“Contented Cow, Contented Calf…” is perhaps not the most glamorous phrase, is it? 😉
But it is one that I try to remember every day ever since my wonderful mother-in-law first uttered those words of advice when I was first pregnant. If I look after myself, and make sure I’m happy and OK, then my baby will be happy too. And that’s all we want isn’t it? Happy babies.
Becoming a parent is one of the most whirlwind experiences anyone will go through and my rollercoaster ride began in Summer 2009 with the birth of my first daughter. (Daughter Two arrived Spring 2012.) Even now, I still find myself looking at them, incredulous that they’re here, alive and real. When you become a parent you are suddenly someone’s mother or father, who created a real, live human being and whose existence utterly depends on you. You’ll probably have 1,001 questions about how best to care for your baby – I certainly did (and still do most of the time). High up on that list is likely to be feeding.
Breastfeeding is such a personal and emotive topic, with every woman having a unique experience of it and feelings towards it – even more so if you are struggling with low breastmilk supply. It is almost impossible to write about without adding yet more pressure onto mums, which I’m dead against. I can only tell my experience. That said, I still hesitate every time I put finger to keyboard – every woman must do what’s right for her and her baby and not feel bullied to do otherwise.
So here goes… personally, I was totally formula fed, and have managed to make it well into my 30s OK. I’m generally pretty healthy, I don’t believe my intelligence has been impaired and I haven’t ended up in therapy with “my mum didn’t love me” issues. So I had no expectations for what would happen for me and my daughter. Fed is best, right? Breast, bottle or both, I was going to do what worked for us. I’d give breastfeeding a go, and see what happened. I wasn’t going to feel the pressure to do one thing or the other.
As it was, when it came to breastfeeding, I was incredibly lucky and it went well from the start. Fifteen minutes after my first daughter was born, she was latched on to my breast, where she stayed for much of the next 10 months. I was able to successfully breastfeed exclusively for six months (both on the breast and pumping for bottles) and continue on mixed feeding (breast, pumped, formula) for another four once we started to introduce solids, without issues around a low breastmilk supply.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. When my first daughter was born, she did not stop feeding on the second night and I was shattered (41 hours awake, 28 hour labour, followed by just 4 hours sleep). I was an utter mess. One midwife was so incredibly kind and told me that the next time she started a feed to call her and she would bring a tiny amount of formula to top up after I’d fed her. When she came she took the baby while I went to the loo, then said to me “you, bed, sleep” and fed my daughter 30mls of formula out of a cup and settled her back down. We both slept for 4-5 hours. With that sleep, I felt able to cope a little more and carry on breastfeeding. That one ounce of formula actually helped support our breastfeeding experience, not end it. Without it, I’m not sure I would have been able to carry on for so long. But, overall it went well, I had enough milk and I’m very grateful.
I struggled a bit more with my second, but again it went exceptionally well, which I’m so thankful for.
One of my NCT friends didn’t have such a good tale to tell. Her son spent his first week in a Special Care Baby Unit and without him nursing directly in the early days, she battled with a low breastmilk supply. She faced an uphill struggle moving him from being bottle fed to her own goal of him being fully breastfed. Armed with a breast pump and the internet, she did whatever she could to increase her breastmilk production. During one of her internet trawls she found out about foods and herbs that can help with milk supply. She told me about it and I was intrigued. I started searching for recipes that used these lactogenic foods, but there were only a few out there. This got me thinking. In the run up to our daughter’s birth, my husband and I had cooked up a storm and filled our freezer with meals that we could just bung in the oven once we were in the throes of new parenthood. I wondered if I could’ve made those meals with lactogenic ingredients.
And that’s how this breastfeeding cookbook began life. I realised I was going to really need some expertise to help me, so I asked my friend Jassy Davis, (who was then studying at Ballymaloe Cookery School) to see if she was interested in working with me on it. Luckily for me, she said yes!
After she got back, we met up and started working on the recipe ideas. Using the research I’d done, we ended up with a list of lactogenic ingredients which aid with a low breastmilk supply, from which to create some initial recipe ideas. Out of those we chose our favourites. Then the whole process of recipe creation, testing, feedback, and fine-tuning began. So rest assured all recipes have been well tested by both of us (and an army of willing family and friends!) And finally in October 2011 The Contented Calf Cookbook was officially launched!!
I know from experience that most new parents don’t have the time or energy to slave away in the kitchen. Getting ahead, stocking up your fridge and freezer, can really take the pressure off once your baby arrives. If you can eat foods that may help improve your chances of successfully breastfeeding if that’s the route you’ve chosen, then even better.
But babies don’t stop growing-up do they? And before I knew it my breastfeeding days were drawing to a close.
Fast-forward five years, and in Summer 2014 my Husband and I move to California with a Two-Year-Old and an Almost-Five-Year-Old.
Despite moving to an English-speaking country, so many things were new to us: the Summer heat, the beautiful yet slightly un-nerving clear blue skies, the parks, the traffic, the driving on the right, the house, the school system… and the food. We hadn’t moved to a totally different culture, with a very different cuisine. But things tasted ‘different’ nevertheless.
Most things our palettes transitioned too quickly and easily (I’m not going to lie: the fruit in California is out of this world – so sweet, fragrant, juicy, fresh). Some things the girls especially couldn’t quite get used to – the milk for example. (I’ve finally settled on Straus, which tastes the closest to what we’ve been used to.)
Another item we really missed was low sugar kids’ Fromage Frais. You know, something to give the kids after dinner sometimes that isn’t too sweet, but can masquerade as ‘pudding’…
Everywhere I looked, all the yoghurts were packed full of sugar, even the ‘healthy’ organic ones – 19g / nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar per pot! That’s a lot, for a small pot of yoghurt, especially when a child’s in-take of sugar should be a maximum of 3 teaspoons a day. I tried the girls on plain Greek yoghurt, but it was obviously a no-go – we all know it’s a bit sour-tasting and takes some getting used to, don’t we?
So what did I do about our lack of low-sugar Fromage Frais then…?
I set about trialling and error-ing with various wholesome ingredients, and developing my own. Let me tell you something I know you already know: children are harsh critics. If they don’t like something, they tell you. They don’t hold back. So I kept on trying until I got it just right. And that homemade ‘Fromage Frais’ was the starting point for The Contented Kid Cookbook.
Next came Ice Lollies, Ice-Creams, Cake… Any ‘Sweet Treat’ that I wanted my girls to have as treats, but that I just couldn’t bring myself to buy in store, fully manufactured, loaded with sugar and full of nasties.
I believe in moderation, not extremes. Wherever possible, I have reduced the sugar in the recipe, or switched it for fruit.
I don’t avoid it completely. I believe that being armed with information about what sugar does to our bodies, how much (well, how little) we should have of it, along with the nutritional benefits of various foods, allows us to make informed decisions about what we eat and when. We are able to see sugary treats as that, treats, not every day foods. And when we do indulge, we do so in the understanding of from where every ingredient has come.
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Happy making, baking, eating and treating!
family picture by Jess Morgan Photography