Extended breastfeeding

It was just like the other day when my sweaty hands were fumbling as I tried to breastfeed my daughter for the first time. It felt so sophisticated until I got used to it and started breastfeeding, eating and talking on the phone at the same time. I always say, ‘one of the most touching moment I share with my daughter is breastfeeding time especially when she looks at my eyes.’

As we approach 18 months, most people are asking me when I plan to wean her. My first plan was at 24 months but as I learn new things and the bond I have with her, I am now open to extending that if she would want to continue. Worldwide, babies are weaned on average between ages 2 and 4. In some cultures, breast-feeding continues until children are age 6 or 7. (mayoclinic.org) WHO officially recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age.

I have seen how most people (including mothers) are disgusted when they see an older child breastfeeding. I personally find it normal because I saw my younger brother breastfeeding until he was four. I remember how he would come from school and run to our mother who is usually busy with something, flip her top open and breastfeed while standing. I don’t remember people discouraging her about his breastfeeding at the time but attitudes toward breastfeeding has changed a lot since then. The hyper sexualized society we live in now mostly believes breastfeeding an older child creates an adverse attachment and/or too much dependency and is a disgusting thing to look at as well.

But does extended breastfeeding have benefits?

The ‘white gold’ is an amazing liquid because it can cater to a child’s nutritional need even as she grows. It has a lot of long term health benefits both for the child and mother.  Children who breastfeed for extended periods of time are healthier overall; they have better vision and hearing as well as a strong immune system with reduced risk of developing health problems like diabetes and heart diseases. A number of studies also suggest that they are smarter (my brother is a top student) and easier to discipline. Extended breastfeeding also reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancers in mothers.

Disadvantages

I remember weaning my brother was a torture the whole family went into together. His non-stop tantrums were unbearable at night and he bit her very hardly even when she gave up and tried to nurse him. Mother must make it clear that they not human pacifiers and breastfeeding is for food and bonding not a soother. Unless the weaning process is gradual by preparing them emotionally through discussion (because they are old enough), it might be difficult.

For mothers who decide to extend breastfeeding, one of the most difficult thing they deal with is negative reactions from others. Our society has mostly ignored the way our mothers brought us. We are rushed into training our children to be independent as early as possible with self rocking cots, bouncy seats and baby monitors. But there is so much to be gained from cuddling and extended breastfeeding including a physically, socially and emotionally nurtured child. As hard as it may be, you need to do what’s best for your baby and for your own family.

This first appeared on The Standard on 30th July 2017

Featured image source : Tammy Nicole Emziren Kadinlar Photography

Watching TV with my daughter

I love how she wakes up in the morning these days. She has learned to self entertain so after waking up she finds something to keep her busy, which means I have a few more minutes to catch up with sleep (more like 7 minutes). Then she will start kicking the cot bumper and it is that thump that usually wakes me up. The moment she looks at my face, she gives me a beautiful smile and stretches her hands which makes me forget all my problems (only for a few seconds though). We then go to the kitchen for her daily dose of thyroxine. A  few minutes later we are ready for breakfast and our daily little fights start again. Lately she has become completely invested in baby TV and adverts that it is almost unthinkable for her to take meals or have her diaper changed without the TV on. So after offering a few spoons with her refusing to open her mouth, I give up and turn on the TV, she then opens her mouth gladly.

It started when she was much smaller, I would turn on the TV for her when I needed a break or when she is fussy. At first, she would get bored after a few minutes and start demanding for attention but she now watches TV (phones and tablets included) for 30 – 60 minutes in a day on average. Whenever the TV is on a show that she likes, her body becomes still, her eyes blink only when necessary, her mouth is half-open and her drool trickles down her chest. I am mostly okay with these but I don’t like the blank look on her face which makes me think that it is not good for her.

Most studies done on infants and toddlers watching TV say that it is absolutely unnecessary because it has a significant effect on their brain development because they are not capable of processing the images they see until they are at least 18 months old. Screen time for infants and toddlers is believed to cause language delay, sleep interruption and lack of attention among other things. But a few studies also say that children tailored programs on TV can help in early brain development as long as the screen time is limited and parents are watching the programs with the children.

When to introduce TV

The American Academy of pediatrics (AAP) along with a number of studies, strictly advises against any screen time for children under 2 years of age. Various researches suggest that it is quite harmful with long-lasting effect on their language and social development, sleeping pattern and attention span. These problems are more pronounced as the child spends more time in front of the TV alone especially for children below 18 months as their mind cannot understand how what they see on the TV relates with the real world.

As a result, the AAP encourages parents to avoid TV for children below 18 months but children 15 – 18 months can benefit from co-watching educational TV programs but must strictly be for an hour at most. For children above 2 years of age, great care must be taken in selecting content and how they watch it. Obesity and behavioral problems are the most common problems toddlers and young adults develop if their media usage is not monitored.

However reserved you may be to introduce TV to your children, it is obvious that children learn better from you than any educational TV program. Hence, keep screen time as minimum as possible, co-watch together to keep them connected, and find other activities to do together to keep their mind and bodies active and healthy.

I am yet to see the effect it has on her language skills but it has not affected her sleep or attention so far. But one important point I have observed is that when we sit together to watch and I sing along to the show and keep her engaged with me and the show, she is very responsive and happy when she sees characters she likes. That dull look comes when she is only absorbing what the TV is giving her, my presence and engagement gives her the two-way interaction.

So since I have accepted that she loves watching her baby shows, I have stopped fighting her and focus on limiting the time she spends on the screen as well as making sure it has appropriate content. Therefore, I look for shows with fun and educational content that represents the diversified society she lives with now. It can be mind-boggling for an adult to watch a postman who always displaces addresses and has to ask animals for directions so he can deliver the packages (Is that teaching Inefficiency or how to ask for directions?) but I believe it is important to sit and do the things they like together.

This first appeared on The Standard on 30th July 2017
Featured image – courtesy of  www.picgifs.com

On a diet at 15 months

My little angel is only 300 grams shy of 15Kgs at 15 months.  Almost everyone who holds her exclaims, ‘Weh! She is heavy.’ I don’t blame them because this was the weight she was expected to reach at 24 months. I remember she was almost 10kgs at 7 months and we have been monitoring her weight chart since then but the fact that she is tall for her age had made us look over the weight gain.

The pediatrician has been warning us but on our last visit, she was adamant that we must make major changes in her diet. Babies are expected to gain weight though there is a noticeable difference between breastfed and formula fed babies. The rate at which they gain weight until they double their birth weight is fast but slows down in a distinct way especially after the first birthday.

A rapid weight gain in babies and toddlers can be attributed to taking too many calories, medication, lack of exercise or a hormonal condition among a number of other reasons. When a baby has excess weight, crawling, walking, essential parts of a baby’s physical, and mental development are delayed. While having excess weight at a young age does not mean the child will remain overweight, it is best to prevent it as early as possible. I believe my daughter’s weight has also contributed to her not walking even at 15 months.

What can be done?

One of the most important things we have been advised is to watch her diet carefully. Babies need a high fat diet to support their growth so limiting their food intake when they are hungry is unthinkable but revision of their intake is necessary. We have now cut starchy foods to two times a week only. Therefore, sweet potatoes/potatoes, green bananas, arrowroots, and oatmeal are included in her diet every three days only. We instead do more of lean proteins and vegetables.

I have not introduced sugar to her yet but sweetened drinks such as packed juice and biscuits are also the main culprits to rapid weight gain. It is also recommended to limit the amount of milk they take in a day. The highest amount of milk a toddler should take is 500ml if they are to take a nutritious diet in a day. Therefore do more of breastfeeding (if possible) and give water instead of offering other drinks. Some studies also suggest that breastfeeding helps in maintaining a healthy weight.

Because of the cold weather we now have, kids are not going out much which means they have more time to be idle in the house or to sit in front of TV. Unlimited screen time is proved to be the cause of being overweight and obesity in children as well as effectuating unhealthy eating habit. A toddler must be active for the many calories to be burned, even if it is in the house. For toddlers like my daughter who have not started walking yet, the baby walker and other fun games like rolling over are best to solve this problem.

Chubby cheeks are too sweet to resist but when the weight gain is rapid and visible to the eye, it is good to ask why even if it is not captured in the growth chart. Consult your doctor before taking any measures.
This first appeared on The Standard on 13 August 2017

NO more pumping in the toilet

I was fortunate enough to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for six months.  Though I had plans to go back to work after four months which then moved to six months and then indefinitely put on hold because of my separation anxiety as well as other reasons. Had I gone back to work, I don’t know how I would have dealt with pumping, working and spending the whole day away from my daughter.

From my conversations with a number of new mothers who went back to work after their maternity leave, exclusive breastfeeding was their ultimate resolution until they reported back to the office. Lack of clean and private place to express, decreased milk supply and lack of support from their supervisors forced most of them to abandon their plan and start giving  formula to their little ones.

One mother told me that it is one of the most painful experience she has gone through. She said, ‘The first week I resumed work was difficult. Since the only place I could express from was the toilet, I only expressed when my breasts became very painful. I was constantly in pain because my breasts were engorged. The toilet was very dirty so I used to throw out the milk for fear of the hygienic risks. By the third week, my milk supply decreased so fast that I stopped pumping and by then my son was barely four months old. To know that I was not able to exclusively breastfeed my son because I had to work made me depressed. Even when I made peace with it, the process of finding the right formula was difficult and very costly.’

The new breastfeeding bill that was recently passed is a good news for mothers like her if it will be signed into law. According to the bill, a company with more than 30 employees will be required to provide suitable environment (a separate room and fridge) for breastfeeding mothers. Even public facilities such as restaurants will be expected to provide baby changing facility as well as a separate room for breastfeeding/ expressing.

As much as the bill sounds good to the ear, the implementation will most likely be challenging to follow upon. With businesses always on the lookout for ways of cutting costs, the burden of securing another room with the necessary facilities for mothers as well as according them with enough breaks for expressing might be something companies want to avoid by refusing to hire women. Moreover, women might comply to work without the breastfeeding facilities for  lack of opportunities even with the hefty fine of 500,000Ksh on the companies when they fail to do so.

The organization I worked with previously only hires women and made sure that mothers are given all the privileges they need to meet the demands of exclusive breastfeeding and taking care of a child during the first year. For that reason, the team has a unique unity and dedication that stands out. (Which was why I also wanted to go back.) Business should know that for every minute a breastfeeding mother spends catering for her child unbothered, she will give back in folds efficiently.

But until the bill is passed, pack up your cooler bag with your gears as well as your baby’s picture for better milk production.

This first appeared on The Standard on 9 July 2017

Image: Mom.me