Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shaker Bottles: A Fun Activity

Shaker bottles are a fun and interesting way for your infant to explore the properties of sound as well as develop motor skills! By putting various fillers into the bottles, you can create a sound experiment that is bound to captivate your little one's attention. Jonah loves exploring the different sounds of each bottle, as well as the motion and colors of the fillers. By using fillers of different weights, you are helping your child to learn about physical properties, while encouraging them to lift, shake, and manipulate objects in the world around them. Making these bottles is fun and easy!
Wash and dry plastic bottles from water, soft drinks, or juices. It is fun to have a variety of shapes and sizes, but make sure that your infant is able to easily hold that particular kind of bottle. Sports drinks bottles are large, but offer textured sides that make it easy for infants to grab. Remove the little ring that is usually left behind by the seal of the cap. These are often sharp, and can interfere with gluing the cap on properly.

Fill the bottles each with different materials. It is fun to have some bottles filled with similar materials that differ in one major way. Jingle bells, for example, are fun if you fill one bottle with large bells and another with smaller bells. Try to find materials that have a wide range of sounds when shaken. Strips of cut construction paper, or pom-poms, make extremely soft sounds and would be a great contrast to the jingle bells. Materials I'd recommend for filling the bottles are:
  • colored rice
  • colored pasta (you can fill each bottle with a different shape pasta!)
  • popping corn
  • popped pop corn (the air pop kind, with no salt or butter!!!)
  • sand
  • pom-poms of different sizes and bright colors
  • sand and colored water
  • jingle bells of various sizes
  • a variety of dried beans (pick colorful beans that have different shapes and sizes. Kidney beans and navy beans are a fun contrast!)
  • Construction paper cut into shapes or strips
To color rice or pasta, put the amount of rice or pasta into a ziploc bag and add a couple drops of food coloring. Make sure the bag is sealed properly and shake/knead the bag until the color coats the pasta/rice. Pour it out onto a plate (you might want to use disposable plates, to ensure your nice plates don't get stained with coloring) and let dry over night. This step is great for older siblings, especially if they are learning to mix primary colors (yellow and blue to get green) Have them choose the colors to see what color it makes, or say "we want to make green, which colors should we use?" If you are mixing colors to make a new color, remember that a little goes a long way, and purple is very difficult to get. Add a bit more red than blue, and sometimes a little yellow helps it too!It is also fun to create variety by filling different bottles with varying volumes of each material. Fill one bottle 1/3 full with kidney beans, another bottle 1/2 full, and another bottle nearly full. This creates differences in sound, weight, and the motion of the material when shaken. It is also fun to create themed sets of bottles. You can create bottles that have all red contents, blue contents, green etc. You could create sets of bottles that are opposites: loud jingle bells, quiet pom poms. An earth's elements set would include things like sand, water, twigs, pebbles.

Glue the caps onto the bottles. This is important. Caps can easily come unscrewed and fall off. When this happens, not only is the cap a choking hazard, but so are the contents of the bottles. Also, you will want to replace the bottles regularly. They get chewed on, crunched, stepped on, and some of the materials such as sand or popcorn will begin to break down and leave residue on the inside of the bottles. This residue is completley harmless, but it makes the experience of watching the motion of the objects inside a little less exciting for your child. Always supervise your child when playing with the shaker bottles. This is an activity for both of you to share- the child as the explorer, and you as the guide.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

When I became pregnant with Jonah, I became obsessed with something that most women give very little thought to. How I would feed my baby. I read countless books about how the breast produces milk, went to breastfeeding classes, learned about the politics and economy of formula feeding, and the vast differences between formula and breastmilk. I vowed when I was 20 weeks pregnant, and my colostrum came, that I would never feed my children formula. There was no questioning. I was on my soapbox, and I wouldn't come down.

Over and over, I would tout the importance of breastfeeding to anyone who would listen. I would banter for hours about how manufacturers make formula out to be just as good or sometimes better than mothers milk, when truth be told it is a pale imitation of something that cannot be synthesized. I was very proud to be a so-called "lactivist."

When Jonah was born, the nurses gave him formula without my permission. As I held him for the first time, and he latched on like a pro, I whispered into his little ear not to worry, that was the last time he'd be getting that "crap." He was getting la creme della creme from now on. I kept it a little known secret that he'd ever had that little ounce of formula, and blazoned my "exclusively breastfeeding" title wherever I could. Breastfeeding became more than a way of nurturing my child, it became a way of life for us as we drove through snowstorms to La Leche League meetings, and stood up to anyone daring to ask us to "move to a private location" when feeding out in public. Even on this blog, two posts ago, I set my soapbox down and furiously wrote about the importance of breastfeeding in public. I wanted to nurse Jonah until he self-weaned. Whether that was at two years or five years, I was commited to giving my son that security.

Recently, as you may have read, I was body checked off of my soapbox. Completely devestated as doctors told me to stop nursing, I began mixing bottles of pumped milk and formula for my severely underweight son. It was only going to be temporary, and even though my milk supply had dropped drastically from Jonah only eating two ounces at each feeding, I was determined to get my body to produce milk and get Jonah back to breast and off formula as quickly as possible.

We rented a hospital grade pump; I began taking several herbal supplements; all soda and juice in my diet was replaced with water and high electrolyte drinks. I pumped every hour. Within a week, I saw results. I was able to produce enough milk to provide Jonah with five 6-oz bottles every day, and gave him a bottle of high calorie formula in the evening when I was not able to pump the full six ounces. I was proud, and relieved.

However, a week after that, reality set in. In order to provide as much milk to Jonah, I had to continue to pump every hour. I was also taking a large amount of herbal supplements (under the care and instruction of my doctor and lactation consultant.) I had to stop several activities with Jonah, such as elimination communication, because I was spendig too much time at the pump. Reality truly set in when I realized that he was beginning to cry more, and I was unable to console him (I was pumping.) That is when it hit me: although I was able to keep up one aspect of my parenting that was very important to me, I had to give up everything else that I enjoyed about motherhood. No longer could I read stories to Jonah, laugh and play with him, take him on walks, or do fun enriching activities with him. No, I had no time for those. Pumping took about a half hour itself, another twenty minutes to sterilize everything and wash bottles, then Jonah needed to be fed, changed, put down for naps etc. There was just no time for these "extras." But were they really extras that were being cut out, or was I putting a greater need for love and affection and bonding aside, just so I could provide Jonah with a bit of breastmilk.

My milk supply dropped severely, and I began needing to pump even more frequently to provide even half a bottle of breastmilk with each feeding. This is when I decided that these few ounces of breastmilk are not worth jeapordizing everything else in my parenting methods. I had chosen breastfeeding above all else, to bond with my child. How could I bond with him when I am constantly hooked up to this mechanical device trying to provide a tiny bit of milk. It was a difficult decision, but one that had to be made. Since making the decision to give Jonah mostly formula, and stop full-time pumping, both of us have been happier. We've begun signing again, reading together, playing, and starting on Monday, we will jump back into elimination communication.

Harry Harlow ran a famed expiriment with rhesus monkeys to show the importance of love, emotional nurturing, and bonding reaches above the importance of physical nurturing and providing food. He offered infant rhesus monkeys with two choices of "mother figures" made from wire. One mother was just a wire frame, but offered food. The other wire frame was covered in warm cozy fur, and offered comfort and emotional nurturing. The rhesus babies chose to go to the mother offering comfort rather than food, even in extreme cases where the babies were close to starvation.

This experiment backs up my choice, that my son needs a mother who is happy, and able to cuddle and play, even more than he needs those few ounces of milk. I still nurse Jonah from my breast, as we both find it comforting and soothing. The doctor told me that as long as he isn't losing weight, this was okay. Although he still takes several bottles of formula a day, I am hoping that I will be able to continue nursing him for a long time, although full-time nursing seems to be off of the horizon. The doctor would like for me to continue giving him the high calorie formula until he is twenty pounds, which is looking like that will be close to one year old. He is also showing a distinct preference to the bottle when he wants food, but still takes the breast when he needs comfort, before bed and upon waking, for example. Nursing is still something that I feel very strongly about, something that I did not give up without trying everything I could to keep it our main source of nutrition, and something that I believe every mother should do. It still breaks my heart to know that we had everything going for us, and then due to reflux, something that could have been fixed had I been paying attention, Jonah stopped eating. It breaks my heart to think that I used to produce too much milk, and now I barely have any.

But looking at Jonah's chubby little toes, and seeing his baby belly that now does not include a full view of his ribs, I know I am making the right choice. As I sit down with my baby boy to sing to him and make him laugh and see his smile, and then I see my pump sitting in the corner, where a week ago I was sitting, I know that I made the right choice. I love my son, and so I am willing to give up this part of me; I am willing to give him formula with my love attached, to see him stay happy and healthy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When everything stops

It has been a very long time since Jonah and I have made an update on our journey together. We have written several posts about cloth diapers, rice cereal, and homemade baby food, however when events took an unexpected turn two weeks ago, I could not find it in my heart to post any of them.

To be told that there is something wrong with her child is a mother's worst nightmare, and even if the ailment is temporary, as parents we live in the realm of "here and now" and everything seems to stop until our babies are well again. Two weeks ago, Jonah and I went to meet our new pediatrician. I suspected nothing out of the ordinary would take place; just a routine visit and an interview to make sure that she was the correct pediatrician for Jonah to see. When they weighed him, my heart sank. He weighed the same as he had on Thanksgiving. He hadn't gained any weight. I knew that he was tiny, and he was skinny, but I truly saw signs of him growing and getting nutrition. I never thought he had stopped growing.

The pediatrician recommended that we go to the hospital. She gave us a choice, but said that if we choose to work as outpatients, it could take months to get answers. With a baby who isn't gaining any weight at all, I wanted answers right away. We were admitted to the hospital Wednesday evening. Testing started immediately. Bloodwork, urine samples, chest x-rays. It was terrifying as a parent. Even worse, upon all of these feelings of fear, the hospital staff began pointing their fingers at Daryl and me. Why is he so small, they ask. That is what we came to find out. Why did it take so long for you to realize, they ask. The same reason it took pediatricians so long to realize. Jonah had been seeing a pediatrician on a regular basis, and this was the first time he had ever been recorded to stop growing. During our week long stay at the hospital I felt humiliated, judged, and inadequate as a parent.

Several aspects of our lifestyle did not fit well into the hospital regiment. Our elimination communication, for example, was seen as something from Mars. When I told the nurse that I could get a urine sample for her without using a catheter, she did not believe me. I stepped out of our room for two seconds, and when I stepped back in, she was inserting the catheter, and of course getting nothing because he had just soaked a diaper. I finally talked her into using a sample cup, but she wouldn't let me catch it. She had to be the one holding it. Of course, the delay between me saying "He's going to pee" and her getting the cup underneath him was too big of a gap, and I ended up spending most of the night getting peed on. The nurse would get impatient, put a bag over his diaper area, and give up. Finally, around three AM I convinced her to leave the cup with me. I caught a sample within a matter of minutes. It was amazing to me that once the impatience and negative energy of the nurse were taken out of the equation, Jonah and I communicated much easier, and EC was facilitated. That was the last time that we used EC, as while we were in the hospital they needed to weigh his diapers. They would not allow me to catch his urine in a cup, it had to be in a diaper- and a hospital diaper at that. No bare bums, no cloth diapers.

Our nursing was also interrupted. It was found that although Jonah nursed, he would only take two ounces of milk for every feeding. His reflux had been so painful that it caused an aversion to eating, and he took in just enough to sustain himself, but not enough to thrive. We began medicating him for the reflux, because we had been using alternative methods to control it previously. We thought our methods were working, as he was no longer spitting up, but that was far from the case. Had we medicated when he was two months old, Jonah would have been a growing, happy, baby today. This has made me sit down and really think about how the choices we make as a parent really do effect our children. It isn't something to be taken lightly, and I will definitely give things a lot more thought from now on. Because of his aversion, we had to teach Jonah to take more milk at each feeding. We also had to stretch his stomach so that it could hold more than two ounces, and train my body to make more than two ounces of milk for him. Jonah was put on a high calorie formula, and I exclusively pumped. Once I began making more milk, I was able to pump for Jonah and fortify the milk, supplementing what my body is unable to make.

This was a very humbling route to take. I have stood on my soapbox several times about formula companies and the harm they do not only to our children but to our relationships with our children. I have ranted and raved about how they sink their claws into the medical community, making mothers believe they cannot or should not use breastmilk. I have come to realize that there are purposes for formula, and sometimes its use is actually for the better for the child. I hear women say "I want to breastfeed for x number of months" but I could never say that. Instead I would say "I don't ever want my babies to have formula." It was difficult to let that go, and even more difficult to accept that because Jonah wasn't taking much milk from me, I may not be able to produce milk through his first year, let alone beyond. It was devestating for me.

We were also bombarded with questions regarding Jonah's solids' diet. I haven't been feeding him solids on a regular basis, and chose avocados as his first food over rice cereal. I did not think this was odd, as several parents I know have done so. My pediatrician stood by me on this decision, as do several books about infant nutrition. However, everyone at the hospital felt the need to question this choice, and "prescribe" rice cereal into his diet.

Last Tuesday, we were given the all-clear to finally go home. Jonah had been eating steadily, and gained a bit of weight. We are continuing to feed him a high calorie diet, but I am pumping nearly enough milk at this point that the majority of his diet is my milk, fortified. And so we begin a new chapter in our journey: pumping.

We have had to stop using EC, mainly because of the amount of time and effort that pumping is taking. I simply cannot physically do both. Hopefully once we get settled into our new routine, we will be able to pick it back up again. We have had a rough start to what looks like a long road ahead of us for pumping and bottle feeding. It is not something I ever planned would be a topic for this particular blog. It has, however become a part of both of our lives, and is becoming more and more crucial to the way we are living our lives.