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Parenting

The myth of the freezer stash

The myth of the freezer stash

One of the common questions I get as a birth professional and postpartum doula is, "When should I start pumping after my baby is born, and how much do I need to have saved?"

On FaceBook and in articles online, we see these women who have massive freezers full of thousands of ounces of pumped breastmilk. For some, that becomes the goal. However, most of the time, a giant freezer stash is not necessary. In fact, it may be problematic in some ways. 

Let's talk first about the potential problems with a massive freezer stash.

1. The mother very likely has an oversupply in order to produce so much extra milk on top of what her baby is eating. Many people would say, "That's awesome! It's better to have too much than not enough." However, as an over-producer myself, I know what unique challenges come with having too much breastmilk. 

An over-supply can mean problems for the baby, such as gassiness, choking due to trouble handling the fast flow of milk, fussiness (to put it mildly) at the breast, green and foamy bowel movements, and spitting up.

It can also cause problems for the mom, including sore nipples, constant leaking, breasts that always feel full and heavy, plugged ducts, and mastitis.

2. If the baby is fed bottles from the freezer stash and the mother does not then pump, or if the baby is "topped up" after breastfeeding sessions with the freezer stash milk, this can lead to a drastic decrease in the mother's milk supply. Breastmilk supply is a demand-supply system, so if the demand decreases because the baby is being fed from the freezer stash, the supply will decrease accordingly. This can undermine the breastfeeding mother's long-term goals if her goals are to continue breastfeeding for the first year. 

3. If a mother is not able to achieve a full deep freezer full of milk, she may feel like she has failed and is not capable of providing for her baby, even if her baby is growing happily! Just last week, I talked with a brand new mom who was afraid that she wasn't doing things correctly because she only had around 50 ounces of milk stored up so far. That's actually more than enough, and her baby is growing perfectly! 

Now, let's talk about what might be a more balanced approach to pumping and saving breastmilk. 

Disclaimer: the tips below only apply when nursing is going really well and there are no concerns about sufficient supply or the baby's growth. If you have concerns, please contact an IBCLC or breastfeeding counselor. I have lots of recommended care providers, so please feel free to reach out if you need a breastfeeding specialist.

For the first week or two, if all is going well and the baby is nursing and growing fine, there is no need to pump. Sometime around week 3 would be an ideal time to start a pumping routine. Once or twice a day, choose a time to add a pumping session. You can choose to pump after your baby nurses, or at a time when they're sleeping and won't wake up to eat for at least an hour or two.

Pump for around 10-20 minutes at each sitting. If your milk is still flowing after that point, you don't need to keep going until empty! This would just trigger your body to produce more and more milk, thinking it has two or more babies to feed. 

After a few days, you should have plenty of milk saved up in order to be able to leave the baby with a sitter for several hours so you can get a massage, go for a solo walk, or spend time with your partner. Just remember to pump close to the same time that the baby is having a bottle so that you don't go more than 3 hours between pumping or nursing sessions.

If your goal is to return to work and be able to feed your baby pumped breastmilk, you only need 1-1.5 ounces for every hour you'll be away from your baby. Then while you're at work, pump the milk for the next day's bottles. 

If your goal is to be able to take a weekend trip away from the baby, you can figure for an average of 20-30 ounces per day. Then, again, pump while you're away to maintain your supply and replenish your stored milk.

 

I hope this has helped shed some light on why it's not necessary to have thousands of ounces stored up in order for someone to successfully feed their baby. For the first few weeks, relax and get comfortable with breastfeeding. It should get easier and easier, especially after the first 6 weeks. Then you can focus on adding to your stored milk!

It's OK to be a grey parent

It's OK to be a grey parent

Grey is all the rage these days: from home decor to fashion accessories to books about the many different shades of the color.

However, one area where grey isn't all too welcome is parenting. We're expected to parent in an all-or-nothing, black or white universe, fully committed to one philosophy, technique, sleep environment, feeding method, or disciplinary theory.

"If you're breastfeeding, you can't use a pacifier. If you like wearing your babies, you can't sleep train them. If you do baby-led weaning, you can't use store-bought purees."

In parenting, as in life, things are very rarely black and white. Yes, it's wonderful when you find a parenting philosophy that resonates with you, especially when it helps you to find support from other like-minded parents. However, it can be oversimplified to categorize certain parenting tools as "good" and others as "bad". For one thing, a system or choice that might work really well for one family would possibly not work for another family. Secondly, labeling certain choices as "bad" will "otherize" parents who are making that choice for their family.

This judgment that we pass on other parents who make choices that don't go along with our own parenting philosophy can lead to internalized self-judgment if we ever come to a place where we need to make a similar choice for our children. For example, a parent who highly values feeding their baby breastmilk and judges those who feed their babies formula is apt to be much less at peace if they ever need to give their baby formula, either by necessity or choice. 

Out of all of the choices we have, there may be a few that would work equally well. This is not to say that these decisions shouldn't be taken seriously, or that we shouldn't decide on our own family's values to guide our decisions. But there are only a few really, really bad isolated choices that can traumatize a child. The rest might be a toss-up! We need to give ourselves the grace and permission to change plans when one or more items in the set of parenting guidelines to which we've ascribed isn't working for us. It's not a slippery slope to get rid of a tool that is no longer serving you.

It's really wonderful to be able to consider all of the different theories and parenting styles, pick and choose the best of the best from each style, and build a pot-luck of tools that work for your family. Don't be afraid to consider a parenting choice that doesn't seem to align with the philosophy of your other parenting choices. Embrace the grey spaces so you can parent in full-color!

Top 10 nice-to-have items for baby

Top 10 nice-to-have items for baby

You might remember my recent post on the top 5 must-have baby items, which listed the 5 categories of things you actually need for a baby. While a baby doesn't truly NEED much, there are some things that are super nice to have.

Here are my top 10 picks for items that make those early parenting days a little easier:

1. Baby seats, swings, and bouncers

True, a baby doesn't need a seat in every single room in your home, but it is really really nice to have somewhere the baby can hang out and be entertained while you shower, prepare dinner, or exercise. Consider having at least one of these items be something that is easily carried from room to room (not while the baby is in it, please!) like a Rock 'n Play or bouncy seat.

2. Bathtub with newborn insert

There's not much in this world that is sweeter than a freshly bathed baby. However, newborns are notoriously wobbly and slippery at bathtime, so a newborn-specific tub insert can make those first baths a little less daunting. I've seen some really clever infant tubs that are designed to fit into a sink, which can be game-changing for a parent who is recovering from vaginal or cesarean birth - no bending, kneeling, squatting, or carrying a heavy tub full of water!

3. Hooded towels and soft washcloths

Yes, you can use normal washcloths and towels to bathe and dry a baby, but there are some pretty amazingly soft baby washcloths out there! Bonus: if you have too many, they can be repurposed into reusable wipes if you're using cloth diapers. After your baby is all clean and sweet-smelling, they will love to be wrapped up in a soft hooded towel. I prefer towels that are the same thick, absorbent terry cloth as normal towels; extra points if it has teddy bear ears on the hood :)

4. Bottle and nipple cleaning supplies

Cleaning bottles, nipples, pump parts, and pacifiers can be a real pain. Bottle and nipple brushes make it a little easier, as do those clever drying racks with spots for all the tiny parts. For sterilization, many parents find that microwave sterilizers work beautifully - just remember to add enough water or you might melt your parts!

5. Diaper bag

Whether you want your diaper bag to double as a purse, or you want it to be a little more dad-friendly, a well-stocked diaper bag makes outings a breeze. You'll want lots of pockets for things like pacifiers, several changes of clothes for the baby, burp rags, blankets, a portable changing pad, toys, and of course diapers and wipes. Some diaper bag models even have an insulated section to keep bottles cool! Other things to have in the bag include bottled water (for rinsing soiled clothes), hand sanitizer, baby powder, diaper cream, a wet bag for wet and dirty diapers, another wet bag for soiled clothes, and sunscreen or a hat. 

6. Swaddle blankets

Most newborn babies love a good, snug swaddle. Keep in mind the environment they just came from: they were hugged securely from all angles in the womb. We can mimic that sensation with a good swaddle blanket! My favorite are muslin swaddle blankets; for example, the swaddle blankets from Aden + Anais are light enough so the baby won't overheat, but large enough to get a really secure wrap. Halo also sells a combo sleep sack/swaddle that is very easy to use.

7. Stroller

You're going to want to look for a stroller system that is easy to set up and collapse, has ample room for carrying the diaper bag and the parent's drink, phone, and keys, and has a decent tray for when the baby gets older. Many stroller systems have compatible infant car seats that can easily click in, which is lovely when you don't want to have to unstrap a sleeping baby. It's best if you can actually test the stroller before buying since the handling can vary widely between brands.

8. Baby carrier

Wearing one's baby(ies) is a centuries-old tradition, but it has recently gained lots of popularity in modern cultures. Parents love that they can hold their babies and keep them close while still having their hands free to work on other things. The two most accessible and popular options I've seen with my clients are ring slings and soft-structured carriers, such as the Tula or Ergobaby. Both of these options can be used from the newborn stage all the way into toddlerhood. There are so many instructional videos, babywearing instructors, and support groups if you'd like to give it a try!

9. Changing table

While not a true "necessity" since a baby can be changed on basically any flat surface, it's helpful to have a dedicated place for diaper duty. It's very convenient for a changing area to have a contoured changing pad and organization containers like baskets or drawers for items like diapers, wipes, diaper cream, burp cloths, lotion, changes of clothes, and anything else you want to have within arm's reach during diaper and outfit changes. If you have a multi-level home, make sure you have a changing station on each level, or you could assemble a portable diaper changing caddy that goes where the baby goes. You really don't want to have to traipse up and down the stairs with a baby who just had a massive blowout!

10. Rocking chair/glider

Generations upon generations of parents have used rocking chairs as a place to feed, soothe, and bond with their babies. It doesn't have to come with all of the bells and whistles to get the job done, but most parents appreciate some well-placed padding to make feeding more comfortable for everyone. It's also handy to have a side table nearby with items like breast pads, burp rags, snacks, and water bottles to make your sit more enjoyable. 

With all of the various baby products and advertisements out there today, it's hard to know what items are actually helpful. I hope this gives you an idea about how to build out your baby registry! 

 

I am not the mother I wanted to be

I am not the mother I wanted to be

There is a saying that goes something like, "Everyone is a perfect parent until they actually have kids."

Man, I used to be an amazing mom. I was in peak physical condition. I was endlessly patient and never had angry outbursts. My five imaginary children were dressed in smart, quirky, dapper clothes; they were quiet, polite, and well-behaved. They picked up after themselves, never pitched fits in public, and never ate McDonald's. Our house was not perfectly immaculate, but there was a place for everything and everything was usually in its place. We were always doing fun crafts and projects. I didn't have a job; instead, I stayed home and cooked them every single meal and snack. (I was also overly judgmental of other parents, but I'll save that for another post)

In reality, my house is a mess. There are dishes in the sink consistently. My three rowdy, spunky, pizza-loving boys live mostly in hand-me-down clothing. I work a lot. I yell sometimes. I haven't lost the baby weight.

But our messy house teaches them that there are more important things to us than making sure all the dust bunnies die. The used clothing helps us to be less attached to material possessions. My work enriches our family in SO many ways. After I yell, I have an opportunity to talk to them about how my brain is easily overstimulated and that it's ok to apologize when we've messed up. My softer body is a great excuse to plant the values of body positivity.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that trying to be the mother I always imagined I would be was making me (and everyone else in our family) completely miserable. I surrendered to the deeper knowledge of my own identity and began to recognize that for me, being something else (like a business owner, doula, and childbirth educator) didn't mean that I was less of a mom. 

I adapted. I grew. Our family adjusted. And we are all better off for it.

No, I'm not the mother I wanted to be. But I'm the very best mom for our kids.

 

"I had the Postpartum"

"I had the Postpartum"

In the United States, I have found that we have a big secret. Everyone tells pregnant women what to expect during pregnancy, what they think the birth will be like, and maybe even how to care for a newborn. What we DON'T talk about so much is what physical and emotional changes a new parent may experience. So I'm going to talk about it here!

"Postpartum"

When I say "postpartum" what most people think of is the myriad of mood disorders that may be present during the postpartum period, such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, the baby blues, and postpartum psychosis. The word "postpartum" literally means "after birth" and describes the first 6 or so weeks after a baby is born. So a woman can be "postpartum" and not have a postpartum mood disorder. They're two separate terms.

I'm not going to presume to tell someone what they will experience after the birth of a baby, but I do want to bring awareness to the very wide variety of emotional and physical responses that are possible. Here are some words women I know have used to describe how they felt during their first 6 weeks after having their babies:

Raw, vulnerable, leaky

On edge, soggy, sleepy, in awe

Mighty - for delivering naturally. I was on a high!

Dazed. Sleep deprived.

Alone, isolated, exhausted, invisible

Happy but fatigued. Swollen. Uncomfortable and uneasy. Unorganized.

Consumed

Exhausted, overwhelmed, underprepared

In love, happy, engorged, like a mammal, beastly, like I can conquer all.

Depression, defeat, migraines, withdrawn, alone

Exhausted, invincible, overwhelmed, grateful

Elated, powerful, proud, exposed, dependent, naive, and wild (I had extreme and mixed emotional responses)

Dreamland (I'm a mom???), scared, sad, exhausted, worried about everything

Overwhelmed, elated, alone, disappointed (not in my child), amazed, in love, chaotic, drowning, handicapped, helpless, primal. Tons of conflict in my mind and heart and extreme feelings working against one another.

Strong, in love, exhausted, emotional

As you can see, there are some words that pop up frequently (exhausted, much?) but there are also some very diverse descriptions there! There's no right or wrong way to experience these first few weeks. It's a losing game to compare yourself with any other model you see - tv shows, celebrities, or even your family and friends! Some women are packing up their babies and going to the park within the first week, and some don't put real clothes on and leave the house for a solid month or more. It's important to do what feels right for you and your family.

Ask your postpartum doula for local resources for new parents. This might include feeding support groups, meal services, play groups, counselors, massage therapists, cleaning services, placenta encapsulation specialists, etc. If you are concerned about your mental health, or if the feelings of sadness and weepiness do not get better little by little, contact a mental health care professional who specializes in postpartum care. And pass along your experiences so postpartum won't be a secret anymore!