Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Happy Update and the "Curse"

So out of my three new mommies with breastfeeding misinformation, one has made it! My cousin, who was pumping and wanting to start offering formula, is apparently only breastfeeding now. Her baby has doubled in size, and everything is going great. One out of three doesn't sound that wonderful, but I was quite sure that none of them were going to make it as breastfeeders.

As for the "curse", I never liked that euphemism for a woman's period before, but I get it now. I finally had my first postpartum period since Grace was born. Since I am not planning on having any more biological children, it really sucked to think that I will experience that for one out of every four weeks for another twenty years! That's one of the hidden (and very welcome) benefits of breastfeeding for a normal amount of time. With my first, I got a period when she was 16 months old, my second was 22 months old, and my third was 21 months. That's a lot of period-free months!

Now I have to worry about things like timing and ovulation, but not for the happy reason of wanting a new baby. I do want another one, but through adoption, not a third c-section. I think it might be time for Daddy to visit his urologist....

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pediatric Dentists are Weaners part 3

I'll set the scene: it was a beautiful spring day. I was eight months pregnant with my third child, and it was time for Kathleen to have her teeth cleaned and for Alexander to have his first dental checkup. My husband and I had been hyper vigilant about their teeth for years, so I had no worries as I took them into the brightly decorated pediatric dentist's office. No fear clouded my appreciation of the adorable mural painted on the waiting room wall or caused my heart to leap when my children's names were called. Sure, the circle the dentist had been "watching" on Kathleen's tooth now had a tan center, but I figured that one filling wasn't the end of the world. Boy, was I wrong.

Both kids had x-rays done when we walked in the back. Then, Kathleen had her "cleaning". The assistant (I thought she was a hygienist, but she wasn't) basically brushed and flossed Kathleen's teeth (for which I was charged $98). There was no spinning, cleaning thingy like my dentist used on me. Then it was the dentist's turn. She quickly scanned my daughter's teeth and started calling out coded information to her assistant, who made notations on Kathleen's chart. I know that I heard the word "preventative" at least twice. When she was finished, she announced that Kathleen needed EIGHT crowns. Remember, she already has seven; all put in by this dentist.

Before I could register what she had said, it was Alexander's turn on the table. He was too young for a cleaning (since it wasn't a true procedure, though, I'm not sure why that was), so the dentist only looked at his teeth. My sweet two year old lay perfectly still and let her poke and prod his little mouth. She started spouting out codes again (including the word "preventative"). Then, that hideous woman informed me that my son needed SEVEN crowns on his teeth.

I was so shocked, I was speechless. I managed to ask why this kept happening and point out all of the steps we had been taking to avoid this. She smoothly started talking about weak enamel, finding the mysterious cause of it, a possible genetic connection, etc. Then she laid an even bigger whammy on me; she wanted to do all of the work under general anesthesia at the hospital (local surgery center instead of Childrens this time). Kathleen was five years old! I have never heard of school-aged children being put to sleep for dental work. Alexander was two and a half, so it made a little more sense at his age. I knew the minute the words were out of the dentist's mouth, though, that there was no way we were going to do the hospital thing again. There are plenty of good, serious reasons to put your children to sleep, but this was not one of them. I still regret making the decision the first time, and I wasn't going to repeat that mistake. I asked about fillings (the cavities were on the sides of the teeth, so no fillings) and sealants to prevent this from happening in the first place(not an option for some reason).

As I paid $200 for my kids' checkups, the secretary plopped a printout in front of me of the cost for the combined FIFTEEN crowns the dentist wanted. It was a whopping $8,000! Please believe that if my children ever needed medical attention or treatments, cost would not be a consideration. The fact that I was feeling a growing dread at the legitimacy of this dentist, the amount was ridiculous. I told the woman that I'd have to let them know what we were going to do, and walked out to the car (actually, I walked out to the minivan we had just purchased days before for only $5,000 more than the dental work).

I buckled the kids in, sat in the driver's seat, and wept. I could not understand what had gone wrong. I called my husband at work, and could barely talk because I was crying so hard. After I'd calmed down enough to drive, I went to my mother's house. There, I broke down again. Coincidentally, she was about to leave for her own dentist visit at the very dentist I used for myself. She calmed me down by saying that she'd bring the kids up with him.

While she was gone, I began to really process the information. Hadn't the dentist claimed that Kathleen's problems were from breastfeeding at night? Well, my sweet baby was weaned between her diagnosis and her dental work. How could breastfeeding at night past a year have been the problem if we were facing the exact same thing now? Our old house had well water with no fluoride, which was also blamed for the earlier problems. Our new house had city water and Kathleen used a fluoride rinse at night. We had taught Alexander to spit at his young age so that we could use fluorinated toothpaste on him.

Mom came home and told me that the family dentist would see the kids for a free second opinion the next morning. I asked my husband to accompany us because I didn't want to face the bad news alone again. We were both a bundle of nerves as the dentist examined Kathleen's teeth. Guess what he said? She needed ONE crown, on the tooth with the circle. He also pointed out that it could have been FILLED a while ago before it became a cavity, even though it was on the side of her tooth. She had two other small cavities that were on her chewing surfaces of molars (the other dentist specifically said that they weren't on the chewing surfaces) that could be filled easily. Alexander's exam was even more shocking; the dentist said that he couldn't find any tooth in his mouth that needed to be crowned by any stretch of the imagination. He had three tiny cavities that could easily be filled.

There you have it. No mysterious cause, no genetic problems. Kathleen eventually went in for a real cleaning (it turns out that pediatric dentists don't use accredited hygienists, but only assistants). She had one crown done in the office with local anesthetic and some laughing gas. She had her fillings done in like five minutes. Alexander had his cavities filled all in one visit; they were so tiny that the dentist didn't even need the drill (or Novocaine). We had sealants put on his other molars. The dentist was shocked by the other's diagnosis. He said that she was, "Just trying to pay her rent." By crowning the teeth, she was basically getting rid of them to avoid later cavities. She wanted us to risk our children's lives and pay her $8,000 for NOTHING. What was worse, we had already let her butcher Kathleen's baby teeth, and we now had no way of knowing what actually needed to be done at the time.

In between the time Kathleen's teeth were ruined and the next horrible visit, we recommended the dentist for my nephew. Guess who ended up knocked out in a hospital getting crowns? When I started talking to other moms about this particular dentist, guess how many had been told that their children needed crowns?

A year after we started using our family dentist for the kids, I was in the surgery center's waiting room while my husband had a procedure done. I saw a family carry a drugged up toddler out to their car, but didn't connect the dots until I saw that evil dentist come out in her scrubs. She went over to a young couple a few chairs down from me. Do you know what she told them? That their daughter had cavities on the sides of her teeth, weak enamel, a possible genetic connection, etc. If their child's work hadn't already been done, I would have said something to them. I still wonder if I should have spoken up anyway. They may be facing the same thing in a year or two.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pediatric Dentists are Weaners part 2

So we decided, based on the information we were given, to go ahead and have Kathleen's teeth "fixed" at Children's Hospital by the second pediatric dentist we had seen. She had convinced us that seven of our baby's teeth were desperately in need of crowns and that it was something vitally important to her health. Everyone we know wondered about the need to do something so drastic to baby teeth that were going to fall out anyway, but the dentist said that it would effect her permanent teeth and possibly harm her overall health.

When I began to experience pain in my nipples when Kathleen nursed because of my pregnancy, I weaned her. Was it because of the pain? No, it was because the dentists had managed to plant a seed of doubt about breastfeeding's connection to our teeth problems. I used the pain as an excuse. Kathleen weaned without a tear or fuss, which is what allowed me to ignore the nagging feeling that I was making a mistake. Had she begged to continue breastfeeding, I would have given in.

The emotional turmoil was the worst, but second place in our suffering was the cost of this torture. We have medical insurance, but not dental. The treatment ended up costing us close to $3,000 at a time when we were paying cash for my pregnancy (our medical insurance covers everything except for teeth and maternity).

We went ahead and made the appointment at the hospital. A week later, the secretary from the first dentist's office called to tell us that our appointment at Childrens was all set. I told her that we hadn't asked them to do that, or agreed to use their office. We couldn't believe the nerve of those people. Our last words to them were that we'd get back to them! It ended up causing us trouble because they had already gotten things preapproved with our insurance company (they paid for the hospital and anesthesia) for their date, and it was a lot of work to switch it to the actual date of the procedure.

I don't even like to think about the day Kathleen had her teeth destroyed. I remember the tiny hospital gown, handing my little baby to a nurse at the door of the OR, and her pitiful cry of, "Daddy," when we went in to see her in the recovery room. We went home after a couple of hours, and Kathleen was her usual sunny self by the next day.

At her next check-up (she was two by then), I pointed out to the dentist that there was a circle on Kathleen's canine. She said we would just have to watch it. We had always tried to brush Kathleen's teeth twice a day, but after this experience, I became a fanatic. Once her baby brother came along and got his own teeth (at eleven months), I included him in Mission Clean Teeth. If the kids fell asleep in the car on the way home from somewhere in the evening, I brushed their teeth while they lay sleeping in bed. I read up endlessly on food and drinks to determine what was safest. I discovered that black tea (hot or cold) protected teeth against cavities and that chocolate was the best candy because it didn't stick to the teeth.

In my research, I began to find article after article about breastmilk and teeth. It turned out that dentists were completely ignorant about the difference between a baby lying in bed at night sucking on a bottle of formula and a baby nursing to sleep at his mother's breast.

  • The action of sucking milk from a breast is different than from a bottle because it takes effort. Part of that action includes a swallow, which prevents any milk from pooling in the mouth. I paid attention to my son's nursing after I read that, and sure enough, he swallowed. I would honestly lie there to make sure I heard one last swallow after he was finished nursing and already asleep. I heard it EVERY SINGLE TIME.

  • Milk can continue to drip out of a bottle's nipple after the baby is asleep and not sucking anymore. This allows a constant trickle of formula onto their teeth at night if the bottle doesn't fall out of their mouth.

  • Breastmilk and formula are not the same thing (like I didn't already know that).

According to one study, breastmilk has no more effect on teeth than pure water. Baby teeth were dipped in water, breastmilk, formula, and cow's milk. The ones in water and breastmilk showed no problems, while the other two did. With further experimentation, they discovered that when there is other food material present on the teeth (especially sugars), breastmilk made the decay worse. What I took from that was the knowledge that I had to vigilant about cleaning my son's teeth before bed at night so that there was nothing left before he nursed to sleep.

Another article I read pointed out that if breastmilk and nursing to sleep past the age of one caused tooth decay, then it would show up in the fossil record. Cavities in baby teeth didn't show up until the industrialized age when people began eating more and more processed food and refined sugars.

We were careful with our son's teeth, and he showed no signs of having any decay. Things were going along great until I took him in for his first checkup at age two...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pediatric Dentists are Weaners part 1

When my oldest, Kathleen, was 10 months old, she got her first tooth. That's fairly late, but well within the normal range. At 18 months, we noticed a tiny circle on the front of one of her top incisors. It was the exact same color as the rest of her tooth. I pointed it out to her pediatrician at a well check-up. The doctor said that a spot like that could have been caused by a high fever, and since Kathleen had fought off a virus that caused a week of fevers, we agreed that the tooth was nothing to worry about. I put it out of my mind until a couple of months later. A tiny tan dot appeared inside of the circle. A week later, while swimming with Kathleen in my arms, I noticed that her tooth had cracked off at an angle below the circle!

We immediately made an appointment with a local pediatric dentist. They are a big name around here, with a playground to rival the fancy McDonalds one. The office even has an animal mascot who rides in Mardi Gras parades. Both of us went to the appointment, which is good because I don't think I could have accurately conveyed how horrible they were to my husband had he not been there to witness it.

The dentist was a woman in her mid to late thirties. She took no time to smile at or talk to our BABY before asking Adam to hold her down in his lap. Kathleen was crying before the dentist had even begun. She took one look into my 20 month old's mouth and announced that she was riddled with cavities! She wanted to point out everything to us in slow motion, but I couldn't bear to have my daughter held upside down and screaming. The horrible woman told us that we had two options:
  1. Bring Kathleen into the office for at least four visits where they would strap her down and crown her teeth (if parents insisted on being present, they would have to make a "special" appointment, but they discouraged that).
  2. Have all of the work done at once under general anesthesia at Children's Hospital.

The fact that #1 was even an option, and that they didn't really want the parents to go in the back with their BABIES was enough for us to know that this dentist wasn't for us. What came next was almost worse. The dentist looked me straight in the eye and told me that it was my fault that Kathleen had cavities at all because I nursed her past a year. She told me that I must wean immediately to avoid causing more damage. I was so nervous and upset that I could think of no defense. I mentioned that I was pregnant again and would be weaning at some point (I didn't say when). We told them we'd have to go home and discuss everything, but that if we decided to go ahead with their treatment plan, we would choose option #2.

I cried all the way home from the office. Adam tried to console me, and as soon as we walked in our front door, he made an appointment for a second opinion with another pediatric dentist in town. I was so scared of bringing Kathleen to the hospital to have dental work, and I felt awful that the dentist might be right about this all being my fault.

The next dentist was very nice. She didn't blame me directly, but suggested that with my next baby, I give him a few sips if water or sucks on a pacifier after nursing at night. She said that babies don't swallow when they night nurse and that milk pools behind their teeth. I didn't know it at the time, but she was wrong. She concurred with the other dentist's diagnosis and treatment options, although she encouraged parents to be present if they chose to do the work in the office.

We were stupid and scared. We thought that this was an emergency, that we would be harming our child by waiting. We thought that our only options were to see a pediatric dentist, and we had already gone through the two in town. We thought that since our new dentist had worked at the other place and chosen to leave them that it meant she was different from them. We were fooled by her kind demeanor and rapport with our baby. When I think back to that day, and the ones that followed, I feel ashamed and a strong sense that I failed my daughter.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Modesty and Milk

My parents just came back from visiting a cousin of mine (I have about 30 of them) who recently had her first baby. Besides being happy for her and relieved that the baby is perfectly healthy, I am delighted that she is successfully breastfeeding him. My dad was startled to find that she had no hesitation to whip out her breasts in front of him. He keeps talking about how I've nursed three babies in front of him for years now, and he's never seen "anything". The thing that I find funny about the situation is that my cousin is Muslim. She covers her hair in front of strange men, but she's okay with being topless in front of her uncle :)

I have always been modest, so the fact that I cover up well when I breastfeed is no surprise to everyone who knows me. When I'm at home with just my kids and husband, I don't ever hide anything. If there is anyone else present, though, I use some discretion. Blankets never worked for me, so I figured out how to nurse without showing any skin. Although I do this for my own comfort level, I think it has helped me avoid any negativity being directed at me in public. I have been breastfeeding for much of the past seven and a half years in the Deep South without one unpleasant comment. I have gotten compliments though.

I don't believe that women should have to be so conscious of what others see when they breastfeed as I am. It is a natural act, and we've ruined breasts in our society by brainwashing people into believing they are for sex. Somewhere on Kathy Dettwyler's website, she mentions that most world cultures do not see breasts as sexual, so it isn't a human universal.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


For all the benefits of breastfeeding that have been proven to exist, there are exceptions to every rule. I just read an article at the Washington Post's online site about how the rise in allergies can be partially attributed to declining breastfeeding rates. I know that the data shows breastfed babies develop few allergies and diseases like asthma, but it hasn't been working out that way for me...

My five year old was just diagnosed with a peanut allergy. I now have to keep benedryl and an epi pen junior in my purse all of the time. No one in our families has an allergy to peanuts. I nursed my son for 34 months, and he never had a bottle in his life. When I was pregnant with him, though, I craved peanut butter like you wouldn't believe. I ate it almost every day, and I had never really enjoyed it before then. After he showed some signs of an allergy when he two, I read that pregnant women should avoid peanuts if there was a family history of the allergy. I haven't had any since getting pregnant with my youngest because she's still nursing. The thing is that we had no history before. I'm guessing that I shouldn't have had any peanuts at all with any of my pregnancies.

My 21 month old may be developing asthma. We all had the flu last month, and every single one of us went through a day of wheezing. My breathing was so loud and labored that it woke me up in the middle of the night. The pediatrician ordered a nebulizer and asthma meds for my baby, which freaked me out. We all had the symptoms, and they all went away after a day. Grace's did too, so we assumed that she wasn't any worse off than the rest of us. Well, this past weekend, she and Alexander came down with colds (we've all caught it since). Grace began wheezing again. At one point, she was breathing so hard that she would start to say something and then quit. We pulled out the nebulizer and gave her breathing treatments. Once she was asleep, her breathing became more normal, but I lay awake beside her until 4am. I didn't want her to start struggling again without me being aware of it.

None of us has ever been around smokers, my kids have never been in daycare, none have ever had formula. All of those things are listed as risk factors for children to develop asthma. We do have family members (my brother and my mother-in-law) with the disease. From my research, though, family history doesn't seem to have as much to do with it as environment.

It just goes to show that you can't always control the outcomes; all you can do is make your best effort.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Scare Tactics

There are so many things people will warn you about when you a baby. If you hold them when they cry, you'll never be able to put them down. If you let them sleep in your bed, they will never leave. If you don't abandon them to scream in a crib for an hour before losing consciousness, they will never sleep through the night. The warning I'm talking about today is the one that says that if you nurse the baby to sleep every night, it will be the only way they can ever fall asleep.

None of the warnings are true, but they do all require one thing that today's parents seem to be deficient in: Patience. I have nursed Grace to sleep every night of her life, or at least offered to. You see, she is getting to an age where she doesn't always want to nurse to sleep. Gasp! How is that possible? Doesn't she know that "once nursed to sleep, always nursed to sleep"? Some nights, she will nurse as we lie in bed and drift off to sleep. On nights like the last one, she nursed for a while. Then she sat up, grabbed her IKEA nightlight ghost (Spoka), cuddled up with it, and fell asleep in my arms. Don't worry, I took away the ghost once she was out. I know from experience that nights like that will be interspersed with ones where she breastfeeds until she's asleep. Whenever we get to the point where she weans, she will be able to go to sleep every night without nursing.

By the way, I've managed to disprove all of the other warnings too. As a parent, you just have to be patient and know that when your baby/child is ready, these things will come easily. Fighting Mother Nature is exhausting; I don't know why so many parents choose to.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Why is it that when a newborn animal is abandoned or orphaned, people will try and find another animal mommy to nurse it? I have seen so many cute photos of animals of different species nursing little babies; the latest being a tiny pig being raised by a dachshund. Companies do make formula for puppies and kittens; why would anyone choose to forgo using them in favor of finding a nursing mother? Could it have anything to do with health? Could it relate to the benefits of feeding from a warm, mammalian mother rather than a rubber and plastic bottle? It strikes me that if a person believes his/her baby pig would be better off being nursed by a dog than fed from a bottle of lab-created formula, we should look more closely at the "choice" between formula and breastmilk in humans. Are we truly telling mothers to use synthetics to fed their infants when we don't even want to use them on our pets?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Who Are Boppy's Designed For?

At my baby shower, I received a Boppy nursing pillow. All I knew about breastfeeding was that my sister had done it, and that I planned to. When the baby was born, I had my husband bring it to my hospital room. I used it while I learned to nurse her. Once I was home, I used it every time I fed her (unless we were lying in bed). After we started leaving the house more, I spent a lot of time at my parents'. I'm not sure why, but I didn't bring the Boppy with me when I went over there. It really is much easier on your back to prop the baby on some sort of pillow, so I was always adjusting couch cushions under her. There were plenty of times when I had to nurse her somewhere in public with no pillows in sight. I would usually prop one ankle on the opposite knee and hunch over a bit to feed her. Once she was a year old, this became easier because she was bigger. I used that same Boppy with my second baby. It ripped in half when my third child was a few months old. My husband replaced it for me, but I confess that I haven't used the new one much. It was partly because the baby was past the newborn stage, but there was a bigger reason than that. You see, the Boppy itself made me feel bad about myself.

Here's the terrible truth: having babies often makes you bigger than you were before. Even if you will lose the "baby weight" and be back in your regular jeans when the baby is six months old, when he/she is a newborn you will, at the very least, have a big belly. A Boppy's center fits on my extremely petite seven year old. Anyone bigger has to stretch it open to fit. I have a plus-sized friend whose Boppy split open when her baby was only four months old. Do you know how that makes you feel? Like a woman who is too big to fit into a Boppy.

Since I started having babies, some genius invented My Brest Friend nursing pillow. It is adjustable and has a cushion behind Mama's back too. I have never used one, but it appears both more functional and better for a woman's self esteem than the Boppy.

I have to add a small word of warning about nursing pillows in general. I have met more than one mother who became so dependant on her's that she claimed to unable to nurse without it. You don't want to drag the giant thing with you everywhere you go, so this is a potential problem. If you can't/won't nurse in public, you won't be nursing for long. If necessary, practice breastfeeding without it every once in a while to prove to yourself that you can do it.