Growing Up: Cloth Diapers and Breastfeeding

I know my topics are all over the place, here. Part of my do what you’re gonna do and be yourself idea for 2016 includes blogging about whatever strikes my fancy on whatever schedule/non-schedule is feasible. So we’re jumping into some parenting stuff!

M seems to be growing up so very fast. She is definitely a little girl now, not a baby. Part of our transition into toddlerhood was also a transition to the town daycare, where disposable diapers are used for diaper-wearing kids. We provide our own, as well as wipes. We moved her there from a home daycare that accommodated our cloth diapering, so we entered into new-ish territory. We had always used disposables overnight and quite a bit during travel, but since the daycare switch we’ve had to buy disposables on a regular basis (so expensive!).

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For a while, we kept up with cloth on weekends and when M came home from daycare, but the infrequency with which she wore cloth (a handful on the weekend and maybe one a day on weekdays) meant that the diapers sat in the laundry bag for far too long, because we kept forgetting we needed to wash them. And more often than not, we were reaching for a disposable when she came home out of habit, so gradually we kind of accidentally phased out cloth.

I finally decided, last month, that we were done — it wasn’t worth the effort for so few diapers, and she is making progress towards potty training anyway. It’s expensive to use disposables, and we aren’t really set up as a disposable using family — we just have a regular garbage can in her room — so I’m hoping we’ll be totally done with diapers sometime soon.

Our transition away from breastfeeding happened in a similar manner. I didn’t really mean to wean M, but we had a lot going on in the latter half of 2015. Matt did a lot of bedtimes while I dealt with other things, and frankly, with all the fluctuating hormones happening for me, even the sporadic bedtime nursing sessions became a bit physically uncomfortable. The few times she asked, I gently deflected. When I felt like I was maybe ready to accommodate it again, she had mostly lost interest — she’d ask, but then lay her head down on me immediately after asking and nestle into sleep, with no attempt to convince me. And I wasn’t going to offer, so we just skipped over it. She was just asking out of routine, I think. Now I can’t remember the last time she asked.

It’s kind of bittersweet to me how that particular relationship ended, because it had a lot to do with the sadness and trauma of loss last year. I’m trying to remind myself that it likely would have happened anyway, and to let go of the cloud of bad feelings around it, because there have already been enough bad feelings surrounding that time. She is happy and healthy, and not scarred for life — and I managed to breastfeed for two years, which is about a year and six months longer than I thought I would have been able to, in the beginning.

I can’t remember the last time I nursed her, but that’s okay. It’s all a part of growing up, and I am so grateful for all that we have accomplished together.

Milk on the Rocks

When my little family and I travelled down to South Carolina, I looked up the state’s breastfeeding laws before we got on the plane (it’s protected under SC law, by the way). I was anxious, having heard all kinds of things about America’s anti-breastfeeding culture, and had barely fed M in public on home turf at that point. I’d mostly fed her in the passenger seat of the car, but my trip to the beach was a crash course in nursing in public.

I fed her in the airport lounge in Toronto, and felt self-conscious doing so, because we were in the throes of our latch problems and nursing her involved a lot of exposed skin, constant attention, and relatching her numerous times. But nobody in Toronto said a word. And nobody on the airplane said a word — in fact, the Porter flight attendants recommended breastfeeding as a way to help baby through takeoff and landing.

And in South Carolina, I fed M on the beach. “Milk on the rocks,” I joked. It was less than ideal — nursing still hurt, then, and it was windy, and I still felt naked. I was armed with my knowledge of state law. And some people walked by, and they looked at me — and they smiled. And kept walking. Matt took a picture, because he was proud of us. I posted it to Instagram. The world did not end.

And so it went. In the airport on the way home. On the plane. On the shuttle bus in downtown Toronto. In the hotel lobby back in Thunder Bay. And after that, at a wedding. At the beach. At the park. During playgroup. Sitting on our front porch, covered in dirt. In a restaurant next to a clump of teenage boys. Now, I have the confidence to feed her, whenever, wherever, without worrying. I have learned how to pull one shirt down and one shirt up, yes. We don’t fumble anymore. But still, I’m prepared with my knowledge of Canadian law (here it is, for the record) — and I shouldn’t have to be.

If you saw a baby drinking a bottle in public, would you be offended? So how is a breast different? Why should my child be fed in a bathroom, or a car, or at home? Why should we be covered with a blanket?

And, to take things a step further — babies breastfeed past the magical age of one year old. Some are weaned then. Some keep going. It’s normal and okay. Babies drink milk even though their moms eat cabbage or take a Tylenol or drink a beer. That’s also normal and okay. Babies drink formula, and they drink breast milk, and some drink both, and some drink one or the other, and it’s all normal and okay.

A fed baby is a happy baby. Be it in public or private.

Do some research. Be informed. Come from a place of knowledge and compassion. And the next time you see a child eating, be it a from a bottle, or a breast, or a squeezy pouch, or a spoon, or from his or her own hands, try a smile. The world needs more positivity.

Our Breastfeeding Journey: Getting Better

Every night, after she has been scrubbed, lotioned, pajama-ed and kissed on the head by Matt, M snuggles into my arms and nurses until she’s drifting off. I study her little face in the dim purple light filtering through the curtains and think about how far we’ve come.

(You can read all of my posts involving breastfeeding here.)

A brief recap of our journey so far:

  • We started out well, stretching the hospital’s skin-to-skin policy into latching M on right in the OR, after she was delivered via unplanned c-section. (We were even highlighted at a Best Start conference in February!) Still, we had some issues with ‘lazy eating’ and a latch that seemed questionable to me, but had a really hard time trying to see the LC while we were in the hospital. M gained weight quickly after we were discharged so we figured all was well.
  • Around a month postpartum, M’s latch really started to go sideways. We went back and forth with the help of the LC and a handful of doctors and nurses trying to make things work for a few weeks. We were diagnosed as borderline on the Hazelbaker scale for tongue ties, and had a frenectomy done on M at eight weeks old.
  • She latched really well for a week and then it all went haywire again. At some point I developed thrush (never officially diagnosed, but it responded somewhat to thrush meds) and battled it with a few rounds of gentian violet, APNO, and miconazole. Nursing became very painful, so I started pumping and bottle feeding during the day, which turned into pumping full-time.
  • With the exception of a few attempts at nursing, I exclusively pumped after that. We went on vacation, involving four flights, and faced with the prospect of pumping in the airport, I decided to try latching her again. To my surprise, she managed it well, so I kept going.

So here’s where we’re at now…

Whatever thrush or thrush-like pain I had is basically gone. I did a round of antibiotics just prior to our vacation, in case it was a bacterial infection (the walk-in doctor wasn’t super helpful in this regard, and basically said ‘You’ve done pretty much everything you can, maybe you’re allergic to the pump’ but the antibiotics were a last-ditch effort so I went with it). After that I threw medical advice out the window and started applying miconazole after nearly every feeding. Maybe it was the antibiotics, maybe it was the miconazole, maybe I actually was allergic to the pump, but something obliterated the red, itchy stabby feeling within a week or two.

Like magic, over the course of the last month, M has spaced out her frequent feedings (for the most part — she’s distractable now and doesn’t always finish feeds, meaning she’s hungry more often) and she seems to be thriving. Her latch is not perfect, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. I never understood what the LC was trying to impress upon me when she asked if M was latching with her tongue forward, and encouraged me to bring her to the breast when her tongue was in the right position — because M never actually used her tongue properly. Now I get it. I see her stick her tongue out all the way, over her gums, as I bring her on. And I see her tongue moving and working and cupping and lifting as she drinks.

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On the day I found out she was back on her growth curve — yay us!

I don’t know if it was just a matter of her getting used to having more tongue and more motion to work with, considering that she was restricted in utero and for two months after. I don’t know if having to latch properly onto a bottle and use her tongue rather than clamping taught her the right way to do it. Whatever it was, I am grateful. We actually ran into our LC at a community event and she complimented how well M was using her tongue, something she observed without even seeing her nurse.

Her suck-swallow-breathe pattern isn’t always the greatest (something my sister noticed just from hearing M latch on). She forgets to breathe and snuffles and pops off. She goes into jags of random sucking with no swallowing, especially during the day. She’s easily distracted, and twists and turns. I usually have to flip out her upper lip and push down her jaw once she latches on, but now, she stays that way rather than tensing up and clamping down immediately.

There is still pain, especially when M is sleepy, or I’m dozing while nursing at night and not watching her latch, or she isn’t sleeping well so I don’t get a break at night. But it’s manageable pain. I can deal with it. I don’t think it will ever be pain-free, because I believe her high palate is always going to cause problems, but it is so much better than it was. And it’s so much better than pumping six times a day and worrying about output. It was hard to let go of the knowledge and control from pumping and bottlefeeding — I knew when she was or wasn’t hungry, with certainty, I knew she was eating enough, I could track her consumption — but after readjusting to nursing I feel like I can trust my body again.

At her four-month appointment, she had recovered from falling off her growth curve and was holding steady around the 50th percentile. The true test will be at her six month appointment, because she was bottlefed for a lot of her third month, but I feel her growing heavier every day and have faith that she’s gaining well.

I am so, so glad that we did not give up, even when it felt like we were underwater. I stuck to my mantra — never give up on a bad day. Because I didn’t want to make that decision under the weight of bad feelings, and on a good day, I didn’t want to quit. I owe a lot to my support network; all of the health professionals and my wonderful husband who fed M bottles while I pumped overnight, bought me flanges and lanolin and chocolate, accompanied me to appointments, and so on. It overwhelmed both of us, so many times, but we pushed through.

We’re almost at the point of solids, now. We’re going to be doing baby-led weaning (weaning as in ‘adding complementary non-pureed food’ not ‘stopping breastmilk’) starting when M is around six months old. For weeks, I clung to starting solids as a way to maybe have to nurse less often, but I feel good enough about our collective capabilities that BLW’s philosophy of ‘food before one is just for fun’ doesn’t scare me anymore.

I will admit to being scared of teeth, not because I’m worried that she’ll bite me, but because her latch is just shallow enough that it might cause problems. But we’ll figure it out.

Breastfeeding has been, by far, the most challenging part of parenthood. I read so many times, in so many places, to keep trying, to stick it out, that it would get better. I am so thankful it got better for us.

Natural, Not Easy

Having a hard time breastfeeding has made me feel better about my unplanned cesarean section.

No, really. Because I wanted a ‘natural’ birth (which, now that I’m on the other side, seems like a silly thing to say — birth in ALL forms is natural) and I didn’t get it, and I sort of felt like I failed in some way. I wanted pain relief, I ended up with Pitocin, things didn’t work the way they were designed to despite all kinds of people saying that my body was designed to give birth. I kinda beat up on my body, metaphorically, after that — c’mon body, why don’t you work the way you’re supposed to?

So you’d think that having breastfeeding challenges would also feel like my body is failing. But, eventually, I got it through my head that natural doesn’t equal easy. Breastfeeding is natural, yes, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. We need interventions and assistance and yes, medication to figure it all out. At this point I am not really doing much naturally. And I never once considered saying no, I don’t want your help, because this is natural and my body is supposed to do it on its own.

She doesn’t care how she gets milk as long as she gets it quick!

So why is it different when it comes to birth? Birth is natural, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. But I get kudos for working our way through breastfeeding challenges while my ‘unnatural’ birth is looked down on, in some circles, and in some ways it feels like a failure to me. Why not give kudos for the end result, regardless? If I can pat myself on the back for taking on one natural, but not easy challenge, I should pat myself on the back for all of them.

I mean, parenthood itself is natural but not easy. I have instincts, but I’m not hardwired to know exactly how to make my baby stop crying within 3.5 seconds. Everything takes work and effort and everything has a challenge within it (unless you’re some kind of magical unicorn with an easy birth and an easy baby and easy breastfeeding, in which case, shhhhh).

I wish it didn’t take a bigger challenge to make me feel better about birth, but there it is.

The Pros of Pumping

Remember how our house is full of poorly set-up things? Turns out our phone wiring is one of them. We have a short, somewhere in the house, which we discovered after the Bell tech came to our house for the sixth time yesterday and informed us he’d have to bill us if he fixed it because it’s a problem on our end. But he was nice, and set up a temporary jack at the panel, so now we have phone and internet for the first time since Thursday evening. I’m back!

We spent Friday driving to Thunder Bay which was trial by fire for us and our plans to pump and bottlefeed M for her daytime feeds (to give us space and time to work on her latch and help me get a break from crazy pain). I had to pump in the car, transfer milk between bottles without spilling, haul around a cooler bag… but we got her fed all day. Since then I’ve been pumping all through the day, and breastfeeding every time she wakes up at night, and for her first feed of the morning, usually.

Part of my anxiety and sadness surrounding feeding M has been, I think, paralysis over making a decision. I lamented to Matt a few times, “There is NO easy way out of this.” Because breastfeeding hurts and she doesn’t seem to get satisfied from it. But pumping is a ton of work and feels really complicated. But formula is nearly as complicated as pumping, and expensive, and I really want to give her breastmilk. How do you pick between pain, hassle, and expense?

Pumping feels like the mediocre bridge between two bad options. It’s still not the best option — that would be just being able to breastfeed her easily — but it’s better than pain and cheaper/better than formula, for us. I’ve realized I need to stop thinking, I wish I could just breastfeed her easily and readily because that, at this point, is simply not an option so it’s a waste of time to mourn it. I’m still hopeful we can return to full-time breastfeeding; I have the sneaking suspicion we are going to be a nearly exclusive pumping dyad; the baby is eating and thriving and there are some good sides to all of this.

The first night M got a bottle before bed (four ounces of breastmilk), she fell asleep pretty early. I mentally prepared myself to be up an hour or two after I went to sleep, because her sleep, over the last several weeks, has been miserable, with wakeups every two to three hours. When she woke up, I groggily looked at my phone — and realized she had been asleep for EIGHT HOURS. The next night, after 3 oz before bed, she slept for five. As I mentioned, I nurse her down, overnight, rather than wait for a bottle to heat, and she’ll only sleep for another three hours max, so I think she is getting better quality sleep with unhindered access to breastmilk.

Other people can feed the baby. We switched to pumping while Matt had some vacation time and he spent two days giving her her bottles because the first day I cried every time she got one, and the second, we were on the road so he’d give her a bottle while I drove. While I was hooked up to the pump frequently, it was sort of nice being able to go do something while she ate. And, it’s a nice bonding experience for M and her dad.

That being said, I’m happy to give her her bottles, too. I had to jump into it when Matt went back to work and I didn’t feel sad anymore as soon as I saw how happy and satisfied she was, eating. She nestles into me, closes her eyes and drinks. Or she looks into my eyes and plays with my fingers. It’s not the lovely, skin-to-skin, milk-drunk baby rolling into my arms, but again, she seems to be getting better quality feeding without having to fight for it. Her overall disposition kinda seems happier to me.

I have a really visible way to know I’m providing for my baby. I can see what I am producing, which inspires me to keep going. In the early days when M was gaining on breastfeeding like crazy, I felt really good about my ability to keep her thriving. That went away when we started having problems. I’m anxious about making enough and sort of fighting the fear of not having enough, but at least at the end of the day I can sit back and look at what she’s eaten and know that it’s enough.

Parts of it really suck (no pun intended). I’m worried about supply and mastitis and all of those things, I have to sterilize and clean stuff constantly, we have had to pour even more money into this endeavour (bottles, bottle warmer for the car, pump parts, etc.), it is immensely time consuming. I hate hearing her cry when the bottle isn’t warmed up yet. I hate seeing her showing off the ‘open big’ trick I taught her, when she really wants to nurse and I can’t do it. I feel frustrated when I pump for half an hour and have three ounces to show for it. I am having a hell of a time figuring out how to even sit down for twenty minutes to pump when I’m at home during the day, alone, and she is awake and fussy.

Ultimately, this is what is working for us, for now. We’ve learned pretty quickly that we can’t ever speak in terms of certainty when it comes to being parents. I’m trying very hard to let go of the what-ifs and I-wishes and focus on the good things. By the end of the day I’m exhausted and sore and counting down to the time when she won’t even need milk anymore, but as long as I’m able to get up in the morning with a brighter view, we’ll keep going.