Gisela’s Breastfeeding Journey

Gisela breastfeeding Lilly

For a moment that looked like an eternity, Gisela was mute. The voice on the other side of the line didn`t seem to notice her heart racing and her chest turning cold. She was told her midwife had voiced concerns about her daughter and that she was to bring her 10-week-old to the hospital as soon as possible. A million things went through her mind between then and the time she arrived at the hospital at 7pm. Among them, the idea that she had done something wrong, that she was just being stubborn; maybe she should have listened to her family and given little Lilly a bottle. She seemed so healthy, so happy, though. What could be wrong with her except her weight gain not following the standard curves in her red book? Gisela was determined to figure that out as she headed to the hospital.

Hoping for the support and understanding of the staff, Gisela soon felt like she was battling against them. One of the first things she was told as she arrived at the children’s ward was that there wasn’t a bed for her and that she should leave her daughter overnight for observations.

Leave her daughter.

They might as well have asked her to leave her arm for a biopsy.

Because there was no bed for her. Did they expect her to go home and sleep after such amputation? They knew very well Lilly was exclusively breastfed. How could she be separated from her mother for more than a few hours? – Gisela asked herself. It all made no sense. Did they suspect Gisela was neglecting or not offering her daughter proper care? All these ideas came rushing back through Gisela’s mind as she kindly responded:

– Absolutely not!

Followed by a lot of “nos”. Her emphatic response did not stop, however, the doctors who came to check on Lilly to, again, ask Gisela to leave her daughter at the hospital and go home. She wasn’t so kind this time:

– VETE A LA MIERDA! – she’s not sure if her words came out, as her heart must have been blocking her throat.

By the way, I’ll let you Google translate that.

Though the doctors did not speak Spanish, they understood she wouldn’t leave her daughter’s side.

– I either stay with her or I’m taking her home – she said, feeling her blood boil gradually from her chest to the top of her head and tip of her toes.

Though normally patient, Gisela found it hard to sit still and listen to the doctors. Her surly response worked: they decided to run some blood tests and soon discharged Lilly by midnight, as there was nothing wrong with her. Relieved, though slightly traumatized, Gisela took her baby home and resumed her breastfeeding journey. It hadn’t been easy from the start.

 

It all started with her first son, Chris. He’d been born in Spain, by emergency C-section. Though Gisela had always wanted to breastfeed, she soon realised it was harder than she could have imagined.

She had little support. Though nurses assisted her in the first week, as Gisela was in hospital fighting an infection in her scar, she was on her own when she went home. Her partner (British) had to go back to the UK for work and her mother had never breastfed. Chris was losing weight and Gisela’s nipples hurt intensively, to the point she was scared of the baby being brought to her.

She found herself in a really dark place. She loved her son as she had never loved anything before, but she didn’t enjoy nursing him. Chris seemed to always want the breast, it was like he was never satisfied. Tired and in pain, Gisela thought she didn’t want to be with her baby.

Her mother had had enough of it. She went out, bought some formula and gave Chris a bottle. He drank it eagerly, as if he was being fed for the first time. Gisela was told her milk was probably too weak, not enough for her baby. She asked her doctor for a pill to stop her milk supply, and that was the end of her terrible breastfeeding experience.

Her situation only deteriorated after that. Gisela felt like a failure and sunk deep into a postnatal depression. She needed therapy and medication. It took her years to recover.

Six years later – she lived in Blackpool at the time – when she found out she was pregnant again, she was determined to make breastfeeding work. Realizing she might have been able to do it the first time if she’d had appropriate support, Gisela started gathering as much information as she could and preparing in advance. She took prenatal courses, got in touch with as many breastfeeding mothers as she could, joined all the support groups online and took note of all the support meetings in her area. She bought breast pumps and bottles in case she needed them and got herself a Star Buddy.

When Lilly came – also through a C-section, but a lot less problematic than the first – Gisela managed to help her latch on to the breast and things started so smoothly she couldn’t be happier. Her Star Buddy came to the hospital to meet her and introduce her to their system. Gisela was given a contact number to call whenever she needed. The nurses were helpful and always checked to see if breastfeeding was going well. “At first it seemed easy”, says Gisela, “but it wasn’t”.

Just like Chris, Lilly was on the breast all day. Yet, when they went home and the midwife came to check on her, Lilly had lost quite a lot of weight. Gisela was told to keep breastfeeding as usual. Every two days someone would come and check on Lilly. Everything seemed normal, except she was still losing weight. She had been born with more than 4 kg, so she wasn’t tiny, but there was a concern her weight loss wasn’t normal.

To add to the stress, Gisela had sore nipples. “I started to panic, it was Chris all over again”. She bought herself some lanolin cream and carried on; she wasn’t ready to give up. Her Star Buddy visited several times and helped her with the breastfeeding position, giving her plenty of advice on how to handle the situation. A breastfeeding consultant online suggested Gisela took Lilly to the hospital to check for tongue or lip tie, but that wasn’t the case. While in the hospital, “we got assisted during a full feed and I was corrected in how to position her and feed her”, explains Gisela. The pain persisted. Her nipples looked very wounded and would often bleed.

Gisela then found La Leche League. A local member, who was also Spanish, contacted Gisela. “She came in a couple of times”, says Gisela, “again I was given advice and help. And company, which was something I needed the most”.

The pain lasted almost three weeks and then ceased. Gisela was proud of herself for persevering and felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Without the pain, she felt she could overcome any challenges ahead. But Lilly’s weight kept going down until she had lost 11% of her initial weight.

During all this time, Gisela’s family were very concerned and kept telling her to give up and give Lilly some formula. Bombarded with guilt, Gisela found refuge online, talking to other mothers who had gone through the same. She would write all of her concerns down on Facebook support groups and get lots of support. By venting and breastfeeding like there’s no tomorrow, Gisela managed to keep the depression away. “Lilly was my rock”, she explains, “I was always with her”.

By six weeks Lilly finally started gaining weight, but not as fast as she was expected by protocols. After the nightmare hospital visit, Lilly’s weight gain started improving. It was still not ideal, but the midwife and Star Buddy were pleased. “A gain is a gain”, they said. “It was taking long, but we were finally succeeding”, smiles Gisela. Every weight gain was a reason to celebrate.

When Gisela took Lilly to Spain to meet her family, she found out her mum had booked her an appointment with the family’s paediatrician. “I trusted him, so I didn’t mind”. The GP expressed his concerns about Lilly being so light and the slow weight gain. He recommended that she didn’t stop breastfeeding but offer her baby a top up with formula after every feed. Gisela’s mum was pleased with the solution found, but Gisela felt devastated: “I felt like a failure, but I had managed so much against all odds”. She carries on:

“I didn’t want to give her the bottle at first. I was scared she wouldn’t take the breast after. But I thought he wouldn’t lie to me and that at the end of the day her health was at risk and I was not going to chance it”.

She started giving Lilly a supplement of 60ml of formula after a normal feed, but only three times a day, not after every feed as she was told. To her relief, Lilly never stopped wanting her breast and her weight gain stabilized; but Gisela noticed a decreased in her milk supply, so she went on the Facebook group for advice. “I was quite attacked about it, and got told that my doctor was not good for the advice and all”. Some mothers shared they were doing the same thing as her, but others shared assumptions that Spanish doctors weren’t that good. It pushed Gisela away from support groups online.

 

Gisela has been breastfeeding for the last ten months and is very pleased with her daughter. Lilly is happy and healthy, eating all her solids and still enjoying her mother’s breast. In fact, when Gisela comes home from work, Lilly won’t let her do anything before picking her up and giving her a feed. To Gisela, breastfeeding was the hardest thing she has ever done, but it was definitely worth the struggle – it still is, as her breastfeeding journey has not yet ended.

When children behave badly

diego2Last year, a video of a seven-year-old – I`ll call him Diego – in a coastal town of Rio de Janeiro state called Macae, in Brazil, destroying the teacher`s lounge of his school became viral. In the video, the child knocks down chairs, tables, throws stuff around, makes a huge mess. The teachers stood around him, not knowing what to do. One staff, thought to be the principal, is heard making comments like: “What do we do with a child like this? Call social services, correctional office, the police?”. It was shared nearly 30 thousand times on Facebook, receiving more than 23 thousand comments, much of which were disturbing.

 

First comment says "beat him up"; the other suggests he`s taken to a prison so the police would "freak him out".

First comment says “beat him up”; the other suggests he`s taken to a prison so the police would “freak him out”.

First comment: "lack of a beating"; second comment: "thank god my parents beat me up as a kid so today I`m not a worthless criminal or a thief, always respected everyone including my parents". Third comment laments that, in Brazil, psychologists and human rights restrain people from providing "proper education" (?) imposing limits to children.

First comment: “lack of a beating”; second comment: “thank god my parents beat me up as a kid so today I`m not a worthless criminal or a thief, always respected everyone including my parents”. Third comment laments that, in Brazil, psychologists and human rights restrain people from providing “proper education” (?) imposing limits to children.

In the video, one of the teachers (or maybe the principal), instructs the others not to touch the boy and wait for his mother to come and pick him up. “What can we do? We are not allowed to beat him or restrain him”. No, you are not allowed. But, also, you shouldn`t (I`ll talk about that in a second). The poor boy ended up in the news, and the experts interviewed regret the teachers feel they are not allowed to impose limits to children like him.

What upsets me the most – besides the gross exposure of this child – it`s that it shows how little prepared, not only people in general (including parents and carers), but educators, psychologists and other professionals are to deal with children with challenging behaviour. And this is not exclusive to Brazil. In the UK, in 2012, “more than 40 percent of parents admitted to physically punishing or hitting a child in the past year; (…) and around 77 percent yelled at their children” (Sunderland, 2016, p.178).

I don`t blame them, though. Most parents learned they were supposed to “discipline” their children in order for them to behave. I once thought the same way, but I`ve been learning a lot since I became a parent and by working with children – and I like to share things I learn, so here we go. Here`s why children misbehave and what to do about it.

 

Little brains, strong emotions

Humans are born with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain responsible for clear thoughts and intentions. This means we`re not born able to control ourselves, we have to learn it. And they usually learn through their connection with parents and cares – and also other adults around them, such as family members, educators, etc. So most misbehaving is a result of an immature brain.

frontal lobe

In contrast with the frontal lobe, from the moment we are born, our lower brain is fully functional. This area

“contains seven huge hormonal forces – the genetically ingrained emotional systems. There are three alarm systems – RAGE, FEAR and PANIC/GRIEF – and three calm and well-being, or pro-social systems – CARE, SEEKING, and PLAY – and, finally, LUST. These systems are like muscles. The more we activate one of them, the more it becomes part of the personality”. (Sunderland, 2016, p.19)

For a child, little things like hunger or tiredness can be a reason for a tantrum, or an outburst of misbehaviour. Adults are more able to understand why they are irritated and go get some food, rest, take a walk or whatever they know will help them feel better. Children need an adult to help them cope with their feelings. What seems like a small thing for an adult can be overwhelming for a child.

When tantrums and misbehaviour are not appropriately addressed in childhood, they might continue later on in adult life. If you work in customer service, you probably know what I`m talking about.

 

Reasons for misbehaviour according to Sunderland (2016):

  • Hunger and fatigue;
  • Food (sugar, sweeteners and a number of additives can affect children`s brains);
  • Undeveloped emotional brain (as previously explained);
  • Understimulation of the brain (while an adult might turn the radio on, children might stimulate their own brains by causing a situation);
  • Recognition hunger (children might be seeking adult attention and realises a tantrum gets a reaction);
  • Need for structure (a lack of structure, like a clear routine);
  • Needing help with a big feeling (tension due to a particular event in the child`s life)
  • Picking up on parent`s stress;
  • Wrong part of the child`s brain being activated.

This last one deserves especial attention, because it requires parents, cares and educators to change their approach. Sunderland explains that

“One of the main reasons why children behave badly is because the way a parent is relating to a child is activating the wrong part of the brain. You will have an awful time with your child if your parenting activates her lower brain RAGE, FEAR, or PANIC/GRIEF systems. You can have a delightful time if you activate her lower brain CARE (attachment), PLAY or SEEKING systems”.

Frequent yelling, physical punishment and threats will overstimulate the RAGE, FEAR, or PANIC/GRIEF systems, making the child more susceptible to bad behaviour and tantrums, and not the opposite as most people commenting on Diego`s video seem to believe.

“Next time you find yourself about to speak sharply to a child (usually for some bit of behavior you didn’t like) ask yourself if there is a gentler way you could convey your thoughts – because underneath all behavior is an emotional need, and it isn’t a need to be told off.” (Suzanne Zeedyk)

There are two types of tantrums, the distress ones and the Little Nero tantrums. They need to be taken seriously and require different responses.

 

Distress tantrums

“A distress tantrum means that one or more of the three alarm systems has been very strongly activated. These alarm systems are RAGE, FEAR and PANIC/GRIEF. As a result, your child`s arousal system will be way out of balance, with excessively high levels of stress chemicals searing through his body and brain”. (Sunderland, 2016, p.184)

These type of tantrums require the adult to get closer to the child, soothe her. Holding the child tenderly, offering calming words, will help her feel safe again. Then, once the child has calmed down, the best thing to do is to distract her – with a song, showing something interesting, etc.

Use your developed frontal lobe to control your emotions and deal appropriately with a challenging child.

Use your developed frontal lobe to control your emotions and deal appropriately with a challenging child.

Time-out techniques, putting a child in a room by herself or ignoring or disregarding this kind of tantrum can be harmful, possibly leading to longer, more frequent tantrums.

 

Little Nero tantrums

This is very different from the distress tantrums and requires the adult to react the opposite way, giving less attention to the child. This tantrum is about the desire to manipulate the adult – when a child wants sweets, for example, and tries to convince her parents to buy them by screaming and not cooperating. If the child gets what she wants, then she`s going to keep on doing it every time you say “no”.

There`s no point trying to argue, negotiate, reason or persuade the child, as that would grant her the attention she`s after. Also, don`t yell, as the child will learn this is acceptable.

Normally the child having a Little Nero tantrum will stop once ignored. Although, some children might move from a Little Nero tantrum to a distress tantrum. It`s important to distinguish them so they can be addressed correctly. If a child goes from nagging or giving you commands to a state of genuine pain, the child will then need help dealing with her feelings.

Suzanne Zeedyk reminds us, though, that “even Little Nero tantrums are still a child struggling with desire; so kindness without boundaries” is always the best approach.

 

When it comes to Diego, as he wasn`t demanding anything, he was quietly wrecking the room, I`d say he was having a distress tantrum. He was having to deal with really strong feeling and didn`t know how to, which resulted in the bad behaviour.

This is my personal approach to a situation like this, what I would do – though there are other ways of dealing with the situation: I`d take him (making sure I`m not hurting him in any way) somewhere, probably outside, where he can`t do much damage to property or himself. I`d use calming words such as “it`s ok; nobody is mad at you; you are ok; it will get better”, etc. I`ll wait for him to calm down and sit next to him if he lets me, maybe put my hand on his shoulder or back for reassurance. Then I`d talk to him and try to understand what triggered the tantrum. Simple questions like “how was your day” can lead to very elucidating answers on what could have winded up the child. Maybe there was a misunderstanding with other children, maybe he was bullied, maybe something is going on at home. He might not talk to me this time, or might prefer to talk about something else, or play a game. What matters it`s that the child calmed down and is now able to return to his routine.

It`s important to remember that dealing with children who often behave badly requires a lot of patience. It takes time for them to learn how to ask an adult for help and cope with their feelings. And that yelling, physical punishment, isolation and humiliation are not effective. Diego was filmed and exposed to thousands of people, many of them expressed the desire to physically punish him, and many others used unkind words to refer to him (calling him a future criminal, devil, rascal, etc). That`s collective verbal and emotional abuse of a child; one of the main causes for children and young adults to behave badly. I hope Diego is ok, but I wouldn`t be surprised if his behaviour hasn`t improved. I hope a sensible, caring adult is helping him deal with his feelings.