When all your friends have stopped breastfeeding…

It started happening around six months, the weaning from the breast. It started with comments like: “I don’t know how you can keep doing that” and “Haven’t you had enough?” There were phrases that practically echoed formula ads and that skewed NHS guidelines.

I suppose it started earlier. In the past year only 47.2 per cent of women were found still breastfeeding when their babies were six to eight weeks old. And yes there may be a cultural aversion to breastfeeding, depending on where they live, but I’m sure many of those women would have liked to have continued. In one way or another, they were unsupported, maybe before they had their babies, maybe after and maybe both.

But I didn’t notice people stopping around then. That was when it started with the pumping, the domperidone, the SNS, the breast compressions. That was when I was up and down, feeling like a failure because my breasts were not producing enough milk for my baby to progress beyond static weight gain.

Trapped in my own breastfeeding maze, I did not see bottle feeding mothers. They were invisible to me. All I saw were breastfeeding mothers. I saw them tenderly and easily feed their babies. It stung.

When Talitha was five months old, we finally got to a place where I wasn’t supplementing or pumping in order to feed her. I was ready to join this sisterhood of breastfeeding mothers (of course, I had always been part of it anyway), except most of the mums I knew were stopping. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

So, I found a new reason to go to my local breastfeeding group. I wanted to be around mothers who’d decided to keep going simply because it made sense. When Talitha was eight months old, I trained as breastfeeding peer supporter. This too made sense, to remain in this breastfeeding community while giving back to it. I still thought, I might breastfeed for a year, for no reason other than I was still taking Domperidone and couldn’t believe that if I stopped taking it, my supply would be sufficient to continue.

A month later, I stopped taking it, weaning off it slowly. We continued. Her weight was stable. I saw the future stretch out before me without arbitrary limits. There was freedom in our breastfeeding relationship, for the first time. We could continue as long as we liked. No GP’s power to prescribe would decide for us.

And so, a year came and went. I joined La Leche League and met mothers breastfeeding children far older than mine. It was beautiful. It was normal. And now two years have come and gone. The breastfeeding maze is all faded memory. And the numbers I breastfed alongside fall and fall, which is fine. Every mother makes the decision that’s right for her and her family.

But if it weren’t for these breastfeeding groups I go to, I reckon I’d feel like the last woman standing. I kind of think, though, I didn’t get out of that breastfeeding maze just to stop any old how.

When all your friends have stopped breastfeeding

I’ve written this post for this year’s Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt, celebrating National Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2013. To gather points for a chance to win a grand prize of LOTS of breastfeeding-related products, please enter the Rafflecopter widget below. You can gather more points by checking out some of the other bloggers participating in the hunt this week:

Mama Geek
Twinkle Mummy
Mixed Bag of All Sorts
A Baby on Board
Natural Mamas

You can also find out more about the hunt here.

One of the sponsors of the Grand Prize is the hotMilk lingerie.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Top tip for breastfeeding mothers: Relax and Accept

I had a love-hate relationship with the phrase “This too shall pass” when I was doing the new baby thing with Talitha.

Sometimes it was my mantra. I would declare it and draw great strength from it. We would live to see another day. She would not be thirteen and waking me up hourly (or, I really hope she won’t be!). All these biologically normal newborn things that did not fit with my industrialised, isolated lifestyle would settle down, would be survived.

Other times, a more experienced mother would tell me that her crap naps, insane feeding, constant night waking, etc etc etc too would pass and I would collapse inside myself in frustration.

Because looking back on it now, I know the hardest advice in the world to take is “Relax and Accept” but, actually, it’s the best advice for new mothers. Maybe even more so for breastfeeding ones.

Here are a few things breastfeeding mothers would do well to relax and accept:

Night waking happens – it’s actually a good thing
As if the fact that your baby keeps waking up, forcefully making her feeding cues known wasn’t exhausting enough, everyone wants to weigh in on how much your baby should be sleeping: “Is she a GOOD baby? How does she sleep?” It’s usually asked out of concern or lack of something more interesting to say but it is sooo unhelpful. For a start, these questions are rooted in outdated beliefs about how babies should behave – formula fed ones at that.

Evidence now shows us that new babies need to wake a lot at night because their tiny tummies need feeding frequently throughout the day and night, especially since breast milk is so well-digested. Next time someone tells you your four-week-old or even one-year-old should be sleeping through, keep this quote from the Infant Sleep Information Source in mind:

“Generally, though, babies do not sleep all night-every night until they are close to a year old. One study investigating infant sleep duration found that 27% of babies had not regularly slept from 10pm to 6am by the age of 1 year. 13% of babies had not regularly slept through for 5 hours or more by the age of 1 year.”

In fact, go over to ISIS and breathe in their info on what normal infant sleep looks like. Go on. It’ll do your mental health some good.

Why do I say it’s normal and good that babies wake up a lot? I’ll give you three reasons but I’m sure there are more:
– Night feeds are brilliant for initiating, increasing and maintaining your milk production
– Night waking helps to satisfy a survival instinct to keep the mother close
– Sleeping longer or more deeply than is developmentally normal increases the risk of SIDS

Ah, if we knew this was normal and were able to relax and accept it, maybe we’d spend more time learning to sleep in the day and less time freaking out about our babies’ mixed up days and nights? I don’t know. I hope so.

Babies breastfeed a lot

I really, really, really don’t think most new mothers realise how often newborn babies need to breastfeed, especially since the generation before us were taught to schedule feeds.

It would be great if pregnant women and their partners could get along to a breastfeeding class before having their babies or for pregnant women to visit a breastfeeding group like a La Leche League Meeting. I remember being so surprised to hear that a baby could feed and then want to feed again thirty minutes later when we were at our NCT breastfeeding session. Seeing the belly balls that show how tiny babies’ tummies are at first really helped as well. Still, cluster feeds, growth spurts, these were things I was in the dark about.

I’d really recommend you read Kellymom’s Breastfeeding your newborn – what to expect in the early weeks, Kate Evan’s hilarious and informative comic book The Food of Love and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding to find out all about what normal newborn breastfeeding is like. In fact, that site and those books can also give some insight into all stages of breastfeeding because even when you’re breastfeeding a toddler there’s stuff to relax about and just accept.

Your presence is everything to your baby

As I said in the sleep section, your baby’s survival instinct is to keep you close. That is because human babies are born helpless. They can’t even hold on to their mothers. They are completely dependent. More than that, a mother’s instinct is to be with her baby and often we’re taught, quite strangely, to reject this deep need of ours as if it’s harmful to our babies and to us.

I want to claim back the hours I stressed about my daughter needing to nap on my lap or beside me. All the time I felt she should be feeding less. I wish I’d learned to use a sling sooner than four weeks and diversified my knowledge so I could be confident in carrying my baby. I wish I’d researched safe bed sharing practices sooner so I wouldn’t have beaten myself up trying not to bring her into bed with us and then beaten myself up for bedsharing.

Being close easily gives your baby more opportunities to breastfeed. It’s good for your supply and, believe it or not, good for your sanity. Breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than formula feeding mothers – IF they are sleeping close to their babies. I’m not saying that all breastfeeding mothers need to adopt bedsharing and babywearing but I’m not going to lie to you, they can help.

You do need help

But isn’t this all a bit…much? It’s so much pressure on a mum, new or not. All this waking, all this breastfeeding, all this closeness – it’s bound to overwhelm her and it’s, well, downright unfeminist, dammit. Happy mum, happy baby, right?

Well, I can see where you’re coming from but for many mums, stopping breastfeeding before they’re ready doesn’t make them happy. You know what would make a lot of us happy? Not being alone in this. Not having the additional pressures of cleaning the house and cooking while learning to feed this new baby. Having someone come and play with our older child or maybe hold the baby for a bit (if we ask them to, not getting grabby if we rather they didn’t).

It’s hard for women to relax and accept that they need help though. It’s drummed into us that we’re supposed to be good at all of it. That we’re supposed to be OK as soon as possible. It’s crushing when we discover we’re not. I often ask women who are struggling with breastfeeding (whether it’s because of normal newborn stuff or an actual breastfeeding problem) if there’s any way they can get some help during the day but I know there are often so many things in the way of a mum letting go and saying, “Please, help me.” But I really wish she would. And I really, really wish the response wouldn’t be: “Well, you express (ie potentially introduce breastfeeding risks and do more work) and I’ll give a bottle.”

You may need breastfeeding support

The final thing I’d love breastfeeding mothers to relax and accept is that they may need a breastfeeding peer supporter or an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), or a breastfeeding group or a breastfeeding counselor on a helpline – that they may need some extra breastfeeding help. It doesn’t have to be “perfect” right away. You may have difficulties and you can get help. You may not have any big problems but would just benefit from being around other mothers who are likeminded and who have been there. A huge part of why women don’t continue to breastfeed for as long as they’d like is because they lack support.

If you’re pregnant or have a new baby, please look to any of these supporters I’ve mentioned. Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, La Leche League or NCT. If all your friends have stopped breastfeeding and you’re still going, I encourage you to relax and accept that getting plugged into a group of breastfeeding mothers. This path is not meant to be travelled alone.

This post had a giveaway attached, which is why some of the comments are random.


That time I checked out Kiddicare at Cribbs Causeway


Last week Wednesday, I left my breastfeeding group in Shirehampton to catch a bus up to Cribbs Causeway for a blogger event I’d been invited to at Bristol’s new Kiddicare store. At the group, a friend effectively said that she didn’t think it would be my scene and I can see why. It’s pretty plastic fantastic over there. There are some genuinely lovely products in there too, though, and it’s an enjoyable shopping experience. Yes, I went as a blogger but couldn’t resist shopping in the end. For things I needed, I tell myself.


First look around the Kiddicare store

I spent quite a while in the baby clothes section. I’ve hardly ever bought Talitha any clothes, preferring to accept whatever we’re given second hand. However, I do tend to buy them for friends, which I did on this occasion. It was lovely to see Frugi there and to see that the Morrison’s line, Nutmeg, goes for bold, creative prints instead of sticking with the usual pastel blah, characteristic of many baby clothes.

Could have seen more of…

I lit up on noting reusable cloth nappy options. Lots of gorgeous Bambino Mio miosolos on view. However, the in-store range is quite limited. I only saw Bambino Mio and Waterbabies. I’d love to see more brands and styles there. The trend back towards cloth nappies is growing and one nappy doesn’t necessarily fit all body shapes.

We can cook

The highlight of the afternoon for Talitha and me was the Kiddy Cooks CookieTots lesson. Talitha made a tomato soup which involved a lot of measuring and mixing. We cook together at home but usually it’s a case of me getting on with things and letting her join in when it suits me. In the class, she was very much the cook and she displayed autonomy in her role, really getting into it. When she got home, she was excited to show Laurence what she’d “cooked”.

Not Code compliant

I was really annoyed when I saw the Avent bottle that had been put in my goodie bag – not because I’m bottle adverse, because I do think bottles can have their place but because it was the first time I’d seen all the copy on their packaging. Phrases like “natural latch-on”, “The natural way to bottle feed” and “breast-shaped” are unsubstantiated by any evidence, frankly impossible and misleading to parents. On the side of the box is a testimonial by a mother of a two-month-old, which just seems aggressive marketing since Avent have gone for the youngest age they could get away with and still pretend to be breastfeeding friendly.

I’m sure Kiddicare’s PR reps don’t realise it but including this bottle in my goodie bag actually breaks the International Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes: “Manufacturers and distributors should not distribute to pregnant women or mothers of infants and young children any gifts of articles or utensils which may promote the use of breast-milk substitutes or bottle-feeding.”

A part of me thinks “Well, none of the big retailers stick with the Code – I expect this” but, then again, that really isn’t good enough. I think it’s important for us to keep calling on retailers like Kiddicare to raise their standards. So, I will be writing to Kiddicare and Avent will then consider whether to contact anyone else.

EDIT: I’ve since received word from Kiddicare that they have removed bottles from all future goodie bags.

Impressed by car seats

I was, however, most impressed by their car seat section. This is what I’ve mainly heard Kiddicare recommended for and I can see why. The sheer height and breadth of options was breathtaking. I wish I’d gone there for our stage one car seat. Instead of soldiering on for fifteen months with a car seat that fit our travel system (which we never used!) but was all wrong for our car, we could have been expertly led through a few options and made a more educated decision.

I actually got to test this part of the service while at Kiddicare as I needed to buy a second car seat for cars other than ours. We have a rear-facing stage two Britax which we’re so impressed with but I wanted to buy a quick and easy to plug in forward-facing car seat for occasional use in other people’s cars. I was impressed with the knowledge and friendliness of the staff (they didn’t know I was there as a blogger). There’s a nice computer system to make fitting appointments with the car seat team so you’re not left hanging about.

There was, however, a hiccup with delivery as the car seat was supposed to arrive at my house two days later, which it didn’t. However, Kiddicare were prompt and polite in sorting out the situation.

Conclusion

On leaving I had mixed feelings, as I often do leaving stores like this. I do think parents, especially new parents, are being sold things they don’t necessarily need but then, I’m realistic enough to know that they’ll probably buy them anyway.

The store is well laid-out, bright and easy to navigate. There are lots of pretty cool touches like screens that update in-store prices when the online prices change and bunting made from bibs. There’s even a little cafe with a play area and the calendar on the wall in the events room boasted lots of fun activities for parents and small children. As high street shopping experiences go, it’s a positive one. I have over the past three years gone into Kiddicare’s competitors for one thing or another over time and I genuinely think I could have done better to go there instead, stress-wise.

The play area at the store’s cafe

I was invited by Kiddicare Bristol to a blogger event which included a Kiddy Cooks lesson, a guided tour and a goodie bag. The team were lovely and I did enjoy myself but, as always, I only give honest opinions.

PS: Apologies for the blurry photography. It was a busy day and I forgot to take my camera. I currently have a practically ancient iPhone 3G. Must upgrade.


There is a reason new mothers are drawn to other mothers

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This Kenco coffee shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias and their client. All my opinions are my own, as always. #cbias #SocialFabric

I got a text this evening from my friend Abbie checking that my cats were OK. She’d seen me outside the vet’s and, having been at my house earlier, knew that one of them was having a rough day. Fellow feline lovers, he’s absolutely fine. I’ve paid the vet dearly for that news.

Anyway, the text was yet another sweet reminder of this friendship that’s grown up between Abbie and I, largely around our children. We started hanging out when I was pregnant and her son was two. I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine parenting a child that age and now I am!

I’ve been struck again today by the connective power of motherhood. There’s something about becoming a mother that makes you instinctively reach out to other mothers. There’s a deep need inside us to do that. Consequently, we find ourselves getting intimate more quickly than we would at any other time in our lives, discussing the state of our bodies, our babies and this new world into which we’ve been hurled. There’s nothing wrong with that. Our natural instinct prompts us to balance ourselves and balance each other.

Here are the flowers she bought me as a housewarming present

This is certainly the way I feel after a cup of coffee with Abbie. I always leave our chats energised and grateful for her positive and sensible outlook on her life, her wisdom as a more experienced mother and the non-judgemental friendship she always offers me.

When Abbie came over this morning we had a bit of brunch, a decent chat and a cup of Kenco Millicano, a “wholebean” instant coffee which is meant to be closer to “proper” coffee. I think that claim is quite accurate actually. I’m a filter girl all the way but I’ll now be happy to use this as my quick fix – and who doesn’t need a quick fix when you’re running around after a busy toddler?

As an aside for coffee snobs, here’s the “real coffee” devotee guide to instant: put the coffee granules in first, then the milk, mix well and add the hot water last. The effect might be purely psychological but I really think it’s the way to drink instant coffee.

We talked about education choices (hers looming, mine have time yet), remembered the difficulties of early motherhood and enjoyed our children playing together in the garden and with Talitha’s toy kitchen. It was her first visit to our new digs too.

What is it about becoming a mother that makes us seek others out, that allows us to form these strange and wonderful relationships? I find myself wanting to tell every new mother I meet just how valuable surrounding themselves is. The journey can be painfully isolating, plagued with guilt and worry. A friendly cuppa with another mother who’s either been there or understands that no one can fully understand can so transform that.

Check out my shopping experience buying Kenco Millicano at Sainsbury’s over on Google+


When we read: Caribbean animals

My friend Fritha who blogs at Tigerlilly Quinn started a fortnightly project dedicated to sharing children’s books we love. I’ve been dying to join in with some Caribbean flavour so here I am. The book I wanted to show you this week is Dawne Allette’s Caribbean Animals.

My mother gave Talitha this book when she was fifteen-months-old. From the start, she’s been fascinated with it. Of course, she is. Animals. It’s your typical alphabet book but its rhythm is distinctly Caribbean as are the animals that feature in its pages.

Ned dances us through twenty-six of the Caribbean’s animals, pausing every now and then to observe a mouse building his “house”. This sweet sub-story seemed ridiculous and out of place to me when I first read the book but it’s highly effective. Talitha is so interested in what the mouse is doing and when he’s ready for bed so is she.

I find it impossible to read this book in a British accent. From page one, I feel like I’m in Trinidad again and my voice reflects it. After all, how can a Trini say “manicou”, “nanny goat” or “zandoli” in anything but a Trini accent? It’s always strange to me how certain subjects call that familiar sound out in me. Memory and music must be share their home in my brain.

I really want Talitha to grow up fully knowing that she is part Trinbagonian. For that matter, I’d like her to feel her roots in Jamaica too since that’s where Laurence’s mother is from. Hopefully, books like this one will bring the Caribbean closer to her, making it culturally and symbolically a second home. Who knows, we could live there some day.

It always amuses me, though, that while she’s growing up reading books about the Caribbean, I grew up reading books rooted in England!


20 thrifty things to do with your toddler in the summer

All year long, Laurence and I look forward to Summer, daydreaming about holidays and festivals – often ones we cannot afford. Over time since Talitha was born, it became evident than none of us would be happy with me working full time. We’re both convinced that she has a strong need to be with me at this time of her life and he has the greater earning potential at the moment anyway.

That sounds good in theory but it has means we’ve had to get creative to figure out how to live on one salary (and a bit). We don’t have it all sorted but, in hope of making the most of this summer without digging into debt, I’m making a list of thrifty things I plan to do with my two-year-old before the season’s up. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Go swimming
Just about everyone else I know takes their toddlers swimming it seems. I’ve taken her a fair bit when we go to Trinidad but as it’s rarely hot enough in the UK for me to feel like swimming, I haven’t been highly motivated. I also don’t drive, so getting to most decent pools presents a bit of a challenge for me, albeit not an insurmountable one. We recently tried taking Talitha in an indoor swimming pool and she wasn’t too happy about the idea so it’s made me realise that it’s been too long. So, the plan is for me to buy a swimsuit I actually feel comfortable in and start taking her swimming again.

2. Paint with water
So simple, so clean, so free. Why have we not done this yet?

3. Make mud pies
I loved doing this as a child. Looking forward to getting the trowels out and getting a good ol’ dig on in the garden.

4. Ride bikes as a family
This is another that it’s surprising we haven’t done. Laurence is something of a more serious cyclist. Talitha would adore going on a ride with him. I, on the other hand, am learning to cycle (yes, along with driving, I don’t do this either!).

5. Make gift paper with potato stamps and handprints
I always have it in my head that I’m going to be super thrifty and creative by making Christmas presents. The problem is that only occurs to me in November or December by which time, if we’re being completely real, it’s too late. I figured we’d get it right this year at least with the gift paper since it’s something we can do really well together.

6. Have a stuffed animal picnic
In the last months, it’s been amazing to watch Talitha’s imaginative play grow and grow. She loves giving tea to her stuffed rabbits and reading stories to all her animals. She also got a toy kitchen for her birthday which has been such a hit. I reckon a picnic in the garden with a few of her favourite stuffed animals and some bits from the toy kitchen would be just the thing.

7. Visit the ducks
There are a few ducks in a stream near the house we’ve just moved into and I’m keen to take Talitha down for a visit. I’d initially written “feed the ducks” there but I’m not sure that’s environmentally a great idea so I think we may just go and say hello instead.

8. Actually garden
Many a year I’ve tried to grow a few things and keep them alive. I’ve planted some bits and bobs this year and Talitha is making me keep them alive! Every day she asks, “Water plants?” Win, win.

9. Explore the parks in our area
I keep hearing about all the parks in our area and I can’t wait to take her out in them now that she’s walking more and more. It would be brilliant to find our own special haunts.

10. Go foraging
I’ve been reading a really interesting book called The Green Witch: A Modern Woman’s Herbal. It contains so much valuable herbal information set forth in a straightforward, common sense way. I want to start putting what I’ve learned from it into practice and take Talitha to gather wild things.

11. Collect and paint rocks

12. Join a forest school
There’s one that runs in our area that is either free or 50p a session. It sounds like it would be great for falling in love with the outdoors.

13. Fly a kite

14. Find free local events
We’re really lucky here in Bristol in that respect. There’s so much on that we could find something reasonably thrifty to go see every weekend of the summer months. One event we’re thinking of going to is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. But just about anywhere, there are free or cheap local events on if you just give it a look.

15. Walk along a pier
There’s something about meeting the water on a pier. I can see Talitha running up one and loving the view of the waves and the feel of the wind on her skin. I may be wrong but we’ll give it a go anyway.

16. Visit local museums we’ve not been to yet
We’ve done the two obvious local museums so far but there are so many other quirky delights to be found. I remember thinking that museums weren’t something Talitha would appreciate until she was much older but she always surprises me by taking an interest in the exhibits whenever we visit one.

17. Get sensory with bath time
Talitha is going through a phase at the moment where she hates bathing. I don’t know what it is but suddenly, every night, she declares “NO BATH!” and it is impossible to safely give her one so we have to resort to splashing her or giving her a cloth wash instead. I’m hoping these sensory bath ideas re-entice her.

18. Go scooting – a lot
We got her a Mini Micro Scooter for her birthday and, amazing to me, she actually knows how to use it. I want to give her as much opportunity as possible to really master it.

19. Wash the car
It may be an odd one I know but we treat our car as if it’s self-cleaning most of the time and I know it’s the sort of thing a toddler would get a kick out of doing. Now that we have a drive to park in, it’s a safer activity too. I figure, two birds, one stone.

20. Go on a nature colour hunt
Talitha is now pretty consistent with her naming of colours (except that she still thinks red is called “colour”) so I figured we’d give this nature colour hunt a try so she could start matching colours in a beautifully sensory way.

Over to you, what plans do you have for your little ones this summer?


Two years old

Two years ago today, I was in hospital with my mum and Laurence, having an induction bring to a close the labour I’d been in for days. I look back now still feeling that Talitha could have entered the world in a gentler way but just so grateful that she is here.
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