Tag Archives: breastfeeding

My Bad Parenting Advice Addiction

Emily Gould | Longreads | May 2017 | 13 minutes (3,370 words)

 

During my son’s first two months on earth, I read 25 books about taking care of babies and children. I read them on my phone while breastfeeding and on the subway in stolen moments of solitude while my baby napped in his carrier, his fuzzy head an inch from the pages. Brain-damaged by love and exhaustion, I could not make sense of any other kind of book. For someone who has been partway through at least one novel since learning how to read, this was akin to a psychotic break. But when I opened any novel in those early weeks, the words swam on the page. I would stare till they came into focus, force down a few pages and then give up. Where was the baby in this story? Were the people in the story parents? They couldn’t matter to me otherwise.

The only thing worse was when the people in the story were parents, and there was a baby, but it was in some kind of danger. When my son was about 8 weeks old I picked up a novel which has both a stillbirth and the rape of a 6-year-old in its first 30 pages. Half an hour later my husband found me clutching the baby to my chest, silent tears streaming down my cheeks. I’m sure it’s a great book but I’ll never know. I threw it in the garbage can and heaped trash on top so I wouldn’t be tempted to go back in for it, as though it was some kind of enticing yet poisonous cake.

But my appetite for parenting books was infinite; they were the one thing I wanted besides sleep and icy beverages. My addiction, like most addictions, fed on itself. Because the information in each book was both redundant in some of its particulars and wildly contradictory in others, each dose of information required an antidote in the form of the next book.

All of these types of books appealed to me; if it had “baby” or “sleep” in the title, I was in.

The question of how to get your child to sleep provided the starkest, most dramatic dichotomy. There were two schools of thought: Either you could let your child cry himself to sleep, or you could comfort him, for hours if necessary, until he finally dozed off. Each camp promised a happy, healthy baby and family if you followed their advice, and ruin—of your health and your marriage on the one hand, and of your baby’s nascent trust in the world on the other—if you didn’t. Are you thinking, as I naively did, “Oh, I’ll just split the difference between these two obviously crazy extremes?” According to these books, avoiding a decision is the only thing worse than choosing the wrong path; intermittent reinforcement will confuse and madden your baby, likely making him even more demanding and teaching him that the world, and you, are not to be trusted.

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Baby’s First Beneficial Microbes: On Breastfeeding and Immunity

If they held a contest, I’m fairly confident I’d win a prize for the World’s Weakest Immune System. A celiac sufferer (the real deal, diagnosed in 1967 at the age of two), I’ve always been quick to catch whatever bug is going around, and in fact I’m just over my sixth illness since January.

I’ve often wondered whether there’s a connection between my weak gut and my frequent infections, and whether it all has to do with not having been breastfed. (When I was born, in 1965, second-wave feminism frowned on breastfeeding, equating it with giving in to oppression, and suburbanites in my mom’s set considered it “barbaric.”)

The New Yorker has a fascinating book excerpt which supports that theory. It’s from I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by London-based science writer Ed Yong, to be published in August. The piece points to many of breast milk’s nutritional superior qualities, most importantly its apparent ability to fortify the body’s microbiome by feeding it with a variety of protective human milk oligosaccharides, or H.M.O.s, thus strengthening the immune system:

In a group setting, pathogens can easily bounce from one host to another, so animals need better ways of pro­tecting themselves. H.M.O.s provide one such defense. When a pathogen infects our guts, it almost always begins by latching onto glycans—sugar molecules—on the surfaces of our intestinal cells. But H.M.O.s bear a striking resemblance to these glycans, so pathogens sometimes stick to them instead. They act as decoys, drawing fire away from a baby’s own cells. They can block a roll call of gut villains, including Salmonella; Listeria; Vibrio cholerae, the culprit behind cholera; Campylobacter jejuni, the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea; Entamoeba histolytica, a vora­cious amoeba that causes dysentery and kills a hundred thousand people every year; and many virulent strains of E. coli. H.M.O.s may even be able to obstruct H.I.V., which might explain why more than half of infants who suckle from infected mothers don’t get infected, despite drinking virus-loaded milk for months. Every time scientists have pitted a pathogen against cultured cells in the presence of H.M.O.s, the cells have come out smil­ing.

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