Tuesday, December 29, 2009

tutu-torial: easy ballet tutu gift

Esme loves to play dress up. Her favorite dress up costume is a play silk tied as a Super Girl cape around her neck. For Christmas this year, the one thing Esme wanted more than anything else is a ballet costume to dress up in, complete with tiny slippers and a colorful, fluffy tutu, of course. I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to get creative and hand make another gift: a tutu!

Since I unfortunately do not sew, I needed to be extra inventive in finding something I could do. I went to the craft store and got several spools of 6 inch wide tulle in a variety of colors, as well as a few spools of ribbon and some elastic. I cut the elastic a couple inches smaller than Esme's waist and stitched it to make a circle. Then I cut a few dozen strips of tulle to tie to the elastic waist band. I cut the tulle to about 24 inches so that I could double it up (fold it in half) so the tutu would be about 12 inches long.

Next, I folded each strip of tulle in half and, at the center of the strip, looped the tulle at the top of the elastic and pulled the tails back through the loop to make a knot at the top. I did this with each strip of tulle and lined up the knots in a nice row. Here is a picture:

I used a deep purple-burgundy tulle and intermingled with a glittery light blue. I was happy with how this tutu turned out, but I was not crazy about the elastic band. I took some ribbon and cut it to fit Esme's waist, plus about 10 inches on each end to tie a nice bow. I tied the strips of tulle, this time slightly longer, maybe 30 inches long (for a 15 inch long tutu). Here's the second tutu:

I love the red ribbon with the red tulle (red is Esme's favorite color). And I really like the look of the ribbon verses the elastic waist band, though I am not sure which one will fit and last longer until she wears them around for a while. I made a third tutu, this one for Evelyn, as a gift as well:

I made Evelyn's tutu out of glittery blue and sage green with white ribbon.

This project is one of the fastest and easiest gifts, and it does not cost too much to make, either. I think it would be cool to make an extra fluffy tutu by doubling up the tulle and tying two strips per knot.

I look forward to taking pictures of the girls wearing their tutus!

Friday, December 18, 2009

what does a doula do?

Doula is a word of Greek origin meaning "woman who serves." These days, though, doulas are professionals, usually women, who provide emotional, physical and informational support to a woman and her family during the antenatal, birthing and postpartum periods. The three most common types of doulas are labor doulas, postpartum doulas, and antepartum doulas.

A labor doula attends a birthing mother and her family before, during, and just after the birth of the baby. By serving as an advocate, labor coach, and informational resource, a labor doula helps ensure a safe and satisfying birth experience. She often provides reassurance and experienced perspective, helps with relaxation techniques including massage and positioning, and makes suggestions to progress labor. Studies have found that the presence of a doula at birth results in shorter labor with fewer complications, reduces negative feelings about one's childbirth experience, reduces the need for intervention (including pitocin, forceps, vacuum extraction, and cesareans), and reduces the mother's request for pain medication and epidural. Before labor begins, a labor doula will familiarize herself with a pregnant mother's birth plan, which will include preferences regarding management options and the use of pain medication, and will assist in establishing breastfeeding after the birth of the baby.

A postpartum doula assists the new mother and baby, as well as the rest of the family, within the first few weeks after the birth. Postpartum doulas are especially knowledgeable about newborn care and breastfeeding. Providing patient and non-judgmental support, postpartum doulas offer a family breastfeeding tips, baby care and advice (on topics such as bathing, circumcision, vaccinations), emotional support and reassurance, light household help, sibling care, meal preparation, and errand running. As the role of a postpartum doula is strictly non-medical, she does not provide any clinical care.

An antepartum doula has specific and extensive training that relates to assisting pregnant women who are classified as high risk, pregnant women who may be on bedrest, or pregnant women with medical conditions necessitating additional help. Antepartum doulas provide assistance, education and physical support for a pregnant mother, sibling care, errand running, meal preparation, home care, and emotional support.

Doulas do not offer medical advice and do not perform clinical tasks (such as checking fetal heart rate, taking the mother's blood pressure, performing vaginal exams, or delivering a baby--although many are trained for such in case of emergency situations). Doulas do, however, have professional training and/or experience from the organizations that they train through and/or the births and clients they attend. Doulas are employed by pregnant and postpartum women and their families to provide physical comfort, emotional support, and to advocate. They provide their clients with unbiased information necessary to make informed, educated decisions.

If you are considering employing a birth, postpartum, or antepartum doula, it is important to get to know her first, check references, ask about her attendance and experience, and if she has birthed and breastfed a child.

Helpful Resources

Books on Natural Childbirth
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, PT, CD
The Birth Book by William Sears, MD, and Martha Sears, RN IBCLC
Active Birth by Janet Balaskas
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCuthcheon
Easing Labor Pain by Adrienne Lieberman
Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier & Healthier Birth by John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus, Marshall H. Klaus

Books on Having a Vaginal Birth after Cesarean 
Natural Birth After Cesarean: A Practical Guide by Johanne C. Walters & Karis Crawford
Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention & VBAC by Nancy Wainer Cohen & Lois Estner

Books on High-Risk Pregnancy Care
The Pregnancy Bed Rest Book by Amy E. Tracy
When Pregnancy Isn't Perfect by Laurie A. Rich
Intensive Caring by Dianne Hales & Timothy R. B. Johnson

Books on Postpartum Care
Rebounding From Childbirth: Towards Emotional Recovery by Lynn Madsen
Mothering the New Mother: Women's Feelings and Needs After Childbirth by Sally Placksin
The Year After Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

babies--a new film

The upcoming film by Thomas Balmes, Babies, which will be released in April 2010, follows the story of four babies in four very different cultures through their first year of life. Babies takes a look at the uniqueness and differences of this early stage of life in Mongolia, Namibia, Tokyo, and San Fransisco.

I look forward to seeing this film, especially learning about the other cultures. It also reminds me of one of the most interesting and refreshing articles, “Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan,” published in the July-August issue of Mothering Magazine, in which Canadian-born Ruth Kamnitzer writes about Mongolians’ distinctly different attitude toward the practice of breastfeeding. Living in Mongolia while nursing her son, she soon learned she did not have to take pains to be discreet:
In Mongolia, instead of relegating me to a 'Mothers Only' section, breastfeeding in public brought me firmly to center stage. Their universal practice of breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, and the close quarters at which most Mongolians live, mean that everyone is pretty familiar with the sight of a working boob. They were happy to see I was doing things their way (which was, of course, the right way). When I breastfed in the back of taxis, drivers would give me the thumbs-up in the rear view mirror and assure me that Calum would grow up to be a great wrestler. When I walked through the market cradling my feeding son in my arms, vendors would make a space for me at their stalls and tell him to drink up. Instead of looking away, people would lean right in and kiss Calum on the cheek. If he popped off in response to the attention and left my streaming breast completely exposed, not a beat was missed. No one stared, no one looked away--they just laughed and wiped the milk off their noses.
Kamnitzer still felt a bit out of step with cultural norms—but this time, roles were reversed. She had to learn to become comfortable with much looser standards about who should be drinking breastmilk:
If weaning means never drinking breastmilk again, then Mongolians are never truly weaned—and here’s what surprised me most about breastfeeding in Mongolia. If a mother’s breasts are engorged and her baby is not at hand, she will simply go around and ask a family member, of any age or sex, if they’d like a drink. Often a woman will express a bowlful for her husband as a treat, or leave some in the fridge for anyone to help themselves.
Not only do I look forward to the segment on Mongolia, I am also very curious about birth and nursing practices in Namibia, a culture where parenting is natural and nurturing, but the risk of illness from HIV, malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia is dangerously high. Namibia already had high rates of infant death and illness due to perils like HIV, malaria, and imposed pressure of powerful corporations to artificially feed babies, even amidst the poor water conditions common in this part of the world. In this case, artificial breast milk substitutes greatly increases malnutrition and diarrhea in infants and leads to higher instances of infant death. However, when Americanized birthing styles and mass immunizations (sometimes with good intentions but outdated ingredients or 'left-overs' from the U.S.) began to be imposed on mothers/babies in Namibia, rates of morbidity and mortality started to climb even further.

Japan, on the other hand, currently has the fourth best rate of infant health and survival in the world, drastically different than that of the United States, which does not even compare, sitting behind 44 other countries in infant mortality and morbidity rates--and, sadly, is continuing to fall farther every year, according to the CIA infant mortality statistics. It is interesting that, even though Japan has started to adopt many of the birthing and baby care trends common in the United States, they still maintain far better rates for infant survival then we do, although their rates did fall slightly after they began adopting these trends.

Infant morbidity and mortality statistics will exist no matter what we do--it is an inescapable part of nature. However, there are varying reasons for these statistics to exist as they do. We can learn from the birthing and infant care practices of countries with the lowest infant mortality and morbidity statistics, such as Singapore, Bermuda and Sweden, and make positive changes in our own practices as a result. I look forward to seeing the film Babies, and I anticipate that it will be both delightful and insightful. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

knittin' mittens

A wonderful thing about having a homemade Christmas is knowing that the handmade gift given, decoration hung, food enjoyed is special because it was made with love. When something is made with love, I like to think it is a give that is cherished. It does not have to be fancy, nor does it have to be expensive. But when it’s made with love, it cannot get better than that. The one who receives the homemade gift, sees the decoration, or enjoys the dish will know and remember that those things were not there because we ran out of time, but because we took the time to make them.

For Yule this year, my go-to knitted gift is mittens. So far, I have completed a total of six pairs of mittens. Some of them are simple, classic mittens, while other pairs are hybrid designs. One was a complete experiment. All turned out well!

The first pattern I used was Classic Mittens by Bernhard Ulmann. An easy pattern, each pair knit up quickly in a couple days. I made three different sizes, Women's Medium (for my Mother in Law), Kids Large (for Evelyn), and Kids Small (for Esme). The first one here is for my mother in law. I chose a variegated pink and gray, and I think I might knit some ear warmers to match them since her birthday is on Christmas Day.

Evelyn is making a shift from having her favorite colors being pink and purple to her new favorite colors of blue and turquoise. I chose this variegated yarn with purples and blues, even though they do not match her winter coat at all. 

These little toddler mittens are for Esme. I chose the same yarn as the mitts for my mother in law, mostly to use up the leftover yarn. The size makes them cute as can be! I might make a cord to attach the mitts inside her jacket so we do not loose them.

My father in law wanted a pair of useful, all purpose mittens, so I went for a simple look more than anything. I used the pattern Jack-in-the-Box Mittens from Knitting New Mittens & Gloves by Robin Melanson as a basis, but I had another cable that I used instead for a more ‘manly’ look. I am very pleased with how these turned out.

I knit a pair of trigger finger mittens for David. I love them! I used the pattern Mrs. Martin's Finger Mitts from the book Favorite Mittens by Robin Hansen, and I used a simple off-white wool yarn. It was hard to get the size right, since David has rather large hands.

The last pair of mittens I made to go with the hooded scarf I am knitting for my mom for Christmas, but they did not go at all, so I am keeping them for myself. I did not use a pattern, but sort of improvised the design. I used an acrylic blend from my stash. They are soft and comfortable!

I would still like to knit a pair or two of fingerless mittens. I have my eye on a couple of patterns, though I am not sure how much time I will have before Christmas since I still have several other projects to finish first. Hopefully everyone loves their mittens!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

crayon cookies

The girls enjoyed this project, which was the opening to our Yuletide crafting event: Crayon Cookies. It was a great opener because the girls kept busy peeling the paper off the crayons while I gathered supplies for our other projects. And it got rid of all the little bits of crayons we have left in the crayon box.

Here is what we did: the girls peeled the paper off our old crayon scraps, snapped the crayons into small pieces and piled them in mini-muffin tins. Remember not to fill the tins too full or they will overflow in the oven.

We had preheated the oven to 350 and, once it reached temperature, turned the oven off. Then we popped the crayon filled muffin tins in the oven and baked them for five to ten minutes until they melted. After removing them from the oven, we let them solidify in their pan. Let me say they did not look like much inside the tins, but once we dumped them out on cookie cooling racks, the colors really came alive!

The Crayon Cookies are a very easy, relatively clean project for children and they make perfect little holiday trinkets for classmates and playmates!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

film scrutinizes breastfeeding culture

A new film, Formula Fed in America, publicly questions the health epidemics that the American population face today, linking these health issues to the decline of breastfeeding in our culture. The marketing of breast milk substitutes has severely endangered the biological normality of breast milk. Formula Fed in America brings into the spotlight how people view breastfeeding mothers, wholeheartedly accept breast milk substitutes as "normal," and pinpoints on how "money, power, and influence mean that few people understand the critical importance of our first food, breast milk."

Formula Fed in America is currently filming and is due to be released Spring 2010, and includes interviews with two of my favorite staunch breastfeeding supporters, Dr. Jack Newman, founder of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic and Institute, located in Toronto, and anthropologist Kathryn Dettwyler, PhD. The following is a preview of the film. It seems like it will be The Business of Being Born of breastfeeding!

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

for the love of slings

baby sleeping in slingI fell in love with the following article, Slings, written by Joylyn Fowler and published as a web exclusive on Mothering. For the love of slings, the descriptive narration really fit in as a follow up to my previous post, Babywearing and Sling Safety.

Photo by Laura Egley Taylor

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babywearing and sling safety

Wearing my children in slings and wraps has been one of my favorite and most memorable parts of being a mother. I love being close to my baby, being able to breastfeed privately and comfortably when on the go, letting my baby sleep when she was tired, having my hands free, being able to more easily focus on two children at once. I love the soft, pretty fabrics, the different designs and styles, the attention that I draw when I wear a pretty sling, wrap or mei tai. I love love love babywearing!

I was somewhat unnerved, however, to see this week's Consumer Reports blog post, Baby deaths raise concerns about Infantino slings, posted on October 26, 2009 by Don Mays. I know that "bag style" baby slings are dangerous as they potentially put the baby in a position that may lead to suffocation, and bag style slings have already been under scrutiny and criticism by babywearing advocates for their poor design. M'Liss Steltzer, RN, who contacted manufacturers of various bag style sings in 2006 regarding their hazards, has a blog where she describes the specific downfalls and dangers of bag style slings, Baby Sling Safety.

What struck me most about Mays' Consumer Report post is that I do not agree with his statement that all slings are potentially dangerous. He argues that as no official safety standards for slings are set in place yet, slings should not be used for babywearing; he even lists them as one of the Five Products NOT to Buy for Your Baby (I will save my arguments for bedsharing for later).

In a previous post, Mays maintains that, despite the seven deaths that occurred in the span of a single year in cribs that were then recalled, the safest place for a baby to sleep is still in a crib. And now he argues that slings are dangerous due to five deaths in four years and thus should not be used. The primary problem with May's reasoning is that he confuses lack of research with danger. If I understand Consumer Reports and their goals correctly, they pride themselves in thorough research of products and objective reviews, and not perfunctory opinions.

Any infant death is tragic. However, four deaths in five years seems relatively low to me, especially when all of the deaths were due to the hazardous design flaw of one particular sling style. How many infants are injured or die from being carried in car seats that are dropped or when strollers tip over? I have never seen an Consumer Reports article that evaluates portable car seats for uses that are not in cars, but they are not advising against this practice. The instances of infant deaths in bag style slings should not imply that all slings are potentially dangerous.

And just because there are no official safety standards set in place or definitive product testing in regards to baby slings, it does not mean that there is not information on the hazards of various sling styles and other baby carriers, as well as information on safer, more comfortable carriers and styles and guidelines for safe babywearing. These resources certainly are available, especially on the internet: The Babywearer is a comprehensive online resource for babywearing, as is Babywearing International. Books that cover babywearing as a safe and established tradition are The Attachment Parenting Book by William Sears and Martha Sears and Babywearing by Maria Blois.

As an experienced babywearing mama, I can tell you that most slings available at popular baby specialty stores and department stores, such as Baby Bejorn, Infantino and Snuggli, are inferior designs, uncomfortable when compared to other ethnically traditional styles, as well as less ergonomic overall in design. Worthwhile brands of slings and wraps, including Maya Wrap, Mamma's Milk, and BabyHawk, tend to be more simple in design, more practical in use, and are available mostly online or in local natural parenting stores; they also come with detailed instructions and warnings about ensuring proper positioning, and are far more comfortable and versatile for you and your baby.

The most important thing to remember is that you are the parent. As a parent, you make the decisions as to what is best for your child. Do your research. Do not depend on manufacturer studies and reviews, but take objective product reviews and personal experiences into account when making your parenting decisions. The tremendous emotional, physiological, and logistical benefits of wearing my children were well worth the effort to learn the proper techniques, and I firmly believe that there is no safer place for my baby to be than on me. Babywearing is a wonderful, rewarding practice for both you and your children.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

weaning, in my humble opinion

Every nursing relationship is different, just like every mother and every baby/toddler/child has different needs. And eventually, along comes the time where the weaning process inevitably begins. Primarily, there are two types of weaning: child-led weaning and mother-led weaning--and both have their unique benefits and downfalls.

Child-led weaning (also referred to as natural weaning and self-weaning) occurs when a child no longer has the nutritional or emotional need to nurse. Children who are truly permitted to self-wean will do so over time, usually over a span of a couple years or more, and most will wean between two and four years old. Some of the important characteristics of a child who weans naturally is that he drinks liquids well from a cup, gets most of his nutrition from solid foods, and gradually reduces the frequency of nursing--and is usually well over 12 months old (sometimes nursing strikes that commonly take place in the first 18 months can be misconstrued as self-weaning).

Mother-led weaning happens when a mother guides her child to wean before the child may be physiologically ready to wean. Mother-led weaning does not have to be abrupt, but can be a gentle, gradual process that follows the child's needs and clues. Weaning also does not have to be all or nothing; when a child is weaned partially, he can keep one or more feedings a day. Partial weaning often happens for nighttime feedings.

There is substantial advice available from various professionals and organizations on weaning age, and quite a bit of it is conflicting. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing for 12 months, the World Health Organization and UNICEF both recommend nursing for a minimum of two years. There are countless benefits for extended breastfeeding, however many health care professionals in the United States are not understanding of breastfeeding beyond one year, and many people in our culture may question the motives of a mother who nurses beyond our *cultural* norm of one year (and in many cases, it is a cultural norm of six months, or even six weeks). This attitude may be threatening to many women who choose to nurse beyond a year or who choose to wean naturally. Subsequently, many women will hide their extended nursing relationships from disapproving family and health care professionals--I am guilty of this myself, believe it or not, 'forgetting' to mention on more than one occasion that my oldest was extended nursing.

The practice of mother-led weaning is far more common in the United States, but it is important to acknowledge that, anthropologically and physiologically speaking, the normal, natural weaning age of human children is loosely somewhere between 3 and 6 years of age, give or take various amounts of time based on unique circumstances. The essay, A Natural Age of Weaning, by Katherine Dettwyler, PHD of the Department of Anthropology at Texas A & M University, is a fantastic resource for and comparison of information on natural weaning in human children.

In my humble opinion, there is an awful lot to be said for child-led weaning, and there is nothing wrong with it. However, no one should be judged on how and when they decide to wean as what works for one nursing pair may not work for someone else. After reading book after book, articles and essays, I decided on intending to allow my children to self-wean. I nursed my oldest daughter until she was 3.5 years old, when, after a gradual process, she weaned herself. My youngest, now two years eight months old, is still nursing strong, and I have every intention of allowing her to wean naturally as well. People are often surprised to hear this. However, I now understand how important it is for me to tell people how long my children have nursed. I do it to make extended nursing seem more... well... normal. And more than once, someone has come back with, "So did my son!" or "My daughter is self-weaning her kids, too!"

Numerous resources are available on nursing beyond infancy, extended nursing, biological nursing, and natural weaning, as well as compassionate mother-led weaning. La Leche League International (LLLI) has localized groups who provide breastfeeding support in communities around the world; visit their website for more information or visit their page on Weaning. Another wonderful resource for information on weaning (and breastfeeding in general) is KellyMom; their weaning page covers numerous issues and links to various outside articles.

*Artwork: Nursing Moment by Gina Casamenti-Brooks, from ProMom.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

whose blanket?

I discovered one of the most wonderful children's books, titled Sophie's Masterpiece: A Spider's Tale , written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Jane Dyer. Sophie's Masterpiece is a beautiful tale of a spider named Sophie who spins extraordinarily lovely webs of very fine lace which awe everyone who comes across them. Sophie moves into an old boarding house where she meets a young pregnant woman who is in the process of knitting a layette for her unborn baby. The woman cannot afford to buy any more yarn for a blanket for the baby, so Sophie, now old and frail, weaves a very special blanket for the new arrival. A heartfelt and sentimental story (aka, a tear-jerker), Sophie's Masterpiece is also openly homebirth friendly, as, and the culmination of the story, and without any further description, Sophie describes finally hearing the newborn:
She was down to the farthest corner of the blanket when she heard the cry of the young woman's newborn baby.
Sophie's Masterpiece is now one of my all time favorite picture books, up there with Welcome With Love, written by  Jenni Overend and illustrated by Julie Vivas, The Napping House, written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Sophie's Masterpiece has beautiful artwork, and the (undeclared) homebirth and the knitting/weaving references made my week!

The book also reminded me of all the blankets I have knit with love as gifts for others. I have made a number of baby blankets and one or two full sized throw blankets. Some of the blankets were very simple, some rather complex, but all were fun to make! Blankets are one thing I have a passion for knitting, that's for sure.

The very first blanket I knit was from JoAnne Turcotte's pattern Building Blocks Blanket, which I call Blocks of Love. I knit this blanket for Evelyn when she was two years old. Now, I'm not so crazy about the color or the yarn, but you live and learn, right? This was a very easy beginner pattern to follow.

The second baby blanket I knit is Feather and Fan Baby Blanket, also by JoAnne Turcotte, and was one of the more complex patterns I had followed up to that point! This one was also for Evelyn at two or three years old. I was very pleased with myself, and I call this one Light as a Feather!


With Lion Brand's pattern Diagonal Comfort Blanket, I knit two or three blankets as baby shower gifts, one out of a cotton blend in tan, brown, and green stripes, one out of a lovely yellow and green variegated wool-blend, and one out of Lion Brand Homespun. The Homespun was my favorite yarn to use, as it draped perfectly, plus I love bulky yarns; here is a picture (the only picture of any of them that I can find right now!):


One of my very favorite blankets is featured in the book Weekend Knitting by Melanie Falick, and the pattern is Fluffy Afghan or Lap Blanket by Nicky Epstein. I picked up Lion Brand Homespun for this project because I wanted something bulky and fluffy, but I was somewhat doubtful about the texture. I need not have worried, though, because now that the blanket is done, I am very happy with it. It is extremely soft and relatively thick, good for cold winter nights curled up by the fire and is super soft and fluffy!


As a holiday gift for Esme, I knit a Bunny Blanket Buddy from another Lion Brand pattern. This Snuggle Bunny is knit out of light blue cotton and is destined to have a set of eyes, a little nose and whiskers. I still have a couple months to add the finishing touches!


The blanket I am working on now is Evelyn's holiday gift. The pattern is Joseph's Blankie of Many Colors from Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne's book Mason-Dixon Knitting.

When I was knitting the third block on the blanket, Eva came in and asked what I was making. I told her it was a present for her. She kept guessing various odds and ends that it could be… a scarf… a hat… a pocket… a bonnet (she said, “I don’t really want a bonnet, but if you make a bonnet, I would try to like it, so it would be ok, I think”)… a flag… I was laughing my head off! Then Esme came in, took one look at my knitting and said, “Is that a blanket, Mama?” Hahahaha!

I am making headway on the Blanket of Many Colors, but here is the project as of about two weeks ago (I have another complete row of various colors around done now):

I have a queue of projects to keep me busy for a year from now, and three of those projects are blankets for various destinations. It seems like I never knit anything for myself, although hopefully after the holiday season, I will get something done!

Oh yeah, sign up for Ravelry, a free knitting and crochet community, if you are not a member yet, and check out my page to see my latest projects!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

my reading list 2009, part ii

This is a continuation of my reading list for this year. Don't forget to read My Reading List 2009, Part I!

Finished reading:

The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, including New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.
I enjoyed the series emensely, especially the character of Jacob Black. It was a fun read, relatively fluffy. However, I find myself embarrassed when customers are gung-ho about reading it and ask for it at work. I sooo want to take them by the shoulders and shake them and yell, "Make sure you think about the negative themes of codependency, abuse, and control that are the predominent themes in these books! They are absolutely glamorized by the author! Talk to your daughters! Read the series with them! Please!" So, yeah, if a customer asks what I think, I tell them. Uh-huh.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (reread) by Jo Rowling AND
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (reread) by Jo Rowling AND
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (reread) by Jo Rowling
In order to prepare for the release of the movie, I decided it would be a good idea to refresh my memory by rereading several books in the series. They are just as enjoyable as they were the first time around and Jim Dale is a wonderful reader!

Fool by Christopher Moore
Remember all the Shakespeare you read in high school and college? Well, it will all come to good use as you read Fool, the vulgar and darkly humorous version of King Lear. Fool is one of the most outrageous books I have ever read. Think Rosenkrantz and Gildestern are Dead, only full of bawdy sex jokes and laugh out loud comedy. Not my favorite Moore novel, but an enjoyable releif, nonetheless. 

Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador
The patterns in this book are straight forward but still somewhat challenging. I love knitting with natural fibers, so the the patterns in this book fit right in--cotton, cotton, cotton! It is easy to adapt many of the patterns to your own personal style and budget. Not only do the patterns rock, but the stories and asides are entertaining, heartfelt, and funny and the photography is colorful and inspirational!

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, abridged (oops!)
I have been waiting for ages for this to come around on audio--and when it finally did, I was already one entire disk in when I realized that it was the abridged version. I was so hooked on the story by then that I did not want to stop, so, in less than three days, I got the gist of the novel. I would love to listen to the entire book one of these days, or another one of her books.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This short novel was an inspirational fable and coming to age story of a young shepherd who decides to sell his flock in order to find his personal legend. The story is rich in spiritual knowledge; I see a lot of The Secret in the development of the main character on his journey (think Rhonda Byrnes, Oprah book club pick). Read by Jeremy Irons, the story telling was unbelievable!

Mother Plays with Dolls...And Finds an Important Key to Unlocking Creativity by Elinor Peace Bailey
Bailey's profound writing and beautiful poetry hits a particular inspirational note, helping many creative doll makers realize the natural therapy of creating, not only dolls, but through the unique gifts we, as women, can discover within ourselves. A fantastic book for those who need to rediscover their inner artist!

The Alchemist: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott AND
The Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
This six book series is a fantastic find! Michael Scott takes an original story and flies with it, taking history and twisting it with mythology into a fast-paced, action-packed, suspenseful modern-day fantasy. The characters are lovable and legendary at the same time. The cliffhangers are atrociously suspenseful, and as only the first three books have been released--the fourth book, The Necromancer, is due out in May 2010--I have temporarily put the series on hold. David let slip that the third book, The Sorceress, has a cliffhanger far worse than The Empire Strikes Back and any of the Harry Potters. I just cannot take that kind of torture.

Chronicles of Ancient Darkness: Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver and Geoff Taylor
Read by Ian McKellen, this is one of the most wonderful storytelling experiences I have ever had. Set over 6000 years ago, the story is undeniably original. My favorite parts revolve around Wolf's point of view, but the descriptions are appropriately rich (I say appropriate as the book is written for those in the 12-14 age group). Torak's adventure is epic in nature, and I fell in love with it not only because Ian McKellen reads it, but because it is an extraordinary coming-of-age story in its own right.

Up Next:

The Sorceress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman

Lamb by Christopher Moore

Hoot and Scat by Carl Hiassen

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

Sunday, October 11, 2009

handmade gifts: round one

'Tis the Season for gift making, what with David and Eva's birthdays last month, oodles of new babies along the way, and the holidays readily approaching! I've got a mega list of projects that I need to complete before the Winter Solstice and two or three for events before then, and I have been knitting like crazy these last six weeks in order to prepare for Handmade Holiday Overload. This year's spread is larger than ever, what with the tight-wad budget we're on at the moment. If I had thought ahead, I would have made some things to sell on Etsy in order to raise money to spend on holiday gifts, but maybe I'll think of that next spring...

I already made and gave David and Eva their handmade birthday items. They each got an adorable pair of knit Pom-Pom Slippers. Overall, I am pleased with how they turned out, though the pictures do not do them justice, I must say.

This pair is Eva's pair, knit with one strand of blue-green acrylic blend and one strand of multi-colored acrylic blend, doubled up for warmth. I added the pom-poms to the top of each slipper for a little pizzaz. 

Now, David's slippers are the same, only larger, and knit with one strand of black and one strand of white acrylic blend. I only added the poms to his slippers to be kind of goofy, but they surprisingly look pretty good!

And here they are, opening and modeling their new slippers at their birthday party!

Esme will be getting a pair of knit slippers for our holiday celebration, and I will be knitting Eva and Esme each a blanket for car traveling. For Eva, I decided to go with a pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting (Gardiner and Shayne, 2006) for a log cabin blanket made of blocks of different colors knit together. I already have a good start on it so far. I am using Peaches'n Cream Cotton Yarn in a variety of colors, and I'm trying to keep the warm colors on one side and the cool colors on the opposite side. Here's a sneak peek:

My father-in-law requested a pair of fingerless gloves and my mother-in-law may also get a pair of slippers. My parents want a knit blanket, and David is getting a knit something from Sexy Little Knits (Paige, 2006). Eva will probably get a pair of mittens and a matching hat/scarf. I am still surfing patterns on Ravelry for ideas for other gifts, but these projects will definitely keep me busy for a while!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

misrepresenting homebirth

I am outraged that such a misrepresentation of birth options was presented by The Today Show, a show that I once respected and admired, in a story titled, "The Perils of Home Births," originally captioned, "Extreme Birth." While my prayers and sympathies do go out to any family who loses a child, it is important to consider that tragedies do happen in childbirth, no matter the location or attendant. Birth tragedies do not solely take place for women who choose to homebirth. It is also important to note that the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the western world, after all, and one of the lowest percentages of homebirth rates.

I encourage the producers of The Today Show to air a more unbiased story of the importance of birth choice and birth options, the wonders of midwifery and homebirth, and how homebirth can be a safe alternative for many healthy, normal pregnancies and deliveries. I signed the petition Demand Accurate Reporting of ALL Birth Options. I am asking you to sign this petition to help reach the goal of 5,000 signatures. I care deeply about this cause, and I hope you will support their efforts, as well. The petition will be presented to the producers of The Today Show next week.

Here is a link to the video "The Perils of Home Births" presented by The Today Show.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

the flu vaccine

There is so much information circulating about the influenza vaccine, and it is exceedingly difficult to decipher. The facts are influenced by politics, media, vaccine manufacturers, and are often blurred by marketing tactics and opinion. After doing a TON of research on the subject, I believe that the risks of getting the flu vaccine far out way the risks of possibly contracting the flu virus naturally. I say no to the flu shot, not only for myself, but for my family as well. There are many precautions you can take to prevent the flu. Wash your hands frequently, get adequate rest and exercise moderately, drink plenty of water, cover your mouth when you sneeze/cough, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and eat a healthy diet rich in natural vitamins and minerals. Breast milk also gives a major boost to the immune system of nursing children. Mama's milk is rich in nutrients and natural immunities that will help protect nurslings from contracting the flu and other illnesses. One good resource about the flu virus is Flu Facts from the National Vaccine Information Center. The best thing you can do is learn the benefits and risks of the illnesses themselves as well as the vaccines and make an informed decision for yourself and your family.

Friday, August 28, 2009

reiterating the risks of male circumcision in infants

Sometimes it helps to remember that parenting is not black and white. What works for one family may not work for another. Aside from abuse, I firmly believe every family has the right to make their own choices, in birth choice, vaccination, discipline, and even circumcision.

As a postpartum doula, one of the code of ethics that I follow is to NOT bring my personal opinion and choices into my relationship and care with clients. I am to give them information on both sides of a parenting issue and let THEM make their own educated decisions. It goes like this with circumcision, vaccinations, infant feeding, diapering, etc. I already know what I believe as I have the right to informed consent, as do my clients. And my clients need to be given the same respect in their parenting decisions. If they are given unbiased information, facts, and resources on BOTH sides of an issue, they will be able to make their own decision. A lot of times, it will be what I consider to be the RIGHT decision, sometimes, though, their decision is vastly different than mine.

With circumcision, I personally believe the procedure it to be abuse and genital mutilation, taking the rights of personal choice away from the boy who the procedure is performed on. But it is still a common procedure, with over half of all male infants receiving the procedure in the US. Ethically, as a birth/postpartum professional, I cannot and would not look down on a family who makes that choice for their sons, whether it be for religious, congruous, or mainstream reasons. It is their path to walk.

This week, I have seen a slew of statements from various sources about the CDC possibly pushing through routine circumcision of all infant boys born in the United States. The CDC lists their official stand here: Male Circumcision and Risk for HIV Transmission and Other Health Conditions: Implications for the United States

In regards to these recent news headlines about recommending male circumcision for HIV prevention, I have some concerns about the plausibility of using circumcision as a prophylactic measure.

Neonatal circumcision is surgery and carries many risks, which include bleeding, disfigurement, and death. An Atlanta boy and his mother were recently awarded 2.3 million dollars as payment for a botched circumcision, in which part of the boy's glans was accidentally amputated. A Canadian boy, Ryleigh McWillis, died from hemorrhaging to death following his August of 2002 circumcision, leading the Canadian government to further discourage parents from having the procedure performed. It seems a bit far fetched, to say the least, to expose a boy to these real risks on the theoretical idea that he may possibly be part of a population with who takes part in risky behavior 20 years down the road.

Not only does neonatal circumcision carry serious risks, it also violates a man's right to choose. If a grown man, after being presented with all the facts, decides on a circumcision, that is his right. However, subjecting infants to a non-medically necessary procedure to which they cannot give consent violates those infant's right to choose how their genitalia look and function or if they want to use a more conservative approach, such as abstinence or condoms, to decrease their risk of contracting the HIV virus.

It is also important to remember that, in the United States, it is currently illegal to make a token cut on the genitalia of a female minor, even if no tissue is removed. According to the constitution of the United States, all persons should be entitled to equal legal protection, regardless of sex.

Typically, proponents of circumcision cite only the short term risks of circumcision, while they unfairly cite both the short and long term risks associated with having an intact foreskin. Evaluations of circumcision as a preventative measure need to take into consideration the long term complications that can arise from circumcision, such as erectile dysfunction, keratinization, painful erections due to excessive skin removal, meatal stenosis, skin bridges, sensitivity loss, etc. I urge the CDC to consider those factors before putting a recommendation into place which would result in even more boys being exposed to those long term risks.

Additionally, the Randomized Control Trials sited in the CDC research and circumcision recommendations (which can be viewed at the link above) show only a reduction in risk for female to male transmission, not male to female transmission, or male to male transmission. In addition, this reduction was only over a two year period, meaning that the protection was only for that time frame; it is unclear if the protection will continue beyond two years or not.

It is crucial to keep in mind that the studies sited by the CDC is limited only to one culture, that of Africa. African culture is very different than the culture of the United States. Rape, dry sex, and other practices common in African culture are not practiced in American culture. To make a recommendation to circumcise millions of newborn males for a hypothetical benefit 15-20+ years down the road, based on studies conducted in another drastically different culture is questionably unsound and should be subject to further evaluation.

Finally, no national or international medical association recommends routine circumcision. Also, major worldwide HIV/AIDS organizations, including the World Health Organization, French Nation Council on AIDS, Australian AFAO, and many more, do not support the use of circumcision as a prophylaxis in countries where HIV is low prevalence and relates to specific high risks groups. The United States falls in to this category.

I am happy to report a new statement from the CDC was released on Thursday: Status of CDC Male Circumcision Recommendations. I am interpreting this statement as the CDC taking all the advocates condemning the practice of infant male circumcision seriously.

We are making progress by informing people that they do have a choice, informing them of the statistics and risks of both sides of circumcision. Letter writing to your government representatives and to the CDC is already making a difference. We cannot change every policy overnight, but we can keep fighting of our rights and the rights of our children.

Keep up the letter writing to help prevent painful, permanent and involuntary body alteration of children!

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Birth Survey

The Birth Survey is grassroots volunteer community that is "dedicated to the promotion of advancing transparency in maternity care." The Birth Survey shares honest, objective information about birthing caregivers and settings. The survey is filled out by women who share their own personal birthing experiences and essentially rate their maternity care, their OB or midwife, and the place where they gave birth (hospital, birth center). By viewing various reports, you can get an accurate idea of, for instance, a particular hospital's intervention rate. One of the primary goals of The Birth Survey is to help women make informed choices regarding their birthing care. The survey only takes approximately 30 minutes. Plus, if you pass this information on, you have the opportunity to win various prizes!
Come join the weekend fun as we mark the one year anniversary of the national launch of The Birth Survey! Starting now and ending at midnight on Sunday (Eastern), we will be giving away “door” prizes and other fun things. http://www.birthactivist.com/2009/08/happy-birth-day-birth-survey/
So? What are you waiting for? Go win stuff!

Friday, July 24, 2009

{this moment} - from SouleMama - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Monday, July 13, 2009

breasts, bottles, and taboo

Human breasts, like those of other mammals, have provided not only nourishment, but also comfort and security to our young for hundreds of thousands of years. Despite this ultimate success, however, our modern culture has developed a breast taboo by over-sexualizing the breast, creating a needless separation between breasts and children, a separation that is detrimental to the safety, security, and overall well-being of our children. This taboo is so prevalent that it is nearly impossible to find references to breasts as vessels for nourishment in any aspect of social acknowledgement in our culture, aside from parenting guides.

Insert the image of the baby bottle: a plastic replacement for the breast.

Baby bottles are everywhere. Bottles feed baby dolls and are prevailant in family films, magazines, advertisements, and childrens books. Bottles plaster wrapping paper, gift bags, and even on nursing-room doors.

It is time for our society to acknowledge the normalcy of nursing, of feeding our babies MILK (milk that just so happens to come from our breasts, and is thus commonly referred to as [breast]milk or [human] milk). In turn, the dangers of substituting milk with formula, cows milk, or other supplements should not be downplayed.

Formula and breast supplements do have a necessary place, after all, though not in the extreme abundance that we are seeing now. While a mother should not be faulted for supplementing with formula, in the name of informed-consent, society as a whole, as well as new mothers, should be made aware from the very beginning that, if our infants (as well as toddlers and young children) are supplemented and separated, they will not reach their full potential as human beings. As our society stands now, we, as a whole, have not yet rediscovered the biological normalcy of [breast]milk and shared sleeping (vs. the substandard quality of supplementation and maternal-infant separation), nor do we have a society that supports the education of and normalcy of biological feeding.

The following article, Taking Down the Almighty Bottle, written by Stephanie Ondrack and published in the July/August 2006 issue of Mothering Magazine, describes how the normalization of the bottle as the primary method of infant care takes place on a variety of levels, not just in regards to basic infant nutrition, but reaching as far as oversexualizing the normal mamillian functions of the human breast.

It took a few months of mulling the topic over in the back of my mind before I came up with some reasons. The evidence is soft, even circumstantial, but I think it all adds up. And I concluded that even Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with its progressive left-coast attitudes, embodies the traits of a bottle-feeding society. In some cases, this is only because we belong to a larger community. But still, if the bottle fits... The incidences of bottle homage are often subtle enough that we do not see them. They operate as a sort of smokescreen. Although doctors, nurses, mothers, and even formula marketers endlessly drone that "breast is best," they have not succeeded in surmounting the societal perception that the bottle is nonetheless okay, that it is really almost as good—indeed, that it is still the social norm. This normalization of the bottle takes place on a variety of levels and through a variety of media. Formula ads trumpet the putative benefits of artificial milk ("closer than ever to breastmilk"), but the real message—that bottle-feeding is the norm—is conveyed through less visible forms of representation. And while the media are discreet and the offenses hard to pinpoint, the message is presented persuasively enough that the many studies proving that breastfeeding is essential for normal human health and that formula can be harmful do not speak as loudly as the cultural cajolings that whisper to parents that bottle-feeding is just fine: Go ahead, you were bottle-fed, and you turned out alright.

Most revealing to me was discovering the depth of my own misconceptions. When my first baby was born and a nurse squeezed colostrum out of my nipple for the first time to encourage the baby to latch on, my jaw dropped in astonishment when I saw that my milk was exuded from not one hole, but many. I knew nothing about this. I'd read books on breastfeeding, taken prenatal classes, and my mother and all my friends had breastfed their babies, but I had always pictured the human nipple as having a single central hole—just like a bottle. That I could have known so little about my own body was possible only in a society in which the bottle has taken precedence over the breast. Such fundamental ignorance can hinder the understanding of breastfeeding even among the most keen—as it did for me.

Perhaps most elusive is the bias embedded in the word breastmilk itself. How did it happen that human milk is denied the propriety of the generic term milk? How did the milk of cows, a completely different species, achieve the honor—and the branding advantage—of milk? Did the dairy board exert its influence? To me, it seems downright suspicious that the word breast be thus highlighted. Where else would milk come from? By definition, all mammals lactate—the root word of mammal is the Latin word mamma, or breast—and possess mammaries for that purpose. We don't include the word breast when we speak of how goats, chimpanzees, bats, or whales feed their young. By calling human milk breastmilk, we draw unnecessary attention to the milk's means of conveyance.

Or, rather, we expose a cultural obsession with the human female breast as sexual object that has almost eclipsed its primary and original role as an organ of nutrition. If we were to restore to human milk its rightful term of just plain milk (and downgrade what we buy in cartons to cow's milk), we might be a step closer to ending the perception that there is anything sexual about a breast while it is nursing a baby, and a step closer to normalizing the way babies are meant to be fed.

It has also been well documented that we use an inverted language to describe the differences between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Breastfeeding is the biological norm; instead of talking about "the benefits of breastfeeding," we should be talking about the hazards or risks of failing to breastfeed. Breastfeeding does not increase a child's IQ per se—it is more accurate to say that the absence of breastfeeding prevents mental development from reaching its inherent potential.1 Human milk continues to nourish, develop, and hone a baby's systems postpartum, just as the placenta did before birth. From this biological perspective, babies expect to be breastfed, and will not achieve their normal projected potential if denied it. When we think of formula as "just fine" and breastmilk as "enhanced," we confuse the norm of tens of thousands of years with a technological convenience less than a century old.

Baby-shower paraphernalia—wrapping paper, gift bags, decorated streamers, cards, e-cards—is lousy with images of baby bottles. Since I began to notice this, I have been hard-pressed to find baby-shower items that are not abundantly festooned with bottles. Amid the heaps of shower bric-a-brac, not a single image of a breast is to be found.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I flipped through what must have been every sibling-preparation book in print, from classics such as Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban's A Baby Sister for Frances to flashy, photo-filled board books such as My New Baby, by Annie Kubler. At first I rejected any book that contained images of baby bottles, but I soon realized that that would mean rejecting virtually all of them. So I thought I'd compromise on books that at least included breastfeeding—an image, a nod, a mention, anything.

Not so easy to find. I did manage to track down some children's books that actually promote breastfeeding, but I had to really search, and, in one case, special-order one from the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA). (See sidebar, "We Like to Nurse.") It was important to me to normalize breastfeeding for my then-three-year-old, and to protect her from oblique overexposure to bottle-feeding so early in her life. I knew this was ultimately impossible, but I wanted to at least lay down for her a foundation of comfort and custom with feeding infants the way I was feeding mine.

I encountered the same challenge when I tried to buy my elder daughter a baby doll in preparation for her sister's birth—so many dolls are sold with bottles. This association between baby dolls and baby bottles is very strong. At my daughter's preschool, they learn to sing a song about putting a baby to bed that the teacher acts out with a baby doll. In the middle of the song, the baby starts crying and the children are supposed to suggest ways of soothing it. The teacher tries each one as it is called out: she gives the baby a teddy bear, wraps it in a blanket, and, invariably, gives it milk. Finally, the baby drifts off to sleep. The exercise is supposed to be about building empathy: the children must imagine the baby's needs and strive to fill them. But the teacher never puts the doll to her breast. Every time, she tilts a toy bottle to its mouth.

The same preschool has an impressive library of educational books that are used to teach children basic words. These include photographs of objects familiar to little kids, such as grapes, blocks, and bathtubs, accompanied by the word for each. One image found in every one of these books is of a baby bottle. Even a cloth book designed for the very youngest readers, with only a single large picture per page, devotes one of its four pages to an image of a baby bottle. No human breast appears in any of these books. From all of this published evidence, one would have to assume that bottle-feeding is the norm.

Public reactions
That breastfeeding a child in public is even an issue is one of the most telling examples of the supremacy of bottle-feeding. When breastfeeding a baby in public is equated with indecency, the message is loud and clear: Feed baby a bottle or stay home. This attitude promotes bottle-feeding while discouraging breastfeeding, forcing the breastfeeding baby and mother into the proverbial closet.

Breastfeeding is covered extensively in the media, but usually to make the point that it is being inflicted on too mature a child. In a recent episode of the television series ER, when a mother was about to breastfeed her school-age son, the doctors reacted by smirking in an amused but clearly aghast kind of way.2 We share a collective "gross-out" when we picture a prepubescent son lifting his mother's shirt for a quick num-num before he rides off on his two-wheeler. We hear people say, "As soon as a child is old enough to ask for it, that child is too old." Or, "After six months/one year/two years/[insert arbitrary cutoff age], breastfeeding is a selfish act to satisfy the mother's own needs." There is a general sense that, past a certain age, there is something wrong, something inappropriate and verging on taboo, about contact between a child and its mother's breast. But even if we have a firm sense of what age is, indeed, too old for breastfeeding, do we really think that prolonging a nurturing behavior past the norm du jour is equivalent to child abuse? Whom does it harm? We seem to make more of a fuss when someone breastfeeds past four years than when someone inflicts physical injury on a child, which usually elicits a disapproving but nonetheless respectful "How they raise their child is their business." Those of us who have nursed our babies into toddlerhood or beyond instinctively kept this ritual discreet. I never suffered a critical comment or dirty look, but as my daughter grew from passive recipient to active participant in the nursing relationship, I could feel the approving smiles of strangers gradually become awkward, averted gazes.

Bolstering this attitude is the unfounded belief that breastfeeding is beneficial only during the first three months, six months, year, two years, or whatever age is currently deemed old enough. But human milk does not suddenly become void of nutrition on the baby's six-month or two-year birthday. It is still just as nutritious, still provides immunities, and, most obviously, breastfeeding still provides immense comfort to the nursling. But we have been conditioned to undervalue a baby's need for comfort.

A hierarchy of needs
"She wasn't really hungry, she was just comfort-nursing." "He was just using me as a human pacifier." You've probably heard such phrases used to justify a parent's decision to night-wean or to stop or avoid breastfeeding in some way. We seem to believe that the only legitimate excuse for breastfeeding is hunger, and that anything else is a misuse of the goods. The term human pacifier is especially revealing—what is a pacifier but a plastic substitute for the breast? Similarly, we seem to regard as suspect any need of the breast a baby might have that is not strictly caloric.

The chemical composition of human milk has an opiate-like effect; it induces sleep. So it should come as no surprise that when they want to go to sleep, babies seek the breast.3 However, nature's plan causes our society anxiety. We feel we cannot indulge a baby's need when it involves anything other than nourishment, and that by doing so we will spoil the baby, teaching her that she needs the breast to fall asleep. We therefore deny the child this simple need and teach her to instead cry herself to sleep. Otherwise, there is a lingering concern that she will never learn to sleep without the breast.

But if babies cannot feed, walk, dress, or speak for themselves, why do we think they should be able to fall asleep by themselves? And just as babies outgrow diapers, crawling, babbling, and all other age-appropriate behaviors, they also outgrow breastfeeding and learn to sleep without the breast. I suspect that we fail to appreciate all that breastfeeding offers because bottle-feeding cannot even begin to provide these things. Babies come to the breast for much more than mere food. Breastfeeding affects cranial decompression,4 reduces the risk of cancer,5 prevents allergies,6 develops the jaw and brain,7 eases the baby's bonding with the mother8—and, yes, provides comfort. But we see the need for comfort as not only inferior to the need for food, but as requiring suppression. Our understanding of infants' nursing needs is skewed by the dominant bottle-feeding mentality.

Assumptions based on the formula model
When I was a first-time mom with a new baby, the community health nurses who ran my local drop-in group for parents and babies promised that we could not spoil our babies with too much attention. They heartily encouraged us to respond to all of baby's cries, explaining that it would lay a foundation of trust and compassion. However, this approach ceased to apply at night. Then, we were fiercely advised to ignore our wailing infants after they had reached some arbitrary age or weight, when they were supposed to be able to sleep through the night without parental comfort. Indeed, we were told that at this point babies suddenly had no need for nourishment for as long as 12 hours, but were simply crying to get attention. The responsible parent, we were told, would nip this manipulative habit in the bud, making baby forgo nighttime comfort cold-turkey. Babies should learn to comfort themselves, we were told. We should not permit them to make use of the breast for flimsy or selfish reasons. If they're not hungry, they don't need it.

Years later, I searched for any evidence that babies of a certain age or weight do not need calories at night. I never found any. My guess is that the myth that babies should not need to night-nurse is based on the formula model. Formula is poorly digested by the human infant,9 and formula is really only about the food. Artificially fed babies may indeed outgrow the need for bottles in the night at an early age, but I doubt they outgrow the need for parental comfort any more than they outgrow the need for the ideal nutrition that only the breast can provide.

When I teach breastfeeding positions in class, expectant parents often begin by holding their dolls in a cradle position, with the doll's tummy facing the sky, as a baby would be held for bottle-feeding. This does not work so well for breastfeeding—the baby's head would have to be turned hard to one side to make contact with the breast. But because images of bottle-feeding still predominate in movies, TV, and books, the bottle-feeding position has become the default definition of feeding position.

Another example of the formula model being misapplied to breastfeeding is when doctors advise mothers to stop nursing their sick babies and to instead feed them Pedialyte, an oral electrolyte solution used for rehydrating a baby after diarrhea or vomiting (basically, sugar, sodium, water, and artificial flavors). This would be correct medical advice for a formula-fed baby, but is rarely useful for a breastfed baby.10 A mother's milk responds to the pathogens in her and the baby's environment to adapt to the baby's specific immunological needs. This is why, with rare exceptions, its mother's milk is a baby's best medicine. Introducing a foreign substance such as Pedialyte into the gut of a breastfed baby who has the flu is usually foolish and unnecessary. But medical professionals often dole out such advice as if formula and breastmilk were interchangeable.

I suspect that this oversight applies to the rigid "10 percent rule" that hospitals here in Vancouver apply to postpartum weight loss in infants. Hospital-born babies are weighed immediately after birth, and are then expected to lose up to 10 percent of their body weight in the three or four days until the mother's milk comes in, before beginning to gain it back. If a baby loses more than this 10 percent, supplementation with formula is pushed mercilessly. In my experience, hospital staff don't spend extra time assessing baby's latch or position at the breast, nor do they suggest that the mother try nursing more often; they simply push formula. The problem of how a mother's milk supply can be adversely affected by supplemental bottle feeding11 does not seem to be raised.

Here in British Columbia, homebirth is part of the public healthcare system; it is carefully regulated, and midwives are required to keep records. The midwife weighs the baby at birth, then not again until one week later (unless there is specific cause for concern), by which time most babies have again approached their birth weight.12 Whether, in the interim, the baby has lost 1 percent, 10 percent, or 15 percent of the birth weight is never known. Instead, babies are evaluated for other signs of wellness versus dehydration, such as urine and feces output, good latch and position, energy level, and alertness.

As far as I can tell, the 10 percent weight-loss limit is based on nothing more scientific than hospital comfort levels. Babies are well equipped with fat cells to sustain them during their postpartum weight loss, until the mother's milk comes in and they begin to gain it back.13 How much weight is lost during that period is highly individual.14 The important thing is not the number on the scale, but that the baby has unrestricted access to the breast and is getting enough milk. There is no known harm to a baby losing, say, 10 percent of birth weight, but there is much known harm in giving a newborn formula,15 especially during the crucial first few days immediately following birth, when the foundation for the baby's immune system is being laid by the mother's colostrum. Yet we are so strongly attached to the "usualness" of babies being fed with bottles that we commit a well-documented risk to avoid an unsubstantiated one.

The recommendation by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) to exclude infants from mothers' beds betrays the same sort of misconception.16 It is important to remember that these organizations at one time advised against breastfeeding because it was deemed to be less "scientific" than formula bottle-feeding. The dismissal of the biological norm of breastfeeding requires the same sort of willful blindness as does rejecting the biological norm of cosleeping.

Imagine a mother gorilla or orangutan placing her newborn on a separate pile of leaves, to spend the night away from her baby. Or a mother in a nonindustrial culture leaving her baby to sleep all alone. All mammals sleep with their babies, and among the many reasons for this, ease of breastfeeding is no doubt paramount. Mammals nurse at close intervals throughout the 24-hour cycle of a day.17-19 As someone who, before she discovered the soporific bliss of cosleeping, tried getting up in the night many times to feed a baby, I can tell you that solitary sleep can be dangerously threatening to the breastfeeding relationship. Sore nipples were nothing compared to the exhaustion of getting out of bed every few hours all night long. When I finally let myself sink fully into the attachment of parenting day and night, I discovered, as have so many other mothers, that we all got a lot more sleep.

To believe that a newborn is safer sleeping alone than with its mother, or that a breastfeeding mother gets more sleep with her newborn out of arm's reach, is to deviate sharply from our biologically appropriate habits as mammals. Formula bottle-feeding is a deviation at least as severe. Because cosleeping supports and facilitates breastfeeding, not bottle-feeding, it is not surprising that our culture discourages this loving and normal mammalian practice. The rejection of cosleeping by so-called experts is yet more evidence that our collective parental instincts have been undermined by the norm of bottle-feeding.

When should I introduce the bottle?
Even families who are committed to breastfeeding are prone to unknowingly undermine their success by giving a baby the occasional bottle. In all my classes, people ask at what age they can safely start giving baby a bottle—something they seem to assume is inevitable. This is because fathers suffering from "breast envy" feel a need to join the exclusive feeding relationship of mother and child, because our culture values giving mother a break more than it values adjusting both parents' expectations to ensure that the baby's needs are met during the "in-arms" period, and because we are so conditioned to assuming that babyhood involves bottle-feeding that we "naturally" think it the next thing to do.

In Canada, working mothers get a paid parental leave of one year. Except for the self-employed and those who weren't working enough hours to qualify for paid leave, most Canadian mothers are not obliged to return to work until a baby is old enough to prefer a cup to a bottle. But we are strongly influenced by the notion that we must introduce the bottle, and soon, or the baby may never take one. We seem willing to risk nipple confusion,20 a baby's preference for the bottle over the breast,21 a threatened milk supply, colic, premature weaning, and worse, just so mom can go out for coffee without baby once or twice. We seem to have concluded that pumping breastmilk, buying and sterilizing bottles, and storing and reheating milk is easier or cheaper than simply committing ourselves to exclusive breastfeeding. We don't question our belief that all these extra activities—especially pumping, which is no picnic—somehow give mom a break. We believe all this because our cultural baseline is bottle-feeding.

Although it's unlikely these days that any layperson, let alone a health professional, would directly state that formula is healthier than breastmilk, we still collude in a culture that promotes bottle-feeding as "normal." As long as images of breastfeeding are overshadowed by images of bottles, and as long as formula-feeding facts are misapplied to the breastfed baby, breastfeeding will continue to be seen as a luxury rather than as the obvious best choice for babies.

1. M. Morrow-Tlucak et al., "Breastfeeding and Cognitive Development in the First 2 Years of Life," Soc Sci Med 26, no. 6 (1988): 635-639.
2. John E. Gallagher, II, Director, "If Not Now," ER, Season 12, Episode 256.
3. J. Cubero et al., "The Circadian Rhythm of Tryptophan in Breast Milk Affects the Rhythms of 6-Sulfatoxymelatonin and Sleep in Newborns," Neuro Endocrinol Lett 26, no. 6 (December 2005): 657-661.
4. Dr. Noel Stimson, DDS, "Build Dental Health with Breastfeeding," Mothering, no.130 (May-June 2005): 55-61.
5. Mary Renfrew et al., Bestfeeding: Getting Breastfeeding Right for You (Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1990): 5-6.
6. Health Canada Policy Statement, "Exclusive Breastfeeding Duration: 2004 Health Canada Recommendation," Health Canada: Infant Nutrition no. 4824 (2004).
7. See Note 4.
8. Marvin S. Eiger et al., The Complete Book of Breastfeeding (New York: Workman Publishing, 1987): 27-28.
9. Kathleen Huggins, RN, MS, The Nursing Mother's Companion: Fourth Revised Edition (Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1999): 2-4, 39.
10. La Leche League International, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (New York: Plume Books, 1991): 326-328.
11. Linda J. Smith, BSE, FACCE, IBCLC, "Keeping Up-to-Date: How Mother's Milk Is Made," Leaven 37, no. 3 (June-July 2001): 54-55.
12. Dr. William Sears, "Getting Enough Milk," Breastfeeding: www.askdrsears.com.
13. Dr. Jack Newman et al., Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding (Toronto, ON: Harper-Collins, 2003).
14. Dr. Jay Gordon and Cheryl Taylor White, CBE, "Look at the Baby, Not the Scale," "Breastfeeding" (2001): www.drjaygordon.com/development/bf/scales.asp.
15. Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC, "Just One Bottle Won't Hurt—Or Will It?" "Breastfeeding" (2005): www.drjaygordon.com/development/bf/supplement.asp.
16. J. McKenna, "Cultural Influences on Infant and Childhood Sleep Biology and the Science That Studies It: Toward a More Inclusive Paradigm," in Sleep and Breathing in Children: A Developmental Approach, J. Loughlin et al., eds. (New York: Marcell Dakker, 2000): 199-230.
17. J. McKenna et al., "Bedsharing Promotes Breastfeeding," Pediatrics 100, no. 2 (August 1997): 214-219.
18. S. Mosko et al., "Parent-Infant Co-Sleeping: The Appropriate Context for the Study of Infant Sleep and Implications for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Research," Journal of Behavioral Medicine 16, no. 6 (December 1993): 589-610.
19. See Note 10: 106.
20. Jack Newman, MD, "How to Know a Health Professional Is Not Supportive of Breastfeeding," Handout 18 (January 2005): www.bflrc.com/new man/breastfeeding/mdnosupt.htm.
21. Jack Newman, MD, "Breastfeeding—Starting Out Right," Handout 1 (January 2005): www.breastfeedingonline.com/1.html.

Stephanie Ondrack is a childbirth educator and doula with the Lower Mainland Childbearing Society of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her older daughter, Reve, self-weaned before her third birthday, just in time for her sister, Choral, to be born and take her own rightful place at the breast.

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