What to do while breastfeeding

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Having a newborn means breastfeeding… a lot. Several hours a day (cumulatively), and during the night as well. I love this, because it allows me to sit back, relax, and take things slowly with the best excuse ever. Keep a snack and a bottle of water handy, because making milk for a baby means expenditure of both liquid and calories.

Breastfeeding doesn’t mean neglecting the other children. On the contrary, it’s a great time for uninterrupted conversation, word games and, of course, reading. We’re really getting through chapter after chapter in the last few days!

I have many favorites among children’s books, most of them classics – Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, the Narnia books, and everything by Astrid Lindgren. Revisiting Pippi Longstocking is always a pleasure:

“But don’t you understand that you must go to school?”

“Why?”
“To learn things, of course.”
“What sort of things?” asked Pippi.
“All sorts,” said the policeman. “Lots of useful thingsā€”the multiplication tables, for instance.”
“I have got along fine without any pluttifikation tables for nine years,” said Pippi, “and I guess I’ll get along without it from now on, too.”
“Yes, but just think how embarrassing it will be for you to be so ignorant. Imagine when you grow up and somebody asks you what the capital of Portugal is and you can’t answer!”
“Oh, I can answer all right,” said Pippi. “I’ll answer like this: ‘If you are so bound and determined to find out what the capital of Portugal is, then, for goodness’ sake, write directly to Portugal and ask.'”
“Yes, but don’t you think that you would be sorry not to know it yourself?”
“Oh, probably,” said Pippi. “No doubt I should lie awake nights and wonder and wonder, ‘What in the world is the capital of Portugal?’ But one can’t be having fun all the time,” she continued, bending over and standing on her hands for a change. “For that matter, I’ve been in Lisbon with my papa,” she added, still standing upside down, for she could talk that way too.”
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Hadassah

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Just a little update on how we are doing…

After lots of thinking, and staring at the baby’s precious face, asking, “how shall we name you, little one?” we’ve chosen the name Hadassah. She is one of the calmest, most peaceful babies I have ever seen. She can be just quietly settled in my arms for a long time, looking at me, and all around, with a beautiful and intelligent stare.

Life around here is settling into what I call the happy newborn mess stage. Everything is going in many directions, and days and nights are almost equally chaotic, but this is a happy time.

I look forward to writing more here (and elsewhere) soon.

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 šŸ™‚

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.

Counting the weeks

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Weeks are slipping by, and before I could see this coming, I’m already past the halfway of my pregnancy – around 22 weeks along. I’m due at the end of March which might not tell you much if you’re not Jewish, but this year it roughly coincides with the Pesach holiday – the most frantic time of the year in Jewish households all over the world.

I’m sure it’s going to be challenging. One of the names of Pesach is “the liberty holiday”, and I can fully identify with it as each year, I lift my arms up in prayer and thank G-d for finally bringing this day about and delivering me from the frantic incessant cleaning of cupboards, kitchen appliances, and any nook and cranny you can imagine.

Doing it while 9 months pregnant? I haven’t tried this yet, but it sure might help labor kick in. Oh, and I won’t be able to stock my freezer with ready meals either, because anything cooked in non-Pesach utensils would be of course tossed out before the holiday. And where am I going to spend the holiday itself? In L&D, in the maternity ward, at home with a newborn? Who’s going to cook? In short, I look forward to going through this and living to tell the tale.

In the meantime, here’s a little flashback to some three years ago, when I was expecting Israel to arrive any day:

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“Being just a few days before my due date, I’m of course busy with things like washing tiny clothes and packing my hospital bag, but if you ask what I’ve been doing most of all in the past month and a half, the answer would be, fretting and worrying about the upcoming birth.

All sorts of crazy thoughts are swirling in my brain:

How on earth do babies come out of there? It doesn’t make any sense! (Never mind that I’ve had two babies come out just that way, with no complications, very straightforward. I think I can have ten babies and never fully grasp the sheer miracle of it.)

Whatever made me think I can do this? I’m sure I can’t. It will kill me. My body will fall apart. (Again, never mind I’ve already done this and was up and about the next day).

I don’t want to be there. It’s not the pain I’m afraid of, it’s the enormity of the act itself, it’s just freaking scary. I don’t want to be aware of what is happening to me. Someone please put me under general anesthesia and wake me up when the baby has arrived.Ā 
Ā 

I’ve been suffering from insomnia. I haven’t been able to really focus on anything productive. I’ve been having heart palpitations and shortness of breath and panicky thoughts that can amount roughly to, SOMEONE STOP THIS TRAIN NOW, I WANT OFF!

My husband reminded me that I’ve had the same fears before, and that when I actually got into the last few days before labor, I experienced a feeling of calm, relaxation, faith and confidence. He’s right – I guess it’s part of the hormonal alchemy that indicates my readiness to go into labor.

Last night, I came across the most beautiful, amazing, encouraging and peaceful birth story I’ve ever read. It was just incredible how something clicked into place once I’ve read it. For the first time in many weeks, I was able to go to sleep at night peacefully, without sitting up in bed for a long time, gasping for air and moaning, “I can’t do this! I can’t! Perhaps it’s not too late to schedule a C-section?”

Ā 
I invite you, too, to read and be inspired.”

What is learning?

Above: images of spontaneous learning which takes place around here on a daily basis.

Some time ago, I was really pleased to come across this article, which speaks about a new research showing that early academic achievements aren’t necessarily beneficial to a child’s learning process in the long run. Actually, the same principle has been discussed 25 years ago in the excellent book Better Late Than Early.

Not long ago, we were at a social gathering with another family. Their children, aged 5 and 3, dazzled us all with a display of their mathematical and foreign language skills. Turns out that such things are now taught in private preschools. To me, however, it sounded more like parroting than actual learning, encouraged for the parents’ bragging rights rather than for the children themselves.

Of course it’s possible to argue that each child learns at a different pace, and we’ve all heard of prodigies who have learned to play the piano at the age of 3, wrote advanced poetry by the age of 5, etc. However, here we are talking about a roomful of 3-year-olds who are all sat down in a circle and drilled until they memorize counting until 30, or the names of the days in the week in English (we’re talking about children whose mother tongue is Hebrew, of course).

Naturally the daily drill is sugar-coated by fun, games, colorful flashcards and lots of positive reinforcement (clap hands! Clap hands! What clever little children!). However, I believe putting an emphasis on this kind of achievement hinders the child-led learning, free thinking and free play which are so important for young children’s physical and mental development. Furthermore, the children are being robbed of the delight of learning for its own sake, of the thrill of discovery. They do what they do for rewards, attention, peer competition or in order to please their parents and teachers.

Some will say that these are musings of a lazy parent who is unwilling to teach her children anything. I disagree. Encouraging children to memorize facts and rewarding them for it with sweets or stickers is easier than promoting their independent efforts to explore what interests them, let alone finding time to answer their many questions about life and the world we live in.

Weaning, attachment and separation

The following article was included in my e-booklet, Nurturing Hands.Ā 

I have yet to have the experience of weaning a baby off breastfeeding; the first time, my milk just dried up because of subsequent pregnancy, but as my child was 15 months old and used to a wide variety of foods, that was alright. The second time, I went on nursing over two years, and somehow, very gradually, without my knowing how it happened, one day my daughter was weaned. I admit I was very grateful for it happening this way. Weaning is a bittersweet experience for me, even after a long and satisfying nursing relationship. I can only imagine what it must be like to intentionally wean a child who cries and frets and demands to be comforted in the best way they have known since birth, and to deny this comfort which it is in my power to give.

I realize sometimes babies or toddlers must be weaned, for a variety of reasons (medical, psychological or practical). It can, hopefully, be done gradually in order to minimize the stress and discomfort. I do feel compelled to speak out, however (at the risk of sounding judgmental), against a practice I noticed among some mothers I know – that of abrupt weaning of an older baby or toddler who is deemed “too old” to nurse, by the simple method of the mother disappearing from home for a week or so.

First off, the modern society’s idea of weaning age does not correspond at all with Jewish tradition. In the Jewish tradition, it is a matter of course that a child is nursed at least until 2 years old, and breastfeeding is quite common and acceptable until even later. In practice, today most babies are weaned off the breast at less than 1 year old (only to be given a bottle of formula in exchange).

A neighbor of mine went for a week-long vacation abroad with her friends, leaving behind her son (then 10 months old) in the vague hope that maybe he will give up on breastfeeding by the time she is back. That hope proved futile. “I don’t know what to do with him,” she complained irritably a day after returning home, “he cried and nursed all night. I didn’t get any sleep!” I had to bite my tongue to keep from retorting. How could she be surprised?

As far as this baby was concerned, his mother, who was always there to take care of him and nurse him, suddenly disappeared for a whole week – an eternity in a baby’s terms – snatching away his best source of comfort and nutrition. He had experienced the trauma of losing his mother, without any possible alleviation in the form of understanding she will be back eventually, because a 10-month-old is unable to grasp the concept of Mom going on vacation. To him, when Mom is gone, she is gone. There is no difference, as far as he is concerned, whether she is on vacation or dead. She is simply not there.

The same thing was done by several other women I know, always saying things like, “oh, he’ll be fine”, “I really need a break from it all”, “I need to wean her because she’s embarrassing me in public” and even “I need to wean because I want to get pregnant again”.

Now, I realize all babies go through the stage when they break out crying as soon as they lose sight of their mother (we’re just past that stage at this time, actually), and learn that she will come back eventually, whether in several minutes (if Mom goes to the bathroom) or several hours (if the baby is in some sort of day care). Now, if you know me, you know I’m all for home education or at least for keeping children at home well past the toddler years, and don’t think an enforced separation from Mom on a daily basis is good for the baby or toddler. Sometimes there really is no choice, however, and families adjust. A week-long separation, though, is really much too long for a baby, in my opinion. In their little minds, they are actually becoming accustomed to the idea of losing their mother forever. See quote fromĀ here:

Infants may develop attachments to other members of the family or carers, who can take mother’s place for a while. But if mother does not return soon, some infants can become quite distressed, with crying and an increase of behaviors designed to bring the mother and infant together again. If the separation lasts for some days, the first state of crying and “protest” may be replaced by a mood of quiet unhappiness or despair. In the first two or three years of life an infant has no adult sense of time, and since explanations cannot be understood, the infant seems to despair of the mother’s return, in a kind of grief or mourning reaction.”

For this very reason, quite apart from breastfeeding, I personally would never voluntarily separate overnight from a child who does not yet have good verbal communication skills and a more-or-less consistent sense of time – in other words, a child under 3 or 4 years old. It is simply impossible to explain to a very young child that “Mommy will be back in a couple of days”, and without such understanding, the enforced separation is, as far as the child is concerned, nothing short of abandonment.

I realize that sometimes, such an abrupt separation is unavoidable (in the case of sudden hospitalization, etc). But I would not put a child through such trauma for the sake of a vacation, or in order to wean as quickly as possible (which, above all else, may result in plugged ducts and mastitis for the mother). It’s far better to make an attitude switch and vacationĀ withĀ the baby, and wean, if weaning is necessary indeed, slowly and gradually.

Just one final word: time passes so quickly. The baby who cries when his mother goes into the bathroom will sooner than you know turn into a 4-year-old who is quite happy at the adventure of staying with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of days. There is no need to rush. Be with your baby; you will never regret it, and really, everything else can wait.