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Monday, 16 June 2014

Breastfeeding: Can’t or won’t? It should be up to her


I read a thoughtful and honest article on Essential Baby today, from a writer sharing her painful experience with breastfeeding.

On this blog, I’ve written predominantly about breastfeeding from a positive perspective: the how and the why and the what’s-so-awesome. I’ve written like this because as a breastfeeding counsellor, the most overwhelmingly common phrase women come to me with is, ‘I’m having XYZ problem – please help me keep breastfeeding.’

But what about when women don’t want to breastfeed?

In her article, 'I stopped Breastfeeding because it felt awful', Amy Gray writes:

'I feared judgement from others and quickly learnt to tell people I couldn't, instead of wouldn'tfeed. I’d tell them I just didn't have the fuel in my breasts to make milk ... It was easier to tell these people “I can’t” instead of “I won't'"
I think this is an incredibly important point. There is a huge distinction between can’t and won’t. The most commonly cited reason for early weaning is, “I couldn’t.” This isn’t technically accurate—most women are biologically capable of breastfeeding. And when I hear women’s experiences and stories (and as Gray astutely points out in her article: There will always be armchair experts who will softly cluck they could have saved someone with their wisdom...) often the reason is more accurately, ‘I didn’t want to.’

There's two reasons why I believe it's important to differentiate between 'can't' and 'won't' when it comes to not breastfeeding. Firstly, because saying "I couldn't" when technically one could perpetuates common myths about why breastfeeding doesn't work, potentially at the detriment of other women (who might really, really want to breastfeed, but falsely believe they 'can't'.) And secondly, because women should have an unconditional right to dictate what they do and don't do with their own bodies. And a woman who chooses not to breastfeed, for whatever reason, should feel supported to own that choice.

But of course, we live in a culture where women are damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

A woman’s choice not to breastfeed doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And women choose not to breastfeed for a myriad of complicated and deeply personal reasons.

Anyone who’s ever breastfed, or is close to anyone who has, would be aware that in our culture, we perpetuate two main messages about breastfeeding:
1)   Breastfeeding is best
2)   Breastfeeding is hard.


And surrounding these two conflicting messages are a vast and complicated web of other, equally conflicting and emotionally nuanced messages: ‘Feed like this, feed like that. Baby should behave like this, baby should behave like that. Feeds should be X long, at X intervals. No, feeds should be XYZ long, at XYZ intervals. Baby should gain X amount of weight, at X days/weeks/months. Don’t feel guilty, don’t judge, don’t neglect your husband, don’t do it in public, and whatever you do, remember that all good mothers breastfeed.’

Just as a woman’s body is policed in day-to-day life (size, shape, hair, and countless more) and in pregnancy (what foods to eat, what tests to have, what not to do) and in birth (time limits, cervical dilation progress, interventions) so too is a woman policed in breastfeeding.

In our culture, breasts are seen primarily as sexual objects, as play-things for men. A significant proportion of women suffer sexual abuse in their lifetime. For most women (myself included), a baby’s sudden and intense longing for her breasts is incredibly confronting – when for all of her post-pubescent life, her breasts have been mostly tucked away as little more than a fashion accessory. We rarely grow up around, or see in every day life, breastfeeding women. 

With the burden of all the above – along with the overwhelm of constant, insidious formula marketing, the ubiquitous bad breastfeeding advice, and the sleep-deprived, emotionally-difficult and hormonal state of new motherhood – it is little wonder that breastfeeding can cause many women discomfort, revulsion, pain, and even trauma.

More often than not, breastfeeding hurdles can be overcome with the right information and support.  (And here I'm being a softly-clucking armchair expert.) However, finding the ‘right’ information can be incredibly difficult—mostly because the inherently female act of breastfeeding has been long-derided and written-off as flawed in our patriarchal culture. But the right information helps only if the mother desires it.

And admittedly, this is something that has taken me about five years as a breastfeeding counsellor to understand.

For many years, I have joined breastfeeding discussions armed with what (I hope) has been empathy and helpful, positive breastfeeding information. But increasingly I wonder if my direction is not quite right. I staunchly, unconditionally support a woman’s right to do only as she wishes with her own body. So what about when she doesn’t want to breastfeed?

Although most women do inherently wish to breastfeed, for many, when breastfeeding aversion becomes so severe it’s because the experience of breastfeeding has, from birth, snowballed in a cascade from slightly difficult to supremely horrific. For other women, breastfeeding aversion exists from the start, due to highly personal trauma or other reasons. However, regardless of what a woman’s reasons are for deciding not to breastfeed, she should be supported to own that decision, unconditionally, and owe no explanation.

My youngest child has just recently weaned, ending almost seven years of continuous breastfeeding for me. I certainly haven’t loved every moment of it. Some of my breastfeeding moments downright sucked. (Pun intended). Just like parenting often sucks. Just like my work. Just like my writing. Just like everything in life, breastfeeding has its ups and its downs and it isn’t always romance and earth-mother flowy-haired bliss.

Absolutely, breastfeeding comes with its science-backed list of healthful things. But for me, breastfeeding was about discovering that I wasn’t the flawed women and mother society said I was. Alongside the physiologically unremarkable normalcy of it, I breastfed to remind myself that I was actually capable, and functional, and the sole authority to make decisions for me, my body, and my children.

But I’m sure other women have other reasons to breastfeed. Or not.

I would love for our cultural messages about breastfeeding to be this:
1)   Breastfeeding – it’s why we have breasts
2)   Breastfeeding – they’re your breasts, and you know best.


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dear Mr Hockey: Addressing some home truths about welfare recipients


On Tuesday May 13, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey revealed the Liberal National Party (LNP) Government’s Budget for Australia 2014-15.

And oh, boy. We're all a little pissed about it.

Perhaps most notable about this so-called “brutal” budget are changes that will negatively affect low income families, the unemployed, those on a disability pension, students, the sick, and seniors. 

Ostensibly, this Budget is delivered in an effort to pull Australia from debt and deficit. This in itself would not concern me, or many other concerned Australians, if this so-called 'budget emergency' were not a concept manufactured firstly in an effort for the LNP to gain Government in September 2013, but secondly as an excuse to take money from the poor and line the pockets of those whose pockets are already quite well-lined. Like some kind of Robin Hood-ism in tragic reverse.

A meme shared on The Australian Greens' Facebook page

I think Australians are fundamentally generous people. I do believe that we are a nation of citizens and residents who feel an unconscious and genuine desire to help out our mates less fortunate. You only need to observe our response to crises such as the tragic Black Saturday bush fires that struck Victoria in 2009, where public appeals raised more than $372 million, or to the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004 and donations from Australian businesses, community groups and private citizens raised $313 million (1) to help tsunami-affected countries recover, to see that Australians are always willing to help those in need.

However, there remains within our culture a conservative-fuelled notion that those on lower incomes— those relying on social security benefits and/or pensions—are some kind of self-indulgent drain on tax-payers, and undeserving of Australia's usual dose of empathic generosity. Hockey said in his budget speech on Tuesday, "the age of entitlement is over." As one blogger eloquently puts it: 
"Hockey likes to portray Australia's welfare system as a bloated tick hanging off the side of a virtuous government that is only trying to protect the 'taxpayer'."
Anecdotally, we hear stories of people 'rorting the system,' living a lifestyle of responsibility-free luxury, rolling in government cash, whilst hard-working tax-payers prop them up, funding their beer and cigarettes and lack of moral compass. This is an image our current Government makes little effort to dismiss, as an "astounded" Mr Hockey himself reinforces the stereotype by likening the new GP levy to a third of a packet of cigarettes, or a couple of beers.

In response to Mr Hockey's aforementioned astonishment, one Melbourne mother shared her story and her honesty and eloquence moved me to do the same. I’m not sure I can be as polite, but I’ll try.

I am 32-years-old, and have been working (and paying tax) since I was 15. Seven years ago, I left the paid work force to stay at home with my first baby. Now I have two children, and I live in a regional town with a population of less than 2,000, in South Australia.

I have collected small fortnightly allowances of family tax benefit (FTB) since having children, and since September last year, my husband and I separated and I have been collecting a Centrelink sole parenting payment along with child support from my husband, and continuing FTB.

My children are 6 and 3-years-old; I have a registered exemption from schooling to home educate my eldest.

I am a self-employed writer and freelance graphic designer, although sole-parenting two children leaves precious little time for not only searching for work, but actually doing it.

I have a Certificate IV in Breastfeeding Education (Counselling) and have volunteered as a breastfeeding and maternal counsellor for over five years now.

I am studying a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) externally through Deakin University.

I have, by Australian standards, a small mortgage. Each fortnight, once I have made payments on home loan, council rates, electricity and water, insurances (home, contents and car), car registration (I drive a 2003 Holden Astra hatch, paid off when I was working full time pre-children, just FYI), ISP and telephone, I have about $300 remaining.

This is $150 per week to spend on food, petrol, clothing and other unlisted expenses, such as taking the kids to the local bakery, or saving up to buy a paperback for myself.  And each week, I manage it. Just. I watch every expenditure closely and keep all my change. Even my five cent pieces. (So it's frustrating when parking meters refuse that denomination.) It’s common for my debit card to decline in the last 72 hours before ‘pay day’, but I am exceedingly grateful for each and every dollar.

I don’t smoke cigarettes or take recreational drugs. I do drink the occasional glass of wine, perhaps two or three glasses a fortnight. (Jacobs Creek Sauvignon Blanc, about $10.90 from my local pub. It's nice, but it's no Grange.)

I also acknowledge my privileged position in having an exceptionally supportive separated (and securely salaried) husband. Whilst I hesitate to use the word ‘lucky’, it would be ignorant of me not to point out that many, many sole parents in my situation, for a myriad of reasons, cannot rely on an ex-partner for support financially or physically. He helps with work around the house, he brings me take-away when I'm struggling and takes extra care of the children (and me) if I am sick. Again, I am grateful.

I am but one of many. My circumstances are as unique and nuanced and unremarkable as thousands of others. We all hope we'll live a comfortable and blessed life, but sometimes, we can never know when we might be hit, and need help getting back up.

Do I want government income? No, not really. Do I feel entitled to it? Despite having paid tax for 17 years, no, I actually don’t. But do I need it? Yes. Absolutely. Without government income, my children and I would not survive. I need government support while my children are young and require my 24/7 focus, and while I find my feet again in a life that has knocked me around at times.

So am I grateful for my government income? Absolutely. I feel incredibly blessed to live in a country where low incomes are taken into consideration and supported. Where those less fortunate can be helped by those who can.

Happily in the past I have paid tax. I still, today, pay tax. I look forward to the day, hopefully in the not too distant future, when my income is such that I can pay more generous amounts of tax again.  And hopefully, not rely on Government income at all.

But as my best friend said today, I don’t want to live in a country that lacks social conscience.

Australia is an affluent and privileged nation. We enjoy one of the strongest economies in the world. I refuse to believe that not only can we not afford to support our less fortunate, but that we fundamentally don't want to. Moreover, we seem to be a nation where the vast majority of the population work to create the wealth that a significant minority control.

Certainly, there are those whose government incomes will be spent on alcohol, drugs, or iPads. Who are we, however, to judge such unfortunate life circumstances? Rather than isolate and stigmatise, shouldn't we empathise, listen, and help? 

Mr Hockey, cutting social security benefits does not generate within an already struggling individual a sudden intrinsic desire or ability to achieve paid employment. Don't you think that if a person's social, physical, or psychological circumstances dictated they could—and if there was a job available—a person wouldn't want to support themselves?

Mr Hockey, rather than condemnation, why not demonstrate compassion? Rather than espouse paternalistic policy and finger-wagging, why not recognise that hardship is a state in which no-one, no matter how seemingly-engrained or antisocial their socioeconomic status, actually wants to live?

My Hockey, please remember that from a person in your position, your words matter. Your implied sentiments matter. You were elected by your people because your people believed you could progress the nation for the better. Instead of perpetuating stereotypes, instead of inciting intolerance and doubt, please celebrate that Australians are warm-hearted, generous people who don’t begrudge others for needing help. I am grateful for them. My friends are grateful for them.

I am one of them.


References:
1) Australia’s response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, June 2006, Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 

Friday, 3 January 2014

Uncovered: Why the world needs to see breastfeeding

Breastfeeding my toddler at the beach.
Look at all that boooooob!
Allow me to begin by making a statement on which I'm sure we can all agree: 

Our world could be better. 

We watch the nightly news and what do we see? Wars. Guns, riots, bombings. Environmental heritage areas being torn apart. People being discriminated against for who they love, or the colour of their skin, or what is between their legs. Epidemics of mental and physical illness. Murder. Suicide. And so on and so forth.

Some days, it's hard not to feel hopeless about the state of our world. With over 7 billion people on the planet, it's easy to feel like it's out of our control. What can we do to make the world a better place, for ourselves, and for our children?

Well, we can begin in our own backyard. We can refuse to stand by when inequality and oppression happen, even the most seemingly-small of incidents.

A few days ago, a friend of mine was breastfeeding her infant son at the park, when two women sitting nearby began to talk about her. Loudly. And quite rudely. Apparently, my friend shouldn't have been doing "that" (breastfeeding) "without a cover". Now, this friend has been breastfeeding for a couple of years, so she's not exactly a tender new mother. But how were they to know that? My friend could have been suffering postnatal depression; she could have struggled with breastfeeding for months and this was her first pain-free feed. She could have been sexually abused as a child, and has finally overcome her pain to be able to breastfeed. She could have lost a child. Any number of things. My friend got up and left, quipping something about the rudeness of other people on her way out, but for several days felt embarrassed and upset. She felt as though on some level she'd done something "wrong," despite knowing that she really hadn't.

And today, I was alerted to yet another incident of a mother being discriminated against at yet another cafe. This time, it was Sake Restaurant & Bar at The Rocks in Sydney. Whilst eating her lunch with family, Larissa Bakewell was approached by a waitress and asked to finish feeding her child "in the bathroom", after apparent "complaints from other customers." Larissa and her family left, with the mother feeling "embarrassed, sad, angry and flustered."

Sigh. Yes, folks. This is still happening. I shall peel my head from my desk long enough to write something ranty for you. But more importantly, what I really want to do is just show you some beautiful, normal, breastfeeding mothers. So that if you're a breastfeeding mother, reading this, you know we're all right here alongside you. Cheering you on.

I'll start with a beautiful picture: a woman breastfeeding her child.
Breastfeeding nurtures an unparalleled bond between mother and child.
Breastfeeding women can often face a difficult road in our culture of breasts-as-sex-objects. We see breasts everywhere—advertising, in the media, all over magazine covers at the check-out—yet conversely, we would have to look more closely to see breasts doing what they are actually supposed to do: feed human young. The sight of a woman breastfeeding can turn some people into squeamish prudes. Why? Because patriarchy says breasts are for men's sexual pleasure. The sight of a woman breastfeeding makes some people think of sex—and that makes some repressed individuals think uncomfortable thinky thinks. 

Criticising or policing a breastfeeding mother represents more than a little out-dated squeamishness—it represents the oppression something inherently female. It's about taking down someone else in order to make the person doing the criticising feel bigger. Patriarchy benefits from the oppression of women. Think about it. How much of our big industry is devoted to perpetuating doubt, fear or even hatred of women's bodies? Clothing, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics. And much more. There is a lot of money to be made in convincing women to remain uncomfortable in our own skin, to distrust our ability to function and behave as mammals. This meme says it beautifully:

(Image source)
Conversely, loving our female bodies can be an ultimate act of patriarchal disobedience. Freedom to breastfeed, free of criticism or scrutiny or scare-mongering or doubt, is just one way of releasing women from that oppression, and of standing for equality and human decency.

I've written on the issue of repressed individuals having a hard time separating boobies-as-male-playthings from breasts as mammalian body parts before, at length, (amongst other posts, here, here and even here), so I'll instead share a brilliant article that sums up the frustration, boredom and irritation of this discourse by Daily Life's Clementine Ford:

"...The health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, not to mention the emotional bonds created between mother and child. And both of these pale in comparison to the weight of conflicting messages women receive about the act itself. ... hordes of women who suffer the paternalistic finger wagging of people who continue to equate breasts with sexuality ... for it is buffoonery to suggest mothers have a moral obligation to feed their babies in private so as to prevent discomfort in the repressed masses, just as much as it is intellectually exhausting that this boring conversation is occurring at all..."
The positive thing is that we live in a culture of change. And we can be a part of that positive change. Hooray! We live in a world where breastfeeding rates, although low, are increasing. We still see a breastfeeding mother booby-trapped at every turn—but we're working to change that every time we talk about breastfeeding, or about motherhood, or about being a woman. But something we can do with relative ease is to support women to fight off their patriarchal persecution by normalising breastfeeding. The more we see something, the more normal and unremarkable it becomes.*

So let's encourage the normalising of breastfeeding by seeing women breastfeeding their children. 

Breastfeeding causes surges of oxytocin—'the love hormone' in mama and babe.
Breastfeeding our children is one of the most influential things we can do to have a positive influence on public health. Whilst in Australia 96% of women initiate breastfeeding, there is a dramatic decline in exclusive breastfeeding rates within the first few weeks. 

Human children are physiologically designed to breastfeed for several years.
Breastfeeding is something we need to see. It needs to become normalised. And in order to normalise it, we have to have it incorporated into our every day life. I'm not just saying this as a breastfeeding advocate who wants breastfeeding rates to increase for the sake of public health and wellbeing (although I do), I'm saying this as a human being who wants other human beings to be better people, for the good of the world.
Breastfeeding is loving, normal, natural, and sublime.
I've been a breastfeeding counsellor for just over four years, and a breastfeeding mother for six-and-a half years. I've counselled hundreds of women through many, many points of their breastfeeding journeys. And I can tell you that the single most influential factor on the motherbaby breastfeeding dyad is this: confidence. 

A confident breastfeeding mother is one who doesn't doubt her milk supply, or the quality of her milk. She doesn't worry about her baby's behaviour as being a reflection of her ability to produce and transfer milk. She doesn't worry about how often to breastfeed or for how long to breastfeed. She doesn't worry about breastfeeding around friends and family or in public. She just does it. As women have, for many thousands of years. But how does a breastfeeding mother gain confidence in a culture such as ours? With the right support. With the right information. And with people standing up for her.

Even women who face a rare physiological challenges to breastfeeding, such as in cases of insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), some cases of breast surgery, or severe hormonal imbalances such as polycistic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), may be able to fully or partially breastfeed or breast-milk feed with the right information and support. And with confidence.

But what is the single most influential factor in stripping a mother of her confidence? Criticism. So let's take a stand against that.
Lactation is a normal metabolic state for women of reproductive maturity for many years.
So yes, more breastfeeding will ultimately make healthier human beings. More breastfeeding will also make more emotionally intelligent, compassionate human beings. But the reason the world needs to see breastfeeding is because the world needs to learn to be decent human beings—a world who sees women as equals and inherent female behaviour as that deserving of respect.

Some days, it's hard not to feel hopeless about the state of our world. As a parent, all I can try to do is raise little people who might grow up to be adults who are more loving, more compassionate, and who might leave the world in a better state for their own children.
Me again. Multi-tasking. Saving the world.
So, get your boobies out! Do it for yourselves, for your sisters, for your women friends. Do it for your daughters and sons and granddaughters and grandsons. Dissolution of patriarchy will benefit everyone.

Peace and love to you. xo

*A little on breastfeeding covers: I am personally not a fan of breastfeeding under a cover. My children hated it—as did I. We couldn't have eye contact with a cover in the way. I wouldn't like eating my dinner with fabric over my head so I can understand why they wouldn't. But, allow me to say this: whatever makes a breastfeeding mother feel comfortable, I support. If a woman wants to cover up, and her baby is okay with it, then I unequivocally support her right to do so. (Provided she makes an unconditionally autonomous decision to cover—and not because anyone else has told her to.) 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Comparing apples to chicken giblets: Why public breastfeeding is nothing like public urination

Image source

... or public nose-picking, defecating, spitting, farting or even having sex.

Hello there, this is a post dedicated especially to enlightening those of you who struggle with the concept of breastfeeding in public. This is for those of you who jump onto comment threads, frustrated and declaring that breastfeeding is natural, but so are lots of other things best kept behind closed doors. Those of you who might say:

"Sure it's natural – but so is urinating, and you don't see me piss in public, do you?"

I want you to walk with me, here. I want to share something with you. Because I don't want you to have your eyes closed forever—you're missing out.


Let me begin by saying yours, or versions of yours, are probably one of the most commonly cited arguments in response to some kind of breastfeeding discourse.

Funnily enough, I can actually understand how some people might see it this way. Given that open-mindedness about and knowledge of human lactation is still limited to a minority of the population, as well as our culture of breasts-as-sex-objects before their primary mammalian function, although I don't condone these opinions, I do feel a kind of pitying sympathy for the ignorance of your viewpoint. You're just a product of your culture, of your statistically very likely bottle-fed upbringing. (And I don't intend that as a dig at bottle-feeding—it's a simple fact. Most of us were bottle-fed.)

For example, today The Daily Mail Online posted an article featuring a collection of breastfeeding portraits by photographer Stacie Turner. Whilst the point of the photography collection is quoted to be aimed at breaking taboos around public breastfeeding, it also presented a shining opportunity to bring out the antiquated, but unfortunately not uncommon, opinions of you and your cohorts who feel squeamish at the sight of a woman breastfeeding her baby or child.

Don't worry, you needn't feel so uncomfortable! Stick around and prepare to relax.

Let's start with a few basics. Biology 101: the difference between secretion and excretion.

Secretion noun. a process by which substances are produced and discharged from a cell, gland, or organ for a particular function in the organism 
Excretion noun. the process of eliminating or expelling waste matter

Breastmilk is a secretion. It has a function in the human organism. It is a clean, whole, life-giving substance that not only contains the building blocks essential for human cellular development, but it also contains anti-infective and anti-bacterial properties that mean, on the exceptionally rare event that you might get some on you, you might actually be better off. Cleaner, healthier. Thanks, Mama!


Urine and faeces are excretions. They are waste products expelled from the body, containing bacteria and toxins. Quite simply, there is a reason we have toilets—because to ablute away from others is clean and safe and our bodily waste is supposed to be removed from our immediate environment. Which is why cats poop in their litter tray, horses often trot to a particular corner of their paddock to lift their tail, and your dog might try and bury it under your neighbour's rose bushes.

You with me so far?

Now, here's the low-down on what breastfeeding is: Breastfeeding is nothing more than the act of a baby or child taking in nourishment and fluids from her/his mother, releasing essential, comforting, feel-good hormones such as oxytocin (the love hormone) and prolactin (the tender, mothering hormone) and cholecystokinin (CCK—the sated, sleepy hormone) in them both.

In other words, breastfeeding is in the same category as eating, drinking or cuddling a loved one. And none of those things offend your eyeballs too much, do they?

Have a think about this: Does anyone insist a mother bottle-feeding her babe cover up or move somewhere private? No. What does this demonstrate? Could it be that it's the baby sucking at a bare breast that offends your sensibilities? Why is that?

Humans, by the time we've reached some semblance of cognitive maturity (upper pre-school age) understand waiting for appropriate places to urinate or defecate, or to ask for a tissue for their nose, or to pass wind silently and point at the dog. Moreover, adults also understand that sexual acts are private (for the most part) and are also capable of something called delayed gratification—quite simply, the ability to wait for something your really, really want.

Young children, babies most especially, are incapable of delayed gratification. They simply cannot wait for something they really, really want—and when it comes to the comfort and sustenance of breastfeeding, why should they? Why make your (supposedly adult) inability to work through your misguided discomfort a problem of an infant or small child?

To compare the biologically unremarkable act of providing clean nourishment to an immature human incapable of delayed gratification to the excretion of waste, to a private sex act, or to to just a downright lack of manners such as nose-picking or loud farting, is not only ludicrous, it demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the human body. I'd also hazard that your misguided assertions are a cover for a deeper, more insidious prudishness about an inability to see breasts as anything other than sexual. In other words, when you see boobs, you think sex. And a baby sucking on a boob causes all kinds of freak-outs in your head.

But it doesn't have to be that way. You need to understand—breastfeeding rates are increasing. Breastfeeding is protected by law. If you don't want to keep feeling confronted, please try looking inward.

If you feel uncomfortable when a woman is simply mothering her child in the most biologically normal way possible, have a think about why it bothers you. And then open your mind.  You might surprise yourself. Welcome to a better world.

Peace and love to you. xo

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

This September, I'm voting for Julia Gillard. Here's why:

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, during her now-famous speech in parliament on October 8, 2012

I was having a conversation yesterday with my dad about this. Just another cringe-worthy moment in a string of sexist denigrations Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has faced during her time in office.

My dad expressed concern over the current Gillard-led Labor government's "backflips and broken promises". He also said that the current government needed to go before we "end up with a debt our grandkids will be paying off."

It's a fair concern. Money—or lack thereof—is a valid thing to worry about.

But it got me thinking. The idea of Tony Abbott's Liberal party taking over as the government of Australia this September scares the living daylights out of me. So by default, will I be voting for Julia Gillard's Labor?*

Hmm.

If the current Labor government are guilty of a few unmet election promises, it's hardly a sin of which every other previous Australian government hasn't been guilty. (Howard and GST, anyone?) Moreover, considering that we are currently governed by a hung parliament, the chaos that is Australian government is often unfairly attributed to the Labor party alone. 

Now, I'll admit I'm not a political commentator, and sometimes the specifics of politics goes right over my head. Nor am I particularly savvy on all things finance and economy. I am, however, a voter in a democracy—and a human being.

Whilst money is important, it isn't everything. No matter how much money one has, there's no guarantee that excess financial padding makes a good, honest, happy person. Or country, for that matter.

It's important to remember that Labor came back into government in Australia in 2007, on the back of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2007-08. According to Wikipedia:
"[the global financial crisis] resulted in the threat of total collapse of large financial institutions, the bailout of banks by national governments, and downturns in stock markets around the world. In many areas, the housing market also suffered, resulting inevictionsforeclosures and prolonged unemployment. The crisis played a significant role in the failure of key businesses, declines in consumer wealth estimated in trillions of US dollars, and a downturn in economic activity leading to the 2008–2012 global recession..."
After Labor came back into power in 2007, after 11 years as opposition, Australia indeed went from a national surplus to debt in a matter of years. However, I think it's important to keep in mind that following the GFC Australia's debt is one of the lowest in the world. Our economy isn't immune to the monetary happenings of other countries, most especially the US. So, whilst I don't necessarily agree with everything that Labor have done since coming back to office, and whilst I believe they have, at times, been more reckless with spending than I would have liked, I also don't think they've done anything in a vacuum and can't be held solely accountable for the state of the economy.

See Australia? Second from the top. Source

I don't think a justifiable debt holds a country back. What holds a country back is intolerance: racism, sexism, homophobia, and misogyny amongst other 'isms and prejudices. I am genuinely afraid that a Liberal government, led by Tony Abbott, will set us back decades in these important social areas. Intolerance is the handbrake of social progress. 

Tony Abbott has, time and time again, demonstrated to be of dubious moral standing on these arguably critical issues. Inherent misogyny and fear-based prejudices are not qualities I seek to employ in the person I'd like to run the country in which I live. (Neither is the inability to, you know, answer a question.)

There has been several areas in which Julia Gillard has taken a stance with which I disagree (marriage equality and birth choice legislation being just two.) I'll admit my feelings on Gillard have always bordered on lacklustre. But her recent misogyny speech perked my attention. Within this impassioned speech was what seemed to be a rare glimpse of a politician's true human side. How often do we see that? Politicians usually pontificate and carry on but it always seems so scripted and fake. This speech was different. Gillard had a point and it was valid and long overdue for discourse. Misogyny hurts everyone—not just women—because a society that oppresses one entire half of it's population will never be truly in balance. A society out of balance can never reach its full potential.

Furthermore, and even more admirably, Gillard has stood strong in the face of some of the most incredible shit one could imagine being dealt. To be the first female PM of Australia is to break a 200-year-old male dominated mould. That takes a fair whack of guts. It's worth pointing out here that Abbott has not appeared on ABC's Q&A for over three years.

I believe that a lot of Gillard's criticism is a result of deeply ingrained, unconscious patriarchal conditioning that tells us that women are inherently flawed, incompetent or substandard in positions of responsibility or power. Ask someone who is voting for Abbott because they 'don't like Gillard' why they don't like her, and many won't be able to pinpoint exactly why. They just don't like her—they just think her government is crap. The conditioning of the patriarchy can run hidden within our marrow.

Shit or spinach?


I don't mind if my daughter is one day paying off a bit of reasonable debt, so long as she lives in a society where she has a legal right to unconditional bodily autonomy—a society where her sexual, reproductive, and life choices are not a matter for political discourse. I would rather my son was paying off a bit of debt than living in a culture where his peers are not afforded an equal level of rights and respect simply because of the colour of their skin, their accent, their sexual preference, or what genitals are between their legs.

Money helps, yes it does. But it's tolerance that breeds tolerance. It is a progressive, forward-thinking government that has the capacity to foster this tolerance. It is empathy and compassion that make better people. And it is better people who will make a better world.

*I am not in any way aligned or affiliated with Labor or any political party. I just give a shit about humanity.

Friday, 5 April 2013

How to get your baby to sleep through the night

Image source
A Google search for this phrase brings up over 59 million results. So I thought I'd add one more!

I give you the tried and tested* 5-step method, proven to get your baby sleeping through the night.

Step 1
• Have a baby

Step 2
• When you are ready for bed in the evening, take your baby to bed with you.
• Turn out the lights.
• Put away the clock.

Step 3
• When the baby makes a noise, pop out a boob. Attach baby.
• Get comfortable, and doze off back to sleep.

Step 4
• Repeat Step 3 as required until the sun comes up.

Step 5
• When your baby is 18 years old, I guarantee you, he/she will be sleeping through the night without needing you! (Unless of course she/he calls from the pub at 2am needing a lift home. Then popping a boob out might not work. And besides, someone else may have already tried that with them earlier that evening.)

In other words, let it go, mama. Babies wake; some a little, some a lot. But it's normal, normal, normal and you have the perfect resources to cope with it. It'll pass. In the meantime, get people to look after you. You deserve it!

Happy sleeping!
Peace and love to you. xo

*Sort of tested, my oldest baby, with whom this method was employed, is almost 6 years old. So no phone calls from the pub yet.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Put away the clock: The beauty of nighttime breastfeeding

 
"Is she sleeping through the night?"

This is probably one of the most common phrases a new parent will hear.

I just typed 'baby sleep' into Google, and it returned 362 million results—with the top hits headed 'getting a baby to sleep', 'help your baby to sleep', 'teach your baby to sleep'.

Where does this obsession, this market, this world-wide 'problem' come from? Homo sapiens, human beings as a mammal, have been breeding for thousands of years. We need little encouragement to eat or drink or to reproduce. Have we really evolved into such an intelligent, complex species yet managed to somehow make a complete mess of something as essential to survival as sleep?

Baby Sleep—a highly lucrative market
News.com.au recently published an article that perplexed me somewhat. Entitled Broken sleep 'normal' for parents with breastfed babies, the article was an attempt to reassure parents that it is perfectly, biologically normal for breastfed infants to wake multiple times during the night to breastfeed. However, after citing the study that claims to reassure parents of the normalcy of night-waking in breastfed infants, the article summarises with a quote explaining the success of introducing solids to seemingly solve night-waking, and a quote from Tizzie Hall claiming baby routines have some benefit in persuading a baby to conform to adult sleep stretches: 
'"In my experience, breastfed babies who follow a routine will sleep through the night sooner than a baby fed with a bottle," Ms Hall said.'
In other words, it might be 'normal' (news.com.au's use of inverted commas would imply otherwise), but you can (and probably should) try and fix it.

Anyone who has cared for a newborn could probably tell you why we are so obsessed with 'baby sleep'. The sun goes down, and the digits on the clock glow like accusations into the night. Counting the minutes, adding up the hours, pacing the halls with an infant who cries or stares happily at you, and you wonder, as your eye-lids droop like paperweights, if you'll ever sleep more than forty-minutes in a row again.

Babies don't sleep like adults. Babies snatch little snippets of sleep around the clock, waking irregularly and requiring parental assistance to be soothed to sleep. A newborn in particular still runs on 'womb time': where in utero they were held and fed constantly, 24/7. So newborns often take a bit of adjustment to get used to the outside world, the day/night cycle, and the strange and unsettling new sensations in their digestive system that is hunger, fullness, wind, bowel movements.

Additionally, more often than not, our adult lifestyles simply aren't conducive to accommodating the tiredness that results from prolonged interrupted sleep. We have work schedules to adhere to, we have other children to take to school and to care for. We have large houses to clean, meals to prepare, mountains of clothing to wash. And more often than not, as mothers we're alone in those houses and our partners are held to their work commitments by rules and regulations that leave little wiggle-room for parental flexibility.

In an article that explores the discrepancy between biologically normal infant sleep and western cultural infant-care practice, Dr James McKenna et al write:
'... evolutionary pediatrics makes it clear that notions about what human infants need and why, especially as regards nighttime sleep and feeding patterns, seems to reflect far more about what societies want parents to be and infants to become (self- sufficient and independent) rather than what infants actually are—exceedingly dependent, and unfinished ‘‘extero-gestates’’ to use Montagu’s (1986) description. Indeed, especially in early human infancy—and from an evolutionary point of view—reference to the mother’s body is critical to understanding not only what infants need but what they can and cannot do and why. After all, as Hrdy (1999, p. 69) aptly puts it: ‘‘For species such as primates the mother IS the environment . . .’’ meaning that practically nothing about a human infant makes sense except in light of the mother’s body.'  (McKenna et al, 2007)  
The way we expect our babies to sleep (separately from parents, without breastmilk, independent of parental assistance, and for exceedingly long stretches) is at complete odds with how our biology instructs babies to sleep: close to mother's body, rousing frequently for the survival and comfort of mother's breasts and nutrients of breastmilk.

As a society we do, however, show a tolerance to some level of interrupted sleep in the early weeks. But for some reason, our culture tends to frown on this pattern continuing any longer than a handful of months. By the time our babies are several months old, most people expect the baby to sleep long stretches uninterrupted, and to need little or no parental assistance to settle upon waking. Consider again the news.com.au article linked above:
"... breastfeeding mum Melanie Lawrence managed to get daughter Scarlett, now six months, to sleep through the night only at five months when she introduced some solids."
Despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to urge parents to breastfeed exclusively for a minimum of six months, many parents feel pressured to feed solids earlier in order to achieve longer stretches of sleep. For other parents, the well-meaning advice might be to give a bottle of formula to a breastfed baby, or to leave baby to cry, or to pat baby in the cot, or any other manner of 'fix' to 'get' a baby sleeping longer stretches.
'The dominant expectation for these initial months is parental sleep deprivation—their infant’s sleep patterns do not match their own, and parents, desperate for a ‘‘good night’s sleep,’’ seek the magic solution for achieving a somnolent baby. Baby’s grandmother advises a large bottle of formula at bed time so that baby will not wake to be fed in the night. Others suggest adulterating the formula with baby ce- real for greater infant satiation or medicating baby with proprietary infant pain killers or colic remedies ... to ‘‘knock the baby out.’’ Friends sing the praises of ‘‘Ferberizing the baby’’ or similar infant sleep training programs employing an oxymoron known as ‘‘controlled crying.’’ Parents, who feel all else has failed, resort to the painful approach of ‘‘crying it out’’—and while their infant screams alone in an adjacent room, they lie awake racked with guilt, forcing themselves to resist respond- ing, reassuring each other ‘‘it is for his own good’’—until the infant eventually collapses from exhaustion into sleep.'  (McKenna et al, 2007)  
It stands to reason, then, that anyone with a wakeful older baby or toddler feels like a complete failure. I've been there!

I recall hearing a saying amongst natural horsemanship circles: 'people don't have problem horses—horses have people problems.' I think the same is true with human infants. It's not the baby that has a 'sleep problem'—it's that the adult/s in the house aren't equipped to deal with the biologically normal interrupted sleep of an infant.

How are babies so different from what we culturally expect—and try desperately to obtain via a myriad of sleep 'programs'? And what affect does this have on our babies, and our mothers?
'.. arousals lead to the baby breathing more stably over time, and to more variable heart rates and breathing. Variability in breathing patterns of infants is good and a sign of health, ordinarily, and such variability is  often associated with more substantial inhalations of oxygen, leading to shorter apneas in deep stage of sleep from which awakenings can be difficult (see Richards et al  1998). Moreover, if practice makes perfect than the more arousals induced by various forms of co-sleeping the better the arousal skills that potentially can act protectively in response to a cardiac or pulmonary crisis.  
Babies are not designed to sleep through the night in the first six months, at least, of life. They are designed to wake often to breastfeed. Breastmilk does not have dense calories i.e. caloric staying power that keeps a baby sleeping, in the way that cows milk does, for example as it is obviously designed for optimal cow brain growth and development.' (Dr James McKenna)
Human babies are designed to sleep alongside their mother, to breastfeed frequently, and to wake frequently to ensure survival. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS. But our (patriarchal) cultural preference is for babies to sleep independently and to re-settle alone. We have a high breastfeeding initiation rate that drops significantly within weeks—thusly stripping parents of Mother Nature's intended sleep-inducing mechanism: the close, quick and easy comfort of a mothers breast throughout the night.

Human infants are born exceptionally immature. Human infants are designed to receive breastmilk; breastmilk is designed to be quickly and completely digested, and to be consumed frequently and in small doses to aid such digestion in an immature gastrointestinal system and to accommodate and nourish the rapid body and brain growth human young undergo in the early years.

Breastfeeding releases a hormone called cholecystokinin, (CCK) in both mother and baby. CCK causes both mother and baby to feel sated at the end of a feed. Breastmilk also contains CCK.  (1) Moreover, prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactogenisis II (milk production) and sometimes referred to as the 'mothering hormone' naturally occurs in the mother's body in higher levels at night. (2)

Quite simply, babies and their mothers are designed to stay close to each other, and to rouse frequently to breastfeed throughout the night.

There is no truth to the myth that a co-sleeping baby will never sleep independently. Otherwise, mosts humans would still be sleeping alongside their parents. It's what we've done as a species for pretty much the majority of our existence, and what most of the world continues to practice. It's just we in the West that do things (oddly) a little differently.

My now five-year-old slept alongside me and breastfed frequently through the night since birth. She began to go longer stretches at night without breastfeeding some time in her third year, and she was gently night-weaned when she was about three. She remained sleeping alongside me in bed, sometimes in her own bed that was pushed up to mine, sometimes rolling right over to sleep under my arm. Just recently, she quite suddenly declared that she would like her own room. She goes to sleep with a cuddle from myself or my husband, in her own room, and stays there until she wakes in the wee hours of the morning and creeps in alongside me, usually without waking me at all.

Feeling exhausted? From one breastfeeding mother to another, from one mother of wakeful babies to another, I suggest you put away the clock. Time serves no purpose in your bedroom but to remind you of something that our culture, despite all it's good intentions, just doesn't have biologically right.

Learn about safe co-sleeping and breastfeeding laying down. Minimise your priorities in the day (do you really need to mop that floor today, or can it wait until tomorrow?) Ask for practical help with cooking and housework, surround yourself with nurturance and good support. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, remind yourself that you are wise and your baby is normal—and will outgrow this. Eventually. And in years to come you will look back and miss those cuddles.

Peace and love to you. xo


References:
(1) Bodribb, Wendy. Breastfeeding Management (3rd edition). 2006. Pg 101.
(2) Bodribb, Wendy. Breastfeeding Management (3rd edition). 2006. Pg 7.