Tag Archives: breastfeeding

A View on ‘Extreme Breastfeeding’

18 Aug

By Bluemilk on Feministe: Meet Your Local Extreme Breastfeeder.

I like the term ‘Extreme Breastfeeding’ when used by feminist mothers, i.e. not in a derogatory way – makes it sound like a challenge (in a good way), or an achievement to be proud of.

My favourite line from Bluemilk’s post:

“it seemed he wanted to talk to my breasts about the guinea pig’s death”

It made me laugh to imagine this three-year-old having a word with his mother’s breasts and seemingly seeing them as entities separate from her, and how lovely for him to have this option to make himself feel better when he’s sad.

Every time my daughter feels sad or hurts herself she sobs “I’m saaaad, I want some nom noms make me feel better”. Who could refuse?

Addendum to previous post

12 May

Turns out I was right to see allusions to the virgin Mary when I wrote this post. I hadn’t seen this when I was writing it, but according to these two articles, the photographer explicitly used Madonna-and-child images as a reference for the photos he took for Time.   

That Time Cover: ‘Are you Mom Enough?’

12 May


When I came across this excellent analysis, I thought it might be interesting to analyse the composition of the controversial Time cover.

A particularly interesting point raised in this article is the fact that the cover photo is engineered to evoke sexual undertones. And once you start seeing the photo through this lens, it becomes clear just how carefully the portrayal of Jamie Lynne Grumet and her son has been engineered.

Clothes and Hairstyle

First, there’s her appearance: in some articles discussing the photo, Jamie Lynne is referred to as a ‘willowy bombshell‘: she’s skinny, she has flawless luminous skin, she’s blonde, she wears fashionable clothes. She might practise attachment parenting, but the mother on the Time cover (I feel it’s important to distinguish between the mother-representation on the cover and the actual person Jamie Lynne Grumet, as they are likely to be different people) is no earth mother who knits her own lentils. But neither is she too fashionable, hence the sensible flat ballerinas. See, she’s just right – not too crunchy, not too plastic – everyone can relate to her.

The way this mother is represented creates a tension: her hair is modestly pulled back, and the colour of her blue tank top and skinny jeans seems deliberately chosen to hint at common representations of the virgin Mary (albeit a bit more 21st century). But wait, her shoulders aren’t covered and she’s not wearing a bra, so is she a woman of virtue or of loose morals?

Body Language

Her  facial expression is both docile (closed mouth, neither smiling nor not-smiling) and defiant (head held high). The fragility of her thin frame is called into question by how strong and robust her posture makes her appear, while the allusion to the virgin Mary, who is usually portrayed in passive positions, contrasts with the active supermodel-hand-on-hip pose.

The mother’s posture is supermum through-and-through: her hip-jutting says she is ready for any criticism the viewer wants to throw at her, while her arm protectively cradles her son’s shoulders. She is both hard and soft, alluring and motherly.

At the same time, her facial expression is quite blank, and so are her clothes – they are simple and a non-offensive colour. She is a blank canvas ready for any viewer’s feelings to be projected onto her: is she making breastfeeding fashionable? A ‘hippy’? Aggressive? Submissive? Outrageous? A pervert? A role model? Just an average mother?

Text and Image Interaction – Questioning Mothers’ Shagability?

Then there’s the big red question mark superimposed on her nether regions – surely an accident, one might think. But this is the cover of a major magazine, there are no accidents, and text and image are designed to interact for maximum effect in the reader’s mind. So perhaps the question mark is placed here deliberately to call into question the sexuality of mothers who breastfeed for an ‘extended’ period.

There are two questions an uninformed reader might ask themselves: first, does breastfeeding give rise to sexual feelings once the baby is one day older than an arbitrary number of weeks, and secondly, can a breastfeeding woman still be sexually attractive? Is motherhood incompatible with stereotypical conceptions of womanhood? Not just motherhood as it is commonly represented in the media, because that is often seen as the epitome of femininity, but motherhood when a woman shows such extraordinary dedication to her children? (NB I am well aware that the average world weaning age is around 2.5-7 years according to Dettwyler, but nevertheless, breastfeeding a child or several children for several years is a special commitment which can occasionally take a lot out of mothers.)

The Child

Grumet’s little boy is dressed in trainers and camouflage cargo pants – very ‘big boy’ clothes that seem to hint at a child who is happiest running around in the countryside or playing football.  They make him look more grown up than he actually is, so that he appears as a big, strong, stereotypically masculine figure next to his mother. While it is obvious that he is standing on a chair, this nevertheless serves to make him look taller, and thus older, than he really is, thereby increasing the outrage factor.

Conclusion

The composition of this image and its interaction with the chosen text serve to press different buttons in each reader’s mind, so that it’s simultaneously possible to be filled with admiration or disgust at the 26-year-old mother who feeds her three-year-old son and her five-year-old adopted son, and the fact that she has two children and manages to look so glamorous.

Personally, I think it’s great that there are mums who breastfeed for several years, including adopted children, and it’s useful that attachment parenting might gain more attention in the mainstream media as a counterweight to all those ‘Supernanny’ techniques. I don’t think the competition which the headline is trying to create is necessary or beneficial for anyone; surely it’s time to leave the mummy wars behind. In addition, I can’t help the impression that Grumet and her son have been exploited for the sake of magazine sales.

Review: ‘You, me and the breast’ by Monica Calaf and Mikel Fuentes; London: Pinter and Martin, RRP £6.99

1 May

Image

It’s time for another book review!

You, me and the breast by Monica Calaf (text) and Mikel Fuentes (illustration) is a beautifully illustrated book. The pages are bold and colourful, and very engaging. One aspect I thought was great was that the illustrations of the characters (Mum, Dad, non-gendered baby) are so over the top (in a good way!) that it is difficult to tell their exact ethnicity, which means children and parents of most, if not all, origins are hopefully able to recognise themselves in the different scenarios.

The story covers most aspects of breastfeeding, from birth, via co-sleeping, babywearing, coffee mornings, feeding in public, to teething and finally weaning. It’s great for a gentle playful overview of how convenient breastfeeding is – you can do it while swimming, gardening, cooking, even exercising! – and how it contributes to a close bond. One thing I wasn’t sure about was the sudden change in register on the third page: the sentence “My nipple darkened so you could see it better and gave off a rich smell, so that you could find it with your tiny nose”, while obviously admirably accurate for a children’s book, also seems slightly too technical for a child, and also, to be honest, perhaps a bit too cringe-inducing for me to read to my daughter in public places. Other people might have more courage when it comes to reading about bodily matters out loud.

The book provides lots of talking points: while my daughter seemed non-plussed by the idea of babies coming out of their mummies’ tummies, she was more inquisitive about why the Mummy in the book has flowers in her hair (umm, quick, think of an answer that doesn’t make her think she has to make herself look pretty all the time! Perhaps that they smell nice and that makes her happy?!), and greatly concerned by why the Daddy has hurt his arms (he hasn’t really, it’s just that his arms have a sort of texture to them).

Another lovely aspect of the book is that it presents attachment parenting as a completely normal way of life: parents and baby snuggle up together at night, baby is carried in a sling, and it’s also nice to see an image of Dad feeding Mum while she is feeding the baby, to show that he is also caring for someone.

I think it’s great to have a book especially dedicated to breastfeeding. Books are usually very useful when it comes to specific life events (books about moving house, getting a new sibling, going on holiday etc etc) in order to explain things to children in a way they will understand and provide them with an opportunity to think about events and ask questions. Breastfeeding is something my daughter has been doing every day (and night!) for three years so far, so it’s about time we had a book about it!

Disclaimer: I was sent this book for free by the publisher as part of their reviewers’ book club.

An Overview of Nursing Bras

13 Mar

I have been breastfeeding my daughter for 36 months and she shows no signs of wanting to stop. So during this time I have amassed quite a lot of experience with nursing bras…

My Nursing Bra History

My varied relationship with The Nursing Bra started with Mothercare. On one of our circa three pre-baby trips out (hyperemesis meant I barely left the house) to purchase what we thought was necessary to get started with the whole parenting thing, I thought I might as well check out the nursing bras in Mothercare. Please forgive me. I was young and naive and thought a chain as big as this would stock a reasonable range of everything. Since then I’ve learnt their shop in my city is mostly full of tat, and when you go in looking for something specific, it’s not in stock. But anyway, before my daughter was born I didn’t know this, so I bought the bra which looked prettiest (a polkadotty one from the general Mothercare range). I at least had the common sense to buy only one because I knew my size was likely to change once the baby came out and the milk came in. I had read all about the evil of the underwire, so went for a soft padded nursing bra. It’s a shame it didn’t really have a shape and was so cheaply made it stretched and stretched and streeeetched. So it wasn’t much use.

The next nursing bra purchase happened when my daughter was 8 days old. Somehow, despite what I would now call a traumatic birth and a hospital visit at 6 days for what I thought was another haemorrhage, we thought it would be a great idea to go into town. Somehow we ended up at John Lewis where a non-plussed assistant fitted me for the only bra they seemed to sell, the Emma Jane. It was white, non-underwired, non-padded (i.e. shapeless), and generally meh. I wore this one for a while until I got bored of it, worried that being a mum meant to be forever consigned to dowdy grandma bras. Luckily after that things got better.

The reason why I think I have a good overview of what is out there is that, firstly, I’m not swimming in money, and nursing bras are usually pretty expensive, even in the sale, so each one I have purchased has been the result of a lengthy and agonising decision-making process.

Desirable Features of Nursing Bras According to Feeding Phase

Secondly, what you need from a nursing bra changes over time: first you probably want a pretty functional bra which allows some room for an increase in cup size as well as to hide breast pads, and is non-fussy and plain enough not to be too fiddly as you’re getting used to breastfeeding. Then you get used to everything and you come out of the newborn fog. You might even leave the house occasionally. This means you’d probably prefer something a little less plain now. A bra which makes you feel like your boobs are your own as well as the baby’s, and which also looks good under your clothes because at some point you might want to wear something that’s not a baggy shirt. Then, sometime later, you realise that since you’ve been breastfeeding for several months now and your milk supply is fully established, in the absence of a medal for your efforts you deserve a really lovely nursing bra, and this means underwire. But at the same time, sometimes you just want to be comfy, which means no underwire, but you’d still like the bra to give you a good shape.

So let me tell you what your options are in each of those categories.

First, it might be best to give you an overview of what’s important in terms of a bra if you’re serious about breastfeeding.

  1. Non-underwire is best during the later stages of pregnancy and the first months of breastfeeding. This is because of comfort – your ribcage expands in order to accommodate your growing baby – and health – an underwire could potentially press on delicate breast tissue or milk ducts, leading to pain and all sorts of trouble.
  2. Padded bras are best, in my opinion: I’m not particularly well endowed in the boob department, so I find that padded cups add a little bit extra and give me a more rounded shape. In addition, they also hide breastpads very well, so their outline can’t be seen through your clothes. Later, when your supply is fully established and leaks are less common than they are in the early days, you can do away with pads altogether because the padded cups give you enough security for the occasional drip.
  3. Try many different sizes to make sure you’re comfortable. The band needs to be quite tight on the biggest setting so that you still have the option to tighten it when your ribs shrink back or the material stretches. At the same time, you wouldn’t want squashed boobs, so make sure the cup size is big enough.
  4. In the early weeks and months of breastfeeding, your breast size will fluctuate quite dramatically, so try bras on or get fitted when you haven’t fed your baby for a little while so you know you can still be comfortable at your biggest size.
  5. Only go for an underwired nursing bra when you haven’t been engorged for a long time, as this is a sign that your supply has settled down. In my experience this is likely to happen when your baby has begun to eat solids.
Now for the actual nursing bras.
The First Months
Despite my disappointment regarding its look, the Emma Jane nursing bra is actually very decent. It has a wide band which sits snugly around your body, and lovely wide non-stretch straps which make you feel quite comfy and secure. I would imagine that because of these features it might be particularly  useful for the larger-busted mum. It costs around £20 in most shops, which, in my opinion is slightly too much for how plain it is. But then again it has won some award and seems very popular (most nursing bra retailers stock it).
The same brand also does a seamfree bra which looks particularly good for wearing overnight if you require a bra to hold breastpads in place or to feel generally more comfortable. They also do a bra which is marketed just as a sleep bra.
Debenhams does a range of non-wire bras, the only one I have tried is this one, which is nice enough – big straps, not too stretchy, very slightly padded. However, it did bobble quite soon after I started wearing it, but because it was cheaper than other bras and very comfy I bought a second one. Over a year after buying them I now wear these when I go to the gym.
After the Newborn Fog has lifted, but before the ‘extended breastfeeding’ begins…
HotMilk bras are very pretty, almost opulent-looking. There are quite a few different ones, and you can buy matching pants as well. None of them are underwired, and it’s great to have found proof that non-underwired doesn’t have to mean boring. I found that the straps are slightly too short for me to be comfortable, but I kept wearing my bra anyway, and after a while (and I think a minor bit of weightloss) it’s much better now. Because most of their bras are heavily embroidered/decorated, they are not ideal to wear underneath tight tops. But they do some smoother-looking ones too.
Royce, the brand of utterly sensible nursing bras, has one bra in their collection which, despite the lack of a wire and being mostly white, seems extremely sturdy and well-made: the straps are wide and possibly the least stretchy I have ever come across, and the sides are nice and wide. The cup sizes seem smaller than other brands’, so I’d suggest going up a size. It’s also very smooth, so very versatile.

Best Bras for ‘Extended Breastfeeding’

I ordered the Smooth Underwired bra by Anita Maternity a little while ago and was very disappointed. The description and pictures didn’t make it clear whether it was padded or not, but it looked so ‘taut’ in the advertising photos that I thought it was worth a try.
But one of the BEST nursing bras, which I just came across a few months ago, is the Velvet Delight Plunge bra by Cake Lingerie. It fulfils most of my essential criteria: it is underwired, so gives a great shape, it’s a plunge bra, which is quite unusual for a nursing bra, so it’s possible to wear slightly lower-cut tops, the straps don’t stretch very much and are a good width. But the best feature: the sides are boned in the middle, which means that they don’t roll up, but rather keep the whole bra securely in place throughout the day. I think this is a genius idea. It’s not uncomfortable at all, not needing to adjust the bra every few minutes is lovely. Apart from all of this, the colour is really pretty – it’s a strong lilac/purple, and the lace edging around the cups which also extends up half of the straps is adorable. Probably the most elegant nursing bra I’ve seen, and I’d probably wear it once we’re done with breastfeeding because it is so lovely. I’m keen to try out more of Cake Lingerie’s offerings, so next time I’m in the market for a nursing bra, I’ll probably go for one of theirs.

Nightweaning or not?

11 Nov

I’m so tired at the moment that I’m seriously considering nightweaning my daughter. She’s a little bit over two and a half years old and shows no signs of thinking about stopping breastfeeding. Although it gets a little bit exhausting sometimes, I’m quite glad that I’m still feeding her: when she has a cold, it reliably clears her stuffy nose, when she has a tummy bug, I know it’s definitely the best way to keep her hydrated, and I read somewhere that breastfeeding for two years (not necessarily just one child) reduces my risk of breast cancer by 40%. So that is all lovely, and the snuggles aren’t bad either.

It’s just that my daughter especially enjoys ‘nom noms’, as we call them, overnight. All night. Sometimes she joyfully jumps out of (my!) bed in the morning and proudly declares ‘me having nom noms in mummy’s bed AAALL NIGHT!’

So I have been considering not letting her have any at night anymore.

The arguments for:

  • She eats quite a bit of food during the day, so nutritionally, she doesn’t need to be breastfed at night.
  • She’s old enough to understand my explanations so that hopefully she wouldn’t feel rejected, and I’d double up on the cuddles.
  • Sleeeeeeeep! I’ve not slept a whole night for the past three years (no joke, not one full night). I think it’s catching up with me now.
  • Erm…
  • That’s it.
The arguments against:
  • Prolactin levels are highest at night, so feeding then is important to ensure an adequate milk supply, which makes me worried that nightweaning would be the beginning of a slippery slope to full weaning.
  • So far I’ve let my daughter take the lead and my parenting approach has been quite gentle: breastfeeding so she could decide when and how much she wanted to eat, ditto with solids (we did baby-led weaning), co-sleeping, letting her figure out her own daytime routine. It’s worked well so far – whenever I’m worried how to respond to a new developmental stage, she usually shows me and it all turns out fine. So I don’t really want to force her to give up feeding at night.
  • I might regret it and go back on my decision, confusing my daughter in the process.
To conclude: I have no idea, but instead lots of migraines and nausea from the tiredness.

My Parenting Approach in a Nutbowl (if not a bucket)

18 Apr

Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept, died last month, on my daughter’s birthday actually. She is seen by many as the person who brought ‘Attachment Parenting’ to the West. Interestingly, just like her polar opposite Gina Ford, she never had children.

Attachment Parenting includes birth bonding, breastfeeding on cue, co-sleeping, babywearing and not leaving babies to cry.

My parenting approach ticks all these boxes: I prepared for the birth of my daughter and we had some skin-to-skin time, although not as much as I would have liked because things with me kind of went wrong once she was out. But she had about two hours of skin-to-skin snuggles with her dad while they were waiting for me to get out of emergency surgery. I’m still breastfeeding my two-year-old whenever she feels like it (I know you don’t get a medal, but I kind of feel you ought to!).

We’ve been co-sleeping, bed-sharing in fact, since a lovely midwife visited us on our first day at home and made me realise how silly it was to expect a tiny baby to sleep in their own bed and how much more rest I would be able to get by snuggling up with my daughter in the big bed. I’ll be forever grateful to that midwife because although I had read a lot about parenting before the birth, I only knew how dangerous it was to fall asleep while feeding your baby. The midwife showed us how to co-sleep safely so that I was firmly wedged into position and my daughter couldn’t be covered by pillows or the duvet. I can’t imagine how much more stressful life would have been without her brilliant life-changing advice. Researchers have now found out that breastfeeding co-sleeping mothers get more sleep, and more deep sleep, than mothers who get up to feed their babies.

We had quite a slow start with the babywearing as I couldn’t get on with our pouch sling and didn’t discover the benefits of a wrap sling until my daughter was already a couple of months old, but we really enjoyed it until she got too heavy, and now we have a Patapum so I can carry her on my back. We have never done any kind of sleep training because we think it is harmful for babies. I am aware I say this as the non-working mother of only one child! As with everything else, I know there are circumstances when it’s the best option to save the parents’ sanity, but my daughter is my only child so far and I know I have been very privileged to be able to spend this much time with her, so we haven’t needed to fall back on controlled crying and similar methods.

In addition, we have been big fans of baby-led weaning – Annabel Karmel’s assorted baby-feeding paraphernalia and pureed food have never entered this household. I’d say that’s probably 50% idealism and 50% laziness. I really want my daughter to understand that she can control how much she eats, so since the week after she turned six months old we have just let her get on with things. It’s worked pretty well I’d say because even when she eats cake, she stops eating fairly soon, I assume because she’s full.

So the fundamental aspects of my daughter’s life have been led by her and I’ve followed at her pace. I wonder down which paths she will lead us now she is a proper toddler. My time with her so far has been a great learning experience: I’ve learned a lot about what society expects from people, and how I can evaluate those demands. Above all, knowing about Attachment Parenting has given me the confidence to put my daughter’s needs first. So thank you Jean Liedloff.