Nursing: the perfect excuse to rest

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These days, nursing my fourth baby, I can say that one of the best things about nursing is the simple brilliance of it – how convenient it is, and how it allows a tired young mother to rest.

Breastfeeding can have its stresses and challenges – we’ve had slow weight gain, tongue-tie, plugged ducts complete with high fever, D-MER, and others can probably chip in with stories of their own. But basically it’s supposed to be pretty much straightforward, or our species wouldn’t have survived. Throw in the facts that nutritionally speaking, breast milk is perfectly composed to meet the baby’s needs, it’s free, and you don’t have to prepare and wash bottles, not to mention worry about hygiene when you’re out and about – and there you have why I love it so much.

Most of the time, on many busy days, nursing is what allows me to put up my feet and rest, at least for a little while, without feeling guilty. We often try to do too much, and find it difficult to switch to a different mode once we have a baby – and nursing is just the thing to force us to slow down, for our own good. It’s healthy, it’s natural, it’s simple, it involves sitting down for regular periods every day and cuddling a sweet baby. It doesn’t get better than this

For those of us who are used to have it all under control, it can be tempting to say to the husband (or whoever there is to help us out), “here, just hold the baby – and I’ll do those dishes”… but no. Someone else can do the dishes, but no one else can nurse the baby. And while sitting down, it’s nice to have a cooling drink of water or a little snack as a refreshment on a hot busy day.

I guess this is what some would call “being tied down by babies”. It has taken me some time to embrace this, but I’ve realized that “being tied down” by nursing is the best thing that can happen to a frazzled mom looking over a messy house. Because let’s face it, we need to rest, we need to slow down, whether we acknowledge it or not. There will be those moments, of course. There will be days when you feel you have done nothing but nurse the baby – but these things slowly and imperceptibly change as the baby grows older. There will come a time when by-and-by, some of the baby’s nutritional needs will be met by solid food, then a bit more… there will come a time when you are able to leave your baby for an evening and go out.

And there will come a time of a bittersweet goodbye, when, with a feeling of a job well done, you relinquish the bond of breastfeeding and continue to nurture your little one in countless other ways. So there’s no rush. Every minute of nursing and snuggling is precious time well spent.
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Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.

Nursing on demand and parental authority

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There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called “child-centered” lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child’s choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and… nursing on demand.

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. “In the past,” she writes, “new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it.”

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way “spoils” the baby or harms the mother’s authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding – which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother’s health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever.

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. “Our mothers breastfed on schedule,” she said, “and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children.” True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least.

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule – and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way – wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk “just ran out” after 1 month, after which she had to give her children’s cow’s milk (as formula wasn’t readily available), and  many years later told me how she “was one of those women who just couldn’t produce enough”.

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, “what if I’m spoiling the baby? What about my ‘authority’ as a parent?”

Imagine the following situation. It’s nearly evening, and I’m busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Dinner will be ready in an hour,” I say. “But I’m still hungry,” she insists. “Alright, then,” I say, “if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple.” She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household “child-centered”? No. Does it make me less of an authority figure as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, “wait for dinner!”? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading this blog for a while know I’m very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I’m not speaking about things like sweets and cakes, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of cheese before bedtime.

So what is the difference when we’re talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snack. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed – which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, nurse when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being.

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby’s whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed – regardless of how wet or dirty they are – five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper!

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your baby will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, she will open the fridge and make herself a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents’ job to do so.

Home Remedies In Your Kitchen

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“I love exploring various home remedies, and am a strong believer in everyone raising a patch of medicinal herbs in the yard, on a balcony, or even in a row of pots on the windowsill. Mint, rosemary, sage and lavender are all easy-to-grow, delicious-smelling herbs with a variety of uses, both medicinal and culinary.

But are you aware of the fact that not just herbs, but many staples which you almost certainly have in your kitchen, can also be used in a variety of safe, effective and healthy home remedies?”

These humble health-promoting compounds include black tea, salt, baking soda, and more.

Read the rest in my Mother Earth News post here.

Also, there are now two more places where you can follow me: Pinterest and YouTube. I plan to upload regular video snippets of our daily projects, so stay tuned! You can watch my first little video here:

The best things come in small packages

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I’m very happy to be able to tell everyone that our baby girl has arrived safely yesterday around noon, and we’re both doing well. Our older kids are delighted with this new addition to the family 🙂

The labor was very short and very intense, so much so that we barely made it to the hospital. Now it’s all about resting, recovering and bonding with our beautiful new baby – my favorite part.

And, if I get a little quiet for a bit, you’ll know I’m nursing, changing tiny diapers, or catching up on some sleep.

My Little One (the last few days before birth)

For those of you who may be wondering – yes, I’m still hanging in there! There’s about a week and a half to go until my due date, and I’m hovering between frustrated thoughts (“I just want this to be over!”) and panic flutters (“Thanks goodness it wasn’t The Real Thing yet…”). Either way, the only way is forward!

I’m trying to take advantage of these last days to refresh my relaxation techniques and do, see and think of calming and beautiful things – and also to enjoy this final stage of us as a family of five, before our status quo changes; while we can all still fit into our little car, rather than juggle traveling in batches; while I can still ‘baby’ my son, Israel, who will soon be a big brother.

I wanted to share the following poem, which I wrote to Israel when he was just under 18 months old. I have so enjoyed, and am enjoying, every moment with him, from changing those first little diapers to now teaching him his first letters (at his request!), drawing with him, and roaming outside (as much as my watermelon-like belly will allow):

***

Rest next to me, my little one.
There will be time to get up and go on;
But for now, just sleep next to me,
My little one.
Play with me, my little one.
There will be time for serious things,
But for now, let’s play together,
My little one.
Walk with me, my little one.
A time will come and you will run far,
But for now, just walk with me,
My little one.
Let’s tell a story, my little one.
There will be time to face the world.
But for now, let it all be magic,
My little one.
Give me your hand, my little one.
A time will come when you’ll have to let go,
But for now, let’s hold hands,
My little one.
***
Painting: Picking Daisies by Hermann Seeger, 1905

Birth choices and their price

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I’m now entering my last month of pregnancy, and while I’ve done this three times already, about the only things I can be pretty sure of are – labor is going to hurt, and I’ll have a baby in the end. Otherwise, it’s still plunging deep into the vast ocean of the unknown, every single time. You have no way to predict how it’s going to go.

I’m terrified of giving birth. It’s physically rigorous, it’s traumatic, and it reduces me to a semi-conscious, barely articulate being that has very little in common with my usual rational self. Also, no matter how many times I do it, I will never be able to comprehend how on earth a baby can be squeezed out of there. When I think that I’ve done it and was up and about a mere couple of hours later, it’s  a miracle.

I won’t lie, I’ve been considering an epidural – or even an elective C-section – to help with pain and the extreme anxiety I experience each time, and to avoid finding myself in that unpredictable out-of-control place. But my fear of needles and surgical procedures is even greater than of giving birth, and it doesn’t seem this fear is so very irrational.

What makes me even more suspicious is that the medical staff always, without fail, portrays epidurals as something 99.9999% safe and effective, with only a minuscule portion of side effects. The anecdotal evidence of countless birth stories (because, remember, I live in a society where everyone has a lot of babies all the time) paints a different picture. It’s true that serious complications from epidurals are rare, but I have heard a fair share of stories of inadequate pain relief (with limited capability to move and deal with the pain in different ways), headaches and backaches that have lasted any time from a few days to a few weeks, prolonged and ill-controlled pushing, and prolonged recovery. A friend actually told me how she opted for an epidural, and there wasn’t time to get one – they had just inserted the needle, but didn’t even give her the drip yet when the baby was born – and the placement of the needle itself had hurt the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to back pains that have lasted for 10 years (!).

Fact: the placement of the epidural is a delicate procedure performed by humans. Humans are not infallible. Things can go wrong, and it’s silly to ignore this.

Did these women go to their health care provider and complain of the ill effects? Many did, certainly. The overwhelming majority of them received the same response: “You can’t really prove this was because of the epidural.”

You know what this sounds like? Like sweeping evidence under the rug.

The truth, I believe, is that the medical establishment does not really want to look at how widespread the side effects are, because it would necessitate gearing the whole system anew. Epidurals are extremely staff-friendly. Once a laboring mother gets one, and is hooked to monitors, etc, she can basically be left alone for hours in a quiet, undemanding state, because she is relatively pain-free and comfortable. A system that provides alternative means of pain relief on a more widespread basis would have to be more active, caring, and focused on the mother. It would mean more attention from midwives, more listening to the patient’s wishes, and more accommodations in the way of turning each L&D ward into a mini-natural birth center.

Fact: while a controlled hospital environment, intermittent fetal monitoring, the presence of doctors nearby, and the availability of NICU potentially increase the safety of childbirth for mother and baby, epidurals do not. Not even doctors claim that epidurals make a birth safer, or provide better outcomes. It’s 100% about pain management and comfort.

Plus, while in Israel women don’t pay for epidurals or C-sections, it doesn’t mean that this stuff comes free. Someone funds it, and that someone is the government (which, of course, is in its turn funded by our taxes). I’ve birthed, so far, with nobody present but a midwife to catch the baby, and no fancier equipment than a birthing ball and a shower with a jet of hot water. Midwives, showers and birthing balls are a lot less expensive than anaesthesiologists, surgeons and I.V. drips, and every hospital receives a fat check for each medicated and/or surgical birth. Less women who opt for epidurals means less money for hospitals and less employment for anaesthesiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think epidurals should be available to every woman who requests them, without question. Labor is a hugely individual thing, and what is manageable for some is impossible agony for others. If a woman is actually going through hell, or has gone through hell in a past birth, she might well decide that the risk of longer recovery or a few weeks of migraines are worth it. Some women would probably never have more than one child if it weren’t for the possibility of medical pain relief. I think it’s despicable and unethical that in some countries, natural birth is viewed not as the mother’s choice, but as a way to save money for the government.

I’d say that if the birthing mother wants something – an epidural, a massage, whale music, candles, a doula, her mom, a yoga instructor – everyone around her should do everything to support her choice and give her what she needs, or even thinks she needs, because the psychological factor plays a huge role. It has to be the woman’s choice. But it must be an informed choice.