Thursday, September 29, 2011

The elusive vitamin D

I've been thinking a lot about vitamin D lately. A couple of people I know, whom I assume spend tons of time frolicking outdoors, were tested and found to be deficient. How could this be?, I wondered. I started reading a bit about it here and there, and found it to be a really confusing topic. There seem to be two conflicting viewpoints going around: a) that it is easy to get enough vitamin D from the casual sun exposure in all climes, or b) that most people are deficient in vitamin D, and universal supplementation is recommended. Surely, only one of these can be right! But how to tell which one? Or is there a magic solution somewhere in between the extremes?

The UK Departments of Health recommend that all pregnant and breastfeeding women and all children, ages 6 months to 5 years (unless drinking 500mL of fortified formula a day--regular milk isn't fortified in the UK), take a daily vitamin D supplement. While they say that regular sun exposure is adequate for most people, there have also been studies that found that more than half the adult population of the UK is vitamin D deficient, especially in the winter and spring. So not only is this confusing, you also have to keep in mind what the aim of recommendations like those from the DH are when trying to apply it to your own situation. Oh, public health, how I both love you and get annoyed by you at the same time! These recommendations are for populations. The DH knows that it is both safer and cheaper to recommend that everyone, or at least all people in "at risk" groups, take supplementation than that a small minority of those people end up with diseases like rickets and poor bone health. What the DH does not know is whether I, personally, or my family are actually deficient in vitamin D and could benefit from supplementation. So while it is useful to consider the official advice, it doesn't tell me the whole story.

Gus soaking up some rays in the back garden
Today I read this post over on Best for Babes (and this follow-up on the author's own blog) and found it really useful. It is still obviously talking about populations, but at least it is providing me with context, not just a one-size-fits-all approach. There's a bit of a philosophical debate within breastfeeding circles regarding vitamin D. If breastmilk is complete nutrition for your baby, providing everything baby needs for at least the first 6 months of life (which I believe it is!), then why should we need to give vitamin D supplements? Is it somehow betraying breastfeeding to suggest that vitamin D supplementation can be useful, or even necessary? The author, Diana Cassar-Uhl, looks extensively at the research surrounding vitamin D deficiency, sufficiency, and supplementation. All extremely useful; just what I was looking for. In particular, she reports that studies show that it is very hard for our bodies to make enough vitamin D from the sun at higher latitudes (i.e. where the UK is), especially in the winter months. But the thing that really helped me wrap my head around the issue of giving vitamin supplements to babies was this: if older children and adults only get 10% of the necessary vitamin D from our diet, why should we expect infants to have 100% of the need met through diet alone (breastmilk)? It is probably possible for a baby to get it all through breastmilk, if the mother's stores are high enough, but is it necessary? I don't know the "right" answer to that question, but, to me and for my family, I would say it is not. There are other sources, i.e. sun exposure and vitamin supplementation, that can play their part.

Way back in the day, people would have gotten enough vitamin D through sun exposure, as they would spend hours outside everyday working in the fields, washing laundry at the creek, etc, etc. But for me, that is simply not possible. So I am going to try to get it in whatever way I can. I try to take Gus outside for an hour every day when the weather is nice. (Of course, this opens up the whole question of what is the optimal amount of time to go without sunscreen or other protection from the sun--most sources seem to say between 15 and 30 minutes. Especially since Gus is so fair compared to my own complexion! I have never had to worry about sunburn for myself, but I don't want risk him burning.) To make up the difference between what we can synthesize from the sun and what we need, especially in the winter--and, often, rainy summer!--months, I am going to give Gus vitamin D drops. (There is already vitamin D in the daily multivitamin I [try to] take since I am breastfeeding.) I don't have any problem giving these to Gus, since he is already eating solid foods--especially if I can get the kind with no sugars, flavourings, colors, etc, which don't appear to be available in the UK. But, no worries, I've got connections ;)  When we have another baby in the future (God willing!), I think I will try to get my own levels tested and then take enough supplements myself to provide a sufficient amount to the baby, so I wouldn't have to give drops before 6 months, if possible. Jon takes a multivitamin, but it doesn't seem to have vitamin D in it, so I should probably look into a separate supplement for him as well, especially since he sees the least amount of sun out of all of us!

I am really glad I have come to a conclusion regarding this issue. I was pretty sure I was going to give Gus the drops anyway, but now I feel I really understand why it is a good idea for us. What about you--do you supplement? Why or why not?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Walking! and other Gus-related news

I promised a video of little Gus walking, but I must warn you, it is not great quality. Our camera doesn't take very good videos, and has no microphone, so there is no sound. (Maybe I have an item to put on my Christmas list, no?) HOWEVER, Gus himself is pretty darn cute in the video, so that should make up for the poor production quality. Just think of it as an artsy, independent movie. That gives it lots of street cred, I think :)

The stats: Gus took his first steps 2 days before he turned 9 months old. Within about 2 weeks, he was able to take 10 or more steps at a time, and now, at 10.5 months, he has mostly done away with crawling. Which is a bit sad (not only because my baby is growing up so fast!) because crawling is actually super cute. He still crawls to climb up things, e.g. the stairs, the furniture, his Pa. It is amazing how quickly they master new skills, though!

In other news--Gus made his first sign yesterday!  Be still my heart, it was pretty much the sweetest thing ever. Of course, his first sign was milk, as he loves him some nursing. He hasn't figured out how to use the sign to actually ask for it yet (still uses the old stand-by of pulling down my shirt. Thanks, kiddo), but he does the sign while he is actually nursing. There have been times before where I thought maybe he was doing some signs, but this one was definite, no ambiguity. Now that he has started to sign, I better get back into signing regularly. After months of signing with no response from Gus, I have gotten a little bit lax and only do a few words regularly. I am trying to remember all the signs I learned again and re-incorporate them into my daily conversation.

Also, Gus's new favourite thing is to watch Jon do push-ups. He thinks it is pretty much the funniest thing ever. I think Jon is now doing them nightly just to get Gus to laugh. Related to that, Gus likes to ride on our backs and shoulders (he tries to climb on Jon's back during the push-ups--making Pa work a bit harder!). And he has started dancing to music. Which isn't related, but is new.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Animals on parade

Gus loves animals. All types--big or small, furry or feathery.  We're really lucky that we have a little lake near the house (about a 10 minute walk away), and on our way to the grocery store and playground, that is home to many a water fowl, including a pair of swans and their babies. One of his favorite activities is to go down to the lake and watch the ducks. Although he does seem to think that it is a good idea to walk into the water to try and get closer to them. Yeah, I have to hold on pretty tightly there. (Oh, did I mention that Gus is walking? A lot? And has been for a month now? Sorry blogworld, I am neglectful. I am hoping to [record and] post a decent video of his bipedal talents any day now. She says for the 25th day in a row.) And I swear that he can say duck. Sure, da is the "word" he says most often, but when he says it while looking at the ducks, I do like to think that it is intentional.

Gus petting Jon's childhood dog, Flopsy. Who just died last week.
We'll miss you, Flopsy!

We also have many cats that roam the neighborhood. Which I generally don't think of as a positive thing about our house. But Gus certainly rates it highly. The other day, there was a cat in our back yard, and Gus and I sat together for about half an hour, just watching it sit, and clean itself, and chase the ants. It was very sweet. Gus, I mean. Not so much the cat. I mean, the cat was pretty regular. I am not really a cat person.

Gussy looking at the geese when we went to the farm last month.
It's really difficult to get a picture of a baby
while wearing him in a sling on your front.

So last weekend, Jon, Gus and I were in Bristol for a wedding on Friday and had all day Saturday to have fun. Knowing his love of animals, we decided to take Gussy to the zoo. Oh. my. goodness. did he love it!  It was as if each animal was more exciting than the last. He actually had a bit of a cold (which of course he came down with the night before we left for a long weekend, but it didn't seem to hold him back too much) and was kind of sleepy by the time we arrived, but he would not let himself fall asleep when there were amazing animals to be seen. We saw flamingos, lions, several types of monkeys, penguins, and seals, and walked through the butterfly house. Probably some other things too, but those were the ones that I remember him liking the most. It is just so lovely to see his little face light up with pure delight as he looks at the various animals. Jon and I kept saying to each other, "I am so glad we brought him here. Look how much he likes it!" I had thought that just a morning would be more than enough time for such a little one to spend in the zoo, but when we had to go to meet some friends for lunch, I felt so guilty making him leave a place where he was clearly having so much fun!  And he did fall asleep eventually--as soon as we walked away from the animals to look for a place to change a very wet diaper!  Guess we'll postpone that nappy change for a little bit :)

Knowing how much he loves animals, I am really very tempted to get Gus a pet for his birthday in a couple of months. Nothing big--I am not up for the responsibility of a dog and, like I said before, am not really a cat person. But maybe something little, like a guinea pig or hamster or something. Does anyone know about these animals, if they are good for toddlers and easy for moms to take care of? Or is it a silly idea for me to bring a pet into the house? Do I really want one more thing that I need to clean?!

6-day-old piglets at the farm.
Maybe we should get on of these--they are so cute!
Nevermind they grow up to weigh about 400 pounds!

Friday, September 2, 2011

7 Quick Takes (volume 12)

I think I am becoming an insomniac, or something. Gus has been staying up late (till about 10) and then sleeping in until 9, which means I get to sleep in--yay! But I have compensated for that by not going to bed before 2am the past three nights, and then not being able to fall asleep once I get into bed. This is not okay. And I have not even been doing anything useful--I have recently become mildly addicted to Mahjong. Help!

Related to that, how do you get a baby to go to sleep earlier? I would like him to go to bed closer to 9 rather than 10, but he doesn't seem to agree there. Yesterday Gus only had one nap--I neither actively helped nor hindered his falling asleep a second time--and when he fell asleep right at 9pm, I thought I had cracked it. Until he woke again 45 minutes later, not really sure if he wanted to sleep or play. But he was so adorable, we couldn't possibly not play with him, which probably perpetuated the problem, as he didn't fall back asleep until after 11. At least I had an excuse for staying up late--I had to take Gus out of the bedroom so we wouldn't wake Jon up, and I was worried about waking Gus up again if I moved. (We'll ignore the hour I was awake after I finally put Gus back into bed) :)

I hate making phone calls. There has been one call I have been meaning to make for a couple of weeks now (re volunteering at the local breastfeeding cafe), and I keep putting it off, even though it is for something I would quite like to do. Obviously, it isn't very happy with me and has decided to get back at me by rounding up some friends. So now I have about 6 phone calls I need to make. Maybe I should call this Phone Friday and just get them over with.

It doesn't help that the one call I actually made this week consisted of me waiting on hold for an hour and 20 minutes, only to have my call answered by the wrong department. They tried to transfer me, but apparently they are updating their phone systems, and the correct department's lines were down. I left my details with the promise that I would get a call back once the lines were working again, but so far nothing. This one could save me money on my energy bills, so I really should try again!

I saw this recipe for Sweet Potato Brownies in the Guardian, and I definitely need to try them. I really like recipes for sweet things that have vegetables or other healthy things in them because then I, um, don't feel quite so guilty for eating a whole pan myself? (Can't let them go bad!) Maybe one sweet potato does not magically make brownies a health food, but a girl can dream, right?

Although, they probably won't stack up to my friend Rosie's brownies. She makes pretty much the most delicious brownies ever. If you like baking yummy treats, head over to her blog. (Even though she doesn't have her regular brownie recipe on there! She's got others, and her banana cake is pretty amazing, too).

Speaking of sweet potatoes in baked goods, I have recently made Sweet Potato Crackers a couple of times. I put in a tablespoon or two of tahini, which makes the dough super sticky and unable to actually roll into crackers unless you add a lot more flour. But, it also makes them delicious, and taste kind of like Goldfish crackers? Aren't goldfish crackers supposed to be cheddar flavour? Very strange. But still a good recipe for a homemade snack. Also good with beetroot instead of sweet potato. Dip in hummus or cream cheese. Done.

Does anyone else changed their child's diaper in unconventional positions? Half the time, Gus will not lie still for a nappy change, so often just change it while he is standing up.  I've gotten pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. Although I do dread changing him away from home now. Recently I had to change him while we were out, and he just screamed and cried the whole time, as I tried to keep him from crawling right off the changing table. And of course, there was a line of people waiting to use the room as we walked out. *lower eyes and move past quickly*

Jon just realised this week that he still has half his holiday days left to take for the year, and we don't really have any trips planned till Christmas. He wants to take a full week off for a stay-cation, whereas I suggested taking a bunch of 3-day weekends. The only thing he vetoed is taking days off for DIY! I'm kind of excited about these extra days--we almost never have days off where we just stay at home, so this will be a real treat for us!

Hope you have a great weekend! Don't forget to head over to Jen's for more Quick Takes :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stay-at-home mom, working mom, or just Mom?

I've been having a bit of an identity crisis lately. Well, crisis might be a bit dramatic, but I have been thinking, anyway.

In March, I lost my job. The organisation that I worked for basically lost all its funding and had to close down. This makes me all kinds of sad, seeing as the work--which I and many others consider to be very important--is now not being done; plus the people I worked with were pretty much the best colleagues you could ask for.

The thing is, in March, when this all happened, I still hadn't decided whether I was going to return to work at the end of my maternity leave. I love being home with Gus. I am so blessed to be able to spend all this time with him. On the other hand, there is so much out in the world that interests me and that I feel I could really contribute to. I have applied to a couple of jobs this summer, and during the time I was actually working on the application, I felt so excited at the prospect of regularly addressing the sort of issues I am interested in. But as soon as I pressed "save" and went to do something else, panic would rise up in my chest, and I would think that I cannot possibly go back to work. (It doesn't help that I don't like the process of starting a new job--getting to know everyone and the feeling of having to prove myself makes me nervous at the best of times).

I think my ideal job would be where I could either take Gus with me or would only have to be away for him for 3-4 hours at a time.  But where can a person find a job like this? I recently read this post at Talk Birth (via), and oh man did it speak to me. She talks about
the need for something in between staying at home and working full time (basically, that working and mothering simultaneously is the most natural and fulfilling approach, but our society does not make that combination often feasible or comfortable)
Now, I hope I don't get in trouble with any self-appointed mommy police, but being a SAHM--at least, in my limited experience and with a single child of Gus's age and disposition--is not a "full-time job" in that it does not take 100% of my mental and physical energies to do. That's not to say that it isn't tough and tiring at times, but Gus doesn't need my undivided attention 24 hours a day. He spends a lot of his time playing by himself with only occasional input from me, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about being productive, but without a good outlet for it. But if I had work that I was interested in and motivated to do, between independent play time and naps, I think I would have enough time every week to do a part-time job at home while parenting my son.

At the moment, I would say that mother is my primary identity, the aspect of myself that is top of the list, so to speak. But I don't think that being a mother means I have to stop being the person I was a year ago, that the rest of that list is now obsolete. Maybe changed, but not vanished. As long as other pursuits, be they paid work or volunteering or hobbies, add to rather than detract from my vocation as a mother, then they should be embraced. The right kind of work could definitely add to my mothering. But if women, and men, define their primary identity as parent or family member, then why is the workplace set up so that work gets top billing in terms of time and energy? Can't we fit work into family, rather than the other way around?

(I know it's cliche, but I really just feel like chanting "hey hey, ho ho, the patriarchy has got to go!" at the moment)

Maybe I just need to get more creative with my search for work, take some risks in offering my services. Or, you know, if I actually knew what I wanted to be when I grow up, rather than just having general areas of interest, that would help. I'm certain I'll sort something out in time, but it sure does take a lot of energy to get there!