Breastfeeding is not just for my toddler, it’s for me too

So today, while my daughter entertained herself by running wild in a soft play, I took some time to have a hot drink and play around on Facebook. I saw a cartoon which made me smile at first.

The cartoon showed three mums breastfeeding toddlers and the toddlers were doing various gym-nurstics and other cheeky toddler nursing antics. Probably the sort of stuff anyone breastfeeding beyond babyhood can relate to. Sat next to them, a lady who doesn’t have a child says “My mom always said anyone breastfeeding a toddler does it for their own pleasure, I can see now that’s not true!”.

After the initial smile, I paused. And I thought. And the more I thought about this cartoon the more annoyed it made me. I got very annoyed, not with the cartoon as such, but with our society and our wider culture which says “Okay, if we have to accept you might want to breastfeed an older baby or child, you absolutely can’t, absolutely shan’t, enjoy any minute of it.”

I know this cartoon wasn’t badly meant. It was meant to be funny. A bit of solidarity for parents breastfeeding older children in a world where there is little of it. I can applaud it for that. Maybe I just take things a bit too seriously. Maybe sitting in a Wacky Warehouse for three hours just makes me angry. If you don’t agree, I’m happy for you to scroll on by, no hard feelings. However, I need to speak my truth. I want to speak it for all those people out there feeding older children. The ones who also don’t feel they can say it.

I still breastfeed my preschooler. She’s pushing four. So obviously, I’ve been breastfeeding a while. We nurse maybe two or three times a day. As she gets older it happens less, becomes a brief sweet interlude in our busy days. I love my daughter and she loves her “baboo time”, and of course, I often do it for her. Sometimes I might not feel like it, I might feel a bit touched out, I might put her off because I’m not wearing the right bra or I’m in a nice dress with no boob access. I get to have a say too. And because I have a say, I will say: Sometimes when we breastfeed, I also do it for me.

It’s kind of taboo, especially with an older boobling, to say that.

I nurse my daughter for many reasons and some of those reasons are selfless. Some of them are not.

I wouldn’t breastfeed A if I didn’t like to breastfeed her. And no, I don’t mean I like it in that creepy way some people think of when somebody talks about nursing older children (if this is you, seek help m’kay?). Sometimes, just taking a moment in the day to reconnect, in a way that is special to us, is pretty wonderful. The oxytocin starts flowing and we are having a cuddle and I remember how much I love being her mum and just enjoy the closeness we have.

I also nurse her at bedtime because thank goodness for boob, it makes bedtime in this house so frickin easy. Ten minutes and zzzz, she is OUT. No bedtime battles here. I am happily smug, with a glass of wine by 7pm in our house. It’s not the bedtime magic bullet for everyone, but I am so glad it is for me!

I breastfeed my daughter because she rarely gets sick. I’ve had to take less than a handful of days leave from work despite her being at childcare four days out of seven. Hurrah for that milky, immune system supporting magic!

I nurse her back to sleep at 5.30am, because quite frankly, I am not ready to get up and it means I am not cursing CBeebies because it doesn’t start until 6am like some of my parent friends are. Seriously though BBC, sort that s*** out.

I nurse her because it cures any tantrum and upset without me having to negotiate a screaming, writhing, octopus child. This is great for me, I am not so great at negotiating with a screaming kid. My husband is awesome at it. Me? I’m glad I have a boob to use.

I don’t nurse her for this reason but it is nice to know I have significantly reduced my chances of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.

I nurse my daughter because it is special to me.

I nurse her because I love to see the sheer joy on her face as I say “oh okay then”, as she jumps on my lap and laughs as I cuddle her close.

I breastfeed her because I love it.

Breastfeeding is for the dyad. That means both participants. Not just the baby. When we deny this to the world and laugh and say “oh, it is all for them really” aren’t we really saying it is unacceptable for the mother to enjoy breastfeeding? Why do we have to be martyrs? Why does it feel so scandalous to say “You know what, sometimes I really enjoy breastfeeding my toddler?”

That day is coming down the road fast, so fast. Too fast. I know the day when my child will no longer need those special cuddles and breastfeeds will come and go before I know it. This won’t be forever, and when it ends, I will treasure those memories, though my arms will ache and feel empty. Snatching a brief hug here, and a brief snuggle there as my child runs away to play with her friends. This is the way that parenting goes. It moves on, it evolves and often, you don’t get a say in whether you are ready. It just happens.

Once, way back when A was a babe I was agonising over whether to start putting her into her own bedroom. I remember clearly when this lovely lady who ran the group smiled at me and said, “Our children are always moving away from us, don’t rush it if you don’t want to”. Her words were so beautiful. I think I will remember them forever.

So I’m not going to rush it or deny what I get out of breastfeeding too. While I might not savour every moment, and I won’t tell you to, because that is false, and not how life is, I will also not be ashamed to say I breastfeed for me as well as for my child.

I will speak my truth.

Remember, it’s okay to speak yours.

Like this? Watch this space, and subscribe or like me on FacebookInstagram or Twitter for news of upcoming blogs .

Busting Baby Sleep Myths

Whether or not your baby sleeps through the night, remember your success as a parent is defined by so much more.

Without a doubt, sleep deprivation is one of the biggest challenges I have faced to date while raising A. The lowest points were after her twelve week birthday. We went to bed together one evening as normal and instead of the couple of hours I had become used to, she woke up after forty-five minutes. And then forty-five minutes after that. And…well you get the picture. For a long time, she woke very frequently. She was *gasp* a couple of months shy of four before she really consistently slept for most of the night.

I cannot count the hours I spent googling baby sleep. Sleep became an all-consuming topic for me. I read everything. Worried about everything. I was determined to find out WHY my baby would not sleep. I lacked a lot of knowledge about what is normal sleep, not just in babies, but in toddlers and preschoolers. I wasted a lot of time. While we did find some triggers for her frequent waking, some of it was just personality. Miss A is now a bright, inquisitive, smart and curious pre-schooler and sleep, well sleep is boring isn’t it? Her father also gets by happily on less sleep than average. Indeed, some studies have suggested the way our children sleep, may actually be largely genetic.

I really want to say one thing I think a lot of parents need to hear, so listen up. If your baby doesn’t sleep through the night, it is unlikely to be your fault.

Here are some of the most common myths about how and where babies sleep:

Your baby should be sleeping through the night by *insert arbitrary figure here*

A lot of popular information suggests babies should be capable of sleeping through the night from an early age. In reality, instead of talking about “sleeping through the night” we should talk about babies sleeping in ‘consolidated blocks’. In many scientific studies, ‘sleeping through the night’ is defined as sleeping a 5 hour period between midnight and 5am. Not quite the picture parents have in mind! Research has shown huge variance in when babies start to sleep in consolidated blocks and whether they settle themselves, or ‘signal’ (read yell their little heads off) for assistance. We don’t know why there is such a big difference, though many feel the answers lie in the personality of the baby.

BASIS suggests it is completely normal when infants wake frequently for the first year and beyond. Indeed, they say 13% of year old babies, still do not sleep in a consolidated block of 5 hours or more regularly. Gives us a slightly new perspective on those baby sleep books!

Toddlers definitely shouldn’t be waking up at night though right?

Though there seems to be a huge divide about when babies should sleep through the night, it feels like most people are in agreement that toddlers definitely should. However, again, the research doesn’t particularly back this idea up. Studies have shown that toddlers often continue to wake up during the night and need input from their parents, well into the second year of life.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, someone who has spent an awful lot more time talking in an evidence-based fashion about how children sleep than me, suggests sleeping through is more like a roller coaster, than a linear trajectory. Basically, children are all different, and some may sleep “well” from babyhood, others may well be into their pre-school years before they consistently start to “sleep through”. Both are normal.

Formula or solid food helps babies to sleep better at night

Yeah, I had high hopes for starting solids too. My baby was totally going to sleep through once she was on solid foods! Except she didn’t. Also, formula fed babies still wake up frequently at night, the difference is, you also have to go downstairs and make bottles when they do. When people insist babies fed formula sleep better it is frankly insulting to their hard-working parents, who are up with bottles in the middle of the night. Seriously, it’s not like safe formula prep at 2am is the easy option! I wish we would stop saying that it is. These pervasive myths are by far best addressed by this lovely video from the team at Swansea University (I apologise if the catchy tune gets stuck in your head!):

If you stop feeding your baby at night, you will get more sleep

Sometimes night weaning might be helpful, and sometimes- it might not. This is because advocates of night weaning often forget that night waking is not just about food for babies. Development spurts often play their part. It is particularly common to hear parents asking about night weaning when they are smack in the middle of a leap. This may be absolutely the worst time to attempt night weaning. Your child is waking because they need reassurance, pulling away might actually make things worse or result in a lot of distress. Successful night weaning often depends on whether the child (and the mother) is truly ready.

I gently night weaned my preschooler when she was three. I’ll be honest, at first it made absolutely no difference to her sleep, and in fact, she still wakes up and asks for a cuddle and a drink. So if you are considering night weaning, it might be a good idea to think carefully about how you will feel if sleep does not improve. If your child still wakes up, will night weaning still help you feel more rested? For me, it made quite a lot of difference as I struggled to sleep through night feeds, but could sleep through a cuddle. If you are a mum who finds you can sleep through the night feeds anyway, it may make less difference.

Most gentle parenting and breastfeeding advocates do not suggest night weaning babies under twelve months old. These babies may still need night feeds. Which leads us on to…

A baby no longer needs to breastfeed at night once they have reached a certain age or weight

It is common for people to suggest babies do not “need” night feeds once they are six weeks/six months/double their birth weight etc…

Firstly, can we define ‘need’? Breastfeeding is, as well as a way to satisfy hunger, a relationship. A breastfeed is a cuddle, immunity, reassurance, warmth. How many times a night might you wake and have a sip of water, adjust your blankets, reach out for a warm body to snuggle into?

Secondly, this doesn’t take into account that all babies are different, and all boobies are different! Have a read about milk storage capacity here. Some mothers may need to feed more frequently to give the baby the same amount of milk per feed as her friend. This is not a mother with a supply problem, but natural variation. In order to support a healthy milk supply, breastfeeding works best when babies are fed to cue. In the first year milk is the most crucial part of baby’s nutrition and what is important is not how much baby gets per feed, but how much they get in twenty-four hours. A set rule for everyone just goes against basic biology.

In many cases, breastfeeding is a far easier way to get baby to sleep more quickly, and get better quality sleep. Use that magic while you can!

Responding to your baby every time they cry at night, makes children dependent and clingy

This is so far from the truth it makes me laugh. There is a wealth of research which suggests responsive parenting promotes healthy, secure and confident children. See Unicef’s “building a happy baby” leaflet or look into “attachment theory”. Not responding to children has been shown to do exactly the opposite of making children independent. Sleep training is a divisive subject and a blog post of its own. I will simply say, it isn’t the magic bullet people suggest, and that more information on it can be found here.

Responding to your baby does good things for both of you!

Bed-sharing is *the* most dangerous way for your baby to sleep! Don’t do it!

So this one was a massive bug-bear of mine. We previously have not been having nuanced conversations with parents about where breastfed babies should sleep. Positively, the tide seems to be turning a little recently, with the Lullaby Trust, Unicef UK, BASIS and PHE collaborating on new safe sleep guidelines which finally discuss bed-sharing in the mix.

Why is it important to talk about this? Because otherwise parents do not talk to their health visitors about this for fear of judgement. And then, they do not get the information they need about how to bed-share safely. On any given night 22% of babies will be bedsharing with their parents. Blanket recommendations not to bedshare have been clearly shown not to work and may have even increased the risk of SIDS for our babies.

We have historically focused more on the risk of bed-sharing to breastfed babies than we do on the increased risk of SIDS from other practices which parents might turn to instead- like sofa sleeping or giving formula instead to help their baby to sleep. Why have we not talked more about the impact of alcohol, smoking and drugs on SIDS rates? Risks which are so much greater? Why are we still not getting our knickers in a knot about the relationship between poverty and SIDS rates and holding society accountable for that? Focusing our support and resources on all of these things would have so much more impact.

Unicef Co-sleeping Guidance for Health Professionals

For a long time health professionals have been in a tricky spot. Advocating 6 months exclusively breastfeeding yet having to advise against one of the tools that help many people to achieve it. Studies suggest “breast-sleeping” (i.e. bedsharing as a breastfeeding mother) supports breastfeeding, with mothers showing increased responsiveness and increased breastfeeding overnight (see below for links to a wealth of research information). Mothers who bedshare also tend to breastfeed for longer than mothers who do not.

I could go on about this forever, but I won’t. I am glad the guidance is finally start to shift in line with the reality for many families. If you are considering bedsharing with your baby, read evidence-based information and decide what is right for your baby. Safety guidelines are really important if you go ahead. You can see these in the new guidance I have already linked, as well as here, and here, and here.

If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing, what would it be? I would love to do away with this culture where parents who announce their child is sleeping well get congratulated. I slept well for years before children. I am pretty sure nobody said “well done” every time I woke up after a full 8 hours. Nobody insinuated this made me a better person, or that it was because of the big dinner I had that night. I want to stop having to reassure and comfort tired parents in breastfeeding groups who think their baby is broken. Not because it annoys me to do so, but because this crippling pressure is unfair to them. We create it with expectations which are so off-kilter from reality it is ridiculous. I would love people to start showing empathy to parents rather than judgement. Maybe help them out around the house, or make them a coffee. In the absence of a magic wand, I hope the myths busted in this blog help. Watch this space, and subscribe or like me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for news of upcoming blogs about how to cope with frequent night waking, and gentle night weaning.

You can find more good information about sleep here:https://www.basisonline.org.uk/

Recommending reading about infant and child sleep:

Bedsharing research:

For more papers from Prof Helen Ball

Evidence based bedsharing info from BASIS site

Prof. James Mckenna’s work here

Image Credit: https://www.basisonline.org.uk/co-sleeping-image-archive/

Updated: 27/03/19

Tips for Breastfeeding a Baby With a Tongue Tie

When my daughter was born we had issues establishing breastfeeding. Feeding her was painful, and her weight gain was slow because she was tongue-tied. My memories of the early days of motherhood are still a haze to me, but by far one of my clearest (and saddest) memories was of looking at my perfect baby girl, willing her not to wake up. I couldn’t bear to feed her again. My nipples were bruised and cracked. I was on strong painkillers, because I had an emergency C-section, yet even with those, the pain far outweighed the wound I was recovering from. For various reasons, I was feeding my daughter for seven weeks before her tie was fully released and feeding started along the slow path to improvement. I won’t dwell too much on my story, perhaps I will tell it more fully one day on another blog. The purpose of this one is to share a few things I found helped me during the long weeks, plus a few things I have learned during my training in breastfeeding support.

There may be many reasons you are waiting to have a tongue tie division or indeed you may have decided the procedure isn’t the right decision for your family. Here are a few ideas and tips for you to consider.

Seek experienced feeding support whatever position you find yourself in. Find a lovely boob group too. Whatever happens on your breastfeeding journey, remember it is a journey. Sometimes a division isn’t an instant fix. Ongoing experienced support and moral support can be really helpful. Find a breastfeeding group here.

A breastfeeding counsellor or IBCLC can help you experiment with different positions. Some positions which work well for tied babies include laidback breastfeeding, the rugby hold, the straddle hold. Pay particular attention to the fundamentals of good attachment as this may be a harder to achieve with a tongue tied baby.

Get skin to skin! Skin to skin feeding can really help encourage a baby’s natural latching reflexes and has the added bonus of removing layers which separate you and the baby. It may just make that bit of difference.

Experiment with exaggerated latch techniques. These can be really helpful to encourage a deeper attachment. Options include tilting the nipple (“flipple”) or shaping the breast (“breast sandwich”).

It can be really helpful to use a couple of different positions while feeding when feeding is painful. This is because it stops the same part of the nipple being hurt and potentially damaged at every feed.

If baby struggles to transfer milk effectively while feeding

If feeds are very lengthy, painful or your breasts don’t feel relieved afterwards- there are a couple of things you can try. Breast compressions can improve milk transfer. Switch nursing can keep an ineffective feeder from falling asleep too soon at the breast and maximise milk intake. Combining both techniques can be particularly effective. Using both techniques during a feed might look like this; offer boob one, when the baby looks like their sucking is slowing (fluttering) or getting sleepy use compressions to speed up the milk flow again. You might find that sleepy baby springs awake again because babies often respond to milk flow! Once compressions become less effective, switch baby to side two and repeat. Once the same thing happens, then offer the first side again, and continue switching until baby signals they are done. You will ideally offer 4 sides minimum per feed.

Patience and support are important when feeding tied babies. Feeds may take longer than average and babies may feed more frequently to compensate. It can be helpful to reflect on your wider support network. Can someone help around the house or with other children while this is going on? Can your partner/family/friends offer any extra support?

Keep a close eye on nappy output and weight gain, and keep in contact with that experienced breastfeeding support I talked about earlier. An experienced supporter can help you to decide if your baby needs additional supplements of expressed milk and give you information about how best to do this while protecting your milk supply.

Sometimes the baby may be doing well but you may be struggling with engorged breasts, blocked ducts and even bouts of mastitis. If this is the case, firstly ouch, I am so sorry! One thing to consider may be expressing milk for a short amount of time after feeds to soften the breasts. This may also protect your long-term milk supply. If you need support with blocked ducts this factsheet might be useful.

“I can’t carry on! Feeding is too painful!”

Nipple shields are often considered by mothers in this situation. There can be some pitfalls to using shields, but if it is a choice between a shield or a bottle, a shield might be the better option. Ideally, shields need to be used with support from experienced breastfeeding support. Attention still needs paying to try to achieve a deep latch. Here is some more information to consider while using a shield.

I can empathise when mothers decide to use a bottle because they have tried so many options, and feeding is just too painful. Sometimes a mother may have nipple damage and just can’t bear feeding on demand at that time. I know how tough it is. If this is you remember to talk to your breastfeeding support person. In an ideal world you will still offer the breast for at least some feeds in a 24 hour period. As babies get bigger often latching can improve. It may also help with transition back to fully breastfeeding if this is what you want to do. Continuing to offer the breast, even if it is only a small amount to practise breastfeeding, protects your options down the line. If mixing breast with bottle, paced feeding techniques can be helpful to reduce the risks of bottle flow preferences. There are also alternatives to bottles, for example syringe or cup feeding.

If your baby is not breastfeeding much, or not at all, you may find the following information links useful:

Information on expressing: https://www.laleche.org.uk/expressing-your-milk/

Maintaining milk supply if the baby is not directly breastfeeding: https://kellymom.com/bf/got-milk/basics/maintainsupply-pump/

If using bottles or formula continuing to express when baby has a bottle can help support your milk production. Remember skin to skin is not only great for supply, but does good things for both of you, so keep baby close however you feed them. If you are using some formula it is important to prepare it safely.

Nipple damage

If you have sore nipples but no open wounds, there is no evidence a cream is more helpful than using your own milk rubbed into the nipple.

If you have bruising, the usual treatment for bruising can be helpful such as cold compresses after feeds.

If you have open wounds, moist wound healing may be helpful. This is essentially treating a cracked nipple like a cracked lip and not allowing it to dry out. Cracks in nipples that dry out may split open again at every feed, and this can be very painful. Keeping the crack soft can help healing from the inside out. There is no evidence any one cream is better than another, some mums prefer a lanolin based cream but soft white paraffin (Vaseline) can be just as effective and cheaper. Do use a new pot though and not something that’s been knocking about in the medicine cabinet for donkeys years! Both of these options are safe to breastfeed with, no need to wash off. Just wipe any excess off before feeds.

While we are on the subject of washing, if you have cracked nipples it is essential the wound is kept clean to prevent infections. Some mums use a fragrance-free soap (some babies can be bothered by strong perfumes), others prefer a salt water rinse like the one suggested here.

It might be helpful to start feeds on the least sore or damaged side, babies tend to suck more vigorously at the start of a feed. If you do this, listen to your body to make sure the other breast is still adequately having milk removed, via expression if necessary, to help avoid any engorgement or loss of supply.

If you are in a lot of pain feeding here is information on analgesics which you can use to help.

When you have a long wait for a tongue tie division, I know it can feel impossible. Like an eternity. Those early weeks can feel like months even when things go smoothly. I can totally empathise how overwhelming it might feel. I can’t tell you whether to stick it out, or what is best for you but I can tell you that you are stronger than you know you are.

I remember one day being asked why I had persevered with breastfeeding for so many weeks despite painful challenges. This is something I’ve considered a lot because on that day I couldn’t give an answer.  One thing I have come to understand is often it isn’t really about “the milk”, it is about an inner desire for this connection to our babies. Focusing on that can be more motivating than anything else. Try to remember why you started breastfeeding and why it is important to you. Encourage your partner to remind you of this. Hold on to any moments that are positive. Remember any breastfeeding you can do is significant. Setting small goals can be helpful- try to think about making it to the next day, or next week rather than longer term. This will all pass someday. By setting small goals one day you might suddenly realise you have stopped setting goals to get to next week and will know that the worst is behind you.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have support so you can talk it through and feel empowered to make decisions you feel at peace with. Finally, remember, there are lots of us out there to support you. You got this mama💚.

For more information and support:

Association of Tongue-tie Practioners for information about tongue tie

If you need support or someone to talk to fast about the issues you are having try the National Breastfeeding Helpline

Facebook tongue tie support group

Find me on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/OxytocinAndOtherStories

CMPA and the Question of Over Diagnosis

Let’s not argue about whether CMPA is over-diagnosed. We need to be angry about poor industry ethics instead.

This week the BMJ released an article raising questions about industry involvement in CMPA diagnosis, questioning the huge rise in babies being prescribed specialist allergy formulas. As an allergy parent who fought for a diagnosis, and a breastfeeding volunteer I have followed the report in the BMJ with interest. Some people feel this article dismisses the struggles many go through to achieve an allergy diagnosis and have been very vocal about expressing this.

I can understand this. I too have mixed feelings about the report. Much of what it says is familiar to me. In the UK, our cultural attitudes toward babies often create issues. Normal behaviours such as wanting to breastfeed frequently and stay close to the mother sometimes end up being turned into some sort of pathology, be that reflux or allergies or tongue tie. In some cases, anxious parents don’t realise that WEIRD nations genuinely do have some weird ideas about how babies should behave.  I have also seen families in the UK move to formula, overwhelmed when CMPA is suggested because giving up milk seems a huge undertaking that no one is supporting them with. Worse, in some cases nobody is even questioning whether it was the right approach for that parent in the first place.

On the flipside as an allergy parent, it really does make me upset that this article release may mean it is now even harder for families to get a non-IgE diagnosis. Many non-IgE CMPA families are still struggling to have their children’s allergies identified or recognised. I experienced this first hand. I worry clinicians may read this article without understanding fully how to identify and diagnose non-IgE allergy; for example, the importance of taking an allergy-focused clinical history. My worry is we will see a swing back to other interventions for families, such as acid reflux medications, which may be more problematic. Especially if we keep failing here in the UK to support families properly.

The UK is often not good at supporting breastfeeding or indeed, parenting generally. We under-fund or cut breastfeeding support services, what’s more, we then don’t give families who are bottle feeding enough support either. We overstretch our wonderful health visitors and doctors so they can’t spend enough time with concerned parents. Our media promote ridiculous ideas about how our babies should sleep, feed and behave. Our government policies result in the shutting down of children’s centres and cuts to children’s services.

However, upset as I am about all of this (and I am) what really makes me furious with CMPA in particular is the industry meddling and sponsorship of research that has been allowed to proliferate. It is this which now threatens to undermine the diagnosis and awareness of non-IgE CMPA. I don’t know if CMPA is being overdiagnosed. I don’t think anyone can say with surety that it is. However, we can’t criticise the authors of the BMJ article for simply pointing out that bias is a problem here. The appearance of bias is a worry regardless of the extent. We can argue forever whether or not this researcher or that researcher was biased. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they can look like they are.

What makes me angry is that big formula sells both the problem and the solution and this is seen as acceptable.

What makes me mad is that big formula has been allowed anywhere near creating the guidelines for CMPA diagnosis. This opened the door to the criticism that has now emerged.

I am not mad at the scientific and medical community for raising a valid concern about bias.

Professionals and anyone speaking publicly about allergy, be that scientists, doctors, charities,  lactation workers or allergy bloggers need to be thinking hard about conflict of interest in their work and the impact this might have down the line on their credibility. It is this we should all be getting angry about. Parents and babies deserve better. After all, ultimately they are the ones who suffer and deal with the consequences.

Update 9-12-18: The BMJ are currently reviewing their policies around accepting advertising from infant formula companies. If it is important to you that parents are given high quality and independent evidence based information please sign this petition.

Parenting with Social Anxiety

social anxiety and parenting 2

Confession time. This is a scary blog to put out there. I’ve dithered posting it and re-drafted it a million times because it is so personal. But here goes. I struggle with social anxiety. Some close friends and family already know this about me. Some people might be surprised I guess. It is something I have lived with to varying degrees since I was a child. Over the years I have developed coping strategies, and mostly, I get by. I can usually play the part of a functional adult. However, still, on very bad days the idea of the smallest interaction with someone else can make me feel pretty stressed.

My anxiety was probably worst during my pre-teen years and adolescence. At its peak, during my first year at secondary school, I barely talked to another person, aside from my teachers, or family. Not an exaggeration. It was a really unhappy time for me. I am amazed now, that not a single teacher spoke to my parents about it. This was during the ’90s. I hope social anxiety is more recognised now, that young people get more support than I did.

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety isn’t simply shyness. It’s intense fear that can affect everyday life. Lots of people feel uneasy in social situations. However, for someone with social anxiety, those feelings can be very difficult to manage.

According to the NHS, you may have social anxiety if you:

  • dread everyday activities, such as meeting strangers, starting conversations, speaking on the phone, working or shopping
  • avoid or worry a lot about social activities, such as group conversations, eating with company, and parties
  • always worry about doing something you think is embarrassing
  • find it difficult to do things when others are watching – you may feel like you’re being watched and judged all the time
  • fear criticism, avoid eye contact or have low self-esteem
  • often have symptoms such as feeling sick, sweating, trembling or a pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
social-anxiety-and-parenting-e1544006712838.jpg

Personally, my anxiety manifests in a few ways. Much of the above is very familiar to me. For example, in a conversation with another person, I am often half listening, wondering how I am coming across to the other person. What are they thinking? Do they like me? What should I say next? Did they just give me a funny look? Am I boring them!? This distraction isn’t a lot of fun for the other person either to be fair. On bad days this internal narrative is so overwhelming my mind goes blank, and I cannot think of a thing to say. Sometimes, I respond almost defensively to the most innocuous of questions. A simple, “How are things with you guys?” can send me into a panic. I desperately try to think of something interesting to say, and fail, awkwardly shrugging “Oh well, you know, nothing really”. Then I spend the rest of the day (even days) berating myself.

I apologise to all my friends who have endured these painful interactions with me. Thank you for seeing past it all and being kind. In truth, I am luckier than some. I have a loving husband and family, I have had help, my anxiety is always there, but mostly under control. I can go to a party where I don’t know people well. I have some good friends. Held down a career in freelance design. I do volunteer work that I love. You see, I do actually want to be around people. People think socially anxious people don’t want to socialise, and that’s just not true, at least not for me. It is just we also find it incredibly difficult.

Parties or gatherings of large people can be most difficult for me to navigate. I  make sure these days, that I don’t allow my anxiety to control whether or not I go. I used to just turn down invitations to parties. I still get that white-hot fear though, when I walk into a room full of people even if I know most of them. How I feel the event went can have a profound impact on my mood. If I think I managed to navigate it with more ease than usual, I am happy. If I have an awkward moment, not only am I anxious about how that must have looked, but it descends into this horrible feeling of shame and embarrassment about who I am as a person later. The self-loathing sometimes lasts for days. Regardless of how the event went, I am often exhausted afterwards.

At 35, when I had my baby, I was thrown into a new world. I suddenly had to have adult conversations in a room full of parents I didn’t know, a situation which scares the pants off me. I didn’t do many classes and groups. I often found myself making an excuse to avoid them. “Those classes more stress than they are worth” (true, but not entirely the truth). I went to one baby group where not one person spoke to or made eye contact with me. It was such a triggering experience, I didn’t ever try another local village group. Despite tons of breastfeeding issues, I think my daughter was months old before I managed to get to a breastfeeding support group without a friend. The kindness of peer supporters and mothers there made that group my lifeline really. Thank goodness for boob group, NCT friends and Facebook because I think these things actually saved me from acute loneliness in the early days of motherhood.

People sometimes don’t believe me when I say I now do volunteer work yet am socially anxious. Especially when I say I also do telephone support and they are familiar with me dithering around, taking a week to call a plumber! However, my support work is so much easier to navigate than a baby group. It is like putting on a costume. I have conversational tools from my training to support women. There are some questions you always have to ask, some issues which are so very common, these things form a kind of familiar script, so I always have something to say. Silences are encouraged so it gives me time to think. I am often asked about specific issues and have a bank of knowledge I can draw from to move the conversation forward. Crucially, I am not focusing on myself, but on someone else. I can largely forget about what people are thinking about me. I don’t have to worry about making the mums I support my friends. In fact, it is actively discouraged. The tools I have gained in training have been immensely helpful to me in ‘real life’ social situations, however, and it has really built my confidence.

As my daughter gets older I now find myself often scrutinising her interactions with other children. My biggest fear is that she ends up like me. The maddening thing is, I know the more anxious I am around people in front of her, the more likely this is. This encourages me to navigate situations I would have previously avoided. My daughter drives me on to be my best self. While she is a little shy as a child and often overwhelmed in busy situations, I have seen how well she interacts with other children at nursery or smaller groups. I try to reassure myself she’s doing fine, and no different to many of her peers. Next year she starts school. I cannot articulate how worried I feel for her. I desperately hope she does ok, that she makes friends and has a “normal” experience.

If you are a parent with social anxiety but you push yourself into situations which make you anxious try to remember this: it takes guts. Finding the courage to go to that group is amazing. Even if you don’t speak to anyone, feel proud. You were brave. Being a parent with social anxiety can be hard. You may lose the “crutches” or coping strategies you had developed pre-children. On top of this, as parents, we may be dealing with a loss of our professional identity and other parts of ourselves. You are navigating a new beginning. Like many new starts, if you lack confidence, it can be even more stressful. So give yourself credit where it is due.

I still remember the girl who finally befriended me at school during my worst period of social anxiety. I don’t think she knows what she did but she made a lifelong impression with her kindness. My appeal to everyone is, please say hello to that quiet mum in the corner of the playgroup if you can. Make eye contact, smile, reach out, be kind. Sometimes, someone is standoffish because they are anxious. Please be forgiving. Engage that scared looking person in a conversation. It might not be the start of a beautiful friendship, but you might be the person who helps them get through the day smiling or encourages them to come to the group again. They may actually make a friend or two eventually. Small gestures count. Make them a cuppa. You never know the difference your kindness might make to someone.

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Social anxiety support:

If you can relate to the issues raised in this blog, first and foremost, seeing your GP might be helpful. You may also have local counselling services you can self-refer to. CBT is considered one of the most effective interventions for social anxiety.

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Review: Why Mothers’ Medication Matters

Author: Wendy Jones

Publisher: Pinter and Martin

ISBN: 978-1-78066-585-6

Why mothers medication matters review

“There is evidence out there for the vast majority of drugs that should enable mothers to continue breastfeeding while obtaining the medical treatment they need… none of this is difficult. If we value breastmilk for its wonderful properties, practice evidence-based medicine, and respect mothers, we could transform women’s experience of seeking treatment.” Wendy Jones “Why Mothers’ Medication Matters”

A while ago, I had the privilege of reviewing this wonderful book, my review has now been published, so I am excited to be able to share it with you all here.

Wendy Jones is an inspiring figure in the field of lactation. A massively experienced Breastfeeding Supporter for the Breastfeeding Network and a qualified pharmacist; Wendy has tirelessly worked to help parents who breastfeed. Any breastfeeding supporter or counsellor should be aware of the brilliant “Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service”. This wonderful resource tirelessly gives information to lactating people about medications they may need to take during breastfeeding.

Prescribing medication for breastfeeding parents can be difficult for health professionals yet parents often need medication, whether it is short-term use of painkillers, antidepressants, or drugs to treat chronic conditions. Women are often given misinformation about what medications they can and cannot take.

In this book, Wendy Jones sets out to give mothers and health professionals information they need to make decisions about medication and to reassure fears that parents may have about adverse effects on babies of drugs passing through breastmilk.

Wendy Jones opens her book with an introduction to her subject, providing heartstring tugging examples of why better support around medications and breastfeeding really matters. Putting a human face and empathy on what could easily be quite a dry subject matter is something she continues to do throughout the book. The case studies are really moving, covering examples like postpartum women on a maternity ward being told they could only take paracetamol while recovering from c-sections or episiotomies and mothers dealing with weaning decisions after being given a cancer diagnosis, among many others.

Further chapters explore topics like why prescribing for lactating people can be so fraught with confusion, drugs during pregnancy and birth and their impact, treatment of chronic health conditions and depression as well as looking at ‘lifestyle’ drugs including alcohol and recreational drugs. The chapter on over-medicalisation of common issues like infant reflux, CMPA and colic are a must read for any peer supporter, particularly those among us who provide support on online forums where suggestions of reflux and CMPA are common. Some of the facts and studies Wendy discusses are truly eye-opening and the book is well referenced with a focus on remaining evidence-based.

why mothers medication matters book

Wendy ends her book with a discussion about where women can go on to get support around prescribing issues, and talking about milk donation. The final chapters are a heartfelt overview of the differences between breastmilk and formula milk and why we shouldn’t be assuming “formula milk is fine” if a lactating parent needs medication and her conclusions about why medication matters for breastfeeding parents.

This book is about so much more than medication; it is a wide-ranging overview of issues breastfeeding parents may face dealing with their healthcare. The ideal length and level of detail for a breastfeeding peer supporter, as well as a good introduction to the topic for training breastfeeding counsellors and health professionals I would whole-heartedly recommend “Why Mothers’ Medication Matters to anyone.

Buy “Why Mothers’ Medication Matters” by Wendy Jones and other excellent titles from the ‘Why it Matters’ range, over at Pinter & Martin

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*I draw no income from my writing, my blog features no ads, be reassured links given to purchase this title are completely independent and not affiliate! #adfree

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The 12 Days of Boobin’! Christmas Tips for Breastfeeding Mums

Enjoying the holidays, and breastfeeding your baby are not mutually exclusive

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Soon many of us will be spending time with friends and family, and while we may look forward to the holiday, some may find the idea of breastfeeding over the Christmas break brings up a few anxieties.

First of all, in my view, there is one brilliant advantage to breastfeeding over the Christmas period, You have the perfect excuse to slip away and get some quiet time (hopefully with a box of choccies to keep you company) because “baby feeds better without distractions”. Another bonus- you also have the perfect excuse for turning down events you don’t really want to go to. Maybe that’s just me. I am happiest in PJs with a glass of wine.

Other people may prefer to drink their wine wearing their party gear, and worry that this breastfeeding malarkey means they are going to miss out on all the fun.

I know often concerns revolve around family members, particularly breastfeeding in front of them. Some people worry that Auntie Lynda will go on (and on) about how she thinks the baby should be on bottles/formula/Christmas dinner and all the trimmings by now.

christmas breastfeeding meme

So here are a few of my thoughts on how to make life easier as a breastfeeding mum over the Christmas holidays.

Baby Wearing

Worried about baby being passed around like the tin of Roses, during peak cold and flu season? Wear your baby! You will be surprised how much less well-meaning relatives will demand a cuddle when they see a baby all cosy in a sling.

Wearing Your Baby has the added advantage of keeping them close, which leads me onto my next point…

Expect Baby to Change Their Feeding Habits

Often over holiday periods, things are busier and babies are more stimulated. It is easy to miss feeding cues, or breastfeeds. During long journeys, a baby might sleep more than usual. Lights and music and new people often mean distracted babies that don’t feed as well or cue for a feed less. Quite often babies are being passed around for cuddles. Sometimes Uncle Gary might decide he can soothe the crying baby himself rather than passing them back to Mum. Sometimes mum is distracted entertaining friends and family or making food.

Building in times during the day to breastfeed might be a helpful way to combat this, or alternatively see above; Wear baby more so they stay close! If you are undertaking long journeys build in some rest breaks to allow time for boobin’.

Alternatively, baby might be out of sorts, cranky, overstimulated and want boob ALL THE TIME, also normal! In fact, in these situations, nursing can be a godsend. It is often much easier to calm a baby with a breastfeed.

Nursing also gives you an excuse to get out of peeling the sprouts or doing the cooking. I may or may not have personally used this as an excuse to sit on my bum eating Christmas cake (“It’s for the baby!”).

Make time to express if you are apart from your baby

If you are away to a party, or out for the day Christmas shopping you may want to build in some time to express. This is more important the younger your baby is. Not removing milk from your breasts may lead to engorgement and blocked ducts, and eventually lowered milk supply.

If you do find you develop some blocked ducts or engorgement, following self-care is important, this is great information from the Breastfeeding Network.

If your baby is having bottles while apart from you, making sure responsive feeding methods are used can be helpful. Click the link for a video demo.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

Most sources suggest a moderate intake of alcohol while breastfeeding is fine. You can still have a glass of wine or two and breastfeed. However -and this would be true however you feed- as a parent you need to be careful you are still fit to care for a small child. Bedsharing after drinking alcohol is also a no-no. If you fancy a blowout, expressing some milk in advance might be helpful, as well as enlisting a babysitter.

Some useful links:

Pass the stuffing, please!

Christmas is often a time when the food police come out to tell you that you can’t eat your veggies because “baby might get windy” or that you need to avoid the stuffing or after-dinner mints because the sage or peppermint might “lower your milk supply”.

The good news is, there is no evidence-based research showing foods themselves will make your baby gassy (unless they already have a known allergy or intolerance to a certain food), and you would need to be eating absolutely VAST quantities of stuffing/mint for there to be any effect on your milk supply, so tuck in, and don’t worry.

In case you overdo things, many indigestion remedies are safe to take while breastfeeding. All on the link there. You’re welcome.

Don’t feed the baby!

baby food christmas breastfeeding

I’m not talking about breastfeeding here of course! However, older babies that have solids may be filled up with Christmas ‘treats’. It can be helpful to put aside some time for boobin’ toddlers too unless you are planning on weaning.

Sometimes, you may need to watch out for relatives trying to feed younger babies solids. Remember, some relatives may be from a generation where babies were given solids much younger than they are now, and may have no idea this isn’t OK. If you suspect this might happen, it might be helpful to be upfront; for example saying something along the lines of “It is important to me that the baby is closer to six months before giving them food, the research now suggests this is best for babies, and this is also what our health visitors have recommended”.

You may even want to think about ‘recruiting’ any prime suspect onside, have them “watch out for anyone who might give baby solids accidentally”. It is amazing how well giving people some trust and responsibility can work in your favour.

If well-meaning relatives are convinced giving baby Christmas dinner is the key to a full nights sleep- show them this!

Dealing with criticism

Make sure people know that you are proud of your breastfeeding relationship and that you see it as a good thing. If your relatives don’t see this as a chore they can relieve you of, you might find their attitude changes.

If you feel your choice to breastfeed is questioned, or that those surrounding you aren’t supportive, the “pass the bean dip” approach can be useful: https://twolittlegrasshoppers.com/tag/the-bean-dip-method/

If you have an older nursling, and you are worried about people questioning why you are “still breastfeeding”, Kellymom has some useful suggestions here too: https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/criticism/

Family members are generally well-meaning. They may be basing their ideas on outdated things they have been told. They might be open to learning about how recommendations have changed if you approach the subject gently.

Remember, you are the advocate for your baby/toddler/child. They cannot stand up for what they want. Give yourself permission to be unashamed. You do not have to answer to anyone else about your feeding relationship. Your boobs, your baby, your choice.

christmas babies

Choose clothing that provides easy boob access

Worried about feeding in front of family members? Consider practicing in front of a mirror, seeing how little is exposed might reassure you a little, especially if you use the “one up, one down” technique.

If you don’t feel comfortable getting your boobs out in front of family (maybe you have an inappropriate drunken uncle or two), the muslin trick is an inexpensive tip. Using a large muslin, tie one corner to the strap of your bra, and use the loose cloth to cover up any exposed areas. Or employ your partner on distraction duty to get uncle Roy into the kitchen for another sherry if that’s what makes you feel happier. Or, if like me you like a bit of a breather, use it as an excuse to get a bit of peace and quiet. When it comes to feeding, it is about what makes you feel more comfortable first and foremost.

If you need a party outfit or even some new fashion ideas for breastfeeding friendly clothing, why not join Can I Breastfeed In It? They are a UK facebook group, which have fantastic tips and ideas for feeding fashion (and they even have a selling page so you can grab yourself a bargain too).

christmas with a baby

So there you have it, some helpful tips for enjoying Christmas while continuing to breastfeed. Is there anything you think I have missed? What are your tips for breastfeeding over the holidays?

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