Wednesday, November 29, 2006

New mothers' groups

Do you belong to a new mothers' group in your part of Japan?

Do you wish there was a group near you? Maybe you are interested in starting one up?

Write to babycafejapan and let us know. We might hear from someone near you and we can put you in touch with each other. Eventually we could have babycafe japan satellite groups appearing all over Japan! And mothers (and families) meeting each other and getting the local support they need!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Getting round with baby

One of the secrets to a comfortable life as a parent in Japan is to "wear" your baby, much like local parents do. While in our home countries we expect to always put our babies into prams or buggies, pushchairs, strollers or other vehicles, there are so many places, especially in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, which are just down-right unfriendly for wheels, whether they be wheels for babies or disabled people. Subway stairs are one of the biggest challenges. Not every station has escalators and elevators or lifts all the way to the platform or up to the street. As many experienced parents can vouch, it is not part of the culture here for people to offer to help carry buggies and strollers down the stairs for you, so it becomes necessary to be very self-sufficient, especially for mothers out with the baby by themselves. (Alternatively you could become very proficient in a Japanese phrase along the lines of "Hey mate, give me a hand with this stroller would you?"...)

The other thing is, even if you manage to get down onto the platform, getting on a crowded train with a Rolls Royce of a stroller is quite challenging. At least if your baby is being held close to you, you can protect him with your arms, and cover him from commuter germs with the sling fabric or a light blanket or cloth.

If you find yourself suffering through varying degrees of frustration and anger at the facilities when you go out with your baby in a stroller, it is time to consider baby-wearing. You may have found that, inadvertently, you have begun to limit your social life to days when both parents can go out together, or you only go to local activities which you can get to on foot...and only if it's not raining. Yet if both parents begin wearing your baby as soon as possible after birth, when baby is still relatively light, you will develop the strength and stamina to wear your baby for longer periods of time, and you will begin to find babywearing quite natural, convenient and easy.

Of course it is never too late to start wearing your baby, but if you haven't been doing it from the start, you may find you need to practice, just round the house, for a few minutes each day, so you and your baby can get used to the idea, and your strength will build up.

Depending on the sort of carrier or sling you buy, they can also be used for convenient and dicreet breastfeeding in public, which is particularly helpful for new mothers who are not yet comfortable with that idea. Practicing babywearing and breastfeeding at home means it will feel quite normal for both baby and you to use the sling like that while you are out.

There is a plethora of slings and baby carriers on the market, ranging from very simple structures to things with so many buckles and straps you need a degree in technology to get the thing on. Prices also vary enormously...don't be persuaded to buy slngs which are the same price as a small vehicle...remember they are just pieces of fabric!!! Many economical and attractive options are available, both in Japan and over the internet. There is an excellent babywearing site which has product reviews and user comments, as well as good information about the added benefits of babywearing: babies who are worn are more settled and content, grow better, develop good muscle tone responding to the body movements of the wearer, cry less and learn more rapidly.

Dr William Sears, a well-known pediatrician and author, popularized the baby sling idea with Western parents in the 70's, and has since found in his practice that babies who are worn do better in so many respects. Read more here and you will be amazed.

Of course all over the world babies have been worn in all kind of carriers and slings for centuries. But for some people, baby-wearing has a bit of stigma attached to it: once someone told me that babies were carried in slings only by poor people in her country. There are so many beautiful fabrics and fashionable slings available these days, that I am sure you can bring yourself to overcome this sort of thinking! Babies are important human beings, who need closeness and nurturing, no matter which socio-economic group you are from! And the convenience in Japan is indisputable!

Baby wearing is not only for babies. Toddlers also benefit, and it can help keep them safe in crowded streets or busy shops or even airports. Even if you decide to use a stroller, having a sling tucked in your bag for emergencies is also a good idea, because there will be days when your child simply refuses to stay in the stroller, or is very upset in the stroller, and with the sling on stand-by you don't feel so reluctant to pick them up and carry them. A quiet, content baby or toddler in a parent's arms is always preferable to a thrashing, screaming or tantrum-throwing one, especially when you are trying to rush for a train or plane!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Baby poop

Eeeeew, yucky topic, I know, but it is amazing how people have had so little exposure to this natural function that they don't know what is normal, and baby comes along, and panic sets in.
Newborn babies first pass meconium, a thick blackish tarry poop, which is very sticky. It has been collecting in the baby's gut in utero. Often the hospital or clinic staff change those diapers/nappies, but sometimes it is Dad's job, lucky guy.

As baby takes in more breastmilk, the poop will become lighter, first becoming a greenish colour after a day or so, then becoming more yellowish, as baby gets more milk. By about Day 5 you should see baby with more copious stooling patterns, and the poop will be mustardy coloured and LIQUID. The poop will sometimes have curdy bits that look like cottage cheese, sometimes it will be more watery, and sometimes it may even have a greenish tinge to it. None of these things are cause for concern.

How many times a day do we expect babies to poop? When they are very little, they should be going several times a day, and the number of poops is pretty reliable as an indicator of whether baby is drinking enough breastmilk or not. If things are going well with breastfeding, you may see between 2 and 5 poops every day, sometimes more. If your baby is less than a month old and not stooling at least twice a day, it could be an indicator that baby is not getting enough breastmilk, and you should have someone observe your breastfeeding to be sure baby is actually transferring milk during the time spent at the breast. Lots of parents take their babies to the doctor at this point, wondering what to do about constipation.

Breastfed babies RARELY ever get constipated. In the first couple of weeks, if they are not stooling, it generally means they need more frequent and effective breastfeeding. More calories makes more poop. It is amazing how many doctors suggest using Q tips to get baby to poop. It is such a dangerous practice, and parents often go home and use that method each day to get baby to poop. A baby who doesn't poop should first be checked to be sure your baby is breastfeeding frequently and well.

Let's just repeat this: More calories more poop. Isn't it more important that your baby is getting enough breastmilk rather than focussing on getting the poop to come out?

Breastfeed at least 8-10 times a day, even more if you are worried. If you have been told by the hospital or clinic to breastfeed only 5 or 10 minutes per breast (a common practice in Japan), it is very likely this is contributing to your baby's shortfall of calories.

Breastfeed longer and as effectively as possible on one side first. Be sure you hear baby swallowing. Finish the first breast first before offering the other side. If baby is sleepy, you can burp or change him to help him wake up enough to take the other side.

For more details about poop colour, see Dr Jay Gordon's page

The final thing is, parents wonder when the baby will start to do more formed bowel movements. These start when baby begins solid foods. So enjoy the less odorous breastmilk poop while you can, because once babies are on solids, then everyone within a large radius knows when someone has done a poop...!!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Self-soothing solitary sleep

Sounds cold and lonely doesn't it?

What do you like to do to before you sleep? Apart from the obvious...which for new parents may not even top the the weather gets colder, maybe you like to have a cup of something warm and soothing, a chat and a cuddle with your partner, a bit of a read, maybe even a massage...that sounds like a nice way to ease ourselves into the world of sleep, doesn't it? And it feels good!

Why then do we want our little babies to learn to sleep alone and without human contact from a young age, when we all know how nice the alternative feels? Is it fear that keeps us from being warm, loving and gentle with our babies as they transition to sleep, just as we are with our partners? Is it so important to "teach" our babies self-soothing solitary sleep, when as adults they most likely will not be interested in sleeping like that all?

Breastfeeding, rocking, patting, cuddling, stories, massage...these are the things babies love to do to help make that transition into sleep. Even your dog is happy when he gets stroked and cuddled. What are we really doing to our own human babies with sleep schools, sleep management programs, controlled crying and strict schedules, avoiding eye contact, avoiding human contact, ignoring cries and imposing arbitrary sleep times and expectations?

PS. "Self-soothing solitary-sleeping babies" is a phrase which appears in Pinky McKay's new book, Sleeping like a Baby She is not an advocate of the practice!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Understanding your baby's signals

This week a woman was on Oprah who says she made the amazing discovery that babies communicate their needs with a primitive form of language.

This news is not really so amazing if you speak to experienced mothers. So many mothers are being encouraged to fix strict schedules and set boundaries and limits, to show the baby who is "in control", that they are depriving themselves of the special opportunity to listen to their baby, and to learn who he/she really is. Communciation between mother and baby does not need to be verbal: in fact one argument suggests that if you are waiting for baby to verbalise (even in that primitive language) then you have missed a whole lot of non-verbal signals that can tell you the same sorts of information, giving you a chance to respond earlier. Baby is hungry or tired or lonely or in pain...a mother who is listening notices these differences, and learns to respond in the way that best meets her baby's needs. Learning to listen to your own baby's cues can actually help you have an easier life as a parent.

Take feeding cues as an example. How do you know your baby is hungry? Generally the answer parents give is that the baby cries, but in fact, if you wait till then, you have missed those non-verbal cues. Crying is the last sign of hunger.

But don't babies breastfeed "on demand"? We imagine this "demand" to feed will be made in a "demanding" "I want my dinner and I want it RIGHT NOW! WAH! WAH! WAH!" But if you respond sooner, before baby cries, breastfeeding will definitely go more smoothly.

Studies of crying in babies have found that the baby’s breathing, oxygen concentration, heart rate and blood pressure are all affected negatively by crying. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is elevated and baby’s sucking pattern becomes disorganized. The tongue is pulled up into the mouth during crying, whereas breastfeeding requires the tongue down and forward. With all this stress, baby takes longer to settle for a feed.

What about the “good” baby, who sleeps well and doesn’t make “demands?” “Good” babies may not get enough milk, inadvertently, because their mothers are waiting for them to cry! Crying is metabolically taxing for baby, and without enough food, baby may not have the energy to cry.

So what to look out for? Mouthing movements, sucking hands, rooting or other increased activity, even with the eyes shut, all indicate baby will be receptive to feeding. When parents recognize and respond quickly to these early hunger signs, babies don’t need to become really“demanding”and state their needs unequivocally!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

babycafe japan store

Through amazon japan we have created a little online store which has all the best resources (mainly books) collected in one place to make it easier for you to find up-to-date reliable breastfeeding and parenting information. It is divided into topics for ease of navigation, including a section for fathers, sections on sleep, discipline, premature babies, toddlers, twins etc...and also a section with recommended reading for health professionals and for peole interested in becoming Lactation Consultants or LLL Leaders. And for fun there is a section with things like ducky bath thermometers and camouflage cloth diaper covers...

As always amazon japan offers free shipping in Japan for orders over 1500 yen.
See the link to the right, or go to the bookstore here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What is La Leche League?

La Leche League (LLL) groups around the world run discussion meetings for mothers, generally once a month, which cover all aspects of breastfeeding, from getting started right through until weaning. At LLL meetings, you can bring your babies, your stories and experiences, and also your questions. You can make friends with other like-minded mothers, and get heaps of up-to-date and relevant information on breastfeeding whatever the stage of your baby.

LLL was founded 50 years ago by a group of seven mothers who were breastfeeding at a time when few people were supportive of it. They quickly found that there were many other mothers like them, who knew breastfeeding was best for them and their babies but no one had much information on it. So the network of mothers supporting other mothers grew and grew, and now LLL groups are in over 60 countries of the world!

The Leaders at the meetings are all volunteers, experienced breastfeeding mothers themselves who have completed the training required to become accredited and run a group. Groups are supported entirely by the memberships they sell. You don't have to be a member to attend a meeting or to call a Leader for support, but by joining, you help to keep the library stocked, to ensure that LLL is here for future mothers, and that the Leaders can receive further education and materials to offer the best help they can to mothers.

In Japan we have the following English speaking groups.
Tokyo: Tokyo Central and Tokyo West
There are English speaking Leaders available to help mothers in Sendai, Wakkanai (northern Hokkaido), Atsugi, Yokota and Okinawa.
Japanese groups and Leaders can be found through their website.

If you are a breastfeeding mother and would like to learn more about how to become a LLL Leader and start groups in your area, LLL International has a website where you can get that information. Of course it also carries heaps of breastfeeding and parenting resources, and there are interactive discussion forums where parents can ask breastfeeding questions too.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

getting started

Choosing a doctor, hospital, clinic or midwife who is supportive of breastfeeding is important. As Dr Jack Newman points out, they all say they are supportive, but his article tells you what to look out for. The challenge for mothers like you in Japan is to find somewhere that truly values breastfeeding, does not separate mothers and babies after birth, and does not suggest bottles of glucose water or infant formula as a quick fix at the first sign of a breastfeeding problem. Discuss breastfeeding and hospital policies with your caregiver during pregnancy, and find out if they are willing to be flexible, and perhaps "bend the rules" for you. Asking the tricky questions now might save a lot of heartache later.

This list of 10 questions for all pregnant mothers is very useful, so you have some idea about the right questions to ask about your birth and breastfeeding!

The best baby cafe is ... YOU!!

Welcome to Babycafe Japan! This is the first blog devoted entirely to mothers and babies in Japan who are currently breastfeeding or who are planning to breastfeed. I am a Lactation Consultant in Tokyo, and I have set up Babycafe Japan because families need accurate and up-to-date information on breastfeeding, which can sometimes be hard to get in English from your hospital or clinic.