Book Review: Bottled Up

Suzanne Barston is the blogger who created fearlessformulafeeder.com. When I was having breast feeding issues and felt like a terrible mother for giving formula to my 2 day old baby, hubby found this website. Although we went through two weeks of crazy breastfeeding interventions to finally be able to breast feed RJ, I am so grateful and appreciative to Suzanne Barston for the work she does with her site and now this book.

This book is in part a chronicle of her own struggle to come to terms with having to bottle feed her baby, supplemented with stories of other women who have written into her blog with their personal stories. This stuff is heartbreaking: the intense societal pressure to breast feed causes intense guilt for many women who aren’t able, for whatever reason, to make it work.

In addition to the personal stories of formula feeders, Barston talks about different aspects of the breast vs formula debate. She details the way results of studies on the health benefits of breast milk have been exaggerated by public health campaigns. She comments on the real difficulties of breast feeding, both biological and societal (this is somewhat specific to the USA where there is no paid maternity leave). She also has an interesting discussion of breast feeding from a feminist perspective (feminist discourse that undermines formula feeding as a valid option for women is surprisingly anti-choice).

This book brought up a lot of emotions for me because my own first experiences of feeding RJ were so hard. I remember two nights after she was born, surreptitiously ringing the bell for the nurse in desperation at 2am, in tears, finally saying that I thought RJ needed some formula. I felt ashamed. Now I just feel angry about how all the “breast is best” propaganda made me ignore what, in retrospect I believe would have been the best decision for my baby: not to have starved for two days because nobody would even say the word “formula” at the hospital once I told them my intention to breast feed.

I intend to write a longer post soon about that experience. In the meantime, I recommend checking out fearlessformulafeeder.com.

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Fresh Air on a Brisk Day

I have so many saved draft posts that I intend to finish “soon”. It’s similar to how it takes me several attempts to finish emptying the dishwasher. I start emptying while I’m making toast, then stop to eat the toast. The next round, I am interrupted by a crying baby. And so on…

I haven’t been getting around to blogging much because honestly, I’m either multi-tasking housework/baby care or I’m too tired to multi-task housework and I’m sitting on the couch passively consuming media: internet articles, books, magazines, online television.

I hear a lot of mothers of older babies talk about their babies’ sleeping habits. It sounds like hell. And I feel like I shouldn’t complain because RJ wakes up a few times in the night. But I REALLY LIKE SLEEPING! I was a 9-10 hours per night sleeper before baby. Now last night, RJ and I went to bed at 11, then she was up at 330am. I fed her and changed her and she fell asleep eating, then woke up when I put her back in the crib and wouldn’t go back to sleep. Around 5am I entered meltdown mode and went down to the spare room to wake up hubby. But basically, I ended up resorting to the cry-it-out method last night out of frustration, not out of some calculated smart mommy intention. But does the intention matter?

RJ cried pretty hard for half an hour. In books I’ve read, other moms said their babies cried for 10 mins with cry-it-out. Lucky them. We went in after half an hour and RJ was still awake but not crying. She was exhausted. Hubby rubbed her head and she fell asleep. It was an ugly night.

Today I decided to walk to the bookstore with RJ for some retail therapy. It was about -25°C with the windchill, so we got suited up. This involves putting her in the Boba carrier wearing a normal sleeper and a hat. Then I zip everything into a large coat that used to belong to my sister (lucky her, she moved to Vancouver and no longer needs said large coat). then I tie a blanket around me to cover part of my face and create a tent over RJ’s head. Also, yesterday I bought some cleats because the sidewalks are super icy and I have terrible visions that run through my head in which I slip and fall forward and crush RJ as her head is smashed open on the ice.

Kako ICETrekkers from MEC, the cleats that my dad recommended (he’s a connoisseur)
Random woman in a Boba in much nicer weather

Anyway, we had a nice walk to the bookstore and bought two books to read together later. She’s still sleeping in the Boba as I write this.

We bought this book
We also bought this book

My breast lump

When baby was about a month old I noticed that I had a lump in one of my breasts. I assumed that it was a blocked milk duct as this is a common occurrence in breast-feeding women. I did all the things that are recommended for a blocked milk duct: warm compresses, massage, breast-feeding only on that side, and, this one was difficult, but my mom suggested that the way to cure a blocked duct was to have the baby nurse so her chin was on the lump. I tried this even though the lump was above my nipple so baby had to be nursing upside down. I either did this lying on our sides so her feet were kicking me in the face or hovering above her on all fours and lowering my breast into her mouth.

I was working hard to get rid of the lump because I knew that a blocked duct can lead to mastitis. Mastitis is an infection in the breast that often occurs because a blocked milk duct has stagnant milk in it where bacteria can multiply. Mastitis can be very serious and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of mastitis are fever, breast pain, and a red mark on the breast where the lump is.

At the time I was attending a breast-feeding support group. After a few days of trying to get rid of my lump at home I brought it up at the support group. The leader of the group suggested that I go to the physiotherapist for a therapeutic ultrasound. The idea is that the ultrasound breaks down some of the tissue in the lump so things can start moving again. I went for two treatments at the physiotherapist. They also taught me some fascia techniques to use at home to help stretch out the tissue and loosen the lump so the milk could pass. One of those techniques involved pulling my nipple really far out until my breast was pretty much cone-shaped. It was WEIRD. But not as painful as I would have thought.

The lump did not resolve so when I had my six week postpartum checkup my OB referred me to a breast health clinic for a diagnostic ultrasound. At this point I was starting to worry that the lump might be something other than a blocked duct.

By the time I had my appointment at the breast health clinic I had had this lump for over a month. Using an ultrasound, the doctor was pretty sure that the lump was full of milk but to make sure she did a fine needle aspiration. That involved numbing my breast and poking a needle in it to draw out some of the fluid in the lump. It was indeed full of milk and when the milk was drawn out the lump collapsed. The doctor told me that it had been a galactocele. It was nothing to be concerned about but it may come back.

A few days later, it did come back. It looks like my lump is something that may be ongoing until baby is weaned. At least I know now that it’s something I can ignore (unless it becomes painful or shows other symptoms of mastitis). The lump seems to be smaller than before the fine-needle aspiration. When the doctor popped it, she said it was about the size of a golf ball. I think that’s pretty impressive, especially since a golf ball was probably about the size of my entire breast before baby.

A Favourite: The WubbaNub

This ingenious contraption is called a WubbaNubb. I named ours Mickelthwate after the conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Hubby generally refuses to refer to this toy by his proper name, which I think is a bit disrespectful, as Mickelthwate has been an excellent friend to RJ.

We bought Mickelthwate a week ago because RJ had a cough which sometimes made her cough until she brought up her milk (which is not that shocking because it happens for the same reason babies spit up in general — their lower esophageal sphincter isn’t finished developing). Because you can’t give cough medicine to a baby… you aren’t really supposed to give any medicine to babies… my strategy was to plug her mouth with a soother after she ate to suppress her coughing (and also her crying, which stimulated her coughing).

Mickelthwate is proving to be an excellent toy for baby even beyond being used as a cough suppressant. He is just the right size for her little hands to grab (grabbing is a new skill she’s working on), and the little extra weight of the duck part means that when she’s lying down he stays in her mouth (we have to hold other pacifiers in her mouth). The WubbaNubb would make an excellent baby shower gift.

Useful Breastfeeding Supplies

Indispensible:

Baby D-Drops: All breastfed babies need a vitamin D supplement. There are a few different kinds of liquid vitamin D, but this is the easiest to administer because it’s only 1 drop. You can drop it on your nipple while baby feeds, or on a pacifier if she’ll suck for 30 seconds, or on a finger that she’ll suck (tip: put your finger on the hard palate in the front roof of her mouth to stimulate her sucking reflex). We started by giving it to her on a finger but now that I’m more coordinated I sometimes give it on the nipple.

Really Great to Have:

Nursing pillow: I spent $70 on mine and it isn’t that great. But using normal pillows adds more frustration to an already often frustrating process. They are always slipping around. If I could have a do-over, I’d try this pillow because it has all the features I wish mine had (firmness, secures to the body).

Nipple Ointment: Usually pure lanolin, sometimes you see them with other ingredients. Keep in mind that the baby will ingest whatever it is, and lanolin is completely benign. Don’t know about the other ingredients. I had a prescription nipple ointment (called Viaderm) they gave me in the hospital because my nipples cracked which contained a steroid and an antifungal (thrush on the nipple can be a cause of pain during nursing). It was awesome but it took me six weeks to wean myself off of it (pun intended!) because I was afraid of the pain coming back. I think nipple pain is par for the course, but if it’s going to stop you from nursing, ask your Dr. for the good stuff. Otherwise try the lanolin and hope for the best. Tip: Another thing I’ve done is hand expressed a drop of milk and rubbed it into the nipple. Breast milk is moisturizing and anti-microbial, and you don’t have to remember to carry a tube of cream around with you. Plus it’s free.

Nursing Bras: I heard recommendations that you buy these in the eighth month of pregnancy because that’s approximately the size your breastfeeding breasts will be. I ignored this advice and then found myself at the maternity store 6 days postpartum, trying on bras and trying VERY hard not to leak milk onto the store bras as I tried them on (because stimulating your nipples stimulates milk flow ESPECIALLY in the beginning). My mom thought nursing bras were unnecessary because you could just buy a normal bra and pull it up. But that would deform your bra, plus there is a concern with underwire and plugged ducts. So I recommend a wire-free nursing bra… or six. I prefer one that exposes a lot of the boob when unclipped. This is my favourite bra. I also have this one and the opening is too small for ease-of-use so I never use it.

I wear a bra all day and night, and change it once every 24 hours because they always seem to get a bit of milk on them that starts to smell sour. I never used to be a woman who slept in bras but this brings me to the next (almost) essential piece of equipment…

Breast Pads: I went through two boxes of disposable pads that I received as gifts before I bought my own reusable pads. I think I have eight pairs? I could probably use more. My breasts leaked a lot in the beginning (hence the sleeping in bras). They still leak, especially if I am feeding on one side, the other side will leak. There is actually an interesting product for this that allows you to collect the leaking milk. I thought about getting it but since I have a breast pump it seemed like a slow way of collecting milk, plus you’d have to figure out what kind of sterilizing regime you’d use for a slow collection method like this.

Breast Pump: When I was pregnant a family friend (who is a nurse at the children’s emergency department) told me to feed my baby formula for the first few days and pump like crazy to get my milk supply in. I ignored her advice and it took 4-5 days to get my milk supply in. In the meantime, baby was jaundiced and not eating well, and we did end up giving her formula out of necessity, although the whole medical establishment is so anti-formula that it felt very drastic. It took me two weeks to get breastfeeding established. We used all sorts of interventions until we got it down. In short, my pump got a lot of use for 2 weeks, and now I used it about once a week when I want to leave a bottle so I can go out and miss a feed. But in hindsight, formula is not poison, and it would be a lot cheaper to give baby an occasional bottle of formula rather than buy a breast pump.

In terms of choosing a breast pump though, I bought the Medela Freestyle which is like the Cadillac of breast pumps. It also happens to be the same one that my public health nurse chose for herself. So you know it’s good. It’s really good. She also mentioned to me that her health plan covered the cost of her pump. So that’s something worth looking into. You can also rent breast pumps, which might be a good option. Then you could rent for a month, freeze a bunch of milk, and be good to go. Or seriously, just give an occasional bottle of formula and save yourself the hassle.

Bottles: Unless you plan to never miss a feed, bottles are a good thing to own. I’ve heard it recommended that you go out and choose ones with nipples that resemble your own nipples. Also, if you are breastfeeding it’s recommended that you use slow-flow bottle nipples.

Sterilizing Bags: Only if you have a pump and/or bottles. These things are amazing.

***

For some women, breastfeeding is easy. For many, including myself, it’s very difficult before it gets easy. Even if it’s easy, it’s still something that happens 8-10 times per day. So your breastfeeding equipment will get a lot of use. And when you’re cringing at the cost of buying 6 new bras, just calculate the cost of formula. It’s expensive, and breast milk is free. Good luck!

Recipe: Slow Cooker Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup

Valium used to be called “Mother’s Little Helper”. Today I would argue that that title should belong to the slow cooker. I made this recipe for Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup last night, except I modified it a bit to be even lazier and cut out some steps.

So basically, my modified recipe was:

  • 500g red split lentils (rinsed)
  • 8 c. water (or broth)
  • 2 small sweet potatoes (chopped)
  • 3 carrots (chopped)
  • 3 stalks celery (chopped)
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5cm piece of ginger (grated)

Then I put it in the slow cooker on high for 5 hours. It was quite tasty, especially considering how little work I put into it.