Friday, 27 June 2014

Breastfeeding - there is no normal. And that's normal.

I don't know if it's because I'm a first-time mum, or particularly neurotic or a bit of both, but I seem to spend a lot of time worrying about what's 'normal'. As if there's some benchmark of child normality and if my daughter doesn't fit that, then I must be doing it all wrong.

Now that I've had a bit more practise at parenthood, I can usually quash these worries with the silent mantra, "It's normal for her." Toddler is very much her own special person, and she's all kinds of ace, so who cares if she's not like another child her age? But when she was a baby, when that brilliant personality wasn't quite popping out yet, when all I had to go on was her weight and nappy habits, I was always anxious about whether she was 'normal', by which I mean whether I was doing it 'right'.

Breastfeeding was a particular source of anxiety, especially as most of my mum friends were formula feeding either partly or wholly so I had a skewed sense of comparison. I remember worrying about how long each feed took, and obsessively counting the number of feeds my daughter had in a day to make sure she was getting enough. And the older she got, the woolier the guidelines got and the more I worried!

But recently I saw some interesting research carried out by Medela which I wish I'd seen in those early months with Toddler. It showed that when it comes to breastfeeding, as with so many things in child-rearing, there is no 'normal'. Take a look at this, for instance: 

I wish I'd seen this when Toddler was a nipper! She took aaages to feed - I remember once being late to a baby group because she had spent 70 minutes on the first side!! Some of the reactions and comments I got at the time made me feel like this was completely wrong, that she was just 'using me as a dummy'. (A bizarre phrase - what exactly did babies do before dummies existed? Oh yes, they comfort fed!!) But actually, I think those long, leisurely feeds helped me to build the strong supply I needed at the time - and that has seen me through for the last 30 months of breastfeeding!

When Toddler was a newborn, knowing how many feeds she needed per day was easy - "8-12 times in 24 hours" was seemingly plastered on every surface of the maternity wing! But as she got older, there was very little guidance about how often she 'ought to' be feeding - aside from baby training manuals which I steered clear of due to the fact that they generally made me want to hurl them against the nearest wall. I got the vague impression that she 'ought to be' feeding less from around the age of four months, and then still less after solids were introduced at six months, so I gradually reduced the number of times I offered a feed. Looking back, I don't think it's a coincidence that it was around four months that she dropped off her centile line, never to return. I wish I'd known then what I know now - that it's perfectly fine for a non-newborn to still want regular feeds. Heck, at two and a half she still has around 7 or 8 feeds in a 24 hour period!

I think it's really encouraging that research is out there to show new mums that 'normal' just doesn't exist. Ignore the advice that says babies should be fed every four hours, or that you should limit time at the breast. Every baby is different, every mother's supply is different. Trust your baby to show you when they're hungry, and trust your body to give them what they need. Because in most cases that's all you need!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Pushchair bans - Is our society anti-child?

Recently I saw a story that got my goat. A cafe bar in Leeds has imposed a ban on customers bringing in pushchairs, citing health and safety reasons. But this isn't what has got me annoyed - no, it's the comments from Joe Public commending the cafe for their actions, and even saying pushchairs should be banned from buses.

Yes, you read that right. There are people who think PUSHCHAIRS SHOULD BE BANNED FROM BUSES.

I'll come back to the hideousness of that point later. But even the comments that restrained themselves to merely discussing the horrors of buggies in eating establishments also tended to rail against the noise of crying and screaming from the children. So even if the parent had used a sling, or carried baby in using a car seat, this would still not have met with the approval of these miseries. This is the revealing part of these reactions: the pushchairs aren't the problem. It's the children.

There seems to be a surprising number of people who see children as an inconvenience. Never mind the old adage about children being seen and never heard - these people don't even want to see a child. They apparently think that parents should stay at home and raise their offspring behind closed doors, so that they don't get in the way of the oh-so-important grown ups.

Back to the bus point. Imagine this - you're a mum of two small children. You don't have a car. You need to get somewhere that isn't in walking distance - perhaps you need to go to a particular shop, or you have a medical appointment. Now, it's conceivable that if you had one child you could pop them in a carrier, but if you've got two, unless you're really adept at tandem carrying then your only real option is a buggy of some kind, and to take that on the bus.

But what if that wasn't an option? What if these perpetual moaners got their way, and buses banned pushchairs? What would you do then?

Being a parent can be a very isolating experience. Suddenly just getting out of the house is tough. If you have no car, getting anywhere further than you can walk is a battle. And yet there are people in our society who want to isolate parents even more, to cut off their access to public transport. There are still more that feel aggrieved by parents who dare to try and have a nice lunch out, or even just a coffee, with their children in tow to break up the monotony of the day or to have some much-needed time with friends.

It makes me fume. Children, and by extension their parents, are increasingly treated as irritants. In one of the playgroups I go to, the version of 'Wheels on the Bus' they sing contains the line, "The children on the bus make too much noise." Yes, that's it, tell them they're noisy and annoying from infancy. That'll really help their sense of self-worth and belonging.

The trouble is, a baby who is kept indoors for fear of offending others, a toddler who is taught that they are inherently bothersome, a child who is made to feel unwelcome in public places becomes a young person who is disengaged and disrespectful. Because why should they engage in a society which has been putting them in the wrong since birth? Why should they show respect for people when they haven't been shown any themselves?

Perhaps if we all accepted children as part of our society, wholeheartedly and with open arms, then we would be able to maintain a more harmonious relationship with young adults. Just a hunch. And wouldn't that be worth walking around a buggy for?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Breastfeeding Diaries: nursing a nearly two-and-a-half year old

One thing I haven't talked about much on this blog is the fact that I'm breastfeeding my toddler. Part of me has reservations about posting about this, as I know breastfeeding can be an emotive and divisive issue - and 'extended' breastfeeding even more so! But it feels strange to gloss over it, as it is a pretty significant part of my relationship with my daughter. After all, it's something we do surprisingly regularly on a daily basis!

A few weeks ago I saw that Zena's Suitcase was starting a Breastfeeding Diaries link up and I started to wonder whether I should join in. It is such a great opportunity to share stories about nursing, and perhaps a voice from the 'extended' breastfeeding camp would add something to the mix. Also, by talking about my experience, perhaps I could go some way towards demystifying the slightly thorny issue of breastfeeding a toddler, by showing that it isn't the preserve of hippy earth mothers* - all sorts of mums breastfeed beyond infancy!

At the time of writing Toddler is just eight days shy of being two and a half. So what is it like breastfeeding a two and a half year old? Well, it's fidgety - if she's in a restless mood she will twist and contort to alarming degrees during a feed. She also likes to have things to hold onto and play with while feeding, so I will regularly have to breastfeed her while being hit in the face with a book or while a toy car navigates its way round my chest.

But it can also be calm and snuggly - nowadays, the most sustained cuddles we have are during feeds, especially when she's a bit tired or has just woken up. Yesterday she wanted 'mummy milk in Mummy and Daddy's bed' after she'd woken from her nap so we snuggled up together for about quarter of an hour. I could practically feel the oxytocin flooding my brain as I held my still-slightly-snoozy little girl in my arms and told her how much I love her.

It's draining at times - if she's teething, or something developmental is going on, she can feed on an hourly basis during the day. Fortunately she only has one or two night feeds, but the demands of regularly producing milk throughout the waking hours can be tiring. On the flip side, if I wasn't breastfeeding I'd have to find some other way of comforting and reassuring her - at least this way I get to have regular sit-downs!

And, most importantly, it's her call. Some people say that breastfeeding beyond infancy is just about the mother's needs. It's not. Seriously. Have you tried getting a toddler to do something they don't want to? Do you really think a toddler could be persuaded to latch on and feed against their wishes? I only ever offer 'mummy milk' at nap time (to get her to sleep, because I'm too lazy to battle her to sleep through other means) and before we start the bedtime routine. The rest of the time, she asks for it - nay, INSISTS on it! The time will come when she decides to stop, and that's fine, but it's her call. I'm not forcing her to breastfeed, I'm just not forcing her to stop either.

I hope that joining in with the Breastfeeding Diaries means that more people will get to hear about 'extended' breastfeeding in a positive, down-to-earth, normal way. Because really, I'm not much different to any other mum. And my daughter is not much different to any other toddler. We just happen to do something that, in this society, is seen as different. But it's the most ordinary thing in the world to us.

* P.S. Sorry if you're a hippy earth mother, you're great too! In fact, I'd love to be more like you but I'm a rubbish hippy. Honestly, I've tried.