last night was actually the best so far - after her last evening feed at around 11:30, Baby Badger woke up at 4:30 and again at 7:30 - hurrah! One night, however, has not made up for the last two months of sleep deprivation so tonight Father Badger is giving me a break of sorts: he's doing the night feeding. I've spent a few sessions over the last day or so pumping and feel strangely proud of having produced over 200ml (about 8oz), which should do two feeds. I will of course have to wake up some time in the early hours to feed her otherwise I'll end up rather uncomfortable and leaky (!), but two lots of four hours sleep in one night will be heaven...

As they say, what goes in must come out. Wet nappies are hardly a trauma, although I guess if Baby Badger had been born a boy it might have been more hazardous [or perhaps the stories of dodging arcs of pee are merely urban myth - can anyone confirm?]. It's the other stuff... Another thing that I wouldn't have believed a few months ago - it's actually not that bad dealing with baby poo, and I'm told that's at least partially because breastfed baby poo is much nicer (or should that be less smelly) than formula-fed baby poo. It's only bad when it comes out in quantities that shouldn't be able to emerge from such a small body! Father Badger stumbled upon the perfect term for this: poo-nami, like a tsunami but made of... you get the picture. Baby Badger seems to store up several days worth, then let rip in one go! If we're lucky, we notice the first batch, and during the nappy change the rest comes out like lava erupting from a volcano. The scientist/child in me is fascinated by the volume (whilst yelling "eurgh" very loudly). If we're unlucky, we don't notice until the sheer volume starts to force open the leg holes on the nappy. Fortunately that's not happened too often and usually results in one of us holding a wriggly baby while the other hoses her down with the shower. Quite effective but it does take a tag team effort.

The last type is tears. Occasionally Baby Badger's if she's crying inconsolably, but more often mine. Don't get me wrong. Life is not bad, and I'm pretty sure I'm not depressed as I can laugh at the ridiculous and still have the drive to get out and about. The tears come after a few nights of particularly voracious feeding (the 90 minute feeding cycle a few weeks ago was particularly hard). I can wake up in the morning exhausted, but a quick hot shower sorts me out so well that I forget about napping during the day and when it gets to 9 o'clock at night I realise, too late, just how shattered I am.

Did I say the last type of liquid was tears? I was wrong. The last type is tea. How typically British of me, but it's true: the tears are more often than not sorted by a nice cuppa.

Image: Idea go /

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Party Line

On tuesdays I go to Baby Cafe. All the babies three months old and younger go to one room, older babies to another, accompanied by mums of course. It's a drop in session where you can chat to other mums, babies get to meet on the mat, and for a couple of quid you get a spud or sandwich that you've not had to juggle baby in order to make (in the early weeks that was a godsend to me). More importantly for those that are just getting used to breastfeeding, it's a friendly environment for your first public feed, and there's always a health visitor around to advise.

Which brings me to the point of this post...

Today the health visitor did her usual thing: she had an informal chat to each of us, checking we're were happy, no questions, feeding (breast or formula) going well. The conversation went along these lines:

"How are you today? How's the feeding going?"
"Fine thank you. A bit tired but that's to be expected."
"Why? How often is she feeding overnight?"
"About every two to three hours."
"Hmm... you really ought to be trying to stretch that to four hourly, day and night. Are you sure you've got enough milk for her? Can you tell whether your breasts are becoming full again?"

I've got several problems with that last bit:
  1. A nine week old formula fed baby may well be able to go to four hourly feeds, but it's much less likely that a breast fed baby can do so: breast milk is more easily (i.e. quickly) digested than formula, and they are more likely to take just as much as they need to feel full (as opposed to bottle fed where they may end up taking more than they need). When I checked with health visitor number two at baby clinic this afternoon she told me this: demand feeding (i.e. feed whenever the baby wants milk) is the NHS breast-feeding strategy and all health visitors should be advising as such.
  2. Rather than ask me if my milk supply is good (something that's rather difficult to work out), how about ask me about Baby Badger's weight gain and number of nappies (something that's easy to quantify and gives a good indication of if she's getting enough)?
  3. A mother less inquisitive/confident/bolshy than myself may not have asked for a second opinion regards the four hourly feeding, and could have had the seeds of doubt planted regarding her milk supply. Health visitors are meant to be supportive!

This is not a post abusing the NHS. I can't fault the care I've received during pregnancy, birth and beyond. I perhaps haven't received as much attention as some, but that's fine as I've had a pretty easy ride of it. What I do expect from the NHS is that the staff should have the same up to date information and provide consistent and good advice. That isn't always happening (I experienced similarly conflicting advice while in hospital with Baby Badger).

Image: photostock /

Friday, 6 August 2010

Escape from the Mad House

Tonight was a milestone in two ways. Firstly, it is mine and Father Badger's fifth wedding anniversary: the years have flown yet at the same time it feels as though we've always been together. Secondly, we left Baby Badger with my parents for a whole evening for the first time and went out to dinner.

We actually only went to a pub a couple of villages away, and had comforting pub food with a pint, but it was still an evening out and a stroll in the evening air to refresh ourselves, and it was great. We were very tempted to do what I'm guessing a lot of new parents feel like doing: go sleep, baby-free, for a couple of hours!


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Breast is Best

As you've probably worked out from my previous posts, I'm exclusively breastfeeding. I do it because I believe it's best for Baby Badger: breastmilk is designed for babies, and babies are designed so that breastmilk is the optimum nutrition. It should help me get back in shape, protects me and Baby Badger from a list of ailments, and best of all is convenient (once over the embarrassment of getting your baps out in public).

I've come across a couple of interesting articles today so I thought I'd share...

Breast Milk Sugars Give Infants a Protective Coat, from The New York Times, gives some fascinating insight into the composition of breastmilk, including the great work it does for baby other than providing nutrition.

101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child is a little dry in its content (and rather a long read), but give it a chance: it's actually a great list of the positives together with citations of clinical studies that back up each statement. You'll definitely know some of the reasons given (especially if you already breastfeed), but there will definitely be a few you hadn't heard of (such as "Breastfeeding enhances vaccine effectiveness").

This post is in no way meant to be a dig at mothers who choose to formula feed. I respect their right to choose. I also appreciate that for some mothers breastfeeding simply doesn't work out, whether it be to do with milk coming in too late, separation from their newborns at the critical time or lack of support.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Birth Story

I've been reading a few different blogs this evening and a few have featured birth plans and how the real thing did or didn't go to plan. I thought maybe I'd share mine - don't worry, there'll be no grizzly details!

My birth plan went along these lines... Father Badger should not be excluded whatever happens. Stay mobile and upright for as long as possible and maybe use the birthing pool. TENS machine and perhaps gas and air as pain relief and avoid pethidine or an epidural. Avoid episiotomy [who doesn't want to?!] and intervention, and immediate skin to skin contact.

Something that struck me about these other posts is the feeling of surprise from the writers that their birth didn't go to plan. I was at least realistic enough to title mine "Birth Preferences" and accept that there were bound to be surprises that would need me to be flexible. I saw it as a starting point: it felt much better to me to have a baseline idea of what was going to happen and allow for variation than to go in without any kind of plan, but I didn't want to go in with a closed mind and then be disappointed about some changed details in what was otherwise a perfectly satisfactory experience.

As it happens, Baby Badger blew the plan out of the water, namely in that she made an appearance before I had time to print it out!

If I believed in intuition, I'd say I knew she was on her way. The afternoon before she arrived I had my hair cut. I worked overtime until gone midnight and finished off a bunch of tasks I had planned for the following week - I still had five days left before going on maternity leave. I woke early the next morning and discovered my waters had broken - not in the TV style of floods, but a trickle. For some reason, perhaps denial, I headed back to bed for another hour but the verdict was the same when I awoke at 7.

I called the local midwifery centre, where I was hoping to give birth, and they confirmed my suspicions but said that because I hadn't made it to 37 weeks I couldn't come there and had to ring the hospital, which I did. I was told that they wanted to check me over but since it was my first I had time to pack my bag. At this point I was perhaps a little too relaxed! I packed my bag, watered the greenhouse, fed the dog, did the dishes, you get the picture... We got in the car, popped to see my parents and stopped off to buy some sandwiches in case we had a long day. It was now almost ten o'clock. It was at this point that I realised that things were moving a little quicker than I'd thought.

By the time we arrived at the hospital my contractions were about five minutes apart and feeling pretty strong, although I told myself not to be a wuss - surely this was still early stage! Once in the maternity ward I was quickly checked and told I was already 9cm dilated! I was taken straight to a delivery room, the TENS machine was attached, I took a couple of puffs of gas and air and it all kicked off! Baby Badger was born at 12:39 and the whole thing was over by lunchtime! No medication, no tearing and honestly a great experience.

The moral of this story? Just because it's your first baby it doesn't mean it'll be late or a long/difficult delivery.

Image: nuttakit /
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