Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nightweaning thoughts (2)

The nightweaning process continues. I posted before on my attempts to wean Cecile from the breast at night by un-latching her after just a few minutes... the idea being that she would then start to shift her calorie intake around to the day.

It worked... sort of. By the third night the protests every time I unlatched her and attempted to put her back to bed were getting less and less, and she did seem to eat a little more in the daytime. Trouble is, the number of nightwakings were not diminishing; in fact, she went from two wakeups to three, leading me to suspect that the feeds were enough to tease her but not enough to satisfy. I was having problems going back to sleep each time too--maybe because I wasn't getting the sleepy hormones that kick in towards the end of a feed for both mummy and baby. Not good. I mean the whole point of nightweaning is for both parties to sleep more, right?

Soooo... I decided to simply stop. Just not breastfeed at night any more, period. Line in the sand and all that. I hadn't been planning to do this for a couple more months, but something had to change. So I gritted my teeth, reminded myself that she was a big girl, was having solid foods and had actually slept nine hours at a stretch for a while at four months old (before we went to the UK on a visit and ruined it all), and decided to go for it. If she woke up, I would comfort her in other ways, but no nursing.

First night: Dreamfeed at 10:30, wakeup at 12:30, wakeup at 3:30. Wailed inconsolably for a LONG time before finally collapsing in exhaustion.

Second night: Same thing but fell asleep after a few minutes each time.

Third night: Dreamfeed at 10:30, then ONE wakeup at 4:40!!! Progress at last!

Part of me wonders at how sensible it was to embark on this when she is teething... her lovey Sophie the Giraffe is getting a right gnawing these days. But the fact that I've recently been having thoughts of continuing nursing past 12 months (providing we're both willing) has actually made me more determined to start setting some limits on nursing now. I want to make sure that "the ball's in my court" by the time she becomes a tantrumming, manipulating toddler. I've been warned by several other mums that it's a lot harder to change things once they are older!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bullshitometer: No, the average age of weaning worldwide is not four years…

As we all know, the average age of weaning worldwide is four years. Or rather 4.7. Or possibly 4.2… or 4.5, or “about four”… As with all urban legends, there are dozens of subtle variations on the theme floating about on the parenting websites, blogs and forums, and even on the notorious Extraordinary Breastfeeding documentary, ranging from “the average age of weaning around the world is between two and seven” to “Globally, the average age at which children are weaned is four, according to WHO statistics.”

Being highly suspicious of this dubious-sounding “fact” (for which no sources are ever given), I did a little… well, I hesitate to call it “research,” really: the statement can be debunked with the most cursory of google searches. Just as a little challenge, try googling the phrase “average duration of breastfeeding” (or “mean duration of breastfeeding” does fine too) plus the name of basically any country you care to think of: India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Egypt, Thailand, you name it. This search will direct you to actual papers written on infant feeding practices in developing countries. What you get is a load of figures like 21 months (Niger), 27.5 months (Nepal), 18-20 months (rural Thailand), 8.7 months (urban China), 18 months (Cameroon), 22 months (Kenya),  20 months (Nigeria), 28 months (Rwanda) and 19 months (Uganda)—that was a random selection, by the way. Seriously, I will mail a box of Godiva chocos to anyone who can find just one country where the average age is even close to four. The longest duration I was able to find was in Bangladesh (31 months) but even that’s a way off. Or, if you are feeling lazy, you could just refer to this table here

The table makes interesting reading for a number of reasons. Did you imagine that mums in sub-Saharan Africa would be nursing the longest? So did I. We’d be wrong, apparently. Also, check the figures for “exclusive” breastfeeding; looks like mums in a lot of poor countries introduce solids pretty early. But these are subjects for other posts.

I’m not sure where the “four years” thing came from, but I’m guessing that what happened at some point in the great game of Chinese whispers that is the internet, is that someone took a look at the Kathy Dettwyler paper (a paper which itself based on some pretty questionable logic, as Mainstream Parenting pointed out—although in fact Dettwyler herself describes the average-weaning-age-is-four-years thing as “neither accurate nor meaningful”) which states that the natural duration of breastfeeding is between 2.5 and seven years and basically stuck a pin halfway in between those two numbers. Presumably somebody else saw this figure being quoted in the same paragraph as the thing about the WHO recommending breastfeeding for two years, and sort of blurred the two statements together in her mind.And so on.

Bullshitometer verdict
So no, the average age of nursing across the world is not four; I’d hesitate to name a figure, but given that only about half the world’s kids between 20 and 23 months are still on the boob, it can’t be all that high. I’m not bringing this point up because I’m trying to tell mothers of four-year-old nurselings not to nurse them, as I guess that is their business. But I am a fact geek, and I do think it sets a poor precedent when we repeat things that aren’t true and don’t bother to check our sources. And then there are the mothers like that poster on a forum I regularly go to, who is tandem nursing a toddler and a baby despite being obviously fed up with it, and is basically trying to get through the experience by repeating to herself over and over again that “the average global age of weaning is four”; if the myth is being used to put pressure on women who want to wean older babies/toddlers, that’s not cool.

Finally, the very fact that people have unquestioningly swallowed such an improbable figure says something rather disturbing about our view of the world of 2011—like we actually think that 80% (or whatever) of the world’s population is still barefoot and living in the mud hut. But I’ll leave it to Hans Roslin to expand a little on this idea in Debunking Myths about the Third World—the video is great fun by the way and is worth watching for the graphics and presentation alone. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is there a sensible breastfeeding book in the house?

I find myself in something of a quandary. I’d like to be able to recommend a “good book” on breastfeeding. But there’s a problem: I’d struggle to recommend any of the books I’m familiar with to a mother.

With many of these books of course, this is hardly a surprise. Given my feelings about the likes of Dr. Sears (pretty much summed up here), I didn’t pick up The Breastfeeding Book expecting to get a balanced and scientific view on the merits of breastfeeding. Nor did it surprise me that the La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding makes sour comments about women who work outside the home and hints that breastfeeding only “counts” if you do it for years on end. But I was surprised at So That's What They're For!: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide by Janet Tamaro, which another poster on an online forum recommended to me and which I cautiously flicked through in a bookstore. With its cutesy title, cartoon-character cover and oh-so-crazy font styles, you could be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of laid-back “girlfriend’s guide” of a book—you know, the kind that might tell you that sending the baby to the nursery for a while to get a break was okay. Wrong guess! Despite its determinedly “friendly” tone, the book was basically one long diatribe about the dire consequences of not breastfeeding, about how one—JUST ONE—bottle of formula was enough to strip your baby’s precious gut flora and cause your milk supply to dry up like dew on the desert sand. Oh, and compulsory attachment parenting lectures delivered by the spadeful (surprise, surprise). I think I almost prefer bloody Dr. Sears.

The problem with all the breastfeeding books that I’ve come across is that, well, they didn’t seem to be able to limit themselves to actually telling you how to breastfeed. Rather, they invariably devoted at least a third of their real estate to lecturing you about why you should breastfeed, and going on (and on, and on) about the consequences of not doing so. It really is about roping women in while they are pregnant and vulnerable—and if breastfeeding doesn’t work out and you’ve already spent months on end reading this drip-drip-drip of FORMULA WILL RUIN YOUR CHILD….well, what then?

All this bugged me to the extent that in the end, while pregnant I didn’t actually buy any books on breastfeeding. Because even if the logical part of your mind knows damn well that most of the “studies” and “some people believe”s and vague anecdotal evidence are pretty bogus…. these are still voices that you don’t want echoing through your mind when you are lying awake in the middle of the night and full of self-doubts. When I read stories like this and this and (oh my God) this, it made me feel strongly that the best course of action was to just not buy any damn breastfeeding books, period—like, why should I spend good money on something that might well end up sitting in my house making me feel crap about myself? And I felt quite annoyed about this—I mean, I wanted a book that would tell me about mastitis, and different types of hold, and care of the nipples and all that kind of thing. I’m a bookworm—when I want to do something, I like to have a book to tell me how.

So… are there any books out there that actually do, like, tell you about breastfeeding, without making formula sound like the Baby’s R Us equivalent of rat poison, and without making it sound like you can only breastfeed if you give birth without drugs and wear your child in a sling every second of the day (except when in the Family Bed, of course)? If there is, I want to know what it is, so I can read it, recommend it and generally promote the hell out of it.

Is there a sensible breastfeeding book in the house?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nightweaning thoughts

I just had a "first": Baby Seal was fussing and crying as I held her in the living room and offered her the breast. Then all of a sudden, she looked across the room and smiled. She had seen her daddy, and she stretched out her little fat arms to be picked up by him and played with. It's at moments like this that I have to pull myself up and remind myself that I'm no longer nursing a newborn. She has grown into a "big little girl"; not just her size and her heaviness but in the things she does, I can already see hints of the toddler she is going to be before long. Nevertheless, there is one aspect in which Baby Seal is still very much a baby: she is still up twice a night to be fed. And in the last weeks or so, the "thoughts of the late-night nurser" have begun to turn towards nightweaning.

When she was very little, nightwakings were normal because, well, she was little. Then she started sleeping through the night at about four months! Yes! Except that a week later we went to the UK with an eight-hour time difference, and we got all messed up. A baby can't be expected to sleep through when she's jetlagged, after all. Or when her mother's milk is jetlagged, for that matter. And then, well, she's growing and growing, and hardly eating any solids. She needs the calories. And so on.

That said, a week ago I did what I usually do when I need a reality check: picked up my Sleep Lady book (Kim West) and had a look at the "Six to Eight Months" section. The Sleep Lady was merciless: "The overwhelming odds are that the main reason your baby still gets up in search of breast or bottle is that you allow it!" Ouch.

So, over the past week I have started the process of slooooowly shuffling towards nightweaning (with the aim of being done by about nine months), following Kim West's suggestion of reducing the length of the breastfeeds at night--the idea being that they will switch their calorie intake round to daytime, and eventually decide that it isn't worth waking up at night for nursies. So far she is still up twice, but has indeed managed to fall asleep after just a couple of minutes on the breast, and is eating a little more food in the daytime (which makes me suspect that Kim West was indeed right, and that she was filling up too much at night, rather than interrupt her play for boring old food in the daytime).

I'll see how this goes and report! One of the reasons I decided to start this blog was that I felt that there was a lack of sane and supportive online resources for breastfeeding mothers wanting to nightwean before toddlerhood. I already knew it was no use going to Kellymom for advice as I can practically feel the finger wagging just thinking about it.

Breastfeeding Without BS

Welcome to the blog--a blog which I hope will be a source of information and discussion about sane and sensible breastfeeding. In future posts I'll be sharing my thoughts about breastfeeding, formula feeding and everything in between. I'll also be talking about my six-month-old Baby Seal, who I've been nursing for about half a year now (Wow, where has the time gone?).