Friday, 24 September 2010

Breastfeeding a one year old

A couple of days ago, Alice was a bit under the weather. We were walking around town when she started grizzling, so I sat on a bench on the main street and offered her some milk. It was a short feed, and she quickly settled, but I couldn't help feeling uncomfortable. I realised that now she goes longer between feeds and is more interested in what's going on around her, she tends not to want to nurse in public so it has been a while. Although I've seen lots of women breastfeeding their babies in my town, I can't recall seeing anyone nursing an 'older' baby. Having said that, I received no dirty looks or comments, in fact I'm pretty sure nobody even noticed. The uneasiness was entirely down to me.

This took me by surprise, as I am totally committed to letting Alice self-wean and I consider feeding toddlers and children a beautiful and natural thing. I thought I had become inured to closed minded attitudes and would be confident feeding wherever and whenever Alice wanted. I think perhaps I am just out of the habit. To give myself some encouragement, I've been thinking of all the things I love about feeding my one year old.

1. Her obvious delight at feeding. She actually giggles when she sees my boob. She'll look up at me while feeding and give me a huge grin before latching back on again.

2. When she sings and feeds at the same time. She often hums a little as she feeds. I don't know why, I think she's just happy.

3. The way she manhandles her way to a good latch. No more of the worries of the early days when I wasn't sure she was properly latched. Now she pokes and prods until she's feeding in exactly the way she wants.

4. Her ability to feed in any given position. Standing on the floor while I lie on the sofa, lying over my shoulder while we're in bed and the opportunistic latch as I get dried after a morning bath. I am constantly amazed by her ingenuity.

5. The confidence that she's getting nourishment. When she goes through phases where she doesn't eat as much, I feel more confident knowing she'll still be getting nutrients through nursing.

6. Milk as medicine! When she has a cold or is feeling poorly and there's nothing else to be done, I know that milk provides physical and emotional benefits.

7. A moment of calm. Since she started to walk, she doesn't want to stop. It can feel like we're both on the go all day, and nursing is an important oasis where we can reconnect.

Hopefully as time goes on I will get over my feelings of awkwardness while NIP. I felt similar when I first started, and it soon melted away, so I'm sure this will too, and hopefully doing so might encourage others that it isn't something to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Slugs and Snails and Puppydogs Tails

When I was very small, probably around 2, I decided on my favourite colour. Looking back, I struggled with the idea of a favourite colour (how can you choose?) but realised that it was an important question that all children must know the answer to. My answer was pink. This decision wasn't based on aesthetics, it was based on expectation. I was a girl, therefore my favourite colour would be pink. Although my answer to the question changed as years when by, the influence remained in more subtle ways.

Children continue to be heavily influenced by society's expectation for different genders. Here's a little test for you. I'll give the descriptions of characters from the children's TV programme, Waybuloo taken from the CBeebies website and you decide if the characters are male or female.

1. Full of fun, mischievous and loves surprises.
2. Creative and thrives when dancing or painting.
3. Practical and inventive, happiest when making things.
4. Thoughtful, caring and loves gardening.

(answers at the bottom!).

My mother came across these wonderful items in a toyshop. Magnetic words, supposedly linked to the National Literacy Strategy separated into girls' words and boys' words. Boys get climbing, helicopter, snails and mud while girls are offered cooking, dancing, lipstick and (I can barely contain myself for this one,) fluff! Apparently even our language needs to be polarised between words suitable for the two sexes.

These stereotypes may well suit some children, but the problem is that they do not suit all, and the pressures of conforming to something you are not at such a young age must be damaging. Girls who climb trees or don't want to pretend to be Hannah Montana are deemed 'tomboys' as I remember calling myself as a child in the post-pink days. The judgements on a boy who prefers playing with dolls to football are even more damning.

I have always hoped that my children will be able to choose what they do, wear and say based on their own thoughts and feelings, not because it fits with the expectations of society. It seems that this might be a more challenging dream than I had realised.

In case you are burning with the need to know the gender of the Waybuloo characters, the answers are 1. male, 2. female, 3. male, 4. female. If you got them all right give your self a gender specific pat on the back.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Baby Wearing and Buggies

Since Alice was a couple of months old I carried her everywhere. The pram I had thought to be compulsory for all parents was consigned to the garage. I began to learn more and more about the benefits of baby wearing, and it seemed strange and unnatural to even think of putting her so far away from me.

I've had a few slings and carriers, some better than others. My favourite was, and is, a BabyHawk mei tai. By far the prettiest and most comfortable of the lot. I used to happily walk for miles while carrying Alice, the changing bag and often a shopping bag too. If the destination was within 4 miles, I'd walk it. I loved the ease of being able to go up steps, on escalators and over rough ground with no concerns, often with Alice latched on.

Unfortunately, the inevitable happened. The baby got bigger. Even my lovely mei tai is causing me trouble if I leave it on too long. At around 23lb (10.5 kg), I'm not fit enough to carry Alice as far as I did. I had found by the time I came home, I was exhausted. My back was giving me the odd twinge, and I'd often choose the route home that was the shortest rather than the most fun.

I struggled with the idea of giving up carrying her everywhere. It seemed like a very visible indication of my parenting style. To begin using a pushchair felt to me as if I had somehow failed. It was with a heavy heart then that I accepted the offer of a lightweight buggy from my mum. Thankfully, the first time Alice saw it, she crawled straight in. She even chatters to herself while she's in it. It's easy to use, and I'm more likely to take a detour to the park on the way home. I must admit though, I miss feeling her little body next to mine. I miss the running commentary I gave her as we would walk along together, touching leaves on bushes and kissing the top of her head.

Progressing to the pushchair feels like the physical manifestation of the separation that has started between us. When she learnt to walk, there was a change in her. She suddenly became a little more independent. My little baby had been swapped for a toddler and I hadn't been informed. I suppose that's just what the mother/child relationship is though. A gradual separation. Although the AP methods I have employed have helped, and are still helping her to develop confidence in herself and take those steps to independence, I also hope that they have forged a connection that will last even when she is grown.

Our baby wearing days aren't over yet. I still bring the mei tai whenever we go out, just in case, and it's invaluable when getting on the train or going for walks in the country.
Now, when I use it, I value every moment.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

New Shoes

These are Alice's first proper pair of shoes.

This is how I see them.

This is how Alic
e sees them.

Now she is walking fairly well, she always wants to get down and wander about when we're out, and sometimes socks don't cut it on wet, uneven or dirty surfaces. We fulfilled my dream of going and getting her fitted in Clarks and became proud owners of new shoes (size 4G if you're interested.)

The problem is she hates them. Despises them. Loathes them. Detests them. If I manage to get them on her feet, which is a herculean task, she stands stock still and screams until she is purple. No amount of distraction technique is enough to dissuade her. As she apparently will need a new fitting in 4-6 weeks, I want to get my money's worth, but she has other ideas. We've tried leaving them around while she plays, and she even picks them up and puts them next to her feet, but she will not tolerate actually wearing them.

If anyone has any tips, or even just a bit of sympathy, it would be very welcome!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Unconditional Parenting

This week I've been reading Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. The first I heard of it was from reading blogs and forum posts from people who mentioned that they not only didn't punish their children, but avoided praising them too. At first this idea appalled me. Surely children need as much praise as possible to be self confident? Since reading this book, I realise that the exact opposite is probably true. I have seen first hand while teaching that children who are frequently praised are often more tentative when approaching their work. My own experience as a child, and even now as an adult is that I am rarely confident in my actions unless they are validated by others.

If the reward of your actions is praise from others, it devalues the intrinsic rewards of the action. I would hope that Alice will share her toys because she respects her playmates, not because she gets a beaming smile and an enthusiastic 'Well done for sharing!' from me.

Lack of praise does not equate to lack of love. I constantly shower Alice with kisses and cuddles and tell her how much I love her. I hope she'll never be in doubt of that. It is hard to break the habits of a lifetime, and a 'Good girl!' occasionally escapes my lips, but I am getting better at commenting on what she has done instead. 'You climbed right to the top of the stairs!' allows her to see that I'm interested in her achievements, but still lets her have her own sense of pride.

I'm still very much at the beginning of this journey and learning alternatives to the traditional carrot and stick approach. I certainly don't aim to be permissive, but I believe there are more alternatives than is often made out. Alice is still a baby and both of us have a lot to learn. As long as I maintain the respect for her that I would give any adult, and make a point of ensuring she knows that I always love her, I hopefully won't go too far wrong.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Green Wrapping

We're off to London tomorrow to celebrate a friend's birthday, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to use a tip I read: Using a tea towel to wrap a present rather than paper. The paper doesn't get wasted and the recipient gets something useful.

Here it is:

I'm really pleased as it looks lovely, and also should provide a bit of extra cushioning from the inevitable knocks it will get while we're on the train. Looks like everyone I know will be getting a tea towel with every present from now on!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Knitting knovice

Last Tuesday I did something I've been wanting to do for a while. I learnt to knit! Actually, I think my use of the past tense there might be a bit presumptuous. I am learning to knit. The more I've looked into it, the more I've realised how complex it can be. I met up with some other ladies I met through La Leche League who very kindly showed me how to do the basic stitch. Until then, I had no idea there were more than one type of stitch. I came home , eager to continue my new found skill, and discovered I'd lost a knitting needle. Not the best of starts.

No matter, I bought another pair (much to amusement of the lady who had sold me my first set 24 hours previously,) and headed home to try again. Then I realised that I didn't know how to cast on. As a child of the modern age, I turned to the Internet to help. After I had looked at about four hundred videos all telling me 'the easiest' way to cast on, and failing miserably at all of them, I finally found one slow enough and simple enough to get me started. I don't think it's the best one as looks go, but I can work up to some of the trickier ones. I was pleased to find that I hadn't forgotten hat the lovely ladies had taught me, and I now am the proud owner of a holey, ragged, uneven piece of knitting. despite its shabby appearance, I am very pleased with myself.

I realised that it has been a long time since I learnt a genuinely new skill. I might have tried a new recipe or read up on growing potatoes, but apart from a doomed attempt aged 8, I have never tried to knit. The ladies who taught me couldn't have been more patient, but I still felt nervous, watching them carefully, trying to make sense of what their nimble fingers were doing, then, horror of horrors, trying it myself. It made me think about the times I have taught children skills that were familiar to me, and the feelings they must have experienced. Learning something new is exciting, but can be intimidating too. The rush of finally getting it right and improving was wonderful, and has encouraged me to keep searching out new experiences.

Here, for your amusement, is the fruit of my labours:

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Perfect mum

Before I had Alice, I imagined that birth was a transforming process. I would emerge from it like a butterfly from a chrysalis, purged of any shred of selfish thoughts, entirely focussed on the new life I had brought into this world. I would have made an irreversible transition into motherhood.

In some ways this was true. I am different, and birth itself is a life-changing experience. I will always have another person's welfare to value above my own, but the embodiment of unselfishness and maternal feeling I am not. It has come as quite a surprise.

Mothers are held up in most societies for their ungrudging and generous natures. Colicky babies and toddler tantrums are dealt with graciously by this image of the ideal maternal figure. That is what I wanted to be, but I am not her. It came as a shock to realise that sometimes I take the behaviour of my tiny child personally. My rational mind is telling me that she has no concept of how her behaviour affects others, but I can't help feeling cross, and frustrated. I feel like having a tantrum of my own. Quite often, I am selfish. There are times when what Alice needs more than anything is gentle words and cuddles, but sometimes I just want to get away. At these times I am so grateful for my husband, and so in awe of parents who weather the hard times on their own. I simply do not have the ability to be a great mummy all the time.

The title of this blog is something I repeat to myself often. I am trying to be good enough, not perfect. If it gets too much, as it has been quite a lot recently, I am trying to allow myself the time to recharge my energy, give myself a break and try to lower my expectations of myself a little. We all have off days, even when we are mothers.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Snack Bar Experiment

The other day I was talking online with a fellow lover of Nakd bars. I discovered them while in the early days of my sugar free challenge. If you've not come across them before, they are a snack bar made completely from raw, natural ingredients. They are more expensive than I would usually spend on such things though and I wondered if I could make a passable alternative.

Here's what I came up with if you fancy some experimentation:

I put about 70g dates, a small handful of sultanas, and a couple of handfuls of oats in a bowl with about 2 tbsp of apple juice and blended it up with my stick blender. When I try it again, I think I might use the food processor because the motor seemed pretty hot after I'd finished!

I stirred in more sultanas and a few chopped nuts. You can add whatever you like at this stage though. I also put in some cocoa powder, because chocolate is always good!

Then I kept adding more oats and ground almonds, stirring with a spoon until the paste was really stiff, then formed it into small bars on greaseproof paper.

I folded the paper around the bars and pushed down on the mixture, smoothing it outwards until it was well compacted. Then I popped them in the fridge for later enjoyment!

They taste pretty good, but I'm going to enjoy experimenting to see if I can improve them. Frankly, with ingredients like those, you can't go wrong!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A word of advice

As Alice has reached her first birthday, it's got me thinking about the experience of looking after her. While I was pregnant I was almost overwhelmed with advice. Parenting is an area that everyone has an opinion on, and everyone wants to share those opinions with you. Sometimes the advice is helpful, sometimes not so much. Here are five sayings that I found invaluable, and five that I wish I'd never heard.

1) This too shall pass
I'm still reciting this mantra virtually every day! It is good to know that just when you think you can take no more - broken sleep, biting while feeding, throwing food, pulling on wires, the phase is over and the baby is on to the next stage.

2) Follow your instincts
It is still miraculous to me that somehow Alice and I just seemed to know what to do. She latched on herself better than any midwife could have latched her. I knew I should feed her when she wanted to, not just at 2 hourly intervals, and I always picked her up when she cried. Obviously, some things took practice, but the essentials were there.

3) What babies need most is a happy mummy.
I still need to remind myself of this. A good mother is seen as totally unselfish. To occasionally put ourselves first seems like sacrilege, but it is sometimes necessary. I have been so burnt out at times that I have resented the baby for doing what babies do, and that is a horrible place to be. Calling in the cavalry (usually my husband!) and going for a long bath with a cup of tea is a much better way to deal with the inevitable frustrations of baby care.

4) Sleep breeds sleep
In the early days I worried that if she slept too much, she wouldn't sleep at night. Turns out they sleep much easier when they are well rested. Which brings me on to...

5) Never wake a sleeping baby
Enough said.

And now to the not so helpful comments:

1) You're making a rod for your own back.
Co-sleeping, picking them up when they cry, breastfeeding on demand. you name it, you'll hear that awful phrase. Well, it isn't true.

2) Crying is good exercise for the lungs.
I think it was Dr Sears who said if crying is good for the lungs, bleeding is good for the veins.

3) Breastfed babies don't get colic
I laboured under this belief for a long time but have come to realise that Alice was a colicky baby. her symptoms melted away at around 4 months and she seemed like a new baby. I had a very quick let down and she was constantly sick. I feel awful that I didn't make an effort to help her more at that stage.

4) Big babies need weaning sooner
I've heard this from all corners including my health visitor, but it has never made sense to me. How could mushy vegetables or cereal provide more calories than milk?

5) Put the baby down or they'll get clingy.