Is breastfeeding a precursor to baby-led weaning?

The publication of a new report from the ESRI today linking breastfeeding with lower rates of childhood obesity in Ireland coincided nicely with a new experience I had last week.

My little boy has never taken a bottle.  Scratch that, he took a small bottle of expressed milk once from his Dad, fell asleep and then promptly denied all knowledge of the event immediately thereafter!  So it’s been breast all the way in our house for 10 months now and counting.

So last week I had my first encounter with a bottle of formula and a small baby.  A good friend and mother of three needed to pick up her eldest from school and left her beautiful sleeping bundle with me.  Her new daughter is both breast and formula fed and I had 2oz to give to her if she woke while her mama was out.  No probs.  Except then I found myself a little out of my depth.  When I went to feed the baby, I found I wasn’t able to read her cues.  I wasn’t sure if she was hungry or not.  It took her a few tries to properly get into taking the bottle which she then drank readily but then I couldn’t tell if she was finished or not.  2oz looked like a small enough amount in the bottle but I really have no idea how much that is so I wasn’t sure if she needed to finish it all or not. In the end I left some behind.  Her mum told me later that she had taken more for me than she does for her Dad.  Is that a bad thing?  Did I give her too much?  Now, she was a little angel so there was no crying – like that desperate, insistent “I’m starving”! cry I remember my son having at that age when he was hungry – and she was a pretty chilled out little lady so I can only presume that she was a bit hungry, took what she needed and was satisfied.

But it got me thinking that in some ways, breastfeeding is like the precursor of baby-led weaning really isn’t it?  At that age, my son let me know when he was hungry – and boy did he let me know – he’d stop when he was finished and when he didn’t want a feed, he was pretty clear about that as well.  So he was totally in charge of his intake all the time.  That’s what caught me off guard with the little lady.  I was in charge – and I didn’t like it!  Breastfeeding and formula feeding are really two very different ways of nourishing your baby.  It makes sense that exclusively breastfeeding mothers and exclusively formula feeding mother would struggle to understand each other’s methods. I know I do but that’s my issue.

You can read the full report here.  But if you’d prefer to skip the economist-speak, the Irish Times have a summary here.   On an aside, I was shocked to read in that article that nearly half of all Irish babies are weaned on to solid foods by four months.  I had no idea it was that high.

In praise of muslins

Putting away the laundry, I just realised that the 30 odd muslin squares that we have seem to be staying in the drawer for a long time instead of making their daily appearance in the washing machine.  Who’d have thunk this day would come?

Ah, the muslin square, I’ll remember it with affection.  A new parent’s best friend.  Always within arm’s reach.  There to catch the puke, mop up the puke, over Dad’s shoulder, under Mum’s boob, over Mum’s boob to stem the flow of an over enthusiastic nipple shooting across the room.  A makeshift bib. A face cloth. A handy stemmer of the flow of little boy piddle when you turn your back for a second to reach for a fresh nappy…their usefulness is endless.  You can never have too many in those early days.  Praise the muslin!

PS I have IKEA ones.  They rock.

Dragon Mamas? A Dad’s perspective

I met an old friend today who I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade.  He has gotten married and had two babies with another on the way since the last time we met.  He was waxing lyrical about the joy of being a father and how it has changed his life and perspective utterly and he said a few things that struck a chord with me.  Maybe two chords – one harmonic and one inharmonic.  The first thing he said was he wonders what he was afraid of all this time.  He had been terrified for years of becoming a father to the point where he considered returning to singledom at one point when it looked like there might a chisler on the horizon (false alarm).  I find  this totally understandable.  I think if you’re not there, you’re totally not there when it comes to thinking about having children.  For me, it was like a switch: not even slightly interested in children to all about babies!

The second thing he said was that he was so lucky to be married to the beautiful, wonderful wife and mother that he was.  Because all of his mates’ wives turned into dragons after they had their children.

Hmmmm.

I need to think about this a little bit more.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard something like this but it’s the first time I’ve heard it since becoming a mother.  It’s funny, when you’re busy trying to make babies and have babies, the husband/wife father/mother dynamic is something that never crosses your mind.  That is until your baby arrives and everyone’s life changes forever and those relationships change forever too.  Suddenly there’s this whole other element of having a baby that never blipped on your radar.  And apparently some men experience dragon mamas.  I don’t know what to make of this or whose perspective to take it from.  I think I’m going to park it for now, have a mull and maybe come back to it at a later stage.  Anyone have any thoughts on the concept of dragon mamas or otherwise?

Information is power

photo credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio) via photopin cc
photo credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello (aka gorillaradio) via photopin cc

I’ve been thinking about my post yesterday on the Home Birth Association’s conference because I think I told a lie towards the end. I made a comment about not being interested in convincing women to have a homebirth like me. It niggled at me all day because I think it’s only half true.

If I’m honest, I think I’d like women to at least think about having a natural birth. And when I say think about it, I suppose what I really mean is to educate themselves about pregnancy, birth and labour so that they know what they’re letting themselves in for and can make informed decisions about how they’d like to birth their baby.

Otherwise, how would you know that there’s a chance that an epidural might slow down your labour, or might start off a cascade of interventions that you’d prefer not to have? How would you know that keeping fit and active during your pregnancy can help with your labour? Or that being well rested and not working like the clappers up until the last minute will help you go into spontaneous labour and ensure you have the energy to birth your baby? How would you know that you can’t have a shower or go to the toilet for a few hours after an epidural whereas with a natural delivery you can usually stand up and walk with your baby in your arms to bed or to the couch or wherever you need to be? How would you know that being up on your feet and moving around can help move your labour along by using gravity to move your baby down and that being on your back isn’t really ideal, unless of course it feels right to you at the time? (Myself and my husband practised many labour positions but on the day, all my body wanted to do was stand.) By the way, I’m not anti epidural at all. In fact I think they’re fantastic when you need them. I just think sometimes when women don’t have all the information on the side effects and risks they can be too quick to ask for one and be unprepared for what happens next.

I had my baby with the community midwives in Holles Street and I remember so clearly a couple of things they told me. At the start of my pregnancy, they handed me an information pack that had printed in block capitals YOU HAVE NINE MONTHS TO PREPARE FOR THE BIRTH OF YOUR BABY, USE IT WISELY. I read that, took it on board and ran with it. I think it paid off for me. Later in the antenatal classes, the midwife once again said “it’s up to you to be prepared for your labour and one of those things is you need to ensure you are WELL RESTED.” I’d never heard anyone talk about that before. I had worked with women for 10 years who talked about lying about their dates so they could work up til the last minute to maximise their maternity leave at the other side. Which of course is perfectly understandable.

But no one had ever mentioned to me that it could affect the birth. When I told my mother I planned on finishing work a month before my due date, she was delighted. She was also the first mother I heard say “well, you need to be well rested to get through a natural birth”. And then I heard her say it again, and again. And I felt sad for her because I know she worked up until the bitter end on all her pregnancies and had very little maternity leave because that’s how it was done in her day. She obviously understood and probably remembered her need for rest and strength at the time.

Finally, I remember a midwife talking to me about the line of birthing options. Picture a straight line where at one end your baby is in your arms and along the line is a series of stops, like a DART or subway map. The stop furthest away from your final destination is labouring at home and maybe having your baby there. If that doesn’t work out for you for whatever reason, the next stop is labouring at home for as long as possible using all your toolkit of natural pain management, then delivering your baby naturally in the hospital. If your natural toolkit isn’t working for you, next stop gas and air, and so on until next stop epidural and maybe some people stop at C-section before pulling in at your final destination of happy healthy baby. The midwife was explaining that choosing homebirth was just one extra stop at the beginning of your journey to give you a chance to have a natural birth if you wanted one. I’d like to think that every pregnant woman would be informed about all of the stops on their journey – pros and cons – before they decided which stop to jump on at to reach their wonderful final destination. Because knowledge is power and knowledge takes away the fear of not knowing or understanding what’s happening to you in the moment. Power and fearlessness are a great combination when you’re working hard at having a baby. That’s all!

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