Breastfeeding Series Part 8: Nursing a Toddler

nursing a toddler

Last week, I talked about nursing in public and how distracted Owen gets while nursing, which leads me to this post. As with most of my posts about breast feeding, I’m not going to get into the benefits involved in nursing a child past infancy. This post is for moms who have made the decision to nurse their child past 1 and for moms who are curious about the details of nursing past 1. If you feel negatively towards nursing a child after the age of 1, then this post is not for you. …or maybe it is. When I began breast feeding Owen, I constantly heard the timeline of “6 months”. I initially thought that my goal should be in line with what seemed to be the norm, 6 months. At 6 months, I couldn’t imagine how completely changing our routine and feeding method would be appropriate for anyone, so I continued as we had already done. 6 months turned into 10 months, which blossomed into 12 months, and has now morphed into 16 months! (Side note: did I mention the time warp phenomenon that is parenting?! Don’t blink!) At 16 months, Owen is obviously eating food. A ton of food, by the way. Like, so much food that I sometimes wonder if I will wake up to a grown man in his crib! (How creepy would THAT be?!)

The thing is, nursing a toddler is different than nursing a newborn. As they consume more food, they naturally start nursing less often and will sometimes nurse for shorter periods of time. Nursing becomes less about nutrition and more about comfort/bonding. (Please note that I said “…LESS about nutrition”, but breast milk is still a highly nutritious substance for humans of all ages. The focus just shifts a bit from survival to bonding.) Nursing a toddler may not happen every 2 hours anymore, it may happen every booboo instead. For us, Owen started to nurse less and less throughout the day until it got down to nursing before naps, nursing before bedtime, nursing at night, and nursing when he’s upset or hurt (which usually JUST SO HAPPENS to coincide with being tired, kids have great timing). There may be times that nursing a toddler happens more often, like when your toddler is teething or when you’re traveling away from home. Nursing a toddler isn’t just different, schedule-wise, it’s also different physically. Obviously, toddlers are larger in size than newborns. For us, the normal cradle hold is still the most comfortable. I’m able to hold him that way while standing, too. Toddlers are also more mobile than newborns AND stronger than newborns (I know I’ve already called my kid a hulk and I stand by that statement)! You would think that they would set aside their strong acrobatics while nursing, but you would be thinking wrong. Ringling Bros. should really look into hiring a nursing toddler for their show; they’d have people everywhere just mesmerized by how many ways a nipple can be twisted and stretched without injury. My son is actually really mellow during nursing sessions, thanks to our nursing necklace (click the link or the picture to the right to visit Little Lemon Treasures on Etsy and get a nursing necklace to help your circus freak stay focused while nursing…or follow my blog for the chance to WIN one in a few weeks!) and the fact that he mostly nurses when he’s ready to go to sleep. When Owen is super active while trying to nurse, I usually take it as a hint that he isn’t in need of nursing at that moment. If he seems upset when I set him down to play, then we will try to nurse again. He usually gets the hint when I set him down and is more mellow the second time around.

nursing in public geo necklace

After you’ve figured out how to hold your acrobatic baby hulk, they may thank you with a nice little bite. While it may seem like a side effect of the hulk emerging from inside of them, you can help teach them that biting (among other things) is not acceptable while nursing. (Isn’t nursing a toddler SO much fun?!) It took one single bite for me to stop nursing Owen proactively. Instead of trying to feed him before he was hungry like I would when he was a newborn, I learned to wait for his cues. Personally, I have only had a couple run ins with teeth and I know I’m very lucky for that.

nursing a toddler

Our biggest struggle with nursing a toddler has been how distracted he is, which I talked about in my last post. Like I said, nursing necklaces have really helped with that. You can see, in the picture above, that he sometimes plays with my normal necklaces, but I get really nervous that he’ll break them! The other thing that has come up, for me, is breastfeeding aversion. I’ve realized that nursing a toddler is far above the expectation I initially set for breastfeeding and I am quite anxious to stop nursing at this point, so the sensation of nursing can sometimes become so overwhelming that I feel like I’m locked in a box of rats or something equally terrible. I’ve enjoyed nursing Owen, even as he gets bigger. Something inside of me just started to react differently to the physical requirements of nursing a toddler. From minimal sleep to the endless pit of MESS that is supposed to be our home, us new parents are being maxed out in the patience department. Being physically needed is just another demand on a parent, which can lead to stress and negative feelings towards nursing. I haven’t heard many moms discuss any negative feelings during nursing, so let me go ahead and say that it is frustrating. After being “touched out”, frustrated, and feeling crazy, you’ll feel sincerely guilty for feeling that way while nursing. Don’t. Do not feel guilty. It is a chemical reaction in your brain that you have done nothing to initiate. Find ways to positively refocus those feelings during nursing. I usually only feel that way when I’m overly tired and Owen is using me as a pacifier. We’ve started to go to bed earlier (for MANY reasons, not just this one) and my husband knows to offer to take Owen when he’s done nursing, so I can avoid being a human pacifier (although that is completely normal and I am usually comfortable with it). As with any frustrating time, find ways to help calm yourself and try to get as much assistance as you can. I LOVE this list of ways you can try to relax when feeling stressed out about nursing a toddler (or just a clingy day, in general).

Nursing a toddler is different than nursing a newborn. In ways, it is easier. In other ways, it is harder. I heard a great piece of new mommy advice that also applies to nursing a toddler:

nursing a toddler

I’ve posted about all of the different aspects of breast feeding that I could think of, from the knowledge you need in the very beginning to breast feeding in the NICU and nursing in public. There is one topic that I really wanted to share, but didn’t have the knowledge to share: breast feeding twins! I’m SO excited to announce that I will have a guest blogger next week! Natalie Young, from Those Young Twins and Three Little Crowns, will be sharing her experience breast feeding her 9 month old twin boys!

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Breastfeeding Series Part 7: Nursing in Public (and a Distracted Nurser)

nursing in public

Last week, I talked about “Night Nursing” and how it’s a huge part of breast feeding. This week, I’m talking about nursing in public (or NIP, as some refer to it)! Nursing in public can be an intimidating and stressful task, especially as your baby grows! I’ll share my experience with nursing in public, resources regarding your right to do so, and an Etsy shop review that could help your journey with nursing!

Let me start by saying that I know nursing in public is a sensitive topic. This post is solely one mama’s experience to another mama who is interested in nursing in public. If you’re not interested in nursing your child in public, then this post is not for you. Period. There will be no banter or debate regarding nursing in public. It is protected by law and does not require my argument. That argument was settled in 1981, with these words:

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BOOM.

Personally, I’ve had a fairly smooth journey with nursing in public. (Except for that one time I tried to “respect” others by disrespecting my son and covering his face while he was eating. He’s as strong-willed as I am and non-verbally told me exactly where I could shove that nursing cover.) When I was on maternity leave, I was stir-crazy and often went on mall walks with friends or ventured out for lunch dates. I know…I sound crazy. I actually got up early the day after I had Owen, showered, changed into my own clothes, refused pain medication, and had visitors. I know…now I don’t just sound crazy, I have proved that I am crazy! I just couldn’t sit at home for 2 months straight, so we had outings. For the entire first 2 months, Owen definitely fed every 2 hours or less. I was always sure to nurse him riiiiiight before walking out of the door, but he never failed to want to nurse again while we were out. I had a gorgeous, gray and white, scroll print nursing cover from Udder Covers. It was convenient to use and I successfully used it for the first 3-4 months. It slips right over your head or unsnaps, it has a curved plastic piece sewn in to keep the fabric open so you can see baby, and it was made of light fabric. Did I mention that it was gorgeous? As Owen grew, so did his curiosity and mobility. He became a very distracted nurser, requiring me to constantly walk around in order for him to actually nurse! At that point, I usually nursed him in a private room and, sometimes, a bathroom. Nursing in public was such a task at this stage, because he would sit up and look at every person that walked by! Luckily, our local mall has a nursing room designated for breast feeding moms! In that phase of Owen’s life, it was such a convenience! At one point, on a trip to the zoo with a few friends, I tried to nurse Owen with a little blanket blocking us or covering him. Please refer to the first line of this paragraph to know how that went. Shortly afterwards, my best friend and I parked it on a bench in a little cut away area to nurse our babes. Our husbands stood by, chatting, and many people walked by without even noticing us.  I realized how stressful it was to try to nurse Owen with a cover. It seems like a small task…and it used to be, when he was little…but being a mom means adapting to your child and it was time for me to change with him. On one of my trips for a work conference, we sat next to an older gentleman who started a conversation with us. At one point, Owen woke up and needed to nurse. Immediately, the man next to me said, “Sweetie, I’m a grandpa of 10, you do what you need to do and don’t you worry about me.” I will never forget that man. He made my trip and my breast feeding experience infinitely better.

When I’m planning a day out with Owen, I have to be conscious of what I wear and how difficult it would be to pull up or pull down in order to nurse. Most of my shirts have a v-neck or a scoop-neck, so I’m usually in the green. If I’m wearing a shirt that I have to pull up, I usually wear a thin tank top underneath my shirt so that my stomach can stay covered. (You can kiiiiinda see this in the picture at the top of this post. I have a tan tank on.) I, personally, don’t do anything to cover the part of my boob that may be exposed while nursing. I think it’s important for me to say here that no momma is obligated to wear extra layers or dress a certain way for breast feeding. Through your breast feeding journey (really, right after labor), you’ll realize that discretion isn’t always a part of all of your breast feeding experiences. You’ll either find ways to work around that or you’ll start to become more comfortable with it. I’ve actually done both and they’re both valid ways of being a successful breast feeding mama. While I would love for every mom to feel comfortable nursing in public with nothing covering them, it’s obviously important for momma to be comfortable.

At this point, Owen is still a very distracted nurser (even at home). He only nurses about 4-5 times in 24 hours, but still needs to nurse occasionally while we are out. To help with Owen’s distraction, I always wear a necklace for him to fiddle with. Now that he’s older and so much stronger (it’s scary at times…like, is there a tiny hulk inside of my baby?!), I get really nervous to wear my favorite necklaces around him. He has actually pulled a piece off of one of my bubble necklaces, which I have yet to find. (New moms beware: babies are professional thieves with the capability of forever vanquishing your things. Say goodbye to your remote, earrings, and chap stick tubes!) I recently had the pleasure of stumbling across Little Lemon Treasures’ Etsy shop and Brittany (read more about Brittany below!), the shop owner, was kind enough to send one my way to try!

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Not only do these adorable necklaces help keep Owen occupied while nursing, but they also double as a teething necklace! The colorful beads are made of BPA and toxin free silicon and the wooden beads are natural maple wood coated with organic beeswax and olive oil. They also help keep babies from scratching, hitting, or pinching. Since I’ve worn a nursing necklace, Owen has rubbed the silicone beads and moved the wooden ring back and forth on the necklace while nursing. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by how Owen focuses on my nursing necklace instead of, like, every other thing on the planet. Brittany just added these adorable geometric necklaces to Little Lemon Treasures that I’ve been eyeing!

nursing in public geo necklace

Follow my blog in order to stay tuned for the chance to win a necklace of your choice from Little Lemon Treasures along with many other goodies for momma and baby!

Meet Brittany:

First-time mommy to sweet 6 month old Jackson!

First-time mommy to sweet 6 month old Jackson!

Jackson is, of course, the inspiration behind Little Lemon Treasures!

Jackson is, of course, the inspiration behind Little Lemon Treasures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Know your rights when it comes to nursing in public and use whatever products help you feel comfortable doing so, whether it is a nursing cover or a nursing necklace. Now that we’ve talked about nursing Owen in public as he has gotten bigger, follow my blog or come back next Monday to read about “Nursing a Toddler” in our home!

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Breastfeeding Series Part 6: Night Nursing

night nursing

Hello! Last week, I talked about the overwhelming topic of pumping! This week, I’m talking about “Night Nursing”. I have so much to say on infant sleep and society’s poor understanding of child development, but this post will focus on infant sleep as a part of breast feeding. …and it is a big part of breast feeding. As I said before (in Part 1 of this series), I had little knowledge and unrealistic expectations when it came to breast feeding. That statement is also true for baby’s sleep.

Before I jump into my journey with Owen’s night nursing, I’d like to share some information about co-sleeping and how important it is to breast feeding. Co-sleeping is shown to increase breast feeding success, it is biologically natural for infants and children, and it increases the amount of sleep for mama (the links in the previous sentence outline each of these benefits of co-sleeping). If I had to admit my biggest regret from Owen’s infancy, it would be putting him in his own crib in a separate room. Since then, I have learned so much about co-sleeping and what is developmentally appropriate for our little ones. I even tried returning Owen to our bed with us, but he has grown to enjoy spreading out on his own. We did move his crib into our room, in hopes of nurturing this dependent stage as best as we can. Please do all that you can to look into every available option for your family, because you can’t make an educated decision without knowing what your choices are. This goes for any parenting decision, not just sleeping arrangements.

night nursing

I plan on discussing our journey with sleep in the future, so I don’t want to give too much away! In relation to breast feeding: it has always been clear to me that Owen needed nourishment throughout the night, even after the point that they recommend “babies can go all night without feeding”. I have often had times of confusion when I read about the magical, mystical land of “sleeping through the night”. Even worse, I have had so many moments of frustration in the middle of the night, when I’m “touched out” from nursing and want to scream. I’ve gone through many stages of adjusting eating habits, trying to foster good sleeping habits, and trying to asses if my child should be sleeping more. At the end of all of those shenanigans, I realized that I always knew what Owen needed: to nurse throughout the night. Bottom line. Regardless of my personal desires to sleep all night and regardless of all the recommendations for getting a baby to sleep all night, my baby needed me. I read a lot about teaching your baby to go to sleep on their own and about creating “good habits”, etc etc etc. Again, I knew my child needed to nurse, whether it was supposedly a “bad habit” or not. He needed to nurse. So…we nursed. And we still nurse at night. At this point, Owen wakes up and nurses at least once every night.

night nursing

The best cure for my nighttime frustration has been reading up on gentle parenting advice and gentle sleep advice. I’ve heard a lot of remarks about how we should parent our children (as does any new parent!) and most of them involve controlling their behaviors, but gentle parenting makes a lot more sense to me. As an educator, the goal is always to guide children and it’s no different for my own child. Having resources that aligned with my own logic has been such a relief in my parenting journey, especially during frustrating experiences like night nursing.

I still have moments of frustration, mostly due to my half-asleep-brain being incapable of logic and understanding at 4 a.m. Like I already said, the best way to calm my frustration is always with knowledge. (…must be the teacher in me!) As my understanding for Owen’s sleep behaviors grew, so did my patience. I learned that newborns are biologically designed to wake up and feed. I learned that nursing a baby to sleep wasn’t a bad thing as long as you were comfortable doing it. I learned that breast milk contained higher levels of melatonin during the night, which promotes sleep. That’s right, night nursing helps your baby sleep. Read even more information here!

There are so many different resources out there to help you better understand and feel comfortable with night nursing. As frustrating as it can be, use everything you can to gain knowledge and gain patience in the process! Follow my blog or come back next Monday to read about the ever controversial topic of “Nursing in Public”!

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Breastfeeding Series Part 5: Pumping

Hello! Last week, I talked about my discouraging journey through breastfeeding in the NICU. This week’s topic is actually a continuation of part of that journey, since I began pumping when Owen was sent to the NICU. I’ve pumped almost every day since Owen was about 3 days old (except for the days that I am off and home with him). Pumping is a whole new hell that I don’t wish on my worst enemy, pumping is a completely different journey than breastfeeding, and pumping is one of the biggest reasons that many moms supplement with formula. There are a lot of products out there to increase the amount of milk that you produce, but I find that overfeeding is usually the biggest reason for pumping and production stress. The last paragraph of this post has the most important info. about overfeeding and calculating how much baby should have in each bottle! There are some instances when supplementing will be absolutely necessary, like when a working mom’s body doesn’t respond to a pump. Besides some specific, personal scenarios, there is a lot that you can do to ensure that you make enough milk while you’re away from your baby. In fact, now may be a good time for you to re-read Part 2: The Breastfeeding Mantra. Trust your body to feed your baby. Besides that, I hope I can pile on as much information as possible to help prepare you for pumping or answer questions you have about pumping.

Pumping while driving

When Owen was in the NICU, I tried pumping one side while nursing on the other for a short time. It actually worked out well for me, but one of the nurses advised against it (I don’t remember her reasoning, but I didn’t know any better at the time). As I look back, pumping on one side while nursing on the other would have been a good option for me. In Part 3, I explained how your body adjusts the amount of milk it makes once it realizes how much your baby actually eats. If you pump on one side, then you will be telling your body to make double what your baby actually needs. This is called an “oversupply” and it can actually be a really bad thing. Click on the link to learn more about oversupply and the different issues that come along with it. I have never personally dealt with oversupply, so I’ll leave that topic to another breastfeeding pro. In the 3 short days that Owen was in the NICU, it would not have created an oversupply to pump while nursing. If you’re looking for a permanent pumping routine, this one is highly advised against by many moms who face oversupply issues. Some babies only nurse on one side and that may be an opportune situation to pump on the other side. I also tried pumping after nursing, which didn’t work for me. Again, you’d be creating an oversupply if you begin doing this before your body has regulated its’ milk production. This method won’t double the amount you make, which can help avoid having an oversupply. I finally just started pumping at night when I went home to rest and I continued to pump once every evening. Owen slept for a longer time once he went down at 7, so I had the chance to pump. I saved up a lot of milk by doing that and I stored it for when I’d return to work. I pumped at the same time every evening, so my body would respond well. We did not set a specific schedule for Owen, but he naturally ate/slept around the same times each day, which made me careful to stick to a schedule for pumping.

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You may already have a pump and what not, but here are some specifics tips: You’ll want an electric, double breast pump and a pumping bra (click the picture above to buy the Medela hands-free pumping bra). The “shields” (big circle things that go on your boob) come in different sizes and they should fit to where your actual nipple doesn’t rub against the sides or top. There’s more information about choosing the right size from the Medela website here. You can use breast milk bags or bottles to pump your milk into. The bags are disposable and the bottles can be washed and reused. I use bottles, because you can reuse them and they attach to the nipples we use to feed Owen! (Click the picture below to buy the Medela breast milk collection bottles.) All equipment is supposed to be extremely clean/sterilized. There are wipes that you can take with you or you can use soap and hot water. When you’re done pumping, you can pour the milk from each side together or you can save it separately. I recommend saving milk in 2 oz. amounts while you’re pumping before you go to work, because you probably don’t quite know what amount baby will eat at that point. Once you go back to work, you’ll know how much he should get each feeding and you can save milk in that amount so each bottle has exactly what baby needs. You need to store the milk in a cooler or fridge. I take a cooler with ice packs every day. Breast milk is only safe in a cooler with ice packs for 24 hours, but is safe in different containers for different amounts of time. The specific times are here.

When I went back to work, I was careful to stick to a pumping schedule (not to be confused with a feeding schedule, Owen nursed on demand). I found this to be one of the most important aspects of pumping enough milk for Owen. At first, I tried pumping 2-3 times each day (in my 8 hour work day), but I didn’t pump as much milk as Owen was eating. Then, I made sure to pump as many times as he would normally nurse. In the beginning, Owen still nursed every 2 hours. Once I started pumping every 2 hours, around the same times that Owen normally nursed, I started getting the correct amount of milk. It’s important to pump as many times as baby would normally nurse in that time. You, baby, and your milk should all be on the same schedule. (Of course, this schedule will change so much throughout breast-feeding. I now only pump twice in my 8 hour work day!) Of course, there are times that you may not be able to stick to your pumping schedule. I recommend always trying to pump the same amount of times daily, even if you have to pump right before you leave or in the car on the way home (see above picture)! Don’t worry, your body will produce more milk for your baby when you get home. Even if you pump right before you nurse, your body will most likely have a second let down when your baby is nursing. All of our natural instincts and bodily functions are ways to preserve the human species and your body will feed its offspring. If you question this, go back to Part 2 of this series!

Once you go back to work, it can be hard to get into the groove of pumping. It’s much different from nursing your baby. I used to chug water right as I began to nurse and I still do it when I’m pumping. It became a signal for my body and it helps my let down when I’m pumping. I recommend beginning a signal for your body before going back to work! It has always been my go-to. It also really helps to look at pics or vids of your baby! I have a vid of Owen crying just in case I can’t get a let down, because that’s your body’s biggest signal! Also, make sure that you’re hydrated. I drink at least 4 giant cups of water a day and I try to drink a Gatorade each day (it helps with producing milk). Make sure you’re comfortable and set expectations for your co-workers and boss. Your boss and anyone relying on you throughout the work day should know that pumping can take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on many factors, and that it is your legal right to pump at work. Pumping at work can feel embarrassing or stressful, thinking about someone hearing the pump or all the crap you have to do as soon as your done. It’s important to do your best to relax and zone out of all that.

It’s extremely important to assess how much milk your baby should have in each bottle. I struggled trying to understand how much Owen should have in each bottle when I was at work and it got to the point where he as eating almost double what I pumped, which would have completely ruined our breastfeeding journey. Pumping doesn’t always produce as much as baby gets when eating, so it’s hard to tell how much they eat each time they nurse and each breastfed baby takes in a different amount. The rule of thumb is that most babies should get 25-30 oz. in a 24 hour time period. You can count how many times your baby nurses and divide it into 25-30 to see how many oz. your baby eats each time it nurses. When Owen was 2-3 months, he nursed about 8 times in 24 hours. 30 oz. divided by 8 feedings means that he needed 4 oz. bottles. You can enter your baby’s feedings here to see how many ounces they should get in each bottle. Owen initially cried when he was done with a 4 oz. bottle, so my mother-in-law (who took care of him while I was at work for his first year) immediately thought that he needed more milk at each feeding. It’s important to stand your ground to whomever is taking care of baby (daycare, family member, etc.), because a lot of people over feed babies. Babies love to eat, they love to suck, and they love to feel FULL and sleepy (channel your happiness and comfort on Thanksgiving day after stuffing yourself full). Owen just wanted to suck more, so my mother-in-law would give him his pacifier after his bottle. Caretakers also need to be aware of the proper techniques to use when giving a bottle to a breastfed baby. I recommend discussing this info. with them and ensuring that they will support you by properly feeding your breastfed baby. As I mentioned earlier in this post, pumping is one of the biggest reasons that I’ve heard for supplementing or even switching to formula. It is imperative to your breastfeeding success that your caretaker is not overfeeding and is supportive of you. A baby only needs more milk IF: they aren’t peeing at least 6-8 times a day, they aren’t pooping a few times a day (this decreases a lot each month and breast-fed babies can actually go about 10 days without pooping, so I don’t use this guideline), or they aren’t gaining the minimum weight each month. If you’re concerned that you baby may need more milk in their bottles, there’s more info. here. I’ve seen a few guidelines of 1 oz. per hour away from mom and no more than 3 oz. in each bottle. I chose to use the calculator and I also kept “1 oz. per hour” in mind when assessing how much milk to give my son in each bottle.

Pumping is a whole new task in your breastfeeding journey! Learn all that you can, make yourself comfortable, and ensure your baby is getting the right amount. Follow my blog or come back next Monday to read about “Night Nursing” and the science behind it!

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Breastfeeding Series Part 4: Breastfeeding in the NICU

Welcome back! Last week, I talked about all the information I could fill you with before you tackle breastfeeding! This week, I’m going to navigate through our experience of breastfeeding in the NICU and hopefully provide some support for any mammas who are trying to breastfeed in the NICU. I have to be downright honest and let you know that this will be the hardest post for me. A couple of days after birthing Owen, he spent 3 days in the NICU, where our breastfeeding relationship was severely threatened and disrespected. I have so much anger from the disregard for breastfeeding that I encountered and I also have so much guilt from the fact that I didn’t know enough at the time in order to fight for myself and my son. I still think about our stay in the NICU and I am still overcome with emotion about it. I started this series to share as much knowledge as I can for breastfeeding moms. I sincerely intend on focusing this post on constructive knowledge and information, without throwing my emotions in your face along the way. Please be patient as I navigate the journey we had in the NICU and attempt to communicate the useful portions of it!

If you’re reading this due to your newborn being in the NICU, I am thinking of you and I am cheering for you. My NICU experience barely grazes the surface of what some families experience with their newborns. I am almost hesitant to even claim to know what it’s like to have a newborn in the NICU, because Owen really never was ill and I never doubted his health. That being said, the experience of being told that your new, little, pink bunny may need intensive care in order to live is a punch to the gut that leaves you breathless and aching. Through this difficult experience, you will learn just how much you can love your child in a heartbreaking way and how painful it is to be away from them even for a moment of sleep. You will exhibit strength you never knew existed inside of you. Those are things that I can claim with confidence. The process of being admitted to the NICU will never be easy for any mother or family. Eventually, peace and calm will come to your family. I’ll be thinking about you until then.

When I was told that Owen needed to go to the NICU at another hospital due to a possible infection (my placenta had bacteria on it, so precautions are to administer antibiotics), my first question was about continuing our breastfeeding relationship. My sister was in the NICU for jaundice when I was younger and I only remember the plastic “cage” that she was in and our inability to touch her. I literally shook with pain in my heart as I waited for them to answer. They assured me that I could breastfeed Owen and that the hospital should have pumps for me to use and pumps for me to rent. After that, everything else was just details. Call me crazy, but I wasn’t worried about my son for a second. He was a huge, healthy thing and I know what an infected newborn looks like. I knew, deep down, that he would be fine. After all, this was precautionary.

Owen sleeping in daddy's arms in the NICU! (You can see the antibiotic line on his left hand.)

Owen sleeping in daddy’s arms in the NICU! (You can see the antibiotic line on his left hand.)

…and he was fine. He received antibiotics, but he was discharged on the 3rd day after test results were negative for infection. The pain of being in the NICU, for our family, was the struggle to maintain our breastfeeding relationship. When we arrived at the NICU, I found Owen and he was already in a bed and receiving antibiotics, so we were welcome to hold him. The nurse let us know that it was time to feed the babies and showed us where the formula bottles for Owen were. I immediately explained that I would be breastfeeding him throughout his entire stay, that I would be present for every feeding except for late nights when I would have to go home to sleep (they had a no sleeping policy in our NICU, forcing me to leave at some point so I could sleep), and that I would pump for the few feedings I would miss during the night. I don’t remember what her exact response was, but I remember feeling like throwing up and thinking that I wasn’t prepared to fight for my rights as a mother to breastfeed. I weakly attempted to argue that the other hospital said it was fine if I breastfed and she quickly retorted, “Yeah, you can try.” I did more than try. I fed my child with my body in front of her for 3 days, with the exception of overnight when I was forced to leave to sleep (they have a policy of no sleeping in the NICU).

I looked up different recommendations for pumping breast milk for a newborn and planned on pumping one side while Owen nursed on the other. For me, this would be the most feasible option. I also decided that I would pump right before going to sleep and right after waking up. When I attempted to pump one side while nursing on the other, one of the nurses told me that I shouldn’t do that since Owen wouldn’t get enough if I pumped one side. At the time, I didn’t realize that my body was actually making more than he needed and that I could have pumped on one side while feeding on the other. This particular nurse also asked how long he nursed on each side after every feeding and often commented that 10-12 minutes wasn’t long enough for him to get enough milk. I knew, at that time, that this made no sense. There’s no special amount of time that is required for anyone to eat the appropriate amount. She’d require that we offer him a bottle of formula, sometimes even asking us to wake him up to do so. I would look down at a very content, very asleep baby Owen and wonder how in the world he could possibly seem as though he wasn’t getting enough?! I’d offer a bottle for a split second and make a smart comment about how he MUST have gotten enough since he was SO sleepy. If you know me in person, then you’ll know that I’m quite a force to be reckoned with. I knew that Owen was getting enough, but I tried to trust and respect the nurses in the NICU. After all, they were supposed to be educated and knowledgeable. I now realize that they have very little training in breastfeeding and even less respect for it.

Owen awake in my arms in the NICU!

Owen laying awake in my lap in the NICU!

On the last day of Owen’s stay at the NICU, I walked in to a nurse finishing feeding him a whole 160 mL bottle of formula. She cooed at him and smiled as she told me that he finished the whole thing, which she seemed to think was a good thing. I looked at Davis, who silently calmed the storm brewing inside of me with a look of, “Please just bite your tongue, we’re almost out of this place.” A few minutes later, Owen threw up and I felt like I would, too. At that point, all of the anger building up finally hit me in the face and I felt myself turn red. I finally realized how disrespectful our experience was and I was finally angry about it. Luckily, Owen was discharged that day. We went home and he never had a drop of formula again.

This has been a long, emotional post for me and it has given very little information for moms trying to nurse in the NICU. The biggest piece of advice that I can give you is to fight and to stand strong. If I would have known how little those nurses knew about breastfeeding, I would have taken articles with me. I would have had my OBGYN write a letter for me. I would have done something to help them understand how important and beneficial it was for my son to get my nourishment. I’m a stubborn person, so they didn’t faze me, but I sincerely fear for the women who go into the NICU without the personality to stick up for themselves. If you find yourself in the situation of your decision to breastfeed being undermined, do not give up. Do everything you can to educate your nurses and to continue nursing and pumping. If your baby gets formula in the NICU, know that you can return to exclusively breastfeeding and that you don’t have to give up at that point. Also, please know that your NICU experience may end up different from what you expect. Make sure that you’re armed and ready with knowledge. I truly hope other moms don’t have to endure the disrespect that I did, but I hope to be a voice of support in case they do.

Also, I’d love to take the opportunity to thank the NICU nurses who do a great job of supporting breastfeeding moms. I know that I had a sincerely negative experience and that is resounding throughout this post, but there are also plenty of positive experiences for breastfeeding moms. A huge thank you to the nurses who have gained the knowledge necessary and who support breastfeeding practices. You’re a lighthouse in a dim and dreary first few days for moms who are just getting the hang of this thing. You make stories like mine happen less often and you make breastfeeding success happen more often. Thank you.

Follow my blog or come back next Monday to read Part 5: Pumping, which will hopefully comfort and inform you so you’ll be successful at providing milk while away from your baby! This has been the most popular topic among my breastfeeding friends, so I hope I can offer as much knowledge as possible on this subject! We all know pumping can be the most stressful roller coaster ride of all time.

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Breastfeeding Series Part 3: Before Breastfeeding

Welcome back! Last week, I talked about how important it is to trust your body to feed your baby. This week, I’m going to try to give you all the knowledge you need before tackling breastfeeding! Bear with me, there is SO much to learn! If you read Part 1 of this series, My Breastfeeding Journey, then you’ll know that I went into breastfeeding with very little knowledge. I did plan on breastfeeding, but I didn’t realize there was so much to learn about it. It seemed so natural and self-explanatory to me. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve said it before and I will say it again in this series, mommy guilt is real and you will have so many questions in regards to feeding your brand new baby. Hopefully, I can answer most of those before you come to them!

The very first thing to know is that there is a certain way baby should “latch” onto your breast. Baby’s lips should spread outward around your nipple, baby’s mouth should cover all or most of your areola (for normal sized nipples), and your nipple should slide smoothly in and out of their mouth. If there is excruciating pain just from your baby nursing, there is most likely a latch issue. The nurses in my delivery room knew how a baby should latch, so they may be able to help. If not, request a lactation consultant. Some women endure pain for the first couple days/weeks due to the exposure of wetness creating raw nipples. You can avoid this by using Lanolin to protect your nipples from wetness, both when baby is nursing and when you bathe/shower. It’s important to remember that Lanolin is not a healing ointment (although it is soothing), but a preventative measure. It is natural and safe to get in baby’s mouth, so apply it right before nursing and also before bathing/showering to avoid water or saliva making your skin raw.

The next thing you need to know is that your body is producing colostrum to feed your baby, your baby will nurse often to tell your body that he/she has arrived and that it’s time to make milk, and colostrum feeds your baby until your milk comes in (about 3-5 days after birth). Those are quite short points for things that are so important for you to know, so I’ll elaborate. Your body produces colostrum during late pregnancy and continues producing colostrum after birth. I’m not going to go into the benefits of colostrum, because they’re pretty well-known. If you’d like to read more about colostrum’s benefits, go here. I’d like to focus more on ensuring that you’re comfortable knowing that your baby is being fed well by your body, even though you aren’t making milk just yet. The picture below shows how small a newborn’s stomach is. (You can click on the picture to go to the La Leche League website that it came from, which also talks about colostrum.)  On the first day, he/she will only need 5-7 mL each feeding! That is less than half of a tablespoon!

InfantStomach

In addition to drinking up your colostrum, baby will constantly tell your body that it’s time to make milk by nursing frequently and for long periods of time. In fact, you’ll start to feel as though you’ve birthed a leech instead of a human child. Some label frequent nursing sessions as “cluster feeding”, which simply means that your baby may feed many times in a short amount of time. As baby gets older, they may continue to cluster feed in the evenings. Again, I want you to know that this is normal and that your baby is getting enough nutrients. Here’s where mommy guilt will tell you that your baby is starving. In fact, mommy guilt will tell you that your child is starving, like, for their whole life. You can read more about how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk here. Essentially, baby should produce at least 6 wet diapers and at least 3 dirty diapers per day from 4 days old to 6 weeks old.

So you’ve got this little leech attached to you, right, and you nurse and nurse and, all of a sudden, a huge fountain of milk springs from your breast and you rejoice in its’ never ending stream! Ok, that’s not really how it happens, but I had to go for the dramatic effect and, honestly, you’d think some women expect it to happen that way with the things they say. I don’t remember when my milk “came in”, even though I was pumping from day 2 and tracking how many oz. I made while Owen was in the NICU. I imagine it was around day 4, when Owen came home and I was able to nurse comfortably and on demand. The only sign I, personally, noticed was that I started feeling my “let down” and that I started leaking a large amount. Initially, your breasts are always full, because your body doesn’t yet know how much baby will need to eat. It quickly assesses how much it actually needs to make and adjusts accordingly. For example, I used to be able to pump around 5 oz. from each breast in the first month. Owen only drinks about 3 oz. total each time he nurses (which I will explain how I calculated in the post about pumping), so my body stopped making 10 oz. and started making only 3 oz. That was the point where I no longer felt like my breasts were constantly hard and full. That was also the point when Owen would have to nurse for about 7-10 minutes before milk would come out, which I would feel and is called a “let down”. Please read more about the science behind a let down here, because it is quite helpful during the process of breastfeeding. I don’t feel qualified to explain it all and explain it well. For me, a let down feels like a build up of pressure under my underarms that moves quickly down my breast to my nipple. At times, it makes my nipple sensitive and can feel painful for a moment. Most of the time, I just feel pressure. Some women do not feel their let down and that’s completely normal, too. It’s important to know that if you have felt it when nursing before, then you should ensure that you have one every time you nurse (and pump). If you can feel your let down, then that’s the best way you’ll know that your milk is flowing to your baby. If you cannot feel it, then you can look for baby’s cues of longer sucks, deeper swallowing, and deeper breathing.

As I already mentioned, your body makes a lot of milk in the beginning and then regulates based on how much your baby actually eats. Meaning that every baby eats a different amount. For breastfed babies, there is absolutely no “standard” amount that they should have based on age or weight or any other frivolous tidbit. In the beginning, you will not need to worry about how many oz. your baby eats, because they’ll be taking exactly what they need, straight from the breast. Like I’ve said before, there’s no guesswork in that! In fact, there’s a lot of science behind the fact that every woman’s breast milk varies and that it is customized for her baby. As her baby grows older, her breast milk will increase in calories and fat so it can meet the needed nutrients without requiring more breast milk. Read more about how breast milk varies here. I’ll be talking about how to calculate how much your baby east each time they nurse in the pumping post, so look for a lot more information on that topic then!

Follow my blog or come back next Monday to read about “Breastfeeding in the NICU”, which I hope to be one of the most empowering and motivating posts in this series.

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Breastfeeding Series Part 2: The Breastfeeding Mantra

Part 2 of the breastfeeding series is “The Breastfeeding Mantra”. This is honestly one of the biggest reasons that I began this series and it weighs heavily on my heart to share this with new moms. All too often, I hear moms say they “couldn’t breastfeed” or that they “didn’t make enough milk”. Comments like these make breastfeeding seem like a stressful guessing game for new moms. It isn’t and it shouldn’t feel that way. You should feel confident that your body can sustain your baby’s new life. Mammals have been breastfeeding their children since the beginning of the world! This isn’t a new invention and it isn’t guesswork.

The biggest thing you need to know beyond anything else: you can trust your body to feed your baby.

Medela You are Enough

I love the Medela brand, in general, but I especially love their Facebook page for pictures like the above. If you look closely, the caption is simply, “You are enough.” Medela’s message is so powerful and so true. You are enough! Trust your body to feed your baby.

Let me clarify the huge misconception that is “low supply.” There are only 2% of women in the world who do not physically produce enough milk for their babies (this is not relevant for pumping, which I will address in a later post). Two percent! In the entire world! Anytime you are feeling anxious about whether or not you’re producing enough for your baby, come back and read this again: trust your body to feed your baby.  If you are concerned about possibly being part of that 2% or if you would like to read more about that medical condition, read this. Fight the worry of low supply by arming yourself with knowledge. You can read more about how to tell if your baby is getting enough milk here. Essentially, baby should produce at least 6 wet diapers and at least 3 dirty diapers per day from 4 days old to 6 weeks old. This is, hands down, the best measure of whether or not baby is getting enough milk. It makes sense, right? Input = output! Again, low supply is rare, breastfeeding is not a guessing game, and you can trust your body to feed your baby.

There are, however, many other issues that arise while breastfeeding that can seem detrimental, but most breastfeeding problems are natural and quickly resolved before formula is ever needed. You will not need to supplement (unless you WANT to), even if a problem does come up. You are just a just Google search away from answers and remedies.

If you take just one thing away from this series, please let it be that your body will feed your baby! Follow my blog or come back next Monday to read about “Before Breastfeeding” and the information that you need to know before you begin breastfeeding!

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