Tag Archives: parenting

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: “Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods And Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater” by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett,

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When my first baby was coming up on 5 months-old, I started researching the best way to introduce solid food. This book popped up in several of the parenting groups I’m part of online, so I checked it out of the library. It’s a quick read about a theory of introducing solids called baby-led weaning or baby-self feeding. There isn’t a lot of research that’s been conducted on this method of introducing solids yet, but the idea is that babies should be allowed to control what they’re eating from the beginning of solid food introduction. So, instead of doing the whole spoon-fed puree thing, you offer the 6 month-old baby soft foods that they can pick up and put into their mouths themselves. This way, baby decides whether to eat, how much to eat, and can work up to new foods at their own speed.

rapley-baby-ledThe book is largely anecdotal, but was reasonably convincing overall and seemed common sense to me. The authors stress that the gag reflex in a young baby is much higher and more sensitive than it is in an adult, and that babies will gag on food as they learn how to handle it. However, a gag is much different than choking, and the authors argue that more traditional spoon-fed weaning may cause more choking in older children, since the spoon allows the food to bypass the gag reflex and doesn’t let kids learn how to process solids in their mouths effectively.
I’m interested to see how future studies support or don’t support the theory, but we ended up doing baby-led weaning with my son and I am so happy we did. When he was under a year-old, he would just eat some component of what we ate for the most part, which made it a lot easier to figure out his meals. We didn’t have to deal with the purees or making sure we had special baby food for him at restaurants. We were able to eat our own dinners while he ate his. At one year-old, he had a lot better hand-eye coordination and fine motor control than a lot of other babies that age, and I still think it’s because he’d been picking up his own food for six months already. Baby-led weaning was easy for all of us, and I fully intend to introduce solids this way for my daughter when she is ready.

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

Book Review: “How Weaning Happens” by Diane Bengson

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I read this when my son was 15 months-old and was still nursing four times a day, but not overnight. I’d had mixed experiences with our pediatrician office, where some doctors were recommending cutting down on his nursing to encourage him to eat more solid food, and some doctors weren’t. I didn’t feel like he was nursing too much as he doesn’t drink any other kind of milk, and some of my research indicated that extended (after 1 year-old) breastfeeding had health benefits for mom and baby. But, there are a wide variety of opinions and it can be hard to find research on extended breastfeeding done recently with any real population size or diversity of study participants.

bengson-how-weaningSo, although we’re not really interested in weaning yet, I thought this book (sponsored by The La Leche League) would be a good way for me to get a sense of what some moms who choose extended nursing are doing, how often their kids are nursing a day, and at what point they’re choosing to wean. The book is certainly biased toward extended nursing and child-led weaning, but so am I, so that was fine for me. Most of it is a collection of La Leche League members’ stories about their children and their experiences with extended nursing, organized into vague categories.

This is still not a scientific study on weaning or extended nursing, but it is a highly informational read representing a wide variety of opinions and experiences, considering that everyone had chosen to breastfeed for an extended period of time. It really helped me understand that there’s no real “normal” in terms of what kids or families choose to do after one year. Some kids are still nursing six times overnight, some nurse once a week, and most are in between somewhere. I just appreciate having a collection of different experiences to work from while we were trying to figure out what a good solution was for my family. And I was very reassured that my son was not nursing too much, and I am still nursing him (now 26 months) until he decides to wean on his own.

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

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.

Link: “Mom Body” by Rebecca Roher

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So many of us don’t think very much about how pregnancy and birth work until we’re going through it ourselves. And pregnancy is so weird! You can describe it as a beautiful, miraculous process all you want, and it is, but it’s also a process full of discomfort. From the physical pain of your internal organs getting shoved around to the psychological discomfort of suddenly living in a body that looks different every day, pregnancy is bizarre and challenging work.

Huffington post has done a profile on a comic by cartoonist Rebecca Roher, created when one of her close friends was pregnant and birthed her first child. The cartoon highlights a lot of the strangeness of being pregnant, most of which you don’t usually encounter in popular culture. This is stuff I wish more people knew about. If you’re curious about what pregnant people are going through or the real experience of being pregnant, birthing, and suddenly being a parent (at least for some of us), I highly recommend you read it!
The entire cartoon is at GUTS here: Mom Body by Rebecca Roher

And the article on Huffington Post that I saw is here: ‘Mom Body’ Comic Nails The Emotional Exhaustion (And Eventual Joy) Of Pregnancy by Caroline Bologna

Working together

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I became pregnant with my first child the summer before my last semester of grad school, the summer I was supposed to be writing my Masters thesis. It wasn’t a hard pregnancy as pregnancies go, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. I was working part-time at a bed and breakfast and had to be on the bus to work by 5:30 in the morning. I was nauseous, I was exhausted, I was behind on everything, and it ended up taking me an extra semester to push my thesis through. I graduated four weeks to the day after my son was born, and standing up there with my baby and my degree was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had.

 

Three months-old

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My baby girl turned three months-old a few days ago. I can’t believe it. It’s probably just the sleep deprivation that makes the days flow together so seamlessly, but it feels like yesterday that I was laying in bed with my partner in the hospital, watching her sleep, still riding the endorphin high that comes after labor and birth.

It has been so interesting being a second-time parent to this little one – I’m really starting to understand how unique each new person is, even though there are patterns that repeat from one to the next. My son, for example, was never great at napping in the car. If he was already overtired, the car might make him fall asleep, but he’d wake up at every red light and immediately upon getting home, and would never fall back asleep. And the screaming . . . my gosh, the screaming. Especially as a first-time mom, the screaming really got to me, and it was really never worth a panic attack while driving just to get my son to sleep for twenty minutes.

My little girl, on the other hand, seems to sleep very well in the car, and I’m starting to understand why so many parents are still driving their one year-olds around for every nap. Today was the first day I gave into that impulse myself. After a morning of 20 minutes naps, endless crying, and obvious exhaustion, I packed baby girl into the car and drove into Boulder for no particular reason. I got a drink at Starbucks. I stopped for ice cream. I tried to drop off a bag for Good Will, but there was a line. She slept for almost the entire ride, and when I got her home, she woke up for long enough to nurse and then went straight back to sleep. I put her down in her crib and got an entire two hours to myself, and when she woke up she was her usual happy self.

When I got into the car I felt like I was giving up, but giving up in this case actually managed to turn my entire day around. I got out of the house and had some fun. The baby slept. No one had a panic attack. I may need to start giving up more often.