"Contented Cow, Contented Calf" is perhaps not the most glamorous phrase, but it’s one that I try to remember every day ever since my wonderful mother-in-law first uttered those words of advice while I was pregnant - make sure I'm OK, and my baby will be OK too.
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. 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 past 30 OK. I’m not particularly sickly, 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. 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 for another four once we started to introduce solids.
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 this severely affected her milk 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 build up her milk supply. 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 book 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, 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.
And throughout it all, try to remember: "Contented Cow.....Contented Calf"
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