Tag Archives: breastfeeding

Breastfeeding lessons from cows, take two

This post is an addendum to one of my favorite posts from the last year, Life lessons in pregnancy and breastfeeding from cows.

5AM this morning:

Me: “Dominic!!”

Mike: “What’s he doing?”

Me: “He’s latching on repeatedly, sucking nicely once or twice, then tossing his head from side to side before yanking backwards – still holding on, mind you – until my nipple finally pops out of his mouth. Then he opens his eyes wide in panic and lunges forward like a small, desperate, vacuum cleaner until he finds it again.”

Mike: “Do you want me to tell you what the cows on the farm did when the calves did that?”

Me: “Yes!” (After all, you can’t go past a good cow story at 5AM after you’ve had a grand total of 4 hours sleep that night)

Mike: “Well the calves would nudge under their mothers and do exactly that – yank down on their teats really hard. Or their other favorite trick was to throw their heads up hard and headbutt the mama in the stomach.”

Me: “So what did the mama cows do?”

Mike: “They kicked the calves.”

Me: “Really!”

Mike: “Yup, they’d haul off and give the calves a sharp kick and that usually stopped them.”

Me: “So by extension I could give Dominic a smack on his little bottom when he yanks on me?”

Mike: “You’d be well within your mammalian rights.”

P.S. I relayed this conversation to my own mother this morning and she’s of the opinion that Dominic is still too young to connect his nipple-yanking behaviour with any bovinesque chastisement I might dish out. I’m not so sure, though. He’s clearly old enough to understand the concept of playing with his food.

P.P.S. I relayed this conversation to the community health nurse this afternoon and she just laughed. When I followed it up by asking whether he could be doing this because he’s still hungry at the end of his feed she laughed even harder. “That little guy’s gained over 300g for the second week in a row,” she said. “He has no right to still be hungry at the end of a feed. He’s just being demanding.”

Dominic: "What? Me? Play with my food?"

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Supply equals demand: Our first argument as parents

I am typing this one handed while Dominic sleeps on my left shoulder. About every twenty seconds he pops his head up and makes angry-koala-bear noises. I suspect that this is because he has so far stubbornly refused to burp after spending most of the last hour guzzling milk. I don’t understand. He burps quite nicely for Mike (who has been primary burper and diaper-changer during the daytime for the last ten days). Then Mike goes into town for an hour and a quarter (and counting) and what do I get? No burps, but a big baby vomit into my hair (the hair that I washed just this morning) and two pooey diapers. Two. In one feed. I mean, can we say excessive?

Yes, you can look forward to more of these aggrieved mini-rants after Mike returns to Laos next Friday for the month of September and I’m pseudo-single-parenting for a month. And that’s enough about that topic for now because every time I think about Mike leaving I feel like making some angry koala bear noises of my own.

So the last two weeks have been a bit of a blur – as life gets when you’re on a three-hour loop that repeats over and over again. Overall I think we’re all doing well, but there have been moments when fuses have been significantly shorter because of lack of sleep, not to mention certain challenges associated with breastfeeding.

Three days after we brought Dominic home from the hospital Mike and I had our first argument as parents. We were talking about breastfeeding and milk supply. The conversation went like this:

Mike: Supply equals demand

Me: You mean, demand equals supply.

Mike: No, the supply is there to meet the demand.

Me: But the demand comes first to determine the supply.

(Long pause)

Mike: Let’s not argue about this. Let’s argue about something more important. Any ideas?

Me: You pick, I’ve breastfed for the last hour and now I’m still sitting here attached to a pump. I’ll argue with you about anything at this point.

That's the demand, right there. When he's hungry he'll attack anything, even my nose, and latch on with the mouth of a famished oyster.

 

10 great gifts for pregnant women

(Looking for gift ideas for pregnant women or new parents? You might want to jump over to my updated post on this topic instead – 30 great gifts for pregnant women and new parents)

I had a dream about the baby last night! (This deserves an exclamation mark because by this stage of pregnancy apparently normal women spend many nights dreaming of their baby. This is my 2nd dream. Ever. And last time I dreamed I forgot the baby when I went out to dinner with Mike.) So, feeling all proud of myself for being so maternal-like, I was pretty excited to relay this dream over breakfast.

“I dreamed the baby fell down a flight of stone steps when I was trying to teach it how to walk,” I told Mum.

“Stone steps,” Mum repeated. “How old was this baby?”

“Oh, like, two or three months,” I said. “But that’s not the point. The point is, when it got hurt and cried I picked it up and comforted it. And then I took it somewhere in the car and I put it in a car seat!”

It…?” Mum repeated.

OK, so maybe I haven’t perfected this whole maternal dreaming thing yet. There’s still time. A couple of weeks, anyway.

So speaking of dreaming, I’ve been waking up from my dreams every morning now feeling as if the flu and my ninetieth birthday have arrived overnight. All my joints hurt, particularly my hands and fingers. Sometimes first thing in the morning I can barely make a fist. Dr Google assures me this will go away when my ligaments tighten up again after delivery. It better, or the poor little “it” will just have to lie at the bottom of that flight of stone steps and cry, because I won’t be able to pick “it” up.

I am not the only one with sore hands, however. A parcel arrived at the post office on Friday and it seems that two of my friends, Robin and Jenn, have been very busy indeed working their own fingers to the bone on my behalf.

Robin lives in Texas and Jenn in Kansas, but they decided that, “the best way to recognize the arrival of baby McWolfe, a ‘lil one born of a long distance love story, was with a collaborative project that was created via hours of phone calls, text messages, skype dates, and extensive emails that included the frequent exchange of spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations.” Then they got together in Texas to bring the whole project to beautiful completion.

(I could say something here about how this process is indeed similar to the one that led the creation of baby McWolfe in the first place, but I’ll refrain to avoid scandalizing my Nanna).

So why the sore hands and fingers in Texas, you might ask? Well these two dear friends knitted and crocheted us the most beautiful baby blanket. A blanket they insist is not meant to be an heirloom but meant to be used, get dirty, thrown in the wash, and eventually wear out. “It’s meant to be the hug that we’re not there to give,” they wrote.

The blanket is gorgeous, and Mike and I are humbled and overwhelmed by the thought, time, and love that went into making it.

In fact, I’ve felt humbled by love a fair bit since we announced our pregnancy. Other friends in the States boxed up maternity and baby clothes and mailed them to me in Australia at considerable expense – I’ve been wearing those maternity clothes almost daily. In fact, a number of friends in three different countries have gifted us second-hand baby clothes. I have not yet bought a single new piece of clothing for the bub, but don’t worry that he’ll be wanting for warmth. When he fell down that flight of stairs in my dream the little tyke wasn’t naked – he was wearing a perfectly lovely second-hand jumpsuit.

I could go on and on, but let’s just say that Mike and I have been virtually showered by gifts big and small from around the globe and we are touched and grateful.

So, in celebration of the blessings we’ve received I thought I’d share a list of ten of the more unusual gifts we’ve received. Wondering about what to give an expectant mother? Here are some ideas:

  1. A homemade breast-feeding support pillow in the shape of an elephant.
  2. An iTunes gift card to buy music to listen to while breastfeeding.
  3. Lullaby music for the baby (so far I particularly like Dreamland: World Lullabies & Soothing Songs and the Baby Einstein: Lullaby Classics.
  4. Baby items that will bring back memories (this weekend I received a bib covered with tiny whales from visiting friends – it’ll be a memory trigger as we spent much of the weekend together watching for whales spouting out at sea).
  5. Books on parenting (as opposed to pregnancy and delivery, which she has probably already procured).
  6. A My Baby’s First Year book to record important milestones.
  7. A colorful mobile to hang over the baby’s crib.
  8. A diaper bag for traveling that includes a roll-out change mat and cold storage for at least one bottle.
  9. Story books to read to the baby. Check out this post for great options: What do writers read to their kids?: Five authors share their favorite children’s books.
  10. Donate your time and energy to host a celebratory gathering or a baby shower.
  11. A wooden hand-crafted crib that the baby’s great grandfather made for the baby’s grandmother. (Yeah, OK, that one might be a bit hard to pull off, but that’s what our little one will be sleeping in for the first eight weeks of his life while we’re still here in Australia – Pa set it up for me the other day).

These are just a few of the things we’ve received that have made me smile – but the creative possibilities to bless a new family seem endless, really. If you live locally you could assemble an envelope full of take-out menus from local restaurants and include enough cash to order dinner one night during those first few weeks post-birth. You could organize for a house cleaner to come in once or twice. If she’s into yoga, perhaps look for a yoga DVD she could do at home when she can’t get out to attend a class. And, of course, practical gifts such as diapers, small toys, nappy rash cream and the like never go astray.

What favourite baby gifts have you given or received? Other ideas? Help out people who will visit this post looking for gift inspiration by leaving a comment below.

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One

Life lessons on pregnancy and breastfeeding from cows

I still remember the moment, about two months after we were married, when the cows made their first appearance in the discourse of our relationship. I can’t remember what we were debating now, but it led to the following exchange.

“You know who you remind me of?” Mike asked in a tone of mingled frustration and admiration. “Ivy, our second smartest cow on the farm when I was growing up.”

What?” I said. “Who was the smartest cow?”

Photo: Martin Cathrae, Flick

“That was Emmy. She was awesome. She was the sweetest cow ever, so bright, and so gentle. She was the queen matriarch of the herd. All the other cows followed her everywhere.” Mike got slightly misty eyed at the memory. “She was my favorite. She was everyone’s favorite.”                   

“What was Ivy like then?” I asked.

“Ivy was smart all right, but boy was she ever obstinate,” Mike said with grudging respect but a total lack of misty-eyed affection. “Ivy was the only cow that ever figured out that if she wriggled right under the electric fence it would only hurt for a little while before she would be through to the other side and she could have a whole, untouched pasture to herself. Emmy was smart and used it for the good of all. Ivy was smart and used it for her benefit alone. She was a determined, stubborn bugger. And she kicked.”

In a rare turn of events I was momentarily speechless.

“Ivy was my second favorite, though,” Mike added quickly after glancing at my face. “You couldn’t help but admire her even if she was a bugger.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “I remind you of your second favorite, second smartest cow.”

“There were 40 cows in the herd, honey,” Mike said. “Second isn’t bad.”

It took a long time after this exchange before I grew to appreciate the cow stories. I certainly wasn’t amused the night I woke up with cramps at 3AM and Mike told me that he thought midnight cramping may be part and parcel of the female mammalian system because he’d noticed over the years that pregnant cows usually went into labour in the early hours of the morning. And I didn’t particularly appreciate the subsequent descriptions of how he had to help hand-deliver the calves (in some cases, using chains to pull them out) when labour didn’t progress.

“Oh, Ivy was a good breeder,” Mike told me when I inquired, with mingled sarcasm and curiosity, about my bovine doppelganger.  “I don’t think she ever had trouble delivering. And whatever else you can say about her, she was a very good mother. If her calf ever started bawling she always came running, usually looking to bite someone.”

Slowly, however, over the two years that we’ve been married, the cow stories have started to make me smile. And just the other night, for the first time, I wondered whether those cows haven’t helped prepare Mike for marriage and parenthood in important ways.

The other night we were out to dinner with friends who have just had their fourth baby. Hannah was telling me about some of the things she wished she had known before she delivered her first baby.

“I wish I’d known how hard breastfeeding could be,” Hannah said. “I had no idea about even basic things – like the fact that some women produce more milk than others, and that flow rate can be different. For some women the milk spurts out so fast the babies practically choke on it. For other women it comes out really slowly.”

“OK,” I said slowly. This was news to me.

“Anyway, having trouble breastfeeding was such a shock,” she continued. “Holton just wouldn’t latch on for ages, and then my milk didn’t come in for a long time, and then I got cracked nipples, and then mastitis, and then – because we were here in Laos and didn’t get to a doctor quickly enough I think – I developed an abscess in my breast.”

“Huh,” I said, feeling horrified in that way you do when you see a car accident and you’re secretly glad that it has nothing to do with you. I am still, on some level, clearly in denial about the fact that I am pregnant and will be giving birth and attempting this feat called breastfeeding in less than five months.

“Breastfeeding is just not as easy as you would think it should be,” Hannah said. “I’m happy to show you some tricks. Western women don’t often get the chance to see breastfeeding up close, so how are we supposed to know how to do it in the best way?”

“That would be good,” I said, thinking that she had a point. How were we supposed to learn in a society where women are fairly shy about whipping out their boobs in public and inviting detailed scrutiny of the whole process?

Well, apparently one other way to learn some of this would have been to grow up on a farm.

“I had such good filters tonight, honey,” Mike said triumphantly after we got home from dinner. “I was going to say all sorts of things during the breastfeeding discussion, but I didn’t.”

“You were going to talk about cows, weren’t you,” I said.

Mike ginned.

“Alright,” I sighed. “Tell me about the cows and breastfeeding.”

“Well,” Mike said. “Everything Hannah said makes sense. Our cows also used to vary dramatically in terms of how much milk they’d produce and how fast it would let down. And some calves, oh my word, some of those calves were so dumb. They just couldn’t figure out how to drink – you’d have to spend hours out there coaching them.”

“Really?” I said. “They didn’t just know? How do you teach them?”

“First you’d prod the calves in that direction and hope they’d figure it out. But if that didn’t work, eventually we’d have to milk the cows and put it in a bottle and hope that the calves would made the connection between what comes out of the nipple on the bottle and what comes out of the nipple on the cow. But some really struggled to make that quantum leap. We had one calf we thought would die it took him so long to figure it out.”

“And I know all about mastitis because the cows used to get it,” Mike continued while I took this in. “Sometimes the calves would develop a preference for only one set of teats – usually the forward ones because they were easier to reach and the calves were lazy. Then the back ones would get full and blocked up and infected.”

“What did you do?”

We’d have to massage and hand milk them on those teats, and sometimes they needed antibiotics.”

As far as I can see so far, Mike’s farm background has substituted quite well for older sisters in preparing him to deal with period cramps and breastfeeding challenges, as well as equipping him with skills in the area of assisting in the delivery of baby mammals (skills that both he and I fervently hope he does not need to employ later this year). And I will admit that I’ve grown quite fond of the cow stories, even if they involve Ivy.

That doesn’t mean, however, that all other animal analogies are fair game.

The other day, when I recalled some random (probably useless) fact, Mike asked me, amazed, how I’d done it.

“I have a good memory,” I said modestly.

“Just like an elephant,” he said. “You’re my elephant.”

“Careful,” I said. “Thin ice.”

“Oh, honey,” Mike said. “Instead of the second smartest cow you can be my smartest elephant.”

“What was that I just heard?” I asked. “Oh, yeah, a big splash.”

What about you? If you’ve had children, what is one thing you wished you’d known before you had your first? If you haven’t had children, what questions or observations do you have?

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