Posts Tagged ‘health’

Breastfeeding – Prepared for LIFE!

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and we are celebrating at Fusion Parenting.  Come back for a new post on breastfeeding every day!

Welcome to the Carnival of Breastfeeding readers.  I hope you enjoy this piece, there are further links to other carnival posts at the bottom.


There’s so much that could be said on this topic.  It could be interpreted as preparing the baby by giving them a healthy start in life.  In spite of what some commentators are trying to say, breastfeeding is healthier, and it is important.  And don’t even think that all this is just something those poor plebs in the third world need to worry about – note that one of those references looks specifically at developed nations. 

It could be interpreted as preparing the baby for the rest of their life by looking at the long term benefits, you know the decreased risk for later obesity, diabetes, some cancers and increases in intelligence.  (A variety of references can be found here.)

Then there are they psychological benefits, the bonding and close relationship with their mother, which prepares the whole family for the turbulent toddler years.  Breastfeeding may be protective for child abuse  and abandonment.

Or the fact that breastfeeding decreases the risk of SIDS , which is definitely preparing a baby for life.

And there are all the ways it helps the mother, which keeps her in the best condition and prepared to look after her baby, including reducing her risk of breast cancer, osteoporosis and the (surprising?) fact that exclusively breastfeeding means both parents get more sleep

And then of course there are all the tiny little things that happen normally and naturally, because breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby.  So it does the whole developmental job it is designed for, not just feeding, and prepares the baby’s jaw for talking, gives the mother’s body a break before the next pregnancy, gives the baby the sleep needed for development, allows the baby to experience a wide range of tastes and prepare for family foods, and generally gets the baby ready for the rest of this adventure called life.

Like I said at the beginning, there is so much that could be said on this topic, and I’m sure it will be admirably said by the other contributors to the carnival.  What I want to talk about is Breastfeeding – Prepared for LIFE!  A life that is as big and as bold and as exciting as I can make it.  Because isn’t that how life is supposed to be?  I don’t want a boring life, a mundane life, a routine of an existence.  Sometimes that’s what I get, but it’s not the life I plan and prepare for, and it’s not the life I plan and prepare for my children. 

Because I breastfeed I can be spontaneous, just grab the keys and the change bag and off we go.

Because I breastfeed it doesn’t matter if we’re stuck in the waiting room or a queue for a couple of hours, I’m completely portable.

Because I breastfeed we can camp on whatever beaten track we like, it comes sterile and pre-warmed.

Because I breastfeed I can have dinner with friends and spend the night chatting over philosophy and a nice glass of red, a sated baby cuddled in my lap. 

Because I breastfeed I fit into those ridiculously small airplane seats for a long haul flight, it doesn’t have to be made up and mixed.

Because I breastfeed I don’t worry about the quality of water at my destination.

Because I breastfeed I can live in a cyclone and flood prone area, serene in the knowledge that when the trucks don’t get through for three weeks my baby will be fine.

Because I breastfeed I can take my one year old to a restaurant, certain there’s something on the menu that will appeal to her.

Because I breastfeed I can go to a concert or show, we’re experts at attaching quickly and quietly in the dark.

In other words, because I breastfeed we are prepared for living.  Babyhood is not something to be hidden, scheduled, confined.  It is an introduction to the whole wonderful world, a celebration to be shared, something that allows adults to step back and rediscover life as their children experience it for the first time.  Through breastfeeding we are prepared for life, prepared to begin the new journey with our children in the same way we intend to go on.


Other Carnival of Breastfeeding posts:

Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Breastfeeding in Emergencies
Hobo Mama: Prepared for Life: Breastfeeding in local and global crises
Zen Mommy: How breastfeeding has shaped my toddler’s view of breasts
Pure Mothers: Marketing away real milk
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Tips for consistent & long-term breastfeeding success
Cave Mother: Three moments that make me thankful I breastfeed
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Breastfeeding as a lifesaver in emergencies

On Breastfeeding and Formula

Warning and disclaimer: This post discusses breastfeeding and formula.  It does not discuss mothers who use formula, mothers who need formula, babies who need formula, breastfeeding in public or any other variations.  If you feel it is putting you down, please read all of it carefully.  Please comment, but it needs to contribute to the discussion, not sidetrack it.  If I feel it is sidetracking, I won’t post it but will let you know.  Any comparisons to genocidal regimes will be ignored.

On breastfeeding:

There have been a few incidents recently to bring breastfeeding up again, especially feeding older children.  And girls, I have to say – we need to stop playing the formula companies’ game.

Formula is a very good nutritional substitute for breastfeeding.  I mean that sincerely – if I couldn’t breastfeed I would be thankful for formula, it is far, far better than the options that used to be available (without getting into wet nursing).  But it is only a nutritional substitute.  It cannot provide the immunological benefits, it cannot promote sleep for both mother and baby, it cannot calm a distressed child, it cannot act as a contraceptive, it cannot promote bonding through hormones, it cannot regulate the digestive system, it cannot help jaw muscle development for speech, it cannot do any of the myriad other things that breastfeeding does.  If I couldn’t breastfeed I would be thankful for formula, but I would need to parent completely differently to fill the other gaps.

So when someone starts to compare formula and breastfeeding, why on earth do we even mention nutrition?  Formula does it pretty well, let’s accept and admit that.  It doesn’t do it perfectly, it doesn’t do it the best.  It isn’t responsive, and we don’t even know all the things that are in breastmilk so we don’t know how close it is.  But it does a good job of helping human babies to grow and develop, especially when there is no better alternative.  So when we are trying to explain that breastmilk really is better, why do we fight on our weakest ground?

We do it because we are allowing the formula companies to control the debate.  It’s that simple.  They have a product that can compete nutritionally but not anywhere else, so they talk about nutrition.  And we let them do it.  The very term ‘breastfeeding’ lets them do it, because it implies that it’s all about feeding, which it isn’t.  Unfortunately my Mum’s a nurse, so I personally can’t use nursing, and I don’t know what else to use.  We need to find or invent some term that includes all the things breastfeeding does that have nothing to do with nutrition.

And it’s very hard to argue with someone who’s agreeing with you.  So when faced with all the reasons that formula isn’t that bad … nutritionally … smile and nod.  Agree.  “You’re right, it’s ok nutritionally.  So how do you …?”  or “It’s a pity you have to find another way to …” or even be blunt and say “Unfortunately, it can’t ever provide …”

And the World Health Organisation recommendations DO apply to us – most of us don’t feed ourselves or our older children properly, what makes people think we can feed our babies appropriately?  But even so, what does breastfeeding an older baby or toddler have to do with nutrition?  Why bother arguing nutrition, when Karleen Gribble’s study showed mothers don’t feed older babies for that reason anyway.  They feed for comfort, for bonding, for sleeping, because the children enjoy it.  These are the things we should be arguing, these are the things that formula can never, ever provide.

Now it may sound like I’m saying mothers who use formula don’t comfort their babies, or put them to sleep, or whatever.  I’m not, in fact believe it or not I’m admiring.  You see, you have to find other ways of doing the things that I can do easily through breastfeeding.  And I think that you should be getting the credit for that, not some multinational company.  Because that’s the other half of this post.

On formula:

We need to stop calling a spade a manual earth arranging implement.

I don’t mean debates about whether it’s ‘formula’ or ‘artificial baby milk.’ I mean it is a commercial product sold by companies that are trying to make a profit, and doing very well out of it.  They are continually studying and trying to improve it – because they have competitors who are trying to make money too.  And they are continually marketing, marketing, marketing, and cleverly focusing on the bits they do well.  Of course they are, we all do.  Focus on the positives and hope no-one notices the negatives.  But the really clever bit is that they have managed to co-opt their consumers into doing the marketing for them for free.

Let me show you what I mean.  Most of the readers of this blog are Australian, and grew up eating vegemite.  People in other countries eat marmite, or promite, or some other type of yeast spread.  They are all fairly similar nutritionally, all do the same job, have fairly minor taste variations.  Yet Australians will ship vegemite around the world and have stand-up fights trying to prove its superiority.  This is not because it genuinely is superior in any way, but because of its emotional status as an Australian icon.  It is unAustralian to not defend vegemite.  We eat it and defend it because in a symbolic way we are defending Australia and what it means to be Australian.

Formula is a commercial product.  It is produced purely to make a profit, not out of the goodness of anyone’s heart.  Yet it has come to represent, for many women, motherhood.  This is completely understandable.  There are so many emotions tied up with such a basic thing as feeding our babies.  On a primitive level I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves – if I can’t do this, then can I really be a mother at all?  So in defending formula, women are defending their own status as mothers.  And so they make wonderful unpaid advertisers.

It can be hilarious in a painful way to read some of the discussions about baby feeding.  The question was asked – what would happen if formula were $100 a tin?  And there were all sorts of answers about ‘the government.’ But what on earth has the government to do with the price of formula?  It’s set by the companies that make it, and you can bet they’re doing more than just covering costs.   In fact, they should be setting it as high as they possibly can before they lose customers – that’s how supply and demand works.  They’re not giving it to you cheaply because they’re worried about your baby.

And statements about breastfeeding mothers not drinking, or smoking, or taking medications, or having to eat perfectly!  You don’t need to be pure to breastfeed – have a look at what’s given to the cows!  And the factories certainly aren’t pure, they aren’t even sterile, which is why you have to use hot water to make it up.

I’m not trying to make mothers who use formula feel bad, I’m trying to tell you not to be conned.  Because all the formula is replacing is the nutrition.  You are still the one getting your baby to sleep, comforting them, helping their speech develop, taking care of them when they have a tummy ache.  In other words, you are the ones doing the mothering.  You don’t have to defend yourself, your defense is your happy, healthy, amazing children.  You don’t have to work as a marketer for formula companies.  Any other product in your pantry (especially one you are feeding your children) you wouldn’t defend to the bitter end.  As parents we question, we hold companies responsible for their claims, force them to make better products, and generally try to make them accountable (except Vegemite, that would be unAustralian).

A spade is a spade, and formula is a very expensive commercial nutritional substitute that makes a great profit for its makers and leaves you to do all the work.

On mothering:

So in the end, we’re all pretty similar.  We all need to do the same things for our children, and that includes so much more than nutrition.  So let’s give nutrition a rest for a bit, hey?  I’ll agree that formula does a reasonable job of it, if you’ll agree that breastfeeding does all sorts of other things as well.

psst –> weak

It’s the little things

This is a bit of a ramble.  I’ve been staving off the downcycle for a little while now, reminding myself that holidays start tomorrow and my husband will be around, I’m having fun with my science blog and things are generally OK.  I got quite sick this week, but still managed to remain positive.

Then last night hit.  My littlest one doesn’t sleep, and at 2am everything is so much harder.  The world suddenly went from being an OK place to being monotone guilt.  And pointless guilt – everyone else’s kids seem to be doing about the same as mine (or better!), so why am I putting myself through this?  Why don’t I just stick a dummy in her mouth and shut the door?

This morning was playgroup day, which is generally good.  It added to the pointlessness, because everyone else seemed to be coping better than I do (I know, it’s just my perception, but when you’re in the downcycle everything piles on top), but several people thanked me for cutting up the fruit.   It’s just one of the normal jobs, but it was nice to be thanked.  Unfortunately this afternoon I was plunging deeper.  I knew it, but couldn’t do anything about it because everything I do is/has been worthless, so how could anything I tried now be any help?  My husband bought chocolate and listened, my toddler was worried in her own goldfish way, but by that point I just wanted to wallow. 

I couldn’t even look at writing a post because they were all so unrelentingly negative, which added to the guilt – one post a week is a tiny commitment and I can’t even do that.

What turned it around, unexpectedly, was Twitter.  There is a tradition called Follow Friday, where you put up the names of people whose updates you enjoy reading.  The idea is that your followers see these names, and think well if she thinks they’re worth following, maybe I’ll have a look at them too, and you might pick up some more followers.  A couple of people I don’t know other than through Twitter put my name up.  Even better, one of them has recently been voted as one of the top 100 science Tweets to follow, which is pretty important to me (given that I’m ScienceMum and all).  I was flattered enough that he started following me, but being put up for Follow Friday I took as a great honour.  He may not mean it that way, but it certainly boosted me. 

It makes you think.  My husband’s support did nothing – he’s my husband, he has to support me and worry about me (at least he’d better!).  I know several people who will worry when reading this, and while I appreciate it, they’re my friends so that’s sort of their job.  The playgroup Mums are another step removed, and I really did appreciate being thanked.  But when complete strangers say something nice it is so much more important.  I think because we know they have no ulterior motive – they’re definitely not saying it just to cheer you up, so you can trust that they are being honest.  So how much of an impact do we have on the people around us?  How many times have we said something that meant nothing to us but has been really important to somone we hardly even know? 

And more importantly, how often have we thought something but not said it?

Children copy their mothers

Another breastfeeding post, I know most of our audience will appreciate them and feeding (of any sort) seems to be a major part of my day.  And it ties in nicely with “The Octopus Myth,” seeing it is a toddler who has indirectly caused this flap.

Apparently in the UK it is National Breastfeeding Week.  So to celebrate someone in a hospital made up a little poster to put on the notice board.  A fairly innocuous poster I would have thought, with a picture of a little girl breastfeeding her doll under the heading “It’s Normal.  Children copy their mothers.”  Apparently this is “distasteful, inappropriate and crude.”

Let’s take them one at a time.

Distasteful: unpleasant, provoking dislike, disapproval, or mild disgust

This actually says a lot about the people who are making the complaint, doesn’t it?  If a picture provokes disgust, then it means they find breastfeeding disgusting.  Or at least a child pretending to breastfeed is disgusting.  So I wonder which it is – do they find the sight of breasts disgusting?  Do they find the thought of a baby sucking at them makes them sick?  Or do they see it as disgusting for little girls to play with dolls?  I wonder what they think of dolls with nappies?  Is that disgusting too? 

Inappropriate:  not fitting, timely, or suitable

Well it was definitely timely, if you can’t put up a poster about breastfeeding in National Breastfeeding Week then when can you.  Obviously some people would prefer never.  As for fitting, hospitals have a public health responsibility.  That’s sort of their reason for being.  And the WHO describes their infant feeding guidelines as a “global public health recommendation.”  Their recommendation is for exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, then the introduction of suitable complementary foods while breastfeeding continues until 2 years or beyond.  So a hospital would actually be obliged to promote breastfeeding, and particularly to normalise it.  So then we consider suitable, and this is obviously the one that has people upset.  It’s not the time, it’s not the breastfeeding, it’s the toddler.  We’re back with her being caught doing something not quite right.

Crude:  vulgar or obscene.

And here we have it.  The upsetting thing.  The reason that toddler is being disgusting and unsuitable.  It’s all about sex.  They might as well have put up a photo of her masturbating, I mean we all know that some unfortunate toddlers who haven’t been well brought up do that.  Not mine of course.  But it’s certainly not something you promote.

So breastfeeding is really all about sex, and not something that little girls should be indulging in.  In fact “it isn’t normal. Children copy their parents but I don’t think any little girls should be breastfeeding their dolls.”  So what should they be doing with them?  Using a good old bottle?  Starving them? 

Without sarcasm, I think this quote actually sums up the problem neatly.  Children copy their parents.  That little girl was almost certainly breastfed and it’s a pretty good bet she’ll go on to breastfeed her children, because she already knows that that’s how you feed a baby.  We don’t object to them learning how to sweep or wash the dishes.  We don’t object to them learning how to shop, or garden, or drive a car.  Surely caring for a baby is an important skill they’re going to need in the future?  Selfishly, I think most of us want grandkids one day. 

My toddler can change a nappy.  She can wrap her baby up and cuddle her, she feeds her solids (and doesn’t quite get why the real yoghurt isn’t a good idea) baths her, and comforts her when she falls over.  She’s also taught her to fly off the slide, so maybe she isn’t quite ready for motherhood.  But she breastfeeds quite regularly.  She will also offer me a feed, and I know this is ringing alarm bells for the sex obsessed among us.  Incest!  How terrible!  Save those children!  But do unto others as you would be done by.  Breastfeeding is a minor part of her life timewise, but it is incredibly important to her emotionally.  It is her comfort, her reconnection with Mummy, her good start to the day.  And that is what she is offering me, in her own toddler way she is trying to make me feel better.

And it’s not just me, a year ago any baby who cried at playgroup was fair game.  Up went the shirt and she would offer them a feed.  And that’s really what is meant to happen, our critic is quite correct.  Toddlers shouldn’t be breastfeeding dolls, because there aren’t any out on the savannah.  They should be practicing their skills on little brothers, sisters and cousins.

Let’s drag our minds out of the gutter and think about what they are practicing.  The least important thing they are learning is the mechanics of breastfeeding.  Anyone who’s watched a toddler knows that they do a lousy job of attaching and quite often miss the breast completely.  Their poor little dolls would starve, if their nipples weren’t horribly cracked.  Rather they are learning the emotions of breastfeeding and the place of breastfeeding.  They are learning that breastfeeding is about comfort as well as food.  They are learning that it is about closeness.  They are learning that it is about sitting down and spending time with your baby.  And most importantly, they are learning that that is how babies are fed.

And if they don’t learn that, they are way behind when they have their own children.  Quite simply, they won’t know how babies are fed.  They might think babies feed out of a bottle.  They might think it is a choice.  There is a fundamental core of support they are missing, because they don’t have the surety that ‘I will breastfeed my children.’  Of course things get in the way, of course plans can change, of course some people will breastfeed successfully without it.  But starting out with the assumption that you will breastfeed is a big step towards being successful.  And starting out with the idea that it is disgusting, inappropriate and crude is only going to make it harder.

That’s the attitude that’s easy to argue against or ridicule, but there is another argument in the article that is more insidious.  We don’t want to upset new Mums who can’t breastfeed for medical reasons.  How could we be so mean.  New Mums are so vulnerable, so hormonal, so fragile.  And they are.  The baby blues are horrible.  And I was one of the lucky ones with problems that were relatively easy to fix, 24 hours of expressing let the grazes heal and it only took a few weeks to sort out the oversupply and fast letdown.  So we should definitely be gentle with new Mums.  But I really question how many of them can’t breastfeed for medical reasons. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everyone can breastfeed.  There are definitely mother/baby pairs for whom it doesn’t work, there are women who need medications that would be dangerous, there are babies with tongue tie or who don’t have the muscle tone to suck, there are women with insufficient glandular tissue and ones with hormonal problems that mean their milk does not come in properly.  But that is incredibly rare.  Breastfeeding in the form of mammals has been around for well over two hundred million years, and depending on your definition humans have been doing it for a couple of million years.  Any species that couldn’t feed half their babies would have died out by now.  And if you believe in creation by an omnipotent God it’s even worse – are you really saying the Creator only got it right half the time?  So not being able to breastfeed for medical reasons is extremely rare, and even rarer to find out while you are still in the maternity hospital rather than when you are home and have tried desperately.

Then why do we have such a high failure rate?  There are a lot of women out there convinced they couldn’t breastfeed.  This is obviously too complex to go into in this blog, which is already too long, but a part of it is the support women receive and their own attitude to breastfeeding.  And a big part of that comes from their mothers and starts when they are toddlers playing with dolls.  By stopping people seeing that, we are stopping them seeing that breastfeeding is just a normal part of the things that toddlers learn, about what grownups do.

And while that may upset the very small number of women who cannot breastfeed for medical reasons, isn’t it far worse to convince large numbers of women that their bodies don’t work?

Babies Born!

Today we celebrated the birthday of the first baby boy born (say that three times fast) in the Alice Springs Hospital!  He’s 70.

We had Charlotte in a hospital in 2007 on the Queensland coast… one word – Shenanigans!  When I fell (*trip* oops!) pregnant again last year I was going to have the baby in the Alice Springs hospital.  Unfortunately that last pregnancy was a molar pregnancy, but the options open to women having babies in Alice Springs are pretty impressive.  Home birthing options are the most surprising –  You get full support and your own home birthing midwife for free!  Do they stay on, do the washing and make you a cuppa tea?  That would be sweet! I don’t know if I would have gone for it but I am glad the option is there.  I was one of those mums screaming for the drugs by the end.  The words – “numb me up woman!” may have been uttered/yelled.

It is a much smaller hospital than the one in Qld and it is used by people from miles around in an area where health issues are a hot topic.  So, I think it is excellent that they provide such a great range of services for pregnant women.

The old Aboriginal man who turned 70 is trying to get the hospital to acknowledge him as the first boy born there (on the plaque outside it only has the first Caucasian boy born – it was 1939).  Once that racism issue is cleared up I wonder if the woman who was born before both of them will want it changed!

Argg!  I am torn between my anti-racisim and anti-sexism feelings! Actually I think they should share the glory of the plaque!  I think I might write a country and western song about it… watch this space for my no.1 hit – the glory of the plaque.