Friday, 15 May 2015

Want my advice? DON'T give up the gluten!

I've heard that giving up gluten is trendy. I've heard that people are giving up gluten to be 'healthy,' I've heard that people are giving up unnecessarily. In fact I've heard all kinds of things about gluten, but one thing I KNOW is that it doesn't like me! And yet the one piece of advice I'd give anyone who's thinking of ditching it is... DON'T - not yet anyway - not until you've seen the Doctor! 

If gluten truly doesn't agree with you, it could (but might not) be down to a condition called Coeliac. This isn't an allergy or an intolerance but an autoimmune disease. If you have Coeliac Disease you need to know - it's not just about cutting down gluten or even cutting out gluten, it's about adopting a totally different way of life - one CRUMB containing gluten a week is one crumb too much. An individual with Coeliac Disease needs to find out, because if not, if it's left to itself, it could do you a lot of harm in the longer term. Osteoporosis and a rare form of bowel cancer are just two of the medical conditions to which it could lead.

Personally, I wouldn't give up the gluten anyway... if I could possibly help it, I love fresh bread, baguettes, cake, doughnuts, pastry... however, nowadays, even a trace of it can have a disastrous effect on my body which I'd much rather avoid. BUT it wasn't always this way...

Good job you can get some great gluten free alternatives, but it'll cost ya!
Once upon a time, I could eat gluten fine enough - until I caught a tummy bug, or so it seemed. However, oddly enough the 'tummy bug' didn't go away. So I went to see my (then) Doctor. He, advised me to cut out the gluten and see if it helped - he said it could be a temporary intolerance resulting from the tummy bug (this much is true, this can happen). Having had some horrific dizzy spells, caught short moments (complete with soiled garments) and tummy pain, I was happy to oblige - particularly when my body improved quite quickly after cutting out the gluten. 

Unfortunately for me, my Doctor was not au fait with procedures. It was only after I'd given up gluten that he sent me for a blood test! What I didn't know then, but do now, was that it should have been the other way around. I should have had the blood test first, as otherwise, without the gluten actually in my body, the Coeliac blood test wouldn't work. Doh! Another one of those things which I wish I knew when I was younger!

In fact to register a proper result in the blood test, you have to have been eating gluten everyday for around six weeks!!

'Simple!' you might say, 'just go back to eating the gluten for the six weeks then...'

Hmmm! Not so simple! Not unless I want to be permanently glued to my toilet seat. This is not really possible when you have a five year old daughter to look after, get to school etc. and a home to run! 

The problem with giving up gluten altogether, when I did, is that my body seems to have become more sensitive to it than ever it was before - cue worse reactions!! From the way my body responds when there is a slip-up, I can only guess at how it would respond to full exposure. See my problem? The only way I can see myself operating as normal, under these conditions, would be to walk around with a portable commode strapped to my behind - a comedy  moment maybe, but NOT a good look! :(

At some stage, I know I need to have 'the test,' I will have to face the gluten - just so I can get the confirmation (or maybe not - some people appear to suffer the same symptoms without the disease, but that's another story) 'cos then I can get access to the right monitoring etc. but I think that it's just going to have to wait, remain in limbo, 'til 'Baby' is older and can fend for herself a bit more. 

If this rings a bell with you, please do as I say, and get the test first. 

Don't do as I did... you'd only regret it!


To find out more about Coeliac Disease, take a look at NHS Choices or Coeliac UK's website

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Is breastfeeding the dairy free 'Baby' finally over?

BIG disclaimer: 
Sorry but I feel the need to state this at the outset, because breastfeeding is oft controversial: This post is neither a 'for' or 'against' breastfeeding post! It is what it is - a description of my own experiences which may or may not help anyone else in similar circumstances!!

Well that's it then... I think! 

I cautiously say I think I can safely say my days of breastfeeding the dairy free 'Baby' are finally over, but with 'Baby'* you never know! She was sniffing at my boobs again this morning, but I laughed and gently nudged her away. She didn't protest.

Over the last few months, the odd times she has tried (just to see if there's been anything there for her) her efforts haven't been met with any success. That said, she hasn't tried that hard and I've not encouraged her - half suspecting that if she persisted she might get somewhere!

You might be wondering what on earth I'm on about - especially if you've done the sums and worked out her age - I mean she's five and at school now. You may well be thinking:

'She can't still be breastfeeding, surely??'

Well to be honest, it's not been proper breastfeeding for some time now - just the odd suckle or two first thing in the morning whilst she's still 'coming round' from sleep. A few quick draws on the boob and she's been done! And then maybe the odd jump on my lap, when she's been tired or hurt herself and needed comfort or something like that. 

I could perhaps have got tough and stopped her earlier, but I let it drift - in the end partly as an experiment - because I was curious as to how long she would take over the process and partly because, as a hang-over from the last vestiges of her separation anxiety days. I didn't want her to feel as though she's been pushed away - that always seemed to make her anxiety worse and her behaviour more needy. These days, no-one would ever know she was ever anxious about anything - she seems so confident and sure of herself when she's out and about!! But the last vestiges still remain. If she wakes, in the middle of the night, she hates to find herself alone and creeps back into our bed!

I have to say, if you had told me that I was going to breastfeed this long a few years ago, particularly at the time I was struggling to feed my little one, I would have thought you were talking utter rubbish. Breastfeeding this long is certainly NOT what I originally intended, but then I'm not sure I ever really worked out when it was you were supposed to finish - they didn't touch on this subject, not even once at breastfeeding school!!

It's okay... I know now - it's whenever you/your little one feel ready, but why didn't they make that clear at the outset?? Where was the guidance for that?

Some of you may well think we're strange... abnormal even. You may have given up breastfeeding at three, six, nine or possibly twelve months with nary a backwards glance. Or maybe when your little one was days or even hours old. I used to think that too, before that extended breast feeder was me!!

Truth is, 'round the world, in various civilizations, breastfeeding for the first few years is actually the norm! We in the UK are the ones who are strange! And having dropped it, I kind of feel like we've lost the 'knowledge' of what to do in various situations. 

This post by a Canadian certainly opened my eyes... and had me in stitches at some points too! Another inspiring post, offering an African perspective, can be seen here.

I'm not saying it was all plain sailing - initially, when I was desperate to be able to breastfeed, it was a real struggle.

We had problems latching on, breastfeeding dairy free, there were painful infected cracks in my nipples that soon became craters. There was also a tongue tie to snip, a touch of mastitis and poor milk supply. Once all these problems were 'sorted' and I'd settled in to feeding my little one... oh, and got over the agony of needing-to-avoid-dairy, it became a normal part of life. She needed sustenance, warmth, comfort and I gave it to her. 

Later on, during weaning, when 'Baby' refused to take the alternative, (Nutramigen AA hypo-allergenic formula, in our case) I continued to breast feed, not having any idea at that stage, that various ways around this problem might exist. All I knew was that she needed calcium and that my milk could provide it for her, but I also knew that milk was a great safety net when she fell ill. Usually, when she could eat nothing else, my milk got her through and no doubt (filled with antibodies), helped her get well.

'Baby' was a hungry baby. In fact she was such a hungry baby, that I ended up switching to breastfeeding on demand to keep up my supply. And, demand she certainly did - day or night. Lack of sleep became a bit of an issue. There's no doubt that those night time feeds were a killer. She DID need them beyond six months, whatever my HV told me to the contrary. AND woe betide me, if I failed to supply! Ear splitting screaming would follow and living in a flat above a woman who had complained about the noise, before I'd even had a baby, well... I didn't like to argue the toss! 

Of course there were points where I got fed up and never thought I'd see the day where 'Baby' would come to an end! However, over time, as she needed me less, she'd ask less and I stopped offering it up so readily - especially as she got older and could have things explained. I made excuses, or said, 'Not now!' when previously (certainly when she was tiny) I'd have dropped all for a feed. 

More recently, I've had little chats with her now and then - about the fact she's such a big girl and doesn't really need it anymore. 'But I love it Mummy!' It's so yummy!' has been her protest. I still didn't push, let it lie, gave her time to absorb the information, think, decide.

Fortunately for me, The Hub has been very understanding and let me do as I thought best, and if family/friends thought it all a bit strange, at least they didn't say so to my face!

I have seen comments (usually from men) which accuse people like me of getting a cheap abnormal thrill from breastfeeding. This couldn't have been further from the truth. Although I had read that it was possible to get a 'pleasurable' feeling from breastfeeding, certainly in the early days it was anything but - I was in agony! And later on, it was just routine - what 'Baby' needed, 'Baby' got. There was nothing sexual in it for me; just the emotional pleasure that I got from being able to nurture my baby and give her what she needed.

I have seen other comments (usually from women) accusing people like me of being needy - of needing to be needed. I honestly don't think this was true either. As she got older and I realised that she really didn't need my milk any more (by this time she was happily drinking the junior version of Alpro soya milk) she just seemed to need my milk as a way to connect back with me, keep me anchored down all to herself. And I was content to let her, if she felt the need, although I didn't make any more offers.

Some deride extended breast feeding, thinking it will make the poor child needy and over-dependent on their mother, or cause them to be laughed at. Well for one thing, I've never been one for feeding in public (witness the lack of breast feeding photo here), unless I have to, and regarding the other, well, it's true that 'Baby' often prefers me when it comes to giving comfort. However, as I have been her major care-giver throughout her life so far, I don't think this is abnormal. She seems happy and well-adjusted enough - often dismissing me at the school gates, so she can go on her own little independent way. This, when some of her classmates have been clinging on to their mothers and crying! And I refuse to let it show, if I feel brushed off somewhat - it's time to let my little bird fly.

I used to worry a lot about what people would say - in case I was written off as some Earth mother hippy type (I am not, but who cares if I am). I have to say, I no longer worry about what people think. I just do what I think is best for 'Baby' and me! I think that's one advantage of having to work and even fight my way through the process of motherhood and being dairy free - I've learned to trust my instincts and stand my ground a whole lot more. 

And curiously, not being sure how I would feel, once breastfeeding was over, I find that I feel no regret, no hand wringing, no sighing for times past. I find instead that I am content that things are as they should be... 

And now that I no longer need to be dairy free for the purposes of breastfeeding, now what, for me?

Well avoiding dairy has never been about conscience or of seeking to live a 'healthier' life-style - that is a luxury for other people to consider as far as I'm concerned. I might still use almond milk and eat Coyo coconut yoghurt, as I really like them, but on the whole I've had enough of limiting my diet. I certainly would like to be able to reintroduce cow's milk back into my diet - if only to widen my choices again and not be worrying about traces. However, I have heard of mothers who have breastfed for a while finding themselves unable to tolerate cow's milk any more. I am curious to see what the end result for me will be. I think I will begin slowly, with the milk ladder, spread my wings, take my chances and see...

My only hesitations concern whether having more milk, cheese etc. in the house will lead to cross-contamination slip ups. With 'Baby' still being dairy free we don't want that! Also, up until now, it's always been her and me dairy free against the world together. I don't want her to feel stranded and... on her own - like I fear she often does at school. Maybe I'll have to be a secret dairy consumer - you know, late at night, or whilst she's at school! But really, I'm just hoping that it won't be long before she'll join me - on the other side and be able to enjoy it herself! After all, there have been some promising indications recently... and five is the age that they said it might happen!

Here's hoping!!

If you've been through the same and have any tips for me, I would love to hear from you!

* 'Baby' is clearly not a baby anymore and hasn't been for some while. She only remains 'Baby' for the purposes of this blog, where she has been known as 'Baby' from the beginning!

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Monday, 4 May 2015

Cutting the cost of Free From at Costco

It's no secret that shopping for Free From food can be rather expensive!

Like many, we watch eagerly for offers and head for the shops with the best deals on dairy free milk and other Free From products... and then we buy in bulk!! We stock up and store away, as much as we can - which actually isn't as much as we'd like, due to lack of cupboard space, but we do our best! Then we let others know via Face Book and Twitter!

Buying in bulk is usually the best way of getting a good deal and warehouse shops like Costco can be really helpful - as long as you keep an eye on your local supermarkets and the offers they have on - 'cos it doesn't always work out cheaper!

I don't know how many of you have ever heard of Costco, or how many of you live near a Costco (there's 26 across the UK and you can find your nearest by using this locator) but we've been fans and members for at least five years now and I think it's served us well, particularly so, now that like the stores in the US, the UK stores have started to stock more in the way of Free From goods.

Costco sells, food, home appliances, furniture, gardening and sports equipment, clothing and all sorts of other things. We've found that it particularity comes in handy when you have a party to plan! Please be aware that the prices shown in the pictures are prices before VAT - VAT is added on at the till. Not all products will have VAT added, but some will, so there's always this to consider when you are looking at a product.

Unfortunately, to shop there, you need to be a 'Member' and this is only open to certain professions (see here for more details about memebership). Once you are a member, however, you can always take a friend in with you.

A membership card is a must! It will carry your photo, so make sure you've done your make-up before your first visit!

These days, you can buy dairy free milk, not a large range, it is true, but I have spotted both 'fresh' and ambient/long life by well known brands like Alpro and Almond Breeze and Costco's own brand - Kirkland.

Kirkland Long Life Soya Milk

Fresh Alpro Soya Original
They also sell dairy free Smooze ice lollies. These too are ambient - you take them home and freeze them yourself.

Mixed packets of all four flavours

I've spotted bulk packets of gluten free pasta and gluten free bread...

There's four packets in each bundle!

...but there are also products that have become popular among so-called 'healthy' eaters who are using flours that are also useful for those of us who are dairy or gluten free.

You can buy trays of cans of coconut milk and large jars of coconut oil, as well as great big tubs of Meridian nut butters. Then there's these HUGE bags of almond flour that are actually labelled 'GF'.

And these of Coconut flour (also labelled GF):

Much bigger packets than what you'll find in your local health food store!

There's Quinoa too:

Worth buying in bulk!

You can even pick up a Free From baking magazine, with 20% off the normal price:

Free From magazine at a more affordable price!

Today, I even spotted a machine that you can use to turn fruit into dairy free ice cream - I'm still debating buying one!

I've heard they're good but don't want more any appliances in my kitchen!

There are lots of products that aren't specifically Free From, but are suitable for Vegans etc. Here are some I've spotted recently:

Fruit snacks for lunchboxes

I loved these granola bars before I had to go gluten free

These packs look handy!

They're not specifically gluten free.

These crisps are dairy free, and soya free NGCI

Vegan but look carefully at the label, in the next pic!

NOT suitable for Coeliacs or those sensitive to gluten!

These look great for baking!

Look! No dairy!
I love Great Food bites. Costco also sell their Sweet Potato Pakoras! Yum! And great for picnics!

If this has whetted your appetite, go and check out their website here!

Please note: This blog post is not an advertisement, nor have I been sponsored or rewarded for this post by Costco (or anyone else) in any way. I am simply sharing my own genuine experience for the benefit of fellow free fromers! Oh yes! And if you are a Free Fromer, don't forget to always check ingredient labels as recipes and labelling may change!

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