Tuesday, 29 November 2011

How would you like it?

It is a question that people should ask themselves before they go ahead and do something to or with a baby (or anybody for that matter).

Imagine this, you are enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon with family and friends at a riverside rowing club.  You are sitting back, chatting away and people watching.  Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, someone sitting across the table from you leans over and flicks wine from their glass into your face.  Then they laugh and do it another two or three times for good measure.  How would you like it somebody did that to you?  I mean, it's not really something you do to someone is it?

I was absolutely shocked when a family friend, who I have only met a handful of times and have no real dealings with, thought that it was appropriate to do that to BabyB-B on Sunday as she was sitting back in a highchair, chatting away, people watching and enjoying the scenery on the riverside deck.  At the time I was too stunned to do anything other than ask, dumbfoundedly, "Are you right?".  Needless to say it put me in quite a mood for the rest of the afternoon as all I wanted to do was go home and get BabyB-B out of a situation where she was clearly not respected.  Three days later I am still reeling about it.  Fortunately, said family friend lives overseas and I won't be seeing her for a good few months.

Some people may think I'm overreacting and I should just get over it.  The problem is that this is not the first time that I've had to put up with people saying or doing things to BabyB-B with absolutely no regard as to how it would make her feel.

There are the times when, in the company of certain people, BabyB-B is clearly tired.  She is yawning, gazing off into the distance and rubbing her eyes.  At this point I will generally observe, "Oh, you're tired, darling".  For some reason neither the signs BabyB-B is exhibiting, nor my observations, are enough to convince our companions that she is, in fact, tired.  Instead of respecting her feelings, they smile, inches from her face, and boom in a ridiculously sing-songy manner, "You're not tired, are you? No, you're not tired".  They then proceed to pull faces and bellow some more at her.  I want to scream, "How you you like it if someone carried on like that with you when you were sitting there yawning and feeling tired?!", but I don't.

Then there are the times we encounter children, excited to see the baby.  They too put their faces inches away from BabyB-B's face and talk to her.  In their excitement they are really yelling.  BabyB-B is turning her head away, trying to shut them out, but the children keep on.  I understand they are excited.  I want to ask them, in a far more gentle manner than that outlined above, "How would you like it if someone came so close to your face and spoke really loudly to you?".  I don't, but I also wonder why their parents don't.

Sometimes I am feeding BabyB-B.  She is sucking contentedly.  I am gently stroking her hair.  For whatever reason some people think this is an appropriate time to engage her in conversation.  Often they feel the need to get up close to see just what she is doing.  This really does puzzle me.  How would you like it if somebody got up in your face while you were eating?  Never mind how I feel with your head disturbingly close to my breast.

Whenever I do anything with BabyB-B I try to ask myself how I would like it if somebody did it to me.  If I wouldn't like it I'm not going to do it to my baby.  Now I just have to work out a way to get others to ask themselves how they would feel before I crack and scream it at them!!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Throwing a tooth in to the works

BabyB-B is teething.  Two little chompers are busting their way out of her lower jaw and through her tender gums.  She seems happy enough during the day, but of an evening my happy baby turns into a sad panda.  She is extra clingy and difficult to settle.  She will sleep peacefully in my arms and erupt in fury the moment I put her down.  I can hardly blame her.

I remember the pain of my wisdom teeth coming through when I was in my early twenties.  It was truly awful.  Fortunately I had the adult ability to rationalise what was going on in my mouth.  I could pop a couple of paracetamol or ibuprofen and go about my business.  Poor BabyB-B cannot.  She does not know that the pain in her gums is the result of her teeth coming through.  All she knows is that something in her mouth is hurting her and she relies completely on DaddyB-B and I to make it better.  We're trying out best to do so.

Each evening we go about our usual 3B ritual:  bath, boob, bed.  However, when we get to the third B things go pear shaped.  BabyB-B may sleep peacefully for a few minutes prior to her eruption, or she may erupt immediately.  Upon eruption DaddyB-B rushes in to try to comfort her with his cuddles.  The success rate with this approach has not been great.  BabyB-B just wants the second B.  I return to her and sit rocking her while she comfort sucks and feeds to sleep.  I generally postpone the second exit attempt until she seems to be in a reasonably deep sleep.  By this stage settling has gone on for at least an hour.  More likely two.  I gently put her down and creep out of the room.

DaddyB-B and I then eat our dinner together, watch some tv, chat, I blog, surf the net, you know average, boring evening type things.  Then we go to bed.

BabyB-B usually wakes for at least one feed during the night.  More typically she wakes two or three times.  Her night wakings are usually pretty straightforward - she wakes, I feed her, she sleeps. However, lately we've had a spanner (in the form of a tooth or two) thrown in to the works.  BabyB-B wakes, I feed her, she fusses, I feed her some more, she fusses, we both fall asleep.  The night before last BabyB-B woke at least six times.  She wasn't waking to feed so much as she was waking for comfort.  Either way, she wanted and she got the second B.  We then cuddled the night away.

This got me thinking.  What happens to trained babies when they teeth?  Are they left in their cot to cry because they are not waking at the specified feeding or waking time?  Perhaps they are shushed and patted to tide them over to the allotted time.  Does the schedule go out the window during teething only to be reintroduced when it is over?  I've been told that consistency is key and the schedule should be maintained as much as possible through teething or illness. This  is one of my many issues with baby training.  Where is the room for flexibility and empathy if the focus is on sticking to the schedule?

I can just hear the parents of trained baby crying out, "How dare you say that I don't feel anything!!"  I'm not suggesting they do not feel for their teething baby.  I am sure they feel sympathy for their child.  However, I question whether they feel empathy (that is a true identification with, or vicarious experience of, what their baby is feeling and thinking).  I question this because if they truly felt empathy how could they not throw the caution of the baby trainers to the wind and toss the schedule out the window in order to provide comfort.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

What's in a name?

A lot so it seems.  Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, controlled crying by any other name is still controlled crying.  What matters is what something is, not what it is called.  Unless you are into sleep training so it seems.

Ask a mother of a sleep trained baby how they did it and they explain the technique used.  It generally goes something like this:  put baby down in bed awake, give a few pats, leave room, baby cries, determine what kind of cry it is, wait for a certain time, go in to baby, pat and shush baby, if baby is really upset pick up and hold briefly, put down, leave.  Repeat this process until the baby goes to sleep.  The mother then continues, "We didn't do controlled crying. We did controlled comforting."  Oh, I see.

Controlled comforting, it's the new (or not so new) catch phrase and to some sleep deprived parents it must sounds far more palatable than controlled crying.  Certainly it sounds better than its big, ugly step-sister, cry it out.  Why is this?  Is it because the name has changed from crying to comforting, thus giving the impression that there is an emphasis on comfort?  It leaves me baffled when considering the technique outlined above.  No matter what you call it a baby is still being left to cry in an effort to "teach" him or her how to sleep.

The Raising Children Network provides a step-by-step guide to controlled comforting on its website.  Reading through this guide I felt my own anxiety rising (and that was just while reading it!).  I can't imagine what I would be like were I to attempt to implement it.  My mind is filled of images of BabyB-B crying in her cot, looking around, wide-eyed, calling for me or for DaddyB-B to come to her, wondering why we are ignoring her or, if we do go in, wondering why we are so quick to leave.  I can only imagine her confusion.  It reminds me of something I read on The Natural Child Project's Facebook page today:
‎"Never leave a baby alone to cry. This is an absolute rule. He may be crying because he is hungry, cold, too hot, wet, etc; if so, these things may be attended to. But he may be none of these things; he may be crying because he is frightened, and if not reassured early this is a dangerous condition. If an infant in the early weeks and months of life is allowed to remain frightened and alone, his first impression of the world into which he has come is that it is inhospitable, dangerous and lonely, and there is no use seeking help. He must try to fend for himself and not expect help; but he cannot fend for himself; he is helpless. It is not a matter for surprise that such impressions may color his view of the world and the people in it permanently. Much of his subsequent conduct will be devoted to the object of making himself as secure as he can in an insecure world."
M. Bevan-Brown, M.D.The Sources of Love and Fear (1950)
It caused me to ask myself how I, as an adult with experience of the world, would like to be left crying, frightened and alone.  I would feel helpless and hopeless. I imagined BabyB-B, with no experience of the world, being left crying, frightened and alone.  Her loneliness only interspersed by a brief comforting cuddle before being left alone again.  I can only imagine that the helplessness and hopelessness that I would feel would be amplified by her inexperience of the world.  What would she learn from this?  That my comforting is fleeting and not to be trusted?  That is not something I wish to teach her.  I want her to know that my arms will always be her sanctuary and that I will always answer her cries no matter how sleep deprived I am.

Call it what you will, and to each their own, but it is not for me.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

When Doubt Creeps In

Doubt. It creeps up from nowhere and then bam! it consumes your mind. I find that even the tiniest seed of self doubt, often planted by someone's well-meaning (or self-justifying) comment, grows like lantana when my sleep suffers as a result of unsettled nights with BabyB-B. It takes over every bit of confidence I felt about a decision and is bloody hard to kill.

BabyB-B has just turned six months old. It seems around this time the whole playing field changes again. Before six months I was confidently feeding BabyB-B to sleep at night and offered her the breast whenever she woke during the night. It comforted her, it was what she wanted, it worked and it was acceptable. Then one morning some mothers and I were discussing our babies' sleep habits.  Apparently, at this age babies don't need to be fed overnight and, if they are, they really only need one feed. The rest is "just for comfort" and they should be able to sleep without it and, of course, you should never feed them to sleep during the day.    Cue self doubt about my sleep time habits with BabyB-B.  Was I creating a needy monster who will never learn to sleep away from the comfort of my breast?

Then there is the solids issue. Before six months I quite confidently responded to questions about this that we were not starting solids before six months because we planned on doing baby led weaning. I was happy with this decision. I had read about the benefits of BLW. I'd read articles on infant gut closure and the potential damage of introducing solids too early. I waited until six months with the backing of BabyB-B's paediatrician, GP and our family support unit nurse who all recommended waiting until six months and, of course, WHO and NHRMC with each of these organisations recommending exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age.

I felt quite confident about the introduction of solid foods until a discussion with a former BLW mummy at a BBQ.  My proclamation that we had started BLW was met with a sharp intake of breath and the comment that, "Oooh, that's really not for all babies.  They actually need to be eating at this age.  I'm sure you've heard that food is for fun under one, but they really need it."  I was then asked whether BabyB-B was sleeping through the night.  I'd thought nothing of the two to three (or more) feeds she had been waking for of late.  Particularly having regard to the barrage of developmental milestones that a baby around six months old is met with.  Cue doubt trigger, "No", I was told, "She is waking because she is hungry.  You should be making her eat solid food now so she will sleep and grow."  Was I starving my baby and therefore preventing her from getting the sleep she needed to grow and develop?

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture and when I'm suffering from it I seem to take the opportunity to torture myself some more and focus on those comments that leave me filled with doubt.  I obsess about them.  Is it my fault we are not sleeping?  I run them over and over in my mind which, ironically, causes me to lose sleep thus in turn perpetuating the problem.  Then we have a "good" night, BabyB-B may only wake once or twice, I sleep for a few hours in a row, I wake refreshed and I am able to sit back and put my doubts into perspective.

Last night was a good night so today I find myself putting my most recent doubts into perspective.  I'm considering them while watching BabyB-B laying on the floor telling her pink dragon what seems to be a most important and serious tale.  She is the image of happiness and health.  Could I really be doing the wrong thing?

It occurs to me that the mothers who planted these seeds of doubt have been exactly where I am now:    sleep deprived and wanting to do what is best for their baby and for themselves.  They have put themselves out there and they have sought help, support and advice.  And this is where we part ways.

I seek help, support and advice from other mothers who I know advocate gentle parenting, I jump online and read my favourite blogs, websites and articles, like Evolutionary Parenting's "Educating the Experts" series.

They seek help, support and advice from baby trainers and mothercraft nurses. People who tell them that babies of a certain age should be sleeping for x hours and need to eat y amount of food in order to achieve this.  Of course they will tell me emphatically that what they do is "right" and works.  Why are they so dismissive and skeptical when I tell them what we do?  It is because I'm planting the seed of doubt for them?  I'll probably never know, because I do not think they would admit it.  After all, they have, quite often, suffered through days and nights of their babies' "protest" cries in order to make it work for them (with or without the aid of earplugs!!).

What I do know is this:  I have a happy and healthy little girl.  She is thriving and engaging.  Apart from a slight physical delay with her legs, the legacy of spending 10 weeks of her young life in a restrictive harness, she is doing all things that babies of around six months old seem to do.  This includes waking during the night for food, comfort, or just a little hug.  I turn my mind to the future and think that one day I will be wishing for a return to the days when my baby peacefully slept in my arms, happily received my cuddles and kisses and delighted in the wonder that is a floret of broccoli!!  There is no doubt in my mind.  Nothing could make me wish or train these precious moments away.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Loving the Mummy I Am

What kind of mother am I? I've been thinking about this a lot over the last six months.  I'm certainly not a Tizzie Hall mother.  I read the book, I considered the book, but following the book just wasn't for me.  Next there are the books by the late Tracey Hogg, been there, read those too.  It seems so-called baby whisperers and I are just not compatible.  While their theories and practices may sit well with other mothers they just did not for me.  Then there is attachment parenting.  I certainly aim to build a secure attachment with BabyB-B, but I'm not sure I'm AP enough to be considered an attachment parent in AP circles.  So, where does this leave me?  
BabyB-B snoozing in her Moby at 5 months
Well, I like to consider myself a gentle parent, an in tune parent, a responsive parent.  I don't quite belong under any of the traditional labels.  I breastfeed with pride, practice baby led weaning, will not let my baby cry it out, feed her to sleep and co-sleep part time.  I may be left out of the group but I am learning to love the mummy I am because after six long, but rewarding and wonderful, months I realise that I am exactly the mummy BabyB-B needs and wants.  I'm not a perfect mummy, but I am her mummy and that is all she cares about.  I finally have the confidence to accept my parenting practices and to be comfortable with them.  
Avocado sandwich for lunch
Many of my mummy friends have told me that they have been judged or made to feel guilty by others about their parenting practices.  I often wonder whether all of this judgment is real.  How much of this judgment by others is true judgment and how much of this so-called judgment is really their own guilt and doubt in their decisions coming to the fore?  Don't take this as me saying there is no judgment out there.  I, myself, have been on the receiving end of raised eyebrows and knowing glances from parents of older children.  

We all have crises of confidence and doubts as to whether our parenting approach is "right".  I've had a couple myself recently.  However, at the end of the day I look at my happy, thriving little girl and remind myself that I must be doing something right.  All the talk about judgment brings to mind that old saying about loving yourself before expecting others to love you.  How can you expect others to accept your parenting style if you don't first accept it yourself?
Kisses for Mummy

Monday, 7 November 2011

Breast is Best?

It is a truth that one would expect to be universally acknowledged:  breast is best.  However, sometimes, for some mothers, it is not.  

BabyB-B's first feed
Before I go any further, I should lay my cards on the table.  I am a bona fide, card carrying lactavist.  I am loud and proud about breastfeeding BabyB-B.  I believe wholeheartedly that breast is best.  I believe babies should be breastfed on demand.  I believe they should be breastfed for at least their first year.  I encourage expectant mothers to give it a go.  I offer words of encouragement to those consider giving it up.  I like to think my encouragement is gentle and without judgment because I remember all to well the overwhelming pressure I felt to give my unborn baby the "best start in life" and the massive internal struggle when faced with days of sleep deprivation, mastitis, thrush and blocked nipples.   

I have some very dear friends who bottle feed by choice.  Some breastfed for a few weeks or months.  Others not at all.  All of these mothers are feeding their babies and all of these mothers at one point in time have felt judged for the method by which they do so.  When asked who they felt judged or pressured them about their decision the answers were:  lactation consultants, society and other mothers.  

Feeding BabyB-B after her brief stint in the nursery
It should come as little surprise that lactation consultants encourage breastfeeding.  After all, they are in the business of breasts and feeding with them!  My personal experience with lactation consultants is that they offer amazing guidance and support especially in those early few weeks when I was jumping the hurdles that my body decided to throw at me both physically and mentally.  One mother's guidance and support is another mother's judgment and pressure.  A lactation consultant is probably not the person to see if you are, however deep down and secretly, hoping for reassuring words that it is ok to stop breastfeeding.  Why would a mother after such reassurance see a lactation consultant?  I suspect because of the societal expectation that a mother will breastfeed.

Societal expectation and judgment is an interesting one.  Primarily because the judgment of society is also one of the main reasons mothers choose not to breastfeed.  The sexualisation of breasts plays a massive part in a mother's decision not to breastfeed.  It seems our society is so caught up in breasts as sexual objects that it is often forgotten that they are, in fact, designed to feed and nourish our young - but this is a topic best left for another day.

During my pregnancy I was asked quite frequently whether I would breastfeed.  My answer was, invariably, "If I can".  Why such an answer?  Because I felt an enormous pressure to breastfeed even before BabyB-B came along.  When mulling over how I would feed my unborn child I recalled a long past event where my mother and her friend were discussing a new mother's decision to formula feed her daughter.  Words like "selfish" and "lazy" were bandied around.  I also recalled an acquaintance who suffered through months of thrush only to "fail" at breastfeeding.  Sadly this acquaintance did not receive adequate support in establishing breastfeeding and thrush was only diagnosed when she had determined that breastfeeding was not best for her mental well being and her bond with her son.  When pregnant with her second child the trauma of breastfeeding her first filled her with fear of being deemed a failure by society the next time around.  My answer, "If I can", protected me from being considered selfish or lazy, but also contemplated a scenario where breastfeeding may not work.  It was my get out of gaol free card.  I would appease society by giving it a go.  This seems to be the attitude that many new mothers have - "I will try breastfeeding because everyone expects me to".  So how was it that I managed to exclusively breastfeed BabyB-B until the age of 6 months and continue to breastfeed her as she starts baby-led weaning?
In a bubble with my baby after a feed at three weeks

In the grips of post natal depression, breastfeeding was the one thing I had, that I could do and I was not going to let go of it.  I approached breastfeeding with an obsessive determination to make it work.  I was convinced that if I didn't breastfeed BabyB-B and she took a bottle people would take her away from me because I was not coping.  The people taking her away were DaddyB-B or her grandparents.  Their intentions were to take her for a few hours so I could rest.  I clung to demand feeding because, although I was convinced my beautiful and perfect daughter would be better off with someone else, I could not fathom being parted from her for even half an hour.  When breastfeeding my little bundle, notwithstanding the mastitis, thrush and blocked nipples, I felt (and still feel) enveloped in serenity.  Breastfeeding for me is the ultimate act of bonding.  

Sleepy feed at three months
So what of the mother who feels pressured to breastfeed when doing so is making her feel miserable, overwhelmed and judged.  Could breastfeeding be damaging her bond with her baby?  Could it be preventing her from enjoying her child.  The answer, put simply, is yes.  In such circumstances it would be difficult to argue that breast is best.  What of the mother who chose not to breastfeed at all?  Is she any less bonded to her child because she feeds by bottle?  Of course not.  My experience of mothers who choose to bottle feed their children is that these mothers absolutely love their children and are well and truly bonded.  I've been told by these bottle feeding mothers that no matter how at peace they are with their decision to bottle feed, they remain nervous in the face of their harshest critic:  the breastfeeding mother.  

Breastfeeding mothers have been described to me by bottle feeding mothers as:  smug, self-righteous, disapproving and judgmental.  My personal philosophy is to try to avoid making another mother feel judged because of her decision to bottle feed her child notwithstanding the fact that I remain steadfastly of the view that breast is best.  Bottle feeding does not mean she loves her baby any less than I love my breast fed baby.  Who am I to judge a bottle feeding mother?  Particularly when I do not know the circumstances.  It could be that the mother who is bottle feeding her child is doing so because breastfeeding presented an insurmountable hurdle and her much loved baby was failing to thrive.  She may have gone through the pain and rejection of breast refusal.  She may be torturing herself because for whatever reason breastfeeding just did not work out for her.  It is not my place to judge.  Nor should it be the place of any breastfeeding mother to judge.  

However, in defence of smug, self-righteous, disapproving and judgmental breastfeeding mothers, I will query whether the mothers who simply choose not to breastfeed and feel judged by breastfeeding mothers are really judged or whether it is their own self doubt at their decision coming through.  In accordance with my philosophy of not making another mother feel judged for her decision, this is a query that will likely remain unanswered as I will not be posing this question to any of my bottle feeding mummy friends.  
Finally feeding again after refusing to feed during a bout  of gastro

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