Tag Archives: newborns

Breastfeeding was hard because I’d been doing it wrong.

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I’ve had two babies, and I’ve had trouble breastfeeding with both of them. Before my son was born, I read all these books, and my partner and I took a breastfeeding class – I was deeply committed to making it work. I knew that some women had trouble breastfeeding, but I thought I’d prepared and had support (and I had been leaking colostrum for months, ew), and maybe the first time would be hard and then I’d just get it.

Anyway, my son was born, and I did alright nursing in the hospital, but then we came home and I couldn’t get him latched without a lot of pain. I was a hormonal, useless mess. My doula had to talk me off a cliff, and my mother-in-law ran out in the middle of the night to get formula. I was able to see a lactation consultant and rent a breast pump the next day. Eventually, we did get it  (my postpartum doula helped a lot!), and now my son is almost 28 months-old and still nursing a few times a day, with no plans to quit as far as I can figure! But it was definitely a bumpy start.

When I got pregnant again, I didn’t even consider that nursing a newborn would be difficult. I nursed my son through the pregnancy, and I was looking forward to nursing a new little baby who theoretically wouldn’t be trying to do cartwheels while latched, like toddlers do. But I was wrong. Again.

My daughter is a bigger baby than my son was, and her head and neck were so strong when she was born that, whenever we nursed, she would latch and then arch, yanking the nipple along with her. It hurt, and it caused bruising, clogged ducts and serious discomfort for me until she was old enough to control her head a little better. I tried all the recommended nursing positions, visited a lactation consultant several times, and the only way I could find to nurse her without her hurting me at least some of the time was on my side. Since you can’t just lay down in the middle of the grocery store aisle when your baby gets hungry, this limited my ability to get out of the house for a few months after she was born.

I will be honest – I hated nursing her for many weeks. I felt like a failure for considering pumping and bottle feeding, or even just formula for her when I was still nursing her brother, but every plugged duct took an entire day of constant, painful pumping and nursing to clear, and although none of them turned into mastitis (a breast infection), every single one felt like an emergency. I wasn’t sleeping and was still healing from the birth. I didn’t have the energy for an emergency.

But, with some luck and a lot of support, I persevered, and as my daughter started to get better at nursing in other positions, I started to realized that if I could nurse upright if I leaned back and put her belly-to-belly on top of me. It wasn’t perfect, but it meant I could nurse her in the car, or on a park bench while my son played. None of the lactation consultants had recommended this position to me, and I wondered if maybe there was some risk associated with it, or some reason I didn’t see other mothers using it.

And of course, as soon as our nursing problems were mostly figured out, this article turned up on my feed: Many Moms May Have Been Taught to Breastfeed Incorrectly: Surprising New Research by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA.

Take a minute and open that in a new tab and look at the photos! (If you’re at work, be aware that it’s women breastfeeding, not that anyone should shame you for that.) Look at them! They’re in a reclined position, belly-to-belly with baby, with one arm supporting baby’s head. That is exactly what I had been doing successfully with my daughter, the baby who had such trouble in traditional breastfeeding positions, and here were a bunch of other moms doing the same thing! I was floored, and wished I’d seen this article when I had my son two years ago.

The article explores the idea that the ways that women are taught to breastfeed now are just not working for the vast majority of us. Mohrbacher says that 92% of women report trouble breastfeeding in the first week of their baby’s life, and that the most common reasons women give up on breastfeeding are trouble latching, nipple pain, and worries about producing enough milk. These are exactly the issues that come up when I talk about breastfeeding with other parents, especially with moms who chose to give up breastfeeding because it was just too painful and frustrating. Throughout the article, Mohrbacher argues that most of these problems are exacerbated, if not outright caused, by our poor breastfeeding postures, and that teaching new parents this alternative posture (which she calls “natural breastfeeding”) would alleviate many of these issues.

The article is a fantastic read, and I strongly recommend it, especially to expecting parents who are planning to breastfeed. Please share it around! There is nothing wrong with formula, and it’s true that sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work, but I know far too many mothers who had their hearts set on breastfeeding and weren’t able to for exactly the reasons mentioned – pain, latching trouble, or concern with milk supply. Knowing about this nursing position could save a lot of breastfeeding relationships, and I personally think they’re worth saving.

Book review: The Mother of All Pregnancy Books by Ann Douglas

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I have a backlog of shorter book reviews, so I’ll be posting those in the next few weeks.

douglas-mother-allI found The Mother of All Pregnancy Books at the Good Will down the road when my partner and I were first talking about trying to conceive. It was $1 and the title is cute, so I bought it. It’s a perfectly fine pregnancy book, including sections on planning and conception, pregnancy itself, and postpartum issues. It is unique among the pregnancy books I’ve read in that it is not organized by month, but rather focuses much more on questions you’re likely to have throughout pregnancy. There’s a good, extensive section on common complaints, and I found the chapter on prenatal testing options to be particularly helpful.

It’s a good resource book to use while pregnant, but it lost points for me because it doesn’t really stand out among the crowd of other pregnancy books out there. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but I didn’t feel that it provided me with any information or new perspectives that I hadn’t already gotten from elsewhere. I do like it better than the What to Expect series only because it doesn’t dwell on all possible worst-case scenarios. Most expecting parents are anxious enough without the addition of the unnecessary stress that comes from reading about all the things that go wrong 1 out of every 100,000 pregnancies.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

On bonding

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One of the many surprises I’ve encountered upon having my second child has been how different my experience of bonding with her has been, compared to my experience with my son. I feel like I know my daughter so well after only three short months, despite the reality that she is growing and developing at lightning speed, a little different every day. I put this down more to my general comfort as a mom and my better knowledge about how to take care of a baby this time ’round than to anything particularly unique about my daughter, as lovely as she is. Becoming a first-time parent was such a shock that it took me a long time to relax enough to really get to know my son.

Becoming a new parent is one of the fastest, most dramatic transitions most of us go through in our lives. One minute, you are alone, and the very next, there is an entirely new, helpless person who needs you to be on top of it and have it together. It’s a cliché, but it’s  a true one, and modern life in America being what it is, a lot of us are going through this alone but for our partners. We don’t have our mothers or sisters or the friends we grew up with around to help. We just have to do it, and figure it all out as we go.

Before my son was born, I had held a grand total of one newborn before in my adult life. I had a decent amount of real world experience with toddlers and preschoolers, and being an academic, I’d done my research on how to care for a baby, but it was all theoretical. The moment the midwife and my partner first plopped my son on my chest after he was born was exhilarating, but also terrifying. What if I broke him? What if he didn’t like me? What if I didn’t like him?

All of this makes being a new mom super scary, and for me, fear got in the way of feeling close to my baby. I was committed to doing well by him, and I kept him fed and clean and close to me because I knew I was supposed to, but I was scared of him. We had trouble nursing for his first month, and I had a lot of anxiety about his growth and health, compounded by the crazy hormonal swings of the postpartum period. I was convinced I was going to fall down the stairs while holding him. I couldn’t sleep because what if the room was too cold, or too hot? What if he stopped breathing?

I overanalyzed everything after he was born. We did lots of skin-to-skin contact because there’s good research that skin-to-skin promotes bonding, better weight gain, and general better health for babies, but outside of these designated times, I had a genuine fear of cuddling or kissing him too often. I’m an introvert myself and I wanted to respect his baby autonomy, which to me meant giving him some space. All of this  got in the way of getting to know my baby comfortably, and of bonding with him on our own terms. There was such a learning curve: I had a new role as a mother, a new body, new schedules and routines.

I genuinely think I was (and am) a good mom despite all this. I think this fear is a really common experience among new parents, and maybe one that needs to be talked about more out in the open. I am so happy to say that becoming a second-time parent has been a lot less terrifying than it was the first time. I have confidence in myself and in my babies. know that my daughter is going to like me, and I’m going to like her. This bonding experience has been infinitely more joyful than the last, now that I’ve been able to relax into my role and just be here with my kids.

Book review: What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff

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Now that I have a few book reviews under my belt, it’s time to talk about a big one! Yes, I mean What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff et al. I got this book at the Good Will while I was pregnant with my first baby and read it slowly as he went through his first year. As you might expect considering What to Expect’s fame, it has a lot of good information about when babies hit milestones on average, ideas for games and toys that are appropriate by age, and it discusses some of the major concerns that parents run into in the first year. That said, I think there are a lot of better books out there for first-time parents, and I would not particularly recommend this one.

murkoff-expect-first-yearFirst of all, some of the health-related information is out of date even in the most recent edition, and doesn’t conform to the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here, I am particularly thinking of their section on introducing solid foods. The current research and recommendation by the AAP is that it is not only safe to introduce highly-allergenic foods before age 1 to children whose parents have no history of food allergies, but that introducing these foods early may actually help prevent common food allergies.* I hope this kind of stuff will be updated in the next edition, but as of this moment, the book is out of date, as are a lot of the materials on the corresponding website.

Second, this book didn’t support breastfeeding to the extent that I was hoping. Murkoff repeats over and over that it’s best to breastfeed until at least age 1, but there’s also a lot of material about weaning to the bottle or formula. That’s fine, as it’s information many families will certainly want or need, but as a new mom who did have some difficulties with breastfeeding, I felt like I was constantly being told about how hard breastfeeding is without being offered any support structures to help. The book didn’t provide information for new mothers about continuing to breastfeed after the first year, and certainly didn’t touch at all on the health benefits (for mother and child) of doing so. Breastfeeding is hard and it’s important to acknowledge that, but I feel like its benefits are well-known enough that a book like this should really be supporting the breastfeeding relationship for as long as possible.

Obviously, some people will not be interested in breastfeeding or will not be able to breastfeed, and that’s okay, but there’s a way to support those decisions without constantly pressuring those of us who are breastfeeding to stop at age 1. Additionally, there is some outright wrong information about breastfeeding repeated over and over in the text, especially as concerns what’s normal/average in terms of weaning. Murkoff’s expectations for infant sleep also don’t line up with the books I’ve read on infant sleep that were grounded in scientific research.

Finally, I feel that this book spent too much time on a lot of very rare and uncommon illnesses. It’s great to have rare concerns listed briefly, and to provide resources for more information, but reading over and over about all the ways your baby could get sick is probably not a good idea for a new parent. It’s stressful enough to handle a healthy baby; spending your energy processing information that you’ll never need isn’t worth it, especially since that kind of worrying can create emotional issues you really don’t need. There is definitely such a thing as being too informed when it comes to certain topics. I say, give me information about the common cold, why vaccinations are important, what to do in a choking emergency or during a febrile seizure, and skip the several hundred pages on all the 1/10,000 ways my kid could get sick.

I feel like with What to Expect’s history as the “go to” pregnancy and child-rearing book series, it needs to be held to a high standard. People all over the world trust them to get it right and to provide information that is correct and reliable, and unfortunately, What to Expect the First Year just doesn’t deliver on those fronts.

*See http://aapnewsde.aap.org/aapnews-open/201302_o?pg=13#pg13 for one example.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Off Day

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Today I am feeling burnt out. My littlest baby is a smidge over two months-old, and even a smiley, even-tempered newborn is still a challenge at this age. I was up to feed her five times last night, and I know that’s considered not too bad for many babies at this age, but it’s a lot for her. I am at a disadvantage as someone with higher-than-average sleep needs, and even on nights when I technically get enough hours, the interruptions still add up. Right now, today’s to-do list seems overwhelming, and my big plans to get out into the garden are especially so.

Every parent knows how hard it can be just to keep a baby fed, dry, and getting enough sleep, not too mention keeping yourself fed, and showered too (not to mention sleep!) Two months postpartum, I am still healing, so it’s not surprising to anyone except myself that I’m going to have a few off days. But I am still feeling disappointed about that right now.

Self care prescription: I made sure to have a good lunch, started some laundry so I can feel like I got something done today, and now I’m watching the River Monsters marathon on TV, which is my guilty pleasure TV. Sometimes you just have to take a day off.