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Saturday, January 24, 2015

More than a Mouthful -- My Skinny on Breastfeeding

Weighing in on Breastfeeding 

My mother has reminded me for 30-something years that she breastfed me for two of them. And like the many things that mothers wait on for you to *finally* understand, there is and will always be a lot of work, sacrifice and love like no other that goes into this whole motherhood thing -- with breastfeeding definitely requiring all three. 

Breastfeeding wasn't even a question of IF when it came to having a baby. But I was definitely intimidated by the HOW. My husband liked to laugh at the various looks of fear flickering across my face during our baby classes; the breastfeeding one definitely carrying the most discerning . . . and confused look of them all. 

I fretted about how my new nourishing life-life would co-exist with career. Would my busy-enough days be able to make time for such a time-consuming task that required me taking my shirt off several times a day?

And that brought me to the next big worry - what the heck would I wear?

My boob-to-food movement has had its trials and its tribulations. But I'm grateful we found a rhythm and its working. Turns out, I must be half bovine. 

Being a strong milk producer has its drawbacks and its advantages. Nursing is usually not enough - I have to pump to keep up with the [over]flow. I get clogged ducts easily when I don't milk myself for all I've got. That does make my professional life tricky. I've sat through many a meetings now that just wouldn't end, and I could literally feel the painful knots start to form.  

Fortunately, there have been a couple of times where I've actually worked up the nerve at work and said, "Okay, sorry, I need to end this and take care of baby business." Rest assured, nothing ends a meeting faster. But the staff I work with has been good sports about the entire thing. They know when I put up my "Milk is in Session" sign, do not disturb is an understatement. In fact, in the early days, when we were all trying to navigate through the awkwardness of it all, one of my co-workers - a male, mind you - broke the ice and gave us all a good laugh by cueing up Kelis' "Milkshake" when I excused myself. Office life got a little easier after that. 

However, just as soon as you think you have it made, the other week I was minding my own corporate business, pumping away behind my closed office door, sign up, when a visitor stopped by our office, couldn't find anyone upstairs and completely barged into my space. We were both mortified. And yes, I wanted to take my stapler to his forehead. I still don't know who the person was because I turned my back so fast. I just hope his eyeful teaches him a lesson in Closed Door 101. Needless to say, it warranted a trip to Lowes where my husband and I bought a new lock.  

But back to the good stuff. Of course, the advantage of being such a Grade A producer is we always have full bottles of fresh-pressed milk ready for baby boy. We also have a freezer full. We even got to the point where we had two freezers full.

That leads to one of my favorite parts of my breastfeeding journey. I was able to share it. Now, I've heard mama's milk is liquid gold and you can literally make milk money selling what being a mama gave ya. But I also heard body builders buy it in back alleyways, and there's a lot of trickery going on in the breast milk black market. We went the more "Praise God for all whom blessings flow" rate and decided to give away our over-supply. Through the magic of social media, we connected with another local family who needed more milk for their baby boy. So on Thanksgiving week, we loaded up their car with a trunk full of frozen good stuff. I now have the honor and privilege of calling myself a milk maid with our beautiful baby boys sharing a special bottled connection.

Also, one of my favorite discoveries about breastfeeding - milk producing does the body good! I have lost all of my baby weight (40 freakin' pounds I put on!) plus another ten and counting. Now, I know this isn't the case for everyone, and I sure as heck didn't expect this when I was expecting and packing on the pounds. But with breastfeeding being the best diet I've ever been on, there is a good chance my son will nurse until he leaves for college. 

So, breast has been best for me, and I hope I can continue to share my love for making milk to others. Here are my best "Tits and Tricks" (ha!) I'm learning along the way for keeping up with breastfeeding in a busy mama's world:

1. Find a "Breast Friend." There are leagues and websites and message boards, but nothing beats having someone who has been there, done that and can write the book about it. I have a friendship circle of highly successful corporate women who I look up to immensely. When one of them told me how she breastfed for two years for all three children despite having one of the highest-ranked marketing job in our community, I knew there would be no excuses - and I could lean in on her anywhere for support and advice. She even gave me one of her gently loved nursing pillows! The other friend nursed her children for a year despite her crazy corporate climb to the top, and she gave me some of the best advice and encouragement yet, especially when it came to pumping. She also shared her stored milk with another family and shined the light on how special that blessing can be. A lot of these tips came from them. 

2. Don't be afraid to use props. It doesn't mean you are a failure at feeding. Breastfeeding really isn't as clean and dry as the stunning Olivia Wilde and sweet baby Otis. I used a nipple shield the first three months because Walden wasn't quite grasping the latch. It was such an aggravation to make sure I had one handy, attach it, keep it clean and re-attach it when he knocked it off, but on the flip side, I never had blisters or sore nipples. I didn't think he would ever be able to latch without it, but lo and behold, one day it fell off and he went for it . . . . and never needed it again. It requires patience, but breastfeeding is a lesson in taking your time anyway. Other props I used were, of course, the Boppy (I definitely recommend two if you have an upstairs/downstairs situation) and an easy-to-move ottoman. It makes a HUGE difference when you slightly elevate your feet during the feeding. Also, don't underestimate the nursing stool. This is another huge relief for pain in the back and shoulders that comes along with the contortion of letting a little human feed off your chest. Props to my other favorite prop, the Earth Angel Mama Angel Booby Tubes. These can be kept in your freezer for cooling relief or warmed in the microwave for a hot compress. They were definitely my heroes straight from the freezer during the early days of engorgement. And now I use them heated to work out clogged ducts.  

3. Pump up the volume. I started pumping about two-and-a-half weeks after Walden was born. I actually had a goal - the Bragg Jam Festival was happening a month after Walden's arrival, my husband was president of the board for 2014, and I really wanted this to be my first night out on the town. I needed to get into the hang of pumping and have milk on hand for my mom who would be sitting that night. Plus, I was taking a four-week maternity leave and needed to build up my bottle supply. 

In the beginning, I discovered I had more confidence pumping than I did nursing him directly. It probably had a lot to do with the aggravation of the nipple shield. But I actually started researching exclusive pumping and questioning whether I was crazy for wanting to go through such hassle. Still, I began pumping a lot. Because I was producing so much milk, I could actually get relief. Walden took to a bottle quickly, and it helped him eat well as well. When he nursed on me, he always fell asleep within minutes. There were times where I had to nurse him a bit and then go pump, but ultimately, I developed a routine. I should say WE developed a routine. Team Feed Walden Weatherford went into full force. One of my breast friends suggested that by pumping at night, daddy could feed baby. Not only would this help their bonding, but it also helped mama feel like she wasn't a lone soldier in the middle of the night. So, for many nights, there we were - daddy with a bottle. Baby in his arms. And mama hooked up at her pumping station.

The pumping station has been a big part of making milk more comfortable. We set up a comfortable chair, pillow for my back, an overhead reading light and purchased one of those rolling portable desks so I could have my laptop right in front of me. Strap on the hands-free pumping bra, crank up the pump, and this is how came back to life. For almost seven months now, when at home, I've spent a lot of time at my cozy pumping station - reading, writing, watching "Hart of Dixie" on Netflix and amping up my social media game. I can even check emails and get work stuff done. It's definitely helped me feel less cowbell, more productive, please. 

I also have to give props to other props I've used while pumping. I've tried every hands-free pumping bra out there. I recommend having 2-3 because they do get gross. But my favorite, hands-down (or off! ha!) is the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra. Remember, I pump a lot. The weight of the bottles I were filling, plus the frequency I was filling them, stretched my other bras quickly in all of the wrong places. I also tried this shoe-string-like-thing thinking it would be easier to put on - and I was so wrong. It took forever to figure it out, and when I did, it was like wearing a rope-burn in action. The bad grammar and misspellings in the directions should have also been a clue that this too-good-to-be-true gadget was indeed just that. The Simple Wishes bra adjusts with the weight loss. It also has more secure inlets for the shields to go. It's held up great to the wear, tear and washing. I can even wear it when I really multi-task and put on my make-up and do my hair while standing in my bathroom and pumping, eating my breakfast and drinking coffee and entertaining my baby in his bounce seat all at the same time (BOOM!).

Another thing that has made pump life easier is the small fridge in my office for storing the milk. I also keep large gallon bags handy for my dirty shields (and yes, I put them in the fridge instead of completely cleaning off in between pumping sessions - works for us!). And my pump itself has proven its worth. I use the Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump with the nifty tote (stylish, well, that's up for debate). There is a reason this little bosom buddy of mine wins all of the reviews. It just checks the boxes. 

Other items I recommend - one of those electric outlet adapters for your car in case you are traveling and need to break out the breast pump (and don't want to fool with battery power). Keep a dish cloth in your pumping bag to wipe up the proverbial spilled milk (I swear that stuff is like lacquer on hard surfaces), as well as a cleaning agent. I like Mrs. Meyers countertop spray or their surface wipes in lavender just to add a tinge of aromatherapy to the work involved. I also use the cloth, washable, re-usable lactation pads for my bra. I found the disposable ones itchy and kind of wasteful. I keep extras in my pumping bag at all times because you never know when you'll have a bleary-eyed morning and forget to stuff your bra . . . only to be reminded by that electrocuting sensation later that your blouse is in danger.

4. Wear it well. Finally, I was in total shock after leaving the maternity wardrobe behind that most of my previous clothing ensembles were not conducive to a breastfeeding, working-mom lifestyle. Who really wants to completely get naked in your office and be hooked up to a breast pump at your desk? No thanks. If I could wave the fashion fairy wand for a minute, I would totally designs amazing nursing dresses. They are so hard to come by! I did find a few basics with fashionable appeal and nursing flaps on Gilt (e-mail me for an invite!), but they are few and far between. I've been buying a lot of blouses and separates. I also found that nursing tanks are easier to access under everything than regular nursing bras, and they have built-in support for these enlarged and in-charge mammaries o'mine. The bright side is it's given a new look to my closet choices, and I'm enjoying the change. On the other side, dang, it takes a lot of money to gain easy access and get the milk for free.
These days, we're a hearty, equal mix of direct nursing and pumping. He's drinking more, so my milk isn't busting out of my bra and my freezer. The other big advice I received is not to put a time limit on breastfeeding. Yeah, it's good to have a goal, but don't look at it as a countdown. I don't know how long I will continue breastfeeding. I'd like at least one year. If I go more, so be it. If I go less, I've given all I got. And yes, the day will come when I will remind him that breasts are not hood ornaments - they are what nourished his life. And he better respect women for that and so much more. 

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