Category Archives: breastfeeding

By contract II

I suppose I should mention this: I’m no longer a nursing mother.

If you’re new around here you might not be surprised by that – after all, for most mothers whose youngest is five years old, breastfeeding is something that happened way back in the mists of babyhood; toddlerhood at least. But here’s the thing: my babies were reluctant to stop. And I mean that most understatedly. They reacted to the idea of giving up the boob with screaming and terror and horror and gnashing and wailing of teeth, and frankly it was much easier for me to go along with that than to face their wrath.

I didn’t go into breastfeeding with the intent of carrying on until my babies could write their own thank-you notes. I certainly have no opinions about how long anyone else should keep it up, any more than I have opinions about what you should have for dinner or how often, if ever, you should shave your legs. Eat food you like; shave when you feel like it. Nurse your baby for as long as it suits you and your child.*

I had been telling Mabel that we would stop when she was five ever since she turned four and a half and we didn’t quite stop. We cut down from morning and evening to just morning at that point, and when I went on my Big Trip Away to BlogHer in July (for three days) she was just fine without. But our trip to Ireland was nicely timed to happen just before her birthday, and as I had hoped, the distraction of the different, of sharing a room with her brother and being in a new place was enough to break the habit quite easily. She only thought to nurse three mornings out of fourteen while we were there, and on the morning of her birthday was quite easily put off with a simple “No, you’re five now. You don’t need it any more.”

So we’re done. I’m not sad or sorry. I have no regrets about nursing for as long as I did, and I have no regrets about that part of my life being over. My babies and I had a mutually beneficial relationship for a long time, and though often the “mutually” felt more like “completely one-sided” in their favour, it was never enough for me to call a halt sooner than they were ready for. I’m not a martyr – far from it. I was always simply too lazy to make a stand against their will, because when it came down to it, the convenience outweighed the inconvenience.

So I can finally lay to rest the “Weaning” tag that I’ve used so often over the years here, as I considered, and attempted, and gave up on, and tried again with, and gradually approached the nirvana-like state of no longer breastfeeding. I’ve been wearing proper bras for a couple of years, actually, so I can’t even go out and indulge in some fabulous lingerie; and I doubt my alcohol consumption will see much change.

It’s a big milestone, but it’s been so long coming that I really don’t even notice the difference. Perhaps that’s as it should be. We’re looking ahead, not back.

* I’m talking here mostly about extended nursing. I do think you should start out by trying to breastfeed, if you’re medically able to. I think that’s a no-brainer. But if you don’t continue for very long, for whatever reason, I’ll assume that you did what you could and ended up making the best decision for you and your family. It’s not my business to have an opinion on that.

Listen (again)

This post was first published in September 2011, when Dash was five and Mabel was two years and ten months. I’m wheeling it out again as my contribution to the Irish Parenting Bloggers’ blog march for National Breastfeeding Week in Ireland – head on over to Mama.ie for a full list of everyone who’s taking part,and a great giveaway too.

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This morning Monkey announced that he wasn’t going to cry today. He went off to school with his Dad and wished me goodbye with aplomb. Reports from school were good: he still wanted to be walked to his classroom, which we’re not supposed to be doing at this stage, but he sat down and permitted a hug with nary a wail. I’m so pleased. There may, of course, be a relapse on Tuesday after the long weekend, and others to come, but I think it’s a good sign.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Instead, let’s talk about extended breastfeeding. Here, let me drag out my soapbox. Comfy down there? Need a seat? Don’t strain your neck, okay? I promise it won’t take long.

I didn’t really even register that Mabel counted as “extended” for quite a while. When you’re still nursing the big one too, you have to assume that the little one is legit, and the big one is just along for the ride. And technically, I’m not even sure when extended starts – after one year? After two? Okay, well, we’re coming up on three in a few months (and the big one has stopped, you’ll be glad to know, if you weren’t sure about that), so we’re definitely there now. She hardly ever nurses in public, so though we don’t have set times, I think it’s all ramping down gradually and I’m fine with that. There are days when she drags me to the sofa every five minutes, and I kvetch about how she needs to eat real food and stop bugging me, but then it turns out that she was starting a cold, or had been awake half the night, and she just really needs it.

Thing is, if I wasn’t nursing her, I don’t know when I would take that time to just sit down and have a cuddle with my two-year-old. She’s a big girl – I keep telling her that every time I try to entice the underpants back on. She’s starting nursery school next week. She’ll talk to you till the cows come home and she knows that cheetahs are the fastest animal and that Iron Man has repulsor blasts. (Oh yes he does.) She can climb anything, run anywhere, reach every damn thing she shouldn’t. But she’s still two, and even when she’s three, there will be times when she needs to decompress by being close to her mama for a while.

If I wasn’t still nursing Mabel, if she didn’t hold on to me every now and then in the most vital (and painful) way possible, I’d get up and walk away far too much. I’d say “Just a minute” and “Hold on a sec” and “I’ll be there in a moment” and “I have to get this done” even more than I already do, and I’d expect her to be fully self-sufficient all the time. She’s canny, this one, and she knows how to get her own way. Cuteness works, asking nicely works, whining works sometimes even though it shouldn’t; but when push comes to shove and she needs what she needs, she knows how to get me and keep me.

Because she’s right. The babies know. They always know. Listen to your baby.

Because one day they’ll walk off to big school with aplomb, and they won’t let you kiss them any more.

Toddler on balance bike
She was just about this big, and/or this small, back then.

Boob psychology

I’m still thinking about breastfeeding, given the week that’s in it. (Actually, August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in the US, so I can go on and on with this.)

I’ve always wondered why the Irish have such terrible breastfeeding rates. Because we really do. According to the ERSI, just over half of mothers (56 per cent) currently initiate breastfeeding in Ireland, compared to 81 per cent in the UK and over 90 per cent in Scandinavian states.* Only 22% of babies are still breastfed at 3 months, with that number dropping below 10% by 6 months. In the USA, by contrast, almost half of babies are still breastfed at 6 months** – no small feat considering how many of those mothers had to go back to work and start pumping milk from as soon as six weeks post-partum.

In the wonderful personal accounts the Irish Parenting Bloggers have been sharing this week, one thing has stood out in my mind: the lack of support they’ve suffered from many of the health professionals involved in their babies’ births. But associated with that is the way several of those mothers found it hard to speak up when faced with terrible treatment, because they didn’t want to be a bother to anyone, and because the nurses they encountered – mostly nurses, it seems – made them feel that they were causing trouble. Causing trouble by asking for pain medication. By asking for help with latching the baby on. By asking to have their crying baby picked up and given to them after a c-section.

I understand this mentality, I really do. I don’t like bothering people. If I’m a patient, I want to be a model patient. I want to be the one who is no trouble. (Look how proud I was of actually asking questions, way back in my first pregnancy.) I want to get the answers right, so that the doctor/nurse/professional I’m talking to approves of me and decides I’m a nice girl.

What the hell? Who worries about being a nice girl when she’s having a baby – which is pretty hard and important work, ya know? Well, apparently I do, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Did my mother make me this way? Was it mentally beaten into me, and into her, and her mother before her, that good girls didn’t make trouble? I would go so far as to say that, though of course there are people of every level of assertiveness all over the world, in Ireland we perhaps have more non-assertive people/women than in other countries.

Perhaps we even like the martyrdom, just a tiny bit. It feels good for your soul, doesn’t it? Hedonism is definitely bad, so putting up with hardship and not whining about it must be good, right? Oh dear, this is getting awfully Catholic.

Whatever – my pop psychology is based on no actual research. But the fact stands that given the vulnerable situation of a mother at the exact time when breastfeeding begins, in the midst of pain and unfamiliarity and at the mercy of the “professionals,” the Irish tendency to “offer it up” works against many people.

Maybe, just maybe, this aspect of the Irish national psyche has something to do with the low rates of breastfeeding. Maybe many mothers who really wanted to try to breastfeed were sabotaged not just by the system but by their own innate disinclination to speak up for themselves, because they didn’t want to make trouble.

(A doula is really helpful here. One major job of a doula is to advocate for her client when her client is in a vulnerable and unfamiliar state. A doula knows what’s going on and how the system works, as well as what the mother wants. If you are pregnant in Ireland, I would strongly advise you to look into getting a doula.)

The thing is, I know that every single mama can and will advocate for her child. Every mama, Irish or otherwise, is a mother bear, a lioness, a spitting, snarling tiger mother if you threaten her child, or fail to help her child, or let her child be in pain.

So I would say to you, expectant mothers of Ireland who are planning to breastfeed (and anywhere else they like to breed nice girls): find that righteous anger, access your deep but vast recesses of self-assurance RIGHT NOW. Use it for yourself right at the start of your child’s life, to ensure that you get what you need to begin breastfeeding the way you wanted to, the way you know will work best because you’ve done the research even if the person talking to you has not. Advocate for your baby. Because breastfeeding isn’t just about us, it’s about our children.

World Breastfeeding Week logo

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to get to the root of the Irish breastfeeding problem. This is what I wrote four years ago

*Source: http://www.esri.ie/news_events/latest_press_releases/breastfeeding_in_ireland_/
** Source: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/reportcard.htm#Indicators

The accidental extender

It’s World Breastfeeding Week (yay boobs!) and the Irish Parenting Bloggers, of which I am a proud member, are doing a blog march in its honour. This is my contribution, and I’ll add links to everyone else’s as the week progresses.

August 1st: Wholesome Ireland and The Happy Womb
August 2nd: Office Mum and Awfully Chipper
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon and It Begins With a Verse
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes and Ouch My Fanny Hurts
August 5th: Debalicious and Mind the Baby
August 6th: My Internal World, Musings and Chatterings, and Mama Courage
August 7th: The Nest, Mama.ie, At the Clothesline, My Life as a Mum, and Learner Mama

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may be familiar with my breastfeeding story; indeed, you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “There goes Maud with her boobs again.” If so – well, sorry about that.

When I had my first baby, my husband and I were living in southmost Texas, which is not a place that most of you have even considered might exist. I certainly hadn’t, until we spent two years there. We didn’t have any friends with young children, we didn’t associate with any babies or children, our families were an ocean away, and my babysitting years were far in the past. But we’d been married a year and I was 32 and I reckoned it was time to have a baby.

I did put some thought into it. I researched getting pregnant, and read pregnancy blogs, and checked babycare books out of the library. Pregnancy was achieved pretty much according to plan, which was wonderful, and I tried not to buy All The Stuff, because we had a small apartment and would be moving back up north when the baby was four months old.

My breastfeeding plans went like this: I wanted to, if I could. I hoped to get to three months, six if possible. Having a baby older than six months was not something I could conceive of at that point anyway, so there was no point looking any further ahead.

Perhaps I owe some of my success with breastfeeding to my midwife, who was a very down-to-earth person. As soon as I’d delivered the young master, she unceremoniously leaned over me and squeezed a nipple, hard. Somewhat to my surprise, creamy yellowy stuff came out. “You’re fine,” she announced, and observed us as I brought him gingerly to my breast and saw him latch on like a pro. I was only in the hospital for 24 hours, and I don’t remember the nurses being either helpful or a hindrance, except for the way they had to wake me up every couple of hours to tell me to try to nurse my baby. We would both have preferred to stay asleep, thank you very much.

Nursing in the first few days was difficult because the baby was still very sleepy (duh, newborn) and a bit jaundiced, and my milk had not come in. The pediatrician told us to supplement with formula and wake him to feed every two hours. I was adamant that I would not have my breastfeeding plans derailed by a doctor I didn’t particularly trust anyway, so we alternated breast and bottle, and I let my husband do the bottle feeds so the baby only ever got boob from me.

On the morning of the fifth day we were at the pediatrician’s office for a check-up. As we waited to be seen, the baby latched on – and didn’t come off for 45 minutes. Apparently my milk had come in. I was pretty relieved.

Latching on was fairly excruciating for the first weeks. I found a lactation consultant, who took a look and said the baby had a perfect latch. She sold me a nipple shield and a manual pump, both of which were more trouble than they were worth. I just decided that the people who said “If it hurts you’re doing it wrong” didn’t have my baby, or my boobs, and kept on keeping on, wincing and swearing freely at the start of each feed. Gradually the duration of the pain diminished and after about six weeks it only hurt a lot on the left side. After another week I was relatively pain-free, and from there our nursing relationship took off.

I had no support, really, from the people around me; though I had invaluable help and advice and a cheering section on the Internet. But the corollary of that is that I had no detractors either. There was nobody telling me they thought I probably couldn’t do it, that I should just use the free formula I’d been sent home from the hospital with, that my nipples were too small, or too flat, or too pink. I was already a stranger in a strange land, so I felt no urge to conform to peer pressure and do what others were doing. The rates of breastfeeding in south Texas are not good, so I assumed from the start that I was an outlier – a rebel, if you like. It was sort of liberating. In fact, I never had anything but supportive comments from those who did go out of their way to talk to me about breastfeeding.

We got to three months, moved north to Maryland, and went on gaily to six months. I became brave and then brazen about nursing in public – the mall, the park, the bus; McDonalds, poker night, the supermarket; whenever, wherever. At six months there was no question of weaning: why would I make my life more complicated, with all those bottles and warming and measuring and mixing? Starting solids was a little daunting, and Dash was never a big eater, so it was reassuring to know he was still getting plenty of good nourishment straight from the source.

Coming up to a year, I began to wonder when my baby would begin to wean himself, and how he would magically start eating all the food he’d need to replace that milk and keep growing. Gradually it dawned on me that he wasn’t in any way ready to wean yet, and that there was no need to. So we didn’t.

I never intended to be an extended breastfeeder. I certainly never intended to tandem nurse. I didn’t think I could possibly nurse through a second pregnancy. If you’d told me in those early days that my baby wouldn’t wean till he was 4 and a half years old – well, to be honest, I might not even have started. But things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. It was always easier to keep going than it would have been to stop, so we just did. I also had the support of two of my best friends, one nearby in real life and one in the computer, who also found themselves nursing preschoolers without necessarily having planned to. Feeling that I wasn’t the only crazy person in the world doing this made a huge difference.

My first baby is seven now. His little sister will turn five in November, and she still partakes of the boob first thing in the morning. It buys me a few more minutes in bed, and apart from her habit of volubly declaring her love for the boobies in front of company, the fact that I’m still, technically, a nursing mother doesn’t impinge on my life at all. Mostly, I forget that it’s even a fact, until I have to check a box on a form at the doctor’s or something. We’ll probably stop soon.

Probably.

Nursing mother and toddler
Nursing Mabel at 22 months

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If you’re interested in reading more of my breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, and tandem nursing story as it happened, click the links in the tag cloud.

Bring out your boobs

It’s National Breastfeeding Week in Ireland, and once again I’m shocked by the statistics. Reading this article in the Irish Times, the basic takeaway is this part:

Just over half of mothers currently initiate breastfeeding in Ireland compared with 81 per cent in the UK and in the region of 98 per cent in Nordic states such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

What’s going on?  Are Irish maternity practices that different from those of the UK? (Yes, I think they are.) But according to the finding cited later, that after a month, “women who gave birth in hospitals where there is a particular breastfeeding culture are no more likely to breastfeed than other women,”  that’s not really where the problem lies.*

I think it’s entirely about peer pressure. You do what your friends do. You don’t want to be the weird one. You assume that what’s “normal” is the most “right”. The Irish psyche is also deeply suspicious of things that authority figures tell us to do. We’re a lot more likely to listen to our friends than the experts or the media, at least when it comes to deciding how we’re going to behave. We have a healthy scorn for experts.

In the comments on that article, several people mentioned that Irish mothers want to get back to the pub. They don’t want to be tied to an infant, and they don’t want to have to moderate their alcohol intake for an indefinite length of time. The idea of six more months without a pint or a (good) few glasses of red, after a whole nine months of self-denial already, is horrendous to your average Irish mother. Is that really true? Is it because the Irish doctors take the more USA-ian approach of no alcohol at all while pregnant or nursing rather than a Continental attitude of a little is fine? Or do Irish doctors know that “a little” is not an option once an Irishwoman goes out drinking?

On balance, I’d like to think this isn’t true. The Scandinavian nations where breastfeeding rates are highest are not exactly known for their abstinence from hard liquor. The Swedes party hard, I’m told. But they are probably able to exercise a modicum of self-control too, and I imagine if the breastfeeding culture in Ireland was more like that in Sweden, Irish mothers would find that they could, let’s see

  • have one drink and stop
  • have a few drinks once in a while and offer formula that evening instead
  • pump enough to have a backup stash in the fridge for the babysitter to offer while you’re out on the batter, and for you to give while you’re still a little worse for wear once you get home

or even

  • discover that it’s no fun trying to care for an infant when you have a hangover, and realise that moderation might be a good thing

Lots of options there. Not having a drink is not enough of a reason not to breastfeed; but from the point of view of a first-time pregnant woman who’s dying to get her life back and doesn’t understand that her life is about to be irrevocably changed anyway, it might look like one. By the time the baby’s out she’s already told everyone that she’s not going to do it, and bought the bottles and the formula, and made a date for her first girls’ night out, there’s no going back, so she goes forward, and there’s one more baby who didn’t even get a chance at the colostrum, one more set of potential siblings who probably won’t either, one more bottle-feeding mother out there not changing the public perspective on what’s “normal”.

Yes, yes, there are many people who really really wanted to breastfeed, and it didn’t work out. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the almost 50% who decided beforehand that they weren’t even going to think about it, because it’s weird. Or because it’s not what anyone they know does.

If nobody ever does, then nobody ever will. Simple as that. Are we all sheep, Irishwomen? I’d like to think not. Don’t just do what your friends are doing. Find out for yourself. Remember, in the immortal words of L’Oreal, you’re worth it. And so is your baby.

Mind the Baby has some words to say about the week here. Coincidentally, since she talks about the PR campaign, my own post linked at the top of the page described my imaginary advertising campaign aimed at the Irish market. Perhaps we should add one that just says, “Why breastfeed? So your friends will too.” Maybe it’s just that simple.

*Although higher rates of intervention are statistically linked with lower rates of initiating breastfeeding, so it does have something to do with it.

Selling the boob

The breastfeeding rates in Ireland are pretty crap. We just don’t have a breastfeeding culture at the moment, and there’s nothing harder to change than culture. The only thing to do, as a nursing mother, is get out there and nurse, and talk about it, and let people see you doing it.

Admittedly, I didn’t exactly hang out with new mothers when I lived in Dublin last, being more of the young-free-and-single set, but I really only remember twice ever seeing someone nursing: once when I was about 8 and my friend’s mother came to lunch with her new baby; and then the mother of the kids I babysat, but she was Dutch, and therefore Doesn’t Count.

Anyway, the breastfeeding PR people are fighting a losing battle against the Irish psyche. We will not do anything The Man tells us to, for The Man represents 700 years of English Oppression, even when The Man is a nice hippie lady who just wants what’s best for your baby. We don’t like hippies much either. So the more the BF lobby tell the Irish populace how much they really ought to breastfeed, the more the Irish populace say “No, it’s time to think about *me* after these hard 9 months of pregnancy, and I’m going to give myself a break and bottle feed. It’s all the same to the baby, give or take.” At least, I imagine that’s perhaps the thought process.

So if you can’t browbeat the Irish into doing the right thing, how do you appeal to them? To their innate laziness, of course. To their desire to save a bob or two. To their love of the easy life. This is my plan for an ad campaign:

  • Big picture of boobs (somehow covered, for modesty). Caption: Convenience Store, open all hours.
  • Big picture of boobs. Caption: Piggybank. Small print: [Some statistic about how much you would save on formula if you breastfed for 6 months.]
  • Big picture of boobs. Caption: Sterilizer. Small print: [Statistic about how much time it takes to sterilize the bottles versus opening your shirt.]
  • Big picture of boobs. Caption: The gym. Small print: Breastfeeding is nature’s way of losing the baby weight. And you don’t have to lift a finger. (Disclaimer about how it doesn’t work for everyone.)
  • Big picture of boobs. Caption: Cancer protection. Small print: [statistics about how women who breastfeed are less likely to get breast cancer] 

You get the idea. I’m sure I’ll come up with some more.