Breastfeeding

The Benefits of Lactation Consultants and a Review of Mahala Mama

When my daughter was a year old I battled a horrible breast infection of some kind. I say of some kind because in spite of multiple doctor’s office visits and dozens of different treatments including antibiotic, antifungals, herbal, topical over the counter etc, none of the doctor’s I talked to could track it down. I was desperate for a local lactation consultant. But when I talked to the local hospitals I was told that I could only see their lactation consultants if I was being treated in the hospital. So eventually I gave up. After almost two months of fighting pain so bad that I felt like someone was crushing glass inside my nipples after every nursing session and losing days of my life to crippling pain, I quit breastfeeding. The pain stopped almost immediately. But I was disappointed that no one really knew what was wrong. My doctor was wonderfully supportive and while she was breastfeeding friendly, she was a family doctor and her knowledge was limited. We tried everything she could think of.

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Robin (on the right) looking way too skinny

When my son began losing weight at around 5 months, I headed to my doctor’s office for blood work to check my iron and thyroid levels to see if there was a chemical reason for my low milk supply. I asked if she could recommend a lactation consultant locally and this time she gave me a pamphlet for Mahala Mama. Mahala Mama was initially based out of New Jersey, but they now have a consultant based in the LehighValley, Amy Nansteel. While Amy was unable to give me a full consultation immediately, she got me a hospital grade pump the day after I talked to her and came to give me some informal instruction on how to use it. She and Beth (one of the NJ based consultants) came to see me as soon as they could and their visit made all the difference.

One of the great things about Mahala Mama is that their consultants come to you. Beth and Amy visited me in my own home and worked with me in my living room. They showed me how I could change the position in which I nursed my son to help with his reflux and thus make him more willing to nurse again. (Part of the issues with my low supply were caused by his refusal to nurse for long because of severe reflux). They recommended a more ideal bottle that I could use for feedings so that he wouldn’t get too used to the bottle and then refuse the breast. (They weren’t the most expensive specialty bottles on the market either). Most importantly they encouraged me that I was doing the right thing and that with a little help I had a very good chance of rebuilding my milk supply. On their recommendation I began taking fenugreek and the Mother Love Plus and Mother Love Special Formula several times a day in addition to my pumping efforts. Within two months he was back on my breast milk via nursing alone without any supplemental bottles of my sister’s breast milk. (It was so nice having a sister whose baby was the same age as mine who had a massive oversupply and a freezer full of milk).

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Finally getting a little pudge in those cheeks.

Later, when I had to give my son formula during a nursing strike, Amy didn’t condemn or ridicule me. She gave me tips via phone and email the best that she could but ultimately encouraged me to take my baby to the doctor to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong. Amy’s primary goal as a lactation consultant, and the goal of all the members of Mahala Mama is to give you the nursing experience you want. They helped me push through because I wanted to keep nursing as long as I could. But I ultimately decided to wean my son at 12 months because I was ready to be done nursing for a number of physical and emotional reasons, Amy didn’t think any less of me. In fact, she applauded all the hard work I had put in to make it as far as I did.

I’ve heard horror stories from friends about some lactation consultants who would rather see a baby lose weight than supplement with bottles. Amy always considered my son’s health and my needs first, never letting her own opinions or agenda get in the way. However, most lactation consultants are wonderful, caring medical professionals who are there to help you and your baby through a difficult time. I wish I had called Amy sooner, rather than waiting until my son lost weight. Next time, I think I’ll call her right after the baby is born if things are not getting well established. My son was never a very strong nurser because of his laid back personality and severe reflux. I also found out that my milk comes in unusually late, which can sometimes be a problem, but now I know in the future what I need to be prepared for.

If you are looking for a lactation consultant, or are having any struggles with nursing don’t wait, call a lactation consultant. If you are an expecting mom or a new mom and you feel unsure of yourself when it comes to nursing, don’t wait, call a lactation consultant. If you are from the Lehigh Valley/Eastern NJ area, call Mahala Mama. They love what they do and they’ll help you every way they can.

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The Motherly Art of Frugality: A Review of Reusable Breast Pads

I only used one kind of breast pad for my first pregnancy and they were cheap and worked fine, except when my daughter occasionally slept more than couple of hours, in which case I woke up drenched. With my son, I didn’t have many problems with leaking so I may not be the best person to attest to these products for someone with massive milk leakage. That being said, when I was shopping around for breast pads I really wanted a good comparison chart, and none existed that I could find. So, in honor of my son’s weaning, as I pack up my breast pads to wait for the next little member of our family, here are my reviews.

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Gerber Nuk breast pads: Amazon.com $14.99 for 6 pair

These are some of the cheapest reusable breast pads you can get. These are what I used while breastfeeding my first child and most of them survived to be used again with a second. These are basic and not overly absorbent, but for daytime use, I didn’t need them to be. They are also the only truly flat and thin pads I could find. Everything else seemed to be bulky by comparison. But they won’t hold up to lots of leaks. These are somewhat waterproof but if you frequently dry them in the dryer if will eventually wreck the waterproof later. They can sometimes be found cheaper at Target, so check the prices at your local stores. Overall, if money is tight and you are hoping to save money by avoiding disposable breast pads, these are the way to go.

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Charlie Banana breast pads: Amazon.com $15.95 for 3 pair

These are the most absorbent pads I’ve ever used. I bought them on a recommendation from my sister, who said they were incredible absorbent and practically leak proof. The fleece was a little warm feeling in the hot months, but not too bad. These were fantastic overnight pads, but I found them a little bulky for day time use, but they did lay relatively flat. Unfortunately the white interior fleece also stained. Not sure why this was, but it may have been specific to the composition of my breast milk. Granted, no one saw these but me and the baby. But it was discouraging to pay so much for these and then have them stain. But these were my go-to night pads. Rarely had a leak that these couldn’t handle, even when the baby slept through the night.

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Happy Heiney’s hemp breast pads: Amazon.com $12.50 for 3 pair

These were another nice option for nighttime, though not as soft as the fleece in the Charlie Banana or the Knickernappies. But the hemp was also cooler than the fleece. I had them in two different diameters, though I’m not sure if they still make them in both sizes. The small size worked Ok for day time, but were still a little thicker than I liked and either size worked at night. In some ways I preferred larger pads at night since almost every brand I tried was prone to move out of place. While the hemp makes these pads very absorbent, they are not waterproof, so I didn’t love them for serious overnight engorgement leaks.

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WillowSprouts cotton hemp nursing pads:
Amazon.com $14.95 for 4 pair

These are nice pads and a pretty good deal, but really neither here nor there. They are thin, the only pads I could find that hid under clothes almost as smoothly as my Gerber pads. They can handle some leaks, but they aren’t super absorbent and they aren’t waterproof either. But they were also more reasonably priced than most of the breast pads I tried. Though much softer and more comfortable than the cheap Gerber. Also, one of the only pads I could use comfortably when I struggled with blebs.

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Knickernappies Stay-Dry nursing pads:
Amazon.com $12.99 for 3 pair 

These were my second favorite night time breast pad. They were thinner than the Charlie Banana pads, but not as absorbent, though also just as waterproof. Because of their thinness they were less bulky looking, but also more likely to bunch up. Overall still a good choice.

I liked all of these breast pads and each of them had a great place in my stash. Plus, I saved a small fortune and possibly a small forest by using reuseable instead of disposable pads. Another great sources are your local cloth diaper stores. Babiesrus or Target may have a small selection of reuseable nursing pads, but usually they are limited in their offerings. Buy Buy Baby has been moving in a more natural living friendly direction, including stocking some bumGenius diapers. So check one out if there are any in your area. Most of my pads came from Amazon.com, but I also shopped Kelly’s ClosetCotton Babies, and Diapers.com. The only thing I regret never trying was wool, mostly do to the high cost. But perhaps I can snag a few (or make a few) when baby #3 comes around.

Categories: Breastfeeding, budget | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

On Strike: Coping with an underweight baby and a nursing strike

My son woke up two weeks ago and did his usual morning nurse in bed with me. He then refused to nurse for the rest of the day. For the next week he only nursed first thing in the morning for five minutes, sometimes ten. Having already been underweight this was one of the worst possible times for a nursing strike.

My first instinct was to completely freak out. Even with his earlier weight issues we had never had to resort to giving him formula. (Just to clarify, I support women who choose formula, it just wasn’t what I wanted for my baby). He got two bottles of breastmilk a day, and two bottles of formula a day. I pumped with my commercial pump four or five times a day plus a middle of the night session. Eventually I rented a hospital grade pump. Then after a little more than a week he decided to start nursing again. I still think that teething played a huge role, but it feels good that the worst is finally over. But there were moments when I thought I would never nurse again and it really depressed me. But I tried to focus on his health first and deal with my emotions later.

Things I learned from my son’s nursing strike:

Pump, pump, and pump some more

The best chance you have to get back to nursing is to maintain your supply.  If you can get access to a hospital grade pump for a reasonable price, it may well be worth it. I was able to pump more in a shorter period of time with the hospital grade pump which gave me more time to have a life while still pumping as much as possible.

Formula supplementation isn’t the end
I had to put my son on soy formula, which I had really battled against doing in the past, due to a possible dairy allergy. (We meet with the allergist for the first time this week). I didn’t like the idea of soy formula. I was worried about possible negative side effects. But when it came down to it, formula was preferable to starvation. In my case, my son already occasionally had bottles so letting him have bottles meanwhile worked. Some breastfeeding experts would say that a hungry baby will eventually nurse, just give it time. In most cases I agree with this. But my son was already underweight and losing weight. I couldn’t afford to wait for him to get over it.

Keep offering
I had almost stopped offering him the opportunity to nurse altogether during the day because I had gotten so tired of him fighting me and the defeated feeling every time he refused to nurse. I ached (sometimes literally) to nurse him but settled for giving him a bottle. Then I was out at a mom’s group when he seemed hungry. I had a bottle with powdered formula in my bag but I didn’t feel like running to get it right then. So I nursed him and he actually latched and nursed, even with all of the distractions of the room. I was ecstatic. An hour or two later he nursed again and so on until finally at bedtime he nursed to sleep for the first time in over a week.

Nursing strikes can be scary and stressful, but it doesn’t have the equal the end of your nursing relationship.

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Operation Fat Robin: Finally Some Progress

Last Friday we went to my son’s doctor for yet another weigh. Finally some significant progress! He weighs 13 pounds, 13 ounces which is a gain of 13 ounces in 18 days, which is excellent. We’ve now begun giving him solid foods once a day, sometimes twice a day. He absolutely loves it. Usually I cut him off so that he doesn’t replace breast milk with too many solids. His nursing has also increased, making it harder for me to get enough for his supplemental bottles. We’ve cut down his bottles to two 3-4 ounce bottles twice a day instead of 4 ounce bottles three times a day.  I’m hoping that I finally start to breath a sigh of relief. I’m beginning to work my favorite activities such as writing (and blogging), knitting and dancing back into my life. Now I just need to start exercising again. It is still a struggle to get proper nutrition, given that his sudden mommy phase means that I can rarely put him down long enough to pump or use the bathroom, let alone make myself something to eat. But at least for now I can enjoy the fact that he is growing healthily again.

Of course he now sleeps terribly, instead preferring to cuddle up with me for half the night, but that is another issue entirely.

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Operation Fat Robin Has a Setback

After our initial huge success with weight gain of 13 ounces in two weeks I was ecstatic and I finally felt like I could go back to living a bit more normally. Apparently that was a huge mistake. Two weeks after his weight check, we had Robin’s five month appointment. He had only gained 2-3 more ounces in the two weeks since his weight check. Minimally he needed four ounces, preferably more since he is so skinny. The doctor we saw that day was one we don’t often see and she wasn’t concerned. But I was. When I spoke to the lactation consultant she was concerned as well. She recommended I try to get in to see one of the two other doctors who have been following my son’s weight situation or consider a new doctor’s office. She also recommended that I ask to bring him in for a weight check, since a month is too long to wait for check on his progress and in the meantime increase his intake of supplemental breast milk by bottle to 12-14 ounces per day. As it happens, his reflux meds also need to be adjusted, he’s had some really rough nights.

Yesterday we were able to get in to see one of the doctors who had been more closely following Robin’s case. The good news was that he had gained another 4 ounces in six days. The bad news was that it was mostly because of the extra supplementing and my frozen supply is running low. My friend who provided frozen breast milk is about to wean her daughter and now that my sister is staying home with her son she isn’t pumping  much at all, so both of my sources of extra milk are drying up, literally and figuratively. My pediatrician was sympathetic, and suggested a formula she thought would be most like breast milk. I left the office with three sample cans and a heavy heart. I’m still hoping to avoid using it, but taking those formula cans was definitely a low point for me. I don’t know how much longer I can make the frozen supply last and I’m trying to pump as much of my own as possible to increase my supply, but I don’t know if I can realistically pump 12 ounces a day in addition to nursing. We’ve also started adding tiny amounts of solid food each day to start getting him used to them. We are focusing on high calorie solids like avocado and banana. Hopefully we can still avoid needing formula. Mostly because it’s expensive , just supplementing will cost us almost $50 a month, possibly more. If I were to give up nursing entirely we’re looking at more like $100 a month. Right now it’s a matter of trying to meet in the middle. Keep supplementing until he begins nursing better and his diet consists of enough solids to replace the supplements. Once we have another few weeks of solid weight gain we’ll start experimenting to see how much of a supplement he really needs and hopefully begin to nurse exclusively again.

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