Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries - no, I can't just cover up!

The other week I saw this article which shows exactly why a breastfeeding mother can't always 'just use a cover' when feeding in public. The photos in the article made me really chuckle - anyone who has a child over the age of two months will know they're wriggly things when they want to be (which tends to be when you don't want them to be) so covering them up with a blanket/scarf/sheet becomes a battle! But one thing frustrated me, and that was the comments.

Aside from the predictable "I'm going to ignore all your points and tell you to cover up anyway" comments there were some from people who claimed to be 'all for' breastfeeding in public, BUT (and if there's a but, you are by definition not 'all for' anything) if this mother had covered from the very start the baby would be used to it.

Rubbish.

First of all, why should a new mother, still getting the hang of breastfeeding, have to contend with covering up too? It's hard enough figuring out how to support their wobbly head with one arm while guiding their frankly clueless little mouth with the other hand, should poor mum have to do all this while trying to keep a scarf in place?

Secondly, while some babies will happily go along with being covered, many won't like it, and will register their dislike as soon as they have enough coordination to start flailing about and dragging the cover off. It doesn't make a difference whether you've only just started using a cover or have fed under a blanket from day 1 - babies develop, and as they develop they find new, often forceful ways of expressing themselves.

Why do I say this? Because when Eleanor was a baby I really struggled with feeding. There is no way in the first two months of her life I could have managed to coax her to feed under a cover, because I needed a completely clear view of what I was doing. Even the slightest bit of fabric could cause an obstruction that would send my reluctant feeder into a tizz. I did managed to use a cover briefly after this period, but then Eleanor worked out that those funny things on the ends of her arms actually BELONGED TO HER (seriously, her mind was blown by this) and, not only that, she could USE THEM! And use them she did - to shove away anything I attempted to cover up with while feeding. She wanted space, she wanted a clear view of me. As she got older she wanted to see her surroundings. No way was this kid submitting to a cover.

And what was the upshot of this? I didn't feed her in public until she was around eight months old. I was too embarrassed, I thought that because these covers existed that meant I had to use them in public, I didn't want to make a scene, I didn't want to be stared at.

But for those eight months, it was a nightmare. I had to try and plan social engagements around feeds, which meant I often ended up late and stressed, or having to leave early. At a time when my life had already changed beyond recognition, this increased my sense of isolation. I would become panicky about going out for a longer stretch of time because where would I feed her? I missed large chunks of a friend's wedding reception by going back and forth to our hotel room to breastfeed.

I really, really, REALLY regret not breastfeeding in public sooner. It was only as I became more informed that I realised that I had every right to do so, and nobody should make me feel like I ought to cover up. And do you know what? I've never actually had a negative comment. I don't think people even notice most of the time. I still get nervous about feeding in public, but I've come to realise that most people couldn't care less what I'm doing, they're just going about their daily business. As am I.

Don't get me wrong, if mum and baby are happy using a cover, then great. But don't assume that, just because your baby was happy to be covered up, then all babies are happy to be covered up. Or that all babies SHOULD be covered up. Making new mums believe that feeding their baby is so shameful that Joe Public must be shielded from possibly glimpsing the act could lead to them becoming isolated at a very vulnerable time.

So no, we can't 'just use a cover'. For many mums, it's a heck of a lot of trouble to go to. If Joe Public is that offended, it's far easier for him to look the other way.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries: "If they can ask for it, they're too old."

I've heard a lot of 'reasons' why toddlers shouldn't be breastfed, and they do all tend to be pretty illogical. But the one that confuses me most is this: "If they can ask for breastmilk, they're too old for it."

Say what?

Eleanor figured out ways of asking for various foodstuffs from around the age of 18 months. She could ask for "apoo" (apple), "mana" (banana) and "bedtit" (breadstick) before she worked out a word for breastmilk. Should I have denied her these foodstuffs as well? And when she comes to me now asking for "tow mout" (cow's milk) or "orange doose" (orange juice) should I say, "no, you're asking for it, so it must be bad for you"? If this rule doesn't apply to any other food or drink, why should it apply to breastmilk?

I think it's quite sad, though, that this particular old wives' tale is so prevalent, because it could deprive mothers of some pretty amusing (and occasionally heartwarming) conversations!

Eleanor's first word for breastmilk was "mut" or "mot". That gradually evolved into "mummymut". Or, more commonly, "MORE mummymut!" Then one day, tired out from the regular feeding that marks a teething session, I cried, "But you've had LOADS of mummy milk!"

Yep, you've guessed it. The demands then turned into, "LOADSA mummymut!"

Eventually she realised that phrase didn't really make me feel inclined to feed her, so she progressed onto "little TIIINY bit of mummymut" in a wheedling voice. She still uses this phrase sometimes, or a variation on it. And she never just has a little tiny bit.

Then there's her signal to swap sides. At first it was just "side" then that turned into "errside", usually said with a grin and a wrinkled nose. I was actually quite sad when she figured out how to say "other side" properly. Although it sometimes comes out as "udder side" which makes me feel GREAT. I love being quietly reminded of my similarity to a cow. Really.

Once when I was feeding her before bed she climbed down after one side. I like to tank her up before bedtime so I gently said, "have you forgotten something?" She grinned, said, "other side," and climbed back up. That then became a little skit she did at practically every feed. She'd wriggle off, look back cheekily, say, "dotten something?" then throw herself back on my knees shouting, " OOOTHEER SIIIDE!" She still does that sometimes. It still makes me chuckle!

Other times, what she says makes me realise how important "mummymout" (as it is now called) is to her. A few months ago she fell and badly grazed her knee. After cleaning and dressing the graze the only way I could calm her down was to feed her. For weeks afterwards she would regularly relive the incident, almost always with the phrase, "you had some mummymout to mate you feel better." (She refers to herself in the second person. And, as you've probably guessed, she can't pronounce 'k'. I'm trying not to stress about it.) Even now if she's hurt or very distressed she will sometimes ask for, "mummymout to mate you feel better." I love knowing the comfort it brings to her.

Then there was the line she came out with the other day, which really touched me. Mid feed, she looked up and in a very matter of fact tone told me, "mummymout is tastier than water or tow mout." May not be much competition, but it made me happy!

Seriously, anyone who feels they have to give up breastfeeding because their child can talk is missing out on some weird, funny and sometimes very moving conversations!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Our First Day Apart

I'm under no illusions about the fact that some, nay, most people who read this post will think this is a big fuss over nothing. But hear me out.

On Saturday it was a momentous day in our region. The Tour De France set off mere miles from where I live, and the whole of Yorkshire went Le Tour mad. Bunting, yellow bikes, Frenchified pub names - you name it, we did it. It really was a great event. I have minimal interest in cycling, I can't even ride a bike, but even I was swept up in the excitement.

But it was also a momentous day for Eleanor and me. Because, after two and a half years, it was the first day we spent apart.

Yes, yes I know. Most of you reading had to go back to work in the first year of your child's life. Some of you will have spent weekends, maybe even longer away from your little ones. One day away after two and a half years seems trivial, right?

But it didn't to me. Because every day for two and a half years Eleanor had been with me. And I'd been there for her. I'd spent the odd afternoon away from her, but never a full day. But I had an all-day event booked, and due to road closures I had to get there before 7am, and didn't finish until 5pm. Ten hours. Twice as long as I'd ever left her before.

In the run up I was really anxious about how she'd cope. Just a few weeks previously she went through a particularly close-to-me phase (I flatly REFUSE to use the word 'clingy' because I hate the negative connotations associated with it) and wanted me around all the time. I was so worried this would last, and she'd spend the day being miserable.

And then there was breastfeeding to factor into the equation. She still feeds pretty regularly - I'm talking newborn frequency during the day - so I worried about how she'd cope without that. I also worried about the effect suddenly not feeding for 10 hours would have on me - would I get engorged? Or would it reduce my supply?

In the end, it turned out I had little to worry about. A couple of weeks before she suddenly started asking for daddy throughout the day, and lighting up when he got home. Don't get me wrong, she has always loved her daddy, but something definitely changed. So on the day she had a lovely time with him. They hung out at our church and watched the caravan and the race go past. Then they went back to his parent's house with Eleanor in the carrier so she nodded off. She had a decent nap (another concern as I usually feed her to sleep at naptime) then hung around the house until I was all done. She asked for 'mummy milk' just once, as Daddy laid her down for her nap, but she has half asleep and nodded back off straight away.

And me? I actually cried saying goodbye (she was fine about it though) and missed her loads through the day. But there was some relief there - we'd had a particularly intense week as I was stressed about work, she was ill on and off so we didn't get out much, and there were some major tantrums going on - on both our parts! So a day away from being Mum probably helped to relieve the pressure. And the lack of breastfeeding didn't seem to have any effect at all.

Afterwards, I assumed she'd be up half the night wanting to catch up on mummy time (and mummy milk) but she only woke up once. In fact the only negative issue we had was when I fed her to sleep for her nap the next day. When I laid her in her bed, she started crying and saying, "Don't want Daddy to stop," obviously thinking she was still in the carrier. When she realised she wasn't, it woke her up properly. We tried to get her to sleep but in the end she wouldn't, which resulted in a particularly kicky-and-screamy bedtime. But everything's been fine today, so hopefully it was just a blip.

I know that all this will be commonplace for many mums. But it was a completely new experience for us. I feel so lucky to have been able to spend every day with my daughter for 30 months. She was very separation-sensitive when she was younger so I absolutely believe this was the right thing for our family and I'm glad I could do it this way. But equally, I feel so proud of how my little baby who hated to be put down has grown into a confident little girl who can spend time away from mummy without even a tear.

It's so reassuring to know that all those days spent together haven't hindered her confidence and independence. In fact, I'm convinced that all those days spent together were exactly what she NEEDED to grow into her own little person. This may not be the case for every child, but it was for mine. And the reunion cuddles were just LOVELY!