Category Archives: parenting

How ‘attachment parenting’ helped me with my chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Soon I’ll be back to London for my next round of tests and physiotherapy. The smallies will also be seeing their paediatric physio in the Hypermobility Unit in London. Going abroad with small children can be so stressful and takes up so many of your spoons. I remember with Alex, everywhere we went, even for a short trip to the city we had a truck load of things to bring with us. This time with Olivia it is so much easier because my parenting technique is so different.

Attachment Parenting&Chronic Illness

So what is “Attachment Parenting”?

Well, for me I just call it parenting, it’s the biological norm to raise a child so I hate putting a label on it.

According to parenting science.com:

“Attachment parenting” is an approach to child-rearing intended to forge strong, secure attachments between parents and children.”

Attachment Parenting is often referred to as AP.

But how does AP differ from any other type of parenting?

AP is associated with a number of practices, including:

Baby-carrying or “baby-wearing”
Breastfeeding on cue
Nurturing touch (including skin-to-skin “kangaroo care” for infants)
Being responsive to a baby’s cries
Being sensitive and responsive to a child’s emotions (e.g., by helping her cope with nighttime fears)
Co-sleeping

In addition, attachment parenting advocates often promote “positive parenting,” an approach to discipline that attempts to guide children by emotion coaching, reasoning, and constructive problem solving.

However, proponents of AP–like William and Martha Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting”–note that there is no checklist of rules that parents must follow to qualify as “attachment parents” (Sears and Sears 2001).

Family circumstances may prevent parents from carrying out every AP practice. What’s really important, argues these authors, is sensitive, responsive parenting-— understanding and addressing your child’s needs in an affectionate way.

Similarly, the founders of Attachment Parenting International argue that that attachment parenting is really about adapting a few general principles–like providing kids with a consistent, loving, primary caregiver–to the particular needs of your family.

This is not the same as being overly-protective. By definition, securely-attached kids are not overly clingy or helpless. They are the kids who feel confident to explore the world on their own. They can do this because they trust that their parents will be there for them (Mercer 2006).

So how has AP practices helped me with my chronic illness?

Babywearing

When I was pregnant my Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome wreaked havoc on my body. I was wheelchair bound by 5 weeks into my pregnancy because I developed severe Symphysis Pubis Disorder (SPD)  and my Autonomic System was all over the place.

I knew that there was a pretty good chance that I would still be affected with the SPD post partum and I was right. Two years on and I still suffer with it. How was I going to push a buggy while in a wheelchair?

Babywearing was my answer. Even on days where I couldn’t wear Ollie for whatever reason, Daddy wore her. It was a lovely way for them to bond. While I liked my ring sling, he was more into the wrap type slings. My coordination couldn’t handle the wrapping at all.

Three months after her birth, I didn’t need the wheelchair as frequently but I still carried her. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to manage lifting and opening up a heavy buggy so just popping my sling into my bag was the easiest option. After the ring sling I opted for the Rock n Rolla Fidella buckle carrier it was badass. Then I switched to a beautiful pink Fidella Mei Tai before going back to a buckle carrier (Nova) as my shoulder became to sore for wrapping. The Nova hasn’t had much use as Ollie likes to walk but I do use it for when I need walk to collect Alex from school or when we are in London. We brought a stroller on holiday once and it went unused, plus it is a pain having to bring it along with the other luggage.

Me sling

In retrospect, I wish I had gone along to a babywearing group to try things out before I bought the Mei Tai. It was only after I rented a Nova from the group that I realised it was exactly what I needed, lightweight, breathable and tidy enough to go in my bag. I would absolutely recommend people to try before they buy.

Babywearing allows you to be hands free as well and baby sleeps contently snuggled into their parents chest.

Marty fence BW

It really is a win/win situation. Baby is happy therefore Mommy is happy.

I can imagine people who are unfamiliar with babywearing wondering how I possibly managed to carry extra weight with weak joints/muscles and pain.

If you’re wearing your baby correctly, you should be well supported and you shouldn’t feel the extra weight bearing down on you.

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Interestingly, I was sent a link to a blog called Babywearing with Disabilities recently. Until I began writing this post, I hadn’t opened it. Imagine my surprise to find out the woman who wrote the blog actually has hEDS too! She offers some very good advice about how to babywear when you’re disabled. Really worth a read. Further reading about the general benefits of babywearing for parent and baby can be found here.

Slings come in so many gorgeous prints and designs. Say goodbye to your shoe/handbag addiction and say hello to telling your other half “Oh I won that on a dip.”

Marty Ollie

Breastfeeding on demand

Sadly due to poor support and advice, Alex was only breastfed for just over two weeks. He had an undiagnosed tongue tie which caused me to be in a lot of pain when feeding him. Yet no healthcare professional said anything bar “it happens”. No. Breastfeeding should not hurt. That’s a different story that you can read about here.

Anyway, I remember being so exhausted when we switched to formula. Having to make up bottles in the middle of the night, dealing with reflux and constipation, the usual drama with formula was just so much hassle. Even with two of us taking turns to get up. I was also pretty annoyed that the weight that had been falling off me for the first two weeks stopped melting off me.

Luckily, armed with evidence based information and a fantastic network of breastfeeding mothers, I was determined that this time it would work out. It’s crazy the amount of misinformation being spread not just by ill informed loved ones but by actual health care professionals too. I actually interviewed one of Ireland’s leading IBCLCs and the world renowned, Dr Jack Newman about breastfeeding myths.

Anyway, unlucky for us, Ollie was also born with a tongue and lip tie. But, this time I was determined to get it sorted as quickly as possible so that we could continue our breastfeeding journey. After exclusively pumping for 3 weeks and then pumping while also    learning the skill of breastfeeding, we were on our way. Ollie is just two weeks shy of two and honestly, feeding her has been one of my greatest achievements as a parent. Breastfeeding is the biological norm but in Ireland where just 2% of babies are fed by 1 year, it’s a pretty big deal to even get to two years.

Breastfeeding forced me to relax and properly recover after the birth which in itself was pretty traumatic. I had to give birth early as my waters had broken. I ended up loosing half of my blood but the consultant managed to stop the bleeding just as they were calling for blood bags. I was very weak and ill after the birth so lying on the couch for the first 2 months while Ollie built up my supply was ideal. I didn’t have to get up in the night to make bottles and the lovely hormones released during feeding time helped me feel content and loved up. Plus with the extra hand it meant Alex could join in on the cuddles.

BF OA

Breastfeeding also meant that I didn’t have to bring a huge bag filled with bottles and powder everywhere we went. You literally just have your breasts and you grab a nappy and off you go. Babywearing while breastfeeding also meant that I could get on with whatever I needed to do while baby was getting everything she desired; being close to mama and her milk. Best part is that my meds are all compatible with breastfeeding as 99% of medications are, again unfortunately that is another piece of information that isn’t well known amongst a lot of healthcare professionals and new mothers.

You can read more about breastfeeding while being chronically ill here.

Cosleeping/Bedsharing

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We intended to have Ollie sleep in a cosleep cot that Daddy made following this hack. FYI total cost was 65 Euro in comparison to the phenomenal amount of money you spend on a store bought cosleeper crib! The new mattress was the most expensive part.

Anyway, so we had the cosleeper cot attached to our bed and by the looks of it, Ollie would fit into it until she was at least four! Well, nope, this happened:

cosleeper

You know what? It worked out for the best because having her closer to me meant she could feed as I drifted back to sleep and it became a place to keep all her clothes and cloth nappies! Now she is able to undress me and help herself while I stay asleep! Research shows that parents who bed share and breastfeed get more sleep than those who don’t.

Once you practice the safety guidelines, there is virtually no risk in bed sharing, in fact a lot of research shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed and bed share with their mothers are actually less likely to die from SIDS. You only have to look at every other species of mammal to see that the dyad sleeping together is a natural part of child rearing. Hey, the Gruffalos cosleep too!

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You can find some evidence based articles about infant sleep and bed sharing here.

As stated before, AP doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can formula feed and babywear, you can breastfeed and use a buggy. I just know from my own experience that following my mammalian instincts has helped me to cope with parenting while having a chronic illness a whole lot easier.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

10 things to do with your children when you’re stuck in bed

Hi there, hi there, ho there!

It’s Mother’s Day here in Ireland. While most moms enjoy having a day to relax, those of us with chronic illnesses would love nothing more than to actually get out and about and do something fun. However, no matter how much we want to, sometimes it just isn’t possible to move from our bed, let alone leave the house.

As a Spoonie, days where I have a random burst of energy come far and few between. When I do feel good I take advantage and go on a spoon spending splurge with my children. Our favourite activities are going to the beach for a walk, going for lunch/dinner or searching for fairies in the woods. Unfortunately, those days don’t happen very often as my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Dysautonomia wreaks havoc on my body. There are days where I can’t move from my bed never mind actually leaving the house. My illness not only affects me, but my entire family. The children have to endure many days stuck inside because mummy is unwell. So, for those days we try and do things together from the comfort of my own bed. Here are some of the things we do together. I hope it helps another Spoonie parent who may be at a loss with their children on the days they’re stuck in bed.

10 Things to do with the kids when you're bed bound

Read books

One of my favourite things to do as a child was to read with my Father. Going to bed when I was little wasn’t the big fight it turned out to be as a got too old for bedtime stories. His voice even to this day is so soothing. His Anglo-Irish accent is so pleasant to listen to that I could quite happily listen to him read the dictionary to me. Quite often I did! If I didn’t know what I word meant I was sent to his study to fetch the dictionary. There was no Google back then! My favourite book as a child was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

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Considering the first edition was published in 1943, I’m sure the everyday lives of those children brought back some fond memories of my father’s own childhood during the 1940s. When we finished one chapter of that, Dad used to make up stories about a mischievous little girl called Yvette (hmmm I wonder where he got the inspiration for the name) who used to get up to all sorts of mischief. When her parents found out what she did the story always ended there with her parents shouting “Yeeevette!” A few years back I dug out my copy of The Magic Faraway Tree and gave it to my son Alexander when he was about 4 with a note:

“Dear Alex,

I hope this book brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

All my love,

Mum.”

I love reading The Gruffalo with the kids too. Sometimes Alex and I turn it into a song. Alexander will beat box while I rap the story. It’s great fun! Every now and then during the summer when my pain isn’t too bad, you might hear us in the woods reciting the story aloud by heart while we stroll through the rows of beautiful green trees and bunches of bluebells and daisies. Recently we started putting on the torch and getting under the duvet to read. It gets a bit stuffy though.

Watch movies

For as long as I can remember TV and movies has been a massive part of my life. Most things I know about life I’ve learned from television! I try to limit my own kids TV limit but sometimes when you can’t do anything but lie there, TV is a Godsend. I do love the days where I snuggle up with the children and show them the movies and TV shows I grew up watching. I get such a warm feeling watching their little faces in wonder at the magic of Mary Poppins or the original Doctor Doolittle. Of course the old school Disney films like Pocahontas, The Lion King and Aladdin are a must. Movies bring me hope and joy, watching others overcome their struggles sometimes give me a boost or inspire me and that’s what I want for my own children.

Watch funny videos

Sometimes looking up fail or funny animals videos on YouTube is just the thing to cheer you up. Laughter is a great medicine and the children get such a kick out of watching them. Of course do make sure that you are supervising the children when giving them access to the Internet!

Art

Art is a great therapy for everyone, young and old. Grab some crayons/markers/pencils and   a few blank sheets of paper or a colouring book. Art is proven to be beneficial for mental health, something many chronically ill patients suffer from, unfortunately. Creating art relieves stress, it encourages creative thinking, boosts self esteem and a sense of self-accomplishment, increases brain activity and so much more! Make art work a hobby if you enjoy it, it’s a great way to forget about your illness for a while. Creating art can help you work through the feelings you have about your illness.

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Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are not just for rainy days; they’re great for bed days too. If you have a tray a table that you’d usually use for breakfast in bed, you can use that to make your puzzle on. A duvet is no good as one movement and the whole thing will fall apart. Soul destroying!

Play games

Board games are a great way to pass the time and are so much fun. I personally like playing Guess Who with my son because it teaches him to use his descriptive words, improve his concentration and his observational skills. Operation is another great option for fine motor skills, which many children with EDS have difficulty with. Travel sized games are perfect for playing in bed. Sometimes we forego the board games and play I Spy or Simon Says.

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Creative writing

Creative writing can be very therapeutic for people suffering from mental and physical disorders. Using your own experiences can help you gain perspective and work through emotions and obstacles in your life. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be so serious. Sometimes it can just be funny to take turns making up sentences of a story. So for example if I said, “there was once a unicorn,” My son, Alexander might continue with “who had rainbow coloured poo,” or something as equally juvenile and silly.

Put on a show

Shadow puppets, actual puppets or just themselves a lot of kids like to entertain their parents and show off a song/poem/dance they’ve learned in school. I just love when my children sing and dance for me. It reminds me of when I was a child and my cousin and I would put on shows for our parents at Christmas time. There is a really cringey video of us doing our own version of Father Ted, a comedic show about three Irish priests. Our parents laughed a lot but I’m guessing it was the combination of alcohol and their 10-year-old children saying the iconic lines “Drink, Feck, Arse!” or “That money was just resting in my account.” The two of us really loved being the centre of attention, I can see that in my own children now.

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 Have a sing song/listen to music

I have to say it but the majority of modern music pales in comparison to the music of “my day”. I grew up listening to Nirvana, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, ABBA (I know), The Police and Fleetwood Mac. Now I am partial to a bit of Ed Sheeran, Hozier, Rag N’ Bone Man a few other singer songwriters. But I feel that music isn’t as big on the story telling anymore. Stick on iTunes or a CD player (whatever you have) and introduce your kids to the tunes from your childhood. Take turns with your child and let them introduce you to the music they like. Again, my Dad’s influence comes in here. Driving to/from school or to a hospital appointment used to be my time to have Dad up to date with “new music”. As a teenager I was a big fan of Avril Lavigne and Dad was a fan too. We used to bond with music a lot. Sitting down on a Sunday morning listening to classical music is still a time in my life I look so fondly back on. Sometimes I put on some classical music like The Four Seasons and my son and I close our eyes and talk about what we imagine when we hear the music.

Knitting/crocheting etc

 Learning to knit/sew or crochet is a skill that will always be useful and also enjoyable. The sound of the clicking needles in a rhythm has always been comforting to me. Sadly, knitting isn’t an option for me any more since I began dislocating my wrist. Knitting was dying out for a while but it has gained popularity again when many celebs said it has helped relieve their stress. Teaching a child to sew a button is a skill that they’ll always have as they grow up. These practices are also a good way to improve motor skills.

child knitting.jpeg

Pick something to learn about

My kids love learning and my son’s choice of book is more often than not, an encyclopedia or history book of some kind. His thirst for knowledge is contagious; I love to learn with him. Even as adults there is still so much about the world we have still to discover and learning about it with your children is so, so rewarding. If my son asks me about how something works and I don’t know, we will try and find a book, or if we don’t have time (or I’m ill) we will Google it. This probably stems from my childhood. Whenever I didn’t know what a word meant, my Dad used to send me to his den to get the dictionary and look it up. This led to me knowing the longest word in the English dictionary by the time I was six (it’s floccinaucinihilipilification in case you’re wondering). Interestingly, this word never came to use in my days as a journalist! YouTube has some great educational videos produced for children. Netflix also has a brilliant selection of kid friendly documentaries. Our favourite are the dinosaur themed documentaries.

 Have a conversation

Every now and then I’ll ask my son questions like “What’s your favourite book?” “What’s your favourite colour?” Anything I can think of I’ll ask him. It makes him feel important to talk about what he likes and that mom is taking a real interest. Every time I ask his answer changes, it’s the nature of children, I guess. Ask them about their friends and school or what they want to be when they grow up. You could plan a nice day out for when you’re feeling better.

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“Feeling guilty often comes part and parcel of being a Spoonie parent. But remember; you can only do your best and you won’t help anyone, including yourself if you run yourself into the ground. All our children want is to know they are loved and have some quality time with their parents.”

Until next time,

Z.M

x

You know you’re breastfeeding a toddler when..

It’s National Breastfeeding Week! I love this time of year because my Facebook timeline is filled with beautiful pictures of children having milky cuddles with their mummies. Of course this week also means there will be heated debates under articles, such as this one. This week is not about debate though, it’s about celebrating and promoting breastfeeding. And boy, do we need to promote the sugar out of breastfeeding. In Ireland just 1-2% of one year olds are breastfed. The low breastfeeding rates is costing our Government approximately 800 million Euro each year. The HSE and World Health Organisation recommends all infants are exclusively breastfed and then fed along with solids until at least two years old.

Breastfeeding a toddler is so much fun! Nursing can be challenging at times but things change once your little baby becomes a toddler, breastmilk is no longer just about nutrition but immunity, comfort and so, so much more. Scientific studies show that the natural weaning age is anywhere from 4-7 years of age. The average weaning age world wide is 4 years old.

You know you’re breastfeeding a toddler when..

1. Your child finds new and interesting positions to nurse in. 

Before now, you had your go to position, whether it was laid back or a rugby hold, you had that position down. Long gone are the days when you felt so awkward, perfecting the latch and then meeting your baby’s eyes with a loving gaze.

Now? Feet in your face, feet in your mouth, feet in their mouth. Nursing has become a yoga extravaganza. You wonder to yourself “HOW THE HELL CAN YOU BEND LIKE THAT?!” In breastfeeding circles we call this act ‘Gymnurstics’. If only it was an Olympic sport.

gymnurstics

2. Your child thanks you.

Especially when you don’t ever expect them to. The fact that they know it’s something they love and appreciate, innately astounds you.

3. You feel less like a mum and more like a buffet table.

With child hopping from “dis side” to “dis side” every ten seconds, you start to wonder if your boobs provide different flavours! Chocolate and vanilla perhaps?

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4.You’re nursing two toddlers and

They argue about who is getting which boob and agree on a compromise.

5. You post this infographic every time someone says there are no benefits to breastmilk after 12 months:

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or this one

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It’s actually crazy how many health care professionals tell mothers that nursing passed 12 months is only for them and there are no benefits to the child. As you can tell from the graphics above, there is an abundance of benefits in full term nursing. There is also amazing benefits for mom too. Check it them out below:

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6. Your toddler has their own word for your milk.

My little girl asks for “boob” at 17 months but I have heard the cutest ways toddlers ask for milk like “bainne”, “mama milk” and”milkies”, to name just a few.

7. Nipple twiddling becomes a game.

No matter how many people think it’s “weird”, “gross” or “wrong”, there is a biological purpose for nipple twiddling. Children twiddle nipples or slap mother’s breasts to stimulate the let down of the milk. However, many toddlers turn this into a game by seeing just how far mommy’s nipples can stretch out. It’s hilarious until you realise you haven’t trimmed their nails in awhile or you get sprayed in the face with your own milk. Hey, at least you’ll have some awesome skin!

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8. You’re so amused when people find out you’re still nursing and they recoil in horror.

It’s very amusing to hear people criticise “extended” breastfeeding, especially when their own toddlers are sitting across the way from you with a dummy or bottle in their mouths. We are the only mammals that don’t let their young self wean and we are the only mammals that drink the milk of other species. It’s ironic really that mothers of breastfeeding toddlers are criticised yet full grown adults drink the growth fluid of calfs. Many people are under the impression that breastfed toddlers and older children are only being fed breastmilk. While yes, it is an amazing source of nutrition, children over a year do need to have a healthy diet of solid food in addition to their mummy’s milk. A lot of people also believe (without any basis for their thoughts) that breastfed toddlers will be “clingy” and will have psychological problems when they’re older. This is not the case at all. Studies show that breastfed children are protected against mental health problems and addictions.They tend to be higher in intelligence and more emotionally secure than children who were not breastfed.

Following on from that

9. When you’re asked how long you’re going to continue to nurse for.

When somebody is being rude asking me that question, I’ll usually answer with something sarcastic like “We will probably wrap it up when she starts college.” For anyone who is genuinely asking I tell them that we will stop when we are both ready. It’s a two way relationship. Feeding a toddler makes life so much easier. I’m not sure how we would deal with tantrums and illness without breastfeeding. It really is the answer to so many problems.

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10. When they learn how to unclip your bra and help themselves.

This aspect of feeding a toddler is simply brilliant, especially at night. If you’re cosleeping and breastfeeding your child will eventually learn how to get your top open/up and latch on while you’re still sleeping. Studies show that mothers who breastfeed and co sleep get more sleep than mothers who don’t. Who doesn’t love extra sleep?

11. Your toddler feeds their dolls/teddies/toy trains and even cats.

There is nothing sweeter than seeing your toddler pretending to be mommy and lifting their top to nourish their baby dolls. It’s amazing to see natural instincts kick in when their babies are “crying”. My own daughter recently chased the cat around the house with her top up screaming “nummy nummy num”.

If your toddler isn’t feeding their toy, they’re getting you to feed them. Lying down with your toddler latched on one boob and some inanimate object resting on the other.

12. Your toddler learns that other people have nipples too.

Recently my daughter realised Daddy had nipples too. She stared at them for a few minutes. Daddy and I waited to see what would happen. Of course I was trying to convince her that Daddy has milk too while he was trying to tell her he didn’t. After a couple of minutes, she opened her mouth (very reluctantly) and went for a taste. She was immediately put off my the hair that surrounds Daddy’s nipples.

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and finally

13. Your toddler and your husband have a lot in common.

The sight of bare boobies makes your toddler giggle, squeal and clap. Motor boating is also a favourite past time.

A final word..

Feeding a toddler brings so much joy but quite often comments made on social media or from friends and family can be really off putting. Women are called pedophiles and weirdos just for simply following their biological instincts and doing what is best for them and their child. It’s a sad reality that breasts are used to sell everything from cars to food but should a woman use them for their biological purpose, they are abused. Breastfeeding is in no way sexual and anyone who thinks so should take a class in Biology. Would you scoff at a dog feeding her 8 week old puppies? In human years, that would equal to a toddler. Even cows, when left alone will feed from their mothers for up to four years. We don’t respect our mammalian instincts anymore.

We rarely see full term breastfeeding in our everyday lives. Where we see it most is in films or TV shows and the characters are usually portrayed as really radical hippies or weirdos. Take Game of Thrones, for example.  The feeding of a 10 year old is pretty unrealistic. Children loose the ability to correctly latch at around aged 7. Ever wondered why they are called milk teeth? When a child looses their milk teeth, this is right about the age where they would naturally wean. Hence the natural weaning age is between 4 and 7. Portraying full term breastfeeding in a negative way does nothing but hinder the acceptance or normalisation of the act.

It is really only in the West that we have such a problem with breastfeeding.

“In Mongolia, there’s an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years – a serious endorsement in a country where wrestling is the national sport.”Read more about this here.

There is no reason you need to stop feeding your baby once they hit 12 months, unless you want to. If it feels right for you and your baby, go for it and feck the begrudgers.

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Common Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

There has been a lot of misinformation spread around lately in the press regarding breastfeeding. Unfortunately, celebrities have a lot of influence over society and those influences can be pretty detrimental to people’s health. Don’t believe me? Just look at the role former Playboy bunny, Jenny McCarthy had in the “anti vaxx” movement. This woman, with zero qualifications in anything, managed to convince millions of people that vaccines were responsible for autism. Even though Dr Wakefield, the man who was responsible for these falsified reports had his license revoked. There are still millions of people across the world that believe vaccines give children autism. Even though scientific studies are now showing that the condition is in fact, a consequence of genetics. So when celebrities such as Amanda Brunker spread false information like “watery breast milk”, what she is doing, whether she means to or not, is solidifying the doubt in some woman’s mind that she may not actually be “good enough.” Women are generally so hard on themselves and unsurprisingly really, with magazines and products telling them they are not enough, that they need to change themselves beyond recognition. We are a culture obsessed with having it all and being it all.

Celebrities have a huge responsibility when they speak in public. They should be informed on the subject matter they are talking about. Amanda’s recent column just goes to show women are not educated about breastfeeding at all. We all hear the “breast is best” mantra but what the majority of people don’t know is that breast is just the biological norm, it doesn’t have this long list of advantages, it’s just that formula has it’s disadvantages. We are barely educated about infant feeding, never mind feeding past infancy. It’s funny, if you want to get married you have to jump through so many hoops, like doing a pre marriage course but, when it comes to children we have a very “ah sure it’ll be grand” sort of attitude. In some respects, it is best to have a laid back attitude but, all choices regarding our children, especially when it comes to their health, should be evidence based and researched. And by researched I mean using official sites such as who.int, not some “truth” website.

If people did go and actually educate themselves about breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy, they would learn that in the second year of life 448mls of breast milk contains:

29% of energy requirements

43% of protein requirements

36% of calcium requirements

75% of vitamin A requirements

76% of folate requirements

94% of B12 requirements

60% of vitamin C requirements

Of course the longer a mother breastfeeds, the more protection she builds against illnesses such as breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, feeding for three years or more can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer by 94% That is huge! Yet society begrudges the women who do feed beyond the year mark-some even believe a child should be weaned earlier.

It was recently reported in the Irish Times that our low breastfeeding rate is costing the state €800 million a year. Nestlé recently announced they made a profit of nearly €80 million from Ireland alone in 2014. Formula is big business. Many I’m sure would be shocked to know that just €100,000 is spent promoting breastfeeding while maternity hospitals such as CUMH and UHL spend between €30,000 to €40,000 of tax payer’s money on formula every year, and that’s excluding the teats. So why do we have such poor breastfeeding rates?

If you ask me, and yes I know, nobody has, it’s because of misinformation. Pure and simple. So, with that in mind, I spoke with two experts about some of the most common myths surrounding breastfeeding.

Jack Newman, MD is a Canadian physician specialising in breastfeeding support and advocacy. He is also the co-author of ‘Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breast Feeding.’

Jack and baby

Based in Cork, Midwife and Breastfeeding Consultant Clare Boyle has been working in Ireland for the past 10 years. Clare teaches antenatal classes, breastfeeding preparation classes and provides breastfeeding support. See breastfeedingconsultant.ie for more information.

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Myth: Many women cannot physically breast feed or don’t produce enough breast milk.    

Dr Newman: This is not true.   There are a very few women who truly cannot produce all the milk the baby needs, but that doesn’t mean they cannot breastfeed.  They can supplement the baby at the breast with a lactation aid. In the vast majority of cases, mothers could have produced enough milk, but poor advice and poor ‘help’ undermined their breastfeeding.

Myth: Breastfeeding is supposed to hurt.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is actually meant to be a pleasure and joy to do and pain is not normal. Think of it from a biological point of view; would our foremothers continued with breastfeeding if was painful and difficult to do continue?   No, they would have given up and we, as a species, wouldn’t be here!   When a baby is latched on correctly there should be nothing more than a gentle tugging sensation and then the hormones we produce with breastfeeding – oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins – all help the mum bond and fall in love with her baby making it a pleasure and joy to do.

Myth: You can’t take medicines and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: There is almost no drug that requires a mother to interrupt breastfeeding.   The real question is which is safer for the baby: Breastfeeding with tiny amounts of drug in the milk (and it is almost always tiny) or formula?   Clearly, in the majority of cases it is safer for the baby to breastfeed.

Myth: You can’t work and continue to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: I routinely help mums at around the six-month stage to co-ordinate breastfeeding and work requirements.   It takes a little organisation and planning but in the vast majority of cases, it can be done quite straightforwardly and it is lovely for both of you to connect through breastfeeding after being separated for the day.

Myth: You can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: The amount of alcohol that gets into the milk is tiny.   If you have 0.05 per cent alcohol in your blood, your milk will contain 0.05 per cent alcohol.   A baby could drink this all day and all night and not be harmed.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed a baby with disabilities such as Down Syndrome.  

Clare Boyle: Any baby with a disability can benefit hugely from breastfeeding.   The act of breastfeeding can help with neurological development and can help the baby mature and reach their full potential.

Myth: Premature babies must be ‘topped up’ with formula.  

Dr Newman: The majority of premature babies are not tiny, but born at 32 or more weeks gestation.   If the mother gets the help she needs for such a baby, there is no reason the baby cannot breastfeed exclusively.   For the very small premature babies, they can get to exclusive breastfeeding, again with good help, which unfortunately is rarely available in countries outside of Scandinavia.

Myth: It is easier to formula feed than it is to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for most women it takes about two to four weeks to get the hang of it.   Feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed about it in the early days is completely normal.   Once a mum has mastered breastfeeding, it just gets easier and easier.   It is important to remember that you will be feeding your child for many years to come and with breastfeeding it will never ever be so easy to feed your child the best food there is. There is no shopping, no sterilising, no mixing, and no cleaning up. Just pop baby on anywhere, anytime.

Myth: Formula is just as good as breast milk.  

Dr Newman: Not according to thousands of studies.   In fact, breast milk is so different from formula; you cannot consider them even similar, except that both are white.   Breast milk contains dozens of immune factors, not just antibodies, growth factors that help the brain, the gut, the immune system, the hematological system to develop stem cells, none of which are present in formula.   Human beings are very adaptable, that’s why many babies do OK on formula.   But they don’t, as a group, do as well as breastfed babies.

Myth: It is selfish to breastfeed because Dad can’t bond with baby.  

Dr Newman: This is the formula company line.  Every ‘information’ brochure I have seen that comes from a formula company mentions giving ‘dad a chance to feed the baby’. They know that bottles interfere with breastfeeding and that one bottle often becomes two bottles and then three and then the mother can’t keep up with pumping and so they end up giving formula and then eventually the baby stops breastfeeding.  But who said that feeding the baby is the only way a father can bond with his baby? Most mothers would be extremely grateful if the father helped out in other ways.  Walking, talking, holding the baby, changing the baby’s diaper, singing to the baby, bathing the baby.

Myth: Feeding a child past infancy is weird and unnecessary.

Dr Newman: The reason breastfeeding beyond infancy is “unsettling” is that many people, even health professionals who should know better, think it is and thus mothers are shamed because they are breastfeeding toddlers, they are told they are causing their children harm, and this without any basis in fact.  The WHO/UNICEF state, as do paediatric societies in most countries of the world, that baby should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and then breastfeeding should continue to two years and beyond.  There is no distinction made for “advanced countries” and “less advanced countries”.Furthermore, one reason that breastfeeding a toddler is consider unnecessary is that people look only at the nutritional aspects of breast milk.  Sure, if a child is a wide variety of foods in ample amounts, does he need the protein from breast milk?  No.  But breast milk is more than just protein, fat and carbohydrate.  Breast milk is also immunity, and that continues as long as the child is breastfeeding.  We have good evidence that children in daycare, for example, who are breastfed are much less frequently affected by the epidemics of infectious diseases that sweep through daycare and if the breastfed infant or child does get sick, s/he is usually much less severely ill than their mates who are not breastfed.  In addition, breast milk contains growth factors that stimulate the development of the brain, the gut, the immune system itself.  Indeed, every system of the body.And finally, breastfeeding is much more than breast milk.  Breastfeeding is a relationship, a close, intimate relationship between two people who are usually in love with each other.  We should all have been so lucky as to have had such a relationship.

So there you have it, straight from the experts.

Till next time,

ZM

 

Me, the Zebra

Burchell's zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania
Burchell’s zebra (Equus quagga burchellii) smiling, Tanzania

I was asked to start a blog by a few fellow zebras to share my experiences of being a mom with a chronic illness. Well, here I am. Before I get into all that though, it is important that you know my backstory, how I got to this point. I’m sure many of you can relate to my story, my journey to diagnosis.

In 2012, I was interning at the Cork Independent newspaper. During my time there I happened to take a liking to writing the health section of the paper. My parents were both nurses and my sister, also worked in healthcare so while I didn’t strictly follow the family tradition, I still had a keen interest in health. That year I decided I was going to enter the European Health Journalism Awards. The theme I chose was rare diseases. So, I contacted the Genetic and Rare Diseases Organisation (GRDO) and asked to be put in touch with a rare disease sufferer. Later that week I interviewed a woman about her disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Little did I know that the answers I has been searching for about my own illness had landed right on my lap.

There is an old saying within the medical profession: ‘When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras’. Dr Woodward, an American professor at the University of Maryland would instruct his medical interns to practice as the phrase suggests. You see, horses are common in Maryland, while zebras would have been relatively rare during the 1940s. So, one would assume that, upon hearing the sound of trotting hooves, that a horse would be the most likely explanation. I however, am a zebra.

My symptoms started as a child but got really bad by the time I was 14. Gradually, my knees began to hurt, especially when it was cold. By 16, it was unbearable. A few years later, the pain spread to my hips and ankles. The joints began to make popping and clicking noises. Frustratingly, blood tests for arthritis and x-rays all came up clear. Then I began to have problems with my stomach and experiencing fatigue. In college, I was vomiting almost everyday for a year and napped frequently. The fatigue hasn’t stopped to this day. A colonoscopy and endoscopy came up clear but my GP said it was irritable bowel syndrome. Some days, my abdomen swells so much, that I look pregnant. After my son was born five years ago, I had no choice but to fight the fatigue. I am not anemic, but as the months have turned into years, the tiredness has become overwhelming. The smallest of chores around the house are exhausting for me. Some days, I don’t even have the energy to get dressed and face the world. People commented on this and called me lazy. Without a diagnosis, I couldn’t give them a credible answer as to why I was sitting in my pajamas in the middle of the afternoon.

I was living in constant pain for years, feeling exhausted every single day and life on a day to day basis was unbearable. I felt as though I was going crazy. All tests, scans and x-rays were coming back negative and my doctors came to the conclusion that I was depressed, that my physical pain was a manifestation of something that was purely emotional.

medicines-1-1491354

Yes, pain and sleep disturbances can be symptoms of depression. Of course by that point, I became depressed. These doctors were the experts and who was I to argue? I was put on nearly every single anti depressant available on the Irish market at one point or another. Still, the pain and fatigue continued, so after eight years taking these pills, day after day, I was numb, floating through life. I felt useless as a mother, wife and friend.

Of course, I did have my good days, especially during the summer when the weather was warm and my joints didn’t hurt as much. For the past two years, the joint pain has spread to affect my hands and wrists, my back and neck too. If I move a certain way, a joint may slide out and back in again. But things changed for me in 2012 when I interviewed that girl. For the purpose of anonymity, we will call her Anna.

Anna has a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is a Connective Tissue Disorder. People with the condition produce faulty collagen, which is the glue that holds the body together. In EDS, this ‘glue’ is more like chewing gum and causes the joints to be loose, often resulting in dislocations. However, collagen is present throughout all areas of the body and therefore EDS is a multi-systemic condition with secondary conditions present in most cases. When Anna explained her symptoms, I wondered did I have something similar? I was so touched by her story and felt connected to this young woman that we kept in touch. In the meantime I was put on a public waiting list to see a rheumatologist. But then, in late 2013, I was speaking on the phone and then everything started to go black; I felt hot, my heart was racing, I felt weak. I ran to the bathroom to lie down on the cool floor. This gave me such a fright that I decided I wasn’t prepared to wait two years to see a public consultant. I had to know what was wrong with me. I was going to get answers.

I organised a private appointment with a physiotherapist who confirmed that I was hypermobile. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Then I arranged an appointment with a rheumatologist in Cork, with an interest in EDS and Hypermobility Syndrome. Two weeks later, the doctor confirmed that I had Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I cried with relief that finally I could put a name to what I had. After a decade of tests and scans I had taken the reins myself and finally got my diagnosis with just two appointments. The majority of doctors in Ireland are unfamiliar with EDS and there are no specialists available here in Ireland. If there were more awareness and training, I may have been diagnosed much earlier in my life.

After my diagnosis, I began weaning off the anti depressants. That was two and a half years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

I was on a high the day I got my diagnosis, but the next I had to face the harsh reality that I have a rare, lifelong and progressive disease. Luckily, my EDS is quite mild compared to some of my friends and hopefully more awareness will mean better treatment for me, and my fellow zebras in years to come. The biggest help for me through all of this has been Facebook and speaking to other people with EDS. They are enormously supportive and there is a real air of solidarity. Everybody is supportive and no matter how trivial I thought my problems were in comparison, the support has been immense. Hopefully, together, we can raise awareness about this debilitating disease and bring about an improvement in the services available especially for our children.

My son AJ is six years old. In 2014 he was diagnosed with Hypermobility EDS. I had him seen by the Rheumatologist that diagnosed me. AJ bruises very easily and I worried that teachers might question whether he was being abused. Sadly, this is not an uncommon fear amongst the EDS community. Children have been known to be removed from the family home as their parents are suspected of abuse. Thankfully, his school has been extremely supportive, even helping us organise an SNA for him. AJs’ EDS is extremely mild at the moment. But, he struggles in school, especially with concentration and writing. This is common with EDS kids. He has sensory issues, which makes it extra hard for him. His pelvis is also unstable so sitting for long periods is impossible for him. A care plan has been put in place for him in school next year. Alex is a happy child though and has never had a severe injury, as of yet, for this, I am thankful.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with Orthostatic Intolerance and Vasovagal Syncope. I still have a long list of referrals to attend to investigate the array of health issues. There is a question mark over MS, Chiari Malformation, Gastroparesis, to name but a few.

The latest addition to our family is our little Olliepop, our 9 month old daughter. Obviously, she hasn’t received any diagnosis yet. But, deep down, I know she has EDS. Her sclera are extremely blue, a sign of EDS. The Public Health Nurse also noticed how flexible Ollie is, so much so, that she has been referred to physiotherapy. She suffered her first dislocation at just 7 months old. I fear for my little girl and what may happen to her. But, having a parent with the same condition will work to her advantage. She will be believed. She will not go decades wondering what the matter is.

Until next time,

Z.M

A letter to my children

 

To my little darlings,

I am here watching you both sleep. It’s 5.06am and I’m awake because I’m in pain. It’s peaceful here with only the sound of you breathing, the cat purring at your feet and the tapping of my fragile fingers on the keyboard.  As I watch over you both, I think of all the things I wish and hope for you and your futures.

I wish that medical professionals will believe you when you tell them there is something wrong. I wish that when you tell your teachers you’re not feeling well, that you will be believed. I wish that when you tell me and your Daddy that you need help, that we can do that and to the best of our ability.

I hope that as you grow up, that we can do everything in our power to prevent you from experiencing the type of pain and anguish that I go through almost every day. I hope that I can be a good enough mom for you both. Most of all, I hope that you won’t grow up to hate me because I was too sick to play or get up out of bed. I hope that you will understand that I didn’t get up out of bed because I was saving my energy to do something fun with you another day.

I pray that you will grow up and live a normal life. I pray you will get the best education, in life and in academia. I pray you will find a job you love but never feel like it is work. I pray you find love, with man or woman and they will accept you with all your flaws and imperfections. I pray that you appreciate them, as I have appreciated your father for loving me, despite the difficult days. I pray they treat you the way your father has so graciously treated me.

slleping zeebra

 

I know that should you experience any of the obstacles that I have faced, you will be far more equipped to deal with them than I ever was. I know you will be strong and determined as you have been in everything you do so far. I know that you will have days where life is just too damn hard, that there seems to be no end to the uphill battle but you will continue on. I know that when you should decide to become parents yourselves that you will know this guilt that I feel now, knowing that it was you who passed on these faulty genes. But, please remember; this is not your fault. You cannot control your genes as I could not control mine.

You begin to stir next to me now. No doubt you are looking for what you affectionately call “mama” as you nuzzle at my chest. And you, my love, at the end of the bed sighing in your sleep as if your dreams are giving you relief.

I want you to know that I love you, deeply and unconditionally. I hope that you know that I’m trying everyday to be the best mom I can and I pray that you will live a healthy, happy life.

All my love,

Mum.

 

 

 

5 must haves for an EDS pregnancy

pregnant-zebra-16923492

This blog post is sort of the reason I started this project in the first place. I was approached by a few EDSers who are thinking of starting a family or expanding their brood. They asked me to share my experience with them. There is some research out there about EDS and pregnancy but not a whole pile.

Firstly, before you begin trying to conceive, talk to your doctor.

Contrary to what many people believe, EDSers suffering from the hypermobility can experience very normal pregnancies. There are cases of course where labour may spontaneously start before the estimated birth date. It is the vascular type of EDS that causes the real concern amongst doctors. In my case, I developed symphysis pubis dysfunction (spd) very early on in my pregnancy which up until 12 weeks ago, put me in a wheelchair and caused me to use my smart crutches. SPD is fairly common in pregnancies in the general population but because of laxity in the joints already, EDS may produce a severe case.

Anyway, my pregnancy was quite difficult purely because of the pain. The baby and myself were generally in good health up until the day I was induced, but I’ll explain that another time.

So here are the main things that got me through my pregnancy and what I would also suggest to anyone planning on starting a family

1.Get as fit and healthy as possible

We had been trying to conceive for about 6 months when I fell pregnant. During that time I was actively loosing weight. I had put on lots of weight in the previous 8 years, and to take some pressure off my joints, I decided enough was enough. I lost almost 2 stone and I really think that made a huge difference to my fertility. I had also been getting more active, making the effort not to throw myself into bed at the first sign of pain and fatigue. Research also shows that the fitter you are in pregnancy, the easier your labour will be, should you have a straightforward vaginal birth.

2.Support, support and support.

The first and last trimester is tough for a lot of women, never mind anyone with additional issues such as gastroparesis or dysautonomia. It is vital you have a good support system in place, especially if this is a subsequent pregnancy and you have other children to care for. Luckily, my husband is at home full time so I could rest when I needed to. I know not everyone can afford a situation like ours.
If you have family or friends who are willing to help out by cooking, cleaning or looking after other children, take their help. Grab any offers with both hands and don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Make sure you have support from your health care professionals too. Both your GP and obstetrician should be made aware of your conditions and any meds you might be on. You should also talk to your GP about Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy to help you cope during pregnancy if you don’t already have therapists in place.

It’s funny, some women with EDS greatly improve during pregnancy while others’ symptoms get worse. Pregnancy can increase laxity and therefore the incidence of injury may increase. Investing in some supports or mobility aids can make day to day life a little easier. It can often mean the difference between getting out of the house or looking at the same four walls for days on end. My smart crutches and wheelchair were a Godsend. I also had a belt to support my pelvis, it made the area feel more stable.

3. Relaxation and rest

Pregnancy is hard on the body, fatigue has been one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from other women with EDS. The tiniest chore may mean spending the rest of the day in bed. While it is important to stay active as much as possible, it is also important, particularly for EDSers to get plenty of rest. Listen to your body! Cleaning the kitchen cupboards might sound like a great idea to a nesting mom but will it be worth spending the next few days in bed? Save your spoons for your doctors appointment or lunch with your friends.

Your friends might want to throw you a baby shower but if you’re having a particularly bad episode of fatigue or a pain flare up, being the centre of attention may not be your thing. Suggest a chill out girly day at home, binging on Netflix and sweets or a spa day. My Dad’s girlfriend took me to a spa during my pregnancy. It was my first time having a massage (I’m 28) so you can imagine how much I looked forward to it. Although it was very relaxing, it did require spoons. I slept a lot the next day.

4. Creature comforts

Pyjamas, Netflix subscription, a good book. There will be bed days, it’s inevitable, so be prepared. I have the Netflix app on my tablet and my phone so entertainment was always at hand. Of course no bed day is complete without a pair of super comfy pyjamas. I don’t know if it is an EDS thing, but all my clothes, including my PJs always feel tight come the end of the day. No-I have not put on 3 lbs during the day, it just happens. So when I was pregnant I always bought jammies a size too big – for maximum comfort. Don’t buy anything fleecy! If your in bed all day, you’ll just end up feeling hot and bothered – and not in the good way!

5.Have faith

As I write this piece I am nursing my little girl. Every time I look at her, I think how she was worth every second of pain, every hip pop, every day stuck in bed, the scary situation were in just before and after birth was worth having her in my life. During the pregnancy, there were days I panicked and thought, this is a mistake, why did I do this? But having Ollie pop here with us has made life so much better! I feel better too, I’m out and about so much more now. I’ve kicked my physio up a notch – her birth gave me an extra push to work hard to make myself as well as possible.

I wish you health and happiness.

Z.M

Breastfeeding for the Chronically Ill-What you need to know

Breastfeeding has become such a touchy subject for the last few years and when ever it is discussed it inevitably becomes the breast vs bottle debate. Isn’t anybody else tired of this?! I blame the media (yes, I’m a journalist) because they have instigated ‘mommy wars’ in an attempt to generate more likes and followers on social media. I’m not here to debate ‘whether public breastfeeding is acceptable’ or ‘how long is too long?’ If you must know, I believe in breastfeeding to natural term which by the way, is anything up to 7 years of age. Will I feed a 7 year old myself? Probably not. Will I judge a mother who does? No. Her child, her business.

Anyway, this week I am offering some words of advice to chronically ill moms who wish to breastfeed or are thinking about breastfeeding. This is just touching on some points, if you want me to go into detail about anything, feel free to drop me a line.

Mother zebra nursing her foal in Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania.

1. Health benefits for mom

You’re chronically ill. God forbid you end up with any other ailments other than the crappy lifelong illness you are living with. Protect yourself! Breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of developing certain cancers, diabetes as well bone conditions such as osteoporosis.

2. Health benefits for baby

“Exclusive breastfeeding for six months has many benefits for the infant and mother. Chief among these is protection against gastrointestinal infections which is observed not only in developing but also industrialized countries. Early initiation of breastfeeding, within one hour of birth, protects the newborn from acquiring infections and reduces newborn mortality. The risk of mortality due to diarrhoea and other infections can increase in infants who are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all” (WHO)

If your condition is genetic, like mine, you may wonder whether it is worth breastfeeding at all. Absolutely, it is! Again, breastfeeding reduces your child’s chances of developing a massive range of illness and chronic conditions such as diabetes. Breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby. Anything else compromises their gut flora and may lead to problems such as coeliac disease and other food allergies.

3. Breastfeeding is the easier, less exhausting option.

The first six weeks are tough and you feel like you are just feeding all day long. This is totally normal and necessary. For the first six weeks your baby is trying to establish your milk supply. Best thing to do is just sit back, relax and enjoy the time with baby. Think about how exhausting it would be if you had to prepare formula, sterilise, wash bottles etc. And the night feeds, Jeez! Having to get up in the middle of the night to make a bottle and wait for it to cool down, that is exhausting! I formula fed Bendy Boy and honestly, I was like a zombie.
After the six week mark your supply will settle and you will have a couple of hours between feeds to go about your day. Cosleeping is also really great for sick breastfeeding moms who need the extra sleep! Baby is close by that you can just pop boob in his/her mouth and you can drift back to sleep! Watch out for those milk stains on the bed though!

4. It’s free and always ready to go!

If your condition has caused you to give up work, you might not have the funds to buy formula every week. You’re talking on average a tub of formula is €12. That’s €624 a year! Never mind the cost of bottles, sterilisers, electricity costs etc.

5. You can breastfeed on medications

I am a massive fan or Dr Jack Newman. He has been a Godsend for me when it comes to getting information on medications. Many misinformed health care professionals will tell you that you can’t breastfeed while on medications. This is not true at all. I am taking Tramadol and Fludrocortisone for pain and Vasovagal Syncope. If you’re not sure about your own medications, check out the Lactmed app or talk with your doctor.

Paediatrician Dr Jack Newman, IBLC says:

“There is almost no drug that requires a mother to interrupt breastfeeding. The real question is which is safer for the baby: Breastfeeding with tiny amounts of drug in the milk (and it is almost always tiny) or formula? Clearly, in the majority of cases it is safer for the baby to breastfeed.”

Breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Every drop counts. If you can’t breastfeed yourself, the World Health Organisation recommends:

Milk from a wet-nurse, or
Milk from a milk bank, or
Breastmilk substitute (formula) fed by cup.
I expressed for my daughter for the first six weeks as she was tongue tied. I also used donor milk on a couple of occasions. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below. I will do my best to help.

Until the next time,

Z.M

Tongue tie DOES affect breastfeeding

 

I never thought I’d be brave enough to share this photo but after much encouragement from friends to share my story, I apprehensively upload it. If it helps one woman get through a rough patch, then it is worth any possible embarrassment. This was me when my little girl, Ollie was three weeks old. I was exhausted, actually I was beyond exhausted. I was a zombie trying to disguise myself as a functioning member of society. I was pumping every two hours to get what little breast milk I had to feed my precious little girl. She had an anterior tongue tie that meant she could not physically latch.

After she was born, I knew something wasn’t right. Her latch felt shallow. “I’m pretty sure she has a tongue tie,” I said to the midwife. The midwife glanced inside my baby’s mouth. “No, no, she doesn’t.” As if I was some silly little girl that didn’t know what she was talking about. This isn’t my first experience of tongue tie, lady.

The next three days in hospital were the worst of my life. I began expressing colostrum. One of the younger midwives was very kind and helped me. While I hand expressed milk, she knelt beside me with a syringe and sucked it all up. My baby was having on average 1ml an hour. That didn’t worry me though as I knew baby’s tummy could only hold only a few millilitres at a time anyway. There was a suggestion of giving her formula. At that time I said “If her blood sugars are low, we will talk about it.” Her blood sugars were fine so I continued pumping every hour on the hour. I was exhausted but I was determined to get through this.

 

Formula was mentioned another couple of times so I was eager to get the f**k out of that hospital. If I wanted to breastfeed no way was I going to be successful stuck in there, with half arsed support. I knew my daughter had a tongue tie and the midwives were clueless, shoving my daughter’s face into my breast in frustration.

I rang a private lactation consultant who I had a good relationship with through my work as a health reporter. She confirmed that baby had a significant tongue tie and that it would need to be clipped.

We travelled an hour away and paid €200 to have my daughter’s tongue tie clipped. It was the most expensive two seconds of my life. The GP who performed the procedure said that it was one of the worst anterior tongue ties she had ever seen and that my daughter’s tongue was pretty much non functioning.

 

 

Those words..non functioning. Meaning my daughter would have had a plethora of problems later on, including her speech. Now, imagine if I wasn’t as well informed and educated and I had been and I had taken the midwife’s word that my daughter’s latch was fine. Imagine I wasn’t determined to breastfeed. I would have given up within the first 2 days. The only reason I was so well informed this time is because I found out my son had a posterior tongue tie when he was 3. I only managed to breastfeed him for 2 weeks. Feeding with his tongue tie caused my nipples to blister, bleed and crack. I cried at the very thought of feeding him.

 

After the tongue tie was clipped, my baby’s latch was getting better and better. As Dr Jack Newman says “babies learn to breastfeed by breastfeeding.” It was just a matter of time and practice for the two of us. I was continuing to pump still as it takes up to 2 weeks for baby to learn how to latch again.

By 6 weeks she was exclusively on the boob and we were both so happy. I was so happy to sleep again! Instead of waking up every two hours to pump a couple of ounces, I kept baby close in bed with me. When she woke, it was just a case of popping boob out, latching her on and drifting back to sleep.

 

There is no doubt that tongue tie affects infant feeding. It can affect bottle fed babies too! There is a question over whether lip tie affects feeding but anecdotal and some scientific evidence suggests it might. It needs to be explored further.

Both my children have lip tie. Ollie’s lip tie is pretty significant but it doesn’t affect our feeding, thankfully. You’ll notice the people with significant lip tie immediately, they have a gap between their two front teeth.

The thing is, I’m not angry at the staff in the maternity hospital for letting me down. I’m angry at the whole system. Our health care professionals including midwives, public health nurses, dentists, consultants and GPs all need training on this subject. Too many women are being fobbed off and it is affecting the health of our children. It’s also costing the government €12 million a year! That’s how much we would save if all Irish women breastfed. But, at present we are doomed to fail. Things won’t change until support is increased and training is up to date amongst health care workers.

If my story rings any bells please do not beat yourself up for not being able to breastfeed. Don’t feel guilty, feel angry! You were let down! Once you come to this realisation you can use your own experiences to help other mothers. Breastfeeding is a learned and skill and yes its bloody hard in those first few weeks but it isn’t meant to hurt! No matter what your aunt, grandmother or friend says. If breastfeeding hurt, we would have never survived as a species. Think about it for a second.

If you are having trouble breastfeeding please contact Le Leche League or a lactation consultant.

Without my lactation consultant, I would have never made it to this milestone of six months. The help is out there, go seek it.

X

You know you’re breastfeeding when..Part 2

1) The sound of any crying child makes you a) unclasp your bra and b) start leaking uncontrollably.

Yep, you’re in the changing room getting dried after a dip in the pool. As you hurriedly rub yourself dry with the towel, a nearby child begins to cry. There it is, let down..sh*t! Grab the towel and press your boobs in to stop the spray of milk!

2) You find yourself smiling at other people breastfeeding younger babies in public even though you don’t know them.

You walk by a seating area in the food court and see a mum and her bub having a mid shop feed. You smile and nod your head. A silent “kudos” to your peer. You appreciate a mother feeding in public. Later you’ll be gushing to your hubby or other BF friends about what you saw, you might even go searching for the mum on an online support group..stalker..

3) You go to sleep with a bra and pjs but wake up topless from half asleep feeding/co sleeping

Winter is coming…you know what that means! No, not white walkers..ya big nerd..

It means new jammies! Fluffy jammies! Flannel jammies! Basically, women LOVE new pjs but, unless it buttons down, you might as well go to bed topless. Cosleeping while breastfeeding is the best damn thing ever. Baby stirs for a feed, you pop her on the boob and you drift back to sleep. It’s freaking awesome. Cause I’m all about them zzzzzzzzzzzs

4) Eating twice the weight of your baby in one sitting because you ‘need’ the extra calories

I think this meme says it all:

 

DON’T JUDGE ME, K!?

5) You’re child tries to latch on to inanimate boobs

 

So, you are in a Debenhams dressing room and your toddler goes up to a poster of a beautiful model wearing only underwear and tries to nurse from the woman in the poster. BOOOOOBBBBBSSSS…all loyalty out the window..

6) Your milk drunk baby has an awful lot in common with your drunk drunk husband. Falling asleep at the boob then waking up with an incoherent babble and trying to motorboat you.

There is nothing funnier than daddy holding baby, you then walk in topless and both of them grin like cheshire cats. It’s cute when baby gets excited at the mere sight of boob. Not so much when Daddy does it..

7) You can say “nipple twiddling” without a flinch of embarrassment or innuendo.

Before you started breastfeeding breasts and nipples were something to be hidden away. Like two great big vaginas just sitting on your chest and their only function was to please the opposite sex…or so society told you. Now? Talking about your breasts and *whispers* nipples is like talking about your left hand. As for the nipple twidling..may I suggest a breastfeeding necklace? It’ll save you a lot of pain and unsightly scratches from those blasted razor sharp baby nails.

8) You have developed the skill of pumping and typing.

Working mums are entitled to pumping breaks up until their baby is six months old and after that, you could get that booby juice out in your own time. This is something we really to change here in Ireland. The WHO and the HSE (Health Service Executive) recommends that children be breast fed until at least age two. How are working mothers supposed to achieve this? Huh, huh, huh? Tell me, Mr Vadakar, how are we to adhere to the recommendations if there are no proper policies in the workplace to facilitate pumping breaks after six months?

9) Baby wakes up with the sound of your bra clicking back on

FML.

10) Your nipples are more stretchy than you ever imagined.

 

Am I right?