Breastfeeding in Mongolia

You may not agree with everything in here, and I daresay that most of you will cringe at least once when you read through this, but it is a great read! Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan — very well worth reading. Here’s a snippet:

In 2005, according to UNICEF1, 82 percent of children in Mongolia continued to breastfeed at 12 to 15 months, and 65 percent were still doing so at 20 to 23 months.

Yeah, baby! That’s what I’m talking about! I don’t think the US gets those sorts of breastfeeding rates when mothers and babies are discharged from the hospital, much less at 6 months! At the very least, this article will show you some cultural differences in Mongolia that help promote the culture of breastfeeding they have. And you can have something to show those people who think you’re crazy for “still” breastfeeding at 3, 6, 12, 18, or 24 months. I don’t know that I would necessarily be completely comfortable with everything mentioned in this article, but I would like at least a cup-full of Mongolian attitude mixed into the American mix. We could start slowly, and at least quit the looking down our noses at women who are nursing in public or nursing their child past a certain age. Let’s celebrate breastfeeding, not look at it as some sort of necessary evil!

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Permission to Mother

Years ago, I first became acquainted with Dr. Denise Punger by an article that she had written that was posted somewhere on the internet. That she was a pro-natural/home-birth MD was refreshing as well as memorable. I remembered her story about Jayne, who was the first woman she had attended in labor who had a doula, although I didn’t know anything else about Dr. Punger. Fast-forward a few years, and I rediscovered her, along with her blog which was given the same name as her book, Permission to Mother. Now, I have read the book and must say it was thoroughly enjoyable.

It is written from the perspective of a woman and a mother who happens to be a doctor, rather than from the perspective of a doctor who happens to be a woman and a mother. And that makes a big difference. It is her personal story, part autobiography (birth experiences and breastfeeding years up to homeschooling, or unschooling), part “why I chose what I did” (including extended breastfeeding, bringing her child(ren) to work with her, and homeschooling or unschooling), and another part her perspectives on certain medical issues (like the triple screen done during pregnancy, or resolving breastfeeding problems).

The subtitle to the book is “Going Beyond the Standard of Care to Nurture Our Children.” What is the “standard of care”? In a nutshell, “what everybody else is doing.” You remember those times when you were a child or teenager and you did something that was dumb, or you knew you shouldn’t, or you knew your mom wouldn’t approve, and you got caught, and your mom or dad asked you The Dreaded Question — “Why on earth did you do that???” and you shuffled your feet and said defensively, “But everybody else was doing it, too!!” Well, that’s basically the same thing, only nobody’s going to ask the doctor sarcastically, “And if everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?!?” Instead, it’s a legal safeguard to protect the doctor or hospital — as long as they’re doing what “everybody else” is doing, then they’ve got a defense. And, as long as “everybody else” is doing what is right or best, then we can all be happy. But sometimes that’s not what happens. For example, take my sister who was advised by her doctor to wean her son when she was put on an antibiotic. Sure, that’s what doctors are trained to do (“we don’t know if it’s excreted into breastmilk, so to be on the safe side…”), so that’s what “everybody else” was doing: when in doubt, advise to wean. However, the antibiotic that she was on is also given to infants much younger than her baby was at the time! The amount of drug that might have ended up in her breastmilk was almost certainly less than what the baby would have received had he been prescribed the antibiotic himself. By this example, you can see that “what everybody else is doing” is not always what is right — sometimes, it’s just what is easiest or most defensible.

Starting from her days as a “candy-striper” volunteering at her local hospital, through med school, residency, and beginning her own practice, Denise tells stories of pivotal and memorable experiences that helped to shape her as both a mother and a doctor. From the preface to the book:

People who didn’t know me before I had my three children often assumed that all my births were homebirths, and that it always was easy for me to trust my body to birth and nourish my children the way I do now…

The first birth was not satisfying. It was undermining and left me unfulfilled… I was grateful that my obstetrician had patience with me that night, but for two years afterward I dwelled on what a demoralizing expeirence that birth was.

My second birth, two years later, was also a planned hospital birth. Still, that birth restored to me the trust that my body knows how to labor. It allowed me to regain confidence in myself. It helped that this time I had a doula that had had nine homebirths herself.

Most of my patients find it hard to believe that the field of obstetrics doesn’t teach much about real-life pregnancy and birth, and that pediatrics teaches next to nothing about breastfeeding beyond the first few days of life. Now, I share my own experience.

Some of the chapters and stories in this book were originally written as articles for a doula publication, and are brief (just a page or two), which is very good for the busy mother who wants to squeeze in just a little solo reading while the kids are all happy, or who only has a few minutes to read before falling asleep at night. However, other chapters are lengthier, particularly the stories of her children’s births, or other pivotal stories which need more depth to explore.

Many of the choices that Denise Punger has made are not “the norm” of society — extended breastfeeding, “family bed,” home birth, cloth diapering, baby-wearing, unschooling, etc. Hearing her positive experiences can be helpful to people who are considering these for themselves, moral support for those who are already doing them (and perhaps may be facing family or societal pressure to stop), or a learning experience for those who have never heard of such.

As I said at the beginning of this blog post — thoroughly enjoyable.

Another “Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy” Giveaway!

Ok, so it’s no secret that Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy is my favorite breastfeeding book, and I just found out that another blog is sponsoring a giveaway! Click here to read their awesome review (including words of praise from Kelly Rutherford, from “Gossip Girls”), and to go to their comment section to enter the giveaway. You have to leave a comment by Oct. 23 to be entered (U.S. residents only).

Kelly granted an exclusive interview to the Best for Babes blog about breastfeeding, and how she prepared to breastfeed her first child (who will be three in a few days), and the ups and downs — “I had every problem you could have with my son in the beginning,” … she “felt like a failure,” etc. Yet, she not only persevered, but is now tandem nursing! (At least, she was still nursing her older son at the time of the interview in August.) And just for kicks, here’s a picture of the actress with her daughter at 6 weeks, and her son.

“NEVER let your child sleep with you…”

So said a friend of mine. He’s a father of 9, so perhaps he has some wisdom and insight to share. Perhaps not!

The context was that we were in conversation with a brand-new dad and I asked how things were going. He said they were adjusting to waking up a lot during the night, etc. I asked whether the baby was in the room with them or in another room (because, obviously, you get less sleep if you have to wake up, plod down the hall into the baby’s room, nurse the baby without falling asleep and dropping him, putting him back down in the crib, and then plodding back to your own bed; than if you just roll over and sleep-nurse), and he said, in the room with them, and we discussed co-sleepers, bassinets, and separate cribs a tiny bit, then the seasoned dad chimed in with his “words of wisdom.”

But, it’s not really wisdom, and I’ll tell you why — it was prejudice, pure and simple. (You’d have to know this guy — a really fun guy to be with — I guess his kids have kept him young — so I’m not telling this story so that you’ll think he’s a jerk, because he’s not. He’s just got a strong opinion about this, apparently, and not based on what seemed to be solid facts.) He said, “Don’t EVER put your child in bed with you. Because once you start, you’ll NEVER get them out of bed.” [At that point, I’m thinking, oh, do any of your kids still sleep with you? Or, did you have problems with this aspect of parenting, personally?] And he continued without a pause, “Some of these kids are STILL sleeping with their parents at 5, 6, 7, and I just don’t think that’s right! I mean, when are they going to get out of bed?? They shouldn’t be sleeping with their parents when they’re TWELVE!!”

Ok, so everybody’s got an opinion, and a right to their opinion. I do know of one set of parents who had a late-in-life child who was pampered and spoiled in general, and slept with her parents all her life. Even into her teens. Even when her mom went on a trip, this girl wanted to sleep in her parents’ bed with her father. Anybody uncomfortable with that? Just a little bit? There wasn’t anything perverted going on, but I will admit to a little discomfort. I will also say that I would be willing to bet that cases like these are extremely rare. From the numerous conversations I’ve had about a “family bed” — with people who actually practice it (presently or in the past), not just people who have merely heard about it, like my friend — most of the kids will at some point start sleeping in their own beds of their own accord.

I managed to squeeze in a little bit of a good word for cosleeping, at least in the early months, when babies wake up and need to nurse most frequently, but unfortunately, I was called away before I could give more of my own experience as an example. When my oldest child was born, I wanted to co-sleep, but he was so restless that I ended up putting him in his crib for the bulk of the night when he was about 6 weeks old. With my younger son, I felt like I got better at it, or something — instead of trying to have a space for the baby, as well as a space for me and a space for my husband, I just tucked the baby in the crook of my arm and we all slept. I did have a bassinet right next to the bed that I put him into to start the night, and sometimes during the night — mostly because he would be ready to go down for the night much before I was ready to go to sleep, so I’d put him in the bassinet, where my getting into bed later wouldn’t disturb him. But even as early as 6 months old, and certainly by 9-10 months old, he got to the point where sometimes he would stop nursing and start kicking and fussing, or sometimes just roll over, and I figured out that he was asking to go to his own crib by himself. So, I’d put him down, and he’d go to sleep without a fuss. Most of the time, he still nursed himself to sleep, but frequently he would… just stop. But not sleep. Not in my bed, anyway! His own choice, that he made quite well known.

For a website with a lot of articles on co-sleeping, check out The Natural Child Project.

By the way, do you know that co-sleeping is in the New Testament? Yep. In the parable of persistent asking — the man asks his friend to give him some bread late at night because of unexpected company, the friend replies, “Do not bother me. Behold, the door is locked and my children are in bed with me. I cannot rise and give you [the bread.]” So, if anybody says that you shouldn’t co-sleep, you can say that co-sleeping is Biblical. So, there. 🙂

Enfamil unwittingly endorses extended breastfeeding

Imagine my shock and surprise (not) when I found out that Enfamil (and probably other formula companies) had developed a “toddler formula” to use instead of milk, because [drum roll and a big tada] this artificial food had DHA and ARA — “important building blocks of child’s developing brain and eyes” in it.

Um, so does breastmilk!

So, Enfamil, by saying that toddlers need DHA and ARA, you are saying that physiologically speaking, toddlers should still be nursing! So stop undermining the efforts of mothers who want to nurse their babies by giving out free samples in hospitals, advertising in magazines that target pregnant moms and new moms, and all the other things that go against the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

And to you moms out there who have been faced with some sort of negativity for still breastfeeding your infant or toddler, you can whip out the Enfamil ad [like you haven’t already ripped it out of whatever magazines you came across and threw it away in disgust — but next time you see one, you can save it for just such an occasion! :-)] and wave it under the nose of your friend or family member or nosy stranger and say — “See! Even Enfamil agrees that toddlers still need what breastmilk has! So back off, buddy!”

[Ok, you don’t need to get militant… unless you want to. :-)]

Breastfeeding Causes Blindness

April Fools!! 🙂

But did you know that people used to believe that? It makes me wonder why — probably some time the only blind person somebody knew was an old wet-nurse, and it was just coincidence… but the “causation” was apparent enough to the observer. The fact that most wet-nurses did not become blind, and the fact that most blind people were not wet-nurses was irrelevant — “everybody knew” that breastfeeding could make you go blind.

This was one reason why upper-class women hired wet-nurses — so that they themselves wouldn’t go blind. Isn’t that ridiculous?

Yet how many other superstitions have persisted?

Click here for another April Fool’s Day post. Funny until it becomes true.

“Constellation of Values”

I’m blogging as I’m reading Dr. Rixa Freeze’s “Born Free” doctoral thesis — breaking up the different thoughts into workable posts. I know I have a tendency to talk/write a lot, so if I put all of my thoughts on the dissertation into one post, it would be very long indeed!

On the 158th page of the pdf (144 of the document), she uses the term “constellation of values” to describe the group of values or beliefs or parenting choices that often accompany unassisted birth; and I might add, often accompany home birth or natural (that is, drug-free) birth. From her paper:

Philip D. Holley and Dennis Brewster studied the value and belief systems of people who chose unassisted birth. They found that a “substantial yet selective dissatisfaction with medicine and science, education, government, consumerism, and popular culture.” These families also shared a “deep spirituality, a strong commitment to family and children, and some commitment to nature and tradition.” These two factors have led to a “constellation of values which promotes a core set of six beliefs, specifically unassisted home birth, home schooling, attachment parenting, extended breast feeding, non-vaccination, and non-circumcision as well as selected peripheral beliefs.”

From the footnote at the bottom of the page:

Holley and Brewster first used this phrase when they presented their paper in 1998. I had begun using the
same phrase before I discovered their research into RIF [Re-Invented Family]. I like the imagery of the word “constellation” — it implies a clustering of values that are interconnected, yet independent enough that the absence of one or two would not significantly change the overall contour of the behavior.

Reading that term sparked something in me. It’s just perfect to describe the phenomenon. I had previously tried to find words to describe my thoughts, and never felt like I had done so adequately — that I was lacking something… or in trying to fully comprehend what I was thinking, was going overboard. But that little phrase is a perfect summation: constellation of values. Most of the people on the various email lists I’m on certainly share these same beliefs — although not all may practice their “ideals”, due to extenuating circumstances.

In addition to the “core values,” the “peripheral values” are described as follows (on the following page):

In addition to the main six beliefs, Holley and Brewster also identified peripheral beliefs that some, but not all, adopted. Some of these beliefs affected daily home life, including vegetarianism or other dietary restrictions, cloth diapering, not owning televisions, rarely or never hiring babysitters, practicing gentle discipline, and running home-based businesses. Other peripheral beliefs included alternative medicine and natural family planning, if birth control was used at all.

I’d love to hear your comments on these topics — do you practice any of these things? why or why not? Do you sympathize with them, but don’t do them yourself? Are you strongly committed to some or all of these? Do you find yourself agreeing with most of them, but oppose one or more aspects of these values? (Page 160 of the pdf has all of these values listed in a chart.)