Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Bit About Breastfeeding

I am overwhelmed by all of the positive feedback and wonderful responses to my last post about ending our breastfeeding journey.  As I said before, it was such a blessing to have that experience and to bond with my daughter.  Although I have over a year of personal experience, I am certainly not an expert on breastfeeding.  However, I would love to share some pieces of advice that I learned along the way.

First, it is important to have realistic expectations.  My mom, a woman who breastfed her own three children and is a former breastfeeding consultant, shared something incredible with me.  She said, “If you can breastfeed your baby just once, you are already giving him/her the very best start.  If that’s all you can do, that’s great!”

That was so very comforting.  Before I had delivered Kendall I had browsed a few websites about breastfeeding and I won’t lie when I say that they made me supremely nervous and anxious.  It all seemed so difficult!  What if I couldn’t do it?  What if my body didn’t produce?  What if it wasn’t a possibility for my baby?  What if what if, what if???  Hearing my mom tell me that even breastfeeding ONE TIME would be beneficial to my baby made me relax.  If I could do it one day, that was great!  If I could do it one week, that was great!  If I could do it one month, that was great!  Any breast milk at all was going to give my baby good antibodies and immunity and a great start!

Luckily, this relaxation helped and it curbed any expectations.  I would breastfeed as long as I could.  If it was working for me and it was working for my baby, then that’s what we would do.  If any of those situations changed, then we would reevaluate.  Here are my top pieces of advice:

Kendall at two months, snuggled on my lap after nursing

1. Relax -  I know, it is so much easier said than done, but it is imperative to your success.  You need to be comfortable in order to nurse your baby.  Your “let down” depends on it!  So find a cozy spot in your home.  Mine was ALWAYS on the sofa in the living room, in front of the TV.  I had a tall, narrow pillow behind my back to keep me upright, but not too rigid.  I also used a Boppy.  This allowed Kendall to lay across me comfortably for both of us, from the time she was a newborn to just this past weekend.

2. Positioning – find a good position for your baby and stick with it.  It took me a good week to figure out that I liked having Kendall lay across me when nursing from the right breast, but in the football hold on the left breast.  Eventually, we got the hang of her laying across me on the left side as well.  Whatever works for you is the way to go!  I had a slew of lactation consultants in the hospital trying to get me to hold Kendall this way and that, but really, what I needed was to find my own way.  In the beginning, it was very difficult as she flailed around like a fish out of water, clawing and scratching, and being just plain difficult.  But I soon found a way to tuck her arm closest to my body under her just slightly, and then held her other hand.  Tiny babies are super squirmy and actually quite strong, but eventually they will learn to settle down and relax as well.

3. Supply – this is something that all nursing mothers will worry about at one time or another.  How is my supply?  Am I producing enough?  The way to ensure a good supply sounds pretty easy: drink water!  Oddly enough, the first time Kendall ever latched in the hospital I was overwhelmed with thirst.  It is amazing how quickly our bodies can respond to the effects of nursing.  It somehow knew that I was depleting my stores of hydration and told me I needed more.  That thirst was felt almost every time I nursed Kendall.  Knowing I needed much more water than I would have had I not been nursing or pregnant, I wanted to make sure I was drinking enough.  I went on Amazon and purchased a water bottle that holds 64 ounces.  That is the recommended daily intake for anyone.  So I doubled it.  It sounds like a ton of water, but I found that it really wasn’t.  My body actually needed it.  And it allowed me to produce enough milk for my baby.

4. Nutrition – As important as it is to stay hydrated, it is equally as important to nourish your body.  There are so many different things that are good for your body, especially while nursing, but I will share my favorites that I think supported my supply.  The first is oatmeal.  Now, I don’t particularly love oatmeal.  I find it sort of bland.  But every morning, after I nursed Kendall, I would put her in her swing, make myself a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal, sweetened with raisins, and I would sit and pump.  (I will get to pumping another day).  This ensured that I started the day off with some breakfast, but also a breakfast that was good for my milk supply.  The second thing I would do through the day is drink Gatorade.  I am not a fan of Gatorade, I much prefer water, but one glass each day again replenished my electrolytes and aided my supply.  Lastly, I added nuts in to my diet.  Nuts contain a lot of great fats and fat is necessary in the production of breast milk.

Obviously, there are many other foods you can add in to your diet.  Carrot, spinach, asparagus, raw garlic, apricots, fenugreek, and others are wonderful!

5. Avoid certain foods – You will quickly learn that what you consume affects your baby.  Stay away from things that can cause gas, such as peppers, onions, and broccoli.  For me, I learned that if I ate too much tomato sauce it bothered Kendall a great deal, as did the days when I had ice cream.  You will soon come to learn that there are things in your diet that you can only eat sparingly, but that’s okay!

6. Nurse often! – Your body learns quickly.  The more you nurse, the more your body produces milk.  The less you nurse, you will see your body stop producing at those times.  Our bodies are awesome!!  So if you are noticing a dip in your supply, you can add in a nursing session or a pumping session.  Sometimes moms will notice a drop after the baby starts sleeping longer through the night.  Obviously, the last thing you want to do is wake that baby.  In that case, this is a great opportunity to add in a pumping session and store some milk. 

If I were to really sit down and write all of the tips and tricks that I have learned you would be reading an entire chapter of a book.  These are simply the basics of my beginning of breastfeeding.  For new moms, be sure to find yourself a great nipple cream and apply it after each and every time you nurse, but be sure that it is safe for baby.  My favorite is this one.  Again, I am not a professional lactation consultant, but I would be happy to answer any questions or offer more advice.

Stay tuned for my next post on (the joys) of pumping!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Saying "Farewell" to Breastfeeding

It was a sad weekend for me.  After more than fifteen months of what I would call a truly wonderful experience, I said “farewell” to breastfeeding.  Looking back on more than a year of the most special bonding time with my baby girl, I thought I would write a small reflection on what the experience has meant to me.

From the time I was pregnant I had it in my head that I would try to breastfeed.  I was lucky that I had such a great support system around me.  My husband was thrilled that I was willing to give it a shot, knowing full well how difficult it can be.  My mom, a woman who not only breastfed twins for six months, but then breastfed a singleton for a full year, was also behind me.  She also spent many years as a breastfeeding counselor, so I felt confident she could assist and guide me as much as I needed. 

No books prepare you for what breastfeeding is really like.  No first hand experiences really do it justice.  I knew it would be challenging, that I might not have a great milk supply, that the baby could have latch issues, or the pain could be too severe for me to continue.  I heard all of that.  I read all of that.  Yet what I didn’t read was how amazing it was, how fulfilling it was, and how it intimate it was to bond with your baby.

It really is.  Breastfeeding was the greatest thing I have done for my little girl.  Each well-check she had at the doctor was a reminder that I was still continuing to grow my baby.  Each nursing session was a time for us to be one, just her and me.  I loved watching her nurse, loved watching her as she got older and she knew just what to do.  My heart melted each time she fell asleep as snuggled in to me, belly full.  Once I went back to work, it was the first thing she wanted to do once we got home from the babysitter’s.  It was our time to reconnect and be together.

As she got older, nursing got harder.  No, it wasn’t because of her teeth, as some will assume.  Rather, it was from her curiosity of the world.  It is hard to nurse when you are trying to roll around, pet the dog, play with toys, and just check out what is happening all around.  At thirteen months nursing became just a morning and night routine.  We both still enjoyed it and on occasion she would verbally ask to nurse.  Yet I knew our time was limited.

The last few weeks have let me know that time was almost up.  Shortly after she would latch, Kendall would quickly sit up and ask for, “More?”  I was losing my supply.  So this past Saturday was the last time Kendall nursed.  We woke up on Sunday, I got her a cup of whole milk, and we went about our day.  That was it.  We were finished.

I didn’t have to go through the pain that many moms experience of “drying up.”  I was already dry.  Still, I felt an ache in my heart.  For fifteen and a half months I provided my daughter with food, immunity, and comfort.  Of course, she eats all read food now, so nourishment wasn’t a concern.  But how would I comfort her?  Tears in the night were quickly calmed with nursing.  How would we manage now?

Last night was my first test.  It isn’t often that Kendall cries in the night, so when she does I know she needs me.  Her cries cut the silence in the house at 12:30 am.  I went in to her room, picked her up out of her crib, and held her close.  She was still crying.  I grabbed her blankie, gave it to her to snuggle, but still she cried.  We went in to the kitchen and got her a cup of water.  That seemed to help.  Then we went back to her room, sat in her rocking chair, and I told her a story from when I was little.  As a little girl, I absolutely loved hearing stories from my mom’s childhood.  They were my favorite!  Things seemed so different.  What the heck was penny candy?  How could you walk uphill to school BOTH ways?  If I liked my mom’s stories so much, maybe Kendall would like mine.

I told her about the blizzard of ’93.  I was in third grade that year and we had off more than a week from school due to the most snow I had ever seen in my almost eight years of life.  Knowing that we had off from school, my mom had woken up my sister and me in the middle of the night.  She made us homemade hot chocolate and turned on the movie “A Muppet's Christmas Carol.”  We all snuggled on the couch under a big blanket, sipping our hot chocolate and making plans for a day of fun in the snow.  It is just one of my special memories growing up, but one that I hope to do with my own kids someday.  I shared my hopes with Kendall as she quieted down and began to fall back to sleep. 

Our days of breastfeeding may be over, but our days of bonding are not.  I am sad to close this incredible chapter in our relationship together as mother and child, but I feel extremely blessed to know that so many more chapters are there, waiting to be opened.  We will continue to bond and grow together, just differently.  And I look forward to cherishing those experiences just as much as I cherish this one.