Sunday, 31 July 2011

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Virgin Gut: a note for parents

Have you heard of the virgin gut? If you have, you either dismissed it as too pretentious, or if you’re like me, it became the bane of your life (at least for the first 6 months of parenthood). There is no middle ground in VirginGutVille. If you’re wondering how a gut could be a virgin and whether this means that a non-virgin gut is a slut gut because you have no idea what I’m talking about, worry not. I didn’t learn of the virgin gut until my first child was well into babyhood.

What is the Virgin Gut?

The gut of a baby is immunologically and microbiologically naive at birth. In non-fancy speak: it is near-sterile (Palmer et al 2007; Reinhardt 2009). Another important characteristic of the newborn gut is that, until around 6 months of age, it is "open". This means the spaces between the cells of the small intestine will allow large molecules to pass directly into their bloodstream. Consequently, as well as the beneficial antibodies in breastmilk passing into baby's bloodstream, allergy-triggering proteins from other foods, disease-causing pathogens and other nasties can also pass through.

Perhaps the most interesting fact of all is that you are, at best, only 10 percent human. The rest of you is made up of bacterial cells. There are 10-100 trillion bacterial cells in your gut. More than 1000 different species and 7000 different strains. These gut flora are an "invisible pillar of human health" (Williams 2013). Research has pinpointed infant feeding as a key determinant of which bacteria set up shop in your baby's gut. Diet provides nutrients for the maintenance and growth of bacterial communities and acts as a selective factor for differential bacterial colonization (Blaut and Clavel, 2007; Edwards and Parrett, 2002). If breastmilk is all that has ever entered baby’s gut, it retains much of its sterility and is often referred to as a “virgin gut”. Antibodies and other constituents of breastmilk create this unique environment (Wade 2010Current Nutrition & Food Science 2012Molecular & Cellular Proteomics 2012).

“Mother’s milk, being the only mammalian food shaped by natural selection, is the Rosetta stone
for all food,” said Bruce German, a food scientist at the University of California. “And what it’s telling us is that when natural selection creates a food, it is concerned not just with feeding the child but the child’s gut bugs too.”

For instance, some of the sugars found in breastmilk promote the development of a substance called Lactobacillus bifidus, which makes the gut more acidic, thus helping to stop harmful bacteria from growing. Another substance found in breastmilk - Lactoferrin - binds with iron in your baby, thus starving harmful bacteria of the iron they need to multiply.

Furthermore, recent research has linked a component of breast milk called oligosaccharides (HMO for short) to the maintenance of the perfect virgin gut. Here's how it works: when HMO passes to the large intestines it produces short-chain fatty acids which beneficial bacteria feed on. This helps to maintain a healthy population of microbial in the infant's intestines.

But wait! It gets even more interesting: "As the baby grows older and its digestive patterns change, the breast milk automatically regulates the bacterial levels to maintain a healthy balance that suits the baby's evolving needs" (Khalfan Al Ghazal 2012). Numerous studies back this up (Zivkovic et al 2011Sela et al 2008Liepke 2002). For instance, one study found at 1 month of age, beneficial bacteria (in particular, the Bifidobacteria strain) were more prevalent and present in higher numbers among exclusively breastfed babies than their formula-fed or mixed-fed counterparts (Penders et. al 2006). These beneficial bacteria strengthen the immune system so that in the long term it can fend off chronic health problems like food allergies and asthma (Donovan 2012; Chapkin 2012). The virgin gut is indeed, so important, that Peggy Neville, one of the foremost researchers on human milk and several other major scholars in their recently released "blue paper" asserted that it is "likely to be a critical determinant of infant immune function" (Neville et al 2012). Other researchers agree:

“The initial colonisation of the intestine is a moment of pivotal importance in long-term health, playing a profound role in imprinting of immune and systematic homeostasis” (Russel 2006).

“The nature of mucosal microflora acquired in early infancy has been proven to be critical in the determination of mucosal immune response and tolerance (Gronlund et al 2000; Ogra and Welliver 2008).”

A lasting legacy

Despite ‘losing’ their virgin gut when solids are introduced at 6 months, a child will carry on reaping the benefits. A recent comparison of babies from five different European sites revealed that, while infant microfloral composition changed within 1 month of the introduction of solid foods, pre-weaning feeding type had a persistent effect on colonization (Fallani et al., 2011).

If you’re a combined feeder, look away now.

Here comes the killer fact. Only small amounts of formula or solid foods cause a shift that destroys the virgin gut environment, changing acidity and destroying the immunoglobulins that coat mucosal surfaces making them more permeable. “Just one formula supplement per 24 hours will result in an almost immediate shift from breastfed to formula-fed gut flora - in which good bacteria (Bifidobacteria) are no longer dominant” (Mackie et al 1999; Penders et al 2006). Bacteria, endotoxins - which are the toxic byproducts of certain bacteria - and proteins slip into the bloodstream, thereby causing the body’s immune system to mount a response. This resulting low-grade inflammation, which affects the entire body, may lead over time to metabolic syndrome and a number of the chronic diseases that have been linked to it (Pollan 2013). In other words, your baby is more prone to develop allergies later on as their gut has become 'sensitized' (Lim 2009). The process has been described as follows:

“Infant formula contains milk proteins which strip the gut of its flora leaving it wide open to allergens. The milk proteins themselves are allergens and are able to pass freely into the baby’s bloodstream, so susceptible babies will react with common allergies such as asthma and eczema. Not all babies will be susceptible, but for those that are the invasion of allergens at such a young age can cause lifelong battles with allergies.”

That foreign/non-breastmilk proteins damage a young baby's immature gut was noted by the BBC in a 2007 article about HIV transmission. Babies of mothers in developing countries who did not exclusively breastfeed were almost 11 times more likely to acquire the infection. "This higher risk is due to the larger, more complex proteins which may lead to greater damage to the lining of the stomach, allowing the virus to pass through the gut wall" (BBC).

Exclusively breastfed babies have denser colonization and greater proportions of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus (Edwards and Parrett, 2002; Guarner and Malagelada, 2003; Orrhage and Nord, 1999; Palmer et al., 2007). Introducing formula (even one bottle) produces a shift towards a more complex microbiota with greater proportions of Bacteroides, Clostridium, and Enterobacteria (Marques et al., 2010; Orrhage and Nord, 1999; Vael and Desager, 2009). Whole colonies of healthy bacteria are wiped out and replaced by a spike in pathogenic bacteria. These differences are shown in the table below:

Table from Thompson 2012.

More recently, researchers from Duke University grew bacteria in samples of infant formulas, cow's milk and breast milk. The infant formulas and the cow's milk were incubated with two strains of E. coli bacteria – helpful cousins to the dangerous organisms associated with food poisoning. Within minutes, the bacteria began multiplying in all of the specimens, but there was an immediate difference in the way the bacteria grew. In the breast milk, bacteria stuck together to form biofilms - thin, adherent layers of bacteria that serve as a shield against pathogens and infections. Bacteria in the infant formula and cow's milk proliferated wildly, but it grew as individual organisms that did not aggregate to form a protective barrier (Current Nutrition & Food Science 2012; Yong 2014).

Clostridium difficile
Other studies have shown that babies introduced to formula have an over representation of 'Clostridium difficile', a bacteria that often causes severe diarrhea and other intestinal disease (Azad 2013) and pathogens such as Bacteroides fragilis (Penders et. al 2006).

Even more shockingly, recent research has revealed that formula actually causes cell death, whereas unsurprisingly breast milk does not. In the study, cells that line the intestine and blood vessels, along with white blood cells that control inflammation caused by trauma, were virtually eliminated during the process of digesting formula (you can read the study here).

How to recover your baby's gut

However, before you reach for the hangman’s noose, all is not lost. "Virgin" gut seems to suggest that once a baby’s gut has lost its virginity it can never get it back. This is misleading as such acute sensitivity only applies to the first seven days of life. Providing you gave your baby formula after this time, “if breastmilk is given exclusively again, thereafter it would take 2-4 weeks for the intestinal environment to return again to a state favouring Grampositive Flora” (Brown & Bosworth; Gerstley, Howell, Nagel). In other words, you can repair your baby’s gut if, like me, you ignorantly administered a formula top-up or two.

Repairing your baby’s gut requires reshaping the community of species in his or her gut. This is done through several weeks of exclusive breastfeeding. This means no water, formula or other complimentary foods. The Department of Health, Word Health Organisation and Unicef recommend maintaining the virgin gut for six months, after which solids can be introduced.

So let’s assume you’re a bona fide Alpha Parent and have maintained your baby’s virgin gut. Firstly, hark at you! I salute you. Secondly, be smug. It’s no mean feat exclusively breastfeeding when everyone around you (in-laws, friends, health visitors) are pressuring you with formula top-ups, juice and boiled water, as well as cracking open the wallpaper paste baby rice whenever a growth spurt threatens a night’s sleep. However you may be wondering that if one bottle of formula is enough to ruin the virgin gut, what about the administration of medicine? What about everyday substances that baby may come into contact with such as a gulp of bath water?

What about Calpol?

Or infacol or gripe water?

Some commentators argue that Calpol is of equal danger to formula measure for measure. However as baby isn’t given 200ml of Calpol at a time (I hope!) then formula is much more detrimental to the virgin gut than the odd 2.5ml/5ml of Calpol.

Other commentators maintain that only items containing foreign proteins or enzymes will damage the virgin gut. This is because only they penetrate the gaps between the cells of the wall of the intestines. Calpol, Infacol and the like are designed so they pass through the system unabsorbed (unlike milk protein) so technically they don't count.

Either way, the general consensus is that Calpol and other medicines do not ruin a baby’s virgin gut. The Word Health Organisation's definition of exclusive breastfeeding allows for vitamins, minerals and medicine.

However, Calpol has other problems. As a product, it contains E numbers which can trigger eczema in sensitive children. In fact, some forms of Calpol have been banned in the UK. An alternative to Calpol is soluble Disprol which is essentially pure paracetamol sans the pink additives.

What about dust, particles of soap, etc?

When I originally discovered the virgin gut theory my first thought was “I fail at life”. My second thought was “this is tripe”. Babies are constantly sucking on (not very clean) things and ingesting random items. I wondered whether the virgin gut research used a definition that meant “never had formula” or was it “never had anything but breastmilk”. Because if was the latter then it would be virtually impossible to guarantee and control between babies across any study. As a Mumsnet user elegantly put it, “I think my son's downfall was the day I caught him licking the dog.”

The answer to this conundrum is a fascinating one. Breastmilk flushes out viruses, bacteria, particles of dirt, and other small microbes while at the same time lining the gut to protect it against allergens and infections until it closes up at around 6 months. Anything other than breastmilk (dust, particles of soap et al) will affect the virgin gut but the breastmilk will then re-coat the gut afterwards. This re-coating process may take a few hours or weeks depending on the quantity of foreign product ingested.

Several research studies have agreed, maintaining that diet (whether or formula or breastmilk) has a dominant role over other possible variables such sanitation, hygiene, geography, and climate, in the rise and fall of the virgin gut (De Filippo et al 2010).

So ultimately, how important is the virgin gut?

The idea of virginity, aka a clean slate, appeals to the Alpha Parent in us. It provokes perfectionist tendencies. Hands up if you have ever been on a diet and refused a potato chip because it would ruin your fat-free clean slate. Even though one chip would not damage your diet, there is a compelling drive to be flawless.

If a baby is born into a family with a history of allergies, their parents may want to pay particular heed to the virgin gut theory. Research suggests a link between the virgin gut and a lower incidence of allergies and food sensitivities. The theory is that the porous nature of the immature gut allows irritants to go straight through and cause a life-long over-reaction whenever that substance is encountered. Thus, just one bottle of formula can sensitize babies who may be allergic to cow's milk protein or soy protein. However, for the vast majority of babies, the idea of virginity is far less important than a baby's general health and comfort.

The significance of the virgin gut for you will depend on your family’s unique circumstances. When gauging its importance firstly consider the age of your baby - the value of the virgin gut diminishes with age. Next consider the amount of foreign substance introduced - 2.5mls disturbs gut flora to a much less degree than 6oz. Then consider what substance is introduced - water has less of an impact than Calpol; formula is an ideal growth medium for bad bacteria, and is consequently high risk. Next consider the potential for the substance to trigger allergy. Few people are allergic to water, but many people are intolerant of cow's milk. Finally consider necessity. If you are in the minority that need to top-up with formula for medical reasons (preemie baby or insufficient breast glandular tissue for example), the virgin gut can be sidelined. The situation is a matter of risk versus benefit analysis.

Always remember that failing to maintain the perfect virgin gut does not negate the bulk of breastfeeding benefits. Any amount of breastmilk, aka liquid gold, is significantly better than none.

For further information on the virgin gut, I urge you to read this article: “Just One Bottle Won’t Hurt” - or Will It?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Saturday, 23 July 2011

You Know You're Trying To Conceive When...

  1. When everyone in the house knows what the plastic cups are for.
  2. When you repeatedly look at your chart during the day, as if the temps may magically change.
  3. When you can't sleep at night because you know tomorrow's temp is the MOST IMPORTANT temperature you'll take all cycle.
  4. When you check your cervical position and cervical mucus as often as you check your email.
  5. When all you want in the world is to gain an extra 30Ibs and feel uncomfortable, tired, emotional and sick for a whole 9 months.
  6. When you talk using mysterious acronyms that only your TTC buddies understand: TTC, BD, EWCM, BBT, OPK, 2WW (HINT: click here to view their meanings).
  7. When you buy 30 HPTs on eBay for three pounds because it’s a good deal, and hey, you can test every day!
  8. When your OPK comes up +, you cancel all social engagements so you can BD and lie with your legs elevated and bum up in the air afterwards.
  9. When you drink illegal doses of cough syrup a few hours before sex because maybe it will help your cervical fluids out.
  10. When you’ve promised yourself that “this month you aren’t going to stress about it or think about it” but you know that is completely impossible to achieve even as you’re saying it.
  11. When you’ve read every last article on Google as to why you might not be pregnant, and have a possible treatment plan to present to your doctor in addition to your charts and graphs.
  12. When the only muscle you stir first thing in the morning is your arm muscle, to reach for the basal thermometer so you can test your temperature.
  13. When the big 'O' refers to ovulation rather than orgasm.
  14. When every twinge is a potential sign: ovulation pain OR perhaps implantation.
  15. When your OH tells you that you 'look pregnant' and you're ecstatic rather than offended.
  16. When the checkout lady looks at you funny as you check out with tampons and HPTs at the same time.
  17. When you find ways to secretly touch your breasts in public to see if they’re sore.
  18. When your breasts ARE sore but not because of your hormones but because you have been squishing them like play dough.
  19. When you touch your breasts more than your OH does.
  20. When for the first time in your life, you take the plunge into the unknown to feel your area where only your gyno has gone before!
  21. When your morning motto is: "Don't talk to me until I've taken my temp".
  22. When you take your temp more than once a day.
  23. When you refuse to finish decorating that 3rd bedroom in your house, because you can't stand the thought of getting it just the way you want it only to have to tear it apart next month in order to make room for the nursery you'll be needing.
  24. When you spend more on OPKs, HPTs, and fertility supplements than you do on clothes.
  25. When the thought of nausea makes your heart skip a beat.
  26. When you gravitate towards the HPT, OPK isle in every store.
  27. When you try to find OPK's in every single store in hopes it you'll find them cheaper than where you've been buying them.
  28. When you suffer silently from Infertility Vision (IV) - defined as the ability to see pink lines that nobody else can see. It's a very common condition among POASers during the days leading up to the official test day. Research is still being done, but at present there is no cure for it.
  29. When you refer to sex as BDing and only do it in positions that are gravity-friendly.
  30. When you stare at your nipples, scrutinising if they are darker/bigger/bumpier/harder than usual! (and really, they're just the same as they always were...)
  31. When every time you need a wee you wonder if it's worth POAS and which kind to use?
  32. When you start testing the ph level of your Pre-Seed, just to make sure it's still in the right zone for sperm protection.
  33. When your first thought when a friend tells you they feel sick is “That b**** better not be pregnant”.
  34. When your http:// window autocompletes fertilityfriend as soon as you type "www".
  35. When you pee in the toilet, and just pee... it feels wrong that you're not peeing IN or ON something.
  36. When you get up in the morning and pee without thinking. Then freak out when you realized you forgot to get the stick! Nothing worse than wasting FMU.
  37. When you're watching a film and you shout out "Oooh she's using a FRER!"
  38. When you feed your husband vitamins to get better quality sperm.
  39. When you dread the words “can't we just cuddle tonight?”
  40. When someone asks you what day it is today, you first think of what CD or DPO you are on.
  41. When you start going to alternating shops to buy HPTs so the shop assistant doesn't recognise you (like an alcoholic).
  42. When the Tampax Pearl advert comes on and you want to STRANGLE mother nature.
  43. When the right kind of CM brings you more joy than the Monsoon Sale.
  44. When your eyesight starts to weaken quickly due to many hours staring at evaps.
  45. When you pee on your hand from a POAS accident.
  46. When you don't mind telling complete strangers about the things that come from your vaginal area, and you'll take pictures of it for them if they want.
  47. When someone refers to eggs and you immediately think of your ovaries.
  48. When peeing is the one of the most interesting things you do all day.
  49. When you dream about POAS.
  50. When you change disks in the car CD player, and look down at the display that reads that you're listening to CD1 and think instantly think it's referring to “cycle day 1”.
  51. When you belong to online forums, blog groups, and chat rooms in which you know everyone’s cycle days as well as your own.
  52. When you could teach a health class at the local school detailing a woman’s reproductive system and menstrual cycle.
  53. When your best friend buys you the expensive OPK for your birthday.
  54. When you know what these three words have to do with getting preggo: "high, soft, open".
  55. When you schedule your social events around your ovulation day.
  56. When you put a heart on the calendar every time you DTD.
  57. When your DH gets up from DTD, props your bum up, hands you a book, kisses your forehead and says “see you in half an hour”.
  58. When you see a recipe calling for “egg whites” and think of CM.
  59. When you have a backup to the backup basal thermometer in case the first 2 break.
  60. When you look at your most recent photos that you took with your camera and instead of them being photos of people or trips, they are photos of HPTs, OPKs, and your cervix.
  61. When you make sure you don’t pee after BDing... can’t waste the deposit.
  62. When you POAHPT at 2 DPO just in case the OPK was wrong.
  63. When you wake up at 4am, instead of being worried that you have to work in a few hours, you worry that you'll mess up your BBT.
  64. When you POAS even after you get your period, just in case it was IB.
  65. When you check the toilet paper after every wipe looking for the pink/brown at 7dpo.
  66. When you buy only plain white toilet paper because it will be easier to spot IB.
  67. When you're jealous that you 15 year old cousin got pregnant.
  68. When you AND your husband both get a text message alerting you of your most fertile days!!
  69. When you divide the month by "waiting to O and the 2WW."
  70. When you can pee in something the size of a thimble and not spill a drop.
  71. When you run downstairs to let fertility friend know you just had sex as it can’t wait until morning.
  72. When OH knows that an infertile cervix feels like the tip of your nose.
  73. When you can take a temperature more accurately than NHS staff.
  74. When you start to envy The Sims and their baby making abilities.
  75. When you make sure that your BD schedule doesn't coincide with match day; if it does you ensure to get it in before the match or you have no chance.
  76. When you stop thinking of sex as "that fun thing that can get you pregnant if you aren't careful" and start thinking of it as "that thing that makes babies that used to be fun."
  77. When you wear dark knickers for the first two weeks to see CM, and white ones for the 2nd half of the month to check for any pink/brown/red signs.
  78. When you see license plates that have the initials CM on them and all you think of is cervical mucus.
  79. When you read toilet paper like it is tea leaves telling you the future.
  80. When nothing is TMI anymore, but you still give the warning just in case.
  81. When you take sideways glances at the baby department but don't look directly because you don't want to jinx your chances.
  82. When you grade your HPTs, you use up the crap ones first cause you're saving the good stuff till last.
  83. When you tell your husband "I'm leaking" and he asks what colour and consistency it is.
  84. When you IM your husband to look at your test pics, because you want to show the internet before he has the chance.
  85. When your OH walks down the stairs on a morning you make sure he is wearing loose underwear.
  86. When you use this list as a checklist.
  87. When everyone but you thinks the April Fool’s pregnancy prank is funny. For the record – it isn’t…it really, really isn’t.
  88. When you clean out the very top shelf of the bathroom cabinet and throw away no less than five (okay maybe more like seven) empty HPT and OPK boxes.
  89. When you’ve had some of the best conversations with your husband and/or your twitter buddies while holding your legs in the air for 30 minutes.
  90. When you get a urinary tract infection from holding your pee for hours to make sure it is concentrated enough for POAS.
  91. When you're constantly calculating your EDD based on the date of O, and you don't need a calendar.
  92. When you don't drink after 9am because you want concentrated pee for a 2pm OPK.
  93. When you are angry with DH and make up with him just in time for BDing...where any other time you'd be holding a grudge for days.
  94. When your work colleagues know it's your 2WW because you won't work out with them.
  95. When your friends know it's your 2WW because you won't drink with them.
  96. When you literally kick your mother out of your house to BD. . .and couldn't care less that she definitely knows why she has to leave.
  97. When AF arrives but you imagine that you're only spotting.
  98. When you gained weight from lack of exercise due to a fear of it interfering with implantation.
  99. When you don't have a baby BUT you DO have FANTASTIC hair and nails from all the pre-natal vitamins you’ve been taking for months.
  100. When you notice in the news that a company called “BD Pharmaceuticals” is moving to your area... and you chuckle.
  101. When you already have nursery themes picked out for both sexes.
  102. When you have a mini shrine in your bedroom to your BBT thermometer, a chart, Pree-Seed, the book TCOYF (Taking Charge of Your Fertility: which you read like scriptures before bed), extra "Conceive" lube, a sex pillow, Prenatal vitamins, and Instead Cups...all within reach.
  103. When you find maternity clothes more appealing than your own clothes.
  104. When someone asks you when you're gonna have a baby, you want to rip off your own leg just so you have something to hit them with.
  105. When you start seeing your man as more of a sperm dispenser than loved one.
  106. When your 3-year old knows not to touch the "mommy sticks" on the counter yet continues to stare at them like they will perform magic tricks...hmmm...wonder where she gets THAT from?
  107. When you know where all the best light is in order to get a good clear unmistakable view of the pregnancy test strip.
  108. When you have a variety of words to represent the “F” in BFN.
  109. When your DH, who is not as young as he used to be, needs a day off work to recover from a week of BDing.
  110. When you hear a baby name you like while out somewhere so you whip out a pen and notebook to jot it down.
  111. When you cannot wait to get up in the morning to take your temperature and once you do, you can't go back to sleep because you are analyzing your patterns on FF.
  112. When you’re convinced pregnant ladies are stalking you because they are lurking around every corner giving you the stink eye.
  113. When you are envious of people in the 2WW.
  114. When you've planned how you are going to tell every single person you know that you are pregnant.
  115. When you hesitate before buying new clothes because you think, "What if I am pg soon?!"
  116. When you're using an OPK packet as a bookmark.
  117. When you go on holiday and your TTC paraphernalia takes up more space in your suitcase than your makeup, toiletries and shoes combined.
  118. When you bolt off to the loo when you have an inkling that some CM may have made an appearance for inspection and analysis.
  119. When you know what this item is. And no, it’s not a lipstick, or a vibrator.
  120. When you feel this is the month, every month.
  121. When you suspect DH is taking care of himself and you get annoyed at the wastage.
  122. When your dog gets pregnant and you have a tantrum about her ability to get knocked up when you can't.
  123. When you check the online gender predictor each month, to see what it might be.
  124. When you navigate around your vagina like Indiana Jones searching for CM and CP.
  125. When shower shags are a thing of the past.
  126. When you want to draw a coverline over stock market graphs on the financial page of The Times.

Pin it!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Guilty Pleasures: Children's TV

“We are slackly farming our children out to the electric babysitter” bellows Harriet Lane in The Observer. I myself am guilty of exceeding the recommended TV viewing limitation for under 2s (the recommendation being none), I have Sky +ed my Amy’s favourite cartoons, I buy the magazines with choking-hazard free gifts attached to the cover and I collect the branded merchandise (Talking AND Dancing Makka Pakka?! WANT!) If you haven’t already guessed from browsing this list, I’m a Cbeebies whore. Here’s my learned account of the best of the channel’s output.

In The Night Garden

With a flatulent airship, and a train that clearly breaks all Health and Safety laws, never mind the laws of physics, In The Night Garden is the crack cocaine of children’s television. You could criticise it for being overly conservative and heteronormative. For instance, Mr and Mrs Pontipine and Mr and Mrs Wottinger are straight couples in wedlock. Furthermore they clearly don’t believe in contraception or have concern for the global population crisis as each couple has eight sprogs. Inconsiderate breeders! But hey, at least Upsy Daisy has a brown face. Furthermore, she and Iggle Piggle like to kiss. You might think this is yet another hetero love fest; after all, one of them wears a skirt and the other is blue so obviously a dude. But look closely and you will discover that aside from being blue, Iggle Piggle has a camel toe. Isn’t that a pip! Who says kiddies TV doesn’t add covert treats for grown-ups?


Pushing the boundaries of decency for fifteen years, the Teletubbies are the Godfathers of hash-inspired toddler viewing. Tinky-Winky is prepped for a pride march with his fetish for ladies handbags and pink tutus. Dipsy is a phallic-headed pimp in a Jamiroquai hat. Po is the most illiterate of the gang with a speech impediment that would make Joey Deacon sound like Shakespeare. La-La is a female with one massive ball. Moreover, carousels hover down from the sky containing peado teddies that perform half-nude public tap dances. All of this is over watched by a bucked-tooth infant sun god whom babbles and coos in the sky. Notwithstanding these minor discrepancies, the Teletubbies remains a visual feast of vibrant primary colours, whimsical settings and random clips of overly-gracious preschool children: “Hello, hello, hello, hello!”

Small Potatoes

Ahhhh Small Potatoes. I can’t get enough of these bad boys. The BBC calls it an “animated series about a group of potatoes who sing songs in different genres”. I call it genius. Whoever thought of putting a sweet potato, russet potato, King Edward potato and red gold potato together and dubbing them with toddler narration was a legend. From little Chip singing a heartfelt song about being a potato, to the whole potato gang singing a punk rock anthem about how they’re no average spuds, these little fellas melt my heart more than any RSPCA advert. Furthermore, due to the simplistic style in which they are drawn, I can’t help but think they resemble little turds, which adds to their kitsch charm don’t you think?

Show Me, Show Me

Aside from the slightly suspect tagline “You show me and I’ll show you”, this programme is rather good. It earned a place on this list thanks to its sheer randomness. Elephants exercising, cars cart wheeling, jellyfish jiggling; what’s not to like? Consider it the Harry Hill of children’s TV shows. It's basically a remake of Playschool, cabal of toys and all, without the rotating pool of presenters. What sealed the deal for me was “Momo’s Song”. I don’t normally share Youtube videos as no one bothers to view them, but a mere literary description would fail to do this justice. Do not adjust your brain, you haven’t been smoking cannabis, but the people who choreographed this probably were...

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Top 10 Breastfeeding Boobie Traps


    No sooner has your baby been pulled from your privates and the midwife is brandishing a bottle. She is heading in your baby’s direction and will launch as soon as your back is turned. This can be particularly so if you had a c-section. There is seldom reason that a mum who gave birth via c-section cannot have a successful breastfeeding relationship, although her milk may take slightly longer to come in. I urge expectant mums to read this info on caesarean delivery and buy a postcard from Lactivist to display on your baby’s hospital cot. That’ll tell the midwife where to stick her bottle.

    (Or yellow-book, if you’re living in the some areas of the UK). Health visitors treat the Red Book as gospel. Any deviation from the lines on the book’s weight chart and the breastfeeding mum will be ordered to top-up with formula. And woe betide you get a health visitor like mine, who was convinced that the line baby is on at birth is the same line they should be on at 9 months (for more about health visitors click here). This unfortunately common obsession with charting babies against each other is not just a fetish of health visitors. GPs, paediatricians, midwives and even breastfeeding counsellors all worship the Red Book as a way of over-protecting their arses, instead of discerning the health of each child by looking at their overall development. My advice is to locate your local breastfeeding support group. La Leche League has many throughout the UK and beyond.

    Or even your own mother for that matter. Chances are she didn’t breastfeed and so sees your determination to breastfeed as public criticism of her parenting. This is bad new for your breastfeeding success. A study of nearly 1,400 U.S. and Australian women found that breastfeeding help and encouragement from friends and family was more important than advice or support from health professionals (Queensland University of Technology 2010). Your mother's attempts at being ‘helpful’ such as continuously asking if your baby is “getting enough” can be particularly disheartening when you have a fussy baby who cries frequently. You may start to wonder yourself whether they are indeed getting enough. But it is important to realise that babies cry for a variety of reasons, including boredom, discomfort, overtiredness, or simply desire of their own voice. Instead of reaching for formula, hold your baby close and nurse. Furthermore Mothers in Law may pressure new mums to allow Granny to look after baby for long periods so they can ‘bond’ with it. A nursing mother’s milk supply benefits from having baby close to her. Being separated from your baby for long periods can interfere with nature’s supply and demand process. Tell Granny she’ll have to wait.

    What no! How can your husband possibly be a boobie trap? After all by breastfeeding you are freeing him from any responsibility for his child’s nutrition for at least 6 months. What husband would possibly want to interfere with that? Well men will do almost anything for an easy life; and at the beginning breastfeeding is seldom easy. There’ll probably be tears and frustrations. So it’s not unusual for even the most pro-breastfeeding men to subtly mention the f-word (formula). Give him evils and stand your ground.

    Not only do we live in a formula culture, we also live in a society that can be described as ‘lactophobic’ (disgust at lactation). Many mums are scared to nurse in public so they hide away in segregated “breastfeeding rooms” or turn to bottles. As a result breastfeeding is seldom a public affair which in turn maintains its atypical reputation as well as perpetuating the myth that breasts are purely sexual. Brake this vicious cycle by putting boob on the menu when you’re out and about. It may help your confidence to join a Flashmob for your first public feed. You’ll be in good company.

    As a baby’s needs change constantly they should be given frequent, unrestricted access to the breast. The constitution of a mother’s breastmilk changes day by day, hour by hour to fulfil her baby’s changing physical, neurological, and emotional needs. For instance, when a baby goes through a growth spurt they nurse more frequently. Mum’s body responds to this by increasing milk production to meet baby’s new requirements. Scheduling feeds (for instance, restricting feeds to every four hours) satisfy an adult's need for complete control over the process of parenting, but they do not satisfy an infant's need to be nurtured. Because breastfeeding is built on mutual trust, feeding schedules sabotage breastfeeding success. Schedules can reduce your milk supply and compromise your baby’s health. They upset the delicate balance of supply and demand. As popular parenting website Baby Centre coined, “The best breastfeeding schedule should be your baby's decision!” But do professionals recognise this crucial fact? Not likely. Health visitors are big fans of scheduling, as are mothers in law, but The Bitch of scheduling is Gina Ford, a 52-year-old self-taught maternity ‘nurse’ (read: nanny) with no children of her own.  Her methods involve forcing newborns into rigid timetables of feeding and sleeping. Looks like Gina missed the memo that babies aren’t zoo animals. Furthermore, babies don’t understand the concept of meal planning. As far as they are concerned, when hunger strikes, this is a frightening threat to their survival; And because a baby’s stomach is relatively small, hunger can strike quite frequently, particularly in the early months (or as I call it, the relentless fourth trimester!) Gina would advise you to sit through potentially hours of screaming, distressed baby. I would advise you to feed. Moreover, scheduled mealtimes teach babies to ignore their body’s hunger signals, which could prove dangerous for their future health. Ignore Ford, and watch for your baby’s hunger cues (rooting and sucking on fingers) then place him straight to the breast. Your baby, and your eardrums, will thank you for it.

    The pressure placed upon a new mum to introduce bottles is immense. Our culture has an ingrained warped belief that a man-made plastic reproduction of a breast is more sociable and more convenient than Mother Nature’s design. Relentless cleaning, sterilising, and lugging about versus lifting your top? Go figure. Moreover, feeding a young baby with a bottle can hinder breastfeeding as baby may prefer the faster flow of milk provided by a bottle (note: this is also responsible for increasing a child’s risk of obesity in later life). The different technique used for sucking a bottle teat can cause babies to have difficulty latching-on and sucking at the breast, which will in turn interfere with the mother’s milk supply.  Eventually baby may refuse the breast altogether. Even the so-called “Closer to Nature” bottles don’t flex in the mouth the way a human breast does. These, and other bottles designed to mimic human breasts, are simply domes with longer tube-like nipples attached. However when a baby breastfeeds, it takes the areola into its mouth, not just the nipple. If you must use a bottle (for instance if you’re returning to work), here are some excellent breastfeeding-friendly bottle tips. Or if your baby is over 4 months of age, it may be better to feed them with a spoon or plastic beaker.

    Similar to bottles, dummies can cause a baby to confuse their sucking technique as dummies require a different type of sucking to breastfeeding. “Confusion can occur after just one exposure to a bottle or dummy” (Rubin. S). Moreover, dummies can obscure a baby’s hunger cues and thus lead to less time spent at the breast. This interferes with mum establishing a solid milk supply. Avoid giving a dummy until at least 6 weeks to allow time for breastfeeding to become established and the 6 week growth spurt to pass (remember, growth spurts are temporary, even if they do leave you wanting to hacksaw your breasts off and place them in your baby’s cot). A lesser known fact is that some babies who use dummies are more prone to oral thrush which can be transferred to mum's nipples (I have experienced this myself and it ain’t pretty). Thrush often occurs because dummy use can cause the insides of a baby’s mouth to be overly moist and cracking, which provides an ideal environment for yeast to grow. If you’re interested in the dummy debate, you'll love my article: Dummies and Social Class.

    Putting baby to sleep alone in the nursery not only increases their risk of cot death, it’s also a pain in the arse for your breastfeeding relationship. Newborns are not designed to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. Their stomachs are tiny and consequently they wake frequently for nutrition. Confining baby to the nursery means that several times a night mum has to drag herself out of her warm bed, into her baby’s room and dump her ass on a rocking chair where she may sit nursing for up to an hour. Alternatively, sleeping in the same room as baby (co-sleeping) makes breastfeeding easier for both parties. A word of advice though, screw moses baskets! I spent the first 6 months of my baby’s life with my arm hanging over the edge of the bed, dangling into her moses basket. Hello carpal tunnel! Instead I advise that you purchase a bedside bassinet. It can be slotted onto the side of your bed and because it has one side removed, mum and baby are within arms reach. When baby gets older they can help themselves to a midnight snack without their mum even noticing.

    A foe disguised as a friend, the breastpump may seem like an ally of the nursing mother. Many are advertised as supporters of equality which allow dad to take some of the strain. However, apart from encouraging bottle use, breastpumps undermine many mothers confidence in their milk supply. While electric breastpumps tend to do a better job than their manual sisters, the best breastpump of all is your baby. Most mothers do not let down well with the breastpump - it is hard, cold and mechanical, and gives you none of the stimulus that your warm, living baby does. It's unsurprising that a plastic man-made device will never be as competent at extracting milk from the human breast as a human baby. However many new mums, and ashamedly professionals, believe that the breastpump can be used to gauge the effectiveness of a mother’s milk supply. It comes as no surprise that the most common reason mums give for abandoning breastfeeding, is that they thought their milk supply was insufficient. Commonly a mum will spend 30 minutes attached to a breastpump and obtain a measly 3oz for her troubles. All so dad can have a go feeding? Does that sound like equality to you? Let dad change nappies, do shopping, make cuppas, plump pillows. For the time it takes to fill a bottle using a breastpump it would have been faster and easier to simply put baby to breast. What is this obsession with allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to feed baby anyway? Baby care is multifaceted. Feeding is but one aspect of it. Furthermore, the US Food and Drug Administration has noted several adverse affects of breastpump use, including tissue damage, infection, pain and soreness and contamination of the pump. Pathogens cling to breastpump equipment and although breastmilk antibodies might help combat this risk, it would be safer to avoid complicated tubes and parts. Moreover, Lang (2008) has suggested that hand-expressed milk might be better quality than pumped milk. Fat proportions may be influenced by the style of expression.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

10 (Selfish) Things I Love About Breastfeeding

You may have read my previous blog entry “10 Things I Hate About Breastfeeding” wrote when my baby was 3 months old. New mums fear not, it gets better. To illustrate the change in experience as the breastfeeding journey unfolds, here is a piece I wrote as my baby celebrated her first birthday: 10 (Selfish) Things I Love About Breastfeeding. As we all know about the health benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby I won’t go into those.

  1. KER-CHING! Not lining the pockets of Cow & Gate every week means I can spend more money on a brand new pair of Jimmy Choos Lelli Kelly. Not only do breastfeeding mums save money from not having to buy formula, bottles, measuring devices, steriliser and bottle brushes, they also save money on not having to buy menstrual products. Most exclusively breastfeeding mums have no periods. Double ker-ching!
  2. GUILT-FREE. Because I know there is no better alternative to breastfeeding I know that when little Amy comes home in sixteen years with a D in Economics it wasn’t because she was deprived of my docasahexaenoic acid. Also, fresh breastmilk will never be recalled for being contaminated with bacteria or insects. Moreover, breastfeeding is environmentally friendly. No wrappers, canisters, disposable bottles mean no guilt in that department either.
  3. PERMISSION TO BE LAZY REST. Every nursing mum knows that when you start breastfeeding the sofa becomes your permanent residence, your best friend, your throne. You have absolutely no choice but to let others cater to your every need. Drinks made, dinner served, house cleaned, shopping bought, cushions plumped.
  4. WAISTLINE. Breastfeeding releases hormones which cause your uterus to shrink more quickly to its pre-pregnancy size. The uterus of non-breastfeeding mothers will never shrink back. It will always remain slightly enlarged (Chua S, Arulkumaran S, Lim I et al. "Influence of breastfeeding and nipple stimulation on postpartum uterine activity." Br J Obstet Gynaecol 1994; 101:804-805). Furthermore, breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories per day (double that if you’re nursing twins). Unlike Weightwatchers, Slimming World and Jenny Craig, breastfeeding is proven to enhance your figure (Kramer, F., "Breastfeeding reduces maternal lower body fat." J. Am Diet Assoc 1993; 93(4):429-33). What’s more, having a va-va-voom cleavage flatters your thinning waistline even more.
  5. NATURE’S SPLIFF. Breastfeeding makes you high, in a pleasant, calm, serene way. Nursing stimulates the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin in the mother's body. These hormones relax the nursing mum and make her feel more nurturing toward her baby. The effect is similar to cannabis yet legal and you can do it in public. Furthermore, as the hormones are passed through the breast milk, nursing acts like a natural baby tranquilizer. Which leads us to...
  6. SLEEP. Whoever created the ‘lying down whilst breastfeeding’ position needs a Mumsnet award or something because it has preserved the sanity of many. Baby has the audacity to request feeding at 3am? Just lie down, pop her on your breast and resume kip. When the feed is finished Dad can place now-sleeping babe back into her cot without you even noticing. Aside from activating oxytocin and prolactin, breastmilk stimulates your baby's body to produce a hormone called cholecystokinin (CKK). CKK relaxes your baby and helps her sleep. No stumbling around the kitchen faffing around with bottles and kettles whilst babe cries the house down (swallowing air in the process). Moreover, because breastmilk is easier to digest (it’s an intestinal soother), baby has less stomach upsets, less tears and consequently everyone can enjoy more sleep.
  7. CONVENIENCE. No bottles to wash and sterilise. No kettles to boil or formula to measure.  No mixing, heating or refrigerating. No trying to find space for all this paraphernalia. No having to choose between brands. No worrying that the feed is at the correct temperature. No remembering to pack feeds when you go out. No having to come home early because you have ran out of feeds.
  8. IRRITATION OF MOTHER IN LAW. Chances are your mother in law didn’t breastfeed and chances are she’ll go into matriarch-mode and nag to look after the baby. This combination creates the perfect setting for some role reversal – you can be the irritant for a change! If you normally breastfeed discretely in public, be a little less-discrete when MIL is around. Answer her nags with, no you won’t be buying any bottles so she can ‘have a go’ and no your baby won’t be able to stay overnight for quite some time. Thank MIL for the kind offers but say if she really wants to help there's a pile of ironing that needs doing. Whilst we’re on the subject of annoying your MIL, read on...
  9. EVACUATION OF UNWANTED GUESTS. Nothing clears a room faster than the click of a bra strap and announcing “I need to put baby on the breast now”. This is especially useful during those first few weeks as guests swamp your house when all you want to do is curl up and die. My Father in Law thought breast feeding was disgusting - it was fab. All I had to do was wip out a boob and he would leave the room. I don't think I spent more than 5 minutes in his company.
  10. POO. The poo of breastfed babies has a ‘less-offensive’ odour than the poo of formula-fed babies. Some have likened it to buttermilk. You’ll especially appreciate this when you’re on a crowded bus and baby has a good old ‘poo up the back’. Furthermore, when baby has a poo and is greeted by happiness rather than a grimace from the nappy-changer this boosts their self-esteem (according to Dr Sears).

More to come I’m sure.