Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

The view from here

This post has been percolating for months, as I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about my experience with breastfeeding so far.

In the beginning breastfeeding was really hard. It was uncomfortable–I said to Roo at some point that it felt like having a vacuum cleaner permanently attached to my nipples. For the 5+ weeks that I had thrush, it was really painful. I had a hard time with positioning the baby, and it often required various tricks to get Sprout settled in to eating (bouncing her while feeding, taking her clothes off so she wouldn’t fall asleep, etc.)  It was incredibly exhausting to be the main one able to feed the baby when she wanted to eat fifty times a day.

Before Sprout was born, I imagined that one of the big advantages of breastfeeding would be being able to feed the baby while in bed and half-asleep. It turns out that I’ve never done this! So far I’ve been too exhausted for it to feel safe. There have been multiple times when I thought I was holding the baby, only to realize that it was just my body pillow. There was even one night when I woke up and couldn’t tell for a moment if I was sitting up in the glider in Sprout’s room or lying on my side in bed! So that piece hasn’t happened, but it’s still far easier to just sit down in the glider, pull up my shirt and latch the baby on than to go downstairs, turn on the lights, make up a bottle (with only warm milk, since that’s all that Her Highness will deign to drink), etc.

Nursing in bed hasn’t happened, but somewhere along the line other aspects of breastfeeding shifted (as I had been told they would). I finally cured the thrush. The other kinds of discomfort lessened. Both Sprout and I got better at making this work.  The baby didn’t need to eat quite so often, so I started to have a little time in the evenings for more than feedthebabyfeedthebabyfeedthebaby. When I wasn’t so exhausted, the time I spent feeding Sprout felt cozy instead of suffocating. During maternity leave, breastfeeding was convenient. I remember back to our early days with Tadpole, when we had a checklist by the diaper bag in order to be sure we had packed everything (bottle, nipple, formula, water, bib, etc.)–and I remember some disasterous outings when we had forgotten one or the other of these items. But with Sprout, I just needed to be sure she and I were in the same place, and maybe bring a nursing cover-up. I was still the main one getting up with the baby at night, but that made sense–I could often get a nap in during the day, while Roo had to be functional at work.

Since I went back to work three months ago, the convenient-inconvenient balance has shifted again.  It continues to be helpful to be able to breastfeed Sprout in the evenings and on weekends.  But I’m also pumping three times a day on weekdays while I’m at work, which is decidedly inconvenient.  My new job is with a huge organization, and the first few weeks involved lots of trainings and meetings, all at different locations and with different instructors.  This meant having to explain my situation again and again, and to find the “mothers’ room” in each of five different buildings.  Fortunately, everyone was very nice, and the conversations were not as uncomfortable as they could have been.  It’s definitely a plus that my new employer has a commitment to supporting breastfeeding, and that these “mothers’ rooms” exist.  But it took a lot of extra work to figure out the location of each one, whether there was a special access code or card needed to get in, whether there is a sink nearby, etc.  The only building that doesn’t have a space for pumping is the building where I am most days, but I have my own office there.  It’s a tiny space (in fact, it used to be a closet!), but it’s all mine.  I had a few awkward conversations with co-workers who were concerned that the “do not disturb” sign that I had put up meant that they had offended me, but they were sweet when my boss explained the situation.  So pumping at work has gone about as well as it could have, but has still been uncomfortable. It’s a pain to find enough times during the day to pump.  I hate washing pump parts over and over and over, and it can be awkward to wash them in the communal bathroom sink.  It has also been tough to synch my pumping with Sprout’s needs since she’s still not on a very consistent schedule.

And despite all of the pumping that I’m doing, it’s still not quite enough to keep up with Sprout’s needs.  We try to send her to daycare with more milk than we think she’ll take, but that sometimes means sending in a bottle or two of formula.  I think I might have been upset about this if Sprout were my first kid, or if I’d had a different experience with Tadpole. I had to make some sort of peace with formula, since it nourished my son for the first year of his life.  Sprout has already had far more breastmilk that Tadpole ever did, which makes me less worried about giving her the occasional bottle of formula.

So I’m not pumping because I believe it’s essential for my baby to get nothing but breastmilk.  Then why am I doing continuing to do it? When I’m anxiously trying to figure out where to fit in a pumping session between work meetings or when I’m explaining to the socially awkward man leading our computer training course why I need certain breaks or when I’m washing my pump parts for the fourth time in a day, I start to wonder how much it would matter if I stopped pumping.  It would be helpful to still be able to breastfeed during the day on weekends, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I only breastfeed in the morning and evening.   It might even be good for Roo’s and Sprout’s relationship for her to give the baby more bottles.  I told myself that I would stick it out until Sprout was six months and then re-evaluate.  But I seem to still be pumping.

One reason why I’ve continued is that I really enjoy re-connecting with Sprout through nursing on the weekends, after missing her so much during the week.  I’d like to be able to do that for as long as I can.  Another reason for pumping may be an attempt to compensate for the guilt I feel about all that I can’t do for Sprout.  Having a full-time job and another kid keeps me from devoting as much time and attention to her as I would like, but pumping is something I can do for her when I’m away from her.  In addition, I’m proud of the hard work that Sprout and Roo and I put into building the nursing relationship, and I’m grateful for the luck that enabled it to work out this well.  I’m aware that the time when I have this kind of relationship with Sprout is short, and I don’t want to miss out on any of it.  As much as I yearn for consecutive nights with uninterrupted sleep, I imagine that I’ll be sad when I have no more middle-of-the-night snuggles with a limp sleepy baby.  I hope to never be one of those older women who accost frazzled, sleep-deprived new parents at the grocery store with exhortations to “enjoy every minute”, but I also know that I’ll miss aspects of this time when my kids are older.  My feelings about breastfeeding seem to be part of that perpetual paradox of parenthood (especially early parenthood)–it’s ridiculously hard and exhausting, but also so sweet.

 

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3 Months In

 

Our little Sprout turned 3 months old on Monday.  She really seems to be coming out of the “4th trimester” and seems more “here”, if that makes any sense.  She continues to be more solemn than smiley, but when she does smile it’s awesome.  She stares intently into our eyes, and has long conversations with us (“oooooh”  “aaahgoooo” “strange-gargling-noise”).  Last night she had a long chat with an invisible friend as she was falling asleep, which was adorable.  She has discovered that these things at the end of her arms seem to be attached to her, and she can get them into her mouth regularly.  It’s fun to watch her get closer each day to being able to grab for things.

Sprout continues to be a fairly mellow baby.  She’s usually awake for 1 1/2 hours at a time and then naps for about an hour.  She falls asleep relatively easily, and wakes up in the middle of the night only once most nights.  I was cleaning up yesterday and came across a paper from December on which I had been recording her feeding times.  It has notes like “slept 2 hours!”  There are still plenty of challenging moments, but that time of chaos and crazy sleep deprivation already seems so far away.  I’m not really sure how we got through it, but I’m glad that we won’t have to do it again!

It seems unfair that the time when the baby is finally easier to spend time with is also the time when I have to go back to work.  I ended up accepting the 40-hour-a-week job, and I start in 2 1/2 weeks.  I’m sad about not having found something part time, but am starting to get excited about this job.  I interviewed for several other positions (all full-time), and this one seemed like the best fit.    While I wouldn’t choose the 5-day-a-week schedule,  I think it was helpful to see what else was out there, and to choose this over several other possibilities.  This job is quite different from most work I have done before–it’s with adults rather than kids, and is more connected to somatic health than mental health.  But I think it will be really interesting.  And Roo and I are both excited about what we’ll be able to do with more income.

My new boss has been very flexible, and has let me push my start date back to March 17th.  It will make money tight to be on unemployment for a few more weeks, but it will also let me wait to start work until Sprout is 16 weeks old, which feels quite decadent (not compared to civlilzed places like Canada, but a pretty good deal for here).  Plus, the week that I start work is Roo’s spring break, which means that I have a week to settle into things before we have to start getting all four of us out of the house in the mornings.

From March until June, Sprout will be going to daycare at Roo’s work three days a week, and will be with Roo’s mom (who recently retired) for two days a week.  And then Sprout will be home with Roo over the summer.  Tadpole went to the same daycare and loved it, and I love that Roo can visit her during the day.  I know that Sprout and her grandmother will have a fabulous time hanging out together on Mondays and Fridays.  And then it will be great for Roo and Sprout to spend some quality time together over the summer.  In terms of childcare arrangements, we have it pretty good.  My sadness about going back to work is less for Sprout (since I know she’ll be well cared for in all of the above situations) than for me (since I will be missing out on time with her).  But I’m also excited about getting back a work identity, meeting new co-workers, and using a different part of my brain.

My big worries about going back to work have to do with feeding Sprout.  First of all, she has been refusing to take a bottle lately.  Early on we were doing a really good job of offering her bottles from time to time.  But then Roo went back to work, and Sprout started sleeping longer at night, so it seemed easier for me to just feed her whenever she needed to be fed.  The last few times that we have tried to give her a bottle, she has screamed and refused to eat.  Fortunately, we have 2 1/2 more weeks to work on this, and she has been doing a little better with it in the last few days.

Related to this, I’m nervous about figuring out pumping at a brand-new workplace.  I emailed my new boss about the office arrangements, and she initially said that I would be in a shared office space.  Since a lot of the job involves working in teams to help clients, this makes sense.  But it’s not exactly conducive to pumping.  But when I asked about pumping arrangements, my new boss said she would try hard to make something work, and that (worst-case-scenario), I could use her office.  I’m not thrilled with that idea–it seems pretty awkward to come knocking on my boss’ door three times a day in order to kick her out of her office. But it was nice of her to offer.  And a more recent email said that she was working on finding me a good space and thought she had something.   That seems promising, but I’m still nervous about figuring it all out.  When I went back to work after having Tadpole, he was already mostly on formula anyway.  Plus I was at a familiar place with familiar co-workers, and I worked mostly independently and had my own office.  This time around, I don’t really know what my schedule will look like during the day, and I’m worried that it will be awkward to explain my pumping needs to a brand-new group of colleagues, most of whom I’ll be working with very closely.  I’m glad that my boss seems supportive, but am still not sure how it will all go.

Aside from these worries and my mixed feelings about going back to work, things are going well.  I’m excited about all that this spring will bring–new challenges at work, new adventures with both kids, decisions about Tad’s school for next year (more on that soon), and maybe even some warmer weather.

 

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By the numbers

It has been a long time, and I’m not sure where to start in catching up.

Since my last post:

Number of Christmas celebrations with various combinations of family members: 4

Number of birthday parties for Tadpole: 2 (a small one for family on his actual birthday and a larger one for friends later on)

Number of days Tadpole’s school was closed (a combination of winter break and snow days): 10

The story of last week:

Number of doctor appointments for members of my family: 6

Number of trips to the pharmacy over 8 days: 9

Number of diagnoses: 4 (colds for all four of us, conjunctivitis for Roo and Sprout, thrush for me and Sprout, bronchitis for Roo)

Number of mysteriously inactive health insurance policies: 1 (Sprout’s)

The story of this week:

Number of days Roo has now been back at work: 5

Number of pipes in our house that were frozen on Tuesday: 3

Number of hours of using a space heater in our crawlspace and number of hours of using a hair drier under the sink that it took to unfreeze the pipes: 5, 3

Number of pipes that burst after being frozen for many hours: 0 (thankyouthankyouthankyou!)

There were some rough days in there.  I kept thinking, “okay, we can make this work as long as I don’t have to deal with one more thing.”  And then one more thing would happen.  Fortunately, we’re a bit better today.  I got a total of 7 hours of sleep last night (in several different chunks), and that makes everything feel more manageable.  Everyone seems to be getting over their various ailments with the unfortunate exception of me and my thrush.  I’m on a second course of  diflucan, plus a cream, plus Sprout is on an oral med.  Some days I think things are almost all better and I can nurse with almost no pain, but other days there’s toe-curling, can’t-scream-because-it-will-scare-the-baby pain.  I’m supposed to call the midwives back on Monday if things haven’t improved.  I don’t know what they’ll do at that point, but I hope there’s another plan because I’m really tired of this.  I’m tired of the pain, but also tired of having to be on top of various medications and tired of the incessant hand washing and pump parts washing and bra washing.

Roo started back at work on Monday, and that has been hard on all of us.  She misses being home, and I miss having her here.  Plus we were just barely getting done everything that needed to be done around the house before she went back.  Now she needs to get enough hours of sleep to function at work, and there are many hours a day when she is not available to do things here.   We’re finding that we have to re-negotiate who is responsible for what around the house, which can be tough when we’re both feeling like we’re doing all that we can possibly do.  I remember this feeling from when Tadpole was little–that there are all of the things that I think I can manage when working really hard, and all of the things Roo thinks she can manage when working really hard….but there are still things leftover that need to be done but that neither of us feels able to do.

Tadpole is back at school.  I think it’s helpful to him to be back in his usual routine, and in a familiar place where not much has changed since the arrival of his sister.  His teacher commented the other day that he has been weepy lately, bursting into tears about things that don’t seem to be a big deal.  We’ve noticed this at home too.  It’s a big change for our usually even-keeled kid.  I feel sad about it, and wish that there were a way to make the adjustment to big brotherhood painless for him.  But I also think it’s a pretty normal reaction, and we’re doing all we can to make space for him to talk about his complicated feelings about his moms being less available.

There’s more I’d like to say about job-hunting, about breastfeeding and more. But I probably ought to just hit publish now, and try to get to the rest another day.  Apologies for not commenting more.  I’m following all of your blogs, but mostly while feeding the baby, and it’s hard to type then.  Thinking of you all, and hoping for many good things (including lots of healthy babies!) in the new year.

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Settling

One of the parenting books that we have (Your Baby and Child by Penelope Leach)  has a chapter on “The Newborn”, followed by a chapter on “The Settled Baby.”  I find this distinction really helpful. Leach explains,

“One day you will find that you have stopped regarding your baby as an unpredictable and therefore rather alarming novelty, and have begun instead to think of him as a person with tastes, preferences, and characteristics of his own.  When that happens you will know that he has moved on from being a “newborn” and has got himself settled into life…A settled baby is a manageable proposition.  If you feel he’s a little devil, at least he is a little devil who you know.  You can tell how he likes to be handled even if it is not the way you would chose to handle him.  You know what to expect from him even if it is the worst, know what frightens him even if it is almost everything.  Above all, you can tell when he is happy…So once your baby is settled you know what you are up against.  Instead of trying to survive from hour to hour, get through another day, avoid thinking about another week, you can begin to work and plan for reasonable compromises between his needs and those of everyone else”

I think we’re approaching having a settled baby.  We know at least a few things about who this kid is, and are starting to find ways to make life with her work.

Mostly we know that she likes to eat!  She goes from “hey guys, I’m feeling a little peckish” to blood-curdling screams and “OMG, I’m starving and no one ever feeds me!!!” in about 30 seconds.  But not much else (wet/dirty diapers, being poked by her brother, etc.) seems to bother her.  When she cries, about 85% of the time it means she’s hungry and the other 15% of the time it’s related to gas.

We’ve fallen in to at least a rough schedule.  Sprout eats pretty constantly all evening long (starting anywhere between 5pm and 8pm and finishing between 10pm and 2am), but then sleeps for a few several-hour stretches after that.  We had one growth spurt where she ate pretty constantly for about 24 hours, which was really tough.  But other than that I’m managing to get a relatively decent amount of sleep as long as I don’t try to leave the house before noon.

We’re finding our way with feeding as well.  Sprout is no longer screaming or sleeping instead of eating when she’s hungry (though I do often have to change her diaper halfway through a feeding to wake her up).  I’m breastfeeding her most of the time, but we’ve started offering her bottles sometimes too.  I feel much less claustrophobic knowing that other people can feed the baby.  And it has been incredibly helpful to know that Roo can give Sprout a bottle when I’m worn out from nursing all evening, or when I need a break in the middle of the night.  I’m pumping some, and trying to find a balance between keeping my supply up and being so worried about it that I lose the benefits of having someone else able to feed the baby.  I think Roo has really enjoyed having time on her own with Sprout, and I have enjoyed being able to give more time and attention to Tad.

We’d had some anxiety about Sprout’s weight gain early on, and we went for yet another weight check at her pediatrician’s office yesterday.  We’d been told that they like to see babies gaining 1/2 to 1 ounce per day.  Yesterday we found out that BabyGirl had gained a pound in ten days!  Our lovely pediatrician said multiple times, “I don’t want you to worry about the feeding.  It’s clear that the breastfeeding is going well.  I just want you to enjoy your baby.”    It’s exciting to feel like the hard work and sleepless nights are paying off.  It’s a huge relief to stop rigorously charting feeding times, number of wet diapers, etc.  And the really fabulous outcome of this is that we no longer have to wake her up to feed her, so we might get a few longer stretches of sleep at night.  I feel so lucky to have a baby who was able to figure this stuff out with relatively little drama.

Tadpole also seems to be settling into this new life.  He did inform us the other day, “did you know that some kids don’t want to have a baby sister or brother?”, and we had a long conversation about how “some kids” might feel.  He has occasionally been not-so-gentle with Sprout.  But he also often asks to hold her and calls her lots of silly affectionate names and usually demands that she be present for his bedtimes.  The other morning I had gone upstairs to get something and left Sprout in her car seat next to Tad, who was eating breakfast.  Sprout started fussing and Tad came over to her and said, “it’s okay!  Your big brother is here” and tried to make faces to entertain her.

Roo and I are finding our way as well.  I’ve been able to help out with Tad’s bedtimes more (though often with the baby attached to me).  Roo is getting up with Tad and getting him to school most days, which has let me get some more sleep.  Of course the next two weeks (when Tad’s preschool is closed) will require reconfiguring everything.  And I’m a little freaked out about how we’ll arrange things when Roo goes back to work the first week of January.  But I feel like I know a lot more about what we’re up against and have a few strategies for managing life with this particular kiddo.  It’s exhausting and overwhelming and still unpredictable.  And it’s hard to get much of anything done outside of keeping the kids clothed and fed.  But I think we’re all settling into life as a family of four.

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Disappointment

Before Tad’s birth I had visions of cozy winter evenings of nursing him on our living room couch.  Roo and I attended a newborn care class that included a section about breastfeeding, and read several books on the topic.  We bought a “snuggle nest” so he could sleep between us in bed in order to make nighttime nursing easier.  We were nervous but excited. 

And then Tad came along.  He was born just before Christmas and, after a brief visit from the hospital lactation consultant,  we were discharged from the hospital on Christmas Eve.  Tad spent all of that night screaming.  We tried breastfeeding repeatedly, and he seemed to be getting the hang of things, but then he would pull off and scream.  Christmas Day, he slept all day, barely waking up at all.  This was a relief, but all of the books that we were desperately poring over said that this wasn’t right.  Because it was Christmas, almost anywhere that could have helped us figure this out was closed.  We tried calling the hospital, and we spoke to the lactation consultant there, whose only advice was to tickle Tad’s feet to keep him awake.  That didn’t work.  He spent all of Christmas night screaming inconsolably.  Roo and I alternately worried that 1) something was horribly wrong, or 2) this was just regular life with a newborn and we should expect this kind of crying all the time for the next few months.  My milk came in, and soon I was engorged, which made it even harder for him to feed at all. 

The next morning we had our first appointment with our pediatrician.  We told her what had happened and I promptly burst into tears.  Dr W was so sweet and reassuring.  And she set us up with an appointment with a private lactation consultant that afternoon.  She also gave Tad a little bottle of formula.  The change was amazing.  His whole body relaxed and he stopped screaming.  The poor guy had been ravenously hungry, and unable to make breastfeeding work.

We saw the lactation consultant that day.  She diagnosed “poor suck, swallow breathe coordination” and a weak suck.  Roo and I joked about how it was nice to hear that “our baby doesn’t suck,” and in our sleep-deprived state that was hilarious.  The lactation consultant sold us a fancy bottle to help improve his suck.  She also labeled Tad a “frisky fritter”–an easily frustrated baby who will tell you immediately if there’s something he doesn’t like.  I bought a pump and started pumping 10-12 times a day.  This was exhausting, because it meant that even if Tad went a little longer between feeds, I had to wake up to pump.  And sometimes wake up again an hour or two later to take a turn feeding him.  I was able to get some milk, but not enough to keep up with Tad’s needs, so we had to supplement with formula.  We were supposed to try putting Tad on the breast at least once a day.  At times, this was cozy–a bit of the breastfeeding fantasy I had.  But most of the time it was an incredibly frustrating process for both of us.  He still couldn’t really figure things out, and without much frustration tolerance, would get really angry that he wasn’t being fed immediately.  Somewhere in here (it’s all a bit of a blur at this point), we realized that Tad was screaming and arching his back with every bottle, symptoms of reflux.  So we put him on baby Zantac, bought him special formula, and kept him upright after every feed.  As he grew, the reflux symptoms returned and we had to continuously adjust his Zantac dose. 

About six weeks into this crazy regimen, we took Tad back to the lactation consultant to do a “feed-weigh-feed”.  The LC weighed Tad and then watched him feed.  Even before she weighed him the second time (and saw how little he had gotten from the feeding), she said his suck wasn’t strong enough.  She said that if we wanted him to breastfeed, we would have to do some mouth strengthening exercises several times a day.  She started to demonstrate them on Tad, and he started screaming bloody murder.

I couldn’t imagine doing this to my child multiple times a day every day.  Roo was about to return to work, and I would be home alone with Tad.  I desperately wanted breastfeeding to work, especially after all of the effort we had put into it so far.  But I was aware that I only had six more weeks of my own maternity leave left, and I wanted to spend the time getting to know my kid rather than fighting with him about eating. 

In some ways it would have been easier if the LC had said that it was impossible for Tad to breastfeed.  Then we would have been off the hook.  Instead, we had to make a decision about what was best for our family.  I’m an overachiever from a family of overachievers.  My dad is a surgeon who also runs marathons.  My mom has a PhD.  I like to climb mountains–the steeper and more challenging the better.  So I didn’t want to “give up” on breastfeeding.  But Roo helped me put things into perspective.  She wisely suggested that one of our roles as parents is to listen to what our kid is telling us about what he needs, rather than pushing him relentlessly to do/be what we want.  And it seemed to us like Tadpole was telling us that breastfeeding was just not working for him.

I continued pumping for several more months.  And I’m proud of that.  I’m proud of the decision we made to listen to Tad’s need to be a bottle-fed baby.  But I still feel the need sometimes to defend my decision.  When mixing up a bottle of formula in public, I would want to explain to anyone around exactly why we had resorted to formula.  Even all of the paragraphs above about how miserable and hard those first few weeks were feel like I’m trying to prove to someone that we had to do what we did.  We didn’t have to.  Some folks in the same situation would have pushed forward, and might have established great breastfeeding relationships in the long run.  But for us, it wasn’t the right choice.

At the time, the breastfeeding struggle was one of the few things I knew about Tad and about my relationship with him.  Our “failure” felt huge.  As time has passed, the importance of those early weeks has faded, replaced with all of the new things I know about who he is, who I am as a parent, and who we are together.

But my disappointment about how this all played out still comes up at unexpected moments.  At the pool this summer, 2 1/2 years out from our breastfeeding struggles, a stranger was calmly breastfeeding her newborn and I felt a sudden pang of loss that I didn’t get to have that  experience with Tad.  I’m a little bit mad at our next-door neighbor, for whom breastfeeding has seemed to come so easily.  As we think about Roo hopefully carrying our second child one day, I hope that breastfeeding goes more smoothly for her.  But I will also be horribly jealous if she gets to have that relationship with our baby.

This post is part of the Love Makes a Family Blog Carnival.  Click here to read the next post in the carnival: http://inlocoparentis.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/the-opposite-of-disappointment/

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