Breastfeeding and returning to work

You have just spent anywhere from 2-6 months (maybe more) at home with your new baby.  If you are breastfeeding, you have likely spent much of this time trying to figure out the whole process of nursing.  Not an easy task for some.  Now you may be returning to work, and, as you may have already discovered, there is now a whole new learning curve as you figure out how you can continue breastfeeding while also being apart from your baby for several hours during the day.  This week’s post will hopefully provide some answers to one of the big questions asked throughout the sessions of The Chicago New Moms Group:  I’m going back to work and I want to continue breastfeeding. How do I do this?

A big thank you to Kathy Lipke, board certified lactation consultant of Lactation Partners for the following helpful information about planning your return to work. Another excellent resource for further information can be found on the Medela website.  Check it out!

Many women who return to work continue to breastfeed their baby when at home and pump and offer bottles when they’re at work. It will require a commitment to spend the time planning. This is how the planning might “look” for you:

  • Is your workplace “breastfeeding friendly”? (See IL Breastfeeding law.) Do they have a dedicated room where you can go to pump?
  • Have you talked to your boss about the breaks you’ll need to take in order to pump? (often a mid morning, lunch and mid afternoon session)
  •  Do you know someone else at work who is in the same situation? Ask them how they managed.
  •  Do you have a good quality electric pump? A double pump is often the fastest and easiest as you will be able to pump both breasts at the same time.
  • A second set of pump parts is helpful if you don’t have a good place to go to clean your parts after pumping or your time is limited.
  • You’ll need some dish soap, a bottle brush, paper towels for drying and a refrigerator to store the pumped milk (a cooler will also work). There are lots of other supplies you can purchase to help with the cleaning and storage.
  • Try to be consistent with pumping time and frequency; always pump into clean breast shields and bottles.
  • Breastfeed the baby when you’re home, before work, after work, at bedtime and on weekends. This will help both of you to continue to maintain the closeness you’ve spent so much time developing over the previous weeks.

There are many questions and concerns that come with new parenthood. Take everything in slowly, be realistic, rest often, take care of yourself physically and emotionally, connect with family and friends and enjoy every minute of this new and exciting journey!

Kathy Lipke is a registered nurse and board certified lactation consultant. She has been practicing as a consultant for 24 years providing in-home lactation and new family support. She and her husband Bob are the proud parents of two wonderful daughters, both of whom she breastfed. Her practice covers most of the city of Chicago and the northern suburbs. Her commitment is to support new families as they transition into parenthood.


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Balancing New Motherhood and Breastfeeding

This article was also posted on Breastfeed, Chicago!  Check out their blog for other articles like this one and helpful breastfeeding resources.

My most memorable nursing moment with my son (my second child) was immediately after he was born.  My midwife handed him to me and he latched on and started nursing almost right away.  Part of this was due to his natural instinct to nurse, but the other part was my own confidence from having breastfed before.  I was so much more relaxed.  With my daughter, I had never held a baby that small (at birth she was only 5lbs 6oz), much less tried to nurse one.  After working so hard to get her latched on, I would become frustrated and discouraged from my repeated attempts.  When she finally did latch on, she would then fall asleep from all the hard work it took to get there.   I often felt overwhelmed while trying to provide this most basic need to my baby.

Becoming a new mom brings up a whole host of emotions.  While the actual act of becoming a mother happens the instant our baby is born or is given to us (in the case of adoption), the process of becoming a mother takes place over time.  I would argue that the postpartum period for a new mom is not 3 months as it is technically known to be.  For a new mom, this adjustment period lasts easily a year.  It can take that long for you to really internalize the changes in your identity and to fully appreciate the ways in which your life will not be the same as it was pre-baby.

Along with this major adjustment that you are undergoing, you are also responsible for nourishing your newborn.  Sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is hard.  Often our expectations of what nursing will be like are vastly different from the reality.  I always tell new moms that it is a learning process for both the mom and the baby.  Just as you have never breastfed a baby before, your baby has never nursed before.  It can be a tough learning curve for both mom and baby.  Up until this point in your life, you have probably become pretty proficient at your every day life whether it is in the professional or private realm.  There is nothing like learning to breastfeed a newborn baby that can make you feel incompetent at your “job” (because being a mom is now your job).  Worrying about whether you are getting enough into your baby to keep up with the demands of the pediatrician’s best friend:  the infant growth chart (which are designed to follow formula fed babies’ growth curves, not breast fed babies’) can make any mom more than a little anxious.  Make no mistake, when going well, breastfeeding can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding once you and your baby have the process figured out.  But when you are struggling, every single feeding (which means 8-10 times a day for sometimes an hour at a time) can feel daunting and overwhelming.

Stick with it.  It does get easier.  I am sure you have heard this before.  You may or may not believe it.  The rewards you will reap once all the kinks have been worked out are immeasurable.   If you are having difficulties breastfeeding, get help.  Find a breastfeeding support group (like La Leche) or a new moms group in your area.  Find a lactation consultant.  Many will consult for minor issues over the phone.  Seek out a postpartum doula.  Many are very knowledgeable about breastfeeding and will help you with many other challenging aspects of being a new mom.

When is it a good time to add baby #2?

I have such a vivid memory of the first time the suggestion of having a second child came up in conversation with my husband.  My daughter was probably around a month old.  I only remember this because it was a cold, grey fall day in New York City and little our family was strolling through Madison Square Park.  This memory was clouded by that haze that covers everything during this time due to extreme sleep deprivation.  The conversation went something like this:

My husband (in a very excited voice): Let’s have another one!

Me:  ARE YOU INSANE?!!!!

My husband:  Guess you aren’t quite ready yet…

No, I was far from ready.  At that point, I was just hoping that someday I wouldn’t spend my days covered in spit-up, that I may again know what it is like to sleep for 8 solid hours, and maybe have some inkling of a desire to ever have sex again.  It took me nearly 2 1/2 years to feel like I could even wrap my brain around the idea of adding another child to our family, and there were many days throughout my second pregnancy that I had doubts that we had made a good choice with regard to the impact that our decision would have on our daughter.  To be honest, I still had my doubts until probably about 6 months ago when my kids really started playing together and showing signs of enjoying each other’s company.

There are many factors to take into account when thinking about adding to your family.  I will try to break them down into some simple pros and cons but it is not always so black and white.  However, before taking into consideration the factors involving actual children, there are the questions related to you as a parent.  Are you ready to start the cycle of going through those early childhood developmental stages, the newborn months, the time that you somehow put all else on hold to focus all your attention on raising a new tiny human?  If the answer is no, then you should wait until you are at the “maybe” or “yes” stage to move on.  There is also the issue of your own age and how much that plays a role in the timing.  If your first child is born after you are 35 and you aren’t interested in continuing your childbearing into your 40s (or your partner doesn’t want to be attending high school graduation when he/she is in his/her 70s), then you may not having the luxury of spacing your children so far apart.  Like I said, the issue isn’t necessarily so cut and dry, but hopefully this will help you sort out some of the details.

You may also decide that you are going to stick with just one.  That is fine too.  Many highly successful and incredibly social people are/were only children.  Robin Williams, Natalie Portman, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter. Just to name a few.  Don’t just take my word for it, there is actual research out there on Only Children.

On to the list…For the sake of simplicity and clarification, we will call children less than 2 years apart “Close in age” and those greater than 2 years apart, “Far apart in age.”

Close in age

Pros

  • Your kids will be at closer developmental stages, making it easier to do similar activities all together.
  • They may share some of the same friends.
  • Possibly similar interests due to closer ages.
  • When they are young, you may be lucky enough to have two kids who still nap.  If you can get them to do this simultaneously, you may have a few minutes to yourself during the day.
  • You can get all those early childhood stages out of the way more quickly.
  • Your toddler will have less memory of what it was like to be the only child, possibly (although not certainly) easing the transition a bit.

Cons

  • Taking care of a newborn and a young toddler is HARD work.
  • Your older child has less ability to reason and understand when Mommy is busy with the baby and can’t give him/her attention.
  • Your older child has not had very long to be the “one and only,” to be the baby, to have all the attention.
  • Your older child may not be in any sort of school program yet (or maybe never but that is a different topic all together depending on your schooling decisions) so you are likely to be outnumbered by your children most of the time if you are home with both of them all day (you may never have realized how easy it was to just have one baby until you have another!).

Far apart in age

Pros

  • Your older child will hopefully be a solid “through the night” sleeper before you start your cycle of sleeplessness all over again.
  • Your older child could potentially be helpful with the baby or at least maybe be willing to be a your “gofer” for things. like burp cloths or diapers (sometimes they love being given a “job” other times they can really set their minds to not helping with this attention sucker, aka “baby”).
  • If youare a SAHM and you don’t have regular childcare, but your older child is in school for half days or even more, giving you time with just the baby. Sometimes this one on one time is hard to come by with a second child.
  • You are now older and wiser since.  You may have even had a few moments of downtime in the last few years to process all that has changed in your life.
Cons
  • Your children may have less in common due to their age difference and different developmental stage (although I think that the relationship they build together can have a lot to do with how your raise them)
  • It may take longer for your older child to adjust to the arrival of a sibling due to a better understanding of their removal from “only child” status
  • Your older child may be actually angry at you for bringing another child into your family.  He/she will get over this, it may just take a while.  This can actually happen no matter how far apart in age your children are.  An older child will just have a better ability to verbalize his/her feelings.
  • It is less likely that you will have time to yourself (if you are a SAHM or on the weekends) in the middle of the day when both kids are napping
  • Your younger child often is schlepped around to all your older child’s activities

No matter if or when you decide to add to your family, know that having another child is more work that you think it will be. We all naively think going into it thinking that since we have done it before, we can do it again.  And you can, its just a lot of work.  A friend of mine once said “One plus one equals 1000.” Somedays, that is how it feels. In the early days after my second child was born, I often thought that having two kids was exponentially harder than having one.  Now, however, I think it is the best thing we ever did for our family and for my daughter (my older child).  After more than 2 years, I do believe she would tell you upfront that she loves her brother and loves playing with him.  I’d like to believe that someday she will even say he is her best friend. Here’s hoping…


Before I had kids, I…

I found myself doing something the other day that I realized I hadn’t had done in nearly six years, since my daughter was born: I ironed one of my husband’s shirts. I basically have a policy regarding ironing that goes something like this:  I don’t iron.  It occurred to me though that I used to do it, back when I had time to spare. Every couple of weeks or so when the stack of hanging shirts got so big and filled all the door handles in our tiny apartment, I would bring out the ironing board and put on a good movie and just do it.  The one shirt I ironed the other day had been laying in a crumpled ball in our room for probably 6 months.

A lot has changed since those days when I had hours of “free time.” We happened to find these great wrinkle free shirts that requiring no ironing a few years back.  But even if we hadn’t made this discovery, there still would be no ironing in my home. Who has the time?  This got me to thinking about all the things that have changed since I had kids.  So, here is my top ten list of things that complete the sentence “Before I had kids, I…” Feel free to write in comments with how you would complete the sentence.

10.  Gave little thought to child-free travelers who got on the airplane and, without any need to provide constant entertainment in a confined space, just closed their eyes and took a nap.  Now I stare at them with envy.

9.  Never really enjoyed the moments alone in the car listening to “grown-up music” without hearing a constant whine of “I no like this song!”

8.  Never really knew the true meaning of multitasking.

7.  Hadn’t ever fallen into bed at night truly exhausted, only to be woken up a few hours later.

6.  Never knew that one could be covered in so many bodily fluids in just one day.

5.  Never knew that sheer heart stopping panicked feeling when I blinked and couldn’t locate my toddler in the park, even for just one second.

4.  Also never knew the relief that comes from seeing said toddler running towards me with the dandelions he was picking from behind a big tree for me.

3.  Never knew the value of shared experiences among mothers and how much sanity they can provide.

2.  Never truly appreciated my own mother.

1.  Never knew it was possible to love someone so much despite the fact that they often make me crazy.

So there you have it.  What has changed for you since you’ve become a parent? What do you know now that you never did before?

Being a mom is hard enough

I think it is safe to say that being a mom is a very difficult job.  Truthfully, it is not really just one job.  It is many. Even if you are gainfully employed in the world outside your home, you still have many jobs at home as they relate to your child/children.  Typically, many of these are jobs we are not trained for.  Here is a short list of some of the jobs we occupy as moms (this is by no means an exhaustive list so please feel free to write in comments on jobs you think I may have missed):  Doctor (patching up scrapes and bruises, checking temps, etc), lawyer (I often refer to my daughter as the “great negotiator”), librarian/storyteller, sanitation worker, cafeteria worker/cook, referee (if you have multiple children or participate in playdates of any sort), teacher, nutritionist, interpreter, comedian/entertainer, musician and chauffeur.  Don’t get me wrong, these are my kids, and I generally don’t mind doing most of these jobs. After all, as a mom, this is what I signed up for.  But let’s be honest, most of this work is largely thankless, especially if your children are small.  It is not often that your young child will say to you, “Gee Mommy, thank you for spending all your spare moments preparing this delicious and nutritious meal that I have now eaten with no complaints.”  I like to think of my reward for my hard work as happening when my toddler son grabs my face by the cheeks with his water/sand covered hands, pulls me towards him and gives me a big kiss.

However, as I said, being a mom is often very hard.  Many years ago, at a time when I was going through a particularly rough patch as a mom, I was talking to a wise, stay at home mom friend of mine, Gina.  She said something that has stuck with me since (this must have been pretty brilliant because I can hardly remember what was said to me yesterday).  She said, “Sometimes I hate my job (she was referring to her job as a mom).  Sometimes I really don’t like my boss (a.k.a. her kids).  Sometimes I am really burned out.  Sometimes I want to quit my job, but I can’t because there is no one else to do it.”

So with all that we go through as we forge ahead as moms, day in and day out, you would think we (being a collective community of moms) would all be bonded through these shared trials and tribulations.  Often times we are. However, I still find that there is so much judgement out there about the choices we make as parents.  These choices start early on whether it is the decision between breastfeeding vs. formula feeding or maybe a little of both, cloth vs. disposable diapers, working outside the home vs. staying home with your kids, public school vs. private school, etc.  We attempt to  make well informed choices but often we are really just treading water and doing the best we can as moms to stay afloat in this culture of information overload where many of us exist.  Between well meaning (but sometimes emotionally unhelpful) family members, parenting books and experts, it is easy to feel like a “bad parent” every once in a while.  Since we all know that there is no one right way to be a parent, it can be a tremendous blow to ones self esteem when judged by a fellow mother.  Being a mom is hard enough without being judged by other moms for the choices we have made.  We’re all just doing the best we can, right?

The transition to motherhood

They say that change is inevitable.  But let’s face it, change is hard. Change is uncomfortable because it often leaves us in unfamiliar territory and with a feeling of not knowing what we are doing.  This is an understatement when it comes to having your first baby.  The transition to motherhood, and I’ll argue fatherhood too,  is something that (and I think most would agree) you can’t really understand until you have experienced it for yourself.  Sure you can go to childbirth classes, you can take a class on newborn care and even one on breastfeeding.  All of these things you think will prepare you for the task of becoming a parent but in reality, its mostly just trial and error or really trial by fire.  You go from one minute being this glowing pregnant woman whom people shower attention over, to a mother who is often overlooked in favor of her small child. It’s a sharp contrast.  Many women with whom I have spoken, myself included, say that even minutes after giving birth, you can no longer remember the feeling of having that small life inside of you.  Aside from having an extra 30 or so pounds to lose, it’s as though it never happened. Except for the fact that you are now responsible for taking care of this new life.

This is great, right?  This is what you wanted (assuming you became pregnant through planning and choice).  Immediately following the birth of your baby, there is an unbelievable sense of euphoria.  It’s all you can do to keep from staring at this person you have waited so long to meet.  Even though you really should take this time when you are in the hospital with a fully staffed nursery to get some sleep, closing your eyes and shutting down your brain is nearly impossible. It really is hard to conceptualize that one minute this small person was inside you and now he or she is out and here to stay.  I think this sense of disbelief continued for several months after the birth of my first child.  My husband and I would look at her and then at each other and ask, “where did she come from?” Because even though you have been planning this for the last 9 months (or maybe longer if you have been dreaming of having a baby for quite some time), when it actually happens, its kind of hard to wrap your brain around.

It’s a HUGE adjustment.  Every day things that we once took for granted such as sleeping, showering, going to the bathroom, making a meal, grocery shopping, the list goes on…now have to be prioritized. Let’s see..I have a couple of minutes until he wakes up and I will be spending the next hour or more feeding, changing, and soothing him. I now need to choose from one of those activities of daily living that I want to try to accomplish.  Good luck.  The simple task of leaving the house can seem overwhelming and sometimes impossible.

Some of the highly productive and professional moms who participated in one of my new moms groups said that they had all sorts of lists of things they figured they would be able to accomplish while on maternity leave.  They all thought, “with three months off of work and only one small baby to take care of, think of how much I can get done.” Needless to say, they were all amazed at how little of that list was crossed off at the end of three months.

All of this is to say while the actual act of becoming a mother happens the minute you give birth, the process of becoming a mom, learning all there is to know about your baby, figuring out what kind of parent you want to be and how to achieve a balance between your role as a mother and your own identity, takes time.  It also takes help.  You do not have to navigate this transition alone.  All too often, I find that new moms go “radio-silent” following the birth of a baby.  Please ask for help.  Whether it is from your own mother, a sister, a hired babysitter, a postpartum doula (which is an excellent support but that is a conversation for another time), or a friend. And once you have mastered the task of leaving the house with your newborn, finding other new moms who share your experience can ease this transition tremendously.  These may be women you meet at the park, at a mom and baby fitness class, at an organized new moms group or even just moms you start chatting with walking down the street with their strollers. You’ll find these women will be one of the most valuable resources you posses as a mother.

If my baby is healthy, does my birth story really matter?

I have been thinking a lot lately about birth stories.  By this I mean the story we tell of our child’s birth.  Recently, I was at a conference where an anesthesiologist who does many many epidurals all day long said that the day of your child’s birth is but one day in your child’s life and in the grand scheme of things, how this day went is not nearly as important as all the days that follow.  I am paraphrasing of course.  To a large degree, I agree with her.  Yes, what is always most important in the realm of childbirth is that mother and baby are both healthy and the actual birth should not be the defining moment in your life as a parent.  However, that being said, and if every one is healthy, if things did not go as you had hoped, this can be a memory that stays with you for a long time.  I have been living for the last 30+ years hearing from my own mother how I showed up 12 days late and then subjected her to hours and hours of painful back labor.  Granted back then inductions and epidurals weren’t a dime a dozen as they are now but had that been an option for her, I would like to believe that would have eased the over 30 year guilt trip that I have been on.   Incidentally, after all this time, she has finally conceded to me that if she hadn’t been required to lay in bed during labor and deliver flat on her back, things might have gone a little differently.  But I digress.

For those who  have a clear plan of how they want their child’s birth to take place and for those whom that plan has fallen through (as often happens with the unpredictable  nature of childbirth), it can be associated with long term disappointment and, depending on the circumstances, lasting trauma.  I think there is often a great deal of shame and guilt associated with those feelings of disappointment if things did not go as planned for you but you have still had a healthy baby.  The prevailing attitude is so often, “you should feel lucky that you have this beautiful, healthy baby, no matter how he/she arrived here.”  Regardless, I think it is important to acknowledge this loss.  Maybe this is a feeling that will fade easily over time, maybe it will stick with you forever.  I feel extremely lucky that my birth experiences, and in particular my second one which was free of any serious medical complications, were generally positive.  I often think back on my son’s birth specifically and remember it as this truly life-changing and joyous experience. This even includes the fact that when he was handed was handed to me, immediately following his birth, no one had put a diaper on him and proceeded to poop all over me.   No biggie.

All this is to say that when a mom tells you her birth story, if it didn’t go as she had hoped, its okay to say that you are sorry for that loss.  There is nothing wrong with honoring the fact that this is a memory that very well may stick with her for the rest of her life and it may not be 100% joyous.  Its okay for her to feel sad about this loss.  Maybe by acknowledging this and helping her to move past this emotional pain, you will have saved her child from a lifetime of hearing about it and the ensuing guilt for something he/she had no control over.

How can one little baby need so much stuff?

So you are having your first baby.  You know that all sorts of things under the sun are made these days for babies, but it can be very tough to tease out exactly what you need.  The truth is, initially, you need very little.  You hardly even need anything to dress your baby in to come home from the hospital because the hospital will put him or her in a little t-shirt and a diaper and then swaddle them up tight.  And you need a carseat, but that is really it.  Most people will not be such minimalists though.

One must is a night light.  It is never a good idea to turn on the lights in the middle of the night when you need to see to feed your baby.  This tells your child that it is time to be up and playing.  Keeping on a small night light at night helps so that you can see but the room will not be too bright.

What follows is a crazy list of all the things you could possibly need the moment you baby comes home from the hospital. Much of this you may get as gifts from well meaning friends and family.  Much of it can wait.  Much of this you can get used.  There is a great website called thredUP.com where you can trade clothes with people.  A friend of mine who is an amazing conservationist and environmentalist had a baby shower where she provided her guests with a list of all the things she wanted and asked that all the gifts be used.  I thought this was a fantastic idea.

Here is the list, try not to let it overwhelm you.  Click on the highlighted words to go to pictures on other websites.

Nursing

Lanolin (made by Medela or Lansinoh)

Breast pump (most agree the good ones are made by Medela)

Medela sterilization bags

Nursing pads.  These come in disposable and non-disposable

Nursing bras.  I recommend getting fitted for these towards the very end of your pregnancy.

Nursing pillow.  Boppy/My Breast Friend.  A regular pillow will work too but sometimes they are too squishy.

Feeding

12 or more plain burp cloths/cloth diapers

4-6 4oz bottles.  If you aren’t nursing, you will probably need more.  If you are using formula, you will need bigger bottles sooner than if you are nursing and feeding pumped milk in a bottle.

4-6 bibs

Sleeping

2 Waterproof pads for crib

1 waterproof pad for pack n play

2-3 crib sheets

2-3 pack n play sheets

Pack n Play

Crib and mattress.  If you don’t have a crib, you can easily use a Pack n Play for quite a while.

White noise machine.  I like this one made by Marpac but there are many out there.

Night light

Changing

Changing table pad

2-3 changing table pad covers

Diaper rash cream.  There are many out there.  I don’t like Desitin because of the odor.  Some people like Butt Paste.  I use something that you have to order at the pharmacy, it does not require a prescription.  It is called Calmoseptin.  It is great!

Diapers.  Initially they wear either a newborn size or a size 1.  Try not to buy too many because they grow out of them very quickly.  I am also a huge advocate of cloth diapering.  This no longer is such a chore as it once was.  If I could go back and do it all again, I would use cloth diapers.  But that is a discussion for another blog post…

Bathing

4-6 washcloths

2-4 hooded towels

Baby body wash.  I prefer the Aveno.  This one has a fragrance.  There are fragrance free body washes available.

Moisturizer.  Eucerin/Aquaphor is very thick but good for babies with very dry skin.

Clothing

3-5 hats

6-8 pairs of socks, depending on time of year

4-6 0-3 month short-sleeved onsies

4-6 0-3 month long-sleeved onsies (I would wait to buy 3-6 month clothing, much of this you may get as gifts)

2 sleep sacks

4-6 0-3 month sleepers with feet

2-3 “swaddlers”.  These are called “Swaddle Me“s or the Miracle Blanket.  These are tremendously helpful when trying to swaddle a squirmy newborn.

Other

4-6 good receiving blankets for swaddling—the best ones in the beginning are the ones from the hospital.  Its a good idea to swipe a few extra of those.  There are now some great Muslin blankets by Aden and Anais that I wish I had used with my kids.  They are very light weight, an excellent size for swaddling and you can continue to use them as light blankets and loveys as your child grows up.

2-4 thicker blankets. These are good for putting the baby on the floor.  You may get several of these as gifts

Bouncy seat.  It’s good to have someplace to put the baby other than their bed, the carseat or the floor.

Baby swing.  Cradle swings can be a life saver because many babies can be put to sleep much more easily while swinging.

Newborn headrest for carseat if yours doesn’t come with one already.

Mobile

Rectal thermometer

Baby monitor.  We love our video monitor but it is not necessary.  It’s likely you won’t really need a monitor for several months.

Baby scissors, baby nail clippers.  Soft nail file.  Nasal aspirator.  These things often come together as a set.

Stroller.  Which stroller you choose will have a lot to do with where you live and what kind of use you will get out of your stroller.

Diaper bag

Infant carrier such as a Baby Bjorn, a Moby wrap, or an Ergo Baby.  I love the Ergo, others prefer the simplicity of a wrap.  If you are using the Ergo with a newborn, you will need the infant insert.

My breastfed baby won’t take a bottle!

Congratulations!  You have been successful at getting nursing established with your baby.  This is no easy task.  I tell women all the time that even though nursing is the most natural and healthy way to feed your baby, it is not necessarily the easiest.  Now that your baby is nursing well and your supply is well established, you have begun to realize that unless you baby learns to take a bottle, you are essentially tied to him or her for every feeding until you or your child decide to end your nursing relationship.  Some babies switch between the bottle and the boob with ease.  Others, my son included, at some point decide that they would prefer the warm, snuggly nursing experience for all their feedings.  Can you blame them, really?  This often happens when a baby’s parents have introduced a bottle early on (around one or two weeks old) but haven’t been really consistently bottle feeding at least once a day on a daily basis.  With my daughter, we were very diligent about this because we knew she would be going to daycare when I returned to work at 3 months and would need to be able to take a bottle.  With my son, we were more lackadaisical about the bottle, and my husband wasn’t around at feeding times as much as he had been with my daughter.  Then at about 3 months old, my son went on a bottle strike. He would rather cry and scream for hours than take a bottle. I went into panic mode.  What was I going to do?  I needed to be away from my baby for various commitments, not to mention the possibility of  someday enjoying a night out for dinner with my husband or the girls.  I then emailed everyone I knew who had breastfed their babies.  What did I learn?  That this was very common.  Many of my friends and acquaintances told me that their baby had always refused the bottle.  This was not an acceptable answer for me.  I called my pediatrician (which I rarely do unless my child has had a fever for days on end).  Her response was “Babies can be VERY stubborn.”  We proceeded to stage an “intervention” of sorts.  The following is my advice to you on how to get your baby to take a bottle.  This worked for us, and it has worked for many others that I have advised on this matter.

My best advice is to start giving your baby a bottle when he/she is about 3-4 weeks old just to start getting everyone used to the process. Once your milk supply is well established and any of the early nursing challenges have worked themselves out, you should attempt to give one bottle every day to every other day so that your baby doesn’t get “out of the habit.”  Ideally, the person who gives the bottle should not be the nursing mom but if this is not possible, its better if mom gives the bottle than then baby does not get one at all for several days in a row. If you have fallen behind on this “schedule” as we did (because let’s face it, it’s not like when you have a newborn, you have nothing else to be doing during the day other than pumping) and your baby goes on a bottle strike, you can try these steps below.  I have found this to be successful around 3-4 months old.  I can’t say whether or not it will work later than that.  It’s worth a shot though.

  • Find someone other than yourself (the nursing mom) who can be around consistently for at least a day, maybe two and who can be the one to bottle feed the baby.  Ideally, this should be a very patient person, someone who is not going to take it personally when the baby refuses a bottle from them.  Sometimes this can be the baby’s father, sometimes he gets too frustrated.  I find that grandparents who are happy to spend time with their grandchild, no matter how cranky the baby may be, make excellent candidates.
  • Make yourself scarce and pump.  Starting from the first feeding in the morning, your designated bottle feeder should be the first person to go in to your baby in the morning and should try giving the bottle.
  • Your baby may fight it.  The bottle feeder should try giving the bottle for about 5 minutes or so.  If it is not working, take a short break and try again in about 10 minutes.
  • The bottle feeder should not sit where you normally nurse the baby.  This is a NURSING spot and your baby may become very angry that he/she is not nursing there.
  • The bottle feeder should use a shirt of yours that you wore the day before as a sort of blanket/burp cloth (let’s face it, most of our clothing doubles as a burp cloth when we are nursing anyway, right?).  Having this near the baby will be comforting and help him/her recognize your scent when its time to eat.
  • Do your very best not to give in and nurse.  In fact, go shopping.  Do something for yourself.  Just don’t forget to bring your pump.  Your baby will likely give up their boycott when they realize how hungry he/she is and decide that a bottle with your milk in it is better than no milk at all.
  • Continue this for a day or two if you have the time and assistance.
  • If you are successful at getting your baby to take bottles after this intervention, don’t lose the skill!  I recommend that someone continue to give your baby a bottle daily for at least a couple of months.  Although it is not ideal for the mom to give a bottle (and it really is twice as much work since you have to pump and feed rather than just feeding), if no one else is going to be available that day, you will have to do it yourself.
Good Luck!

Finding Balance

In 2005, right before my daughter was born, Hurricane Katrina virtually wiped out the city of New Orleans, leaving countless families homeless.  I was really only vaguely aware of this catastrophe because as this was all taking place, I was being put on bed rest for high blood pressure, being told I had to have my labor induced, and wallowing in self pity over the loss of my envisioned natural childbirth experience.  I then did what many new moms do which was to “go off the map” or “radio silent,” as I often refer to it.  Nothing else existed in my world other than the day in and day out feedings, diaper changes, and interrupted snippets of sleep.  It really wasn’t until the one year anniversary of Katrina, when I had emerged from my new mommy haze, that I began to fully appreciate the magnitude of what had taken place.  I was lucky.

I was recently contacted by a new mom who was signing up for the upcoming new moms support group session.  In addition to coping with the everyday challenges of being a new mom complete with, figuring out how to care for a newborn, the unpredictability of ones days, and the sleepless nights, she is also dealing with the emotional trauma of her hometown in Japan having recently been severely damaged by the tsunami.  Fortunately, her family is all safe.  I said before that I was lucky because I was not simultaneously coping with any trauma other than that of becoming a new mom and all the emotions that accompany that experience.  This brought to mind the many times I have had to balance being a parent with whatever else I was dealing with emotionally.  As mothers and fathers, there are often times when we have to set aside our own emotions in order to be present for our children.  This is not an easy task.  When the blizzard of 2011 hit Chicago this winter, I was very aware of the fact that I was not dealing well with the combination of parenting and the fact that I was feeling emotionally claustrophobic by the reality that my car was parked in my garage behind 3 feet of immovable snow, thereby trapping us inside for an undetermined length of time.  I have also seen friends go through this as well.  A close friend of mine had to cope with a very public betrayal by her husband while also caring for her three children under the age of 6. Or my closest friend from childhood experiencing a life threatening trauma that forced her to disappear in the middle of the night, essentially abandoning the care of her 2 year old to her parents while she spent nearly a year recovering.  In the two scenarios involving my friends, they were both fortunate enough to have excellent family support available to help.  Not everyone is so lucky.  What emotions do these challenges bring up?  Guilt?  Guilt for the emotional energy we have taken away from our children.  The guilt over not being as present with them as we should be whether be it emotionally or physically.  I am also reminded though how strong we can be as women and mothers for coping with so much, all at once.  Just one of the many ways that we show our expertise at multitasking…