Tag Archives: postpartum

6 Months

pumps and partsAs many of my regular readers might have noticed, these last few posts have been a departure from my usual musings about education, technology, and all things related to those fields. As a new mom, all-things-baby have (understandably, I hope) taken over. I’m managing to be back to work full-time, but the priorities in my day are, well, rearranged. Especially given that I need to express breast milk at least every two to three hours I’m away from my son (usually three times per work day). So for now, being back at work also means pumping. Which, for this mama, has been beyond challenging.

Yesterday marked 6 months of breastfeeding my son. Six months. I can’t quite believe it. Before I had my baby, I chose 6 months as a goal for breastfeeding, based on things I’d heard and read. After all, everyone says “breast is best.” But until you go through it, there’s no way to understand how breastfeeding will (or won’t) fit into your life.

Anyone close to me (or anyone who has kept up with my pregnancy- and postpartum-related posts) knows that breastfeeding has been difficult for us from the start. My son had a lip- and tongue-tie, which made it feel like a vice grip was clamping down on my breast every time he latched on. I bled almost every time he breastfed at first. I spent many nights wide awake those first few weeks — not because my baby wouldn’t sleep, but because I was in too much pain from breastfeeding to get sleep in between his feedings. My anxiety was through the roof, and I found myself counting down the minutes until the next time we would attempt a latch. I sent late-night texts to my lactation consultant and posted questions in desperation to Facebook mommy boards. It was more painful than I ever could have imagined, and nothing like what I’d expected. I attended a nursing circle once a week, where new mommies would go around and share their latest trials with breastfeeding. Having that once-a-week contact for a while kept me sane.

Many people suggested I give up. And I tried at least once to stop. But on top of knowing that breast milk is the healthiest thing you can give a newborn, we quickly realized that my son is sensitive to dairy and soy. Whenever I ate cheese, milk, or ice cream (the worst offender), his reflux would flare up, and other things would happen that I’ll spare you the details of here. Needless to say, going into a store and grabbing formula off of the shelf wasn’t going to work for us: most formulas are dairy based. Those that are dairy-free are soy based. So for my son, breast milk is literally the only thing he could consume.

Since it was summer, and I’m a teacher, we had the luxury of time to figure this all out, together. So despite our struggles, we kept at it.

Sometime over the summer, I began to suspect that I might not be responding to the pump as well as other mamas who pump. I would get anywhere from .25 to 2 ounces, total, in one pumping session. I pumped religiously at the same time every day, but it took a very long time to build up a freezer stash of milk in 1- or 2-ounce increments. When I returned to work, I quickly realized my suspicions were true: I was not responding to the pump well at all, and along with the stressors of returning to work before I was ready to, I now had to deal with not expressing enough milk for my son to eat the following day at daycare.

I spent the first few weeks back at work stressing out about how this would all shake out. Clearly, my dwindling stash of frozen milk would not last very long. My pumping sessions at work have amounted to an average of 2 to 6 ounces, total, for the day. My son eats a minimum of 12 ounces per day. So I’m thawing 6-10 ounces of frozen milk per day to supplement. You do the math: it’s not sustainable!

There are many amazing things about breast milk. Like the fact that it’s literally tailor-made to your baby. If you’re exposed to an illness, you immediately begin producing antibodies in your milk so that your baby gets some protection from that illness. Crazy, right? You also produce more milk, the more the baby nurses. The production part has been tricky for me — Monday through Thursday, my son nurses only in the morning, overnight, and at bed time. During the day, I have to pump. But since I’m not responding well to the pump, by Thursday my supply has dropped dramatically (since I’m not able to express as much as I am when I’m nursing full-time, my body doesn’t think it needs to produce as much). Friday through Sunday, my son nurses every hour or two, and by Sunday night my supply goes back up. It’s an unfortunate cycle that will continue until he/I/we decide it’s time for him to wean.

In the meantime, I’ve tried all sorts of things to help boost my supply. I’ve eaten scads of oatmeal and quinoa — two grains that allegedly help your milk supply. I’ve made lactation cookies (which are full of oatmeal, flax, coconut oil and other goodies to help boost caloric intake and milk production). I’ve resisted the urge to diet (despite being two sizes bigger than pre baby) since breastfeeding mamas need more calories to make more milk. I’ve pumped on one breast while nursing my son on the other (which, if you haven’t tried or witnessed it, is as acrobatically challenging as it sounds). I’ve tried hand-expressing, reverse pressure softening, and the massage-stroke-shake method. I’ve taken fenugreek, blessed thistle, and other supplements. I’ve consumed gallons of water. I’ve sniffed my baby’s worn clothes, watched videos of him, and looked at photos to encourage my milk to let down while attached to the pump. I’ve listened to meditations and visualized milk flowing into the bottles. I’ve tried all kinds of different pumps and parts (see photo above for a visual, which is only a sample of what I’ve bought or rented).

Speaking of pumps, I have two Medela Pump In Style pumps (one that my health insurance covered the cost of, and one that my mother purchased for me so that I wouldn’t have to lug one back and forth to work every day); I have a manual pump, which I’ve found to be most helpful when pumping-while-nursing; and I recently rented a hospital-grade Ameda Elite, in a last-ditch effort to try and produce more milk.

Sadly, none of the different pump parts, sizes, styles, or brands helped me produce any more milk. I am one of the unlucky few who just doesn’t respond well to the pump, period.

But for now, let’s focus on the positive: WE MADE IT TO SIX MONTHS!!!! It feels like a huge feat. Because it really, really, is.

As I conclude this post, I just want to acknowledge a few things: first of all, I realize that not all mamas can breastfeed. Sometimes the milk ducts just don’t work. Sometimes previous surgeries, illnesses, or other treatments prevent nursing. Sometimes physical disabilities or injuries make it simply impossible. And while I feel like someone should pay me a million bucks for how hard these last six months have been, I respect and understand that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. And there’s no judgment in that. We went this route for a variety of health and philosophical reasons — but it was also an option that was available. If I had to go back to work at 6 weeks, there’s no way I would have been able to keep at it.

Which leads me to another point: clearly, working women were not built to return to work so soon. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Pediatric Association (APA) recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies for at least six months. After that, the APA suggests continuing breastfeeding for at least a full year; the WHO suggests the same for up to two years and beyond. Wouldn’t you think our policies for working moms would work around these research-based recommendations? I mean, if we’re so concerned about autoimmune disorders and other diseases that might be linked to our diets — health issues that cost individuals (and the healthcare industry) billions of dollars every year to treat — shouldn’t our daily practices help support the WHO and APA’s recommendations for health when a human’s life begins?

I am currently imagining a society in which women make as much as men for the same amount of quality work. A society in which breastfeeding moms don’t feel apologetic for feeding their children in public. A society in which working moms are afforded the ability to take as much time off as they need to nurture their new babies in that first year. A society that takes care of its people over profit. A society that puts health and wellness first. That would be an amazing society in which to live…

The (Semi-dreaded) Return to Work and My Postpartum Body

My son is 4.5 months, and I’ve started back at work for a few days a week. We’ll be full-throttle a week from now, when he’ll start daycare. Going back has been harder than I thought. I knew it would tug at my heart strings, but how are you expected to be okay with putting your little being — this tiny life you created and have been nourishing and snuggling — in someone else’s care??

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a workaholic. I’m not condoning (or gloating about, for that matter) that behavior — it can have tough ramifications for your personal relationships, your health, and other things — but I am saying that I love working. I’m about to head into my seventeenth (SEVENTEENTH!?) year of teaching, and I’m looking forward to the start of the fall semester. That being said, after seeing my son pretty much 24/7 since he was born, I’m now only going to see him for an hour-ish after work, overnight when he nurses, an hour-ish in the morning, and on the weekends. That’s a tough transition.

I’m all for working mommyhood — women are amazing for all of the things that they juggle, whether they have kids, they work, or however they spend their time. I’m also for rethinking the way our country approaches the transition back to work after having a baby. As I’ve mentioned before, most countries have paid maternity leave, and some countries offer it for a year or more. Going through the experience for the first time, I now see why. I’m still getting up several times a night to nurse, and feel a bit zombie-like around the clock. I’ll be putting my all into my work, but I can’t help think I’d ultimately be a better worker if I had more time to transition. And as I said in my last post, my situation is unusual — many working mommies have to go back after 6 weeks. I have had a lot more time at home with my new baby than most (mostly, because I didn’t teach this summer).

Before I went through pregnancy, I (naively) thought I knew everything there was to know. I’d read plenty. I’d had tons of friends who’d gone through it. I am an aware, inquisitive feminist with an unwavering curiosity who asks lots of questions. But experience really is education — you can’t understand it fully until you go through it. Which brings me to another thing I’ve been struggling with: my body.

It’s always been a bit of a challenge to stay in shape and at a healthy, ‘normal’ weight. I know that’s the case for the majority of us. We live in a judgmental society in which ‘feminine,’ ‘beautiful’, ‘body,’ ‘weight,’ ‘slim,’ ‘curvy,’ ‘fat,’ and others are highly charged words. So when your body transforms to carry another human being inside it — this incredible, biological process that still puts me in a state of beyond words — and you’ve spent what seems like a lifetime trying to look past what others say about how you look, it can feel like a curve ball. Add to that going to see a doctor at 4 months pregnant who says your weight gain is ‘alarming.’ Even though you’ve heard about plenty of people who’ve gained what you gained and then some, it feels like psychological ping pong.

My answer to rapid weight gain was to go to the gym 6 days a week from that moment forward, up until the day before I delivered. It was terrible most days. I was pregnant throughout the winter, and the sun wouldn’t be out until after I got back from the gym. I tried my best to be reasonable, healthy, and smart about what I ate, but after the ‘alarming’ incident, I found myself counting calories, confounded by the numbers on the scale going up and up and up at a faster pace than what I’d read they should. I wish that I’d spent that time being less worried, that that doctor’s words didn’t upset me, and that I had, well, a slightly thicker skin.

Some women bounce right back to their post-pregnancy bodies, some take at least nine months or more to return, and others never bounce back. Someone said to me that ‘things are just, I don’t know, rearranged‘ after giving birth. I’m starting to see that’s true. And to add another layer of challenge: thyroid issues run rampant in my family. My TSH numbers are a little out of range toward hypothryroidism — something that makes weight loss even more challenging. Oh, and you’re definitely not supposed to diet while breastfeeding, so ‘watching what I eat’ aside from making sure I get enough protein, healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

So what does all of this have to do with going back to work? Aside from a stark reminder of how women who give birth and work are supposed to just figure it out (the ratcheting up costs, the body changes, the sore nipples if they’re breastfeeding, childcare, and the list goes on): WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR!? I have been stuck at 15 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight for weeks now. I’ve accepted that it’s going to take a little longer than I’d hoped to fit into my work clothes. And so I’ve gone out and bought a few staple pieces for work — a few sizes larger than my ‘normal.’ (Oh, I guess we should add money for post-pregnancy clothes to the list of things employers or the government should provide postpartum.) The process has been charged with so many feelings. Especially because what I do for a living requires standing in front of people for big chunks of the day. What I wear provides a layer of confidence. Usually. This will be an interesting experiment to that end.

To come back around to my point: having a baby comes with lots of changes that I expected but didn’t fully understand. And this: new parents need more time to adjust. I hope whatever happens in the next few years politically includes a serious reconsideration of how we treat working moms. Have I mentioned that more time is needed??

IMG_3539In the meantime, I gratefully spent time over the summer with another new-mommy colleague and her now 8-month-old son, going to mommy-and-me yoga. I’m not much of a yogi capital Y, but it was great practice at just connecting with my breath and treating my body as the amazing thing that it is. And just last week I started stealing trips to the gym in the early morning hours or evenings in between trips to the office, nursing, and all the other things we do every day. It might take me 9 months or more to return to my pre-pregnancy body, or maybe I’ll never get back there completely, but wow — I made a kid! And he’s incredible. He just learned to roll over and is wowing me and Daddy with new skills every day. I can’t wait to see what’s in store these next few years and beyond.

12 Weeks and Counting

So here I am at 12 weeks postpartum. The time at which I would, if school was still in session, legally need to return to my job in order to keep it, according to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (And keep in mind that FMLA, despite being a federal law, is only honored by some employers). Gratefully, I am an educator, and having had a spring baby, the summer stretches ahead with extra time to spend at home with the new kiddo. I recognize that most people aren’t in this position. So some people might rightfully be all #newmommyproblems with a sarcastic tone, and I get that. But to drive home my point that 12 weeks isn’t long enough — for anyone — I thought I’d write about some of the things that are going on right now. Things that would prevent me from doing a good job at work:

  • I am still waking up 3-4 times per night to nurse, resulting in little sleep; what little I get is interrupted and anything but restful.
  • because of the broken sleep, exhaustion is the norm; exhaustion does not produce optimal work output.
  • my work clothes still don’t fit; I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy, and still have 20 (give or take) more to lose.
  • my baby continues to change on a daily basis; he just started being alert more during the day than asleep, meaning I get to spend more time bonding and getting to know him. If forced to do so, I know I would struggle on a deep emotional level to put him in someone else’s care right now. My heart goes out to mamas who have had to do this earlier than I will have to.
  • my back is jacked. up. Sometime around 3 weeks postpartum, I sat down funny and jammed my sacroiliac joint. The pain continues to be unpredictable and fierce. Although my partner may disagree, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at grinning and bearing it. I don’t want to miss any of the good parts of these first few months of my son’s life. So despite the pain, we’ve gone on walks. And to a local public pool. And had visits with grandmas and grandpa. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sitting in any one position for longer thirty minutes or so (like at my computer) is difficult. And given that I used all my sick days for my maternity leave, I wouldn’t have any sick days to use if I had to take any because of my back. What a catch 22.
  • I’m having acupuncture and chiropractic treatments weekly for the aforementioned bullet. I feel like I’m always either nursing or running to an appointment, which leaves little time for getting work done. (And anyone who knows me knows I’m a workaholic, so this is hard on many, sometimes paradoxical levels.)
  • this past week, my thumbs, wrists, and forearms started aching. It’s apparently a thing called mommy thumb. It’s painful and puts typing in the category of repetitive movements I should avoid doing too much of. For this reasons, too, returning to work at this point would mean I’d have to cut corners and would perform at a far-below-normal level.

I share this list not to complain (though I realize I might sound a little whiny), but rather to bring into light the physical challenges that follow in the aftermath of giving birth — even almost three months later. I’ve had lower back pain before, but never like this. And healing isn’t being helped by my diastasis recti, or splitting of the abdominal wall. Mine is slight in the whole scope of what can happen during pregnancy and birth, but it’s making the project of strengthening my core muscles (which will in turn strengthen my back and help alleviate some of the pain) more challenging than it would normally be.

I’ve tried working on scholarship (since publishing articles is a major part of how I get to keep my job in the long-term), but now realize why people stop the tenure clock. Hopefully I’ll get some work days in soon. Not sure how that’ll happen, but I remain optimistic that it will.

And to the readers who have commented both publicly and privately that people choose to have children aren’t forced into it, or having children is selfish, or as one reader put it, “If you ‘want’ that child, then you better be prepared to handle that ‘want’ without complaining that people owe you something financially for that choice,” I say: mmmkay. First of all, I never thought I couldn’t handle the want to have a child. And I’m not arguing that I should be given something special and out of the ordinary for my choice. All I’m saying is that workers should be taken care of, and women deal with postpartum issues in relative silence and isolation, sucking up the pain and hardship that follows whether they had a complicated pregnancy and/or birth. And, given that we live in a patriarchal society where women are not treated the same as their male counterparts, I think it bears repeating that having a baby requires more time off from work than most people in this country are given. Time off is not some sort of gift — I’m learning first-hand right now just how difficult being responsible for childcare really is. I babysat as a kid, but that was nothing in comparison — caring for a baby full-time is exhausting, emotional, physically challenging work. And I can imagine that if men were the ones bearing the babies, the situation would be a whole lot different.

But despite all the back and wrist pain, sleepless nights, and overwhelm, there’s this. And it’s pretty darn great.

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