An Open Letter to Her Royal Highness, Kate Middleton

Dear Duchess Kate,

I just heard the news that you have been hospitalized for Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  I am so, so sorry to hear that you are sick, and I wanted to let you know that I understand what you are going through.  Hyperemesis gravidarum is a very special kind of hell that most people can’t even imagine.

The newspapers said that you haven’t hit the 12 week mark yet, so I am going to guess that the HG is just starting to ramp up.  I know that you are receiving the very best care that medical science can provide, and for that I am grateful.  This early, things may get worse before they get better, but it will get better.  I promise you, it will get better.  You have a long road ahead of you, but please hold faith in your heart that when your beautiful baby is born, you will feel better.

You may hear some ugly things from people now that this has hit the news.  People may attack you for taking the very medicine that is saving your life and your baby’s life.  They may attack you for losing too much weight, for not eating enough, for not eating enough of the “right” foods.  (Actually, they probably do that already.)  They may tell you to stop whining about how sick you are (even though you haven’t whined at all).  They may tell you to just eat some food and get over it.  We, your HG sisters, have all heard these things, but you will probably hear it worse than we ever did because instead of coming from individuals, it will come from tabloids and newspapers.

Please ignore them.  Let other people worry about it.  Your road right now is hard enough.  Surround yourself with the love and support of your family, and know that there are other women out there who have survived HG and who are thinking of you.  We know what it’s like to not be able to eat.  We know how it feels to think your body is broken.  We know what it’s like when our doctors tell us to go home and eat a cracker and sip some water.  We know you love your baby and we know that you are fighting for your life and the life of your baby.  You are not alone.

I am so sorry that you have hyperemesis gravidarum.  I promise you that it isn’t a forever thing.  The HG community is a powerful sisterhood and I know that there are many who will add their voices and prayers to mine to say that it gets better.  Not today, not tomorrow, but it will get better.

With love and Solidarity,

Molly A.

Handling Breastfeeding Criticism

With the holidays coming up, many of us are on our way to visit friends and family.  Those visits can be full of joy, but they can also be stressful. I am so fortunate to have supportive friends and family, but not everyone is so lucky in that regard. So many times, moms and dads find themselves receiving criticism for the parenting choices they made, particularly if those parenting choices don’t exactly line up with the way grandparents, uncles, aunts, and friends view child-rearing.

I believe that criticism, particularly breastfeeding criticism comes from two major places, ignorance and pain, and if you can identify the root of your critic’s feelings, it can make it easier to move past their hurtful words.  To be clear, when I say “ignorance,” I don’t mean stupidity.  Ignorance is simply a lack on knowledge on a subject.  Because breastfeeding wasn’t the norm in the US for an entire generation, much of the tribal knowledge surrounding it has been lost.

Is it any wonder Aunt Edith worries your baby might need to switch to formula if her doctor told her that milk turns to water at six months?  Is it any wonder that Great-Grandma Cathy worries you are overfeeding your baby if her doctor instructed her to space out feedings to every four hours?  Is it any wonder your young, childless friends think you might be spoiling your child by nursing her down for naps if all they see on TV and in movies are peacefully sleeping babies that never, ever seem to need to eat (or poop for that matter)?

I’d like to go through a few scenarios, and by the end of this article, I hope you will have some tools added to your belt to help you through these situations.

Scenario 1: The Opportunity to Educate

Your Aunt Edith approaches you while you are breastfeeding your 8 month old and says something along the lines of, “When are you going to get that baby off the boob? Your milk isn’t enough for her anymore.  She is starving!”

This is a great opportunity to help educate Aunt Edith (and other family members who may be listening in).  Tiny ripples can cause big changes, but it’s important to educate in a way that is sensitive and loving.  Getting angry at your Aunt and giving her a piece of your mind will only leave her feeling hurt and defensive, and while it may get her off your back, it won’t help other family members who may be in a similar situation.

Here’s how I have gently educated my friends and family members when in a similar situation (I’ll highlight the key “gentling” phrases):

“You know, that is a really interesting point that you make.  Did you know that new research shows us that breastmilk grows and changes as the baby grows?  Nowadays, doctors tell us that breastmilk should be a baby’s main source of nutrition until they are a year old and that we should continue nursing until the baby is two!  It’s really amazing how recommendations change over time, isn’t it?

Sure, it’s not brand new research, but it’s new research to her.  And framing it that way can sometimes feel less aggressive and patronizing than saying, “Actually, that’s wrong.  Here is the right information.”

I would encourage you to take every chance you can to educate your friends.  Taking the time to educate Aunt Edith, even though she isn’t nursing anymore, may mean that in the future, when Aunt Edith’s daughter-in-law has a baby, Aunt Edith will be better able to support her.

Scenario 2: The Opportunity to Connect

Sometimes, people’s own breastfeeding-related experiences may have been emotionally painful.  They may feel guilty for not breastfeeding and the fact that you do breastfeed may make them feel defensive.  That defensiveness can manifest in that person being hypercritical of you.  It seems counter-intuitive that a person would want to bring another person down like that, but it’s human nature.  It doesn’t make them a bad person, it makes them a person in pain.

If you run into a situation like this, and if the friend or relative mentions that, well, they couldn’t breastfeed at all because of [whatever reason], you can take the opportunity to reach out and connect to that mom and honor her pain.  No, that doesn’t mean that you grill her on why and tell her why she probably would have been just fine if she had just stuck it out or gotten in touch with a proper IBCLC.  That doesn’t help.  What happened happened.  What you can do, though, is offer her sisterhood and say something along the lines of, “I am so sorry that you didn’t have the support you deserve. I wish I could have been there to hug you and cry with you and tell you that it was going to be okay.”

My dear friend Paris at Mother Revolution is way better at this than I am.  You should definitely read her blog.

Scenario 3: The Jerk Factor

It’s all well and good to talk about the above two opportunities to connect and grow closer to your family.  However, it would be naive to believe that there aren’t people out there who are just plain mean.  I’ve had friends who have dealt with friends and family members who try to cut them down for a variety of destructive reasons, and there are times when your parenting choices simply need to be off-limits for conversation.

The best way to shut a conversation down politely is by using the Bean Dip Method.  I honestly don’t know where this term was coined.  It was something we talked about over on the Kellymom.com forums.  If you know where this came from, please let me know so I can properly attribute this. Update: Many thanks to Amanda down in the comments for pointing me to the source of this, Joanne Ketch. Read more about it here: Parenting Choices – Boundaries.

The Bean Dip Method (or in light of the upcoming holidays, the Cranberry Sauce Method) is a polite way to redirect a conversation.  It’s not about changing someone’s mind.  It’s about setting a boundary and enforcing it.  Here’s how it works:

Cousin Jill has been harping on you all weekend and will not leave you alone about breastfeeding.  She thinks that it is high time you wean your toddler, and despite the fact that you have told her the WHO recommendations and attempted to connect with her in a loving way, she will just not stop.  Cousin Jill has an axe to grind, and you are her current target.

Cousin Jill: Ugh, breastfeeding again?  You’re turning him into a sissy.
You: That’s interesting.  Can you please pass the cranberry sauce?
Cousin Jill: Seriously, when they’re old enough to ask for it, it’s time to quit.
You: Okay.  Can you pass the gravy?
Cousin Jill: Seriously, that’s just gross.
You: I know you love the baby.  We’ve researched and made our parenting decisions, and they aren’t open for discussion.

If it continues, be prepared to quietly remove yourself from the situation.  There’s no need for you to subject yourself to that kind of thing.

 

Family gatherings can be fun, but they can also be stressful.  Have you had to deal with criticism over your parenting choices?  How did you handle it?

Infant Sleep Strikes, Sisterhood, and Surrender

It’s been a long time since I have slept due to baby night wakings so I am not sure how coherent I will be.  But I wanted to reach out to all the families out there that might be going through something similar and offer empathy, sisterhood, and the promise of better days.

We, as a culture, seem to have this Hollywood-esque notion of baby sleep. The phrase “sleeping like a baby” immediately comes to mind.  And I know I am not the only person who has been asked, “Oh, is she a good baby? Is she sleeping through the night yet?”

We seem to have lost sight of the fact that infant and toddler sleep is meant to be light.  They’re meant to wake often at night for food and reassurance.  This is what kept them alive in more primitive times.  Of course, now we don’t have to worry about being eaten by sabre tooth cats, but that doesn’t change the fact that babies are hard-wired by their very biology to need to wake at night.  Learning to sleep through the night is a developmental milestone that all babies reach at different times.  Just like walking and talking, you cannot “train” a baby to sleep through the night before he or she is developmentally ready to do so.

That doesn’t change the fact that waking with a baby through the night can be exhausting.  Believe me, I know.  We are on day 5 of the current sleep strike.  Cricket is waking up every hour and staying up.  She is nurse, nurse, nursing.  Crawling around.  Exploring my face with her little fingers.  And just generally not sleeping.  Thank God we bed-share.  I can’t even imagine how hard it would be if I had to hike my butt down the hall to put her to sleep, stagger back to bed, only to have to hike down the hall again just as my eyes were closing.

She’s not waking to be mean or difficult or because she is a “bad” baby.  She is waking because she has a need, and for babies these needs are real and immediate.  Babies wake for all kinds of reasons:

  • Teething
  • Learning new skills
  • Because they miss us and love us
  • Hunger
  • Thirst
  • Growth spurts
  • Feeling sick
  • Baby is realizing that he or she is a separate person from Mama

Just to name a few.

And I’ve noticed with both girls and in talking to other parents that sleep definitely comes in cycles.  There are often ways to predict it.  There are several periods of wakefulness that we see pretty much across the board:

  • The 4 month sleep regression
  • The 6 month growth spurt
  • The 8 month sleep regression
  • The 15 month old period of nursing like a newborn

Cricket is right at 13 months.  We’re a little early for the 15 month period, but she is teething, growing, and coming down with a cold.  Plus, she misses me.  She is so busy playing in the mornings and evenings that she often doesn’t want to nurse or only wants to take the time for a little snack.  Note: This isn’t self-weaning. This is also really normal baby behavior and will pass with time.

Getting up every morning for work when I haven’t slept at night is hard.  Really hard.  I feel like hell right now and the horrible cold I caught isn’t helping.  This is so hard.  But I know it will pass.  I am here, waving my white flag.  I am surrendering to her needs.  She will only be a baby for a little while longer.  Every day with her is precious, every night waking is a chance to remind her that Mama will be here for her no matter what.

So if you’re like me, or if you find yourself in the future in a similar situation, I’m here with you, wide awake in solidarity and sisterhood.  Dig deep and find that white flag.  Surrender to it.  Don’t get caught in the moment.  Remember that the days are fleeting right now.  It will get easier and, as my dear friend Paris says, “Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you suck at it.”

Hyperemesis Gravidarum: Is it all in our heads?

How many times have you heard this:

“You’d feel a lot better if you would adjust your attitude.”  “You should be more positive.”  “That Molly. She’s so excitable isn’t she.”  “Maybe you should see a tharapist?”  “You’re not sick.  You’re pregnant.”  “You’re weak.”  “You’re hysterical.”  “You’re doing this to yourself.”

From doctors. From nurses. From the lady taking your vitals in the hospital. From a friend. From a relative. From your spouse?

It’s all in our heads.  We’re doing this to ourselves.  It’s our fault we’re so sick.

Over and over and over.

Some HGers aren’t lucky enough to have a support system.  They suffer and suffer believing to their core that what they are experiencing isn’t real.  They blame themselves when they miscarry.  They feel the agony of guilt when they have to terminate the pregnancy that they were so excited for just to save their own lives.  If they’re like the woman a few years back at one of my local hospitals, they die.  It’s their own fault.  If they hadn’t been so weak, so fragile, so excitable.

A new study has come out: Is hyperemesis gravidarum associated with mood, anxiety and personality disorders: a case-control study.

Apparently, according to the abstract, HG is a relatively common medical problem among pregnant women.  Well, gosh.  I certainly learned something today.  I wasn’t aware that it’s common for pregnant women to require PICC lines, constant IV hydration, high doses of multiple medications, and bed rest.  I wasn’t aware either that it’s relatively common for pregnant women to become so dehydrated that they begin to halucinate, to vomit until their esophagi tear and they start to vomit blood, to become so malnourished that they lose their babies, for their kidneys to fail, to die.

I didn’t realize any of that was relatively common.

After looking quite a large sample size of 142 patients and observing whether or not there were mental health issues prior to the pregnancy, these psychiatrists conclude:

The results of the present study suggest that mood and anxiety disorders, and personality disturbances are frequently observed among women with HG and that there is a potential relationship between these psychiatric disorders and HG during pregnancy.

Pardon my skepticism, but this has been done before.  It was a crock then and it’s a crock now.

Look, I get that they’re saying that HG isn’t caused by mental illness. Of course not. This is all couched in the language of statistics.  But how many of us have had doctors who told us to just suck it up before sending us on our way with admonitions to take some ginger and eat some crackers?  How many of you have nearly died because of it?  I know at least one of you personally who has had this happen.  I know it nearly happened to me when I was pregnant with Cricket.  I remember that Friday night when they suddenly went from, “Molly, you’re in really bad shape. We need to get you on TPN,” to “There’s nothing wrong with you. You need to go home.” (Of course I seemed fine at that point! I’d been on IV fluids, a potassium drip, and IV zofran and nexium for 3 days!)

Oh sure.  Plenty of us who have HG are depressed and anxious.  Who wouldn’t be after what we’ve been through?  HG causes mental illness and depression.  The researchers got it the wrong way round.

Chronic Plugged Ducts and How I’m Fighting Them

I think it’s finally time to admit to myself that I’m having an issue with plugged ducts. A plugged duct is when one of the milk ducts becomes blocked and milk can’t exit the breast.  A hard, painful lump can form as the milk backs up.  If the milk isn’t removed, a plug has the potential to develop into mastitis, which is an infection of the breast.  Think fever, chills, nausea, etc.  Plugged ducts are not fun.

I’ve had six instances of plugged ducts in the last month and a half, which is more than I had the entire three and a half years of nursing the Grasshopper.  Twice now, the plugs have been especially exciting because I’ve gotten a bleb along with them.  A bleb is a hardened bit of milk that forms a blister right at the nipple. Once, I got a mild case of mastitis and ended up missing work because of it.  Obviously, there’s something going on.

I brought it up the last La Leche League meeting, and I got some great help.  We really thought together about what kinds of things I notice before a plug occurs.  Here’s what I came up with.  My plugged ducts coincide with:

  • My husband travelling for work
  • Eating fast food
  • Especially wakeful periods for Cricket
  • Missed pumping sessions at work
  • Feelings of stress, anger, and disconnect
  • Allowing Cricket to roll her lips in for a lazy latch

In doing some online reading, it seems like these items play into the risk factors for developing plugged ducts: sleep deprivation, stress, poor diet, bad latch, failure to remove milk.

Priority number one with all of this is to clear the plug and remove the milk.  Easier said than done.  My old stand-by trick is to lay the baby on her back on bed, turn myself around so that her chin points at the plug, and nurse over her so that her suction and gravity can clear the plug.  Trouble is, that hasn’t worked the last two times.  The resulting let-downs from the nursing just seemed to make the plug worse.

At this point, hand expression seems to work best.  I express most of the milk out (or have her nurse for a while).  Then I start hand expressing very gently over the area.  If you don’t know how to hand express, here’s a YouTube video.  This is an incredibly valuable skill.

Once I get to the point where I can look really closely and see the pore that is clogged (I typically see a bit of white that just isn’t coming out), I gently squeeze on the nipple to work that bit out.  A warm wet washcloth or even getting into a warm bath really helps with this.  Typically, that bit will come out with a POW! and I’ll be able to very easily hand express the backed up milk out.  Massaging at the front of the plug, instead of trying to push it from the back), can also help loosen things up and get it moving.

If you have a clog that you just can’t get out, get help!  Find a lactation consultant.  Ask for help from (dare I say?) your husband.  Don’t let it sit around.  Having a plug long-term is not only really painful, but it can lead to mastitis.

At this point, I’ve got my plug clearing routine down.  But how do I keep from getting them in the first place?

Here’s what I’m doing to try to prevent plugs from forming:

  • Removing milk often (as in, no more skipping pumping sessions)
  • Taking a lecithin supplement
  • Trying to eat healthier, whole foods
  • Paying careful attention to Cricket’s latch
  • Taking a few minutes each day to relax and have some time for myself

So far, this seems to be helping, but I think to a certain extent, the occasional plug may just be part of my landscape right now with my oversupply.  I’m okay with it happening once every few months, but I’m looking forward to a few plug-free weeks.

Here are some more resources that I found on plugged ducts.

Have you had plugged ducts?  How did you deal with them?  Do you have any tricks for getting rid of them?

Keeping up your supply while you’re pumping and working

I mentioned in my post about maintaining my stash that I have seen both sides of the supply coin.  With the Grasshopper, I struggled to keep up my supply.  Now with Cricket I have an oversupply.  My friend over at gratimood (check her out, she’s a fantastic writer), emailed me and asked me how I keep up my supply while I work.

I remember when I had to go back to work with the Grasshopper.  I had so many questions as a first time mom, but my biggest concern was this: How much milk would she need and how would I keep up?  She was a pretty big baby after all.  How could I pump enough milk?

Imagine my joy when I learned that breast milk isn’t based on Baby’s age and weight!  Not even a little bit!  The breast milk grows and changes with your baby, so you don’t increase the bottle size as baby grows.  So forget those complicated weight-based formulas.  Let them leave your mind forever like lost kites in the wind.

Replace that idea with this:

Breastfed babies take in, on average, 25 oz per day.  That’s roughly 1 oz per hour.  So all you need to do is figure out how many hours you will be away from your baby at daycare, and that’s how many ounces you send!  I kid you not.  It really is that simple.  For more help with this, check out this article from Kellymom.com that includes a nifty breast milk calculator.  The idea is this: Baby’s stomach is small.  Big bottles (over 4 oz) stretch out the stomach.  Smaller, more frequent bottles are better.

Here’s how that played out with the Grasshopper:  She was in daycare from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.  That’s about 10 hours.  I would send three 3 oz bottles and then I would feed her when I picked her up at the school at 5:30.  I only needed to get 9 oz.  So when I pumped for her, I would typically get 4 oz at the first pumping session, 3 oz at the lunchtime session, and 2 oz in the afternoon.  Those 9 oz were enough for her at school and whatever she didn’t get at school she would make up for at home.

Here’s how it’s working with Cricket: She is also at school from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM.  With her, though, I am able to go at lunchtime to nurse her, and she wakes often in the night.  I nurse her at around 6:30 AM, pump at 9:00 AM (she takes about 1 oz at school at the same time), nurse her at 11 AM, pump at 3 PM (she takes 3-4 oz at school around this time), and nurse her again at school at 5:15 PM or so.  So I don’t need that much milk for Cricket at school either.  Just 5 oz each day.

That said, I remember with the Grasshopper that it was a real struggle to get those 9 ounces.  We had some pretty serious nursing issues during the first few weeks and she was not able to set up my supply early on.  This is why it’s so, so critical to bring baby to breast as often as possible during the early weeks.  Do not space out feeding.  A newborn eating every hour is letting your body know that it’s time to produce milk.  If you let your baby nurse as often as he or she wants, you’re setting yourself up to have great supply later on.

This brings up another important point:

What you pump is absolutely not an indicator of what your supply is.

I pump a lot of milk these days.  I’m not going to tell you how much.  It’s completely abnormal.  Instead, please read this article about what is normal: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/pumping/pumping_decrease.html#normal

Pumping is a funny thing.  With the Grasshopper, I struggled and struggled to pump enough.  I know that if I could have been with her and allowed her to just nurse, I would have had zero supply issues, but when it came down to it, I just didn’t respond all that well to the pump.  Totally normal.

But still,I needed to get those 9 ounces for her for daycare.  So here are some things that I did:

  • Drank Mother’s Milk Tea every morning instead of my regular green tea.  But really, don’t rely on tea alone if you’re dealing with pumping supply. You’d have to drink gallons of it to really have that strong of an effect. I think the effect of this was mostly psychological, which is okay because with breastfeeding psychology is half the battle.
  • Took herbal supplements.  Sometimes I did a combo of Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle (3 tablets of each 3x/day), and sometimes when I was feeling extravagant, I took the MotherLove herbal More Milk Special blend.  I found the Goat’s Rue to be very helpful.  The tincture seemed to work better than the pill. Don’t do this if you don’t need to. There are a lot of problems that come with oversupply and all of these “natural” supplements have side effects.
  • Took a Calcium/Magnesium supplement from the day I ovulated until a few days after my period started.  I got my period back with the Grasshopper early on, and something they don’t tell you is that getting your period can cause a supply dip between ovulation and when your period starts due to calcium loss.  The Cal/Mag helps with that. This was important.
  • Never, ever skip a pumping session.  This was the most critical thing. Milk production is supply and demand. Skipping sessions gave me more milk the next session, but much, much less milk the next day.  The short-term gain was absolutely not worth the long-term loss.

All of those things really seemed to help.

Below are a few more tips that I compiled for the corporate lactation program that I helped to found within my company.  I’m cross-publishing here because I and other moms within the corporate support group have found them to be pretty tried and true.

Pumping Quick Tips

  • Come up with a pumping plan(when, where, what you do, etc.) and stick to it. Set your times in your outlook calendar so you won’t get too busy and forget to go pump.
  • Pump at around the same time your baby would be nursing or taking a bottle.
  • Pump for a full 15-20 minutes even if no milk is flowing. Remember, milk is a supply and demand system. You have to demand it so that it will be there for the next time.  Please be aware that pumping for longer than 20 minutes at a time can cause breast tissue damage.
  • Typical output is 2-3 oz, so if you aren’t getting 8 oz like some people talk about, don’t worry! It’s normal!  Those 8 oz ladies just respond really, really well to the pump.
  • Feed only what you can pump. Remember, it doesn’t take as much breast milk as formula, so don’t let a formula fed baby’s 6 oz bottle make you feel inadequate. Breast milk grows with your baby, so you don’t need to increase your bottle size.  1 oz per hour is the rule of thumb, so if you’re away for 9 hours, three 3 oz bottles should cover you!
  • RELAX! Kick back, read a good book, don’t try too hard to multi-task if you find it interferes with the flow. Just take the time to relax and think about your baby.
  • Keep up with your pump maintenance. Medela users, don’t forget to change those white membranes regularly. I change mine every 10 days.
  • Don’t shake the milk! Mix the fat back into the milk by swirling it gently and warming it. Human milk is full of live white blood cells that carry your immunity to your baby. Shaking the milk breaks those cells open and “bruises” the milk. It’s precious gold. Treat it with respect.
  • Use slow flow bottle nipples. A breastfed child never needs a faster flow than a newborn nipple. Slow flow, wide mouth nipples more closely mimic the flow from the breast.
  • Go hands free!  Using an Easy Expressions Bustier or a homemade hands-free system gives you the flexibility to do other things while you’re pumping.

Do you have any tried and true tips that help you pump?

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?

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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What about that Hypnobabies thing?

Following the publication of Cricket’s birth story last week, I received so many well-wishes and congratulations.  Thank you all so much for your support.  It truly was an incredible ending to a difficult journey.

One of my friends posted a great comment, though, that I wanted to quote to kick off today’s post.

So I’m reading kind of mixed reactions to the hypnobabies CDs in this post. I know that a big hope was the thinking about the process without negative words like “pain,” but it sounds like that didn’t exactly translate during labor and delivery, yeah? But at the same time you visualized the birth process almost to a T and you give some credit to hypnobabies for that. Would you say they were still beneficial, and with your experience, what recommendations would you make to someone considering them?

Really great question.  I started to write a reply to your comment, but I realized that the response was complicated and probably deserved its own post.

While many Hypnobabies birth stories tell of birth with no pain, Hypnobabies itself bills its method as one that allows you to birth “in comfort, joy, and love.”  They talk about replacing negative words with positive words and the hope is that you won’t experience birth as painful.

Birthing Cricket was certainly physically painful, and I did a whole lot of hollering.  Yeah, you can call it “vocalizing” if you want, but you know me.  I calls it likes I sees it.  I got loud enough that I cracked a joke to my midwives about what the OB in the office next door must have thought was going on in the birth center.

Let’s be clear though. For those of you who haven’t had babies yet, pain in childbirth is absolutely nothing like pain from cutting yourself or pain from a broken bone or injury.  It’s completely different.  So different that I think Hypnobabies has it right when they talk about not using the p-word to describe it.  If you’re an endurance athlete you can come close to relating to the type of pain that childbirth entails.  Childbirth is much more like running a marathon than it is slamming your hand in a car door.  Does that make sense?  I think in many ways people focus too much on the pain aspect of childbirth and too little on the endurance aspect of it.

I didn’t go into the Hypnobabies expecting it to be pain-free.  I couldn’t really bring myself to use the alternate vocabulary very much in real life because it felt a little hokey.  What I did expect to get from the Hypnobabies childbirth method was a positive, empowering, natural birth that was free from fear and anxiety.

In that regard, Hypnobabies delivered tenfold.

Do I really believe in hypnosis?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  But what I do believe is that in listening to the tracks I was able to find a hidden well of confidence and power within myself that I didn’t know I had.

Leading up to this birth, I never felt anything but excited anticipation. During labor, except for those few moments right before Sue told my I was at 9 cm, I felt confident and powerful.

Unlike the Grasshopper’s birth, which I went into with the idea of trying for a natural birth but if I need an epidural that’s okay, I went into this knowing with absolute certainty that I was not only capable of doing this but that I was going to do it.  I think that self-assurance showed in my birth preferences.

Hypnobabies helped me to find that confidence.

It was incredible how closely Cricket’s birth mirrored the birth I had visualized.  I visualized myself having her quickly so I could get back home to the Grasshopand that’s exactly what I did.  And really, y’all.  I pushed out an 11 lb baby in 20 minutes.  Damn.

Even with Hypnobabies, Cricket’s birth was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  It made the half-marathon I ran look like a cakewalk.  But it was also the most exhilarating and empowering thing I’ve ever done.

So, sure, Hypnobabies didn’t give me a pain-free birth.  But would I use it again for myself if I were ever going to have another baby (which I’m not)?  Absolutely.  Would I recommend it to a friend. Definitely yes.

And for those of you who haven’t had a baby but are curious about what childbirth is like, go get yourself some running shoes and train for a marathon.  That high you get at the end of a race, the mix of endorphins, adrenaline, and tired and sore muscles, is like a smaller version of the feeling you have after unmedicated childbirth.