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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Why the ‘mummy wars’ are a myth designed to keep women quiet

Similac's Mother 'Hood video has taken the Internet by storm

In a stroke of marketing genius, infant formula manufacturer Similac has launched an advertising campaign with a video parody. With already over three million YouTube views, Similac calls for ‘an end to judgement’ with #SisterhoodUnite.

Follow any popular parenting pages on social media and you will have seen it. The Huffington Post called it, ‘A playful reminder that judging other parents is absurd.’ Mamamia said, ‘Ever been judged by a fellow parent? Then this video is for you … hilarious.’

‘Welcome to the sisterhood of motherhood’, says Similac. ‘Time to put down the fingers and the subtle suggestions … And, just like the sister who’s got your back, we’re there to help you … with confidence—and zero judgment.’

That’s right, folks. An industry that makes millions in profit wants nothing more than to help. Honest! And they mightn’t judge you personally, but they will bolster stereotypes to enable you to judge the s**t out of each other.

Depressingly, the amusement in this video comes at the expense of enforced labels—the aggressive breastfeeders thrusting their chests (under a cover, obviously); the nervous ‘helicopter’ parent with hands clamped over swaddled baby; the snarky be-suited ‘working’ mum; and of course, the sausage-wielding dads making jokes about boobs.

Clichés aside, what makes this campaign so brilliant is what you don’t see. You don’t see an ad. (Mars ‘Earth’ bar, anyone?) Viewers are led to believe that the company instead empathises with us, that they get us. They make us laugh—and weep. As a result, within moments they’ve established our trust.

What happens when we trust someone? We listen.

Playing beautifully on the women-are-their-own-worst-enemies shtick, the subliminal implication here is that discussion of conflicting information is mean. By appropriating ‘sisterhood’, by reiterating that ‘no matter what our beliefs, we’re parents first’ we’re reminded that anything said contrary to what someone else says must be letting the sisters down—it’s war.

So everyone should, as Similac says, ‘end the subtle suggestions.’ And humour makes compelling argument—because who wants to be that parent? The mother who judges others, who uses her breasts as weapons of mass destruction?

Why would a formula manufacturer call for quiet? Because by talking about infant feeding amongst each other, by sharing information—even by intelligent debate and argument—there’s a chance more women will overcome the hurdles society places in front of them to meet their own parenting goals.

And that might include breastfeeding for longer than companies like Similac would appreciate.

Over the past century, growth of infant formula has un-coincidentally heralded the dramatic decline of breastfeeding rates. ‘The development of artificial baby milk has been a marketing success story,’ writes Gabrielle Palmer in The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad For Business, ‘not least in the skill with which the competing product has been destroyed. Women are not paid for producing breastmilk ... those who market [formula and supplies] benefit financially from keeping breastfeeding in check.’

Australians spend about $132.8 million a year on infant formula. Even mining billionaire Gina Rinehart is investing in the ‘white gold’ boom, set to export as much as 30,000 tonnes of the stuff annually to China.

And what is the only competitor to infant formula?

The humble human breast.

Fortunately for formula manufacturers, patriarchy has done a stellar job of convincing women that their bodies are defective, their sole purpose in life is sex, and that their arguments are petty, catty, and pointless.

Kudos, patriarchy. First create the problem, then withdraw and make it look like the women are just squabbling amongst themselves.

For any woman, breastfeeding or not is an emotional and individually complex bodily experience. To reduce it to a choice akin using cloth or disposable nappies is insulting. But it’s also insidiously brilliant—because it enables the continuation of offence whenever discourse around breastfeeding and its common cultural or rare physiological hurdles arise. In short, it allows the accusations of judgement! Guilt! whenever someone says, ‘I’m sorry you were given poor advice. Would you like some help?’

No, Similac’s ad is not likely to inspire a woman’s switch from breastfeeding to formula. But it is likely to keep her quiet about struggling or not wanting to give up—along with shaming into silence voices who might help her if she wants it.

In Australia, the majority of women who initiate breastfeeding cease or introduce formula before they wanted to. No decision is made in a vacuum. Stupendous profits are made by companies maintaining women’s dislike and fear of their own bodies. And they all claim to be doing it for us. To make our lives better, happier, easier. Vast industries make money when women believe their bodies are flawed and faulty—including manufacturers of artificial baby milk.

In Australia, increased breastfeeding rates would save an estimated $60-120 million annually in public health care. Globally, optimal breastfeeding has the potential to prevent almost a million child deaths a year—about one death every 40 seconds.

Formula companies have done an exceptional job convincing women their breasts don’t work. That’s not a petty ‘mummy wars’ issue, that’s a worldwide health crisis.

While these facts are confronting, it’s important to point out that they are not judgments of parents who use formula. There’s supply of information and then there’s criticism. Judging other parents over life differences is absurd. Instead these are criticisms of the corporations who cleverly market to maintain a lucrative facade of trustworthiness at the expense of global wellbeing—at the expense of women’s belief in their bodies.

This video is not a benevolent community service announcement. It is an advertisement for infant formula. It might not look like it, but it is. And it's an advertisement for formula through the implicit misdirection of stifling discourse about the 'competition'—breastfeeding support.

Make no mistake, there’s no altruism in encouraging the silence of information sharing. ‘Let’s all play nice mummies and get along’ is passive aggressive and infantilising. There’s no progress in degrading adult discourse to ‘judgement’. Especially when it comes to highlighting where women are being used and let down, over and over and over again.

The mummy wars? I don’t buy it. We’re bigger than that.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dear Tizzie: From one mother to another on breastmilk supply – you are enough

Image source

Dear Tizzie,

I came across your post on Facebook today about starting your wee babe on solids. They grow up fast, don’t they?!

You shared your concerns:
'I was worried about starting Ciarán on solids, I didn't know how I was going to fit it in to our already full day. But ... I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders now he is getting food from somewhere else other than me, I don't have to be as worried about how much he is getting and was it a good feed, did you feel this relief?'
As many of your fans commented, it is reassuring for your readers to know that you suffer the same insecurities as them: How will I find the time in my busy day? Is my baby getting enough milk from me? Is my milk ‘good’ enough? Am I enough for my baby?

It’s okay to feel this way! After 200 years of aggressive artificial baby milk marketing, breastfeeding knowledge and confidence is at an all time low. That’s sad, huh?

But the good news is, many mums find relief from these common worries by being reassured about how their milk supply works.

Essentially, breastmilk supply works like this: milk removal causes milk production.

Pretty straight forward, right? The baby sucking at the breast stimulates nerve endings in the nipple, which causes a surge of milk-making hormones in the mother’s body. These hormones, combined with the removal of milk from mother’s breast, give the body a clear message: make milk for our baby!

Breastmilk contains, amongst that huge host of great stuff, a protein called Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL). Sounds fancy, but it’s really just a chemical that, when left sitting in the breasts, tells the body to halt milk production for now. Because if the body kept making milk while there was lots of milk still sitting in the breast, the woman would end up with mastitis, you see. A woman’s body is very clever like that! So when breastmilk is removed, the volume of this FIL protein is lowered, and the body is free to make milky abundance.

Babies need to go to the breast for many reasons: sometimes they’re thirsty and they will have a quick drink, sometimes they’re hungry and they will take a longer feed, sometimes they’re uncomfortable or unhappy and need the comfort sucking at mama’s warm breast can provide.

Humans evolved for our bodies and our babies to match perfectly. A baby is driven by instinct to control his mama’s milk supply by signalling for the breast when he needs it: some babies will need to suck frequently (almost around the clock!) and others a little more infrequently, or at uneven times throughout the day. But you can relax—all babies eventually fall into their own pattern and daily rhythms as they grow older.

So, the more milk removed, and the more frequently the baby suckles, the more milk mama’s body will make. It really is that simple!

Another reassuring fact to remember is this: breastmilk is a constant secretion. Like blood, it is something our bodies produce constantly. So the breast is never truly ‘empty’. Provided baby goes to the breast when baby needs, you cannot ‘run out’ of milk.

So how do we know if our baby is getting ‘enough’ from us? We live in a culture of fear that a crying baby, or a baby who wakes frequently or needs help getting to sleep, is a baby lacking milk. This simply isn’t true. (Again, you can blame the formula manufacturers and 19th century doctors for this myth.)

The signs of a well-fed baby are: lots of wet, clear nappies (a sign of good hydration), the occasional soft poo (breastmilk is a natural laxative—a well-breastfed baby will never be constipated!), good skin tone and bright eyes, crying with energy and gusto (a dehydrated or malnourished baby will have a weak, high-pitched cry or may not have the strength to cry at all), and a baby who has some content periods and communicates well for the breast. And finally, a baby should be expected to grow in length and head circumference, and gain some weight, over the space of a month.*

The use of dummies, 'top-up' bottles of formula or EBM, or scheduling feeds can all negatively affect a breastfeeding relationship by stopping the baby from directing mama's milk supply as he needs. So it's best to just toss any of those things away, okay?

Now, let’s talk a little about the ‘right’ age to introduce solids. Indeed, there’s a bit of conflicting advice about, isn’t there? After all, there’s a lot of money to be made in convincing parents their baby needs food! ($117.7 million in Australia alone in 2012) But rest assured, despite the occasional junk-science study saying otherwise, the World Health Organization still recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months.

Now of course, this isn’t a fixed-to-the-day date that will suit every baby. All babies are different, and some might display readiness for solids earlier than 6 months, and others much later. (Neither of my children were much interested in solid foods until they were about 12 months old!)

Back in the days before parenting ‘experts’, human babies began eating solid foods when they showed they were ready: sitting up, able to bring their hand to their mouth purposefully, and when their tongue-thrust reflex was gone. The tongue-thrust reflex is that pesky reaction that causes baby to spit rice cereal back at you, no matter how much you spoon it in! It’s a survival response that nature designed to stop baby from choking before they were able to chew. In other words, until they have the readiness to chew, push food to the back of their throat and swallow it, their tongue will reflexively poke it all back out.

All of these things demonstrate a gastrointestinal readiness for foods other than breastmilk. Again, for parents, it comes down to watching your baby. Most parents I know understood their babies were ready for solid foods when the baby kept stealing their dinner from their plate!

A healthy baby with free and unrestricted access to the breast will, in almost all cases, do just fine. Rare instances where breastmilk supply may be compromised by physiological conditions include mastectomy or some breast surgeries, rarely in cases of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or insufficient glandular tissue (Hypoplasia or IGT). Now, granted, I don’t know you personally so perhaps one of these rare cases apply. Even if that is the case, there are ways to ensure baby gets a good supply of human milk.

I hope this information—things women have known inherently for all of human existence—helps you feel more confident.

Lots of love,

Kim xo
Cert IV Breastfeeding Education (Counselling) | Mother of two | Breastfed for 7 years

*It goes without saying: if in doubt, get it checked out. See a good doctor.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Sleep Doctor isn't alone

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Earlier this week, the now-controversial Australian GP Brian Symon, aka ‘The Baby Sleep Doctor’ was removed as a speaker from Melbourne’s Pregnancy, Baby and Children’s Expo following an onslaught of concerned parents, professionals and public approaching the Expo.

Alarm arose over Dr Symon’s appearance at the PBC Expo after a story was aired in The Daily Telegraph on 11 October 2014. In the article, that has since been removed from the site, Symon’s advice to parents of healthy, well-fed children over than six months was quoted as:
‘The steps start with the child having dinner at about 5.30pm, followed by a bath and being in bed about 7pm. They are then read a story and given positive reinforcement before the light is turned off and the bedroom door is closed … As hard as it is, do not re-enter the room until 7am the next day—unless you fear the baby is unwell … The child will cry but do not enter the room. If your baby cries for three hours and you eventually go to them they will know their reward—you—will be given to them if they cry for long periods.’
Several parents then went on to detail their experiences using Dr Symon’s advice, and their accounts included hours of babies screaming and crying, vomiting, and even one parent having to hold the door closed whilst the child threw objects at the door.

While the discussions that are now taking place regarding Dr Symon and his techniques are important, what isn’t being said is how entirely unoriginal his advice actually is. Although one recent unfortunate-for-him article has seen him receive backlash, Brian Symon is far from the first person to spread this kind of advice, and nor is he alone.

‘It is with great pleasure I see at last the preservation of children become the care of men of sense,’ wrote Dr William Cadogan, British physician in his essay An Essay Upon Nursing and the Management of Children in 1748 ‘…this business has been too long fatally left to the management of women, who cannot be supposed to have proper knowledge to fit them for such a task.’

Although Cadogan was a proponent of exclusive breastfeeding, he warned against ‘overfeeding’ for fear of diarrhoea, and therefore advocated only four-hourly feeding and forbade feeding at night.(1)

Gabrielle Palmer, author of the bestselling The Politics of Breastfeeding, writes, ‘Cadogan pioneered a dynasty of well-intentioned but dogmatic men whose ideas influence ... to this day. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Doctors Budin, Cooney, Pritchard, Truby King and many more strove with amazing energy and zeal to manage infant feeding the way they thought best. Somehow they ignored, or were frustrated by, the fact that women’s bodies had their own way of working.’

From these early pioneers of rigid schedules and routines, we have evolved over two centuries into an industry that today gives us so-called ‘baby whisperers’ and ‘sleep experts’ that includes Dr Brian Symon with authors such as Tizzie Hall, Gina Ford, Elizabeth Sloane, Tracy Hogg, Jo Tantum and many others.

So whilst children enduring Symon's advice are locked in rooms uncomforted, Tizzie Hall has often been quoted as advising of babies vomiting for "attention"; Elizabeth Sloane forbids eye contact and instead utilises loud knocking on the door as comfort; Gina Ford reckons women should just 'grin and bear it' in more ways than one.

And to be honest, between Cadogan's 4-hourly feeds and nothing overnight, to Tizzie Hall's 3-hourly feeds and only 1-2 feeds overnight (2), have we really come very far?

As society becomes increasingly wary of the risks involved with sleep training such as cry-it-out and controlled crying, those making huge whacks of money from this advice distance themselves from the concern by arguing semantics, claiming their techniques don’t use those methods.
"I'm not a fan of controlled crying, and for most people that term conjures up horrible upsetting images of screaming babies being left in their room for hours. I call my program 'controlled comforting' ... I think the longest I ever ask parents to stay outside the nursery is maybe 10 minutes." Elizabeth Sloane
‘I do not recommend controlled crying, as walking in and out of the room will only tease your baby. It will make him emotional and he will continue to sob after falling asleep. Rather than this ‘cry yourself to sleep’ method, I recommend the ‘laying down approach.’ Tizzie Hall
‘Nowhere in Gina's book or on this website does she say that controlled crying should be used with young babies of three weeks old. She advises that as a last resort controlled crying could be used with older babies…’ Gina Ford
And so, whilst researchers, physicians, psychologists and a host of neuro-specialists increasingly share the science behind why sleep training being a bad idea (hint: learned helplessness), those who stand to make money (a lot of money) selling this advice label their techniques something else and counter claim their own science to convince parents that their particular brand of advice is gold:
Brian Symon's Facebook page
Now, we could all sit around and argue science all day. I don't doubt that there is evidence that suggests sleep training 'works' in achieving a baby who sleeps with minimal (or no) parental involvement, because if any animal is denied something for long enough they will eventually cease signalling for it. Furthermore, with a baby who appears outwardly 'fine' and who sleeps more according to the biologically-warped views of social expectation a parent is more likely to report feeling more confident, of having improved mental health outcomes.

But at what cost?

And more to the point—why has the simple fact of being biologically human become a topic for which we need scientific approval?
Robin Grille, Australian psychologist and author says, ‘Does it not seem a little eerie that we treat this as an issue of “science”? … do we need a laboratory report to tell us it is OK to respond to a child? What else? Do we wait for test results to confirm that we need a hug? Do we argue the statistical significance of our need to breathe clean air? Do we need to cite medical journals to endorse our urge to eat?’

Before I became a mother, my perceptions on infant care were that of dominant culture: don’t worry if/when breastfeeding doesn’t work, quickly establish routine and independent sleep habits, and don’t let the baby change you.

And then, I had a baby of my own. While my entire body cried out to hold her, to be with her, society told me that she was being 'spoiled', that she was not a 'good baby' simply because she cried. And suddenly, the child in me who’d been left to cry-it-out as a baby, who’d always apparently been ‘fine’, actually wasn’t fine. I wasn’t fine at all.

And nor are the 1 in 5 adults at any one time suffering metal illness—nor the almost 100 per cent of adults who will in their lifetime suffer mental illness. Take a look at the nightly news, or your social media feed, or the newspaper headlines—violence, intolerance, hatred, disconnect, fear—to see just how ‘fine’ we as a society we really are.

It wasn’t science or studies or peer-reviewed double-blind randomised controlled trials that convinced me to hug my baby, it was the warm voice of another mother, another woman, comforting me to do so and validating how I felt.

The quiet power of positive voices is a heartening triumph. That a group of concerned individuals can murmur, ‘hey, this isn’t right’ and have their voices heard is a wonderful thing for parents and their children, and for us as a society.

Because this advice is still so widespread, we need to keep being that voice. Keep being that source of comfort in a sea of disconnect that says, ‘of course it’s okay to hold your baby.’

So, in the words of Peggy O’Mara, “Don't stand unmoving outside the door of a crying baby whose only desire is to touch you. Go to your baby. Go to your baby a million times. Demonstrate that people can be trusted, that the environment can be trusted, that we live in a benign universe.”

1) Palmer, Gabrielle. The Politics of Breastfeeding: How Breasts are Bad for Business Pg 23-24. (Pinter & Martin, 2009)
2) Hall, Tizzie. Routine Breastfed Baby Aged 1-2 Weeks (2008)

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.

Monday, 21 October 2013

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

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... 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

Friday, 5 April 2013

How to get your baby to sleep through the night

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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 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' ('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 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

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