My Expectation vs. Reality of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding was what I looked forward to the most when I was pregnant with my now three-month old son. With my 8-year-old son, a few hurdles prevented me from having the magical breastfeeding experience I ached for (read previous post). For that reason, when I had a new opportunity to redo all that went so wrong, I was beyond thrilled. I convinced myself of all the factors that could help my cause this time around, “I’m an experienced mom, I have all the breastfeeding products I need… but most importantly I am more versed in the matter.” Turns out, that being competent in the subject of breastfeeding was the only factor that helped me a bit. And I’ll emphasize- a bit.  Everything else was utterly irrelevant and isolated to my not-so-perfect experience.

Expectation

When I reached my final trimester, I excitedly shopped for nursing bras, pillows and covers; nipple pads and creams; and a double electric breastfeeding pump. All to prepare for what I thought was going to be a long road of putting my breasts to work. One night, I remember lining up all my new toys and looking at them in awe as I reasoned they were the instruments that would give me the experience I longed for. I turned my gaze to the breastfeeding pump and quickly assembled it using my protruding belly as a tabletop. Then, hastily unfastened my bra to free my breasts and I vacillated with the thought of what I would do next. But, before I knew it, my arms decided for me. They extended as far as they could, to reach both breast pump cushions. My apprehension for breastfeeding was put to rest temporarily as I felt the rhythmic suction. My breasts were sucked into the valves and released, sucked in and released; my stance on breastfeeding.

Before the Pain

Fast-forwarding to my son’s birth, I did not produce breastmilk until four days after. Therefore, I was feeding my baby with the next best option- baby formula. I was ridiculously obsessing about my plan not going as I anticipated. To make matters worse, I was dumbfounded to see how moms effortlessly filled bottles and bottles of breastmilk minutes after delivery. They pressed, squeezed, pumped and poured loads of their liquid gold without a hitch. Meanwhile, my overly enlarged, but still undersized breasts, screamed for relief. They were engorged and hard, begging to be alleviated from all the pressure. And still not even a glimmer of colostrum (first secretion of breastmilk after giving birth). Every mother’s experience is different. Even my second-time experience was different from the first. First time, I gave up too quickly and my baby had no interest in my nipples. This time, I was fixated on proving to myself that my body was able. 

Pain

I positioned my baby and he latched and sucked beautifully and still no signs of breastmilk. He squirmed and cried in frustration when his appetite was not satisfied. I gave in, again, and fed him a bottle. Moments later, I felt my breast filling up to the point they felt they would explode. The pain was almost debilitating and when I thought I could go to bed to “sleep-it off,” a fever and chills took control of my body. I quivered under layers of blankets in May. My feet felt like blocks of ice and I dug my head under because the temperature above was too cold to bare. My mind tried to register what was happening. In between trembles, I managed to call my husband and through shattering teeth yelled for him to rush home. “I need to get this breastmilk out of me!, I thought in desperation, feeling hopeless and crippled.  I massaged my breasts profoundly to stimulate secretion because the gentle and circular massages I read about were not working. The pain was unmanageable. When my husband got home, I ordered him to squeeze as hard as he could and to pretend he was milking a cow (to draw a picture for him)- and that’s when I lost him. I had to finish the job myself, so I squeezed and squeezed as if wringing water from a sponge. I coiled in agony praying my work will not be in vain. After a few minutes of more self-harm, a speck of colostrum emerged. I jumped with excitement and ran frantically to get my baby to nurse. My breast was the magnetic field that pulled his mouth to it organically.  Each suction produced a painful and alleviating pattern. I felt disappointed and excited about breastfeeding. I tear rolled down my chin. What mattered most was that I was able.

Honey Moon Stage

I was thrilled I could attest to the amazing feeling all moms boasted about being one of a kind, because it was. As a mother, I felt elated and powerful to witness one of the reasons my body transformed. I was providing my newborn with the finest form of nourishment only I could serve. It gave me the added opportunity to bond with him in a way only unique to breastfeeding. I was in love with the process and for some time I did not care for the sacrifices. I pumped in intervals of 2-3 hours. My breasts were producing like clock-work. It’s like they had a mind of their own reminding me they had to be emptied. I thought to myself, “Not only am I feeding my baby in the most natural way, but I’m going to shed the baby weight?! How awesome is that?!” I thought I would breastfeed forever.

Reality 

My life revolved around breastfeeding. I took the pump with me everywhere. When my phone marked the time to pump, I would drop everything to empty my breasts. I pumped in the car, I pumped at other people’s homes, I pumped while eating! When I was not pumping, I was feeding my baby and vice versa. I pumped around the clock every three hours and I fed my baby for close to an hour. I rested and tended to my older son for two hours at a time or less. I felt I was neglecting other aspects of my life. I was a sleepless mom with clinging breastfeeding cushions attached to me at all hours. To top everything off, I still had to supplement feeding with formula because I was not producing enough. I was a food-making-and-feeding machine that needed to reset. I only breastfed for six weeks. I loved having the experience while it lasted. However, I am a more happy and sane mother since I stopped. Mothers do not get enough credit for the work and sacrifice motherhood and breastfeeding entails.

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“I’m Ready for labor!…. Actually, I can Use Extra Time Baby, No Rush!”

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36 Weeks And Counting:

Today I am 36 weeks and five days along, expecting my second baby boy! In the last weeks I have experienced a few signs that indicate my body is getting ready for labor. For instance, my lower back pain has definitely been an annoyance; difficulty to fall asleep due to the weight of my growing baby, not being able to stand for long periods of time, losing bits of my mucus  plug and I can’t forget the persistant pressure down there! Most people would tell me,”Relax girl! you are only 36 weeks, you still have over 3 weeks to go!” However, taking into consideration everything I’ve been feeling, I knew for sure that something was happening down there! And as I expected, there has been!

I strongly feel that second-time mothers possess this magical power to know our body beyond explanation— and I mean in the sense of more than just intuition. I’ve been saying that I will give birth soon and in most part it’s because I gave birth to my first son at 37 weeks. Even before my doctor performed my examination, I was betting in my head, that my reproductive system had already checked the marks- “Ready” and “Set” and was waiting for one more signal to perform “Go!”

As I expected, my doctor confirmed that my cervix has been preparing for labor and I am 3 centimiters dilated and 60% effaced. To give you a better mental picture, 3 centimeter is a tiny bit over an inch and the cervix needs to be 100% effaced and thinned out to be completely prepared for labor. Active labor commences after 4 centimeters and at 10 centimeters the pushing starts! So I am pratically in the early stage of labor! I’m just glad that the subtle pains and discomfort I’ve been feeling have not been in vain.  Evidently, my body has been working hard to get me to this point.

Nonetheless, I must admit that I feel torn. I remember wanting to rush time in order to see and flaunt my baby bump. Then, I was dying to feel my baby’s movements and little kicks. I wanted this so badly that I am pretty sure that during the early weeks of my second trimester I may have confused my baby’s movements with gas (geesh)! Nonetheless, now that I am reaching the finishline and I may be delivering any day now, I don’t want to rush time. I want my baby to come to this world when he is ready because I am already anxious for his arrival. Feeling torn leads me to the following questions:

  • Am I really really ready for baby after 8 years?
  • How would motherhood be this time around?
  • How easy/hard would it be to adapt to my new life, being a mom of two?
  • Would my labor and delivery be as easygoing as my first?
  • How will the dynamic of my family be affected by the littlest member?

Truth is that I won’t know the answers to any of these questions until the arrival of my sweet boy. For now it’s a waiting game in which baby calls all the shots.

In my future posts you will find out if my intuitions about going into labor within the next week or two are on target.

Please feel free to let me know of your third-trimester story and what transpired during your labor and delivery.

Delivery Is Right Around the Corner, What Should You Pack In Your Hospital Bag?

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As the known procrastinator that I am, now that I am 35 weeks pregnant, I am running around packing my hospital bag for this second pregnancy. For my first baby, I didn’t pack half the things I have packed this time around; nonetheless, it’s 8 years later and now so many more products are available to make our lives easier and to make our hospital stay a more comfortable one. Many of these items have always existed, but for one reason or another, I never figured to bring them with me to the hospital until now. Most of the items I will suggest below can be dropped in the hospital bag just by common sense. However, there are other items that are crucial, but that most of  us will think of, when we are already in the hospital bed. That’s when we hope a family member can bring those items, or that the hospital gift store carries them. Atleast that’s what happened to me 8 years ago. Now that I am less than 5 weeks from meeting my little one, I want to be as prepared as possible. I will list the items that are a must and additional items that will be helpful to have in the hospital to make your hospital stay a more pleasant one. Not only do you want to be comfortable in the hospital, but you want baby and dad to be just as comfortable.

*** Even before starting to pack your hospital bag, make sure your baby’s carseat is set up and ready to go in the car***

For Mom:

Must- Have Items To Pack In Hospital Bag

(Think Of Things You Would Bring With You On A Long Weekend Getaway)

  • Towel
  • 2-3 Panties and bras (Double if you are having a ceserean section)
  • Body Wash
  • Lotion
  • Sandals/ flip-flops for shower
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume or Body Mist
  • Face wash
  • Few pairs of comfortable socks and/or comfortable slippers
  • Robe or gown for delivery and/or postpartum stay
  • Pajamas/ night gown
  • Nursing bra/tank
  • Breast pads
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • Leggings or sweats to go and leave hospital
  • Sweatshirt and/or comfortable loose top
  • Phone Charger
  • Camera/ camera charger
  • Travel size shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair brush/comb
  • Insurance Card
  • Ipad and/or books
  • Comfortable Footwear (like Ugg boots or secure flat sandals)

Additional Handy Items To Pack In Hospital Bag

  • Hand/ Electronic Breast Pump
  • Nursing Pillow
  • Nipple cream
  • Make-up bag
  • Eye contact case/eye contact  solution and/or eye glasses/eye glasses case if applicable
  • Hair ties
  • Shaver
  • Chapstick
  • Snacks
  • Sanitary Pads/ Not Tampons

For Baby:

  • Car Seat (Just reminding you again!)
  • Swaddle Blankets
  • Burp cloths
  • Pacifier
  • Blanket
  • Going home outfit
  • 2-3 onesies (just in case!)

(Regardless of endless availability in hospital the following items are extremely important to always carry when baby arrives!)

  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Diaper rash cream
  • Socks
  • Mittens
  • Bottle
  • Formula/ Stored breast milk
  • Changing cover

For Dad:

  • Pajamas or sweatpants
  • Change of clothes
  • Phone charger
  • Snacks
  • Slippers
  • Ipad/ electronic devices/ choice/books
  • Toothbrush

I am so relieved that I am officially packed and ready to go to, as soon as baby gives me the signs! What helped me come up with this list was to simply think of what I would take with me on a short get-away. Nothing can be more uncomfortable than being away from home without your basic necessities. I mentally fast-forwarded time and put myself in the scenario where I am in the hospital (before and after birth) and thought about everything I would need and want in that situation. I hope this helps! Feel free to comment and share your experiences and opinions!

Nine Activities to Stimulate Brain Development in Infants

It turns out that the activities I did with my eldest son, as a baby, to promote developmental growth, are the same ones I learned about when I became an early childhood educator. It is pretty neat to know that as a 22-year old, first-time mom, I was unintentionally promoting my baby’s brain development. I was fortunate to witness my first son reach every milestone right on time, and as a young mom I figured it was nature doing it’s job. Although, more often than not, nature does it’s job; nurture also plays a significant role in those developmental achievements. The activities below came to me innately, as it does to many mothers. It has been awesome to bond with my 3 month-old baby while knowing the benefits associated with each activity.

Eye Contact

I love looking into my baby’s eyes because I’m instantaneously overwhelmed with love. We connect while his eyes search for mine and we consequently play a game of pupil “ping-pong.” It helps with his focus and responsiveness while he learns queues of facial expressions.

Touching 

As soon my babies were born they were carried and placed on my chest for that crucial skin-to-skin contact. I say crucial because touch is imperative for emotional engagement for infants (and I’ll say everyone-right?!). Touch helps calm babies and alleviates stress for mothers/fathers while enjoying delicious cuddles. It’s a win-win. Touch is the infant’s realization of self and another person.

Playtime 

I love playtime with my baby because playing is the best way to learn. (That’s the teacher in me talking). Play is also a great way to measure a baby’s developmental growth. Through play I’ve observed my baby grow from following objects with his eyes to following me by turning his head/body. Playtime can teach babies about cause and effect. For example, I place a plush ball in front of my baby and drop it and he laughs because he knows that I’m going to drop the ball. We practice object recognition as my baby recognizes the toys we use to play. We also play peek-a-boo to work on the cognitive skill of object permanence. My baby is surprised when he sees me emerge from behind my hands because for babies the objects that are not in sight do not exist. When object permanence has been mastered it will help avoid/manage separation anxiety.

Reading 

It is never too early to start reading. I love reading to my baby because it’s multi-sensorial. By holding my baby and rocking him he is using his sight, hearing, smell and touch. (Tip: read a short book right after a feeding to put baby to sleep).

Bath Time 

Bath time is also multi-sensorial. Babies love the touch of still and running water. Once they are “movers”, infants will have so much fun kicking and moving their arms in the water.

Smells

Introducing smells to my baby has been a fun way to stimulate brain development. After bath time I introduce the scents of baby lotion and lavender oil before a short massage. I love watching his facial expressions as he experiences the scents.

Responding

Crying is the baby’s way of communicating something is wrong and tending to my son and picking him up is my first instinct. It is teaching him not only to self-soothe but also that he is being listened to.

Talking 

I talk while doing everything with my 3-month old son. Although he is an infant, talking to him is helping his vocabulary develop. This also models communication as he started to babble and coo.

Cuddling

Bonding and relaxing with my baby is as important as stimulating brain development as the activities mentioned above because it’s not only amazing to cuddle with a precious little human but it helps me connect with him as the individual person he is becoming.

(There are more activities that will encourage further brain development as babies grow- will add in future post).

The Inability to Breastfeed Does Not Make You An Inadequate Mother

Teaching is as nice as hugging a fluffy teddy bear, with the exception it has thorns and it's on fire-4
Not all babies prefer breast milk

I am currently expecting my second child, and if I can go back to 8 years ago and talk to my 23 year-old self I would say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” I was devastated that my first child refused to be breastfed, or even get close enough to latch. As a first time mother, I read numerous books on what to expect in the journey of motherhood. Everything about it was new to me, but I was particularly excited about breastfeeding. I went to workshops, saw videos, and questioned every mother I knew to better prepare myself on how to feed my baby the organic way. I wanted to experience the “special feeling” so many mothers talked about. I was looking forward to witnessing my body produce the nourishment that was renown for helping lose the baby weight and building the baby’s immunity. I had everything planned out, I just needed to confirm my baby was on board. Turns out he had different plans.

After birth, he was placed on my chest and we bonded immediately. It was love at first sight and I was elated with emotion. When he was taken away by nurses to be cleaned up, I rehearsed the steps in my head “hold baby, place baby’s head next to breast, lightly hold/ pinch nipple, assist baby’s mouth on nipple.” I impatiently stared at the doorway waiting for my newborn and anticipated the moment to practice what I had been obsessing about. Minutes later he was brought back to me, and I executed the steps to perfection except for the last step (“assist baby’s mouth on nipple”). Each time I got to the final step my son squirmed, cried and refused to latch. I tried a few more times with no success. I cried and he cried as my breasts throbbed and the “magical liquid” went to waste.

After recovering from what felt like my son’s rejection, my maternal instincts kicked in. I wiped my tears and fed my son with my next best alternative- infant formula. For the next few weeks, I continued to try to breastfeed and each time it ended in defeat and frustration. I could no longer put myself and my baby through that turmoil. Before I knew it, I dried up and gracefully put away my breasts as feeding gadgets.

The best way I can define my realization that breastfeeding is not for all mothers is by comparing it to natural (vaginal) birth. Vaginal birth and breastfeeding are the “natural way” of delivering and feeding a baby. Nonetheless, medical and physical difficulties arise and that plan will need to be changed. It can also happen that the baby has different plans for you all together. The baby may overthrow your natural birthing plan by turning and becoming breach at the last-minute. Or like my son, the baby can change its mind about going the natural feeding route.

In conclusion, not being able to breastfeed does not make you less of a mother, the same way that delivering a baby via cesarean section does not make a mother less than another. It all comes down to doing what motherhood is all about: Planning and at times realizing that there will be a change of plans; overcoming, adapting and most importantly always doing what is best for our children, even if that route is not what we originally wanted or what others approve of.

Please feel free to comment and share your views or experiences on breastfeeding below 🙂