Monthly Archives: September 2014

Benefits of extended breastfeeding

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When I wrote last week about breastfeeding a toddler, I was very conscious that I was merely looking to capture my experience. There are many reasons why a mother might choose to breastfeed her child or not, and many more that will influence how long that aspect of their relationship continues. It is not my place to judge them for the decision they have made, or question their reasons for making it.

But then I read a comment that, just for a moment, made me question mine. One of my readers wrote that, on reading my article, he was left feeling that the extended breastfeeding relationship did much to benefit me but he couldn’t see how it benefited my child. That whilst I said that my son was not ready to stop, in fact it was me who wanted to continue.

Now part of me felt that I should just dismiss this entirely. Even if my reasons for continuing to breastfeed were mainly driven by my needs it’s not like it is harming my child – the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for two years or beyond after all. There are so many choices to be made as a parent, and it is always a process of weighing up the needs of everyone involved before coming to a decision.

But another part of me wanted to tell him that he was wrong. That not only do I know that my child is not ready to wean but also that there are numerous benefits he enjoys by continuing to nurse.

Having looked deeper into the WHO recommendations as well as other research I was actually a bit surprised at just how many possible benefits have been found by the numerous studies that have been carried out.

Benefits of extended breastfeeding for the child

  • Improved nutrition: in the second year breastfeeding can provide around a third of a child’s energy requirements as well as significant amounts of protein, calcium, folate and other vitamins. Not bad for a fussy toddler!
  • A continuing boost to the immune system: some of the immune factors in breast milk actually increase during the second year.
  • A wide range of other health benefits, including reduced incidence of asthma, lower blood pressure in later life, improved dental development, protection against Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, reduced risk of epilepsy. Extended breastfeeding has also been liked to lower rates of childhood cancer and obesity.
  • Improved cognitive skills, with the greatest gains for those breastfed the longest.
  • An important source of comfort, soothing tantrums and over-tiredness as effectively as a sore knee.
  • Increased confidence and independence. This one might come as a surprise, but as with many aspects of attachment parenting the secure bond created in the early years allows the growing child to branch out more, not less.

There are also, of course, a number of benefits for the mother who chooses to breastfeed her child past one year – benefits that are often overlooked in the argument that extended breastfeeding is merely pandering to the demands of the child.

Benefits of extended breastfeeding for the mother

  • A range of health benefits, including reduced incidence of Type 2 diabetes, lower incidence of hypertension, protection against breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • It can help to control your weight – whether helping shed the extra pounds or protecting against too much weight loss during the nursing period.
  • It reduces stress – the very act of nursing is relaxing, partly down to the calming effects of prolactin but also the physical closeness with your child that it necessitates in the middle of a hectic schedule. Added to this there is the peace of mind that comes from the health and nutrition benefits for your child described above.

Of course not all of these benefits will apply to everyone, and there are doubtless things that other mothers can add to this list. I think it provides a pretty solid retort, though, to those who believe that only one party can benefit from extended breastfeeding – or in fact that it is a fruitless enterprise altogether.

I feel immensely privileged that I have been able to breastfeed my child, and that circumstances have allowed us to continue this relationship for as long as we have. Now that I’ve reminded myself of just how many things we both stand to gain from it I’m most definitely not in a hurry to stop any time soon.

I have endeavoured to reference my sources for some of the more tangible claims above, but if you would like to find out more there are numerous resources available on the UNICEF and La Leche League websites. If you’d like to ask a question, or if I’ve missed anything you’d like to add, then please do so in the comments below. 

 

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Mums' Days

Writing dreams

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Many people would say that you shouldn’t, ever. That including dream sequences in a novel is mere inches away from the cardinal sin of closing a story with the immortal phrase ‘and then I woke up’. That it’s impossible to capture the ever-shifting intangibility of our dream worlds, and that in trying to do so we end up with writing that is at its best banal – as boring to the reader as when a friend tries to recount the reverie that had so entranced them in their sleep the night before.

If this is true then I have a problem. The entire plot of my novel revolves around the dreams of my protagonist. I didn’t even consider that this might be an issue before now: in the humdrum excitement of writing the first draft I just wanted to get it all down, to tell her story. But there’s no escaping that the middle of that draft lags, that something does not quite ring true, does not quite manage to keep the reader where I want them.

I’ve been able to push it to the back of my mind over the past week, but now my chapter a day has brought me to that crucial point where Grace has her first dream.

I had a bit of feedback to work with: the dreams were too long, too cheesy, too dialogue driven. Reading back over the chapter today I could see that was true. My style is usually quite sparse, but in my desire to thrust the reader deep inside Grace’s experience I had over-written it. I was making the same point twice, maybe three times. I was spelling out the steps of her journey in a way that was far removed from the abstract, impression-driven world that dreams more normally inhabit.

So there were some clear areas to cut. It was quite satisfying, actually – realising that I could convey what I needed to in drastically fewer words than I had previously thought. I did leave some of the detail, more than would normally remain when recalling a dream of one’s own in the cold light of day. Because this dream isn’t a memory – it’s happening to her in the present.

This might be part of the problem when it comes to writing about dreams. Very few of us, if any, will ever have the experience of being truly present in our dreams. I think I’ve come close a handful of times – that realisation that I’m dreaming, an awareness that imprints the experience more solidly in my conscious mind. But dreams more often come to us in fragments, bubbling up from the subconscious and slipping through our fingers before we’ve had the chance to really remember.

It was the desire to make this distinction, between a dream happening now and one remembered, that led to the other major change I made. Whilst most of my novel is written in the past tense, I transposed the dream to the present. It’s still in the third person, but I think it feels more immediate – whilst also managing to convey an otherworldliness and uncertainty that seems to fit.

I’m not 100% sure it works, but I’m going to go with it for now. I think it becomes more challenging to hold the reader’s attention with the dream sequences as the novel goes on, so this is very much only the beginning…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing dreams. Have you ever tried incorporating dreams into your fiction? How do you think the dream world can best be conjured up in words? Are there any good examples of dreams in literature that you think I should read? It’s not that I’m afraid of breaking the rules – but if I do then it most definitely needs to be convincing.

 

Writing Bubble

 

A boy, a ball and a hula hoop

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It was the end of a long day working on the novel, and it was most definitely time to get outside. Arthur grabbed his ball, I grabbed my hula hoop, and we headed for the patch of grass which overlooks the bay. The sun was low in the sky, casting long shadows and bathing everything in its gentle orange light.

Arthur was off as soon as we passed the cars and I could let go of his hand. I watched him running and giggling whilst looping the hoop around my hips, breathing in the sea air and the view.

There were dogs out too for their evening stroll, some coming over to sniff around and say hello. Arthur loved that. He loved throwing his ball too, and trying his very best to catch it.

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It wasn’t long before he’d commandeered the hula hoop, defying physics in his attempts to spin it round himself but ultimately content just to take it for a walk.

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It was a beautiful evening, and there were moments when I caught him just sitting and looking up at the sky, marvelling at the bigness of it all.

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I love those moments: so simple and yet so precious. Just me, my boy, a ball and a hula hoop. Bliss.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


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The storm

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 ***

It was the thunder we heard first. The morning had been glorious – just perfect for lazing on the grass with iced coffees from the market, perusing the papers and generally just enjoying life and each other. But sure enough, as I looked up behind Grace’s mess of red hair, I could see the clouds rolling in.

They were angry, and switched her mood in an instant.

“What’re you doing?”

I ignored the scorn in her voice and continued to fold away the pages of newsprint that were strewn around us.

“It’s going to rain.”

“So?”

“So we need to go.”

She stood up then and turned away from me to look across the park. Everyone else was on my side with this one – picnics were being packed into hampers, babies bundled back into their prams. There was another crash of thunder and she lifted her face towards the sky as the first drops of water began to fall.

They were slow and heavy. If we didn’t move now, we’d be drenched.

“Come on, Gracie, this is silly.”

“You go.”

Grace had let her bag drop to the floor and was shrugging off her shirt, unselfconscious in the bikini top beneath. I felt the familiar tug of longing as I saw her bare skin, curving in at the waist where it was met by the denim of her shorts.

“What’re you doing?”

“Just go, will you?”

I wanted to force her to look at me, to grab her arm and spin her round. I wanted to kiss her, but instead I ran. As the raindrops increased their urgency I found shelter beneath an oak tree, squeezing in beside a couple leaning on their bicycles and a man who had squatted down to read his book.

The thunder echoed off the tower blocks again as Grace raised her arms, her hair trailing down her back now as water dripped from its ends onto the grass below. There was a flash of lightening then too, and in that moment I had a vision of her going up in smoke before my eyes, her footprints scorched into the earth. Still clutching the papers under one arm I sprinted out into the wet. I had to save her.

But when I got there she was laughing, an expression of pure glee on her face.

“Isn’t it wonderful? It’s our chance to be free, Charlie. To be alive.”

She reached out for the buttons of my shirt, trying to undo them so I could join her even though I think she knew I never would. I wriggled free and she spun away, shouting something that was lost amidst the storm.

The anger of the clouds had infected me now, and I strode alone towards the home we shared. She’d come back when she was done. She always did.

 ***

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this story with her prompt of ‘Thunder’, and also to Nicola at Nikki Young Writes who inspired me to explore my characters further through her post for last week’s What I’m Writing.

This story captures a moment in my protagonist’s past, seen through the eyes of her ex. I’m not sure they lasted long after this incident – and I’m pretty sure Grace would have seen things very differently.

 

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Nikki Young Writes

Word of the Week: Yoga

For months now I’ve been wanting to work out how to incorporate yoga into our daily routine. Inspired by this post from  Vicki over at Honest Mum I sought out the 10 Minute Solutions Yoga DVD, but it has spent the summer mainly gathering dust as I’ve despaired at ever finding one minute for myself, let alone ten.

This week though I decided enough was enough: I mostly found peace with my post pregnancy body a while ago but the time has finally come when the mummy tummy has got to go. And my first step was to force myself to find the time for that daily yoga!

I’m pretty rubbish in the mornings, but having run our average day through my head a multitude of times before breakfast was the only fail-safe slot. The advantage of Arthur still being breastfed is that he’s never crazy hungry first thing, and I figured it might actually be quite a nice way for us both to start the day.

And it has! It’s been brilliant in fact, and once I’d put my mind to it really not too hard at all to slot in – we’re even up to twenty minutes a day now. Arthur’s been loving it, and will excitedly call out ‘Yoga! Yoga!’ whenever I start to get our mats out (Actually the way he says it sounds more like ‘Yoda’, which can’t help but make my inner Star Wars geek giggle).

That’s not been the only thing about our joint yoga practice that’s been amusing me either. Yesterday, having left early for music in the morning, we found some time in the afternoon – and I just had to get Leigh to document it.

Things generally start out simply enough, with us both on our own mats listening quietly to the instructor.

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But then as the session goes on Arthur’s approach tends to get increasingly interactive. He’s never been able to resist a back to climb on, and has decided that the downward dog provides the perfect ‘baby house’.

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It was my fear of these interruptions from the ever present toddler that had been one of my major excuses for not finding the time for yoga earlier. And frankly it is a far cry from the tranquil loft spaces I used to love to frequent for classes in London. But it’s most definitely not a good enough reason not to do yoga at all.

I think as he gets more used to it Arthur will become more keen to try to copy the poses himself – in a modified way of course, and especially if I dust off the yoga for toddlers book I bought and fit in some dedicated sessions for him too. It’s a great addition to our day together, and good to do something physical to counterbalance all the writing time.

I’ve found that it is really beginning to transform my days – I have more energy, less aches and pains, and am in a much more positive and proactive frame of mind. And whilst all that is reason enough to keep it going, I’m sure it won’t be long before I see it starting to transform my body too.

 

The Reading Residence

 

Breastfeeding a toddler

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If you had asked me at the beginning of my breastfeeding journey if I’d still be nursing my son at nearly 21 months I would have said no. No way. I mean, I had nothing against the idea of breastfeeding an older child theoretically – I wasn’t freaked out by it like so many readers of this article seem to be (I know, I know – never read the comments on the Daily Mail). I was just pretty certain that by the time my tiny baby had grown into a toddler our breastfeeding days would be long gone.

But like so many things about this parenting lark, I was wrong.

It’s not like I’ve made a conscious decision to keep feeding him, but rather that there just doesn’t seem to be any reason to stop. We’ve got our technique down pat now and there’s not much I can’t do whilst he’s feeding in the sling. He’s feeding right now – dozing in and out of consciousness as I tap away at the keyboard. I’ll certainly miss the time it gives me when he can be close and nurtured and safe whilst I can still get on and write. If all goes to plan our breastfeeding relationship will have seen me through at least two novels by the time he stops which can’t be bad!

There are of course many benefits for him as well. I mean, he loves his booba. He asks for ‘booba feed’ when he just wants a quick snack, or ‘booba bed’ when he’s ready to sleep, and when I say yes he bubbles over with glee. He’s even starting to express an opinion about which one he’d prefer, though I’m not sure I’m going to encourage that…

I do think it’s still an important part of his diet too. He eats well, don’t get me wrong – he’s had porridge and banana for breakfast today, followed by mackerel and poached egg and kale for lunch. But he’s growing so fast – both in body and mind – that I’m not surprised he needs the extra calories.

But there’s more to it than that. It comforts him, in this world which is more full of wonder every day. It gives him pause, time to reflect and recharge. It reminds him that I am here, and I am his, and gives him the confidence he needs to embrace all the new experiences that are presented to him. If he is sick, or falls and scrapes his knee or bumps his head, then a bit of booba is better than any medicine.

My milk helps to warm him up when he comes smiling out of the Devon sea, and when we were in Barcelona this summer, traipsing round the city in the scorching August sun, my milk stopped him from becoming dehydrated. Of course he drank water too, but the nutrients in the breastmilk did a far better job of reviving him. He’s not interested in drinking anything else – we’ve tried watered down juice and other kinds of milk but he won’t touch them – which is one of the many reasons I know he’s not ready to stop quite yet.

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It’s not all plain sailing. There are moments when he calls out for booba or puts his hand down my top in public when I feel like I need to make excuses for the fact I’m still feeding him, though if anyone else were to actually challenge me on it they would most certainly feel my wrath. It can get exhausting, and I do sometimes wish he fed a little less frequently. We’re essentially working on the principle of ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’, but he still rarely goes for more than four hours without asking. It’s not that I can’t say no – and sometimes I do – but that doesn’t sit very comfortably with me. There’s plenty else I put my foot down on, but not this.

Though I may need to break through that soon for the sake of both our sleep. Nights are hard at the moment: he’d dropped down to waking me for one or two short feeds which was totally manageable with the co-sleeping. But in the last few weeks it’s been almost like having a newborn again – last night he woke up almost every hour, scrabbling for me and crying bitterly if I tried to soothe him in any other way. I thought for a while it was maybe just backlash over the lack of routine we fell into over the summer, but having done some research it seems this is a fairly common ‘thing’ for the breastfeeding toddler. So we’re looking into gentle methods of night weaning him. There are lots of techniques out there which I think we could handle, but it’s one thing rationalising them in the light of day and quite another negotiating with an angry toddler at three in the morning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

And as for weaning entirely? Well I think now that’s up to Arthur. I’m certainly not about to deprive him of something he loves so much, especially as both of us will be losing out when our breastfeeding relationship is finally over. And really, for all of his confidence and agility and words, he’s still my baby. He’ll stop when he’s ready, and only when he’s ready will it be time to stop.

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