Friday, March 13, 2015

RIP Paul Kalanithi

I read the news of a passing of a stranger yesterday, and it has stayed with me since because of the sheer power of his words.

Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon at Stanford and a tremendously gifted writer.  After he was diagnosed with aggressive metastatic lung cancer, he wrote two utterly haunting essays, entitled  "How Long Have I Got Left?” for The New York Times and “Before I Go” for Stanford Medicine. Both essays are must-reads, the first especially so for members of the medical community.

It is funny that one of the reasons that I feel so particularly bad about this is because somebody with so much eloquence was taken from this world, while everyday, so many good people pass relatively un-mourned by the general public.

But anyway, it is this man's eloquence that spurred this post, and got me talking about something that I have pondered in passing for several months now.  Kalanithi, addressing his infant daughter who was born only days after he was released from the hospital, said this in his second essay:

When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

These are words that will resonate with me,and with many of you, because he put into words what so many of us feel, but cannot express. And the scope of his statement is not restricted to people whose days are numbered, but ALL of us, really.

I was happy-ish before Gauri came along, but it was a low-level contentment, if you will, where I was always looking forward to the next thing to make me happy: a holiday, a book, a job, a date, the baby itself (a 4-year long wait, that); I was very rarely perfectly happy, perfectly joyous in that moment. I think there may have been a few instances where I came close: there was one, I remember, when I was out in Acadia National Park. Existential joy at its purest.

After Gauri? The moments come thick and fast. I still grumble about many things, I am still looking forward to a great many little things (getting out of India, mostly), but there are so many moments that are so perfectly joyous that they are hard to bear. Then there are moments of perfect quiet peace and contentment.

Very few things can bring this sort of joy. Very few things make us stop searching for the next best thing and let us simply bask in a particular moment. I am glad this man got to experience that, though it is such a tragedy he died just a few months short of his baby's first birthday. I do not know him, but I am so saddened by the fact that he had so little time. For all of you out there in the infertility trenches, know that the prize you are fighting for is the best one indeed. It is worth the pain of battle.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Parenting Fails and Triumphs

As a new parent, I started down this road with SUCH good intentions.  My baby would get no screen time. She would not be transfixed by electronics. She would be interested in exploring her surroundings. She would be involved in the world around her.

Well, two out of four is not bad, is it? 

Turns out, ensuring that your kids do not fall down the rabbit hole of a deep and abiding fascination for electronics requires serious discipline from you, and whoever else is in the house. We failed, and badly.

My grandma watches incredibly awful regional language TV soaps. I watch Downton Abbey and Top Chef and Modern family. My dad channel surfs. All of us (barring my grandma) spend far too much time with our smartphones. I have tried to keep her out of the room while the TV is on, but the damage is done. Among her favorite objects are remote controls. She drags em around the house, points em at the TV, presses buttons, and gets super pissed when nothing relevant happens. Sometimes she stands in front of the TV, pressing buttons on a remote, waving her arms and screaming like a witch doctor, exhorting it to start. When it does start, sometimes she ignores it, but whenever there is a jingle or the opening number, she is transfixed and starts dancing to it (turns out this kid is pretty musical---she will dance to almost anything). When she sees my phone, she lets out a war hoop and dives for it. My laptop drives her ballistic. I usually deny her these objects, resulting in tantrums (already at 11 months!!), which mama is pretty good at ignoring at a deadpan manner, but other people can be PUTTY in the face of. Working on establishing rules for consistent reactions in a big family is a headache, I have to say. But the rewards make it totally worth it. 

But with these things that have not worked out the way I intended, there are also things that have, some a bit more than I would have liked. This kid loves nature. She is out for maybe around 2 hours a day in our garden, not counting her long walk. She is observant and really pays attention to her surroundings. She loves to explore, take apart, and examine everything (she stands on tiptoe in front of desks and tries to pull all the contents She eats (self-feeds) with no need for distraction, really tasting and enjoying food---part of that is her own nature (all her half-siblings are really good eaters) and the fact that she has never been troubled by reflux, which is the root of the problem for so many kids labelled "picky eaters." Nonetheless, I have to give quite a bit of credit to baby-led weaning. It really is a fantastic concept.

But overall, the triumphs have little to do with me, and quite a bit to do with the amazing support system I have. Usually, the fails have also little to do with the parents (but in some cases, they do, as is so here). And I am NOT going to beat myself up about it, and you cannot either, even if some of you may want to. "Perfection" in parents is unrealistic, unachievable, and overrated, is it not? We just have to do the best we can under the circumstances, while not being too hard on ourselves or on the kids.

I just have to work on keeping her love for electronics under reasonable control, and making sure her interests remain diverse. Easy peasy, right?  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ten months!

It is a short time really, but it feels like ALL my life. I cannot imagine a world without this child in it anymore.

She is changing so fast. The beginnings of conversation are here: I was so freaking excited when, in the middle of the night, she pointed to her bottle and wailed "bo to!" It is an indescribable feeling when you know they are getting closer to the point where they can actually TELL you what they want. It is also interesting to see them try to discover how to use their tongue and vocal cords to actually form words: last night, she appeared to be struggling to form the word "goodnight," (she was clutching "Goodnight Moon") and she went "gGGG" and something unintelligible after that, but this gives you a real appreciation of how difficult learning to talk is.

With eating as well, there have been huge strides. She hated her high chair at first. Screamed like Torquemada himself had strapped her in and was starting up his routine. I used to wring my hands, because trying to teach a child to self-feed while not using a high chair is a daunting and super messy prospect. So I girded my loins and began a long (and thoughtful) campaign to get her to accept the detested high chair, and it finally worked. So that accomplished, I sat her down in it and gave her finger food ( a plate of torn-up dosa pieces) and OMG, she proceeded to feed herself! I have gone with baby-led weaning from the start with respect to the food she ate, but had delayed self feeding (they tell you to start at 6-7 months), and was scared that she would get too used to being fed.  Well, it is not a concern apparently, and her highness has had plenty of time to practice her pincer grip picking up random objects off the floor (have had to deal with explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night a couple of times now, joy).

Speaking of explosive diarrhea, I have a tip for all you beleaguered parents out there: Probiotics are supposed to help shorten the frequency, duration, and severity of gastrointestinal upsets, and this kid has been on a heavyweight probiotic (Lactobacillus reuteri in the Gerber Soothe Colic drops) since nearly day one. So when a bout of explosive and uncontrollable diarrhea began, I decided to try the effect of two probiotics as opposed to one, and I picked yeast (Saccharomyces boulardii, sold in the US as Florastor) as the second probiotic, and the infection came under control within 18 hours! So two probiotics are better than one, and it may be better to give two very disparate bugs (for example, yeast and a member of the Lactobacillus genus)

But yeah, she is self-feeding, and mommy dare not eat in front of her, because this kid waddles up to me like John Wayne, yanks food off my plate, swipes it on the floor, and when she is satisfied that it is dirty enough, shoves it in her mouth. She gave me the fright of my life when she did this with a very large piece of raw beetroot: I was terrified she would choke, but she proceeded to gum it very carefully for a very long time, and then swallowed.  What I realized then is that we vastly underestimate the ability of a baby to know what to do with food.  

But let me take a teeny tiny break from talking about my daughter to talking about myself. 

I have been trying the work-from-home gig as a freelance editor for the past 4-5 months. I HATE IT. I hate that I do not often shower till the end of the day. I hate how low my productivity is. I hate the lack of structure, which is not helped by my total lack of discipline. The only (big) plus is I can take frequent breaks to spend time with Gauri or take care of her, but even that cannot be a long-term thing. What I have realized in this time is I do not at all have what is takes to be a SAHM or even a WFHM. I need to get out on a daily basis. Thankfully, we have a pretty good caretaker system at home, and my grandma is around to supervise. It really helps to have a family member around. 

So I set out to look for shared office spaces (for entrepreneurs/freelancers), and I was pleasantly surprised: it appears to be a thing in both the US and India, and it appears to be a pretty fun setup (a dedicated desk seems to go for around $400/month in Austin, TX, or around 13000 INR/month in Mumbai, India). This seems like a great short-term solution till I return to the going back has been delayed by 6-12 months past my estimations, much to my dismay, though the delay is a good thing for Gauri. Once I go back, I definitely want a full-time job that takes me back to science as opposed to freelance science editing. Anyway, starting next week, I start working from a shared office space as opposed to my couch. YAY, hello makeup. Hello, pretty clothes. Goodbye, detested jammies.  Hello, meeting new people.

Good note to end on, huh? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


While a baby is a genetically a blend of two people together, the trait distribution can be complex: sometimes, the individual contributions from either biological parent are evident, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes, there appear to be no inherited traits at all.

If I look at Gauri and I together in a mirror today, I sometimes cannot see the resemblance (possibly because our coloring really differs), but then it seems to jump out in our eyes, the overall shape of our faces, and sometimes just something indefinable. But then, when you look at baby photos of me and baby photos of Gauri, the resemblance is much stronger.

But I digress. This child has taken definite facets from her maternal and paternal sides.

Her smile is mine. Her eyes are mine. Her eyelashes (score!) are mine. Her joy and enthusiasm for people are the same as mine as a child----I sadly became much more reserved later.

Her love for reading may have come from me; I was the consummate bookworm, and this kid LOVES book-time. Her ability to cry quickly may, sadly, be mine as well---even mildly strong emotion provokes tears in me: I just sniffled through the the end of "The Imitation Game," much to the amusement and disbelief of the people with me. would suck if this very disadvantageous trait afflicted yet another generation. In the plus column, she may be a very early talker like me, but the jury is still out on that one.

But, oh, the (possibly) paternal influences: Unlike me, this child is very physical. She crawled early at 6 months, stood up by herself at 6.5 months, is starting to walk unassisted now at 9.5 months: What amazes me is a lot of her half-siblings started to do all of these things at around exactly the same times.  Her height and weight percentiles (very tall, rather light baby) match up almost spookily with that of a few of her female half-sibs. She is utterly fearless and is indefatigable. She may also turn out to be athletic and may be good with using her body: we showed her the correct way to dismount from a bed, and she picked it up abilities to imitate or follow a described motion are actually sub-par, which is why I will always be a sucky athlete/dancer. Probably the best dissimilarity from me: this kid loves to eat. She loves food, all types of food (giant, giant score).

Can you delineate traits in your children? Would be fun to read about it---including the things they pick up as a result of nurture, not nature...sometimes that matters more: for example, Gauri's love for books. My parents read to me, and I am reading to her. Would the two of us have been the same if we had not been raised thus?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The weathering of storms

I have to admit, I have led a very charmed existence this first year, in that I have had tons of help in raising Gauri. I do not need to shower while having her perched in her rocker four feet away, the way I know many new moms have to do it, because there are always multiple somebodies available to take care of her. I can go out for adult meals when I want, though it is pretty darned rare. I can even take in a movie every now and then. I do not have to gobble down my food while keeping an eye on her.

And  the best of all, as I weathered a monster storm of tooth eruption combined with her first infection (a relatively mild respiratory tract infection that felled everybody in our family) combined with a maid with very poor decision making skills who came to work with conjunctivitis and promptly gave it to her, I had tons of help.

As she woke up screaming 4 times a night because she could not breathe because her nose was blocked, or when she coughed so hard she threw up, I had help. 

My dad and my mom (especially my dad) have been my rocks through this. My dad would insist on staying up through the night to help me with her, so I could get sleep. The night that I weathered the worst of the infection myself, my brothers took care of her so I could get sleep.

I would never dream of talking about all this because I know how rare this setup and such help is, but I am now, because in about 7-8 months time, I probably will leave it all behind to move to the US with Gauri by myself, and take care of her by myself. Most things I am okay with, but what scares me, as it should, is dealing with illness alone. People may think I am actually nuts to leave this behind to manage by myself, but I have my reasons.

Does year 2 get easier than year 1? I hope so, though I know each time comes with its own issues.

But I am so relieved: she has been out of sorts for two whole weeks, and it was such bliss to see my happy baby back again, as opposed to one that burst into tears once an hour. 

Action also needs to be initiated on the discipline front. This is a child surrounded by too many people who act like she is the sun, moon, and the stars. Plus she is a naturally strong willed child with signs of a temper she has come by honestly.  While there is no overt indulging happening, such children possibly become subliminally more aware of the power they wield, and like little dictators, take shameless advantage.  In that way, our move to America, while traumatic, may be good in a way. All in all, I'm really going to have to bring my A-game in this department. Wish me luck, people. I have managed the first crucial bit: she is utterly connected to and trusts me and the grandparents. The next part is using this trust and connection for discipline, and I *ulp* when I think of that.

On the progress front, unintelligible, too cute words are coming out constantly from that mouth, and it is funny to see myself follow her around, ears straining, trying to figure out if her first word is actually nestled within streams of baby babble.  Atto Atto toi toi toi whaaaaaaaaa? Fun times, but also a bit poignant because each phase is gone before you know it, never to repeat again, unless you plan to have many kids, which I do not.

Btw, a blogpost is up on the science blog: it is about Omega 3 fatty acids and that holy grail of topics, baby sleep. Here is the link.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Keeping up with baby: a how-to post

Gauri turned 8 months old a few days ago, and boy, is she keeping us busy.  Had I been  taking care of her alone by myself in the US, even with a nanny/au-pair for help, both the nanny and I would have needed a nice padded cell within a few days, I think.

Oh, I exaggerate. But seriously, this child has energy. If adults could channel even a fraction of baby energy, we could move mountains. This little monkey needs to be on the move constantly. Crawling, standing up and just expecting the person behind her to catch her as she eventually loses balance, opening cupboards,  investigating things, mouthing everything in sight, climbing (she fearlessly would climb up an entire floor, while whoever was trailing behind would live in fear that she would slip and we would fail to catch her), investigating everything, and just moving. All day long. She actually fell behind on the weight curve despite drinking copious amounts of formula and being on solids, just because every calorie was directed towards movement.

In all this, I have had to be super creative just to find things for her to do that will keep her sitting relatively still for short periods of time---a dire need as the relatively baby-safe areas in my house are limited as hell, and her caretakers are tired.

Coming up with a list here as to what has worked for me (other than toys like activity tables, which has been a big hit):

Books: Around the start of her 7th month, she actually started paying attention to me reading to her, and it is a fantastic way to get her to stay still. I've done a ton of research on baby books now (the Facebook group comes in very handy), and I'm putting up a list of what works, and what failed:

What works:
  • The Usborne series of Touch-and-feel books (I've tried and can vouch for "That's not my Panda/Monkey/Dinosaur." Thumbs down for "That's not my Tiger/Lion"----not their best efforts).
  • Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon (I am really surprised how much she loves this one--cannot figure out the mysterious alchemy that makes it work)
  • Sandra Boyton's Moo Ba La La La (Huge hit, and here I can see the appeal)
  • Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar (What makes this book work is the holes in it..she loses interest the minute the pages with the holes punched in are done)
  • Bill Martin Jr.'s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Huge hit)
  • Nina Laden's Peek-a-Who (expresses moderate interest in this---I think the mirror in the end saves it)
  • Herve Tullet's The Game Of Finger Worms (You have to draw faces on your fingers and stick them in the holes---kind of fun for everybody involved)
  • Karen Katz's Where Is Baby's Belly Button? (Huge hit, and I love how well executed this lift-a-flap book is) 
  • Bernadette Rossetti Shustak's I Love You Through and Through (expresses moderate interest in this, but I do like the illustrations, they are really nicely done).
Failed to/has not yet worked:
  • FAIL: Sandra Boyton's That's not my Hippopotamus (she would just wander off after looking at the first page)
  • FAIL: Bill Martin Jr.'s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: at 9 months, she shows no interest in this one.
  • FAIL: Dr. Seuss's One Fish, Two Fish, Three, Four, Five Fish (Dr. Seuss Nursery Collection)--Boring! Not impressed at all. 
  • Too young for: Mr Tiger Goes Wild (This is a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and is awesome. Highly recommend)
  • Too young for: Where the Wild things are (Caldecott medal winner, I loved this---waiting for her to get old enough to get it).
Fridge Magnets! This was discovered quite by chance, that this child is endlessly fascinated by the few paltry fridge magnets we possessed. Since our kitchen is distinctly NOT child-friendly, I will be investing in a magnetic board and a few magnetic toy sets (so much fun looking on Amazon---if anybody wants recommendations and does not feel up to research, let me know).

Photos: Also discovered quite by chance that this child loves pictures of us, and particularly pictures of other babies. I'm having collages made of family pictures, and will also come up with photo books, and the thing I am the most excited about is a giant collage I am having made of all her half-siblings (14 in all) and herself, and tell her who they are.    

Busy Boards: Considering something like this, as this baby loves hinges and door knobs and things that slide.

All in all, it is amazing how excited *I* get over these little things. If anybody has more ideas, please share!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Turbulent joy

I had a visitor a few days ago. This person's visit resurrected a few memories: she was my house guest at the time I had my first IUI (in total secret). I had to drop her off at 7 am on a Saturday to a conference an hour away, and drive back pell-mell to be on time for my IUI appointment. I vividly remembered all the impatience and the excitement of that time. She left midway through the agonizing two-week wait, and I remember my huge relief  that I could then savor the anticipation out in the open. I remembered the surreal and utterly joyous moment I got that positive test, and the utter anticipation in the 2.5 months that followed, and finally, the crushing realization that it was all going to come to nothing.

Four years later, as I watched this visitor play with Gauri, my thought process shifted. It was not for nothing. Each painful step of the way was a step in the journey that was bringing me to this baby, each step helped lay the foundation to help me figure out what I had to do to make her come into being. That line of thought dispatched that sad sense of futility. Nonetheless, even in my wildest happy dreams, I could not have envisioned the miracle that is this child.

I had always wondered if the souls of the babies I have lost would return to me one day. Here is a line of thinking that will never culminate in any answers, and I guess its value is in whatever comfort we can draw from it. It was probably my second loss and my second baby that lingered with me the most strongly: I had a nickname  for her: Turbulence, because boy, did she make her presence felt.

Gauri has that same quality. She LOVES people. Loves, loves loves them. Loves talking to them, smiling at them, playing with them, and oh, that curiosity about the world. It is the most beautiful thing to see. She started crawling rather early (6 months) and has such ambition and energy. She immediately wanted to pull up to stand, even before she could sit steadily, and figured out how two weeks later. She now yanks herself up using furniture, determinedly tries to open cupboards (the ones by her play area stick, thank god), crawls all over the place, and shows a decided interest in climbing stairs, and nibbling at my slippers, and attacking my cell phone, and oh, the object of maximum fascination, my laptop. Sigh. She has to be shadowed constantly, with a hand at the ready to catch her. I've forbidden people from grabbing her hands and encouraging her to walk towards them, because I want her to crawl as long as possible. 

We went with something called baby-led weaning (without meaning to), which skips purees totally. This kid can eats mashed-up food versions of grown-up food. She gnaws on whole pieces of fruit and eats chapattis confidently. At seven months, she now wants to self-feed. She has never gagged, to my astonishment. She lunges towards food, attacking our plate if we eat in front of her, and if she sees us eating or drinking, her mouth moves in anticipation.  The most cruel thing to do is deny her grown-up food and give her a boring bottle of formula instead. I am really, really looking forward to almost every culinary restriction being lifted when she turns one.    

In short, this child is such a force of nature. I look at her and marvel at her, and my mom tells me that all babies are like this...that curiosity, that joy. They probably are, but I've never spent real time with any other baby before, so it would be hard for me to fathom. My brothers and cousins better get cracking reproducing, so all of us get to experience this joy again. I could have never imagined that anything will light up a household like this.

I post so rarely, and I have work stuff and immigration stuff and life decision stuff to talk about too, but sigh, who wants to go there when you could be talking about babies throwing food on the floor? Nonetheless, I will say that freelance scientific editing is a good fit at this point in my life. I am slowly starting to accept more work, and I'm on the prowl for companies that will pay the most. While it is rather tempting to not work at all, I do have nest eggs to build up, in preparation for their rapid depletion for when I return to the US. Sigh. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rushing in where angels fear to tread (my two cents on sleep training)

I am a member of a secret Facebook mommy group (the sort where you only join when a member adds you) that most consists of working Indian mothers living abroad, and a few in India as well, and some non-Indian moms as well. I cannot put my finger on why this particular group is so useful, but I think it is just the sheer density of very smart, very resourceful women on there: I've learnt many things on there, and I'm usually the one dispensing information like candy, whether people want it or not.

So, in this very,very useful and mostly positive group, I was taken aback to see a spate of articles making sleep training (specifically, CIO) sound like child abuse (there was one rather ridiculous one about a letter written by a baby undergoing sleep training, not going to share the link). Since there seemed to be almost a 50-50 split between moms who sleep-train and moms who stay far away from it, the battles were fierce, with both sides making preposterous claims about the results of both parenting styles.

Having spent a few of my initial sleepless nights aimlessly browsing what the "experts" say out of sheer curiosity (what I did in the end was totally based on instinct), I was familiar with the arguments made by both sides, and I decided to offer my own commentary on what they said, to try to offer some rational perspective that took a hard look at the arguments offered by both sides

My commentary was pretty well received and nobody came after me with pitchforks, and I figured since I spent so much time on it, it should be out here as well:
  • First, there is no such thing as a baby expert or a sleep training expert, IMO. People claim to be, but they are really just people who make stuff up as they go along, and want to produce enough talking points to fill a book. Anybody who claims they are “baby experts” are charlatans IMO. Trying to say that sleep training produces “better behaved, better-adjusted” children is part of the charlatan-speak. Finally, sleep is developmental, not behavioral: this basically means your baby’s brain needs to develop and mature till the point arrives that he/she can sleep 6+ hour stretches.
  • Why did sleep training come about? When did parenting go from an instinctive, intuitive thing that never involved ignoring your baby’s cues to a training and schedule-driven process? It did not come about as a “eureka” process to improve baby behavior. It came about to compensate for the fact that people no longer parent in an extended family. And that, the stopping of parenting in an extended family, IMO, is the true tragedy. There is now a very real need to reduce the burden of parenting, because parenting went from something the entire extended family did to something two individuals or even one individual had to deal with alone. So yes, some people need to sleep train just to keep going. 
  • The “experts” on the other side who talk about sleep training resulting in disassociated, disconnected individuals more often use parents who ignore their baby’s cues constantly as examples. I've seen articles talking about how sleep training produces disconnected children reference orphanages in Romania, which is just ridiculous. People who sleep train may practice dissociative parenting (where you do not respond to your baby’s cues) only at bedtime. The rest of the time, most sleep-training parents here WILL respond to their child’s cues, and the children do come to trust their parents and bond with them through this associative parenting
  • On the flip side, let us also talk about that new study which showed that babies were stressed (high levels of cortisol) even when they were no longer crying and had seemingly adjusted well to the sleep training. This is a black and white, no-frills point that shows very clearly that what is going on the surface is no indicator of what is happening inside. I read that study, and I wanted to know how long that cortisol elevation lasted. Was it still there a month into sleep training? Six months? Cortisol can mess with neuronal growth, so this finding is not good. However, what is the true impact of this? I refuse to believe that sleep training alone can produce mal-adjusted individuals. Can seemingly well-adjusted, successful, happy individuals be mildly affected by periods of stress during their babyhood? It is possible. Can you measure how much they have been affected? No. How much more healthier would they have been if they had not been sleep trained? Would they be more trusting or have had better relationships with their parents had they not been sleep trained? No one can tell. It is not possible to measure or extrapolate. It is possible sleep training has some mild to moderate psychological effect, depending on too many factors to enumerate, including the parenting style used the rest of the time, but it is impossible to figure out. However, I find it difficult that this prolonged elevation of cortisol at sleeptime could be too deleterious. It is also important to consider the effect of a perennially stressed parent, and the effect they could have on the child if they are stretched too thin. All of life is a balance, after all  
  • Finally, to bust some myths about what may happen if you do not sleep train: one can get a baby who sleeps through the night early without sleep training. Cosleeping and responding to your babies cues does not automatically spell misery for the parent who chooses it, or result in a maladjusted, cranky, child who cannot sleep at all. I cosleep with Gauri and respond to all her cues. She usually sleeps through the night (at 5-6 months of age). She does not spend all night kicking me (saw this a lot  in the case against cosleeping). She chooses her own schedule (no matter what I tried, she goes to sleep around 11:30 and wakes up at around 10 now, with an awakening at around 7:30 am for a feed). Rocking her to sleep is a waste of my time. After a bath+massage, I tuck myself in bed with her and just wait for the point that her own brain signals that it is time to sleep (usually 11:30 pm). We actually have some fun interacting in this time, where she crawls around, babbles at me, wails occasionally, wants to play, etc. It is not purgatory for me, and I do not begrudge her the time I have to spend doing it. Importantly, I know that the method I use to get her to sleep will keep evolving as she grows older, because she is also evolving. Finally, despite the lack of sleep training, and lack of scheduling of naps, she is not cranky during the day and naps adequately, if not at the same time every day. 
  • What I am trying to say is you can raise a happy well-adjusted child no matter what you practice. Which method you choose depends on multiple factors. Sleep training may not be suitable for high-needs babies, babies who get very upset when their needs are ignored (the ones who cry for a long time/ throw up, etc), or very young babies (sleep training a two-month old is not advised), because the risk that it can be detrimental is much higher in all these cases. IMO, it should not be chosen to improve behavior or because of the mistaken belief that it results in better-adjusted children, but it can be used safely in many cases when parental exhaustion is a problem, and many children may be fine with it.
I hope this is actually useful to somebody, and does not put anybody's back up. I cosleep and attachment parent, and the results are amazing for me, but I am also lucky in that I have a child whose brain maturation vis a vis sleep has been seemingly rapid. Even if this was not so, I am also lucky in that I would have had help if she continued to keep waking up at night.  Nonetheless, a very important take-home point I want to drive home is that every child will differ in when they acquire the ability to sleep through the night and self soothe, and that cannot be rushed, whether you wait it out or cry it out


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The goat milk formula recipe

As many of you know,  Gauri was born via surrogacy and hence did not have access to breast milk (see my post on why I decided against induced lactation).

Much before her birth, I started researching my formula choices, and was soon struck dumb at the awful, awful choices the infant formula industry has made (see here  and here as to why). So after much research, I decided to go with a homemade goat milk formula, to avoid the unnecessary additives, get a healthy source of sugar (lactose) and fats (extra virgin coconut oil), and go with the animal milk source that is kindest to the gut and is the most easily digested (this turns out to be goat milk). See herehere, and here  to understand the advantages goat milk presents over cow milk, especially cow milk the way it is produced today (homogenized, ultra pasteurized, growth hormone riddled, from non-grass fed cows, etc). This post is to clarify the formula I have used, and explain the reasoning behind its formulation.

I should add, immediately after birth, my baby was put on a cow milk formula, as per hospital rules. She  did fairly well on this formula, but was splotchy (red splotches on her face and body, and interestingly, her upper lip would be very bright red when she was drinking), was mildly constipated, and had a diaper rash. All three issues disappeared after she was switched to this formula, suggesting that she was mildly intolerant towards cow milk protein, and her growth has been nothing short of phenomenal.  

per 8 oz
per 32 oz
Goat milk powder (scoops) (Myenberg whole goat milk powder)
Organic Lactose (teaspoons; tsp) (NOW foods)
Organic Unrefined Safflower oil (tsp) (Eden Organics)
Organic Extra Virgin Coconut oil (tsp)  (Artisana)
Organic Unsulphered Blackstrap molasses (Tsp) (different amounts are for 0-3 mo, 3-6 mo,  6-9 mo, and 9-12 mo). 


Additives (amount given per day, added to 32 oz formula for convenience; exception, probiotic)
Probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri (BioGaia Protectis or Gerber Soothe Colic Drops)
 5 drops --- add directly before feeding.
Baby's DHA (Nordic Naturals)
see package insert 
Vitamin D (Carlson's or Super D drops)
1 drop (400 IU) 
Acerola Cherry Extract to supply vitamin C (Madre Labs)
0-125-0.250 tsp

Vitamin B-12 (methycobalamin; Douglas Labs)
2 drops (2 mcg)

  • This formula base is very similar to the one provided by Joe Stout at Mt. Capra (major, major credit for coming up with it), but differs with the supplements used (the BioGaia probiotic, which is nothing short of miraculous in many cases, and has been extensively studied and tested in infants and children), and DHA, which is supplied by breast milk. I use a natural fish cold liver oil source that has been tested for PCBs and heavy metals, and since less is usually more, I use half the amount the company (Nordic Naturals) recommends. This addition is not required if you are doing a combination of breast feeding and formula feeding.
  • Another important difference is that I have not used the multivitamin in the Mt. Capra formula, because I dislike the formulation due to the use of preservatives such as sodium benzoate in a formulation containing vitamin C (together, they form benzene, which is carcinogenic), and generally prefer natural food-derived vitamins to their synthetically produced counterparts.
  • Lactose intolerance is extremely rare during infancy, and often, intolerance to cow milk protein is confused as lactose intolerance, resulting in the turning to other less healthy sugar sources in formula such as maltodextrin or rice syrup or corn solids. While the Mt. Capra formula suggests many alternatives (including lactose) for the sugar, I cannot endorse the the use of brown rice syrup (which raises arsenic contamination concerns) or turbinado sugar, and strongly recommend that only lactose be used, given its many health-promoting effects (improves iron absorption, helps in the setup of a healthy gut flora, which is truly crucial).
  • Goat milk is significantly low in folic acid and Vitamin B-12. Myenberg Goat milk is already folate fortified. I have added Vitamin B-12 back in the formula, as methylcobalamin, for cyanocobalamin. Note that while the Vitamin B-12 RDA is 0.5 mcg/day, I am adding back 2 mcg/day, as I discovered that sticking with the RDA left my baby with low levels (this is why I strongly emphasize a blood test).
  • The formula takes into account that other B vitamins, nucleotides, etc. are supplied via goat milk. While the stability of nucleotides following heat processing is unknown, B-vitamins are unlikely to be very affected by pasteurization (exceptions, Vitamin B-2; source B Vitamins are also supplied via blackstrap molasses.
  • Vitamin D is partially supplied via the goat milk (it is vitamin D-fortified), but if your baby does not get sun on a daily basis, this may be insufficient. The amount of vitamin D required to avoid deficiency is very unclear as well as controversial, and many sources suggest that 400 IU/day may be insufficient. I hence add an additional 400-800 IU/day, and I plan to test blood levels at the one-year point and adjust accordingly.
  • Vitamin E is low in goat milk, but its requirements are partially fulfilled via the Vitamin D drops (20% of the RDA per drop).
  • Vitamin A requirements are met via goat milk (fairly decent source) as well as the cod liver oil (Nordic Naturals DHA). Hence, supplementing this formula with a multi-vitamin may result in the exceeding of the Vitamin A RDA.
  • Vitamin C is low in goat milk; hence the inclusion of a small amount of Acerola cherry extract. This also facilitates the absorption of the iron supplied via blackstrap molasses. Note that Vitamin C is heat labile (destroyed over 70°C), so make sure to cool the water sufficiently before adding, and make sure not to overheat bottles during warming.
  • Iron requirements: The 3 different concentrations for the blackstrap molasses ingredient are based on diffing iron requirements for different ages. Goat milk is far better at facilitatingiron absorption than cow milk, but is most likely inferior to breast milk (has not been studied).The three different formula recipes for different ages differ only in the amount of blackstrap molasses. Now, blackstrap molasses supplies 3.5 mg iron per tablespoon (15 mL), so the formula is designed to deliver 0.58 mg iron per day between 3-6 months, and 1.166 mg per day between 6-9 months, and 2.33 mg/day from 9 months onwards.  The remainder of iron requirements should be made up via solids or supplements. A fingerprick for hemoglobin testing at 9 months is recommended. If the formula is used between birth and three months, no blackstrap molasses is added.
  • I STRONGLY recommend a blood test for Vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and iron at 9 months - 1 year, and adjusting the levels accordingly, if required. You can ask for this at the routine well baby check that is recommended around the one-year mark.
  • If you wish to supplement with a multivitamin (I do not like multivitamin formulations, see the first bullet point), then the only additives should be DHA and the BioGaia probiotic.
  • After 1 year, full strength goat milk may be given with no additions of lactose and safflower oil, but I recommend continuing with a small amount of the coconut oil (0.5 tsp per day), the probiotic, DHA, and Vitamin D. Other vitamins can be acquired via a healthy and balanced diet. 

 How to make the formula:
  • Requirements: 1 Pyrex 32-oz measuring cup (this fits in the Phillips Avent sterilizer), one set of steel measuring spoons, 1 long spoon or electric whisk, bottles (I recommend the PURA KIKI stainless steel ones)
  • Sterilize all bottles, cutlery, whisks, and measuring spoons, and  boil reverse-osmosis filtered water (or whatever water of your choice) using an electric kettle (do this many hours before preparation, so it cools enough).
  • Add the goat milk powder and lactose. Add 30 mL of warm to hot water, and make a  smooth paste (add as much more water as required to do so). Then add the oils and other ingredients, mix into the paste.  and keep mixing till the paste is smooth and all ingredients are smoothly assimilated in it.  Then make it up to 32 oz while adding the water and stirring continuously, and distribute into bottles that are stored at 4°C.
  • Bottles stored in the fridge should be used within 48 hours.  
Disclaimer: Breast milk is truly the best nutrition for the baby for as long as possible. If you wish to use this formula, I recommend that you do so only after a consultation with your pediatrician. Note that infants allergic to cow milk may also be allergic to goat milk, though many tolerate it well. Anphylaxis in response to milk proteins is extremely rare, but can occur.

Share it