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Yup, Little Man is at the ‘Why?” stage.  Except that he actually asks “How” instead of “Why”.  All day, it’s “How this?” and “How that?”.  And lately he’s also caught on to the fact that I find it a bit… tiresome.  So do you know what he’s started doing?  Asking endless series of “Hows” with a big smirk on his face.  So yesterday, I put my many years of higher education to work to nip this poop in the bud enlighten him:

 

Little Man: “Hey Mom?”

Me: “Yes, sweetheart.”

Little Man: “How did Dad go boat fishing?”

Me: “He drove in the car.”

Little Man: “How did he drive in the car?”

You want to know how Dad drives the car? I can tell you. How much detail do you want??

Me: “On the road.”

Little Man: “How did the car get on the road?”

Me; “He turned it on and drove it on the road.”

Little Man: “How did he turn it on and drive it?”

(are you seeing now why I find this so irritating??)

Me: “With his hands and feet.”

Little Man: “How did he drive the car with his hands and feet?”

Sigh…

Me. “Well, you see, the nerve impulses, what are called action potentials travel all the way down the neuron from his brain to his hands and feet and when they get there, the positive membrane potential causes acetylcholine to be released into the neuromuscular junction, which causes the muscle fibres to contract so that his hands and feet move.”

Little Man: *blink, blink, vanishing smirk* “Hey Mom?”

Me: “Yes, sweetheart.”

Little Man: “Do you want to see me do a big jump?”

Me: “I sure do!”

Mission accomplished.

 

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PS Many thanks are owed to Charlotte Youngson for her excellent physiology teaching.

 

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With the exception of my year of paid maternity leave with my first son I have never actually been not working and/or studying since I’ve had kids and yet most people see me as just a housewife**.  And you can call me overly sensitive or insecure or whatever you want, but I know it affects the way people – even people who care about me – interact with me.

Because I’m a girl I’m better at shopping than math.

There’s a room in our home (where I’m typing right now) that is set up as an office.  It’s a generalized office, not really ‘belonging’ to either of us specifically.  But, I run my Doula business from home (from this room, in fact) and I’ve been a part-time student for the last year so I do homework at home.  Whenever visitors to our home have reason to reference this room, guess what they call it?  “Mr. Fair’s office.”  Why?  Oh, you know, because he leaves the house every day to earn money and I’m just a housewife, so he must be the only one with important things to do in that room, not me.

We have a special holiday tradition in our family too.  It’s called “Who’s going to hang up the phone on us this time?”  Here’s how it goes: my Mother-in-law asks everyone when they are available to get together for the holiday.  Everyone replies with their work schedules.  My work schedule always comes in the form of “My client’s baby is estimated for X date.  If it’s born then I can make the 2-hour drive out of town, if not I can’t because that’s my job.”  A date is picked to meet everyone else’s work needs – in fact usually the date revolved around my (former) sister-in-law’s cashier job because she’s not a housewife, so her job mattered.  The holiday approaches and we repeat the caveat that I can’t come if I’m working and each and every holiday someone in Mr. Fair’s family slams the phone down on us.  Why?  Oh, you know, because my job doesn’t take me out of the house, so it’s not a real job.  I’m really just a housewife with a hobby.

For me, these things are irritating, but they’re not a substantial hardship in my life.  I’m well educated and confident in my abilities and intellect.  I have a partner who fell in love with me in part because of how smart I am.  I had a decent repertoire of smart, confident role models and I’ve always been surrounded by smart and accomplished female peers.  In fact, I’m the only one from my group of undergrad roommates who doesn’t go by the title “Dr.”

But gender stereotypes shape people’s lives.  My mother’s rural highschool offered girls a 4-year secretarial track or a 5-year nursing track.  My mom grew up with the understanding that university was an option for her brothers (one they both exercised) but not for her.  It’s entirely possible that such a limitation was not in fact in place but whether de jure, de facto or imaginary her perception of that barrier determined what she aspired to and how she progressed through her education.  And she has lived with the consequences of that barrier ever since.

We know from countless studies in countless fields that people, by and large, live up to (or down to) their role models.  It’s in part why poverty and domestic violence are cyclical.  And we know that it specifically applies to girls’ performance and confidence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects.

When girls see opportunities for themselves in science, technology, engineering and math, they’re more likely to take higher math in high school and more likely to pursue those careers

So if you don’t think that the Children’s Place T-shirt matters, ask yourself this: what kind of role models is a girl seeing if she lives in a house where the parents think that such a message is funny or appropriate to plaster on her?  Do you think the girl whose parents put that T-shirt on her is going to see opportunities for herself in STEM careers?  Will she end up like me or like my mom?

I have a daughter and a son and it’s hard not to raise them with restrictive gender stereotypes.  But giving her options in her life is important and speaking out about these things is the only way to open new opportunities for our daughters.  All of our daughters.

Unfortunately, as Annie from PhD in Parenting has discovered more than once, people don’t seem to want new opportunities for their daughters.  In fact they think it’s so important that no one tries to change things for their daughters that they tell people who do to get lost.

How about you get off twitter and do some algebra?  And if you’re no good at algebra then ask yourself if you think that’s because of your inferior gender.

**N.B. There’s nothing wrong with being a SAHM, I’m using the term ‘just a housewife’ to convey how little value society puts on the role of women in the home, not how much value I put on it.  I think SAHM’s rock 🙂

The other day Mr. Fair and I had the following hilarious conversation.  Little Man was away at his grandparents’ house and we were discussing what to do with an evening with only one small(ish) child in the house.  Can you guess where this is going?

Mr. Fair: “We should watch a movie tonight.  And, drink some wine too.”

Me: “Yup.  And hey, we could even DO IT!”

Mr. Fair: “Ya, while we’re drinking wine!”

Me: “And here’s a crazy idea: we can do it in our bed!!”

(NB. The current sleeping situation consists of DH and Little Man in the ‘Master Bedroom’ and me and Lady Fair in the ‘kids’ bedroom.’  So Little Man’s absence frees up what is ostensibly the grown up bed)

MR. Fair: **Gives me a slightly quizzical look.** “Ya, I guess we could… Wait… Aren’t we talking about folding laundry?”

Fuck.

When I meet with expectant parents who have hired me to be their Doula, I give them what may seem like a very odd warning coming from a breastfeeding advocate: avoid pumping.

Pumps can be great tools.  I use mine almost every week as I drive to school, as many drivers on Toronto’s roads can confirm.  I am by no means anti-pump.  But pumps, like any other birth or breastfeeding intervention have a time and place and if not used correctly can do more harm than good.  The trouble is that the buzz about pumps seems to have elevated them to the level of a panacea for breastfeeding problems.

“Should I start pumping to make sure I have enough milk?”

“My nipples hurt so my doctor told me to pump.”

“She wasn’t gaining weight so they told me to pump.”

“I was tired/depressed/you name it, so they told me to pump.”

Pump, pump pump.  And whenever someone asks me if they should pump, for whatever reason, I always reply with “And then what?”  Invariably, I get a blank stare.  It’s absolutely vital that if you’re integrating pumping into your breastfeeding relationship that you have a clear plan for what you need to achieve and how to make it a part of your long-term feeding goals, not an impediment to them.

Know when not to pump.

There are times to pump and times NOT to pump.  It may not be what a mother wants to hear when she’s in pain from sore or cracked nipples, but the only way to fix the majority of breastfeeding challenges is AT THE BREAST.  Compare your new nursing relationship to a fledgling romantic relationship for a moment.  If you’ve just met the man of your dreams and you send your sister on all of your dates, do you think he’s more likely to marry you or your sister?  She may be very inferior to you, but he won’t know that because he doesn’t know you.  Unless your baby is completely unable to feed at the breast, whether from severe mechanical latch issues or due to separation, then it’s important to develop your feeding relationship at the breast.

Feed the baby, not the pump.

But let’s say that you are pumping, the next key is to make sure that you’re feeding the baby first and not the pump.  It sounds ridiculous, but believe me it’s not.  If you’re pumping exclusively due to a separation, this is straightforward enough, but most women I encounter are pumping in conjunction with feeding at the breast and it can be incredibly easy to mismanage this kind of situation.

Example number one: you’re told to pump after feeds to increase supply.  So let’s say it’s your first daylight feed of the day.  Baby starts to nurse at about 7 a.m.  By the time you let her finish the first breast, change her diaper and offer the second breast, she dozes off so you enjoy the quiet for a couple of extra minutes.  Then you hand her to dad or doula while you go pee and grab a super quick shower.  You sit down and hook up your pump and you’re ready to boost your supply!  Except, hang on, it’s 8:30 now.  If your baby is only a few days old, then he’ll be ready to eat again very soon.  Probably the second you’re done pumping, and maybe even before you’re done.  We know that breasts are never truly empty so technically this won’t actually cause a problem.  You can put baby to your recently drained breast and the milk will come.  The thing is, it is also true that when the volume of ready-and-waiting milk is low, the flow can be very slow.  Baby fusses and since you are already nervous about how much milk you do or do not have, and because you’re a new mama and hearing your baby cry for milk hurts your heart, you feed her the milk you just pumped.  Since you just pumped it, you may not think to pump again right away…  Repeat this several times a day and your breastfeeding relationship can easily turn into a bottle-feeding relationship at the same time that you deride yourself for not making enough, even though you are, you’re just feeding it to the machine instead of the baby.

Example number two: you’re told to pump every three hours.  This recommendation usually comes when mom and baby are having intermittent separations, like mom sleeping at home while baby remains in the hospital, but I’ve also seen it advised for supply increase, in between feeding the baby on cue.  So let’s say you’re with baby and again she has her first morning feed at 7 a.m.  You’re good about pumping right after she eats, so that’s at 8 a.m.  You continue on with your morning and babe eats again at 9 ish and then falls asleep.  Now it’s 10:45 and you’re just hooking up your pump because it’s almost been 3 hours, but baby wakes up cuing at the exact same time.  So often I see moms try to hand the hunger-cuing baby to dad or grandma or me to hold while she pumps because, after all, she’s been told that pumping is what will boost her supply!  The trouble is that baby’s natural feeding interval has been unnaturally stretched for the sake of maintaining the recommended pumping interval.  Pretty soon you can get a baby who is slow to gain.  Meanwhile, the pumping that was supposed be added on top of nursing in order to boost supply has actually just replaced the feeding at the breast.  Mom is trying so hard to do the right thing, but the outcome can be the opposite of what she wants.

Have a plan for your pumped milk.

If your instructions to pump are coming from someone who does not have lactation training – read: most family physicians and paediatricians and even (as I’ve sadly discovered) many midwives in Ontario – then they often don’t give you any instructions about how to deliver the pumped milk.  That’s because they don’t know any way to deliver the milk other than by bottle.  The truth is, if you want to resume your breastfeeding relationship, then you need to deliver the milk in a way that protects that relationship.  My personal favourite is to use small feeding tubes because they can be used at the breast or, if necessary with a finger.  But there are many ways to deliver milk other than bottles and it’s important to explore those options.

Understand the demands of pumping.

Like with so many things, the media has a tendency to distort the reality of pumping.  It’s often made out to be the secret to getting your pre-baby freedom back.  Movies show moms sleeping blissfully while their partner drags himself out of bed to pull a bottle of pumped breastmilk from the fridge.  Moms who pump, we’re told, can leave the house for hours without a care in the world.  It is absolutely crucial to understand that feeding the baby pumped breastmilk is still feeding the baby with your body and it places just as many, if not more, demands on your body as feeding at the breast does.

The first thing to know is that pumps are much less efficient at withdrawing milk than skilled breastfeeding babies are.  And even with the best pump, not all breasts will release milk readily.  So pumping often takes longer than breastfeeding.  Sure, you may have slightly more flexibility about the pumping intervals, but that’s a scheduling benefit, not a time savings.  And when I say slightly more flexibility, I really do mean very, very slightly.  The number one question moms ask me is “Can I pump during the day so someone else can do the night feed.”  Technically, the answer is yes, but there is a long list of caveats.  The first being that, as I’ve said, when you’re mixing feeding at the breast with pumping, you have to be very careful to feed the baby, not the pump.  And it’s important to know too, that most moms don’t actually sleep through that feeding time.  When that baby that you love so much cries, it will make every molecule in your body vibrate.  Warming bottles takes time and during that time, baby is likely to be crying, waking you up, not to mention stressing you out.  Even if you do manage to sleep through it, your body has been awake making milk for that feed.  So it’s possible you’ll wake up an hour later anyway but with full, sore breasts.  If this is happening before your supply is established, it’s very likely to signal your body to make less and less milk.  Believe me, I know it’s important for mom to rest, but there are so many better ways to achieve that than skipping feeds.

I don’t mean to paint a horrifying picture, many moms do manage to pump, either exclusively or when separated from baby.  Like I said at the start, I’m one of them.  After returning to work when Lady Fair was 6 months old, pumping was a work-day reality for me.  So let me paint you a real picture of what it’s like to be pumping when you’re away from baby.  When I get in the car to rush off to a birth, I take a gigantic enormous bin with me, full of the stuff I need.  More than half of the contents of that bin are not for the birthing mama, but rather for pumping and storing milk.  Sometimes I take more luggage into a birthing room than the woman who is giving birth.  And even though I pack and check my kit ahead of time, things go wrong.  I’ve had to recharge my pump in a birthing room before.  I’ve had to dump perfectly good milk down the sink because I ran out of freezer bags to store it in.  I’ve had to dump perfectly good milk down the sink because I dropped part of my pump on a scuzzy hospital visitor bathroom floor and didn’t trust that the subsequent milk wasn’t contaminated (blech!!).  I’ve had to do my best to focus on supporting my client while remembering not to put my right arm down because my work duties didn’t allow for regular pumping breaks and now my super-producing breast is engorged.  Only the one breast, mind you, so I’ve also had to walk around in public with one boob that’s twice the size of the other!  And probably my personal favourite, I’ve had strangers walk in on me pumping because I forgot to lock the door.  Oops!  It’s absolutely wonderful that I can provide breastmilk for my babe while I’m away and when it’s all said and done, these little hiccups make fun stories, but while you’re doing it, it’s challenging, and it’s important to be realistic about that.

So what am I supposed to do if pumping is out of the picture?

Really, there’s nothing magical.  Know that most of the time, you and your baby only need each other to breastfeed successfully.  Focus on feeding frequently and supply will follow.  Focus on finding a comfortable position and chances are, a good latch will follow.  Surround yourself with people who know about and value breastfeeding and confidence will follow.  And if you do need to intervene, do it with a clear plan and good support.

So last week, I attended my first birth as a doula.  An incredible, difficult, tiring, miraculous, and wonderful birth that took a total of 32 hours, 22 of which I was there for.  This week, I’m back on call for my next client and next month – over the holidays, as a matter of fact – there will be yet another.

I left my house at 1 am last Wednesday morning, and didn’t get home until 11 pm, meaning I didn’t see my son from the time he went to bed Tuesday night until he woke up Thursday morning.  My daughter, meanwhile, had a dream feed about an hour before I left, and another right after I crawled back into bed with her.  The hours in between were spent having (more or less) the first bottled meals of her 7 month long life.

I was nervous, obviously, about how all of this would go down for her, but it worked well and I can sum up the reason why in just two simple words: Attachment Parenting.

Thanks to the attachment practice of cosleeping, I didn’t unnecessarily lengthen our separation.  As I said, I didn’t set eyes on my son for 36 hours, but he’s two and a half and not only sleeps in his own room (with Dad joining him as needed), he’s already spent several happy weekends with his grandparents.  But Lady Fair is only 7 months old.  Frankly, even 22 hours felt too long to be away.  Thirty-six hours is just inconceivable.  If we didn’t share sleep, it could have been 36 and the additional hours would have been completely unnecessary.  If we didn’t share sleep because we were trying to follow a book-prescribed sleep program, then an already difficult situation would have been rendered more difficult by a person who has never met me or my child, and who has no actual knowledge of our situation or needs.

Thanks to attachment parenting, I was able to leave at a moment’s notice without worrying that a messed up ‘routine’ would throw the kids into some kind of coping tailspin.  You see, aside from the major time markers of breakfast, lunch and dinner, our daily routine is this: child has need, child expresses need, caregiver meets need to best of caregiver’s ability.  That’s a pretty easy one to follow, and it depends only on a loving caregiver.  Mr Fair, as co-parent, certainly fits the description of loving caregiver and, when armed with a freezer full of booby juice, has every tool he needs to parent solo without trauma for anyone.  The kids obviously felt my absence, but not to the same degree as if a missed snack of 1/4 cup rice gruel at 10:17 am led them to a missed nap at 10:36 am which then made them too tired to focus on their Baby Einstein flashcards from 11:46:30 to 11:59:59.  Their day remained exactly the same as normal, just with a hairier chest to snuggle on.

As an extension to the above, taking an attachment-based approach with my kids meant it was much easier to come home again.  I’m not under the illusion that a human being will have the exact same needs at the exact same time of day, every single day, so when Lady Fair expressed a need to reconnect after my absence, it was no big deal.  She spent the next two days almost constantly in-arms (yay ring sling!), sleeping only at the breast.  And that was lucky for me because, guess what?  I was exhausted!  I couldn’t have spent the day trying to stay awake to reestablish a schedule even if I wanted to.  Instead, I just enjoyed the snuggles without worrying that it was the oft-feared ‘bad habit’, a harbinger of chronic dependence that is sure to persist into adulthood.  And of course, it wasn’t a habit at all, just a need.  One that passed away once it had been filled (she’s upstairs asleep in bed as I type this), and one which I was able to fill thanks to attachment parenting.

It’s not easy transitioning back to work when you have little ones.  The logistics and emotions can be complex and unpredictable.  But for the good of our family as a whole, and my mental health specifically, reestablishing a career is something I have to do.  I’m just grateful that we have so many tools on our parenting workbench that I can do it with few side-effects.

How does attachment parenting help you cope with life’s challenges?

You’ve heard about why.  And you’ve heard about how.  Now do you wanna see what it looks like??  Well feast your eyes.

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Dropping the F-bomb

BLW Part I: The Whys

BLW Part II: The Hows

 

This is part two of a 3-part series on baby-led solids/weaning (BLW) in honour of Lady Fair’s half-year birthday and consequent move away from exclusive breastfeeding.  In part 1 we talked about some of the great reasons to do it, and now we’ll go over some practical tips.  The thing about BLW is that it really doesn’t require instructions beyond “give food to the baby”, but people who are used to pureeing usually want some more details, so here they are.

Size & Shape

The main thing about BLW is that the kids are putting the food in their mouths themselves, and they’re starting well before they work out that little pincer grip.  In other words, dicing is no-dice.  It’s all about the long-skinny so that they can wrap their whole adorable little fist around it and still have an end poking out to get in their mouths.

My favourites for novice eaters are bananas halved lengthwise, avocados cut into longitudinal wedges and broccoli trees.  Once they get older and more coordinated, brussels sprouts and scrambled egg yolks are pretty grabable.

Meat always seems to present a difficulty.  Some people cut it into really narrow long strips, but my kiddo couldn’t figure out how to flop it into his mouth.  He also had front teeth very early, so he’d bite a chunk off and then not be able to chew it and problems would ensue.  So I went Alicia Silverstone on it and pre-chewed, then propped it up in a little pile on his plate.  Gross, but effective.

Grip

As scary and weird as it seems, try to leave peels and rinds on when possible.  Bananas are a perfect example.  If you take the peel off, that nanner will fly out of baby’s hand like the escargot out of Julia Roberts’ in Pretty Woman.  Apples with a skinless landing strip around the equator and peel at each pole are easy to hold onto and run your gums over.  If you’re into grains you can also try dusting food with some sort of cereal crumb.

Out & About

First off, BLW makes travelling way easier, and being lazy, that makes me very happy.  But what you need to plan/bring changes more rapidly than with pureed food.

If baby is only a few days/weeks onto solids then the biggest question is really whether or not baby actually needs to eat (other than nursing, obviously) while you’re out.  Remember the rule of thumb “before 1 it’s just for fun.”  Kids really don’t need to be having three squares a day.  In fact, in the first couple of weeks they’re unlikely to swallow enough to make the endeavor calorically worthwhile anyway.  So there’s the nothing option.

But if your wee one is firmly into the eating world, avocados, bananas and brussels sprouts all travel well and make relatively little mess.  For more adventurous babies, order the soup and bread and share dipped bread with them.  Alternatively, bits from a garden salad or side baked potato do wonders.  And my all-time food court favourite? Sushi rolls.  They’re mouthful sized, nutritious and TIDY.

IKEA Antilop Highchair

Bibs = useless. Think ‘full coverage’.

Clean-up

And speaking of tidiness… you know all of those little wee bibbies you were given?  Forget them.  Truly.  So useless.  If you must use a cover, then the IKEA full-body smock is the only rational option, but I prefer to strip baby bare.  Much easier to swab a baby than wash and fold a stack of smocks.  And while we’re at it, the more elaborate your high-chair, the more crevices there are to stick food in.  IKEA comes in handy here again with their smooth plastic, single piece, TWENTY DOLLAR high chair.  Can’t be beat.

Safety

These really should go for all early experiments with food, no matter how you introduce it.  The first item on the safety list, is to know the difference between gagging and choking.  Both look horrible and can make you panic.  One – gagging – tends to be noisy, while the other – choking – is silent.  So don’t ever turn your back on baby and assume you’ll hear her choking because you won’t.  Ultimately, the qualifier is air.  If baby is gagging, he can still breathe in between gags, which makes noise.  If baby is making noise (and thus breathing) you should NOT go smacking her on the back because that could make the offending bit of food block the currently unobstructed airway and cause choking.

Item number two is to leave baby UNBUCKLED while feeding.  This probably seems a bit counter-intuitive, especially since highchairs these days come with enough snaps and harnesses to rival a carseat, but the reality is that if baby does happen to start choking, you can’t help without removing her from the chair.  The harder it is to get her out of the chair, the longer it will take to help her.  Here is where we loop back to the previous paragraph and remind you not to turn your back while baby is eating, lest she somersault over the tray.

The final item on the list is to master ye old finger swipe and it is a bit more BLW specific.  If a bad gagging fit does hit, or even if you foresee trouble clearing an item from the mouth, the easiest way to help is to reach into the mouth and clear it with your finger.  Don’t be alarmed if this actually triggers gagging – you would too if someone reached into your mouth.  Also don’t freak out if all of this gagging triggers puking.  That’s the body’s way of making sure stuck objects get pushed up and out.
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So there you have it.  Baby-led weaning in a nutshell.  What tricks did you use to make it even easier?

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Dropping the F-bomb

BLW Part I: The Whys

BLW Part III: The Cuteness