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In the Guardian today, Jessica Valenti wrote an excellent piece about breastfeeding, bottlefeeding and judgement.  It was a lovely article, making making points well.  But it’s central point – namely that all parents are making the best choices for their families – is flawed.  Hang on, before you grit your teeth to prepare to read a bottle-feeding smear article, hear me out.

Choice in infant feeding is a myth

Valenti asks why we clamour to celebrate breastfeeding and why we don’t show the same adoration for bottle feeding.  The fact is, breastfeeding is still the underdog.  If you doubt that, simply look at the numbers – in Canada only one quarter of infants are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months.  In the United States that number is below one in five.  Feeding artificial milk is thus the normalized, if simultaneously derided, ‘choice’ simply by virtue of the numbers.

The real question though, is whether or not bottle-feeding is a choice.  Do we think that nearly 70 percent of the mothers who first ‘chose’ breastfeeding simply switch their choice to artificial milk a few weeks later?

In her article, Valenti gives us this beautifully personal and detailed account of how her feeding decisions were made”

In my case, when my daughter Layla was born, nearly three months early and weighing just 2lbs, breastfeeding wasn’t on the table. Instead, she was first fed intravenously and then later by feeding tube with milk I had religiously pumped. But the stress of having a very sick child does not do wonders for milk production and, by the time she came home two months later, I had to supplement breastfeeding with formula to make sure Layla got all the nutrition she needed. I felt like a failure and a terrible mother.

I enlisted the help of a lactation consultant and started pumping 15 minutes every hour (six hours a day!). Even as I cried in pain and was thrown into a horrible depression, I kept it up because I fully believed not only that “breast was best” but that formula was ruinous. It was only when I stopped – in part, because of the legitimate concerns raised by, among others, my extremely worried husband – that I truly bonded with my daughter. I had to give myself permission to be okay with bottle-feeding for nutrition and still breastfed Layla for comfort, for both our sakes.

Valenti sandwiches her story in sentences about her supposed choices, but her words make it incredibly clear that although she certainly made decisions, the circumstances were entirely too constrained to call those decisions choices.  When your traumatic premature birth leaves you unable to produce enough food for your baby, you are not ‘choosing’ artificial milk, it’s simply the only feasible option available to you.

A friend and I once co-wrote a blog post about our nearly identical early feeding journeys and their very different ends.  Ultimately we both made different feeding decisions, she bottle-fed her beautiful daughter and I’ve gone on to breastfeed both of my children.  Did either of us ‘choose’ the diverging routes we took?  No.  I got adequate professional support for my challenges and Kelly did not, that’s it.  In the early days of parenthood, when our bodies are recovering from the intense, and often traumatic, exertion of birth; when we are on a hormonal roller-coaster; when we’re abruptly left without a primary health care provider for either us or our babies; when the care providers we do seek out dole out bad advice on a topic they have absolutely no training in, are we really at liberty to make choices?

Going forward, our feeding decisions continue to face constraint.  In Canada, if we are conventionally employed, we enjoy 50 weeks of paid parental leave.  But in the US, the number is as low as six weeks and without any financial support.  I am as determined a breastfeeder as anyone, but I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t have spent two weeks struggling to get breastfeeding to work if I knew that it would probably go out the window four weeks later anyway.  I would have bottle fed and enjoyed my meagre time at home, then left for work free of the stress of finding the time, physical space and bodily ability to eject milk into a whirring machine.  It would have been my reality, but certainly not my choice.

Then there is the social treatment of the two feeding methods.  It sickens me to hear of bottle-feeding mothers being scorned.  It shouldn’t happen, yet we live in a world where we think we can know a person, their history and thoughts from 140 characters or a sepia-toned snapshot.  We’re ready to not only form an opinion in an Instagram, but are desperate to voice it.  But here again, breastfeeding women are still at a disadvantage.  Not only is their feeding method critiqued, those critiques are often encased in an additional and disgusting layer of sexualized commentary.  Anywhere from comments about the size, shape or desirability of the breasts, to accusing the woman of an act akin to public masturbation.  I have often heard women name anxiety about such harassment among their reasons for bottle feeding and if their inner sphere of family and friends isn’t supportive enough to counter this, it becomes a serious factor.  If fear of sex-based harassment is a motivator for a decision, that decision cannot truly be called a choice.

The myth of choice leaves us with no one to blame but each other

The crux of Valenti’s article is to beg us all to accept each other and the choices we make.  Her final sentence is one of support for parents “making the choices that are right for them and their children”.  I fully support the sentiment, but I firmly believe that the real solution is in repositioning the discussion.  We do need to fully support every parent for the decisions that are necessary for them and their children, but we need to stop masking the external influences on those decisions under the guise of choice.  Those of us who ‘succeed’ at breastfeeding need to admit that it was help and luck more than choice that created that success.  Those who wanted to breastfeed but switched to bottlefeeding need to feel able to say that it was not their choice, it was the necessary route and that sometimes we do what we must instead of what we wish.

It’s complicated and messy to say in the same breath that artificial milk is not optimal but that it’s certainly preferable to starving and that using it gratefully doesn’t preclude us from using it with a degree of sorrow.  It’s hard to say that babies who are fed formula are going to be OK but we need to fight for good and accessible breastfeeding supports so that fewer of them need to be given formula.  It’s a lot easier to say “This was my choice so back off!”.  But that conversation keeps the focus on our internal debate about who is a better mother, and stops us from working together for the things that all mothers need.  After all who wants to talk honestly about the risks inherent in using artificial milk if we’re asserting that those who use it are doing so by choice?  The theme of choice is what leads us to deny the fact that affiliations between healthcare providers and formula manufacturers creates an obscene conflict of interest that lowers breastfeeding rates.

If we don’t start having the messy complicated discussion, then we’ll keep writing articles asking why Olivia Wilde gets more praise than a bottle feeding mother, when we should be asking why some women get paid to breastfeed their babies in couture when other women are too busy worrying about how they’ll stretch their minimum wage to pay back the exorbitant hospital bill from the birth, especially after missing six weeks of pay, to have much time or energy left for worrying about making the feeding ‘choices’ that are right for them.  If we don’t start having that discussion and writing those articles, then we’ll keep having this blame war instead of lining up collectively to make a better reality for us and our babies.  And choice will continue to be a myth, rather than becoming a reality.

 

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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?

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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

 

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To bring you this video I just found in the archives that has me sitting up at the computer at midnight hitting replay.

I was about 38 weeks pregnant and Little Man was giving the belly some love while he nursed.  Although this was the phase when he insisted it was a piggy, not a belly…

 

I promise, the rest of the BLW series will be back when my ovaries stop tingling for another baby (which we’re NOT having).

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A friend and I were talking the other day about the struggles of getting our babes to take bottles so we can get out of the house some times.  This particular friend was actually the second person to ever give Little Man a bottle, when we needed to go to Mr Fair’s office holiday party and Little Man was about 6 months old.  And that was only the third bottle he’d ever had.  Yes, you read that right – three bottles in six months. Lady Fair, as it happens, has only been offered a bottle once in her 5 months skin  side.

Advice for new moms about bottles is confusing.  On the one hand if we choose to breastfeed we know to avoid them for about the first 6 weeks in order to establish a good relationship of feeding at the breast, as well as a good supply.  Of course, we all know that by then our babies know better than to accept a boob imposter.  But since we’re made to so firmly believe that a baby should or even must take a bottle from time to time, we go through a lot of stress getting baby to accept a bottle.

I decided not to.

The first, and pretty much last time Mr Fair fed Little Man a bottle.

 

Here’s the deal: I HATE pumping.  It’s not so bad now that I have mega supply from tandem nursing, but when Little Man was new my pumping efforts would produce meager results at best.  It made me doubt my supply, leading to a week of anxious feedings counting swallows and constant head rubs to determine if his fontanelle was sunken from dehydration.  Needless to say, there is no spa treatment rejuvenating enough to warrant all of that.  And of course all of this is before the stress of stalling a hungry baby while we heated milk, which seemed especially silly since I was in the next room literally full of the fresh, preheated version.  And even once we got it going, he was so not impressed.  Cue more crying and the eventual unhooking of the nursing bra to solve the problem.

But I still needed and wanted some time to do grown up stuff, so I had to find some ways to make it work without bottles.  Here’s how I did it.

1) Mark the calendar

The first thing I did was remind myself that the season of my baby’s constant need for me was short.  By the time I really started to feel the need for some time away he was already halfway to starting solids.  (I know everyone’s threshold is different though).  The solid food stage is great for two reasons:

First, it’s a whole new opportunity to introduce mommy-milk in a cup or bottle.  So if your little one didn’t drink the Koolaid (in the non merderous-cult sense of course) the first time, don’t worry you get another chance.

The other thing that’s great about it is, even if they don’t eat much at a time, it’s still probably enough to prevent gnawing hunger pangs in the absence of your boobs, so you don’t need to worry so much about bottle acceptance.

2) Max out those intervals

When you think about it, there’s actually a lot you can do in the 2 hour window between feeds.  You can get a hair cut, read a couple of chapters of a book, or sit in a bath until your toes prune and the water turns cold.  There are lots of options.  So really, the key is to max out those intervals.  To assist this, my doula gave me a great piece of advice: “top up”.  Even though you (hopefully!) feed on cue, you can always offer a breast just before you go out.  If they don’t want it, they won’t latch.  If they latch, you just bought yourself a longer interval so go max it out!

3) Attach and go

This may not be true for every woman, but I really never craved the absence of my babies, rather what I wanted was the addition of adult-oriented activities into my day.  Attachment parenting tools and practices really facilitated that.  Thanks to babywearing, I’ve been able to go to movies, pubs, weddings and conferences without having to leave baby home with a bottle and babysitter or sit alone in the corner guarding a car seat.  Since we parent our kids to sleep, we also know that we can have an unusually late night, or go on vacation without spending a week afterwards getting back onto a book-prescribed evening regimen.  I’ve had my doses of intelligent conversation (or not, depending on the adult I’m speaking with!) and adventure without having to do the bottle thing.

That’s me, at a wedding, on the dance floor, IN 4″ HEELS last weekend. Oh yeah, and I’m wearing a sleeping baby too.

4) Make it a family affair

When all of the above tactics failed what we did was have Mr Fair (or an alternate caregiver) come along for the “mommy’s time” ride.  The instances that are springing to mind here are the postpartum clothes shopping trips.  Believe me, that’s a task no woman can accomplish in under 2 hours and if you figure out how to try on tops with a sleeping baby strapped to you please let me know.  I could have put it off, but who wants to look like a deflated balloon in too-big clothes for the better part of a year?  So we packed up the fam and hit to the mall together.  Dad took charge of the baby, and I got to peruse the racks in peace, looking for clothes to fit my new rack.  When feeding time hit, we’d grab a bench and I’d do my booby duty, then go back to my shopping time.
So if your kid isn’t into the bottle thing, try not to sweat it.  There are ways to still have an adult life, you just need to get a bit creative.

Veteran mammas, what were your tricks for fitting in me time?

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I came across this in my Facebook feed this morning and promptly felt like poopoo:

Dr Sears asks moms their reactions after birth

Do you see all of those moments of instant connection there? Ya, that wasn’t me.

If there had been a camera in my (first) birthing room, it would not have recorded me getting all gooey eyed like these lucky ladies.  It would have caught me staring blankly at Little Man and it may have even picked up a single, barely audible word:

“Huh.”

Yup, that was my first reaction to my son.

Oh don’t get me wrong, he was a very wanted baby and everything.  We had both spent hours on the couch feeling (and trying to film) his kicks through my belly.  And I secretly didn’t hate the 13 ultrasounds our OBs put us through because I loved to watch him on the screen when we went.  I loved this kid.  But in the very first second after they put him on my chest and I looked at him it hit me: I actually had no clue who he was.  He was a stranger.

You see, when you’re bonding with your baby in utero, what you’re bonding with is a collection of limbs that poke out at you from within your own body.  You’re aware that they belong to someone else, but they’re still inside your body.  They’re yours in a way.  Then you push this little person into the world and suddenly he is exactly that – a whole other person.  You’ve never seen his face, or the shape of his toes.  You don’t know what colour his eyes really are or whether he’s got his dad’s chin.  He’s a totally new entity.  How do you love someone you don’t know?

And all of this is not to say that I didn’t bond with Little Man.  There was definitely bonding.  If not instantaneously, then at least by the time we put him to the breast.  That part was a no-brainer… literally.  It’s some sort of hybrid between a chemical reaction and an unconditioned reflex.  But it wasn’t love, per se, and it didn’t make me all sloppy.  That came later, slowly.  As I got to know him, memorized his voice and breathed him in, I fell totally in love… finally.

So was it just me?  Am I the only one who didn’t have that “Wow” feeling at the first moment?

 

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UPDATE: The Own Nestle Project has officially been launched.  Check it out here : www.ownnestle.org

I would definitely NOT buy a K car.  I would probably build that tree fort though and as it happens, in the 20-odd years since the Barenaked Ladies wrote that song they have in fact developed pre-wrapped bacon.  But I wouldn’t buy that either…

I digress.

A very nice-looking couple in Britain has just won the British pound equivalent of $200 million Canadian dollars in a lottery.  Holy moly is all I can say to that.  One of my absolute favourite pastimes is to play the what-would-I-do-if-I-won-the-lottery game.  Renting out Richard Branson’s Necker Island has always factored quite highly on my post-jackpot to-do list.  But there’s something else I would do that may surprise the heck out of you.

I would buy as many shares of Nestle stock as legally possible.

You’re probably as confused as heck right now since I’m all up in the breastfeeding (or, if you didn’t know that, check here, here and here), so let me explain: I would buy as many shares of Nestle as I could and use my voting power to run those suckers into the ground!

At today’s share price, $200 Million could technically get me 3,278,000 shares which, according to Nestle investor relations would amount to a whopping 0.1% of the company.  It wouldn’t get me control, but it certainly would get me a voice.  I could advocate for a corporate policy of following the WHO Code.  I could sabotage their sabotaging of infant health.

And guess what else I could do with my shares?  I could give the $6.2 million in dividends I’d get every year to IBFAN or some other breastfeeding protection organization.  That’s 6 million bucks worth of mama-milk marketing, 6 million bucks of lobbying, 6 million bucks of hardballs to throw back at Nestle each and every year.  And every penny of it they would cough up themselves.  And that’s just this year.  Over the last decade, Nestle has increased it’s dividend 600%*.  So today’s $6 million could be $36 million in another decade.  Of course, as a shareholder I’d get to vote for dividend changes, so I’d vote for the highest dividend possible.

But, I’m not the one who won the $200 million lottery, so I can’t do that, exactly.  But what if I bought a couple of shares?  And what if you bought a couple of shares?  In fact, what if we set up a non-profit specifically designed to Own Nestle shares and put those dividends to work?

Lots of us in the breastfeeding community are already familiar with or even participate in the NoNestle boycott, but frankly, that’s been going on for decades and Nestle’s artificial baby milk sales are still growing.  I think it’s time for a different kind of direct action.  It’s time to not just cut off their profits, but to actually take their profits.  It’s time to OWN NESTLE.

What do you think, who wants to OWN NESTLE with me??

*My numbers are in US dollars, so some of that increase is actually due to currency conversion

 

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