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Entries in Breastfeeding (13)

Tuesday
Sep112012

Does my baby have indigestion? An Ayurvedic perspective. 

Is your baby irritable and crying? Writhing or arching his back? Uncomfortable? Not sleeping? Are you starting to obsess over diets and allergies and wondering if your baby has indigestion? In Ayurveda we consider digestion the root of all health, but digestion holds a more broad and subtle meaning.Obviously we need to digest all the food we eat, but we also need to digest everything that touches our skin, everything we see and hear and the emotions we experience. Basically anything that we experience with any of our five senses needs to be digested by our bodies, minds and hearts.

Food indigestion

Your baby is very unlikely to have an allergy and food sensitivites are far less common than mothers are led to believe. If you are breastfeeding and your digestion is good, your babies digestion is likely to be good too. If you have bloating, lack of appetite or gas then maybe you need to cut down on really obviously unhealthy foods like chocolate, coffee and chips. If you want to know more about Ayurvedic diet suggestions for new mums click here and for more detail still see my teachers post on reflux here. If you baby truly has an allergy the crying will be accompanied by excessive vomiting, rash or persistent congestion, for more about allergies click here.

Mental indigestion

Another common myth is that babies get bored. Newborn babies are exceptionally sensitive to new experiences and are far more likely to be overstimulated by excessive play, cuddles with too many new people, lack of sleep or  even something as simple as being too hot or too cold. All of our thoughts need to be processed, which happens naturally when we sleep, or better still when we meditate, breath or find the time and space to just be. Allow your baby plenty of down time, to just contemplate the world, to absorb all her new experiences and just stare into space. 

Emotional indigestion

Maybe your baby is crying because of undigested emotions. A difficult birth for a baby or being seperated from his mother may cause of stress in a newborn and your baby may be crying because of emotional trauma. Sometimes small things like a fright or picking up on a mothers emotions can stress a tiny baby too. If you have met all of your babies physical needs (ie clean, dry fed etc) and your baby still won't settle then it is ok to hold your baby and allow them a safe space to express their emotions. You don't always have to stop your baby from crying, you can hold them through their suffering and reassure them of your unconditional love. In the pauses between crying you can say to your baby "I love you when you feel happy and I love you when you feel sad" or whatever else your heart moves you to say. You may even find yourself having a cry with your baby too!

 

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Monday
Apr302012

What is postpartum?

Quick word association game. I say postnatal, you say...

Let me guess, depression.

The word postnatal or postpartum comes from latin origins meaning literally after birth.

In a western medical sense postpartum refers to the six weeks after your baby is born, because this is about how long it takes for your uterus to contract down to it's normal size, and stop bleeding (called lochia).

Traditionally around the world postpartum refers to about 40 days 'lying in' after your baby is born. This is observed culturally in Guatemala, Korea, Lebanon... even in Victorian times in England women expected to observe a period on 'confinement' after giving birth. In China this time is called 'doing the month', in Greece it is referred to as 'fortifying' and in India some people use the word 'japa' which means a spiritual time spent reciting a mantra of devotion. How lovely is that?

All of these cultures and many more emphasise warmth, purification, nourishing food and rest. Massage, heat treatments, oil treatments, special soups and ritualised bathing are commonly a part of these cultural postpartum practises too. Mothers are excused from housework and socialising during this time.

But our understanding and expectations of women after childbirth are vastly different here is the West. In Australia birth is seen as a largely medical event, with women being discharged from hospital between 4 hours and 4 days after a normal birth. Gifts are given to the newborn and celebrations like baby showers and christenings are centred on the baby too. And women are expected to carry on without missing a beat.

However traditional cultures acknowledge birth as part of a holistic social, emotional and physical system. The birth of a mother is a time of deep initiation in a woman's life. She will experience more physical, social and psychological transformation during this transition than perhaps at any other time in her life.

I often wonder about the effects of this lying in period on bonding, establishing breastfeeding and emotional healing after birth. If we supported this sacred time I'm sure our mothers would be stepping forth with greater confidence in their new roles, and our whole community would benefit.

The word postpartum or postnatal holds little meaning or value in our culture, so is it any wonder it is so strongly associated with depression?

Friday
Mar302012

Four reasons why breastfeeding is like sex

Baby brain can sound like an insult, particularly in our task oriented, mathematical and rational society. But if you have been to my workshop you’ll know that baby brain is all part of natures grand plan.

As a postnatal doula time and time again I see women who want to breastfeed overloaded with task oriented, mathematical and rational solutions. Mothers are shown photos of correct attachment, read books full of conflicting information and shown videos of swallowing and sucking. They are told to go on special diets, weigh their baby, express milk at specific times of day, measures millilitres of milk and time feeds and count wet nappies…

It seems to me that the more we know about breastfeeding the harder it is to actually breastfeed.

This is because breastfeeding is a right brain activity, something we learn by feeling and doing. It is not an intellectual or academic activity, breastfeeding is emotional and relational. And the more a pregnant woman or mother knows about breastfeeding the more her brain will be filled with a hundred things that could go wrong and a thousand things to remember. A breastfeeding journey that begins in the left brain will inherently carry with it anxiety, competitiveness or lack of confidence.

Breastfeeding is a relationship, a journey. It is not something we can get right or wrong, or something we achieve. I feel it could help to think of breastfeeding with our right brain, just like sex!

1. Breastfeeding is a learned skill

Breastfeeding often begins with a few awkward encounters, but in a loving relationship mum and baby can get really, really good at it, without ever reading a sealed section. Forget about the mechanics of it all. Just get naked and hang out.


2. Prepare the mood

Low lights and relaxing music go a long way. Gaze into each others eyes. Chat and coo and cuddle. You may just find one thing leads to another…

3. Let your baby lead the way

Communication is the key. Babies have the advantage of not yet being conditioned by our left brain culture, they haven’t read all the books yet. They live in the right brain very easily and naturally and know instinctively what to do. Where breastfeeding is a learned skill for a mother, it is an inherent ability in a baby. If you don’t believe me watch Baby Led Breastfeeding by Christina Smillie- the best breastfeeding movie EVER.

4. Nourish your baby instead of feeding your baby

If breastfeeding didn’t work out for you don’t feel like a failure. The best nourishment you can give your baby does not come in a breast or bottle, it comes from your heart. This is true even if you are breastfeeding, don’t think of it as a transfer of nutrients from one body to another. Just feel and enjoy your loving relationship with your baby.

A few more article about right brain and breastfeeding:

http://www.scienceandsensibility.org/?p=559

http://theattachedfamily.com/membersonly/?p=1571

http://ameda.co.uk/how-much-do-i-need-know-i-breastfeed

 

Friday
Feb172012

Grief and depression after weaning

Oxytocin, as you probably know, is the feel good hormone that gets you all loved up to bond with your baby at birth. What many people don’t realise is that although it peaks at birth (between the birth of the baby and the birth of the placenta) oxytocin levels are high in a woman’s body for as long as she is breastfeeding.

If you have been to my workshop you’ll know that oxytocin makes mothers more tolerant of monotony and boredom, enjoy living in the moment, gives them the desire to spend more time with their baby and lowers their blood pressure.

Emotions like fear, anxiety, cravings, addictions, and boredom are all associated with stress hormones, which are inversely related to oxytocin. For example the more oxytocin you have the less adrenaline, and vice versa, so for as long as you are breastfeeding you have some natural protection from many of these unpleasant feelings.

Regardless of when and why you stop breastfeeding it will affect your hormones and it’s something we rarely talk about. When I stopped breastfeeding my own toddler a few months ago I expected to feel relieved. Instead I felt awful! I called my husband in tears saying “I want to start feeding her again!” I thought my daughter would resist weaning, but it actually seemed to affect me much more than her.

Interestingly I didn’t write about it at the time, maybe because I was too emotional. But I am writing about it now as a friend goes through the same thing and I realise we need to share these stories, and normalise the emotional experience of motherhood.

I feel that grief and depression after weaning is another important reason we need to be preparing women for a longer postpartum window. Mothers are frequently given the impression that after 6 weeks they’ll be on top of things, but recent research in the UK is finding that one year after birth is a more realistic timeframe for maternal adjustment.

Even as a postnatal doula I had never come across women experiencing grief and depression after choosing to wean. Maybe it was because I previously only worked with mothers for a few months postpartum (now I have expanded my services to support women for one year after birth). Or maybe I just wasn’t listening. Since my own experience I have talked to a number of mothers who found the same thing. 

Much of the research on depression associated with weaning focuses on mothers who cannot breastfeed, or whose babies self wean before the mother is ready. But this does not acknowledge the hormonal changes a woman experiences after weaning even if she chose to stop breastfeeding herself. Some women who breastfeed for as long as they enjoy it and wean by choice still find themselves spiralling into one or two months of depression after weaning.

I personally feel like the end of breastfeeding symbolises the end of a journey in which mother and baby have shared a physical body. It is normal to grieve the end of this connection, to feel a loss when your baby no longer takes nutrition for your body. And it is especially common for mothers to grieve after they wean their last child, knowing they will never experience breastfeeding again.

Only 14% of Australian mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding at six months, we talk a lot about the affect of early weaning on newborns, but how about it’s affect on mothers? I wonder how many cases of postnatal depression are associated with inability or decision not to breastfeed, and the subsequent effect on a mothers hormones?

The good new is there are many other ways to boost oxytocin levels, even if you can't or don't breastfeed, but you’ll have to sign up for my free workshop to find out more…

Sunday
Aug212011

Who do you share with when you are exhausted or overwhelmed?

Birth is a big deal in our culture. With all the fear and intervention and trauma surrounding birth it is not surprising that most mums haven't given a second thought to life after the Big Event. If you are pregnant consider making a list of phone numbers (before the baby is born) of people or places who can support you (after the baby is born). You might include:

  1. 24 hour breastfeeding helpline (1800 686 2 686 in Australia)
  2. Lactation consultant for one on one support if needed (you'll need someone local, and don't just depend on your hospital, they sometimes aren't that well qualified)
  3. 24 hour health advice helpline (1800 022 222 in Australia)
  4. Three like-minded friends who have babies within a year of yours
  5. Professional supports (maybe your midwife, obstetrician, doula, pediatrician or childbirth educator)
  6. Depression helpline (1300 22 4636 in Australia)