Friday, October 31, 2008

Full term breastfeeding

I often wonder why there is such turmoil over weaning babies, with worry and guilt and pressure from many sides and many agendas. I can remember defending my choice to nurse both of my children beyond a year. I remember the patience it took to educate others about toddler-led weaning. Believe me, I am a pretty open book about my life and experiences, and share a lot with others. I always do this in the hope of informing people and perhaps helping them to explore new ideas.

In my own experience, and that of my friends who have breastfed their babies well into toddlerhood, our children are healthy, well adjusted individuals. I nursed both of my children until a couple of months before their 3rd birthdays. By the second child I was more sure of myself, and now that my children are 5 and 9 I can't imagine caring for another child any other way.

I personally believe that nursing our children for a longer period will be shown in the future to have long-term health benefits for both mother and child. I was going to call this article "Extended breastfeeding" but then I came across the term "Full-term breastfeeding" and think it more accurately describes the practice. If you are contemplating nursing your baby for longer than your family or your community seems to support, here is some information give you a boost of confidence:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "A recent review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond."(1)

According to anthropologist B. Holly Smith, in non-human primates weaning occurs around the same time that the first permanent molars come in. (2) In humans that would be, on average, sometime after 6 years of age. Dr. Katherine Dettwyler discusses a number of primate studies in a great article called "A Natural Age of Weaning". (3)

And finally, the words of the wonderful Dr. Jack Newman,

"Possibly the most important aspect of nursing a toddler is not the nutritional or immunologic benefits, important as they are. I believe the most important aspect of nursing a toddler is the special relationship between child and mother. Breastfeeding is a life affirming act of love. This continues when the baby becomes a toddler. Anyone without prejudices, who has ever observed an older baby or toddler nursing can testify that there is something almost magical, something special, something far beyond food going on. A nursing toddler will sometimes spontaneously break into laughter for no obvious reason. His delight in the breast goes far beyond a source of food. And if the mother allows herself, breastfeeding becomes a source of delight for her as well, far beyond the pleasure of providing food. Of course, it's not always great, but what is? But when it is, it makes it all so worthwhile."(4)

2. 1991 Smith, B. H. Age of weaning approximates age of emergence of first permanent molar in non-human primates. American Journal of Physical Anthropology suppl. 12:163-164(abstract)
3. "A Natural Age of Weaning" can be found at
4. Excerpted from "Breastfeed a Toddler? Why on Earth?" by Dr. Jack Newman

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Understanding your birth experience by reviewing your medical records

Although I have helped mostly first time mothers, I have some women who hire me because their first birth did not turn out the way they wanted. Some of these mothers have ended up with instrumental births or c-sections and feel sad that they didn't have the birth they dreamed of, or feel like a "failure" because they didn't have a natural birth. Sometimes it's helpful with these moms to have them obtain a copy of their medical records and go through it with them line by line.

Many people aren't aware of the fact that they can access their medical records. In most cases, you are entitled to a copy of your medical records. For New Brunswickers, you can refer to the guidelines at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of NB website. Your doctor's office may charge you for the cost of photocopying all, or a portion of, your records. Your doctor also has the right to refuse to give you your record if he or she determines it is in your "best interest". Although this rarely happens (and hasn't happened to any of the moms I've worked with so far!), your doctor is required to give you a reason why, preferably in writing, with the knowledge that you can then complain to the College.

Reviewing your record with a good midwife or doula can help you to see if, in fact, your "emergency" c-section was an emergency, or if it was the end result of a cascade of interventions. It can help you to know why the nurses seemed to be working feverishly on your newborn. For many mothers, this information has helped them to be less scared when looking forward to subsequent births.

If you know that, in all likelihood, your c-section was the result of going to the hospital way too early in labour, then you can make some changes for the next birth. Maybe you will have a doula or midwife to sit with you early on in the birth process, or you can resolve to educate yourself about the signs of active labour and rent all your favourite movies to watch while you stay at home and wait for your baby.

On the other hand, your notes may help you to see that the interventions you had were warranted and/or done with the best of intentions for both you and your baby. In this case, having this knowledge can help you to process your birth and to make peace with it.

Knowledge is power. I hope some of this information helps you to find out about your births!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maggie's Pesto Pizza

I have a wonderful recipe to share! This is from a friend of mine, Maggie, and is great for those nights you crave "real" food but feel you only have time for takeout. It makes a wonderful, vegetarian pizza rich in nutrients, especially iron due to its high spinach content. Enjoy!

Maggie's Pesto Pizza

large flatbreads of your choice (I like to use "naan" bread, but any pre-cooked pizza bread or Greek-style pita will also work)
green (basil) pesto
washed, chopped, fresh spinach
sliced mushrooms
grated cheese (such as mozzarella, romano, cheddar, or a mix)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Generously spread pesto on the flatbread. Pile on the spinach (ours is really really high! don't worry it will shrink while cooking!). Top with sliced mushrooms and cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Let it sit for a few minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SLOW down already!!

It's been a fun, rainy day today. Usually I would be going crazy with kids climbing the walls, but we made out relatively well after school. I credit this to the fact that my youngest only watched about half an hour of television, then when his sister got home she didn't go straight onto the computer.

Instead, she made bran muffins while I made supper, and he drew pictures. After supper tonight we planted seeds (apple and green pepper), covered over our milk-carton flats with plastic wrap and set them in a south-facing window. Who knows if they will grow? Who cares? We had fun and got our hands dirty doing it.

A friend of mine is touting the "Slow Food" movement, which is committed to eco-friendly, wonderful food made with love. This led me to think more about the "Slow Movement" ( which encourages us to enjoy connecting to each other, our community, and our environment. I am trying to do the same, and I realize that this has been a long-term process, going back several years. I cook a lot of our food from scratch. I am now sewing curtains for a good friend of mine, enjoying learning new sewing techniques and accepting the little imperfections that she and I both say are just "adding character" to the whimsical pieces of fabric.

This of course has connections to the way I envision birth. A slow unfolding, a great process that needs no "artificial" intrusions. Birth isn't a chore, it's a labour of love that we need to undergo for ourselves and our babies.

Maybe tonight or tomorrow you can give up a half an hour of television and make some muffins or an easy soup for you and your family (or friends, if you are single!). Maybe you can take that half an hour and take a leisurely walk through a local market, craft store or fair-trade store. Give yourself the gift of YOUR time. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

PMS in the Valley

I've just returned from a lovely weekend in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. Annapolis is a magical place, I do soul feels nurtured and my creative side is screaming that it oh so wants to come out.

This weekend was a bit of a challenge. This past weekend was my time for PMS. I get tired. My body gets soft and round, I am so thankful that I packed comfy skirts and my favourite, comforting clothes. I have less tolerance for bullshit this time of the month. I feel raw and edgy. The challenge is to balance the irritated feelings and see that, in reality, I am very powerful and CLEAR about things right now.

CLEAR? you say? I know many women who would say they are a mess this time of the month. Full of rage, frustration. May I gently suggest that is because they have a right to be! Maybe you stuff your feelings on a daily basis. Maybe you are super polite to the person who is rude and inconsiderate to you at work every day. Maybe you resent doing everything around the house. Maybe your body and your soul are tired of getting trampled on, by everyone, including yourself. PMS as we know it, the anger, the irritated feelings, it's a wake up call.

Your body wants you to take good care of it. It wants a decent amount of sleep. It wants good food. It wants sunshine. It wants walks. Your soul desires honesty and love. Sooner or later it demands that you figure out your worldview, your place in the world, that you balance your life with good friendships, love, and peace. It's crying for you to keep a journal and pull out your crayons and create.

When you make the changes, even small ones, you will see something happen at this usually dreaded time of the month. You will be honest about your need for space. You will have clarity in your thoughts. You will desire the truth from everyone and every situation.

Thanks for all the encouraging emails from readers. I appreciate it so much!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Contemplating Change

These days I am not sure where I belong. I don't know if I want to continue working as a childbirth educator. When I teach classes I feel as if I am giving women information but not support. I seem to do better as a doula, when I can give information and be the second set of hands giving mom counterpressure to her back as the contractions get hard.

I don't know if I want to continue working as a doula. Sure, I love it, I truly do, but I want to do more. I want to be the midwife sitting on the sidelines keeping eye on mom as she labours in her birth tub. I want to be the OB who supports and reaffirms the concept of birth as normal and natural.

I am scared about the current status of midwifery in New Brunswick. Kate Nicholl, who has lobbied long and hard for midwifery legislation in this province, was quoted in the Moncton Times and Transcript a while back saying that once regulation is in place "it will be illegal" for women who are not trained midwives to attend births. I don't want a system like that. I want a system where I can birth the way I want, without my girlfriends fearing jail time should they assist my birth.

For the last month, my brain and emotions have been all over the place in regards to birth. I keep coming back to one thing: that birth is a normal, healthy process. I also believe that we are lucky to have the medical system we have should we need it. But I wish we could all lose the fear. And I wish I could figure my place with women, with birth, with life.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

On being a mother

My children are both miracles. My daughter Emily birthed a new me. She has tested and tried and pulled me in new directions. I love her.

Zachary had a knot in his umbilical cord. He survives, he thrives. I love him.

Today I am celebrating being a mother as it is the eve of my son's 5th birthday. His sister will be 9 soon. They grow and amaze me. I welcomed them into the world the way that I mother them...with love and with their input and with give and with take. I wish all women had the faith in and the transformation by natural, unadulterated birth. Happy BIRTHday to us all.