Supporting Handmade

Handmade seems so unpretentious and unassuming in the hands of babies and children. Teething babies chew on sweet little organic dolls with knotted feet and hands. Happy toddlers joyfully shake the wooden rings of natural wood rattles.

Those gorgeous handmade toys your baby plays with are supported by small business people who make toys because they love children and they love the craft.


The Business of Handmade

Yesterday, members of the Handmade Toy Alliance board of directors testified at the U.S. Commerce Sub-committee hearing regarding the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). The board has been working with the Sub-committee for months. With requests for specific changes, the Handmade Toy Alliance officially endorsed draft legislation that would bring about changes for small-batch manufacturers, Consumer Product Safety Enhancement Act (CPSEA).

Children’s product manufacturers in the U.S. and Canadian exporters to the U.S. have been wondering for the past 18 months how to comply with the strict testing and labelling requirements of the new law. Understanding the law has been a difficult task for all. For the smallest manufacturers, meeting testing requirements has seemed almost impossible. The Handmade Toy Alliance formed when small business owners came together determined to understand and change the law.

I’ve watched their growth over that time, and these crafters, store owners, and other small business owners have come to understand the system of legislation and regulation—and media. It has been exciting to see them learn how to communicate with rulemakers when the system can seem so overwhelming.

At the heart of this increasingly sophisticated organization are people who do what they do because they care about handmade toys. It’s so simple. They love sock monkeys and felt blocks and play dough. Without their work to push back against this law, to help lawmakers understand how they work every day to preserve toy safety, we might have seen fewer handmade toys available for our children.


Supporting Handmade

For the past month, I’ve spent every Friday writing about the book The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule.

The focus of the book is on young children, but I have found plenty to hold the interest of my pre-teen children as well. The book is part of the natural family library of Baby ByNature.ca.

For my last dip into the book, I like a section in the “Handmade Holidays” chapter of the Connecting section of the book called “Supporting Handmade.” As my son’s 10th birthday comes up in the next week, I want to emphasize that any time can be a holiday season if your definition of holiday is broad enough.

“The holiday season can be a great time to show support for crafters and artists for the meaningful work they do. . . . Affordable arts and crafts surround us; we just need to look in the right places to find them.”

Her ideas for finding handmade are:

  • Local craft fairs
  • Art shows sponsored by local colleges
  • Online through sites like Etsy

And, I might add, the members of the Handmade Toy Alliance also sell beautiful children’s toys, and they care deeply about the safety of your children.

Blog to Inspire: Full-time Worker, Full-time Student, Full-time Breastfeeder too

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This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Blog to Inspire entrant The Feminist Breeder is Gina Crosley-Corcoran, a 31-year old married mother of 2 young boys, a 4.0 GPA pre-law student (that means she’s smart, yo), and a women’s rights advocate and activist.

The Feminist BreederThroughout the entire first year of my second son’s life, I worked 40+ hours per week outside the home. I also continued earning my pre-law undergraduate degree full-time at night. While just those two tasks alone are a lot for one person to handle, I also ran a part-time cake decorating business out of my home when ever I could get orders. I even maintained my volunteer advocacy efforts and wrote for my blog in the (very little) free time I had.

And throughout all of that, I also breastfed my son. Exclusively. My baby made it all the way through that year without a single drop of formula.

Of course, there are people like Hannah Rosin who would say this is impossible. Those like Rosin say that breastfeeding “is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way.” I’m sorry, Ms. Rosin, but I beg to differ.

My first son was formula fed. After an unexpected cesarean, and not enough support, breastfeeding proved to be a challenge I just wasn’t up for at the time. I made it four weeks before throwing in the towel. Everyone told me my life would be easier and I would be happier if I quit breastfeeding, and I wanted them to be right.

But they weren’t right. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding, I wished I hadn’t. The more I saw breastfeeding mothers, the more I wanted to be one of them. Formula was messy and expensive. It took time to prepare bottles and clean them after. One time we accidentally left the house without a nipple and I had to listen to my son scream in hunger for a half hour while we located a store to buy another nipple. That wouldn’t have happened if I’d had my baby’s lunch sitting right there on my chest.

So I made a pact with myself; if I had another baby, that baby would never have formula. And I meant it, too.

I had to return to work at 12 weeks postpartum. I had a supportive employer who gave me plenty of time to express my milk at work (which is actually required by law in my state.) At school, I told my professors on the first day of class that I was nursing an infant, and I would need more than the normal break time to pump for him. None of them had a problem with that, especially because I was (am) a committed 4.0 GPA student.

I would be lying if I said any of this was easy. A week after I returned to work, my supply dropped, and I panicked. Over the course of that year, I spent many hours of my life tracking down and trying every lactation aid on the market, along with acupuncture and other stimulation techniques. Sometimes I felt like all I ever did was pump and transport breastmilk. Often times I even had to wake up in the middle of the night to pump if my stash was running low or if my supply needed a boost. And on the hardest days, I thought it would never, ever end.

But I made a promise to myself, and I planned on keeping it. I know the benefits of breastfeeding to both me and my baby, and I knew how elated I would be if I actually made it that whole first year.

And I did make it. My baby’s first birthday came and went, and six months later it almost feels like that year was only a few months long. My son is even still nursing a few times a day.

Of course, I would never advocate anyone taking on as much as I did in that first year unless they absolutely had to (which I did). But many women do have to, or want to work or go to school, and I want mothers to know that with the right support, breastfeeding doesn’t have to stop you from doing anything you want to do. Breastfeeding is a precious gift to give yourself and your baby, and it most certainly will not prevent you from doing anything meaningful. On the contrary, a mother providing breastmilk for her baby is doing something incredibly meaningful. It is a worthwhile cause.

So if anyone ever tries to tell you that you cannot successfully breastfeed your baby after returning to work or school, tell them you know someone who did do it, and lived to tell about it. Let no one determine what you are capable of except you, and trust me, you are probably more capable than you may think.

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.

Adoptive Breastfeeding Is Worth the Effort

Breastfeeding as bondingAdoptive mothers can and do breastfeed. Often they can lactate and nourish a baby, and almost always they will succeed in comforting a baby. As a matter of fact, this experience can be an important way a new, adoptive mother can bond with a child. Woman can become mother and baby can become her child through this experience.

Just talking about the fact that an adoptive mother can breastfeed makes it more likely that more will. Our exposure to possibilities outside our experience triggers our “Ah-ha!” response and encourage us to ask not whether we can but HOW we can.

It takes determination and preparation to succeed in breastfeeding an adopted baby, but the benefits to mother and child are well worth it.


How Can You Make It Work?

You need to prepare yourself in at least two important ways: get information and stimulate lactation.

As with so many other parenting issues, it really helps to talk to those with experience. Find out from your local La Leche League Leader whether someone locally can help you. If you can’t talk to anyone face to face, seek out online support. Those who have been where you are going are your best resource.

Stimulation milk production. You can do this by pumping for 4-6 weeks before the baby arrives. The trouble with this advice, of course, is that it isn’t always clear when an adopted baby will arrive. If an adoption falls through, it can be even more discouraging if you are producing milk. So, this is a difficult one to know when to start, but it is important to lactation success that you try.

You can also use lactation inducing herbs or drugs (galactogogues) such as fenugreek, milk thistle and goats rue. Or you can use medications, hormones, or other supplements.


Is Breastfeeding an Adopted Baby Always Successful?

This depends on your definition of success.

Most adoptive mothers who breastfeed are able to bond with and comfort their baby.

Not all adoptive mothers are able to lactate, though most are. Fewer are able to produce enough milk to supply all of a baby’s nutritional needs, but that is certainly done. Experts say, set your expectations at a reasonable level then work to get there. And, push further.

Any breastmilk is better than none. Don’t add anxiety to the mix. Set out to find the bonding experience, and you might build the nutritional experience as well.

You might also choose a supplemental feeding system.

I often said that nursing my children was the lazy way of feeding. Breastfeeding an adopted child is definitely not the lazy way. This is a relationship that is chosen, a relationship that takes work and dedication to be successful by any definition.

Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. The health benefits of breastmilk are undisputable for any baby. The relationship that any mother builds with her child is worth the effort.


Resources

Image © Niderlander | Dreamstime.com

Blog to Inspire: Mama Milk Dance

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This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Blog to Inspire entrant Code Name: Mama is Dionna Ford, a lawyer turned work at home mama to an amazing son. She’s also one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. She and her husband practice natural parenting and try to live consciously.

Code Name Mama nursing toddler

A member of an online community forum recently asked: “Do you think toddlers are too old to nurse?” What followed was a variety of disapproving comments regarding breastfeeding in general and “extended” (better known as “full term”) breastfeeding in particular.

I joined the community in order to educate the ill-informed and defend those champions of lactation – the mamas who give their babies breastmilk beyond one year. I dug up some research on breastfeeding past infancy; found links and statistics; and attempted to write something coherent. (It’s hard to be coherent, though, when my almost two year old often climbs onto my lap, dives for my nursing tank top, and does scissor kicks somewhere between my body and the keyboard.) Below is an expanded version of what I posted in response.


Health Benefits to Children and Mothers

In addition to the myriad health benefits to mother and child from breastfeeding for even a short time period (1), there are even more health benefits when mothers continue breastfeeding beyond one year. Here are only a few examples of the benefits to children and mothers, all established by credible research:

  • “Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration than their non-nursing peers.” (2)
  • “Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation. In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process.” (3)
  • There is “a significant inverse association between duration of lactation and breast cancer risk.” (4)
  • Breastfeeding beyond one year “can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer by about one-third.” (5)
  • “[T]he longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she is to get endometrial cancer.” (6)


Breastfeeding Toddlers is Normal

Much of the criticism toward extended breastfeeding has nothing to do with health and everything to do with cultural biases. Many disagree with nursing a toddler who “can ask for it (or who have teeth),” or “when it’s just used as a comfort.”

Such comments reveal the writers’ own discomfort; they are not grounded in fact. Disapproval based on comfort level is not a logical basis for discouraging mothers from breastfeeding for any length of time.

Mothers have historically nursed into toddlerhood. In fact “the median age of weaning throughout the world is between ages three and five [years].” (7) Because breastfeeding is “a heavily culturized activity, it is” influenced by the current beliefs and attitudes regarding “infant health and nutrition, . . . the nature of human infancy and the proper relationships between mother and child, and between mother and father.” (8)

Those who condemn nursing a child who is “old enough to ask for it” operate under the illusion that the breast’s primary purpose is sexual. Most people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at giving a toddler a bottle (which is a breast substitute), or at hugging or cuddling a toddler; why should breastfeeding be different? All are forms of affection. A toddler does not see a breast as sexual, nor should anyone who happens to view the nursing relationship.

The argument that breastfeeding should be discontinued after it is “more comfort than nutrition” is similarly misguided. Aside from the established health benefits of nursing a toddler, it makes no sense to take away a food source just because it does not meet every nutritional need.

“We don’t say that children should stop eating bananas once bananas are no longer a significant part of their diet. Bananas eaten once in a while are as nutritious as bananas eaten three times a day. In fact, you might even consider the rarely eaten banana to be more important nutritionally. Why do we not see that the same is true of human milk?” (9)


Nursing My Own Toddler

In responding to the forum query and in writing this post, I examined my own reasons for continuing to nurse my son.

Nothing can soothe my toddler’s bumped head or broken heart more effectively than breastfeeding. Nursing provides Kieran security and comfort when he is feeling sad, unsure or overwhelmed. And, quite simply, we both enjoy our nursing relationship.

If I hadn’t nursed beyond one year, I would have never been able to enjoy Kieran’s impish grin before his inevitable toddler nursing gymnastics; the request for “mama milk dance!” as we swept across our living room dance floor; or waking up to his big blue eyes locked onto mine as he hugged my chest and sleepily murmured “love mama milk.”

These tender moments are memories I would never trade, and Kieran’s comfort and happiness far outweigh any possible criticism about extended breastfeeding.

_________________________________________________________________

(1) See “101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child,” http://www.promom.org/101/ (and citations therein) for some of the significant health benefits to children and mothers from even a few months of breastfeeding.
(2) “Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet” (citing Gulick, E. The Effects of Breastfeeding on Toddler Health, Ped Nursing 1986 Jan-Feb;12(1):51-4)
(3) Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citing Goldman AS. et al., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During Weaning, Acta Paediatr Scand. 1983 Jan;72(1):133-4; Goldman, A., Goldblum R.M., Garza C., Immunologic Components in Human Milk During the Second Year of Lactation, Acta Paediatr Scand 1983 May;72(3):461-2; Hamosh M, Dewey, Garza C, et al: Nutrition During Lactation. Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1991, pp. 133-140)
Toddlers who nurse also have fewer allergies, are smarter, and are well-adjusted socially. (see Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet and related citations)
(4) Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet (citations available at http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-refs.html#BreastCancer1)
(5) 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child, (citing Hartage et al, “Rates and risks of ovarian cancer in subgroups of white women in the United States.” Obstet Gynecol 1994 Nov; 84(5): 760-764; Rosenblatt KA, Thomas DB, “Lactation and the risk of Epithelial ovarian cancer”. Int J Epidemiol. 1993;22:192-197; Gwinn ML, “Pregnancy, breastfeeding and oral contraceptives and the risk of Epithelial ovarian cancer.” J. Clin. Epidemiol. 1990; 43:559-568)
(6) 101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child (citing Rosenblatt, KA et al “Prolonged lactation and endometrial cancer” Int. J. Epidemiol. 1995; 24:499-503)
(7) “Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: Exploring Benefits, Cultural Influences, and More,”
http://www.llli.org/NB/NBSepOct07p196.html (citing Huggins, K. The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning, Boston, MA: Harvard Common Press, 2007)
(8) Breastfeeding Beyond a Year: Exploring Benefits, Cultural Influences, and More (quoting Dettwyler, K.A. “A Time to Wean” in Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives, Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995)
(9) “Comfort Versus Nutrition,” http://www.breastfeeding.org.sg/comfort-versus-nutrition-by-kathryn-orlinsky.html

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.

Planning for Local Foods This Season

Farmers MarketMy local CSAs (community supported agriculture or community shared agriculture) are finishing sign-up for the season this week. I’ve also heard local radio covering our farmers’ market preparations for the year, though my local farmer’s market doesn’t actually open until June. It’s a bit early for planting out in my climate, since we only finished having freak snow storms a couple of weeks ago, but I can hear all of the talk about local food building up to summer season.


CSA

With community supported agriculture, you buy a share of whatever is harvested by the farm in a particular week. There is not usually a guarantee that you will receive a minimum amount of produce. By buying a share in a season’s harvest you share the risk and the benefit. If there is a bumper crop, you share in that as well.

In the early sprint you buy shares, then each week from summer through fall you receive produce from the farm. Some farms have community events and shares in labor (you pick) while others have weekly home or central-location delivery. Some farms are veg only while others include fruit; some also include dairy and meat. Each farm is different in what and how it operates.

The best CSA I was ever involved in welcomed my family to not only pick our own produce but to take as much as we wanted when there was more produce than they could comfortably distribute. We loved picking apples and walking through the farm.

CSA Resources
Local Harvest CSA Directory (U.S.)
Organic Consumers Home Delivery Directory (U.S., Canada, & International)
CSA Listing (U.S. & International)
Ontario CSA Directory (Ontario only)


Farmers’ Market

Like CSAs, farmers’ markets allow you, the eater, to get to know the people who grow the food you eat. The distribution chain is very short. You eat food that was grown locally and picked recently, often the day before you buy it at the market.

With a farmers’ market, though, you see the produce before you buy. The great benefit of a farmers’ market is seeing a big variety of produce available all in one place. If you want the best choice, you have to arrive early.

Some farmers’ markets also include non-farm products (crafts, for example) or entertainment. My farmers’ market is like a weekly festival.

Farmers’ Market Resources
Farmers’ Markets Ontario (Ontario only)
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers’ Market Search (U.S.)


Seasonal Eating

When you build a relationship with a farmer through a CSA or a farmers’ market, you eat fresh food in season and, especially when you get much more of a crop than expect, you learn to preserve food. Focusing on local foods tends to encourage us to focus on seasonal foods, which keeps our food miles and the overall impact of our eating lower.

Local / Seasonal Eating Resources
Rodale Institute Farm Locator (Canada & U.S.)
Eat Well Guide to farms, markets, and restaurants (Canada & U.S.)
National Sustainable Agriculture Directory (U.S.)
Foodland Ontario seasonal availability guide (Ontario only)
Canadian Organic Growers Search (Canada)
Slow Food International (includes links to national organizations)
Natural Resources Defense Council Food Miles search

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