Cloth Diapering

My mom used cloth diapers with me and I always assumed I would do the same.  Seemed an easy way to save some money, while also giving my little one less exposure to harmful chemicals.  Plus, it is a great way to help out the environment a bit, keeping (on average) 6,000 diapers out of the landfill.

When I was pregnant and started to research it, it was beyond overwhelming.  There were so many different brands, types of diapers, opinions on how to wash, etc.  I had some friends give great advice to get me started, did a lot less research and decided to keep things as simple as possible. If you have been considering trying cloth diapers but have been scared that it would be too difficult or complicated, I want to share the easy way to cloth diaper that’s worked for me.

Newborn Days: We did not start cloth diapering until my daughter was around 3 months old for a couple reasons:

  1. Newborns don’t fit in cloth diapers until they are a bit chunkier.  You have to buy special newborn cloth diapers, which didn’t seem worth the investment to me. My daughter struggled to gain weight in the beginning, so it took her a few months for her skinny legs to fill them out.
  2. Life with a newborn can be hard. I did not have the emotional or physical energy or time to cloth diaper with the amount of diapers babies go through in the first weeks.  Once the diaper count slowed, it felt much more feasible.

We got lots of disposable diapers as gifts from people, so we just used those.  I will say that it is amazing how using cloth prevents blow outs SO much better; that reason alone may convince me to start earlier with another baby.

Saving Money: Cloth diapers can be a bit of an investment at the beginning, but overall it is much cheaper in the long-run.  There are a several ways to save on costs:

  • Register for them. When you create a gift registry for your baby shower, add cloth diapers to the list.  The covers can be cute like clothes and people like to buy them.  This saves you a ton in the up-front investment and was how I built my own stash.
  • Choose a cheaper type and splurge on the brand. Cloth diapers come in all types, with all-in-one and pockets being much more expensive than the prefold + covers. Brand matters too- I suggest choosing a top quality brand that lasts many washes and wears to avoid future replacement costs.
  • Buy gender-neutral. If you can use diapers for multiple kids, that helps save a lot on the investment.  I have some super girly options, but most of my patterns and colors are more gender neutral for more flexibility in the future.
  • Get them second-hand. I did not do this but wish I had known about the huge market for used cloth diapers.  You can strip clean used diapers. Or, if that is unappealing, I am constantly seeing people selling their stashes that they’ve never even used because they bought and never actually tried it.

My Routine:  I use prefolded cloth diapers in covers during the day.  There are lots of ways to fold the prefolds and it really depends on your baby’s gender and habits.  I have found that the angel fold has worked best so far for us.

Since they have wetness protection, I usually only change the covers when it is a poopy diaper.  Wet diapers go straight into a wet bag.  Before 6 months (starting solids), dirty diapers also went straight to the wet bag.  Now, I use a diaper sprayer attached to my toilet to rinse out any solids before putting in the wet bag until laundry day.

I use cloth wipes so that I can keep everything together and not need both a trash can and wet bag.  Cloth wipes are much better at wiping and more gentle on the skin anyway.  I put the wipes in a diaper warmer with a homemade solution of coconut oil, lavender essential oil and water.

At night, I use pocket diapers with extra hemp inserts for additional absorbency.

Laundry Routine: I end up washing my cloth diapers every 3-4 days.  I dump everything in the wet bag into the washer and throw the wet bag in too.  Wash cycles vary greatly based on your type of washing machine and hardness/softness of water.  I would recommend searching for your machine type on the Fluff Love University website for detailed instructions on the best way to clean your diapers thoroughly and keep them lasting.

For detergent, I prefer to use powder because I have to add Borax to my washes to prevent mineral build up with the hard water at our home.  You can see a list of recommended options here, but I generally use either Seventh Generation or Tide Free & Clear.  I have been able to get rid of all staining by laying the items in the sun; I have never used bleach on my diapers.

Using prefolds & covers helps reduce drying time.  I always air dry my covers on a rack to preserve the elastics and my wet bags too.  Inserts & prefolds can go in the dryer and it usually takes 2 cycles to dry them.

Traveling: I still use disposable diapers if we are traveling or will be out and about for a few hours.  Generally if we are just going to the grocery store or somewhere short & nearby, I will keep her in a cloth diaper.  I do keep a small wetbag in my diaper bag just in case.

Getting Started:  People definitely have their preferences for what style and brands to buy.  My goals were to save money and make things as simple as possible.  And I had two main things I looked for in deciding on a brand of covers:

  1. Double gussets = two layers of elastic around the leg holes. Gives a great, flexible fit even for a kid with skinny legs and I have never had a problem with leaking.
  2. Snap closure.  Velcro just doesn’t last and it sticks to everything.

Here’s what makes up my  stash of cloth diapering supplies:

Are cloth diapers something you would be willing to try?  What other questions do you have?  I would love to help you get started!

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Baby Led Weaning

Now that my baby is almost a year old, we’ve got nearly 6 months of solids food eating underway.  It has been such a fun experience watching her explore food.  She is an incredible eater compared to most kids her age and I am thankful she is always willing to try new foods.

When I was pregnant, I read the book Bringing Up Bébé (highly recommend!) that shares bits of wisdom from French parenting. One of the main topics in the book was about kids’ eating and it really struck a cord with me. The idea is this: Kids Eat What Parents Eat.  It involves eating mostly real food, eating a variety of food – including lots of colorful vegetables, tasting new items, having a healthy relationship with eating habits, and eating together as a family.  When we were getting close to starting solids with my daughter, I started to research more about how to implement this practically and discovered Baby Led Weaning (BLW).

(FYI: Weaning in this case simply means the introduction of solids, and not weaning from breastmilk.) BLW takes into practice the whole idea above in a safe way for little babies as they are learning how to eat.  Babies have been eating what their parents ate for thousands of years- far before we had blenders to make purees or little baby spoons. Many nations around the world follow the BLW way naturally.

We have loved the BLW process and I’m now a huge advocate of how it works to create a healthy little eater.  My mom and husband were very skeptical at first, but now they are believers in the process too! Here are the benefits I have seen so far:

  • Family Meals: Sharing food together as a family and in community are important to me.  Developing this habit early was a big goal for me.  The biggest benefit practically is that baby sees you eating and mimics you- both being willing to eat what you eat and copying the way you eat (chewing, bite sizes, using utensils).  This also begins to teach a baby how to behave at a dinner table -I think has already had a positive effect on our ability to eat in public without causing a scene and actually getting to eat our own meals.
  • Confidence & Independence: Giving my daughter the ability to learn how to eat has given her confidence in trying new foods and starting to be self-sufficient.  It also gives me a much-needed break as I don’t always have to sit there spoon feeding her.
  • Safety- Chewing Before Swallowing: When babies start with purees, they are used to getting a large amount of food in their mouth and swallowing.  When they start solids from there, food often must be cut very tiny so they do not choke.  BLW teaches babies how to chew before swallowing. It also teaches how much is appropriate to bite off of an item and how much will fit in their mouth. Since babies have a stronger gag reflex when they are younger, it is the perfect time to teach this skill- I have seen my daughter fill her mouth and start to gag, learning to spit it out and try again rather than forcing it down and choking.
  • Developing Tastes: Have you tasted baby food? It’s bland and disgusting. It doesn’t taste good to us, so why would a baby want to eat it? Babies are born with a full set of 10,000+ taste buds and are just as eager to enjoy their meals as we are.  There is no reason to stay away from various flavors or spices.  My daughter can eat food just as spicy as I like it and she prefers her food to be well-seasoned.  She loves chili, Tex-Mex and BBQ!
  • Learning by Touch/Senses: We all know that babies learn by putting things in their mouth.  They explore the whole world this way.  As I put various items from our meals on her tray, she gets the chance to touch everything- the different textures and sizes- and develop her grasp. She also gets to experience the smells and colors of her food much better than she would through a puree.  Babies are drawn to color (as we see in their toys) and this translates to the food they eat as well- often, my daughter will choose the orange sweet potato or green bean or red beet over white bread.
  • Convenience: I don’t have time to make homemade purees.  When we go out, she just eats whatever I order. And at home, she eats whatever I cook.  I’m not making special meals for her or accommodations. It’s simply easier on me.

Does this sound like something you would be interested in trying with your baby?  I know that getting started with something so different to the norm can be overwhelming, but here’s a little intro on what helped me the most:

Resources: I recommend reading either of the following BLW books:

I also joined the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners Facebook group to see helpful pictures and videos, answers to questions and tons of tips.  I started following it about 2 months before we started and it was more helpful than anything!

When to Start: No sooner than when baby is 6 months of age, can sit unassisted, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and has an interest in food.

Safety: Choking risk is the number one reason I hear that people are afraid to try BLW.  As I mentioned above, BLW does not increase choking risk. The key thing is to learn the difference between gagging and choking.  Gagging is a reaction that helps prevent choking and teaching them how not to choke- letting them work it out and learn.  Watching videos on the Facebook group and knowing the signs for gagging vs. choking are important.  As always, it is important to know child CPR as a parent, and that knowledge should help you be more confident when your baby eats.  An easy way to distinguish: If they are loud & red, let them go ahead. If they are silent & blue, they need help from you.

In general, baby should be eating what you are eating, with a few health/safety exceptions…

  • Don’t offer whole nuts or popcorn or peanut butter on a spoon- items that can easily stick to/in their throat.
  • Quarter (lengthwise) round foods to avoid lodging in the windpipe: blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, sausage, string cheese, carrots.
  • Season generously but limit the salt/sodium. Since your babies kidneys aren’t fully developed, too much sodium can cause them harm.  This is another good reason to avoid processed food.

No teeth? No problem.  My daughter did not have teeth when we started.  She still would mimic my chewing and those jaws + saliva are powerful at breaking down foods to swallow. You would be amazed at how she learned to pull at a strip of meat with her gums and chomp on it a few minutes before swallowing. This girl loved steak even before she had teeth.

Food Before One Is Just For Fun: For the first couple of months, my daughter really did not eat a lot.  She would taste and chew and explore, but would swallow very little. And that is perfectly normal and okay.  Breast milk or formula is still a baby’s main source of nutrition before the age of one.

BLW How to CutCutting to Size: There is no need to cut foods into tiny pieces.  In fact, you want foods to be more finger-sized so they are easier for young babies to pick up and hold.  Having large pieces also helps them learn to bite off an appropriate amount. Cutting little grooves in slippery items like banana and avocado is also helpful to keep their grip. Here is a great picture to use as an example when you are preparing food for your little:

What do you think? Is this something you would try with your baby?  Have you tried it and loved it (or hated it)?  I would love to hear from you!

10 Things I Didn’t Expect About Being a Mom to a Newborn

Now that my daughter is almost a year old, I’ve been reflecting back a lot.  I’m thankful to have a super content, happy baby these days, but the beginning months were really difficult for me. I knew that being a mom would be hard.  Rewarding, but exhausting.  We were the last of most of our friends to have a kid and our friends are pretty open & honest, so I thought my expectations were well-set. But, there were a few things I did not anticipate about those first few months having a newborn…

  1. My baby’s birth day was not the best day of my life. I knew childbirth would be really hard, especially because my plan was to do it without medication.  It is called labor after all. But, I thought millions of women have done this throughout history, I can do it too.  I did it, but the pain of back labor left me kind of traumatized.  (Read my birth story here.)  I’ve had hundreds of better days than being in excruciating pain trying to push a baby out. It was absolutely incredible (and a relief) to finally meet my daughter, so that moment was the best. But, the day itself was terrible.
  2. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it can feel impossible. Breastfeeding is another thing that I had heard plenty of stories about.  I knew it could be painful and take lots of practice through the pain.  But, I thought that getting help from a lactation consultant could fix all those things.  Or that maybe people just gave up too quickly. I am so glad it is an easy, beautiful thing for some people, but, for some of us, there can be so many obstacles to overcome.  I’ve made it almost 11 months and it still isn’t easy.  I’m shocked and so grateful we haven’t had to supplement with formula, but I will never think less of anyone who has to for their sanity or to ensure baby is fed. Read our breastfeeding journey here.
  3. You may dread car rides.  I thought that putting baby in a car seat and driving around was supposed to be this magical, instantly calming thing to make them stop crying and fall asleep.  Or your baby is like mine and instantly loses it as soon as you put them in the car seat and proceeds to scream the entire drive where ever you are going.  Maybe they will quiet down a bit once you get going on the highway, but the second you hit traffic or a red light, the screaming resumes. I’ve never hated yellow lights so much.
  4. Pacifiers will ruin nothing.  Nor will they solve everything. I heard & read that you should never give a baby a pacifier before 2 weeks old or you could ruin breastfeeding, so I was going to try my best to follow that.  Maybe it’s just my baby, but she wasn’t dumb- she knew the difference between something milk is coming out of and something it’s not. We made it a few days before getting desperate enough to try it; of course, she wouldn’t even take it, so it wasn’t very helpful.
  5. How it was possible to get so little sleep and still function. Maybe your baby slept through the night at 4 weeks old. Awesome. Mine didn’t until 9 months and I know some would even be thankful for that. To nap those first three months, she had to be held. Thank the Lord for my mom who would come over to hold her while I napped and for the solly wrap that allowed me to wear her and be hands-free to get things done. I still can’t even fathom how I worked full time and took care of a 3-month old fussy baby getting only a couple hours of sleep each night, but I did it. Somehow, you survive. P.S. If you aren’t a parent yet or pregnant, I recommend not saying you’re “exhausted” to anyone with a baby.
  6. Some babies are hot-natured.  I’ve always seen newborns bundled in so many clothes and blankets babies sleeping in footed fleece onesies and thought that’s what you were supposed to do.  My daughter has only worn socks like 4 times in her life.  I’ve gotten plenty of judgmental looks from strangers, but I realized very early on that she was getting extremely hot in “typical” newborn attire, so I stopped.  She wears long sleeve onesies and a muslin sleep sack to sleep every night and she’s just fine.  And it’s got to be cooler than 70 degrees out to even consider pants. Every baby is different.
  7. Bottles can take practice.  Babies love milk. But, even when a bottle is filled with that magical goodness, they still may reject it as if it is poison. We tried 5 types of bottles with the milk at different temperatures and several individuals trying in various positions over the course of two weeks.  Nothing was working. Then, finally, the week before I went back to work, my friend (thanks, Emily!) held her while standing, bouncing and facing the tv and she finally drank it. From then on, she took it no problem. Why did that have to be so hard!?
  8. Schedule? What is a schedule? If parenthood has taught me anything, it is to be flexible. If I followed the eat every 3-4 hours advice, my daughter, who struggled to get enough milk or gain weight, would have been a failure to thrive.  I nursed on demand and I’m thankful I did. But, it kept us home most of the time in those early months. I am still amazed when I see people out and about with their newborns because our fussy baby who needed to eat constantly wouldn’t really allow that. Eat, Play, Sleep?  No way. Not for us.  She nursed to sleep for months because it was the only way she would sleep.  She’s always napped when she’s tired and I watch for cues instead of watching the clock.  It’s what is best for her.
  9. The diaper part isn’t so bad, except for the blowouts. I thought I would find it far more annoying to change diapers all day than I did. Exclusively breastfed newborn baby diapers are not bad… Even my husband was surprised at how not terrible it was pre-solids. But, there is just something about that poo that no matter the brand/size/fit of a diaper, you are bound to have a blowout every once in awhile. And it will always happen when you’ve just put them in a cute outfit or are about to walk out the door.
  10. It can strengthen your marriage. I heard so many warnings about how having a kid is really hard on your marriage… yes, there is certainly less downtime and date nights are fewer and far between, but you still end up with many quiet evenings at home together.  Of course, it takes work, but I’ve found that us both being in the “we have absolutely no idea what we are doing” stage together, especially when we were both beyond exhausted, bonded us immensely.  I’ve realized more than ever how well we complement each other and what a great team we can be.  I’m also thankful for the 5 years pre-kid we had to travel and learn how to communicate.

We could have never gotten through this trying time without our friends bringing us meals, supportive texts and prayers, and help from my parents, especially my mama who would come over to pray over me, hold the baby while I slept, encourage me through nursing struggles, bring me lunch, make me tea and even clean my house. If you’re in the thick of it, I pray you have a community to support you too.

Parents- is there anything missing from this list you would add?  Were those first few months rough for anyone else?

My Breastfeeding Journey

img_0624This week is #WorldBreastfeedingWeek and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share my journey and celebrate the achievement that I’ve made it 6 months and counting. It’s a long one, but I needed to write it all down, if not just for me to process.

I did everything I could to prepare for breastfeeding.  I had heard from so many friends who struggled with it, how painful it was, and some who switched to formula because it was just too much.  I really wanted to give my daughter the benefits of breast milk and was determined to make it work. During pregnancy, I read the book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and several blogs about nursing, read the KellyMom website, started following La Leche League on Facebook and took a breastfeeding class from a IBCLC (Lactation Specialist).  Even with all that, nothing could have prepared me for how hard this breastfeeding journey would be, both physically and emotionally.

When my baby girl was born, we did skin to skin immediately and for the first few hours of her life.  She breastfeed for the first time about 45 minutes after birth.  It did not feel comfortable, but according to the nurse and midwife, her latch looked great. I noticed immediately when she cried that her tongue was connected to the very front and the midwife confirmed it did look like she had a “tie.”  She said that it could cause problems, and that if it did, we should look into getting it fixed.  I fed her a couple more times at the birth center before going home, each time experiencing the same discomfort, but thought I was just sore from the nearly 5 hours of pumping I did during labor to help encourage contractions during the pushing phase. Ugh!! (read my birth story here)

She slept a lot in those first 12ish hours after birth.. I think we were both just exhausted from the labor… and the amount of feedings seemed “normal.”  After that, she started nursing constantly.  When she wasn’t feeding, she was awake and usually quite fussy.

A nurse came to our home the next day to do a check up.  Her weight had only dropped 1% (though I now believe that scale reading was likely incorrect).  By this time, I was in a lot of pain when I was nursing and (TMI!) was already cracked/bleeding.  She observed me breastfeeding and confirmed once again that the latch looked “perfect” and I was doing everything right.  The nurse encouraged me to get a nipple shield to use until I “got used to it,” so I did and continued on.  The teacher in my breastfeeding class did emphasize that it shouldn’t hurt, but that is may be uncomfortable at first; being a first time mom, I wasn’t sure of the difference.

As the awake time and fussiness continued, I began to wonder why I didn’t have a typical sleepy newborn.  You always hear that newborns sleep, eat and poop; we were having a lot of eating, but not a lot of sleep or diapers. After the first 24 hours, she was not meeting the dirty/wet diaper count they tell you to look for.  Something told me something was not right.

As I’ve learned far too often before in my own health journey, we cannot always trust medical professionals to really know what’s going on.  You have to be your own health advocate at all costs. If you ever feel like there is something wrong and you aren’t getting answers, keep asking questions.  I’m also truly a believer in mother’s intuition… we know our children better than anyone, including nurses and doctors.  Trust your gut.  So, I decided to push for more answers and seek further help.

The following day, at 48 hours old, we made a trip to see the midwife for a weight check. She confirmed that Juliette had already lost 7% of her weight and that we should see an ENT to evaluate/fix her tongue tie.  She also prescribed me some triple nipple cream to help with the pain (which slightly helped). We were able to get in with a pediatric ENT the next morning.  He immediately confirmed her tongue tie and clipped it with scissors right then and there in the office. The procedure was super quick and she didn’t cry long, but it’s certainly heartbreaking to watch your newborn held down while someone cuts their mouth with scissors! He said it would immediately help.

It didn’t.  I continued having to use a nipple shield. It was still painful. And she was still nursing constantly.  My milk came in on Day 4 and I thought that would help, but it didn’t.  I would nurse her for a total of 30-50 minutes each time (both sides). Most times, she would fall asleep for a few minutes at the end of the session and sleep in my arms for a bit.  In between nursing sessions, we might take a break for 15-30 minutes to change diaper and play a bit.  The longest break I ever got in between was 1 hour, except for one 4-5 hour stretch at night before the schedule returned.  Evenings were the worst- she would nurse constantly from 4 or 5 pm to 10 pm at night.  Any breaks were filled with crying.

Typing this now, it seems SO obvious that things were not right.  And, I knew that in the moment, but of all the people I talked to and internet research I did, everyone would just say “well, she’s just cluster feeding before bedtime.”  Let me tell you, cluster feeding is NOT that.

At her two week check up at the pediatrician, she wasn’t yet back to her birth weight as they like babies to be.  But, the amount of her dry and dirty diapers were okay, so they weren’t too concerned.  NOTE: I now know that diaper count can only go so far in telling you that things are okay.  If a baby is feeding that frequently, the amount of diapers they produce may be high, but the amount in the diaper is important too.

We kept going.  I continued sitting in my recliner watching Netflix, nursing her constantly.  I was in pain and exhausted. She was constantly fussy. I am forever grateful for the friends who came to visit and bring us meals.  And for my incredibly supportive husband and parents who encouraged me and prayed over us.

When she was a month old, she had just barely reached her birth weight.  Nothing had changed for us and I decided it was finally time to see an IBCLC.  When she visited us, we did a weighted feed to confirm that only 1-2 oz of milk was getting transferred during a feed, where it should have been more like 3-4 oz.  She immediately noticed that her tongue still looked tied and recommended that we see a pediatric dentist to be evaluated.  She also said that while the latch looked okay from the outside, it was obvious from the amount of milk she was getting / lack of weight gain, and my pain, that it couldn’t be right.  She suggested trying to pump after each feeding and give her a bottle of that milk to supplement.

We made an appointment that afternoon with a pediatric dentist who diagnosed her with a thick posterior tongue tie, which cannot be treated with scissors, only with a laser frenectomy.  A laser is more effective to cut thicker tissue back further, because it cauterizes the wound immediately and with minimal pain.  There is no need to put them under anesthesia for surgery either. We did it right there (again, absolute torture to watch even though it was fast) and I was told, again, that we would see immediate help from the procedure with her latch.

Things slightly improved.  She still wasn’t able to latch without the nipple shield, but seemed less.  She started sleeping a little longer during her first nighttime stretch, and would have longer content times during the day. But the nursing sessions were not all that different: she would still nurse for almost an hour, was nursing very frequently, and would get fussy at the breast.

Days after her procedure, we got thrush.  Thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth of a baby (can spread to the diaper area, but didn’t for us!) and on the nipple of the mom.  In addition to the pain I was already experiencing, this just added to it.  I got an anti-fungal pill prescription for myself and Nyastin (an anti-fungal liquid) for baby.  We used that for the 10 days with zero relief.  Finally, I got some gentian violet, a natural remedy and used that on her – it turned her mouth purple, but the thrush was gone in 4 days!

After the thrush was gone, I was still experiencing pain that would keep me awake at night when I desperately needed sleep.  And even though I was trying to pump to supplement with bottles like the lactation consultant had suggested, my daughter would NOT take a bottle at all.  Most dirty diapers were green, which indicates that she was getting more foremilk than hindmilk (the fatty kind), so I knew she really needed those bottles.  She seemed to be getting more milk, but was still not getting enough.

In addition to the above, I still felt I needed help with spacing out her continued frequent nursing schedule and trying to wean off the nipple shield.  I invited the IBCLC back out for another consultation.  My daughter had quite possibly her worst nursing session ever while she was there, which maybe exaggerated some problems and pushed others under the rug. Unfortunately, I ended up more confused and discouraged.

The lactation consultant felt that her not-tied-but-still-tight tongue, low weight gain, fussiness nursing, painful-sounding swallows and gas indicated one of two problems: possible torticollis/hypertonia or reflux.  We made an appointment to see the pediatrician the next day. The pediatrician prescribed reflux medication to see if it helped (it didn’t) and recommended we visit a craniosacral therapist for body work to loosen the tight neck/face/shoulder/tongue muscles created by months of incorrect nursing.  Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover this expensive therapy and having already spent hundreds trying to save breastfeeding, I had to draw a line somewhere.  I took her to a chiropractor for an adjustment and did some light massage I read about online and prayed for the best.

For my own pain, it was suggested that I get my milk cultured for a deep breast infection. I decided to try essential oils before resorting to an antibiotic and thankfully, again, the natural remedy worked!  I started putting Melrose on and taking oregano oil in capsules and the pain was gone in just a few days.

At 10 weeks, we were still struggling.  And she wouldn’t take a bottle so I felt stuck.  We tried 5 different bottles and 5 different people.  One day, my friend Emily was over for a playdate and offered to try- she stood up, rocking her in front of the tv and she finally took the bottle!  Nursing was still very difficult and I began, reluctantly, considering formula.  I am team #fedisbest, but I had worked SO hard, that I was struggling with feelings of failure.  One night, during a late night nursing session, I saw a mom on a mom’s Facebook group I’m in offer up her extra milk bank donor milk she no longer needed. I arranged to pick it up the next morning and was shocked to receive over 200 ounces of donor milk for free. I was so thankful I cried!

That was a turning point.  Once I was able to start supplementing her with a few bottles each day, she finally started to gain weight and get the fatty hindmilk she needed to keep her satisfied longer in between feedings.  And having the donor milk to use allowed me to keep what I pumped and start building a freezer stash.

When I first started adding in bottles, I was tending towards exclusive pumping. Having each nursing session be such a struggle and never being confident in how much she was getting, I thought it would be the best option.  But my daughter had a really strong emotional reaction to what was essentially weaning, and it was heartbreaking. So, I continued to nurse and just use a couple bottles a day as a supplement to that nursing.  Eventually, over time, the nursing became less of a struggle. Maybe because she wasn’t so hungry all the time or her mouth was big enough to be more effective. I’ll never really know.

Then it was time for me to go back to work at 12 weeks… My maternity leave had been, if I’m being honest, horrible.  Then, when we were finally getting into somewhat of a groove, I had to leave her. Thankfully, I was able to work from home two days a week to continue breastfeeding as much as possible.  While I was at work, I would pump 3 times each day, but couldn’t get enough for the bottles she drank while I was gone. I had to pump each morning after her 3-4am feed to get the extra milk for bottles during the day.  I was working full time, barely sleeping and exhausted.  Two months in, I decided to cut that morning pumping session to get some more sleep (even though I was waking to nurse her, pumping woke me up so much more so it was hard to fall back asleep). I hoped my supply had stabilized enough to get that milk in later pumps, but I quickly learned that wasn’t the case.

A couple weeks after I stopped that early morning pumping session, I started to notice that it was, unfortunately, causing my overall supply to decrease. Then, I got sick and my supply tanked even more.  So, I added that early morning pump back in.  I don’t get anywhere near the amount of milk I used to at that time, so I am thankful for my freezer stash that I have to dig into each work day. But, it has helped keep my supply up for the rest of the day to keep her satisfied while nursing.

On keeping up a milk supply: I’ve found that drinking lots of water and having a diet high in protein and good fats (like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, red meat) is absolutely crucial.  Early morning pumping sessions (your hormones produce more milk at the 3am hour) and frequent nursing on-demand throughout the day.  And I have recently tried a few supplements that have helped a lot: Moringa, Legendairy Milk’s Liquid Gold and Pump Princess.

So here I am, 6.5 months in.  I’m still breastfeeding and it feels like a miracle.  I can’t believe what we have both overcome to make it here and I’m thankful for how the Lord has provided.  In the end, the tear-inducing pain with nursing lasted 2.5 months for me.  I’ve had some pain on and off since then because she still has a narrow latch, but nothing consistent. She’s still hungry every 1.5-2 hours, so we will likely never follow that ideal 3 hour schedule everyone recommends. I still stress about my supply and worry my freezer stash won’t last.  I’m still using the shield, which is annoying, but ultimately I’m okay with it because it saved breastfeeding for us. And while we are saving money by not using formula, there is a certainly a cost to breastfeeding.

I don’t love breastfeeding, but I cherish it. I cherish the connection with my sweet baby each moment she is in my arms (especially now that she’s always on the move!), the ability to calm her by nursing when nothing else will, and the fact that I’m able to provide for her health and nutrition- what an incredible thing!

For those of you soon-to-be mamas reading this, I want to say: You can do it! Check out your local La Leche League group in person or on Facebook- tons of very knowledgeable people on there that can provide you with evidence-based support, not just anecdotal. And don’t be concerned about supply now or in the first few days… there is such a stress out there of comparison with how much people can pump and the size of stash they can build, when a big stash is often not necessary. As long as you are feeding on demand, as often as the baby wants, your supply should be just fine.

Work with a lactation consultant from the very beginning to make sure your baby is latching correctly, and if you are in pain, seek out answers.  Don’t let it go too long, like I did. Even though my IBCLC visits didn’t result in a whole lot of answers or help, I still believe they can help with most issues.  I would certainly try to see one before giving up on breastfeeding. Plus, your insurance has to cover it, according to the Affordable Care Act.  My insurance denied the claim (because insurance companies are dumb), but I submitted an appeal that was accepted- I would be happy to share my letter and back up documentation with anyone!

My Favorite Safe & Natural Baby Items

Safe Natural Baby ItemsAs a first time mom, registering for baby items was totally overwhelming!  Luckily, I have plenty of friends with great advice that helped me out.  I thought I would share a few of my very favorite items that we’ve used with our baby girl so far, all of which you can be confident are very safe for your little one.

For Bath Time:

Natural Sea Sponge – I was so hesitant about this one because why not use a wash cloth?  But, this is SO soft and perfect for bathing a little one- it soaks up lots of water so you can squeeze it out over baby in better control than you could a cup.

Puracy Natural Baby Shampoo and Body Wash, Sulfate Free Bubble Bath and Daily Cleanser – Made locally here in Austin, we love using this for baths!  Baby girl always seems to get soap suds in her mouth when trying to suck on her hands, and I don’t have to worry about this one.

Coconut Oil – Cradle cap? dry skin? baby acne? cracked nipples? This has been more effective than any lotion or baby oil that I got, and it just has one very natural ingredient.  Plus, you can use it for SO many other things!

For Feeding:

Kiinde Kozii Bottle Warmer and Breast Milk Warmer – I did a lot of research and this was the best, safest warmer for bottles of breast milk.  It takes a little bit more time than the others, but I’m confident it is not harming any beneficial properties by warming too fast, and we have never had an issue with hot spots.

Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea & Organic Moringa Capsules – I have used both to help keep up my milk supply, especially on the days I go to work and have to pump or when I don’t get much sleep.

Mommy’s Bliss Probiotic Drops Plus Vitamin D – More effective than gripe water or gas drops, these probiotics help her fragile digestive system and relieve gas. We give her a couple drops twice per day.

Lifefactory 4-Ounce BPA-Free Glass Baby Bottle with Protective Silicone Sleeve and Stage 1 Nipple – Absolutely love these glass bottles.  They are all we use and I feel great about the lack of chemical-leaching plastic.

For Sleep: 

Harlow’s Earth Waterproof Crib Mattress Cover – Organic mattresses are ridiculously expensive, so we found this super cheap solution to prevent the off-gassing of all the toxic chemicals and flame-retardants in regular mattresses.

Woombie Convertible Swaddle – Our baby girl was swaddled from birth and still is for both nighttime and naps.  Made with a two-way zipper, this is SO easy to use, even more so than the velcro ones.  Plus, it’s super breathable if you have a hot-natured babe like our little one. And, it has buttoned arm holes for when you need to transition out of the swaddle when they start to roll over or if your baby likes one or two arms out for comfort.  They have an organic cotton version too.

Organic Muslin Swaddle Blankets – While we haven’t used these for actual sleeping yet, they are the perfect lightweight, breathable blankets for Texas weather.  They double as burp cloths and car seat covers and nursing covers.  Plus, they come in the cutest fabric patterns!

Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Baby Playard – This pack n play has no flame retardants, no PVC, no phthalates and no lead, so it’s totally safe for baby.  Plus, it is super lightweight, folds up into a small backpack carrying case and is easier to set up/take down than any I’ve seen.

For Diapering:

Prince Lionheart Ultimate Wipes Warmer – Everyone told me a wipe warmer was not worth it, but we love ours.  Baby girl hated diaper changes in the beginning, and cold wipes made it worse.  Now that we are using cloth, this is perfect for storing our cloth wipes in- I just add a mix of water, coconut oil and lavender essential oil and they are warm and ready to use. Baby girl’s bum is so spoiled!

Buttons Flannel Baby Wipes – Once you use cloth wipes, disposables will never compare; they are so much better at cleaning up the mess.

Planet Wise Wet Diaper Tote Bag – Perfect for putting your wet diapers in at home or get a smaller bag for on-the-go!

OsoCozy Natural Cotton Unbleached Cloth Diaper Prefolds – We love these natural cotton prefolds for simple cloth diapering; they are great as burp cloths too!

For the Nursery:

Lorena Canals Machine Washable Rug with Natural Cotton and Non-Toxic Dyes – The cutest, softest rug that’s perfectly safe for baby to lay on and totally washable for all the baby messes.

Diffuser/Humidifier &  Essential Oils – Great for little congested baby noses and for helping promote good sleep, we run lavender or peace & calming essential oil in the diffuser in her room.

For Play Time: 

Burt’s Bees – Organic Loop Bee Plush Toy – My daughter’s favorite toy… she loves the crinkly wings and holding onto the soft cotton loop.

Silicone Teething Rings – These rings are non-toxic, phthalate & BPA-free and have several different sensory bump patterns for baby to chew on.

Green Toys Shape Sorter – Baby girl is loving the colors and shapes and putting everything in her mouth.  I’ll be buying more of these Green Toys- they are 100% recycled plastic and have no BPA, phthalates, PVC, or external coatings.

My Placenta Encapsulation Experience

I remember first hearing about women consuming their placentas after childbirth on some tv show where a woman blended hers into a smoothie.  It was about the most disgusting thing I could think of and I thought it was absolutely crazy.  But, over the years, I heard more and more stories about the benefits of consuming your placenta and was intrigued.  I was never going to be a placenta smoothie maker, but the encapsulation process seemed harmless…. basically your placenta is dehydrated and then the powder is put into capsules that you swallow like a regular pill or vitamin (it’s totally tasteless too).

So why do people do this crazy thing?  The whole idea stems from the fact that many animals eat their placenta after birth.  It’s supposed to replenish valuable nutrients and hormones and help create balance going into the postpartum period.  There have been limited research studies done on this practice to prove that it is indeed helpful, but the anecdotal benefits are abundant.  It’s been said to help in the following areas:

  • Alleviate anxiety
  • Promote energy to combat fatigue from childbirth & little sleep
  • Restore iron levels in blood
  • Increase milk production
  • Decrease postpartum depression levels
  • Assist with the release of the hormone oxytocin

When I was pregnant, I researched the studies and read countless stories about how much it helped other women.  I found a local source who could do it for $100 (many others charge upwards of $500) and thought it was worth the experiment.  I know that the postpartum period can be really difficult for some women, and I figured that if this simple thing could help make it more positive for me, that I had to try.  It was so easy- the woman came and got my placenta from the freezer at the birth center and then delivered the pills to my house a couple days later.  I started taking a couple pills twice a day and decreased to just one pill a day after the first few weeks (they lasted for 10 weeks total for me, but it depends on frequency you take them and how large your placenta is).  They don’t have to be taken with food or anything… I just took them when I remembered.

Did it work?  I think so!  Would I do it again? Definitely.  Probably not worth the $500 some charge (am I in the wrong business!?), but certainly for $100.

I was pretty skeptical that I would see any kind of benefit.  As a first time mom, I had no idea how you were supposed to feel postpartum, so its hard to know what’s normal for me and what difference was made.  However, there were three positive ways I did really feel like the pills helped.  I noticed these things after forgetting to take the pills and either realizing it later or my husband asking if I had taken them.  And none of the three were a one time thing… I saw the pills make a difference repeatedly.

  1. Milk production – Due to my baby’s tongue tie and resulting ineffective latch, I struggled with milk supply.  I was able to pump several ounces more on days that I took placenta pills… I’m bummed I am out now!
  2. Breakouts – I was lucky to not have lots of blemishes during pregnancy, but it’s been awful postpartum with all the hormones.  My skin was definitely clearer when I was taking the pills.
  3. Emotional balance – This was the biggest one for me; even my husband would agree he really saw a difference.  The only times in the first few weeks I ever got super emotional where I felt out of control with sadness or crying were days that I forgot to take pills.  After taking them, I would feel much better, if not completely normal, within 30 minutes.  Placebo effect?  Maybe.  But, since my husband saw the change too, I feel it had to be true.

So, even though the evidence-based proof is limited and the placebo effect cannot be ruled out, I certainly saw a benefit and would definitely recommend to my friends.  Do you think you would ever try it?

P.S. Because I asked before getting it done, I thought you might also be curious.  Having gestational diabetes does not mean you cannot/should not get your placenta encapsulated; it will have no effect through the pills.

More about medical research on placenta encapsulation: https://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-on-placenta-encapsulation/

 

My Natural Labor Story

Our sweet daughter arrived in January and is now six weeks old!  She finally arrived when I was 41 weeks pregnant and I was thankfully able to achieve a natural childbirth in a birth center under midwife care.  Before I get to her actual birth story, here’s a little about my decision to attempt a natural childbirth and my feelings leading up to labor…

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Several years ago, I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born and became aware of all the unnecessary interventions that happen in hospital births, as well as the possibility of a cascade of interventions that can occur.  After hearing friends’ birth stories and doing my own research, I knew I wanted to avoid the risks those interventions could bring. And, my body typically reacts poorly to medicine, so ultimately I wanted to try for a natural childbirth to avoid those side effects. 

When we found out we were pregnant, I started doing research to see who the best provider would be to support my birth plan and where I would feel the most comfortable laboring.  Having had some bad hospital experiences in the past, I hoped to stay away from that option if my health and the baby’s health cooperated.  Plus, I knew that if an epidural was readily available, I would likely give in quickly when the pain got bad.  A home birth made me too nervous; I wanted to be closer to a hospital just in case something went wrong.  So, we decided on a birth center across the street from a hospital.  And, it was at a practice with both doctors and midwives so that if I were to transfer, I would still know my provider (not usually the case if you end up in a hospital from other birth centers or home- you get the doctor on call).  I loved the birth center because the rooms were set up like a bedroom, very cozy and relaxing, with the added benefit of having a deep tub to labor in.

People often asked me during my pregnancy how I felt about childbirth and if I was scared about going the natural route.  Truthfully, I was really confident and excited going into labor.  Having seen many friends let fear overwhelm them, I actively controlled my thoughts and focused on what would help fill me with confidence.  Watching the show Call the Midwife, taking a class on relaxation techniques for labor, reading birth stories online and the book Guide to Childbirth by the midwife Ina May Gaskin, I continually reminded myself that millions of women have done this throughout history and that my body was totally capable.  While I learned about possibilities of problems in labor and the different interventions to be well-informed, I didn’t focus on the negative.  I didn’t let others tell me stories with the purpose to only scare me. I refused to let fear enter and trusted that God was in control and could give me the strength to endure the pain.

Okay, now to the actual story…

Before the due date, I hadn’t had any signs of labor, but that day started what I would realize later to be pre-labor.  I started having abdominal cramping and bad pain in my lower back, on and off, that would intensify in the days leading up to labor.

The day before she was born, I went to work as normal and then to the chiropractor in the late afternoon for an adjustment and acupuncture to try to naturally induce labor.  I had also been taking evening primrose oil and drinking red raspberry leaf tea to encourage labor for the previous 3 weeks. My back pain was much worse that day, but I was trying to go on as normal as possible, thinking that it could still be several days before she arrived.  I came home and took a walk and cooked dinner and had a normal evening resting & watching tv.  We laid down to sleep just before 11pm, but when I got up to go to the bathroom, I had my first contraction. I tried to lay back down in bed, but 8 minutes later, I had another one and hubby decided to start timing them and coaching me through them.

The pain in my lower back was really bad in between contractions, and the contractions made it worse.  The first 4 contractions were 8 minutes apart and from there they got closer together.  By 12:30am, they were 4 minutes apart. I was trying lots of things to try to relieve the pain and relax: breathing exercises, low moaning, leaning against & sitting on the birthing ball, standing in the hot shower and laying in the bathtub.  I was also very nauseous during this phase of labor- I threw up a few times at home and once when we arrived at the birth center, but then it subsided.

We called the midwife around midnight and she coached me through a couple of contractions over the phone.  She confirmed that I was in active labor and that she would head into the birth center to get things ready and to let her know when we were ready to come in.  The goal was to labor at home, the most comfortable environment, as long as possible.  We called our doula after that and she began to make her way to our house.  Once she arrived, she helped coach me through contractions while my husband packed everything into the car. At this point, I had a TENS unit attached to my back to try to help relieve the back pain – the chiropractor had let me borrow it earlier that day and I’m super thankful she offered it – it ended up being the only thing that would provide any sort of relief for my back.  Around 2am, we left to go to the birth center.  I don’t remember much of the ride as I had my eyes closed trying to deal with the pain; it went by very fast and luckily I only had to deal with a couple of contractions in the car.

When we got to the birth center, we first went into the doctor’s office to check my cervix (I was 7 cm dilated) and blood pressure to ensure there was no risk of preeclampsia that I would need to go to the hospital for.  When we got into the birthing room, I immediately got into the tub to see if that would provide any relief.  I labored for awhile, in and out of the tub, also trying the hot shower on my back and rolling on the birthing ball.  I had my eyes closed most of the time, which I guess was my body’s natural way of trying to conserve energy.

In childbirth class, our teacher taught the acronym PAIN to set apart regular pain we might experience from an injury or when something is wrong with our body from labor pain – P for purposeful, A anticipated, I for intermittent and N for normal/natural. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience the “I.”  The back pain in between contractions continued to be really bad and I never got a break from the pain from the time my labor started.  The TENS unit helped some, so I put that on when I wasn’t in water.  At one point, the midwife gave me some saline injections in my lower back to try to provide relief.  The injections themselves were quite painful and barely took the edge off the pain, so I refused them when they were offered a few hours later.  Back labor, especially the kind that persists between contractions like mine, is terribly exhausting.

After a couple hours of labor, I felt a lot of pressure which I thought was the urge to push.  I pushed only a few times. When my cervix was checked again, I hadn’t dilated any more but the baby had moved down, so that was likely what the pressure was.  I was in so much pain and so exhausted at this point, I seriously began considering transferring to the hospital to get an epidural as I didn’t think I could continue for several more hours without one.  So many things were going through my mind with this decision… the extra cost that the hospital would be, the intake time for paperwork that would likely mean another hour or two before I even got the epidural, and ultimately just feeling like a failure for giving into the pain after I had worked SO hard during pregnancy to control the gestational diabetes naturally to be able to be in the birth center.  I really didn’t want to go to the hospital and couldn’t help feeling so disappointed in myself.

To try to help me relax and get some relief, they had me lay on the bed and breathe in nitrous oxide (laughing gas).  It’s supposed to take an edge off the pain but I didn’t feel any kind of relief from it.  After an hour of laying there trying to let it work, I was frustrated and totally disheartened.  I told them that I was ready to go to the hospital.  

Around this time, the shift change happened and in came a new midwife and nurse.  Talking through the hospital transfer decision with me, she said she knew I had worked so hard to be in the birth center and offered to check my cervix again to see if I had made any progress, just in case I felt like that would make a difference. When she checked, I was dilated to a 9 and almost fully effaced, so she thought I should be ready to push soon.  With the news of that progress and encouragement from her, my mom and husband, I decided to stick it out in the birth center.  

By this point, my contractions had slowed way down to 8 minutes apart, sometimes even longer.  It was likely my body’s way of trying to conserve energy since I had been in so much pain and hadn’t gotten any sleep for over 24 hours. When I did finally start pushing, this made it difficult because we had to wait so long for contractions to come and I lost a lot of the progress I made in between.  The back pain also made it really hard to determine when a contraction was really coming on, as well as when I truly felt the urge the push, since I was experiencing constant pressure.

The new midwife had me try all different kinds of positions to encourage the labor along.  It was so difficult to continue moving and trying new things, some of which were so uncomfortable, but I think it’s what finally helped me along.  They also tried a couple natural ways to help encourage contractions – black and blue cohosh, an herbal supplement under my tongue every 20 minutes, and pumping to stimulate the release of oxytocin.  My water broke naturally right before pushing and it definitely got more intense then. 

I pushed for a almost 5 hours, the last 2 ½ were on my back in the bed as that’s where I seemed to get the best leverage with my exhaustion level.  I was totally planning on a water birth, or at least something that used the benefit of gravity, but I ended up having my baby on my back in a bed – as I am sure you have heard before, nothing really goes according to plan!  

The last 2 hours of labor, everyone kept telling me that she was almost out and likely would be with the next contraction.  They kept telling me to push harder, which I felt like I was trying to do, but I could feel myself getting more exhausted and unable to push as effectively as time went on.  I remember at one point they suggested I reach down to feel the top of her head to see if that would help encourage me… ha!  I barely felt any of her head and it ended up being a discouraging moment.  Finally, the midwife suggested that an episiotomy might truly help in my case, though they don’t do them often.  I was up for whatever got her out faster! As soon as she did that, the head came out with the next contraction.  I was so ready to be done that I didn’t even wait for the next contraction to push out her shoulders and the rest of her body.  

When she finally came out, I heard her cry and reached down to bring her to my chest for immediate skin to skin time.  I remember being so relieved that labor was finally over and said “Hi baby girl!! I’m sorry it took so long!!”  It only took about 5 minutes for her umbilical cord to stop pulsing and then husband cut the cord. My back pain stopped as soon as the baby was out. 

After she was born, we relaxed in the  room for awhile- eating hamburgers and chocolate shakes, taking a nap and me and baby enjoying a warm herbal bath.  Only 18 hours after leaving our house the night before, we left the birth center and were able to be in the comfort of our home that evening.  It was incredible to be able to sleep in our own bed that night instead of in a noisy hospital room with lots of interruptions. 

Before labor, I wasn’t really sure what kind of support I would want in the room or how comfortable I would be with lots of people in there.  Looking back, I could have had even more in there; I needed all the help I could get. I was so thankful for the tremendous support I had in the room – my husband, my doula, my mom and the midwife and nurse.  I needed every one of them for support and encouragement. And my dad was outside the door listening and praying the whole time… I certainly needed strength that only God could provide. 

Would I do a natural birth again?  Yes, I think so (if I ever decide I actually want another baby!!) The birth center experience was definitely a great one- the atmosphere was very relaxing and felt less medical. I think that in a hospital I would have ended up having more medical interventions and who knows what the outcome could have been.  Honestly, I was traumatized by the pain for a couple weeks afterwards and really needed to emotionally and mentally process what had happened. But, looking back, I certainly feel really strong and confident knowing that I was able to do it.  Motherhood has been really hard so far, so maybe I needed that experience to remind myself that I’ve got the strength and endurance to do it.