How a Modern Day Village is Helping Me Raise My Child

  

They say “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve read many articles that explain how important it is to recognise that humans, by nature, are supposed to raise their children as a communal effort with their extended family. But in our modern day society, villages are pretty hard to come by. 

I often close my eyes and try to imagine what an old time village of help might have looked like. Big houses full of people, laughter, good conversation. Children running around playing together. A big pot of soup on the stove, bread in the oven. It brings a smile to my face, at the thought. I imagine during spring and summer, children would be out in the garden, helping their elders grow the food that will be one day cooked up for them to eat and in Autumn they all go out to collect fruit for pies. I imagine mums, who can always take 5 mins or longer, to breathe and take care of themselves, while another member of the family watches the kids. And the joint effort that would go into the general care of the house. I like this place. Something in my blood misses this place.

But now, in a world that focuses on each person being as productive for industry as possible, we find that the people in our “village” are gone. Simply too busy to take part. 

Grandparents, aunties and uncles, our closest friends, all have jobs to commit to. Unless one person in a single family earns enough to take care of the family finances, alone, all parties must find themselves a job in order to contribute and sustain their way of living. This leaves new parents in a bit of a pickle when it comes to sourcing help and support from their village. New parents find themselves alone in the home, to take care of not only the children but the other jobs that need taking care of in the home. Again, something that in days gone by, would have been a shared responsibility. 

We power through, often struggling to raise our children in the way we see fit, whilst trying to understand why this whole parenting thing is so bloody difficult! 

It usually leaves us feeling like we are incapable or like we are failing at parenting. 

Some become anxious, depressed and find themselves needing medical care, either in the form of medication or counselling. Many others don’t even get this far. As a result of poor mental health education and awareness, many continue to struggle through, without ever taking care of their mental well-being, leading to many more problems in their lives. It’s a huge problem!

I don’t have the answers to this. I’m aware that if our government spent a little more time focusing on the importance and value of care in the home, whatever form that might take, then we might not be finding ourselves in such a pandemic with maternal or family-related mental health issues – You can follow Mothers at Home Matter Too to see how one organisation is trying to change government policy on this issue and also The Politics of Mothering to join discussions that surround these issues. – For now, all I can do is hope that many will see the merit that a politician like Jeremy Corbyn would bring to our government, and carry on. But what I do recognise, is that I seem to have created my very own, modern-day village. And many other parents seem to be doing the same.

It’s not as traditional as the villages we humans were once used to. The grandparents are still there, on certain days. The friends still exist. But in this village, there is a special group of other parents, who are all going through the same dilemmas. They are all helping eachother out with advice and personal success stories. They are there when a mum needs breastfeeding advice, when they are struggling to get sleep but don’t want to leave their tiny baby alone in a room to cry, or when they want to deal with their raging toddler without losing the plot. They are there for moral support, when someone has argued once again with their husband or the house is a complete mess and they feel they have no one else in the world to turn to. They are there to support eachother through things like Postnatal Depression. There’s even a library in this village, full of cookbooks, breastfeeding books, weaning books, attachment parenting books, self-help books, a book full of ideas on what clothes they can wear to breastfeed in. It’s quite amazing! 

It’s called the internet. 

As if by magic, this new world has opened, in protest and mourning, at the loss of our physical villages. People are digging through pages and forums, to find a new community that can help them with the hardest job on earth. And these relationships have become some of the most important in our lives. 

There’s a part of me that feels sad at this realisation. There’s a part of me that wishes my village could be filled with the people I love most, in the physical world. But there is also a part of me that is hugely grateful for those who play such an important role in my online life because without those special people, without the library of information, I dread to think of how I would be getting by with my day-to-day life. 

However, this in itself is not a sustainable model. Why? Because behind our screens, these people are alone too and far away. 

One solution I found to this, was to set up a local parent support group. I recognised the need for realtime people, face-to-face support and friendships. And you know what? It’s going pretty well. 

There’s around 200 members in this group and around 30 volunteers. As volunteers, we aim to come together and help any parent we recognise to be struggling on their own. We make batch meals and deliver them if a parent is too tired or too busy to cook. We arrange playdates in eachothers houses, so that no parent ever has to feel isolated. We go for walks in the park together, meet up in coffee shops and at playgroups. We wash pots and hold the baby so mum can take a shower. And we’re also there for that all important online support. 

I’m really proud of what the group has achieved and feel it’s a great attempt to claw back a little of what has been lost with our sense of community. I urge any parent who feels the same to do similar. Find your village! Find that help and give it back. There’s a huge community of parents out there, just like you, feeling alone, stressed, believing they aren’t capable of this job. But they are. YOU are! We just a need a little help. We just need to find our village. 😉

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How Formula Avoids the Urgency of Creating Better Breastfeeding Support

I have recently stopped drinking coffee (OK, I may have the odd cup) after discovering too much caffeine gives me heart flutters. This comes after years of drinking the stuff. Years of working in coffee shops, where I would drink a good cup (or eight) of strong espresso coffee, in a single day, along with a Diet Coke addiction that lasted a good couple of years. The time has finally come to kick the caffeine and proceed with life, as healthily as possible, from now on. 

I have to say that since I’ve stopped drinking coffee, my health has improved, somewhat. I’m generally less tired and, equally, less wired!  I’ve come to realise that I never actually needed the stuff in the first place. If I’m tired, I know that I need to find the time to relax or get my head down, or start eating healthier foods in an attempt to put more nutrients into my body, rather than just make a coffee to help me push on through. As a result, I put less pressure on myself with day-to-day tasks and this got me thinking, if coffee didn’t exist, maybe more people would have this realisation and start looking after themselves a bit better. If they knew they would be tired in the morning, then perhaps they would go to bed a little earlier, instead. If they were tired from the endless list of jobs they have to do, daily, then maybe they could make some changes to that list, or share the jobs with a family member or friend, to reduce the pressure that it lays upon on them. Don’t get me wrong, im sure there would still be times where a good hit of caffeine could help us out, every now and then, but if coffee wasn’t so mainstream, then maybe we would generally lead much healthier and happier lives. It’s a small drop of resolution in an ocean of problems but it’s at least, something! 

Essentially, the existence of coffee, or more, the way coffee is used, stands in the way of us working to solve the root problems of our tiredness, leading us to become ignorant to the importance of this aspect of our health and well-being.

The same can be said for many things but a big similarity, for me, is how this same process is taking place with the baby milk formula industry and the effect it is having on available breastfeeding support. 

Let’s think, for a second, about the days before formula and how the human race has managed to survive without it. Yes, some women did have problems breastfeeding and those women needed to find an answer to their issue. So, let us first consider the kinds of problems women face with breastfeeding. If we take away the immense pressure mother’s face to supplement their babies with a bottle of formula, take away the cultural fears they face of breastfeeding in public, take away the plethora of misinformation about breastfeeding, which is popular in Western Society, today. Take away the ingrained image of bottle feeding, which is so widespread, today and contributes to many women believing their breasts must not be very good at their biological job, if so many others turn to it. And what are we left with? Mainly, issues that can easily be resolved with the correct breastfeeding support and advice. Then, a very small percentage of women who have problems with the tissue in their breasts, in which case, human donor milk should be made available, and a hand full of babies who develop an intolerance to lactose. 

What we are left with, are common problems such as plugged ducts, mastitis and nipple pain. All of which can be prevented with the correct support and information but women are missing out on this because it simply isn’t as available as it should be.

So, why is it then, we are not working to provide this support that can help women succeed with their breastfeeding goals and overcome the issues they face? 

Coffee is the second most sought commodity on earth, after crude oil. The exporting industry, alone, is worth $20 billion and the industry, itself, over $100 billion worldwide. Coffee makes people very rich! It provides many people, specifically those at the bottom of the industry ladder, with a basic wage. A means to live. Then it provides a small percentage of people, at the top of the ladder with the majority of the profit. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Capitalism. 

In a consumer driven society and thanks to globalisation, the coffee industry has managed to grow very successfully. But how? Over 500 billion cups of coffee are drunk worldwide, every year but we didn’t always drink so much coffee. So why is it the case today? Quite simply, the answer is marketing and the ways in which marketing is driven. Millions of dollars are spent every year, to convince us we want or need coffee in our lives from Starbucks to NescafĂ©. 

In order to build a brand and sell a product, companies must devise a good marketing strategy, which creates awareness of the brand to the target market. In order to do this, they need to understand their market and the psychology of consumer behaviour. This is done through market research. Once a company understands the consumer values held by their target audience, they can create a brand and advertising campaign that appeals to them enough to buy their product. A large coffee brand, one that holds a big piece of $100 billion pie, possesses the financial luxury to achieve this better than almost any other brand on earth. The richer the company, the better they will understand the psychology of their consumers and create more profit.

So what does all this have to do with baby formula? 

The baby milk formula industry, is today estimated to be worth around $55 billion. So, much like coffee, it’s a pretty big commodity – which if you remember, is worth around $100 billion and the second most sought commodity on earth. Not only do they have the financial luxury and ability, to get to know their market better than most brands on earth but they, like coffee, own a product that is extremely cheap to produce, giving them the potential to make a lot of profit! So, I think it is fair to say that it is in their best interest to make this product as appealing to the market as possible. And, just like coffee, there wasn’t always a need for it!

NestlĂ©, were one of the first baby food brands to hit the market. Recognising that they faced some competition, they fought hard to win their leading position, with adverts that worked to destroy the reputation of their competitors and lied to naive parents about how closely it resembled a mothers own milk.  This was only the beginning of NestlĂ©’s aggressive marketing history. 

A 1915 advertisement for baby milk food

 

At the time, baby food was based on raw cows milk. However, by the 1930’s, evaporated milk formula had been developed and it became popular belief that evaporated milk formula, provided the same health benefits as human milk – a huge lie!. With the added affordability as a benefit, it wasn’t long before evaporated milk formula began growing in popularity. 

Formula companies now had their work cut out for them, with most women breastfeeding, the leading brands needed to create a need for their product, where none existed, if they wanted to make any money. The only way to do this was to take on breastfeeding and human milk, itself. So, over the years, NestlĂ© worked hard to undermine and destroy breastfeeding, whilst promoting their product with misleading information, cheating parents the world over, into believing it was as good as human milk – See this article for more information on NestlĂ©’s highly unethical practices, over the years – New mothers were receiving promotional material for formula, free samples, pamphlets full of misguided information and sales assistants were hired to pose as nurses, in their uniforms, to drop by mothers’ homes to sell them baby formula and convince them that breastfeeding would lead to the mothers undernourishing their babies.

It didn’t stop there. NestlĂ© began to spread their aggressive marketing practices and lies in underdeveloped countries. Countries where without clean water and sanitary conditions to make up the bottles of formula, babies died. Aware of this, NestlĂ© decided to turn a blind eye and continue in their greed for profit.

Their marketing became so aggressive that it prompted a group of activists, known as Infant Formula Action Coalition, to come together and campaign for tighter laws for the marketing of baby milk substitutes. After years of campaigning and overcoming much resistance from Nestlé, they finally won and in 1981, The International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes was created.

However, by now, many women and many health professionals, worldwide were still under the belief that formula was just as good and, in most cases, better than breastmilk. The rumours were already out there and the damage could not be undone. Like the common cold, anyone who was exposed to the lies spread by NestlĂ© would continue to spread them. There work was done. 

Since then, breastfeeding rates around the world have plummeted and many breastfeeding specialists and advocates have worked tirelessly to change societies perception of breastfeeding and infant formula and bring us back to normality but as the marketing of infant formula is still prevalent, today, it is a very difficult task indeed.

What is more important to note, is that as a result of the normality of bottle and formula feeding, we have now forgotten the art of breastfeeding. What once would have came so natural to us, as humans in our communities, has vanished. 

Good breastfeeding support is needed now more than ever! But the lies and myths about breastfeeding are still deeply ingrained into our health services and the minds of the people around us, especially our health professionals. I hear it so often from mothers who wanted to breastfeed, echoing the words from those paid sales assistants in nurses uniforms, many moons ago, “I couldn’t do it. My milk wasn’t filling him”, “I wanted to breastfeed but my milk wasn’t giving her everything she needed.” If it isn’t this it’s that they wanted to breastfeed but there was too much pain or some other issue that could have been easily prevented/fixed had they been given the correct information and support.

So many women have turned to formula under the belief that their breasts were somehow not good enough. So many women are left feeling like total failures and feel they must defend their decision to formula feed, like the world and his aunt must think they are such a bad mother. Well, I’m here to set the record straight. No woman is formula feeding because they are a failure. No woman is formula feeding because they are a bad mother. You are formula feeding because one day, not so many years ago, someone paid a lot of money to make sure you do. 

And now, it’s time we put a stop to it. Did you want to breastfeed but believe that you couldn’t? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but bought bottles and formula “just in case” and then ended up using them? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but thought bottle feeding would be easier because your partner could help out? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but it hurt too much? Question it! Question everything!  Find out why and then make damn sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else! 

For as long as formula exists and for as long as the idea exists that it is good enough for our babies, breastfeeding support will continue to be less than good enough. 

Not so many years ago, most* women breastfed just fine. No problems. And together, we can make that happen again. 

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***EDITED TO NOTE***

In response to questions regarding the truth of my claim that mothers are today told that their milk is not good enough, I have to add an example of this. 

I am a breastfeeding peer supporter and it’s actually a very common issue. Problems usually start when babies hit their first growth spurts. Typical growth spurt behaviour is fussing at the breast, latching on and off all the time and this can make it seem like the baby is hungry. It’s not uncommon for the people around her and her midwife/HV to tell the mum that it’s likely her supply isn’t good enough and to top up with formula (out-dated advice). It’s well-known that babies should be breastfed on-demand in order to sustain a women’s supply. So offering a bottle of formula as a top-up actually works to reduce her supply. Baby appears happy and more settled when offered a bottle of formula, because it fills him up more and it’s harder for him to digest, so he goes to sleep longer before needing another feed. This is called The Top Up Trap. Obviously, as a result of the supply and demand process being messed with, the mum starts to produce less milk and then feels pushed to offer even more formula, until eventually, baby is either combi-fed or fully formula fed. Fine if that was the mums choice! But far too often, it wasn’t. And it was totally unnecessary. The advice undermined the mothers ability to nourish her child with her breasts, she lost confidence and turned to formula, unnecessarily. Then there are the problems which surround a breastfed baby gaining weight. Too many HV’s express concern when they don’t gain as much as a formula fed baby. However, this is completely normal for the breastfed baby and it’s a result of lack of training. There are many more issues I could talk about but this is a good example of what I mean. Important to remember that around 75% of women were breastfeeding when formula had been invented. Today, only 1% of women are still exclusively breastfeeding by 6 months.

How Not to ‘Mess’ Up Christmas.

  
  
Messy and sensory play, is so great for our little people, isn’t it? Letting them get their hands sticky and their feet muddy, nourishes their minds and their souls. It helps develop their physical skills, enhances communication skills and allows them to be creative until their little hearts’ content! We know that. But what we seem to be forgetting, as parents, is how good a bit of messy play can be for us, too.

This year, like many before it, has brought with it a few learning curves. This is my second Christmas as a mother and I’m already learning bigger lessons than I did last year. 

Last year was great! I mean, Baby’s First Christmas? Only 6 weeks old? It was, of course, very special! But I won’t lie, it was also very hard. 6 weeks in, after lots of initial feeding problems and an oversupply, disguised as “colic”, life certainly wasn’t without stress. Last year, my concerns were for the physical pressures I was faced with. This year, I’m more focused on the social and psychological pressures, especially for us mums. 

Christmas is an amazing time of year and I’ve always loved it. I’ve especially looked forward to Christmas with my own children. But everywhere I look, all I see are stressed parents! Parents who are trying so hard to get things right and still feeling like complete failures. Don’t get me wrong, some people are absolutely nailing it. Their houses are perfectly prepped! Their doors, draped in holly, they’ve had their Christmas shopping done since June and had their gifts wrapped since July! But if most of us are honest, most of us aren’t nailing it. Or at least, that’s what we think! 

The problem is, the parents who truly believe that Christmas is a huge failure, are the ones that stand out to me as good parents. They always have their children at the heart of everything they do. They work hard, to bring in extra money for holidays or to set a good example. They’re always talking about their children, posting photo’s of them on Facebook and trying to cram as many festive activities in, as they can. They are great parents! So, what is missing?

I’ve come to the conclusion, it’s a matter of perception. These parents are trying to achieve perfection and perfection can not be achieved by anyone. 

It was once explained to me (in therapy) that being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you are perfect at everything you do but that you try to be perfect at everything you do, which would literally be impossible. We are not super heroes. And what is perfection? Well, I guess it depends on what you’re talking about but, mainly, perfection is a matter of perception. It isn’t achievable and is very self-destructive to attempt it. 

Putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect at absolutely everything, does nothing but lead us to, well, feel pressure! 

Do you really think your kids care that the gingerbread house fucked up? That the painted Rudolph foot didn’t look anything like Rudolph or that the minced pies didn’t taste quite as fruity as they should have?

Next time you sit down to a bit of messy play with your little ones, watch how free they are! Watch how absolutely nothing else matters but getting messy and watch how much fun then are having. Do you think they care that they are getting messy? That their hair isn’t perfect or their clothes are dirty? No. Because they are free.

How about, this Christmas, we take a leaf out of our children’s books and let ourselves get a little messy. Or a lot. And let ourselves know that it’s ok. We’re still great parents! Possibly even better ones.. 😉

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I Just Got Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Support Group for Supporting Breastfeeding!

I just got kicked out of a breastfeeding support group for supporting and trying to protect breastfeeding mothers. 

A lady in the group posted this.

 
Seems harmless enough, right? Shouldn’t we all support this kind of feeding. Just because it’s not breastfeeding, doesn’t mean it’s not ok, right?

We’re all mothers just trying to do our job. 

The problem, here, is that this is exactly the kind of thing that breastfeeding mothers are trying to escape by joining A BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT GROUP. 

All throughout my first few months of breastfeeding, a time when I needed the support to breastfeed, from the people around me more than ever, all I heard was, “Just give her a bottle.” It was said with the best of intentions, I understand that. It was always well-meaning but it was also always said by people who bottle-fed their children. People who knew nothing about breastfeeding, whatsoever. So they couldn’t understand that, as well-meaning as it was, it was the very last thing that I needed to hear. 

Breastfeeding is MY RIGHT! It is my BABY’S RIGHT! I wanted to breastfeed. My baby wanted to breastfeed. I needed breastfeeding support. I did not need more people telling me to just give up and put her on a bottle. 

So, as you can imagine, I found huge comfort and relief in my local, online, breastfeeding support group, Breast Buddies Teesside. It was, literally, the only place I could go where no one would tell me to just put my baby on a bottle. I found all the encouragement, correct information and support that I needed to continue and, here I am, still breastfeeding today! I can guarantee that would not have happened, had I not found that group. 

Further to this, there was never any imagery of bottle feeding in there. Instead, women were posting beautiful pictures of their baby’s breastfeeding, bursting with pride that the latch was ‘finally right’ or that they had finally plucked up the courage to feed their newborn in public, without receiving any negative comments. This kind of thing, helps us women to feel supported because it makes us feel NORMAL. 

Images of the bottle fed baby are, literally, everywhere. In our adverts, on tele, in our magazines, on our TV soaps, our parents bottle fed, our sisters, friends, HECK even our children’s dolls all come with a bottle. Bottle feeding couldn’t be more normal, in our culture, if it tried! So there is no greater feeling, for a breastfeeding mum to find herself in a place, free from bottles and full of lovely boobs. No one to make her feel bad for her shameless brelfies or tell her that her baby might not be getting enough milk. 

Imagery like this not only adds to the normalisation of bottle feeding but it works to undermine a woman’s ability to breastfeed. Seeing images like this reinforces the idea that breasts are not good enough to feed babies and can sway a mother to give up the fight, when she didn’t need to. 

So, forgive me, if when I see a picture uploaded to A BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT GROUP that basically tells women that all their hard work trying to breastfeed their baby doesn’t matter, because ‘being fed’ is all that matters, I don’t jump up and celebrate that message. 

I understand, this kind of message can help those women feel better about themselves, whose baby could never latch. I’m sorry you were not supported enough to breastfeed. This is why I am training to become a breastfeeding peer supporter, so that I may help prevent that from happening, to future mums.

I understand this kind of message can help women to feel better, who had to stop breastfeeding for medical reasons but I’m sure they would understand the reasons why this kind of message isn’t appropriate to those currently struggling to make breastfeeding work for them. 

I even understand it could help mothers feel better, who chose to formula feed, however, in that case, shouldn’t this kind of thing be posted in a formula feeding support group? 

Another reason I dislike this, is that it reinforces the idea that there is a large number of mothers out there who are judging bottle/tube/formula feeding mums. I’m not saying those people don’t exist but I think we have a much bigger problem with people tarring all breastfeeding mothers with the same brush. 

Most breastfeeding mothers don’t judge. Most have had to give their formula, themselves, at some point! And, more to the point, breastfeeding mothers are a minority group. If only 17% of UK mothers are still breastfeeding by 3 months, then that means a whopping 83% of mums are formula feeding by the time their baby is 3 months old. That number increases rapidly as the baby gets older. So, who in their right mind, would judge a formula feeding mother, when they themselves formula feed? Because the only people with the opportunity to judge would be a very small minority of breastfeeding mothers, most of whom, are bloody lovely and would never judge another mum for formula feeding.

So, then, where did this idea of ‘The Mommy Wars’ come from?

You guessed it! The formula companies, of course!! 

It pays to make formula feeders feel judged  by breastfeeding mums, for the way they feed their babies. It prevents breastfeeding mums from talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, for fear of being labelled as “judgy”. This is why one major brand of formula has, recently, spent a lot of bloody money creating adverts about ‘The Mommy Wars’, reinforcing the idea that it exists. It’s all very clever, but then, formula didn’t become a billion pound industry for being daft, did it? 

So, imagine my surprise when after, very diplomatically, explaining to the admin team of UK Breastfeeding Support, my reasons for believing this meme to be inappropriate, I am met with this…

  
They kicked me out! 

Thankfully, this group is not the group I was talking about, which helped me so much in my early breastfeeding days. And I am now informed that it is very well-known for giving out and allowing bad advice (Although, not as well-known as I would hope, with over 5,000 current members). 

I am told, in an attempt to counter the poor and risky work of the admins, over at UK Breastfeeding Support, a new group was created in its place. This group is UK Breastfeeding and Parenting Support and it is full of lovely, supportive mums and peer supporters, alike. Free from the norms of bottle feeding! A safe and comfortable environment for all mums, wishing to vent about the pressure to bottle feed and to be FULLY supported on their breastfeeding journeys.

Another fab breastfeeding support group, which, to my knowledge, has never supported this type of language or imagery, is Breastfeeding Yummy Mummies. If you are a breastfeeding mother, or aspiring to be, I would recommend these two groups very much and hope, from the bottom of my heart, you find them first.

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