Tag Archives: pumping

Being Away From Babies

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20140527-104408-38648399.jpgToday I travel to NY for a funeral.  I’ll be staying overnight in a hotel.  Since Jack is still in school, and the kids are really too young to understand grief and loss and the traditions of mourning, I am going by myself.

To some of you, it may sound strange that in nearly seven years of being a mom, I’ve not willingly been away from my family for a full 24 hours.  Of course when I had Emily I was in the hospital for a few nights, and Jack had sleepovers with relatives.  He occasionally sleeps out at the grandparents’, but I’ve never spent a night away from Em.

And she still nurses.

Of course, as I mentioned last week, she is showing signs of weaning.  In the morning, she will only nurse one side.  She sits up after a few minutes and says, “No other side!” then sets to playing or watching Curious George on the ipad.

At night she nurses on one side, then wiggles away to brush teeth, say good night to her father and brother, and generally try to scamper out of bedtime.  I’ll put her in her crib, and she will lie down, but then pop up again and say, “Cuddle mommy.”  Which means she wants to come out and have the other side.  Sometimes she taps my chest with her pointer finger, and says, “Theese side,” with a grave expression, as though she is choosing a bottle of wine.

She only nurses twice a day, but those times are bookends between bedtime and waking up.

I wonder if she will miss me, or if it will hasten her weaning process to miss two nursing sessions with me.

I wonder if I will feel any discomfort from not nursing at those regularly scheduled times.

I stopped pumping nearly two years ago, so there isn’t any freezer stash she can have in a cup, and at this point if I tried to pump I’d likely only get a couple drops, if anything at all, although there seems to be plenty there for Emily when she takes it straight from the tap.  (Babies are far more efficient at getting milk from a breast than a pump is, so not being able to pump anymore is not any indication of supply, BTW.)

I did let her know I would be away, and that her daddy could give her milk in a cup and then she could brush her teeth, but I don’t think she really understood what I was getting at.

I wonder if Jack will behave for his father, and if the children will cooperate and get along with one another in my absence.

It will most likely all go well, and I will be home in time for bedtime tomorrow night.

But still. . .

There is a curious pang in my heart about going away, and especially about being away from my toddler who is almost ready to wean.

How do you handle being away from your children for the night?  Is it hard for you to be away?  Did you ever have to be away from a nursling, and if so, how did it affect your nursing relationship?  

Facebook’s War On Breastfeeding Mamas Continues

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International breast feeding logo

International breast feeding logo

When Emily was a newborn I had an open gash on my right nipple the size of my little finger tip.  It refused to heal no matter what I did.  It opened up all over again every, single time I nursed her, and she nursed practically all day, every day.    The exquisite pain tainted my mood and maternity leave to the point where I would cry nearly every time Emily latched on (and did I mention she latched on like all day, every day?).

I surrounded myself with people to support me in my goal to breastfeed my daughter.   In addition to the amazing support, education, and encouragement I received from an IBCLC (AKA my patron saint of lactating moms), I had a network of over 5,000 women on a breastfeeding support group on Facebook.

I would post to this group at all hours of the day or night.  There were many times when I thought I would give up nursing my daughter completely, but continued, boosted by the kind words of strangers around the world.

I remember posting at one point from my bed, in hysterical tears.  My husband was giving the baby a bottle in the other room because I was in so much pain, and so exhausted that I just could not put her to my breast.  Because of the trauma to my nip, I had not been able to pump, so he was giving her formula.  I wrote a post filled with anger, sadness, and self-recrimination.  So many warm and compassionate moms wrote to me on that night and it is no exaggeration to tell you that they gave me the strength to continue.

Emily will be two years old next month, and I still nurse her a few times per day.  I treasure every moment we share this unique bond, knowing it will not last much longer.  So, that makes nearly two years I’ve been a member of the Facebook group.  Sure, it is not the only group on Facebook for breastfeeding support.  I was a member of a few others, but this one was my favorite.  There was something genuine, empathetic, and non judgmental about these gals- all 5,000 of them.  Any mommy group has the potential to be rife with controversy and drama, but the admins did a super job keeping things cool and calm.  I also made a couple friends there, with whom I have maintained communication outside of the group and have been so thankful for their presence in my life.

I haven’t posted a lot at this group lately, but read the posts of others, and enjoy lending a word of kindness or support to other moms who share similar experiences to mine.  I never intended to leave the group, even when my breastfeeding journey came to a close (someday…).

Yesterday, I learned through a post over at Raising Mama that Facebook deleted this group of breastfeeding sisters and those who would support, encourage, and educate one another there.  The author of this post wrote so eloquently why this is such a loss for so many.  Apparently, Facebook’s rational for deleting the site was that people had posted “pornographic” photos.

The photos that were posted on the Breastfeeding Support page were photos posted by mamas of their babies nursing!

I never post photos of my self, kids, or family, but in honor of this BS, here is a pic of my beautiful nursling Emily at 22 months.

I never post photos of my self, kids, or family, but in honor of this BS, here is a pic of my beautiful nursling Emily at 22 months.

If a person thinks that a photo of a breastfeeding mom and her baby is pornographic, that says something much more damning about that person than about the nursing mom.   A human baby suckling at a human breast has to be one of the most natural and beautiful sights in the world.  (For that matter, animal nurslings are pretty adorable too, but I digress…)

Apparently, it is nothing new for Facebook to delete or remove women’s breastfeeding pictures.  Some women have even been banned or suspended from their Facebook accounts due to posting innocent photos of their babies nursing.  While it has never happened to me personally, I have heard many women talk about their frustration with Facebook over this issue.

Breastfeeding is not a “private act” that needs to be covered up and hidden.  It is a normal and necessary part of everyday life.  It is how babies were born to eat.  Breastfeeding has been imperative for the survival of our freaking species!  In my opinion, it is important to see and share pictures of nursing babies because it helps to normalize something that has become almost taboo in our society.  The very fact that someone would consider a breastfeeding picture “pornographic” is the very reason why we need to see more breastfeeding moms.  I’d like to see the backlash Facebook would experience from big pharma and the manufacturers of artificial infant milk (aka formula) if they tried to ban photos of moms giving bottles.

This isn’t a debate over breast vs. formula.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again:  I don’t judge anyone for giving formula to their babies.  Heck, I mix fed with my son, and had to supplement with my daughter as well.  I am not an extremest when it comes to breastfeeding, but I do believe that breast is best, and I’ve got the science to back me up.  Unfortunately our society makes it very difficult for many moms to succeed at breastfeeding, whether due to lack of education and support, pushing formula on them from the moment they give birth, or insufficiently short maternity leaves to establish and maintain a nursing relationship.   For Facebook to further complicate this issue by deleting one of their largest (and in my opinion BEST) support groups for breastfeeding mothers is not just a shame.  It is aggressively insulting, harmful, and hurtful.

Support groups are essential for breastfeeding success.  Online groups are particularly important for moms living in isolated or rural communities where they may not be able to get to an IBCLC.

Somewhere out there, at this very moment, there is a nursing mom who has a question or concern and no one to talk to.  There is a mom in pain who does not know if she needs to seek medical help for a burning sensation deep in her breast tissue that could be thrush or mastitis.  There is a mom who is exhausted after nursing a babe through a growth spurt and questioning if she should give it up because she can’t take any more cluster feeding.  There is a mom who does not know that cluster feeding is normal and is questioning her supply, wondering if she should supplement with formula and not knowing she risks sabotage of her nursing relationship.  There is a woman who’s mother in law belittled her for nursing who just needs to vent.  There is a woman who has a history of sexual trauma who is being triggered every time baby comes to breast and she needs someone out there to tell her it is okay.  All these women will have to go elsewhere, or will have to be alone in their moment of fear or frustration.

I feel loss, and rage, and disappointment.  I wish I could tell the admins and other women how much they helped me, how grateful I am for their support that allowed me to continue with my own breastfeeding relationship.  I wish I could tell the members how much I loved seeing their beautiful pictures of their milk-drunk babies.  I wish I could tell them to hang in there because it gets so much better and they will never regret it.

I have friends all over the world on Facebook that I would not otherwise be able to connect with on such frequent basis.  So, will I leave Facebook?  Probably not.  But I will complain.  And I will continue nursing in public, posting my nursing pictures, and rocking my breastfeeding bumper stickers in peaceful protest.

Please feel free to share this post on Facebook and with any other breastfeeding mamas who may have been maligned by Facebook’s discrimination against nursing mothers and babies.  Because their ignorant and aggressive stance on breastfeeding is the truly disgusting, unnatural, and disturbing thing here.

Thanks for listening.  Momaste ya’all!

Author’s note:  I was later informed by one of the group’s admins that Facebook did not actually say they removed the group for pornographic content, simply that it did “not comply with their standards.”  Regardless, this writer believes that there was still a lot of hypocrisy and misogyny involved. . .  

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/daily-prompt-expression/

If Google Brought You Here For Breastfeeding Info. . .

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Every day, women find my blog using search engines to find information on breastfeeding.  Nipple trauma is a very popular search term, and for that, I am extremely sorry, since in my humble opinion, there is almost nothing worse than nipple trauma!

Other search terms that are popular are cluster feeding and pumping.

If you found my little blog because you are struggling with nursing your little one, please know you are not alone.  Please know that I care.  Please know that I want you to succeed in your nursing relationship.  Please know there are so many supports out there in both real life, and on the internet.

Some women are very fortunate- they latch their newborn onto their breast and don’t skip a beat.  For what seems like the overwhelming majority of us, breastfeeding can require a ton of support.

As of this date, I am nursing an 18 month old toddler.  We have a beautiful nursing relationship and are totally in sync with one another.  This was not always the case.  I struggled for the first 13 weeks of her life with a gaping wound on my right nipple that made me almost psychotic with pain no matter what I did.  But I am so fortunate to have had supports, and so thankful I continued nursing.  I’ve heard it said that you won’t ever regret it if you continue with nursing, but you might regret it if you wean abruptly.  I know this would have been the case for me if I had given up.

Sweet dreamy nursling.

Sweet dreamy nursling.

 

As I did with my elder son, Jack, I will continue to nurse until its natural conclusion, when Emily decides she no longer needs or wants my breast.

I am not an expert on breastfeeding.  I am just a mom.  But I am an expert on my children and on my experiences nourishing them with my breast milk.  I nursed through almost every breastfeeding nightmare and I am more than happy to share my experience, offer support and suggestions to any mom out there who is struggling.  This desire to offer peer support to other moms is part of my mission here on Momasteblog.

Please, dear mother, do not hesitate to comment on my posts.  Let me know what is helpful or unhelpful.  Feel free to ask questions, or email me if you are just in need of some support and a kind word.

keep-calm_latch_on

I believe in breastfeeding with all my heart and soul.  I believe in the amazing ability of a female body to nourish a baby.  And even though we have never met, I believe in you.

Momaste.

Practical Pumping Tips For The Low-Producing-Working-Mom

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Being a mom is hard, especially when you have to leave your baby to go back to work.  If you are a nursing mom who plans to pump for your baby, this poses another set of issues.

The obvious plan is to create a milk stash while you are still home on maternity leave.  By pumping a couple times every day, you should have a nice little stash in your freezer or when you return to work.  Due to severe nipple trauma that persisted for the bulk of my maternity leave, I was unable to pump much to create a freezer stash.  This left me anxious that I would not have enough milk to leave for my daughter when I returned to work.

I’ve always had plenty of milk to satisfy my babies when they are at the breast, but my body does not respond well to the artificial suction of a breast pump.  Through trial and error, and a lot of determination, I was able to pump nearly all the milk that Emily needed when we were apart.  Here are my tips:

1. Make a ritual for yourself.  Just like we give our little ones bedtime rituals to cue their bodies into knowing that it is time to sleep, so can you cue your body into knowing that it is time to make milk for your baby.  Here is what my ritual looked like:  The first step was to put some of Emily’s baby lotion on my hands, take a few deep breaths and relax.

The second step of my ritual was to cue up a song on my iphone that made me think of Em.  Then I watched a slide show on my phone of pictures and videos of Em.  Finally, I would take a moment to massage my breasts before strapping on the flanges.  These things helped me to relax and get my milk flowing.

2. Pump hands free.  Although I spent $30 on a hands free pumping bra, I found it was easier to use a couple of elastic bands, lashed together- one loop goes around the pump horn, and one loop hooks onto the clip of the nursing bra.  Use a hearty smear of lanolin to help the flanges to adhere to your breasts.  Hold the bottles slightly until the milk starts to fill, then gravity will take over.

There is nothing wrong with the pumping bra, if you chose to go that route.  My chest is enormous, and the elastics just happened to work better for me.  Having hands free allowed me to eat lunch, surf on my phone, and do breast compressions to help my milk flow.

3. Have a mantra or a meditation.  I found that a lot of pumping was mind over matter, and that my emotional state could greatly affect my output.  It may sound silly, but I took deep breaths while chanting, “Breathe in love, breathe out milk.”  I closed my eyes and visualized the milk being let down and flowing through my breast.  I found that by doing this kind of a meditation, I could even trigger a second letdown for another couple ounces of milk towards the end of my pumping time.

Milk production is not just about suction. It is about your brain releasing the chemical oxytocin, which will then trigger your letdown.  These little tricks were about getting my brain on board, getting that sweet oxytocin flowing.

4. Avoid overfeeding!  Leave one to one and a half ounces of breast milk for every hour you are away.  This may sound like a minuscule amount of milk, but it is plenty.  The tendency at many daycares is to feed a baby whenever they are fussy, therefore overfeeding, thereby burning through your stash.

When I brought Emily to daycare, I happened to go into the fridge to put her little baggies of milk away, and saw that there were huge, full bottles of milk in there.  I felt, for a moment, like I would be starving my baby by leaving such a small amount of milk.  But then I remembered that breastfed babies generally consume around 24 ounces per day of breast milk, so this equals out to about an ounce an hour.  The care givers gave Emily a two or three ounce bottle every couple hours.  This was be plenty to keep her happy, hydrated, and nourished until we were together again.

If your care giver balks when you leave this small amount of milk because they are used to formula feeding, feel free to share with them the breast milk calculator at http://www.kellymom.com.

Leaving the amount of milk you pumped the day before will be better for your supply in the long run because you are not supplementing, even with your own milk.  For example, I was generally able to pump 12-15 ounces per day.  By leaving just that, and not supplementing, I was able to keep up with supply and demand, which is what milk production is all about.  If your care givers complain that your baby is not eating enough, don’t doubt yourself! Encourage them to try alternative soothing techniques rather than just throwing your expressed milk at the issue.

5. Trust your body.  Your pumping output is no indication of how much milk you actually have for your baby. Your baby can get way more milk than a pump.  There were many days when I worried there would not be enough milk.  I found that if I told myself, “My body is made for this!” I could squeeze out another ounce.

6. Familiarize yourself with the term “Reverse Cycling.”  Reverse Cycling is when your baby nibbles on their bottle during the day and then tanks up while they are with you.  For Emily, this meant nursing multiple times per night after I went back to work.  It was important for me to keep her on breast milk as long as possible, so I accepted these prolonged sessions, which were also good for my supply.

7. Add in an extra pumping session (or two, or three. . .)  When your baby starts solids, it is normal for your supply to drop a bit.  Emily’s introduction to solids, shortly after six months, coincided with my getting thrush, and my return of menstruation.  UGH!!  This really gave my supply a blow.  I had to add in a bunch of sessions to get the milk that I needed.  Since I do a 50 minute hour with my clients, I would use my ten minutes after the session to pump (while writing my clinical note, I might add).  I did this up to six times a day.  You can also add a session in at home, if your little one isn’t glued to your chest at that time.

Another great time to pump is first thing in the morning.  Most mornings, I will be honest, I was not motivated to get up and pump, but there were some mornings when I would pump on one side while Emily nursed on the other.  Yeah, it takes some logistics, but if you can manage it, you will benefit from the let down that your baby triggers.

To this end, keep your pump gear assembled in ziplock freezer bags, in the pump bag, so you can whip it all out and have it on in a moment.

8. Get to know your galactagougues. There are natural and safe ways to increase your milk supply.  Two things that worked really well for me were Fenugreek capsules, and steel cut oatmeal.  I took three Fenugreek caps, three times per day and ate a bowl of steel cut oatmeal every morning for increased supply.  Other women swear by brewer’s yeast or lactation cookies, but I never tried them.  Also, make sure you are getting plenty of water and plenty of healthy, protein-rich calories throughout the day.

9. Coconut oil.  There were some days that all that pumping gave me some pretty sore nips.  I found coconut oil to be a panacea. (It also works well on diaper and drool rashes!)

10. Some breast milk is better than none, so cut yourself some slack At a certain point, I had to decide that enough was enough, and I hung up my pump horns for good.  This choice was not easy, but I was driving myself crazy trying to produce enough milk for Emily, and at a certain point, my body just stopped responding to the pump. Emily was about ten months when I stopped.  We had a little freezer stash that lasted us a few weeks, and I supplemented with a little formula.  By this time, however, our pediatrician told us that we could offer Emily water when she was away from me, and I kept nursing while we were together.

While I will never stop advocating that breast is best, I do not believe that mix feeding hurts, as long as your supply is well-established, and your baby can tolerate formula.  There is no need to throw in the towel completely on breast feeding, as you can continue to nurse your baby while you are together until you and baby are comfortable weaning.  At 17 months old, Emily still nurses three to six times per day. My body has adapted.

If you are totally against using formula, check out your local chapters of Eats on Feets, or HM4HB.  Sometimes you can find other moms who have enormous supplies that are willing to donate milk for your little one.  This wasn’t the route that I took, but I know other moms who did it and were thrilled.  Just make sure you do your research, check the donor’s medical history, and feel totally comfortable with your donor.  There are also instructions on the web for how to flash pasteurize donated milk.

I hope this is helpful for you beautiful Mamas out there!  Happy pumping!

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My cluttered desk

Nipple Trauma and Healing

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One breastfeeding topic about which I can claim to be an expert, is nipple trauma. If you ask me, nursing a baby with a damaged nipple is like trying to climb a mountain with a compound fracture. It hurts like hell and makes the journey a nightmare.

(Note: I am not actually an expert, and this is not meant to be diagnostic or prescriptive, but merely to share my experience in the hope that maybe it will help another mom.)

There are different types of nipple issues the breast feeding mom encounters: soreness due to poor or shallow latch, a wound due to a bite, vasospasms caused by a circulatory disorder called Renaud’s Syndrome, and the pain caused by thrush (a yeast infection of the nipple and/or milk ducts) to name a few.

I have had all of these issues, plus I burned off half my areola with a breast pump.

Flange Burns and Tongue Ties

My first born, Jack, had a tongue tie that was not diagnosed until a couple weeks after his birth. Due to the tightness of his latch, my nipples cracked and bled. Thinking that pumping would be less painful, I dispatched my mom to the baby store to buy me a premium breast pump. Desperate to get the milk out of my jugs and into my baby boy, I strapped on the pump and enthusiastically started pumping.

After 15 minutes of frantic pumping, there was not a drop of milk in the little bottle. I still remember my horrified gasp, then screech of pain as I removed the flange from my breast along with an inch of pink flesh.

In hysterics, I called the maternity hospital’s “warm line” and described my situation. “Oh, you gave yourself a flange burn,” said the nonchalant nurse on the other end of the line. What?! I thought. A flange burn? This is a thing?

As it turns out, yes, there is such thing as a flange burn. It happens from the friction of the pump on the areola. The lesson learned: use the correct size flanges, do not put the suction on your pump too high, and use plenty of lanolin before pumping. (I’m pretty sure that this story is the female equivalent to a guy hearing about another guy getting kicked in the nuts.)

The underlying issue that needed to be fixed in order for us to nurse effectively and painlessly was Jack’s tongue tie. A tongue tie is when a baby’s frenulum (the membrane under the tongue) is too tight. Jack was not able to get his tongue out past his lower lip, and could not latch onto my breast and suckle well.

This condition causes pain for the mom and frustration for the newborn, who may not be able to stimulate proper milk production due to the poor latch. Left untreated, tongue ties can also cause speech impediments. From what I understand, tongue ties are fairly common. My daughter Emily had one too. Emily’s tongue tie actually made her tongue appear heart shaped at the tip.

Thankfully, with both children, I was seen by kind and competent lactation consultants who diagnosed the tongue ties, and referred us to an ENT to release the frenulum. The frenulectomy (snipping of the tongue tie) sounded like a scary ordeal, but really was nothing more than a second of the doctor clipping the membrane under the tongue with a little pair of surgical scissors. In most cases there is barely any bleeding. The baby comes to the breast straight after. Although it sounds like a scary thing to put your child through, I can’t recommend it enough, if you plan to continue breast feeding.

Bites and Wounds and Infections, OH MY!

With Jack, my nipple issues were resolved within two weeks of his birth, especially after the tongue tie was released. I went on to nurse him until he self weaned at 23 months. With Emily, my nipple trauma was much more complicated. I had both bacterial and fungal infections that made my breasts burn and buzz with pain like they were stuffed full of broken glass and bees.

Correcting her tongue tie did not seem to help with the pain. Her latch looked picture perfect, and yet nursing continued to be excruciating. I took medication for the infections, and still, discomfort. Our LC suggested that her latch would loosen up as she grew, and that she needed time to get used to her released tongue. (This did prove to be the case, but not for some weeks.)

Around three weeks, Emily bit me. Even though she didn’t have teeth, she still tore open my already fragile nipple. Every time she nursed, her suction opened the wound. It bled.

The good news is that if your nip is bleeding, the blood will not harm your little one. The bad news is, blood can upset baby’s stomach and cause a scary-looking, bloody spit-up.

You might be thinking that when you get to the point of gaping nip wound and bloody-spit-up that breast feeding is just a little too cray-cray for you. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think this as well, but the desire to feed my daughter from my own body, as I had when she was in the womb, was so great that, as the saying goes, I kept calm and latched on.

Vasospasms

It was recommended that I use cool gel pads for my sore nipples. You can buy these at Target or the baby store. Initially, these seemed soothing. But then my breasts started burning so intensely that I couldn’t sleep through the pain. I thought I was going insane at this point, because the cold compress was supposed to be healing.

Through some research and consultation with my lactation consultant, I learned that I had a circulatory condition called Renaud’s Syndrome that causes the nipple to blanch and then turn purple as it fills back up with blood. I am not qualified to get into all the science behind this condition, but I am over-qualified to tell you that it hurts like a bitch.

Using warm compresses and covering up my nipple as soon as I finished nursing helped to relieve some of the burning associated with the Renaud’s. I also swear by the palliative and healing properties of extra virgin coconut oil. You can buy this solidified, white oil in your health food store. It liquifies as it warms up, and smooths onto your skin much more gracefully than lanolin, which I personally find gloppy. Coconut oil has both antifungal and antibacterial properties too, so if you are gunning for an infection, it might help to stave it off.

Desperate Measures

While I got these other issues sorted out, nothing helped with the gaping gash on the side of my right nipple. Every time I nursed it opened, and pumping made it even worse. (I blame my nip trauma on the difficulties that my body has had responding to a breast pump.) My left nipple looked like a perfect little pearl, but the right looked so damaged that I became nauseated every time I looked at it. I was taking fistfulls of ibuprofin to help with the pain, and started to worry that my stomach would resemble my nipple before too long.

I finally took an extreme measure, in collaboration with my lactation consultant. After reading about women who are able to nurse exclusively with one breast, I decided to let my right breast dry up and use only my left. I was concerned that I would need to supplement with either formula or donor milk, but for my sanity, it had to be done.

The first day was painful. I used ice packs and cabbage leaves to help with the engorgement. I was able to hand express enough milk to relieve some of the pressure. And finally, I used a bowl of warm water that I leaned my breast into, which also helped to release enough milk to make me comfortable.

Happily, Emily seemed fine with just one breast. The true miracle was that my nipple healed in mere days. After about 10 weeks of nursing with excruciating pain, I felt comfortable again. The nipple trauma had made me physically, emotionally, and mentally miserable, but with its healing, I started to feel like myself again. Since it had been less than a week, I was able to ease Em back onto the damaged nipple and re-establish my supply without too much effort.

With both kids, the pain of nipple trauma left me feeling robbed of a part of my maternity leave. I had to give upt the fantasy of the perfect nursing relationship to deal with seemingly endless problems. But the other day, as my 15 month old Emily tucked in for her night time nursing session, I thought about how perfect it is now. We nurse in bliss, and she pats me and shows affection. She has infinite patience for those days around my cycle when my milk is a little slower, and there is never any pain. In the end, I did get a perfect nursing experience. It just came in a slightly different form.

For more information on ways to deal with nipple trauma, (from an actual professional) go to http://www.kellymom.com, or contact your local La Leche League. If you have any other questions for Charlotte, please feel free to comment, or email at cp.momasteblog@gmail.com.

The Real Working Moms vs. The “Real” Housewives

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I’ve decided that there should be a reality show about us working moms.

It would show us up all night nursing, cleaning vomit, and soothing away bad dreams.  It could show us unable to sleep because we are worried about how we are going to buy toilet paper and diapers after also paying the rent and buying groceries on our meager paychecks. It might show us exhausted, haggard, and chubby because we never have the time or energy to exercise.

In this show we drive to work half-asleep while feeling like a horrible human because we forgot to put money for our kid’s field trip in his back pack.  In this show, we never, ever have sex. . .

We get appliances rather than conflict diamond jewelry for gifts.  We fall asleep on the couch after one drink.  We are on the pre-school-party-circuit.

No one would watch this show, would they?  No.  Because we real working moms would also be teaching our children to say “please and thank you,” to put a napkin on their laps, to treat others the way they want to be treated.  And good manners are just, so, boring.

It seems these days that all “reality” TV is focused around the rude, vapid, and ill-mannered.  I often ask myself why this is so.  Why is a “Bridezilla” screaming at her seamstress and caterer considered compelling television?  Why are two rich and shallow trophy wives arguing over who gets to wear the same dress to the same party considered interesting?  Don’t even get me started on the jerks down in Jersey who are obsessed with sleeping around and then worrying about STDs.

Even the Amish have gotten on the reality TV bandwagon!  Have you seen the show where the young Amish go to “live among the English” as they come of age?  These kids are plunked down in a city of sin where they experiment with alcohol, sex, and modeling careers.  I watched about ten minutes of it before becoming queazy.

I don’t get it.

My main issue with these shows is that they are watched by a lot of young folks who then think that this is the way to behave.  There is a message that if you act like a crazy freak you will eventually get a show, not prison, or time in a locked psychiatric ward.  Kids don’t have to learn to regulate their own emotional state because it is fine to get drunk, tantrum in public, self-medicate with shopping, and have sex with whoever you please.

There are very few consequences for these people.  The consequence of this media for society is that we are bringing up a generation of vain, self-centered, and emotionally dysregulated fools.

Why doesn’t anyone want to watch a monastery of Buddhist monks meditate and teach mindfulness, or a cloister of nuns perform good deeds in third world countries?  Why wouldn’t a show about a mom who kisses goodbye her children to go work all day so she can afford pizza and a movie on Friday night interest anyone?

Personally, I would like to watch a show about a mom who figures out how to maintain a full supply of breast milk after going back to work.  For a woman, leaving a tiny newborn in the care of another so she can return to work is one of the most unnatural things on the planet.  And yet, no one cares about this struggle.  It is far more interesting to watch two besties duke it out in a hookah bar and then make out with one another.

Every day at work, I get to witness the incredibly tragic lives of people who have endured horror stories worse than anything Stephen King could ever concoct.  I’m talking about the house burning down at Christmas because the sexually abused kid set fire in the closet kind of stuff.  In the face of this, I can’t help but wonder, isn’t our world messed up enough already?

These families let me into their lives, and most of the time all I can do is listen.  It humbles me beyond description, but it is also exhausting how much despair is in our world.  So, you will have to excuse me if I don’t want to watch a bunch of self-indulgent narcissists who really don’t know what a problem is when I come home at night.

I would however like to watch the show in which the working mom reforms our crappy maternity leave policies.

Or, better yet, maybe I’ll just turn off the television and savor the innocence of my own children.  Apparently, I am already streaming “The Real Working Mom” 24/7 over here.

Pumping: the Agony and the Ecstasy

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I’m at work. My nipples tingle and my breasts ache to nurse Emily.

About six weeks ago, I decided to stop pumping  at work. I still nurse on demand when I am with Emily, who is nearly one year old, so in no way am I weaning.  I will nurse her until she is ready to phase it out herself. 

My goal had been to provide Em exclusively with breast milk for the first year of her life. I got to about nine months, and then for the sake of my sanity, I decided to hang up the pump horns for good. Depending on which side of the “bfing” fence you are on, your reaction to that might be, “Wow nine months! That’s amazing!” Or something like, “Why would you stop? Don’t you know formula is poison?” Depending on my mood any given day, I go back and forth between both reactions.

This decision was not made lightly. When I returned to work after my maternity leave, I did pretty well pumping for Emily to have milk at daycare.  I followed the rule of leaving one ounce for every hour I was away from her, so even if I could only pump 9-12 ounces per day, she was all set.  For whatever reason, my body is not one that responds to a breast pump.  Often, I see pictures online of gluttonous freezer stashes of mom’s who can pump copious amounts of milk.  These images grip me with envy.  Sometimes, when leaving food for my daughter in the fridge at daycare, I will see baggies or bottles of breast milk akin to a supersize soda, and I will sigh, and feel inadequate to the core of my being.  Despite my crazy jealousy of other women’s bodily fluids, I still managed to feel amazing when I could send Emily to daycare with a few little baggies of my milk.  It was comforting to know she would taste and smell her mama even when we were apart.  And my pump time at work was like a lovely meditation.  It was time completely to myself when I could focus entirely on connecting with my daughter, even while apart. 

At one point, I had a freezer stash of 80 ounces.  I would sometimes take it out to rearrange it by date, counting the ounces like a miser counting coins.  I was remarkably proud of my 80 ounces.  And this 80 ounces provided Em with enough mama milk for another couple weeks after I stopped pumping. 

So, why did I stop?  Well, once Emily started solids, her nursing patterns changed.  Then I came down with thrush and my supply dipped significantly when I was pumping.  She always seemed content at the breast, and her growth was never an issue, so I always felt confident that she was getting enough.  But when I would pump for 45 minutes and only get one let down and a couple ounces, I would find myself close to tears.  I spent a small fortune on fenugreek, blessed thistle, Mother’s Milk Tea, and Motherlove More Milk herbal supplement.  I did compressions.  I power pumped.  I looked at pictures and videos of Emily on my phone, smelled articles of her clothes, and chanted to relax.  Nothing increased my supply.  All I got were a bunch of truly uncomfortable milk blisters

The obsessing began in ernest.  I phoned and emailed my IBCLC, posted on breast feeding support groups and read everything online I could find.  My lovely meditation turned into torture as I literally tried to wring the milk out of my breasts.  I thought, if only I can make it a few more months, then she can start cow’s milk and I won’t have to be seen buying the dreaded formula.  Looking at Emily’s face while she contentedly nursed would trigger feelings of being a horrible mother for contemplating the inevitable. 

There was no precise moment of clarity or distinct end to the obsessing.  Several things that people posted to me online, or said to me in person helped me to let it go.  Someone mentioned that it is unnatural for a mom to be apart from her baby 40 hours per week, and that in reality for a lot of moms, it is hard at best and impossible at worst to keep up with the pumping.  Another close friend urged me to congratulate myself on getting so far exclusively breast feeding.  Someone else encouraged me to think about how awesome it would be to NOT wash pump parts every night. 

I fought through gaping nipple wounds, mastitis, thrush, and supply issues to provide my little one with my milk.  This is an accomplishment.  Looking at the situation through the lens of “Wow, I really did do well,” rather than, “I am inferior for not being able to pump 16 ounces in ten minutes,” helps.  I share this for other moms who have fought tooth and nail to nurse and still feel inadequate.  What we give our babies is beautiful.  What we give our babies is enough. 

In the mean time, when my breasts buzz to let me know they are filling for my baby, I try to savor this mild discomfort.  I know that I won’t feel this level of engorgement for much longer, but while I can feel it, I am connected tangibly to Emily when we are apart.  So, I sit at work and smile a little, knowing I can be at peace in my nursing relationship.