Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life: August 2013

Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life is about paying attention to what it is that we do on a day to day basis and how we impact each other and the planet. We will talk about all of the things that we do here at home to make ourselves and the world a better place.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Create Your Own Knitted Wool Pants or Shorts Pattern

One of my favorite things to knit is wool diaper covers for our babies.  As I've grown more confident in my knitting, I have found that it is very easy to customize woolies to fit any size or yarn I need.  I wanted to share my system, for anyone looking for a very easy wool cover pattern.

Create Your Own Wool Pants or Shorts Pattern

You will need:
100% Wool yarn of your choice (yardage will vary by size)
Circular knitting needles of your choice (use needles appropriate for weight of yarn)
3 stitch markers (you may want 2 that match, with 1 different)
Tapestry needle
2 straight or double pointed knitting needles (similar size to needles you are using) or stitch holders
Crochet hook
Flexible tape measure

A few notes:
I use this pattern for custom woolies, which means that I customize it each time I create woolies.  One of the great parts about this pattern is that it allows you to work with what you have or love.  So, if you need an exact shade of green bloomers to go with a little girl's dress, you can get the right color, and then customize your pattern to the weight of yarn and the needles you have.  Or, like me, you can do a stash buster and pull out leftover yarns from other projects and customize your pants to those yarns.  I have a full set of interchangeable knitting needles, but if you don't, you can also use the needles you have instead of buying new needles.  The possibilities are truly endless with this pattern!  So, don't be intimidated by the lack of definites.  Once you get going, you will start to see how it all works and how incredibly simple it is.  The only thing you will want to bear in mind is that you want your yarn to be all the same weight, even if you are doing stripes, or contrasting borders, etc.  Also, I wouldn't use anything finer than sport weight.  The heavier the yarn, the more leak proof it will be.  Have fun!

The pattern:
1. Measure the baby over the diapers he or she will be wearing.  You will need measurements for the baby's waist, hip, thigh, rise from front to back, and length of legs you want for your woolies.  If you don't have a baby to measure, I will try to include some measurements at the end of this pattern.  Write all of these down, and keep it handy!

2. Make a gauge swatch.  This is a crucial part of this pattern.  Cast on about 10 to 20 stitches (more if you are using a lighter weight yarn, like worsted, less for bulkier yarns).  Knit your swatch until it is several inches tall.  Now, it is important to note that a swatch knit flat for a round project will typically not be exact.  Instead, I use this method to knit a round swatch.

Once you have knitted your swatch, you need to measure how many stitches are in one inch, and how many rows are in one inch.  Write these down with your baby's measurements.

3. Do some math!  Knitting has given me more opportunity to use math than any other life skill has.  This pattern is a fun opportunity to whip those skills out for a practical purpose!

A. To get the number of stitches you will need to cast on, you will need to take the measurement for the baby's hips (in inches), and multiply it by the number of stitches per inch for your gauge.  Write this number down on your paper.

B. Take the thigh measurement (in inches) and multiply it by the number of stitches per inch.  Write this measurement down.

4.  Cast on!  You are ready to get started!  We are starting at the top and working our way down.  This is one of the places where the customization starts!  You get to decide what you want your waistband to look like.  I typically prefer to work in 2x2 rib.  Some prefer 1x1 rib.  Some prefer a rolled waistband where they just work in stockinette stitch from the beginning and the waist rolls over on itself.  Whatever looks good to you, go for it!  If you are want a rolled waist, just use the number of stitches you have already calculated.  If you want to work in 1x1 rib, you need to make sure that your number of cast on stitches is divisible by 2 (add a stitch if needed).  If you are working in 2x2 rib, you need to make sure that your cast on stitches are divisible by 4 (add stitches if needed).  Use a stretchy cast on, like the long tailed cast on method.  Place a marker, then join to work in the round.  Work your waistband for an inch or two, until it looks right to you.  On smaller woolies, like preemie or newborn size, 3/4 of an inch may be as tall as you want.  On larger woolies, like toddler size, you may prefer 1.5 to 2 inches tall.  Just go with what looks right for your pants and it will be fine.

One note about the waistband - many people prefer the look of a trimmer waistband, and therefore knit the waistband on needles  1 or 2 sizes smaller than the needles they will use to knit the rest of the project.  Generally, when this method is employed, the smaller needles are used again for the trim at the ends of the legs.  This is completely personal preference and the same needles can also be used if you don't have needles a size or 2 smaller.

5. When your waistband is tall enough, switch to the needles you swatched with (if you are using smaller needles for the waist) and begin working in stockinette stitch.  And then, we get to do some more math!  We need to know the number of stitches that equal your cast on stitches divided by 4, and the number of cast on stitches divided by 2.  When you have knitted from your first marker to the stitch 1/4 of your cast on stitches, place one of the matching markers (if you are using matching markers).  Continue knitting in stockinette stitch until you have knitted the number of stitches in your cast on divided by 2, after your first matching marker.  Now, if this sounds confusing, it may help to have an explanation of what these are.  The first marker you have placed is the center front of your knitting.  The other two markers mark the sides of your knitting.  So, the entire back of your knitting should be unbroken by markers.

6. Continue knitting in stockinette, but every 5 rounds, we are going to do a short row across the back of your knitting.  So, to do this, on every 5th round, we are going to knit all of the way around to the stitch before the third stitch marker.  Slip the last stitch before the marker onto the right hand needle.  Bring your working yarn to the front, as if to purl, and slip the last stitch back to the left needle.  Turn your work, bring the working yarn back to the front again.  Slip the last stitch back to the right needle, and purl back across to one stitch before the next stitch marker.  Slip that stitch to the right hand needle.  Draw working yarn to back of work again.  Slip the last stitch back to the left hand needle.  Turn work.  Slip the last stitch back to the right hand needle and draw the yarn to the back of the work again.  Knit across the rest of the row back to your (non-matching) stitch marker.  This completes round 5.

7.  Continue working in this manner, doing short rows every 5th round, until your back and front measurements combined equal the rise from front to back measurement that you wrote down earlier.  When you reach that point, it is time to divide for the legs. To do this, you will need to know how many stitches you need for your legs.  This is where we will use the measurement for the thighs multiplied by the stitches per inch.

If you want soaker style shorts, you will want your legs to be a bit snug, to keep leaks from happening, so you will want right around the number of stitches that your original figure comes up with.  Again, make sure your number is divisible by 2 if you want 1x1 style ribbing at the cuffs or by 4 for 2x2 ribbing.  If you want rolled edges, any number of stitches will work.

If you want longer style shorts or pants, you need to decide if you want them to be snug or more loose.  If you want them to be snug, add a few stitches more than the number of stitches needed for the measurement.  If you want them more loose, just make sure you have enough of a crotch in between that there isn't any straining on the stitches from stretching.  This is a a part of the pattern where experimentation comes into play.  How many stitches you want the crotch to be will vary widely based on how large your pants are and how big your yarn is.  Measuring how wide the diaper you usually use is at the crotch may give you some insight into how wide to make the crotch of your cover, if you are unsure.

The crotch is, honestly, the most complicated part of this pattern.  Once you have done it once, it gets much easier.  The concept is difficult, but once you've mastered the concept, it is just a math problem.

Starting from your center stitch marker, knit across half of the stitches you will want for the width of your crotch.  So, if you want your crotch to be 10 stitches wide, knit 5 stitches.  Then slip these stitches onto either a stitch holder or the straight needles.  Continue knitting around the stitches that will become the leg until you have knitted all of the stitches for one leg.  Knit the stitches for the back side of your crotch, and slip them onto the other stitch holder or straight needle.  Knit all of the stitches for the second leg (just a friendly hit, there should be the same number of stitches for each leg).  Knit the remaining half of the crotch stitches (in our example, there should be 5 stitches left that need to be knit, which should make your front crotch all 10 stitches), and put them on the first straight needle or stitch holder.

You will use a kitchener stitch, or similar graft, to join the front and back sections of the crotch.  This can be done now, or as part of your finishing work - whichever you prefer.  If you want to do it later, it may be easiest to use stitch holders to keep them out of the way of your work on the legs.

8. You will be set to begin stitching on one leg at this point.  Knit across all of the leg stitches.  When you get to the end of that first leg, you will need to do one of two things.  If you have already done the kitchener stitch across the crotch, you will want to pick up a few stitches along that edge, to keep a gap from forming.  If you choose to finish the crotch later, you will also need to tack closed the gaps left by the legs.  In this case, you will also want to cast on a few stitches to make the crotch and the leg meet up better.  Place a marker, join to work round, and keep working in stockinette until the leg is as long as you would like it to be.  If you prefer a tapered leg to a straight leg, decrease one stitch on either side of the marker every inch until the legs are as skinny as you would prefer.

A note about the legs here:  I prefer to attach a second ball of yarn to the second leg (or work from the other end of the same ball if there is enough yarn on it), and work both legs at the same time, like one would work 2 at a time socks or sleeves.  If you are familiar with this method, go for it!  It ascertains that you end up with 2 completely identical legs.

9. When the legs are as long as you would like, minus the trim, stop working in stockinette and begin working the trim rows.  There are many options for trim, so this is where you get to customize again!  You can work in standard 1x1 or 2x2 rib (on the same or smaller needles).  You can continue knitting an extra inch or so longer than you want your final product in stockinette (on the same or smaller needles) and let the end roll when you take it off the needles.  You can work in seed stitch, and have a beautiful cuff that does not pull in.  Whatever appeals to you, go for it!  When your trim is long enough, bind off with a stretchy bind off (I prefer this one).

10. Weave in ends.  If you have not already finished your crotch, do this.

11. Tighten your waistband.  There are a few methods for this, and some I love better than others.  One way is to crochet a long chain and pull it in and out through the waistband, starting and ending on either side of your center front.  I use a crochet hook for this  The chain should be a few inches longer than the stretched out waistband, but not too long.  When the pants are put on the baby, this is used as a drawstring and tied in a bow.  You do not want the ends to be so long that they are a choking hazard, if you go this route.  Another, similar method, is to knit i-cord for the drawstring.  As cute as this is, I rarely have the patience to do it!

Another simple method is to use a piece of 1/4 inch wide elastic, the same length as the baby's waist measurement, and weave it and out like a drawstring.  Leave the ends on the inside of the pants and either tie or sew them together.  When stretched, this elastic will show, but when the pants are on, the elastic doesn't show much at all.  This lets the caregiver or the child (if old enough for potty learning) simply tug the pants on or off, without wrestling a tie while the child is trying to roll or squirm away.

If you like the idea of the elastic, but don't like the small amount that shows when woven through, you can use a piece of ribbon and sew to the inside of the waistband as a casing, and pull the elastic through this.  Then knot or sew the ends, and the elastic will not show.

You are finished!

Some other notes about customization here.  I have used this pattern for years now, making pants for my children.  There are so many ways to customize the pants.  If you knit, start to finish, with the same yarn, you will have one solid color pair of basic pants.  If you alternate colors of yarn every several rows, you will end up with stripes.  I have done fair isle pattern in the different colored stripes of woolies.  This is especially nice over a bottom, as it adds thickness and helps to avoid leaks.  I have added sections of textured knitting throughout the legs.  An example of this would be seed stitch sections of several rows, alternated with several rows of plain stockinette stitch.  I have done cables down the sides of the pants.  There are endless possibilities, really.  So, get creative with the pattern and have fun with it!  Your baby will soon be out and about, getting compliments on his or her cool pants!

A small sampling of baby pants I have made using this pattern.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Peas in a Pod

Welcome to the August 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Sibling Revelry
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about siblings - their own, their hopes for their kids, and more. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

While some people remember a time when there was a Sofiya, but not a Walter, Sofiya and Walter do not.  As far back as either of them can remember, the other has always been there.  They are 2 years and 16 days apart in age, and they are attached at the hip.

When we were expecting Walter, we talked about him tons.  The closer it got to time for his arrival, the more we talked about him.  Sofi was very interested in this little person who would share her milk, wear diapers like her, ride in the sling, sleep in the big bed with Mommy and Daddy, and - most exciting - ride in the backseat with her!  We had planned a homebirth for Walter, and we had made arrangements for a good friend to come over and hang out with Sofi while I labored and birthed.  She had instructions that she was to take Sofi wherever Sofi was most comfortable - in the house, out of the house, away from the house, whatever Sofi needed.  Sofi stayed right there and kept an eye on things.  She was quite interested in the crying little man who emerged from my body about 2 hours after she woke up for the day, on August 15.

When the birth was complete, all of us bundled up the stairs to the bedroom, and Walter and I were tucked into bed.  I called my mother to tell her that Walter had arrived, while he nursed for the first time.  As I held up the phone to make the call, Sofi climbed under my elbow and latched on my open breast, unexpectedly.  And there they were, staring at one another, across the (tiny) expanse of my chest.  You know how they say that a newborn can see almost exactly the distance from the breast to mom's face?  Well, it didn't occur to me until pretty much that moment that the distance from one breast to another is about the same as the distance to mom's face.  And so, my two little loves stared at one another, in that perfect distance for Walter to really see Sofi well.

And pretty much from that moment on, they have been inseparable. When Walter was a baby, lying on a blanket or in a baby gym, Sofi would ever so carefully lie down next to him and show him the toys.  When he was a toddler, she delighted in having him join her in playing with her toys.  When he was old enough to toddle along behind her to the playroom, she taught him to play all of her games.
When he was old enough to follow her outside, she taught him how to climb the tree, swing, scoot on his bike, and play all of the outside games.  By the time he was nearly 3, I was an accessory in their lives.  I was there to make snacks, wipe bottoms, and fix toys.  Other than that, they didn't have much need of me.  They had one another, and that was pretty much all they really needed, most of the time.

Now, they are 7 and 5 (this week!) years old.  They are still the best of friends.  Their relationship has changed as time has gone by.  Walter really struggled last year when Sofi had shifted from wanting to play all of the time to wanting to sit and write, or draw, or look at books for a significant portion of the day.  He wasn't quite developmentally there yet, but playing without her was such a foreign concept to him.  Just the past few months, he has developed the ability to sit still for longer periods of time, and he is happier to join her for these activities.

It isn't always paradise.  They definitely have their spats.  However, there is nothing so great that they want to not be together, most of the time.  Often, if I send one to his or her room for a cool down, the other one will be right off behind, and they will stay in the room and play for hours - forgetting that there was ever a problem to begin with.

I thought for certain that Elliott would be just as easily embraced, forming a fun triangle.  It has been funny to me that, while they adore their brother, and they are happy to allow him to join them, there is simply not that same connection there as the two of them have.

In the past few months, he has begun to enjoy some pretend play, and to imitate what they are doing.  This has brought him more time playing with the "kids" as he calls them.  But he still spends about 65% of his time at my side, rather than theirs.

I wonder what place William will occupy in their grouping.  He and Elliott will also tandem nurse, as long as nothing goes awry in the next 6 weeks.  They will be closer in age than Elliott and Walter are - 2 years 3 months, roughly, versus 2 years 10 months.  I wonder if William and Elliott will be more like Sofi and Walter were, or if me being busy with a new baby will give Elliott more incentive to join Sofi and Walter.

But for now, I enjoy the special relationship that my two oldest children share.  I hope that they are able to remain this close and happy together as they continue to grow up.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon August 13 with all the carnival links.)
  • The Damage of Comparing Siblings — Comparing siblings can lead to hurt feelings and poor relationships. What Jana Falls has learned and why she hopes for more for her son.
  • Connecting Through Sibling Rivalry — With four children who are spaced so that each child grows up in a pair, Destany at They are All of Me shares her method for minimizing the competition so her children can focus on bonding, rather than besting each other.
  • Sibling Revelry — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares the two-week transition that happens every summer as her kids transform from bickering to learning how to play.
  • Baby Brother born from an OceanAbby Jaramillo describes how her toddler connects in a possibly mystical way with her new baby brother and his birth at home, and Abby draws parallels with her own sister's new baby.
  • Hard, But Worth It — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl discusses how difficult having two children can be, but how it's definitely worth it.
  • Raising Attached Siblings — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy and her husband are making conscious choices about how they raise their children to foster sibling connection and attachment.
  • It's Complicated — Henrietta at Angel Wings and Herb Tea reflects on how life's twists and turns have taken her from a childhood with no siblings to a constantly changing family life with five children, including one in spirit.
  • Supportsustainablemum reflects on how the differences between her relationship with her siblings and her husband's have affected their family and at a time of need.
  • Peas in a Pod — Kellie at Our Mindful Life enjoys the special relationship her oldest two children share.
  • Lessening the competitive enviornment in the homeLisa at The Squishable Baby discusses how downplaying competition in the home has led to cooperation, not competition.
  • The complex and wonderful world of siblings — Lauren at Hobo Mamareflects on her choices to have not too many children, spaced far apart — and how that's maybe limited how close their sibling relationship can be.
  • 5 Ways to Help Young Siblings Have a Loving Relationship — Charise I Thought I Knew Mama shares the strategies that help her three year old and 14 month old have a somewhat beautiful relationship and aid in keeping peace in their home.
  • 4 Steps to Encourage Sibling Revelry, even in Hot Moments of Rivalry — Sheila Pai of A Living Family share 4 Steps she uses to shift hot moments of sibling rivalry towards connected moments of sibling revelry and human compassion.
  • Twins Are Fun — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot witnesses the development of her twins' sibling bond.
  • Growing Up Together- Sibling Revelry in Our House — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work realizes that there is great utility in raising siblings that are close in age, and is grateful to have been blessed with healthy siblings that both love and challenge one another every day.
  • Top 5 Ways to Reduce Sibling Rivalry — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares ideas that helped her two children be best friends along with Montessori resources for peace education and conflict resolution.
  • Sibling Uncertainty — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras wonders how her children's relationship will change now that the baby is mobile.
  • Living with the Longing — Rachael at The Variegated Life sees that she can live with her longing for another — without changing her plans.
  • For My One and Only DaughterPlaying for Peace mommy reflects on her choice to not have more children in order to focus on other dreams.
  • Siblings: A Crash Course in Relationship Training — How have your siblings prepared you for later relationships? One of Dionna at Code Name: Mama's top priorities as mama of siblings is to help them learn how to navigate relationships.
  • The Joys of Siblings: An Inside Joke — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the a glimpse into the joys of having siblings through sharing a perplexing yet hilarious inside joke betwixt her and her own.
  • Sibling Support, even in the potty! — Even though Laura at Pug in the Kitchen's children didn't start out best friends, they are joined at the hip these days, including cheering each other on with potty successes!
  • Don't Seek What Isn't There - On Sibling Jealousy — Laura from Authentic Parenting analyzes the seeming desire people harbor for seeking out hints of sibling jealousy.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Best Breastfeeding Support I Ever Got

In the 6 accumulated years that I have been breastfeeding, there have been many wonderful, supportive people who have come through my life.  There is my wonderful husband, who has done everything he knew how to support my desire to breastfeed, and to learn about breastfeeding with me.  There are family members who have done all they can to be positive about my nursing.  There are the friends who have sat and nursed next to me at playdates, the park, the zoo, or some other public setting.  There are the amazing women who donated breast milk to Walter when we were really struggling with breastfeeding.  And there have been many, many others along the way.  But out of all of these amazing people, there are two who stand out the most in my mind as being supportive.  Both of these women share some common themes, as to why they stand out so much as being my biggest supporters in my breastfeeding journey.

One thing that I'm pretty sure they had in common - I don't think either of them thought that I would be able to recover a breastfeeding relationship with my child.  And neither of them told me so at the time.

When Sofi was born, as I've said a million times, she was 2 months early.  She was a c-section under general anesthesia, and she was whisked to the NICU well before I woke up.  I got to see her an hour after she was born, when they wheeled my gurney up next to her warmer, and I reached out a hand and touched her soft little arm.  Then, I was wheeled up to my room, where I fell asleep again for an hour or two.  I went down to see her a few times during that day, but wasn't allowed to hold her at all until the following day.  I had expressed my desire to breastfeed, and the NICU staff told me to have my postpartum nurse contact lactation services for me.  I asked her to, and to get me a pump.  However, the hospital was short staffed, and my nurse (a temp agency nurse) didn't know how to contact lactation nor get me a pump.  So she did neither.  I didn't know enough to stand up for myself and force the issues.  The next day brought a new nurse, who promised to call, but who was also so busy that I have a feeling it got put off for a while.

By the time the lactation consultant showed up with my pump, Sofiya was over 24 hours old, born by c-section, barely touched, to a mom with thyroid issues who had never even looked at a pump before in my life.  I am SURE, looking back, that lactation consultant thought I had missed my window, and would never be able to supply enough for that baby to breastfeed.  She was shocked that I had asked for a pump within hours of birth and not received one for more than a day - that I could tell by her facial expression.  But, she never said a discouraging word.  She set about showing me how to use the pump, getting me positioned, and helping me to pump my first few ounces of love for my daughter.

She told me several things that helped me to get started on my breastfeeding journey, in this unexpected style.  She got me a list of places to rent a hospital grade pump from.  She told me about the pump rooms in the NICU area, where I could pump when I came to visit Sofi after I had checked out of the hospital.  And she told me one of the most valuable things that anyone has ever told me about breastfeeding.  She said:

A lot of people will tell you a lot of things about breastfeeding.  Everyone has their own opinion about the "right" way to do it.  But not everything that everyone tells you will work for you.  You need to remember that in a breastfeeding relationship, there are only 2 people; you and the baby.  So if someone tells you something, and it doesn't work for you and your baby, just disregard it and do what works for YOUR relationship.

This was so empowering!  It was the single best piece of breastfeeding advice I have ever gotten.  It allowed me, from the first day of my breastfeeding experience, to authoritatively release myself from anything that didn't work for me.  When people would tell me not to nurse for more than 5 minutes, I could let it roll off.  Maybe that worked for some people, but not for us.  When someone would tell me not to let her fall asleep at the breast, I could let it go.  Maybe that worked for some people, but not us.  And on, and on.  And so, I was able to focus on the wants and needs of my self and my baby - and not the societal pressures to do things a certain way.

Maybe that is why I didn't notice that the odds were stacked against my little preemie and myself...  Maybe that is why I didn't really care about the suggestions of formula, or lower production for the pump.  I was quite proud of myself when I was able to pump 2 ounces from each side after several days of pumping!  Wow!  That was twice as much as I'd been getting!  Had Sofi started taking food earlier than 5 days old, or been allowed more than a smackerel here and there, I probably could not have pumped enough to feed her.  But, since I had much more milk in the freezer than she was eating, I felt quite confident in my abilities!  I had no idea how much my milk supply had been jeopardized by the delay in getting a pump.  My little doll was too tiny to latch onto the breast, and I was advised to simply pump for her until they let her go from the hospital and then work on getting her to nurse at home.  The logic being that if I wore her out trying to nurse, she would be stuck at the hospital longer.  I reluctantly listened, and went along.  Looking back, I think that the NICU staff did not think we would be able to successfully breastfeed, and they didn't want me to stop pumping so that Sofi would continue to do well in the NICU.

She finally went home at 3 weeks old, and we began a grueling routine of doctor visits, and follow up appointments.  Since I was postoperative, and didn't have a car, my mother-in-law and father-in-law drove us to all of our appointments.  Since I couldn't nurse, and there was nowhere convenient to pump, I often had to put off pumping for 5-6 hours at a time.  There came a day when, for the entire day, I had pumped 2 ounces of milk.  I knew right then that we had to get the baby off of the bottles and on to the breast - or my milk was going to go away.  And so I began the difficult task of talking a baby out of fast flowing bottles and into working for the slower moving breast.  It took several days, but I did it.  My milk production picked right back up, and Sofi breastfed until the month of her third birthday.

I had no idea until much later, sharing my experiences with others, that our experience had been hard.  Or that there were many reasons that our breastfeeding relationship should not have endured.  I still thank God for that, because I firmly believe that breastfeeding is what kept Sofi alive and kept her as healthy as she was and is.

Sixteen days after Sofi's second birthday, we welcome Walter into our arms.  He came gently into the world, and latched well within minutes of birth, but something wasn't right.  After 3 days, he had still never peed.  He slept often, and seemed fairly content, but I was worried.  Sofi was still nursing, but only a few times per day.  Walter was getting the majority of the time at the breast, but I just felt antsy.  Everything I read said that he should be urinating by the second to third day.  My La Leche League leader, who had anticipated me not having any trouble, had called the third day, and I called her back to tell her my concern.  She agreed that it sounded like there was an issue, and came over to help us troubleshoot.

We adjusted his position, checked for an obvious tongue tie, and generally poked around.  My leader suggested I start pumping after each nursing session and supplementing him an ounce of milk from a bottle.  So, we started the process of pumping.  Within hours of supplementing 1 ounce after each feed, he began to pee.  We thought we were in the clear.  Until nearly a week had gone by and he hadn't pooped yet.  Again, I called my leader.  Again, she came out and looked us over.

My lack of arm strength made it difficult to get an optimal position, and I was sorely discouraged.  But, we used lots of pillows, and worked and worked at it.  In the long run, I pumped and supplemented more to get him to start pooping.  My leader and I talked daily, most of the time.  Sometimes, she would take a few tearful phone calls from me in a day.  There were days I was amazed that she kept answering the phone.  But, she always did.  Always.  For seven weeks, my leader answered the phone, listened to the ups and downs of our nursing, sorted out the details from my sleep deprived accounts of what was going on with us, and did her best to help us figure it out.

At 7 weeks, I hauled both of my babies to an occupational therapist who worked with nursing newborns (sometimes).  She stuck her finger in my baby's mouth and felt around for about half an hour.  She watched us nurse.  I don't even remember what all she did, honestly.  I was so overwhelmed by that point, and so sleep deprived, I don't know how I was still going.  And yet, I was!

We had tried and tried and tried to get Walter to nurse.  We had pumped and bottle fed - with many assurances that this was only for a few days.  I had not been able to pump enough to supply him with enough milk to get him through an entire day (I have oversupply, but do not respond well to the pump - proof that what you pump is not at all indicative of what you make!).  We had to supplement him from other sources, including donated breastmilk and formula.  We had tried a supplemental nursing system(SNS), to allow him to be supplemented at the breast, or to finger feed, which is a more similar motion than the bottle.  The use of the SNS caused him to not gain a single ounce for the entire time it was used.  The very act of sucking caused him to burn as many calories as he was taking in.

And then this OT, with her finger in his mouth, said, "I know he doesn't look like he has a tongue tie, but I am pretty sure he can't move the back of his tongue!"  And this was the cause of all of the trouble.  He could latch.  He could suck.  But he couldn't suck hard enough to draw out the milk without burning so many calories that he couldn't gain weight.  Three days later, our family practitioner clipped the tongue.  The morning following that, Walter began nursing at the breast while still gaining weight, and never looked back.  Finally, finally, we had a breastfeeding relationship.

A few weeks later, talking to my leader for a follow up, she told me that she was amazed that I had gotten through it.  She told me that she wasn't sure that she, herself, would have been able to persevere through so much difficulty.  I was somewhat surprised that she felt that way.  My confidence in my breastfeeding ability had been hugely shaken - though I had come out breastfeeding.  But she told me then, she had considered telling me it was ok to give up, but decided that she couldn't be the reason that I stopped.  So, she had just kept answering the phone and encouraging me however she could.  Had she told me it was ok to stop, I'm sure I would have.  But as long as she was willing to just answer the phone, I was willing to keep on trying.

I thank God often for her endurance, as well.  Walter was already forming an allergy to formula, on the gentlest type there was.  Had I truly given up, I'm not sure what he would have done, but I know he wouldn't be as healthy as he is today.

I always chuckle when I think to myself that the best support I ever got was simply people NOT telling me to give up.  But it is so true!

What was the best breastfeeding support you got?

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Breast feeding support

In America, many moms make the choice to not breastfeed.  In fact, the percentage of moms in America who do choose to breastfeed to the guidelines of the World Health Organization are abysmal.  When we talk about why this is, or why moms choose formula instead, we hear a lot of seemingly valid reasons.

"I was going back to work anyway, so I just went ahead and gave formula from the beginning."

"Formula and breastmilk are pretty much the same these days, so I went ahead and gave formula."

"Formula is so much easier than breastfeeding! I don't have to worry about latch, or covering up, or any of that, and anyone can give the baby a bottle.  So we just gave formula instead."

"The baby was nursing all of the time.  I don't think he was getting enough milk, so we switched to formula."

"The doctor said my baby was so big that I couldn't make enough milk for him, so I had to stop nursing and switch to formula."

"The baby wasn't gaining enough weight, so the doctor said I had to stop nursing and switch to formula."

"It hurt every time we tried to feed, so I stopped breastfeeding and switched to formula."

"My baby was in the NICU, so we went ahead and gave formula."

"I wasn't making enough milk!  When I pumped, I would only get  about an ounce combined from both sides!  So, I had to stop breastfeeding and give formula."

"I was worried about nursing in public, so we just gave formula."

"I feel like breasts are not meant for eating from.  They are for my pleasure, not my baby's.  So, I gave formula instead."

"I was sexually assaulted and the thought of having a baby at my breasts is just too much for me.  I cannot do it.  I used formula instead."

The thing about all of these answers that people often don't realize is that every single one of them is not totally an informed choice, but also a lack of support.  Given the appropriate support, most of these "reasons" for not breastfeeding would not even be an issue.  And if women are going to have a true choice to breastfeed or formula feed, we need to get the support issues out of the way, and give women a true choice in the matter!

Ways We Can Support Women to Breastfeed:

1. Employers must provide a private pumping room for workers.  And this isn't just my opinion, this is a federal law.  However, many companies wait until there is a mother who asks for such a space before they institute one.  The problem with this philosophy is that it puts the onus of support on a mother who may not know her rights and who may be too fearful of losing her job to ask for such a space.  This is not support.  Support is paving the way to make it easier for moms to make the choice to breastfeed, if that is what they want to do.  This means that employers should set up a pumping area before a mom comes to ask about it, so that women can see that the employer is going to be respectful of her choice without putting her job at risk by asking for it.  On a personal level, any employee can bring this up to management and ask that it be instituted - even men!  Especially men who have secure positions at work can contribute to breastfeeding rates by bringing this up at work.  If you are in a position to ask for or help to implement a pumping room for women at your place of employment, here is a great pamphlet about how to go about encouraging breastfeeding in the workplace, with information about setting up a lactation room starting on page 9.

2. We must expel formula mythology, in order to achieve proper breastfeeding support. Formula advertisers, magazines that receive monetary support from formula advertisers, women who did not receive support while trying to breastfeed, or who have never known women who breastfed all spread formula myths, including the myths of formula being basically the same as breast milk, formula being easier than breast milk, breastfeeding and working being incompatible, and that many mothers simply aren't able to breastfeed.  Getting rid of this mythology is difficult, at best.

First of all, we need to get away from formula advertising.  It is very important that as mothers, we do not let our decisions be made by people who are hoping to make money from those decisions.  In order for this to happen, we have to stop supporting the formula advertisements.  Stop supporting places and products that promote formula use.  Don't subscribe to magazines that have formula advertising.  Don't watch television shows that have formula advertising - or at least not those with heavy formula advertising.  Don't take the "free goody bags" from the maternity stores, baby stores, hospitals or even insurance companies - these are full of formula samples and advertising and exist primarily to get you on the mailing list for free formula samples, coupons and other advertising.  Boycott companies that don't adhere to appropriate formula advertising guidelines, like Nestle.

Beyond that, don't talk women out of breastfeeding, or tell them horror stories.  If you weren't able to breastfeed, or decided not to for some reason, that is your own experience.  However, there is no need to try to force that experience on someone else.  This is the exact opposite of support.  If a woman is hoping to breastfeed, even if she is nervous about her ability, please do not attempt to change her mind based on your own experience.

Don't buy formula for expectant moms to have on hand - just in case.  That "just in case" formula is the equivalent of a "just in case" tray of brownies to someone on a diet.  It does nothing but feed the mom's insecurities about breastfeeding.

If you'd like to do something more proactive to help a mom nurse, give her some encouraging words!  You can say, "I really hope you are able to do that!  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you."  You can say this without saying, "I really hope you can do that, but I couldn't because..."  Another proactive way to support a mom past formula mythology is to help her find support people, even if you aren't able to be practical help.  Offer to take her to a La Leche League or other breastfeeding support meeting in her area, so she doesn't have to drive.  If mom and baby are having trouble getting started, listen to her talk, let her cry if she needs to.  Don't tell her that she should give up.  Don't tell her that it is just too hard.  Just be there for her to talk to.  Offer to drive her to a lactation consultant, if you can, so that she doesn't have to drive (especially if baby is prone to crying in the carseat).  Offer to come hold the baby so mom can shower or nap if that is what she needs, to give her a break from worrying.

3. We must get accurate information about breastfeeding behaviors to women.  Unfortunately, many medical professionals are not up to date on breastfeeding behaviors.  Even many breastfeeding professionals have varying opinions that come into play when they are helping mothers.  Parents of babies who are successfully breastfeeding need to make it clear to medical professionals who deal with breastfeeding pairs that it is important to us that they continue their education about breastfeeding regularly.  When it comes to medical professionals, we are the consumers, and our demand drives their business.  If enough people let them know that this accurate information is important to consumers, they will listen and focus more on that area.  And what they learn may not impact each of us directly, but it will impact mothers who are worried or struggling.

Parents who have successfully breastfed also need to be an ear and a support for moms who are just starting out, or who have concerns.  Historically, this is how it worked.  This is why there were not breastfeeding specialists back when everyone breastfed.  We didn't need them because our collective pool of information was so vast.  But now, the pool of experience with breastfeeding is much more shallow, so those of us who have been successful need to put ourselves forward for those who are trying, or are worried!

Parents who haven't been successful at breastfeeding, or who never tried, can still help with this!  If you are a support person for a newly breastfeeding mom, or for a mom who has concerns, one of the best ways you can help is by helping her to do research!  It seems like it is easy enough to do a Google search, but when you are spending the majority of your awake time holding a baby in one hand and a breast in the other, it can be a bit hard to look things up.  If mom is worried about whether the baby is getting enough, Google "How to tell if breastfed baby is getting enough milk".  If mom is worried about how often baby is nursing, Google "How often should a ___ week old baby breastfeed".  Then either print up good articles and bring them to her, or call her and read them to her off the computer.  A few good websites to start researching breastfeeding topics are www.kellymom.com or www.lalecheleague.org.  Both are evidence based and are continuously updated with new information.

And if you are a mom who is breastfeeding, and people are telling you things that don't sound or feel right to you, don't be afraid to do research on your own.  If the doctor says you need to switch to formula because of some issue, do an internet search and find out if this is the evidence based practice for this issue.  Or, call a La Leche League leader (their phone numbers are available online if you have never been to a meeting) and ask them what La Leche League's stance or advice on that issue is.  Or, call a lactation consultant and ask what her training says (and if one lactation consultant says something that you think is off, don't be afraid to call another one).  Or call your local WIC office (even if you don't qualify for WIC) and ask to speak to their breastfeeding peer - and ask her what WIC's stance on that issue is.  You will OFTEN find that the doctor is having you switch to formula not because it is what is best for baby, but because the doctor does not have the experience in dealing with your particular breastfeeding issue, and the only answer the doctor has is to suggest formula.  Another thing that you will often find is that taking the advice of just one person on breastfeeding will be detrimental to your breastfeeding experience.  We all have our own experiences that shape our beliefs about things.  If the one person you talk to had a different experience in the area you are concerned with, they may not have a perspective that will help you.  It is important to advocate for yourself enough to talk to more than one person.  If you speak with 2-4 people who all have the same advice, then that is likely the best solution.  But most times, speaking to 2-4 people will yield at least 2-3 different ideas.

4.  We must support women's selves, women's bodies, and women's integrity in general, if we are going to have higher breastfeeding rates.  When women see their bodies as only sexual objects, they are missing an entire spectrum of self pride, and self-actualization.  When we spend our whole lives being told by advertising that our breasts are meant to sell cars, there is going to be a good chance that we are going to feel odd about allowing those same breasts to nourish a baby.  If we are shamed our whole lives into keeping ourselves covered up at all times, and told that "no one wants to see that" or that "only bad girls show their bodies off", it is hard to bring those parts of ourselves out and share them with someone else - even our own babies.  When men "just being men" involves unwanted sexual attention, touching, and especially rape, we are not supporting women.  When this is the case, we are not supporting women's bodies.  And when we are not supporting women and we are not supporting women's bodies, we are not giving women the support that they need to believe in themselves; or to believe in their ability to feed and nourish their babies.  It is imperative for our breastfeeding rates that we start supporting women in just being women.  We need to support them through growing up.  We need to support them through becoming educated.  We need to support them through becoming wives.  We need to support them through becoming mothers.  Then, and only then, will women actually be in a position to make true choices for their bodies.

Likewise, only when we are supporting women in all of these ways will they be able to make a true CHOICE about whether or not they will breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months, continue breastfeeding through at least the first year, and then continue to breastfeed as long as is mutually agreeable to mother and child (hopefully at least the first 2 years) - as the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

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