Tuesday, 29 October 2013

They told her to stop feeding her baby???

Once again a mother has been confronted and told that feeding her baby is offending someone and that she needs to go and feed somewhere else.  It never fails to amaze me that it is women who are telling other women to stop breastfeeding.  We still have a long roe to hoe as my mother was wont to say in similar situations.

This time it is Ms Sophie Howes, a midwife and mother of two in her own right, is also the daughter of a rather famous independent midwife, Virginia Howes.  Though I am sure that Sophie is able to advocate for herself, all the mama bear instincts of Virginia has been kicked into overdrive.  I am afraid that Ashford Leisure Trust will not hear the end of this until they  have acknowledged their error and given Ms Howes a full and unreserved apology as well as a commitment to update their policy and  staff.

Virginia Howes' Facebook page contains the details of this incident. I have given my support with the following email.  I post it here to allow anyone to steal it in whole or in part whenever they feel the urge to write someone on a similar incident in the future.

"I am saddened to read that once again in a public facility in England, a woman has been faced with discrimination regarding feeding her infant.

By now you will be well aware that the Maternity Act of 2010 protects mothers under both gender equality and maternity rights legislation, allowing them to feed (by either breast by bottle) wherever both are legally allowed to be. The law does not protect anyone from being 'offended' by breastfeeding or bottle feeding as may happen. As such, your life guard and the on duty manager have breached Ms Sophie Howes' rights. As one of the most vulnerable members of society and someone who needs to eat as often as every hour, her baby also has the right to have his need for food be responded to quickly and sensitively. That is all what Ms Howes was doing at the side of the pool. It is one of the beauties of breastfeeding that a mother can respond to his need anywhere with minimal fuss to her and her baby.

The vast majority of women in Ms Howes' demographics stop breastfeeding before two weeks if they ever initiate breastfeeding. There are many reasons for their cessation but one of the more terrifying reasons is to be confronted in public by someone who is 'offended' or by someone in authority who is advocating for this complainant. We all have social responsibility to support all mothers and especially young mothers in raising their children, no matter how small a step it seem. In this case, it is one of public health which is at stake. A cause which Ashford Leisure Trust holds close to its existence.

I do hope that this incident becomes a lesson from which everyone will learn something positive. It is a public health imperative that women are supported with feeding their babies. It is also necessary that the policies of the leisure facilities are reviewed, updated and appropriately disseminated among the management and staff. Anything less will keep the Trust open to further criticism and potential legal action and its employees vulnerable to the whim of the 'offended' public while mothers and babies will remain vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. A lose-lose situation for all involved.

As I reside outside of Kent, I will also be forwarding this email to my local MP with appropriate links as this is incident sadly demonstrates that this kind of discrimination is far from uncommon."

Edited to add a link to this marvellous document from Breastfeeding Alberta.  A useful resource to public bodies as guidelines on breastfeeding in public in general and in for swimming pools specifically and for individuals who would like to inform themselves on this issue.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Making my own Medicine

Elder berry Tincture

200g foraged elder berries
enough vodka* to fill a Kilner jar**.
*any white alcohol will do.  vodka is usually recommended because it is tasteless but I've used gin.
**Any recycled glass jar or 2 with a screw top lid will do.

  • Forage berries from an area which is low in traffic fume pollution. Twelve to twenty clusters of berries  ought to be plenty.
  • Pick from near the cluster of berries, leaving as much stem on the bush as possible.
  • Use a dinner fork to tease the berries away from the cluster.
  • Wash berries under cold running water.
  • Fill jar with berries to within 3 cms / 1.5 inch of the top.
  • Top up with vodka or other white alcohol to within 1 cm/ .5 inch from the top.
  • Leave in a warm place for 2 -6 weeks.  The longer it sits the more of the berry juices will be drawn by the alcohol. 
  • Strain through a fine sieve, ideally lined with a muslin or cheesecloth.  
  • Bottle once more.

This tincture will last at least till next year's crop of berries.
A teaspoon 4 times a day at the first hint of a cold or flu bug can stop or reduce symptoms dramatically.
It can be diluted in water or juice for make more palatable.

Elderflower cordial is one of the best things in life which you can have almost for free.  Here is a link to a no nonsense recipe and looking further into this page provides a host of other delicious things you can make with elderflower.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

EMDR Therapy for PTSD

The Birth Trauma Association estimates that in the UK 10,000 women a year develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and up to 200,000 develop some symptoms of PTSD.  I am one of those women.  I will try to share my therapy here so others can find their own path to healing.

Prior to the first actual session of EMDR, I had one session where I recounted my intrapartum experiences in as full detail as possible.  There was another session which familiarized me with the techniques for desensitization and reprocessing.  One was visualization to help me calm myself through the day when I was in a stressful situation and the other was the eye tracking technique and then detailed documentation of one traumatic memory from the whole event including how the memory makes me feel and what is the opposite of that.

The first session of EMDR therapy began with the imagery of one of the most distressing memories of my birth experience.  During the preparation session on the previous visit I was familiarized with the techniques which would be used to desensitize my experiences I had been asked to relate a part of the  birth that was most distressing.

EMDR Tacas

An integral part of the therapy is a device with earphones which transmit alternating clicking and two vibrating finger disks on which a blinking light is set on each.  The focus is to hear the clicking which were tuned into the lights which flickered simultaneously in turn as the finger disks vibrated.  So three senses are being stimulated during the therapy.  As you recount or reflect on the memory or what you are feeling your eyes are to track the lights which blink alternately, thereby simulating REM eye movement.

My therapist reminded me about the details of the memory which made me well up.  I was instructed to focus on the memory while following the blinking lights.  It took me a few minutes to settle into this procedure but before long I adjusted to the process.  It could take longer to settle into this expectation but a well trained therapist will understand that and help you with the process.

The intention is to desensitize the memories.  After the lights stopped blinking I am asked about any sensations I am experiencing. I focused on a tightness in my chest and rapidly we work on reducing that sensation...and then reducing it more.

I am also asked to rate from 0 to 7 how upsetting I am finding the memory, with zero being not at all and 7 being very upsetting. The intention is to bring it to zero.

When I think I am at zero, am asked to articulate what I think of the memory now.  I recall the introduction of the movie the Devil's Backbone where the narrator describes a place where a tragic event occurred as charged with an energy that replays itself.  That it is like an insect trapped in amber. For me the memory will always be present to replay itself, but like an insect trapped it amber, it cannot harm me anymore.

The next blinking lights session is to capture that phrase and to concentrate on it:  It cannot harm me anymore.

The therapist asks me to find the earliest memory where I felt out of control. My trigger memory was indelibly linked to having no control and seeing the phrase 'it is out of  my control' had reduced me sobbing in the fetal position during the previous session.  My earliest childhood memory of panic and out of control was from about the age of three and for the first time this memory triggered tears.  We followed the same process as about to relieve the distress connected to this memory.  I had never found telling this story distressing - it was a burglary incident where my mother and I came home to discover someone had broken in and was still in the house - until today. One sensation was an incredible tightness and pain manifested in my forehead. However, the therapist explained that the reaction to both traumatic events was filed in the same place so opening one file exposed the other trauma which also benefits from desensitization. The goal once more is to make that memory harmless and to recall it in a way that it cannot hurt me anymore.

At this point I start to cry again because I realize that there has been so much hurt stored up for so long that I yearn to reach the place where none of the memories can hurt me anymore.

As the session progressed, other thoughts had entered my head like:  'when is this going to be over' and 'how longer before the hour is up'.  I also found that I wanted to leave and that my senses were becoming overloaded. I recalled video clips of hospital births and sexual violence which triggered panic attacks, and wanting to crawl out of my own skin, if necessary, to escape.   I only related these feelings after I told him that my back was starting to hurt due to an old injury.  He offered to work on it because it could be psychosomatic.  I was skeptical but after following the lights again, the back pain actually diminished.  There is hope yet for me.

For my own reflection, this experience reinforces what is known in birthing circles that the experiences of a woman during childbirth becomes emotionally charged and that the type of experience she has can affect her forever.  The role of oxytocin is instrumental in the formation of positive residual chemical markers, memories and emotions, on the brain when the experience of childbirth is positive.  On the other hand its presence during negative birthing experiences also lay down powerful negative emotions and memories connected with traumatic experiences.

Added:  for more academic detail regarding EMDR, this powerpoint may be helpful.

Friday, 23 August 2013

The man from Fenwick's.

Mr Philip Davidson from Fenwick's and I met on Wednesday over a coffee in the 50's diner in Fenwick's. After pleasantries about children and work, he shared that he thought about my letters outside of work time which for me was a big win already.

And in his further thinking he understood what I was trying to express.  (yayyy!)  We discussed the bigger picture of infant feeding in the UK including the nadir of breastfeeding initiation and how breastfeeding support died with the widespread formula feeding and how vital community support will be for making breastfeeding a normal part of life again.

I know that even before today Mr Davidson and Fenwick's have been very supportive of breastfeeding mothers and breastfeeding in public.  So 'yes!' again.  He said that actually he wished breastfeeding rooms didn't exist because breastfeeding ought to happen where ever a woman happens to be (insert pom poms and confetti here).

The tangible win for everyone has been sharing the Feed-Finder app.  The advantage to the store of having honest feedback from mothers and mothers win because the more this app is used the easier it be for mums to feed in public.

Thank you for sharing your time with me Mr Davidson and thank you for sharing your personal and professional insights with me.  I learned a few things too including putting my ambassador's face on.   Public relations is not always my strong point.  So, yayyy me.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Fenwick's reply missed the point, don't you think? (and a reply)

A friend has eloquently said, “The iconography of bottles to signify babies is so ingrained that they cannot see what they have done.”

Hi Yolanda,

Thanks for your email and I was sorry to read that we had disappointed you with our current window display and note your comments on the blue v pink debate.

Please be reassured that this particular window display, due to be changed next Tuesday for our Home Event window to go in, is merely a play on the phrase 'new deliveries' and was not intended to have any deeper message. It was merely planned to coincide with the arrival of the new fashion lines for the Autumn season.

Our window displays are a prominent feature in the city centre and I accept that they will attract differing views and varying levels of attention and on occasion some criticism. However we always strive to learn from all feedback and we will bear yours in mind at the next meeting of our Visual Merchandising and Fashion teams.

As regards the blue and pink debate, I walked the floor yesterday on our Toy Department and I honestly believe that we are not necessarily one way or another. For instance we have signs saying 'dress up' and another saying 'action toys' and if you would like to I would happily meet with you when you are next in store to do another floor walk.

Once again, I would like to thank you for providing your views and also apologise that the window has offended you, as this was certainly not our intention.

If you do want to meet with me please contact me via the main switchboard on 0191 232 5100 and we can arrange a mutually convenient appointment.

Kind regards,


Philip Davidson
Customer Service Manager
Fenwick Ltd.
39 Northumberland Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE99 1AR

and my second reply, trying again

Thank you for your amicable and considered reply.
I do also understand and agree that there was no deeper meaning intended and therein lies a part of my concern which is that unintended messages, as I acknowledged in my first letter, is the main concern about this display window.  
I am also taking three points away from your letter.     The first point is that the display remains in place until it is due to be changed on the store's normal updating rota, which is a disappointment.  

The second point I take is that you have not yet considered putting up breastfeeding friendly stickers in the store.  I know this is not something you yourself can do in isolation but acknowledgement of the idea and that it would be further discussed among management would have been reassuring.

The third point is the big and most important one however.  I note that the main thrust of your letter was assuring me that your store does not gender code the toys and that labeling in the toy department reflects this.  I assure you that there is never any concern on my part about the toy department. 

The third and main concern is solely with your window display, as the body of my letter shows.  Your reply failed to acknowledge that the bottles in the show window are problematic imagery for the general public.  I am sure you are well aware that there is a global awareness and concern that the thinness of fashion models do not reflect what are normal body types for young women.  This problem of perception is exacerbated by photo editing techniques which actually enhance thinness while erasing physical flaws.  Thousands of men and women also complain that shop models are too thin. This complaint about the bottle images is a similar argument - that large companies have a social responsibility for influencing the perceptions of normal within the society. Major retail outlets and the media (your shop window is a type of media) don't follow the abiding culture, they influence it! Fenwick's has clout and as such should be sending out healthier messages to their customers and to random passers-by along Northumberland Street is a something to take seriously.

In 2010, 59% of mothers in Newcastle breastfed their babies shortly after giving birth, compared with the national average of 81% for the same year. Six or eight weeks, later only 41% of babies in the North East is receiving any breastmilk at all.    In addition, a survey by the NCT showed that 90% of women who stopped in the first six weeks said that they stopped sooner than they would have liked.   

This above statistics show that women want to breastfeed and were the messages, intended or unintended, telling them that they are supported then more would stick to it for longer. Hence this is why a more breastfeeding welcome culture in Fenwick's would bring in customers and they would stay longer and spend more money.

Really in the big picture, it isn't ultimately about the display window.  Though I still wish the display could be altered if not taken down before Tuesday.  It is really about making your shop a more breastfeeding friendly place.  I welcome your offer of meeting you in store but rather to share ideas about to make Fenwick's more breastfeeding friendly in the future, not for a tour.  

I must say now that I am in no way offended by the display and thanks for your concern.  Instead I am articulating something on behalf of many women who have been told by friends, family, and health care professionals to 'give the baby a bottle' for whatever multitude of reasons.   They then turn on the television, open a magazine or walk down the high street and see feeding bottles instead of breastfeeding, the default method of feeding a baby. It is hard and lonely when no one around shares your experience and it influences women's decisions to give up. 

Thank you again for your timely and considered response.  I welcome the continued dialogue and hope to hear from you again soon.

Kind regards
the Rabbit in the Moon
Mam of 2

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What would work instead of pink and blue bottles?

  •  Conversation started today

  • Wouldn't this display work better with one of the mannequins wearing a soft structured carrier, or a stylish wrap sling instead?  Or maybe a male mannequin with a framed carrier and rugged outdoor clothing?  

    For more main stream ideas, an expensive push chair and those expensive rockers for nurseries with appropriate mannequins would fill up the show window more tastefully and with more stuff they have for sale rather than with baby bottles.

    So, here is my feedback on Fenwick's uninspiring show window on Northumberland Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

    photo courtesy of the Alpha Parent

    Dear Fenwick:
    I have shopped at Fenwick in the 15 years that I've been resident in the North East and frequently pass your beautiful displays while in Newcastle. Now that I have children we also stop by at Christmas to admire the window as many other North Easterners do.
    I was surprised last night to see this amazing display (see attachment) but not for reasons which I would have hoped.
    Your marketing team will be aware that imagery plays a huge role in the acceptance of ideas, products and brands by the general public. It is just the same when it comes to baby care and infant feeding. The marketing team may not be consciously aware that images of baby bottles, teats and dummies undermine the breastfeeding goals of mothers. There exists ample evidence which show that even subtle imagery contribute to the normalization of one method of feeding over another. So while your display does not tell mothers to bottle feed, it is reinforcing the already cultural norm that bottle feeding is the default method by which babies are fed.
    Mothers in the North East have low rates of initiating, establishing and continuing to breastfeed when compared with other parts of the country, particularly the Home Counties. It is therefore even more important that the goals of women feel supported by the images they see in the wider community. Commenting on infant feeding in the Ecologist, April 2006, Mary Renfrew, Professor of Mother and Infant Health at Dundee University stated, "society is not just bottle feeding friendly, but it is deeply breastfeeding unfriendly." This is the tide against which many women are swimming and to which unfortunately your display window contributes.
    I ask you to consider taking down the display sooner than you planned and ask you to put up breastfeeding welcome stickers in your restaurants, cafes and other rest areas in the store.
    On a separate note, the gender coding of pink/blue is particularly nauseating to mothers who do not want to raise their children in a gender coded world where pink = girls and blue = boys and cascades towards gender coded toys, play, behaviour expectations and career prospects. Just yuk and lacking of creativity and forethought.
    Please feel free to respond to me via this email address. I welcome any feedback you may have to this letter.
    Kind regards The Rabbit in the Moon Mother Supporter with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers Peer Supporter with Baby Café

Friday, 5 April 2013

Recovering from Pelvic Girdle Pain: some exercises to try.

Some women struggle to return to normal after suffering Pelvic Girdle Pain in pregnancy.
These exercises were recommended to me for stretching and strengthening the muscles so that I can achieve a normal range of movement again. An osteopath highlighted that I will have to teach my body how to walk normally again and these exercises need to continue regularly over a period of time. Essentially I need to teach my body to use the normal range of movement again and that this will take time. The nervous system, muscles and bones are relearning and reshaping to be used through the normal range of movement again.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and the information below is not a substitute for seeing a trained physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath.  My post shares my experience with recovery and to give you options to explore and apply to your situation.
As with all exercise, if it is hurting then it is time to stop.

An osteopath gave me instructions 1-4 below.  These exercises helped the most with returning to nearly normal.  However your experience may be different from mine.

Exercises for the sacro iliac joint and muscles:
1. Pelvic rock

2. Lie in the same posture as for the pelvic rock. Press the ball of the right foot firmly into the floor and keeping the heel on the floor. While pressing the foot into the floor, ensure that the right knee stays over the toes and that the left hip presses lightly into the floor. This should cause the right knee to move forward over the toes and the right hip to rise off the floor. Repeat from the start on the alternate side. Start off slowly to ensure the correct movement.  Aim for alternating onto each leg in a smooth left right, left right succession. The hips, knees, and feet will move in a fashion reminiscent of walking.

3. Sit on a dining chair with feet firmly on the floor and knees at 90 degrees and about 12 inches apart. Aim to keep the right leg stationery and with your head over the right leg then rotate your torso to the left.  This should cause the right hip joint to ‘open’.  The left foot should remain at the same distance apart but the left leg will move due to the hip rotation. This move seems to require that you press onto the ball of your right foot while moving your torso to the left. Repeat on the opposite side. It is easier to do this exercise on a swivel chair or try it while sitting on a plastic shopping bag.

I have ‘designed’ this one myself and finds it works the same areas as no. 3 but it is simpler to do so some may find it easier to follow or start out with.
4.  Lie flat on your back on a firm surface, feet at least 6 inches apart.  Push one leg downwards as if you are pushing your heel into an imaginary floor.  That hip should move down with the leg.  Repeat on the other side.  You can add challenge to this by raising the opposite hip while pushing down.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

It may take time to actually ‘feel’ your pelvic floor if it is quite weak and the time you can squeeze may be mere seconds but overtime you will start to feel it and you will be able to squeeze for longer.
These exercises are all done lying flat on a firm surface.   I found I could do them lying in bed where I have a fairly firm mattress.

1. Tighten the pelvic floor as usual.  Inhale deeply, contract the abdominal muscles, imagining that the front of the abdomen is reaching right to the back of your spine. You ought to feel the vaginal muscles contract now. Exhale slowly and relax when you feel the muscles begin to tire. Repeat. The objective is to increase the length and number of repetitions.

2. Once you are comfortable with holding 5. for a while (5 - 10 secs I'd say), While doing #5, and lying flat on the floor or in bed, bend both knees to comfort and toes pointing up. Starting on the right (or left leg) slowly straighten leg. Slowly bend your knee once more keeping your heel on the floor or bed the whole time. You may need to rest the pelvic floor when your leg is fully straight. Simply tighten the pelvic floor again after a pause and continue the exercise. Repeat on the other side.

3. Tighten pelvic floor as #5 with knees bent, feet and knees together. Slowly move right knee to the right to a place of comfort. Move it back to the original position. Repeat on the left side. As the strength of your pelvic floor improves, you will be able to open the angle of your leg further and also to move both legs at the same time.

Because your pelvic floor is connected to muscles in your back and in your legs, it is important to work on other muscles which will also help you to bring back a good walking technique.  Back stretching exercise:

Stretching and strengthening the back

1. Start by lying with your body flat on the floor. Bend both knees deeply. Cross the right knee over the left knee, and rotate hips and legs to the left side while keeping the back flat on the floor. Increase the stretch further up the back by crossing the left harm over your chest and pushing the right shoulder into the floor.

2. For tight back muscles. Place two tennis balls into a thick sock. Tie it tightly at the top of the balls so that they can’t move around in the sock. Place them under your spine on the floor so that the balls rest on the tight muscles in your back. Hold stationery or make small shifting movements on the floor. It works for the neck and shoulder muscles too. I have been getting a pain in the outer part of my knee. Apparently it is due to the leg muscles spasming and pulling on the ligaments which are what is hurting. This tennis ball trick works a treat for that if I lie on my side and place the balls on the leg muscles, not the ligaments.

3. Sit on the floor with legs wide but comfortably apart. Lean forward slowly toward the left knee, the right knee and to the centre. Do not force it just stretch to comfort. Repeat a few times.

4. Stretch out the calf muscles by standing on a thick book and leaning gently forward. Repeat a few times.

No. 3 and 4 are useful due to the interconnectedness of the muscle groups and the aim to teach your hips and legs to walk again.

If you find any inconsistencies or ambiguities, please let me know. I have written this mostly so that I remember them but I've realised that others are coming up short when they look for information out there.

Also if it is helpful please let me know.   I am going to aim to add videos of the exercises my osteopath showed me.  There is one more that he’s shown me recently but I haven’t had the time to write it up yet.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Razor Blades and Infant Formula

Disposable razor blades and infant formula don't seem to share much in common until we look a little closer at one concern of their consumers.

Here is a re-wording of an Early Day Motion from October 2012 in the UK Houses of Parliament: 

"That this House notes the exorbitant increase in the retail price of men's razor blade cartridges infant formula where in three seven years the price has increased in some cases by almost 100 per cent, some 10 times greater than the price of inflation; and calls on the Office of Fair Trading and consumer bodies to investigate this sector where it has been reported that the production costs per cartridge 100g are in pence while marketing, packaging and profiteering are resulting in very high margins of around a thousand per cent, with an eight-cartridge pack a standard 900g tin  of infant formula currently retailing at many outlets at approximately 22 £10."

Infant formula is the main food source for babies who are not breastfed.  It is outrageous that there isn't similar interests its retail costs as in that for razor blades.  The price of formula averaged 52p per 100g in 2005, 68p per 100g in 2007 now costs approximately 98p for the same volume today.  

A walk through the the baby aisle now have baby formula with anti-theft security tags on them.  Something it shares with hair dye, booze and body wax strips.  Formula is hardly an option like the other three things mentioned.  So where is the social and political concern for this issue?

Cold Comfort from Danone

Save the Children's campaign to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates Is now last week's news.  After the hue and cry over how this campaign will guilt mothers in the UK and the rest of the English speaking (first world) world, this  week, it is quietly leaking out in the press that Aptamil Comfort and Cow and Gate Comfort are unavailable in the UK.  It has been hard to find for a few weeks now with parents on message boards and Facebook groups asking if other mothers know of shops or chemists still in supply.

Danone, the owner of the Aptamil and Cow and Gate brands, has shared with the press that it is a shortage of maize starch, used as a thickener in their Comfort brands, that has caused the problem.

With Danone saying that these brands won't be available again  till mid March, neither option is viable.  Danone is referring parents to its 'Careline' but other that apologies, they don't seem able to assist in any way. The NCT has been trying to coordinate mothers with some of these milks to give to other mums while some parents have resorted to bidding for formula on eBay to feed their babies.

This first world problem shows how quickly first world parents can find that they cannot feed their babies adequately if a problem develops in the supply chain.   A tin of formula doesn't last most babies a week and bidding on eBay is not sustainable.  The more links there are in the supply and distribution chain the more vulnerable a food source becomes.  I guess I don't have to say 'beef' to anyone now.

With climate change in little doubt this temporary supply difficulty is a warning shot that things can become a lot worse for all babies if their food source is not protected.  Last year's drought in the USA will undoubtedly continue to push up the price of cattle feed which will have a knock on effect on the price of formula. Before the next ingredient shortage strikes some parents are finding that they are already cutting back on other things to pay for formula which has nearly doubled in price since 2005.

Surely it is time to support mothers in the UK and elsewhere with more effective support in the feeding choice from birth rather than increase the dissonance of 'making mothers guilty' and other useless platitudes.