Category: Family Life

In this section, I write about my life, my family, and insights into relationships, marriage, and parenting.

Being present in the moment

Being present in the moment

About six months ago, I was working extra hours on a few freelance jobs with the intent of building some income outside of my regular 9-5 job. The ultimate goal would be to eventually transition into working from home so I could spend more time with our son.

After two months of working 8 to 8.5 hours at my regular job and then 2-4 hours at night after the baby went to sleep, I realized that I was wearing myself out. I was not sleeping enough, I was fighting the worst allergies I have ever experienced, I kept getting sick, and despite my husband’s valiant efforts to keep things tidy, our house had quickly fallen into disarray.

However, I pushed through because I really want to be able to stay home with my son.

Then within the span of a week, I observed my mom and mother-in-law interacting with my baby, and I realized that they were present in the moment. I was so sleep deprived that even when I was with my son, I was not there mentally. He may have had half of my attention — changing him, feeding, him, encouraging him to grab a toy or flip through a cloth book — but I was not fully there.

A part of my mind was always focused on other things. “I need to check my email.” “Once he falls asleep, I have to do x, y, and z before going to bed.” “Ugh, the dishes have piled up again.”

One afternoon when my parents dropped my son off after watching him for the day, I quietly watched my mom feed him a bottle and then my dad play with him. I almost burst into tears. In trying to pursue my goal of one day being able to stay home, I was missing the beautiful moments with my son now.

I had to change.

So I declined the next freelance job that came my way.

I put away the laptop. I did not just shut it or turned it off, I put it completely out of sight. I removed the email and Facebook apps from my phone, and began to leave my phone in my purse or on the charger in a different room of the house.

With these changes, I was able to go to sleep earlier so in the mornings, I could shower before our son woke up, greet him with smiles and songs while he was still happy, nurse him and pump, and carry him with me around the house as I got ready for work instead of putting him in a walker or the play pen.

In the evenings, I had the energy to make dinner and clean up the kitchen while my husband played with our son, did laundry or vacuumed. Bedtime was much easier, because I was no longer eagerly waiting for the baby to fall asleep so I can do other things. I wanted to spend that quality time nursing him, rocking him, cuddling with him. After he was tucked into his crib, my husband and I would relax together instead of me being occupied with work on the laptop.

Our house was not only cleaner and tidier, but it was happier and filled with sunshine, music, and laughter.

Six months later, I do not regret this decision one bit.

Do I still long for the day when I can stay home with my son? Absolutely!

As much as we appreciate our parents for helping us watch our son for six months while both my husband and I worked, we still desired to have at least one of us at home. We determined that it is not financially feasible at this time for me to be the one to stay home. My income is what we rely on for rent, bills, every day living expenses, and health insurance.

So at the end of May my husband resigned his job with a local school district to stay home with our son. Being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy job. There are great days when the child is happy and you get a ton accomplished. And then there are terrible days where the house is a disaster and pretty much the only thing that happens is cuddling with a teething child.

Bradley has taken to being a stay-at-home dad, and every day he continues to amaze me. I am so grateful to be blessed with such a wonderful husband. Even after a long day of watching our son, he still cheerfully takes care of our son, me, and even the dog when I am feeling too sick to make dinner or too exhausted to wash the dishes.

Sometimes circumstances happen that do not allow us to live out our ideal dream, but instead of being disappointed, we should be thankful for the blessings we have.

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
— Philippians 4:11, NKJV

Life is more than just a checklist of accomplishments. It is about relationships, and it is about spending time with those that mean the most to us. It means treasuring precious yet fleeting once-in-a-lifetime moments. It means letting go of those things out of our control and stop worrying about the future. Give your worries and burdens over to the Lord (1 Peter 5:7) and decide to be present in the here and now.

I have, and I love it!

Weaning at ten months

Weaning at ten months

Our son is about ten and a half months old, and we have recently weaned. If you are familiar with Our Breastfeeding Journey, then you know some of the challenges we faced with breastfeeding. I pumped exclusively for the first few months and, even after he was able to nurse, I still pumped most of the time to ensure he was getting enough.

A few months ago, I noticed my supply was slowly decreasing in spite of all of my efforts to keep it going strong.

At the very beginning of this journey, I prayed we would make it to ten months. It was almost exactly at ten months when my milk began to dry up. I know that it is recommended to breastfeed for the first year, but I will not complain.

We made it to ten months!

That is a huge accomplishment in light of all of the difficulties and challenges we had. I praise the Lord we made it.

Now let me say that this weaning was not because our little one no longer wanted to nurse. He still comfort nurses when he is tired. The fact of the matter is my milk has dried up on its own. It happened rather quickly over the last two weeks. After a few days of pumping three times throughout my work day and hardly getting even two ounces, I knew we would have to begin weaning.

So I decided to stop lugging the double electric pump and all its parts to work. Our little one would still nurse right before bed and during the overnight/early morning hours, but it was clear he was not getting enough. The first few days were hard. I did wake up about 3am two mornings to pump just to relieve the pressure, but even then the milk expressed was not significant. After about a week, the hardness and pressure eased.

It is now about two and a half weeks since we started weaning. He still comfort nurses when he is sleepy, but there is no milk at all anymore. Our son is eating more finger foods, baby foods, and mashed up versions of whatever I am eating. He also is getting more soy formula to keep up on his nutrition. Two weeks ago he had a visit with the pediatrician, and he is going great. Since he was born so small, the pediatrician is very please with his growth.

The process of weaning was far easier than I thought it would be. I simply stopped pumping at work but for the first week, I still nursed once in the evening and once in the morning. The first week was probably the hardest for our son, as he wanted to nurse but was not getting any milk.

As my milk dried up, we simply added more formula bottles to our son’s diet to ensure he was getting enough and I cuddled with him as he drank from the bottle to replicate the closeness that happens when nursing. With a little bit of time, he transitioned well.

Did I do the whole weaning thing the “right” way? To be honest, I did not bother to do any research or anything. I just did what felt right for us and our situation. I am learning how to trust my maternal instincts more now.

Breastfeeding challenges are normal

Breastfeeding challenges are normal

This article by NPR is very encouraging for any mother who has struggled with breastfeeding. In Secrets Of Breast-Feeding From Global Moms In The Know, we discover that even in cultures and societies that seem — on the surface — to have great breastfeeding success, mothers experience the same challenges: poor latch, low milk supply, pain, soreness, fear, doubts, etc.

So what is the difference between their apparent success and our struggles? Many of these more traditional societies still provide mothers, especially new mothers, with a lot of support and guidance from grandmothers, sisters, neighbors, etc. There is also little stigma when a mother is struggling or a baby needs supplementing. It is viewed as a normal part of life.

Here is an excerpt:

I think that there’s enormous pressure to succeed with breast-feeding in the U.S. and that you feel like if you can’t do it that this is a huge failing as a mother,” Scelza says. But Himba women didn’t seem to think the problems related to breast-feeding were a big deal.

“When [the baby] had trouble latching, they were just like, ‘Yeah, this is part of what you have to learn if you’re going to breast-feed,” she says. “They didn’t stigmatize the failing.”

Read the full article.

Here in America, perhaps our zeal to claim “breast is best” has unintentionally added even more pressure on mothers, especially new mothers, and so when women do experience difficulties, they feel like a failure when difficulties are actually quite normal.

Even with the support of my husband, my mother, and my older sister, I still felt like a failure when my son could not breastfeed, even though there were physical reasons why he was unable to latch. We should not demonize bottle-feeding, because you never know if what is in the bottle is expressed breastmilk or formula. Nor should the use of formula be looked down upon, because there are many reasons why a mother may need or decide to use formula. You and I looking in from the outside do not know that mother and baby’s circumstances.

So let us encourage one another instead of discourage. Let us share our stories and words of encouragement! If you have not already, you can read all about the challenge that is Our Breasting Journey.

Camping with a baby

Camping with a baby

My husband and I love camping!

We usually camp on our own or with family and friends a few times a year. We also usually camp twice a year with our church’s Pathfinder Club. When our little one arrived last August, we knew that he would start camping with us pretty quickly. We want him to grow up loving the outdoors, exploring, and learning a respect for God’s creation.

Horton Creek in Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.
Lower Cascades along Horton Creek in Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

On a recent Friday afternoon, we loaded up our vehicle, put our little one in his carseat, and drove two hours away to one of our favorite camping spots northeast of Payson, Arizona, and below the picturesque Mogollon Rim for a three-day, two-night camping trip.

This particular campsite is what is call an “established campground”, meaning that it has toilet facilities (little buildings with a hole in the ground but no sinks or showers), has a spicket for non-potable water, designated camping areas with picnic tables and metal fire-rings, and is maintained/monitored by a camp host.

For our first camping trip with an eight month old infant, it made sense to go to an established campground. We had the peace of mind that we were only about 20 minutes away from Payson proper and we could pack up quickly should we have to leave early. We also were figuring out how to pack our vehicle with less available space (carseat!) and more items (baby things!). In the end, we had to leave our canopy behind as it just did not fit this time.

Camping with a baby is easier than we thought it would be, and we were fairly positive about the experience going in. If you have been thinking about camping with your baby, do not be afraid trying it. All babies are different, but if you know your baby well and prepare, you may find camping with your baby is quite fun.

Mommy and baby posing at campsite in pine forest.
My little peanut and I after his first night sleeping in a tent.

As with all aspects of life after a baby, you do have to make adjustments to your plans to accommodate a little one. Here are nine tips based off what we learned while camping with our eight month old.

1. Clothing: Be prepared for the weather

It is always a good idea to know the weather forecast of the location you will be camping at, whether you are taking a baby or not, but with a baby, you need to be even more aware of weather.

Remember, out in nature, night time temperatures can vary significantly from day time temperatures. Babies lose body heat faster than adults, so you need to take the proper clothing for day and night. You also do not want to over-dress the baby and have them overheat. So I highly recommend packing clothes that can be layered.

Pack a hat or cap that fits closely over the baby’s head and, if possible, covers the ears. Hoodies are too lose around the head to keep body heat in. Also consider a floppy or wide-brim hat and sunglasses to protect the baby from the sun. We live in the southwest where the sun, even in spring time, can be quite intense, so sun protection is very important.

Long sleeves and long pants are important to protect against bugs, especially mosquitoes. Depending on the weather, you may need to pack little mittens or a snowsuit or rain jacket. And don’t forget the socks and shoes! Especially if the baby is at the crawling stage or likes to “walk” with assistance from Mom or Dad, you want them to have proper shoes so their tender feet are not getting cut by rocks.

Also remember that babies tend to get their clothes dirty fast. You should pack an extra set or two of clothes just in case of an explosive diaper or excessive spit up, but don’t sweat the little things like good old dirt. It is good for their budding immune system!

2. Food

If you are exclusively breastfeeding via nursing, just be sure to pack extra water and snacks for Mom and a comfortable place to sit (a camp chair) for those nursing sessions that will happen every 3-4 hours. Back support is important to keep the sore muscles away. If your baby is six months or older, try side-lying nursing in the privacy of your tent. In this position, babies have to be a certain size and have some head control to be able to reach the breast and nipple in a way that is comfortable to both of you.

If you are formula feeding, be sure you pack enough formula and filtered/sterile water to cover the usual amount of meals that your little one has during an average day. You may also want to take along whatever is necessary for cleaning the bottles if you plan to reuse them.

Mommy using a heavy duty baby carrier.
Enjoying an easy Sabbath afternoon walk along Christopher Creek. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

If your baby is old enough to eat solid food, pack some baby food and a spoon and try to keep on your regular schedule when it comes to how much or how frequently the baby gets the solid food.

For those Moms who, like me, breastfeed via pumping, I highly recommend you buy rechargeable batteries for your electric pump or a power converter that can plug into your vehicle. Our son currently eats a combination of breast milk (pumped and nursing), formula (supplemental to the breastmilk when he is especially hungry), and solid foods. He has been improving in nursing on his own, and I thought we would be fine for the three days with the breastmilk I had pumped previously, a few bottles of formula (for emergencies), and the baby food so I took only a hand pump.

I regretted it.

While we had plenty of food for our son, I was in pain and discomfort by the end of the trip. Our little one was so excited that he had a hard time staying focused long enough to nurse (except during the night when he sleep-nurses), and the hand pump was not draining the milk completely. By Sunday morning, I had hard lumps in my breasts and the hand pump had caused some minor bleeding. So, in hindsight, if you are a mom who pumps exclusively or regularly, it is worth the hassle of taking your familiar electric pump with you.

Not draining the breast completely tells your body that demand for the milk has decreased so milk production will start to decrease. For nursing mothers, you can simply add a few extra nursing sessions in when you get home. But for those of us who rely on pumping, it can be a challenge to get our supply back. It is over a week since we returned, and I am only just getting my milk supply back up to pre-camping levels.

3. Diapers! Wipes!

When it comes to diapers, I recommend packing a few more than you think you will need. Our little one ate a little less on our trip and, therefore, had fewer messy diapers. However, it is better to be prepared then to find yourself needing one more diaper and not having one.

If you are cloth diapering, you will have to bring enough water to rinse the diapers and a wet storage bag for soiled diapers until you return home. If you are brave enough and have enough water, you can take soap, wash the diapers there, and let them dry in the sun.

If you are using disposable diapers, please dispose of them properly.

I also recommend bringing a baby wash cloth just in case you need to give the little one a sponge bath after a particular messy diaper or if they end up really dirty playing in the dirt. A plastic bin can double as a small bathtub if need be.

4. Somewhere safe to sleep.

Camping is a perfect example of co-sleeping. Co-sleeping basically means sleeping in close proximity to your child, but most people associate the term with bed-sharing.

Bed-sharing, where the child sleeps in the same bed as the parent(s), is actually only one type of co-sleeping. If you plan to bed-sharing while camping, you will need to be extra vigilant. Sleeping bags can be tight for one or two adults, and adding a little one can pose additional challenges. Sleeping bags can also be heavy so you need to be sure that the baby is not too restricted and can breathe.

However, if done correctly, bed-sharing while camping can be a wonderful experience for you and your baby.

To be honest, bed-sharing makes me a little nervous. Perhaps it is because I am a first-time mom. I don’t bed-share at home very often, and I did not plan to bed-share while camping. When it comes to co-sleeping, I prefer him to be in his own safe bed within arms reach.

Daddy posing with baby in nature.
A little bit of daddy and son time Sunday morning. Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

So we brought the Moses basket from the bassinet we used when he was newborn to 5 months old. It is large, has sturdy sides, and good mattress to keep him off the ground. It also collapses flat! We put the Moses basket right next to my side of the air mattress in our tent.

It was cold at night so even with his super warm pajamas, I did have to swaddle him loosely with a blanket (arms free). He was very comfortable in the basket. I could see him every time I opened my eyes and I could easily pick him up for cuddles and night-time nursing. In the early morning hours, I did end up bringing him into the sleeping bag with me, but I kept him cradled in my arm and only lightly dozed.

If you do not have a suitable place for baby to sleep and do not want to bed-share, research travel bassinets, co-sleeper beds, etc. to find one that will fit your needs.

Just as at home, you need to create a safe sleeping environment and be vigilant with not allowing anything to obstruct your baby’s breathing. Ideally, dress baby in warm layers and avoid soft or heavy blankets, especially if your baby is unable to lift and turn their head on their own yet. Always put the baby on their back and on a firm surface without loose pillows, stuffed animals, or blankets near the face.

5. Somewhere to sit and play.

We were camping in a pine forest so the ground was littered with pine needles, pine cones, and rocks. W planned on stretching out an extra tarp, putting an old duvet cover down, and letting our son play on that with adult supervision. When we reached the campsite, we let our friends borrow the extra tarp and I did not want to put the duvet cover down directly on the dirt. We ended up holding our son the majority of the time. Fortunately, there were plenty of adults around to hand him to.

Before our next camping trip (hopefully next month!), we decided to buy a camping chair for babies. We bought Summer Infant Pop ‘N Sit Portable Highchair, because we wanted a chair that had a security belt for when he is very little, a real tray (not cloth), and that folds up. We will test this out the next time we camp, and I will update with whether or not it worked for us.

A tarp and blanket can work for a play area for younger babies. Our little one has mastered crawling, and he is extremely fast! Even with supervision, he is like a little bullet and he loves getting into everything. (I can just see him trying to eat pine needles and dirt…) So we also decided to invest in a North States Superyard with an easy access door. This “playard” can be used both indoor and outdoor, and we needed something for our living room anyway to keep him from getting himself into trouble while we are doing chores. The nice thing about this particular one is that it folds up and has a carrying strap, so it should be easy to take on our next camping trip.

As for playing, you do not need to bring a lot of toys to occupy the baby. Just being outdoors, somewhere new, and the regular hustle of camp activity will keep them occupied. Also, do not be too worried about the little one getting a little dirty. There is so much to see and touch!

6. If teething, bring whatever usually soothes baby with you.

If your baby is currently teething, you need to bring whatever it is that you usually use to soothe the pain. If it is teething toys, pacifier, clove gel, extra cuddles with Mom, or even baby medicine — baby will need relief from the pain in some way.

Squirrel sneaking seeds we left out for it.
One of the many squirrels that entertained us around camp. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

Fortunately, if your baby is at the stage where he or she is alert, they will probably be easily distracted by the camping experience. Our little one was fascinated by everything. He watched the squirrels try to sneak snacks, the birds flittering here and there, the branches and leaves rustling in the wind, and other campers walking their dogs. (He loves animals.) So we only had to give him medicine once, and the rest of the time, he was fine with chewing on his pacifier and teething toys and the occasional clove gel on his gums.

If baby gets fussy, nurse, cuddle, or go for a little walk around the campgrounds to distract them.

7. A baby/toddler carrier

We took two different baby carriers along with us.

I used our BabyBjörn Original for keeping our son close while doing things around camp, for walks in the immediate area, and for a longer hike. He is getting close to outgrowing it, though.

We also tried out heavy-duty baby carrier for hiking. This carrier has a collapsible stand so you can load baby in the carrier before hoisting it to your back. There is a wide waist belt and a strip that goes over the chest to more evenly distribute the weight. It was very useful on one of the longer hikes along the creek, but I did find it was a challenge to hoist this carrier from the ground to my back by myself.

It was also useful as a chair when we were breaking down camp and loading the vehicle, since we did not have anywhere else to put our son when we were doing the tasks that required two people: getting the air out of the air mattress, shoving our double sleeping bag back into its carrying bag, and putting up our tent.

Our son, though, did not like this carrier as much. It could be because he was a tad small for it so he could not see well, or it could be because it was on my back and he has only ever been carried on my chest before this. Either way, this heavy-duty hiking carrier will take a few more times to get used to.

8. Adjust your schedule and activities.

We found that having our son with us meant that everything was done at a slower pace. Someone had to hold or wear the baby at all times and certain activities, like breaking down the tent and packing up the car, took twice as long as before because we had to take turns watching the baby. This slow pace was actually a blessing in disguise because I was able to really relax and enjoy the quiet serenity of the woods. There was no rush to go anywhere or do anything, but at the same time, I had to be a little more aware of the time in regards to how long it takes to prepare food.

Mommy hiking with a baby in a carrier on her back.
We love visiting the pine forests up near Payson, Arizona. Photo by Bradley Van Sant.

When we went for a walk by the creek, we had to make sure he was wearing socks and shoes and protected from the sun with a hat. It is logical, but if you have never had a baby with you on a trip before, you will find that your schedule needs more flexibility. I found myself going to bed and waking earlier than I usually do, even for camping trips.

Also remember that your little one has a routine and try to keep to that familiar schedule. Babies are quite adaptable, but familiarity does help them adjust to being outdoors. So if your baby naps at a regular time, eats at certain times, etc., plan your activities around the baby’s schedule.

9. Important odds and ends

If you are camping, you should always have a first aid kit. With a baby, you should add a few more items such as a nasal aspirator, a medicine dispenser/syringe, infant Tylenol or the equivalent medicine, and a baby thermometer.

Bring plenty of cleaning wipes for hands, faces, and bums — for you too! Mosquito netting may also be useful to bring to keep the pesky bugs away.

Have fun!

Most importantly, relax and have fun. Enjoy this special time out in nature with your little one. Sing! Sing! Sing! Babies love singing anyway, and singing and camping go hand in hand. Do not be shy. Sing away.

The Van Sant baby went camping at only 8 months old.
Our little one’s first time wear sneakers! Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

If you do not sing, hum or tell silly stories. Narrate your activities to the baby. Describe what they are seeing around them, what is making that curious new sound. Tickle and play “peek-a-boo”. Let the baby fall asleep in your arms while you relax in the camping chair or in the tent.

Camping with a baby can be a little challenging but it's also very rewarding. Click To Tweet

Camping with a baby can be a little challenging, but it is very rewarding. At eight months old, our son was at the crawling, standing, and trying to walk stage and that was the perfect time to take him on his first camping trip. He recognized that we were somewhere new and was fascinated by everything: the squirrels eating the seeds we threw out to them, our camping neighbors’ walking their dogs, the rustling of the winds through the tall pines, the crowing of the large ravens, the rushing of the creek over rocks, and so much more!

Was I a bit sleep deprived by the end of the trip? Yes, but it was worth every moment to see his smiling little face as he woke up in my arms, played hide and seek with the camping bag, and then crawled/climbed on his daddy. It made my heart swell with joy when he giggled hysterically. Sunday morning, I set him briefly down in one of the camping chairs, and he threw his head back and howled like a coyote!

Happy baby sitting on the ground in a pine forest.
Our little peanut looking quite dashing on his first camping adventure. Photo by Jacquelyn Van Sant.

We want our son to grow up with a love for nature. He has already gone on a night hike (during the super moon at just three months old), a couple of hikes, and now his first weekend camping trip. We are planning another camping trip next month. It is never too early to teach him to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Happy trails!

3 Things I Did Not Expect Postpartum

3 Things I Did Not Expect Postpartum

When you are eagerly awaiting the arrival of your first child, there are many things that you anticipate and mentally prepare yourself for: sleepless nights, dirty diapers, cries and giggles, spit up and smiles, and so much more.

In the first six months after our little one’s birth, I discovered a few very interesting things that I did not expect postpartum. I can honestly say that these three things blindsided me.

Excessive Hair Loss

This first one you may have read about in pregnancy books or on mommy blogs, but I did not fully grasp what it would mean to me until it happened. Every lady is different, but for me, I had excessive hair loss between about Week 3 postpartum until Month 5. I am not talking about a few strands here or there; after all, everyone sheds on average 75-100 strands of hair a day.

No, I was loosing hair daily in the hundreds! My shower walls would be covered in hair, hair would stick to my shirts and sweaters, and I would have to carefully examine little Peanut’s fingers and toes to make sure none of my hair had gotten tangled around his little digits. My once thick, luscious hair was suddenly thin, scraggly, and pathetic looking.

So why do some women lose large amounts of hair after childbirth?

Hair has three stages: active growth, resting, and loss (shedding). During pregnancy, the raise in certain hormones slows down the natural life cycle of our hair so more hair stays in the growth or resting stages and less strands shed. This gives pregnant ladies that thick mane many people notice and comment on. Unfortunately, after childbirth when the pregnancy hormones decrease, all those strands start entering into the shedding stage – often at the same time. This can lead to excessive shedding and what seems like hair loss.

Be comforted that this phase is not permanent. It may take a few months, but your hair will get back into a normal cycle and the excessive shedding will stop. While I waited for my hair to stop shedding, I cut it to shoulder length. Previously my hair was layered so the thinning made it look scraggly and awful. Cutting it helped to give my hair a little bit of shape again.

Fortunately, by six months postpartum, my hair stopped the excessive shedding and began to regrow.

Severe Gas Pain

The first episode struck about 10pm on the sixth day after little Peanut was born. It was the first day I ventured out of the house – Bradley took us to visit my parents (twenty-minutes away). It was a day that was full of success and achievement, as I had finally been able to pump milk successfully and relieve my poor, engorged breasts.

Around 10pm, though, I began to experience a strange pain in the center of my chest, located directly beneath/behind my sternum. As the minutes passed, the pain intensified. I tried lying down but the pain radiated around my ribcage. It felt like I was being stabbed in the chest while, at the same time, all of the muscles of my core (abs, sides, lower back, shoulders) were completely frozen or locked in place.

A few hours later, the pain had worsened to excruciating, beyond even the pain of childbirth, and it was terrifying because I did not know what was causing it. I leaned against the bed, praying for relief and groaning, wavering in my mind on whether I should ask Bradley to take me to the emergency room or not. What if we did go – call my parents, pack up our six-day-old infant, drove to the ER – and the mysterious pain vanishes as we are in the waiting room?

Bradley was very concerned. Our little one was fussy that night. It was the first time he scream-cried inconsolably for hours, and I was in too much pain to move, let alone help with the baby. Just when Bradley was about to call my parents and take me to the ER, the excruciating pain suddenly – Yes, it was very sudden! – vanished. One moment I was frozen in searing pain and the next: Poof! It was gone. All that was left was a little ache in my muscles.

This debilitating pain in my sternum seemed to happen once or twice a week for the first month postpartum. By the third episode, I was terrified that something serious was wrong with me. I tried gas relief tablets, but they had a marginal affect on the severe pain. It was about a month postpartum that I discovered that the unbearable pain was gas getting stuck in the upper part of my large intestines and putting pressure on a nerve.

When the gas started to built up, I would feel a strange pressure in my sternum and middle back. I remembered what the nurses told me in the hospital about walking, re-enforced by advice from my mom. To my relief, I found that when I took some gas relief tablets and went on a long walk, the walking helped to move the gas along and prevent it was getting stuck in that spot.

Also, I had to overcome decades of training on appropriate and inappropriate lady-like behavior and allow myself the freedom to pass gas. My poor husband! And what an embarrassing issue to discuss in public, but I am bearing my soul in the hopes of helping some other new mother who might be experiencing a similar situation. It is better to “toot” then to feel like you are being torn apart from the inside out.

With the walking and passing gas, the excruciating, feel-like-I’m-dying, pain was avoided. By the end of the second month postpartum, I no long experienced the gas pains.

Difficulties breastfeeding

If you have read Our Breastfeeding Journey, then you know some of the challenges we faced breastfeeding. I will not repeat the entire story here but just the main points.

I was not expecting our little Peanut to be born small, with a severe tongue-tie, and be unable to nurse. For the first month, we tried unsuccessfully to nurse at least once a day and each time he could not latch, I felt like a failure as a mother. The whole time, I was pumping every 2-3 hours and there were a few times when he had to be supplemented with formula because I just was not making enough milk. Finally, at the end of the month, I had to give up trying to nurse for my own sanity’s sake and for the happiness of our little family. I had to realize that him might never be able to nurse and that it was ok, as long as he was getting food and growing healthy.

During month three, he latched very weakly. With some help from a pacifier to strengthen his sucking muscles, he was able to nurse a few ounces by month four. I began nursing him through the night. At seven months, he is now a nursing pro. I still pump every 3-4 hours, as I work outside the home and need to keep my supply up, but he is also eating baby food twice a day now and he gets a bottle of formula when needed.

I was not expecting challenges with breastfeeding and, I will be brutally honest, it was an extremely difficult hurdle to jump emotionally during a time when my emotions were already all-over-the-place (postpartum hormones fluctuations!). I made it through due to the love and support of my amazing husband and my parents, especially my mom. If I could go back and do those first month over again, I would. Because of my stress and self-deprecation, I did not have the energy to leave the house more, see friends and family more, and do those precious “memories” things with Peanut… like take infant photos and stamp his little hands and feet. I have no footprints of when he was 4 lbs 7 ounces except for the one foot stamped on the certificate the hospital gave us.

My advice to other moms who might be facing difficulties with breastfeeding is something my older sister shared with me when I was very low: Fed is best. A fed, happy, and healthy baby is best, no matter how you end up providing that nourishment: through breastfeeding, pumping and bottle feeding, or formula feeding.

While the first few days may seem to drag on, they really go by so fast. Do not waste that time with anxiety and needless stress over things beyond your control. You are amazing! You birthed or adopted this adorable precious little one so cherish every moment you have together.

Bonus: Just how much I love my little Peanut!

Okay, okay. When expecting a little one, most women are likely to be excited and eagerly anticipate the bonding that will happen between mother and newborn. However, what really surprised me was just how quickly this bonding occurred and how much I love my little Peanut. Even when he is crying and fussy, even after the fifth time he has woken me up in the middle of the night and I rolled out of bed, stumble to his room, and pick him up like a zombie, even when I find myself momentarily frustrated or overwhelmed, I just love him so much!

Baby cuddles, toothless smiles, little giggles, and the first time he said “Mom-ma” (even though he was crying and I’m pretty sure he did not do it on purpose) get me through the sleepless nights, the fits of crying, the explosive diapers that only the shower can wash away, the spit up all over my work clothes and the couch minutes before I was supposed to be walking out the door.

After all, who could not love this adorable little face?

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.

I just love being a mom — especially his mom — and I would not trade this experience for anything.

So, in summary, when it comes to childbirth and its immediate affects, perhaps the old adage says it best: Expect the unexpected. In addition to these three things that blinded me, I also had some great experiences.

So remember this: no matter if you are losing your hair in clumps, experiencing severe gas pains, having trouble breastfeeding or whatever it might be — you just gave birth to a beautiful and precious little one. Cherish this gift that has been given to you. The other things will sort themselves out.

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.