Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Triumphant Tuesday – Dame Sarah Storey’s Breastfeeding Adventure

After achieving four London 2012 Olympic gold medals – and a world record - Sarah Storey, British para-cyclist, embarked on her biggest adventure yet – motherhood. Sarah, who was born without a left hand, has kindly shared her breastfeeding journey with us, and boy is it epic! From travelling to the Palace whilst heavily pregnant to slotting gruelling training commitments into mammoth breastfeeding sessions, the surreal backdrop to Sarah’s story does not immune her from the common challenges we all share as nursing mothers.

“I myself was breastfed for six months (in 1977 babies were allowed to drink cow’s milk at 6 months) and all my friends and family have breastfed. I don't personally see breastfeeding as a choice and everyone I know who was forced to stop has been devastated. I think we need to spread our maternity care more wisely and support mothers to breastfeed more practically because the health implications are far superior for babies who are breastfed the studies clearly show this. At the present time it seems quite a taboo subject to discuss breastfeeding and I really don't see why, no amount of nutritional technology can change what nature intended.

Training through pregnancy

Pregnancy, for me, was not a Get Out Of Jail Card to stop training. Instead, I made some slight adjustments to my regime: I cycled on flatter, quieter roads and didn’t ride if it was raining; I reduced the intensity of my training to fall inside the guidelines of not risking the oxygen supply to the baby and of not overheating; I was also careful about hydration and made sure I was correctly fuelled at all times so the baby could grow and there would be no issues there. As an athlete, my diet was super healthy anyway, but there were a few tweaks I found difficult: I couldn’t use any sports supplements for instance, because there’s a lot of Vitamin A in those and that’s not good for the baby. I also missed caffeine, which most cyclists take for a boost before a race.

Until 7.5 months I did normal training hours. By that point, I had to move my handlebars up to accommodate my bump! Although people didn't disapprove of my cycling whilst pregnant, I did receive some comments from people who didn't fully appreciate the lengths I was going to in order to stay safe on my bike. Unfortunately people think cycling is more dangerous than it is. In reality, it’s perfectly safe to cycle while pregnant and can be good for the baby. Cycling is a very easy way to exercise. It’s brilliant because it’s low impact and can be built into your daily routine. Having a baby is very traumatic and I do think that the fitter you are the better you cope.

I found it very interesting training through pregnancy. I had no real performance expectations either way, so it was all a bit of a voyage of discovery. I kept a meticulous training log and up until seven months I had clocked just 15 hours less than the corresponding period when I was training to try and get in the Olympic Team Pursuit squad and then training for my four Paralympic events. That's only about two hours less a month! However, a word of advice for anyone wishing to cycle whilst pregnant - there’s no such thing as cycling maternity wear! Simply stretch your existing shorts or buy a bigger size and steal a man's jersey as you will need the extra length to cover your bump!

Kate, Wills and Charles

I was eight months pregnant when I was given my title ‘Dame’ Sarah Storey. At the Ceremony at the Palace, I even wore high heels as I didn’t think that flat pumps would match my rather large hat, and I was trying very hard not to fall over. Prince Charles was so sweet, as Kate was pregnant too and he was about to become a grandfather, and he was visibly excited and asked me so many questions about my pregnancy. We had a lovely party with the Royal Family and the other guests afterwards at the Goring Hotel, which is where Kate spent the night before her wedding to Prince William. It was a really lovely day.

Disappointing labour and birth

I was out on the roads training literally right up until the moment my contractions began. Then, during labour, all the signs were there that baby Louisa was stuck and no amount of hormone drip was going to force her out. Louisa's heart rate was decelerating and so waiting was dangerous. I made the decision to head for an emergency c-section and the medics took another two hours to reach the same conclusion. The doctors and head midwife I dealt with weren't great and I have subsequently made a formal complaint.

Obviously having a c-section was not my plan prior to going into labour but the circumstances meant it couldn't be avoided in the end. I always knew that a c-section was a longer rehab, so as soon as the decision was made for the operation, I knew that I would be putting cycling to one side while I recovered. Fortunately, Louisa knew what to do from the second she was born and spent 20 minutes rooting whilst I was stitched up!


We had a fantastic babymoon and just fed and snoozed together for the best part of 4 weeks which I think was crucial to our success. Every day is like winning a gold medal; with a baby in the house, it is fantastic. I think every mother should be encouraged and supported to solely concentrating on herself and the baby for as long as possible so as to give them the best chance to get it established. In between getting to grips with being a mother I hardly missed a minute of the Tour de France or England winning the Ashes. It was sporting heaven for a while.

I was back in the saddle exactly six weeks after giving birth. It would have been even sooner had it not been for the c-section. My body had been dramatically changed and stretched during pregnancy but I felt well and didn’t find it too difficult to begin cycling again afterwards. It helped that I’m very fit. However I think it’s a good idea for all new mums to get back to exercise quite soon after giving birth. It helps with recovery and mood after the stress of pregnancy.

Losing the baby-weight

I gained four stone (24kg) while I was pregnant and bizarrely some of this was extra muscle built from climbing hills carrying my bump. I found the first 10kg disappeared very quickly as it was mainly baby, water and other fluid, but after this, I have only lost a kilo or so every couple of weeks. Much of the fat you store is to fuel breastfeeding hence the gradual weight loss, so it's even more important not to rush to lose weight as you affect your milk supply too. To begin with, I started light training for about 30 minutes in between breastfeeds building it up to an hour at the end of the first week. I just trained whenever Louisa let me.

Breastfeeding challenges

In the second week I went up to two hours a day and that is pretty much where I left it, not for physical reasons but because of Louisa's feeding schedule. I must admit I didn't quite realise how much breastfeeding determines your day. I never wanted Louisa to get hungry, so I trained when she was having a longer sleep at some point in the afternoon.

I feed Louisa on demand whenever she wants to. There's no routine. I am a fan of letting the baby lead the way and doing everything on their schedule. So far we have adapted our lives to Louisa and I only train when her schedule allows me to.

It's harder to do the extra training and those digs that take you to the next level because the fatigue hits you quicker when breastfeeding, I suppose because you are giving up so many of nutrients and fluids! The growth spurts are also a challenge but the rewards from seeing a baby grow entirely from your milk are just amazing!

Breastfeeding is teamwork

My husband Barney (also a gold medallist) and I share looking after Louisa while the other one is training. I always leave pumped milk in the fridge so I often get back to find Barney feeding her the bottle. Then, after lunch, she’ll sleep for hours with Barney in her favourite cosy baby sling while I go out training again.  I also keep a stock of my pumped milk in the freezer so I am not under pressure to express every day. As Louisa got older I was able to leave her for longer with Barney as she became more settled with accepting the bottle.

with husband Barney.

My disability has interfered with my ability to multitask whilst breastfeeding. If Louisa is latched on the right then I can't do as much because I have no left hand! This isn't a problem unless it's dinner time - inevitably babies always want to eat when you do (!) - so I have lost count of the number of times that Barney has had to feed me!!

I think our calm, logical approach to sport has helped with parenthood and working out what needs to be done if Louisa is unsettled. You can’t get upset when a baby is crying; you have to work out what is upsetting them and sort it out. Ultimately, despite what some experts say, babies cry for a reason - it is their way to communicate.

Breastfeeding in public

Breastfeeding in public isn't an issue for me. I have accidentally flashed or been exposed by Louisa refusing to let me cover up with a muslin! Although I always try and do it discreetly, I find it's actually easier if I am walking around because people assume Louisa is asleep and Louisa prefers to be on the move too! I have been breastfeeding whilst walking round shops, on a hike in the local countryside and on the walk from our house to the station, basically whenever Louisa asks to be fed!

The effects of exercise on breastmilk

There is a myth that mothers should not undertake strenuous exercise whilst breastfeeding because of lactic acid getting into the breast milk. As with any "advice" or attempted scaremongering it is always best to properly research these things. There have been scientific studies done to prove that breastmilk is safe after exercise. The only thing that's important to remember is that breastfeeding is more tiring than you expect, so you may feel more fatigued doing the same workload or less than before you got pregnant. I have certainly found I am more fatigued so have adjusted my training. This time is more important to Louisa and I will up the hours as the milk feeds reduce.

Your body is an amazing thing – it’s unbelievable. Apart from producing a baby, the fact that I can still train and breastfeed is amazing. The two parts of your life can exist alongside each other; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To enable my body to fulfil this dual-function I eat a diet high in protein (for muscle building) and carbohydrates (for energy) and eat about 15 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Porridge, blueberries, meat, fish, pasta, rice and protein bars are all part of the regime.

The future?

I am very much focussed on my dream of qualifying for Rio 2016 and becoming the first Briton to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics in the same year. I think it will be a fantastic education for Louisa to travel the world as she grows up!

As for how long I plan to breastfeed for, I think Louisa will decide when she has had enough!”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Game That Encourages Young Girls To Compete For A Man

Today I was enjoying a very informative episode of Peppa Pig – the one where Peppa and her pals are learning to ski and their teacher, Madame Gazelle, is a world champion... Anyway, I was having a great time and then, during the commercials, this crock of shit appeared:

Before I even had a chance to recoil in horror, a Mary Poppins’esc woman’s voice announced giddily:

“All the princesses of the kingdom want to go to the ball! When the music starts, if you're lucky, the prince will choose you to dance with him around the ball room.”

Cue a live-action sequence of three simpering girls grinning like cannabis-addicts in a greenhouse. Everything in the ad is pink with a tinge of pastel thrown in. Glittery effects and cartoon graphics overlay the clip of the live-action girls, who are shown hunched over a pathetically under-sized plastic boardgame. The voiceover continues:

“Who will he choose?”

“Destiny has decided you’re the lucky one!”

One of the simpering girls opens her mouth in mock-shock and then ‘magically’ her dress and hair style are erased and replaced with a more polished look, complete with predictably pink ball gown and makeup (yup, a full face of slap). She then looks fit to faint in awe as she dances with the prince leaving the other girls (loooooooosers!) to watch on.

In this ‘game’, every time you dance with the prince, he will reward you with a plastic star. The first to receive four stars “will be forever in his heart...” (and his pants no doubt).

Yay! Just what I always wanted! Some ponce in a tuxedo dragging me around a magnetic podium.

After checking that we were in 2013 rather than 1913, I quickly called to my daughter to avert her eyes from the TV as I scrambled for the remote. I couldn’t violate her tender confidence with this pink-encrusted unicorn vomit. However, if you have a more robust disposition, here’s the ad:

This is what you get for your 23 quid ($38):

1 x Game board
1 x Electronic musical dance floor
1 x Prince
4 x Princesses
16 x Coloured stars
1 x Dice
1 x Sticker sheet
1 x Rules of the game

Don’t get me wrong, encouraging competition between girls per se is not in itself a bad thing. Competitive strivings will serve them well in the capitalist workplace. However (and it’s a massive HOW-EVER), encouraging girls to compete for the affections of an omnipotent prince with their appearances as their sole arsenal is retrograde at best, deeply misogynistic at worst. Germaine Greer meltdown territory.

But wait, before you start burning bras, surely it could be argued that this game is not dissimilar to its predecessors, the numerous games aimed at boys, whereby players compete to save a ‘princess’ or ‘damsel’ - the reward for the winner is the affection of the opposite-sex. However, the philosophical differences between games targeted at boys and this monstrosity are glaring:

1. No engagement

The ‘rules of the game’ may as well have been printed on a postage stamp. Basically, roll the dice and make your way up to the dance floor. Then the ‘fun begins’:

“By pressing the head of the prince, the dance floor will start to vibrate and the music will play for approximately 30 seconds. The princesses on the dance floor turn around all alone and try to take the arm of the prince to dance with him”.

Wait...what? Press the ‘head of the prince’ and things start to ‘vibrate’ and you’ll have fun for ’30 seconds’ – have we taken a wrong turn into the stock cupboard at Ann Summers?

Innuendo aside, a major fault of this game/toy/indoctrinational tool is the passivity it encourages in girls. Players cannot sway the outcome of the game. They have no control over what happens to them. The prince is the active agent and only he gets to decide their “destiny”. Destiny my flange! Rather, a set of randomly moving magnets hook the feeble figures together. I mean, just look at how pathetic the girls left standing appear, arms outstretched like a blind man begging for a hug:

The game even has a square on the board which, if a player lands on it, orders them to select an opponent. The two girls then offer themselves to the prince for him to decide who is best:

Winner and looooooser!

2. No strategy

Roll a dice and then watch some magnets. Big. Freekin’. Wow. To put it mildly - this game is about as exciting as watching cactus grow, and then sitting on said cactus. Indeed, it’s painfully cruel in its premise – it makes girls compete but without giving them any active role in the competition. The winner is completely random, but our young female target audience isn’t told that; instead, they are assured that the prince chooses the winning girl (based on criteria unknown).

If you get to dance with the prince more than anyone else and therefore win the game, major anti-climax; there is no sense of achievement – because you haven’t actually done anything. And if you don’t win – well, he just wasn’t that into you, girlfriend.

3. No innovation

There seems to be an unwritten law in toy marketing that if the target audience owns a set of  ovaries, then the toy must be branded with pink, princesses, stars, sequins and glittery shit.

Jesus. Just look at all that pink, plastic and stick-thin physiques, it’s like we’ve stepped onto the set of TOWIE. Originality – zero. Barf factor – ten. Shitting on girls’ dreams and aspirations – off the scale.

There’s absolutely nil innovation here, just the same old cultural straitjacket we habitually offer to our girls.

4. No point

Is there a point to this game? What’s the achievement exactly? You’ve danced with the prince already during the game, arguably that is the most ‘exciting’ part. So as well as transmitting misogynistic conditioning to impressionable children, the game sucks because there is no freekin purpose to it. You don’t learn anything (you can’t even argue that it teaches about magnetism as the magnets are concealed), you aren’t cognitively challenged (Can you roll a dice? Then you’re good to go), nor are you entertained (watching stick figures quivering around like drunken parkinson’s patients is amusing for all of 3 seconds). Where’s the storyline? Where’s the contest? This game has about as much point as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Image taken from the back of the packaging.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Triumphant Tuesday - Relactation to Cure Reflux

Most young babies spit up occasionally due to the immaturity of their digestive systems. In fact, more than 50 percent of babies aged three months or younger have at least one episode of reflux per day. This rate peaks at 67 percent at four months old. Often times, when a mother quits breastfeeding, her baby’s reflux worsens. This is hardly surprising, considering that the composition of formula makes it harder to digest.

For a lot of babies, the discomfort of reflux is part and parcel of their mother’s decision to quit breastfeeding, and they simply have to endure it. However, the mother in this week’s story was determined that her baby would not suffer any longer. She embarked upon a painstaking journey, using frequent pumping and a supplemental nursing system, to reawaken her breasts.

“When I was pregnant I was very ambivalent about breastfeeding, I figured I’d give it a go and if it didn’t work out then that was okay, as formula was just as good. Most of my friends had experienced difficulties with breastfeeding. Some weren't able to make it past the first few weeks; others managed to establish feeding but ran into problems at the 4 month mark. None of them wanted to move to formula at the time and I know they experienced a great deal of heartache over their failure. I vowed that I wouldn’t put myself through that.

From ambivalence to ambition

At the beginning of my 3rd trimester I had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and advised by my midwife that at birth, should my baby have a low blood sugar, then he may need supplementation. Consequently, I had been instructed to hand express every night. I diligently did this, and after two weeks, I started to get a couple of ml of colostrum. Seeing my body actually producing milk, I began to think a little bit more seriously about breastfeeding.

Eventful birth

Fast forward to 38+6 weeks and after a long labour which ultimately ended in an emergency c –section Harrison was born, all 8lb 1.5oz of perfect at 7.41pm. It took a while for the medics to stitch me back up and I didn’t get to hold my baby until 9pm when they wheeled me back to the delivery suite.

Shell shocked

At this point the heavy cocktail of drugs I had taken began to wear off leaving me with terrible shakes and I nervously passed my baby to his dad as I was afraid I couldn’t hold him. The midwife led Dad through the motions of putting on a diaper and getting Harrison dressed while a nurse gave me a bed wash. I was, at this point, still completely shell shocked by the whole experience. I had been awake 40 odd hours and truly did not think for myself, allowing myself to be guided by the hospital staff.

Clueless midwives

It was at least 3 hours before it was suggested that I should try and feed my newborn, at which point I excitedly said I wanted to breastfeed. The midwife told me she would ‘show me what a good latch felt like’. Great, I thought, I knew latch was really important. So she manhandled my breast into my son’s mouth and he latched straight on. The midwife asked if it hurt and I said that it did a little, so she unlatched him and we tried again. It still felt a bit uncomfortable so I told the midwife who unlatched him and we tried again. We did this several more times until my poor little boy got fed up and refused to latch at all. The midwife also got fed up and called someone else to ‘have a go’. The second midwife had little more success and eventually suggested I hand express so she could feed my colostrum to my son in a bottle.


Soon afterwards we were moved up to the ward where I had to say goodbye to my husband and was left alone with my baby. It was 2am, I had been awake for 45 hours straight and was beyond exhausted. I quickly began to drift off and then suddenly there was a wailing from the side of me. Being bed bound after the c-section and confused, I could do nothing but lie there, and a member of staff quickly popped her head round my curtain. “Shall I take him to the nursery?” she said, “Let you get some rest?” I think I nodded as she wheeled my baby off for the night and I quickly fell into a deep sleep.

Supplementation without consent

I woke with a start at 5 and pushed the buzzer to ask for my baby. The nursery nurse came in with him in her arms and told me it was good timing as he’d just been fed. At this point I didn’t realise what this meant, I was too busy staring in amazement at the tiny bundle in the cot next me. He still wouldn’t latch on properly and at some point we were given small bottles of formula to feed him. At every feed I called for help with breastfeeding, and they would spend ten minutes tugging at my breasts and pushing his little face into them until he latched on and then they’d walk away at which point he would almost immediately slip off and they would bring me more formula.

One helpful midwife bought me round a pump to see what I could get (quite a lot as it turns out) and suggested using expressed milk instead of formula where possible. Sadly she gave me no guidance on how to use the pump to build my supply so I expressed once or twice a day which provided enough milk for most of his feeds, and after that we used formula.

Supply dwindling

We were sent home at 3 days where, without any support, things went from bad to worse. Most attempts ended with both my baby and myself crying in frustration, followed by my husband feeding him with a bottle. I was still periodically expressing but the amount I was able to get was dwindling and he was for the most part formula fed.

At 3 weeks, my health visitor arrived and after I explained the difficulties we had been having, she suggested swaddling to prevent my son’s angry and frustrated fists from getting between him and my breast. At last, he latched, and he stayed there for 20 minutes!! I was over the moon. From then on I decided to try and get him back to breast and started offering the breast before every formula feed. I was pretty sure my supply was almost gone at this point so was worried about starving him.

Although feeding did not suddenly become a dream, my son latched on more often than not and soon I started to reduce the number of bottles he was receiving. Tragically, no one had told me the mechanics of how milk production worked so I started with the day time breastfeeds and continued to formula feed overnight.

Public embarrassment

We had an element of success; however Harrison seemed to feed constantly. When at home he would feed for 4-5 hours straight, have a 20 minute nap, and then wake crying for more. I would literally not be able to move off of the sofa. If we went out, he would be fussy and irritable so I would hurry home to feed him. I had a crippling fear of feeding in public. I was intensely embarrassed that my baby usually screamed at me when I offered him my breast, that I refused to feed where anyone could see us.

By 7 weeks I was exhausted and miserable and I needed a break, so I introduced a bottle of formula back into the day. That soon became a second bottle and then a third, and then before I knew it we were down to one breastfeed a day before just before bath time. That feed slowly got shorter and shorter and then at 15 weeks he refused my breast.

I had failed

I cried and I cried. Somewhere along the way breastfeeding had become critical to me and I had completely and utterly failed. The last 15 weeks had been difficult emotionally; I had been up and down, frequently crying at my inability to provide the best for my son, for failing him. My husband didn’t know what to do with me. He had really wanted me to breastfeed but could see the emotional toll it had taken on me and wanted me to feel better. It was hard on our relationship as I took a lot of my frustration out on him. Even though he tried to be supportive of me, I felt like he considered me a failure. We finally agreed that it was time to draw a line under the experience and move on. Except I couldn’t, and whenever he would let me I would latch Harrison on for a quick suckle, cherishing every moment.

A turning point

Then I read an article on Milk Matters ('The hidden cause of feeding problems') and so much of it resonated. One of my biggest concerns was that Harrison had developed reflux and was throwing up a lot, pretty much every time I picked him up we would end up covered in it. This had only become a problem as his diet had become more formula based and I felt quite strongly that breastmilk would resolve the issue. This was the point where I made my decision.

I was still able to produce a few beads of milk, and knew it was a demand and supply situation. So I decided to re-lactate. The support from my local Health Care professionals had been ridiculous to date (the best they could offer was spend more time at the breast, or ‘he must just be lazy’) so I didn’t seek help, I simply scoured the internet for success stories and planned my route of attack.

The relactation plan

I hired a hospital grade pump, stocked up on fenugreek capsules and asked my doctor for a prescription for Domperidone. I also got my husband on board with my crazy plan. He was initially nervous as he didn't want me to get upset again if I couldn't do it. However, he quickly recognised my determination and was 100% behind me, providing whatever help he could when he wasn't at work. For instance, he would get up early with Harrison at the weekends to allow me to get an extra hours sleep and would occupy him while I was expressing.

I only told one other person in the early weeks about my relactation plan. I felt embarrassed and didn't want people to know if I failed again. The friend I told was very supportive as she was struggling with her own demons at the time and understood my strong desire to succeed.

To start with, I expressed for 15 minutes every 2 hours around the clock. By the end of it I was exhausted and had managed to express just 10ml, but I was determined. This time nothing would stop me. I continued to express every 3 hours during the day and woke myself at 4am to express every night while my baby slept peacefully through. I also started offering the breast before every formula feed and at every other opportunity that presented itself. I offered my breast every time he cried, if he was bored, hungry, tired or just grumpy. I answered every issue with mummy’s milk.

In the early days the frequent pumping did tied me to the house. For 2 weeks I didn't go out in order to focus on increasing my milk as much as possible. After that I relied on the pump less during the day and tried to feed direct from my breast instead. It was a long time though before I was able to go out of the house and not think about when I was going to express.

Tongue tied

During this time, I became convinced that Harrison was tongue tied and fought to get a diagnosis and treatment. I was lucky, in that the third professional I saw was a very knowledgeable infant feeding co-ordinator (IFC). She diagnosed a posterior tie then referred us for treatment. 2 weeks later the tie was cut. Much to my dismay it was not an instant improvement; instead it took several weeks for Harrison to learn to feed properly at the breast.

Supplemental Nursing System

During this time Harrison refused my breast for 4 days. I was devastated and ended up paying for a lactation consultant to come and see me. She knocked up a make shift Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) using a feeding tube and we tried it. It was amazing to watch Harrison feeding calmly and contentedly at the breast for the first time ever. I then bought a proper SNS. We used it for a couple of weeks. It was difficult to get Harrison latched on properly with the tube in the right place, and with my feeding in public issues there was no way I would have attempted it in public! It was however, a nifty little system and when at home it was worth the effort to use it.

Soon, my efforts were starting to pay dividends. Slowly but surely the amount I could express increased, and Harrison would feed for longer and longer at my breast, not requiring topping up. It wasn’t long before he was happy to latch on his own and we were able stop using the SNS.

Then one day I breastfeed Harrison as normal but he fell asleep on my breast before I could offer the formula top up. He slept for nearly 2 hours and when he woke he wasn’t looking for food. So we went for a walk… He didn’t have his next feed until nearly 3 hours later! So this was how it is meant to be? At this point the three daytime bottles were just 4oz, so from this day on we dropped one of the bottles completely and we are down to just 4 bottles a day.

Yet sadly, our difficulties were not over.

Baby-led weaning problems

Harrison started baby led weaning at 6 months and took to it enthusiastically. We soon noticed though that instead of swallowing food, a lot of it was ending up pushed into the roof of his mouth where it would stay until one of us fished it out. By this point he was on just two bottles a day, his bedtime bottle, and a small one in the late afternoon. I was struggling to phase out the afternoon bottle and couldn’t work out why. Then Harrison’s weight gain halted. To reassure myself that I was producing enough milk I was getting him weighed every two weeks, and for three weeks his weight stayed the same. The hardest thing on this journey has been learning to have confidence in my body. When he’d been waking in the night I told myself it was the famous sleep regression . When he was grizzly in the evenings I told myself it was teething pain. And I nearly believed it. In an instant all the confidence I had been building was shattered. He was starving! That’s why he had been grizzly and waking in the night!

The health visitor started to push towards switching to puree weaning, but I was determined that I didn’t want to go down that route, so after turning to the internet again I decided that his tongue tie must have re-grown. This would explain the difficulty he had in moving food around his mouth, why my nipples had started to hurt again, and why it still felt like I wasn’t producing enough milk.  A quick trip to the Infant Feeding Coordinator confirmed that this was the case, and an appointment was booked for our second division.

Then my father in law sadly passed away and we spent two days at the hospital with him, saying our final goodbyes. Harrison was looked after by other family who were given cartons of formula to feed him with as I had nothing else to give. When we picked him up before going home he was clearly very uncomfortable, grouchy and vomiting again. It was so obvious how much formula did not agree with him, so from that point onward we swore he would not have another drop of the stuff.

At 7 months, Harrison had his second tongue-tie division. On the very same day he swallowed his first ‘food’, the paper napkin my mother-in-law had given him to play with (don’t get me started!), and the evidence was for all to see in his diaper the next morning! We got rid of that afternoon bottle and were left with just the bedtime one to deal with.

Father’s reluctance to cease bottle-feeding

I was still having to express three times a day to get enough milk for the bedtime feed. It was hard work and a right pain! However, Daddy loved doing that bedtime feed, and so I found it difficult to take that from him. He enjoyed the one-to-one time with Harrison and enjoyed being able to put him to bed.

At around 10 months, Harrison caught a minor virus complete with a couple of nights of vomiting and high temps. He refused the bottle, preferring to feed from me instead. He was clearly comforted by nursing and my husband was relieved to know that he was staying hydrated. By that age, it was easy to see what a good relationship the two of them shared, so he quickly realised that he didn't need to feed him as he had plenty of other ways to be involved.

From that moment onward we never looked back.

He is currently 17 months and still going strong. We’ve struggled through a couple of sleep regressions, a few bouts of cracked nipples, and a couple of blocked ducts but our nursing relationship is stronger than ever, and an integral part of our relationship. Once the tongue tie was dealt with, we quickly conquered our nursing in public demons and these days I am proud to openly nurse my baby.

It started to feel a bit lonely as my friends began to wean their babies onto formula, but I found new support in joining my local la leche league toddler group. Unfortunately, we still encountered some prejudice from my family, especially as Harrison has gotten older and they have found our nursing relationship more difficult to understand. It saddens me that they can’t celebrate my achievements with me, and instead ask me to hide myself away as though I am doing something shameful or indecent. My sister, in particular, is embarrassed by it and doesn't like me to feed in front of her at all. Sadly, this has affected our relationship. I have given up quoting World Health Organization guidelines as they don't consider that they apply to developed countries.

Alas, I won’t let that affect the nursing relationship I have with my son as I know that I am providing him with the very best nature can offer.  I understand why some women choose to formula feed - I was nearly one of them. Yet despite almost becoming another statistic, I can hold my head high and know that I have done the very best that I could do.”

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Married Parents Are Better Parents

Recently, a topic was posted on The Alpha Parent forum, asking the question: “Do married parents make better parents?” Predictably, a tussle ensued between the pro-marriage lobby and the cohabitors' club. So, what’s all the fuss about? Marriage is just a piece of paper, right?

Wrong! In this post I’m going to argue why married parents are better parents, dispelling a few myths along the way.

Two caveats before we begin:  Firstly, I’m not going to discuss the merits of single parenting vs couple parenting. That topic has been done to death with the overwhelming majority of research showing that two parents are better than one. Secondly, I’m not going to bring religion into this, there’ll be no reference to God. This gives credence to the fact that both religious and non-religious people are partial to marriage.

So, why are people getting their panties firmly lodged up their asscracks and feeling compelled to defend their marital status (or lack of), particularly with regard to childrearing? After all, you would be forgiven for thinking that marriage is an outdated institution, a dying relic of historical but not modern significance. The statistics are certainly pointing in that direction...

MYTH: There’s no point getting married because the divorce rate is so high

FACT: Sure, our divorce rate is climbing, largely due to the diminishing stigma of divorce. However divorce rates, whilst they may fuel Daily Mail sales, are actually a red herring. In reality, parents who are married are more likely to stay together. Although background factors – such as age, income, education, and ethnic group – influence the odds of new parents splitting up, the single biggest factor is whether the parents are married or not. This is partly because the nature of marriage as a social institution brings with it a range of social norms which actually promote behaviours more likely to safeguard the relationship. Another reason is that men and women commit in different ways. Women commit when they move in. Men commit when they make a clear decision about their future (Benson 2010; Kirby 2002).

Harry Benson of Birmingham University analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study of 15,000 mothers who gave birth during 2000 and 2001. He found that across all income and education groups, unmarried parents with under-fives were at least twice as likely to split up compared to equivalent married parents! Why? Because “cohabiting fathers are less committed and cohabiting mothers are more insecure” (Benson 2010). Other studies back this up: cohabiting parent families are considerably less stable than married parent families. Nearly 30% of children in cohabiting parent families experience a change in family structure between the 9-month and 24-month mark versus fewer than 2% of children in married parent families (Brown 2008). In essence: marriage is still the best and most reliable way of expressing commitment.

MYTH: Marriage is just a word – a piece of paper

FACT: Marriage symbolises Dedication, and dedication is the internal force between the couple that reflects the depth of relationship, their friendship. It’s the extent to which a couple see themselves as a couple rather than two individuals, the extent to which they talk and think in terms of “we” and “us”. The first sure sign of dedication is a strong sense of identity as a couple. The second sure sign of dedication is to have a sense of future together. Marriage fulfils both of these pivotal roles.

MYTH: It doesn’t matter what other people think

FACT: Marriage is a broadcasted message of dedication. It is a clear and unambiguous commitment to a future together. You may be pondering, surely it doesn’t matter what other people think? Why do we need to broadcast our commitment? Well, you might be surprised to learn that a public and legal declaration of your intention to stay together actually increases the stability of your relationship. Getting married represents a clear decision about your attitude and intentions towards one another. Marriage looks at two people from the outside as a couple and makes it harder for them to leave one another – essentially, it creates constraints. Getting married makes it crystal clear to you both and to everybody else – friends, family, other singles, the law, the government – that you are a couple who plan to stay together for life. It encourages these sources to see you as one couple rather than as two individuals.

Before you scowl at the thought of two miserable people staying together because they’re scared that people will judge if they split – think again. When dedication is strong, constraints actually feel positive (Benson 2013).

MYTH: You can still have a permanent future together without getting married.

FACT: Technically yes, and some people achieve this, however the odds are stacked against them. Most cohabitations are short-lived; they typically last for about a year or a little more and then are transformed into marriages or dissolve (Waite 2000). This makes sense when you bear in mind that one of the most common reason that couples give for cohabiting rather than marrying is to “test the relationship”. This is particularly true of men’s reasoning in heterosexual relationships (Huang et al 2011; Jay 2012; Jayson 2005). Cohabiting enables a couple (particularly the man) to test compatibility with their partners, while still having the option of ending the relationship without legal implications. Not believing in marriage is seldom given as a reason for cohabiting (Rhoades et al 2009).

Myth: Having children will strengthen my cohabiting relationship.

FACT: Whilst childbearing and childrearing have been shown to strengthen marriage, the opposite is said for cohabitation. Cohabiting couples can ‘slide’ into parental responsibilities without making a decision about their commitment to each other. These responsibilities create strain on the relationship and a feeling of entrapment: relationships continue which might otherwise have ended earlier but without the mutual commitment that can help in such pressured circumstances. Benson 2013 explains:

“It’s easier for men to go along for the ride without ever really committing to anything more. A man who slides into a living arrangement with his girlfriend may not be quite as committed as she assumes he is. But once they have moved in together, inertia means it is harder for him to back out again. He can ‘slide’ in, but he has to ‘decide’ out. Then she gets pregnant because all seems well. But he finds himself ever more deeply trapped. The prospect of twenty years of unplanned parenthood forces him to run for cover. It was good while it lasted, but he hadn’t signed up for this”.

Cohabitation is a transient condition. In 2006, just 7 per cent of couples who were unmarried when their child was born were still cohabiting by their 16th birthday (Harris 2010). Meanwhile, the intentional commitment of marriage is well known to be a protective factor (Rhoades et al 2006). Within five years of the birth of a child, 52 per cent of cohabitees have split up, compared with with just eight per cent of married couples (Kirby 2002).

MYTH: Getting married is too expensive.

FACT: Not true. It is possible to have a basic wedding for as little as $100. Even if you’re the kind of person that insists on the ‘dream wedding’, the financial rewards of marriage will still trump the initial costs. Cohabitors who never marry have 78 percent less wealth than the continuously married (Schneider 2007). If you cohabit, your partner has no responsibility for your financial support and most cohabiters do not pool financial resources (Waite 2000). This is reinforced legally as in the eyes of the law, each partner in a cohabiting couple is responsible for their own financial situation; and as far as banking is concerned, if one partner in the cohabiting couple dies the surviving partner has no legal right to any monies left by their partner unless specified in a will.

And what about children? The poverty rate among children of cohabiting couples is five times greater than the rate among children in married-couple households (Schneider 2007).

MYTH: Marriage won’t make me any happier than I already am.

FACT: Happy people make better parents. If you think you're happy now, chances are you’d be even happier married. Married individuals consistently report higher than average levels of relationship quality compared to cohabitors – fact! What's more, relationship quality over the past decade has been declining steadily for cohabitors whilst staying consistently high for married couples (NCFMR 2010).

MYTH: As long as two parents are committed, the effect on their children of not being married will be minimal.

FACT: The tentative, impermanent, and socially unsupported nature of cohabitation impedes the ability of this type of partnership to deliver the same feeling of security as marriage. Children thrive on the reassurance of security. Their development is impeded when they feel insecure. The uncertainty about the stability and longevity of their parents’ relationship can cause emotional problems for their offspring (more on this below).

MYTH: Whether I’m married or not has no bearing on my behaviour

FACT: Cohabiting parents display significantly higher levels of destructive habits compared to married parents. They have lower relationship quality, lower stability and a higher level of disagreements (Tyree 2010).

If you are cohabiting you are more likely to withdraw from conflict and ‘opt out’, meaning that issues never get resolved and resentment builds. Lack of commitment reduces the incentive to invest the time, care and energy needed to resolve arguments. Amongst those who do not back off in this way, cohabiting parents are also more likely than married parents to ‘fire back’ during arguments – behaviour which involves putting down one’s partner or scoring points. These are typical behavioural characteristics of less committed people, their use is normalised because the participants deem there is ‘less to lose’ by behaving dismissively or contemptuously. Lack of commitment seems to reduce the inhibition to treat spouses or partners with care and courtesy in the face of conflict and provocation. “The sheer complexity of the differences found between cohabiting and married couples suggests that the nature of marriage and cohabitation influences how couples interact” (Benson 2007).

MYTH: My partner’s family would not treat me any differently if we were married.

FACT: In cohabiting families, children often find themselves without grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; the family tree is pruned (Booth et al 2013). The temporary and informal nature of cohabitation makes it more difficult and riskier for extended family to invest in and support the relationship. Parents, siblings and friends of the partners are less likely to get to know a cohabiting partner than a spouse (Waite 2000). Parents of one member of a cohabiting couple are ill-advised to invest in the partner emotionally or financially until they see if the relationship will be long term. They are also ill-advised to become attached to offspring because their "grandparent" relationship with those offspring will dissolve if the cohabitation splits up. This is particularly the case for paternal grandparents and is no doubt bolstered by the fact that a cohabiting father has no legal rights unless registered on a birth certificate.

MYTH: My child’s happiness isn’t predicted by whether I cohabit or marry.

FACT: 15.7 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds in cohabiting families experience serious emotional problems (e.g., depression, feelings of inferiority, etc.), compared to just 3.5 percent of children in families headed by married parents (Acs and Nelson 2002). For 12-17 year olds, those with cohabiting parents are six times more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems (Booth et al 2013; Cavanagh 2008).

MYTH: Cohabiting won’t impact upon my child’s educational achievements.

FACT: Studies have shown a decrease in math skills and an increase in delinquency among children of cohabiting couples (Dunifon and Kowaleski-Jones 2002Nelson et al 2001). Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that children of cohabiting parents have worse mental development than children from single parent families! (Booth et al 2013; Brown 2008; Artis 2007). Adolescents from cohabiting households are 122 percent more likely to be expelled from school and 90 percent more likely to have a low Grade Point Average (Manning and Lamb 2004).

MYTH: Cohabiting does not place my child or myself in a greater risk of danger.

FACT: The UK broadsheet newspaper The Telegraph has reported that:

"The picture is bleak from babyhood onwards.
Infant mortality is substantially higher for children of cohabiting parents than for those of married parents, babies born outside marriage are more likely to have low birth weights, to suffer childhood accidents, and to be at much higher risk of child abuse" (Kirby 2002).

It is a distressing fact that cohabiting relationships are significantly more likely to turn violent than marriages (Kenney and Mclanahan 2006). The Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, the nation’s leading institution studying domestic violence, discovered some shocking statistics:  the overall rate of violence for cohabiting couples is twice as high as for married couples and the overall rate for “severe” violence is nearly five times as high. This holds true, even when controlling for factors as education, age, occupation and income (Tyree 2010).

You may be wondering whether the higher rates of domestic violence in cohabiting relationships are simply because women in married relationships are less likely to report violent acts committed against them. Yet, these studies control for such factors and still show significantly higher levels of violence among cohabitors. When we look at cases of direct violence against children, the picture gets even more horrific:

“Children who live in homes with cohabiting parents are more likely to: become involved in premarital sexual activity, experience sexual abuse in the home, have emotional and social difficulties, and have difficulty forming permanent emotional attachments when they reach adulthood, including having happy and productive marriages” (First Things First 2013; see also OPRE 2011).

We can really see things in perspective when we look at how other family types measure up: Rates of serious child abuse are lowest in married families; six times higher in stepfamilies; 14 times higher in always-single-mother families; and 20 times higher in cohabiting biological-parent families (Booth et al 2013). In other words, a child is less safe when she is living in a home with her parents if her parents’ relationship does not enjoy the legal, social, and moral status and guidance that marriage confers on relationships.

MYTH: It’s none of your business whether I’m married or not.

FACT: On the contrary, it is my business. Besides the emotional cost, which inevitably has an impact on society’s mental health and economic productivity, the direct costs of family breakdown are estimated at £41.7 billion each year  -  the equivalent of £1,350 per taxpayer per year - and this cost is rising annually (Harris 2010). Unmarried couples account for 40% of births, 59% of relationship splits and 59% of the consequent costs. In contrast, married couple parents account for 54% of births, 20% of splits and 14% of costs. The remaining 6% of single parent/other births account for 21% of splits and 27% of costs (Benson 2010). The result? "As the married family declines, so an increasing welfare burden must be shouldered by such families" (Kirby 2002).

Add to this, the fact that cohabitation raises crime rates: three-fourths of children involved in criminal activity were from cohabiting households (Booth et al 2013). Surely not living in a crime-ridden society is everyone’s prerogative? Not to mention the undeniable fact that the welfare of children is everyone’s business. Yup, even children to whom we are not blood related.

To sum it all up: Marriage fosters certain behavioral changes - by both the couple and those around them - that cohabitation simply doesn't encourage. Cohabitation is a tentative, non-legal coresidential union. It does not require or imply a lifetime commitment to stay together. Married couples link their fates - including their finances. Marriage is, by design and agreement, for the long run – the ideal environment for child-rearing, whatever your age, sexual orientation or religion.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Triumphant Tuesday - The Link Between Tongue Tie And Allergies

Tongue tie and allergies are relatively common in babies, affecting up to 10% of all infants. Interestingly, these conditions share some of the same symptoms, making diagnosis tricky. For instance, both tongue-tied babies and allergic babies tend to pull off the breast frequently, exhibit poor weight gain, are poor sleepers, often have green stools, and are more likely to suffer from colic and reflux. In fact, some academics maintain that untreated tongue tie can actually cause allergies because of digestive disruption.

When the mother in the following story suspected tongue-tie, health professionals dismissed her concerns. Her baby then went on to develop Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy and Egg Allergy. Read how she maintained her breastfeeding relationship (and her sanity) throughout the drama.

“I didn't breastfeed my first son. I’ll save the sob-story and give you the condensed version: traumatic birth, breast refusal, inconsistent advice, negative comments, no help from health care professionals, PND, and PTSD.

Baby #2 I researched till my head was ready to explode. I attended antenatal breastfeeding groups, hired a doula, joined LLL, planned a homebirth, and I made it explicit in my birth plan that I wanted to breastfeed and wanted help.

Why I hired a doula

Throughout my pregnancy, my doula accompanied me to breastfeeding groups; she went through the mechanics of breastfeeding; listened to me talk through my fears; found answers to potential problems and lists of all the breastfeeding groups. I wanted a doula because I had such a negative birth experience first time. I wanted someone to fight my corner if it was needed as during my first labour, I was persuaded to do a lot I wasn't happy with. And my decision to hire a doula paid off...

This time, the birth was amazing. I felt calm and relaxed because I knew my doula was there to make sure my birth plan was followed. My son was born at home in water after a stop/start labour which was really calm followed by an intense 2 hour active labour. I pushed my son out in just 3 pushes. The midwife didn't even realise and just had time to get her gloves on and catch, no time to call the second midwife lol. After this beautiful calm birth, I had over an hour of uninterrupted skin to skin cuddles during which my baby latched on within an hour.

Latch issues

[Cue the sound of a vinyl record being scratched]. On day 3 my milk came in with vengeance and I was struggling with the engorgement. My doula took me to a breastfeeding group and, together with a peer supporter, helped me to try different positions. Due to my small flat nipples and engorgement, my son couldn't latch. We tried everything. In the end, I went home with a plan to express to feed him and to keep trying to latch him. My doula fetched me drinks and held hot flannels on my breasts while I pumped. She was at the end of the phone whenever I needed her, a text away when I needed picking up, and is now one of my best friends.

Worrisome symptoms

Later that day, I asked the community midwife to check my son for tongue tie. I was worried that his inability to latch may be due to that; but the midwife was adamant he didn’t have tongue tie. So we struggled on.

He developed a rash all over his body.
Meanwhile, my baby was displaying an array of unusual symptoms. Initially, no one was concerned so I dismissed them: green poos as teething, poor sleep and screaming as just his personality, eczema and vomiting as just one of those things, mucusy, sneezing and coughing as a cold; but then I posted his symptoms on a Facebook group and other mums with experience of intolerances felt it sounded like Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy. I excluded all dairy from my diet and within 2 days saw a massive improvement. I spoke to my doctor who agreed it sounded like CMPA.

Then my baby caught a virus but it seemed to linger; from research I learned soya or egg would be the most likely culprit. First I excluded soya but there was no change. So I reintroduced soya and then excluded egg. I again spoke to my doctor and she felt it was the best course of action.

Tongue tie: finally a diagnosis!

A week later, I spotted my son’s upper tongue tie and knew I had been right all along. I was referred to the Infant Feeding Consultant as an urgent because I refused to give him a bottle and was in agony. They agreed to cut the tie 6 days later. Within a couple of weeks my son was completely symptom free.

Excluding items from my diet was very hard initially. I missed glasses of milk and cups of tea and cream cakes and chocolate. I became an excellent brownie baker but could no longer cook them when I excluded egg. It was hard but I nonetheless feel so much better for not having dairy: I was more energetic, less sluggish and I lost over 3 stone (42lbs)! I miss my brownies and poached eggs and mayonnaise and I will be reintroducing eggs when my son weans from the breast. We've had some allergy results back and they show a possible wheat allergy, he'll also be having a skin prick test done.

Now I love every second of feeding my son. It's been hard with both boys for very different reasons but if I hadn't had the experience I did with my first I may not have been so determined with my second. I'm proud that he's never had a drop of formula and so grateful to my doula and to all my amazing friends who live in the internet who built me up when I needed it. I'm now a peer supporter and hope to be able to help many more mums feed their babies.”

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Mengenai Saya

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