Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Everything you ever wondered about breastfeeding during pregnancy, but didn't want to ask...

Today marks five years and ten months of breastfeeding for me. At this point, I have no shame or embarrassment whatsoever about anything related to lactation. However, our culture leaves many women caught between not actually seeing extended nursing/tandeming/etc. in the examples of women around them, yet feeling a little embarrassed about asking questions or commenting on another woman's choices for feeding her children.

So, I'm making it easy on you. I'm writing this post in a Q&A format based off of questions I've been asked on message boards and in private chats with my closest friends and family. I'm choosing to be completely candid. If there is a question that wasn't addressed, leave a comment, and I'll try to respond (unless you are some weirdo-pervert, in which case it will simply be deleted).

I heard that breastfeeding during pregnancy can cause a miscarriage. Is it safe?
Yes. There is solid research that shows that as long as orgasm is safe, so is breastfeeding. It is true that the hormones released during breastfeeding can cause contractions, but the same is true for sex. In some high-risk pregnancies, woman are advised to wean around 20 weeks, just as a precaution. However, in general, it is perfectly safe. My own OB was very happy to hear that I was nursing two during my last pregnancy, and my midwife for this pregnancy was totally fine with it, too. For more information, check out www.kellymom.com.

What about taking nutrients away from the fetus? What about the colostrum? And, do your kids eat regular food or do they just breastfeed? How often do they nurse, anyway? I'm getting this weird mental picture of a four-year-old who doesn't know how to eat real food...

I know, that was a bunch of questions tied in together. Consider the last few bonus questions ;) It is important for the mom to eat well and enough just so that she doesn't get her own nutritional stores depleted, but the baby and nursling will both be fine. Colostrum is produced just like in any other pregnancy, generally appearing in the last trimester and the first few days after birth. It can cause very loose, yellowish stools in the nursling (not diarrhea), but is full of antibodies. Your nursling will not drink it all up from the newborn. It is possible that the mature milk will come in a little faster than before.

Regarding the last few questions, even our youngest, who didn't begin solids until after a year, eats a normal amount of regular grown-up food. All of the kidlets have a good appetite and none are picky eaters. At this point, our 17-month old is nursing about four or five times during the day and a few times at night. She loves to drink water. If she follows the pattern of the other two, she'll night-wean herself by the third trimester as my supply diminishes, then go back to frequent nursing for a couple of months after the baby is born. She'll drop more and more sessions as she goes along. My three-year-old only nurses once or twice a day, and may choose to wean as the milk changes.

So, how does milk change during pregnancy?

It depends on the woman. My milk supply generally drops pretty drastically around the end of the first trimester. Then, it changes to colostrum sometime around the end of the second trimester. Ariana weaned during my last pregnancy because she hated the taste of colostrum.

Doesn't all that breastfeeding interfere with more romantic functions of breasts?

Nope. My mouth is used for lots of things, including talking and eating, and that has never gotten in the way of kissing. My body parts have many talents :)

Do you set limits on nursing?

Absolutely. This is a two-way relationship, and nursing manners are important to me. In the newborn stage, I offer anytime they seem interested. As they get older, they can wait a few minutes if I am busy. At their current ages when they eat plenty of solids, if I feel very uncomfortable I cut a nursing session short or skip it. They know that, and are very respectful of my body.

How does nursing them together affect sibling relationships, jealousy, etc?

It is hard to say for sure, but I believe it helps smooth the transition a great deal. For one thing, the birth brings a ton of milk. For my kidlets, this was like a waterfall after a drought. They were so delighted with the milk that the baby brought that it ensured very positive feelings from the beginning. It is reassuring for them to know that the baby doesn't take away from their own special closeness with nursing times. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics site states that tandem nursing may reduce jealousy and promote sibling bonding. Seeing the older child gently stroke the baby's hand or face as they share milk is one of my favorite memories of those early days.

How does it actually work? Do they both nurse at the same time? How do you get them positioned?

Different things work for different people. Having the two different sucking patterns felt weird to me, so I prefer to have them nurse separately most of the time. However, there are several ways to work out the logistics if you are comfortable with both nursing simultaneously. Hilary Flower's book Adventures in Tandem Nursing has tons of helpful, real-life advice.

How much did the kids want to nurse after the baby was born?

A lot. More than I would have imagined. At first, both Ariana and Joel nursed more than their newborn siblings. Ariana basically went back to exclusive nursing for over three months after Joelito was born, and she gained four pounds! Some moms limit it a lot. I chose to just ride it out, and after a few months they cut back considerably.

Does your body make enough milk? I'm afraid that the baby won't get enough...

Ha, ha and double ha. Sorry--I don't mean to be insensitive, it is just that I struggled with the opposite problem. It is all about supply and demand. Unless you schedule feedings or otherwise limit access to the breast, your body will generally make as much milk as your baby will drink. How did women with twins manage before formula? The first time around, I didn't know to reserve his-and-hers breasts. My body must have thought it was feeding quads! I had a horrible over-supply. I was constantly leaking, on the edge of engorgement, and had an over-active let-down that nearly drowned poor Joelito each time he latched on! The second time through, I made sure that we didn't alternate so much, and my supply adjusted much more quickly. While I realize that supply issues are real for some women, the vast majority of those I know who have tandem-nursed have found that over-supply is much more common.

Does it cause dental problems in the older nursling?

There is pretty conclusive research that breastfeeding does not cause cavities. It isn't a bottle and it isn't formula. It doesn't pool behind the teeth, and the composition is entirely different. In fact, statistically, the longer you breastfeed, the less likely your child is to have an overbite or need braces later on! As always, good dental hygiene is important, of course.

Is breastfeeding just about you? I mean, why on earth would you want to breastfeed for so long, anyway?

When I hear this, I laugh and laugh. I can usually stop before they edge away and start mentioning soothing drinks. The truth is, of all the women I know with older nurslings, most are eager for the day their children will wean. Sure, there are moments where there is the misty, Mother-Mary-halo and you enjoy the peace of a child cuddled up. When Joelito grins his most adorable smile and tells me that leche is better than ice-cream, or when Elena chortles with delight and chants "leche, leche" over and over as she giggles and grabs my shirt, it is so sweet that I am really glad to be nursing. Both younger ones are little tornadoes, and sitting down to nurse is one of the quietest, most peaceful moments of their day, and a much needed break for all of us.

The rest of the time? My breasts get tender and sore during pregnancy, and a vigorous suck or messy latch hurts. They learn very quickly to latch well every time and be gentle. Dry-nursing (if no milk is coming out) gives me the creepy-crawlies, as if a million ants were crawling all over me. It is one of the worst sensations imaginable and makes for very short, teeth-gritting, nursing-sessions. Finally, following all of the diet restrictions from their food allergies gets old really fast. In those moments, I look at it like diaper-changing: not always pleasant, but in the best interests of my child, and part of the way I choose to parent. In my post, http://dulcefamily.blogspot.com/2009/05/so-why-not-wean.html I included a list of some of the benefits of continuing to breast feed both for children and mothers.

Will you nurse three?

Who knows? Ariana weaned just a couple of months before Elena was born. Later, she asked to nurse again but had already forgotten how. I have no idea if Joel will also decide to wean during pregnancy or if he will continue. If he keeps it up, then I will be triandeming in July. :)

What is your cut-off age for nursing? College?

Definitely. Especially if they choose an out-of-state school. Honestly, I don't know. Each day so far they are only a few hours older than the last time they nursed. The most important thing I've learned as a parent is to trust God's design. They'll stop when they are ready.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stolen Meme on Getting to Know Me

I snitched this from Maria's blog. Check her out if you haven't already at A Piece of my Mind in my blog list :) I, uh, also borrowed some of her answers when appropriate to save typing.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I CRIED? A few minutes ago. I'm pregnant, so it has become frequent recently.
3. DO I LIKE MY HANDWRITING? Most of the time.
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? No deli meats for awhile.
5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Three here and one we haven't met yet.
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yep. The only thing I am missing is wisdom teeth :)
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Lately, chocolate mini wheats.
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Anything egg/other allergens-free
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Their smiles or lack thereof.
15. RED OR PINK? Red.
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? Changes according to the moment.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? I can't handle separation from Carlos or the kidlets for very long.
18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE ELSE TO PUT THIS ON THEIR BLOG? Seems like it could be fun, so yes!
19. WHAT COLOR SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? None. I love furry socks, though.
20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? A few bites of a barbeque cheeseburger. It was disappointing.
23. FAVORITE SMELL? My family.
25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? I stole it outright, and yes, I like her.
26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Gymnastics- hands down, but I also like figure-skating and diving.
27. Hair Color? At the moment, mostly light brown.
28. EYE COLOR? Hazel .
30. FAVORITE FOOD? Chocolate.
31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy Endings. If I want entertainment, I want happy entertainment. Reality has tragedy enough!
32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? I don't remember.
33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? An extra large men's undershirt. Nice and comfy.
34. SUMMER OR WINTER? Summer...in Puebla...
35. HUGS OR KISSES? Both!.
36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Hmm... this is so complicated. Who can pick just one?
37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? I don't know.
38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? 99% of the people visiting this blog.
39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW? The Curse of the Good Girl, and some old Tamora Pierce.
40. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I don't use one.
42. FAVORITE SOUND? "Mami, I love you." is right on up there with Carlos saying he loves me. Other than that, I LOVE silence!
44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Um, Austria or Italy? I think that's the furthest, but I am not going to get a map out to check.
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? Talent? Um, I make milk! And I smile a lot.
46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Puebla, Mexico

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Even Murphy had better days...

Today has been one of those proverbial days where just about everything that could go wrong, has. In my experience, these days rarely come out of the blue when you are rested, healthy and well-able to cope with them. Instead, they cannily attack when you are already down. In our case, I haven't gotten more than three hours of sleep--none of them consecutive--any night this week. Add to that first-trimester-tiredness and I've been unspeakably exhausted.

The kidlets haven't gotten much more sleep than I, and were awake at 6:30 this morning despite being up most of the night. The toddler hasn't been feeling well at all, and has been screaming inconsolably every night. Her doc checked her out and couldn't find anything major. I'm guessing a combination of teething, minor virus and allergies. I have a hard time hearing her scream and not being able to comfort her, but it is terrible for my five year old, and she ultimately joins in because it hurts her so much to see her baby sister cry.

As my eldest and I were fixing breakfast, waves of nausea hit. Oh, no. Not good. Well, OK, I know that it actually *is* very good for the baby, but I was really hoping for another week or two before it hit. Guess not.

Aside from doing schoolwork with the eldest while simultaneously keeping an eye on my three year old and toddler, I had a bunch of tests that need to be graded before class this afternoon. Stomach rolling, I try to focus. I am overwhelmed as it is, and we're having another child?! I *know* that this baby is a gift from God, but today is making me wonder a bit about the timing.

Taking advantage of my preoccupation, my three year old started throwing some things that were not meant to be thrown. I placed the partially graded exams up out of reach and went to deal with him, and his older sister who was firmly on his side. A few seconds later, an ominous sound registers. Crinkling paper and the sound of pouring. I look up in a panic. It is worse than I imagined. Far worse.

During the split second when my attention was diverted, the toddler accomplished an amazing number of things. She climbed up and got ahold of the exams and threw them onto the floor so she could dance on them. OK, so they're a little rumpled; I can smooth them out...but. Wait. The pouring sound? Her diaper is off and she has peed on the exams!!! NO. No, no, no. How on earth do I explain this? Er, sorry. My daughter mistook your exam for kitty litter...

I dash over to try to rescue any unsoiled exams. The baby gives me her best crinkle-nosed grin and proudly announces, "Peepee, mami!" Why, yes, I see that. Maybe I'll look back on this in delight over her emerging potty-learning skills. Right now, I am horrified. Fortunately only one exam is wet. I'll tell the student it was simply misplaced. No need to specify that that misplacement involved body fluids...

I scoop up my toddler, make sure that she is securely diapered (yeah, a little late for that) then went to check on everybody else. All OK. Sigh of relief. Then the little one comes back up and I notice that her face is full of welts. Hives all over her face and neck. Oh, no. Not again. I remember our ER run from a previous reaction when neither Benedryl or prednisone helped with the hives. Trying not to panic, I grab the Benedryl, which she loathes, and try to gently force it down. Finally, I've got most of the dose in her mouth and only a small amount in her hair and clothes (how does she know to keep her mouth clamped shut from such an early age?).

She's whimpering and asking for leche, so I start to nurse her. Now, my decision to breastfeed throughout pregnancy is based on simple risk/benefit ratios. I think that it is much better for the kids, and I am too tired to wean, anyway. However, the breast tenderness from early pregnancy combined with her teething make it feel as if I'm being gnawed on by some type of sandpaper monster. Owwww! I know it gets better or I wouldn't stick it out--I'm no martyr--but this isn't making the day better right now.

Thank God, she falls asleep quickly. I watch her closely for signs of further allergic reaction, not daring to put her down lest she wake up or get into whatever it was that caused the reaction in the first place. While I am preoccupied (are you noticing a trend here?) the older two decide to go into the kitchen and cook.

After weighing the options, I decide I would rather them do that than get involved in something else. As I watch from a distance, flour, a scoop of salt, a hefty dash of baking powder and some cinnamon are poured into a bowl. "Let's taste it!" Horrified grimaces. "It needs vanilla, but I don't see it" That is because it is up on top of the refrigerator out of reach of junior chefs. "Ooooh, look! I found sprinkles!" Vigorous shaking. "Wow. It is purple now." "Let's add more!"

Two containers of sugar sprinkles later... Apparently, the sugar helped. Subsequent taste-tests are all smiles. My stomach is heaving from the mere thought, but at least there are no smells. All the dyes from the colored sprinkles can't be good for them, but I am reasonably sure that they aren't going to eat enough to be a big deal.

It isn't even noon yet. Dear God, please help. Once my husband arrives, I dash around madly to get ready for class (normally, I'm ready to walk out the door, but today...). Notice that the slacks that previously required a belt fit just right. Isn't it a little early to be gaining weight? Make to school with a few minutes to spare. As I walk towards the building, arms full of books and papers, I realize that I was mistaken about the fit of the pants. They are drooping perilously lower with each step. Of course, my parking spot isn't close at all, and my hands are too full to hitch up the pants. I grit my teeth and try to take giant steps (Mother, may I?) to keep from being indecent and pretend not to notice the bemused glances of the rest of the people walking into school.

Finally, I am able to set my things down and tug on the sagging pants. It could have been worse--my top was long enough to prevent any inadvertent plumber's crack. If I stay seated, maybe they won't droop any more... Except that today is their oral midterm, so I'll be walking around with each student while administering individual exams. Oh, joy.

Is it the weekend yet?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

His Banner Over Us is Love

Image by jans canon on Flickr
I originally wrote this a couple of weeks ago as a guest post for my wonderful friend Carrie's blog. I'm not sure if you were able to access it, so I am sharing it here, as well. Please check out her blog, Perfectly Imperfect, from my blog list if you haven't already!

Last night my one year old’s erupting teeth and my own recently extracted wisdom teeth combined to keep me awake most of the night. I won't lie--I was really grouchy about it. Eventually, though, I quieted my mental grumblings to listen. Usually I savor my night-wakings as my special, secret time with God. I tend to be pathetically distractable , and during the day so many things seem to conspire to keep me from just sitting at His feet.

Once I stopped mentally screaming and begging for more sleep, and after I watched the new episode of Top Chef on our DVR, I got a song stuck in my head. It was one I hadn’t heard since I was a little girl, and it was based off of the verse from the Song of Songs that says, "He brought me to his banquet table; his banner over me is love." It planted itself firmly in my mind with all the persistence of an obnoxious commercial, though with far more soothing effect.

I'm not sure that I ever fully went back to sleep, but throughout the day, that verse has reverberated in my heart. Now I know that believers debate how much of the Song of Songs has a spiritual interpretation and how much is just love poetry. I don't really care, although some of the more, um, unusual and creative similes remind me of the sense of humor of the Lover of our Souls who chose to heal a blind man by mixing spit and dirt and smearing it in the guy's eyes. Regardless, I know that He claims us as His bride, and I have no doubt that the verse applies to us. His banner over us is love.

I started looking through other Biblical references to banners. One of the first was mentioned in the account of the Israelites battling the Amalekites. When Moses lifted his hands, they would prevail; when he was too tired and put them down, they began to lose. So he got the support of friends who held his hands for him. After they won the battle, he built an altar and declared that the Lord was their banner.

Another passage is in one of my favorite Psalms: "We will shout for joy when you are victorious and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests." (20:5)

Isaiah 11:1-22 continues with a beautiful promise to draw all the nations of the earth to Himself, standing "as a banner for the peoples" and says that "the place of His rest will be glorious." He promises to gather together the outcasts and the people who don’t have a place where they belong.

Isaiah also spoke of banners in chapter 49. The servant of the Lord was discouraged and felt that all his work had been a waste of time. He was worn out and didn’t believe he was accomplishing anything. God gave him a radiant promise of the restoration of Israel, of captives finding freedom, abundance and fulfillment, and declares that those who hope in Him will not be disappointed. In chapter 59, He says that when the enemy comes in like a flood, He would raise up a banner.

As I read these words, a few things stood out to me. First, so many of these talked about weariness and discouragement. Whether we can see it now or not, our efforts have value and purpose, and ultimately, we will enjoy victory. Furthermore, this victory is the result of love--our acts of love for others, the love of people around us who hold our hands when we need extra strength, and the power of an open, accepting love that will draw all nations.

Most of all, though, it is about His love for us. His banner over us is love. The most persistent struggle in my walk with God has been trying to grasp what is the height, the depth and full measure of His love toward us. There is a stubborn, sneaky part of me that keeps wanting to make it about my worthiness or lack thereof, and reduce God's amazing passion into a resigned tolerance. Some duty that He has just because He is God and He “has to” love me.

But banners don’t convey that image at all. Banners are about public proclamations. About belonging. About confidence. They shout out our true identity to everyone present: We are His Beloved! He isn't ashamed of loving us! In fact, He is a joy-filled, delighted lover who is boldly announcing to the whole world that we belong to each other. I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine. His banner over me is love

I pray that despite any weariness that you may be feeling right now, and even if you are in the presence of your enemies, that you will enjoy the feast that He has prepared for you. You are the guest of honor at His banquet table. His banner over us is love.