Jun 2013

Preparing to become a mum - one mum's story - guest blog by Elena Cimelli, of The Contented Calf Cookbook

The Contented Calf Cookbook - low res
This blog has been written by Elena Cimelli who came up with the idea of producing a cookbook for bread feeding mums, with recipes to help support your milk production. I hope you find her story and journey interesting.

As Eilish says, having a baby is a wonderful emotional experience, but it's also lots of hard work. It's very easy to believe that everything will just slot into place after birth. So many successful, confident women struggle with their newborns, feeling bewildered and overwhelmed as they just focused on the birth, and not the looking after a newborn baby part.
This was is me. Totally. Completely.

In my case, we were up for 41 hours, with a labour of 27 hours and then had two nights of only four hours sleep - followed by having a baby who would not sleep in the day. The first few days were never going to be anything else other than that of survival. After the initial shock, we got into a routine, which helped bring a comforting sense of order and the ability to claw back some sort of control. And for a while I felt like I was getting ‘on top’ of things.

But then followed months of grizzles and whinging, which slowly but surely got back on top of me. It felt like another series of unanswerable questions and challenges to overcome. Then it hit me – I realised it wasn’t just a case of ‘getting through it’ and out the other side: this was being a mum. I was in it for the long term. It took me a long time to really feel like I was a Proper Mum. Nearly four years on, I’m getting there. You can read more here:www.contentedcalf.com/news-and-views/it-takes-nine-months and http://www.contentedcalf.com/news-and-views/second-time-mum.

There are however, many things you can do while you’re pregnant to make those whirlwind first few months easier - get the facts you need, and the practical tips and tricks to help you in those early days.

Before I had my first daughter, friends with babies extolled the virtues of antenatal classes. They were right – through mine I met a truly wonderful group of friends. We’ve supported each other through our ups and downs and general experiences of ‘Mummydom’. Almost four years on and now all with two or more little ones, we are firm friends, still getting together most weeks. Long after most of what we talked about in our antenatal classes has drifted out of my horrendously sieve-like mind, the friendships have remained.

That said, two things our teacher said did manage to stick:
One: “You’ll find yourself more obsessed with, and talking about, poo than you could ever possibly imagine". I don’t need to comment further on this as every parent will know this to be true. Those are still in the ‘to be’ category – be prepared!
And two: “Prepare and freeze as many meals as you can ahead of the baby being born, so you have something quick, easy and nutritious to eat when you are tired beyond belief”. My husband (and I to an extent, but I think this piece of advice sparked off some primeval ‘hunter-gather’ instinct in him) took this to an extreme and we ended up with around 50 meal portions in our freezer before our baby was born - they lasted us for months!
These meals were invaluable for us. We could have nutritious, home cooked food every night, simply by turning on the oven and heating it up.

The birth of The Contented Calf Cookbook

Although she expressed from the offset, one of my friends faced a real battle moving her son from being bottle fed to her own goal of him being fully breastfed. He’d spent his first week in Special Care Baby Unit, which had totally knocked her milk supply.
With a breast pump in one hand and her mobile in the other, she did what any mother does, and spent hours upon hours Googling. She found out about Lactogenic foods and herbs, which can help promote milk production. When her husband went away for a week, I (also being a mum and unable to make any decision or find anything out without consulting Google) took to Google and found some recipes using ingredients from this list of foods. I made her a couple of dishes she could put in the fridge or freezer and just heat up when she needed.

And that’s how the concept of The Contented Calf Cookbook came about. What new mums need is healthy, nutritious, home-cooked food. And if those meals can be made from lactogenic ingredients, which help support their milk supply if they’re breastfeeding, then even better. And if you can cook and freeze those dishes ahead of time, and simply reheat when the baby arrives, better still.

I began researching in a lot more detail, in particular drawing from the great wealth of information about lactogenic foods and herbs in “Mother Food”, along with the book “Making More Milk” – both of which I can recommend.

Breast milk production and lactogenic foods

Breast milk production and breastfeeding is a complex process as you can see in this ‘Milk Supply Equation’ from “Making More Milk”
+ 1) Sufficient glandular tissue
+ 2) Intact nerve pathways AND ducts
+ 3) Adequate hormones AND hormone receptors
+ 4) Adequately frequent, effective milk removal and stimulation
Numbers 1) and 2) are down to your body’s physiology. Midwives, Health Visitors, Breastfeeding Counsellors and Lactation Consultants can all help advise on Number 4).

But were you aware of anything to do with Number 3), Hormones? What do you know about the role diet can play in Lactogenesis (the process of making milk)?
Lactogenesis involves two hormones – Prolactin and Oxytocin. Prolactin stimulates milk production and Oxytocin promotes the ‘milk-ejection’ or ‘let-down reflex’.
Certain foods and herbs increase the level of Prolactin in our bloodstream, helping our bodies to produce more milk. And with regards to Oxytocin, eating meals and snacks throughout the day can help reduce stress levels (hunger can induce stress), which actually suppresses Oxytocin production. There are also foods thought to help remedy problems with let-down or flow, listed in Hilary Jacobson’s book “Mother Food”.

Of course, foods and herbs only play part of a successful breastfeeding experience, as you can see from the equation above. But every little helps, and if you want to help support your milk supply, you may find a Lactogenic diet works for you. You can find out much more about breast milk production and diet at www.contentedcalf.com/breastmilk, including a list of Lactogenic (and anti-Lactogenic) foods.

If you’d like some inspiration of how to include Lactogenic foods in your diet today, just visit the recipe section of the Contented Calf website www.contentedcalf.com/recipes. Then simply register to get even more exclusive recipes, absolutely free!

As many of The Contented Calf Cookbook recipes can be made ahead of time and frozen, they can also help you prepare for those first sleepless weeks, giving you both something warming and tasty to eat straight from the freezer. (I challenge you to match mine and Hubby’s 50+ meals!)

The Baby Care Company is able to offer its readers a 20% discount off The Contented Calf Cookbook – only £11.99 (rrp £14.99)


Summary of paper by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologistics on possible risk of chemicals in pregnancy

There's a scientific paper out today published by The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologistics and co-written by Dr Michelle Bellingham and Professor Richard Sharpe which reports about the possible risks of chemicals in every day products to the development of your unborn baby.

This paper highlights that in our everyday life we are exposed to low levels of chemicals, which at higher levels could prove harmful. These chemicals include Bisphenol A that is found in drinks and food cans, and phthalate esters found in plastics, carpets, fabrics, personal care products ( eg moisturisers, deodorants, shower gel) and glue.

The reason for the potential worry is because these chemicals have the potential to interfere with hormone systems in the body involved with playing a key role in normal fetal development. They are thought to potentially be able to mimic or block endogenous endocrine hormone action to potentially disrupt normal fetal development. It is documented (although not having access to the supporting medical papers, I am relying on the report having sufficient evidence, controls, sample size etc.),that exposure to high levels of 4 or more of these different chemicals in rats have shown to produce adverse effects, which infers that the same may be true for humans. The difficulty and uncertainty lies in understanding whether there is a sufficient accumulative effect, if you're exposed to a number these chemicals at low levels.

It is very difficult to monitor what chemicals we are being exposed to especially if manufacturers aren't required to list the inactive ingredients in products that we use, some of which could include phthalates. Equally using products that are termed 'natural', 'non-toxic' and 'green', may not necessarily be so since use of these words aren't regulated.

The recommendations in the paper to pregnant women and to women breastfeeding suggests you should assume that there is risk present in using certain products, even though these may be minimal and eventually proven unfounded.

The co-authors suggest the following advice is followed by pregnant women/those breastfeeding

- Use fresh food rather than processed foods wherever possible
- reduce use of foods/beverages in cans/plastic containers, including their use for food storage
- minimise the use of personal care products such as moisturisers, cosmetics, shower gels and fragrances
- minimise the purchase of newly produced household furniture, fabrics, non-stick frying pans and cars whilst pregnant/breast feeding.
- avoid the use of garden/household/pet pesticides or fungicides (such as fly sprays or strips, rose sprays, flea powders)
- avoid paint fumes
- only take over-the-counter analgesics or painkillers when necessary
- do not assume safety of products based on the absence of 'harmful' chemicals in their ingredients list, or the tag 'natural' (herbal or otherwise)

I believe that many pregnant women will use their common sense in the interpretation of this

I think the key messages from the paper which we may not have previously be all fully aware of is
- the assumption that if a potentially harmful chemical isn't listed on the ingredients list, doesn't mean that it isn't still in the product, as it may be an inactive ingredient,
- don’t rely on a product being free from chemicals if it states it’s ‘green’ ‘non-toxic’ or ‘natural’ as these words aren’t regulated.

However that being said there still isn’t sufficient scientific evidence as to whether low level exposure to these harmful chemicals multiple times, will actually cause your baby any harm, and more research needs to be done to understand this further.