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Sunday, January 14, 2018

ME time as a mother

Having ME time, solo, aka away from all responsibilities of being a mother, is DIFFICULT as a mom. We barely have enough time to spend with our kids and clean up after them, of course we have zero time to connect with friends and get out on our own. Or if we do find the time, we're too darn tired to go anywhere but our couch, right?

But having me time is SO important. Having space to breathe and time to think about what you want to think about is really key for being a healthier, happier, more patient mother. It's so important that I think every mom needs time DAILY to herself. I won't pretend I know how much time we need - hours pleeeeease- because I know we're lucky to get 10 minutes a day of uninterrupted time. But I do know for sure it makes me a much better mom when I get some time every single day to myself - to blog, read, write, Facebook, scroll Instagram, take pictures, take a long hot shower, listen to my music on the radio, ETC. If I can have some time every day to watch Netflix or just talk to my husband without being On Duty Mom, I'm happier and calmer.

A few years ago I made up the #MomMEChallenge encouraging moms to MAKE time for themselves, even little moments. I hope you start tagging me on Instagram @themommystories to show me what you're doing this month to put some time back into YOU each day.

But how do we do this? How do we make ME time?

It's reframing in your mind what you have time for. You have time for what you make time for I believe. You have to MAKE yourself a priority. SO hard, I know. But if you need, you can schedule it in the calendar. For example, hit up the gym or a workout class with a friend every week and make it an appointment you can't miss, or make a monthly girls' night out and put that on the calendar a month in advance so it's there.

A few ideas of fun me time to add to your day:

  • Text a friend. 
  • Leave a voicemail- even if you know they aren't available to talk, make the effort to connect to your friends.
  • Email someone just for fun, skip the work stuff you need to reply to and just email someone you like as a friend to make her day.
  • Get a coffee, iced chai (my fave) or hot chocolate when you are going grocery shopping. I swear by this, for years I've done this even before I was a mom. Shopping is tough, tiring, busy. I treat myself every time with a small treat or drink to just say to myself, "nice work, you got that done, you deserve this." 
  • Take a longer shower.
  • Join a fun Facebook group that makes you feel better about life, scroll as needed even for five minutes.
  • Actually eat lunch. Sit down, too. Wow!
  • Read - or get books on CD or Podcasts- so fun! If you have even 20 minutes in the car solo it's a fun thing to listen to something non-child like.
  • Get special lotion and make sure you take time when you get out of the shower to pamper yourself. Buy nice soaps and hair products so at least you feel like you're doing something for yourself.
  • Start a hobby- taking pictures, reading, writing, blogging, etc. and stick with it, set a goal of 30 minutes a week that you learn about that new thing you want to do.
  • Sign up for a class - it could be from the local adult ed program in town. Make it something you can't miss.
HOW do you find the me time though?
  • Get up before the kids get up and go for a walk. Get it in early before you feel guilty that you're missing something.
  • Ask your partner in advance for help. 
  • Schedule it- put it on the calendars. Make it a real appointment you wouldn't miss. You find time for the birthday parties, practices, and work meetings... why can't you have a "meeting" with yourself?
  • Prep ahead of time. If you're going grocery shopping and want extra time at Target but worried about what the kids will have for lunch when you're gone, make the meal ahead or leave a list for partner. If you are planning to workout in the morning before kids get up, don't delay in the morning finding your shorts and t-shirt, but instead set it all out ahead of time so it's ready.
  • Get rid of time wasters in your life. Things that you could be doing differently... to add in more time in your day. Every weekend I spend two hours meal prepping, cooking, and cutting up snacks for the week. That way I don't have to do this 20-60 minutes a day, so I have more time with my kids at night and more time for myself in the mornings before work. Find more time by eliminating what you waste time doing.
  • Tell yourself you deserve some time. It's OK to not have to be the one person doing everything in your family. 
  • Lower your expectations. Tell yourself you will take 10 minutes to yourself this WEEK. Then add to it next week by saying three times that week you'll take 10 minutes. Make it small so you can accomplish it.
  • Write a list of what you LOVE to do, or what you used to do before kids. Put it on your phone. When you find you have a few moments- while waiting to pick up a kid or sitting at dance studio, you can do one of those small things.
I understand it's hard, but we are better mothers when we take care of ourselves first. Do something this week that makes you happy, calmer, happier. #MomMEChallenge Tag me!

to my daughter, who I will teach to love her body

Dear Daughter,

When I found out you were a girl, I smiled with delight thinking about all the things we'd do together. I imagined taking you to ballet- something I literally waited three years for and could not wait another second to sign you up for that first Mommy and Me class. I pictured you wearing tutus and also having dirt streaked all across your face, in your pretty painted nails, and in your hair that looks just like mine. I envisioned us snuggled up together talking and then going to thrift stores looking for cool things, just like my Mom and I did when I was younger. I imagined telling you things like "you're strong, you're OK, what a good writer you are, wow I love that picture you colored for me."

From day one, everyone showered you with pinks and purples. They showed up with dresses, tutus, and lace. Dolls littered our toy box now. After having a boy, everyone imagined we were delighted to see pink now. It was true, I'll admit, I was ecstatic to have a girl to dress up. But right then and there in the hospital on your first day, your Dad and I said to each other, "She'll be one of those girls who's wearing dresses and loves princesses and carries baby dolls, but who also loves John Deere tractors and digs in the dirt with big dump trucks and who is dirty every day and loving being outside. That's who we will raise, a strong girl who can do it all." 

With our daughter, we'd change what it meant to be girlie. We would help you realize it's OK to be whoever you are.

So you got your own set of tools. You love pink, so we were OK with the toolbox being a "girlie" color. You wore your brother's bright orange Home Depot worker glasses. You called yourself a worker girl. You wore rain boots to play outside in your dresses after church. You needed your nails cut short so you wouldn't constantly have dirt inside them. You kept up with the boys everywhere you went.You got a shovel for Christmas one year so you could shovel with Daddy, too.

We outlawed the phrases your brother would come up with sometimes, "That's a girl toy" or "I don't want the girl color bowl." We said there are no girl and no boy toys or colors. Everyone can play with everything. And yet, we had a boy who preferred Tonka trucks to baby dolls, and we had a girl who preferred feeding baby dolls and then putting them in a Tonka truck.

By the age of three I asked you what we use our head for? To be smart. I said what do we use our body for? To be strong. What do we use our smile for? To be pretty and kind to others. I hesitated teaching you the word pretty, it has negative connotations sometimes. Girls aren't supposed to just be pretty. But I thought long and hard about this one... I had times growing up when I didn't feel pretty like other girls. I wanted you to know that you were always beautiful and pretty.

I would ask you "What are you?" You'd say, "Smart" and point to your head; "Strong" and make big arm muscle body movements, and "Pretty" and point to the biggest grin on your face. Since age five we've added also that you are BRAVE in how you do a superhero pose, putting your arms up, scrunching your eyes and face to show how strong and courageous you are, a stance that says "Come on, world, I can take it."

We read books about girls doing whatever they want. We don't do Barbies. I know, I played with them as a kid and they didn't ruin my life... but I just can't get behind supporting something that's not reality. Disney princesses don't bother me because they are make believe, and the focus isn't always their bodies, I don't know. For some reason I can't feel the same about Barbies, so we don't go there. We have some strong dolls in our lives, with real bodies, and real colors, not all white dolls grace your baby doll cribs.

Lately as you are 5 1/2 and in Kindergarten and full of questions about how the world works, we've been talking about differences between boys and girls. I'll ask you these days, "What can girls do?" You reply, beaming, as if you've found the answer to the meaning of life at such a young age and it's brilliant, "ANYTHING boys can do!" I then follow up with saying, "That's true.... but girls can have babies in their bodies and boys cannot, so we're even cooler sometimes because of that." The boys in our lives are speechless, because it's true. Let girls be cooler, please, boys.

I'm teaching you that you ARE something, beyond your body.

The hardest day to be a mommy of a daughter is the one where you begin to question your body, where you allow the world's negativity to creep in. This I've held my breath for each year as you grow older, as you connect more to the real world, away from me sheltering you from all pain. This, scares me. I hate knowing you will hate your body at some point. I fear all girls go through this, and I want to protect you from it.

You are a tall girl, your Dad is super tall and you were blessed with that grace. You are a strong girl, full of muscles. I compliment them all the time. When you run really fast in the driveway I'll say "Wow look at those strong muscles in your legs." When you jump high I'll say "Wow you are super strong, look how high you can go," instead of "good job, honey." I'm specific with praise.

I ask you, "What do you think?" when you ask me all the time for my approval of something you've done. I am trying to teach you, "Honey, whatever you've done, because YOU'VE done it, it's GREAT. It's awesome. It's OK. And if it's not great, if you made a mistake, if you feel like you want it done better, then that's OK, too, We aren't perfect. What do YOU think?" When you show me your drawing, asking if I like it, I reply with, "Oh wow, look at those blue clouds and I see that red car there, and who is that, is that me and you in the picture? What do you think about this picture?" I don't tell you it's the most amazing creation I've ever seen. I hold that a moment. I want you to know I validate what YOU think. And I want to reiterate to you that despite what the world thinks, your own opinion matters most.

We were at dance one day last spring. They had measured you in the fall, for a recital dress that you wore about eight months later. Needless to say, it didn't fit you when we tried it on. I recall being in the dressing room with you, realizing it's not going to fit, not even to practice today in dance class, and I physically felt your heart crushing inside of you. Your eyes dropped. Your body shrugged itself into weakness. You were devastated. You sobbed. You said to me, "But all the other girls get to wear their dress today!" You leaned into me as I hugged you tight, and I told you how we all grow differently and all our bodies are a little different and that we'll get another dress to fit soon, just not today, this one doesn't work for us. You said, "Well I don't want to keep growing, I don't want to get big and tall. I want to fit in my dress today like the other girls."

My heart broke. I teared up, soaking in your own tears. In that moment you didn't fit into the world as perfectly as the others did. And I realized that I cannot protect you from all of those moments forever. There are going to be many more of these moments, and our hearts are going to break together. I'll be here every step of the way.

I've tried teaching you that your belly is awesome, your legs are strong, your hair and face are beautiful. I've allowed you to wear what you want, mismatching and everything. It's ALL good. It makes you happy and confident and that's AWESOME.

I teach you when I force a compliment about myself- I say "Don't I look beautiful in these shoes or this dress, or doesn't my hair look pretty today? I like my hair." I show you that it's OK to eat dessert and extra helpings of pasta. I never ever ever ever diet or say I'm fat in front of you, ever. Those are unacceptable to me in front of young girls. If I don't want you dieting, I should not diet. If I want you to learn that running helps me stay healthy and strong, then I should say that to you, instead of "I'm running to lose the baby weight." Everything I do, you are watching. I remember that....

For your fifth birthday we had a Wonder Woman theme. It's so fitting for who we are teaching you to be. Strong, courageous, brave, confident, YOURSELF. Unique, beautiful, helpful to others. We hope so desperately that you learn that it's OK to love yourself and be yourself.

You aren't going to be the same as other girls. You aren't going to fit in all the time. You won't accept everything about you through the years, I know this is true, sadly. But I hope that most often than not you realize we are proud of who YOU are. We love you and think you are beautiful every single day. 

So, keep wearing your Batman shirt (not Batgirl, BatMAN). Keep telling me you want a "Batman and OK I guess Batgirl too" birthday party for your sixth birthday. Keep telling me you want to dress up your baby doll into boy clothes because you don't have a boy baby doll and you want to. Keep showing me how you line up your Little People - all the boys lined up with a girl teacher standing taller on a rock teaching them how to play the game basketball, because "they don't know, the girl has to teach them everything."

We left basketball the other day, your first practice. You were nervous as we entered, you needed me to hold your hand to walk toward the group. Once you saw a friend, you ran away from me and for the next hour never looked back... except to give me a thumbs up a few times, as if to say, "Mom, I've got this. Do you SEE me?!"

When we left basketball I told you how brave you were for trying something new, how awesome it was that you were learning to move your hands and legs to dribble the ball. I asked you how you thought it went. "Did you SEE me out there, Mom? Did you see me dribbling? I can dribble the ball! I can shoot it, too! I think I'm good at basketball." The confidence poured out of you as if for the last five years we've been adding to your core of confidence and you took some out today when you needed it. For five years we've taught you that you're GREAT, we're proud of you, that you are strong and capable. And here you are, you showed us it's true, that you're learning our lessons.

We aren't perfect. We are making mistakes, like when I've told you, "you're fine" when you're crying over something that I think is little, but to you is important, I just quickly lost patience and it came out... I should say "You are so sad right now... "I should validate you and hold you instead so you know it's OK. I'm getting better at finding more patience. All mommas make mistakes. All moms need to improve in their relationship with their daughter. It's normal. We'll work on it together.

Appreciate your body, little one. It's done and will do marvelous things. You are lucky to have legs that run and jump, arms that hold on to babies and help your baby brother up, and a mind that is sharp. You are lucky to have hair and teeth and cheeks and a round belly. Don't forget that.

Sweet girl, please know that despite sometimes when you feel your belly is full or your legs are moving too much, or when someone says they don't like your hair... please remember to break out your Converse high tops with your flowery leggings and mismatched sweater and headband, 

and tell them "I know I'm smart. I know I'm strong and brave. I know I'm pretty and kind to others. I'm OK how I am, thanks." 

And move on. Run on, in fact, run past them and into my arms. I'll be here waiting to add to your core of confidence and we'll be OK. Together. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

don't rush the lullabies : learning to slow down as a mom

Last year I was in the midst of the new mom chaos phase for the third time. I had big kids - 4 and 6 - running around to dance and school and drop offs and needing permission slips signed. I had a newborn who cried when he was hungry or when he pooped- which was just about every 1-2 hours. It was exhausting. I was spread too thin. I had to keep on giving. I needed something to give, but when you're a mother, nothing gives, you just keep giving it seems. It can be overwhelming to say the least.

I found myself at my sister's house that winter, with a three month old and the big kids. We were hanging out at her house with her three children, too. We were loud and crazy, toys and kids everywhere we turned.

One night I was lying in my nephew's bedroom where we were staying for a few days and I heard my sister singing a lullaby to my niece to help her get to sleep. She put emphasis on words. She used a higher voice, then a silly voice. She laughed. She tickled, and baby laughed. I heard her sing it slowly, as if she had all the time in the world. She sang it as if she were completely and totally present in that baby nursery. She sang it with patience and love, and as though she enjoyed what she was doing in that moment- standing in the cold room, bare foot, hair a mess, spit up on her shirt, not having sat down all day, totally in need of a break after all I saw her do that day, and a thousand other things to do later.

I remember thinking, "She's singing that entire lullaby right now. She's not skipping over words or rushing lyrics. She's totally there and she has time to sing the entire lullaby. I wish I had time like that." 

And then it hit me... We DO have time like that. We just FEEL like we don't sometimes. We CAN sing an entire lullaby. How long does it really take? A minute? Three minutes? Can't we spare that much time to our babies at the end of a long day where everyone and everything else took our attention, energy and patience? Can't we share that much love every night? Isn't it the least we can give?

It made me cry. To think that I used to sing entire lullabies also, three kids ago. To think that recently I'd been rushing the bed time stories or even skipping them when the big kids begged. To think I'd been fast forwarding my renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for my newborn and offering up only the speedy remix version of You Are My Sunshine to my middle baby who at almost five years old so desperately needed those 2-3 minutes of extra attention every night from her momma singing a real lullaby.

I felt guilty, embarrassed, sad. I felt frustrated and angry that really, I can't find that much time? When will it get easier, I remember thinking? 

From that night on, I've sang real lullabies to my babies. I've answered yes more often than not to the extra bed time story or to the "Can you tell me a Once Upon a Time, Mama?" where I make up some random story about my oldest son being a knight or a prince or a boat captain or an airplane pilot and we talk about pirates and the adventures he's on and it takes literally two minutes and he's smiling ear to ear as he rests his head on his pillow to sleep.

I've said yes more. I've made time for these moments and ignored the laundry piling up or the work emails I know I "should" respond to. I've put it aside as best as I can - and it's not easy some nights - to focus entirely on them before bed. In fact, it's probably the hardest time of day. I'm spent, used up, zero energy left. I just want to curl into my own bed and have someone tell me a story and let me doze off to sleep instead of face all the responsibilities that I don't have any time earlier in the day to handle since I work full time out of the house and it's a HUGE juggle to get it all done...

But I do it because I saw it CAN be done. My sister sings an entire lullaby to her little one, so I can, too. It's important. It's a good bonding moment. It makes me feel calmer, too. They deserve that much from me.

I am not perfect. There are plenty of rushed nights still. There are nights where I sigh or roll my eyes to myself when one asks "I need a hug now too! I need you to kiss my stuffed animal!" and all I want to say is "Please, please just go to bed so I can breathe!" We all have moments. We all go through phases, like the one I was in with a new baby and big kids who all needed so much from me and I was about to crack if someone asked one more thing from me, like a lullaby.

Give yourself some grace in those challenging moments. Let yourself be in those moments of chaos and know that it WILL pass. You can improve and get better. 

And slowly get to a point where you start saying yes again to more stories at night or where you allow yourself to really focus on singing the lullaby with all your heart put into it, not rushing to get to the dishes on the table downstairs. Tell yourself it's only five minutes, I can spare five minutes.

This parenting things is so hard. I don't know a single mother who doesn't want an extra 24 hours in her week, an extra five hours in her day.

We all need more time to get it all done. But what if that's the point? We CAN'T get it all done, ever. We have to just keep trying to do most of it, the best of it, what's most important, instead of all of it. That's enough, that's OK and acceptable. That's really OK. YOU are OK. 

Hugs, mommas. It's hard, I get it. It's nice to admit when we're sliding into a negative pattern, and then reach up for a hand - to another momma who gets it - to change things around. For me, my sister did that for me, without even knowing it. I've never told her that I heard her that day, that it changed me.

It's a simple thing, singing a full song to my baby at night and being present when I do it. It's not changing my world or theirs, but it's changing those moments, and that's what life is about. Small moments changed into something better, more positive, moments where we are really alive, present and focused on what's most important- love.

That is what my babies will hopefully remember someday when they are grown: My Mom said yes most nights for songs and stories. My Mom slowed down to see me, hear me, be with me. Is there anything more important than that?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

breaking the newborn "rules"

I had my last newborn a year ago. What a bittersweet time. It's so nice being done forever with night feedings and all that beginning newness where you're so unsure of yourself as a new mom. Yet, I miss those first moments so much and want to re-do them.

Having three babies, I've found my way through the haze of confusion and questions that lead you to becoming the mom you're going to be. I figured out what worked, what didn't; what I'd keep, what I'd toss to the side like dirty laundry.

I'm not a typical mom who does everything by the book. This is odd considering the fact that I read every book I can find, many about parenting. I get Parents magazine religiously and totally kept up with every month's chapter for What to Expect When Expecting, The First Year, AND The Toddler Years the first couple of times.

But I've found that I'm also the mom who does things her own way, her baby's way. I listen to me and my baby. I remember what I've seen work for moms I know and family members. I don't do what is "typical" sometimes.

I've "broken" a few newborn rules, things that "they" say to do. And it worked for me, times three babies! So I thought I'd document those here for you, in case you are like me and didn't care to follow the play by play that some moms follow.

Side note: NO judgment if you did these things. They work great for some. My point in writing this piece today is to share that after NOT having followed these rules for three babies and they all turned out just fine and dandy, YOU, too, could choose to do things differently and be an A-OK momma, too. Let the pressures go. It's ALL good.

Here are a few things that worked for me, breaking all kinda "rules" over here:

  • Pacifiers- We used these within a couple of days of birth in the hospital every time. We loved these. Babies have a natural soothing reflex in their mouth to suck. It helps them feel better, secure. One of my babies came out of my belly sucking his thumb, he did it in the womb, sucking is normal. I refused to be the pacifier. My breasts did not have to be in even more pain post nursing sessions with a baby attached. We bonded just fine, they latched just fine, with using a pacifier. It's OK to use these from the start.
  • Arm-less and short-term swaddling- My first baby didn't like his arms tightly put into his swaddle blanket at night as a newborn, he liked to move, he liked his thumb in his mouth from birth, so we swaddled his body tightly but left the arms out. Babies like to feel something on their face, and letting arms and hands out helps with that. It's also one less thing to transition to later on down the road if you let them experience sleeping in a swaddle but with arms out. Also, short-term swaddling. I don't find the need to swaddle tightly for months on end. Surely the first few months, but then do your best to transition your baby out of this phase by three months or so. I've heard of SO many moms struggling with babies who won't sleep, don't know how to sleep because their baby has always been swaddled from birth, and now it's 5-6 months later and baby is able to actually move and get out of said swaddle and it isn't working... eek! Avoid it all together - arm less swaddle and then short-term the swaddle all together, move on to a sleep sack. 
  • Bottles early on- We gave each of our babies bottles the first week they were born, most from the night home from the hospital - day 4-5. I strongly encourage moms to do this. I breastfed my second and third like champs for over a year and they all had bottles the first week home. I don't believe the hocus pocus for most babies that it's going to cause them nipple confusion or that you'll never be able to breastfeed if you give them bottles early on. I think it's OK for moms to have a break from being the only go-to feeder. I think dads deserve a chance to feed and experience that feeling of feeding an infant too. Keep up with nursing primarily, but feeding bottles at night is SO helpful. It also makes babies sleep longer and fill them up more. I don't know that to be scientifically true, but I've had three babies and they all slept through the night at 5, 8 and 9 weeks old, so I believe it to be true for sure! 
  • Yes, wake a sleeping baby. I know, this is a scary one, right? BUT if you EVER want to sleep again, I believe in waking your baby during the day as they start getting older. I fed my babies religiously every two hours from the day they were born in the hospital. I had them on a routine feeding - even nursing - from day one. OF COURSE I fed on demand, too, if they were hungry at 1.5 hours instead of 2, yes of course they ate. BUT if they were sleeping at the 2 hour mark, yes, I woke them up and changed their diaper and fed them, which helped us be on a routine early on, which led to babies sleeping MUCH better at night. We had 4-6 hour stretches week one. If baby is sleeping at night, by all means let them sleep. If there is a growth spurt, of course let them sleep. But for the most part, take your day to feed them, wake them, fill them up, so that at night they are more tired and full and will let you stay on more of a regular sleep routine yourself. 
  • No rock n' play- I didn't know what this thing was the first two times, but the third time I was offered one from a friend and I declined. I was too scared of the habits it would create and I didn't want one more thing to transition from later down the road. I believe in teaching my babies to sleep in the bassinet and crib as early as we can - flat and swaddled for better long term sleep. Yes, the swing is an amazing thing, so letting them sleep there early on was a lifesaver during the day naps. Night time sleep though was for the bassinet, flat. I didn't want my baby getting used to something that we didn't really need. Now, if I had a colicky or reflux baby, OF COURSE do whatever you have to do to survive. But if at all possible, if you can avoid doing things that may cause a bad habit to form that is difficult to transition down the road, try it! 
  • Get out! I think it's totally fine to get out with baby. Cover them up, keep them in a car seat bucket so people are less likely to touch them, but go ahead and get out if you need to. We were at Chuck E Cheese with baby #2 a week after her birth because older two year old sibling needed to burn energy. Not the greatest place for a newborn, but do what you gotta do. It's OK, not a bad mom for getting out.
  • Let people visit and hold baby. I think this helps everyone. It's OK. Just make sure good hand washing is implemented and people with sickness stay away. 
  • No mittens- I know people think these are adorable and all older grandparents think they are a necessity, but I had three babies and never used these and didn't need them. They are just one more thing to wash or deal with and aren't necessary. The reason people put these mittens on babies typically is to avoid baby scratching herself. Well, I find no reason to avoid dealing with the issue- just cut the nails. I could not cut my first baby's nails for months so had a sister in law do it! Whatever it takes. I also think babies like to touch their face with their hands, so that's an added bonus to avoid these things. I know many love them, so all the power to you. We actually used them for pee-pee-tee-pees to cover the baby boy's parts during diaper changes the first time around!
  • Formula is AWESOME- I stockpiled formula for my second baby. I took EVERY free can I could get my hands on the second time around, after sooooo much guilt after a failed attempt at nursing my first. It's OK if you use formula. It's fine, it's healthy and it's awesome. Do NOT feel ashamed if you need or choose formula. I never even needed the formula I stockpiled the second time, as she nursed great, but it made me feel better knowing I had it so that was a win for us. Do whatever works. FED IS BEST.

Just remember that YOU are their mother. You will know what's best, even if you don't know what's best, even if you're new at this and confused. Listen to yourself, watch and observe your baby. Pay attention to what works for you all, not what someone else suggests. Here I am suggesting stuff to you, too... geez. I share only in case it helps you. If it doesn't, toss it out like the laundry we try to avoid cleaning!

Remember that when it comes to your own babies, it's OK to break some rules now and again to make it work for you and them.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

the pumping process: a how-to for new moms or a reminder for seasoned mommas

I just finished pumping for another 13 month stretch with my third child. The pride at what an accomplishment that can be is something I'll never forget. I doubt anyone who has not pumped a day in his life would understand what a big thing this is, but certainly a mom who has pumped even one single day can relate.

My pumping journey has been all over the place. With my first son, he did not latch so we nursed for about 5 days and then I exclusively pumped for an entire year. That is nuts, as I look back and think about what a huge commitment that was; I'm most proud of that year. With my second, I prepared for pumping and nursing not to go well, and she surprised me- champion nurser I called her. It was a wonderful nursing experience. But because with #1 I was so used to pumping, I pumped frequently with my second and nursed only a few times a day, being so used to bottles it didn't bother me. With my third, he was again an amazing nurser and so we nursed more often than not. I pumped a few times a day and enjoyed nursing the most with this final baby, realizing how fleeting these moments are.

All three times I pumped at work, a difficult experience but one you can survive, I swear. So, I feel like an expert at pumping, I'll admit. It's an odd thing to be an expert at, but I've seen it, felt it and done it all I think as far as pumping goes. I hope these tips are helpful to you in your journey, however it works out.

You will want to start by getting the best breast pump you can find. Insurances are offering these now, free, for most, and that's an amazing thing. I did not have that option with my first two. The small Medela box insurance one is great, you will just need a bag to put it in. I used that one at home. I was given a backpack Medela pump from my sister-in-law and that was my favorite for going to work. It didn't look like anything but a backpack, was easy to carry, lightweight and worked great.

I know some say don't use a used pump, but I used two used pumps for over a year each and they were great. I bought all new tubing (Amazon, like $10-20!) and cones, cups, pump parts. The only thing used was the machine, which no milk goes through, so it's fine, in my opinion.

Here are a few things you'll want when setting up a pumping station.

  • Pumps- If you can manage having two, that's even better. I had one and then a friend lent me one with my third, it was a lifesaver so I could leave one pump set up at home, and take one to work on Monday, leave it there till Friday instead of taking it back and forth each day (pain!). 
  • Comfortable chair or spot to sit. In my old house, that was our living room couch with pillows on my back. In my new house, it was a rocking chair with pillow and ottoman to put the pump on. You will need something for your back so you aren't leaning over.
  • Burp cloths or towels- I put these under my bra so nothing leaked onto my clothing. 
  • Hands-free pumping bra- I used the Medela ones, they are a lifesaver. You will want one at home, one at work. 
  • Medela pump parts and bottles, covers- You will want plenty of these, at least eight in my opinion. You need four in the cooler to keep them stable, (see pic above), two in your pump bag, and of course a few will be at home. Keep extra yellow covers in your pump bag at all times in case you forget. You will want two sets of pump cone parts (one at home, one for work). 
  • Cooler and freezer ice pack- A must for work, but also just if traveling for the day.
  • Dr. Brown's bottles- These fit onto the pump parts from Medela, and they are larger for pumping first thing in the morning more output, as well as transporting to daycare.
  • Extra membranes- These are the small white plastic pieces that go inside the pump cone parts that you pump into. If they tear, even slightly (had this happen one time in three years of pumping, but it was awful!) then you can't pump. Have backup membranes in the pump at all times.
  • Lansinoh freezer bags- You will want lots of these at home. I loved them. Target brand I've heard is great, too. Medela work awesome, just more expensive. 
  • Ziplock bags or containers to stand up milk in freezer- Whatever works for you, I put my milk bags into ziplock bags and had a chest freezer. Others lay them flat into a tupperware plastic container. Whatever is easy for you.
  • Car adapter- these are fairly inexpensive. You will want these for on the go road trips or places where you lose electricity. A battery backup is helpful too for the pump for if you lose power.
  • Water and snacks- MUST HAVES. Get a big water bottle. Pumping is harder than nursing for most people. It takes a lot of energy and it's hard to keep up with what your child needs. Make sure you're hydrated. I had the rule of thumb that whatever came out of me (5 oz, 9 oz etc of breastmilk) I needed at least that, if not double, going back into me ASAP to replenish for the next pump/nurse session. 
The only difference from home to work is that you will need to make sure your pump station or area in your office or work place is sufficient, comfortable (as comfy as you can possibly get pumping at work! ug!) and secure (locked!) and covered (window poster needed perhaps). I put a do not disturb sign on the outside of my door, too, to remind people I'm busy in here, don't come in, even if it's locked. On your first few days to work, get there a few minutes early so you can observe your space, figure out your system of what will work best for you to pump easily and comfortably. 

So how do you pump? Make sure you start by getting a lesson while in the hospital, even if you don't anticipate needing to pump, get the lesson! It's hard at first. Or at least have a friend show you, even over their clothes, it's helpful to have some info from someone who knows how it works. 

Fit the cups to your breasts as best as you can figure out how to, sometimes you need to move them around to work better. Turn the power up slowly until it feels comfortable to you. 

A timeframe for pumping varies for women. For most it's every 2 hours in the beginning, getting to every 3 hours or so by about 12 weeks. Going longer is OK but uncomfortable and won't keep up your supply. The time of pumping varies also. My sister can produce 8 oz in about 5 minutes, whereas I would take probably 45 minutes to do that. A rule of thumb is pumping about 15-20 minutes every pump session after 12 weeks. In the beginning it'll take you longer, closer to 30 minutes to get the hang of it. 

  • Carefully remove the pump from the hands-free bra. 
  • Tip backward a bit to get every drop of milk. This is why a burp cloth or towel is helpful under the bra to catch any spill. 
  • Unhook from tubing. 
  • Carefully unscrew the top of the pump cones and combine milk into one bottle. Put yellow cover on top. Put into cooler ice pack bag or fridge. 
  • Rinse equipment under warm water and soap. Once a day scrub and really wash cleaner. Boil once a week in the beginning and as needed as time goes on. Some people put the pump parts in the fridge during the day, wash at night. Whatever works for you. A study did come out the past year though encouraging women to really use soap every time you pump. I never did that, just rinsed hot water each time, then washed thoroughly with soap at night, but the new recommendation is to really use soap.
It's a process! I would freeze milk about twice a week, every 3 days or so. I would combine milk from any sessions. I know some people have different ideas about this, but this worked for me. In the beginning I froze in increments of 2-4 oz. By 12 weeks my babies typically ate 4 oz every couple of hours. 

Hope this helps a little. It's a process you have to learn by doing, I think. Ask questions, talk to moms who have been there, and figure things out as you go along. Be CAREFUL not to spill the liquid gold as they call breastmilk, it's so valuable. You are working hard to produce it, be careful! 

Good luck! 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

breastfeeding: the ins and outs of milk producing from REAL moms

Earlier last fall I asked moms in the Mommy Stories group for their tips for breastfeeding and pumping milk for their babies. Everyone's experience is so different, so it depends on you, your body, your baby, your birth experience, and support you have how the nursing thing is going to go. However it goes, is OK! However long you do it for or short - that's OK, too.

If you are planning to nurse, here are some tips from real moms who have been there that we hope help you out along the way.

  • undercovermama tanks
  • babmboobies nursing pads
  • Spectra pump
  • Medela pumps
  • Boppy pillow
  • earth mama angel baby nipple cream
  • coconut oil for nipple cream
  • H&M nursing bras and tanks
  • O'Malley nursing tanks at Target
  • breast friend nursing pillow
  • lanolin cream 
  • don't quit on a bad day
  • get in a comfortable spot, chair, position and sit up straight, then bring baby toward you, don't hunch over to go toward baby
  • be in a reclining position and move backward if letdown is very fast
  • Medela nursing shields help with blisters
  • skin to skin, do it right away
  • always available when traveling
  • taking back your baby when others are holding them
  • being their number one
  • ability to quiet a fussy kid easily 
  • not having to carry bottles, etc.
  • peaceful and relaxing
  • being forced to chill and relax with baby, ignore the chores more
  • convenience
  • "the smile when they look up at you like you are their entire world"
  • weight loss
  • knowing exactly what's going into your baby's body
  • empowering knowing your body is providing all they need
  • PRIDE at accomplishing something so large
  • supreme bonding feelings 

  • baby not taking bottles, it's all on you
  • supply worries - am I producing enough? how to I produce more?
  • pumping
  • rushing home from work to freeze the milk you pumped
  • nipple shields, pain
  • getting started- first six weeks, ouch and hard to stay on course
  • hands- free pumping bra is necessity 
  • keep dish detergent in wash room
  • soothing music on earbuds
  • picture of baby
  • keep hand pump and glass containers in car in case you forget pump
  • put pump parts in fridge with milk pumped until next session
  • cooler
  • nursing cover
  • water bottle...keep drinking
  • keep a full  set of pumping parts at work, or even have a second pump if you can
  • Lansinoh freezer bags
  • freeze them flat 
  • put into larger ziplock bags or into boxes / containers in freezer 
  • need chest freezer!
  • freeze every couple of days what you produced, rotate through so you use milk up from weeks ago first

Nursing, pumping, it's a process that's for sure. It changes, too, as your baby changes. Ask for help, find Facebook discussion groups and lactation community groups and consultants who can help answer your questions. I've found that it's not something I could do solo, but rather I needed advice, ideas, suggestions and info from other moms in order to encourage myself to figure it out and keep going. Every experience is different, too. I've had three children and all three times my experience with nursing was different. If you have one bad experience, it doesn't mean you will moving forward with subsequent babies, so hang in there.

I love the advice, don't quit on a bad day. End when you are ready and feel like it's OK to stop. Don't take others pressure to continue, but rather because it's what you want to do. Taking a breastfeeding class from the hospital is a great idea, too, very helpful.

Good luck! Producing breastmilk can be one of the most empowering things you do. I hope it's a positive experience for you.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

I just had a baby

I remember last year thinking and saying out loud often, "Well, I JUST had a baby." It's this feeling you carry with you for a while, well into the first year, well past the first three months of newborn freshness.

After having my third baby I said this a lot. I said it when I was tired and couldn't think straight. I said it when I realized I had not worn my hair down in weeks, always in a pony tail because who knows the last time I'd been to the hairdressers. I said it when I couldn't find any pants to fit around my stretched out waist. I said it when I wasn't ready to head back to work after 12 blissful weeks of maternity leave.

I said, "I just had a baby" when we fed him solids for the first time, when we weren't sure at what age we moved from infant car seat to big boy convertible facing backward car seat. I said it when I couldn't find a bathing suit to fit the nursing half of me. I said it when my legs jiggled from lack of strength because I'd been too focused on eating more calories to feed my baby while nursing. I said it while I went to birthday parties and was so tired that I was yawning while the baby was crawling and I was chasing him and just wanted to take a nap.

"I just had a baby." It's something we've all said, felt, clung to. It's a lifeline for some of us. It's an excuse, a reason, an explanation for why we are the way we are for those months after a little human pops out of our bodies. We say it when our eyes are so dark, still, months later, for lack of real solid sleep, because we're up late watching them breath or listening to make sure they are OK.

This can go on for a year. This idea that we "just" had a baby goes on for a while, through many phases of a baby's life. Because it's a monumental thing I went through, that my body did- growing a human. 

Because of that monumental thing, we get to say that we "just" did something for a while. It  feels like we did. It feels like that moment of the newborn being put on our chest JUST happened... and so we live there, we stay there in that place of wonder and amusement, exhaustion and awe. 

We stay there when we say, "Yeah, I know, I'm still rocking maternity clothes four months later, too, I just had a baby." We stay there in that safety net when we say, "Oh I know, the long sleepless nights are so unbearable sometimes, I'm so tired, too, don't worry, I get it, I just had a baby, too," even when it's about eight months later.

Whether it was nursing in a Target store while still in my pajamas, no makeup, or snuggled up at home with a newborn on my shoulder and a burp cloth just in case, we "just" had babies, we "just" went through something big. However we handle that, however we face it or stare at it eyes wide open, it's OK.

If you are still wearing maternity pants a year later, it's OK.
If you haven't had a warm breakfast in six months, it's normal.
If you are afraid to try on your work clothes the week before you head back to work, that's totally fine. Let it be.
If you haven't washed your hair in days, don't know if you have spit up or poop on your T-shirt, that's acceptable.
If it's month nine of your baby's first year and you still haven't taken a real picture of your child on a real camera, just on your iPhone, hey, at least you have some photos.

My body was not what it used to be when pregnant, in the hospital after delivery with a newborn on my chest, nor 12 months later when I celebrated my little's first birthday party, so proud of surviving that first year. My waist is wider. My legs are not as toned.

But I "just" had a baby.

I don't use that as an excuse. I don't plan to stay here forever. I intend to get in shape, in fact I already did this past summer before he turned a year old. I lost the "baby weight." Yet I don't look the same as I used to before I had that baby or the two before him. And that's NORMAL. It's OK.

You know what is the same? My smile. My face and eyes light up because I can safely carry a baby to term, in my body, and then raise that child with loving arms, and legs that are strong enough to chase him now that he's taking his first steps. I'm present and focused, I'm ready to be there for them when they fall or when they do something great I'm the first one standing up clapping and screeching with an iPhone camera because I can't remember to get out my fancy big camera these days. I'm there. I'm present.

This mom who "just" had a baby, is always there.
The other details don't matter.

I know there are more posts in January about losing weight, fitting into your pre-baby jeans, hitting the gym eight times a week, and cutting back on sugar. I'm a fan of getting healthy and stronger, and I in fact have a few pounds I don't like being there. But if you are a new mom or someone who "just" had a baby (within the last year and a half perhaps) let it go. It's OK. However you are is OK.

This picture above was taken this summer, a month after I had major surgery. I've never seen it until now, I found it on my computer, my husband must have taken it. I'm wearing a tank top and shorts, probably didn't feel comfortable in a bathing suit and I wasn't allowed to swim yet anyway after surgery. My baby is about nine months old and I can't lift him yet due to surgery restraints. So I'm sitting in the water, legs that are not toned but are strong. Arms that are jiggly but are able to hold him up. Abs that are not tight, but that survived yet another surgery and are living to tell the story of that challenge. Hair that is messy, eyes that are dark and tired, but a huge, wide grin across my face that says to the world, "I am here. I just had this baby, but I'm happy and I love being a mother. I'm good the way I am in this moment." I love this.

I hope you embrace yourself this year. I hope you realize that if you had a baby last month, last year or five years ago, it's OK to feel sometimes like you "just" had that baby and like you aren't totally put together because of that monumental experience. It's OK to not have it all figured out, to not be the size you were before this pregnancy or how you looked on your wedding day. You are in a new life now, your world has shifted. Embrace that.

Get healthy, get yourself strong, work out even, but do it because you want to, because you want to be able to chase your kids and show up when they need you. Don't do it because the number on the scale is higher or the number on your calendar changed to a new year.

You've got time, Momma. Enjoy your littles, let go of the rest that doesn't matter, and realize wherever you are on this journey after "just" having a baby, you're ENOUGH.