Zen Transition to Motherhood – Is there life after birth?

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.
— William Ross Wallace

Zen Transition to MotherhoodFor over three years, I have attempted to consolidate the bits of knowledge pertaining to the first year of the baby’s life: the challenges faced by the mama after birth, the baby care tips, the profound shift in perception of reality, coming into the new identity, and rebuilding daily routines around the new family structure. This year I have finally decided to put it into the form of an e-book, in hopes to help other mamas transition into this new phase of their life in a peaceful, loving way.

You might pick up this book while you are pregnant or shortly after you give birth. At its core there are gentle parenting principles and a common sense approach to reality. The key to productive zen is being present and enjoying the journey, and the book covers a variety of strategies for a smooth, peaceful babymoon and fourth trimester.

Stress has been shown to impact our health and ability to enjoy life. Stress is bombarding us every day in the form of external demands and internal pressures, and unless we learn to control the way we respond to stress, it can seriously affect our mental, emotional, and physical health. With the changing hormones and powerful emotions around the time of birth, we are so very vulnerable as new mamas — we need to find a way to get centered, to be present in each moment for ourselves, our babies, and our families.

In the book, I look in detail into the early postpartum weeks and discuss resources to let mama rest and recover after the birth, how to set up a meal train, address mama’s and baby’s health challenges, good supplies to have on hand, and ways to relax and find your center. The second part of the book goes into practical matters of harnessing the new routine, getting chores under control, mastering errands with the baby, and handling commitments. I also suggest many gentle ideas for entertainment and rest, so that we do not only feed our body, but feed our creative selves as well.

I hope that this book serves as a grounding, centering companion for new mamas. The book Zen Transition to Motherhood – Is there life after birth? is available for free at ProductiveZenMama.com.

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Speak softly love

Here is a short excerpt from the e-book on which I am currently working — Zen Transition to Motherhood — Is there life after birth? It offers new mamas strategies for a smooth, peaceful babymoon and fourth trimester. I wrote this yesterday and felt I needed to share it.

speakSoftlyLoveSo many emotions are coursing through us in these early postpartum days, not all of them positive. We might be experiencing frustration, helplessness, fear, feelings of incompetence or anger. Be sensitive to your state and make a conscious effort to not express the negative emotions in the interactions with your baby. The more you smile and speak the words of love, the lighter will your mood be and the easier you will find it to go through a day at times of doubt.

Meet your waking up baby with a smile and kind words each time. Make every time they see you a wonderful occasion. Thank your baby for bringing joy into your life. Tell them you appreciate an hour they napped to give you a chance to have a cup of tea and brush your hair. Show them they are a welcome presence in your universe.

When they are crying, tell them you understand. Talk to the baby when changing a diaper or getting them dressed for an outing. Your calm voice will help reassure the baby and soothe them. Kiss and hold your baby often — gentle touch and love are as important to a growing human being as food is.

Speak to your baby about your day — they love your voice. They have heard it in the womb, it is comforting and familiar to them. Sing to your baby — they will be fascinated by this incredible thing you do with your voice. Share your gratitude ritual with your baby — tell them of all the things you are grateful for this day and of everything you have accomplished.

This little person loves you with all their being. We go through much of our lives looking for unconditional love, for someone who will listen to us, understand us, sleep next to us, smile at us, and go through our ups and downs alongside us. Here is such a being. Treasure this relationship.

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Book: Beyond the Sling, by Mayim Bialik

beyondTheSlingTitle: Beyond the Sling – A real-life guide to raising confident, loving children the attachment parenting way
Author:
Mayim Bialik
Source: Veddma library
ISBN:
978-1-4516-1800-6
Available online

This book outlines main tenets of attachment parenting and presents the reader with practical examples from the author’s personal experiences, as well as that of her friends. The author has a PhD in neuroscience, works as an actress, and her husband is their two children’s caregiver while she is working.

The book discusses trusting your parenting instincts and learning to filter other people’s input, finding your own parenting style. Some of the good suggestions include learning to smile at annoying people, having realistic expectations, taking it slow, and rethinking your priorities. It follows with the chapters addressing needs of the baby, focusing on gentle unmedicated birth, breastfeeding, holding and babywearing (with discussion of some specific carriers), co-sleeping and night-time parenting, and potty training, including elimination communication.

The discussion is continued with the things baby does not need, such as the plethora of baby products, unnecessary medical interventions, pressure to excel in academics or sports, and wraps up by discussion of discipline measures and the advantages of gentle discipline. The author covers issues such as politeness, willingness to share, peer pressure, and media exposure, as well as corporal punishment’s shortcomings, illogical consequences, name-calling, time-outs, threats and rewards, and authoritarian approach to discipline.

The author’s views are largely experience-based, and even when referring to research, she does not go into it in depth. This makes for an easy-to-read introductory narrative, yet the book does not focus on providing evidence – the spotlight is more on logical choices based on human psychology and common sense. There is, however, a brief overview of the physiological factors that influence child development. This book would be good to read while pregnant, it is non-judgemental and discusses many of the childbearing and parenting realities, even if often through a lens of one woman’s experience.

The book ends with some thoughts on re-thinking your existing friendships, keeping the relationship with your partner strong throughout childrearing years, and balancing work and family. Some of the views and examples are relevant more to women who have a very active social life in a big city, prior to having children, including frequent meals out, shopping trips, and parties, yet many aspects of changing relationships are relevant no matter the parents’ former level of social involvement.

Overall, this book is straightforward and full of examples, making it a good read for someone being newly introduced to the concepts of attachment parenting.

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Lessons learned by the 6 month mark

I have not written much on procreation since my one-month postpartum post. The primary reason for it is that I am, naturally, very busy taking care of the baby and trying to keep all my projects going while at the same time working part-time. However, it is also very hard to decide what deserves to be a subject of a post without being a reiteration of the information widely available in baby books. And so, I decided to write now, as I’m nearing 6 months postpartum, about my experiences and how they might differ from what I would have expected if I fully trusted the baby books.

Alaric in stroller on River Walk, closeup, 5 months and 28 days oldMany books talk about “baby” as a creature that behaves in a certain way from birth to a year. Very few are making a distinction based on the age of the baby measured in months. When they talk about breastfeeding, the advice and descriptions of it are usually generic for any infant. Yet I found that the way my baby fed in the first (approximately) three months is quite different from the way he feeds now. Same goes for interactions, reactions to the outside world, and so on. Without knowing this difference based on the age, the changes observed in the infant’s behaviour would leave one uncertain in their approach to baby care.

Breastfeeding and distractions

During the first three months of his life, my baby could breastfeed for 20-30 minutes on end, snoozing satisfied against my breast. We started breastfeeding lying down within the first month and both found it the most comfortable. Later on, right around the three-month mark, he became more distracted by other things: play of light on the curtains, the cat passing by, sounds outside; and would not be content suckling for a long time. Now he also pulls away from the breast to smile at me and babble. He still seems to find breastfeeding the most comforting way to fall asleep, but it appears to be harder for him to fall asleep in general, since the big bright world around him is waiting to be explored.

Patience and meeting needs

In the first two months, the baby was crying loudly when he needed attention. We were very responsive: when his cries were demanding (as opposed to him lying in his crib upon awakening, cooing to himself) we attended to his needs right away, be that hunger, sleepiness, need for change or comfort. He would stop crying once his needs were met. He also started smiling socially early on, especially when we would talk or sing to him. Now, he has more patience when his needs are about to be attended to: he quiets down. He seems to understand when we acknowledge his distress and he stops complaining as he waits for what steps might be taken to rectify the discomfort. It seems, he connects certain places in the house with comfort: he stops crying when being carried to the change table (or if I bring a diaper to where he is) if he needs a change; when being put down on the bed with me lying down next to him if he is hungry; when being carried around and sung to if he is sleepy.

The baby also does not cry as much. He cries when scared or in pain, but if all he needs is a change or if he is bored, he complains instead by making sad noises, as if saying: I need some attention here, something is not right. Only if you repeatedly ignored his request, would he turn it into a demand made with shrilling noises or crying.

Interactions and entertainment

Alaric with socks off, looking at camera, 5 months and 27 days oldThe baby’s array of interactions is growing: he smiles when sung to and played with, laughs when tickled or talked to in a silly voice, gets scared of loud noises and sometimes from what appears to be a bad dream. He is excited when photos are being taken and sometimes smiles at the camera being pointed at him or at the sound of the shutter clicks. He likes the sound of a phone dialing a number and listens attentively to the one-sided conversation, sometimes attempting to participate. He is experimenting with a range of motion, trying to roll from his tummy to his back and vice versa, and trying to crawl (although not very successfully at this point).

For a few weeks, he appeared to be very concentrated on observing his hands and what they can do: grasping things, swatting at moving objects, banging on surfaces, pinching people, looking at his fingers and palms in wonder. Now, for about two weeks, he is exploring what his feet can do. The socks come off as soon as they are put on, he grabs his feet, moves them around, and tries to stick one into his mouth. He is behaving much more like a little human than like a scared blind puppy.

The baby loves being entertained in the past three-four months. He is listening attentively and looking at a book being read aloud to him, listening to the songs we sing, recognizing certain songs by the first line or by the melody and smiling in recognition. I have been also listening to some lectures, and he quiets down and listens attentively along with me.

Tummy time and toys

Alaric eating sobaka, smiling, 4 months and 19 days oldHe loves his tummy time: he is able to stay on his tummy without getting tired a lot longer than in the first couple of months, and usually expresses discomfort only when something else is uncomfortable: like when he is wet. Otherwise he can be on his tummy for long stretches of time, rolling over, wriggling around, and exploring toys and hands for much longer periods of time.

At first he looked at toys in passing, and did not play with them for long. Now he actively reaches for toys, can explore them for a long time, and greets his favourites with rapid leg movements and grasping hand gestures in excitement to grab the toy. He also does get bored with toys or activities and expresses it by throwing the toy away or complaining.

Plane flights and social occasions

We have taken his first airplane flight from Ottawa to Winnipeg to attend a family wedding when the baby was 5 months old. He took the flight quite well. I breastfed on take-off and landing, and my husband walked with him up and down the isle when the baby got uncomfortable, sleepy, or bored. The plane had a changing table (we flew by WestJet) in the bathroom at the back, which was quite tiny, but served its purpose. The baby seemed to be scared of the engine noise upon take-off the first time, so that he clung to me and looked at me with wide-open eyes. The breast and my reassuring tone seemed to have worked to calm him down, and he soon settled to sleep.

The wedding itself ended up being more stressful for the baby and myself than the airplane flight. The baby was bored and overwhelmed by so many people, so all he wanted to do was to be carried. We had a bouncy chair for him with toys, but he barely looked at them and demanded to be picked up. The loud music prevented him from sleeping which caused him to grow more and more upset. Sitting still was boring. Clapping after a slide show came unexpected and scared him. Even feeding would not get him more comfortable. My husband and I have carried him in the sling for the entire wedding, and came out of it quite drained.

A few times we hosted a get-together at our place and invited a few guests (from 1 to 17 people on different occasions). Those gatherings that occurred in the first three month were a trial on us. The baby would not settle down (unless people were quiet enough to let him sleep, which rarely happened) and we ended up taking turns attending to his needs instead of enjoying the company.

Alaric asleep on Kent at Connor's pub, face, 5 months and 28 days oldA few recent parties have turned out better: he was more involved in the proceedings, interacting with people, listening to conversations and music, and, when he was tired, being able to sleep in his own crib (noise levels allowing). So, in our case, it would have been better to limit the socializing in the early months to one or two people at a time, doing it later in the evening when the baby was mostly asleep, and with the people trying not to make too much noise. Living far away from family, however, limited our options, as we had to adjust to the times and numbers in which people could visit.

Starting in the early months and up until now, the best way to socialize with other adults has been going out for lunch. The baby is generally in a better mood earlier in the day, willing to take in new surroundings and interact with people, and does not mind sitting on our lap or lying next to us on the table and listening to the conversation. Sometimes we have to eat in turn, but that is not too hard to do during lunch as the portions are not huge and the lunch does not last for hours. And sometimes he just falls asleep on his papa and peacefully snoozes through a large portion of the outing.

Overall, the baby is now more comfortable in this new body of his, the respiratory and digestive systems are adjusted to the world outside the womb, and he knows that his needs will be attended to. Thus he is more willing to venture from his comfortable place at my side to explore the outside world, knowing that he can always retreat if the universe springs something too overwhelming on him.

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Book: Rough Guide to Travel with Babies and Young Children, by Fawzia Rasheed de Francisco

Book: Travel with babies and young childrenTitle: Rough Guide to Travel with Babies and Young Children
Author:
Fawzia Rasheed de Francisco
Source: Veddma library
ISBN:
9781843537045
Available online

Notes: This is a brief guide that covers preparation for travel, making the journey, being at your destination, and has some notes on specific countries in the “Travel the world” section. The author has travelled to many places with her two sons and she shares tips on bus, airplane, train, and car travel. This includes advice on getting time off school, travelling as a single parent, staying safe, saving money, travelling pregnant, paperwork, packing, entertainment, and so on. The chapter on being there covers various health conditions and ways to deal with them while travelling. The chapter that covers different parts of the world addresses some of the most prominent traditions, dress code, and attitudes that one will encounter.

Overall, this is a lightweight book packed with useful tips. When travelling with children, it would be a good idea to consult this guide in addition to seeking a more detailed guide for the particular location if it is unfamiliar.

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Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей, by Милана Касакина

Book: Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей: Счастливый дитёнок - без запар и пелёнок.Title: Самоучитель для продвинутых родителей: Счастливый дитёнок – без запар и пелёнок.
Author:
Милана Касакина
Source: Veddma library
ISBN:
978-5-49807-427-6
Link: http://www.ozon.ru/context/detail/id/4510706/

Notes: The books carries on with the metaphor of a child being a “device” you acquire and this book serving as a manual to learn to operate that device. The metaphor is somewhat poor and the author over-stretches it by using computer user jargon everywhere possible, whether it is appropriate or not. It also involves a discussion of a child as a financial project. The fact that the book starts with that and brings up material reasons for having a child leaves a bad taste: as if most people who are planning or wanting to have children look at them primarily as a financial burden or a way to gain materially.

The author makes several swooping generalizations that make it hard to take the book seriously and undermine the sensible statements. Among those generalizations are:
– all illness in babies is because of the parents (the example here is author’s ears hurting in childhood because her parents were arguing all the time causing this psychological illness);
– babies should never cry (aside from pure communication that gets attended to immediately) – if they do it is the parents’ fault;
– babies must and do love being in the sling all the time;
– babies fall asleep easiest when placed right next to the mother in bed (have you ever tried it with a baby that wants to play/kick/talk or cannot fall asleep and gets increasingly cranky because of it?);
– everyone (except for those genetically disposed to obesity) recovers their pre-birth weight easily in about 2 months without fitness or diet (several models are brought up as examples); and so on.

Add to that the constant equating of a woman in the family with the housewife role (cooking and cleaning) and the man with the breadwinner role, as well as the overall style of the book being that of Internet writing (with capitals for emphasis, deliberate misspellings of words, smiley faces, etc.) and the book ends up resembling a blog full of ramblings by one woman, radical in her approach and preaching a narrow set of values.

The author also regards the practice of women working for years on their dowry as a very sensible way for a young bride to behave and the dowry being the primary factor in selecting a wife. She lovingly discusses the marriage as arrangement between the parents of the couple, and the family being the “mafia” that always stands behind its members and in which everyone helps everyone, working together for the good of the entire family. She revels in the families with many children, describing how great it is when brothers and sisters help each other in life and their parents in old age. This, she claims, is the only way to have a functional family. Although, somehow, when praising a family for having 10+ children, nothing is said about what the mother’s life is turned into, with constant housework and childrearing. That, apparently, is a minor point not worth mentioning.

Putting aside the statements mentioned above and the writing style, the book does cover some good parenting practices: breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, not constantly saying “no” to the child, exposing them to nature, teaching them about responsibility and self-reliance, not being obsessed with hygiene by sterilizing everything, not using pacifiers, not lying to the child, and not overloading them with educational material to raise a genius.

Overall, not a great book: it would be OK as an online series of articles, but to be a good book, it would need more information about the author’s background except for separate anecdotes of her childhood, more research, better justifications of particular practices than “it’s the only (or the best) way”, useful references (as opposed to “google it”), and of course the literary style needs work.

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Book: The Philosophical Baby, by Alison Gopnik

Book: Philosophical BabyTitle: The Philosophical Baby
Author:
Alison Gopnik
Source: Veddma library
ISBN:
9780312429843
Available online

Notes: The book discusses the current research into the minds of children and compares the results with what we know about consciousness and perceptions of adults. The author describes the benefits of imaginary companions and imaginary worlds and their role in developing the human ability to think causally. She discusses “the work of play” referring to the children’s activities that adults perceive as fun whereas they are an important function from an evolutionary perspective.

The author discussed many experiments, including the one that shows that young children learn of other people’s preferences even when they differ from their own, and are eager to satisfy those preferences if given the means. Research also shows that even though children remember things that happen during their day, they might respond with “nothing” when asked to describe it. However, when asked about particular events, children may become very animated while talking about them, showing that they do indeed remember them in detail, but need a cue to retrieve the memory.

Children as young as eight months old are sensitive to statistical probabilities, expecting things to behave as they have behaved previously. Children also assign human characteristics to things that seem interactive: they assume that a blob that beeps in reaction to their actions has desires and intentions, and try to help it fulfill those intentions if possible.

Up until about four years old, children do not have an “inner autobiographer”, an ability to link their past, current, and future selves into a continuum of events experienced by the same person. Instead they only have an episodic memory. They live in the current moment and do not have much of an inner monologue about past events and future possibilities.

The author states that the research suggests that our childhood experiences shape our adult lives. However, this does not necessarily happen in a Freudian sense where having abusive parents causes one to become an abusive parent. Whereas that is a possibility for some, others analyze their childhood experience and strive not to be like their parents, thus breaking the abusive parenting cycle. Babies also shape their parents’ lives: a sad mother makes for a sad baby which in turn makes the mother even more sad.

When adults focus their attention during meditation or place themselves in a situation where everything is unfamiliar and thus needs constant attention (such as during travel to places with cultures significantly different from their own), they occupy a certain state of consciousness that is very similar to the state a baby experiences every day. Things that are new grab a baby’s attention just like they do an adult’s attention, and since there are many more unfamiliar things in a baby’s environment, babies occupy this state for a much larger percentage of their wakeful hours.

The babies have different styles of attachment: secure babies know that their needs will be met and feel fine with a caregiver leaving occasionally, as they know that the caregiver always comes back; avoidant babies tamp their emotions down and do not cry during separation as they know that the crying will most likely lead to a caregiver being angry thus leading to more grief for the baby; anxious babies cling to their caregiver upon their return and might get angry at the caregiver and throw their toys at them at the same time to express their unhappiness; whereas disorganized babies never develop any consistent expectations at all. Babies as young as twelve months can make predictions about love (whether a parent in the film will react with love or annoyance to a crying baby).

Children also make a distinction between breaking arbitrary rules and inflicting serious harm. Children know the difference between intentional and unintentional actions, and they are both empathic and altruistic by the time they reach eighteen months of age.

The book also notes the absence of motherhood and childrearing themes in most philosophical writings.

The author tries to make the book appeal to a common reader, keeping scientific terminology to a minimum and referring to several examples multiple times to illustrate the concepts. There are a few references to popular culture, including a reference to the Matrix (Neo’s “wow” reaction) and to the Dax symbiont from Deep Space 9 (whom the author mistakenly calls Jadwiga instead of Jadzia). Sometimes these attempts to bring the concepts to the reader seem simplified a bit too much, abstracting away quite a few details of research. Perhaps the book would have benefitted from more information and less interpretation.

Overall, quite an interesting read with good examples, interesting experiments, and clear delivery.

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Book: The Babytalk Insider’s Guide To Your Baby’s First Year

Book: Your baby's first yearTitle: The Babytalk Insider’s Guide To Your Baby’s First Year
Author:
Stephanie Wood and Kitty O’Callaghan, contributing editors, babytalk magazine
Source:
Ottawa Public Library
ISBN:
978-0-446-69804-7
Available online

Notes: This book’s main message, it appears, is to calm the parents down by telling them not to stress about pretty much anything except putting the baby to sleep on their back and using a car seat. Everything else is justified: to breast- or formula-feed, whether to use a pacifier,  whether to prop the bottle, – anything and everything is a parents’ choice and they should not feel guilty about it. While this is generally a reasonable approach, it means that for those of us who have already made a choice, parts of the book dealing with the practical implementation of the alternative are not useful. It also does not make the process of making the decision much easier, since “no matter what you do it’s ok”.

The book covers lots of issues and provides so much information that it is overwhelming. Unless it is used as a daily reference, there is no way to remember all the details. Also, I’m getting a bit weary of seeing certain information in each and every baby-care book, such as “picking a safe crib” or “buying a proper car seat”. Yes, these things are important, however, with safety requirements changing somewhat frequently, the best thing to do is to consult a knowledgeable person at the store that specializes in car seats or cribs and to read up on the current industry guidelines on the sites of the organizations that create and maintain those guidelines. These are one-time purchases requiring a short period of research that certainly does not spell out a large portion of “your baby’s first year”, whereas such areas as feeding and everyday caring for a child do.

Some assumptions made by authors did not agree with me much, such as “you love showing off your baby, opening all those adorable gifts, and recounting your delivery room war stories” or “unlike sex, however, you will actually miss your sleep”. Way to apply swooping generalizations to a variety of women’s personalities.

The chapter about staying at home versus going back to work does provide a good discussion of the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” phenomenon. The chapters that cover health issues are overwhelming – it might be better to refer the reader to a good medical encyclopedia focusing on the health issues that can arise in the first year. Otherwise, by the second page of the lists of symptoms the conditions start to blend together, and it seems that your baby has symptoms of all of them.

Overall, not the greatest book to have as an overview of the issues or as a detailed reference, as it is trying to be both.

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Belly cast

Belly castIn August (about a month before my due date, and a bit more before Alaric was actually born), I travelled to Julie Keon’s studio in Cobden for a belly casting session. The result of this session was a white body cast from shoulders to top of the legs including the arms and hands, made with hospital grade plaster-gauze strips. The cast remained with Julie for a few weeks to be completed, strengthened and painted the shade of blue I have picked leaving the centre of the belly white for further decoration.

Belly cast decorationJulie had dropped the cast off about three weeks after Alaric’s birthday, and I had it set up in the basement. After collecting the required paints and beads, I’ve been working on the cast in 10-minute increments when the opportunity presented itself. Finally, I have completed decorating my belly cast last week and Julie has stopped by to finish it with a matte varnish.

The decoration includes a Celtic knot circle with four Celtic signs, encircling the tree in fall colours to symbolize my autumn-born son.

The signs denote the following:

Celtic triquetraTriquetra: there are many interpretations of this symbol,
the one chosen here is mother, father, child.

Celtic arwenArwen: the first ray stands for male energy,
the third one for female energy, and the middle one for balance,
this is a Celtic version of Yin-Yang.

Celtic triple spiralTriple spiral: symbolizes female power,
a combination of powers of maiden, mother, crone.

Celtic spiralSingle spiral: birth and growth, evolution,
surrender, release,
awareness of the one within the context of the whole.

The cast will serve as Alaric’s birth token and as a reminder of the ever-changing form of female body in childbirth – the memory of those changes already fading.

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Breastfeeding

Early on in my pregnancy, when my doula asked me whether I was planning to breastfeed, I was baffled by this question. Being raised in Russia, I did not understand what was being asked. I am having a baby, the baby needs to be nourished, that’s what the breasts are for, hence – yes, of course I would be breastfeeding.

After reading more literature regarding postpartum, I realized that in North America formula is for some reason considered a viable alternative to breastfeeding (and not just an emergency measure), and breast- versus formula-feeding is a hot political topic. Leaving out serious medical conditions (of which there are very few) that would prevent a woman from breastfeeding, most alleged benefits of formula-feeding presented in literature were “being able to tell how much your baby consumes” and “convenience for the woman”. The first sounds like an argument from the same way of reasoning as that encouraging incessant weighing of the woman during pregnancy, as if weight is the main gauge of the baby’s or the mother’s health. This information can be obtained from the number of wet and poopy diapers put forth by the baby. The second one never made sense to me: how can you weigh your baby’s health and optimal nutrition which are extremely important to the baby’s well-being against such a petty thing as convenience? Pregnancy is not exactly a convenient affair, yet we understand and bear the limitations placed on the woman to ensure the health of the offspring. Labour is not a very pleasant or convenient experience either, yet we go through it and endure needed interventions for the sake of a healthy baby. Now that the baby is born, suddenly our convenience takes precedence and their nutrition is a secondary consideration?

I will leave out the discussion of the benefits of breast milk, the inferiority of the formula, and the unethical practices of formula-producing corporations such as Nestle – enough information sources exhaustively cover these facts. I will also omit detailed descriptions of common issues such as engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and tongue-tie, as they are described in detail in “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” which I highly recommend to have on hand to look up this information if and when it becomes necessary. I will cover a few tips to which I arrived through my experience and found helpful.

Tongue tie is a condition that can interfere with breastfeeding. A baby with a tongue tie has a hard time latching on and effectively getting milk. It is easily fixable with a simple procedure, but getting a doctor to perform it might prove a challenge. I cover it in Tongue Tie and Breastfeeding. There are many opinions regarding alcohol consumption while breastfeeding – my research and references to many sources are covered in Alcohol and Breastfeeding.

Correct latch is extremely important in breastfeeding, to ensure that mother’s nipples do not get sore, and that the baby can effectively draw milk from the breast. A number of educational videos are available at the Dr. Jack Newman’s site, showing babies from several hours old to several days old latching on. They also illustrate finger feeding, cup feeding, using a lactation aid, and a tongue tie release.

If you find yourself having a plugged milk duct or mastitis, look into echinacea as soon as possible: used in the first 24 hours it might prevent the infection (see “Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding” for detailed instructions). After that, if infection is developing, antibiotics might be necessary. Dr. Jack Newman recommends taking soy lecithin as a preventative measure against plugged ducts: “It may do this by decreasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk, by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk.  It is safe, inexpensive, and seems to work in some cases.  The dose is 1200 mg four times a day.”

Useful aids for breastfeeding include:

  1. Nursing bras (I am quite happy with Bravado ones) of which you will need several, since at least one of them is going to be in the wash at any given time.
  2. Breastfeeding pads – I have tried the organic cotton ones, and although they are environmentally friendly and all, they turned out to be extremely ineffective as they (a) tend to shift around, and (b) are soaked with milk in a very short period of time. I found that disposables work much better – they absorb the milk effectively, last longer, and are held in place better. I have settled on the Lansinoh pads. My doula also mentioned Johnson and Johnson as her pads of choice.
  3. Lanolin ointment for nipples, which can be applied after a feeding and does not have to be removed before the next feeding as it is safe for the baby (such as Lansinoh lanolin recommended by La Leche League). In the case of cracked or sore nipples, expressing some breastmilk, applying it to the nipples, letting them air-dry and then applying lanolin can help them heal.
  4. Breastfeeding cushion (such as Boppy) makes it much easier to breastfeed when sitting. Without it, you might need several normal pillows to achieve a comfortable position that does not put a strain on your back and arms. Considering that a baby breastfeeds every two to three hours on average, being comfortable during that time is crucial if you are to be able to perform any other tasks.

Learning to breastfeed lying down is one of the most useful things I have learned. It is easier on the back and arms, and allows the baby to easily drift to sleep after a feeding. During night-time feedings, neither the mother nor the baby has to fully wake up to feed. Combined with co-sleeping, some people find it the most comfortable way to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding in public

When breastfeeding in public, you have rights which include the right to breastfeed in any place where you are allowed to be with your baby, and not being required to cover up. These rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is a card you can carry with you to show to those people not educated on the subject that try to infringe on your rights.

Some people say that covering up is a matter of manners. Those people do not understand the issues that might be encountered by large-breasted women for whom it might be hard to fully cover up, by babies that will refuse to breastfeed with a “breastfeeding burka” covering them and separating them from their mother’s face, by babies that have trouble latching on and women not being able to guide them in a latch due to lack of visibility, by babies that pull away if the there is too much milk, and other possible breastfeeding issues. Let these people try eating their dinner under a blanket and see how they enjoy it. Same goes for those suggesting that you feed your baby in a bathroom – let them take their food there.

There are those who say that a woman should pump and bring a bottle to a public place instead of breastfeeding in public. However, a baby being in an unfamiliar place might want the comfort of the mother as well as food, and the bottle will not provide that. Would you rather endure a crying baby than a small amount of boob mostly covered by the baby’s head anyway? There are those who think that a breastfeeding woman should stay home or go out only without the baby. This implies having a second person at home watching the baby (which is rarely possible for those of us who do not have relatives living in the same city), the baby being fed on schedule (as opposed to on-demand), or the woman only being able to go out in no more than 2 hour increments, between feedings. These people can place themselves under a house arrest. Breastfeeding women need to be able to go out and share the world with their children, not be confined to four walls.

Magazine covers and scantily-clad women walking around show a lot more breast and thigh than breastfeeding women ever do, yet no one seems to object much. If the society finds that acceptable, it can survive an occasional reminder of humans being mammals.

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Alcohol and breastfeeding

The issue of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding is one of the most debatable ones and it is hard to find reliable information on it. However, I was able to dig out the following:

There is a rough calculator of the length of time that alcohol will be present in breast milk, depending on the number of drinks and the mother’s body weight. As a general guideline, it takes as long for alcohol to clear the milk as it does for the blood alcohol level to subside. Alcohol taken with food takes longer to clear out of the system. Motherisk provides a reference table that can be used for the calculation as well.

Motherisk also has a good article on drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, including references to several studies on the subject. They state that “Because alcohol elimination follows zero-order kinetics, drinking water, resting, or ‘pumping and dumping’ breast milk will not accelerate elimination. Unlike urine, which stores substances in the bladder, alcohol is not trapped in breast milk, but is constantly removed as it diffuses back into the bloodstream.” It takes longer to process high-alcohol drinks as opposed to beer or wine. The amount of alcohol passed to the baby through breast milk is around 2% of the entire alcohol content consumed by the mother, much less than the amount passed through the placenta in a pregnant woman.

The statement that alcohol increases milk production and stimulates let-down due to relaxing the mother appears to be a myth. Beer might increase prolactin levels and milk production, however this appears to not be due to ethanol, but possibly to barley. Thus non-alcoholic beer should do the trick as well. One study suggested that there was a 23% reduction in breast milk production due to alcohol consumption.

American Academy of Pediatrics provides a listing of drugs and their effect on breast milk.

La Leche League states that consumption of one drink or less per day has not been shown to have a negative effect on the baby. Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful to the baby and should be avoided.

Dr. Jack Newman says: “Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all.  As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk.  The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does.  Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for breastfeeding mothers.”

So, it appears that drinking one drink or less per day shortly after a feeding and waiting the appropriate amount of time (depending on the mother’s body weight) before the next feeding is the best approach if the mother does not want to avoid alcohol altogether.

If you are dealing with substance addiction, the Desert Hope resource page provides many studies and resources designed to help understand the basics of addiction and to offer guidance to help women safely stop drug and alcohol use.

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Tongue-tie and breastfeeding

The first issue I had to face was that my baby was born with a tongue-tie. This is a (often genetic) condition where the frenulum (the little piece of skin attaching the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short and does not allow the baby to fully stick the tongue out. In severe cases, the tongue looks upside-down-heart-shaped and can prevent the person from being able to perform motions many of us take for granted, such as licking an ice-cream cone. In moderate and severe cases, the tongue-tie can interfere with breastfeeding by impeding the latch, and can lead to speech impediments later in life. In our case, the tongue-tie was moderate, but it did prevent the baby latching on correctly which lead to significant nipple soreness.

Tongue-tie can be fixed with a simple procedure: all that a doctor has to do is to clip the frenulum to allow for the tongue to extend further. The procedure is not painful as the part that needs to be clipped does not contain capillaries, and it takes less than a minute. Unfortunately, in Ontario, midwives do not have a right to perform this procedure (even though they can perform perineum stitching after labour which is much more involved), and doctors refuse to do it. Yes, you read that correctly. They can, the majority just chooses not to. One of the orthodontic surgeons, to whom we were referred as a specialist on the issue, told us that we should not do anything about the issue for a year! Add to this a virtual impossibility of finding a GP or a pediatrician for the baby (as most Ottawa doctors are not taking new patients), and you are stuck with a tongue-tied hungry baby who cannot effectively breastfeed.

I will spare you the detailed description of a range of emotions I went through while dealing with this frustrating artificial problem that could so easily be solved if people were reasonable. I had to pump first colostrum and then milk, and finger-feed the baby with a suringe. We got lucky: after a letter written by my midwife to a pediatrician at one of the hospitals, the hospital nurse called us (after we have called every place we could, had a lactation consultant visit, and went to a breastfeeding drop-in with a three-day old baby). She was very understanding since, as it happens, her baby had had a tongue-tie as well and she knew what we were going through, so she was able to get us an appointment the next day to see the pediatrician. The procedure did take less than a minute and the baby didn’t even cry – he was more uncomfortable with being held still than with the clipping itself. We were able to start breastfeeding effectively the same day. A video of a tongue tie release is available at Dr. Jack Newman’s site.

A tongue-tie can only be fixed by clipping. It is not painful and the baby can breastfeed right after the procedure. Without fixing the issue, the baby might not ever be able to latch correctly. Many doctors who are not educated about breastfeeding dismiss it as a minor issue easily fixable with bottle-feeding. Let them pump every two to three hours or feed their baby inferior food in the form of formula, and then maybe they will come to understand the issues involved. Alas, many are still ignorant of the issues surrounding the so-perceived feeding “choices”. If you find yourself in this frustrating situation, persevere to try finding a doctor to perform the procedure. Enlist the help of a lactation consultant if possible. I was told that some women drive to Toronto from Ottawa (5-6 hour drive) shortly after giving birth with a tiny infant, so they can get a tongue-tie clipped at the Jack Newman’s clinic, as that is easier than trying to find a doctor in Ottawa who would be able to do it without booking the appointment months in the future. Clearly, there is an issue here that needs resolution.

There is a comprehensive site at http://www.tonguetie.net/ that has loads of information on tongue-tie and its implications. Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths blog has another wonderful blog post on the politics of tongue tie.

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First month baby care – lessons learned

He turned the stiff pages in horrified fascination. They opened into another world, a world of quite stupefying problems… It was amazing, he decided after reading a few pages, that a swamp dragon ever survived to see a second sunrise. Even walking across a room must be reckoned a biological triumph… They lived on a chemical knife-edge the whole time. One misplaced hiccup and they were geography… Omnivores or not, what they must really live on was their nerves, flapping apologetically through the world in mortal fear of their own digestive system. [Terry Pratchett, “Guards! Guards!”]

Below are a few tips at which I have arrived via research and experimentation. These strategies have helped me, although there is no guarantee all of them will work with your baby. Do check with your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns.


Addressing the baby’s needs

As long as you can meet the baby’s needs before his signals escalate to an ear-piercing cry, you can keep your baby happy and yourself sane. The key to address the baby’s crying is to try a change of state. If he is unhappy about something within his current environment, we have to change it to get him comfortable again. Checking whether he needs to be changed, burped, fed, held, rocked, or be in a different position is relatively simple, as long as you remember that the fact that you just changed him 2 minutes ago does not mean you should skip the possibility of him needing a change again.

If none of these work, there are some other tricky possibilities: for instance, the baby might have painful gas and not be able to get rid of it (burping sometimes helps, but might not). The gas problem stems from the digestive system being immature during the so-called fourth trimester (the first 3 months of the baby’s life), and just like a swamp dragon from the Discworld, the baby is bound to have all kinds of digestive issues often with explosive results. Trying to burp the baby, change his position, or rock him might resolve the immediate discomfort. Another thing that seems to work at times is a belly massage going in clockwise circles (to follow the direction of the intestines). If you have a bouncer seat, the vibration mode might also help dislodge those painful gas bubbles.

If the baby is overstimulted or exhausted (which can happen when he is in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by new/loud/unexpected sounds or voices, too wound up after a bath, a play session, or any other energy-releasing activity), he wants to rest, but might not be able to get to sleep on his own. At this point, you can try holding and rocking him, or feeding him (as this provides comfort and allows him to fall asleep next to mom’s body with its familiar breathing and heart-beating sounds). Anything can interrupt the fragile state of being almost asleep, such as an inopportune phone call or a bout of hiccups. The baby is suddenly wide awake again, tired, and angry at not being able to rest. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to get him back to the sleepy state besides retrying rocking or feeding again. This can keep going in cycles as there are many unexpected distractions, external (such as a door bell) and internal (such as a painful gas bubble), that can jerk the baby awake again. It might be possible to stop hiccups by breastfeeding the baby. To get him back to sleep, you can try rocking him, singing to him, or going for a walk (fresh air sometimes helps) if the weather allows.

Getting things done

They say that when you are taking care of a baby, you can try planning one not baby-related thing  to accomplish in a day, and if by the end of the day you are half way through it, you should consider it a success. This is especially true with high needs babies that require constant attention and are not happy when you put them down for even a moment, day or night.

In our case, some days I’m able to do more than others, but that depends directly on the baby being happy and cooperating, something over which I only have a limited amount of control. Here are a few productivity tips I have learned so far:

  1. Break up the activities into pieces that can be done in 10 or 15 minute increments, and can safely be interrupted and left half-done. Return to them when you have another 10 minutes.
  2. Involve the baby in the activity you are doing: for instance, you can sing a song while sorting laundry or put the baby close to you when doing yoga, so he can observe your movements. This will prevent him from getting bored.
  3. Have several projects set up and ready to be worked on: for instance, I have a belly cast set up in the basement that needs decorating, together with paints for it so I can paint a piece of the decoration whenever I have a few minutes; I have several books started which are strategically placed around the house to allow me to grab one when I’m feeding the baby or having a snack; I have a puzzle opened and set up on the table so I can put a few pieces in; the laundry bin is handy and all the dirty things are consistently put into it, so I can throw it into the washer at any time of day or night, etc.
  4. Have a to-do list with your projects broken down in small sub-tasks. A glance at the list will allow you to quickly pick a sub-task that can be done within the time you have available with the noise level you can allow for (in case the baby is asleep you might have to avoid the extremely noisy activities). This list will also serve as a reminder of the tasks that need doing, since it is too easy to forget things when you are existing in a constantly-interrupted state.
  5. Keep running shopping lists (by store) so you can quickly grab those and go whenever an opportunity arises to get to a particular store.
  6. Combine tasks that can be performed in close proximity to each other (such as in the basement, or in the kitchen) – it will save you time.
  7. Put things that need recurring attention to wherever they are easiest to remember. For instance, I have the infant vitamin D drops by the bed, so that when I feed the baby there I remember to give him his vitamin. If I had it stashed away in a medicine cabinet, I would rarely remember the vitamin or have a chance to retrieve it before a feeding.
  8. Don’t pick up the baby at the first peep – when a baby wakes up he often is content babbling to himself for a few minutes, which might allow you to get whatever you are doing to an acceptable state before attending to the baby’s needs.
  9. When you have a few minutes, do what is important to you first. If you cannot comfortably exist without a daily shower and your teeth being brushed, do it first so that you feel on top of things. If you are annoyed by clutter in your home, put things away, wash dishes, clean up – do whatever makes you feel more comfortable. If you would rather rest, exercise, read, watch a movie (be prepared to pause at any moment), do that, and do it guilt-free. The main goal is a happy parent and a happy baby (the latter is greatly affected by the former), so you should do whatever gets you there.
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Book: Sign with your baby, by Joseph Garcia

Title: Sign with your baby: How to communicate with infants before they can speak
Author:
Joseph Garcia
Source:
Ottawa Public Library
ISBN:
0963622927
Available online

Notes: This is a useful book for people who want to start signing with their babies. It outlines in a straightforward manner the benefits of sign language (in this case ASL) to infants that do not yet talk and the order in which to introduce the terms. The author also covers ways to combine terms, how and when to introduce a sign, and how to create games using the signs a child learned.

The second part of the book is a dictionary covering a variety of terms together with their signs. It appears the book would be even more useful combined with the DVD produced by the same author, and perhaps the index cards that are available on the author’s site (www.sign2me.com). As it stands, I only had access to the book, and as the earliest age the child is able to remember the signs appears to be 7 months, I might have to come back to it when the time comes.

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Book: Baby Massage for Dummies by Joanne Bagshaw and Ilene Fox

Title: Baby Massage for Dummies
Author:
Joanne Bagshaw and Ilene Fox
Source:
Ottawa Public Library
ISBN:
9780764578410
Available online

Notes: This book describes advantages of baby massage for a child’s physical and emotional development, bonding with the caregiver, and as an aid in treating various ailments. Besides discussing the benefits and the overall principles of massage, the book covers specific techniques to masssage babies with normal development, premature babies, babies with fetal alcohol syndrome and other developmental problems, as well as those exposed to HIV.

The most useful information besides the techniques themselves, are the suggestions of massage timing (as related to bathing, sleeping, changing, and other routines) and the sequences of techniques most appropriate to different situations, developmental stages, comfortable level of stimulation, etc.

The book would be more useful if they provided the techniques in an easy-reference format such as cut-away cards, for instance, as flipping through the book while trying to keep a squirming baby in place and massage them, is not the most practical thing to attempt.

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Book: How to Have Your Second Child First, by Kelly Colburn and Rob Sorensen

Title: How to Have Your Second Child First: 100 Things That Would Have Been Good to Know the First Time Around
Author: Kelly Colburn and Rob Sorensen
Source:
Veddma library
ISBN:
9780811869881
Available online

Notes: Second time parents have to juggle responsibilities of taking care of more than one child at the same time. This naturally cuts down on the amount of attention given to each child compared to constantly attending to the needs of a single offspring. Thus this book encourages the first time parents to relax the strict rules and expectations of how the child should be brought up, rest more, not to sweat the small stuff, and not to hover too much over their first child.

This book is full of tips from second time parents outlining the areas of childcare where shortcuts can be taken, as well as tricks that will help parents in social situations. Among other things, the authors cover:

  • sleep and night time noises,
  • breastfeeding issues,
  • support system,
  • sterilizing baby equipment,
  • combining laundry,
  • food, rest, and relaxation for grown-ups,
  • being able to party,
  • parental comfort zone,
  • dealing with tantrums,
  • baby classes,
  • the witching hour,
  • everything being a stage that will pass,
  • bathing and playing with the baby,
  • dealing with lack of productivity and “not doing anything all day”,
  • not overpacking for outings,
  • dealing with relatives and relationship issues,
  • trusting your instincts,
  • experimenting,
  • discipline,
  • TV and licensed characters exposure,
  • solid food introduction,
  • baby toys and childproofing,
  • accomplishing things while the baby is awake,
  • dining out,
  • traveling by air,
  • and keeping a sense of humour.

The book is packed with useful advice aimed at lowering the parents’ stress level and allowing them to enjoy parenthood the first time around.

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Book: My Mother Wears Combat Boots, by Jessica Mills

Book: My mother wears combat bootsTitle: My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us
Author: Jessica Mills
Source: Midwifery Collective
ISBN:
9781904859727
Available online

Notes: A very thorough, well-researched, and informative book written by a punk musician and activist interested in raising her child in a way that promotes free thinking and discourages consumerism. This book is so full of useful advice and links to more information that making notes on it would result in me writing an article having the length of half the book itself. I found it so useful that I have decided to buy a copy of the book (I had borrowed the one I read).

The topics covered include medical birth interventions, newborn care, breast-feeding, co-sleeping, babywearing, cloth diapering, gender-coding, battling isolation, going back to work, exploring thrift stores for clothing, selecting first foods, weaning, setting up a “yes” environment for the child, organizing cooperative childcare and schooling, breaking the gender stereotypes of parental roles, TV exposure, touring with a child, cursing, discipline, disagreements with the child on fashion, safely marching in protests with children, setting up an art centre at home, critical analysis of marketing and media with a child, and getting away for a break without a child.

The book also contains several interviews of band members that toured with their children, and accounts of the author’s travels with her child. The resources section includes many links (in addition to those scattered throughout the book) and documentation samples for establishing cooperative daycare and school.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

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Book: Green Baby, by Susannah Marriott

Book: Green BabyTitle: Green Baby
Author: Susannah Marriott
Source: Midwifery Collective
ISBN:
9781402200144
Available online

Notes: This book is packed with generic statements, statistical quotes, and once in a  while some useful tips regarding baby-related cleaning, diet, diapering, toy selection, etc. Each section starts with a description of the most significant ecological problems regarding a particular area of parenting, and goes on to more specific suggestions on what constitutes “light” to “heavy” green choices.

Clothing: the author suggests hemp, bamboo, wool, and organic cotton as best fabrics. For washing clothing, use 40°C for most loads, cold water for woolens and delicates, and 60°C for heavily soiled items. Line-dry the clothing in the sun when possible (yeah, that works well in Canada in winter).

Food: eat organic whenever possible to avoid pesticides and other additives. Start baby on finger foods instead of purees: less likely to be fussy eaters as they learn to cope with texture and taste of real foods instead of sweet bland purees. Try food cut in a “french fry” manner for easy grasping: steamed broccoli or carrot, roast squash or a hunk of “real” bread perhaps smeared with some hummus or avocado. Eat as a family – no TV, no books or toys, eat the same food as your child.

To make a puree:

  1. Wash produce, scrubbing well with a specially designated brush, peel all non-organic orchard fruit and root vegetables, remove seeds or pits, or core fruit;
  2. Steam for a few minutes until quite soft but not falling apart, or simmer in a scant amount of water;
  3. Grind with the hand-powered mill;
  4. Spoon enough for one meal into the baby bowl, adding milk or cooking water if necessary;
  5. Store remainder in the fridge in lidded glass jars for up to two days or freeze immediately in a non-plastic ice-cube tray (label with date, use within 6 months).

Organic must-haves:

  • dairy foods – fat-soluble toxins accumulate in them easily;
  • meat – free of non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones;
  • fruit – isn’t waxed or dosed with fungicides after harvesting;
  • salad leaves – non-organic lettuces are sprayed with lots of pesticides, washed salads are chlorine-rinsed;
  • oily fish – wild salmon and organically farmed salmon and trout contain fewer PCBs;
  • sugary foods – normally sugar beets are heavily sprayed and sugar can production is very polluting;
  • bread – free from flour- and dough- improving artificial chemicals and bleaching agents;
  • whole grain – free from pesticides.

Ingredients to avoid:

  • soy – may be GM without being labelled as such, unsustainable production;
  • sweeteners – saccharin is listed as an “anticipated carcinogen”, aspartame can be neurotoxic; high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to diabetes;
  • trans-fats (“partially hydrogenated fats”) – no nutritional value, associated with heart disease;
  • synthetic dyes (especially FD&C Yellow No. 5, FD&C Yellow No. 6, and FD&C Red No. 40) – when mixed with the preservative sodium benzoate these are linked to hyperactivity in children;
  • preservatives – are associated with health risks: BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrate, sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, MSG.

Superfoods for breastfeeding:

  • fruit and vegetables (more than 5 a day) – green leafy, orange, red, yellow;
  • oily fish (twice a week) – smaller fish with fewer toxins: sardines, herring, anchovies;
  • whole grains (organic loaves, organic oats, spelt);
  • dairy produce (especially yogurt) – organic, free from hormones.

Dirty dozen” when it comes to pesticides (better to buy organic):

  1. peaches,
  2. apples,
  3. bell peppers,
  4. celery,
  5. nectarines,
  6. strawberries,
  7. cherries,
  8. lettuce,
  9. grapes,
  10. pears,
  11. spinach,
  12. potatoes.

Easy crops to grow on your own:

  • tumbling cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets;
  • potatoes or garlic in half-barrels;
  • carrots in large pots;
  • lettuces and green onions in a window box;
  • blueberry bushes in pots of ericaceous soil;
  • soil-planted apple trees native to the region;
  • basil raised from seed on a window sill (incredibly difficult to keep alive to my knowledge);
  • alfalfa sprouts in a jar.

Cleaning products to toss:

  • cleaning fluids containing glycol ethers, terpenes, or limonenes (pine or citrus scents) – they create toxic air conditions in confined space;
  • air fresheners – babies exposed to them are more prone to ear infections and diarrhea;
  • chlorinated ingredients – chlorine reacts with organic materials to create compounds hazardous to the environment;
  • anti-pest products – likely to contain pesticides;
  • antimicrobials – don’t clean better than soap and water, banned in some hospitals as it is feared they lead to superbugs;
  • aerosols – neuro- and reproductive toxins and respiratory irritants are blasted directly into the respiratory tract.

Green cleaners:

  • white vinegar – dilute with water to make a wipe for surfaces, glass, and tiles, or use full-strength to unclog showers and sinks;
  • lemon juice – degreases and bleaches cutting boards and surfaces;
  • salt – scouring baked-on food or washing dishes;
  • spices – simmer a handful to scent your home (cinnamon sticks, cloves, fresh ginger root, cardamom seeds, star anise, slices of lemon, lime, orange);
  • bicarbonate of soda – mix into a paste for sinks and tubs or sprinkle into the toilet bowl, add white vinegar, and scrub;
  • microfiber miracle cloths – dampen and rub: need no solvent or detergents to clean grease and stubborn stains, wash in the washing machine when dirty;
  • wet-dusting solution – mop with liquid Castile soap, then rinse with water plus 10 drops essential oil of grapefruit;
  • raise a plant – many broad-leaved house plants neutralize airborne toxins like formaldehyde and benzene;
  • shake and vac – sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over carpet, leave for a couple of hours, then vacuum;
  • toilet-seat spray – add 10 drops of antibacterial tea tree essential oil to water in a mister, shake, then spritz.

Washing the baby – “topping and tailing”:

  1. Undress baby to the waist, wipe face and around neck creases with a damp, warm washcloth, dry with a warmed towel. Wipe each eye from centre outward with moistened cotton balls, repeat on nostrils if necessary.
  2. If baby’s hair needs freshening up, dampen the washcloth and wipe from the front of the head to the nape of the neck, pat dry with a warm towel.
  3. Wipe the baby’s hands and under arms with the washcloth, pat dry. If baby has areas of dry skin, rub on some organic olive oil. Clothe the upper body.
  4. Undress baby from the waist down. Moisten another washcloth, wipe the bottom from front to back. Pat dry with a towel then rub a little of the olive oil on any areas of diaper rash. Put on a clean diaper and dress the baby.

Natural soothing strategies:

  • darkness during the night and outdoor light in the day;
  • constant noise or music rather than silence;
  • swaddling;
  • ambient temperature (20°C) with bedding of one sheet and two layers of blanket;
  • daytime naps;
  • a set bedtime;
  • bedtime routine teaches a baby to anticipate sleep;
  • put baby to bed still awake so they learn to drift off without you and be able to do that at night.

Toys: Clean toys with the child so they learn the importance of taking care of their things. Avoid battery-powered toys (hard to recycle) and electrical toys that guide the child to press buttons or have right/wrong answers (may discourage creativity, undermine basic motor skills, and shorten attention span). Only plastic that can be recycled is marked with “2”, “4”, and “5”. The rest cannot be recycled and will spoil all the other plastic in the same batch.

Green toys:

  • Lego – indestructible, free of phthalates, no-PVC policy;
  • Playmobil – no-PVC policy;
  • Käthe Kruse dolls – handcrafted form wood, can be repaired;
  • Brio train set – choose wood, but all Brio products are PVC-free;
  • IKEA toys – PVC-free, free from iffy woods and dyes;
  • wooden dollhouse, fort, or puppet theatre – collecting the accessories and dolls separately adds to the adventure;
  • metal construction toys – durable and can be added to.

Key features of green books:

  • FSC certification – paper has been sourced from responsibly managed forests;
  • greener inks – soy- and vegetable-based;
  • water-based glues – safer;
  • less bleaching – processed chlorine-free (PCF), which substitute oxygen-based compounds instead;
  • avoid plastic – tend to be made from nonrenewable petrochemicals made flexible with phthalates.

To stay safe in the sun, avoid sunscreen (penetrates the skin) as opposed to sunblock (usually contains zinc or titanium dioxide that sit on the skin’s surface deflecting the UV rays, usually turns skin white). The best alternative is a wide-brimmed hat and coverup breathable clothing. Hemp is naturally UV-resistant. Give the child sun-protective fruit and vegetables (red, orange, yellow). Use a sunshade, and plan outdoor play before 11am and after 4pm when the sun is less strong.

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Book: The New Mom’s Companion, by Debra Gilbert Rosenberg

Book: New Mom's CompanionTitle: The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself while You Care for Your Newborn
Author: Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, L.C.S.W. with Mary Susan Miller, Ph.D.
Source: Midwifery Collective
ISBN:
9781402200144
Available online

Notes: The author is a social worker and a mother of three. The book is organized as a series of questions from women on a particular topic, and the author providing an answer and/or advice on dealing with the issue raised in the question.

The book is broken into two parts: one that deals with issues that first-time mothers face with their changing self: their psyche and their bodies; and the second one dealing with the changes in relationships with the partner (the writer assumes a husband), the extended family, and friends.

I did not find the first part particularly helpful. In essence, the author dismisses most of the issues that are brought up that have to do with physical changes as something to be unconditionally accepted since “this body gave you a child, so be thankful” even if you have to endure some discomfort/pain/disfigurement. I realize that the approach of many social workers is to reassure the person that everything going on with them is normal; however, that does not make for a useful perspective for anyone who’d like to be more than complacent about the issue.

In answer to several questions (like changes in a woman’s appearance) she reassures the reader that the only people who notice the change would be the woman herself and her husband, so no need to worry. Perhaps, my internal dialogue is significantly different from most women, but it seems to me that myself and my partner are the most important people in this, so the statement that no one else might notice the changes is meaningless: I’m the one to live in this body, so I am the one that has to be comfortable with it, not some random person on the street.

Her suggestions on the practical side of things are more useful: tips on streamlining your day, trying to be productive while taking care of the baby around-the-clock, dealing with a switch from full-time work to staying at home, and so on.

Things to do while at home with the baby to not feel completely insane include:

  • reading,
  • using Internet to connect with people,
  • going out with the baby (zoo, museum, coffee house, mall),
  • going back to work part-time or volunteering,
  • resuming an exercise routine,
  • seeing friends,
  • having a weekly baby-free outing (good luck finding a baby-sitter),
  • doing personal projects (either new or existing hobbies).

Things to try maximizing your efficiency:

  • be clear what is urgent and what is not;
  • break jobs down into smaller pieces that can be done separately;
  • keep a list for a week of what activities you perform every day to discover and exploit patterns in baby rhythms if any;
  • keep separate running lists for grocery (update once you run out of an item), hardware, drugstores ready to be brought for shopping trips;
  • use daily, weekly, monthly and “whenever there is time” lists;
  • combine tasks when possible;
  • have several stations with started projects, so you can get to any one of them without a long setup/cleanup time and do a bit at a time;
  • buy things in bulk when possible to save time and money.

Things to try keeping the baby occupied long enough to be able to complete a project:

  • use a ten-minute rule – if you pay attention to the baby for ten minutes, they often will be content to amuze themselves for another half-an-hour or more;
  • have designated toys for special situations (such as pulling out a particular stuffed toy only when you are on the phone: this will keep the toy novel enough and allow you to complete the activity);
  • talk to the baby while you work.

Things to try being on time:

  • plan outings ahead of time considering baby’s nap, feeding and being pleasant times;
  • add 15 minutes to your travel time to load/unload the baby and their stuff into/from the car;
  • pack/update your diaper bag the night before;
  • do not carry a separate purse;
  • suggest a time interval instead of exact time for a meeting;
  • plan your route in advance;
  • don’t plan activities in which promptness is essential;
  • plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early to deal with any emergencies;
  • plan with geography in mind: the fewer times you need to load/unload the car the better;
  • use delivery, drive-through, Internet, and mail whenever possible to save yourself time;
  • when the baby fusses, leave whatever you are doing – feed or comfort the baby and then come back to the activity once the baby is peaceful again.

The second part of the book dealing with relationships seems a bit more helpful (at least the inter-partner relationship tips) than the one dealing with physical changes, as it contains more practical suggestions on how to adjust to the new schedules, roles and responsibilities while keeping everyone involved relatively sane. Most of the extended family conflicts are reduced to the mother or mother-in-law being either too intrusive in their help, not able to help due to health/distance, or being appreciative of your own mother once you become one (not sure why this one is an issue and why people need special instructions on how to deal with it). Social relationship section can be summed up as: whoever your real friends are they will survive the time while you are preoccupied by ensuring your baby’s continued survival, the other ones were not real friends.

The book ends with a smaller section dealing with issues of abuse, adoption (inter-racial, by straight and gay couples), medical issues with the baby and people’s comments about all of the above. The general advice here seems to be that it’s no one’s business and you are free not to answer any questions or to only answer them with minimal detail or humour. The important thing to remember, is that if the comments/questions are made in the presence of your child, your response will have as much if not more influence on your child’s sense of self and understanding of the situation as the comment itself.

Overall, the book is a bit preachy and resembles a session with a psychiatrist, but then that appears to be the goal of it. Aside from quite a bit of repetition in questions and responses, there are some good tips if one is willing to dig for them.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

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Book: Baby Laughs, by Jenny McCarthy

Book: Baby LaughsTitle: Baby Laughs: The naked truth about the first year of mommyhood
Author: Jenny McCarthy
Source: Ottawa Public Library
ISBN:
9780452287198
Available online

Notes: This book is full of justifications of an “average person’s” complete lack of knowledge of how to deal with a baby, the mother’s changing body, and the family’s change in roles. The author is trying to be funny, but most supposedly humorous statements come across as obnoxious and overstated.

The author’s delivery was described as three and a half hours of pushing with everyone around her chanting “push!” (an enlightened approach) while she didn’t feel anything due to an epidural (which she calls a “one great thing about all of this”), followed by trying forceps and vacuum, and ending up as an emergency Caesarian. She did not breastfeed due to concerns with breast implants. The circumcision decision was made on the basis “like father, like son”.

This discouraging beginning of the book was compounded by the description of the baby’s father handling the baby in a rough manner due to the husband “not quite understanding the concept of wobbly-head baby”. The examples mentioned were tossing the 2-week old baby into the air, rolling on the ground wrestling with a 3-week old baby to “bond by doing some wrestling moves”, wheeling the 3-week old around on a skateboard, and so on. I’m sorry, but the level of ignorance here is a bit overwhelming.

The rest of the “insights” were dealing with changes in lifestyle, being confused by baby care, dealing with extended family, body image, etc. Most of the information presented is quite obvious and falls within the domain of common knowledge.

Overall, a pretty useless book, possibly more interesting to people who wish to peek into a life of a celebrity than learn anything useful regarding baby care and postpartum.

The New Mom’s Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn

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