Single. When are you gonna start dating? Dating. When are you gonna get married? Married. When are you gonna get pregnant? Pregnant. When are you gonna have the baby? Baby. When are you gonna…. It never stops. Our entire culture … Continue reading
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This month our little man, our rainbow baby, perhaps our last little spawn, Dr. Baby himself, will turn one. On Thanksgiving day, no less. The full gravity of that didn’t hit me until I sent out the call for Booby Award … Continue reading
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In the words of Master Yoda: “Do… or do not. There is no try.” (“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”)
Permit me to describe what I think would be an ideal breastfeeding relationship.
Birth: Baby is born. Boob is exposed. Baby latches on to boob perfectly. Baby sucks out colostrum and never fusses. Baby poops and pees a lot.
One week later: Baby continues to suck out lots’o milk. Baby never fusses or shows signs of gassiness. Mommy never wonders if Baby is getting enough. Baby poops and pees a lot.
One month later: See “One week later”.
And so on.
When we take it upon ourselves to be the sole source of nutrition for our brand new, seemingly helpless little angels, we also unknowingly accept unfathomable amounts of anxiety about whether or not we are doing things correctly, baby is eating enough, we are producing enough, and what exactly ‘normal’ means.
Thankfully, resources such as Kellymom.com and local breastfeeding peer support groups have been made available to us. Got a question? Look it up. Need some discussion or reassurance? Find someone to talk to. These resources have been designed to assist and encourage mothers along their unique breastfeeding journeys.
In my unprofessional opinion, based on the self-appointed degree I earned from Googling and browsing mothering forums, I have concluded that one of the most critical factors in a successful breastfeeding relationship is confidence. I mean the kind of confidence that plans and hopes for the best, and understands that Plan B doesn’t need to exist until it needs to exist. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances do change the name of the game, but I think this is one situation where it is better to not plan or prepare for the worst. Understand that it can happen, but don’t entertain the notion. There is a kind of confidence that sustains itself by clinging to the understanding that babies know when they need to eat and when they need comfort. The kind of confidence that says, “I will follow my baby’s lead. I will not try, only do.”
The kind of confidence that recognizes that babies are not as helpless as we think because they know how to regulate their own feeding patterns when we give them the opportunity…
“You rock, Ma. Thanks for the grub!”
I wish I had studied more about growth spurts and nursing patterns before the birth of my first. I’d heard buzzwords like “witching hour”, “gas”, and “cluster feeding” before she was born, but the practical application of those terms had to be learned the hard way. Those first few weeks were brutal, as the evenings seemed to always bring out the worst in her. She was always hungry, always wanting to nurse, always wanting to fight me and NOT nurse, and always just being a general butthead about everything. I felt helpless, and my husband and I didn’t know what to do besides give her some good old fashioned gripe water and ride it out. The only things I knew for certain during that time were that she would eat when she was ready, and under no circumstances was she going to receive formula. I knew my supply was sufficient (at least my rock-hard boobs seemed to indicate such to me), and she was receiving milk during the other times of the day. She had plenty of good diapers, and was gaining weight. As far as we could tell, she didn’t have reflux. I had read somewhere that evening fussiness is a result of a day’s worth of external stimulation to the baby and that babies’ nervous systems sometimes don’t know how to cope with all the extra stimulus, so they become fussy. Assuming that was true, it became my mission to treat those extra fussy times as times when she needed comfort more than food. I changed my focused to helping her relax instead of continuing to torturing myself by thinking that she was starving to death. I offered the breast as frequently as possible, knowing that she would eventually be calm enough to latch on. I bathed her, sang to her, swaddled her, and talked to her. These weren’t instant cures, but she would always return to normal after some time, and become my sweet baby again.
I would love to encourage every mother wanting to exclusively breastfeed to not beat themselves up when they think they are failing, because more than likely, things are normal…so normal. Babies go through phases and stages, and they outgrow all of them. I would love to encourage these moms to not even keep to their formula samples as their emergency back-up. I would love to encourage them to trust their bodies, trust their milk, and trust their babies. I would love to hug them and let them know it is difficult, but it WILL get better. I would love to help them see that one day they will look back at what they overcame and be overwhelmed with pride at what has been accomplished. I would love to offer them whatever support or information they need to trust that they can do it. They can achieve their goals, and they will learn so much along the way.
My youngest daughter recently fell and hurt her hand and what immediately ensued was her crying that cry that told me that even though she was going to be fine and we weren’t looking at an ER trip, she had really hurt herself and the only thing that was going to fix it was some snuggle time in my lap. I was doing some computer work but forgot all about it and went into auto-Mommy mode, a state that I know all you mamas are familiar with. “Come here and let mama kiss it and make it all better, Baby”, I told her. she climbed up in my lap and got some mama snuggles, I kissed her hand over and over and all was immediately right in her world again. In an instant, I snapped straight out of Mommy mode and I had one of those moments where some auto-piloted task that has been previously taken for granted suddenly becomes very, very profound.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
Oxytocin. Much googling ensued and the information I turned up was exactly what I expected it to be. I already understood the power of oxytocin for laboring women and the oxytocin “high” that happens during many intimate situations like breastfeeding, childbirth and even love-making but this oxytocin release had done something for my baby that I’d never thought about before. It had helped to reduce her pain in a very real and tangible way that had offered her almost immediate relief.
Oxytocin, in layman’s terms, is known as the “love hormone”. It’s released in our bodies anytime we have a pleasant encounter including skin-to-skin contact with another person. It’s also the primary hormone that controls labor and childbirth and that helps to establish the bond between a mother and her child in the postpartum period. There are so many postive effects that happen as the result of an oxytocin release that they’re almost to numerous to list. For today, though, I want to talk about it in regards to pain relief:
“Amazingly, oxytocin can also be used to heal wounds (through its anti-inflammatory properties). Studies have also shown that a rise in oxytocin levels can relieve pain — everything from headaches, cramps and overall body aches.”
If oxytocin and pain were WWE fighters, oxytocin would be Alberto Del Rio and pain would be some loser WWE fighter that you’ve never heard of. (Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a list of lowest ranked WWE fighters, by the way? Let me just tell you it’s hard. VERY hard. Even google doesn’t know. It must be some industry-guarded secret.)
Oxytocin is one of the hormones that are responsible for our monogamous nature as humans. When oxytocin is released, chemical pathways are formed in the brain which are similar to those that drug addicts form. In essence, oxytocin creates a state of “addiction” and over time, bonds us chemically to the people who are involved with the release of the hormone. This process is otherwise known as “falling in love”. Our brains are hardwired to pair-bonding as the result of this amazing stuff.
For more information on the amazing abilities of oxytocin, check this out:
Oxytocin, in regards to the story I told at the start of this blog post , was at work as I snuggled my baby girl and comforted her after she hurt herself. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite heard it talked about in this way, but as mothers, we can literally “kiss and make better” our children when they’re hurting. Kissing and snuggling them causes an oxytocin release in us and them and oxytocin is linked to an increase in pain thresholds. Of course (and I hope I’m just paying lip service here and not actually surprising anybody with this), I’m not suggesting physical contact in the absence of necessary medical treatment. If your kid has fallen and sliced open his noggin, hugging them won’t make a fine and dandy substitute for heading up to the ER and getting sewn back together. It might just be one of those tools we can stash away in our mommy tool boxes for use while we wait, though.
Mamas, your bodies are the result some of the pretty amazing evolutionary twists and some of their abilities achieve almost superhero status. Any of you who have ever used nursing your baby as a way to calm them down after a minor accident has seen the beneficial effects and the healing powers of oxytocin first hand. Keep those in mind as you snatch up your sweet little ones up the next time one of them encounters a minor bump and use it to your advantage – even if they do deserve it because the were doing the exact thing you’ve told them a hundred times would hurt them for the hundred and first time!
WMC Doula, Amy Jones
Amy is one of WMC’s Founding Mothers with four children of her own; her oldest graduated high school and her youngest started Kindergarten in 2014. She’s currently rocking Southeast Texas as Founder, Chairman and Peer Counselor with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, a Breastfeeding Counselor with Breastfeeding USA, and waiting on the final exam to be the only Certified Professional Midwife in the Beaumont area and preparing for her upcoming role as a pregnancy surrogate. She is a DONA-trained birth and postpartum doula, welcoming over 100 babies into the world over the last few years.
If you’re a breastfeeding advocate/activist who is currently lactating, I’m going to preface this by giving you an assignment. I’m asking you all to go grab your sweet nurslings and get the oxytocin and prolactin flowing before you delve much further into this blog post. I need you to go to that place in your brain and heart where you have the capacity to see the good in all of humanity. I want you to nurse for a few minutes and to think about the fact that the very child that you’re nurturing will someday grow up to be a very different and separate person from you who will hold vastly different personal truths than you. Then, I’m going to ask you to listen to this:
Done? Very well, then. Carry on…
A very interesting article went viral and made it’s way to my corner of the internet last week. I’m sure that many of you read it and felt a wave of outrage wash over you in similar fashion to other people in my life. The article was a piece published by Press Citizen and written by Karla Erickson, an associate professor of sociology at Grinnell College. In it, Karla prefaces with research from the UK reported by Bahar Gholipour of LiveScience in June which suggests that children who are breastfed may be more likely to reach a higher social class than their parents. She resolves the article after voicing her opinion that breastfeeding is a burden and a power-trip by offering this pledge:
So in a pro-breastfeeding era, I say, “I’m out.” Not because I don’t benefit everyday from that “special connection” to my son, but because I do.
Her choice is based on a theory that she teaches in a Gender and Society course at Grinnell College which asserts that breastfeeding:
…sets up a gendered division of who does what early into parenting. It provides an infrastructure for an unequal distribution of the work (and rewards) of parenting.
As expected, a
debate full-scale personal attack on Karla and her husband ensued in the comments section of Karla’s article and in social media threads on Facebook and elsewhere. I don’t take issue with the critical and well-thought-out responses to Karla’s article, so don’t misunderstand where I’m coming from. I do, however, have a problem with some of the comments in the responses which are inflammatory personal attacks and/or outright hateful. Inasmuch as we claim that we are ‘educated’ women who would love nothing more than to bring the message of breastfeeding’s superiority to our world, our actions sometimes speak much louder. Many of these very public responses to Karla should embarrass us as breastfeeding advocates. Though I disagree with her, I don’t see anything in her article that could be construed as a personal attack on women who choose to breastfeed. Call me crazy, but something in me tells me that even though she’s been the subject of attack since her article was published, she still wouldn’t stoop to that. Conversely, it doesn’t take very much digging to find breastfeeding advocates making themselves look like members of some Militant Breastfeeding Nazi group set out to annihilate anybody who would dare put an artificial nipple in the mouth of an infant or pit themselves on the opposing team in the Mommy Olympics…because (didn’t you get the memo?) being a mother is a game and if you’re not on the winning team…
Well, I’ll just let our friendly neighborhood lactivists explain the rules to you. Here are some shiny, bright examples I pulled from a quick look at a few discussion threads I stumbled across:
So…let’s run through this real quickly from the perspective of us well-educated, lactivist types. Because Karla Erickson has drawn a different conclusion than us based on the very real issue (which deserves its due credence) that her baby nursed so much that her husband didn’t have much bonding time which was stressful for their family and she has a (probably misguided) theory about how to fix it which she has the audacity to share with other people, she deserves the full wrath of the entire worldwide lactivist community? According to us, she’s a piece of garbage, a moronic twit and a pompous idiotic ass(hat) caught up in her european BS thinking who shouldn’t be a mother and who is married to a detached, emotionally absent, and lazy man. She makes us sick to our stomachs and we’re appalled that Press Citizen has published her idiotic, selfish drivel because, after all, it’s just the self-obsessed musings of a wealthy, educated person. Does that about sum up which corner the lactivists are in regarding Karla Erickson?
Coincidentally, in the same week that Karla Erickson’s article was published, Improving Birth VP and blogger, Cristen Pascucci published a blog post that went viral as well. I rather prefer Cristen’s blog to some of the opinions of Karla Erickson which are being tossed about so I’m sharing it in the hopes that some of you will spend some time with it. The blog begins:
All my life, I’ve noticed a tendency among women to condemn each other rather than to reach out, and to criticize rather than support. There’s this territorialism that very effectively divides us. It exists among women as a whole (“Did she really wear that? She’s not 21 anymore.”), among women as mothers (“I can’t believe she didn’t even try to breastfeed! How selfish.”), and among groups of women who can’t work with other groups of women (“Remember when they didn’t invite us to that thing they had? Never again.”).
I have to say that I’m less focused on Ms. Erickson’s theory or her conclusions (which, coincidentally, there are plenty of people disputing) than I am on the reaction to her from within the natural parenting community. Much of the conversation surrounding this article has devolved into an “us against them” sort of mentality and that approach has been MAINLY at the hands of the natural parenting community…not at Karla Erickson’s hands. That is more damaging than anything she’s putting out there, in my always humble opinion. When applied on a grand scale, it has the potential to do much more harm than good where breastfeeding support is concerned and to create a much larger divide between “us” and “them” than the one that already exists and that is my issue. I think that our attitudes are more dangerous than her teaching is right now.
Of course, I also think she’s teaching a wrong conclusion and of course it scares me to think that there will be women who will read it and/or hear her teach it and buy into it. However…as she clearly states in the article, there is plenty of science to back up the benefits of breastfeeding. Amazing things are happening on a grand scale with breastfeeding support and that’s not going away anytime soon. In actuality, though, the premises she’s starting with are not, contrary to popular opinion, idiotic drivel. Breastfeeding does create a stronger bond between women and their babies and it does give us the advantage in many situations where our interactions with our children are concerned. I don’t like her conclusion or the course of actions she encourages as a result of her conclusion, but I can’t say I disagree with where she’s coming from. I happen to think that there’s a reason for the biological process that are wrapped up in breastfeeding. I believe that the hormonal processes that happen which result in a stronger initial bond being forged between a mother and her child than between a father and his child are purposeful. The fact that there are clear benefits to breastfeeding which are scientifically backed isn’t something she’s disputing. The evolutionary twist that resulted in the processes of lactation happened as a way to help ensure survival of our species and are one of many adaptive processes which contribute to the human race continuing to thrive, plain and simple. For her to ignore that would be foolish and she has not done that, but we can’t discount what she’s saying even if she makes a different choice and draws a different conclusion from the information than we do. The issue that she and her husband found to be a problem for their family is that men are at a disadvantage where bonding is concerned. As breastfeeding activists, our response should address that in a way that is helpful and positive. What she’s getting at with her conclusion is that there’s a gender disparity that exists and it does not diminish our position even slightly to acknowledge that truth in that. In fact, I think it’s the place where we have the opportunity to be on the same “team” as her and work towards real solutions for families who want and need them. Whether she’s taking it to the extreme or not with her conclusion isn’t where our focus should be if we want to affect real change with the women she’s reaching.
We start where we agree with her.
Breastfeeding is hard. It’s grueling at times. In the early days, there’s often not much a father can do to help even if he wants to. As much as my husband would have wanted to be the one to offer our babies comfort when they were newborns, the truth was that most of the time, he couldn’t. That was frustrating for both of us. Most of the time, our newborns ONLY wanted me. There were nights when I thought that my nurslings were surely sucking the lifeblood out of me and that neither of us would see the light of day the next morning because the darkness that was enveloping us was just going to make us disappear. BUT…we focus on why we still believe in it and not why she’s wrong or any of the number of insults and personal attacks that have made their way into our various cyberworld communities. We focus on constructive ways to think about our breastfeeding relationships and we focus on community-building. We love each other and we promote harmony. We encourage and we help each other push through it. She’s NOT working on the opposite team. She’s simply come to a different conclusion and a different solution. Maybe not breastfeeding is the best choice for her family. As much as I don’t want to admit this, the truth is that her child is likely to be fine as will the children be of the women who buy into what she’s offering them. Knowing that, we meet them at the place they’re at. Breastfeeding frustrated her and her husband. We address that. That is where we affect change if that’s what we really intend to do.
If change is not our goal, then we should feel free to sling insults at her and women like her because we’re not doing our cause any justice anyway. BUT, if we’re going to choose that, we should be honest about it and say that we’re more concerned with setting ourselves and our choices up on a pedestal than we are with helping more women and babies make breastfeeding work.
I don’t think that Karla Erickson has set out to be divisive and I don’t think we should respond to her as if she has. I hope that she stumbles across this blog post and that we find some common ground. If our worlds ever collided, I’d ask her if I could buy her a cup of coffee and pick her brain because I think she’s a valuable person. I think she is genuine and I honestly believe that she buys into what she’s saying. I propose that we should start the conversation with and about her from that place, not from a place that establishes her as the enemy from square one…because the ground that we have to cover to get back to neutral at that point is just too immense. These babies we’re nurturing (ours and Karla’s) deserve to grow up in a community where people who believe different things don’t feel it necessary to sling mud just because we’re different.
I think my favorite passage from the Improving Birth blog post I mentioned earlier is this one:
With other groups, “find your overlap” and formalize it. Where do you agree? Go there and stay there.
In a nutshell, THAT is what it’s about for me. What about you?
WMC Doula, Amy JonesAmy is one of WMC’s Founding Mothers with four children of her own; her oldest graduated high school and her youngest started Kindergarten in 2014. She’s currently rocking Southeast Texas as Founder, Chairman and Peer Counselor with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition, a Breastfeeding Counselor with Breastfeeding USA, and waiting on the final exam to be the only Certified Professional Midwife in the Beaumont area. She is a DONA-trained birth and postpartum doula, welcoming over 100 babies into the world over the last few years. When she’s not hanging out with her family, she can be found at the Beaumont Area Produce Co-op or preparing for her upcoming role as a pregnancy surrogate.
Ever notice how some days and weeks you feel like super-mom? The house is clean, dinner is on time, the kids are happy and glowing and you’re all smiles? Then suddenly, everything falls apart – you oversleep every day, kids are whiny and grouchy and not a single bit of laundry is clean. Dinner? What dinner?!
Is life like a pendulum? Must things swing one way and then back or can we turn the tide? What do you think?