Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The great unsaids - bottle feeeding

I'm still harping on about breastfeeding and bottlefeeding I'm afraid, not least because it's been in the news again recently with the Time Magazine cover of a mother feeding her three year old.

Before I had a baby I was a little judgemental about those who did not breastfeed. I wondered why they didn't just try harder or persevere, why they put their own needs - for sleep, for comfort, for convenience, for sanity - before their babies.

Then I had a baby and breastfeeding did not work immediately. It never worked to a point of exclusivity and we've (mostly) happily mix-fed from week 1. But I was at the hospital where I had my daughter the other day and saw one of their breastfeeding posters and I remembered something a midwife had told me when my daughter and I were there in the days after her birth. The midwife was en route to a party to celebrate a new breastfeeding policy they had just implemented in which they would not just actively encourage breastfeeding, but discourage bottle feeding to the point of not helping a mother bottle feed.

Even then, befuddled by birth and parenthood, I knew this was a bad idea. Not the supporting breastfeeding, but the other side of it. Amongst the mothers I know most want to breastfeed if possible - who wouldn't after seeing all the breast is best messages - and at least half have struggled. But to only emphasise the positives of breastfeeding instead of helping parents do whatever it is they decide to do, has bad repercussions.

First, it makes mothers feel like failures by suggesting we do not want the best for our babies. And second, it stops the dissemination of information telling us how to safely feed our babies formula.

In the nearly eighteen months since I became a parent I am still yet to find comprehensive science-based information on making a bottle. Instead we had to find our own way.

For example, a health visitor told me to boil water for my daughter's bottle then let it cool for half an hour. Using half an hour cooled water would, she explained, sterilise the milk powder the water was poured onto. Now I'm no scientist but I know this is utter bollocks. Perhaps making up the milk and boiling it would sterilise it (and I suspect it wouldn't - any chemists out there know?), pouring lukewarm water onto it will not. Plus doing this in the daytime is just about okay if you do not leave the house, but are you really going to do it in the middle of the night when you have two hours of sleep at a time? I suspect there is more danger to the parent in handling boiling water while half asleep than there is to the child in having a made up bottle kept in the fridge for a few hours - but the problem is we just don't know because no one tells us.

Another example is sterilising. We steriled my daughter's bottles, of course we did. First in a saucepan. Then in a steriliser. Then the dishwasher. Then the microwave. Then with sterilising tablets. (Not one after the other of course - I mean these are all techniques we have used). Now we give them a jolly good wash using washing up liquid and water. But you know, you decant the milk powder into the bottle using a measuring spoon that lives in the box of powder. A spoon you touch with your (usually, but not always, clean) hands. Are you meant to sterilise the spoon then?

Here are four simple measures I want for new parents who choose (or don't choose) to bottle feed:

1) Clear scientific guidance on how to make a bottle, both in an ideal world, and then also in the real world where you leave the house, are exhausted, need a bottle immediately to placate a screaming child and the fuse blows on the steriliser.

2) Reassurance that above all a well fed baby is a happy baby. Happier than one screaming for milk that isn't there, happier than one digesting blood from cracked nipples, and happier than one with  a mother so tired she can barely hold the baby to her breast without falling asleep.

3) An end to the misinformation about milk production. It will not dry up if you miss one feed. Probably not if you miss several feeds. Not if you feed from the same breast twice in a row. Not if your baby sleeps for five hours in a row. Not if you have a glass of wine. Not if you have two glasses of wine.

4) Perhaps the most important - messages that those who bottle feed love their babies just as much as those who breastfeed.

Only when this is done will we be able to have a sensible conversation about feeding our babies.

Related post: The Truth About Breastfeeding

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

A mother knows

My friend Olivia for a time wrote a blog called A Mother Knows. I loved her rationale for choosing that name:

"My beautiful son, who is six months old (corrected) as I start this blog, became critically ill in the womb with a terrifying condition called hydrops fetalis and underwent fetal surgery. He was born two months premature and spent his first five months in hospital, finally coming home in June 2011. Although he is now doing really well, he still has some health issues. Why ‘A Mother Knows’? Because the one thing I have learned so far is that a mother knows her child best. Better than the health visitor, better than the midwives, better than the breastfeeding counsellors, better than the people selling useless baby products designed to make you feel bad, better than her own mother, better than any other mother."
I've been reminded of it these past few weeks, with an ill baby myself, and a host of medical professionals who I have no doubt have my child's best interests at heart but just don't know as well as me what my baby needs. What's more, different branches of people working in health have little regard for each other. Pharmacists don't like helplines. Helplines don't like nurses. The Specialists slag off the GPs. The GPs bristle at the thought of a referral and everyone is scathing of those working in the Out Of Hours service. And all the while I must tell every single one what it is we want and what it is we need.

I am reminded of the AA Milne poem, The King's Breakfast:

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
"Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?"
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, "Certainly,
I'll go and tell the cow
Now Before she goes to bed.
Only it's more dog's dinner than king's breakfast. And all the while it is me, the mother, who must go and tell the cow what test we need and what medicine we require. Because Olivia was right, a mother knows best of all.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Tottenham Snail

I live quite near this mural, on the side of a house on the Seven Sisters Road in Tottenham, north London. I don't know how long it has been there but it must be nearing thirty years. When I was younger, it was always a sign that we were on the home straight, just a few miles from home, and though perhaps being near it now shows just how little the distance is that I have flown from my nest, I find it reassuring every time I see it. I love that, give or take the odd graffiti tag, usually painted over quickly, this snail has lasted for so long. I love the incongruity of it, on a road that just leads people to places, and is never a destination in its own right. But most of all I love that it is a snail. The kind of creature that we say yuk to, that along with slugs and puppy dog tails makes up small boys, the scourge of gardeners, and yes, covered in slime. Yet there it is, proud, bright and still there, heralding to my daughter when we drive past it that we are nearly home.

Any other time...

I've been talking to friends about recent births and those first few weeks - how awful it all is, and the utter exhaustion. And the recovery time, not just from birth and hormone surges, but often from major surgery. And I've bene thinking about the surgery in particular - I had it myself very shortly after giving birth to remove the placenta which refused to budge. And you know what, in absolutely any other situation in your life in which you have surgery, be it a wisdom tooth taken out or an ingrowing toenail removed, a bone resetting or a lump removed, you would be told to rest as much as possible, to sleep and to rest and not to worry, that anaesthetics make you woozy for several days, and please rest some more. So why is it, after the major abdominal surgery some women have, after the drug fuelled ops that follow hours of labour, we're just left to look after a baby and never get more than three hours sleep. How can we recover, how can we look after another, when we need looking after ourselves. There must be something we can do to help women in this situation?