Tuesday, 29 June 2010

"Blundell-gate" My views on THAT editorial.

There has been much furore this week over the Guardian article Breastfeeding is creepy, says parenting magazine in it's discussion of Kathryn Blundell's editorial in (of all places) Mother and Baby Magazine entitled I Formula Fed - So What? Not least because in an age where health professionals and hospitals are striving to win "Breastfeeding Friendly" accreditation this personal rant comes in a respected magazine aimed at the mass mothering market, and in Breastfeeding Awareness Week for maximum impact.

As discussed eloquently here my gripe is that once again the myths surrounding breastfeeding are clouding the real issue here and precipitating the age old breast v bottle debate. Breastfeeding does NOT make your breasts sag, pregnancy does and even if it did surely that is the reason women have them in the first place? Whilst we persist to deliberate over the either/or decision we lose sight of the salient fact, that breastfeeding is what nature intended, what is without any doubt is best for all babies unless there are other issues present which alter this.

Now before everyone jumps down my throat, I'm not a "breastfeeding nazi", and I recognise the role formula feeding has in modern society. I only breastfed my eldest for six weeks due to poor advice and his severe reflux and the prospect of returning to full-time work after a mere twelve weeks post delivery. (The latter a statutory requirement then.) It was the right decision for us then, I challenge anyone to say otherwise. I did have several "friends" in the NCT then who would indeed qualify for the above status and wrote an article "When Breast Isn't Best" for their magazine - which to their credit they published.

But, and this is the key point in my eyes, I assumed breastfeeding was the norm, what I intended to do and gave it my best shot. (With better advice and in different circumstances i might have succeeded too.) Never did I assume I would bottle feed my baby and no threats of sagging breasts of lack of alcohol would have persuaded me otherwise.

Over the years I have known many mothers who needed to bottle feed - due to maternal medication, ill health both physical and mental, ridiculous working hours, and infant health issues like the dreaded Reflux which all my children have suffered with. Formula feeding when appropriate should then be embraced as a modern miracle, a way of safely feeding a precious baby who centuries ago in some of these circumstances would have perished.

But as a first choice with no major influencing factors?

The myths are bad enough - when our twins were tiny and failing to thrive the number of doctors who genuinely believed that formula feeding was the way to go concerned me, not least because they were ignorant of the possible benefits and were therefore unable to make a balanced decision. (They were more concerned with measuring formula and weighing babies like those who recommended a family friend express then bottle feed her premature baby to ensure she received enough milk. I mean, seriously, can you not tell when a baby is or is not thriving?) The sad fact with our twins and many others with reflux is that it is all too often exacerbated or even caused by food allergies and intolerances, and a diet of only breastmilk until six months of age as recommended by the World Health Organisation is one of the very best ways to try and reduce the chances of a baby developing such issues. My youngest son was fed a top-up of formula in hospital and that single exposure precipitated a severe dairy allergy which might have been avoided. Yet despite being armed with as much factual information as possible I was still viewed as extremist and eccentric by the health professionals caring for my babies!

What I am trying to get across here is that viewing what nature intended, what is best in every way for a baby in normal circumstances and is supported by the international health community as eccentric really should shock! We as a nation would never accept removing all newborn puppies from their mother and choosing to bottle feed them cat milk as an equal option to their mother's milk and neither should we have this view for humans!

Until we in the UK start embracing breastfeeding as the norm rather than one of two equal choices, with totally acceptable alternatives when the need really does arise which are respected and supported then we are still going to have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. The language of breastfeeding of breastfeeding needs to change.

Kathryn Blundell's rant in Mother and Baby magazine endorses myth and misunderstanding, playing into the hands of the "have it all" brigade. It marginalises the campaign to promote breastfeeding as a ram-it-down-your-throat propaganda attempt (no pun intended!) rather than a drive to inform and promote understanding.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The most Amazing Feeling.

Today my son became an asset. Not a problem to be fixed, overcome or ignored but a positive and beneficial contributor. How good does that feel? Even better to him than it does to me, and that's saying something!

H's new school would so far appear to be one of the very best things to happen to him in his life so far. I only hope this continues! It started with the Holiday Club and Wraparound Care (Breakfast Club) telling me additional support really wasn't required and Harry was welcome to attend as many sessions as we (or he) wanted. Not only were they completely "unfazed" by meltdowns and tantrums, insecurities and possible running away attempts, they actually think Harry is good fun, has a wicked sense of humour and barely noteworthy in the challenge stakes.

Now we *know* this is not always the case, given a different environment, different staff with less experience etc it would likely be a very different scenario. As a family with two adults we struggle on outings at the best of times and until recently rarely attempted them. Snide remarks from ignorant members of the public do eventually grind you down! But how completely liberating to be told your child is "one of many" and "not a problem", I just cannot describe how good that makes me feel.

Today H had the first of four short visits to his new school. They met him at the Office, welcomed him, had a visual welcome book ready and an allocated SEN supporter for him. He clung to Richard, overwhelmed despite a previous visit until he spotted a friend from their Holiday Club we had sent him to in Half Term for this very reason. And the school KNEW this and put him in the SAME CLASS as this friend to help him settle in! After one short hour, Richard collected him, a happy grinning child who LOVES the new school and cannot wait for September. Even better, the school are so impressed with HIM and he's going in with a "gifted" label rather than a "problem" one.

I'm grinning all over my face as I type. His current school have been really supportive, this is not written in condemnation because they have faced a steep learning curve over the past 4 years - and so have we. That mountainous curve has been a hard climb but we must be somewhere near the summit if only in terms of understanding his current needs having picked and fought for his new school.

My son. Wanted, welcomed and viewed for his positive attributes whilst supported in his additional needs. Love it.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The "Science" of Childcare - the scourge of modern society.

As the coalition attempts to get to grips with tackling this country's enormous deficit inevitably Welfare and Education are among the front runners for intense scrutiny.

I doubt many of us would question a general spending overhaul in all government departments, the growth of management level employees over the past 10 or more years has been exponential and excessive. But what I as a parent, former teacher and Registered Childminder would most like to see is an admission that the patchwork that is the Children's Plan has stupendously failed to improve opportunities for children from less well-off families (Jill Kirby Telegraph 11th June), and that "learning outcomes" for children are no better with the blinkered focus on quantifying and measuring learning and achievement using the six learning areas and 69 goals every child should achieve by the age of five.

For me, it has always been obvious that children learn best when they are valued, loved, happy, interested and encouraged. Giving them opportunities and supporting their curiosity is of paramount importance, not photographing and recording their every action as evidence of progress and attainment. I’ve seen teachers carrying around digital cameras and post-it notes constantly so as not to miss anything they need to record rather than focussing on their vocational task in hand and found it quite distasteful. It is degrading for teacher’s to justify their professional recordings in this way, akin to a GP having to photograph each patient and add a note of conversations and discussions to support each prescription. Or the surgeon having to stop mid- operation to photograph each step and justify his action and the patient's progress! Totally absurd but a product of the gradual attrition of the professional qualifications of all who teach and care for children. Is it any wonder there is a national shortage of suitably qualified teachers and the job has become so much more about recording and pen pushing than actual teaching that those with the best teaching qualities are no longer attracted to the profession? And childminders are apparently quitting at the rate of 12 per day, small wonder perhaps when a trip to the park becomes another day of box- ticking and self-justification?

What is it with our obsession with making all that should be intuitive and spontaneous into a science? 

A friend with a premature baby was recently told she should keep expressing all her daughter's feeds so she could record exactly how much milk the child drank. What on earth FOR? If the child is thriving and producing plenty of wet nappies then intake is irrelevant and expressing potentially damaging since it fails to stimulate milk supply like a baby feeding. A different issue but another good example with our obsession with quantifying, measuring and recording!

What we are losing at an alarming rate in this country is the ability to trust our human instinct and intuition, as mothers, carers and professionals. 

The money wasted on this is shocking. There is no evidence that Every Child Matters has done more than generate a phenomenal amount of training, paperwork and stress for professionals whilst they are distracted from interacting , caring and nurturing those in their care. Records matter, but professionals should be able to write them without focussing on collecting evidence every second of the day.

In our drive for efficiency and frugality in the cuts ahead let's take this golden opportunity to reassess and reevaluate what really matters to our children. This requires far less financial input and reinstates the professionalism of those working with children. It would recognise the all-important ingredients for happy, thriving individuals in all arenas and form the building blocks of happy successful adults.

As human beings we need to be loved, nurtured and respected. Children should have opportunities to succeed and progress but no amount of tick boxes and performance indicators can guarantee this. Unless there is good reason for greater scrutiny on an individual basis attempting to mechanise a child's development is costly and superficial at best, at worst it undermines professionals and prevents them from doing what they do best- caring for our children.
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