Wednesday, January 21, 2015

10 Favorite Postpartum Breastfeeding Tips {31 Days of Postpartum Health & Healing}

(Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links).

There are so many ways to prepare for birth: exercises, visualizations/prayer, reading books, and taking classes (see my book recommendations here!)...but no one can really prepare you for breastfeeding. It is an experience that is different for every woman and every baby! Some take to it easily, and for some it's a hard-won battle.

My good friend just had a darling baby girl and like many new mothers, breastfeeding has been a struggle. Why is something that is so natural so difficult? I found this to be true for all three of my kids, but fortunately had the wonderful resources available to make it work, even after being told by the NICU doctor that I didn't make enough milk and probably wouldn't, and having all three need frenotomies for tongue and lip ties. It was not an easy journey by any means, but I'm of the stubborn sort and I had the help of a wonderful lactation consultant. 

I recently stood at my kitchen counter after texting with my friend and quickly jotted down the top 10 basic "tips" I would give to a new mom. I hope they help someone! (For the purposes of ease and because I have three daughters, I'm referring to baby as Her and She.)

As a reminder, the information below is not intended to be medical advice. I am not a medical professional or a board-certified lactation consultant, so please consult with one of these, preferably a board-certified lactation consultant, for any and all of your breastfeeding difficulties. 

1. Get comfortable and go skin-to-skin!

The enemy of getting your baby to latch comfortably is an anxious, tightly-wound mama. Babies are kind of like animals - they can sense fear and tension. Let her know you've got this so she can relax and do that hard work of learning how to get milk out of your increasingly-engorging breasts!

Get comfortable by using regular pillows or a nursing pillow. Prop yourself up so you won't be hunching over, and support your elbows. You may even want to try a little biological breastfeeding and lean back in a semi-reclined position - especially if you have overactive letdown. Go to the bathroom. Have your water/book/snack/remote handy. Suck on a Rescue Remedy lozenge. Put on relaxing music. Do whatever it takes to get relaxed. Get that shirt off, undress that baby, and get your cuddle on!

2.  Do not wait until baby is starving!

This is really important. If your baby is already having trouble getting a good latch and is also hungry, this is the perfect storm for a freak-out. You could be the most relaxed, hydrated, and prepared mama ever but if your baby is hangry, it's not going to go well. Learn infant cues for hunger (crying is a late cue) and be watching for them - you're already staring at your gorgeous baby anyways, so get to know her hunger cues. Practice latching on and positioning BEFORE she's reached Hangry status!

It takes 2-5 days, or anywhere in between, for a mother's milk to fully come in. The clear colostrum at the beginning is nourishment, and enough of it, plus antibodies and nutrients! A newborn's tummy is incredibly tiny - we're talking teaspoon(s) - and that liquid is the best thing for her and the only thing she needs. So please don't assume your baby will be pounding 3 ounces per feeding from day one, or let expert-whoever tell you that you "aren't producing enough." You honestly can just not know this for a fact until many days or sometimes weeks later. Did you know that it can take up to three months for your supply to fully establish itself? And pumping is not even a good indicator of how much you are actually making.

That said, be in communication with your medical provider and/or lactation consultant about any troubles you may be having.

Check out a book written by a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) to get solid research and experience backed advice, like the Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West or Boost Your Breast Milk by Alicia Simpson.

3. Check latch and positioning

OK, so you've caught baby before she's hangry, got yourself comfy, and brought her to your body. Now, you can make sure she's latched correctly. Proper positioning is mostly based on preference and there is no one "right" way - you can do a traditional cradle hold, football hold, or follow the ideas of "biological" breastfeeding.

Now, the reality is that if you're having your baby at a hospital, you may not be surrounded by the most encouraging or knowledgeable nurses. Many of them are lactation "experts" but not board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLC). Nurses are busy people with a lot on their plates - rounds to make, a clock to watch, and if you need help, like it or not, you're their patient, thus you're on the clock. Please don't let a rushed nurse rush you to feed your baby, especially if he or she is not an actual IBCLC. Have someone present who can support you regardless of who is making the rounds.

Watch your baby latch. Is it too shallow? Is baby chewing on the nipple? If needed, take baby off the breast and start again to get a better latch. This is where YouTube videos come in handy:

If latch is correct and still very painful after two weeks, this is the sign of an issue and more questions should be asked (preferably in partnership with an IBCLC). The first and most important is checking for tongue and/or lip tie. If severe, as in the case of all three of my girls, then they do need to have treatment by an ENT to release the tie. Sometimes if the tie is mild, it can be stretched. This is where the knowledge and experience of a lactation consultant who has knowledge and experience diagnosing ties is invaluable. There are many different kinds of ties and not all are obvious, and not all ties need to be treated.

4. Slow down, slow wayyyyy down

Let's go a little woo-woo here. I love me some woo-woo! But also, there's science. Heard of Pavlov? Deep breathing exercises can encourage a quicker letdown, with the benefit of relaxing your body.

I mentioned earlier to grab the remote/book while getting comfy but here's a caveat: sometimes it's better to simplify, simplify. There are so many distractions and we live in a world that values multitasking. Maybe that's part of the problem; we think we should be able to do things quickly, easily, we're used to the touch-of-a-button lifestyle. But a newborn isn't a button, right? Try putting down other stimuli, getting comfy, taking some deep breaths. Just BE. There is plenty of time for books/TV/phone conversations while nursing later, when you and the baby are down to a rhythm. But that can take some time.

I love the affirmations of Leslie Davis in her Mothering article Breathing In: Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice. She writes,

"Breathing in, I am nursing my lovely baby. Breathing out, I am mother. I tried several hundred variations on this theme: Breathing in, I love my baby. Breathing out, I feel calm. Breathing in, my baby wants milk. Breathing out, milk flows freely."

Pick some of your own tailor-made affirmations and say them as you nurse your little one. See what happens!

The tips for encouraging letdown near the bottom of this KellyMom article are excellent.

5. Have supplies ready

So we often read that "breastfeeding shouldn't hurt!" and while that is true for the long run, it is also true that your nipples may be a little sore at the beginning (just like the rest of you!). Almost all mothers experience some sort of nipple soreness or pain. Have a nursing basket ready with nipple cream or coconut oil, cotton breast pads, snacks, a water bottle, and whatever else you need. Invest in a good bra with no underwire and an all-cotton sleeping bra. Keep everything handy so you don't have to get up from your nursing "station."

Check out my post on my postpartum must-haves here.

6. Throw out the idea of a "schedule"

For those who thrive on schedules, this is going to be a hard truth. Newborn babies rarely, if ever, have any type of schedule. Plan on spending most of your days at the beginning nursing, preparing to nurse, finishing up nursing, eating, taking a bathroom break, or snoozing with baby.  But that is really all should plan to do the first little while. Your baby will want to eat between 10-12 times per day for varying amounts of time. She may want to go a few hours between nursing sessions or she may want to "cluster feed" and eat every 20 minutes. This doesn't mean you aren't making enough milk - that's just what your little smart child wants to do. It's all very normal, and takes a little bit of surrender on mom's part to follow baby's lead.

If you can do this, truly, you'll be setting yourself up for a rewarding relationship with your baby that will (eventually) astound you in its beautiful symbiosis.

7. Read and ask questions

There are invaluable resources online for the nursing mother. Get lost on these sites and glean some awesome information. Three of the most helpful sites are:

KellyMom (example: Breastfeeding Your Newborn)

La Leche League (example: "How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?" and Nipple Pain)

Breastfeeding Basics (example: Establishing Your Milk Supply: Starting Out Right)

Check out my favorite breastfeeding books here. 

8. Eat and drink enough

Breastfeeding burns a lot of calories. Basically, your diet should look similar to the patterns you followed during pregnancy - assuming they were healthy. Lots of good fats, protein, green leafy veggies, and liquids. Soups are convenient and you can make/have someone make a big pot and feast off of it for a few days. Same with stews! Even a good ol' nut butter and jelly sandwich is great fuel for a nursing mom.

A good practice is drinking a glass of water before you begin breastfeeding. You don't need to go overboard and be OVERhydrated, as this can cause problems too, but you do want to keep all the juices flowing in your body with a good amount of liquids, and that will probably be a different amount for different people.

9. Hire a knowledgeable lactation consultant

I know what it is like to dread nursing your baby because of the discomfort or anxiety, or to feel like something is just not quite right. Guess what? You now have the gift of a mother's intuition, and this is something you should heed. The best way for you to set yourself up for success if you're struggling is to PROactively seek help from a very experienced and highly recommended IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Sometimes this simple request for help will make or break your breastfeeding relationship. Don't hesitate to seek professional help. Many bill insurance, too.

Need help finding an IBCLC? I wrote a post on that, too. Or ask around on Facebook. Mothers will love to share if they've had a good experience with someone!

10. Reframe your brain: Give yourself grace and surround yourself with encouraging supporters. Naysayers and negative talk is not allowed.

This goes along with relaxation: stress can actually lower your supply. It's true. Instead of thinking about this process in black or white - success or failure - think of it as part of the journey. Your baby has been earthside only hours. Give her and yourself a break and take the time necessary to dig in and work at it. It's not a burden, and if you think of it in those terms, then you'll most likely throw in the towel.

Don't let negative people speak negatively into this process. Post a sign on your front door, if need be. You don't need to hear anyone's horror stories. This is YOUR story, let it unfold and, as difficult as it may be when the going gets tough, enjoy the journey. It is over much too soon.

Also: Check out this awesome Tear-Sheet Toolkit from La Leche League - printables on positioning, feeding cues, common concerns, etc. for your own reference, and free!

I also have a lot of breastfeeding information listed on my Twins Resource page. 

What would you add to this list to make sure a new mom knows? 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

the new year resolutions I'm NOT making...

Time has come for our New Years' Resolution(s)!

If you have a personality like me, this is a death sentence for actually setting and achieving any goals. I work best going by inspiration and instinct, and setting short term goals in chunks are so much easier to accomplish. This is especially true as I've become the mother and keeper of three small children, and a shower, much less an exercise routine, isn't guaranteed every day.

In light of this year I am not making specific New Years' Resolutions. Instead, I'm going to continue feeling out each day as it comes and seeing what self-care I can fit in and what I need to leave on the back burner. You may be reading this and dreading my life. That would be OK! Or, you may be doing a happy dance inside because you're not alone!

Here are five common resolutions that I am NOT making:

1. Get Fit and/or Do Yoga Every Day

Running around with small kids gives me an advantage, as I barely sit down some days. And I love yoga. In a class. Where I have to get dressed, leave the house, show up on time, and put away everything else for an hour and have someone else correct my unimpressive downward dog. It isn't going to happen at home. I can count on one hand the times I did yoga in my living room last year. Not for lack of wanting to! I'm such that I need to a) pay money so I'm accountable and b) leave the house. Unless we get rich and I can hire a nanny every day, this is really not happening. I'll take classes as they fit into our family schedule and really, really enjoy them.

2. Meal Plan and Save Money on Groceries

OK, I'm trying on this one. I want to master the menu plan. But, see, why have chicken on Thursday when you can have chili and cornbread instead? I try to plan and do my best but if I can bring down our grocery budget and flexi-plan, I'll be very satisfied. Sites I like for meal planning help or inspiration is Don't Waste the Crumbs, Deliciously Organic, Nourishing Gourmet and Once Upon a Chef!

3. Lose the Baby Weight

This isn't a bad goal to make and I realize I come from a privileged place here, because I don't have a lot to lose. In fact, Andy asked me if I wanted to do a free month of CrossFit with him. I said No. The bottom line is that I am not making as much milk as I did with the girls and I eat basically enough to sustain what I have. If I add on intense exercise, I don't want to have to pick up the slack (eating, resting, etc.) in the other areas of my life. Some might call that laziness, but I call it Being Realistic and taking care of myself. Maybe later this year, but not right now.

4. Get Organized

Sigh. I'm just embracing this part of me. My house is not very cluttered (barring December, that month was chaotic with two back to back trips and I barely unpacked), except for my kitchen mudroom desk area and sometimes the kitchen counters and then our room, which is very small, as we haven't quite figured out how to best store our clothes. But the picture in my mind of an all-white house immaculately curated with barely anything inside is completely unattainable. And I'm sentimental. I WANT to keep your Christmas card up all year, so I can think about you when I see it! The William Morris saying, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" well, I can make a case for 95% of the things in my house to be useful (for reminding me of someone or something) and beautiful (because it reminds me of something or someone!) The other 5% I can work on.

The most I am going to require of myself is keeping track of bills, business receipts, and actual outside commitments. The rest can be tackled as inspiration hits. I picked up a new 2015 planner from the Target $1 bin and I'm calling it GOOD!

5. Drink Less.

One word: WHY?

So those are the New Year's Resolutions I'm not touching with a ten foot pole this year, unless I feel like it (classic ENFP). Not that any of these are bad, or that setting resolutions is an automatic failure. Some people excel! If you've set these goals, I am rooting for you and want you to be successful! But for me, this will end in guilt and failure. However, I did make one really awesome resolution that I MIGHT be able to achieve and one resolution I KNOW I can be better at:

1. Go to Bed Earlier.
2. Give More Hugs.

Happy New Year!

Share with me your resolutions! Or your un-resolutions! Just because I'm not making them doesn't mean I don't love to hear about your plans...I love plans. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Postpartum Support with Amla Plex (Enhanced Chavanprash) {Postpartum Health & Healing}

There's a funky new supplement that my Naturopath recommended to me as I try to repair my adrenals and support my body after the birth of my third child. It's called Amla Plex, and it's a blend of Amla fruit and other herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine.

My N.D. gave me a great explanation as to why I should try it, but honestly, I was in such a fog that I complete forgot WHY she recommended it. I did my own research to find out why, and I'm happy to share it with you to see if it's something you want to try to support your system.

(I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Always, always consult with your healthcare provider. If they haven't heard of Amla Plex, you can print out the resources here and take it in with you. There are potential side effects to using Amla and your doctor can help you discern if it's right for you. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article and product is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure and disease.)

What is Amla? 

Amla is native to India and is also known as Indian Gooseberry. It's incredibly rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants, full of fiber, and a great all-around immune system support. Dr. Vrindi Devani refers to it as the "Ayurvedic Multivitamin."

Although this fruit has been used for thousands of years, scientists are only now starting to explore its benefits. All of the research presented here is preliminary and little has been "Proven." What HAS been confirmed is Amla's rich nutritional profile.

The site Superfoodly has put together the most comprehensive list of studies on Amla that I was able to find. A few facts of note:

  • The Amla berry tests higher on the ORAC test (antioxidant measurement) than acai and blueberries and 20x more vitamin C than oranges.
  • Amla also might be helpful in lowering inflammation in the body. Amla has cooling properties, and in Ayurvedic medicine, is classified as a cooling pitta herb. 
  • Also exciting was labwork that showed Amla extract "demonstrated antiviral activity against hepatitis B, influenze A strains, herpes simplex, and other viruses." Granted, these were lab simulations. The antiviral effects are untested on both humans and animals.
  • Research has also shown that Amla has potential positive cognitive effects, as well as improvement in blood sugar regulation and liver function. More exciting preliminary research has been done on Amla's effectiveness on treating different kinds of cancer, but it is very preliminary (as in, been done on animals.)

Amla for the Postpartum & Adrenal Support

The massive hormonal shift after birth, coupled with other prolonged stressors like sleep deprivation, can tax the adrenal glands and make it difficult for the body to come back into balance. If you are struggling with adrenal fatigue, Amla might be a supplement for you to consider. Amla is considered an adaptogen, which means that it helps your body to support its own healing. I love this article from Delicious Obsessions, which dives into Amla's adaptogenic properties at more depth.

How do I use Amla and Enhanced Chavanprash? 

I take Amla in the form of Amla Plex (Enhanced Chavanprash, or Chyavanprash, or many other spellings). Classified as an ayurvedic jam, "prash" in Sanskrit refers to a specially prepared food. The main ingredient is Amla, and then there are 15+ additional herbs and fruits added, depending on the brand, along with ghee and a sweetener of sugar or honey.

The consistency of a Chavanprash with Amla is a little like apple butter. It's like a slightly spicier and complex apple butter with allspice, cinnamon, and clove. I was taking a little bit off the spoon but recently started adding a 1/2 teaspoon to my smoothies. Some people also like to spread it on toast or mix it in warm milk.

Side effects can occur if you use too much - like with most any herbs. Plants are powerful! The recommendation is no more than 1 to 2 teaspoons per day.

Personally, I use 1/2 teaspoon and have not worked up to more, and I've been using it for a while. My body is sensitive to all supplements and it feels the best to me to stay at 1/2 teaspoon. I naturally have blood sugar issues and low blood pressure, and I can feel when I've had too much. I may increase it during the winter months, but maybe not!

Again, plants are medicine! There are possible side effects to using Amla (it is a fruit, you might be allergic). Side effects may include: diarrhea or loose stools (from the high fiber), increased risk of bleeding (from the high vitamin C content), unwanted weight loss (too much acts as a diuretic), lowering of blood sugar and blood pressure. It has not been tested during pregnancy.

Amla might be a beneficial addition to your postpartum nutrition. Talk to your medical provider first, and with their approval, start out with 1/4 teaspoon and work up to 1-2 teaspoons per day.

I buy this Amla Plex Chavanprash from Amazon, but there's also this high-quality Chavanprash from Banyan Botanicals. 


Chyawanprash from Banyan Botanicals
The Really Big Deal about Chyavanprash
Adaptogenic Properties of six rasayana herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine
Amla Fruit profile from Superfoodly
Adaptogens: Herbs for Vitality  - Amla Fruit from Delicious Obsessions

Questions about Amla? Have you tried it? Let me know in the comments! 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Two blessings for the new mother {31 Days of Postpartum Health & Healing}

One of my very favorite spiritual teachers/authors/poets is John O'Donohue. His work is profoundly magical and spiritual and lovely. I've listened to his unedited OnBeing interview "The Inner Landscape of Beauty" with Krista Tippett multiple times and whenever I need to feel encouraged and seen, I turn it on. You can listen to it here. If you like to read rather than listen - although with his irish lilt you'll get more of the nuance and lyricism through listening - you can scroll down the page and read the transcript.

One of his books, To Bless the Space Between Us, (affiliate link) is a work full of beautiful blessings for each "threshold" of life. O'Donahue sees blessing as a way of life, as the lens through which your world, and thus the entire world, is transformed. How powerful that we can bless with our words - ourselves, our children, our families, communities, and world.

The first blessing below is his Blessing for a Mother-To-Be, and the second blessing was one he wrote while thinking of his mother and subsequently dedicating it to her. He read Beannacht, meaning Blessing, during his OnBeing interview (the unedited) and immediately thought of those earthy days of motherhood where it feels simultaneously dark and light, mundane and transcendent; beautiful and tragic.

So for you, new mother, two Blessing poems from John O'Donahue: 

For a Mother-To-Be

Nothing could have prepared 
Your heart to open like this.

From beyond the skies and the stars
This echo arrived inside of you 
And started to pulse with life
Each beat a tiny act of growth,
Traversing all our ancient shapes,
On its way home to itself.

Once it began, you were no longer your own.
A new, more courageous you, offering itself
In a new way to a presence you can sense
But you have not seen or known.

It has made you feel alone
In a way you never knew before;
Everyone else sees only from the outside
What you feel and feed 
With every fiber of your being.

Never have you traveled farther inward
Where words and thoughts become half-light
unable to reach the fund of brightness
Strengthening inside the night of your womb.

Like some primeval moon,
Your soul brightens
The tides of essence
That flow to your child.

You know your life has changed forever,
For in all the days and years to come,
Distance will never be able to cut you off
From the one you now carry
For nine months under your heart.

May you be blessed with quiet confidence
That destiny will guide you and mind you.

May the emerging spirit of your child
Imbibe encouragement and joy
From the continuous music of your heart,
So that it can grow with ease,
Expectant of wonder and welcome 
When its form is fully filled

And it makes it journey out
To see you and settle at last
Relieved and glad in your arms.

Beannacht (Blessing)

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

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