Saturday, February 2, 2013

If any of my dear readers are still out there, I'm dropping in to let you know I've started blogging again over at Write On Yoga. Cam is 21 months old now and it's insane to try to keep 2 blogs current. Come on over!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Skinny on Breastfeeding Equipment

One of the most prevalent type of sidewalk advocates I run into between home and work tries to snag my attention at least once per week by asking:

"What are the two things a child needs most?"

Boobs! is my answer, but of course, I've never had the courage to speak it.

So allow me to start this post by saying that all you need to breastfeed are boobs and a baby. There are really great products that range from highly useful to highly unnecessary yet fun. I whittled away entirely too much money in the shop at the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington when I was on maternity leave, but there are worse ways to attempt to preserve your sanity during the newborn days, right?

If you're preggo and setting up for your first go round with breastfeeding, here's what I recommend you have on hand:
  • Breast shells: If you have flat or inverted nipples, these trusty little gems help loosen up the adhesions that are keeping your nipples from popping out. My midwife helped me identify this potential problem and I started wearing shells (not shields) for a few hours per day beginning at about 28 weeks.
  • Bras: Get at least 5 well-fitted bras. It's important to wear clean ones to avoid icky annoyances like yeast, and you don't want to be washing your bras every other day. Nursing bras are great as are any comfortable bra that you can easily flip up from the bottom. Get fitted at about 36 or 37 weeks.
  • Lansinoh: Although there are all sorts of natural variations, Lansinoh is the nipple cream that worked best for me. It's yucky and thick and greasy, but I never had any sort of reaction to it. And you absolutely need something at least for the first month.
  • Boppy: I thought I wanted a MyBrest Friend pillow, but the Boppy my step mom got me turned out to be my favorite. There's no strapping anything behind your back, and it serves as a great baby propper upper even after you don't need a nursing pillow anymore.
  • Nursing cover: Hold the rotten tomatoes—nursing covers are not mandated. I appreciated mine during the newborn days when I hadn't yet learned how to modestly whip it out and wasn't ready to handle awkward looks from bystanders. I especially recommend Baby Au Lait for its built-in burp cloth.
  • Breast pump: Even if you plan on staying at home, it’s better to have this on hand than worry about buying or renting one while you’re dealing with a cracked nipple or some other unfortunate woe. Plus, you'll eventually want to go out for more than 2 hours and need to leave your baby with a bottle. I have Ameda Purely Yours, which I'm happy with. The little Medela one is also quite popular for its portability. I recommend a pump that has an electric and battery option for those pesky occasions when you need to pump and there is no outlet on hand.
  • Pumping bustier: Go for it. Really. This handy piece of equipment allows you to pump hands-free, which is especially wonderful at work and if you have to pump and take care of a newborn at the same time.
  • Breast milk storage bags: After you get the hang of breastfeeding, you may want to start pumping once per day to build up a store of frozen breast milk. Choosing these is pretty straightforward. I have no brand preferences to offer here.  
  • Nursing pads: For me, leaking was not a long-term occurrence. In the beginning, though, I did need a little something to prevent wet spots on my shirt. I started with LilyPadz—washable silicone pads. I don't recommend those because they prevent air from circulating to the girls, which I think caused me a yeast infection. Go with disposables instead or washable pads made from breathable fabric like cotton or bamboo.
There are lots of things you don't need. My top recommended thing to NOT get is a breastfeeding book. Take a class and locate a lactation consultant who you can visit if you have difficulties. I read a few breastfeeding books while I was pregnant, and they all turned out to be either not useful or anxiety producing for me. As a writer and avid reader, I usually learn best from the written word. But breastfeeding was different. I learned best through visuals, conversations with professionals and other moms, and hands-on experience.

Good luck and get to it, ladies!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Attention Breastfeeding Moms: Don't Fall for These Guilt-trips

Going into my most recent visit with my father-in-law, I thought I was prepared for anything. He's known for unabashedly spouting his opinions on M and I's career choices and place of residence. And just 36 hours after giving birth, he told me that I still look pregnant. That's hard to top.

But wouldn't ya know, he managed to trip my trigger again. It was about 8pm. Cam was asleep on my lap and most likely completely out for the night, and I was enjoying a glass of red wine.

"You drink alcohol and nurse that baby?" he said.

Usually, I let things slide off my back with my father-in-law, but this, I couldn't let go.

"That's offensive," I replied, and proceeded to cry. I wasn't prepared to launch into defense mode with the research I've done and decisions I've made, nor was my father-in-law interested in listening to that.

It's taken me awhile to articulate my thoughts on this subject. As a novice breasfeeding mother, I had a sneaking suspicion that something was off. Now, after 10 months of breastfeeding, I think the standards that society holds breastfeeding mothers to are bull crap.

Allow me to explain. One of my favorite talks by Tara Brach—a buddhist psychologist I adore—goes something like this:

If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills,
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches & pains,
If you can resist complaining & boring people with your troubles,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you when, through no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism & blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies & deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs…
Then you are probably a dog.
Society seems to think breastfeeding mothers should be caffeine free, alcohol free, prescription drug free, spicy food free um dogs? No wonder only 31% of infants are breastfeeding at all at 9 months. Who would want to give up everything that makes them feel human, especially after going through 9 to 10 months of little to no alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy?

If you're getting ready to enter into a breastfeeding relationship, I encourage you to use common sense and avoid becoming overly obsessive about the following topics society tends to hone in on and have strong, unfounded, uncensored opinions about.

Food sensitivities: Chances are the diaper rash your baby has is not from that glass of orange juice you enjoyed with breakfast yesterday. And that gas that's bothering him is highly unlikely to be related to the broccoli you ate at dinner. True, babies can have food sensitivies to proteins and other things that end up in your breastmilk. (Using common sense and observation, I found my baby had a dairy sensitivity.) If your baby is overly fussy, by all means experiment if you feel so led. But please don't relegate yourself to a diet of just green beans and fish. You need your calories and your sanity to keep going.

Alcohol: If you enjoy drinking alcohol in moderation, there is no need to become a puritan as a breastfeeding mother. There's no need to pump and dump and, depending on who you ask, no need to wait two hours to nurse your baby after one drink. I've found that the guidelines from various professional associations, experts, and research are wildly vague and inconsistent on breastfeeding and alcohol. My solution has been moderation and common sense.

Caffeine: Consuming coffee or other sources of caffeine does not decrease milk supply, and less than 2% of what you take in ends up in your breastmilk. Especially if you are a sleep-deprived working mother, don't let anyone tell you that you can't have your morning coffee. Again, it's worth using common sense and observation to see if your baby shows signs of sensitivity to caffeine. The younger he is, the higher the chance of it affecting him. And, as always, practice moderation.

Medications: If you think you might be depressed, don't be afraid to seek treatment. Talk therapy can work wonders, but if medication becomes necessary, there are options compatible with breastfeeding. There are also medications that are not off limits for when you have a cold, a headache, or some other ailment.

By breastfeeding your baby, you are giving him an amazing source of nourishment—both physical and emotional. Don't let people reign in on your parade by analyzing you as the possible cause behind baby's normal adjustments to life outside the womb and developmental phases.

My father-in-law and I ended up resolving our spat pretty easily. He apologized and tried to pour me another glass of wine, which I politely turned down in the name of moderation.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My So-called Post Baby Marriage

For me, having a baby has been like falling in love all over again. I've been head over heels for Cam from the minute my pee stick came back positive. But life with M since Cam came along has been a different experience.

It's tempting to frame up our post-baby marriage in a neat, tight story. But in all honesty, it's complicated, and we're still in the thick of the transformation. For those of you expecting babies in the near future, this post isn't going to be as insightful as Stuff You Need for the First 3 - 6 Months or Cloth Diapers: Yes You Can! Nevertheless, here it goes.

What I've learned so far is:

There's no such thing as 50/50. With a baby in the house, we both give 150%, and we don't give each other enough credit. Too often we get stuck in a competition of who is working the most in the office and at home. We're both sure we can't possibly give another ounce and that the other person must be hoarding some energy reserve that they should be donating to the family cause.

Adult time as a couple is hard to come by. We don't live near family and haven't found a babysitter, so the only time we get out alone as a couple is when we visit family out of town. Adult time was especially hard to come by during the newborn days when at any moment Cam could go nuclear and requier undivided attention.

Intimacy is different. If you're pregnant, you're already living this reality. Just like my body, our post-baby love life didn't snap back into place overnight. Things were altered physically, and M had to reconcile seeing me as mother and lover. It's easy to take these changes personally—and believe my I have.

Kids and money are intense. Whatever fire is lacking in the bedroom, we've found in our collisions around parenting and finances. M and I were raised in radically different environments, so not surprisingly, we have opposing views of what is best for Cam in terms of child care. And kids are expensive. No matter what you choose—paying for child care or giving up your job to stay home with your baby—your budget will take a hit.

It's normal. The reason I'm writing this post is because I suspect that what M and I are experiencing is very common. We have both admitted to each other that we've had moments when we felt like marriage shouldn't be this hard. But post-baby, it is this hard. And it doesn't mean that we're failing or doing a bad job. It means we're both working really hard and navigating a transition every bit as intense as creating new life.

As Cam closes in on 10 months old, I would describe M and I's relationship as weathered and tenacious. We're lucky that it only takes an evening out alone or an especially good family nap to tap into the raw connection we built our marriage on. But we're going to have to keep working on it if we expect to keep it.

I work with midwives, so when I was pregnant I frequently asked for advice. Without question, the number-one tip each midwife told me—independently—was to not forget about my husband. Out of all the advice they could have given as mothers and midwives, most said to go on a date night once per week. I'm certain they are absolutely right.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cloth Diapers: Yes You Can!

When I was pregnant I spent lots of brain cells debating whether to do cloth or disposable diapers. In theory, cloth sounded great, but in reality I was already using paper plates to cut down on dishes—and the baby wasn't even on the outside yet.

I wanted to do cloth diapers, but I was scared of them because:

  1. Poop stinks. The more quickly it can be disposed of, the better.
  2. Laundry sucks, almost as much as dishes.
  3. Cloth diapers are expensive. I wasn't about to spend more than $100 just to try them out.
I thought the decision was clear. Disposables were the right choice. Even so, one of my friends was gracious enough to pass down her BumGenius newborn cloth diapers. I loved the colors, and the velcro latches made them look just as easy to use as disposable diapers. So I tucked them away and figured I'd give them a shot during maternity leave.

Then came Cameron. Birth and the first few weeks after was a whirlwind, and the cloth diapers stayed tucked away. They made a brief appearance in week 3 but didn't last due to annoying leaks. During week 5, my cloth-diaper-loving cousin came to visit and gave me a tutorial. I hadn't been latching the diapers tight enough around Cam's hips and legs.

The next week I visited my mom in Florida and brought the cloth diapers along. Day 1 went fine. I threw the dirty diapers—poop and all—into the wash at the end of the day, and they were ready to go for day 2. Day 2, 3, and 4 passed, and by day 5 I was hooked.

I fell in love with cloth diapers because:

  1. They're pretty.
  2. Poop doesn't shoot up the baby's back like it does with disposables. (And if your baby is breastfed, you can put the poop diapers directly in the wash. No rinsing required.)
  3. They save money. I bought 12 BumGenius One Size diapers, and they paid for themselves in 3 months with the money I saved not buying so many disposables.
  4. They aren't an either-or decision. On days when I didn't feel like doing my cloth diaper laundry routine, disposables had my back.
Large and travel size wet bags and BumGenius newborn
diapers sun-drying in my mom's yard.
Now for the kicker—I did cloth diapers while bringing my baby to my full-time job for 6 months. I didn't have to hang him over the toilet in a community bathroom stall every time he needed a diaper change. Instead, I plopped him on the floor, unsnapped the diaper, squirted him with a spray bottle of water, and wiped him with a flanel cloth (using disposable wipes presents the problem of having some stuff to throw away and some stuff to keep, which can be confusing in the midst of a diaper change with a wiggly baby). Then I'd put all the dirty stuff in my handy dandy wet bag (a leak-proof bag that is actually dry—no soaking necessary these days). In the evening, I'd turn the wet bag inside out over top of my washing machine, do a quick prewash cycle, then throw a 1/4th dose of Tide in, and let her rip. Before I went to bed, I'd switch the diapers to the dryer, and when I woke up in the morning they were ready for another day.

Once Cam started solid foods, his poop changed and required rinsing. I didn't feel comfortable asking the nanny to do that, so at 7 months we switched to all disposables. But I thoroughly enjoyed my cloth diaper adventures and have tucked them away for if and when we decide to have another baby.

If you're a first-time mom and want to give cloth diapers a shot, here's what I recommend you purchase:
  • 18 Bum Genius One Size snap diapers (These grow with your baby. I used them from 6 weeks through 7 months. 12 is just fine, but if I had it to do over again I'd get 18 so I could skip a day of laundry without having to use disposables.)
  • 24 flanel wipes
  • 1 spray bottle of BumGenius bottom wiper. (It's a nice way to get started. Once it's gone, just fill it back up with water or research how to make your own wipe solution.)
  • 1 large wet bag for the nursery.
  • 1 travel size wet bag for the diaper bag.

There's a ton more to learn about cloth diapers if you get bit by the bug. There are special laundry routines, tons more brands to choose from, and ways to keep going past 7 months. This is what worked for me. Have fun figuring out what works for you!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New Mom Primer: Stuff You Need for the First 3 – 6 Months

Boobs and diapers are the only must-haves to survive the first few months of new motherhood. There’s no need for Babies "R" Us to throw up all over the nursery while you wait for your baby to arrive. But registries are fun and stuff makes life easier.

Before baby boy came along, I stitched various checklists together to figure out what I should register for and had no clue what I was doing. At the request of a good friend who is expecting her first baby in August, here is my recommended list of what to register for if you’re doing this for the first time.
  1. Disposable diapers (Even if you choose cloth, you will want disposables on hand for days when the laundry just doesn’t get done.)
  2. Miracle blanket (Trust me. Get it.)
  3. Baby carrier (I recommend an Ergo plus an infant insert for the Ergo or a Moby Wrap for the first 4 months.)
  4. Swing (Nothing fancy required)
  5. Onesies (about 10 each of newborn, 0 – 3 months, and 3 – 6 mo)
  6. Baby gowns (Sleepers are too much to fool with.)
  7. Baby legwarmers (These keep legs warm and make diaper changes a breeze.)
  8. Long socks (The short ones just fall off.)
  9. Teething sock
  10. Dr. Brown’s 4 ounce standard-width bottles (4 if you’re breastfeeding and at home with baby, 12 if you’ll be pumping at work)
  11. A good stroller (This is worth test driving and spending money on. I didn’t do this, but friends who did recommend both the Orbit and Bugaboo. Second-hand purchases make them more affordable.)
  12. Car seat (If your stroller doesn’t convert to a bassinet, try to find a car seat that fits in the stroller for the newborn days.)
  13. Baby bathtub (Get one like this.)
  14. Aiden & Anais muslin blankets (about 4)
  15. Burp cloths—lots (20 is not too many)
  16. Pacifier (Get the ones made for 0+ months. I like Nuk the best.)
  17. Diaper bag (I’ve enjoyed my Ju-Ju-Be but would spring for the bigger size than the Be All)
  18. Baby shampoo and lotion (just 1 bottle of each)
  19. Aquaphor (to help prevent diaper rash and for very dry skin inside those cute baby wrinkles)
  20. Nasal aspirator (This one is totally worth it.)
  21. Thermometer (The ear ones suck. Temple ones are much better.)
  22. Infant Tylenol
  23. Boppy pillow
  24. Baby nail clippers
  25. Baby brush
  26. Humidifier (I chose the warm mist, but a case could be made for the cold mist. Don't get both. That's being a pregzilla.)
  27. Happiest Baby on the Block
Conspicuously absent from this list are sleeping and breastfeeding equipment. I can't recommend a particular cosleeper because until 7 months, the only place my baby would sleep was in bed next to me. He wanted nothing to do with the Amby Hammock and is quite happy in his crib now. As for breastfeeding supplies, that requires another post.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Six Common-sense Tips for Caring for a Sick Baby

Baby boy was sick this week. It started with a cough and progressed to a low-grade fever, runny nose, and chesty cough. Nobody in the Garvey household got a full night's sleep for most of the week. It could have come from our trip to the midwife, a play break at the Potomac Mills Outlets play area, or that morning when Cam shared the gym babysitting service with 12 other kids.

By Tuesday, the ache that I never got around to writing about on the first day of day care came on as I gathered my stuff for the office and left baby boy with the nanny. By Thursday, I was officially nonfunctional from lack of sleep, and Cam was miserable.

Dr. Google convinced me that he had whooping cough or something equally horrifying, so we paid a visit to the pediatrician. Despite 4 days of fever spikes and a cough that developed into a gag reflex, it turned out to be a bad cold turned ear infection. 24 hours later, Amoxicillin made it all better.

Cam has had 2 colds before this, but this was the first time that I was really worried about him. For the benefit of other moms who've never had a baby with a cough, here's what I learned:

Keep fever under control. If a baby's fever stays too high for too long, he could have a seizure. Don't be afraid of Tylenol, and ask your pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner for dosage instructions.

Invest in a good thermometer. I'm not sure why, but the ear thermometer I registered for was useless. No matter whose ear I stuck it in, the result was always 97.5. The temple thermometer I bought from CVS turned out to be much more accurate and useful.

Know when to go to the pediatrician. Give it a couple days before rushing to the pediatrician. If your baby's fever is unresponsive to tylenol or if he has trouble breathing, it's time to go. If he doesn't get better after a few days, it's also time to go.

Make your baby comfortable. Turn the shower on high heat to fill the bathroom with steam before his evening bath (but watch that the hot water doesn't melt your bath mat or treads!). Use a humidifier in his room. Consider a nonmedicated Vick's plug in.

Ask for help. I had my nanny come over even on the day I chose to stay home with baby boy. She was a huge help and afforded me the luxury of catching up on sleep so I could continue to give Cam the attention he needed. If you don't have a nanny, cash in on a favor with a friend, a willing family member, or a supportive spouse. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need.

Cut yourself some slack. It's okay to not have enough energy and attention to fulfill your baby's intense needs when he's sick. Sometimes he just plain feels bad and all you can do is hold him. Do the best you can do, and don't feel guilty about not being able to completely stop his tears.

I'm happy to report that Cam's fever is finally gone, and he's returning to his normal nightly sleep pattern. It's so good to see his smile and curiosity fill our daily routine again. Health is a beautiful thing.