Monday, 17 March 2014

Breastfeeding, Bottle-feeding, and Balance

I want to start by saying that I actually never thought I would exclusively breastfeed. Maybe it’s because I know that my husband, who is a healthy, contributing member of society, was never breastfed. And I was only breastfed for 3 months because something happened to my mom’s milk after that time. I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding though. There are many real benefits to it. When people asked me if I planned on breastfeeding, my answer was always “If I can, I will.” Nonetheless, I picked up a bit of formula to have on hand, just in case.

Fortunately, breastfeeding came easily to my son and I. I successfully breastfed for about 8 months and loved growing my stash of frozen breastmilk in the freezer once I got the hang of pumping. But from the time Sebastian was 4 days old, he got at least one bottle-feed a day. And, to be clear, by bottle-feeding I do mean either breastmilk or formula. I don’t regret it, and I would do it again.

Being a mom is hard. Honestly, it’s the hardest freakin’ thing I’ve ever done. The moments in my life where I have been at my lowest both physically and mentally are the same moments where my brain and body were in near-constant demand from a newborn. There is a reason the saying, “It takes a village…” is so popular. It's because it’s true. And Rob enjoyed feeding S; both because he got to spend time with him, and because he knew he was helping me rest and recover.  Balance. It’s a beautiful thing.

If bottle-feeding, either exclusively or just as a supplementary feed in the day, enabled me to be just a little more rested and a little bit happier, then why wouldn’t I do it? If it paid off significant dividends and allowed me to be a little more present with my son, essentially making me a better mom, then why would I keep that from coming between S and I? I firmly believe that happy, healthy moms make happy, healthy babies. 

You don’t need my permission to bottle-feed, but I’m giving it to you anyways. 

I want to share two personal stories that support what I’m trying to say.

Seb was born on a Tuesday night. Due to a couple not-overly-serious complications, we didn’t leave the hospital until Friday morning. One of the complications was that about 36 hours after Sebastian was born, I started to have extremely severe nausea and vomiting. I remember sitting in my hospital bed vomiting with one hand into one of those kidney basins and breastfeeding with another hand. Rob begged the nurses for a bottle, but they refused. We were at an official ‘breastfeeding hospital’ and there was no way we were going to be permitted to bottlefeed in that maternity ward. Eventually, I was given an Ativan to help me sleep between feeds, and the nausea subsided.

The day after we finally came home, I was back in emerg with the same nausea and vomiting. I was given ondansetron (an anti-nausea drug given to chemo patients), and it did little to help me. The best guess anyone could come up with was that it was my body’s reaction to both stress and a lack of sleep. I will never forget the doctor in the emergency room who came and sat beside Rob and I and said, “I know I would get in trouble for telling you this, but you should let your husband do a feed. It won’t hurt your baby at all, and it will help you get better.”

The second story happened about 7 months later.

I had started going to a postpartum depression group once a week. In this group there were about 10 women, and a social worker and a PPD psychiatrist ran the group. The women in this group each had a different story. Different reasons why they were struggling. For some of them, it was breastfeeding. I met women (both in this group and outside of it) plagued with guilt because no matter how many doctors they saw, lactation specialists they visited, breastfeeding clinics they attended, they just couldn’t breastfeed. And on the other side, there were women who could breastfeed but didn’t want to do it anymore. They wanted help with the feedings. They wanted to wean but couldn’t because they felt too guilty. They felt they ‘should’ be breastfeeding because they were able to. I was included in this latter group. S was over 7 months old, and I was getting tired of nursing. It wasn’t a huge bonding experience for me like it is for some women; I felt S and I bonded way more when we played together, read together, and cuddled together. The social worker asked us directly, “Why are you still breastfeeding?” to which we replied, “Because we’re supposed to.” She and the psychiatrist both made it very clear and provided us with literature like this that said we were absolutely not “supposed to” if we didn’t want to. I don’t doubt for a minute that S didn’t pick up on my stress about this, and I regret that. I could have made changes earlier.

The number of women I know who faced some kind of challenge with breastfeeding is really high. Either women who have gone to the ends of the earth to get nursing to work for them, or women who were struggling with PPD and needed the extra support. And these are intelligent, educated women. They want to breastfeed. They know it is good for their babies, and for them. I think in Canada we feel even more pressure to breastfeed because of our generous maternity leave. We think it should be easier to breastfeed and nurse given we don’t have to go back to work for a year. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can only play the hand we’ve been given. And it may not be as easy as it seems from the outside.

One of the mommy-friends I’ve met since S was born happens to be a labour and delivery nurse at one of the largest hospitals in Canada. Her second baby was born around the same time as S, and I would often pick her brain about various baby-related questions. She told me that she struggled with nursing and regrets trying so long to breastfeed her first baby. She said for 5 months, she was basically starving her underweight, premature son because she couldn’t breastfeed well. She tried breastfeeding for about 3 weeks with her second baby and then switched exclusively to formula.

One of the best articles I’ve seen on breastfeeding and bottlefeeding is called Formula Isn’t Poison: Breastfeeding Propaganda Is. It’s not that long, but it’s to the point. It’s time to stop the guilt, pressure, and judgment associated with any suggestion that doesn’t include exclusively breastfeeding. We say that women ‘choose’ to breastfeed or formula feed, but if we’re being honest, there is no choice here. If you formula feed in any way, many people in our society have decided that you are lower on the motherhood totem pole, which is hard enough to climb as it is. I fortunately surrounded myself with like-minded friends and moms, and we supported (and continue to support) each other through our choices and challenges.

So, am I pro-breastfeeding? Yup. Am I pro-bottle-feeding? Yup. I support providing a nurturing home full of love, laughter, and all the milk a little baby could ask for. But it is only by truly being free of guilt and judgment that we will be strong and confident moms. I’m not saying it’s easy. I am guilty of quietly letting judgment pass through my mind at one point or another. But I try to force these thoughts from my mind just as quickly as they come, because I don’t know her story. I don’t know her baby’s story. And more than likely, she needs my supportive smile more than my silent critique of her parenting.


Tuesday, 11 March 2014

What's On My Parenting Bookshelf?

There have been many days when I have wanted to scream in frustration at the parenting books on our bookshelves. Days when I have wanted to throw them out the window and burn them in effigy.

Yet, despite those moments, there have been many times that these books have also been helpful. It can be nice to get tips from someone who has already been in your shoes and hear what helpful to them.

Here are the parenting books I've found useful so far...


1. The Survival Guide for Rookie Moms: Things you need to know that no one ever tells you - This was a good book to read for the newborn to age 1 stage. It's full of practical, helpful, around-the-house advice and isn't bogged down with medical terms. I believe this one is unfortunately out of print, so check your library or used books on Amazon.

2. Happy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child -This was the main sleep book I read. I generally really liked their suggestions and advice. As for the sleep training itself, we did the graduated extension/Ferber method that is detailed more clearly in this book.

3. When Baby Brings the Blues - When I was going through PPD my doctor recommended this book to me. I felt better reading it because I could see so many of the feelings that plagued me written down on paper by an expert. It was comforting, acknowledging the difficult parts of motherhood and finding ways to make it better.

4. Last Child in the Woods - I loved this author's heartfelt plea to bring our children back into nature.

5. The Rookie Mom's Handbook: 250 Activities to do with (and without) your baby - The Rookie Mom's website was a godsend during my mat leave. This book includes many of the mom and baby activities described on their blog and would make a cute gift for a first-time mom.

6. It's a Boy - I was nervous about having a boy. I grew up with a sister, so I somehow decided that meant I had no idea what to do with a baby boy. A friend of mine, who was also nervous about having a boy, recommended this book, and I have enjoyed reading about my son's development.

7. Gymboree 1001 Fun Ways to Play - Seb and I went to Gymboree classes for nearly the whole year I was on mat leave. It's not easy to figure out what to do with a 2-month-old; they don't exactly have a ton of suggestions. This book is chock-full of things to do with any little one, newborn to age 5.



Confessions of a Domestic Failure by a novel by the hilarious and relatable Bunmi Laditan. She's also the voice behind The Honest Toddler. Confessions of a Domestic Failure is the story of one mom trying to find her way through raising a newborn while faced with all of the challenges and trends of modern motherhood. Get ready to laugh and nod your head through this one!

Science of Parenthood  by Norine Dworkin-MacDaniel and Jessica Ziegler mixes science and humour to explain all of the mysteries of parenting. This is a super cute book. You can read more about it and take a peek at some of the pages here.


The Unofficial Guide to Surviving Life With Boys is a collection of 35 heartwarming and hilarious stories about raising boys. I am so proud to have an essay in this anthology, and I firmly believe that any mom would enjoy the relatable anecdotes in this book. You can read more about it, and about the essay I contributed, here.

Did I miss any of your favourites? What is a parenting book that you've found helpful? Or any that you found particularly UNhelpful? The Mother of All Pregnancy Books by Ann Douglas did nothing but terrify the crap out of me, so that's not one I'd recommend.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Beta Sigma Phi

5 years ago I joined a sorority. It's not your typical sorority. Think less drunken-frat-party and more women's social group. The sorority I belong to is called Beta Sigma Phi. I grew up with this sorority in my life because my mom has been a member for over 25 years.  Twice a month my mom would go out to sorority, and I remember being forced to stay upstairs with my sister and dad whenever it was my mom's turn to host her group. We moved around a lot while I was growing up, always because of my dad's job. Each time we moved, my mom would find the local Beta Sigma Phi chapter and instantly be surrounded and supported by new friends, new sisters.  Now that I have joined a Toronto chapter, I completely understand why this was, and is still, so important to my mom. I have met some women through this chapter that are now my closest friends, and some are even more than just friends, they really are sisters to me. They are the ones I text when I have exciting new to share, or the ones that surround me with love during dark days. I honestly don't know what I would do without them. 

With my sorority sister/cousin Marlene.

My cousin is also a member and when she blogged about our group, she did a great job of describing how it works, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought I'd just share with you what she says about Beta Sigma Phi. "The Coles Notes version is that its structured like a sorority, we have rituals, we have chapters, we even have a secret handshake, but we aren’t affiliated with a school, and we skip out on the hazing. We meet the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month. We call our first meeting “the business meeting” We discuss any new updates or city council announcements and than the hostess (we rotate homes every month) comes up with a program. The program is usually a fun craft or a presentation to teach us something new. Our second meeting is “the social” and the hostess that month comes up with a social outing in the city.  The sorority motto is life, learning and friendship and although sometimes I giggle at how cheesy some of the traditions are, hanging out with with my sorority sisters is always a fun time."

Here are a couple of the programs we've done recently:

Making our own gratitude journal Adding our favourite quotes to mugs

And our most recent social outing was to Skyzone!

A couple of times a year we hold city-wide events where we meet up and mingle with the women from other chapters in the city. This can be interesting because many of the women in the other chapters in Toronto are quite a bit older than me, so it's fun to hear their stories and memories. Some of these women have been in sorority and are still best friends longer than I've even been alive.

One other part of sorority, one of my favourite parts actually, are the secret sisters. At the beginning of each year, we are assigned a 'secret sister' and it's pretty much a secret santa that runs all year long. Rather than feeling you need to get birthday gifts or Christmas gifts for each sorority sister, you just take care of your secret sister and then at the end of the year we try and guess who had our name. My secret sister knows me well because these were my Valentine's Day treats from her.

So tomorrow night is sorority night, and I'm looking forward to it as always. It forces me to take a break from my list of things to do and spend a couple of hours with my girls, which is so good for my mental health.

If you are interested in learning more about Beta Sigma Phi in your area (there are about 200 000 members worldwide) then you can contact the International organization here, or you can also contact me if you have any questions!

PS - Here's me and my mama when she was received recognition for her 25 year commitment to sorority. She is also one of my sorority sisters :) Thank you mom, for passing this wonderful gift onto me. xoxox