Introducing Younger Brother

Kid #2, who shall henceforth go by the pseudonym of Younger Brother, has arrived!  Eleven days early and nearly nine pounds.  He is healthy and adorable and relatively calm for a newborn.

Close-up image of a newborn baby's foot.

I like a good birth story, so I’ll write up the details of my labor for a later post.  I never went into labor with my older son (who was breech and born via C-section), so this birth was an entirely new and different experience.  Recovery has been much easier.

(Side note: You might have noticed that I’ve changed some blog things recently—like the name—to reflect my graduation and changing life.  Those updates aren’t completely finished, so please pardon the mess!)

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There’s new advice for new parents

It’s been a busy week when it comes to telling new parents what they should and shouldn’t do.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released several new policies, and the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reviewed and updated their recommendations on breastfeeding support.  Even though Little Boy is well past infancy, I’m still very interested in the science of infant care (and we might decide to have another kid), so I’ve been paying attention.  Let’s take a look at each of the new policies.

Kids & screen time

The general message of the AAP’s new policy statement on media use by young children is familiar: choose age-appropriate media, talk to your kids about what they’re watching, and turn off the TV (and other devices) before bed.  But there are a few key updates worth pointing out:

  • They’ve lowered the age of “no digital media” from 2 years to 18 months: you are now allowed to introduce “high-quality programming” to your 18-month-old if you so choose.  I’m pleased with this recommendation, because it agrees with my observations of child development.  Little Boy was 17 or 18 months old when he started really caring about Sesame Street.  By age 2, he knew all the characters and could identify the letter C (is for Cookie) in other contexts.  The old ‘kids don’t get anything out of TV before age 2’ policy seemed frankly incorrect.
  • For children under 18 months, the “avoid digital media” recommendation now explicitly says video-chatting is OK.  It’s a little thing—I mean, we all kind of figured that Skyping with Grandma didn’t really count as “screen time”—but it shows that the AAP put some thought into the various uses of media in modern society.
  • I also appreciate that this statement is included: “…there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy…”

Safe infant sleep

Again, most of the recommendations in the AAP’s new policy statement on infant sleep safety are things we’ve heard before.  Babies should sleep on their backs.  Avoid blankets and soft bedding.  Don’t smoke.  Offer a pacifier (nobody quite knows why, but pacifier use is associated with lower rates of SIDS).  In a few cases, though, the details have changed:

  • Room-sharing (baby sleeps in parents’ room but in his/her own crib or bassinet) is now explicitly encouraged for the first 6–12 months.  Popular media articles seem to be treating this as a shocking new development, but the old safe sleep policy already recommended room-sharing, just without a specific length of time.  The science around this is up for debate, though; it’s not clear if the references cited by the AAP really show strong support for room-sharing.  (Some thoughts from educated folk here and here.)
  • The AAP remains very strongly against bed-sharing; however, they now admit that parents get really fricking tired caring for new babies and sometimes falling asleep with your baby in bed is the least bad option.  While bed-sharing is most definitely not for me, I appreciate their concession to reality:

    However, the AAP acknowledges that parents frequently fall asleep while feeding the infant. Evidence suggests that it is less hazardous to fall asleep with the infant in the adult bed than on a sofa or armchair, should the parent fall asleep.

Supporting breastfeeding

The recommendation statement by the USPSTF, accompanied by an in-depth statistical analysis, addresses whether anything hospitals and medical professionals do actually increases breastfeeding rates, and if so, what interventions are most helpful.  They conclude, “with moderate certainty,” that breastfeeding support has a “moderate net benefit.”

That’s not terribly surprising, but there are some really, really interesting specifics in the report, highlighted in a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial:

  • There is no evidence that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) does any good.  If you’re unfamiliar with the BFHI, the idea is that hospitals can be certified if they implement a set of ten “baby-friendly” (read: breastfeeding-friendly) steps.  Some of these steps are controversial; for instance, if a new mother wants to formula-feed, the BFHI requires that hospital staff “educate her about the possible consequences to the health of her infant.”  Anyway, the USPSTF report determined that “individual-level interventions” (seeing a lactation consultant, attending a breastfeeding support group, etc.) were useful, while “system-level interventions” (the BFHI and other hospital policies) were not.
  • There is no benefit (in terms of breastfeeding duration) to completely avoiding formula during the newborn period.  Moms who supplement with formula before their milk comes in are just as successful at breastfeeding!  This is a big deal, because current breastfeeding advice tends to take an “any formula ever will ruin your breastfeeding relationship” approach.
  • Pacifiers are also OK!  Pacifier use is not associated with breastfeeding problems.  In fact, because pacifier use is associated with lower SIDS risk, the JAMA editorial goes so far as to say that

    routine counseling to avoid pacifiers may very well be ethically problematic.

Interestingly, when the USPSTF posted a draft of their recommendations back in April, there was apparently some concern about their choice to talk about the “support” of breastfeeding instead of the “promotion” of breastfeeding.  Because people are weird about this.

A letter to my baby on our second Mother’s Day

This is my response to


My dearest child,

This is our second Mother’s Day.  You haven’t the foggiest idea what that means yet, except that Daddy will give you a pen and ask you to draw all over my card, which you will do with great care and enthusiasm.  Because that’s what Mother’s Day means: it means I’m part of a family.

Before you were born, for all those months that I carried you in my womb, we were a family.  Your Daddy and I laid our hands together on my stomach to feel your hiccups.  We worked together to prepare you a room, and we went to classes to learn about your arrival.  My body did the hardest work of growing, but your Daddy was always there to keep me (and you) close.

The day you came into this world, the moment we met, I smiled and told your Daddy to follow you to the nursery.  His bare chest comforted you; his heartbeat soothed you.  You came to me an hour later, tiny and pink, and I was astonished—how could something this amazing have come from me?  Your Daddy helped me carefully hold you, carefully bring your tiny head to my breast.

Your first few weeks, we learned together how this family would work.  My milk fed you, but your father and I shared the journey of staying up with you late at night when you didn’t understand the difference between night and day.  I learned to pump milk so that others could nourish you in my absence.

Soon, you started to take a bottle with ease, and I rejoiced to watch you snuggle with your father and your grandparents.  I read you books and played with your toys—and so did they.  We all watched together as you learned to focus, learned to smile, learned to reach, learned to roll.  It was always you, and me, and our family.

After six weeks, I went back to work part-time, trading shifts with your father.  We woke at night together when you stirred, he to change your diaper, I to offer food to soothe your rumbly tummy.  I remember snuggling in the quiet night with you, alone in the darkness.  I also remember the nights when you would not sleep, when I cried and your Daddy came out to take over.

And then, you began to sleep through the night.  You no longer needed me in the darkest hours and I rejoiced.

I rejoiced because it was never about you and me, and how you needed me.  It was about you.  About you growing, gaining independence.  Watched and loved by two parents.

You need me now much less than you did in that first year.  You run on your own, and you wiggle away when I try to hold you tight.  Someday your father and I won’t need to change your diapers, or pick out your clothes, or slice your food up into bite-size pieces.  Someday you’ll be reading on your own, truly reading and not just the nonsense syllables you make now as you turn the pages for yourself.  You have grown so much, and I am so proud.

It was never just you and me, and we are all the more blessed for it.  You have learned that many people provide safety and comfort, and you have learned that Mommy and Daddy always, always come back.  You are making friends at daycare, and I delight in the joy that shows in your face as you run around together.

So this Mother’s Day, our second Mother’s Day, I am going to sleep in.  I am going to take Daddy up on his offer to watch you all day.  I don’t know what I’ll do yet with that time—maybe I’ll have lunch with a friend, or go shopping, or just curl up at home with a book.  Because I know that I need that break, and that I’ll be a better wife and mother for it.  Because I know your face will light up when I come back, just as it lights up when Daddy comes home from work.

Because I know you will always be my baby, even when I’m not around.

Love,

Mommy

We need to banish the phrase “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent”

If you’re spent any time on the “mommy internet” (forums, blogs, etc.), you’re bound to have come across the self-righteous mother.  You know, the one who made all the “best” choices in pregnancy and birth and parenting and can’t imagine that—gasp!—other people’s lives might be different.  One of Ms. Self-Righteous’s favorite things to say is this: “Well, that’s just what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Kid wakes up every 45 minutes all night long?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Bleeding nipples from trying to breastfeed?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Feeling stuck at home and missing adult interaction?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

It’s bratty, it’s common, and it needs to be banished forever.

For one, it rests on an utterly ridiculous assumption: that the person in question “signed up” to be a parent.  Some people do.  I did: the pregnancy that brought me Little Boy was very carefully planned and sought after.  But half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so chances are good, when you’re speaking to a strange woman on the internet, that she didn’t actually “sign up” to be a parent.  For some people, it just happens.

Second, do you know what this attitude reminds me of?  Hazing.  “You can’t complain about having to run around campus naked in sub-zero temperatures,” says the bro.  “It’s what you signed up for when you pledged this fraternity.”  We don’t allow that kind of excuse when it comes to college students, why should we allow it with new parents?

Third, while all parenting necessitates sacrifice, there is essentially no one specific hardship that is required by 100% of all parents.  Some women (me!) breastfeed with minimal pain.  Some babies actually do go to sleep easily, and some very lucky parents can afford a night nurse or postpartum doula to help when they don’t.  Heaps and heaps of parents balance parenthood and working, or parenthood and community service.  There’s no checklist of things you could “sign up for” to be a parent, even if you wanted to.

Fourth, it’s just plain mean.  Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment, and people need safe spaces to talk about that.  Even if someone is venting about something that seems completely shallow to you (“I can’t go out to the bar as often anymore!”), don’t be a brat.  They’re going through a major life transition and they need empathy, not self-righteousness.  If you can’t muster up any empathy, STFU.

Fifth and finally, this phrase and its variants tell us something very important about the speaker:  When you say this, what you’re really saying is that you’re insecure about your own parenting choices.  You’re angry and bitter about other people taking the “easy way out.”  That’s why one of my husband’s relatives was so insistent that formula-feeding mothers were “selfish”—she couldn’t handle the thought that it would’ve been OK if she’d switched to formula and skipped the hardships she’d faced while breastfeeding.  (For another example along the same lines, see this comment.)  It’s again very much like hazing: “I did it, so you must too, or else you’re not worthy.”

Look, sometimes you have to own your own decisions and accept that you did things the hard way.  We, for example, played a crazy game of alternating shifts to keep Little Boy out of daycare until he was eight months old.  In retrospect, that was unnecessary (except possibly for the money side of things).  We could’ve put him in daycare several months earlier and maybe been happier, without any sacrifice at all to his well-being.

You know what we don’t do?  We don’t go around trying to justify our decision by telling everyone that babies need to stay home with their parents for the first eight months.  We’re OK with the decision that we made, even if we might do it differently in retrospect.  Because here’s the thing: when it comes to parenting, if you really made the best choices for your family, then other people’s choices don’t matter.*  So take responsibility for your decisions and don’t be a smug jerk to compensate.

*Except for vaccination.  You’re putting my kid at risk if you don’t vaccinate yours.  Vaccines are awesome.  Make sure your children get them all.

What other parenting-related phrases should be banned forever?

Bye-bye, breast pump

Going back to school/work after Christmas is always hard, but there was one definite positive this week: I’m not pumping milk anymore!  We dropped the last middle-of-the-day nursing session over the holidays, when the excitement of travel and new toys made it relatively easy to coax Little Boy into changing his routine.  He’s still nursing, but only once a day, when he first wakes up in the morning.

It’s so nice to be done.  I didn’t particularly dislike pumping—it wasn’t terribly difficult for me, and my office on campus turned out to be nearly ideal as a lactation space.  But it was always a thing to do, a thing that I had to remember to do, a thing that took time to set up and put away.  It meant hauling another hefty bag to school every. single. day. and washing a bunch of tiny fiddly pieces every. single. day.  It came with a bunch of extra little tasks, like remembering to grab the milk from the mini-fridge at the end of the day, that made my mental load just a little bit larger.  Being done means that mental weight has lifted, along with the physical weight of that big ol’ bag.  It feels good.

Newborn vs. one-year-old: a comparison

Lately, I’ve found myself reminiscing about what it was like taking care of Little Boy a year ago, when he was first born, and comparing that to what it’s like today. I present to you the result of that comparison, in handy chart form.

Newborn One-Year-Old
Nighttime What is this thing you call “night,” Mom and Dad? Sleeps 11+ hours straight when not sick.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Nap Time Keep your fingers crossed that he’ll fall asleep nursing, and pray that he stays asleep for longer than 45 minutes. Lay him in crib with a kiss and an Elmo, turn off light, and close door.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Breastfeeding: Latching On Carefully hold his head in exactly the right position with one hand while awkwardly squashing the breast away from his nose. Vaguely aim the Boob Piranha in the right direction.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Breastfeeding: While You Wait Catch up on all your favorite TV shows and Netflix. Ban all sources of distraction including other people, the cat, and the sound of the washing machine.
Advantage: Newborn
Diaper Changes Squirmy with a chance of pee. Kid is bound and determined to grab himself.
Tie
Bath Time Balance baby carefully on a sling above the water. SPLASH PARTY!
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Evening Strolls Please stop screaming and go to sleep please go to sleep… Everyone relaxes and enjoys checking out their surroundings.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Playtime Playtime? Requires frequent parental intervention to avoid destroying the house.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Snuggles Almost constant. Infrequent, but the ones you get are real honest-to-goodness hugs.
Tie

And the winner is… the one-year-old!

My kid got a measles shot and I’m so excited!

Hooray!  Little Boy got his first MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) shot!

In fact, he got four shots today.  Besides the MMR, he received his first varicella (chickenpox) immunization, his fourth and final vaccine against pneumococcal meningitis, and his first of two flu shots this season (the first year kids get their flu shots, they need two doses).  His poor legs were festooned with superhero Band-Aids.

From my perspective, vaccines are one of humanity’s greatest achievements.  I will never have to watch my child struggle to breathe as he fights whooping cough.  Never have to fear the coming of summer for its threat of polio.  Never have to remember what diphtheria is or how to spell it.  I’ll never even have to get a smallpox vaccine, because it worked so well in previous generations.

The MMR gives me particular relief, because it means I can stop worrying about measles.  Little Boy has never been in any but the most remote danger of catching measles, but last winter’s Disneyland outbreak spread a little too close for comfort.  Measles is extremely contagious—more contagious than Ebola—and you can pass it on before you even know you’re sick.  When you’re the parent of a small baby, it’s scary, even though the flu is a much bigger risk from a numbers standpoint.

In conclusion: Hooray!

The year in baby sleep schedules

Continuing the theme of “first year of parenting in review,” I thought I’d share how Little Boy’s sleep habits developed over that time.  As far as I can tell, the timing of his nap transitions (going from all-over-the-place naps to 4 naps to 3 to 2) were pretty normal, but his sleep needs are a little higher than average overall (e.g., he’ll nap for two hours where a typical kid might only sleep for 90 minutes).

0–2 days: Hospital

Little Boy slept about as well as can be expected for someone who has been suddenly introduced to the world.  His mother, on the other hand, woke herself up every 20 minutes to make sure that he was still breathing.  (Also, she was rather uncomfortable—did you know that C-section pain can refer up to your shoulder?—and a bajillion hospital staff kept dropping in, but that’s another story.)

2 days–2 weeks: Establishing Breastfeeding

The hospital sent us home with instructions to feed Little Boy at least every 3–4 hours, even if that meant waking him up at night.

We’d initially planned to have him sleep in a bedside “co-sleeper” bassinet, but it turns out that (a) newborns are noisy, and (b) it’s not so easy to just reach over and pick up your baby when you’re recovering from a C-section.  So we moved the bassinet out to the living room and took shifts getting a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

2–3 weeks: Honeymoon Period

Little Boy was solidly above his birth weight at his two-week appointment, so we got our pediatrician’s blessing to let him sleep as long as he wanted at night.  Hooray!  He actually slept for a 6-hour stretch one night, which was amazing.

We knew it wouldn’t last, and it didn’t.  Little Boy’s interest in falling and staying asleep declined rapidly.

3–5 weeks: Honeymoon Period, Part 2

Swaddle and swing to the rescue!  For a roughly week-long period of time, we had it figured out again.  Little Boy’s routine looked like this: wake up, diaper change, eat, fall asleep eating, get Velcroed into a swaddle burrito, lie in baby swing, sleep.  And he’d sleep for 3 or 4 hours at a time.  I actually got kind of worried that he wasn’t eating enough, since he was only asking for food 4–5 times a day, and here were all of these baby care resources telling me that 8–12 times a day was normal.  But he’d nurse for an hour at a time when he did eat, so I guess it all evened out.

In retrospect, I should’ve maybe tried waking him up for regular meals during the day, to help him differentiate between day and night.  At the time, however, we were so grateful for any extended stretch of sleep that we took what we could get.

5–6 weeks: Hell Week(s)

The 6-week fussiness peak is notorious among parents, and Little Boy embraced it with gusto.  Life was starting to get interesting, too interesting.  There were little birds on his swing!  A Mommy and Daddy to smile at!  He was no longer in his own little world, but he couldn’t quite process the rest of the world yet.  The result was a cranky baby who did not sleep.

Baby sleep cycles are 45 minutes long at this age, so that’s how long naps lasted.  Sometimes it was because he was hungry, but usually it was because his little brain couldn’t transition to the next sleep cycle even though he was tired and wanted to keep sleeping.  My own brain practically lost the ability to fall asleep at all for a while.

If you’re a parent going through Hell Week,

1.  I’m sure you’ve tried everything already, but here are some tips that might help.

2.  Feel free to smack anyone who tells you to “enjoy every moment.”

6–9 weeks: Night Sleep Started Developing

Things started to slowly settle down after the 6-week bump.  By 8 weeks old, Little Boy was consistently falling asleep for the night around 10 or 11 p.m. and staying asleep until he got hungry around 3 or 4 a.m.  Somewhere in this time frame is when we introduced a regular bedtime routine.  Nights went roughly like this:

8:30 p.m. (ish, depending on when he last ate) — bath, PJs, nurse

10. p.m. or so — Little Boy falls asleep in his swing

3/4 a.m. — nurse

next few hours — Little Boy maybe sleeps, maybe fidgets and grunts a lot

6:30 or 7 a.m. (ish) — he wakes up for the day

Naps were still chaotic and unpredictable.  For the most part, Little Boy fell asleep nursing and would sleep for either 45 minutes or several hours, but rarely for a time period in-between.

9–13 weeks: Moved Towards a 4-Nap Routine

“Schedule” is still much too strong a word at this point.  We had noticed that Little Boy was hungry for 4 or 5 meals during the day (plus his night feeding), so we encouraged a routine that had him eating 5 times between about 7 a.m. in the morning and 8:30 p.m. or so at night.  He was no longer regularly falling asleep while nursing, so he’d wake up, eat, hang out awake for a bit, then take a nap.

In a perfect world, he would’ve slept until he got hungry again, but we were still plagued by the 45-Minute Nap Monster.  A 45-minute lap left Little Boy grouchy and still tired, but not particularly interested in eating again just yet.

We flipped his bedtime routine from bath, nurse, bed to nurse, bath, bed (and added a story and song before bed).  His longest night shift stretched until 4 or 5 a.m., which would have been great if he had gone back to sleep easily after that wee-hours feeding.  Fortunately, by 12 weeks old, he was starting to occasionally skip night feedings completely.

The worst part, however, was that he began to seriously fight bedtime.  It took increasingly-longer periods of swinging, rocking, singing, and nursing to relax him enough to fall asleep, after which we had to wait anxiously for the 45-minute mark to see if he’d stay asleep.

3–4.5 months: Long Morning Nap Developed

When Little Boy was 3 months old, we implemented two things: (1) sleep training, and (2) a consistent morning wake-up time.  The latter made the timing of our daytime routines much more predictable, and the former made all three of us much happier at bedtime.  A typical day looked something like this:

7 a.m. — wake up; nurse

8:30 a.m. — down for nap #1

10:30 a.m. or so (depending on length of nap #1) — nurse

around noon — down for nap #2

2 p.m — nurse

3:30 p.m. — down for nap #3

5 p.m. — nurse

6:30 p.m. — down for nap #4 (always only 45 minutes)

8 p.m. — nurse & start bedtime routine

Nap times were not exact—sometimes Little Boy got tired after 90 minutes of awake time, sometimes it took a bit longer.  Nap #1 settled into a solid 2+ hour nap, but naps #2–3 varied, and nap #4 was always short.

Little Boy dropped his last night feeding not long after his 3-month birthday, although he did continue waking up around 5 a.m. for a while.  He would talk loudly but pleasantly to himself for a bit, then fall back asleep.

4.5–8 months: 3-Nap Schedule

By about 4.5 months old, Little Boy could happily stay awake for about 2 hours between naps, and he was consistently making it over the 45-minute hump in nap #2.  His schedule finally became quite regular from day-to-day:

7 a.m. — wake up; nurse

9 a.m. — down for nap #1 (2 hours)

11 a.m. — wake up; nurse

1 p.m. — down for nap #2 (2 hours)

3 p.m. — wake up; nurse

5 p.m. — down for nap #3 (45 minutes)

5:45 p.m. — wake up; nurse

7 p.m. — nurse & start bedtime routine

When we introduced solid foods, those became an evening meal that eventually replaced the 5:45 p.m. nursing session.

8–12 months: 2-nap schedule

Between 7 and 8 months old, nap #3 dropped out of the picture.  Little Boy was staying up a bit longer before nap #2, and he just didn’t need the additional sleep anymore.  So for the last four months, our days have looked like this:

7 a.m. — wake up; nurse

9 a.m. — down for nap #1 (90 minutes–2 hours)

11 a.m. — wake up; nurse

noon — lunch

1:30 p.m. — down for nap #2 (90 minutes)

3 p.m. — wake up; nurse

5/5:30 p.m. — dinner

6:30 p.m. — nurse & start bedtime routine

(This is for days when he’s at home.  He naps for 30-40 minutes max total at daycare, then crashes on the car ride home.)

Right now, at 12 months, we’re starting to see signs that a transition to just 1 nap is headed our way: Little Boy has started fighting his afternoon nap on a semi-regular basis.  Of course, he’s also just learned how to pull himself to a sitting position in his crib (which is new and exciting and therefore preempts going to sleep!), and has been fighting a series of colds.  Today’s afternoon nap took place in the arms of Daddy and Mommy, because our poor little sick dude just couldn’t get comfortable on his own.

TL;DR—As soon as you think you’ve got your kid’s sleep habits figured out, they change.  Especially in the first four months. 

Parents, were your babies easy sleepers, little terrors, or something in-between?  What did you find to be the hardest age when it came to sleep?

Don’t be like this obnoxious breastfeeding advocate

On Friday, I came across science journalist Tara Haelle’s latest piece in Forbes, titled “How Toxic Is Your Breastmilk?”  The headline is pure clickbait, but the article itself is a well-written discussion of a recent medical study.  Breastfeeding mothers need not worry: the “toxin” in question has no known major effects on humans, and the study was conducted on a small, isolated population and may not be widely applicable.

Besides the well-researched reporting, what I really liked about this piece was its overall attitude toward breastfeeding, namely, that it’s good and has known healthy benefits, but it won’t make your child into Superman or Wonder Woman.  The article starts with this:

Contrary to popular belief in some circles, breastmilk is not the pure and magical serum of the Earth goddess which ensures an eternal life of prosperity and good health to all who partake. That’s unicorn milk — it doesn’t exist.

And ends by affirming:

The real take-away, it would seem, is that there is no perfect, “right” way to feed a baby. […] But breastfed and formula-fed children all across the world are all leading happy, productive lives. So carry on. Feed your baby.

Absolutely.  Ab-so-fricking-lutely.  I want to write this on a sign and shout it from the rooftops.

I’ve written before about how the media and zealous breastfeeding advocates tend to over-exaggerate the benefits of breast milk.  It was so nice to see a balanced, positive take on this frequently guilt-inducing issue that I shared the article, first on Twitter (where I am pseudonymous), and then on Facebook (where I am not).

“Don’t panic, your breast milk is probably fine,” my Facebook post began, followed by a brief note about the way the advantages of breastfeeding tend to be over-hyped.  The first few comments I received were normal conversational stuff.  Some friends and I commiserated about how the study referenced in the article was woefully limited, yet the article itself described it well.

Then stuff got weird.

Specifically, a trio of my husband’s relatives started commenting, led by a woman I’ll call J.  All three of them work in health care.  J is the mother of a toddler, whom she breastfed throughout his infancy.  Like many women, she struggled with latch and other issues early on.

J et al. COULD NOT DEAL with the idea that breast milk might be anything less than 100% perfect baby food for 100% of children.  Over the course of a number of comments, they took it upon themselves to inform me that:

Breast milk contains hundreds of compounds that we don’t know how to synthesize and so aren’t in formula.

Yeah, I know, that was the third slide in breastfeeding class.

Breast milk transfers mom’s antibodies to baby, so baby is less likely to get sick.

Uh-huh, that was mentioned in the article, and, you know, everywhere else.

Breast milk has evolved to be the perfect nutrition for babies. 

OK, but you realize this article was about man-made contaminants, right?

The article and specifically my “Don’t panic, your breast milk is probably fine” comment are “scaremongering.”

I see where you’re coming from on the article title, but are we working off of different definitions of “don’t panic”?

Breastfeeding reduces postpartum depression because it promotes “connection and bonding.”

Wait, are you trying to imply that mothers who bottle-feed have trouble bonding with their babies?  The research is also more complicated than that: if you try to breastfeed but fail, your risk for postpartum depression is much higher than if you formula-feed from birth.

The man-made chemicals in formula and the potentially-contaminated water it’s mixed with are way more risky.

I’m not sure the best response to “don’t freak out about chemicals” is “freak out way more about these OTHER chemicals.”  Also, everyone involved in this conversation lives in developed countries with safe water supplies…

Also, opened cans of formula can be contaminated with bacteria.

Uh, guys, you’re turning this into a hate-on-formula party and I’m not OK with that.

And parents mess up formula mixing all the time.

I’m starting to really not be OK with this conversation.

They are offended by the last paragraph of the article.

Uh, you mean the paragraph that says formula-fed children are leading happy and productive lives and feeding your baby is the most important thing? Um…

This article and/or study might’ve been funded by formula companies.

(Actually, they wouldn’t come right out and accuse the study of this, but just kept trying to passive-aggressively imply it.)

Mothers who “can but won’t” breastfeed are “selfish.”

Oh.  No.  You.  Didn’t.  You did NOT just say that.

Did I mention that J not only works in health care, she cares for newborn babies in the hospital?  That’s right, she’s looking after infants while judging the snot out of how their mothers choose to feed them.

Needless to say, the rest of the conversation did not go well.  I did learn what had set J off so intensely, though.  In the course of an increasingly angry back-and-forth, she brought up her own struggles with breastfeeding, telling me that she found it “very insulting” to be told that she “could have saved all that trouble and just formula fed him and he would be just as well off.”

Way to insult everyone who’s ever given their baby formula, J.  Good on you for persevering, but you do not get to make yourself a martyr and decide that everyone who makes different choices is “selfish.”  Because you know what?  Formula-fed babies ARE perfectly fine.  Sibling studies show that pretty clearly.

So yeah, it’s been an emotionally exhausting weekend.

Lessons from a year of breastfeeding

Little Boy’s first birthday is coming up, which means that my husband and I have survived 12 whole months of parenthood (!) and that we’re about to be the parents of a toddler (!!).  It also means that I (with significant help from my husband) have achieved my goal of breastfeeding for the 12-month minimum recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Here are a few of things that I’ve learned from those 12 months:

Breastfeeding can be easy

This isn’t to say that it will be easy, but it can be.  Every breastfeeding reference that I’ve encountered, whether in baby care books or online, emphasizes how difficult it can be in the beginning.  There are pages dedicated to resolving clogged ducts, soothing cracked nipples, boosting a low milk supply, and fixing a painful latch.  These resources are really, really important—it’s critical that new moms know that these issues can be resolved—but they do tend to give the impression that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are awful.  It’s enough to make you think twice about whether this is something you really want to do.

What I’m saying is: don’t be scared.  Sometimes your baby gets the latch figured out right away, you produce plenty of milk, and things generally go well.  That’s what happened for me.  There was a short period when Little Boy was about two weeks old when I had to be extra careful about how he latched on, but otherwise there was no pain, no cracks, no gritting of teeth.

An important corollary here is that the difficulty level of breastfeeding is mostly out of your control.  I’m not an über-mom who figured out the secret to easy nursing—I was just lucky.  My mom tells me that nursing went smoothly for her, too, so maybe there’s a genetic component.

…but it is a big commitment. 

A big commitment on top of the already huge commitment of being a parent.  All parents face the sleep deprivation of the early weeks, but for nursing moms, there is no reprieve.  You have to wake up for every feeding; even if your spouse gives a bottle, you still have to pump.

With a one-year-old, sleep deprivation is no longer an issue, but my life still revolves around Little Boy’s four-hour meal plan.  If I go anywhere without Little Boy for longer than that, I have to bring my breast pump.  It’s constraining in other subtle ways, too.  For instance, I can’t go for a run until after Little Boy’s first nursing session of the day, because the engorgement is too uncomfortable.  So when I go running in the summer, it’s in the hot hot heat.

Some parts are wonderful.

Some women like to gush about how perfect and natural and amazing breastfeeding is; I’m not one of those women.  The oxytocin rush tends to make me sleepy and light-headed, not blissfully happy.  Still, when Little Boy snuggles into my lap for his breakfast, it’s pretty darn nice.

Some parts suck.

One word: teeth.

We’ve mostly moved past the biting stage, thankfully.

You don’t have to sterilize your breast pump parts every day.

The manual that comes with your breast pump will say that you have to boil or steam the flanges, valves, etc. every single day that you use them.  For weeks, I dutifully washed my pump parts with soap and water, then popped them in a Medela microwave bag to steam clean.  Ugh.  So much work.

But you don’t have to sterilize baby bottles every day, so why should breast pumps be any different?  (And it’s not like I sterilize my nipples…)  Eventually, I decided to just do the steam-cleaning thing on the weekends.  These days, I mostly forget to do it at all.  Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration assures me that this is completely OK.

On a related note: you can store pump parts in the refrigerator between pumping sessions!  I would go even more crazy if I had to wash my pump parts thrice a day at school, especially since my building lacks running water.  Breast milk stays good for several days in the fridge; the drops of milk on your flanges are no different.  I store everything in a quart-size Ziploc bag between pumping sessions, then wash it all at home that night.

You can breastfeed on a schedule.

Not right away, of course.  Newborn babies need to be fed on demand, both for their sake and to establish a good milk supply.  However, once breastfeeding is well-established and your baby is steadily gaining weight, it’s OK to introduce a routine.

I think a lot of people hear the words “baby schedule” and think that it means strictly applying time constraints without regard to their child’s desires.  “Sorry kid, I know you’re hungry, but your next meal’s not until 10 a.m. and it’s only 9:45 now.”  Yeah, don’t be a jerk.  (Also, surely that approach is bad for formula-fed babies as well…?)  But there’s a middle ground, one in which you guide your baby into a schedule that works for everybody.

For us, that meant waking Little Boy up at a consistent time every day and offering food every three hours during the day (and then as needed at night).  Between 4 and 5 months old, he started taking more consistent naps, and his mealtimes likewise became more consistent.  Today, his eating habits are very predictable, within ±30 minutes depending on naps and hunger.  Only once in recent memory has he asked* to nurse between regular meals, and that was when I was recovering from food poisoning and knew I was dehydrated and low on milk.

*How does Little Boy ask for milk, you ask?  He pulls down my shirt and demands, “Ma ma ma ma ma.”

It’s easier to nurse in front of strangers than in front of friends.

Obviously, this depends a lot on your personality.  Me, I’m not too worried if someone at a gas station catches a glimpse of something while we’re on a road trip—they can get over it.  But when friends (or worse, family) are around, I get nervous about whipping out the boob.  I worry about their comfort level with my usually-covered body parts.  The only exception is my mom, because she’s awesome.
 

Where do we go from here?  I’m getting awfully darn tired of pumping, so once we hit that 12-month mark, I’ll start weaning Little Boy off his mid-day feedings.  We’ll stick with breakfast and bedtime as long as it works, assuming my milk supply holds up.

Tell me about your baby-feeding experiences (breast or otherwise) in the comments!