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!

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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 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.  

Controlling Gestational Diabetes Naturally

At my 28 week appointment, I took the dreaded pregnancy glucose test.  Since my pregnancy nausea was still pretty bad at the time, I was most nervous about trying not to throw up for an hour on an empty stomach.  I never would have imagined that I would get a call the next day saying I didn’t pass.  The following day, I had to do it all over again.  This time, I had to drink 2 of the glucose drinks and get my blood drawn 4 times over 3 hours.  I was extremely nauseous and faint, but resting in the fact that if I got through those 3 hours, it would all be over.

On Monday, I got the call that I had failed and was officially diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM).  I was shocked.  I didn’t know much about GDM at the time, so I went into full on planning & research mode to figure out how to fix it.  I was also scared; my plans all along had been to deliver at a birth center instead of the hospital and I was nervous this diagnosis would risk me out of that option.  Plus, what did it mean for the baby and for my own health? How did this happen to someone healthy like me?

That week, I got my glucose monitor and started the 4 times/day finger pricks to test my blood sugars.  I researched the gestational diabetes diet recommendations extensively and immediately began following them- mostly adding in more snacks and protein.  Because of my continued pregnancy nausea, my diet had not been great (lots more carbs than my diet pre-pregnancy), but I was committed to try my best.  I was surprised to find that sticking to the GDM diet recommendations, my blood sugar levels continually tested high.  Post-meal levels were okay, but I was only passing around a quarter of my morning fasting levels.

When I went in for my next doctor’s appointment, they were alarmed at my results.  I told them I was following the exact diet recommendations given and didn’t know what else to do.  Besides recommending a 30-45 minute walk every night after dinner, they didn’t have any other ideas for me.  At my pleading, they gave me one week to try to have PERFECT morning fasting levels; if I didn’t, I would be put on medication (glyburide) to control my body’s insulin response.  Getting put on medication would officially label me as high risk and guarantee a hospital birth with continuous monitoring and insulin during labor. Plus, after researching the medication, I wasn’t confident it was safe for my baby either. I was devastated.

Pregnancy is certainly a lesson in loss of control.  Of course, I’m sure God designed it that way to prepare us for parenthood.  I’ve felt out-of-control for my entire pregnancy… nausea I couldn’t fix, diet I didn’t want to be on, hormonal emotions, and now this. I had no idea how emotionally taxing a diagnosis like this could be.  You blame yourself. You worry about what it means for the baby you’ve been trying so hard to protect.  And the constant blood testing and attention to diet is a continual source of stress and anxiety.  And don’t forget, you’re not supposed to be stressed during pregnancy- it’s bad for the baby. Ugh.

I was determined to not let this diagnosis get the best of me.  I continued my research. Google-ing “natural ways to lower blood sugar” or similar searches came up with nothing.  No one online seems to want to try this; they all just assume that you will end up on medication or insulin and recommend you simply try your best to eat healthy for baby.  Finally, I pieced together some different ideas and resources to make a plan.

By a complete miracle, I was able to have perfect blood sugar levels that next week and return to the doctor with confidence that I could continue without medication.  But the next week, Thanksgiving came along… I splurged and enjoyed just one holiday meal & dessert and my fasting levels couldn’t recover from it; my levels became unpredictable again.  I was defeated as I walked into the doctor’s office the next week, certain they would put me on medication this time.  But my midwife was gracious and knew how hard I was working- she said it was probably due to a lack of routine, and once again I was given one last week to try.

Since that visit, I’ve been able to keep my blood sugar levels totally under control.  Even the morning fasting ones. Praise God! So, for those of you pregnant mamas diagnosed with gestational diabetes who are looking to stay off medication/insulin and want to control it naturally, I want to share what’s worked for me in hopes that you can have the same success.  I can’t point to one particular thing that made the difference; it wasn’t until I did all of these together that I was finally able to bring my levels under control.

  • Prayer – I’m listing this first because I truly believe God is the only one who has the power over all of this. I consider it a miracle that He’s kept my levels low when they were SO high and unpredictable to start with.  Pray before each meal and each finger prick- that dependence on Him will help calm you and help relieve the never-ending cycle of stress that only causes higher levels.
  • Minimal Carbs – Aim to eliminate carbs completely from your diet.  Everyone processes carbohydrates differently, so there’s not really an exact amount that’s “safe.” The nutritionists who write diets for GDM will give guidelines like 25 carbs for breakfast & lunch, 35 for dinner and 15 at two snacks.  And they’ll say that as long as you balance with a protein and fat, those carbs will not convert to glucose.  If I followed this ridiculous protocol, I would be on medication today. The only thing that worked was when I basically eliminated carbs from my diet; that means no bread (not even multi-grain), no rice, no potatoes, no corn, no oats.  It even means avoiding high glycemic produce, like fruit (some can tolerate berries, but I haven’t really been able to).
  • Eat High Protein, High Fat & Veggies – Focusing your diet around these items is the best way to avoid blood sugar spikes.  Healthy fats are especially great at keeping blood sugars stable and keeping you full.  I can’t stomach it with my nausea, but I’ve seen several recommendations that a teaspoon of coconut oil before each meal can help a great deal.  I just try to include it in what I make instead.  Search ketogenic recipes for meal ideas that fit this diet; I also have quite a few here on my blog – veggie noodles with lemon cream sauce being my fave.  My favorite snacks have been: cashews, cheese sticks, Greek yogurt and Graze meat sticks. Breakfast is the hardest on rushed mornings, but I try to alternate between hard-boiled eggs with breakfast sausage links, scrambled eggs with avocado and Greek yogurt with nuts.
  • Satisfy Sugar Cravings Safely – I know, pregnancy cravings are real and having gestational diabetes, especially over the holidays, is just the worst. Of course you have to eliminate sugar (and always avoid unsafe sugar-free products), but I’ve found a couple ways to satisfy my intense cravings for sweets: Stevia leaf naturally helps to lower blood sugar, so I’ve been using that in the tea that I drink or to sweeten Greek yogurt a bit.  And dark chocolate is also helpful to lower blood sugar- make sure to get a bar that is 75%+ cocoa and soy-free.  My go-to nightly snack has been whipped coconut cream (high in good fat!) sweetened with a bit of stevia and topped with a few dark chocolate chips – here’s the super easy recipe.
  • Walk After DinnerEvery single day. For at least 30 minutes. This is one of the hardest from a scheduling perspective and because it is uncomfortable when you are hugely pregnant and tired.  The first week is the hardest, but I promise your body will start to crave it.  It will help with digestion, relieve indigestion/heartburn and is also great at getting your body ready for labor.
  • Herbal Supplements – I talked with both my naturopath and the herbalist at my local pharmacy to see if there were any supplements to help with blood sugars that would be safe for pregnancy; they recommended two that I’ve been using these past months.  I take Diaplex before meals (started with 2 pills before each meal, but I’ve gone down to just two before lunch now) and Glukokine once in the evening right before bed.  Since I had done my research and talked with the right people, my doctor’s office was fine with me taking these; as always, you should check with your doctor before taking any medication or supplements during pregnancy.
  • Drink Lots of Water – If you are diabetic, one of the most common symptoms is frequent thirst, so this shouldn’t be a hard one to implement.  Hydration is one of the best ways to control insulin response, so you should be drinking around 2 gallons per day.  I know you are already peeing every 30 minutes, but this is crucial to stabilizing your levels.  Add some fresh lemon slices to your water for even further blood sugar stabilizing benefits. And, more importantly, drink water every time you wake up at night – it’s crucial to not let yourself get dehydrated overnight and I really think this made a huge difference with my fasting levels upon waking.
  • Consistency – Ultimately, I’ve found that a consistent routine is key to predictable levels, especially the morning fasting ones.  Schedule your meals and snacks to be at similar times each day.  Keep a food journal to track what you are eating to see if anything affects your levels.  This is not a typical diet where the occasional splurge is okay; you have to stick with it. Wake up at the same time every morning and go to bed at the same time each night. A strict schedule is the last thing I wanted to implement before a baby entered my life, but it’s certainly been worth it.

35-week-picNote: Don’t be surprised if you stop gaining weight or even lose weight once you put this protocol into place.  I was a bit alarmed that I’d only gained 12 pounds by 37 weeks, but my midwife assured me that it is completely normal since it’s all being done in a very healthy way.  I’m not crash dieting or exercising too much; it’s safe. Enjoy this one benefit to all your hard work and be excited that you will have less to lose after baby!

Lastly, I want to encourage you mamas not to blame yourself.  The diagnosis isn’t your fault. If you are trying everything and still failing your levels, it is not your fault.  Your placenta is causing this and sometimes it is not something you can control.  Do your best and be at peace with that.  I’m so proud of you for trying.

P.S. A great resource I finally found online was a UK website on gestational diabetes.  I definitely recommend that you check it out for great information, ideas and encouragement.

Thrive Market: My Favorite Deals

If you haven’t yet joined Thrive Market, you are missing out! Think of it as Whole Foods + Costco + Amazon. It’s a membership-based online store full of healthy non-perishable food and household products at fantastic discounts. Plus, they have a great mission to provide healthy groceries to families in need. In my recent post about buying all-organic groceries on a budget, I recommended this as one of my favorite ways to save money (and time)!

Here are a few of my favorite items to purchase and how they compare to the prices I was paying at Whole Foods and elsewhere.

Tomato SauceOrganic Tomato Sauce

  • Thrive Market price: $2.95 for 2 cans
  • Whole Foods price: $4.38 for 2 cans
  • Savings = $1.43 (33%)

Einkorn SpaghettiEinkorn Spaghetti – made from einkorn flour, an ancient wheat that is not toxic like today’s wheat and even safe for many who are gluten-free.

  • Thrive Market price: $2.55
  • Whole Foods price: $3.49
  • Savings = $0.94 (27%)

Honey MustardHoney Mustard Vinaigrette with Avocado Oil – this is the healthiest, yummiest salad dressing you can get… very rare to find one made without toxic vegetable oil!

  • Thrive Market price: $5.65
  • Primal Kitchen Online price: $7.95
  • Savings = $2.30 (29%)

Olive OilOrganic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

  • Thrive Market price: $10.45
  • Whole Foods price: $13.99
  • Savings = $3.54 (25%)

CollagenCollagen Hydrolysate Powder – tasteless and water soluble, I add this to smoothies, soup or juice for collagen support for healthy joints, hair, skin and nails and extra protein

  • Thrive Market price: $16.45
  • Amazon price: $21.49
  • Savings = $5.04 (23%)

Raw Dog FoodRaw Turkey Dehydrated Dog Food – I recently made the switch to this raw dog food and my pup loves it! Learn more about why I switched here.

  • Thrive Market price: $49.95
  • Amazon price: $64.79
  • Savings = $14.84 (23%)

Earl GreyOrganic Earl Grey Tea

  • Thrive Market price: $4.95
  • Whole Foods price: $6.49
  • Savings = $1.54 (24%)

Beef Bone BrothGrass-Fed Beef Bone Broth – I make lots of my own chicken bone broth, but never my own beef bone broth.

  • Thrive Market price: $8.95
  • Amazon price: $15.95
  • Savings = $7.00 (44%)

Graze SticksNitrate-Free Grass-Fed Beef Sticks – these are my favorite easy protein snacks!

  • Thrive Market price: $17.95 for a pack of 12
  • Amazon price: $19.95 for a pack of 12
  • Savings = $2.00 (10%)

Sign up now and save 15% off your first order by using this link! Plus, they will donate a Thrive Membership to a family in need when you purchase yours. P.S. you always get free shipping on orders over $49!

 

Gluten-Free Baby Shower

This weekend I hosted a baby shower for a friend who is allergic to gluten. We wanted her to be able to eat everything at her own shower without worry, so we created a completely gluten-free spread for the event.

Emily's Shower

In case you are hosting for a bride or mama with this same allergy, I thought I would share the menu we put together.  While it certainly wasn’t sugar-free, we had plenty of healthier options to choose from. Plus, it was all super easy to put together so you won’t be in the kitchen prepping all day.

Chicken & Waffle Skewers – My friend thought up this brilliant, easy idea – find gluten-free chicken tenders and gluten-free waffles in the frozen food section. Toast them in the oven then cut into bite-sized pieces and alternate on a mini skewer or toothpick.  Serve with hot syrup or honey.

Veggies & Hummus

Fruit & Dip – For a healthier alternative to the classic cream cheese + marshmallow fluff dip, mix 2 cups vanilla yogurt with 1/2 cup honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Serve with your favorite fresh fruit.

Gluten-Free Mini Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – found in the baked goods section at Whole Foods

and a beautiful “Naked” Cake!

Gluten Free Naked CakeI’m usually not a fan of baking because I don’t have the patience to follow recipes, but this cake was super easy! I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Vanilla Cake Mix and prepared according to the directions, baking in 2 9-inch diameter cake pans. I used coconut oil instead of toxic vegetable oil. The cake was super moist and didn’t taste at all gluten-free.

Once the cake cooled, I pulled them out of the pans and placed in the freezer for 30-45 minutes – this makes the cake easier to cut and frost. In the meantime, I made some buttercream frosting. I used this recipe because it calls only for butter and no shortening. I added about double the milk and double the vanilla it called for to make it a bit creamier and more spreadable.

When I pulled the cakes out of the freezer, I cut each in half so that I could have 4 cake layers.  Then, I spread frosting in between each layer. Once I had all four layers stacked, I ran my knife around the outside to smooth out the edges a bit, without covering the cake completely, giving it that “naked” effect.

Drink BarFor drinks, we had yummy sparkling Italian sodas for the mama to drink, served in champagne glasses. And for the guests who weren’t pregnant, we had some local Peach & Grapefruit Deep Eddy Vodka(not gluten-free) to add – if you haven’t tried these yet, they are super delicious!

Happy Hosting!

Do You Breakfast?

HoneymoonBreakfast is, by far, my favorite meal of the day.  If I didn’t have to rush out the door each morning for work, I’d take the time to prepare poached eggs, migas or cinnamon french toast with strawberries (paired with a coconut milk cappuccino or mimosa, of course!).  Getting to enjoy breakfast is one of my favorite parts of vacation and the weekends.

But reality is most of us just don’t have time for that. Most of you, I can imagine, skip breakfast altogether most mornings.  I’m sure you’ve heard it time and again, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.  It jump starts your metabolism, gives you energy, and prevents the hunger that puts you in a bad mood or causes you to overeat later in the day.  Plus, a healthy breakfast gives your body the best chance of absorbing those vitamins and minerals more easily at the start of the day, cutting down on your cravings later.

When my doctor told me last Fall that I needed to add 80 grams of protein into my diet each day, I knew that I would have to find a way to increase my intake at breakfast.  I thought I would share a few of my quick go-to favorites for those of you looking to mix up your routine:

Poached Eggs on Sprouted Wheat Toast with AvocadoPoached Eggs

If you have an egg poaching pan, this option is as fast and easy as boiling an egg.  While the eggs are cooking, I toast a piece of sprouted wheat bread (read why here), slather with organic butter or coconut oil and then top with sliced avocado.  It takes me about 7 minutes total to throw together this delicious, filling meal.

On a side note, I always make sure to buy free-range, organic, soy-free eggs because they are the most nutrient-dense.  I get this local brand at Whole Foods/Natural Grocers and love them; you truly can taste the freshness: Coyote Creek Farms.

Egg Bacon Muffins

I originally found this recipe on one of my favorite health blogs, Wellness Mama, and I love its versatility.  It is so incredibly easy to mix up a batch and throw in whatever extra vegetables are in your fridge.  Also, bacon!  I will make these on Sunday night for the week.  I usually eat a couple of these at a time – wrap them in foil and warm a few minutes in the toaster oven, then eat them in the car.  If you want to nix the bacon for whatever crazy reason, you can also just whip up some eggs, throw in some diced veggies and bake in muffin tins for mini frittatas.

“Bento Box”Bento Box

This is another one of those easy make-ahead options that you can put in a container to grab on your way out the door.  Simply boil a couple of eggs (can’t boil an egg? try this!), throw in a few berries for an antioxidant boost and then I add a muffin or two that I’ve baked on Sunday.  This gluten-free banana muffin is one of my favorite & totally healthy recipes – you can add in a couple tablespoons raw honey if you like it sweeter or some dark chocolate chips and nuts for some texture.

Greek Yogurt & Grain-Free Granola

Yogurt and GranolaGreek Yogurt is a yummy way to get some great protein in the AM with 15 g in 1 cup.  I personally love the Wallaby brand made with organic whole milk from pasture-raised cows and no artificial ingredients. Then, I top with some grain-free granola and fresh berries.  I recently found this Wildway Granola at Whole Foods and fell in love… it’s not cheap but it’s packed with fiber & protein (8g), is completely raw, has no added sweeteners. It is made entirely of fruit, nuts, and seeds, so is gluten-free, paleo and truly the healthiest pre-made version of granola you can buy.  P.S. I also love this as a late night protein snack to help me fall asleep.

GoMacro Bars

If you want an option with zero prep, try these tasty, wholesome breakfast bars.  My favorite is the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip with 12 grams of protein.  I love this brand because they are organic, GMO-free, soy free (try finding another protein bar that is, especially with chocolate), free of refined sugar AND are reasonably priced compared to other options.  The whole mission of GoMacro is to provide a “macrobiotic” or minimally processed, found-in-nature product. You can buy them individually or by the case for a discount at Whole Foods or Natural Grocers.

Any other healthy breakfast ideas? Please share – I am always looking to mix it up!