Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Please Don't Tell Me I'm a Supermom

When I tell people I've gone to the store, or out to eat, or made dinner, or gotten a few hours of work done, or some other apparently monumental task while being responsible for all four of my kids, I get exclamations of amazement. "You're a supermom!", they'll say. Or, "I only have two, and I can barely manage most nights!" Or, "I don't know how you do it!" I know these are meant as compliments and are honest reactions to something outside their own frame of reference. And I appreciate them as such.

But it makes me uncomfortable just the same. Because secretly, deep down, it releases all kinds of insecurities. All I can think of is all the things I've done wrong, the mistakes I've made, the things I wish I had managed to do. I berate myself for not paying enough attention to the kids, for letting them fend for themselves while I work in another room, or, conversely, for spending a few hours with them instead of working a few more hours to pad my paycheck. Or, for neglecting both work and kids to sit on the toilet and play Candy Crush in private. I should hold my baby more, hug my five-year-old more, draw with my toddler more, and read with my seven-year-old more. I should put the phone down during dinner and make them tell me about their day. I should try harder to get the toddler to take a regular nap. I should get the middle two dressed before noon. I should take them to the park more so they can run around on sunny days. I should replace their bike helmets and let them out front to ride. I should fold their laundry. I should wipe down the kitchen counters, sweep the floor of the toddler's food-leavings, and change the baby's diaper and give him a bath.

I see other people accomplishing things I haven't been able to, and I think I have no right to those compliments. I'm not "doing it all." I'm not a supermom. And when you tell me I am, you're belittling yourself. You're negating all of the amazing things you've managed to do, like have a dance party in the living room and do an art project with your preschooler, like cook healthy meals all week long, get your car washed, and clean your toilets. Like sign your second-grader up for soccer, acquire all the gear he needs, and attend all his games. Like save up for two years to take the family to Disneyland. Like start your own business and run it successfully, work full time outside the house and still get the laundry folded and the lawn mowed, and remember to pick up a birthday present for the party this weekend.

I'm just a mom. Some things, I know I do well. Some things, I know I could improve. And, looking at you, looking at how well dressed you are, how neat and clean your house is, how you make healthy meals all the time and get your housework done regularly and limit screen time to just the weekends, and have money left in the bank at the end of the month, some things make me feel very, very inadequate. Not because I think you're judging me, but because I'm judging myself.

Please don't tell me I'm a supermom. I don't feel all that super, and I don't have a cape. Sure, I made it to the grocery store, but I nearly lost the stroller, forgot to buy half the things we needed, and left the reusable bags at home. Yeah, I got the oldest to school on time, but the other three are still in pajamas and the toddler's diaper needs changing. Absolutely, I made dinner and put the dishes in the dishwasher, but I didn't make them clean up their toys, there are shoes everywhere, and the baby is crying in his swing while I rinse the last of the dishes.

No one's life is perfect. I think as moms we only see our own shortcomings while we admire the accomplishments of all moms around us. I'm wondering how she can remember to put jackets on both of her kids and manage to keep them from running around screaming in the store, while she's wondering how I can load four kids into the car in half the time it takes her to put her two in. I'm wondering how she finds the time to make dinners from scratch every night and keep the living room free of clutter, while she's wondering how I can work part time from home with three kids in the house.

I'll tell you what, if you buy the capes, I'll wash them. But don't blame me if I forget to put them in the dryer.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pumping Tips for Stay-at-Home Moms

With my second and third babies, I intended to pump milk and build a freezer stash so that the baby could have a bottle once in a while if my husband and I went out. What I found was there's not much time or motivation to pump when you're with your baby 24/7, since preparing a bottle is more trouble than just putting baby to breast, and when exactly are you supposed to pump when you have to feed your baby every couple of hours?

I actually did manage to fill a few freezer bags with pumped milk with my second, which I ended up donating because we had so few opportunities to actually give the baby a bottle. My husband worked long hours, we didn't have a budget for hiring a babysitter and going out often, and the few times we did go out, the baby wouldn't take the bottle anyway!

With my third, I resolved to pump for donation and, again, so we could leave him with a sitter, and that time I found even less opportunity and motivation to pump and ended up not putting much aside. He did get some bottles of expressed milk as a newborn, but after a few months, he, too, no longer took a bottle.

So, this time, I vowed I would find a way. One of the biggest difficulties many women have with breastfeeding is the feeling of being "tied" to the baby. You can never go out without the baby because you have to feed him. It's frustrating. Pumping and storing milk toward this eventuality can help. I bought myself a Hygeia EnJoye double electric pump, revived my hand expression techniques, and promised myself and my baby that I would find one time a day to pump and that he would get bottles often enough that we could leave him with a sitter and go out.

Now, obviously the situation is different if you work outside the home and are away from your baby on a regular basis. In that case, the baby is receiving bottles almost every day, and you're pumping instead of feeding during the time you're away from baby. That's not to say it's easy! Just different.

Here are tips for pumping/expressing milk when you stay at home with baby!
  • Pick a time of day when you're pretty sure you'll be able to take 15 to 20 minutes to express milk on a nearly daily basis. Many women have more luck pumping first thing in the morning, so if that's an option, it may be a good choice. I tend to pump in the afternoon, but that's just easier for me because we're not rushing to get out the door.
  • You may not need a fancy electric pump if you're only pumping once a day. Hand expression can be very effective for many women (myself included). You may also want to try a manual pump, which generally run $30 to $50, rather than a pricey electric pump. Check out my video on hand expression (NSFW) if you're not sure how to do it.
  • You can start pumping as soon as your baby is born, if you want, but wait to introduce the bottle until breastfeeding is established, usually around 3 to 4 weeks of age.
  • Give the baby a bottle at least every other day or so. This is the mistake we made with both baby #2 and baby #3: If you don't keep giving a bottle, the baby will forget how to use it or will simply refuse to take it, preferring your breast (understandably so). Have someone else give a bottle when the opportunity arises. I had my 7-year-old feed the baby one evening while I made dinner, for example. Baby may not take a bottle from mom but might from someone else. I did manage to give him a bottle myself the other night, but it sure felt weird to me!

  • If you have trouble producing for the pump, or you have trouble finding a time between feedings to pump, you can try pumping while you nurse. Latch baby on one side and use the pump on the other side simultaneously. I find this to be extremely effective. Your baby will achieve the letdown for you, and you don't have to keep baby waiting to eat while you pump! It's a win-win. It is, admittedly, somewhat awkward, though, and it may take a few tries to get the hang of it. You can also use this method to help your body "learn" to respond to the pump if you're having difficulty getting letdown for the pump alone, and you can use it to help increase your supply if you're having supply problems.
  • Massage and do breast compressions while you pump. If you are pumping just one side, or you have a hands-free pumping bra (highly recommended if you're double-pumping), use a free hand to compress and massage the breast while you pump. Find the full ducts and put pressure there to push the milk forward. This can greatly increase the amount you extract. I find using a combination of pumping and hand expression yields the highest volume in the shortest time for me. Milk removal is the trigger for milk production, so the more you remove, the more you'll produce!
  • Remember that your supply will adjust to the demand. You can pump extra and have enough to feed your baby, but only if you pump consistently to tell your body you need that extra milk.
  • At first, you may find it difficult to express a large volume of milk. Pump as much as you can, then keep pumping for a few minutes after you've "run dry" to let your body know you want it to make more milk. You should find your milk volume increasing if you pump daily. Be sure you are hydrated!
Milk Donation

If you find you are expressing considerably more milk than you need, even after giving a bottle every couple of days, you can use that excess milk to help another baby in need, either by donating through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), which provides donor milk to babies in the NICU, or through a private milk sharing arrangement. You can find local-to-you mothers in need of donor milk by visiting Eats on Feets, Human Milk 4 Human Babies, or Milkshare.

Private, mother-to-mother milk sharing is controversial and not regulated or endorsed by the FDA, but it is legal and completely up to you and your milk recipient whether you want to enter into such an arrangement. Milk donors typically do not charge recipients for their milk but may ask the recipient to cover costs such as storage bags and shipping (if applicable). Milk donation is totally voluntary. Some recipients may ask that you be screened for diseases that can be transmitted through breast milk (a simple blood test). As a donor, you are doing a great favor to a baby and mother in need, but you also have a responsibility to ensure that your milk is safe for another baby to drink, meaning you should use best practices in expressing and storing your milk to ensure it is not contaminated or soured.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Living My Life on Camera: I'm Not Making Porn

Okay, maybe that title's a little dramatic, but since my YouTube channel is growing and we've started making a lot more videos, I feel like I spend a lot of time with a camera in my face. The feature called "Life Shots," especially, is very much like having my own little reality show. Every situation becomes a video opportunity. The other day, when I was changing the toddler's diaper while simultaneously nursing the baby in the Moby wrap, all in a public restroom in a medical building because my 5-year-old had to pee, I found myself thinking what a great video that would have made and lamenting that my cameraman - my husband, who also produces and does most of the editing - was not there to record it.

It's not that I think my life is so unique or noteworthy, but enough people comment about how I "must have [my] hands full," or that my boys "keep [me] busy," or wonder "how [I] do it," I figured having four boys 7 and under is interesting to a lot of people. I also like the idea of documenting a normal life. I don't have any special secret. I'm not very organized. I'm certainly no "supermom," whatever that's supposed to mean. But I think I mostly have things under control, and I enjoy life with four boys, and I don't mind sharing that with the world.

Exposing myself (sometimes literally) and our life to the camera is a way of saying, "This is what a normal family looks like." It helps other people in normal families realize that they're normal. It makes people who have it more together than I do feel good, and it gives inspiration to people who aren't sure if they could manage.

I also enjoy using the platform to normalize breastfeeding, cosleeping, and other aspects of baby care that still aren't as mainstream as they could be. It's an opportunity for education about breastfeeding and birth, and a way of showing that I'm just a regular person who does mostly practice what I preach. Babywearing, breastfeeding, these are not out of reach for most people, and they are extremely valuable, especially when you have multiple children.

It's become a little scary, being so exposed (again, sometimes literally). At first, I wasn't sure about making videos that exposed my breasts. Though I'm not squeamish about breastfeeding in public, I'm also not likely to go around flashing people for fun. Because breasts are so sexualized, I knew that I was opening myself up to attention I wasn't looking for by making videos about expressing milk, obtaining a good latch, and so forth, that couldn't help but show quite a lot of skin and nipple. Indeed, I got a penis picture in my message inbox, for the first time yesterday. Lovely. While I know that there are men watching my videos for purposes other than learning about breastfeeding, the fact that those videos have lots of views means that women (and men) who are looking for breastfeeding and pumping help will find my videos. That's the power and magic of social media. More views means more potential viewers. And, I have gotten a few genuine comments from women thanking me for the information, so I know the videos are being watched for their intended purpose as well. And I'm not sorry that I get to generate ad income from men watching for other reasons. That's money that will help me make more videos that can help more people with their breastfeeding and other baby care questions.

I still haven't quite gotten past the idea that men other than my husband are enjoying my breasts. The fact that they are anonymous helps. The fact that some percentage of my video views are from women looking for breastfeeding assistance helps, too. And I can't help what other people do with my image once it's out there. It's the internet, and I'm not naive. My husband is very aware of the potential, of course. He's the one who films the videos, after all. He's in the same frame of mind, that we'll take the views and the ad revenue regardless of the motivation, and we're glad that at least some of the people watching are learning something.

The bottom line, for me, is that the only way to normalize breastfeeding is to show breastfeeding. And since I'm in a position, as a breastfeeding counselor with a new baby of my own, to make instructional videos about breastfeeding using an actual newborn baby, a woman's actual postpartum breasts, and her actual breastmilk, it only made sense to seize the moment and just do it. Showing a real woman breastfeeding a real baby under real circumstances makes breastfeeding attainable, normal, and tangible. My videos let other women see me struggle to latch my baby, fumble with my wrap, and occasionally get confused. They let me expose the learning process of breastfeeding, to show that it's not always easy but that it's doable, to show that it's convenient, to show how it works when you have multiple children. To me, that benefit far outweighs the ickiness that comes with knowing what else my videos might be used for.

Like my videos? Subscribe to my channel and like my Facebook page!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Breastfeeding a Newborn: How Often Does My Baby Nurse?

I have a confession to make: I have no idea how often or for how long my baby nurses.

That's right! Gasp! I don't keep track!

When someone asks me, "How often does he eat?" or "How many times do you get up at night to feed him?", I don't have an answer beyond, "I don't know. It's not bad."

Look, this is my fourth kid and my third nursling. I've never been a "charter." I've never kept very careful track of diaper changes or when feedings started and ended. But now, fourth kid, time has no meaning. Sometimes an hour between feedings can seem luxuriously long. Other times, an hour can seem like, "Hey, didn't you just eat?"

I know a given nursing session doesn't take long. For example, today, I fed him for five minutes at one point. I happen to know because I happened to have glanced at my watch when he started, so I figured, hey, let's see how long this actually lasts. It was five minutes. It seemed awfully short, so I tried to offer him more. He didn't want it. When did he next feed? I don't know. Was it long enough to get something done in between? Yes, I think so.

The thing is, I tend to be doing other things while he nurses. For example, he nursed yesterday at my oldest's dentist appointment. He nursed in the Moby wrap while I watched N get his teeth cleaned, shepherded S to the bathroom, and changed G's diaper. (Yes, I nursed and changed a diaper simultaneously...standing in the middle of a single-use public restroom in a medical building. That now qualifies as the weirdest nursing situation I've been in.) So how long did that feeding last? I have no clue. I was busy watching my oldest get his teeth cleaned, taking another one to the bathroom, and changing a diaper!

Usually, my multitasking isn't quite that exciting, though. Typically I've got my phone in one hand while I support the baby with the other, and I play Candy Crush and check Facebook 14 times while I nurse. Sometimes I read a book. A real one. Other times, I read a book on my Kindle app. Lots of times, I'm tending to one or more of my other kids while poor Y hangs on for dear life.

The great thing about breastfeeding is you don't have to meter it. You don't have to measure anything. You don't have to time it or schedule it or worry about whether he'll want just a little more. When the baby is hungry, you feed him. It's that simple. As long as baby is growing, producing plenty of wet and dirty diapers, is alert and interactive, and otherwise seems healthy, then you don't have to know exactly how long every feeding lasts and how often you're nursing. There will be times when he nurses for five minutes several times in an hour and other times where he sleeps three hours and then nurses for 20 (or more!). There's no rule for any given baby, and there's no general rule, either, except, "When the baby is hungry, you feed him." Check for active sucking and swallowing and watch him expand practically before your eyes. (If your baby has any health problems, has slow weight gain, or was premature, your doctor may ask you to track feedings and diapers to ensure that your baby is taking in enough calories. This is important in a situation like that. Also, if feedings seem to last an hour or more, your baby may have problems with his latch that makes it difficult to efficiently extract milk. In that case, it is probably a great idea to make an appointment with a lactation consultant to see if there's anything else going on.)

So how often is my six-week-old eating? I have no idea. How long does it take him to finish? No clue. Doesn't seem long, though. Is he happy? Reasonably. Is he growing? Heck, yeah (he's already in 3-month clothing and filling those out nicely)! Does he eat well? Yep!

Enjoy your baby. Don't be obsessed with the clock or the calendar. Watch your baby. Get to know him. Learn what his cries mean and figure out what he likes to do. Follow his lead. Follow his cues. Time has no meaning for him, and it shouldn't matter so much to you, either. Get a book, or your phone, or your e-reader, or the TV remote, sit back, relax, and nurse that baby!

Check out my YouTube channel for lots of breastfeeding videos!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Guest Post: Baby N's Birth from His Father's Point of View

Today's special guest post is from my husband! He wants to tell our kids' birth stories from his point of view. Often the man's role in and feelings about birth are underplayed or downplayed, and in a series of articles, my husband will explore his own impressions and experiences during the births of our sons. So, to celebrate 100 likes on the Facebook page, here is his perspective on N's birth! 

(Notice his challenge at the end. To continue the series and hear about S's birth, let's keep pushing forward to 200 likes! Share the blog with your friends, and if you haven't done so, please like the Facebook page!)


I've been wanting to tell the birth stories of our 4 kids from my perspective, the husband’s. I've had this idea for a while, but it’s hard to find the time to write it. You read many stories from women about their birth experience, but I can’t say I read many from the father’s point of view. So, I’m not expecting many men to read mine. But who knows? Maybe I am the strange one.

Each one of my kids' births was very different, an amazing experience by itself. Some were more exciting for me, others not as much. This is simply meant to put down in writing what I experienced and how I felt during those times. Take it as you will.

Baby N

First child! I was an exemplary husband, or so I thought. I went to all the birthing classes, went to the tour of the hospital. I don’t think I missed a single OB/GYN appointment. I knew a lot about what was going to happen; well, I thought I knew. I mean, reality… well, I think most of us know how that is.

When the day came and we went to the hospital, we figured we would take along my wife’s mother. It would be a great experience and be helpful. I am very thankful for my mother-in-law for all her help, but this made for some awkward moments and made it difficult to talk to my wife in private. I was very nervous, but I thought I knew it all. We were joking about not taking an epidural, about why you would suffer pain when you do not have to. I was very casual about it; hell, at some point we ordered pizza to the delivery room. She pushed for a long time. It was nice for me at that time, I got really involved. The nurse had me help. I felt it was great. I got to hold a leg up, and look at the entrance to see if someone is coming out. I don’t think I thought too much about her pain and how she was feeling in all of this. At the time I thought I was great; today, I realize I was rather inconsiderate.

When the doctors “finally” offered a c-section, I was happy. Great, they will take him out, he won’t have a squishy head, and my wife parts will remain intact. Yes, men think about that. Well, some of them. Got all scrubbed up, the nurse asked me if I had a camera. I thought that was funny. I went in to the OR to find my wife lying in a crucified position (thankfully, my mother-in-law was not invited to this occasion). It was still all cool. I sat by her head, trying to make my usual silly jokes. I was in a huge adrenaline rush. Everything was happening pretty quickly. Pretty soon I got to hold the baby. I got to hold him first. Well, she couldn’t, being that she was crucified to an operating table and half numb. Looking at him, hearing his cry… the newborn cry is great. It hits me in a soft place every time. But the first one, it was amazing.

Then they took him away to the nursery and took us to another room to recover. Apparently she lost a lot of blood. I did not realize it then, not even when they sent a specialized trauma nurse to see her. I think it is a good thing I was high on adrenaline, or I would have freaked out. That one took a long time to settle.

At the stay at the hospital, for the next five days, I was also being great. I came by, fed the baby, and changed him. I was rather happy she did not breast feed. I got to play with my new baby a lot. This continued after she got home. They sent us home with a bili light machine, to treat his jaundice. Still, I was being cool, letting her sleep and rest while I took care of him. Every day I would change him, feed him, and wash him. All she needed to do was rest. I was supportive of her attempt to breast feed, but when she couldn’t, I was not upset. I get to keep playing with him, feeding, feeling so helpful. What a great husband I was being. This continued for about 3 months, until we moved to California, where I suddenly had to work more, and leave her alone with him.

Only much later, as she was getting ready to have Baby S, did I realize how bad I was at the time. I distanced her from her baby. I felt I was being helpful. She felt I was being helpful. But, that was not the right way to do things. I pushed what I wanted, and at the same time thought to myself, “Why is so distant from him?” There are ways to be helpful, but I do not think this was the right one. Now, I know I was being selfish. I did not see how she was unhappy, how this had made her feel.

It took me a while to change my way of thinking, and see how important it is to her. I can’t say I quite understand it yet. But, with Baby S, things were different.

That’s the first story. I think this post has gone long enough, so I challenge you to help the Facebook page get 200 likes to hear so I can tell you what comes next! 

I will say this to any men out there who are about to have a baby: It is indeed a lot about her, and not because she carries all the burden of the pain, pregnancy, delivery, etc. It is because, in the end, I do think the outcome will affect her a lot more. So, get involved, but also remember that the best help you can give is to push her to achieve what she wants. To quote Coupling, “Ask her three times” if she’s sure. But when you do ask her, make sure you mean it.