Wednesday, 10 June 2015


At the swimming pool the other day a woman approached us and asked if we remembered her. We meet so many people, I put on my fake "ohh, you..." smile and was racking my brains for what school I may have worked with her when a little girl poked her head around the woman's legs and I realised who they were. The girl was just a baby last time we saw her, one of the residents of a baby orphanage we volunteered at. Her mother visited her every weekend, usually while we were there, so we met her often. There were a few parents like that, ones who visited regularly and planned to take the kids home when they could. I didn't really understand it at the time, but having tried to figure out childcare arrangements in Japan it now makes complete, miserable sense to me. If you are a single parent you have to work. There aren't enough childcare places, even fewer will accept infants, and the cost of out of hours care makes it prohibitive for parents who may work odd hours like night shifts or split shifts. Even if you have a "9 to 5" job, the working culture here usually requires more like "8 to 8", with the overtime unpaid, of course. The orphanage, on the other hand, may cost nothing (depending on the circumstances) and allows visits that may be almost as much time as a working parent would be spending with their child anyway.
We can pause for a moment here to shudder at how deeply wrong everything about what I just said is.
It was so lovely to see that in this case, this time, it had worked out. She'd been able to maintain a bond with her daughter and bring her home. Sometimes there really are happy endings.
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Monday, 8 June 2015

Breastfeeding in Japan (the Bad)

1 comment:
Have boobs, have baby... NOW WHAT?!
"Are you breast feeding?" is one of the first questions I am always asked, following "how old" and either before or immediately after "boy or girl". What depresses me is been the number of women who have then continued on to say "it's best, but sadly I couldn't make enough milk." Being actually unable to produce enough milk is incredibly rare and usually linked to a medical condition, but after my experiences with medical authority figures it makes depressing sense that so many women think they couldn't. I'm actually surprised that anyone manages to successfully feed given the awful advice and out-right sabotage.

Having established breast feeding, everything has been great. Getting established, however, was a nightmare. I had very poor support during the hospital stay, and having spoken to a number of other women I think my experience was pretty normal. Here's what the nurse-midwives instructed the new mothers in the clinic where I gave birth:
1. At first, feed for only 5 minutes per breast then supplement with formula until the baby has consumed a set amount (about 60 ml per feed). Feeding longer will cause cracked nipples, and if that happens you will have to stop feeding completely until they heal.
2. Weight baby before and after each feed and supplement with formula to make up the proscribed weight.
3. Feed when the baby cries.
This is exactly the advice I would give if I wanted someone to fail to establish a breast feeding relationship and to ensure they did not produce enough milk. Seriously, I can't think of anything else to add if your objective was to ruin all chances of someone breast feeding.Not a single bit of advice on that list is correct, NOT ONE THING. Furthermore, the most important thing that new mums really do need help with, getting a good latch and position, there was no help offered for. I struggled for a month with latching problems that any nurse-midwife worth her salt should have spotted immediately, then when Cricket hadn't gained "enough" weight at his one month check the pediatrician told me to start giving formula with no attempt to help me breastfeed better, and followed this recommendation up by sending a representative from the formula company who sponsor both the pediatrician and maternity clinic to lecture me while we were trapped waiting for the checkup to finish. Yes, sponsor. Did I forget to mention that? When I was very clear that I wasn't going to give him formula she then tried to tell me I should give him barley tea! A one month old baby who is gaining weight slowly. Tea. I kid you not. Thankfully I got help from a lactation consultant who does skype appointments (thank you Blue Sky!), and she spotted the latch problem right away and within three days Cricket was gaining weight at such a rate that the pediatrician (who insisted I go back the following week to make sure I wasn't killing the baby with my crazy tea-refusing ways) said with a big smile "so, you started using formula then?"

It all ended happily here, but I'm furious everytime I think about all the women who want to breast feed, and carefully follow the advice of the people they trust to tell them how they should do it, and then feel that they have failed because they aren't producing enough milk.

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