How I Manage My Milk Stash

A friend recently had her first baby and asked me about how I store my milk.  As I spoke to her, I realized that I really do have a system that I’ve perfected through my years of pumping.  And yes.  It has been years of pumping.  I pumped for 20 months for the Grasshopper and I’ll likely pump just as long for Cricket.

Before we go one, it’s critical to tell you that you don’t have to have a stash. Most moms pump just enough for their baby for the next day, and that is perfect. I have an oversupply, and I’m struggling with this. It has caused me problems like plugged ducts and mastitis. Having this much milk is just another symptom of that. No one ever has to have a stash. You never have to have this much extra, or any extra at all. Feed the baby, not the fridge.

Pumping takes time.  It takes effort.  Every drop of that milk is precious, precious gold.  I’ve had a few instances where I’ve lost milk, and the guy who came up with the saying, “Don’t cry over spilt milk,” was clearly a dude who had never lactated before.  I take my stash really seriously.

I take my stash so seriously that when we moved cross-country from St. Louis out to California, I packed the entire thing in dry ice, FedExed it priority overnight to my dad up in San Francisco who transferred it immediately into a deep freeze.  He then packed it a second time in dry ice and drove it to our new house in California.  I won’t tell you how much time it took me to research airline regulations for dry ice shipments and how much it cost to get the special vented cooler and the cost of the air shipment out to the west coast.  But I will assure you that it was worth every penny, and if you ever need to ship your milk, drop me a line.

So yeah.  I do not mess around with my stash.

Right now, I am blessed with an oversupply.  This means I am fortunate enough to feed Cricket fresh milk every day and freeze the excess.  With the Grasshopper, I was not so blessed.  I had to fight for every ounce, but the same principles still applied.  So whether you’re pumping an oversupply or freezing what you can, this method can work for you.

Here are a few of the factors I have had to consider:

  • The stash must be compact
  • The stash must be easy to cycle through so that no milk goes bad
  • The stash must be protected so that not an ounce is lost

Before you read further, it you should familiarize yourself with some basic milk storage guidelines from Kellymom.com.

My stashing supplies are simple:

  • An empty milk bottle
  • Lansinoh Freezer bags (I get these in bulk via subscription from Amazon.com)
  • A pen
  • A tray
  • A narrow plastic box that is wide enough to hold the bags of milk (an old veggie stick crisper from Tupperware is what I had laying around)

Freezing the Milk

During the week, I keep the milk I plan to freeze in the fridge at the back. By the end of the week, I usually have between 20 and 30 oz saved up and ready to go in the freezer.  Since milk is good in the fridge for about a week, it makes more sense for me to do my freezing all at once on the weekend.  On milk-freezing day, I get out my bags, a pen, and my milk and start measuring.

The milk storage bags have measurements on the sides.  Don’t use these.  Depending on how you squeeze the bag, the milk level changes making it impossible to tell how much milk is actually in the bag.  Think of these measures simply as milk-themed decorations.  I measure my milk into Ameda bottles.  I happen to have them around and the volume markers are easy to read.

  1. Before pouring the milk into the measuring bottle, you will want to swirl all the fat back into the liquid.  Don’t shake the milk!  Swirl gently until all the fat has come away from the sides of the bottle. This takes some patience so feel free to get a little Zen about it. Relax, swirl, and meditate on the wonderful gift your baby is going to receive.
  2. Pour the milk into the measuring bottle in small quantities.  I measure off no more than 4 oz at a time, and I prefer even smaller quantities (1 – 2 oz).  This is important for a couple of reasons: If the baby doesn’t happen to finish the entire bag of milk in 24 hours, you have to toss it, and overfilled bags can burst when you freeze them.

    Here you can see that I’ve measured out 2 oz. See how easy it is to read the measures on this bottle?
  3. Label the top of the bag with the quantity of milk in the measuring bottle and the date you expressed the milk.
  4.  Pour in the milk and seal the bag.  To get the air out of the bag, try using the edge of a counter or table to squeeze it out.
  5. Lay the bag flat on the tray, tucking the bottom so it lays completely flat.
  6. Continue the process and simply stack the bags as you go alternating top to bottom to help them lay flatter.

    Freezing flat means the milk doesn’t take up as much space.
  7. Pop the tray in the freezer.

Freezing the milk flat keeps the stash compact and easy to organize. I found that when I was just letting the bags freeze in any old shape I wound up with a pile of milk. This meant that I had to dig through the milk pile to find the older milk, and there were a few occasions where bags got lost.  Rattling through the bags repeatedly also meant that I was bumping the edges and increasing the risk of the bags springing leaks. Milk storage bags are fragile and need to be handled with gently.

Once the milk is frozen, I arrange them in order by date by filing them with the oldest dates in front and the date/volume tabs sticking up so they’re easy to read. Yes. I have a filing system for my milk.  How cool is that?  And because the milk has been frozen flat and dated in a way that is easy to see, the bags are only handled three times: filling, filing, and thawing.  Thus we have maximized storage space and efficiency while minimizing milk waste!

Managing the Stash

Milk stays good in the freezer for a while, but after a few months it’s important to cycle through the milk to make sure that the stash stays fresh.  Remember, you worked hard for every single precious drop and you don’t want to neglect it and allow it to go bad.

I prefer to cycle through my milk slowly and continuously.  I want my baby to get at least one bottle per daycare day of fresh milk because the fresh has the antibodies that are current for whatever bug might be floating through the school.  So we cycle through one bag per day until the stash is up to date.  Because I filed the milk by date, keeping it current is easy.

Right now I’ve got 110 oz in my freezer!  Can you believe it?  That’s almost a gallon!  I feel like I should moo. I will be donating some of it very soon!

110 compact ounces. Easy to organize and easy to cycle through.

Do you have a milk stash?  If so, how do you manage it?  Do you get all wild and free with it and pile it up in the freezer or do you organize it obsessively like I do?

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5 Uses for Lanolin Nipple Cream that Don’t Involve Nipples

Nipple cream is wonderful stuff.  It’s gooey, sticky, and it feels so good on sore nipples.  I have a variety of nipple creams.  I’ve put all kinds of things (in addition to babyspit) on my nipples: the MotherLove Herbal Nipple Cream, the MotherLove Diaper Rash and Thrush Cream (on my nipples), the lanolin cream in the purple tube, plain old olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.  But I’ve found that nipple creams are great for more than just nipples!  Here are my top five non-nipple-related uses for nipple cream. Specifically, I’m going to be talking about the nipple cream in the purple tube since it’s fairly inexpensive and I don’t mind slathering the stuff all over creation.

  1. Lip Balm!  This is, hands down, the best lip balm around.  The tiniest bit of nipple cream can protect, moisturize, and heal your dry, cracked lips. It doesn’t tingle and sting like certain lip balms do. It just leaves a smooth, rich, protective barrier. After I’m done putting lanolin on my nipples, I rub whatever is leftover onto my lips. Feels so good!
  2. Ointment for Scraped Knees.  The Grasshopper can be so sensitive sometimes on her wounds.  If she falls and skins her knees, even taking a gentle bath stings the wounds.  I hate seeing either of my babies cry.  Enter the lanolin.  It gives a soothing, non-stingy barrier, and helps it heal faster.  We save it especially for the rug burn-type wounds where the skin gets abraded off and every little touch burns like the dickens.
  3. Drool Rash Ointment.  We are approaching teething-time with little Miss Cricket, and her poor chin has seen better days.  She gets dry, chapped skin from all the slobber flowing down over her chin to her bib.  Enter the nipple cream. A few applications later, and the dry, red rash is completely gone.  I always rub a little up on her cheeks, too. It keeps her skin smooth and fresh. And I don’t have to worry about her rubbing a little into her mouth.
  4. Diaper Rash Cream.  Just like on the chin, lanolin makes a great barrier.  It protects the bootie from the wets and dirties, and it heals the chapped area.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  Any time something is chapped and rashy, stick some lanolin on it! Just use good hygiene here and do not cross-contaminate the tube of nipple cream with booty germs.
  5. Razor Nick Ointment. Not only does it soothe the sting and promote healing, but it stops the bleeding too. Handy!

And what if you get lanolin on something?  Yes, it stains. And no. You can’t just toss it in the washer to get the stains out.  So what do you do if your favorite bra, nursing pads, or sheets get lanolin stains on them?  Break out the blue Dawn! The grease-fighting action gets the oily lanolin out. Squirt some on the stain. Rub, rub, rub. Leave it to sit for a while. Overnight is good. Toss it in the washer, and voila! The lanolin stains are gone!

Do you have any odd-ball uses for nipple cream?  I’d love to hear!

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Setting the bar too high for nursing moms

With everything that Cricket and I have been through so far on our nursing journey, I’ve been thinking about what all we (and by we I don’t mean me, I mean society) ask of breastfeeding moms.  This particular line of thought was sparked by a conversation with a cranial osteopath who was seeing Cricket to help her with her jaw muscles.  He grilled me a bit about my diet, and I felt ashamed to tell him that I’m just so thrilled about being able to eat again that I am just eating whatever I can get my hands on.  Lots of meat, cheese, spices, Indian food, Thai food, Mexican, etc.  I was embarrassed to admit that we don’t always eat home cooked meals.  In fact, we eat out fairly frequently.

This confession of mine earned me a lecture on healthy eating.  I should eat only organic food.  Whole grains.  Home cooked.  Gluten free.  And while I’m at it, I should stop eating dairy and soy because that’s probably why Cricket has a stuffy nose.  What I eat goes directly to her, didn’t I know, so I must avoid foods with chemicals of any kind and by the way, I should only eat brown rice, not white rice.  Scratch that, don’t eat rice at all because of the gluten in it. Does rice even have gluten? I don’t know.

I left the appointment feeling guilty, overwhelmed, and exhausted.  The more I thought about his speech to me, though, the more irritated I got.  Aside from any rare allergy issues in kids (where there are very specific and dramatic clinical signs) milk is milk.  Milk is not made from stomach contents.  You don’t go to the drive through and then have cheeseburgers coming out of your nipples.  Unless the situation is one of extreme famine, a mother’s milk will always be rich enough, nutritious enough, and wonderful enough.

I kept turning this over and over in my head and getting madder.  If I was another woman, one who wasn’t as plugged in to breastfeeding resources, I might have walked away from that conversation believing that since I couldn’t live up to this doctor’s impossibly high standards, my child would be better off on formula.

I experienced this kind of situation again following Cricket’s tongue tie clip.  First I had to get her clipped by a very specific doctor out in L.A.  Then I was supposed to see a very specific lactation consultant (also in L.A.) to retrain her to latch.  On top of that, I needed to get her in to see a cranial osteopath to get her jaw muscles working properly.  Follow that up by special exercises and speech therapy, and you’ve got one seriously overwhelmed mama.  How many specialists do I need to take my kid to?  Can’t we just nurse?

Confession: I took her to LA for the clip, but I stuck with local lactation consultants to help with the latch.  I only saw the cranial osteopath three times instead of the recommended five visits because darn it, it’s expensive and I don’t really dig it anyway.  I haven’t been doing the exercises very religiously.  We probably won’t do speech therapy at all unless we find out that she actually has a speech issue.  Her sister didn’t.  Her father and I didn’t.  If she does, we’ll deal with it, but I’m not prepared to assume that she will.

Want to know something else?  I eat fast food sometimes.  Sometimes I even feed my family fast food.  I don’t always cook.  I do my best, but some nights, it just doesn’t happen.  I take ibuprofen when I have a headache.  And I cook with butter.  So there.

There is so much pressure for breastfeeding moms to be perfect.  Setting the bar so high can ultimately drive women away from breastfeeding, and it’s critical that we not do that.

So nursing moms–all moms for that matter–Be good to yourselves.  You’re not perfect and that’s okay.

Breastfeeding the Second Child Part 3: Tongue Tie Clip and Recovery

We left off last post with a confirmation from a specialist that Cricket’s tongue, upper lip, and lower lip were all tied.  We left the specialists office with a referral to an oral surgeon.  He was located in Beverly Hills.  Quite a drive, but if he was really good, it was certainly worth the gas money to me.

First thing Monday morning, I called the oral surgeon.  I expected to have to beg them to get me in quickly enough, but as soon as she heard the words newborn, tongue tie, and nursing, the receptionist said, “How quickly can you get here?”

That’s right.  A Beverly Hills surgeon was willing to see my daughter the very same day!  It was clear that he placed a high priority on helping babies to be able to nurse!

Our appointment was scheduled for 1 PM, so my Sister-in-Law and I packed up the car and Baby Cricket and headed south into LA.

I wasn’t sure what to expect during the appointment.  I was nervous and afraid.  I knew that clipping the ties would help her to nurse effectively. I knew that the pain would be really temporary for her.  But I also knew that the short moment of pain would be really intense for her and I hated the thought of my baby hurting.

The doctor came in and examined her briefly.  He agreed that the tongue and lips were tied.  He explained that he wouldn’t be able to clip much on the tongue without going under the tissue and having to use stitches, something he wasn’t going to do at that time.  He would clip what he could, and we would go from there.

He explained that he would inject a tiny drop of numbing agent into each site.  He said that the clips happen so fast that it really isn’t completely necessary, but everyone feels better knowing that the baby’s mouth is numb.  As an added bonus, the injections generally make the baby cry. “The louder the baby cries, the more open his or her mouth and the more visibility I have to do the clips correctly,” he explained.

He offered to let me sit in another room if I wished saying that some moms feel a little faint during the procedure.  I declined.  I knew my baby would be hurting and scared.  I did not want her to be hurting, scared, and alone.

He prepped for the procedure, we strapped her into her carseat to hold her still, he injected the numbing agent (yep, it made her cry), and in less than 5 minutes he was was finished and handing her over to me.

He said that the most important thing to ensure proper healing was to nurse immediately and then to nurse as often as possible over the next few days.  His nurse showed us to a comfy recliner in a private recovery room and told us to stay as long as we needed.

I could feel a difference in her latch right away.  It didn’t hurt!  In fact, I wondered if she was even latched at all.  I had to look closely to make sure.  I was so used to pain of some sort that the absence of pain was surprising.

She wasn’t too hip to nursing much right then.  She was exhausted from crying, her mouth was numb, and everything just felt weird.  We nursed as much as she was willing to, and then she crashed out into the longest nap ever.  By the evening, she was back to normal.

Since the tongue tie clipping, I’ve noticed a major difference in our nursing.  She seems better able to handle my very strong let-down.  She still breaks suction a lot, but it seems like she’s able to transfer milk better.  She gained 8 oz in 7 days, which is pretty good.  The IBCLC I’m working with things that she breaks suction to try to control the flow of my milk.  Above all, nursing is no longer painful.

So what’s the lesson in this?  Listen to your gut.  If the answer you are getting doesn’t seem right or if the information doesn’t seem complete, keep digging.  You are your own and your children’s best advocate!

Breastfeeding the Second Child Part 2: Tongue Tied or Not?

When we left off last time, Cricket and I were nursing better, but something still wasn’t working quite right.

The IBCLC I had been working with, was puzzled.  What we were seeing mimicked a tongue tie: the slower growth, the loss of suction, the odd shaping of my nipple after a feed…  But Cricket could very clearly stick her tongue out.  What was going on?

She referred me to the director of breastfeeding medicine at one of our local hospitals: a pediatrician and an IBCLC all rolled into one.  unfortunately, she wouldn’t be able to get me in for another two weeks.  If there was a tongue tie, I needed to get it corrected immediately.

I called her pediatrician back.  Her regular pediatrician was in Africa providing medical care to orphans.  His partner, who happened to also be a lactation specialist, could see us that day.

Again, poor Cricket had to deal with people poking around in her mouth.  And again, we were told that there was no tongue tie.

That night, on my twitter feed, I happened to see some tweets regarding tongue tie that were a part of an #LCchat.  One in particular stood out to me:

http://twitter.com/#!/NurturedChild/status/126850705125425152

This was what was going on!  I tweeted back to @NurturedChild and she sent me this link with pictures of the much more difficult to diagnose posterior tongue tie.  This, especially the cupped tongue when she cried, really helped solidify my belief that we were dealing with a tongue tie.  I just had to find a medical professional who would really listen and take my concerns seriously.

I called my IBCLC back and explained the situation.  She told me that she had previously encountered one other really difficult case like this.  She had referred this case to the breastfeeding medicine doctor who, in turn, referred them to an oral therapist who then referred them to a surgeon to get the tie clipped.

What if we skipped the middle man and went straight to the oral specialist?

That’s exactly what we did. She was able to see us the very next day, which was a Saturday.

This is what she saw:

Posterior tongue tie
Posterior tongue tie
Cupping of tongue as she cries indicating posterior tie
Cupping of tongue as she cries indicating posterior tie

She very quickly agreed that the tongue was certainly tied.  The posterior tie meant that she couldn’t lift the back of her tongue to squeeze milk out of the breast.  Instead of using her entire tongue to nurse, she was using the front of her tongue and her gums to scrape the milk out.

That explains the pain!  It also explains why she was breaking suction.  She couldn’t lift her tongue to maintain suction.  She was having to break suction in order to swallow the milk and control the flow.

But there was more:

Tie on the lower lip
Tie on the lower lip
Tie on the upper lip
Tie on the upper lip

The ties on the lips were also interfering with nursing.

When a baby nurses correctly, her lips should be flared out in almost a trumpet shape.  Cricket couldn’t flare her lips out because of the ties.  This added to the chewing action that she was having to use to get milk.

No wonder I was in pain! No wonder she was struggling to latch and nurse properly!

So what do we do now?

We get the tongue ties clipped, that’s what.

Next Up: Breastfeeding the Second Child Part 3: Tongue Tie Clip and Recovery.

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Breastfeeding the Second Child Part 1: Not as Easy as I Thought

I thought breastfeeding this time would be so easy.  I mean, it’s not like I haven’t nursed a baby before, right?  Three and a half years of nursing should make me an old pro, right?

Wrong!

This journey, while not quite as difficult as it was learning to breastfeed the Grasshopper, has been incredibly difficult.

Cricket latched on almost immediately after birth.  It was fantastic.  I thought we had it made.  But by day three, the pain was starting to get intense.  Note that I said “pain” and not discomfort.  Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful, but this was.

She was born on Tuesday, and we took her to see her pediatrician on Friday.  He checked her for a tongue tie, but didn’t see one.  He encouraged us to meet with an IBCLC, Rhonda (not her real name).  We called her and scheduled an in-home visit.  Good thing, too, because by the afternoon I was in tears every time she latched.

She came and helped us to latch correctly.  Things got better for a few hours, but in the night it got much worse.  By morning, I was a bleeding, crying mess.

Saturday, I called her in tears because I was reaching the point where I just could hardly stand to bring her to breast anymore.  She recommended pumping and syringe feeding until my nipples healed.  I did not want to do that, so I called my midwife who came right out to the house and helped me learn a new position to nurse Cricket in.

I still wasn’t healing, though, and the pain and bleeding were getting worse.

Monday night, I went to a meeting, where I met two angels: Two IBCLCs for one of the hospitals here (NOT the hospital where they tortured me).  One of them, Paris taught me a 3rd way to nurse Cricket, and it didn’t hurt!

Unfortunately, by the time I left the meeting at around 7:30 PM, I was shaking.  As I drove home, the shaking got worse and worse.  When I got home, I took my temp and it was 102 degrees.

Mastitis.

My husband ran to the pharmacy to get my antibiotics (God bless my midwives for acting fast and calling it in immediately), and I had to pump after every feeding so that the milk didn’t sit and grow bacteria.  It was a long, brutal night.

36 hours later, I was feeling much better.

It was Thursday, and we had an appointment to meet with the other IBCLC from the meeting.  She helped us again with Cricket’s latch and taught me to tuck her little hips in against my body.  This is a natural way to get a baby to extend her neck a little more and to keep her from tucking her chin.  It worked!

But I had a suspicious tingle in my nipples and Cricket’s mouth was coated in white.  We walked a block over to the pediatrician who took one look at her and diagnosed thrush.  I asked him to look in her mouth again for a tongue tie, but he very confidently said, “This babe is definitely not tongue tied.”

So after a week of Cricket taking Nystatin and me taking Diflucan, we were ready to move forward.

But something still wasn’t right.  She was growing slowly and her lips were blanched after every feeding and full of blisters.  She also clicked and lost suction as she nursed.  Nursing wasn’t bringing me to tears anymore, but it wasn’t very much fun either.

What was going on?

Next Up: Breastfeeding the Second Child Part 2: Tongue Tied or Not?

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A Breastfeeding Kit

This weekend, I’ve been putting together my breastfeeding kit, so I thought I’d share with you what all I’m putting in it.

Nursing Bras

Yep.  Gotta have some nursing bras.  I went to my local breastfeeding store (seriously, skip the mall), and got measured.  I came home with:

  • Bravado Original Nursing Bra – Here’s something to take note of: If you are large-chested, Bravado is the way to go from what I hear.  They specifically design nursing bras to fully support women with larger breasts.  Nice, eh?
  • Majamas Easy Bra – This bra is unbelievably comfortable and still very supportive.  It’s going to be a fantastic sleep bra.

Now the rule of thumb on nursing bras is this: Before you have your baby get a “transition” bra.  You don’t know what your size is really going to be until later.  After your milk comes in and your supply settles down a bit, go out and get a few regular nursing bras.   The Bravado bra I got will do double duty as a transition bra and a real nursing bra.  Later on, though, I want to get fitted for a Hotmilk bra!  Now, I’ve never worn one of these, so I can’t write with any sort of authority on whether or not they do a good job, but talk about gorgeous! Wow!

Nursing Pillow

Thankfully, I’ve already got one of these.  All I have to do is wash the cover.  If you’re making your own breastfeeding kit, though, I can unreservedly recommend the My Brest Friend nursing pillow.  Okay, I know the name is really corny, but this pillow is hands down the best pillow out there.  I am not kidding when I say that if I hadn’t found this pillow, I probably would’ve given up nursing with the Grasshopper.  The Boppy and the bed pillows were a squishy, sliding nightmare.  If you get one thing, get this pillow.  It’s awesome.

Breast Pads

Last time, I just used disposable pads.  This time, I want to be a little more environmentally (and financially!) savvy.  I got a free set of Bamboobies nursing pads as part of a World Breastfeeding Week promotion.  Supposedly, the bamboo is super absorbent and the heart-shape means less bulk under a bra.  The promotional pair came with a 20% off coupon, so I went ahead and got a few more.  They have multi-packs, so I got a pack with 3 regular + 1 overnight pairs and a pack with 3 regular + 3 overnight pairs.  I’ve never used reusable pads before.  I’m not sure if this will be enough or too many.  I’m not sure if I will love this particular brand.  This is all experimental, so please don’t take my mention of this brand as an endorsement because I just don’t know yet!  Hopefully, after I get the chance to use them for a while I’ll be able to tell you more about them.

Nipple Cream

This time around, I’ve opted for a nipple cream by Motherlove.  I’ve used their herbal supplements in the past and was pleased with the quality, so I opted to give their nipple cream a try.  Hopefully it works out!

Breast Pump

I had my old Medela pump suction tested yesterday, and we found that the suction is still just fine.  Because of this, there’s no reason for me to purchase another pump.  It’s nice to save the money, but I wish Medela would comply with the WHO Code.

Milk Saver

Okay, this is a new one.  A few months ago, I visited a local breastfeeding store called The Pump Station, and my friend and I saw the My Milkies Milk Saver.  Initially, I thought it sounded weird.  Collecting milk while you’re breastfeeding?  Really?  Then Hobo Mama reviewed them on her blog, and I became intrigued.  So yesterday, I purchased one.  We’ll see how it works!

At this point, that’s what I’ve got in my breastfeeding kit.  Did you put together a breastfeeding kit for yourself or a friend?  If so, what did you include in it?

World Breastfeeding Week – What am I doing to prepare to breastfeed the new baby?

The Grasshopper and I did not have an easy start to our breastfeeding relationship.

My milk was slow to come in (thanks pitocin).  She struggled with latch due to flat nipples.  I got engorged.  Then I got mastitis because she wasn’t able to latch to remove the milk.  I didn’t know enough about pumping and thought that the milk I was pumping was “not real milk” because of the whole not-coming-in thing so I dumped what little I did pump.  She got dehydrated (no poops, no wets over a couple of days)  so we supplemented with formula through a bottle and then through a supplemental nursing system via finger-feeding.

IMG_0844

 

Then, right as she was starting to latch, I got thrush, which took forever to figure out because the Grasshopper never showed signs.  It was all in me.  By then, my milk supply was almost gone, so I essentially had to relactate.  The Boppy nursing pillow that I got was sliding all over God’s creation, so I was trying to hold the pillow in place, hold the baby, deal with the stupid nipple shield, get the baby latched, keep the baby latched, ignore the agony in my back (thanks epidural), and just fight fight fight fight fight.

Meanwhile, the “help” I was getting from hospital “lactation consultants” was vague and not helpful.  We could manage to nurse in the office, but not once we got home.  And when I would call for help they wouldn’t call me back.

It was a really difficult time.

Finally, we managed to turn the corner at around six weeks.  I ditched the Boppy for the My Breast Friend pillow (they’re WHO code compliant and the BEST nursing pillow on the market!), I threw the nipple shield across the room, I found the kellymom.com forums where I could get some real help, and suddenly the Grasshopper was alert enough and started latching and nursing.  I also dropped in to a local baby shop that had an IBCLC on staff, and she proved to me that I actually had milk by doing pre- and post-feed weighs.  Having this confidence is what ultimately saved our nursing relationship.

The Grasshopper’s latch was never great.  I think the nipple shield had a lot to do with why.  But we managed.  She was exclusively breastfed from 4 and a half weeks until she was a little over 8 months old.  As she grew older, her perpetual bad latch became worse, but she got enough.  I’m so proud of the fact that I managed to nurse her for 3 and a half years, and I’m so grateful that those resources (seriously! the pillow ruled!) all came together at the same time.

I was so lucky.

This time, I don’t intend to leave things up to luck.

What am I doing differently this time?

Unlike last time, I have developed a network of support.  I co-founded a Lactation Support Group at my workplace, and I know that I can reach out to my co-leaders for help if I need it.  I’ve also become an active member of the Kellymom.com forum community.  I cannot say enough good things about this community.  If you’re interested in nursing or plan to nurse or are thinking about it, join this group.  This–and the Kellymom.com website of course–is hands down one of the best resources out there.  The information, compiled by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC,is accurate, carefully vetted and moderated, and evidence based.  It is truly second to none.

I’m also planning an unmedicated birth.  The IV fluids and pitocin were both, I believe based on several years of reading up on it, at least partly responsible for my severe engorgement and the delay of my milk coming in.  The terrible back pain I suffered was, in large part, from the epidural.

I know now, having observed the way my body reacts to these interventions, that they are harmful to my ability to breastfeed.  To promote the gentlest and least invasive birth possible, I’m using the Hypnobabies childbirth method and birthing at a birth center with the help of midwives and the support of an experienced doula.  Based on my experience and research, I believe that these and other birth choices I’m making will help our breastfeeding relationship to have the best possible start.

In addition to surrounding myself with accurate information and having a natural birth, I will have personal support from my midwives.  They’ve got extensive experience helping moms and babies get off to a good start with nursing, and I will not be cut adrift once I go home.  They will visit me in my home the day after the baby is born to check on both of us.  Following that, they will call daily and be available for me to call if I need help.

I’ve also found a local La Leche League group and I will begin attending meetings starting this month!

I know so much more now than when I was pregnant with the Grasshopper.  Now I don’t say, “I hope to breastfeed.”  This time I know that I can.  It is simply what we do in our family.  I know that if I run into difficulties that help is a phone call or keystroke away.  Whatever we may stumble upon, we will overcome.  Just like the Grasshopper and I did.

***

celebrate-wbw-npn-450

I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)

World Breastfeeding Week – Breastpumps Covered by Insurance?

Have you heard yet about the Affordable Care Act?

On August 1, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted additional Guidelines for Women’s Preventive Services – including well-woman visits, support for breastfeeding equipment, contraception, and domestic violence screening – that will be covered without cost sharing in new health plans starting in August 2012. The guidelines were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) and based on scientific evidence.

Bolding mine.

And from a bit farther down in the article:

Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling: Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their children’s and their own health. One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing related supplies.

I am thrilled to hear about this.  There are so many moms (including myself) that have to go back to work full-time shortly after the births of their children.  Right now, in the US, those moms typically have to go back to work at 12 weeks postpartum.  This falls under FMLA, which makes no requirement that these moms get paid during that time.  If you’re lucky enough (like me) to work for a company that does elect to pay during this time… Great!

Many moms aren’t that lucky.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a mom from a low-income family, have a baby, and then be faced with the prospect of having to choose to put food on the table for their families or stay home with their babies.

So imagine this scenario: You’ve just had your baby. You’re about to return to work just a few short weeks after the birth. You’ve worked so hard to breastfeed your baby during those critical first few weeks. You know that your work is required by federal law to allow you time and space to express milk.  But you’ve just been out of work and unpaid for a few weeks.  Finances are really tight.  You don’t have an extra $100-$300 laying around to get the double-electric pump you know you’ll need to be able to express enough milk during your short break to be able to send to daycare with your baby.  You think about the cost of formula, and while you know it’s cheaper in the right now, it’s so much more expensive in the long run.  And anyway, you really wanted to breastfeed your baby and you’ve worked so hard at it.

What kind of a choice is this?  It’s not a choice.  Not at all.  And it’s completely unfair.

According to the CDC:

Breastfeeding rates were examined by income status group. Income status was defined using the poverty income ratio (PIR), an index calculated by dividing family income by a poverty threshold that is specific for family size (3). Low income was defined as PIR less than or equal to 1.85, and high income was defined as PIR greater than 1.85. For the total population, the proportion of infants who were ever breastfed was lower among infants whose families had lower income (57%) compared with infants whose families had higher income status (74%).

Considering how many friends I know that have lost jobs in the current economy, making sure women have access to affordable healthcare, including lactation support if they need it, is critical.

I’m glad that the Affordable Care Act will be going into effect.  I don’t think it is a complete solution. I wish that all women, insured or not, had easy access to the same resources that I do.  I wish that all women could make the choice of how to feed their child–whatever that choice might be–without the outside pressures of simple and brutal economics.

I wish, I wish, I wish.

***

celebrate-wbw-npn-450

I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)

World Breastfeeding Week – Guilt, Judgement, and Lactivism

I’ve gotten a lot of great comments here and on facebook that have me thinking hard about how to talk about breastfeeding in a productive way.  A lot of readers comments talk about guilt and judgement.  So how to we reconcile this with the goal of promoting breastfeeding?

Keep in mind, this is intended to be a thought-provoking post.  It may make you feel feelings and think uncomfortable thoughts.  That’s okay.  Feel free to comment.  This isn’t an echo-chamber here.  It’s my house, but I do welcome civil discussion and I’m not afraid to speak candidly and gently with someone who disagrees with me.

Guilt

Oh, boy. This first one is a doozy. Women carry a lot of guilt. Trust me. I grew up in the South and I’m Catholic.  I know all about guilt. Specifically, though, I’d like to talk about guilt with respect to breastfeeding.

In response to yesterday’s post I had several comments here on the blog, on the Facebook page, and on my own personal Facebook page that referenced the notion of guilt and disappointment over breastfeeding.  I’m glad that my readers brought up this issue.  I will confess that this was a really big elephant that I was trying to avoid, but upon further reflection, I decided that it would be disingenuous to do so.

So let us ask ourselves: Why is there so much guilt surrounding the issue of breastfeeding? Here is what I see most often: Women feel like they failed at breastfeeding and this sense of failure manifests as guilt and crops up painfully if they come across information showing that maybe they could have breastfed after all had they only known.

Some examples: Mom is told she has to stop breastfeeding to take a medication (for PPD, migraines, flu, pain, etc) only to find out much later that either the medication was safe after all or that there was a viable alternative that she could have used instead.  Brand new mom is recovering from her birth in the hospital and is told that it just doesn’t look like her milk is in so she’ll need to give her baby formula only to find out later that it can sometimes take up to five days for milk to come in and that those tiny quantities of colostrum are plenty for a newborn with a stomach the size of a grape. Mom thinks she’s not making enough milk because baby seems to want to nurse all the time ever hour over and over only to find out later that this is simply normal newborn/infant behavior and isn’t a reflection on milk supply at all.  Mom is in so much pain when she nurses and the lactation consultant says the latch is fine and that it “shouldn’t be hurting” but the pain is so great that she ends up stopping only to find out later that she likely had a treatable medical condition like thrush or mastitis or that the baby had a treatable condition like a tongue tie.

When confronted by information that calls into question the decisions they made (under duress) to stop breastfeeding some moms feel, understandably defensive. Let me be very clear to moms who feel this sense of failure:  You did not fail.  I’m going to say it one more time: You did not fail.  Not by a long shot.  Society failed you.  The medical professional who gave you misinformation failed you.  A society that promotes a false concept of newborn behavior failed you.  The community that wasn’t there for you when you needed support the most failed you.  But above all, you didn’t fail.

If you didn’t fail, you have nothing to feel guilty about.  Take those feelings of guilt, recognize them for what they are, and set them aside.  Life is full of “should haves,” “could haves,” and “what ifs.”  Know that you made the very best decision you could have made at the time with the information you had available.  Leave the baggage at the side of the road and move on, a wiser and stronger woman.

Judgement

This one goes hand in hand with guilt. I hear stories from other mothers about being approached by strangers who make inappropriate comments: “Why are you giving that baby a bottle? Don’t you know that babies should be breastfed?”  Please do not mistake this kind of thing for “lactivism” (which I will talk about next).  To explain this, I’ll need to explain a personal theory of mine.

The Jerk TheoryAny stranger who approaches you in a mall (or a park or a restaurant or any other place) to confront you about the way you are feeding your child is a jerk.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Jerks look for ways to cut down other people.  When you encounter a jerk, the best thing to remember is that their comments are not about you.  Their comments are about them making themselves feel superior.  If it wasn’t about breastfeeding, the jerk would  find something else to be a jerk about.  Recognize a jerk for what he or she is.

Now, that’s not to say that the only time mothers feel judged is when they’re dealing with the above-mentioned group of people.  Moms feel judged all the time:

When they encounter people that make different parenting choices

Please don’t mistake other people’s different choices for judgement against your own choices.  We make the best choices we can as parents, and we make the best choices we can for our children.  I choose to wear my child in a baby carrier.  That works for me.  Your baby may not like being worn or you may not have found a carrier that is comfortable for you.  We all do things differently!  What’s right for my child, may not work for your child.  You made the decisions you did for specific reasons. Own those reasons. Be confident in your choices.  And just do not pick up that guilt monkey.

When they talk to an overzealous friend who might be making assumptions about the reasons behind her choices

I’ll talk about this further when I talk about lactivism.  Here’s something I keep in mind though.  Sometimes being a new parent is like having a new toy.  You’re really excited about this thing you’ve just learned and you want to share and you don’t know the best way to share that excitement without trampling on someone else’s toes.  The new idea is so shiny and sparkly that it doesn’t even cross your mind that someone might not be as excited and entranced as you are.  It’s just so cool!  And you think, “Wow. She’s not excited about this sparkly thing that I just found out about.  What’s wrong with her?”  Yes, this is judgement.  No, it’s not very nice.  But can we really chalk it up to the Jerk Theory?  Or is it plain ignorance and immaturity?  Having been guilty of this kind of excitement, I’d like to say that, for the most part, it’s a simple case of maturity mixed with a tiny bit of insecurity.

Instead of feeling judged and taking on guilt, what if we all viewed these instances as a chance to set boundaries?  What if we respond to our excited friends by saying things like, “I respect your views, and I would just ask that you extend me the same courtesy,” or “I’m really not comfortable talking about this,” or (my favorite) “I’ll forgive you for asking me that if you’ll forgive me for not answering.”  Then change the subject.  You’re under no obligation to defend or debate your choices and experiences if you don’t wish to.

When they read a newspaper article talking about either the risks of formula feeding or the benefits of breastfeeding

I’m going to have to defer to a wonderful article from Annie at PhD in Parenting for this one.

The intent of the study is not to pick on moms or to make them feel guilty. The point of the study is to achieve greater societal, political, and institutional support for breastfeeding.  [snip]  It is time that we accept the facts. When compared with breastfeeding, formula has risks. That doesn’t mean that every mom who doesn’t breastfeed is “some kind of baby killer.” What it does mean is that every mom who does want to breastfeed deserves a fighting chance to be able to do so.

Emphasis mine.  The entire article wonderful and a lot of the comments are solid gold.

When it comes to judgement, remember this: You can’t control other people, but you can control your reactions to them.  We’re going to run into judgemental people no matter what we do.  Of this I know!  Remember, I breastfed a three and a half year old while in the depths of hyperemesis gravidarum.  You better believe I got judged for that!  But I choose not to take it on.  I make my choices and I stand by them.  If someone wants to judge me, fine.  Let that reflect on them.

Lactivism

With the above comments about guilt and judgement in mind, how can we promote breastfeeding in a healthy way?  You know the old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  So what do we do?

I can tell you what we shouldn’t do.  We shouldn’t make a snap judgement when we see a woman giving her baby a bottle.  For one thing, we really have no idea what’s going on there.  Is there breast milk in that bottle?  Could be.  But what if there is formula in there?  Remember all of those barriers that women face in our society? Lack of support, predatory marketing practices by formula companies, lack of information, lack of community, etc?  Maybe she never got that critical piece of information that you got that helped you succeed.  Maybe she was abused as a child and cannot for very personal and intense reasons breastfeed.  Maybe she’s one of the minority of women who truly does have a medical barrier that prevents her from breastfeeding such as hypoplasia.  Remember, even our very dear friends have things that they may wish to keep private from us.  It’s important to be sensitive and remind ourselves that every person’s situation is different.

We also shouldn’t approach people that we don’t know because that would make us jerks (see my theory above).

What we should do is let our pregnant friends know that if they need help or have any questions that they can call and talk to us.  Here is what I always say, “I’m not sure if you’re planning to breastfeed or not, but if you are, I’m happy to help you in any way I can. I’ve got a whole lot of information right at my fingertips, and I know several really good lactation consultants that I can put you in touch with.  If you want any information, let me know and I will give it to you.”

And then do you know what I do?  I drop it.  I’ve said my piece.  I’ve made the offer to help.  My friend is free to take me up on that or not.  I won’t push the issue.  I will gently correct misinformation if she chooses to share with me.  And if she asks for me to help, I am ready to do everything I can to support her.  But I let her make the first move.

Once again, I’d like to reference Annie from PhD in Parenting whose article “I won’t ask you why you didn’t breastfeed” sums up my feelings so perfectly.

So what does this all mean?

Fellow lactivists, let’s work hard for societal change.  Let’s speak out against predatory marketing tactics that undermine women’s ability to breastfeed.  Let’s encourage medical professionals to educate themselves and give sound, evidence-based medical advice.  Let’s take off the gloves and change society for the better.

But when we deal with other mothers on an individual level, let’s remember that behind every woman’s breastfeeding outcome, there is a story that she may or may not wish to share.  Let’s treat these other mothers gently, and remember that she is the only one who knows the very personal and intimate details of that story and that those details are none of our business.

We mothers all want the same thing.  We want what’s best for our children.  Instead of playing the guilt/judgement game, let’s work together to make the world a better place for our children.

***

celebrate-wbw-npn-450

I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)