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?

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Life Lately…

Apologies for being quite absent lately…. it’s been 3 months since my last post- eek!  I have a few drafts in the works, so you will see some more blog posts in the coming weeks.   Is there anything specific you want to hear about? Let me know!!

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week!  We sure have lots to be thankful for this year.  Our baby girl is already 10 months old and is such a happy, fun baby.  She’s adventurous and always on the move… I think she may start walking soon.  I’m so very thankful that we’ve been blessed to continue with exclusive breastfeeding still even with all our troubles in the beginning.  She also loves food, which I can thank the Baby Led Weaning process for- I’ll be sharing all about introducing her to solids here soon.

I’m also thankful to work for a company & manager that have been supportive of me as a working mom and allowed me to go part-time.  It’s allowed for much better balance in my life and I am blessed to be able to spend more time with my daughter.  Just a few months ago, I was in absolute survival-mode; now I can breathe again.  On Mondays, I try to prep our breakfast & lunch meals for the work week, so I’ll soon be sharing my favorite recipes like overnight oats and paleo broccoli salad, as well as some go-to weeknight meals. In the meantime, follow me on Instagram @chrissysu and #healthyandhopeful – I am always showing my #mealprepmonday routine and recipes on my Story.

I hope y’all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends.  God Bless!

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 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/