Why I Think Breastfeeding Should be on My Resume

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The Misconceptions of Attachment Parenting

by Holly Keich

As the leader of a the Harrisburg Attachment Parenting Group, I’m often approached with requests to join the group followed by a list of reasons the applicant considers themselves to be an attachment parent. Often I’m left wondering how it is that each person has come to identify specific attributes to this particular parenting style. Breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, co-sleeping, home schooling stay-at-home moms who slather their babies in coconut oil, make all their own baby food, choose to leave their baby boys intact, are vaccine hesitant and buy amber necklaces in bulk…This has become the attachment parenting stereotype.

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Let’s take a step back and look with fresh eyes to see where it all started. Attachment Parenting; a phrase coined by Dr. William Sears in and his wife Martha, a registered nurse, in 1982; was discovered by Dr. Sears when reading Jean Liedloff’s book The Continuum Concept. (1) This ground breaking book published in 1975 took a look at the Ye’kuana people of Venzuela. Through her research, Liedloff proposes that the modern Western ways of giving birth and raising children, with bottle feeding, cribs and baby carriages, does not meet the evolutionary needs of children and therefore they develop a sense of wrongness and shame about themselves and their desires. (2)

Attachment Parenting owes it’s roots to many philosophic predecessors beyond just Liedloff. The first of which is the father of attachment theory, John Bowlby and subsequently his research assistant, Mary Ainsworth who is most notably known for the “Strange Situation” which investigated how attachments might vary between children. With Attachment Theory burgeoning in the world of research after World War II, many responsive parenting styles began to become more mainstream. Most notably Dr. Spock’s best selling book “Baby and Child Care” was published in 1946 where he advised mothers to raise their infants according to common sense and plenty of physical contact. (3) In the 1990’s T. Berry Brazelton also contributed to this discussion with new research about the capacity of newborn infants to express themselves and their emotions and for parents to become sensitized to their babies needs and to follow their own judgment. (4) And there are countless others in between the two as research began to hone in on how babies attach and what that looks like in varying family situations.

The Baby BookIn 1993, the Sears’ published the first edition of “The Baby Book”, the first publication that guided parents in the tenants of “attachment parenting”. (5) This is where the 5 Baby B’s where introduced, which later became the 7 Baby B’s in 2001 with the introduction of “The Attachment Parenting Book”. (6)

  • Birth bonding
  • Breastfeeding
  • Baby wearing
  • Bedding close to baby
  • Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry
  • Beware of baby trainers
  • Balance

As we look at the 7 Baby B’s we begin to see where some of these stereotypes surrounding attachment parenting might have originated.   And even though the Sears’ discuss that attachment parenting is a responsive approach to parenting that it doesn’t have a strict set of rules, many choose to dig in and identify with the above concepts as guideposts to being the perfect parent, myself included in the early days of parenting. Have you found yourself using the guideposts as a checklist rather than a potential strategy that could be weighed in determining what works best for your family?

In 1994, with the blessing of Dr. Sears, Attachment Parenting International was founded by two educators and mothers, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker in Nashville, Tennessee. (7) Both were teachers who noticed a growing need among their students for, greater family security and caregiver availability. (8) API has expanded on the 7 Baby B’s and Dr. Sears’ work and now promotes the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting. (9)

  • Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  • Feed with Love and Respect
  • Respond with Sensitivity
  • Use Nurturing Touch
  • Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  • Provide Consistent and Loving Care
  • Practice Positive Discipline
  • Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

While the intent is the same, the principles expand on the Sears’ premise by including Positive Discipline and allowing a broader definition for each category, further defining and refining the core concepts of attachment. While the Sears’ 7 Baby B’s are geared primarily for children 5 and under, the 8 principles are expansive enough to guide you through the ages and stages of parenting up until the teen years (and beyond).

Although it’s been around for nearly 35 years, with roots dating back to World War II, Attachment Parenting is viewed as a fad. Even though the tenants of parenting that are proposed are as old as time and secure attachment remains as basic and beneficial as it ever was to human development, there are critics of Attachment Parenting. Often, this criticism is muddled, confusing attachment parenting with permissive parenting, helicopter parenting, and natural parenting. But if we go back to the principles, you won’t find these attributes on the list. Positive Discipline utilizes strategies that are empathetic, loving, and respectful while strengthening the connection between parent and child. The strategies are kind yet firm. The ultimate goal of discipline is to help children develop self-control and self-discipline. (10) And even though many of the tenants are instinctual, responsive and therefore may come “naturally”, the use of coconut oil, cloth diapers, and natural remedies as espoused by natural parenting is nowhere on the list.

Despite the broader definitions, Attachment Parenting is still mistakenly viewed by many as an intensive parenting style that requires you give up yourself completely to care for your child. Visions of babywearing until they are in middle school are conjured up in people’s minds and written about in articles. And this stereotype may made even more true by those adhering to what they believe are the attachment parenting principles, forgetting that one of those principles is to Strive for Balance. Taking time for yourself is one of the key elements of being an attached parent. If you run yourself ragged meeting your baby’s needs and everyone else comes before you, you’ll soon find yourself struggling to hold on without realizing that you’re the one leading the circus. You’re the one spinning more and more plates striving for perfection and applause. That is, until they come crashing down to the ground and the tent falls in.

Before you loose yourself, take a step back, take a deep breath and realign yourself with the principles that speak to you and work in your life. Use them as tools rather than steps that help you achieve the broader over-arching goal of raising a compassionate, loving and responsible human being. Look at the principles as objectives in reaching that goal. Realize that babywearing is a tool, one of many that can help you meet the objective of using Nurturing Touch, as are infant massage, bathing, hugs, and snuggles. Move through each principle and reassess. There is no one right way to be an attachment parent, but there are a million ways to attach with your child. As is embedded in the philosophy itself, listen to your intuition and let it guide you. You are the best parent for your baby. You know what is best for you and your family. If you are able to quiet your mind enough to listen, to stop the plates from spinning, you can hear that inner voice guiding you. Sit with that voice. Learn to trust that voice.

Celebrate Attachment Parenting Month with a deep connection to peace, love and trust in your own heart so that inner light can shine out brightly for others.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_parenting
  8. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/WhatIsAP.php
  9. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php
  10. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/discipline

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Holly Keich is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill.  She is a Licensed Social Worker, Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Parent, Wife and adamant learner in the school of life.

It’s All Normal: A Story of Extended Breastfeeding in American Culture

20526275_10155428980056257_533579188615686729_n“How long did you breastfeed?” she’d asked as I started engaging in small talk at my husband’s friend’s New Year’s Eve party. She had seen me still breastfeeding my youngest earlier in her living room. I’m stumped by her question. This is the first time I’ve ever been asked point blank about the length of time I breastfed my oldest child.  I searched quickly for a non-answer and couldn’t find one. So rather than engage in awkward silence, I answered tentatively that he’s still nursing. She was astounded. “I mean don’t you want your body back?” She continued saying that she’d weaned at one because she needed to have her body back. It was her story, many women’s story, and another story that let me know I was different. This interaction left me feeling exposed, sure she would share my secret that my son was still breastfeeding at age 6.

“You know what they say? If you breastfeed past two it’s just for you.”  A co-worker who loves to instigate throws this quip at me after learning that I am still breastfeeding my then 2 year old son.  The implication is that I get sexual pleasure from the experience. It’s said in a tone that meant ‘not me of course, but that’s a belief that’s out there.’ It’s an offensive thought, but a small part of me feels the shame of society and looks inside as I defiantly defend myself and my sons need to keep nursing beyond what is socially understood or accepted in our ‘me first’ culture.

Up until age 2 I had an easy, pre-prepared come back; “The AAP recommend breastfeeding until one and the WHO recommends continuing to breastfeed until at least two years old.”  Even that gap between one and two years old felt tenuous when I said it. American pediatricians at least agreed that breastmilk was important enough for a child under one, but beyond that those WHO recommendations were really just for those living in 3rd world countries. For those living where it was less safe to mix formula for their child due to water conditions. Where disease was more prevalent and dangerous and breastmilk beyond one would help their survival rate. It really wasn’t for the modern mom living in western suburbia and headed to work every day.

So I developed a new story; “I planned to nurse to 2 years old, but my child had a different plan.” I used attachment parenting and the adage to follow your child’s lead to guide me through the years after two. But I became acutely more aware of the moments when he wanted to nurse in public, being extra sure to be discreet without actually leaving the room to hide my ‘shameful breastfeeding’ away. I wanted to normalize it, but had my own tenuous feelings of wanting to hide in those years after his 2nd birthday.

My son is 3 and perusing the food table stealing snacks and treats out of my view at a party. Eventually as day turns into night, he comes to me and wants the comfort of nursing or maybe it’s that he fell and bumped his knee, I can’t quite recall.  He wanted the comfort of being held close in his mama’s lap and the familiar rhythm of nursing. I don’t know these people, I think. I don’t feel safe to nurse here, so I steal away to a quiet, dark corner and sit at the bottom of an open stairway to nurse. This is the first time I remember feeling shame while nursing. I am more worried about who could see us than my son’s need to nourish himself, be it emotionally based rather than nutritional.

Before he was born I wasn’t certain how I felt about breastfeeding in public. It’s not something I had seen often and I’m not an exhibitionist who feels free with her body to expose it.  I mean whenever I was in a situation in college where everyone went skinny-dipping, I was the one sitting on the dock, fully clothed wondering what fresh freedom these people had found. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of my body, but that it was private and there was shame in sharing it publicly. How would these thoughts transition to breastfeeding my child? What I found is that my newborn’s needs trumped my concerns about what other people thought or saw. I mean which would they rather have, a crying, hungry baby or a possible nip slip sighting? I felt justified in those early days. And I’m pretty sure the hormones of birth and early parenting had a lot to do with that fierceness that allowed me to take care of my child regardless of setting. After all, this is what nature intended.

The cultural norm in countries where breastfeeding continues to term unhindered by these judgmental labels, what’s considered ‘extended breastfeeding’ in our culture (as if anything beyond 1 is abnormal), is 4-7 years old. Good, good. I’m within the cultural, biologically normal group. There’s nothing wrong with this, nothing wrong. We’re not an enmeshed family dyad where my needs depend on him needing me.

As the days and years pass, I tell myself he won’t nurse forever. He won’t need me forever. It’s as if I’ve resigned myself to his needs as I’ve always done since he was born, without considering me in the equation.  After all, what is motherhood but selfless service to another? I don’t need him to nurse to give my life value. His very existence as my child brings value to my life. He was a ‘wanted’ child that we conceived after two years of trying and many procedures poking and prodding my ovaries to work properly. Is it in my effort to prove to myself and the world that we aren’t enmeshed that I begin to push him away and resent his need of me? Is it what I feel or what society has laid on me?

In breastfeeding groups over the past ten years I’ve seen more women speaking out about how long they’ve breastfed. Proud of their 3.5 years, 4 years, 5.5 years. But you don’t hear much beyond that. Is there still shame in nursing to the upper limits of ‘normal’ even amongst breastfeeders? Portrayals of women who continue this connection beyond even the extended breastfeeders norm are considered freaks. The mother who has the bravery to share her story on TV is shown holding her child with their lanky legs dangling off her lap, certainly too old for breastfeeding. A story of someone who once knew a woman who nursed her son until he was 8, until her family had an intervention to say enough is enough.

My son lay next to me in his bed, our typical bedtime ritual in progress, reading a book, then lights out and nurse to sleep. It’s the only time my son nurses anymore. It’s the last of his security he’s had since he’s arrived on earth. As we turn out the lights and he drifts off to sleep sucking on my breast,  I hear my mother-in-law walking back the hallway to tell me she’s leaving. I quickly unlatch and we lay side by side as she comes in to say goodbye.

It should come as no surprise then when my son asked to nurse on another day in another time and knows that I’m scanning the room to see if I feel safe enough to indulge right then and there. I’ve taught him that it’s not safe to expose yourself, to be vulnerable even in the name of love. You must hide to feel safe.

Screams and cries as my son hits the floor in the lobby of the Farm Show building. It’s only been a few weeks since his little sister arrived in the world. We’re trying our best to keep his world the same and show our love for him by doing things. Nothing says love like the smell of a barnyard and petting a fluffy bunny.  As I carry his sister in the Moby Wrap, I assume he has tripped behind us and fallen to the ground. Nothing worse than the screams of a 4 year old in a massively crowded public setting. I scoot us to the side, out of the way of the moving crowd and know that he’ll want to nurse to calm down. I pass my daughter to my husband and I huddle up my son in my lap and enshroud us in my giant babywearing coat and hide in plain view of everyone entering and exiting the Farm Show. I comfort him. I meet his needs. And I send a clear message that what we are doing isn’t to be seen by others.

I often wonder how those messages were received. I continue to nurse to meet his needs, but if I’m ashamed of it what story does that implant in his brain. How will it display itself when he’s older?  Curiosity sparks me to continue nursing to term to see what is his norm, regardless of my discomfort which is more cultural than personal.

Despite my fears, I realize he still looks at it as a loving normal connection as I ask him if it’s OK if I share a story of our breastfeeding journey. He pauses for a second and looks confused as to why it would be important enough to write a story about it. It’s all normal. It’s the expression of the life giving love and power of motherhood…
regardless of the age of your child.

Choices in Everyday Parenting

by Jennifer Moore

One of my favorite television shows is The Office. Fictional boss, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell), invokes the embarrassment of viewers due to his antics in his personal and professional lives. The writers know that this emotion makes for good comedy, but on a deeper level, they most likely also know that this starts some sort of self-reflection as to why what Michael does makes us feel so ashamed.

In the modern world of parenting, we seemingly have our own television show with social media platforms opening up parts of our lives that were kept hidden in the previous generations. When I pooped on the toilet for the first time, my mother didn’t post on twitter (#mybabygirlisgrowingup) to reach out to her second cousin’s neighbor’s current girlfriend at the touch of a button and let them all know.   She certainly didn’t have our intimate moments paraded around over a computer screen and judged by people clear on the other side of the world who were able to interject with their own opinions and experiences. On the flip side, her world of parenting was limited to just those in her immediate circles; her pediatrician, family and friends, books and possibly radio programs. A positive part of parenting in the year 2016 is that with a few taps on our smart phone we can research just about any topic, watching how others raise their own children. As many of us know too well, that is also a negative. I can type “When should my child stop breastfeeding?” and get a myriad of articles by scientific, personal, and yes even satirical sources that speak their own version of the truth (fact, opinion or a combination of the two).

Jen Moore & Wolfie - blooming wild

To celebrate World Breastfeeding Week in August 2015, I had this photo taken of Wolfgang and I by a professional photographer and friend.

I began breastfeeding my oldest son, Sebastian, at his birth in July of 2002. My goal was to
try to breastfeed to 6 months and then taper off and possibly wean onto formula or cow’s milk once he began eating solids. After all, once he started crawling and eating other food why should I continue? My experiences up until that point had led me to believe that a baby shouldn’t need to breastfeed after 6 months to a year. The early weeks turned into months, and before I knew it my son was 9 months old, beginning to walk, and still being nourished at my breast. One spring day at a local playground, Sebastian tripped and fell, eliciting tears. I scooped him up in my arms and began to nurse him since I had learned that this not only fed his belly, but also was a comfort to him when in distress. A woman who had her grandchild, a little boy of 4 who earlier was playing with my son, looked flabbergasted and said to me “You need to stop that soon or else he will never give it up”. Her kindness towards me as a first time mom switched off and she turned away, taking the child in her care with her. I was embarrassed. Her words and inflection led me to believe that not only was I doing something wrong, but I should certainly not be doing it out in public for everyone to see.

Jen & Wolfie with Allison
My friend Allison and I both nursing our sons. Here, baby Lennon is one day old and Wolfgang, 2 1/2. We are both proud to nurture and feed the bodies and souls of these precious little boys of different ages.

Over the year I gave birth to several more children and thankfully found a small yet accepting group of women when it came to the topic of full term breastfeeding through my local Le Leche League. I would comment to my husband after the monthly meetings, “It’s the only place I feel normal”. Here, I could lift up my shirt to nurse the child who moments before was arguing with a friend over toy trains, or I could cuddle a soon to be new big brother or sister against my pregnant belly. I could also latch on two children at once who both needed my nurturing in this way at the same time, with no fear of judgment. Later on, I was also lucky enough to have a handful of friends in whose presence I felt no shame parenting this way in their homes, since they did similar things in regards to breastfeeding. Over time, I grew a thicker skin when out in public when it came to the needs of my children, because my nursing relationship was more important to me than the random strangers and their stares and comments.

Several weeks ago, my 5 children and I (ranging from ages 3-14) were at a local public pool. Being the youngest in a large family, 3-year-old Wolfgang has the perks of several older siblings who open his world to fun “big kid” things. This also means that he has learned in his short time on earth to nap wherever we are if he is tired enough. Nursing him to sleep in the afternoon while on the go is something I do frequently, at museums, playgrounds and in this instance, at the pool. We had just settled down on our blanket, and as his eyes fluttered closed, I saw my friend Amy walk over with her 1 ½ year old daughter, Matilda, and she sat down right next to us. “Those women over there are freaking out and calling you disgusting”, she said, as Tilly latched on and she joined me in peaceful solidarity. We watched as this group of women, all in the company of small children, gawked at the four of us and then appeared to take pictures or videos with their cell phones! I don’t know what came of their recordings. Maybe texts were sent expressing their concern and disgust over children they had seen just minutes before talking and using toys to splash in the pool. Maybe our images were plastered on public or private corners of the world wide web. Whatever their reason for using the words they did and for taking out phones to record something that is very normal for me, their personal opinion was that Amy and I were making quite the show of nurturing our children.

Parenting is so individual. It’s something we as mothers make our own each and every day. We base it on what we value and feel is important for the short and long term goals of ourselves and our families. Like every other aspect of our lives, we are affected everyday by our interactions with others who have made similar or different choices. These meetings may cause us to feel confidence, doubt, or even judgment. Back to The Office, Michael Scott once proudly created a Christmas card by taking one of his then-girlfriend’s old vacation pictures and photoshopping himself in place of her ex-husband. Bad idea, Michael! The audience felt ashamed and embarrassed for him because this awkward choice created a very uncomfortable moment. I wonder if this is how those women at the pool felt.

Jen & Wolfie camping.jpg

This photograph to me is more the “day in the life of a nursing mom”. My kids play in the background, we are having breakfast after camping and I’m eating an apple.

Whatever their reasons or their thoughts about us, I can say that it doesn’t matter to me. Breastfeeding my children is an integral part of how I’ve parented for 14 years, and as their mother I can choose where and when, just as anybody else can choose to nurse (or not) in public, private, covered, or in a bathing suit at the pool. There should be nothing embarrassing about it, and those watching should be happy to see a mother and child bonding, much like I smile when I see a parent kiss a crying preschooler to “make it all better”, or feed a snack to a hungry toddler who runs over from the slide asking for something to eat. We are all doing a great job, and for those of us who are choosing to breastfeed past a year or two (my older children were all closer to or over 4 years when they stopped), we need to do it with confidence and surround ourselves with friends who either trust our judgement even if they walked down a different path, or, join us in our journey. To quote a line from the The Office, “I can’t control what you do, I can only control what I do”.

What I do is what works for my children and for me. What I do is making the choice of breastfeeding at 4 hours old and at 4 years old, in the comfort of my own house or sitting on a bench at the playground, and giving another parent a “thumbs up” when I see them doing the same.


Jenn Moore lives on the West Shore with her husband, 5 kids and temperamental cat. She enjoys books, wine, live music, lifting weights, and going to the toilet alone.

 

A Letter to Myself Before I was Mommy

by Kim Lehman

Put down that glass of wine! You’re PREGNANT!

This is your future: Your name is now Mommy and your best friend is less than 3 feet tall. She’s sweet, funny and makes your heart explode with love. She’s also the loudest, most opinionated and messiest person in the world. Whoops, spoiler alert: you’re having a girl.

On second thought, you’re going to need that wine.

You’ll be happy to know that you proved the naysayers wrong. You breastfed. You went back to work. You pumped milk. You did it all (except sleep). And now you’re the breastfeeding mom of a 2-year-old! Congratulations!!!

Oh, right. You still think nursing a kid that old is weird. That’s ok. You’re going to do a lot of things that will eventually seem perfectly normal. You’re going to pump milk while sitting in the front row of a Broadway show. You’re going to horrify your childless coworkers by trading potty stories with other parents. You’re going to catch puke with your bare hands… and then brag about it on facebook.

Listen up, because I know you’ve been telling people “Of course I’m going to breastfeed; how hard can it be? Women have been doing it since the beginning of time.” News flash: it’s HARD. I don’t want to scare you, but it’s harder than giving birth.

Oh, now I have your attention?

You’re right, breastfeeding has been going on for ages, but the fact is, moms have been helping other moms since the beginning of time because there’s a lot to learn. And you know women weren’t pumping milk at work 1,000 years ago! That’s a relatively new phenomenon thanks to legislation and social movement.

In 2010, passage of the Affordable Care Act ensured that some women have the right to pump milk at work. The act also required most insurance plans to provide breast pumps and lactation support. Nearly every state now has a law protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed in public and some states like NY even provide additional protection to pumping moms. In addition to that legislation, social media has provided a space for women to support each other in groups such as Working Pumping Moms. It’s really exciting to be part of this turning point in history!

Breastfeeding Law

You have a lot to learn, so start now! I know your career is important to you and you think you’re busy now. Trust me; you don’t even know what it means to be busy yet! So find the time to take a breastfeeding class. Read the user’s manual for your breast pump. And definitely start building your support system because it really does take a village.

You’re going to be surprised who your biggest supporters will be. Your best friend who doesn’t want kids is going to get shot in the face with milk, laugh about it, and still agree to take custody if you die. Your husband’s dad friends will talk about breast pump parts with the same enthusiasm that they discuss car parts. The mother-in-law who formula-fed your husband is going to be proud of you. (Yes, HER.) She didn’t breastfeed because 40 years ago, pumping at work just wasn’t a thing, not because she didn’t want to.

Not everyone is going to be helpful. You’ll read about the importance of taking fenugreek and eating oatmeal to increase milk supply. When you follow that advice, you’re going to end up smelling like a Waffle House and the constipation will make you cry. By the way, you don’t have a problem with milk supply, so don’t bother trying to fix it. You’re going to learn a lot of “rules” and eventually you’ll figure out the most important one: There’s no right or wrong, only what’s right for YOU.

No Right or Wrong

I know that right now, you’re not thinking about any of that. Your biggest concern is how you’re going to fit a child into your life. How are you going to stay focused on your career, your friends, your hobbies? The truth is that your future isn’t about you anymore. You’re not going to fit anything new into your life. Instead, you’re going to fit your life around this new person who is going to turn your world upside down, but in the best way possible. You’re going to figure out a way to do it all, and you’re going to love every minute of it.

You’re going to be a great mom.


Kim Lehman, founder of the facebook support group “Working Pumping Moms”, lives in New Cumberland, PA with her husband and precocious 2-year-old daughter.

Why Breastfeeding is the Hardest and Best New Dad Experience

by Andy Shaw

Andy with is son, Elliott, the day after he was born!

Andy with is son, Elliott, the day after he was born!

My son, Elliott, was born a month ahead of schedule. The night before Mother’s Day 2013, I was up late applying wall decals and finishing touches to his ocean-themed nursery

My wife, Sara, was going to help, but she was just not feeling it. She went to bed early, and I kept plowing through.

I go to bed around 11 pm. An hour later, Sara taps me on the shoulder and lets me know she thinks she’s having contractions eight minutes apart. As if that’s something you tap someone on the shoulder about.

You tap someone on the shoulder to say, “Hey, did you leave the light on downstairs?” You don’t tap if you want to say, “I think a baby may be exiting my vagina rather quickly.” Smack me in the face.


I can see her, calmly sitting with an iPhone app, timing things out. She’s not sure yet if it’s a false alarm. I, on the other hand, freak out.

I start throwing things in a bag. We had planned to put together an overnight bag that very Sunday, figuring a month ahead ought to do it. Nope.

“I’m not going to be the a-hole husband who sits around while his wife is going into labor!” I said excitedly, trying to get things ready.

Fortunately, my zen-like wife made me realize that even if this was the real deal, we were far from having to go to the hospital (You may hear in a birth class about waiting until contractions are about five minutes apart, lasting a minute long, as a good indicator it’s time to go. If a baby pops out… you waited too long.)

We stayed up all night watching Mad Men and the Cosby Show. In hindsight, questionable show choice. Thanks, dirty Bill Cosby.

Around 7 a.m., we went to the hospital. Just before pulling away from the house, I looked at Sara and said, “Let’s pause for a moment just in case this is the last time it’s ever just the two of us.”

It was.

And yet here we were, sitting in a tiny office, with a consultant looking at a scale and then telling us that our son wasn’t gaining enough weight. While I’ll get into the delivery details another day, I’ll just say our son was born at six pounds, five ounces – not bad considering he had a month to go!

Officially, that timeline meant he was “late preterm.” Not an official premie (he avoided the NICU), but not quite ready for showtime.

Why was this important?

Breastfeeding.

If you ever want a reminder that your girlfriend/wife is a miracle worker, watch her breastfeed. It doesn’t even make SENSE.

There is milk coming out of her body! Food! Just, right there! Where you used to hang out!

The thing is, although we were extremely into the idea of breastfeeding our son, late preterms don’t have the mouth size and skills yet to be great at latching.

And that’s when, just days into fatherhood, I had my first serious case of “I want to help with the baby, but I don’t know how’s”.

The good news is that our hospital had incredibly helpful lactation consultants. (Insurance covers this, by the way, in many cases).

The bad news is that doesn’t mean our son magically became great at latching on.

His weight was dropping, partially because he wasn’t getting enough through breastfeeding. He was down under 6 pounds, and he was jaundiced.

We had done everything we were supposed to do ahead of time. We went to a breastfeeding class. We read up on the subject, and had the Boppy pillow. Turns out, you can only be so ready: Parenting is a series of realities that harshly, rudely knock down expectations.

Elliott didn’t care if we had talked to experts. He just wanted food.

Not long after we had left the hospital, we had an appointment to see the lactation consultant.

We were exhausted. We were bewildered. We were so happy to have Elliott there, and yet so baffled about what he needed and wanted.

The way the appointments are set up, Elliott was weighed at the start, then my wife would nurse him until he was done, and then he would get weighed again to see the different in weight. When you’re a late preterm, weight is basically everything.

Yes, they could tell when it’s a matter of ounces. I hope to God it’s not like that after I eat Chipotle burritos.

Elliott, with a tinge of yellow on his skin, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen at that point, and all I wanted to do was take care of him like my dad took care of me or like all the dads in the TGIF lineup took care of their sitcom kids, at least.

Sara became emotional, as you might expect. I felt tears in my eyes looking at my wife, who I loved so much for so many different reasons, feeling helpless, like she wasn’t going to be a good mom because she “couldn’t do the thing moms are designed to do,” as she and others often put it during breastfeeding struggles.

But here’s the thing.

Parenting, you find out quickly, isn’t about having all the right answers. It’s about adapting. You are going to be so good at adapting that your Xbox games will work on a Playstation. Except swap a diaper change for Xbox and a mechanic’s bathroom for a Playstation.

We got a plan from the consultant. A plan that, looking back, I can’t believe we actually pulled off. A plan that I can now say not only helped me get super involved right away, but also gave me confidence that yeah, sure, I can do this dad thing.

HERE WAS OUR NEW BREASTFEEDING SCHEDULE:

  • Sara would nurse Elliott as long as she could. This would take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. And he wouldn’t get much, cause his mouth just wasn’t big enough.
  • When she was done, she’d continue pumping as much as she could.
  • Meanwhile, I would take a plastic syringe and fill it with an ounce of breast milk. I’d attach a thing plastic tube to one end, and tape the other end to my index finger. Then, holding Elliott, I’d slowly feed him by putting the tubed finger in his mouth – giving him something to suck on – while pressing down on the syringe. We’re talking ultra slow on this. I’d take 20 minutes to get him to take maybe half an ounce. It was hard for him to keep up, and some days he wouldn’t really take anything and we’d feel like crying again because we just wanted him to grow and be healthy. On a side note, this kid now eats two cups of yogurt, two bananas, guacamole, rice, and beans, and fig bars in on sitting like it’s nothing now. I am glad I don’t need to push guacamole through a tube.
  • Someone would clean up the pumping supplies and the syringe to be ready for the next feeding, while the other would change him.

Did you add up the time? About 15 minutes for the first part, plus about 20 minutes for the second, and another 10 for cleaning equals 45 minutes. We were supposed to feed him upward of 12 times a day. So about 45 minutes out of every two hours was taken up with nothing but the feeding process.

The other hour was taken up trying to get him to sleep – he slept in 15-20 minute chunks in the early weeks – or trying to eat something ourselves or maybe get something else done as our very helpful in-laws were on hand to keep up with housework so we didn’t end up on “Hoarders.”

When you add all that up, there was quite literally no time to do anything. I remember being so tired I couldn’t speak complete sentences.

“Man, Andy,” you’re thinking. “This doesn’t sound like a pep talk.”

It’s not.

It’s the reality of one newborn baby. My newborn baby. Today, my son is one of the biggest toddlers around, at the 90+ percentile for height and weight after being at the opposite end of that spectrum at the start. All of that breastfeeding struggle early on? We can see the results as he started gaining a pound a week at one point and became a nursing pro for the next year.*

Yours might end up being entirely different! You may breastfeed, or use formula, or have a premie, or have a full-term baby. So many factors. So many babies.

Just know that when I talk about the newborn experience, I’m not coming from a “everything was puppies and rainbows” background where I’m being unrealistic about what you can expect. I’ve been through some things – a little harder than some, a little easier than others.

And you know what? I got an awesome, awesome kid out of it. Like, my favorite person. But you can’t get to that point – the part where he’s playing games with me and saying funny things and  being adorable –  unless you go through the hard early stuff. You gotta earn your stripes.

* Not every baby picks up breastfeeding. It can be a problem that never really meets a solution for some parents. The good news is there are other options. Don’t let people make you feel bad about what you need to do to keep your baby healthy. Breastfeeding worked out for us. Another option might be better for you. Trust me – you’ll hear a lot from either side!


This post originally appeared on Andy Shaw’s site, Instafather.com, where he offers resources and advice for new dads. Andy is a dad of a 2-year-old boy and twin baby girls.

Extended Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding the Monkey

Holly nursing her then 2 year old little monkey.

by Holly Keich
A
s I made my way through the door after a long day at work on a Monday evening, I began to routinely check my e-mail.  But the routine ended when one message stood out.  It was a request to be on the new TV show, “Bethenny,” hosted by television personality Bethenny Frankel.  Taking into consideration the possibility that it was spam, I ventured to the phone and dialed the contact number that was given. Holed up in my son’s bedroom hoping for quiet as I spoke, I began conversing with the Associate Producer and I slowly began to realize that it was no joke.  They had seen me on the local WPMT news clip that I had done in relation to the now infamous TIME magazine cover. They were interested in producing a show about different parenting styles and wanted to feature my perspective that any time a parent responds with love, they are practicing a form of attachment parenting.

By this time, there had been much discussion in our circles about the cover.   Interestingly, little attention was paid to the actual article itself.  The controversy seemed to revolve mostly around the cover photo depicting extended breastfeeding.  I still find it peculiar that this was the cover photo for an article about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting.  Feeding with love and respect is only one of the 8 principles of attachment parenting or the 7 B’s according to Dr. Sears  himself.  And although breastfeeding is promoted as the optimal way to satisfy an infant’s nutrition and emotional needs, no mention is ever made how long to breastfeed in relation to attachment parenting.  The article narrowly even made mention of breastfeeding.  Obviously the magazine was not about creating a true picture or even a realistic debate on the subject.  The title “Are You Mom Enough” made sure of that, pitting all mom’s against each other.

I had expressed my opinions publicly on two local television networks covering the issue, yet still wondered what my stance was on the topic.  Did I find the photo objectionable or empowering?  My son is older than the boy pictured and is still nursing, but yet I felt some discomfort seeing another boy nursing to term.  Possibly it’s because it’s something I never see.  Even in the Attachment Parenting circles, I don’t recall ever seeing a preschool age child nursing.  Come to think of it, Iavoid nursing in public.  And I’ve avoided taking photos of my son nursing since he was a toddler.  Why is that?

Is it because of the culture in the US or simply because nursing a preschooler is typically done at times when you are home, preparing for bedtime, transitioning into the day and not in the presence of the public eye?  As I read comments to the article online, I decided it was the former.

As the week progressed, the article became more personal as I saw my life, and potentially my son’s, being thrust into the limelight.  Why did I want to go to California to be on a talk show with someone I knew nothing about?  I’m not an outspoken person.  What made me qualified to talk on the subject?  Others assured me that I was just right and would do a wonderful job speaking for them as a fellow attachment parent.  What I felt in my heart though was that I could only speak for myself.  My opinions, my experience, my love for my son, my life.

My mind swirled in various directions as the week progressed and I spoke to the executive producers to confirm my spot on the show.  What would it be like to be on a talk show? What possible questions could they ask me?  How would I respond in front of an audience?  Talking points people would tell me.  Make sure you have talking points so that no matter where the conversation leads, you are still getting your message across.  But still, I wondered what was my message?  I was typically a closet nurser, nursing in the privacy of my own home and rarely discussed nursing my 4 year old with anyone.  I didn’t want to put myself – or my son – in the position of having to defend our choice to continue breastfeeding until my he was ready to wean.  When the conversation would come up, I would often just say that I planned to breastfeed until he was 2 years old, the minimum recommendation from the World Health Organization, but that he had a different plan.

I still don’t know what his plan is.  In fact, I’m coming to the conclusion that he doesn’t have a plan at this age.  Planning is for adults.  All he knows is that his mama has comforted and cared for him with breastmilk since birth.  It’s not strange or odd to him.  It’s the norm.  We didn’t jump to nursing at the age of 4, it’s been a gradual, loving relationship that sustained his life and comforted him in times of grief.  Why would I take that from him because of misguided public opinion?  Others vision of us nursing might be shocking in part because they don’t have that history.

I recall seeing a toddler nursing when I was in college and remember being appalled.  A toddler that could lift their mother’s shirt should certainly not be allowed to nurse.  How time and parenthood makes you change your views of the world.  What I realize now is that is exactly when a toddler should be allowed to nurse!  Yes toddlerhood is a time of learning limits, but it is also a wonderful time when they are finally able to express their needs.  Allowing them to articulate their needs and self-regulate with nursing is no different than allowing your toddler to feed himself solid food.  Nursing on-demand is merely a continuation of the infant nursing relationship, nothing extreme or unusual here.

In retrospect, this experience was one of the first times I had ever seen breastfeeding.  Did that lead to my shock?  It most certainly did.  Things are normalized when you see them regularly.

So when approached by one of the executive producers mid-week asking if I would be willing to have my son on the set; would I choose to help normalize extended breastfeeding?  I’m not a zealot; in fact that’s one of the reasons they claimed to have chosen me for the show.  Yet, they wanted to know if I would be willing to nurse in the green room on camera.  Would this normalize breastfeeding?  Or was it merely a ploy to increase the ratings for their new show on the FOX network?  I was stymied and unsure where I stood.  My heart told me one thing, but I felt the need to represent.

After much deliberation and a bit of panic, I began to realize that breastfeeding is normalized when you see it in a normal setting.  It is not normal for me to travel to California to be on a talk show.  It is not normal for me to ask my son if he wants to nurse, much less do so while the cameras are rolling.  And I don’t think that showing it on a new talk show with a host that is known for being outspoken would do much to normalize extended breastfeeding for those who are uncomfortable with it.

What will normalize breastfeeding is to see it in your home town, at the market, in your church, at your family picnic, on the beach, in a restaurant.  Seeing those you know and those you have never met nursing in public, in private, with a cover, without.  It is likely to be a slow transition, but the more you feed your child without apology when they are hungry, when they are in need of comfort, no matter the situation, the more society will see breastfeeding as normal.

After all, breastfeeding a child regardless of age is still just breastfeeding – meeting a biological need.  If we in the US continue to call anything beyond 1 year, the minimum as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “extended” breastfeeding, then it will never be normalized and will always be looked at as “extreme” or going beyond what is normal.  When in reality, looking at societies across the globe where children are able to nurse “as long as they want” they usually self-wean, with no arguments or emotional trauma, between 3 and 4 years of age.  Maybe once we view breastfeeding as the biological imperitive that it is, we will begin to see change and the normalization of breastfeeding in the US.

(In case you were wondering, the executive producers chose to postpone the segment on “Bethenny” and I did not get to travel to California to express my views on the topic.)