Thursday, July 16, 2009

Backseat Conversations

I: “Mama, I noticed that I don’t have earrings in my jewellery box.” (Yup, she’s sly.)
Me: “Well, yes, that’s true – you don’t have your ears pierced, so you can’t wear earrings.”
I: “Hmmm… I think it would be nice to wear earrings.”
Me: “Would you like to have your ears pierced?”
I: “Pierced??” as she checks her mental thesarus for what other possible meaning ‘pierce’ might have and comes up empty. “How do they do that?”
Me: “Well, they have to push a needle through your ear to make a hole. So they take a gun and press into your earlobe and shoot it through.” (Yes, I know I could have used a word other than gun, but that's what it's called.)
Silence. Clearly, the road noise must have caused a miscommunication, she thinks.
I: “They shoot it near your ear?” Hopefully.
Me: “No, through your ear – to make the hole.”
I: “NEAR your ear?” Nothing if not persistent, she is.
Me: “No, through your ear so the earring can go through – that’s how they stay in.”
I: “Does it hurt?” Ever hopeful.
Me: “Well, yes – though not for very long. But you have to put alcohol on it and turn them often so your ears heal without sticking to the earrings.”
Silence. Dejection.
I: “I think I will not have earrings, ok?”
Me: “Ok.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What kind of pump should you buy?

It seems like these days the breast pump has joined the ranks of baby registry basics: every new mother assumes that she needs one. Like most spaces where breastfeeding and consumerism meet, there are good and bad aspects to this.

The fact that it's automatic is a big YAY!: it means that breast milk is what mothers assume their babies will drink. But breast milk doesn't equal breastfeeding - and there are important benefits to breastfeeding that breast milk from a bottle can't replicate. One of the main ones is the ease of preparation and clean up.

Pumping has a place for mothers who have to be separated from their nurslings for longer periods. It also has a place for mothers for whom latching has proved challenging and nursing supplementers too cumbersome. And for some families, the typical suggestions on how to cope with night-waking and high-needs babies aren't practical or sufficient. In these cases where a mother is maintaining a full supply, a heavy-duty double pump is in order - and that's not a worthy 'just in case' expense (renting a hospital grade is the better option most of the time anyway).

I remember stinging at a speech that Jack Newman gave a number of years ago where he scoffed about the "silly contraptions" manufacturers were coming out with for hands-free pumping. Clearly, I thought, he's never had to pump every three hours around the clock for a baby in the NICU - hands-free pumping meant a lot to me. Not that I had proper hands-free set-up, but I got fairly good at balancing the bottles on my knees while I read trashy magazines to distract myself from the anguish in my heart.

But like all things commercial, what would have been helpful to me when pumping was a necessity has the potential to overreach. Most women who are planning to breastfeed have no reason at all to expect that they'll need a pump in the first few months of their baby's life. Unless they are planning on returning to work within the first month or so, pumping right away has very little benefit at a time when the focus should be establishing a balanced milk supply and good breastfeeding relationship. Stashes can be built, but not at the expense of those early moments.

For mothers who are able to take humane maternity leaves, pumping is even less important. Certainly, for those mothers, an electric pump is probably overkill and even a manual pump will fail to encourage that most basic skill that every lactating woman should have - manual expression. This is so important that I am stunned how few women are taught it, much less properly.

So much as I stung at his cavalier attitude, Dr. Newman had gotten a whiff of the direction in which things were going. Medela, previously one of the very few WHO-compliant gear companies out there, last year decided to take a different step and begin actively marketing bottles and artificial nipples directly to consumers. In the grand scheme, they're certainly no Nestle and they make quality products that have saved and prolonged many breastfeeding relationships.

But so few women are getting good information about breastfeeding - I mean really good information about the practicalities of the day-to-day, not just "Breast is best" - that these kinds of products flooding the market and making it on must-have lists really does have the potential to create a whole new set of breastfeeding problems. Oversupply from over pumping, nipple confusion/flow preference, plugged ducts and mastitis from poor pumping practice (IE: balancing the bottles on your knees can create uneven pressure that leads to plugged ducts) and ultimately breastfeeding ending earlier than nature intended. Maybe it ends earlier because the problems become acute and force the hands of the nursing pair or maybe it's simply because the connection in breastfeeding that evolves between mom and baby is interrupted and there comes a day when "breast is best" just isn't enough.

So, don't be surprised next time you ask "Which pump should I buy? (or "buy for her")" that my answer is no pump at all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mom be nimble, Mom be quick...

Mom jumps over the candlestick?

Well, not quite, but I've always been a light traveller when it comes to the kids. Pretty as those fancy diaper bags are tossed over the giant death star strollers, we pretty quickly discovered that we were minimalists when it came to hauling gear.

I got over the idea that I had to carry Isabelle around in the car seat bucket thanks to my midwife who said, "Uh, you could just, you know, carry her in your arms...". A revelation that came too late to spare us the expense of the giant stroller... alas.

For most of Isabelle's babyhood, I went out with a bank card in my back pocket, a carrier and a diaper tucked into the pouch. That's it - it was enormously freeing to be able to walk around like a normal person and not be relegated to hunting down elevators and ramps. As my husband calls it, the "disabled by children" syndrome.

But as they grow, so do we need to adapt. Tom is still wearable (and prefers to be carried very often), but they have a lot of gear these little explorers. And while I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to carriers, my broken-by-pregnancy body can only haul so much.

With two kids now mobile, I'm often at a loss - do I bring a double stroller? I hate the double strollers - we have two of them and I don't know which heavy, awkward, pain in the butt one I dislike more. I put on quite the show one day this week when we returned to the car after a pleasant amusement park visit and I found I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to fold the freaking stroller up. I tried every which button and lever and the #*!@&$@*#&!@ just wouldn't budge. I tried putting in the car open - no go. Then I took out the doggie bars and tried again. Still no good, plus now I had to figure out where to put the doggie bars. A group with two dads was coming down the aisle and I could tell I was a source of amusement. It's one thing to be locked in my own private battle with a hunk of philosophically questionable baby gear, entirely another to be laughed by strangers. So I threw it. And it folded - and buddy laughed all the way to his car.

I'm not sure what the moral of this story really is? Strollers suck? Well, they kind of do, but they also allow you to carry more stuff than the average human mother can. And while less is more, food and gear for two little people, plus two said little people is more than I can carry most days. Is it that I bring too much gear? Maybe. Or that I put too much importance on being agile and get annoyed at the trouble that the stuff causes more than I should?

Or maybe the moral is that sometimes violence is the answer. Violence against strollers, not strangers who laugh at you, that is.