Tag: family

Our Breastfeeding Journey

Our Breastfeeding Journey

Almost five months ago, our little Peanut was born. (Six month update below.) I intended to breastfeed exclusively by nursing during my twelve week maternity/family leave and then nursing and pumping after returning to work. I did not need to think long and hard about the decision, I just knew that was what we would do. In fact, I was more nervous about picking out a pump then I was about nursing. I figured that mothers’ bodies naturally produce milk and babies instinctively know how to get the milk.

Unfortunately, our breastfeeding story did not go according to plan.

In fact, it turned out to be more of a journey than a story. Some parts are very challenging and others rewarding. So let me take you back to the beginning.

Peanut was born small. 4 pounds and 11 ounces, to be exact, though he dropped down to 4 lbs. 7 oz. after he had his first bowel movement. Though he was a mighty tiny thing — able to lift his head moments after birth — his small size created a challenge to nursing. We tried hard throughout the night and into the afternoon of Day 2 to get him to nurse even just a tiny bit to get the colstrum he needed, but he just could not get his tiny mouth around my large nipples.

Jacquelyn's baby at two days old and only 4 lbs 7 oz.
Peanut at two days old, the morning we were discharged from the hospital.

Around noon on Day 2, we had our first visit with the Lactation Consultant. She helped me position him, tried coaxing him, and then wrapped him onto my chest for skin-to-skin. She said not to worry and try nursing again in the evening, but I was starting to worry. Something just was not right. Babies are supposed to know how to nurse instinctively, right? I tried to put on a cheerful face when Bradley’s side of family came to visit, but when my parents came later, I shared with them my concerns. My mom tried to cheer me up.

That night, after quite a few more failed attempts to nurse, a nurse helped me select the right size flanges and pump the first time. We collected .5 ounce of colstrum and fed it to Peanut using a syringe. The next day, they were concerned that Peanut had not nursed even the tiniest bit. Due to his tiny size, he had to eat just once, even a tiny bit, before we would be given the all clear. If he did not eat and began to lose more weight, he might have ended up in the NICU.

Despite regularly pumping, after that first time, I was not getting enough colstrum to even get into a syringe to give him. Just a drop on my finger.

So the nurse brought us formula.

I was terrified.

Here I was, only three days into being a brand new mother to this tiny little fellow, and I was praying desperately that Peanut would eat something… anything. I barely slept that night. Lying on the bed with my hand in the bassinet to touch his leg, I just prayed. Please, Lord, let him eat a tiny bit, keep his blood sugars steady, and not let him loose any more weight.

I could not get him to eat from the bottle, the Lactation Consultant was able to get him to eat just a small amount, and a few hours later, my mom was able to get him to eat about 1 ounce. I was relieved yet still a little worried. I thought to myself: “Just once or twice on the formula, and then surely he’ll figure out how to nurse.” After all, he rooted for my breast, he put the tip of nipple in his mouth, he was was showing all of the right signs. Was it just his tiny size? Was I too big for his little mouth?

The Lactation Consultant visited again – a wonderful lady – and worked with us some more.

She then noticed something all of the rest of us missed: Peanut had a severe tongue-tie.

He could not lift his tongue nor move it forward, two motions vital to latch on the nipple and draw the colstrum/milk out. Until the tongue-tie was fixed, there would be no possible way for Peanut to nurse. Unfortunately, the hospital did not perform these minor surgeries anymore, and we would have to visit with a pediatrician after being discharged to arrange for the procedure. It could take days, maybe up to two weeks, before the tongue-tie was fixed!

I was disappointed.

Peanut would have to eat formula until the pumping resulted in actual colstrum/milk that I could give him and the tongue-tie was fixed. Now let me share a disclaimer: I know there are many reasons for mothers to formula-feed their babies. Sometimes it is by choice and sometimes it is the only option. I have nothing against anyone who uses formula. It just was emotionally disappointing for me to learn that, for reasons outside of our control, Peanut needed formula because it had been my desire to breastfeed. I had not even imagined a scenario that would make breastfeeding impossible.

On the day we were discharged from the hospital, my parents bought the pump that was recommended to us and I continued trying to pump every two-three hours. I was determined to get him off the formula and onto my colstrum/milk was soon as possible. Still nothing. By Day 5, my breasts were engorged as the colstrum began turning to milk but the pumping expressed nothing! I tried the electric pump, I tried hand expressing, I tried hot showers, I tried massages, I tried everything to get the milk to express. Nothing would come out! My poor breasts just kept getting bigger and more painful. It became agony to touch them, agony to move, agony to sleep!

At 3am during one of my unsuccessful pumping sessions, I searched the Internet for any piece of advice for how to get the milk to come out. I was terrified that I would end up with mastitis. Most sites and forums dealt with nursing or formula-feeding, and I was finding very little helpful information for pumping. Then I stumbled on to the Exclusive Pumping section of KellyMom.com and one of the first articles I read recommended ice on the breasts for 20 minutes before pumping to counteract the swelling and allow the milk to be expressed. That day at my parents’ house, I rolled two frozen water bottles all over my breasts for 20 minutes. It was sooo cold and hurt sooooo bad, but I was desperate.

That pumping session, I produced 10 ounces of transition milk and the engorgement was gone. I was so relieved that I cried. For the next five or six sessions, I had to roll the frozen water bottles on my breasts before pumping. Gradually, the milk began expressing without the need to freeze my breasts. It was nearing the end of Week 1, and I was finally producing milk. I was able to feed Peanut on mother’s milk and put the formula bottles away.

Though we saw the Pediatrician quickly, the soonest we could schedule Peanut’s procedure to correct the tongue-tie was at the very end of his second week. I was worried it had taken too long. He had been exclusively bottlefed (first formula and now with my milk), and I had heard of and read about “nipple confusion” where bottlefed babies are supposedly never able to nurse again. Fortunately, one of the nurses at the Pediatrician’s office told me that her son had been born with a tongue-tie that took almost a month to diagnosis and fix, and he went from bottlefed to nursing without a hitch. That gave me hope!

Jacquelyn's baby about a week old.
Little Peanut at about a week and a half old. He was still so tiny and thin, but that adorable smile!

Hope died during Weeks 3 and 4.

I was completely unprepared for the Week 3 growth spurt; I did not even know it existed. Week three rolled around and suddenly Peanut was ravenously hungry! I was not producing enough milk to satisfy him. I was determined, though. I pumped every two hours for anywhere between 20-30 minutes. I literally pumped my poor breasts raw and was in pain from blisters. I tried everything to produce more milk. Despite my valiant efforts, I could not keep up with him.

In the middle of the night, as Peanut cried in his bassinet for milk I did not have, my loving husband gently said: “I’m going to give him a bottle of formula.” He picked Peanut up and walked to the living room. I buried myself underneath the blankets and pillows and wept.

I was devastated.

The one thing that was supposed to be natural for every mother, I could not do. I could not provide enough milk for my baby. I had to resign myself to the fact that in addition to what I pumped, Peanut would need supplementing with formula. We bought a can of a standard formula (same brand as the hospital gave us since he did not seem to mind it). After a few days supplementing, I was growing concerned about using a milk-based formula.

You see, I have a severe dairy allergy.

While I was a little apprehensive that my son might have inherited this allergy from me, what really concerned me was that I was beginning to react to the powdered formula. It is impossible to scoop the powder from the can and get it into the bottle without spilling even a little bit. My hands were starting to react whenever the powder touched my skin (my hands would get red and itchy), and as I fixed a bottle, I noticed that some powder always gets into the air. I was concerned that I would accidentally breathe the powder and have an allergic reaction.

Now my allergy to dairy is not lactose intolerance. It is a severe allergy on the same level as many peanut allergies: even trace amounts of dairy will cause me to break out in hives, suffer bad itching fits, and experience respiratory difficulties (meaning I cannot breathe). This was not something to be taken lightly. I began researching non-milk based formulas, but most of the soy-based formulas were over 50% corn syrup. That did not seem right to me.

I did more research and remembered that my dad, when he was a newborn, could not have milk-based formula either. His parents had to give him goat’s milk, and he is one of the healthiest people I know. So I began looking up goat’s milk formula — extremely expensive and not always available — and found websites that shared how to make your own goat’s milk formula at home.

Since I was still pumping and the majority of Peanut’s nourishment was coming from my milk, I just needed something to supplement with. I gave Peanut goat’s milk and waited. He seemed fine and his appetite was finally appeased. Then my mom helped us mix up a batch of goat’s milk that was fortified with some additional nutrients.

Towards the end of Week 4, my husband also found Earth Mama Angel Baby Milkmaid Tea at our local Target. I began drinking it twice a day, and my milk production increased significantly. Soon, we no longer needed to supplement with goat’s milk. A little while after that, I was expressing enough extra milk to start filling up the freezer to use later when I returned to work.

Throughout the first month while all of these things were happening, I was still trying to nurse Peanut. Every other day, I would try to nurse him, but even after the tongue-tie was fixed, he just could not latch. I watched videos and read how to articles. I did everything I could, but Peanut could not latch.

I was an emotional wreck. I was severely sleep deprived. He needed to eat every two hours and it took an hour just to warm the bottle, feed the baby, and pump. Then I would sleep for an hour and have to do it all over again. My amazing husband did so much to help: he would often feed the baby and clean the bottles to give me even just ten or twenty minutes more sleep. He also calmly put up with my emotional outbursts: frustration, fear, self-loathing, fits of crying.

I felt like a failure.

Every time an attempt to nurse failed, every time someone casually said some variation of “Oh, so you’re not breastfeeding?” or “Don’t you know breast is better than formula?” when they saw the bottle of my milk, it was like another nail being hammered into my heart and ego.

Jacquelyn's baby around a month old.
In the beginning, babies sleep a whole lot and they are so cute when they sleep!

After an entire month, one morning I almost lost my temper with Peanut. Even though the logical part of my brain understood that his mouth was just too small to latch and it wasn’t his fault, the emotional part was very close to losing it. Nothing happened, but I was shocked at how close I felt I had come to possibly hurting him, even unintentionally. I laid Peanut back down in his bassinet and called my mom in tears. I told her I had tried for four weeks and I just could not do it anymore. For my sanity and the happiness of our little family, I had to stop trying.

My mom was so supportive and calmed me down. She told me she was so proud of me for trying as long as I did and that I had to do what was best for us. Her words helped get me back in the right frame of mind, and I am so grateful.

That morning, I finally came to terms with something I should have come to terms with weeks earlier: Peanut might never be able to nurse.

Sure, maybe one day in the future, he might outgrow the physical barriers that were preventing him from nursing, but in that moment I had to let go of my unrealistic “dream”. I had to make myself “ok” with the idea that he might never nurse, that I would have to continue pumping to provide him with milk and that, in his next growth spurt he might need to be supplemented again. I had to embrace that reality and let go of my fantasy.

I had to stop treating myself like a failure.

I had carried this beautiful little boy for 38 weeks, gave birth, and was now raising him. I loved him so deeply and would do anything for him. I would gaze at his tiny face while he slept in awe that this precious gift was our son. I was not a failure. So what if he could not nurse? So what if he got his milk from a bottle? So what if sometimes he got a little extra that wasn’t from his mother? He was happy, healthy, and growing incredibly fast.

For all of month two, we did not even try to nurse. We simply lived and were happy. When the Week 6 growth spurt hit, I was producing enough milk that we did not have to supplement even though he was sometimes gobbling up 9 to 11 ounces in one sitting!

At the beginning of his third month, Peanut was rooting around while we snuggled on the couch one morning and so, merely curious, I offered him the breast. To my surprise, he latched! It was a weak latch but a latch! He drank a little bit (not much) but he actually nursed for ten minutes!

At the middle of month three, we introduced the pacifier. He got the hang of it pretty quickly and the pacifier helped to strengthen his sucking muscles. We would attempt a nursing session every few days, but it was very relaxed… nothing like during the first month when I was so stressed out. Just a week after introducing the pacifier, he was strong enough to nurse!

By the middle of Week Thirteen, Peanut was nursing twice a day. We would nurse early morning and once in the evenings. We still fed him a 5-6 ounce bottle of expressed milk before putting him to sleep to help him sleep longer. By then he was usually sleeping 9pm to 4-5am.

Jacquelyn's baby at four months.
Little Peanut around four months. He grew a lot and got a bit chunky!

Today as I write this, Peanut is just shy of five months, and he nurses as if he had been doing so his whole life. I still pump during the day, especially during the week when I’m working, but I try to nurse him before work, after work, and on the weekends. He also is bottlefed during the day and always gets one bottle before bed to help him sleep through the night. He has absolutely no sign of the dreaded “nipple confusion”. He goes from breast to bottle to pacifier and back without even hesitating. Just yesterday, he had his first taste of real “food”. His grandma (my mom) fed him a little bit of oatmeal, and he actually ate it! (It was so adorable.)

Update (March 6, 2017)
Our little one is six months now, and I wanted to share a quick update on our breastfeeding journey. He is still primarily eating breast milk, and he is experimenting with baby food. He loves peaches and applesauce, severely dislikes peas, and has tried tiny amounts of avocado and hummus.

Unfortunately, at the end of December, my menstrual cycle began ramping up again. At four and a half months postpartum while breastfeeding, it was definitely not welcome. I’ve had a period twice since then. While my cycle is not “back to normal” yet, it is causing a lot of problems with my milk supply. The week before my period, my milk supply plummets significantly. So much so that we had to start supplementing with soy-based formula.

It was a decision we made because, unlike before when we used the goat’s milk as just a little “extra” now and then, this time we needed something that would provide for 50% of our little one’s nutrition for two weeks straight. And no amount of trying to boost my supply would carry our little Peanut through two weeks. Since I’m working outside of the home, a lot of the “tricks” that sometimes help are just not feasible like nursing on demand or pumping every two hours. So we found a soy-based formula that is fortified with everything he’ll need during the time my milk supply is low.

Fortunately, by the end of my period, my milk supply goes back up to normal. I’m also trying hard to increase my supply during the plentiful times by drinking more tea and eating more oats. This is hard for me because I cannot stand oatmeal and most gluten-free oat cereals taste horrible. So I’m risking eating Cheerios to try to get the benefits that oats have on milk supply.

Cheerios are not made with certified gluten-free oats, but they now use a process that removes most of the contaminated grains from their oat supply. Unfortunately, every once in a while, I’ll get a box from a batch with just a little too much contaminates; it causes my face to break out and I bloat… the initial signs that I’ve had small traces of wheat/gluten. Still, it is worth it if it helps boost my milk supply for my son.

Sometimes I really feel like everything is against our efforts to breastfeed. If I let the negative thoughts in, I begin to feel like every time we achieve success, something comes along to sabotage us. However, I refuse to let the challenges get me down. I’m still determined to make it to ten months, and when we cross that line, we’ll see if we can make it to twelve months.

Jacquelyn's baby on his third trip to the zoo!
Little Peanut and his daddy on his third trip to the zoo at six and a half months old.

It is my hope that by sharing our long, sometimes painful, breastfeeding journey, I might encourage another mother who is also struggling. My advice is to take all the advice out there with a grain of salt. Some of it is garbage, others might not apply to you and your baby’s unique situation, and some might be helpful. Listen to your maternal instincts. The Lord gave us these instincts and intuition for a reason. And don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help when you need it.

Also get rid of your perfect plans and dreams. The first few weeks after the baby is born is an emotional roller-coaster anyway, do not add even more stress and anxiety by trying to make a dream reality. Embrace whatever path is best for your precious baby. If it is pumping, pump! If it is supplementing, supplement! If it is formula, find the right formula for you and your baby!

You are NOT a failure! You gave birth to or adopted this beautiful, precious little one. You love him or her dearly so treasure those quiet moments with your newborn. They grow so fast and every stage is unique and beautiful in its own way. Don’t be afraid! Don’t worry about the future!

Be present in the moment and be happy!

Oh, and remember that breastfeeding is not synonymous with nursing. While nursing is one way to breastfeed, pumping is another way. In both methods, the baby is eating his or her mother’s milk. One just is from a bottle and the other is from “the tap” sort to speak. Don’t let anyone make you feed less than because you are pumping, whether from choice or necessity.

Week of Gratitude: Day 6

Week of Gratitude: Day 6

Week of Gratitude – Day 6

I am grateful for the every day blessings and those precious life moments that are too easily overlooked and forgotten. We have no need for fancy or elaborate things. The Lord has provided for us everything that we need — a roof over our head, food in our bellies, and jobs to pay the bills. We are very blessed. “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Philippians 4:11

After all, what is most important is not the material things, buying and collecting stuff that cannot bring happiness, but relationships, love and kindness. For these things and all things, we thank the Lord and give Him praise.

Week of Gratitude: Day 5

Week of Gratitude: Day 5

I hope everyone has had a nice Thanksgiving! Today is all about giving thanks, and we’re now over halfway through the Week of Gratitude! I’m slipping today’s in a little before midnight.

Week of Gratitude – Day 5

I am grateful for my wonderful and loving husband Bradley. You are the love of my life, and I am so blessed to be able to enjoy each day with you. You are a fantastic father and my best friend. I am so thankful that the Lord brought us together. I love you always and forever.

Week of Gratitude: Day 4

Week of Gratitude: Day 4

Week of Gratitude – Day 4

I am grateful for the privilege of being the mother of our precious Peanut. He is three months old now, and I love him so much! He is interacting a lot more and making all sorts of sounds. I am enjoying these precious moments with him and being present in the little every day things — the cute and the messy. I look forward to watching him, day by day, grow. His toothless grin is the most adorable thing to see, and he has been “talking” to me since he woke up this morning.

Week of Gratitude: Day 1

Week of Gratitude: Day 1

This week of Thanksgiving, I want to try something a little different. Each day I am going to share something that I am thankful for.

Week of Gratitude – Day 1

I am grateful for family. Whether close or far, Bradley and I have a wonderful family filled with kind, loving, wonderful people. From parents and siblings to grant-parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and more… we are very blessed! Yesterday was Peanut’s dedication to the Lord, and I was filled with thankfulness that he will grow up in such a large, loving family.

5 Tips to Survive and Thrive

5 Tips to Survive and Thrive

Our little Peanut is two months old. It is amazing how fast time flies when you are caring for a newborn, even though there are moments in the middle of the night when it may seem like the baby never falls back asleep. Here are a few tips to help new parents not just survive the first two months, but thrive!

1. Babies cry for a reason

Babies cry for a reason, but the trick is to figure out what the reason is. I have found that with our son, he tends to cry if he is hungry, has a dirty diaper, or wants held. Each cry is a little different, but the hunger cry, if not taken care of quickly, will escalate into a screaming cry.

Sometimes you will find that you do everything — feed the baby, change the baby, hold and rock the baby — and he or she still cries whenever you try to put him or her down. Our little peanut is very needy. He wants to be held all the time! I love the cuddles, too, but sometimes I need eat or get to a few things done around the house.

During Weeks Two, Three, and Four when the sleep deprivation is at its worst, you may find your patience wearing thin as you are trying to comfort a screaming baby in the middle of the night, and it is during these periods of frustration that the danger of shaking the baby is at its greatest.

If you ever feel this, and it can happen to even the most gentle and loving parents if you are lacking sleep and already stressed out, put the baby down and walk away.

Put the baby in a safe place, like his or her bassinet or crib, and leave the room. It is okay to go get a glass of cool, refreshing water to drink or take a quick but relaxing shower. Even if the baby is still crying, take five or ten minutes to calm down and get rid of your built-up frustration, that way you can return to your baby with a clear mind, renewed patience, and tons of cuddles.

That said, there will be times when you do everything you can think of and the baby does not seem to stop crying. This could be because of colic (gas) or increased hunger due to growth spurts.

2. Prepare for growth spurts

Many babies, and our little boy was no exception, experience growth spurts around Week Three and Week Six. Be prepare for the Week Three one, because it hits when you are at your most sleep deprived. As a mom who had to pump, I was very aware of how much milk my little one was eating and so when he began crying hysterically at night even after eating, burping, diaper change, rocking, etc, it took me a few times to realize he was still hungry due to the growth spurt and to up the amount of milk he was getting. Breastfeeding moms do not necessarily have to worry about that, but they may find that the baby wants to always nurse during this time.

His first growth spurt was hard because, no matter how frequently I was pumping, I was unable to keep with his ravenous appetite. We ended up having to supplement my milk supply a few times, especially at night (which is when our son ate the most). I was already an emotional wreck from the lack of sleep and repeated failures at nursing, so having to supplement again was like a dagger to the heart. But growth spurts do not last forever, and after a few days, he settled back into a normal eating regiment that I could keep up with.

I was far better prepared for his Week Six growth spurt, and I was able to find an herbal tea that helps with milk production.

3. Increase your milk supply with tea

I love herbal teas, and one of my absolute favorite tea is Peppermint. Did you know that Peppermint can negatively affect your milk supply? Don’t drink peppermint tea if you are breastfeeding! And, for that matter, maybe cut back on the peppermint ice cream and candy.

Check out this list of herbs to avoid while breastfeeding.

Just as certain herbs may decrease your milk supply, other herbs can help you increase your supply. A few days before our little one’s Week Six growth spurt, my husband found Earth Mama Angel Baby Organics Milkmaid Tea at our local Target. This tea is a special blend of herbs that are known to help your milk production.

Each woman’s body is different and the tea may increase your supply a little or a lot. I drank it twice a day for two weeks, and it doubled my milk supply so that I was able to not only keep up with my son’s increased appetite but also start freezing milk for when I return to work. I now pump 2-4 bags extra bags of milk per day so I don’t need to drink any right now but I keep the tea around.

4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself

The majority of your focus is now on your little bundle of joy, but as much as he or she needs you, you cannot neglect taking care of yourself. New parents are often told: “Sleep when baby sleeps”, and this is important during the first few weeks when you will most likely not be getting deep, refreshing sleep at night due to waking up with the baby every 2-3 hours. If you pump exclusively like I do, those night time feedings are often twice as long because after you care for the baby, you have to go pump for another 15-20 minutes. There were times during the first month when I would be up for 2-3 hours in the middle of the night as baby would not go back to sleep immediately. To be completely honest, it was beyond exhausting but it was worth it so I could provide my milk for my little peanut. To keep my sanity, I would nap during the day when he was napping. They were not long naps, sometimes as short as twenty minutes, but it helped me to keep going.

Make the time to eat and shower, even if you have to let your little one cry for a few minutes while you prepare a quick meal for yourself or hop in the shower to wash up. Do your best not to skip either one on a regular basis. Sure, there may be the occasional skipped meal or the occasional skipped shower, but do try to do both daily.

5. Recruit some help if you need it

If you find you cannot sleep, eat, or shower, recruit someone close to you to come over and watch your baby while you catch up on your sleep or take a nice, long shower. I was fortunate that my husband was able to take three weeks of Family Leave after our son was born, so we often tag-teamed. He’d watch the baby while I showered, vice versa, and we would alternate who fed him during the nighttime sessions. If your husband is unavailable, see if your mother, mother-in-law, sister, cousin, or best friend can come over for a little while to help with household chores, bring or cook a meal, or watch the baby. Sometimes you just need a break.

If you are someone who has a family member or friend who is about to give birth or just had a little one, one of the best things you can offer is not always a physical gift but the gift of your time.

I hope that these five tips will help other new parents as you care for your precious little one. Most of all, trust your instincts and when in doubt, ask for advice or help.

What tip or piece of advice do you have for new parents to help them get through the first few months?