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.

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‘Tis the Season to Be Grateful

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photo by Jessie Gallagher

by Jessica Nupponen

‘Tis the season to be grateful, fa la la la la la la la la!  It’s November! This is the month when we set aside a whole day to focus on giving thanks. And boy, do we need it! In the increasingly negative political-climate that we call “these days,” how do we ever manage to stay grateful?  It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but first – why bother?

If you’re reading this column, chances are good that you’re a parent.  As parents, we want our children to appreciate what they have and Stop. Nagging. Us. For. That. Newest. Toy/Device/Fad.  We all dream of a beautiful time when our children bypass the rampant holiday consumerism and truly appreciate the holidays as a time to be with the ones we love. And that’s why we bother trying to add gratitude to our lives. We want it for our children and they won’t learn it unless they see us demonstrating it.

So how can we feel more gratitude?

One of the things I learned from living with a chronic illness is that gratitude is an absolute necessity in order to soldier on and enjoy life. So I pursued it fiercely and… gave up quickly. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I wanted the gratitude so, so much, but it just wasn’t coming to me naturally.

I muddled through until my then-toddler helped me realize that having an “attitude of gratitude” was not enough. Just like his little brain needed tactile ways to learn, I needed to do something to signify the gratitude. Since then I have discovered so many possibilities! Here are a few that might help you too!

1.    List at least one thing that makes you grateful every day at a certain time. For us, we do this as part of bedtime, but it can be any time that works for you. I know people who do this as part of a dinner time routine.  (Make sure to make it mundane sometimes. I mentioned once that I was grateful for running water and it sparked a wonderful conversation about how people live in different ways.)gratitude-tree

2.    Use Thanksgiving as an excuse to write them down. When November rolls around,
we get leaf-shaped cut-outs and write what makes us grateful that day on our respective leaf.  We then tape them to the wall or hang them from a plant in the house.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it sure does make an amazing visual of all the things that make you grateful!

3.    Get the whole family involved.  Everyone in the household can do this! We even ask our 5-year-old what he thinks makes the baby grateful. You could include the family pet! That way we’re also sneakily teaching empathy! (It’s like putting spinach in their brownies – they’ll never know! Mwahahaha!)

4.    Have older kids? Get them to use their devices to take a photo of something that makes them grateful every day. They could post it on social media if they’d like and spread the gratitude! Or they could make a digital  photo album out of it later. It also sparks creativity and mindfulness (a.k.a. spinach brownies)!

5.    Share the love!!!  If you’re feeling grateful for something, post it on social media or tell a friend.  I have a Gratitude Photojournal that I’ve kept going on social media for years and you’d be surprised how many people have told me that it makes them look around and appreciate the little things too.  This is not about the “humble brag,” friends. This is genuine, heartfelt gratitude. You know what the best part of my day was today? An iced mocha. A really, really good iced mocha that gave me the oomph to get through a big morning. And tonight that will be my post. Tomorrow it might be something much bigger and more important like my beautiful boys, a roof over my head, a husband who lovingly tucks in the boys when I work late, yadda yadda. But today was tough and that iced mocha got me through it, so it is the winner today.

6.  Take it to the next step.  Once gratitude starts to sneak into your daily routine, you’ll probably have a stronger feeling of hope edge in too. If you want all of this to equal happiness, here is your equation:  Gratitude + Kindness = Happiness. This is a fairly well-known equation, so put it to work. Use your gratitude and new-found hope to make the world a little brighter. It doesn’t take much: a friendly smile, a door held on a rainy day, a genuine compliment to a stranger or a friend, a kind word to someone who seems down, a listening ear, a warm hug.  I could go on, but you’ll find your way.

7.     Bonus!!!  When you start actively searching for things that make you grateful, you might just see your partner, your kids, your house, your job, your life in a whole new light.

It may sound trivial, but it’s true. Gratitude + Kindness = Happiness.  So let’s make a habit of practicing gratitude and cultivating gratitude, so that it becomes second nature.  I can guarantee it will make a difference to your family, to you, to your circle of friends, and maybe – just maybe – it will ripple out much further than you’ll ever know.


Jessica Nupponen is an events coordinator, choir director, sometimes-music director, and all times mom. Her hobby is running Sidewalk Chalk PA, an opportunity to make the world a little brighter through chalk. Jessica lives in the Harrisburg area with her husband, and their two “ridiculously adorable” boys.

The Joys of Baby & Toddler Yoga

by Holly Keich

Once a woman becomes a mother, everything changes. The transition for both mother and child can be a demanding one, requiring physical, emotional and spiritual strength that you had not previously encountered. Turning to a relaxing and nurturing yoga practice can help you find peace in your new role as a parent. The physical poses help you regain strength and flexibility in your life while taking a meditative approach to practice can help you find the calm within, allowing you to be more at peace. With a soothing, yet invigorating practice, you may find yourself feeling more centered and floating out of the studio at the end of class. This feeling is sure to flow into your daily interactions with your baby and family.

As a new mom though, when do you have the time to take for yourself? You may think that taking care of yourself and your baby are mutually exclusive activities. But you might want to consider practicing yoga with your baby. In fact the definition of “yoga” means “union”. In a traditional practice, this means linking and unifying the mind, body, spirit. But in baby yoga, it includes developing a union or bond between you and your baby as well. Being with your baby in the present moment, easing expectations of how things ought to be and enjoying what is can create more happiness in your life and help you find more peace and joy as a mother.

Om Baby Yoga 6

Unlike the viral You Tube video, baby yoga is a gentle, mindful practice between a parent and caregiver that involves stretching, massage and relaxation. Classes incorporate a mix of asanas (poses) for new moms with movements for baby that help develop their gross and fine motor skills, improve sleep patterns, aid in digestion and help babies explore their new environment. Infant massage is often incorporated into classes building trust and communication between the baby and caregiver. Movements, poses, rhymes and songs are repeated through a series of classes which encourage you to continue the practice at home or even on the go to help soothe your little one.

As babies grow, they begin to share the natural yogi within, exploring different ways of moving their bodies. You may find your pre-crawler moving into Cobra pose as they learn to put weight into their hands and strengthen the upper body muscles needed for

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crawling. Or you may find them in Downward Facing Dog as they learn to walk and or just
to get a different perspective of their world. The bonds that you’ve developed in baby yoga don’t need to end when your child becomes mobile. Practicing yoga alongside your growing child, you will see them develop more coordination, strength and self-confidence. Whether they use you as a jungle gym as you develop your own home practice or choose to attend a class at Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center, you’ll find that toddler’s delight in this special activity with Mom or Dad.

Toddler TIme Yoga 9 optimized
Classes at this stage look less like your traditional yoga practice in order to keep up with the boundless energy of toddlers. You’ll find us moving, singing, breathing, and using our imaginations as we weave yoga poses into a fun and interactive story. Children have the freedom to utilize the whole room as their yoga mat which increases social interaction between classmates. Class becomes more active, but is still balanced with relaxation and mindfulness. You may even find your little yogi spontaneously practicing their favorite poses at home. Or you may find poses that you can utilize to help calm your child in challenging moments.

Sharing yoga with your child can have a lasting impact in many ways. Whether bolstering neuromuscular development, providing opportunities for healthy social-emotional development to laying a foundation for life-long fitness and healthy lifestyle for your child, baby and toddler yoga is sure to create memorable moments in your life while reducing the stress and anxiety that comes with parenting.

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Holly Keich supports mother, child and family connections through her business, Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center, in Camp Hill. She is a Prenatal, Baby, Toddler & Child Yoga Instructor, Certified Infant Massage Instructor and Licensed Social Worker. 717-761-4975 www.ombabycenter.com.
Check out Om Baby’s Schedule for upcoming classes in yoga, art, dance, music, baby signing & more!

Taming Travel Time with Kids

by Holly Keich

DSC04737It’s true that vacations will never be the same once you have children, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have fun and maybe even squeeze in a little relaxation. Here are some tips to help you make that happen.

Attitude is everything: expect problems, go with the flow and everything will work out great. Ttreat your trip like an adventure, annoyances, missteps and mishaps simply become small obstacles for you to overcome. This applies just as much for parents as for children. If dogs can sense fear, you better believe your seven-year-old can. If you get stressed when you can’t find your hotel, your kids will get stressed too. When you think of it as exploring the neighborhood, everyone will feel better.

Packing

Kids have stuff, it’s that simple. But you don’t have to pack up your entire house to travel. Take only what you need and pack as light as you can. Consider it a Zen thing, a way of looking at life. Simplifying can help you enjoy your trip. Here are some checklists that can help you focus on the essentials.

http://www.babycenter.com/packing-checklist-for-traveling-with-baby

http://www.babycenter.com/packing-checklist-for-traveling-with-toddler

And remember to pack things that you will need during the trip within reach instead of under the luggage in the trunk.

When to Leave

Leave at the right time. But what is the right time? There are 3 different strategies you could use and all incorporate naps or bedtime to your advantage. If you are an early riser, you could get the kids out of bed at 4am, strap them in the car and hope to get another few hours out of them before they wake. After breakfast it doesn’t seem that far to go.

If your kids nap, use their schedules to your advantage. For example, if you’ve got a long car ride, see if you can leave an hour or so before their nap time. Most kids can entertain themselves for a little while so that buys you some time right there. Once they fall asleep around their normal nap time, you just bought yourself an hour or two of bliss on the way to your destination. This can work for flights as well. If you want to push your luck with this strategy, consider a red-eye flight. Especially if you’re flying coast to coast (at least in the U.S.), you can try to entertain a kid for 6 hours on a daytime flight or you can have them sleep on a flight that leaves at 11 PM. Be warned, however, this is a high-risk, high-return gambit. When executed to perfection, you get on the plane, give your kid his teddy bear and wake up 3,000 miles away. When things go awry, however, you are awake all night enduring glares from the people seated near you and the whole family is transformed into cranky zombies the next day.

Or, the last option is that you can leave about bedtime and drive all night long. If you or your driving partner are night owls, then this may be the option for you. But beware, you may arrive at your destination sleep deprived and cranky. Not a great way to start a vacation, but it might be a suitable way to end it traveling to the comfort of your own home.

Traveling by Car?

If you’re driving break up your trip so your toddler can stretch his limbs and move around to blow off some pent-up energy. Pack a rubber or foam ball for rolling or kicking around and some simple board books for quiet time. Pick out parks and picnic areas on your route by using an online mapping service such as Google, Yahoo or Mapquest. End your driving day early so all of you have time to unwind after a long day on the road.

To get a feel for what works and what doesn’t when you’re on the road and away from home, you might try leading up to a big trip with some short day trips or weekend getaways. The trial runs could provide key insights about things like what supplies you should pack, how long your child can last in a car seat, and which toys to keep your toddler happy (or drive you nuts).

For older kids, do you remember all those old travel games from when you were a child? You don’t? Well here are some links that will help refresh your memory.

http://www.activitiesforkids.com/travel/travel_games.htm

http://www.activitiesforkids.com/travel/travel_hints.htm

Going by Plane?

After getting settled, try to explain to your kids what they can expect. This seems to take some of the fear and uncertainty out of what might be a very new and strange experience.

Pressure on the eardrums caused by the change in altitude can bother kids more than adults. Babies especially become unhappy with pressure changes and being babies, cannot easily be told what to do to make it better. That’s where you come in! Sucking on a pacifier during take-off and again as soon as the pilot says you are about to start your descent helps balance out the pressure. Bottles or breastfeeding can work too. Even a lollipop. It’s okay to bend the rules a little bit when you travel, right?

Crying also helps to equalize pressure and for really small kids, may end up being the only route away from the discomfort. So be sure to reassure yourself that you are still a good parent even if your child is crying for most of the flight. At least part of the time he is equalizing the pressure in his ears. Crying as you comfort your child in your arms is not the same as letting your child cry it out. Lots of hugs and the occasional tickle can calm a child facing an unfamiliar pain, and help stop the crying that can continue long after the pressure problem has gone away.

How to Occupy the Time

Again try to remain practical and simple with the activities that you bring for your child. A small mix of old favorites and new toys or activities can help to bust up the boredom of a long (or short) flight. Avoid toys that make noise and those with small pieces that can fall off. Crayons are OK, but colored pencils are better. Markers should be avoided. If you don’t want it on your living room sofa, then you don’t want it in the air with you!

Some travel books say to wrap the on board toys like it is Christmas to help entertain the kids. But do the planet a favor and avoid the extra trash. Your child will enjoy the toy just as much with out the surprise factor, especially if it’s a long lost toy that you hid away a week before the trip only to “re-find” it on the plane. If you disagree, then try to use wrapping or bags that can be reused.

Some airlines may have little toys and treats available, but never board expecting they will be available. Check out airline policies before you board and be sure to bring snacks. Staving off hunger can help to prevent a meltdown before the stewardess makes her way around to offer you that little bag of pretzels.

Don’t expect to have a break until you land, you are the entertainment. So always be sure to have a few tricks in your pocket when things get rough. You could put a balloon in your pocket for layovers or long waits in the airport and pop it before you re-board. Take a small ball or blow up beach ball and roll it back and forth as you wait to board the plane. In flight, take a small photo album with pictures of the relatives and friends you plan to visit.  That way your toddler will be familiar with their faces and names before you arrive.  Phones and tablets make great distractions, but may not be able to be used during take off and landing, so be prepared with other activities.  Traveling in the dark? Kids love glow in the dark night sticks. A dry erase board or magnetic board could pass a few hours of time.

Here are some additional resources that might help to keep you sane during your flight.

www.flyingwithchildren.blogspot.com

52 Fun Things to Do on the Plane by Lynn Gordon

100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip (Activity Cards)  by Catriona Clarke

Settling In

New sights and sounds can be overwhelming to a young child. Vacation excitement can quickly turn to temper tantrums if you try to do too much too soon, so set realistic expectations and let your child soak up the experience at his own pace.

Upon arrival, immediately unpack and create a home away from home for you and your child. Designate a baby changing area. This could be a dresser or bathroom counter. Stack the diapers and wipes nearby so you don’t have to go rummaging through luggage with the first dirty diaper. Create a play space for your child by placing toys in a low drawer or shelf where they can access them. This also creates a place to store them when not in use so that the room doesn’t become a hazardous toy box. Choose an area to call the kitchen. A place where you can store snacks and mix formula if needed.

Naps on vacation can become mobile adventures. Follow your child’s lead in choosing an alternative nap location. Walks in the stroller can lull a little one to sleep while you get to take in what the new locale has to offer. Babywearing can rock your little one into lullaby land. A scenic drive might be just the trick. If none of the above work, try taking turns ‘nap-sitting’.

Bedtimes can easily be torn to shreds in the excitement of vacation. Give it a few days while you stick to the usual routine and typically you will see a return of peaceful dreams. If co-sleeping is the norm, this can make bedtime a breeze when traveling. If your child is having trouble adjusting to the time change, stick with your home time zone by getting up a little earlier or later than typical and doing the same at bedtime.

Many hotels and resorts will childproof your room before you arrive if you ask when you book your stay. If the service isn’t available, bring along electrical outlet covers, doorknob covers and pipe cleaner to secure any loose drapery or electrical cords. If your room has a balcony, you’ll need to protect the area with a gate or protective screen, even a barricade of chairs or furniture at the door if needed. Check the room’s carpet by crawling on your hands and knees in search of any choking hazards that may be hidden from view.

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters and it’s hard enough finding foods they like at home, let alone while you’re traveling. You may be looking forward to sampling the local cuisine at your destination, but your child may be less excited about the gumbo. If you’re going out to a restaurant, bring a supply of your toddler’s favorite foods to keep him satisfied and entertained while you enjoy your own meal. Eating early can also avoid the dinner rush and make for a more peaceful dinner with your child.

Travel with a baby or young child(ren) can be exhausting. Not just because you have more stuff to pack – it takes a mental adjustment, too. Those days of lolling about on the beach or having a late dinner at a four-star restaurant are long gone. Now your vacation will be spent chasing pigeons with your toddler in a city park or hitting the early-bird special before your baby’s 7pm bedtime. But rest assured that you are building positive memories for your child (and yourself) that will last a lifetime. Even if all doesn’t go as expected, time has a way of fading the memories into happy ones.


Holly Keich, LSW, CIMI, Prenatal, Certified Chidlight Yoga Children’s, Baby, & Tots Yoga Instructor is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center established in 2009.  A mother of two children, she enjoys guiding families on their holistic journey towards parenthood.

6 Tricks for Halloween for Your Littlest Goblin

© Trimmer Photography

© Trimmer Photography

by Holly Keich

While there are many treats that come with Halloween, here are a few tricks to get you through the season with your baby or young child.

  1. Go Basic with the Costume

Choose costumes made out of clothing they would typically wear. A jacket with ears on the hood, can turn into a bear costume with a little imagination. Avoid costumes with too many pieces, you’re going to spend the entire time trying to convince your little one to keep it all on if you do.

  1. Save the Memory with a Portrait

Have the perfect costume? Be sure to save the memory with a portrait. Trimmer Photography will be at Om Baby’s Halloween Party on October 31st from 3:30-5:30pm snapping photos of all the adorable little witches and pumpkins. Be sure to stop by to get your Halloween keepsake that you’ll love for years to come.

  1. Trick or Treating Alternatives

Traditional Trick or Treating may not be appropriate for babies and tots, so here are some ideas of alternatives that you might consider: Trick or treat for charity ( you may want to let your neighbors know in advance that you’ll be collecting donations), visit an assisted living facility to brighten their day with your baby in costume, visit your local harvest festival in costume for some seasonal fun, surprise the grandparents with a costumed visit, hang out at home and pass out candy to the trick or treaters (but beware of kids with scary costumes) or Om Baby’s Halloween Party is geared specifically for the littlest ghosts and goblins and is a good time for all.

  1. Provide an Emotional Safety Net

For the youngest trick or treaters, it may be difficult to separate fantasy from reality. Around the age of 3, they may begin to understand pretend play. So before Halloween night, let your child try out their costume by wearing it. Rehearse saying “trick or treat” if you plan to take them out. Reinforce that everyone else is also pretending just as they are. Discuss reality vs fantasy. Be sure to allow them to express their fears and concerns and provide reassurance. Stifling their anxiety by telling them not to be afraid will invalidate their concerns and fears. Be sure to let them know that you care by listening and reassuring them that as the parent, it’s your job to protect them. If the child is upset by the idea of wearing a costume, then don’t do it. All children develop at different paces and it’s important to respect where your child is in this moment. If they want to give it a try, be sure to go trick or treating early before their older peers in scary costumes venture out.

     5.  Avoid Halloween Stores With Your Young Child

Beware that stopping at your local Halloween shop to pick out the cutest costume is like going to a haunted house with your toddler. Closing their eyes while they pass the gorey decorations may not be enough. Skip it and shop at Good Will, Salvation Army or Community Aid. They have lots of 2nd hand costumes & decorations at reasonable prices, without the fear factor.

     6. Curb the Candy

Be sure to give your little ones a healthy meal before you head out the door. Not only will it keep them from getting cranky, but it will keep them from begging for candy, at least out of legitimate hunger. Feeling festive, try some healthy Halloween snacks such as banana ghosts or tangerine pumpkins. Not sure what I’m referring to, Pinterest has your answer.

After the night is through, you might be amazed at how much candy your child has accumulated from such a short time trick-or-treating. Be sure to do your safety check of all the candy, and miraculously a few might go missing (especially that whole chocolate candy bar your neighbor packed into your child’s bag). Other options to pare down the treats without adding pounds for you, might be to visit one of the many Halloween candy buy back programs. Boscov’s (http://jdrf.org/centralpa/2015/09/21/boscovs-halloween-candy-exchange-2/) does a candy exchange program or check with your local dentist to see if they participate in the Halloween Candy BuyBack (http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/) or ship it to Operation Gratitude which includes Halloween Candy in care packages for the military.

Most important of all, enjoy the season and enjoy watching your little one experience the fun of the holiday. Let us know if you have any tips that we’ve left out at below.

Beach Baby Essentials

by Holly Keich

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Photo: Om Baby Center

What are the essentials for baby?

Swim Diapers.  I highly recommend cloth swim diapers that can be reused.  Reuseable ones are better for the environment, more cost effect and perform better than disposables.  If you already cloth diaper and don’t want to splurge on a swim diaper, pocket diapers work just as well.  Be sure to wait until you get to the beach to put them on though.  They aren’t meant to absorb urine and can leave a mess in the car seat if you put them on before you even leave for the beach.

Sun Protection.  This can be broken into many variables depending on the age of your child, the time of day you spend outside, how much direct exposure you will get from the sun and your comfort levels with using sunblock.

  1. Beach hat.  These are great if you can get baby to keep them on!  Buy one that has a chin strap to help with the battle.  Be sure it has a wide brim and the hat shades the eyes and covers those sensitive ears.
  2. Sunglasses.  Good rule of thumb is if you need sunglasses, then so does baby!
  3. Umbrella.  Make your own protective shade for your little one.
  4. Baby Beach Cabana.  There are lots of great options out there now to help shelter you baby from the sun and give them a protective, clean play space at the beach or a comfortable place to nap.  Sun Smarties Infant Cabana is a great option.  Just make sure that the air is able to move through the tent and the temperature is tolerable for your little one.  If they are sleeping, be sure to check on them often to ensure they aren’t too hot and sweaty.
  5. Clothing with UVA & UVB protection. The apparel, which is designed to be worn in and out of the water, automatically keeps much of the body protected and therefore limits the number of body parts you need to reapply lotion to on your baby or toddler.
  6. Sunblock. The last thing your baby needs to take home from the beach is a painful sunburn.  If you can’t avoid the sun and your child is over 6 months old, sunblock may be the way to go.  Be sure to buy SPF 30 or higher and check the ingredients to be sure they are safe.  EWG has a great list of the best sunscreens here.

Water safe baby carrier.  This is a great way to acclimate your baby to the water.  Baby can explore the depths of the water within the comfort of a sling, close to you so they feel safe about exploring this new experience.  Some great options for water slings are Beachfront Baby CarriersWrap Duo by Wrapsody and if you want to support local, you can get a custom sling from HerbAmour on Etsy.

Stock the cooler.  Be sure to take plenty of water for baby and/or yourself.  You don’t want to end the day with dehydration. Children are more prone to heat-related problems because their body surface area (exposed skin) is greater in relation to their body size than for adults. They may also be distracted by playing to the point that they don’t realize they are thirsty, so be sure to offer fluid to active children every 20 to 30 minutes. Also, avoid the peak sun/heat hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. if possible. Playing at the beach can work up quite an appetite, so don’t forget the finger foods too.

Footwear. If your child is walking, be sure to bring sandals or Crocs to protect their feet from the hot sand.

Beach Toys. A few simple toys can enhance the beach experience (and give parents a break from chasing). Give your toddler a bucket and a shovel and let him enjoy digging or making sand castles. Bring along a toy dump truck to fill with sand or drive over kid-created sand hills. A book or two to read under a shady umbrella can be a great way to rest when toddlers need some down time. Keep with the theme of the day by reading A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle or The Ocean Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and Frank Mazzola, Jr.

Bouncy Seat.  If you have a baby who is not yet able to sit up on their own, this can be a great way for them (or you) to take a break or even a nap without getting stuck in the sand.  It also elevates them so they can watch what is going on around them.

And always be sure to take the camera.  Time is fleeting and you want to catch all the fun in the sun!  Join us on Facebook to tell us what are your must have’s are when going to the beach with a baby.

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Holly Keich, LSW, CIMI is the owner of Om Baby established in 2009.  Mother of two children, she enjoys guiding families on their holistic journey towards parenthood.

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.)