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Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

Community Support and Breastfeeding {Make a Difference}

(Editor’s note: this was originally posted in 2013.)

I would like to start this post with a story.

Imagine a mother – a fresh new mother – with a baby just barely 24 hours old. She drives to another city the day after her birth for her first post-birth checkup with her midwife. After leaving the appointment she and her husband decide to stop for lunch. It is late afternoon, so they have their pick of places as none are crowded. A Red Lobster is calling mom’s name – she is famished after the long work of labor the day before and seafood just sounds heavenly. And maybe a little indulgent too!

Mom, Dad, and newborn are seated right away and order their food. Mom orders crab legs (her favorite!) since baby is sleeping peacefully in his wrap against her chest. Surely he will stay asleep long enough for her to shell the crab and eat. (More experienced moms are probably giggling right now!)

The food comes out, hot and steaming. On cue, baby wakes up and wants to nurse. Mom stares longingly at her plate, knowing she can’t bother with it right now because it takes two hands to get this newborn latched and stable for the whole feed. Dad offers to help her but mom declines – at least one of them should get a hot meal after all.

The server comes out to check that everything is going well. She sees mom’s predicament and says she will be right back. She comes back, with gloves on, and starts to shell all of the mother’s crab legs for her. All the while she talks to the couple about her children, her nursing experiences, and how great it is to see a young mother breastfeeding. She also shares stories of many cold meals because of the uncanny ability of babies to wake just when dinner comes out.

She finishes shelling the still steaming crab and gives the plate to mom. Mom figures out how to support baby’s head with the wrap so she can slide one hand out to eat her still hot dinner! Mom and dad get full bellies with hot food, and so does baby. What could have ended in mom sadly eating stone-cold crab legs instead has a happy ending.

That mother was me. I have *never* forgotten that server’s support and love in that moment, and I never will. One mother, reaching out to another giving simple and practical support. That one encounter gave me the pride and hope and confidence to nurse in public in the years that followed. That one encounter helped my husband to feel 100% comfortable with nursing in public as well – knowing that people would not always be rude to his wife. While we have had rude encounters, I can always look back to this first one and radiate with joy.

The support of the community can make a huge difference for mothers who take the journey through breastfeeding. In fact, in studies and interviews women tend to rate social support as more important than professional support on the duration of their breastfeeding experience 5. Why is this?

The answer is simple – we spend far more time in the world at large than sitting in a professional’s office. We need support from our partners, family, and community at large. We need to feel supported by other mothers. When a person feels like they are doing something alone – no matter what it is – they are far less likely to succeed or meet goals. Emotionally, we feel more able to succeed with social support.

The United States has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world among developed nations, and when you look at the rates of exclusive breastfeeding it becomes especially dismal. While about 75% of woman initiate breastfeeding – this is a very large category and a bit misleading. This includes one attempt in the first days of life. While this is great (so many mothers attempting to breastfeed!), it gives false hope as the total rates of breastfeeding. In 2007, at 6 months of age the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was only 13% 1. Lets keep in mind that six months of nothing but breastmilk is the current recommendation from every major group with an interest in infant health (this includes the AAP and WHO). What is happening to cause a drop from 75% of women attempting to breastfeed, to only 13% succeeding at 6 months?

The simple answer for most cases – lack of proper support. Study after study shows that our support network is vital to breastfeeding success. For most women, one caring and helpful IBCLC cannot undo the “work” of a society that does not really support breastfeeding. While it is possible for a woman to physically or psychologically be unable to breastfeed that sub-section of woman is statistically small – most certainly not 87% of woman or the human race would not have made it very far.

The Surgeon General put out a “Call to Action” in 2011, urging America to support breastfeeding. Much of the document focuses on increasing community support across the board – from the family unit, to the care provider, to society as a whole. Some highlights from the document include:

“Women with friends who have breastfed successfully are more likely to choose to breastfeed. On the other hand, negative attitudes of family and friends can pose a barrier to breastfeeding. Some mothers say that they do not ask for help from their family and friends because of the contradictory information they receive from these sources.” (pg 22)

What this little gem tells us is that mother’s who DO succeed in breastfeeding need to talk about it. We need to share our wonderful experience – it actually encourages other mother’s to more seriously consider breastfeeding in the first place. This also tells us that hearing conflicting and outdated information from “well meaning” family and friends is NOT helpful. (Big surprise there, right?)

Now, there is a whole section on Embarrassment. Yes, in the great nation of America, the Surgeon General actually has to address embarrassment as a barrier to breastfeeding.

“A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43% of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places. Restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded. When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave. Such situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed. Embarrassment remains a formidable barrier to breastfeeding in the United States and closely related to the disapproval of breastfeeding in public. Embarrassment about breastfeeding is not limited to public settings however. Women may find themselves excluded from social interactions when they are breastfeeding because others are reluctant to be in the same room while they breastfeed. For many women, the feeling of embarrassment restricts their activites and is cited as a reason for choosing to feed supplementary formula or to give up breastfeeding altogether.” (pg 23)

This section goes on more but let me pause here. No matter how you choose to feed your child, I hope that above statement leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Only 43% of adults feel that a mother should feed her baby in public. Lets not even give the cop out of breastfeeding and “modesty”. This statistic literally translates to mean that 57% of Americans are uncomfortable with a baby being fed in public in a normal way. Only 28% in this particular study believed that breastfeeding should be portrayed on television 4.

Then we see proof that managers and business owners do ask women to leave if they breastfeed and refuse to move or stop. We see this in the news from time to time, but many people think it is rare. Is it really going to be a rare occurrence when over half of all Americans are uncomfortable seeing normal infant feeding? It also goes on to say that we are not just talking about public situations, that last section literally means that within their own homes and social units, women are being made to feel uncomfortable because they breastfeed. What woman is likely to keep breastfeeding if she doesn’t even have acceptance in her own home or social group?

To continue with the “Embarrassment” section:

” In American culture, breasts have often been regarded primarily as sexual objects, while their nurturing function is downplayed. Although focusing on the sexuality of female breasts is common in mass media, visual images of breastfeeding are rare, and a mother may never have seen a woman breastfeeding. As shown in both quantitative and qualitative studies, the perception of breasts as sexual objects may lead women to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public. As a result, women may feel the need to conceal breastfeeding, but they have difficulty finding comfortable and accessible breastfeeding facilities in public places.” (pg 23)

This section speaks to how our breasts are viewed. First and foremost in our culture they are viewed as sexual. This context of breasts as primarily sexual is actually not the predominate view in the world as a whole by the way 3. This portion also speaks to an issue that comes up more and more with social media – the posting and viewing of breastfeeding photos. These studies and surveys prove that women need to see breastfeeding. The more you see it, the more normal it becomes.

Our sexual view of breasts did not just evolve from thin air – it evolved through a constant presence of sexual images of breasts in our culture. Simply put, the more we can promote and share the non-sexual view of breasts, the less sexual our breasts will become in the culture as a whole. I, for one, would be very happy to see that happen – not only for breastfeeding rates but also for the self-worth of women in general.

In the last sentence, the Surgeon General notes that even though women may feel compelled to hide breastfeeding because of these pressures, there is no where to hide! Our society seems to insist that we breastfeed “somewhere else” but where exactly is this wonderful place we are supposed to hide? Very few places, especially outside of large cities, have breastfeeding spaces. When was the last time you saw a breastfeeding room at your local grocery?

In the section of the document about ways to help increase breastfeeding rates, special attention is given to educating the fathers/partners and grandmothers. Studies show that lack of support from those two sources can lead to shortened breastfeeding (or never starting). There is also special attention given to strengthening and supporting woman-to-woman support groups, such as local La Leche Leagues or other community breastfeeding groups. Those two actions in our communities would be especially helpful to low-income women, where studies show that social support and acceptance are paramount to breastfeeding success 2.

Now I would like to switch gears. We know that community support can make a difference, but we hear little about it. Normally, we only see stories of mothers being harrassed for feeding their babies. If positive stories and experiences with breastfeeding can make a difference in breastfeeding rates, then we need to share them. I reached out to our support group and got many stories and photos, all about positive experiences with nursing in public!

“The first time I ever breastfed in public was last summer when my daughter was 8 months old. My family and I were on vacation in Austin, TX and we were on a tour in some underground natural caverns.  We were at a resting area and I chose a rock to sit on and started nursing her.  I was so nervous that someone would give me a dirty look or say something rude, but a woman came up to me and thanked me for nursing my baby.  That one little comment gave me the confidence I needed to keep nursing her in public and I have been doing so ever since.” – Jennifer

breastfeeding

“Over Memorial Day weekend there is a big festival by the beach where we live, so my husband and I invited our folks to join us and our 2 month old daughter. It was HOT with very little shade! My daughter was getting fussy so I sat down on a bench behind one of the vender’s who had an umbrella up. My mom, who is easily embarrassed, kept trying to give me a cover but I told her no and proceeded to nurse my baby. The vender turns around to see me nursing my daughter and says, “Good for you! Not enough mother’s breastfeed any more! Keep doing what’s best for your kid.”‘ – Beverly

breastfeeding

“We took a vacation to Vegas with our daughter. We had just finished a limousine ride, and walked back into our hotel. I sat in the lobby and started to breastfeed my little girl. A lady came by and told me breastfeeding is the most beautiful thing in the world! I wish I had taken a picture with her. It was such a positive experience for me.” – Krystal

Below is Brianna nursing at Disneyland. Just a fun fact, from a former Cast Member – Disney Cast Members are instructed specifically in training about the importance of nursing in public and that it is 100% legal and acceptable for women to do so anywhere in the parks or property. Some companies do care!

breastfeeding at Disneyland

Below is Katelyn nursing her son at the aquarium, her supportive husband at her side!

breastfeeding

If you have a positive nursing in public experience, please share it with us! And remember that the “other person” in these stories is someone just like you. Just one person reaching out to another and saying “Good Job” – it can literally change a mother’s whole outlook on breastfeeding. Next time you see a mother nursing in public – no matter how she chooses to do it – give her a smile or even better, a kind word.

References

  1. U.S Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Surgeon General; 2011.
  2. Pugh, L., Milligan, R., Frick, K., Spatz, D., & Bronner, Y. (2002). Breastfeeding Duration, Costs, and Benefits of a Support Program for Low-Income Breastfeeding Women. Birth: Issues In Perinatal Care, 29(2), 95-100. doi:10.1046/j.1523-536X.2002.00169.x
  3. Wolf, J. H. (2008). Got milk? Not in public!. International Breastfeeding Journal, 31-3. doi:10.1186/1746-4358-3-11
  4. Pettis, C. T., & Miller, M. K. (2007). PROMOTING BREAST-FEEDING THROUGH SOCIAL CHANGE. Women’s Policy Journal Of Harvard, 439-47.
  5. McInnes RJ, Chambers JA. (2008). Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: Qualitative Synthesis. J Adv Nurs. 2008 May; 62(4):407-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04618.x.

My Three-Year Postpartum

My Three-Year Postpartum

By Billie Criswell

I was overjoyed when I became pregnant at 28 years old, and gave birth just before my 29th birthday. My pregnancy was planned, and was fairly uneventful. Because I had struggled with anxiety throughout my 20s, I prepared for postpartum, which in hindsight, sounds funny because who can really prepare for postpartum? But I did what I thought was my due diligence…I attended regular therapy sessions. I prepared my one-line birth plan: no interventions. I lined up my placenta encapsulation. I hired my doula. I had a plan for accepting help from my “Grandma dream team,” compromised of my mom and my mother-in-law, who supplied us with food and help for two full weeks.

I had an unmedicated, vaginal birth in the hospital. It was pretty routine except for a couple of things. Unbeknownst to me, a doctor or midwife in the rotating practice wrote in my chart that my baby was breech (she was not) and there was confusion about me getting a c-section. The second thing happened while I was pushing. Out of nowhere, the midwife who was attending asked the nurses to bring a mirror. I asked them not to. She nodded and insisted, “bring in the mirror.” Seeing myself giving birth in a mirror felt very violating. It was distracting, and disturbing as though I was having an out of body experience and being forced to watch something that I found traumatizing.

But all of that behind me, I left the hospital and came home. I was exhausted after having been awake for 36 hours straight, but I was well cared for by everyone around me. In those first days, I felt disconnected from everything. Trying to catch up on sleep, learning to breastfeed, and adjust to caring for an infant is pretty haze-inducing. I took the placenta pills. When people asked me how I felt, I responded with “good.”

I got to know my baby, who loved me above all people and never wanted to be put down. EVER. We adapted. We co-slept. We had a sling, and an Ergo baby carrier. Little did I know that I would literally be carrying my child around for the next 10 months (she is the most attached child I have ever, ever met.)

After two and a half weeks, it was time for my husband to go back to work, time for my mother and mother-in-law to go back to cooking for their own families. And that morning, as I kissed my husband goodbye, I was feeling a bit excited to be alone with my baby for the first time. She was asleep, and I took a breath, sat down, ready to admire her until she woke up. And that was when it happened… I felt a hot wave rush over me, and I thought I was going to pass out. The room was spinning. I panicked. I grabbed the baby and got into bed, thinking I was surely about to die. I was experiencing what would be the first of several months of panic attacks.

I was terrified to be alone with my baby, afraid that I would drop her, or that I would faint while carrying her and kill her. I was afraid that the walls were closing in. I was afraid of everything, all of the time. I had these horrible visions of bad things that could happen to her. She would be sitting in her bouncer, and I would be cutting carrots and suddenly be horrified that I could cut off her finger, even though she was ten feet away. I felt crazy.

I knew that something was really wrong in my mind, and so when she was a few months old, I told my primary care doctor about how I was feeling. She flippantly looked at me and said “Well stop breastfeeding, you’ll feel better. And by the way, if you have any more kids, this will only get worse for you.” I went home and cried for five days straight. I didn’t want to give up breastfeeding…it was the one thing I was doing with success. So I dug in my heels, and decided that I would continue breastfeeding, consequences be damned.

I attended regular therapy sessions. My therapist knew that I was struggling, but I don’t think that even she knew the extent of the pain I was in mentally. I think the anxiety had become so bad that I didn’t know how to properly express how bad it was. I coped by always scheduling a visit with a friend or family member while my husband was at work or school (he was finishing his degree at the time.) And crying when I was alone, wondering if I was a bad mother, whether I would ever feel normal again, and hiding some of the darkest moments away.

When my daughter was six months old that everything really came to a head when I had this strange pain in my groin and a rash on my back. I had become so stressed and riddled with anxiety that I had gotten shingles. It was probably the best thing that happened to me postpartum. On doctor’s orders, I had to lay down, rest, and keep myself from being too stressed. This was when I finally began laying down with my daughter for naps. I began resting, and knowing that I had those two hours each day to lay down, helped tremendously. It also gave me an unspoken permission to actually ask for help from those around me.

The fog slowly began to lift. Then, around the 8 or 9 month mark when I was arbitrarily surfing Facebook, I came across an article about postpartum depression and anxiety. It talked about how people who had been sexually abused or assaulted were more likely to feel violated by childbirth and had higher instances of postpartum depression and anxiety. I had no idea.

Suddenly everything clicked. In all the preparations I made, in all those OB/GYN appointments I had, not one person ever asked me if I had been the victim of sexual abuse or assault—not even my therapist knew to ask. Even though I had the birth I “wanted,” I still felt so traumatized and I finally understood why. In those moments of realization, it was as though I could finally come out the other side. A huge burden lifted off me, as if all at once.

Since then, I’ve still had my ups and downs… breastfeeding was a huge culprit as well in the hormonal cocktail that spikes my anxiety. I breastfed my daughter until she was 3 1/2, and when I weaned her, the anxiety was once again palpable. Now, having weaned her, I feel like my postpartum period has FINALLY, at long last, come to a close. It’s been an often dark place for me, but understanding where the sense of trauma comes from really helps.

I have been lucky. I reached out, and I had a number of people who came to my aid. My family, and a few close friends really hung in there with me and, on numerous occasions, dropped everything to come and literally sit beside me as I struggled. My husband has been a major support for me in both my mental health and my extended breastfeeding. The journey has been hard, and full of love.

Coming through this period of my life has changed me. It’s made me more able to acknowledge when I need help, and it’s made me more thankful for my moments with my daughter where I feel like myself. Postpartum anxiety robbed me of a precious time with my newborn. Guilt is motherfucker and she doesn’t go easy. But just like the initial trauma of sexual abuse, the birth trauma wasn’t my fault, and the postpartum anxiety wasn’t my fault.

Educated & Empowered: A Home Water Birth

Educated & Empowered: A Home Water Birth

My birth story begins a few years before my son was even conceived! While my husband, Jeff, and I were dating we discussed children multiple times. We both knew that we wanted to have kids but I remember clearly telling him that I thought I wanted to adopt since my fear of childbirth was too big. My husband is adopted and we’ve both always felt that it doesn’t take blood to make a family so that was our plan, we would adopt to spare me going through childbirth. Every time I thought about labor or giving birth my body would tense right up and I was filled with such anxiety about all of it. I’ve always thought that I had a very low pain tolerance and the thought of going through such agonizing pain from contractions was just too much for me! Not to mention that then there was getting that kid out – I’d either have to shove it out of my hoo-ha or get it taken out of me from surgery! No thank you! I knew that there was always the option of getting an epidural but I have severe scoliosis and was never quite sure if an epidural would work for me. Though I was confident I didn’t want to experience child birth, as my longing for a child grew, so did my interest in viewing birth photography.

I spent weeks looking at pictures of parents meeting their babies for the first time. My interest in birth photography then grew into an interest in birth stories. I read so many! Some stories of beautiful hospital births, some of brave women having cesarean’s (some by choice, some because of emergency), some of ecstatic parents meeting their adopted children for the first time, and some of peaceful home-births. Each story seemed to lessen my fear of childbirth a little bit more. My thinking slowly began to shift from this terrifying event to an empowering and beautiful process to be able to take part of. I decided that I wanted to be one of the “links in the endless chain of birthing women.”

When I found out that I was pregnant, I knew I wanted a midwife! Where I live it’s possible to get a midwife through the health region but it can be very tough to get into the program since there are only six midwives to cover all of the city and surrounding area! A few people had told me to call as soon as I found out I was pregnant so I called the very next day. I was incredibly lucky to be accepted into the program a month later.

I adored Alison, our midwife, the moment I met her! Alison took wonderful care of me throughout my pregnancy and answered all of my questions. Our midwife always made sure that we knew all of our options and what the pros and cons were to each. Even on her busiest days she took the time to explain things to me in great depth, I really began to trust her. We had been planning a hospital birth throughout our whole pregnancy but when I talked about the birth that I envisioned I always gravitated to home-births. I wasn’t sure how safe they were and I was also scared of the judgment that we would get once people found out that we had a home-birth. Unfortunately, a lot of the time home-births seem to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths because they aren’t educated on them. Alison showed us a lot of research that had been done on home-births to prove to me that they were just as safe as hospital births in low-risk pregnancies. I came to her with a list of possible hiccups during the birth and she explained to us what the procedure would be in each one. I really felt like we were making an educated decision that was best for us, so we decided to plan for our home-birth!

As mentioned previously, I have severe scoliosis. I have an ‘S’ curve with a small curve to the right in the middle of my back, and a large curve to the left in my lower back. Since I had read so many birth stories, I knew there was a slight, but rare, possibility that it could affect whether or not I was able to get an epidural. Because we were planning the home-birth my goal was for a natural labor and delivery, but Alison and I agreed that it was important to cover all grounds so she arranged for me to have an appointment with the head of the anesthesiology department at the hospital. I didn’t get the best news there unfortunately! They weren’t going to have a problem getting the epidural into my spine (which was my original concern) but there was a decent chance that the epidural would not properly administer the pain medication because of the smaller top curve of my spine. It might work – but he couldn’t guarantee it. The head of the department and I talked about what that looked like for me. He explained that if I wanted it, there would be other forms of pain management that I could take. Ultimately though if I needed to have a caesarean I would most likely be put right under with general anesthetic. Nothing changed about our birth plan, but I will say that I had a lot of anxiety about that and worried about who would be there to greet babe if I was put under since Jeff wouldn’t be allowed in the room either. There was nothing else we could do but wait and see what happened.

About a week later, just two days before my due date, Jeff had just finished working around 9:00PM we walked over to the drug store across the street and got a frozen pizza. We came home and watched a terrible show on Netflix then decided it was time for bed. Usually we are in bed by 10:00 but since he had worked much later than usual we ended up staying awake until midnight. Every night in the last two weeks of my pregnancy I had gone to bed a little anxious, I really didn’t want to be awoken by labor – I’m not sure why, but I liked the idea of being awake when the process began. I had just finished brushing my teeth and was sitting down to pee one last time before bed. I was sitting there and suddenly felt this pain in my back. It lasted around thirty seconds but the pain wasn’t super intense. I had back pain throughout my pregnancy so I thought it was probably just that – plus it was still two days before my due date and I had convinced myself that I was going to be overdue! I was getting up from the toilet when my water broke. I wasn’t entirely sure if it was my water or not, but it kept leaking so I had a fairly good idea. Jeff remembered our birth classes and Alison telling us to check for COAT (color, odor, amount, and time) and it seemed everything was normal so far. Jeff asked me if he should fill up the birth pool but I just couldn’t believe what was happening so I said no. Was I really in labor?

My contractions started out five minutes apart but only lasted about thirty seconds. I called a girlfriend of mine who is a labor and delivery nurse and she assured me that I was in labor! She told me to hang up the phone and call my midwife, so that’s exactly what we did. We explained to Alison what was happening and she told us that although my water broke, I could very well be in labor for another 24 hours. She asked me to take a Tylenol, get into the bath tub, and try to get some rest. She explained to us that the bath would probably space out my contractions but have them become longer. She asked me how the pain was and I said it was tough but manageable. At this point I was still able to move around and talk on the phone. Jeff had set up the birth pool while I was on the phone and asked if he should fill it up but I told him to hold off for now. I got into our bath tub and the water felt so nice but I didn’t like that I wasn’t able to move around much. After about half an hour in the tub my contractions sped up to 2-3 minutes apart but lasting between 30-45 seconds. The pain was getting intense! I got out of the tub but my body was not happy. I felt like I was having a terrible flu, I started throwing up that darn pizza! My contractions were getting more and more intense. I was still having mostly back pain but I remember being able to feel my hips literally separating so we decided to call Alison again.

We explained to Alison that my contractions were 2 minutes apart now or less, but they still weren’t lasting quite a minute. Some of them were as short as 30 seconds, and some were 50 seconds, but they didn’t last longer than that. Because of the strange pattern in my contractions she was fairly sure that I was in early labor still, but she asked if I would like her to come check me and I did. I told her that the pain was getting very intense and if I was in early labor then I wanted to talk about what my options were for pain management. She told me that it was going to get a lot more intense and I would really need to focus if I wanted to have the home-birth that I had hoped for. At this point I had decided that if this was early labor I was definitely going to the hospital for some kind of drug, so I once again told Jeff not to fill up the tub.

I labored on our bed while we waited for Alison. I didn’t feel like I could move around much at this point so I tried to just stay as calm and comfortable as possible. The contractions were still quite random but on average were 1.5 to 2 minutes apart. While I was laboring I felt a little chilled and said “socks” to Jeff. He ran out of the room and came back with the small bin of baby socks that we had purchased! Jeff and I are “How I Met Your Mother” fans and if you’re familiar with the show you’ll remember an episode where Lily decides she wants to have a baby because she sees some cute little baby socks. Throughout my pregnancy that was a little joke that we had when we bought baby clothes! At this point though I wanted socks for my feet, not to look at. I still laugh whenever I think about that!

Alison arrived around 3:00 A.M. We talked for a little bit about how I was feeling and she coached me through a few contractions. The pattern to them still wasn’t consistent, she explained that one of two things was happening: either the baby was in a strange position causing the irregular contractions or the baby was coming very quickly. My family has a history of fast deliveries so although in my head I was preparing for the worst, I was really, really hoping that I was fairly far along. I’ll never forget what Alison said when she checked me! “Tessa! Oh, Tessa! You’re having this baby at home.” I replied, “Yeah?! Really?” And she said, “You’re a 7!”

And that was it. If I had gotten to 7cm dilated with thinking that I was in early labor, surely I could see this through! That was the confidence boost that I needed. Since our baby was coming quickly, we needed to prepare! Jeff now had to hurry to fill up the pool since I kept telling him to hold off. Alison had to bring all of the birthing and emergency equipment into the house and set it up, and she needed to contact another midwife to come for the birth. I moved from our bed to the couch so I could soak in the hustle and bustle of the night. It was so exciting. I had read so many books on labor and written cue cards for myself to meditate on. I didn’t use the cards in labor but I had read them so many times beforehand that I was still able to think about them during contractions.

That time between 3:30 and 4:30AM are some of my fondest memories from my birthing experience. Our sweet dog, Timothy, came and snuggled up beside my leg. Since the baby was coming quickly Jeff and Alison were both busy and couldn’t spend much time with me but I never felt alone. As cheesy as this sounds, Timothy was the sweetest birth coach! One of the best notes that I had read was to really take time to enjoy the moments between the contractions. I thought about celebrating their birthday a year from then and how excited I was to plan the party. I thought about seeing their little face and holding them for the first time. I thought about all of the women around the world birthing with me at the same time and how incredible it was to be a part of the circle of life. Although the pain was intense when I was contracting it was just such a beautiful thing to be able to experience. My body knew what to do!

I started to feel the urge to push but the second midwife wasn’t at the house yet. Alison had tried to call the other two midwives on her team but neither of them were able to make it there quickly so she called a midwife on the other team who agreed to come right away. Alison told me that if I felt the urge to push not to resist it and asked if I was able to move into the tub. The tub was full enough to get in so I slowly made my way into it. The water felt phenomenal! I know everyone says that, but it’s true!

When I got into the water I remember thinking that labor is just so weird. At that moment I felt completely, 100% normal and was not experiencing any pain at all. It’s hard to believe that there are moments like that in labor but there really are! I started pushing shortly after 4:30AM. Pushing felt great. Pushing took away almost all of the pain from the contractions. I remember the other midwife coming into the house when I was in the middle of pushing. I hadn’t met her before and I didn’t want to be rude so I grumbled out “helloooo” to her! Jeff had pots of water boiling on the stove and between staying with me he would run to get a pot and dump it in to keep the water warm. At one point while I was pushing he dumped the pot of water partially on his hand but decided it was best not to mention that while his wife was in labor – smart guy! I pushed slowly and only during contractions. I put my hand down and felt lots of soft hair, the baby was getting closer. I had read about the “Ring of Fire” and I totally get why they call it that. There really is no better explanation for that pain. Our sweet babe was crowning and I was making sounds that I didn’t even know I could make. I kept my eyes shut the entire time I was pushing so I had no idea where anyone was. Jeff and I had talked about the birth numerous times before and he always said he didn’t think he would watch the baby coming out but, to my surprise, he did! At 5:20 AM I felt instant relief from the pain.

I looked down and there was this tiny little babe in the water. The chord was wrapped around his neck and as Alison unwrapped it she told us that that was actually very common. It made me so happy that she wasn’t concerned in the slightest about it. And there was our baby! After all of that: all of the hoping, dreaming, and praying – our baby was here. They placed the baby on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin. We looked down and saw that it was a sweet little boy. We did delayed chord clamping. Alison let us feel for the pulse in the chord to slowly disappear; while we waited, it was so cool watching the colour come into his body from the chord. When the pulse was gone, Jeff cut the chord. He says that it was firmer to cut than he had been anticipating. It was all so magical! In our birth plan I had agreed to a shot of oxytocin to speed up the birth of the placenta. After a few minutes, I was feeling ready to push again so I gave the baby to Jeff for skin-to-skin. Pushing out the placenta was a breeze compared to the baby.

Shortly after I slowly stood up out of the tub. What a weird feeling! It was almost as if my insides were all falling back into place. I distinctly remember feeling my organs shifting. I walked over to our bed where Alison had set up a cozy and clean area for all of us. She assessed me and determined that I had a second-degree tear. I snuggled our new babe while she stitched me up. They asked us what his name would be – Everett! After I was stitched, Everett found his way to the breast to nurse. He latched on right away and was happy to be eating. Alison then took Everett’s measurements, heart rate, and got his weight. He was 20.8” and weighed 8lbs, 6 oz. Jeff and I both thought that he looked so small when in reality he was a fairly big baby! The midwives stayed with us a while longer to examine Everett and I then they left us alone as a new family of three (four if you count Timothy). The experience of having a home birth was phenomenal. I loved the comfort of being in our own home. Our family came over the next few days to make sure we were well fed, our house was cleaned, and our garden was even planted for us!

Having a baby is strange – beautiful, but strange! When I saw Everett for the first time I knew that I loved him without a doubt, but I remember thinking that I loved my dog more than him. Yup! I remember lying in bed thinking, wow, I love my dog more than my baby, I probably shouldn’t have a kid! The first night we were getting ready to go to sleep and Everett started to scream at around 10 PM and all I could think was “what have we done?” It took time for me to fall deeply in love with him and that’s something I wasn’t prepared for. I felt somewhat disconnected from the whole thing, Alison assured me that that was normal, but I wish that as mothers we talked about that experience more! I think that’s why skin-to-skin is so important for parents and babies. The next few weeks were challenging, my hormones were somewhat everywhere and I was a little nervous to be responsible for a tiny human. Jeff took two weeks off of work when Everett was born and I’m so glad we had that time together as a family. Jeff took the lead with diaper changes and would walk with Everett in the night while I was healing from the birth. Jeff was the more patient parent right out of the gate, it all seemed to come really natural to him but it felt like a bit of a struggle for me. I had never been around baby’s much and even though we took a lot of classes, I still felt like I had a lot to learn.

Breastfeeding was hard! There was a lot of pain but I was determined to keep going with it. Everett had a tongue and a lip tie which at the time we decided to leave but in hindsight I think that was part of the reason we had such a battle finding a good latch. Luckily our midwives were great for showing us some different nursing positions and the lactation consultants were wonderful resources!

Everett is eight months old now and I really do love him more and more every day. Watching him grow and learn new things is so exciting. Birthing him was challenging, but by far my greatest accomplishment in life. I am so proud of what my body has done. Having a home-birth, for me, was the ultimate way of conquering my fear of childbirth. I absolutely loved the experience of it all. Before I had him, a friend of mine said that she wished she could birth a baby every day – I thought she was crazy! But I understand what she meant now as I, too, wish I could birth a baby every day. It is the most wonderful and empowering thing I have ever been a part of. What a beautiful gift, and honour, it is to be able to grow and birth a human being!

Story and photographs submitted by Tessa N. 

One Giant Push Without Pain Meds: “He’s Coming!”

One Giant Push Without Pain Meds: “He’s Coming!”

I am once again reminded that nothing is gained by worrying. I was more anxious about this birth than the others. But this baby is our New Hope. I kept reminding myself throughout pregnancy that my hope comes from the Lord. That He is in control. As induction drew nearer I found more things to worry about. Labor and delivery has never worked out exactly according to our plan, but each of our births have been so empowering and a reminder of God’s providence. I had to believe this one would be no different.

new hope, hospital birth, birth without fear

I keep thinking about how well everything went. I had regular contractions for days, thinking that I would be going into spontaneous labor before our scheduled induction date. Because of those contractions I stopped taking the Lovanox shots earlier than anticipated, per doctor’s orders. But labor never truly began. On Sunday morning, the day before my scheduled induction, I called Dr. G to ask what to do since I had been off the shots for four days already. He advised to go into labor and delivery to get checked and see about starting my induction early.

Once we got there they checked me and I was 4cm dilated! Those contractions had been making progress. I was taken to a room to start the induction. Our baby was coming. Excitement filled the room.

I didn’t start the induction with my drug of choice because I was too far dilated already, but instead went straight to the dreaded Pitocin. Pitocin got the contractions going but I could still easily talk through them. Contractions got to every 2 to 3 minutes, but they didn’t feel like they were doing much. This was not at all what I expected from Pitocin.

My friend, S, became my labor and delivery nurse at the shift change, 2 1/2 hours into the induction. Had we waited until Monday, my scheduled date, she wouldn’t have been there. She didn’t have any other patients during my labor so she was with me the entire time. She was my midwife. She was my doula. She advocated for me. She believed in me. She was amazing.

After talking over the risks and benefits of breaking my water with S, and seeing how labor wasn’t really progressing, we made the decision to go ahead with it. It sounded like it would make my body do more of the natural labor things by releasing the prostaglandins and inducing stronger contractions. Breaking my water wasn’t part of my plan, but it was definitely the right thing. I was still at 4cm when they checked just before breaking the water, over three hours after the start of the induction. It almost immediately made the contractions more intense. I could no longer talk through them. And at that point I just pretended it was natural labor. I was hooked to the IV and Electronic Fetal Monitoring the whole time, but I moved around as much as I wanted to, which wasn’t farther than the side of the bed.

Just after breaking my water, the anesthesiologist came in to discuss epidurals, or whatever it is they have to talk to each patient about. S asked him to come back later so she could help me clean up a little first. The doctor said that I may be asking for him soon though since she just broke my water. S responded, “No she won’t.” Love her! I suggested we push this baby out before he had a chance to come back.

The Hubby was amazing. He is the best labor partner I could ever ask for. He jumps at every opportunity to help and support me, to comfort me, to encourage me. He asks all the right questions when I forget to. He remembers the things that we need to be mindful of during and after labor. He knows me so well, he turns on the right music, reminds me of my birth affirmations, and offers other comfort measures at exactly the right times.

Sometime during this intense labor I looked at the clock and told Hubby we were having this baby before midnight. Baby Skywalker would share a birthday with my mom. As I stood next to the bed I started to feel pushy. I said he was going to come soon. S called the doc back in to check dilation. S and Hubby helped me on the bed. The doc checked and I was at 8cm. No sooner had she left the room than I yelled, “He’s coming!” The pediatric nurse ran across the room and caught him. I think he came out with one giant push. I pushed his head out and it felt like his body just slipped out behind.

I can’t believe it was so fast. Four and a half hours from the start of the Pitocin drip. I can’t believe I did it without pain meds. I can’t believe I got the natural feeling birth I wanted with an induction in a high risk pregnancy. I didn’t even have issues with the placenta. It was out within 10 minutes of birth, and with a history of retained placenta, that was an amazing feat. This birth that had me so worried was empowering.

birth without fear, new hope

We had uninterrupted skin-to-skin time for the first hour. It was amazing. I hadn’t expected that much time with him in the hospital setting. After 30 minutes of laying on my chest, he pushed himself up, leaned over, and landed directly on my nipple and started nursing like he knew what he was doing. I had heard of the breast crawl, but didn’t experience it with my girls. The nurses waited until he took a break from nursing before they moved him to the warming table to check his weight and other vitals they didn’t do while he was on my chest. They quickly returned him to me and he nursed some more.

I was totally comfortable in the hospital environment, which I didn’t expect. I labored how I wanted to, how my body needed to. I made a LOT of noise! But I warned them ahead of time that I’m a loud laborer. We talked about our options for pain meds at the very beginning, but I had also requested that they not ask me during labor if I wanted pain meds, that I would let them know if I needed them, and they respected that. I never did see that anesthesiologist again.

Baby Skywalker has been a very sleepy baby. He has awake moments too, but he is very calm and just looks around. After four days of painful engorgement, things are started to even out and he is nursing like a champ. He is a joy to have in our family. He is a great reminder to keep our hope in the Lord. To trust that He has everything under control. His Plan is always the perfect plan. Even when we don’t know what will come next.

Stats: Born December 4, 2016 at 8:58pm. 7lbs 7oz, 20″ long.

birth without fear, new hope

Originally published by Rebekah R. on A Pastorale.

Embracing the Unexpected: Akash’s Birth Story

Embracing the Unexpected: Akash’s Birth Story

Life has a funny way of taking what we plan and completely turning it on its head. Akash’s birth was no exception to this rule. Throughout 2016, William and I had taken several leaps of faith. However, even in the midst of moving hectically four times, navigating an unexpected job change for William, and rolling with life’s other twists and turns, we were fastidious in planning Akash’s transition from the womb to earth through a homebirth. Besides working closely with our midwife, we read, googled, watched documentaries, and meditated our way to facilitating a smooth transition for this little miracle of a being.

Throughout the pregnancy, I was incredibly fortunate to feel energized and healthy for the most part, save for a salmonella scare in May. I was in great awe of the work my body was doing without any intervention from me and that I could grow an entire human after having received just one extra cell. To encourage our baby’s development, I ate wholesome foods, exercised regularly, and even chose my environment, music, reading material, and movies carefully. I strongly felt anything that passed through me could make its way to Akash. By the time mid-November rolled around, I was feeling strong, prepared, and ready to settle into motherhood. I was convinced that I had done what was needed to have the birth we had planned. Even though William reminded me that we have to be open to anything, I was sure that with my health and the work we had put into creating an optimum space for this event, all would be fine.

Starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I began to experience strong Braxton Hicks almost every morning. Sometimes they would even increase in intensity and I would tell William that today might be the day, only to have everything dissipate by noon. Eventually I began to wonder if my body was missing some sort of starter mechanism – almost as if it was trying to get things moving but couldn’t quite make it happen. Regardless, I increased the length and frequency of my walks and we tried herbs and other exercise tricks our midwife recommended to invite Akash earth side with a bit more urgency.

Soon his December 1st due date had passed and more days ticked by with nothing but Braxton Hicks. He also still hadn’t dropped into my pelvis, which is unusual for a first baby by this point. We went in for an ultrasound on Monday, December 12th to make sure all was well. While all seemed fine, we had to do some follow up testing to ensure he was able to move around enough. Even though he had moved frequently during the follow up testing, we were still strongly encouraged to get an induction that day and I left feeling disheartened and nervous for what was to come, as that visit was the first time that someone had said outright that my body and baby may not be capable of doing this job on their own. I felt a tremendous wave of fear, frustration, and loss that evening as it was seriously considered for the first time that the home birth we had worked so hard to plan may not come to be. In retrospect, this swirl of emotions may have likely laid the groundwork for the experience that would come to be.

The next morning we went to meet with our midwife, Michelle, and found that his position was still not conducive to birth and he had a slight dip in his heart rate during our monitoring. We decided we would go back for a follow up ultrasound to make sure everything was still going well. That ultrasound indicated there was meconium in the waters, which can lead to complications after birth. Between his position, the earlier drop in heart rate, and this new development, we decided William and I would check into the hospital for additional monitoring and try a cervical induction method.

Once hooked up on the monitor at the hospital, it was clear his heart rate was strong and steady and I received medicine to thin my cervix and hopefully initiate contractions. Luckily the procedure was all done by 5:30 and we were able to go downstairs and see my mom’s holiday concert, as she sings in the hospital choir. The baby seemed to enjoy their rendition of Jingle Bells in particular, as I had quite the flurry of kicks and spins!

We went back to our room and I began to bounce on the birthing ball as if my life depended on it for a while. After my parents brought us dinner, William and I relaxed and he dozed off, but my night was just beginning. Contractions began around 9:30 and came anywhere from 2-6 minutes apart for much of the night. While the intensity wasn’t too serious, I began to feel hopeful that things were finally moving downwards. The contractions lasted through the night and the hospital gave us the ok to go home and try to continue the process in our own space.

While they dissipated a bit in the car, I spent much of Wednesday on the couch trying to sleep between the contractions, where were a steady 7 minutes apart. William spent the day preparing our home with the final touches and organizing the birth supplies that we had spent so long curating and excitedly preparing.

Michelle came over around 5pm, as the contractions were a steady 6 minutes apart. She checked and found that I was still just 1 centimeter dilated and we decided it would make sense for me to try to get some more rest, as sleep had been in short supply. Her plan for early labor was to rest for a bit and work for a bit, and I was grateful for purposeful time to let my body relax and was surprised how I was able to more or less doze through the contractions when I really let myself go.

When I came back down from the nap, it was time to get to work. I walked up and down stairs, tried squatting, bouncing on the ball, and doing lunges. Michelle encouraged me to sink deeper and deeper into each contraction and William was a phenomenal support, as I would often lean into him during the most intense moments of each one. We would chant “Aum” together to help me breathe through the peak of the rush and I found incredible comfort and fortitude in this shared experience.

We took another rest later on and when I came down at 11:30pm we found my waters had broken slightly and I had a steady trickle. Now we were really starting to gain hope, though the contractions were still 6 minutes apart or so. We did a quick check and it did seem he had moved down slightly as well. We went back to work for a bit, but this was interrupted by me getting sick and needing to vomit. Luckily, I felt revived after that and was able to keep walking and trying methods of sinking into each rush. When I could rally to say make more noise than just a moan, I would often chant Open along with Aum interchangeably during each rush as a way to remind my body what we were trying to accomplish and spiral my hips to encourage our baby to spin downwards.

Around 1:30am on Thursday morning, Patti, a nurse and home birth midwife who specializes in uterine massage, joined us. She worked on my uterus for almost two hours, trying to coax our baby down and help my muscles coordinate their actions to facilitate this process. It also became clear that getting sick was going to be part of this experience, as I again had to throw up in the middle of her work. Her gentle touch and presence was incredibly important during the darkest time of the night, as she has a very calming presence even in the midst of such intensity.

After her visit we did some more walking and trying to find ways to move to increase the intensity and frequency of the contractions, but to no avail and I felt like I desperately needed some more rest. Around 5:30 I was woken by the strongest rushes of intensity I had felt yet. I had to keep reminding myself that every sensation I was experiencing was coming from my own muscles and my own body so they could not overpower me, because the intensity was created by me. Michelle had called the rest of our home birth team by this point and Allie, her assistant, and Gillian, our secondary midwife, were there when I made it back out to the living room. Their quiet synergy allowed William and me to be enveloped in conscious and deliberate care, without our space being intruded on. I was so grateful for this balance as I was trying to navigate this seeming next stage of the labor process with the ever-increasing intensity.

birthing tubDespite our best efforts, the intensity again waned and we decided to do another check. It was incredibly disheartening to find that, after 36 hours of contractions, I was only 2 centimeters dilated. At this point, the five of us had to have a conversation because my water had been broken for long enough that the risk of infection could start increasing. We decided that we were going to spend the next couple hours doing everything and anything we could to get this baby out at home and then revisit all the options we had.

William and I took this opportunity to go for a walk to the bottom of the driveway and visit our favorite neighborhood dog. Getting a bit of sun and fresh air felt absolutely amazing and I felt like we were able to recenter and ground ourselves back down to this seemingly endless journey. Upon arrival back at the cabin, we changed the music from our quiet and steady yogic chants to more upbeat Thievery Corporation, which William eventually changed to a psytrance DJ to really get the mood up. We filled the tub and I tried a couple different positions there, as well as more squatting and stairs.

Regardless of our efforts however, no progress was being made and it was now around 1pm on Thursday. Still getting sick occasionally and running on little sleep, I was becoming increasingly exhausted and finding it harder and harder to really sink into the contractions and give my body full permission to use them to open. The process began to feel more like a fight and my mind began to swirl with doubt in my ability to find the light at the end of the tunnel, literally and figuratively.

After a long conversation, we decided to call the hospital, as it seemed this baby needed a stronger invitation to join us, as the risks for complications were getting higher. Of course, just as we were able to leave, I sank into my strongest waves of contractions yet. We thought we had another glimmer of hope for a home birth, but this was short lived and eventually we made our way back to the hospital.

hospital roomWilliam drove us to the hospital and we didn’t talk much, just sharing the space and accepting the experience we were being given. He wheeled me up to the Birth Place and they put us in a room so we could get settled. William quickly went to work, hanging Christmas tree lights and setting up a makeshift version of the birth altar we had created at home. The twinkling lights and vibrant energy created by the altar helped ease this transition and made the space feel much more like our own which was exactly what we needed at that moment.

After conversations with Michelle and the midwife from the hospital, we decided that I would get a saline bag to start and see how things were going once I could get more hydrated. Once I was all set up, my parents and sister were able to join us briefly and they came with such love and support for us in the midst of an experience they knew would be challenging for us. Around this time, William and I decided that I would receive an epidural. Even though the contractions were less intense than they had been at home, I felt myself fighting them more and more and was no longer able to embrace them and facilitate the opening that needed to happen. After the saline bag had finished, the anesthesiologist came in to administer the epidural.

Once the epidural was in, I was laying in bed and looking at William when I noticed he was getting very hard to focus on and there were spots of darkness permeating my vision. I tried to focus closely on him but was unable to really narrow in on his face and I told the nurse I was feeling dizzy. Initially she did not seem too concerned but than I really stressed how it was getting worse and they found that my blood pressure was dipping because I had not been hydrated enough after being sick for so long. She immediately gave me oxygen and had me breathe into the mask. This made me sick, however, and she quickly gave me a bag. Unfortunately my blood pressure was not going up and they called another nurse in and had me turn onto my hands and knees. I lost track of what they were doing but I knew things were tense in the room. When I asked where William was and they said he had gone to the bathroom, I became more concerned because he hadn’t left my side once during this whole time, and I knew for him to excuse himself the numbers on the monitors must be concerning. They gave me Ephedrine to bring my blood pressure back up, but unfortunately the baby’s heart rate rose along with it to 186, while it should have been staying below 160. Luckily we had an incredible nurse who kept us all calm at this time and we all encouraged the baby to slow down a bit and waited for the Ephedrine to wear off for both of us.

After that episode, they wanted to wait before adding Pitocin to start contractions and instead let both Akash and I recover. By now it was 8:30 and William and I were grateful for the rest. He fell into a deep sleep almost immediately, while I just enjoyed the pain relief of the epidural. It felt truly incredible to feel my body relax completely for the first time since Tuesday and I enjoyed chatting with the nurse.

At 11:30 they checked my dilation again and we were all excited to find that I was now 9 1/2 centimeters. However, Akash still had not moved down at all and we decided to wait a few more hours to see if any further contractions could help move him along. Since nothing was going to happen quite yet, I decided William should keep sleeping and my mom was able to come in and be with me for a bit. It was truly full circle for us, as she had had a challenging labor with me in the same hospital almost exactly 29 years earlier.

By 3:30 on Friday morning he still had not made any progress and we decided to start Pitocin. The midwife from the hospital had me start pushing around 4 am. By this time Michelle was back and we had our favorite nurse from our first hospital stay with us as well. The four of them were an amazing team and fully involved William in the process.

Michelle was an incredible coach for the next two and a half hours. There were many times when it felt like I was pushing with everything I had but not making any process and the sensations were more intense than anything I’d every felt. I was giving everything I thought I had, but when the sensations got stronger, that’s when Michelle told me to embrace that even more. By this point I had forgotten any sense of modesty and was yelling with a volume that matched the intensity of the sensations I was feeling and had completely lost any sense of myself in this process.

There was one moment in particular when I started to get a bit frantic with feeling like this was never going to happen and Michelle looked me right in the eyes and told me to use my breath and center myself and that I knew how to do this. I quickly realized how far I’d gone from my practice and ability to dive into myself and rallied around her words. I fell back on an old rowing practice and focused on taking sets of ten “power breaths,” taking a break between each set. For each set of ten breaths I gave everything I knew how to give and then quickly fell back on the support of the birthing ball behind me when I was done.

Soon Michelle told me to reach down and that I’d be able to feel his head and when I did, I couldn’t believe it. While I could also feel we still had a way to go, I knew that we were also getting closer. This gave me much needed hope and I again leaned into my breath and gave everything I had.

Before I knew it, William said they could see the head about to crown and I gave a few more of the strongest pushes I knew how to give. All of the sudden I heard the exclamations of excitement from everyone and I realized the baby was out! William had been able to catch him and announced that “Shiva was here” to share that he was a boy, before placing him on my chest. I couldn’t believe he was here and just told him again how much I loved him as I tried to take him all in.

Soon he was making it clear it was time for a snack and we gently helped him find my breast, where he quickly latched on and made himself at home. During these first few moments of nursing I also realized the placenta was on it’s way down and after a couple easy pushes, that came out smoothly as well. While Akash was nursing he was still attached to the placenta and it was truly surreal to see him transition from the connection we had shared for so long, to this new one we were both trying to figure out. Soon William was invited to cut the cord and Akash was at once separated from me, yet attached in a whole new way.

breastfeeding, nursingThe day in the hospital was spent sharing our joy with family and then settling in a bit together. Later, we were surprised to hear from the midwife from the hospital that Akash had actually never dropped significantly and that this was the highest vaginal birth she’d seen. Throughout the day the nurses were all wonderful and helped us give Akash his first bath and showed us a few tricks to help make him more comfortable. After a celebratory dinner from the hospital, they let us go home that night and we went to settle into the cabin together.

This entire experience was by far the most humbling one I have had yet. Even though it seemed like for so long that things “should” go a certain way, our experience was so different and still so perfect and beautiful. We were able to share the process more with family, we received incredible care on all levels, and we both have a new appreciation for how western medicine can be used positively and compassionately. While I initially struggled with feeling like I had failed because of the interventions we chose to use, I now feel we were given the opportunity to have the interventions because I needed to learn to not be attached to the way I think things should be or value one experience over another. We truly have to give our best efforts for all that which we can control, and accept and embrace that which we cannot. I have no doubt Akash will continue to show us this, and so many other important lessons throughout our journey ahead and we could not be more thrilled he has decided to join us at long last.

Submitted by Lily V.

Full-Term Breastfeeding

Full-Term Breastfeeding

I want to share a picture with you all.

This was taken on August 19th, 2015 – the day Jack turned 5…the 5th anniversary of our breastfeeding journey. When he was born, I had educated myself a lot about breastfeeding and knew that I was going to do it—I was going to succeed—it was the normal and optimal food for my baby. But I didn’t have anything like Cafe au Lait. I had never been to a La Leche League meeting… I didn’t really have any close breastfeeding mama friends yet at the time, and I hadn’t really ever seen a mom breastfeeding her child. But my instincts were powerful, and Jack latched on in his first few minutes of life.

By keeping him with me, nursing him often and following his lead, our nursing relationship grew, evolved and blossomed over the years. We luckily never ran into any issues and I quickly learned that breastfeeding was so much more than nutrition – it became how I mothered. I wasn’t only nourishing and growing his perfect little body ­– I was meeting his every physical and emotional need in the most natural and amazing way. In return, the relationship was also so very healing for my soul and mental health – not only as a new mom, but as a woman: after spending most of my life hating my body and abusing it through an eating disorder (spending so many years wishing my boobs would disappear because they were “extra fat on my body”), watching my son thrive and grow on the milk my body made was just the most intensely awesome thing.

He continued to nurse through my pregnancy with Wyatt (he turned 3 two weeks before Wyatt was born); and when our new baby joined us, my two boys nursed together. Tandem nursing was an amazing experience – one that truly made me feel like “mother earth” and was a HUGE benefit in helping Jack in adjusting to our new family member. Instead of this new baby taking his mom away from him, tandem nursing allowed the transition to be seamless and natural.

Those early days of newborn bliss and our new family of four were so beautiful and special (not that every moment is perfection of course, but when I look back on it I absolutely remember it that way). Jack continued to nurse here and there as Wyatt grew older, but his sips of milk grew further apart, mostly asking for a sip during the day and at bedtime. Knowing that both the nutritional and immunological benefits are ALWAYS there, I was glad that he still wanted to drink my “liquid gold”.

I took this picture on Jack’s 5th birthday because I knew that our days of breastfeeding weren’t going to last forever (though I remember in sweet bedtime discussions when Jack was little, him saying that he’d never wean and he’d drink milk until he was in his 40s). At some point between that day and his recent 6th birthday, he stopped asking for milk. It wasn’t an “event” I could pinpoint the date of… there was no “last time” that I can really recall in my head…but gradually and in his own time, I can now say he has weaned.

I felt from the beginning that I wanted to give my kids the option to breastfeed until they outgrew the need. As my kids grew, they didn’t only want milk when they were hungry or thirsty – they wanted to nurse when they fell on the playground, or when their feelings were just too big to handle—and I was more than happy to take the time to cuddle them and nurture them in the most natural way I could – to offer my breasts. Wyatt is now 3 and I am currently almost in week 18 of my third pregnancy. He still drinks some milk at bedtime, but at this point, there isn’t a ton coming out. He’s been fine with it and is perfectly happy snuggling in as we read together before they fall asleep. I totally look forward to the days of milk abundance when the new baby is here and Wyatt can join baby, just like his big brother did with him.

Of course, not all moms choose to nurse until their little ones outgrow the need – and that’s okay! Our topic at La Leche League of Mt. Lebanon this past week was Full-Term Nursing and Child-Led Weaning (if you know me, you know I cringe at the term “extended nursing” because there’s really nothing “extended” about it and I really don’t like what that phrase implies). There are SO many benefits to continuing to breastfeed for as long as is mutually desirable for both mom and child, though there are many roadblocks that can unfortunately get in the way. That’s why I’m passionate about empowering, encouraging and supporting moms to make the choices that feel right to them – not to talk them into making the same choices I did, but to making the choices that feel right for their families.

Remember: for as little or as long as you breastfeed, you are giving your child(ren) a priceless gift of physical and mental health, and a connection that builds a lifetime of love, trust and confidence that will be special to you forever.

Breastfeeding After a C-Section

Breastfeeding After a C-Section

breastfeeding, c-section, cesareanThere is a general trending increase in C-sections. Some women are choosing to while others have to through necessity. Whatever the reason, childbirth is an amazing experience and should be celebrated whether it is a vaginal birth or a C-section.

Can a woman breastfeed after a C-section?
The short answer is yes she can.

We have come up with a few simple suggestions to help aid and guide you through your breastfeeding journey.

Educate yourself
If you choose to have a C-section it would be our advice to educate yourself before the birth. Build realistic expectations of what your body will be capable of and the recovery period necessary.

Ask for help
Lactation consultants and midwives are wonderful and very knowledgeable. They will help aid and support you through the initial stages when baby is learning to latch and you are getting use to different feeding positions.

Most women will find that lying on their backs immediately after a C-section to breastfeed is preferred, due to the numbness and lack of feeling in the lower half of there body.

As time progresses lying on your side to breastfeed is recommended with the aid of pillows.

Whatever position you decide to go for, make sure you are comfortable and relaxed, as newborn babies can take a while to feed.

breastfeeding, c-section, cesareanNurse early
It is recommended to try and breastfeed early. As soon as the baby is delivered, place the baby on your chest and attempt to breastfeed while lying on your back.

Women who have Cesarean Sections will usually find that their milk comes in a little later. Attempting to breastfeed early helps to promote bonding, provides stimulation to the breast and helps to encourage the milk to come in earlier.

It is important to understand that a delay in milk production is normal with a C-section birth. Be patient, as it will happen.

Breast only
During the initial stages of breastfeeding you may have thoughts of giving up and may want to try alternatives such as bottle feeds and pacifiers.

Introducing teats and pacifiers may confuse baby as he or she learns to feed off the breast. The latch required to feed effectively off a breast is very different to a latch on a teat.

Avoid the temptation of using anything other than your breast to begin with (if possible). This will help speed things up.

breastfeeding, c-section, cesareanSupport
It is important to understand that the recovery after a C-section takes time. Arrange for a support team to help you out at home in the early stages. Your mobility will not be as it used to be for sometime. Be patient with your body and take the necessary care of yourself. This way you will heal quicker.

Breastfeeding is a unique experience and if you take the time to speak to multiple women you will soon begin to understand that every one’s experience is different.

You should always be mindful and realistic, as your journey may not necessarily be an easy one.

Perservere and the rewards will be huge.

Author bio
Like many women out there, Tracey Montford is an exceptional multi-tasker! Apart from steering a global business, managing two young boys & keeping the clan clean and fed, Tracey still finds time to provide creative inspiration and direction to the exceptional designs of Cake Maternity. From the branding, presentation and delivery, creativity is a big part of what Tracey does so naturally and effectively. Catch up with her on social media at @cakematernity!

Reality of Breastfeeding…Where are the Rainbows?

Reality of Breastfeeding…Where are the Rainbows?

Let’s talk about breastfeeding for a moment. While it would be wonderful if all babies magically nursed perfectly, well…they don’t.

breastfeed without fear

Similar to pregnancy, birth, and motherhood…. breastfeeding is another life lesson that can push us to our limits. It’s a *journey* all of its own.

Out of six children, I have nursed four. I’ve also used formula, pumped (a lot), made my own formula, donated milk, and breastfed babies and toddlers. Also, out of six children, #beardbaby is the only one to come out and latch perfectly (it’s because of the beard magic).

There is no one perfect way for every person, baby, and situation. Yes, breastmilk is a perfect food and our babies are meant to have it. In an ideal world all mothers would make enough milk, all babies would have the perfect latch, and rainbows would appear when we figure it out.

breastfeed without fear

Reality is not always ideal though. What I’m saying is, work hard to give your babies the best nutrition you can, but give yourself grace when it’s hard. Mamas need to be healthy not just physically, but also emotionally and mentally. Do what is best for you, your baby, and your family. Do not care what others say or think. This goes for breastfeeding how and where you please, or if you choose to pump, use donated milk, or use formula.

What matters is you are healthy, your baby is healthy, and your baby is loved and fed. You are doing your best. You are doing enough. Feed and love without fear.

breastfeed without fear

Photography by Leilani Rogers Photographer.

Breastfed Babies are Better, Nursing a 3 Year Old is Gross, And Other Bullshit

Breastfed Babies are Better, Nursing a 3 Year Old is Gross, And Other Bullshit

When my oldest was a year old, a friend told me that my baby and I couldn’t be as bonded as her and her baby because we bottlefed and she breastfed. I wasn’t necessarily offended, as I was confused. I had a very deep bond with my baby and was madly in love her, so how could she claim that? To this day my daughter and I have a special connection.

What pretentious, judgmental bullshit that was. It is absolutely ridiculous when mothers judge each other over breastfeeding and bottlefeeding (it goes both ways). I am not talking about educating or sharing information, but flat out arguing, being snobby, gossiping, and being hateful. If a baby is fed and everyone is happy, keep your mouth shut and fingers off the keyboard.

My goodness ladies, there are bigger problems! Like hungry babies fucking dying. If you are so upset that you need to tear another mother down, get on a damn plane and fly somewhere and nurse those babies. Or feed people in your community because there are starving children right in your neighborhood!

You don’t think women who feed their babies formula know breast is best? No shit. But you know what? You aren’t living their life. You aren’t dealing with their past abuse issues, or postpartum depression and anxiety, or cracked bleeding nipples, or whatever else led to their choice.

A woman wants to cover or not when she nurses, that’s her choice. She wants to nurse her two or three year old, not your problem.

NEWS FLASH: You don’t have to always share your opinions. <— Read it again. Wish I realized that in my 20’s.

So, let me tell you about these two pictures.

january harshe fed is best

Both are same mom, same baby, same day. Both are of a mom who loves her baby with every fiber of her being. Both are of a baby who is loved, fed, sheltered, and adored. Both are of a mom and baby bonding. Both have a baby’s tummy getting full. Both are of a mom doing what she feels best at the given time. There are more similarities than differences.

Mamas, you do you and let others be them without your opinions. Breastfeed without fear, bottle-feed without fear, pump without fear, just feed those babies! We are all in the trenches of motherhood together and we are all going through our own struggles and journeys. Remember when we take a stand to take back postpartum, we also embrace variations of normal. So be a nice fucking human and raise kind people, because that’s what our babies need.

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