Monthly Archives: January 2011

Co-sleeping and Sex

A baby in your bed is the end of your sex life. If your baby is in your room, it’ll take a toll on your marriage. If you co-sleep with your baby, your husband will become jealous of the child.

These are all comments I’ve heard about the fact that we co-sleep. Yes, at 15 months our daughter is still in our bed.

There are so many changes that occur with the birth of a baby, both physically, and as a couple. That “couple” transition to “family” is massive – so much bigger than I ever thought possible. I’ve always said that with the birth of a child, comes the birth of a mother, and I’d like to add another element to that: the birth of a family.Family Feet of Four - Kenny Moller

If physical intimacy is reduced in the relationship – there’s great insight in this post to sex after childbirth – it is much more likely that it is due to there being a baby, rather than where the baby sleeps.

Many women find childbirth and breastfeeding makes them feel beautiful and empowered which often translates well into the bedroom. Conversely, there’s also a lot more pressure on dads, both financially and in terms of domestic responsibilities, which can reduce libido for them too.

Assuming everyone wants to though, here are a few pointers to make it a little easier.

The age of the child

Some people have no problem having sex with their infants in the room or on the bed. Whereas initially we thought we’d never be able to, we did at times, and Ameli always slept through.

As Dionna from Code Name Mama said, “We have a Cal King bed, so there can be 3 feet between us and him, plus the memory foam absorbs the movement. If we had a different bed, that probably wouldn’t be an option. We are also creative – living room, guest bed, etc.

For a toddler or a child that’s likely to wake up and stare you in the face – a major turn-off for most – it might be time to get creative.

When children are a little older, you can put them to bed in their own rooms in the evening, then even if they crawl in with you later, you’ve had a bit of quality time.

Rebecca Woolf wrote a rather giggle-worthy tutorial for sex whilst co-sleeping, in the end she says you could always ignore the tutorial and just have sex on the couch, which is a pretty good second option!

Obvious tips?

  • Change location – think back to where you got it on in the beginning of your sexual relationship. Recreate some of those occasions.
  • Change timing. Baby gone down for a nap? Toddler engrossed in Lego? Grab the moments you can, if not for full blown sex, then at least for a good long kiss or a little foreplay – whatever it takes to keep those home fires burning.
  • Go silent. Sadly, until the children can visit grandma or you have a night at a hotel, the wall-banging, chandelier swinging, caveman-esque screams might have to be toned down a little. Go silent though… you might like the added challenge.

Remember, co-sleeping is not a new or modern phenomena. It has been done for most of the history of man-kind, and we’ve not died out from lack of opportunity yet.

People in one room huts, igloos and shacks still manage to procreate, and I doubt their children cheer them on nightly. There are ways – you just have to be creative, be spontaneous, and really, really want to.  And honestly, it can add a new level to your relationship – sneaking around like the young in love again – but that does depend entirely on you and your approach.

Co-Sleeping and Breastfeeding

A reader asked me to write about co-sleeping and breastfeeding. Although this is something we’ve been doing since around one and a half hours after Ameli’s birth – she was born at 4.40am, we were asleep in our bed by six – it’s still a hard topic to write about because I’ve never really thought about it. We’ve simply just ‘done’ it.

Governments will tell us not to co-sleep, or bed share, as they claim that it reduces the risk of SIDS, yet they acknowledge that it is done in most homes at some point – yet they choose not to talk about doing so safely.

Research has shown various things, and at times all conflicting, but even so the human race has co-slept for most of its existence. It has also breastfed, wet nursed and so on for most of that time.

A study done at the University of Notre Dame, summarises their work thus:

We hope that the studies and data described in this paper, which show that co-sleeping at least in the form of roomsharing especially with an actively breast feeding mother saves lives, is a powerful reason why the simplistic, scientifically inaccurate and misleading statement ‘never sleep with your baby’ needs to be rescinded, wherever and whenever it is published.

According to JJ McKenna1, breastfeeding mothers are more than three times as likely to bed-share.

image: from Atom Egoyan's Sweet HereafterSomething I read, and I can’t for the life of me find it now, when I had just started co-sleeping and breastfeeding was that researchers had found that mothers who co-sleep with their infants were almost unanimously sleeping in the exact same position – with the infant cradled in the nook of the arm, which is protectively around the outside of the baby, and knees drawn up to prevent the baby from shimmying down into the bed. This really fascinated me as I was sleeping like that without anyone ever having told me to.

The Notre Dame study confirms the instinctively safer approach to bed-sharing, saying Our studies have shown that without instruction, the routinely bed-sharing breast feeding mothers almost always placed their infants in the safe supine infant sleep position, probably because it is difficult, if not impossible, to breast feed a prone sleeping infant.

For the babies, bed-sharing meant more regular feeds, and “the nightly durations of breast feeding and to shorten the average intervals between the breast feeding sessions” therein. (Which, as an aside, led to the mothers fertility being regulated.)

Nicky Heskin, in an article about cosleeping and breastfeeding, makes a very valid point too, especially for working mums:

Cosleeping is a great way to fulfill your baby’s physical need for attachment if mommy is not the primary caregiver during the day. Several of my friends who need or choose to work cosleep at night and tell me they don’t feel like they “never see their baby” as some of their colleagues report. Cosleeping also provides the opportunity for increased night nursing (note that cosleeping does not cause increased night nursing: it just means you won’t have to get out of bed for it!). Increased night nursing can help reduce baby’s daytime breastmilk needs and keep milk supply well-stimulated to extend the amount of time working moms are able to be successful at exclusive breastfeeding through pumping.

Cosleeping and breastfeeding as a combination also helps with sleep deprivation. Mothers who learn to breastfeed in the side lying position especially will find themselves feeding without getting up, which makes sleep a lot less disturbed. Later, once babies are able to move a bit more freely, you’ll often find you often don’t even wake up during nursing: I once told my husband that I thought Ameli had slept through, and he actually laughed at me, as he had awoken to the sound of her nursing a few times during the night. At least one of us woke up really refreshed that morning!

early days cosleepingAs always, the ‘rules’ of co-sleeping need to be followed: never co-sleep when you’ve been drinking, never co-sleep if you take drugs, including those that make you drowsy, such as antihistamines, and don’t co-sleep if one of you is a smoker. Also, don’t let the nanny, aunt or grandparent co-sleep with an infant as they do not have the same instincts as a parent and never underestimate those instincts either. One night when Ameli was a few months old I in my sleep reached over and grabbed her as she was about to plunge off the bed. My husband woke me up to tell me what I had just done.

There is a word of warning too though: in the early weeks, until Ameli coulds move, I sat up to breastfeed. One night, side lying, I fell asleep. Instinct kicked in and I woke up and found that my (rather large) breast was over Ameli’s face and she wasn’t able to breathe. Although it hadn’t been going on long enough that she gulped air or was in any distress, I realised the importance of being alert enough – what the Notre Dame study refers to as level 1 and 2 sleep – and avoiding anything that could interfere with your instincts – such as alcohol or extreme exhaustion. (edit: I sat up, because I had been frightened by the experience, since Ameli had not struggled at all [or if she had, it might have been what woke me, but I wasn’t aware of it] , but I must admit that I had ginormous breasts at that stage. It may be safer to side-lie as at least you won’t drop the baby if you fall asleep, but you’ll have to find what works for you.)

Breastfeeding and cosleeping go hand in hand and have done for centuries. In traditional African culture, mothers cosleep with their offspring till four or five years of age. So do they in many Asian cultures.

I’m only an expert on how we have done it, but if you have any questions, or would like to contribute anything, please leave a comment below.

1 McKenna JJ, Mosko S, Richard C. Bed sharing promotes breastfeeding.Pediatrics 1997; 100: 214–219.

Mothers, Children And Inherited Self-Image

I’ve been thinking a lot about inherited self-image lately.

By inherited self-image, I mean that which we learn from our mothers. The reason is a simple one. Ameli, at 15 months, has started going into my handbag, taking out my brush and brushing her hair. Or taking my – thankfully childproof – lipstick and rubbing it on her lips.

Now, I have always had body issues. Where they come from, I can’t say, exactly, but I’ve been through the mill of teenage self-loathing, diet pills, and bouts of bulimia, and in the end, it was when I decided that I am what I am that I became happiest within myself, found the man I have now been married to for six years, and have a pretty healthy amount of love for myself – and also the worst physical physique I’ve ever had, due to hormonal issues that have been getting worse and worse for a few years now, culminating in Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancy. But, I am at peace with myself, and that matters more to me.

http://www.punchstock.com/com/ZAF/en/asset_images/80283614During my pregnancy, I stood in front of the mirror looking at my bulging belly and flabby thighs, and made an gesture of self-loathing reminiscent of those of my teenage days, and recognising it, I made a decision: I will not pass self-loathing on to my child.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, liking what you see in the mirror, eating a balanced diet, and exercising, but what I never want is to see my two, or five, or ten, or fifteen year old looking in the mirror and hating what she sees – and of course, I’m pretty certain that at some point it will happen, because, let’s face it, the world is geared that way. The world is geared at making us think less of ourselves.

How would companies sell that lipstick that makes handsome guys do double takes when you wear it? How would they sell the deodorant that makes men fall over themselves as you walk by? How would anyone buy cellulite cream if it wasn’t for some or other goddess of perfection walking down the high street in winter in her bikini?

Advertising, and public perception with it, has to make us feel ugly and inferior, otherwise they will never make the money they do.

So, at some point, my beautiful little girl will look in the mirror and notice that unlike whichever model, she has curves, she has spots, and maybe even cellulite, and she will hate what she sees, but I am determined that she will not learn it from me. And my hope is that the self-image I pass on to her will be enough that, in time, she will find that image of her beautiful self again.

I think for me, that means not walking around with my head hung in shame, but rather embracing that which I have, and looking the best I can within my skin – which won’t happen if I don’t feel it. It means consciously changing how I see myself. It means not looking in the mirror with disgust. It means accepting compliments graciously rather than dismissing them. It means not speaking about myself in derogatory terms and not allowing others to call me names that might be perceived as accepting negative comments about myself in the eyes of my child.

To every little child, his or her mother is the most beautiful woman in the world, no matter who you are. Let’s remember that, and live as if we knew it were true.

Misleading, Inaccurate Headlines Harm Babies Too

I went away for the weekend and seem to have come back to the world gone mad. Headlines such as “Breast is not best“, “Exclusively breast-feeding for six months ’causes allergies“, and “Mother’s milk”may do more harm than good are all over my RSS feeds.

Now, Analytical Armadillo has written an exemplary article on the ‘facts’ behind this study, and Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths has raised very valid points about the media involvement in the controversy over this. But here are my thoughts on it.

Things My Baby Taught Me About Me

Dear Ameli,

I know I don’t often write you letters on random days of the month, but usually gather up all the little things I want to say to you into your monthly letter. Today is different though, because today, I don’t want to tell you about you. I want, instead, to tell you about me.

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Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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The things I have learned about me are more than I ever knew possible.

I have learned that there are some things that you can never know until you have experienced them. Holding your first born is one of them.

I have learned that there is an unused, previously unknown portion of your heart that suddenly comes alive once there is this kind of love to fill it. I never missed it before you were born, because I didn’t know that it was there.

I have learned that I actually do possess perseverance skills. Laughable as it sounds now, I was dreadfully worried that I’d become bored of being a mother. Sure, I’m only about 1/18th through the influential part of motherhood, but still: so far, so good.

I have learned that I am exceptionally capable. Things that may have seemed daunting two years ago are now common place. Like surviving on day after day of broken sleep. Of having quiet ‘me-times’ be far and few between, and yet finding new ways of achieving inner peace and quiet. Of utilising and maximising the shortest times to the greatest effect.

I have learned that my mind is inquisitive – something I have always known, yet now I have the time to explore things – like how breast milk is made, ingredients in commonly accepted child medications and so on. I have the time to discover and the intelligence to understand.

I have learned that I am fiercely passionate. Which amuses me, because the things I am passionate about are things I never knew existed just a few years ago. I don’t do anything because I think it looks good. I do it because I believe that it is.

I have learned that I am worthy. I am worthy to be loved, just as I love. I am worthy of being respected, just as I respect you. I am allowed, no, required to care for myself, so that I can care for you.

I have learned that I can look in the mirror and not despise what I see – not because it is beautiful, but because I do not want you to mimic self-loathing. I have learned that I will love myself, and accept myself as I am, so that you will do the same for yourself.

And I guess the most important thing that I have learned, that you have taught me, is that I am strong. Cliché as that may sound, there have been days when I’ve not wanted to get out of bed. Yet I get up, and I carry on, and I do the best I can on those days. Even when I feel my tank is empty. Those days I realise that I am strong.

As much as some people like jumping up and down with statements of being ‘sick to death’ of those in the “natural birth camp” or “the breastfeeding camp” or “the natural parenting camp” for making them feel inadequate, I cannot help, nor apologise, for what you have taught me. And I am proud.

That I can endure 48 hours of labour with focus and willpower to birth a child – just as a marathon runner or mountain climber feels pride – so do I. That I can go through the ups and downs of breastfeeding, pumping, nipple pain, mastitis, and still nurse you – I feel pride that I persevered. That I hold you close, keep you near, sleep by you, attach you to my heart, my head and my body, I feel pride that I can dedicate these years to you, knowing that these days will come back to me many fold.

I feel pride, because it is my achievement. It is what I have worked for. It is what I have learned from this experience of motherhood, thus far. I feel pride when I look at where I have come from and where I have been and how I have grown. And when I look at you, I know that my sense of pride is not an exaltation of myself above any other woman.

No, it is an exaltation of myself above my old self. It is the betterment of me.

And it is all because of you.

How will I ever thank you?

With all my love.

Mama

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)

Natural Childbirth: Changes In Sex Life

It usually starts with,”Can I ask you a personal question?”I must admit, I don’t mind. There’s not much I haven’t shared already. So she continues,”How are things, you know, down there, since your natural birth?”

It’s a question I really don’t mind answering. It’s a legitimate fear. And it’s a question I’ve had in person and by email countless times too. Generally, people want to know specific things:

  • Have there been physical changes in your body?
  • How has your sex life changed?
  • Isn’t your vagina really stretched now?
  • How do you have sex and co-sleep?

As to the physical changes, there’s an interesting article on Baby Centre about Sex: After the baby, definitely worth a read.

Of course, I’m only one person, so I’ve asked a few friends to share their views too:

I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories of this one or that one who were back in the saddle less than a week after birth  – I knew a girl who fell pregnant the same month her daughter was born! But of course, this is not ideal. The advice is generally to wait until you’re ready, but at least six weeks to allow for the uterus, cervix and if required, the perineum to heal. (Midwives and doctors will tell you the risk of infection is greater in the first six weeks.)

There are massive physical changes in the body during pregnancy and childbirth and it takes a few weeks for the organs to move back into their ‘correct’ places and for things to heal up again. That said, after natural child birth, the vagina and perineum start to heal up really soon again –  for me the sting during urination, caused by the grazing when my daughter shot out in one go after 48 hours of labour, lasted about three days.

The whole area felt a little swollen, and it was only during urination for those first few days that it hurt. Not helped by the fact that I didn’t drink my usual amount of water during those 48 hours, so the urine was a lot more acidic than usual too. ‘They’ recommend, and I second, a squirty bottle of water kept by the toilet so that you can ‘dilute’ what hits the area. I also strongly recommend a sitz bath and I kept the sitz solution on hand to cleanse with after each trip to the loo.

Dionna, from Code Name Mama, says “We tried the first time at four weeks postpartum. That was a bad idea, but I really wanted to show Tom some of the affection he’d been giving me by supporting me through those first difficult weeks of breastfeeding. We quickly abandoned that first attempt. I think the first time we successfully had sex (successfully for him, still pretty painful for me) was at six weeks postpartum. It really didn’t start feeling good to me until at least 12 weeks postpartum, if not later. Mind you, I had a cracked tailbone and substantial bruising.”

Lauren from Hobo Mama had a more difficult time resuming their sex life: “Our midwives and various other sources told us we could resume intercourse at six weeks postpartum, and for me, that was far too optimistic. Even after an uncomplicated vaginal birth, everything down there still hurt way too much at six weeks. I think we resumed some sort of sexual relations about 4 months in.”

We had our first experience about six weeks after, and I remember feeling pretty much nothing. I was too scared to even say anything about it to my husband, as the thought of never having any sensation again was terrifying. Lauren shares a similar experience:

“For a while after that, it still was uncomfortable for me, and then it became just nothing. I didn’t feel any real arousal, and I was so scared that’s how it would be for all time. I didn’t even tell my husband that was how I felt, because it was so depressing for me to think about. Finally, around 9 months, I felt the first glimmer of returning libido, and I was so relieved!”

Dionna explains that her low libido is probably due to tiredness more than anything else. “I have had a noticeably smaller sex drive since having a baby. In the first year, that might have been partially due to breastfeeding hormones, but even with Kieran not nursing as much, my sex drive is still smaller. It’s probably more because of exhaustion at the end of the day. I’d recommend that couples who are too tired to make love find a different time of the day – early in the morning or at lunch time.”

Another mother, Louise, who also has a one year old old daughter, shares that she also has a very low sex drive, and also attributes it to breastfeeding hormones, but on the up side, she says that when they have sex “once or twice a month” it is a much more powerful experience than it was before. Louise always enjoyed sex anyway, but now her orgasms are much stronger and last longer.

This has also been my experience: lower sex drive, but so much better than ever before when it does happen.

Deena, also a mum of one, says that she has never had an orgasm during sex, but feels that it is getting closer and closer.

It’s not the case for everyone though. Celina, a mum of two, and her fiance have an enviable sex life anyway, and having a baby didn’t stand in the way of that. With her first born, they waited three weeks because of her episiotomy, and after her second, she says “let’s just say I was very busy, so oral sex became our primary satisfaction for about four weeks.

As far as changes to my body I’ve actually become even more aware of my beauty after becoming a mother. I feel so beautiful when I breastfeed and that confidence transfers very well to the bedroom.

Dionna agrees. On the positive side, I feel like I’m more in touch with my body since having Kieran, she says.

And I agree here too. Since Ameli’s birth, I can look at my body, with it’s spots, wrinkles and cellulite, and for possibly the first time ever, not loathe seeing myself in the mirror, because I have found a strength and awesomeness within myself and my ability to birth a child naturally. What this hunk of flesh is capable of creating and going through, blows my mind and surpasses what I used to see, looking at the physical form in the mirror. There was also a lot of sexual healing for me, following a very peaceful water birth.

For most of us, a major contributing factor to lessened sexual activity could be the fact that we co-sleep.

For Celina, the only thing that’s really changed in their sex life is the spontaneity.

We make love at night or in the early morning. The only time it’s spontaneous is when both girls happen to be asleep, then we run to each other. The baby now sleeps in her own bed in our room. But during the first months of her life we would have to leave the room and she would usually wake up half way through. It’s been tough. But, I feel it isn’t a lack of desire on our part just the inability to find the time.”

Dionna followed the same pattern as us: when the babies were very young, we were just very quiet.

Says Dionna: We have a Cal King bed, so there can be 3 feet between us and him, plus the memory foam absorbs the movement. If we had a different bed, that probably wouldn’t be an option. We are also creative – living room, guest bed, etc.

And yes, creativity is probably the co-sleepers best friend.

In the end, sex goes through phases, just like every other aspect of a relationship. Sometimes you’re too busy, sometimes you’re not ready, and sometimes you’re too tired. The key to a good sex life after a natural birth, is the same as before: communication. And from a physical perspective, it really is different from woman to woman all you can do is listen to your body, and do what feels right for you and your partner.

As Lauren, who is pregnant with her second child puts it, After the next birth, I’ll know just to take it easy and give my body and psyche the recovery time they need.

Dear Ameli– Letter to a 15 month old

I know I say this often, little girl, but seriously, how much you can grow in one month just blows my mind. We have watched you, these last few weeks shed off the last of your ‘baby-ness’ and really take on the mantle of little girl. Daddy and I have both commented at times in these last two weeks how much you’ve changed in just fourteen days.

BubblesThe biggest thing is comprehension. You understand what we’re saying to you, even if you can’t answer in words, and don’t yet have all the right words either, but you definitely understand. For example, I gave you some Ashton and Parson’s for your teeth, then scrunched up the wrapper and you took it from me. I said, for no other reason than to say it, certainly not expecting you to do anything, “pop it in the bin when you’re done.” And lo and behold, you rolled off the sofa we were sitting on, toddled over to the bin, lifted the lid, and dropped it inside. I was so surprised, I started clapping and you beamed your beautiful smile at me. I tried it again the next day, and you did it again. I couldn’t believe it.

Your vocabulary is growing by the day. Sometimes you say words you don’t understand at first, but you quickly get it. You call a cat a cat, but most other animals you’ll point at and make a ‘woof’ sound. You know and recognise bubbles, and call any round object, such as a ball, a circle and so on ‘bubble’. You’ve taken a strong fancy to your Aunty Deshaine’s old doll, and will carry it around calling it ‘baby’. Anything to drink is “dhwhater”, but you do know actual water when you see it. Anything to eat is “hmmm-mmmhh” and usually followed by an open mouth, waiting to be filled. Although we’ve always signed “milk” you’ve now learned to put a word with it – “dwhoooo” with a rising accent on the “oooo”. We figure it sounds like “boooooobs” to you.

You know Nana, Oupa, Daddy, Mummy, and Desh by name, and you recognise each of us in pictures. The sound of a motorbike is always met with wide eyes and “Oupa”. The sound of someone at the door is usually met with the same expression, but “Nana” on your lips.

There are some words you use but don’t really understand yet. Like when you sign “poo” by holding your nose, and say the word “poo”, but you don’t seem to really know what it means yet.

You adore your aunty and the days she stays over are probably your favourite. She is so patient with you and allows you to lead her around the house as you wish. Her room is a magical playground. Last week you practically dragged me up the stairs to her room and stood banging at the door. I opened it to show you she wasn’t there, so you lay down on the floor and cried. It broke my heart.

New Year’s Eve Daddy and I went out, and you stayed with Oupa and Nana. You were so well behaved, I was very proud of you. When we got to their house around 2am and decided to crash there, you curled up in my arms and went to sleep as per usual. You weren’t even clingly the next day.

You have the most incredible, infectious laugh, it makes everyone stop to see what you’re doing, and you’re as friendly as you’ve always been. You’re also so content. Earlier this month we went to a restaurant with a group of friends. You have been out with us so often, that it really doesn’t phase you, but everyone commented on how you were peaceful, calm, and largely self entertaining for the entire afternoon. Again, I was proud to be your mama.

This is an adventure, beautiful girl, and you’re fully at the helm. Thank you for who you’ve turned us into. We love you eternally.

Always,

Mama

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