Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Breastfeed or not to Breastfeed....the Yes Side

The decision to breastfeed was not something that was cut and dry for me. Throughout my entire pregnancy I took the attitude that "I was willing to try it" but I had no expectations because I had heard so many conflicting stories. The pre-natal classes and all the nurses I encountered pushed it to the point of annoyance. The evening class I attended on the "Basics of Breastfeeding" misled me to believe that the hardest part of feeding was getting the baby to latch properly. Wrong. The decision whether or not to breastfeed (as I have come to learn) is a very personal one and weighs on a number of factors that are unique for every mother and baby. I will tackle the benefits that led me to both try and continue breastfeeding in this blog post. I will follow-up with my next post about the pitfalls that have sometimes made this decision difficult, as well as some general things I discovered.

There are so many benefits of breastfeeding, only some of which I was aware of prior to giving birth. The most obvious ones to me were those regarding the nutritional value of the milk, the bond between baby and mom, and the simple fact that it doesn't cost a cent. One of the "secret" benefits that I discovered was how convienent it was. When my little guy was crying with hunger pains, all it took was sitting comfortably and hauling up my shirt. On times when we bottle fed him, he screamed for much longer when we waited impaitently for his bottle to warm and for him to settle well enough to take it. With breastfeeding, whenever we went out I required no feeding equipment with the exception of fresh breast pads in case of leaks, facecloths for his messy face and on occasion my cover for certain places where I felt it necessary. Bottles required a cooler to keep the milk cold and something to warm them up when he was ready for feeding time, thus much more equipment and hassle.  Another unknown benefit was the weekly clinic that allowed me to have him weighed every week, answer any questions I had and meet other moms like me with babies at different stages. Finally, I had no idea how much I would love breastfeeding. Once myself and my son got over the growing pains of getting used to the whole experience it became so easy. I found that I really enjoyed the feeding and still do. I plan at this point continue for at least his first year, but I also know that it may not be up to me, as babies can be unpredictable.

During the first few days there was a learning curve for getting him to latch well but thank goodness for nipple cream. There was the initial worry for ensuring that the baby was getting enough milk but aside from the weekly clinics for hard evidence in the weight, there were other things we could watch for. We kept an official count of the number of heavy wet diapers in the first few days, and a more loose count once this was established. Six-plus heavy wet diapers was the recommended number to watch for, and luckily our little guy hit that one out of the park. Another factor was both the number and consistency of the bowel movements. Breastfed infants have poops that resemble mustard in color and have seed-like nodules in the diapers indicating that he got enough fat in his feeds.  Again he was great here - five-plus per day.  If his poop was green it meant he wasn't getting enough fat - and that was most likely due to switching sides too soon. He has to eat from one side until he drains it to ensure he gets enough. With practice I got good at knowing when my breast was empty - it felt softer and looser.  When he drains a side it also means that he lasts longer between feeds. To keep it straight which side for the next feeding I wore a rubber band around my wrist and switched after every feed.  To keep him awake during feeds as he had a tendency to fall asleep, I played with his feet, tickled his back and put his little hand in my mouth and sucked his fingers. I tried a cold cloth a couple of times but it startled him too much. In the first few weeks I stripped him down to his diaper to keep him cool so he would stay awake but when he got used to feeding I decided to keep him dressed. I also changed his diaper after he broke his latch the first time to wake him up so he could finish his feeding.
In the beginning I was encouraged to make sure he fed every three hours and to wake him to make sure he fed this often. I got a lot of flack from a lot of people for waking him but I would recommend it until your baby surpasses his birth weight. Feeding this often not only made sure he got enough but also it made sure that I produced enough in the beginning while my supply was first being established. Infants also feed on demand, so if he wanted to eat every two hours or even every hour, I sucked it up and got comfy!

Check out other breastfeeding posts involving the pitfalls and some pumping advice

Momma's Musts
  • Make your own decision. Breastfeeding is a very personal choice and should be yours to make with support from your partner.
  • Pay attention to cues. Check your baby's diapers for the right number of wet and number two's, and get used to knowing when your breasts are empty to ensure your little one is getting enough food.
  • Use a rubber band or elastic to track which side is next for feeding.
  • Wake baby for feeding. I know it seems wrong to wake a sleepy baby but to make sure you produce enough milk as you begin to establish a supply, and to get in those first few weeks of essential growth I would recommend feeding at least every three hours until birth weight is surpassed, even if the baby is sleepy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Going Home - Post Partum Recovery

Throughout my entire pregnancy any anxiety I experienced was almost entirely related to my fears regarding labour and delivery. Yes, I hoped to have a normal and healthy baby but worried much more about the supposed "worst pain of your life."  So the moment my darling little boy emerged into the world I felt instant relief and I felt that the worst was over.  I realized very soon after that I had been wrong.  I hadn't given a second thought to the recovery process during the entire nine months that I was pregnant and up until the actual delivery I still hadn't. In the hours that passed soon after my little boy was born, I very quickly wished I had given the recovery some thought prior to then.

First things first. I needed stitches. Down there. I was numb from my epidural so I didn't feel it, but as I lay waiting for my little bundle to come for first cuddles I was a little mortified watching the resident doctor take his time pulling stitches through my tear. He informed me it was a small tear, but he was sewing for what seemed like an eternity. When I questioned him about it he said he just wanted to do a good job. I was unconvinced but I was helpless against his needle.  I tried to ignore him stationed at the foot of my bed and focus only on my new baby, but it wasn't easy.

The next unpleasant surprise was trying to walk post-epidural and use the bathroom for the first time. Turns out I could handle the former but no dice on the latter. Great.  Plus no one ever told me about the blood. I bet even reading this now most people are grimacing and gasping that I dare bring up this fact. Newsflash - you bleed after you give birth - of course you do! I wish I had had someone to inform me that A LOT was okay and very normal. Thankfully it only seemed like A LOT during my first two bathroom attempts, the second of which I was a lot more successful in using the washroom. Another thing - the peri bottle is your new friend. This bottle is designed to allow you to spray yourself to keep clean and it is very much needed and from my experience- very much wanted. I had never heard of it before and was a little freaked at the nurses showing me how to use it. However, I soon adjusted and grew to love it.

Those unpleasant surprises were just skimming the surface - I haven't mentioned how tired, sore and raw you feel. There are pain meds that I availed of and didn't feel bad about it. I was also one of the lucky ones and able to shower less than 12 hours post delivery. I wasn't too weak and the shower felt good, even though it was in the dingy hospital shower stall.  Despite the chipped tiles and damp clothes from the spray leaking behind the sticky shower curtain, I felt much better.  I managed a private room after the first night and that was a saving grace. Another thing I realized is that hospital food really is THAT BAD. Have your significant other bring you something to eat other than that junk.

To add to all of this is that I was now breastfeeding for the first time in my life. The nurses were helpful - don't get me wrong but they all had different suggestions that were very contradictory. I will explore this fact more in another post. I was so eager to go home and less than 44 hours from my entrance into the hospital mid labour we were on our way home. One of the driving forces behind this was the success of breastfeeding. My little guy was great with the boob!

Allright, so I survived my time in hospital for my own recovery. Now on to baby - up until that time, I had never changed a diaper in my life - aren't you supposed to have instincts to magically know this immediately? I had some nervous moments, but after those first few changes I mastered it pretty fast. I felt as though everyone was watching to see how I was coping with it. It's not a nice feeling to be watched while caring for your own baby and not really feeling confident in your own abilities yet.

Going home was a relief but it was also a whirlwind. I was exhausted since the moment I became a momma and there appeared to be no day in sight where I would get to catch up on my much needed sleep. I was sore and stiff, and still fat and not caring a smidge about looking nice. It was nice to have my husband and immediate family from both sides there - all excited about being new grandparents and aunts and uncles and willing to help - but beyond that was where I lost my visitor morale. Cousins came out to see him when he was just a couple of days old and I should have said no to their requests. I didn't want to be mean and shy away from the visitors but by the fourth day home I was refusing everyone. I wanted a "closed" sign on my front door to give my new family of three time to just be. I wished these eager visitors had waited until a few weeks had passed so I could at least clean up and be alert enough to enjoy them when they came one after another. After those first few days, I learned to say no to the visitors and took some time to allow myself and my husband adjust to this brand new life.

The last of the major recovery surprises was that I felt watched by everyone - my family, friends and my doctor for signs of Post Partum Depression - the infamous baby blues. I have become a firm believer that while PPD is a serious illness, it is a far cry from the rollercoaster emotions you experience when you get home! The lack of sleep alone is enough to make anyone want to cry their eyes out or snap the head off someone. I had issues with the fact that nothing fit me anymore, that I struggled to catnap between feeds while my mind raced, and yes dare I say it - when I made the dreaded first washroom visit. That was harder than labour for me simply because I had never been forewarned about what to expect. Some tears did flow and I had my rants but I always felt better after an outburst. I only had a couple crying bouts and then things slowly got easier. Most importantly I learned that it was okay to be a little sad and frustrated at times, I was just learning all this!

All that being said - the best part of those first days was that I was in awe of my son - of all his features, how instinctual he was - and just how amazing it was that he had been living inside of me just days ago. I was deliriously happy despite all the recovery hiccups and tried to focus on that point regardless of how tough some of the adjustments were.

Momma's Musts:
  • Be recovery ready - labour may not be the worst part and you have a lot to face when you get home. Ask other moms you know how they coped, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it!
  • Say no to visitors - if you are not in the mood, its okay to politely refuse the company. Ask them to wait until you have adjusted. They will understand if they are true to you! (Side note - if a friend has a new baby give them some space! Offer to help but wait to visit until they are ready)
  • Don't be hard on yourself - allow some time to learn how to care for your little one and to adjust to your demanding new schedule. It is a major adjustment and its okay to cry every now and again. However, be wary if your depressed feelings continue and don't be afraid to seek help if they do.
  • Live in the moment  - you're a new mommy and under all the unpleasantness of recovery is this little person that you created and are now sustaining his/her life! That's pretty awesome :)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Reliving Labour

What is labour like?

Well the truth is as all the books say, it is different for everyone. I always hated that statement to some degree. I was desperate for some real story about labour - particularily one that answered the question - how do you know you're in labour?
The thing was - I didn't! I had three seperate sets of Braxton Hicks contractions that came about a week before I delivered. Braxton Hicks were tightenings of my belly that were very distinct and came at steady intervals. I had read that to determine if they were Braxton Hicks to take a shower. If they are fake contractions, the shower will make them go away. So I got in the shower, but they didn't fade away. I got excited, and tracked the contractions for hours thinking they would soon worsen and I would be off to the hospital. The shower rule was not true for me - they faded away all of a sudden after several hopeful hours later.

Real labour struck me one afternoon and because I had had so many false alarms I did not believe it was real. The difference this time - I was having pain in my lower back. I resisted beliving it was real a little too long. The contractions came steadily and were progressing very fast. I was in denial and I had known from my last ob/gyn appointment that I was nearly 2cm dilated already.  I was afraid of being the girl who cried baby. It was the real deal though, the worst cramping I had ever had in my back in my lifetime.

The books had said the first baby would take hours in early labour and that you should wait it out at home. So I was fully prepared to watch movies, sit and wait. That was wrong! My contractions went from 10 min apart to 5 min apart in less than half an hour, just an hour total after my first inkling of labor. I progressed fast and once I arrived in hospital I was 5c. This was much to the surprise of the doubting doctors and nurses who thought I was crazy to have come in after just 2 hours of labor on my first baby. Long story short I jumped from that 5cm to 9 cm in 2 agonizing hours and recieved my epidural unknown to my nurse when I was 9cm and 100% effaced. They panicked when they realized that maybe the epidural had come too late.  I had survived the contractions up to that point by not freaking out and breathing slowly and carefully - it really did work. I also squeezed my husband's hand until I nearly broke his fingers. That helped me focus.  No one was allowed to speak around me while I was having contractions either. I was not a nice lady then. The bathtub was also my best friend for labour progress. The hot water not only helped the pain but I found out after had actually helped soften my cervix.

The epidural slowed the progress to a snail's pace - it took nearly 3 hours for the remaining 1 cm. But I would recommend the epidural all the way. I could actually have a conversation! I wasn't in absolute agony anymore with the worst period-like cramps and shaking of my life.  I felt the urge to push just before midnight that night, just 9 hours after my labor had started. They warned that typical pushing for a first baby was between 2 and 3 hours. I was prepared. But I concentrated very hard on pushing and made no noise, putting every ounce of my effort into bearing down. It took about 50 minutes to push out my little boy and the tears and laughter that followed were worth every minute of the labour pains.

Momma's Musts:
  •  Believe it - Labor really wasn't that bad
  • Trust your instincts - I KNEW I was progressing fast and wasn't fitting into the typical category for a first pregnancy no matter what "they" said
  • Epic Epidural - highly recommend even though it slowed things - well worth it
  • Save energy when you push - don't scream! Focus!!