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Jack’s Hair Tourniquet: One of the Most Traumatic Nights of my Life

Last night while we were sitting around the campfire with some friends, I started digging out lint from my 4 month old son Jack’s toes. After one of my friends had a hair tourniquet around her son’s toes recently, I have been a bit paranoid about this happening, so whenever I hold him I pick the lint out of his toes and do a quick check.

When I looked down to check his little piggies, I was astounded to see a tightly wrapped hair around his middle toe. As luck would have it, my friend (the one who previously experienced the hair tourniquet on her son and is also studying to be a midwife) was sitting beside me, and we both quickly rushed inside to get some tools.

Once inside, she held Jack and armed with a needle, tweezers, and scissors, I attempted to free him from this invisible constriction. My first thought was to cut it with a pair of scissors or a knife if the hair was over the nail, but it was just at the cuticle line. Next, I tried to press down on the area below the hair with a needle hoping to slide it under and break the hair. When I did this, blood started to spill around the entire length of the hair.

I started to panic at this point realizing the seriousness of this infliction. Just then Scott came in, realized what was going on, and tried to see if there was a way that he could get at the hair. Thankfully at this point, Jack did not seem to be bothered, but I was already starting to panic when I said,

“We need to take him to the ER.”

We had hoped to stay up past dark and do some of our 4th of July fireworks early, so it was 8:30 and a bit past bedtime by the time we started pulling out of the driveway at our friend’s house. I dropped Scott off at home with the four older kids (10 minutes away) and took Jack to the ER (3 minutes away).

When I checked in, I was in a bit of a panic, but relieved that we would be in good hands, have some kind of anesthesia, and be able to get it taken care of. The nurse that assisted me in getting Jack’s vitals (a mother I knew from one of my son’s field trips) recalled her brother getting a hair tourniquet around his penis, which made the toe seem practically benign!

Being the researcher that I am, I read a medical article about removing hair tourniquets when Scott was driving us home so I knew our options would be dissolving the hair (although not really a possibility since his skin was broken), trying to get at it with more delicate instruments than I had access to, or giving him a local anesthetic and making a perpendicular incision.

When the doctor came in to check (about 9:00 p.m.), he decided that his first course of action would be to put a topical numbing agent on the toe and try to work it out with tweezers and small pliers. I had to hold Jack for about an hour (which was good because I was able to nurse him and get him to sleep) while they waited for the area to get numb.

I was hoping that Jack would be able to sleep through the procedure and that it would be done quickly. As I sat on the exam table holding Jack, his foot resting on the bed and held down my one of the nurses, I thought that this might be a possibility, but this was not quite the case. While his eyes remained closed and a pacifier hung from his mouth, he started to cry every time the pliers were used, and it was clear that the area was not very numb.

I tried to remain calm and hold my tongue for as long as I could, but after about 10 minutes of holding him down while he writhed in pain, I asked,

“Is there something else we can do?”

The doctor sat back, and I could tell this was traumatic for him too, but his mind was buzzing with protocol and logic knowing that now it was time to move on to phase two. He calmly explained what was going to happen next, and we prepared for the next phase.

As I’m writing this now, I don’t know if I can relive this memory again. My eyes are already welling with tears and I can feel myself starting to tremble. The next five hours was one of the most traumatic times of my entire life.

The entire time this is happening, I’m posting on FaceBook and texting my mom and husband to keep everyone in the loop. The support I was receiving really helped me to keep things under control, and I put myself in the mindset that this doctor knew what he was doing, and was going to do everything necessary to help Jack.

I didn’t know if I could look once I saw the needles and scalpels, but I wanted to be a voice for Jack, so while soothing him the best I could, I looked, and I saw everything.

Cutting Jack's Toe

Cutting Jack’s Toe

He was asleep when they started, but once the needle with the local anesthetic had to be injected into his toe numerous times, he woke up screaming bloody murder. After more pokes than I could count, I whisked him up to rock, bounce, and calm him down again knowing that if he was calm and numb it would be the best for everyone.

At this point, it’s about 10:30 p.m., and the small town hospital ER is a ghost town except for the doctor and three nurses in our room. As I prepared Jack in my lap and sat on the bed, I started thinking about the research that I had read on the way over and knew that now there would be an incision. I held onto Jack’s torso and when the doctor asked me to also hold onto his leg, I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle that, so asked one of the nurses to do so.

“Can we get another pair of hands here?”

I asked, knowing how important a still baby would be (especially as I recalled the tongue tie procedure I had to go through with Julian…right up there with top traumatic experiences). The doctor said, “Yes, let’s get another pair of hands in here.”

Honestly, I can’t write about what happened in the next 20-30 minutes with much detail, but let’s just say there were several cuts with a scalpel, digging with a needle, more cuts, more digging, me seeing Jack flinch when they cut him, asking if the area was really numb, more shots of local anesthetic right in the cuticle, a few more incisions going deeper this time, more digging, Jack screaming bloody murder the ENTIRE time, lots of blood that the doctor had to wipe up himself in between cuts, and finally me knowing that he had been put through enough and saying again,

“Okay, what needs to happen now,”

The doctor tipped back in his chair and pulled the magnifying glasses to the top of his head sighing and said,

“I feel like I’ve done all I can here, and I don’t feel comfortable going any deeper. At this point, with my limited tools, I have no way of knowing if I actually got the hair.”

I asked if we would be going to the Devos Children’s Hospital (in Grand Rapids, about an hour away), and he said probably yes, and that he was going to make some calls. The entire time he’s telling me this, Jack is still screaming. Nothing is calming him down.

Finally everyone leaves the room, Jack nurses, and as he’s perched calmly on my shoulder, I FaceTime with Scott and tell him what’s going on. Thinking that I would be home anytime, he was up doing fireworks with the kids, but knew then that he would have to put everyone to bed by himself. Next, I FaceTimed with my mom to see if she could meet me at Devos because I didn’t want to be alone.

As I started filling her in on what was going on, it suddenly hit me what they were going to have to do at the Children’s Hospital to get the hair off. I saw images of me holding him down again while they gave him more shots with more blood and scalpels or of him having to go under (which JUST happened with Ruby only the day before for a tooth extraction and was a very traumatic experience as well), and I felt myself slipping into what I can only imagine is a panic attack.

My heart raced, my limbs felt numb, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I could feel myself slipping into darkness like I might pass out or go absolutely crazy. I was silent with my mom for several long seconds as I tried to breathe deeply to get the feeling to pass. It was 11:20 at that point, and my mom bolted up in bed and said,

“I’m coming to you honey.”

“Okay mom,” I replied with tears in my eyes. At that point a nurse came in to get something, and I asked her if she could find out for sure if we needed to go to Devos, and she said she would check.

I started to feel like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs and followed her out as she went to get the doctor. I followed her right through the door into the central nurses station and blurted, “I need to get some air, I think I’m having a panic attack.” They saw the crazy look in my eyes and one of the nurses quickly bolted up saying, “Here, give me your baby and you go get some fresh air.” I was so happy to have her take him because I felt like I might pass out at any moment and drop him.

The doctor followed me outside and explained again what he had done and why. He said I did a remarkable job of staying calm while he did the procedure, and I thanked him profusely for his steady hand and for doing everything he could.

When I came back in, all of the nurses were playing with a happy Jack, and I kept telling myself that he was screaming bloody murder before because he didn’t like being held down, not because he was feeling every incision.

Nurses Holding Jack

Nurses Holding Jack

At this point, I asked for a phone charger because my phone was about to die, and they let me plug in using one of their personal chargers. I made a comment about how this was right up my husband’s alley since he was the IT guy at the hospital. Even though Scott works first shift mainly, he has gotten called in at all hours of the night, and everyone was like, “I thought your name sounded familiar!” I showed everyone Scott’s picture, and not that they weren’t super sweet before, but they warmed to us even more after that.

The Wonderful Nurses at Reed City Hospital

The Wonderful Nurses at Reed City Hospital

One of the nurses suggested going to the cafeteria to get me some food, and I realized that my blood sugar was probably low which was why I was feeling so faint. I didn’t feel comfortable holding Jack in case I passed out, so one of the nurses carried him for me while we went to the cafeteria. I heard them making a call to the cafeteria as we left saying to put anything I wanted on their account.

After eating some yogurt and apple pie, I felt a bit better. Once we got back to the nurses station, the doctor said that they were ready for us at Devos and that we could drive there when I was ready. I didn’t feel safe driving in the state I was in, so I told my mom to come get me. Just then, Scott called and said he’d be there in 90 seconds. He had gotten one of our friends to watch over our sleeping kids and came to be my night in shining armor!

When I saw him, I collapsed into his arms knowing that he could take over from there. My mom continued driving to relieve our friend and watch the kids. After I nursed Jack, we hopped in the car and headed to Devos.

My mind kept slipping into near panic mode as I thought about what they were going to do to my sweet little Jack, and I tried everything I could to stay sane. I even looked in the mirror and talked to myself about how it was going to be okay. I also prayed…a lot.

It was 2:00 a.m. at this point, and I was exhausted, so I closed my eyes and tried my best to sleep until we got there. After they valeted our van and checked us in, I felt myself slipping back into momma bear mode and knew that I would have to be ready to face whatever happened next.

As the doctor examined his foot, I almost crumpled to the ground in relief when he said,

“Well, I think he got it! The hair is gone.”

He went on to explain how the line on Jack’s foot would still be there for a bit but that there was no constriction anymore. He also looked at the incisions the other doctor had made and remarked on what a fine job he had done. I wept tears of happiness, and felt the greatest sense of relief a mother can feel. It was as life itself had stopped, and I lost everything, but was now getting another chance to have it back.

Getting Checked Out at Devos Children's Hospital

Getting Checked Out at Devos Children’s Hospital

By 5:00 a.m., Jack and I were snuggled into our bed nursing to sleep, and I felt such a great sense of appreciation and thankfulness for the outcome of these events. After only three hours of sleep, I knew I needed to write this story down a) because I wanted to share it with everyone that had been so wonderful, supportive, and concerned and b) to help myself process and accept the events that had taken place. At some point in the near future, I am going to write a thank you card to the wonderful staff at the Reed City Hospital, and I am also going to buy myself a bottle of Nair to keep on hand should this ever happen again.

 

15 Road-Tested Tips for Nursing Your Child in Public

By Guest Blogger: Merril Bainbridge

Author Bio: At 16, Merril Bainbridge began her career in the Australian fashion industry. In her early 20s she left to launch a successful pop music career which saw her at the top of the U.S. Music Charts. Retiring to start a family, she found a new purpose helping breastfeeding women with her fashion label, Peachymama.

15 Road-Tested Tips for Nursing Your Child in Public

Most breastfeeding mothers will agree that despite it being a most natural and incredible experience in many respects, nursing your baby is also not without its trials and tribulations. If you have now successfully established breastfeeding with your newborn, you’ve already overcome many, many difficult obstacles on this steep learning curve and are doing an incredible job. Yet, even so, the prospect of nursing your baby in public for the first time is still a major hurdle to overcome for many women.

The key to successfully nursing your child in public, and enjoying the experience, is 100% down to confidence I believe. In an ideal world, we know that women should never feel uncomfortable about when and where they breastfeed their baby, yet the reality is that for many it is a nerve-wracking prospect. There aren’t many mothers who feel confident about breastfeeding their baby in public from week 1 with their first baby. It is a journey for which most women must take small steps to build confidence.

If you can break down your fears and worries, breastfeeding out and about can be a pleasant experience that allows you to fully enjoy life with your new baby. Whether you are worried about negativity from others, or revealing too much of your postpartum body, or a screaming baby drawing attention to yourself, there is plenty you can do to prepare yourself and feel as comfortable and confident as possible.

1. Do What Comes Naturally, One Step At A Time

A golden rule is to be kind to yourself and take this journey as slowly as necessary. You have just given birth and are adjusting to a whole new world. It is essential that you nurture yourself as well as baby, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get out there immediately.

If you are one of the lucky women who feels confident about feeding their baby out and about any time from day 1, then brilliant: do it. Otherwise take baby steps. Start with feeding your baby in front of friends and family at home, then take short trips to familiar places where you’ll feel most comfortable, preferably with a supportive companion. It won’t take too many feeding sessions to build enough confidence to feel like you can go anywhere, but take it at your own pace.

2. Know Your Rights

To feel confident about feeding in public, you need to be absolutely certain of your rights to be nursing in that place. For this reason it pays to do some research when it comes to your entitlement to when and where you can breastfeed. Some women like to carry a copy of local laws with them for if they were to ever be challenged, as being able to repeat the wording of the laws at a stressful time could be difficult! Note though that relatively few mothers are ever challenged; it’s just good to be prepared.

Almost universally speaking, the laws in most English-speaking countries are very much on the side of breastfeeding mothers. The exact level of protection will depend on where you are reading this: in the US women in 47 states are fully protected by laws allowing them to breastfeed in public, and in two more there is protection from prosecution under indecency laws. There seems to be no known cases of a woman being prosecuted for breastfeeding in public in recent history. UK and Australian citizens are protected by similar laws, and you can find out current legislation through helpful services like the Australian Breastfeeding Association or the La Leche League in the UK.

3. Be Proud and Be Prepared

There are many mind-blowing reasons to choose to breastfeed your baby, for health and otherwise, and you will have already made your choice based on these. Be confident in your choice, and know that nurturing your infant in this way is an incredible thing.

Unfortunately not everybody is as well educated when it comes to breastfeeding. From time to time, breastfeeding mothers are the victims of derogatory comments from members of the public. These incidents are often widely reported on social media, sometimes even through the press. Unsurprisingly, the prospect of an unpleasant experience like this worries many mothers. The risk of it happening generally depends on the cultural norms and the proportion of breastfeeding mothers in the area where you live. Thankfully in most places where lots of women breastfeed it is incredibly rare to encounter any negativity. Yet, it is still a concern for everyone.

You could have a few witty retorts or pointed jokes ready at the back of your mind, but seeing as the only people who are likely to make comments are those who are misinformed, a little education will go a long way. There is very little to argue against when you point out that all respected medical bodies, including the World Health Organisation, recommend long-term breastfeeding.

4. Dress for Success

The last thing you want be doing while trying to soothe a hungry baby in a busy place is to be fumbling around with awkward clothing. Aside from specially designed nursing bras, choose loose fitting tops that are easy to pull up or across, perhaps with a second layer underneath that you can pull down under the breast if you are feeling self-conscious about your tummy. Some moms like to tuck a muslin or cloth into their bra strap while nursing to drape down and over the breast; just be sure baby is not getting too hot. For the most discreet feeding, there are thankfully now plenty of beautifully designed, flattering breastfeeding clothes available with clever access for baby built-in, including dresses. You needn’t feel that breastfeeding requires you to lose your sense of style.

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to self-confidence when breastfeeding is to be sure exactly what you are and are not revealing and be happy with it. After all, we all have different tolerance levels to how much skin we are prepared to reveal while we nurse baby. If necessary, practice at home in front of a mirror, unclipping your bra, latching baby on and clipping your bra back together when baby is finished until you feel comfortable and ready to conquer the outside world.

6. Consider a Cover…

Not everyone feels the need for a specially designed breastfeeding cover, but if you are feeling self-conscious like many new moms, this is one way to be sure you won’t be revealing any skin at all. These clever inventions usually attach around your neck and entirely cover baby and your top-half. You can choose from a wide range of funky fabrics too.

7. …Or a Sling

For the ultimate in convenience, you could get yourself a breastfeeding friendly sling. With some styles you may need to stop, sit down and reposition baby in order to feed, but there are others available where you can breastfeed while standing, depending on the size of your child.

8. Use a Buffer

If you are still feeling nervous and are out with your partner or a companion, you could position them as a screen or buffer to the outside world for a bit of extra confidence.

9. Twist Away

A useful tip if you are concerned about people very close by seeing too more than you want them too, is to turn away and latch your baby onto your breast with your back to people since this is the time you are most likely to inadvertently reveal a nipple. It won’t seem rude since it is just for a moment until baby is happily feeding and shielding your breast with its head.

10. Entertain Older Babies

The older your baby gets, generally the more fidgety it gets. If your baby is getting to this stage consider a few tactile things it can play with while feeding, such a silky scarf around your neck or a necklace. Whatever you choose make sure it is super safe for baby and keep a super close eye on them while they are playing to make sure nothing is blocking their airway.

11. Do Your Research

You need comfy places to nurse baby and this is something you can research before baby even arrives. Make a list of places where you envisage spending time once baby is here, even places like the supermarket. Suss them out for a spot you’ll be happy to nurse in for each place; just remember that you may be there a while so it needs to be comfy and pleasant. You will also need room for your bags and pram and support for your back. Some of the more family-friendly places provided designated rooms for more privacy if you feel you need it. Just remember the car is a better last resort than the bathroom; no one needs to eat lunch in there and definitely not a baby!

12. Don’t Leave it Too Late

If you are keen to avoid attracting attention to yourself, and for a happy baby too, avoid baby getting too hungry and grumpy before you find a spot to settle and nurse. Gradually you’ll get more eagle-eyed to baby’s hunger cues so you can move quickly to a better space while they are still relatively calm. However, if your baby has suddenly woken up ravenous (think growth spurt!) then it’s best just to stop and feed baby as soon as you possibly can, even if it isn’t an ideal location; after all no one can rightfully criticize you for satisfying a hungry child.

13. If All Else Fails, Look Down!

This might seem like surprising advice and at all other times I’d be saying hold your head up high, but if you do find yourself having an attack of nerves a magic remedy is to look down at baby. A happily feeding baby is one of the calmest images you can bring to mind, especially that of your own baby. Remember too that baby is oblivious to whatever fuss is bothering you, all they care about is being well-nourished which is exactly what you are doing for them. Look at baby and remember how amazing they think you are right now!

14. Keep On Going

The more you nurse when out and about, the more natural it is going to feel, trust me. Hang in there!

15. Remember How Amazing You Are

Finally, for a last confidence boost, remember the more women that breastfeed in public the easier it will get for future mothers. Research tells us that a factor in low breastfeeding rates is how breastfeeding mothers feel they are perceived while feeding out and about. Every feed you do out of the house helps normalize breastfeeding and can only boost future breastfeeding figures. You are a hero!

12 Ways to Start a Good Breastfeeding Relationship with Your New Baby

While it is true that breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t mean that it will come naturally to every mother. After having five children, I feel like I have experienced just about every breastfeeding obstacle imaginable, and yet somehow, each time I was able to overcome these difficulties and successfully breastfeed all of my children thanks to a wealth of support and resources.

Now, as I begin another breastfeeding relationship with our fifth baby, I feel confident knowing that I have a plethora of resources at my fingertips to help with any challenges I may have along the way.

I am hoping that I can share what I have learned and what has worked for me over the years so that other mothers can also feel like they have a bag of tricks to reach into and to know that whatever they are going through, there are resources available, and they are not alone.

1. Knowledge is Power

By educating yourself about breastfeeding before your little one is born, you will be better equipped to deal with any troubles if and when they arise.

  • It Will Hurt at First – Especially if this is your first, breastfeeding is going to hurt a bit for the first couple of weeks, and then like some sort of magic, the pain will fade, and you’ll become a seasoned pro! The pain after latching shouldn’t hurt for more than about 5-10 seconds though. If it does, you may be dealing with a bad latch, thrush, or some other issue. (More on this later.)
  • Benefits of Breastfeeding – Breastfeeding has so many amazing benefits such as the transfer of antibodies from mother to baby (so less illness), the decreased likelihood of allergies and dental caries, and the appropriate jaw, teeth, speech, and overall facial development to name a few. Mothers will benefit from reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in addition to saving time by always having a perfect food source warm and ready to go. (Read about more benefits at the La Leche League website.)
  • It’s Not as Common as You Would Think – I think there’s an overall misconception that breastfeeding will come naturally, easily, without complications, and that everyone is doing it. The reality is that 21% of women in the U.S. will not breastfeed at birth and that only 49% of women are still breastfeeding after 6 months (according to 2014 CDC data).

2. Nursing a Newborn

The first 24 hours after your baby is born are crazy! Here you are reveling in the miracle of the birth process…sweaty, bloody, possibly still having yet to deliver the placenta, and here is this tiny creature placed upon your chest, covered with vernix, blood, and breathing oxygen for the first time.

  • Skin to Skin – The first hour of life is a very precious time, and if a baby is put on its mother’s chest right away there are numerous observable benefits including better respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability, decreased stress and less crying, and most importantly, the ability for the baby to find the breast and self attach. With midwifery care, this is standard practice, but if you’re having a hospital birth, you may want to put this into your birth plan.
  • Rooting and Sucking Reflexes – Babies are born with the natural ability to root, which means they will open their mouths if you touch their chin or cheek as they look for the nipple. The sucking reflex is also primitive and allows babies to express milk out of whatever touches the roof of their mouths.
  • Breast Crawl – Babies are born with an instinctual reflex called the breast crawl, where if you put a newborn on his stomach, he will scoot himself up to the breast and latch on by himself. I heard about the breast crawl before my fourth birth, and I kind of tried it, but I just wanted to cuddle him close rather than make him work to find me. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool how babies are perfectly designed so that their needs met.
  • Pumping and a Dropper – Even though we were able to get Ruby to latch on at the birth center, I couldn’t get her to latch on once we got home for what seemed like an eternity. So in a moment of desperation (and brilliance), I pumped my colostrom into a bottle and fed it to her with a dropper until she was able to latch. (This is a good way to avoid the introduction of formula if you’re having a bit of a rough start.)
  • Stomach Size – Newborn babies have VERY tiny stomachs (the size of a marble for the first few days), and do not need an abundance of food. By day three or so when your milk comes in, their stomachs will be about the size of a walnut and ready for increasingly more milk.

3. Best Position to Nurse

By the time my babies are about 3 months old, I feel like an old nursing pro. I can get them to latch on without looking, even while lying down and half asleep. But when we are just beginning our breastfeeding relationship, I need to keep these things in mind.

  • Get in Position – By sitting on the edge of my bed or in a rocking chair with a nursing stool, I will lean forward slightly to get in the best position to feed my baby.
  • Cradle Hold – This is the easiest hold to master. In order to do it correctly, make sure that your baby’s chest is lined up with yours and that his or her feet are stacked up on top of each other. His or her head should be nestled in the crook of your arm, and his or her lower arm should be tucked behind your back. I LOVE using My Breast Friend to support this position. A bobby can work too.
    • Other Holds – You might also find success with the crossover hold (same as cradle but with arms reversing jobs and the hand cradling the head), the football hold (where you tuck the baby under your arm like a football with its legs sticking out towards your back), or the reclining position (where you nurse lying down).
  • Room to Breath – Make sure that your baby’s nasal passages are free from boogers (I love using a rolled up tissue to pull boogers out or a saline mist and the Nosefrida for congestion) and that your breast isn’t covering up your baby’s nostrils as you begin feeding.
  • A Comfortable Head Rest – I have found that if I just put the baby’s head in the crook of my arm it gets all sweaty and uncomfortable, but if I tuck a soft blanket under the head, they are much more comfortable. I also like to use the blanket as a way to cover myself if I’m nursing in public and to shade my little one’s eyes if they are falling asleep.

4. How to Get a Good Latch

Once you’re in a good position, the next thing to think about is establishing a good latch. A good latch will be both comfortable and effective. Sometimes when a baby first latches on there is a bit of discomfort, but the pain shouldn’t linger and it shouldn’t be excruciating. If it is, you may have a bad latch.

  • Open Wide: Make sure the baby’s mouth is wide open. You can stimulate this reflex by rubbing your nipple on his or her upper lip.
  • Nipple Flip: Flip the nipple into the baby’s mouth for a deep latch.
  • Roll the Nipple: If the nipple is flat, roll it until it becomes hard.
  • Pinkie Trick: If the baby is having difficulty latching on, put your pinkie into his or her mouth (nail side down) until he or she establishes a good sucking motion. Then, do the old bait and switch by pulling out your pinkie and quickly inserting your nipple.
  • Break the Latch: There might be a bit of pain initially as you get used to the feeling of breastfeeding, but if the pain persists, break the latch by inserting your finger in between your nipple and the baby’s mouth and start over.
  • Keep Trying: If the two of you are not getting a good latch right away, don’t stress out about it. Just keep switching sides, taking breaks, and trying again. You’ll get it eventually. If it’s really taking awhile, you can pump some colostrum and feed it to your baby with a dropper. Their stomachs are the size of marbles at this point, so they don’t need much.
  • Avoid Nipple Confusion: I would avoid using nipple shields. They might work in the short term, but it will be even hard to get your baby to latch on to your nipple after successfully latching on to the nipple shield. I would also avoid all pacifiers and bottles for the first few weeks (or until nursing is established) to avoid nipple confusion.
5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5 Month Old Julian Has a Good Latch

5. Feeding on Demand

Even though newborns need to eat every 1.5-3 hours (with never more than 4 hours in between feedings), I have never felt like I was on a feeding schedule or had to wake my babies up to feed them. Sometimes my babies cluster feed (typically in the evenings), and other times they go long periods just sleeping without eating at all.

I typically nurse on my left side first because it doesn’t produce as much milk and then switch to my right side that produces a LOT more milk. If my right side isn’t fully drained, I’ll start there at the next feeding. (Draining the breast helps to ensure that the baby gets the fatty “hind milk” and prevents you from getting plugged ducts and mastitis.)

When I feed my babies on demand, they always get really chubby. I love the rolls upon rolls and the squishy little cheeks! Some people worry that fat babies will lead to obesity down the road, but studies actually show that the fatter the baby, the skinnier the adult. So feed those babies!

Signs Your Baby is Hungry:

  • Getting a little fussy
  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Rooting around your chest
  • Sucking on objects
  • It’s been a couple of hours since the last feeding

6. Setting Up Nursing Stations

You will want to have at least one primary nursing station set up in your home stocked with everything you’ll need while nursing. As our family and our home has grown, I now actually have three separate nursing stations set up.

My main nursing station is in our mini living room and not only does it have everything I’ll need while nursing, but around it are things to keep my little ones entertained while I’m sitting down to nurse. My 2 year old, Julian, LOVES playing with cars, so I have boxes of cars and ramps for him to play with and my 3 year old, Ophelia, loves doing puzzles and reading books so I have a rack of puzzles and baskets of books for her.

The View From My Nursing Chair

The View From My Nursing Chair

Everything You Need for a Nursing Station

  • Rocking Chair – Each type of rocking chair serves a different purpose.
    • Gliding Rocker – This is the most comfortable day time chair for me. I use this type of chair in our mini living room where I spend most of my time during the day. I love the way it glides back and forth and the arm rests are great for nursing.
    • Old Fashioned Wicker Rocker – I found mine at a garage sale, otherwise these are kind of hard to come by. I LOVE the sweeping up and down motion of this rocker. It is really good for calming a fussy baby.
    • Rocking and Reclining Arm Chair – This chair is soooooooo comfortable, and I am so sad that I waited until baby #5 to get one. I love snuggling up in it at the end of the day to cluster feed before bed time.
  • Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing in any rocking chair.
  • My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
  • Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions as well. It’s also nice to have a dropper in case you’re having a hard time nursing at first.
  • Water Bottle – I always like to drink lots of water whenever I nurse. I usually just fill up mason jars and use lids like these.
  • Nose Frida with Saline Spray– I like to use this snot sucker with saline spray to get the boogers out.
My Living Room Nursing Station

My Living Room Nursing Station

8. Take Care of Your Nipples

The first two weeks of breastfeeding are the toughest. As a first time mom, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could, but I was a bit discouraged during my first two weeks because of how much it hurt. After two weeks, however, my nipples weren’t as sensitive, we were figuring out the whole latch thing, and it suddenly became much much easier. After a month, I felt like an old pro, and after 3 months, I was nursing in my sleep. Here are some tips for dealing with sensitive nipples.

  • Use a Nipple Cream: If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
  • Use Breast Milk: If your nipples are just a little dry or sensitive, give them a little milk bath. It’s very healing.
  • Let Them Air Out: Walk around the house with your shirt off or just cover up loosely with a robe. Your husband will love it and so will your nipples.
  • Cover Them Tightly: I have always been a sleep in a t-shirt kind of girl, but when I’m nursing, I hate the feeling of fabric rubbing against my nipples. I like to bind them up with a bellaband or nighttime nursing bra. The pressure feels great, and it prevents them from leaking all over the place.

9. Avoid Coffee

Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby). With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times anymore.

Read more about caffeine and breastfeeding here.

Alternatives to Coffee

  • Teeccino  – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Although it is most beneficial during pregnancy, red raspberry leaf tea can help to decrease post natal bleeding and increase milk supply. (Source)
  • Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
  • Glass Water Bottle – Drinking lots and lots of water is very important so that you have enough fluids to make all of that milk.

10. Best Diet for Nursing Mothers

I feel like I am at my hungriest when I’m nursing, especially when they start to get closer to that 6 month mark. The time right before they are introduced to solid foods, but still somehow gain tremendous amounts of weight…all from my milk! I love it!

When babies are in the womb, they have our bodies and the placenta to help them filter through whatever food we’re eating, but when they are nursing, they have to go through digestion alone. This is why it is even more important to eat a healthy diet and stay well hydrated. A healthy diet for pregnant and nursing moms should include plenty of raw milk, pastured eggs, butter, cheese, yogurt, grass fed beef, wild caught fish (like salmon), bone broth soup, organic soaked grains, and organic fruits and vegetables.

The important thing is to have healthy meals prepared ahead of time so that you’re not reaching for a bag of chips or tempted by fast food. I like making a making a big pot roast, rotisserie chicken, or healthy soup so that there is always something nourishing that I can grab from the fridge. Things like hard boiled eggs, chunks of cheese, cut up veggies, sourdough muffins, and fresh fruit make good snacks to keep around.

11. Things That Can Make Breastfeeding Challenging

For some women, breastfeeding is easy, for others it is more of a challenge. I highly recommend contacting your local La Leche League (an incredibly helpful breastfeeding organization) before you give birth so that you will a nursing support resource ready to go. Also, if you are a first time mom, I highly recommend taking any classes that are offered and talk to your doctor or midwife about what breastfeeding support they offer.

  • Epidural – The effects of anesthesia or an epidural make both the mother and the baby tired and sluggish which can make breastfeeding difficult at first.
  • Traumatic Birth Experience – If you had a traumatic birth experience, it can have a negative effect on both you and your baby in terms of breastfeeding. Read more about healing from a traumatic birth here.
  • Lip Tie/Tongue Tie – You can see if your baby has a lip tie by trying to flip his or her upper lip to see if it’s tethered by a flap of skin. Babies with lip ties will have difficulty forming a good latch and you may notice a lip blister from the top lip not flaying out while nursing. You can see if your baby has a tongue tie by looking under the tongue to see if it’s tethered to the bottom of the mouth by a flap of skin. Babies who are tongue tied have difficulty forming a good latch. Read more about identifying and dealing with tongue and lip tie here.
  • Thrush – If you had a yeast infection when you had a vaginal birth, the candida can transfer to the baby and cause thrush. Thrush will present itself in a baby as white patches in the mouth that will bleed if you try to scrape them away. It also makes nursing extremely painful for the mother if she gets the thrush in her nipples. Read more about thrush here.
  • Nursing Strike – Maybe you introduced a pacifier or bottle too soon and now your baby isn’t interested in your breast, or maybe there is some other external factor that is making your baby not want to nurse. In order to overcome a nursing strike, you just have to keep trying different ways to establish closeness with your baby. I have had success taking a warm bath with my little one to reestablish nursing after a nursing strike.
  • Plugged Ducts and/or Mastitis – If you don’t fully drain each breast after nursing, the ducts can become plugged and eventually lead to mastitis (which is VERY painful). When you’re nursing, make sure you are draining each breast fully and switch sides in a regular pattern so that both breasts are getting the chance to be drained. It may also be helpful to massage your breast as you are nursing to help express all of the milk.

12. What to Do if You Can’t Nurse

  • Warm Bath – When nothing else seems to work, taking a warm bath with my little one has always helped to improve things. This is a very womb like experience for your baby that is quite relaxing.
  • Get Support – Contact your local La Leche League for support, let your midwife or doctor know what is going on, talk to a friend, talk to your spouse, and get as much support as you can to continue your breastfeeding relationship. It is very helpful to have someone to talk to when things aren’t going very well.
  • CranioSacral Therapy – CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly.
  • Chiropractor – Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure that can lead to problems nursing. A chiropractor can gently work on an infant as soon as they are born to get everything back into place.
  • Supplement – If for whatever reason, nursing is just not working out for you or you are in need of supplementation, you don’t have to go straight to formula. On the Weston Price website, Sally Fallon explains how to make raw milk baby formula. Using clean whole raw milk from cows certified free of disease and fed on green pastures with ingredients like gelatin and expeller-expressed oils (making it more digestible for the infant) added is the next best thing to breast milk. For sources of good quality milk, see www.realmilk.com or contact a local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

In Conclusion

I will always treasure the special time I’ve had with each of my children as I’ve nursed them. In the first few months when everything is new and my little one is attached to my breast 24/7, I cherish these times more than anything in the world. It is an honor to bring life into this world, and it is an honor to be able to sustain the life that I delivered with nourishment from my own body. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

26 Ways to Calm a Fussy Newborn

Trying to calm a fussy, or inconsolable, or screaming newborn can be a very stressful time for parents. Throughout the pregnancy, the focus is most likely on the growth of the baby, preparations for birth, and setting up the nursery. Being up in the night with a fussy and inconsolable baby is probably not something a new parent thinks to plan for…but it should be.

With our first born, Ruby, we were blindsided by her fussiness and felt like we didn’t have enough tricks up our sleeves to calm her down.

I remember one night, after she had been screaming and inconsolable for hours and hours, we called 9-1-1 (after trying the pediatrician first). When the firefighters came stomping up our three flights of stairs and barged into our little condo, Ruby was instantly mesmerized and of course stopped crying. I saw the firefighter chuckle to themselves and heard them make some comments to each other about new parents. It’s funny now, but I was sleep deprived and terrified then that something might be dreadfully wrong.

After Ruby, we learned many more ways to calm fussy babies besides going for long walks or drives, but it wasn’t until after baby number five that I’ve finally feel like I have a full arsenal of ways to calm fussy babies at my fingertips.

One of the most important pieces of advice I have is to be proactive. Many of the tips and tricks I’ll share have to do with preventing fussiness and the rest will give you a bag of tricks to pull from if and when your baby is fussy.

1. Avoid Coffee

I’ve never completely eliminated coffee while breastfeeding until Jack, and let me tell you it has made a WORLD of difference. When I learned that the half life of caffeine elimination in a newborn was 97.5 hours, I was finally convinced to give up the java. With every other baby, I just expected that being up in the night was a normal part of caring for a new baby. Jack is almost two months old now, and I haven’t been up in the night even once with him. If you’re looking for a good coffee substitute, I recommend teeccino.

2. Chiropractic Care

The other reason why I think Jack is so calm is because we took him to a chiropractor shortly after he was born. I was having trouble nursing him on the left side, and apparently it was due to a misalignment in his neck. (During birth he was posterior, turned into the correct position right as I was about to push, and was born very quickly – all of which probably contributed to the misalignment.)

For the procedure, the chiropractor laid him on his back for the adjustment (which was basically like a massage), and he was very calm and happy during the whole thing. Afterwards, he nursed like a champ on both sides. When looking for a chiropractor, I advise looking for a holistic one who specializes in working with infants.

Check out this amazing video of an infant getting immediate relief after chiropractic care.

3. CranioSacral Therapy

CranioSacral therapy (CST) is a gentle, noninvasive form of bodywork that addresses the bones of the head, spinal column, and sacrum with the goal of releasing compression in those areas to alleviate pain. It is especially helpful for babies who seem unwilling or unable to nurse properly. When Julian was a newborn, we took him to a CranioSacral practitioner to help him with his tongue tie. It didn’t really help with the tongue tie, but we noticed a huge difference in how calm he was afterwards.

Going through the birth canal or being delivered by cesarean can misalign a baby’s delicate structure and cranial sacral therapy helps to realign everything.

4. Honor the 4th Trimester

After spending nine months in the womb, the outside world must be a real shock for a new baby. By making the outside environment as “womb-like” as possible, it will help to prevent fussiness and create a smooth transition.

  • Skin to Skin: I love doing skin to skin as much as possible after birth until my babies are adjusted. It helps with nursing, bonding, and maintains the same comforts as the womb.
  • Feeding on Demand: There is no need to worry about a feeding schedule, just nurse whenever your baby is hungry. Newborns generally need to nurse about every two hours, but may cluster feed at certain times and sleep longer and not eat for longer times.
  • Baby Wearing: Using a baby sling or carrier is a great way to keep your baby close so he or she can be close to your skin, beating heart, the sound of your voice, and the gentle swaying of your motions. My favorite carriers are the Moby Wrap, a ring sling, and an Ergo Carrier with an infant insert.
  • Co-Sleeping: Feeding on demand is made much easier by co-sleeping. In most parts of the world (except the United States), co-sleeping is the norm. New research shows how it’s actually safer than putting a baby in a separate room and bed.

I find it fascinating that in other more primitive cultures, fussy and crying babies are a rarity. This is because babies in these cultures are treated like an attachment to the mother and aren’t “trained” in any way. (Source)

5. Check Basic Needs

Whenever my babies get fussy, the first thing I do is cycle through the basics. Does he need a diaper change? Does he need to burp? What about nursing? Maybe he’s tired? As a mom, my sixth sense sometimes just knows what my babies need, but this amazing woman, Priscilla Dunstan, figured out how to decipher the meaning of a baby’s cries.

The five sounds in the Dunstan Baby Language are:

• “Neh” – meaning, “I’m hungry”
• “Owh” – meaning, “I’m tired”
• “Heh” – meaning, “I’m uncomfortable”
• “Eairh” – meaning, “I have lower gas”
• “Eh” – meaning, “I need to burp”

6. Warm Bath

Being naked in a warm bath with you is as close to a womb experience as you can create. Within the first few hours after birth, I always like taking a nice healing herbal bath with my newborns. This is a great time for us to relax and bond after birth, and my little ones always enjoy nursing in the water. When I was having trouble getting Ophelia to latch when she was three days old (I tried a pacifier with her too early, and it created nipple confusion.), we took a bath together it she latched on right away. My babies love it when I hold their heads so they can move their arms and legs freely in the water.

7. Don’t Keep a Baby Awake

When our firstborn, Ruby, was an infant, I had this crazy idea that if I kept her awake more during the day, she would sleep better at night. But then she would get overtired, and getting an overtired baby to go to sleep is not an easy task.

The best rule of thumb to remember with babies and sleep is that the more they sleep, the better they’ll sleep. Trying to get a newborn on any type of schedule or predictable routine is just not going to work. The best thing to do is to just go with the flow and let our little ones sleep whenever they’d like and for as long as they’d like.

8. Red Light at Night

As for lighting, red lights are the best because they keep the pupils from dilating which allows your baby to remain in a sleepy state while allowing you to see during late night nursing sessions. Something like this salt lamp or this tree lamp (we unscrew the other bulbs so only the reddish lights are on) would be perfect. The soft glow of a fireplace in the winter is great too!

9. Not Too Hot or Cold

Newborns don’t have a lot of body fat to keep them warm and struggle to maintain their body temperature if the environment is too cold. That is why it’s best to dress babies in one more layer than we do to keep warm. So if you’re hanging out in a t-shirt, your baby will probably want to put your baby in a footed sleeper with long sleeves. I typically like to keep my babies a little under-dressed, however, so that I can wrap them up in one of my homemade silky blankets! But beware of overdoing it as well. A little bit of sweat is normal, but if your baby is in pools of sweat, he or she is too hot! Babies dressed in too many layers are at a greater risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

10. Swaddle

Swaddling helps to recreate the tight environment of the womb. Some of our babies have totally loved this and others didn’t much care for it. These aden + anais cloths are great for swaddling and so are these summer swaddlers, but really any receiving blanket will do. Just make sure that you are following the guidelines for the new swaddle that keep the legs more free so that your baby doesn’t get hip dysplasia. Watch this video to see the proper way to swaddle.

11. Sucking

Sucking releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) in both the mother and the baby, which is nature’s way of rewarding them both for breastfeeding. 🙂 In between feedings, newborns might also enjoy sucking on your pinkie (nail side down).

I would avoid using a pacifier for the first few weeks because it can create nipple confusion and make breastfeeding more difficult, but once breastfeeding is established, pacifiers are just fine. There is no evidence that pacifiers affect baby teeth and they have actually been proven to reduce SIDS. Just look for some that are BPA free.

12. Get the Boogers Out

Babies can get really fussy if they can’t breathe because boogers are blocking their nasal passages. When they are first born, babies have this white sticky boogers that you’ll need to pull out. I like to take a kleenex and twist a piece of it into a little swirl. Then I spin it into the nostril and spin it out. This usually catches the booger and drags it out.

If there’s any congestion or lots of boogers, I like using saline and a Nose Frida. My babies always HATE this, so I have to hold them snugly, give a quick squirt up each nostril, and gently use the Nose Frida to suck out the boogers. I also keep a kleenex close by to wipe the nose and then I use it to catch the boogers as I blow them out from the Nose Frida.

13. Nose Rub

Every single one of my babies (and even toddlers) love the nose rub. When they are tired, but not wanting to go sleep, I gently run my fingers down the bridge of their nose in a way that also lets my fingers shadow their eyes. Every time my fingers go over their eyes, they close for a bit, then close for a bit longer, and then finally shut. If I stop and they open their eyes, I keep going. Sometimes I’ll also rub their head and cheeks.

I love this video that shows a little baby falling asleep as a light cloth is repeatedly swiped over its face.

14. Shushing

A harsh shushing sound mimics the sound of the mother’s blood flow that babies hear in the womb. This is why using a box fan for white noise is so great, but if you need to take things to the next level, this shushing technique is really effective. Basically, you get really close to the baby’s ear and make a shushing sound as loud as you can and for as long as you can.

In his book and videoThe Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Harvey Karp explains how the best way to calm your newborn and get him or her to sleep is by re-creating the noises, movement, and snug environment of the womb.

15. Calm Music

Calming music can also provide a very soothing type of white noise. With every baby, I’ve enjoyed listening to something new. Sometimes I’ll get into Enya on Pandora, other times I like Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions with the itunes visualizer turned on, and right now, I’m really liking this lullaby mix on YouTube that has some great visuals which are mesmerizing for me as well as Jack.

16. Mother’s Voice

Starting at 23 weeks gestation, babies can hear sounds in the outside world – including the sounds of voices. During the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, research has proven that babies can actually distinguish the sound of their mother’s voice. At birth, babies recognize and prefer the sound of their mother’s voice.

I love talking to my babies, singing to them, and whispering in their ears telling them how much I love them. Jack is 7 weeks old now and we’re enjoying the best conversations with each other while I hold him close and gaze into his eyes. He is completely transfixed. If someone else is holding him and he hears my voice, he’ll quickly turn his head to see me. If he gets a little fussy, I’ll sing him a little song and all of the troubles in the world melt away.

17. Bounce and Pat

For this maneuver, place the baby in an upright position with its head resting on your shoulder and bounce while gently patting the baby on his or her back or bottom. This position is particularly good if the baby is gassy. While holding the baby, you can bounce on an exercise ball, walk around, dance, or sway back and forth.

18. Rocking

I highly recommend investing in at least one good rocking chair. I currently have three set up and Jack loves the rocking motion while I nurse. First of all, I have an old fashioned wicker rocker (that I got at a garage sale) in our bedroom that Scott and I take turns using while holding Jack (primarily during our bedtime routine with the older kids). This type of rocking chair has a great sweeping up and down rock that is very calming for a fussy baby.

In our mini living room, I have a gliding rocker (I call this one my throne because I spend the most time here). The gliding motion is mostly back and forth, not up and down, so it’s not as soothing, but it’s very comfortable. Then in our main living room (where Scott and I hang out after the kids go to bed), we have the most luxurious rocking and reclining arm chair (we just found one at a thrift store, but I linked to one that looks really special). This is the kind of chair that I love to criss cross my legs and snuggle into at the end of the day.

With all three I like using this nursing stool and My Breast Friend.

19. Swinging

There are times when I’m just too tired to rock and bounce and dance, and a nice swing has been a life saver. I really like this small portable swing the best. I can easily carry it from room to room, it’s not a battery hog, the swinging is silent, and the motion is subtle and gentle. I also really like this Fisher-Price Cradle ‘n Swing. It takes up a bit of room and has a bit more noise, but it offers many different swinging options and the mobile is very distracting as well. And while not technically a swing, I LOVE putting my little babies to sleep in this vibrating bassinet.

20. Tummy to Chest

Little babies love sleeping on their tummies with their heads nestled near your neck and little legs tucked up on your chest. This is a great way to do skin to skin as well. In this position, the baby is near your heart beat and voice, and you can gently pat his or her back to help get out any gas. I think the pressure of being on their tummies feels good if they have a little gas.

If you’re looking for a way to recreate this with a machine, check out this video of a fussy baby being settled with the Babo Cush. You can buy both the rocker and the cushion at the Babo Cush website here.

21. Tummy Rub

I can tell when Jack has to poop or pass gas because he’ll start grunting and squirming. When I put my hand on his stomach for a gentle massage, it really calms him down. I will rub my hands in a downward motion, rub in a circular pattern, or just leave my hand there to gently apply pressure to his tummy.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have to learn how to poop, and even though babies have an uncontrolled stooling reflex, sometimes the muscles of the anus don’t relax at the proper time so your baby will push hard with the diaphragm and belly muscles while holding the anus tightly closed.

When this happens, you can rub their tummy, pump their legs in a bicycle motions, hold them upright on your shoulder, or lay them down to let nature take it’s course.

22. Colic Calm

Colic is technically defined as a baby who cries for more than 3 hours a day and for more than 3 days a week. Although the cause is unknown, it is believed to be due to some sort of intestinal cramping. Dr. Harvey Karp believes colic is a myth and that newborns really need a 4th trimester to develop with conditions similar to those in the womb. In any case, when my babies have been really fussy and I suspect intestinal troubles, I love using Colic Calm. It is a natural homeopathic oral remedy designed to help with colic, stomach pains, reflux, and gas. It is made with charcoal, so don’t be surprised by the black color (or your baby’s black poop).

23. Water Dropper

I learned this little trick from my midwife, Laurie Zoyiopoulos, who learned it from some of her Amish clients. When the Amish are dealing with a fussy newborn, they simply give him or her a little bit of water, and it calms the baby down right away. Maybe it’s because the colostrum just isn’t satisfying enough, or maybe it helps to soothe an upset tummy, but for whatever reason, this trick really really works! When Julian would get really fussy and nothing else would soothe him, I would give him a little dropper of water, and he would calm right down. My husband really appreciated knowing this trick as well!

24. Hair Tourniquet

In rare occasions, an adult hair can become wrapped around a finger or toe and cut off circulation. (Read more here.) I always like to give my babies a physical once over to see if I can spot something that is causing them pain. Maybe a cookie crumb is lodged in the crook of their neck, maybe a fold of skin has some gunk in it that’s turning into a rash, or perhaps a hair has become wrapped around one of their extremities and is causing pain. It can be quite a guessing game!

25. Tongue or Lip Tie

If a baby is tongue tied or lip tied, it means that there is an extra flap of skin that makes it hard to nurse properly. Julian had a pretty severe tongue tie and as a result he had a hard time latching correctly which made him take in a lot of air. This caused him to be gassy, very fussy, and up in the night every 45 minutes to eat. A lip tie can have the same effect. If you suspect a lip tie or tongue tie, check out my blog here for more information.

26. Thrush

For the mother, thrush can mean sore nipples and painful nursing, for a baby thrush can mean white patches of painful sores in the mouth. If your baby has thrush, it means that you probably had a yeast infection during a vaginal birth. Milk spots in the mouth will go away on their own, but white spots from thrush will remain. If you want to learn more about remedies for thrush, check out my blog here. (And if you’re still pregnant and reading this, check out my blog about curing a yeast infection while you’re pregnant so you can avoid thrush.)

In Conclusion

You are not a bad parent if your newborn cries. Yes, they cry as a way to communicate and it’s our job to figure out what they’re trying to say, but it’s a big adjustment moving to the outside world from the womb and there are going to be a few tears shed. The best things you can do are to: 1) be proactive by taking measures to prevent fussiness in the first place, 2) be prepared with a variety of tricks up your sleeve to use when your baby does get fussy, 3) stay calm, and 4) be patient. If you keep rotating through a variety of strategies, you will eventually find something that works. Then, when you know what has been troubling your little guy or girl, you can make a plan so that things will get better in the future.

Time goes by fast, so enjoy these precious moments with your newborn and know that by the time they are 3 months old, they will finally be settled into their new world and things will be a lot easier. You’ve got this!

Why I Won't Drink Coffee While Breastfeeding

Why I Won’t Drink Coffee While Breastfeeding

After being up in the night with my little ones, I used to feel like the only thing that could get me through the next day was coffee. I knew that I shouldn’t consume too much caffeine while breastfeeding, but every resource I read said that it was okay to drink coffee moderately while breastfeeding. So I did.

While breastfeeding my first two children (Ruby and Elliot), I drank coffee in the morning, but then after Ophelia, I quit upon the recommendation of my midwife. When Ophelia’s fussiness completely stopped and she began sleeping through the night, I learned then and there that the cause of so many sleepless nights and so many fussy evenings were the result of me drinking coffee.

Now, after the birth of my fifth baby, I did some eye opening research that has made it easy for me to completely give up coffee and to be vigilant about avoiding all products containing caffeine including black tea kombucha and chocolate. It may seem like a lot to give up, but Jack is almost two months old, and I have never once been up in the night with him. He also naps wonderfully and has the best temperament of any baby I’ve ever had.

How Coffee Works

When you understand how coffee works, it’s easy to see why new mothers would be tempted by this delicious beverage. There are three tiers to how caffeine gives you more energy.

  1. Caffeine prevents you from feeling tired. The caffeine molecule is very similar to the adenosine molecule in the brain. Adenosine plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle. When it binds to enough receptors, it signals to the brain that it is time for rest or sleep. When caffeine is present, it binds to the adenosine receptors in the brain cells and blocks them from binding to other cells. So basically, caffeine prevents you from feeling tired. Also, when the caffeine is gone, you will feel a big crash as all of the adenosine receptors bind at once signaling the need to rest or sleep.
  2. Caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline. Elevated levels of adenosine in the blood cause the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. The release of adrenaline will further add to the feelings of alertness and energy.
  3. Caffeine makes you feel good. When adenosine is blocked by caffeine, the dopamine system works more efficiently. Dopamine is the feel good transmitter of the brain, and so it makes us very euphoric when we drink coffee. This is also what makes it addictive and so very hard to quit (Source).

Half Life of Caffeine in Adults

Half life is a term used to explain the time when half of the atoms in a certain element have been eliminated.

The half life of caffeine from drinking one 8 oz. cup of coffee for an adult is about 4-6 hours. This means that if an 8 oz. cup of coffee contained 100 mg of caffeine at 8 a.m., 50 mg would still remain by about 2:00 p.m. and the remainder should be metabolized by about 8:00 p.m.

There are many different factors that affect how people metabolize caffeine. Some people can drink coffee right before going to bed and not feel restless at all and others can feel jittery from eating a piece of chocolate. How sensitive to caffeine you are depends on several genetic factors which is different from a person’s caffeine tolerance that is built up over time.

Half Life of Caffeine in Babies

Yes, caffeine passes into breast milk, and even though the nursing baby only gets 1.5% of the caffeine the mom gets, a baby cannot metabolize it the same way as the mother. Adults metabolize caffeine primarily in the liver, but a child’s liver isn’t fully formed until they are two, so they are very inefficient at metabolizing caffeine.

  • Newborn: The half life of caffeine in a newborn is 97.5 hours. So that means if you have one cup of coffee, it will take about 8 days for the caffeine in that coffee to be out of your baby’s system.
  • 3-5 Months: When a baby is between 3-5 months of age, the half life of caffeine is 14 hours. So that means if you have one cup of coffee, it will take about 28 hours for the caffeine in that coffee to be eliminated from the baby’s system.
  • 6+ Months: Babies older than 6 months old have a half like of 2.6 hours for caffeine, so it will take 5.2 hours for one cup of coffee that you had to be out of your baby’s system (Source).

Once I learned that it would take my newborn 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, I knew it wouldn’t be worth it for me to even have one cup. Now, once a baby is over 6 months old, a cup of coffee in the morning shouldn’t be a problem. But seriously, what mom only has one cup of coffee in the morning???

Caffeine Accumulates

Because babies are inefficient at metabolizing caffeine, a small amount can have a huge effect. On the La Leche League website, they explain how caffeine accumulates in infants. So, if it takes an infant 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, imagine what kind of caffeine build up your new baby has after you’ve been drinking coffee every day for two weeks straight. No wonder why so many babies are up in the night!

Signs Your Baby is Getting Too Much Caffeiene

Just like when you drink too much coffee and get jittery, so can your baby. Babies can be fussy for a number of reasons (hungry, need a diaper change, too hot or cold, tired, etc.), and so it may be hard to say for certain that a baby is reacting to the caffeine, but these are some of the signs I have noticed with my own babies when I drank too much coffee.

  • Flailing arms
  • Scratching face
  • Won’t nap during the day
  • Awake for long periods in the night
  • Overtired but can’t fall asleep
  • Falls asleep in your arms but wakes up when laid down
  • Has a “witching hour” where he or she is inconsolable at the same time every night

Making the Decision to Quit

I think it’s best to never start drinking coffee after your little one is born, but if it’s too late for that and you’re looking to quit now, here are some things to keep in mind. If you quit cold turkey, you are going to feel the barrage of withdrawl side effects all at once. The headaches, brain fog, tiredness, and worst of all – the depression over having to give up one more thing are not easy to deal with. It may be best to quit gradually, and as you do, remember to drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest.

If your baby is less than 3 months old, keep in mind that it could take over a week for him or her to eliminate the caffeine and for you to notice a difference in behavior and sleep.

Remember that this will not only benefit your baby but you will stop a vicious cycle that is forcing you to feel awake when you’re really tired.

Do I love coffee? YES! I love, love, LOVE coffee and even drank it during my pregnancies (which in hindsight was probably not a good idea seeing as how it can lead to low birth weight babies). Giving up coffee after I had already been drinking it was REALLY hard at first, but after awhile I didn’t even miss it at all. Instead of drinking coffee, I have really enjoyed drinking teeccino as a substitute. Mixed with hazelnut cream, I can hardly tell the difference. It also gives me an energy lift and contains chicory root that is a prebiotic that feeds probiotics in the gut.

My Stories

When Ruby and Elliot were born, I was working full time and coffee was a regular part of my morning. Looking back at it now, I can see that Ruby’s witching hour (where every night for four hours she was inconsolable, wouldn’t sleep, got overtired, and was very very upset) and Elliot’s constant flailing arms and fussiness were very much the result of my coffee drinking.

When Ophelia was born, I was staying at home and not drinking as much coffee, but still some. When I learned from our midwife about the half life of coffee. I quit drinking it and noticed a dramatic difference. But still, I had a hard time giving it up for good, and a cup here and there eventually turned into regular coffee drinking. When Julian was born, I cautiously had some once he was older, but after doing this research before Jack was born, I have been convinced to completely eliminate it.

I have never ONCE been up in the night with Jack (he’s almost 2 months old), and I attribute this to my complete elimination of caffeine.

Something happened recently that even further convinced me of the negative effects of caffeine on babies. Even though Jack has consistently slept during the night (I still get up to nurse him frequently, but he always stays asleep.)

It started out gradually, the flailing arms, the lack of naps during the day, the more wakings during the night, etc., and I thought to myself, “He’s displaying all of the signs of caffeine consumption…but I’m not drinking coffee…where else could I – Oh….” Then I suddenly remembered that when making my kombucha tea, I had been brewing my red raspberry leaves with the leftover black tea from Scott’s tea. I had assumed that what little caffeine was there was being broken down by the kombucha scoby, but apparently not.

On the FIRST day that I stopped drinking kombucha, I noticed a difference. He started napping during the day for long stretches of time again, he stayed asleep longer when he fell asleep, and he stopped flailing his arms.

In Conclusion

Knowing what I know now about the half life of caffeine in babies, I have no problem completely eliminating caffeine for the first 3 months especially. I mean, if it takes a newborn 8 days to metabolize one cup of coffee, I am quite shocked that the majority of resources on the internet say that drinking coffee moderately is no problem. Drinking coffee moderately when your baby is over 6 months old seems fairly safe, but to be honest, I feel like it just creates a vicious cycle of false awakeness that would best be remedied from taking a quick nap, going to bed earlier, drinking more water, etc.

I know that there will be a time when I can drink coffee freely again, and in the meantime I have a sweet little bundle that is only going to need me like this for a very short period of time. What initially seemed like a sacrifice is now just part of what I call being a mom, and it is a greater reward than anything that could be found in a cup.

Everything You'll Need for a Successful Postpartum Recovery

Everything You’ll Need for a Successful Postpartum Recovery

Giving birth is an amazing and empowering experience that will forever change you, but what about afterwards? You may have a very detailed birth plan, but the first few days and weeks postpartum is an unscripted time that is just as important. I think that being prepared for what will happen to your body after giving birth will help to make the postpartum recovery process much easier.

As I reflect on my most recent (and quite wonderful) postpartum experience (after baby #5), these are the things that I wish I had known ahead of time with my other postpartum recoveries. I felt completely blindsided by some of these things, and completely unaware of others, and now that I know what I know, I wanted to share the knowledge, resources, and accessories that have been helpful to me. *You may also like to check out my best advice for having a peaceful postpartum recovery here.

1. After Pains

After you have a baby, your uterus will continue to contract until it is back to its normal size. You might not even feel this after your first baby, but with each child after that, the pains will start to get progressively more noticeable. These pains floored me when I first felt them after baby #3 (Ophelia). For the first day or two, it felt like I was in labor all over again! After babies #4 (Julian) and #5 (Jack), I was prepared to deal with the pains.

  • Heating Pad – Applying this over my uterus whenever I would nurse was a lifesaver! I had one plugged in by my bed and one by my favorite nursing chair.
  • After Ease Tincture – Made with crampbark, black haw bark, yarrow flower, and motherwort leaf extract, this tincture made my after pains melt away. You’re supposed to put 2-4 drops in water, but I would just take it straight and repeat the dosage until the pain subsided.
  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea – Red raspberry leaf contains an alkaloid called fragrine that helps to tone the muscles in the pelvic region including the uterus (Source). I like drinking this regularly during pregnancy as well as during my postpartum recovery.

2. Bleeding

In the first few days after birth, the lining of the uterus will shed resulting is some pretty heavy bleeding. During this time, diapers are so wonderful! After that, the blood will taper off and turn brown as the placental site heals, but you can still have bursts of blood and spotting for 4-6 weeks. If you notice bright red blood after it has turned brown, it’s probably a sign that you are doing too much. (This is a great resource that does a wonderful job explaining the bleeding from both the lochia and placental site.)

  • Women’s Diapers – These are soooooo nice for the first few days. You don’t have to worry about pads slipping around, ruining your underwear, or leaking onto your bedsheets. Seriously, get these.
  • Overnight Maxi Pads – I have tried several different brands, and these are my favorite. basically, you want something for a heavy flow, super long, and with wings. You can wear these the entire duration of your bleeding, or getting something thinner like this, or smaller like this.
  • Mesh Underwear – This can be nice for the first few days (with a pad of course) so that you don’t have to worry about staining your nice underwear. They pull on really easily too if you’re dealing with a painful recovery.
  • Comfortable Underwear – You want something snug, but not too tight. Maternity underwear are really comfortable. These are nice too if you don’t want maternity underwear.

3. Pooping

Nobody told me about the pains of my first postpartum poop with my first birth, and boy oh boy did I learn my lesson! After Ruby was born, I just chuckled and said, “No,” when they asked me if I’d had a bowel movement at my two day postpartum check up. A couple more days went by until I finally got the urge to poop, and let me tell you, it felt like I was giving birth all over again! What I’ve learned since then is that after birth, it takes the intestinal tract a little while to function normally again, and these are the things that helped me along. (This is a great story about postpartum pooping, and this article has a lot of great information.)

  • Fiberwise – I love this because it comes in single serving packets and makes me go almost immediately. I took this right before I gave birth to make sure I was cleaned out!
  • Psylliam Husk – This helps to bulk up the stool and makes elimination easier. This is good to take this daily after birth until you’re regular again.
  • Prunes – This is another good way to keep you regular.
  • Drink Lots of Water – It’s very important to drink lots and lots of water to get things moving! I like using glass mason jars (I cut out plastic lids to make tops and add a straw) and have them set up around the house or you could get something like this.
  • Eat Lots of Fiber – Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and beans.
  • Avoid Laxatives – While they may provide temporary relief, they are a crutch you don’t want to have to rely on.
  • Hemmorhoids – Thankfully, I’ve never had hemmorhoids, but if you did, you might find relief with a sitz bath and sitz bath salts, hemmorhoid ointment, and hemmorhoid cushion. (*Here’s a good article about how to avoid hemmorhoids and what to do if you have them.)

4. Your Vagina

Without the pressure of the baby on your bladder, you’ll lose the urge to pee temporarily, and to avoid urinary tract infections and damage from a bladder that is too full, you’ll want to remind yourself to pee often. A good rule of thumb is to pee every time before you nurse. I never had an episiotomy, but I did need a few stitches after Ruby’s birth plus I had a lot of what they called “skid marks” inside from what we think was her hand being near her face when she was delivered. The first time I peed, it burned like the dickens, so the following is what I used to help me heal downstairs.

  • Herbal Afterbirth Sitz Bath – After every birth, I have soaked in one of these. This mixture is full of healing herbs and salts and is a great way to treat your whole body after birth. I always enjoy nursing my new babes in the bath, and they love being in the water.
  • Perineal Cold Packs – You crack these to release the cold inside and they also double as a maxi pad. They provide great relief, but I can’t imagine needing more than a handful.
  • Witch Hazel on Pads – Witch hazel extract is an astringent or hydrosol made from the witch hazel shrub and used to treat a variety of skin problems. After Ruby, I put it on my pads, put my pads in the freezer, and then used them like a normal pad.
  • Repair Spray – This spray is full of natural healing oils and herbs and will help your nether regions to heal.
  • Peri Bottle – Fill the bottle with warm water and spray on your vagina while you pee to relieve any stinging or burning.
  • Bactine – This provides pain relief, cleans the area, and helps with healing. After Ruby’s birth, I sprayed on my vagina after peeing.
  • Arnica Tablets – These are a natural way to deal with the pain of swelling and inflammation.

5. Sleeping

The first two nights of sleeping after birth will be crazy as you adjust to life with your tiny human being outside of your body rather than inside. The first night you’ll be flooded with endorphins and may feel too excited to sleep, but as soon as you settle in, you’ll crash and your baby will be so tired that you’ll probably get a nice chunk of rest. You’ll also sweat like crazy for the first two nights and for up to two weeks as your body gets rid of the extra water it was retaining. This always made me either really hot or really cold and I’ve enjoyed either sleeping with a robe or shrouded in extra blankets that I could remove. *In this article, I want the focus to be on the mamas, so if you want to see all of my sleep recommendations for babies, check out my favorite baby items blog.

  • Salt Lamp – Keep this by your bedside or wherever you’ll be nursing in the night so that you can see what you’re doing without fully waking up or waking up your baby.
  • Lots of Pillows – I like making a big tower of pillows to sleep on to support my back and arms for nursing in the night.
  • Silkies – Not only do I love wrapping up my babies in my handmade silky blankets, but when I’m falling asleep while nursing and my arms are cold, these are great. If you don’t have any silkies, I highly recommend keeping a few small throw blankets like this nearby while you sleep.
  • Robe – I love having a robe like this to sleep in during the nights when my top half is shivering, and I love wearing it around the house – especially for the big pockets!
  • Sleeping Shorts – I love my mesh shorts with pockets for sleeping. They are super comfortable, and I like being able to carry my cell phone, baby monitor, etc. in my pockets.

6. Breastfeeding

I’ve heard many first time moms wonder if they need to do anything to “toughen up” their nipples, and I would say the answer to that is no. It may feel a little strange at first and there may even be a little bit of pain when your baby first latches on (for like 5-10 seconds), but it should subside after that. If it doesn’t, it’s an indication that something else is wrong (thrush, bad latch, etc.). By the time your baby is about two weeks old, your nipples should be used to nursing.

Your breasts will produce colostrum for the first few days, and then on day three or four, your milk will come in. You will feel engorged and beyond full, but I would recommend resisting the urge to pump to relieve the pressure and instead let your baby nurse as often as he or she needs otherwise you’ll be dealing with oversupply, engorged breasts, and possible mastitis. *See my blog about breastfeeding for more information about breastfeeding and my baby items blog for all of my favorite breastfeeding items.

  • Nipple Cream – If your nipples get sore or cracked, this stuff is great. Just keep in mind that whatever cream you start using, your baby will get used to and won’t like it if you switch!
  • Manual Breast Pump – Having a double duty battery operated breast pump like this is really great, but having a noiseless hand pump has helped me on numerous occasions.
  • My Breast Friend – I have tried the Boppy, but this is way more comfortable. It’s a little tricky to put on if you’re holding your little one, so try to get it clicked before you pick him or her up.
  • Nursing Stool – This will help you to get into the best position possible for nursing on any rocking chair.

7. Nursing Clothes

I don’t know if this is a me thing or an everyone thing, but my nipples get really sensitive when I first start breastfeeding and having a loose fitting shirt that lightly brushes against them is enough to drive me mad! So I always like to wear things that give me a little pressure and bind them in. At night, I’m looking for clothing that can easily let me nurse while half asleep, and during the day, I’m looking for clothing that will prevent leaking and keep my nipples out of sight.

  • Sleeping Bra – I love sleeping with this bra because it protects my nipples and is very easy to get boob access when half asleep.
  • Tank Top – I love sleeping in a long tank top like this. I’ll either pull the top down or lift it up to nurse.
  • Nursing Tank Top with Built in Bra – I am really in love with this tank top and wear it during the day instead of a bra. I love the padded cups that really cover my nipples and catch any leaks, I love how long it is and how it covers the belly when I lift up my shirt to nurse, and I love the spandex material and snug fit. You can also buy just the bra.
  • Nursing Tank without the Padding – While this doesn’t cover the nipples as well, it’s still really comfortable and a great bra alternative for around the house.
  • Nursing Hoodie – There aren’t many nursing shirts out there that I like, but this one looks really cool!

8. Drinks

I cannot stress enough the importance of putting coffee aside when you are breastfeeding, especially in the first three months. Even though only a small amount of caffeine is passed on to the baby, the half life (meaning the time it takes for the caffeine to be at half of its potency) of coffee in newborns is 97.5 hours (versus 4.9 hours in an adult, 14 hours in a 3-6 month old, and 2.6 hours in a 6+ month old baby).

With Ruby, our firstborn, I would drink coffee after nursing each morning, and then like clockwork, she would experience a “witching hour” for four hours every night where she was inconsolable. By the time we started experiencing this with our third child, Ophelia, our midwife told us about the half life of coffee and how it affects babies. I stopped drinking coffee and noticed that Ophelia no longer had any inconsolable fussy times. Here are my favorite alternatives to coffee plus my other favorite drinks.

  • Teeccino  – If you add cream to this it tastes very much like coffee.
  • Mother’s Milk Tea – This contains many herbs (like fenugreek) that help to stimulate milk production.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a great alternative to soda and beer and is full of healthy probiotics. If you don’t want to buy it, you can make your own.
  • Glass Water Bottle – Of course drinking lots of water (especially while breastfeeding) is very important.

9. Babywearing

It takes about 4-6 months for a baby to hold its head up on its own, so having a special carrier around to keep your baby close to you and support his or head will be much appreciated. With a nice carrier, your baby can stay close to you while you get a few things done with both hands, and trust me, you’ll need this! The following carriers are specifically beneficial for newborns.

  • Ring Sling – A friend of mine recently got this for me, and I love it! It’s easy to put on and carry a small infant around in. (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
  • Moby Wrap – I have enjoyed using this with every one of our babies. I love the way it snugly hugs my babies into my chest and allows my hands to be free. (See how to use one with a newborn here.)
  • Ergo with Infant Insert – This carrier provides the best back support of any carrier. It’s best used for older babies and toddlers, but the infant insert makes it a perfect fit for small babies too! (See how to use one with a newborn here.)

10. Postpartum Depression

The sudden drop in estrogen, progesterone, and endorphins after birth is a huge hormone crash that can lead to postpartum depression after birth. The surge of oxytocin (the love hormone) that comes after birth may be enough to counteract this, but if not, here are some things that can help to lift your mood. Postpartum depression can also hit long after birth as well…especially during weaning. *For more information about postpartum depression, check out my article here.

  • Placenta Pills – By steaming, dehydrating, and pulverizing the placenta, you can take it in the form of a pill. Women who take them report balanced hormones, more energy (probably from the extra iron), feeling happier and more relaxed, increased milk production, less post natal bleeding, and better sleeping. You can make your own or find a midwife or doula to do it. I have really enjoyed doing this with my last three placentas.
  • Baby Blues Mood Support – This powerful combination of herbs helps to balance hormones and improve a new mother’s mood after birth.
  • St. Johns Wort – This is a natural way to reduce stress anxiety. It may be a good idea to wait until your baby is over two months old (if breastfeeding) before taking (Source).
  • Motherwort Extract – A few drops in water will help with anxiety.

11. Belly Binding

After my second pregnancy, I got a really bad case of diastisis recti (where the stomach muscles separate) and never really figured out how to heal it until after my third pregnancy. Our midwife pointed out that it’s not really possible for the muscles to heal if they’re not touching, and I was like duh, how had I not known that before? After Elliot, I was doing all of these sit ups and such, and they were just making things worse, but after Ophelia, I used a girdle to bring the muscles together, did some appropriate exercises, and healed my diastisis recti within three months.

I did a lot of research about belly binding and have tried many different girdles. I’ll tell you right now that the cheap ones are a waste of money. These Bellefit girdles may seem expensive, but for how well they work, they are worth every penny! I like wearing mine as soon as possible after birth for as long as I can stand it (usually by day 3 or 4 postpartum). I generally start out a few hours a day, then work up to half a day, the entire day, and even at night if I’m feeling super motivated.

  • Pull Up Girdle – I am a pretty average frame/build and the medium worked well for me. The pull up is the easiest and most comfortable, but the sides do dig in a bit so I wear mine with one of my nursing tank tops underneath.
  • Corset Girdle – Once the pull up started not being very tight, I purchased a size small corset girdle. It takes a while to get everything hooked, but it can get much tighter than the pull up and is a good next step to healing. You can also get one with a side zipper, but I’ve never personally tried it, and it’s the most expensive one.
  • Exercises – This video series is designed to specifically heal diastasis recti. It is easy to follow and really works.

12. Chiropractor

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the chiropractor until baby #5, but boy am I glad I did! With Jack being posterior, my hips and lower back were still killing me a week after birth. After one adjustment, my pain melted away. I just wish I had made an appointment before the birth (specifically with the Webster Technique), it probably would have helped Jack to get into a better position.

I also got an adjustment for Jack, and it was so wonderful! I highly recommend an adjustment for all newborns! Going through the birth canal can be rough on a little one’s alignment. Jack was having trouble nursing on the left side, but after his adjustment (which was very gentle by the way), he was even more calm and nursed beautifully on both sides.

In Conclusion

I hope that this has been helpful in preparing you for your postpartum experience. It’s so easy to get hung up on just preparing for the birth, but by being just as prepared for this postpartum recovery time, it will help to ensure that it is as pleasant as possible. You only get one first chance to recover, so make it a good one!

If you’re reading this before you give birth and plan on having a baby shower, consider adding your favorite items to your baby registry (Create an Amazon Baby Registry). If you’re not an Amazon Prime member already, check out Amazon Family where you can get things like 20% of diapers (Join Amazon Family 30-Day Free Trial). You can also give someone the gift of Amazon Prime (Give the Gift of Amazon Prime).*I get commissions on each of these promotions, so if you choose to take advantage of these offers, thank you for supporting me!

Our Fifth Born: Jack's Home Birth Story

Our Fifth Born: Jack’s Home Birth Story

 Jack Phoenix Maaser

Born: 3-3-2017 (Friday)

Time: 4:54 a.m.

Measurements: 7 lbs 9 oz , 21.5 inches long, 13.5 cm head circumference

In a lot of ways, I view Jack as a miracle or a gift. We really thought we were done with four children and even traded in our 15 passenger van for a bells and whistles minivan thinking that the diaphragm would keep us safe. It did not, however, and the entire pregnancy, birth, and time with our sweet little Jack has seemed so surreal, as if it were all part of a dream that I never want to awaken from. He is our bonus child. (Read our thoughts about finding out we were pregnant for baby #5 here.)

The Pregnancy

Finding out we were pregnant this time around was a shock, miracle, joy, and beautiful surprise. As we began making preparations for prenatal care and birth, we were thrilled that we would actually be having another baby in the same home and with the same midwives for the first time ever. (Ruby was born at the Mountain Midwifery Center in Colorado, Elliot was born at our condo in Colorado attended by DeAna Durbin, Ophelia was born at our rented Reed City home attended by Sarah Badger with Simply Born from Grand Rapids, and Julian was born here.) Laurie Zoyiopoulos with Faithful Guardians Midwifery and Jillian Bennett now with Family Tree Maternity attended Julian’s birth and would also be attending us during this new journey as well.

Just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was so busy with all of our kids, routine, and life, that I kept forgetting that I was pregnant! Life just carried on with the exception of a few additional supplements and a more careful diet. Also, just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was measuring quite large at first, so we scheduled an ultrasound to be sure there was only one baby in there. I was feeling a lot of morning sickness and fatigue, but it wasn’t because I was having twins, it was just that I needed more sleep and more food! I always love the idea of twins, but the reality scares me, and I was actually quite relieved that it would be just one.

The ultrasound showed that everything was normal and that my expected due date was Feb. 18th (we predicted Feb. 14th, so pretty close). Based on the way I was feeling and what I was craving, I was CERTAIN it would be a girl, but at our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that we would be having a boy! We had never had two genders in a row and were very excited for Julian to have a little buddy.

The entire pregnancy flew by, and I started to feel like being pregnant was just a part of who I was going to be for all of eternity.

But just like with all of my other pregnancies at about 35 weeks along, I started feeling Braxton Hicks contractions very regularly. It made me fear that I would go into labor early and be forced into a hospital delivery, and all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks that this baby was coming soon! I started getting more serious about doing my prenatal yoga videos, tackled a deep cleaning/organizing project just about every day, started gathering all of my birth and baby things, and most importantly, I started to visualize what my birth would be like.

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

As my due date drew closer, I was relieved that my little guy had made it full term, but devastated to see that everyone in our family was getting sick when we had worked so hard to keep everyone healthy throughout my entire pregnancy. Scott got a REALLY bad stomach virus that made him miss a bunch of work and left him bedridden. I kept feeling like labor was right around the corner and thankfully my mom was able to stay with us and help me around the house until he was better.

We viewed each day that labor didn’t come as a gift that allowed everyone to gradually get better, for my mom and I to tackle more and more cleaning projects, and for our sweet little boy to continue to grow stronger inside my womb.

When I was about a week overdue, Scott got really sick again with a different virus that once again left him bedridden and with a high fever. At this point, I was getting a little mad. I mean, we were eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking high quality supplements…and I couldn’t figure out why he was not only getting sick repeatedly, but worse than I had ever seen him before.

It wasn’t until after the birth when I was rereading our old birth stories and noticed that the exact same thing happened to him right before Julian’s birth, and then it dawned on me the amount of stress he was under and how it really took a toll on his immune system. Seeing the way he is so calm and at ease now makes hindsight 20/20 as I look back and see all of the signs that he was getting stressed out. I mean, not only was he nonstop busy at work, but to have something looming in the future that is so life changing and that comes with such a huge responsibility, but you have no idea WHEN it is going to happen is enough to drive anyone mad!

37 Weeks Pregnant

37 Weeks Pregnant

At any rate, up until about 37 weeks, I would have truly been content to stay pregnant forever, but after that, things started getting really uncomfortable, sleep was difficult, my back was killing me, none of my clothes were fitting, my leg cramps were always just one bad stretch away, I was always cramping from Braxton Hicks and out of breath, and I was just ready for it to be done. As I saw my due date come and go, there was a part of me that was excited to tackle the birth and anxious to finally meet our sweet little guy, but happy at the same time knowing that he needed this extra time to grow and that he would come when he was ready.

Even though people kept asking me when I would be getting induced, I knew that being overdue wasn’t a bad thing, especially since the midwives were continuously monitoring me to make sure everything looked good.

Leading Up to Labor

Scott came home from work about an hour early on Monday (Feb. 27th) feeling awful with a high fever. I put him to bed for the rest of the afternoon and we hoped that with the extra rest he would be feeling better on Tuesday. But on Tuesday he felt just as bad, and at 10 days overdue, I didn’t know how much longer our son could wait to be born! I was getting a little panicky because I really and truly didn’t think I could go through labor without Scott by my side, and I could feel that things were getting closer. All of the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having left me at about 80% effaced, at least 3 cm dilated, and I could feel that he was very low.

I mean, at some point, it felt like he was just going to fall out!

Scott took Wednesday off as well and was finally starting to feel better. That night, I was feeling a lot of cramping and thought things might progress in the night – but they didn’t. We figured that it was probably best for Scott to take Thursday off to ensure a complete recovery and so that he could watch the kids while I went to my chiropractor visit on Thursday at noon. I was trying everything I could to get our little guy out of his posterior position, but nothing was working, and I started to wonder if his position was preventing labor from getting started. My midwife, Jillian, thought that a chiropractor visit would help us get him into an optimal position. We had planned on keeping the big kids home from school on Thursday, but as luck would have it, school was canceled due to the snow and ice!

Early Labor

At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday (March 2nd), I texted my mom to say that my contractions were coming back, but that it still felt like it would be quite a while yet. She said she was caught up at work and could come and just hang out with the kids even if things didn’t happen for awhile. When she got here and took over, I went and hid in our room to bounce on my ball during contractions and was determined to finish my blog about being overdue (12 days at this point) before our baby was born. Scott helped me edit my final draft, and I got it published just in time!

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

All morning, my contractions were very erratic and had no pattern. It felt like labor was in a cycle where it was continuously starting and stopping, and it was really messing with my mind. I even wondered if what I was going through was prodromal labor (labor that starts and stops…more intense than just Braxton Hicks contractions), and it made me feel like I was stuck in a loop that would repeat endlessly like in Groundhog’s Day.

It was nice having my mom around, all of the kids home, and Scott there to keep me distracted. At one point, Scott had all of the kids outside and was pulling them in the sled in our new (used) riding lawnmower, and I decided to take over. There is definitely something to be said for the whole “bumpy car ride” getting labor started, and I could feel my contractions spurred on with each jarring bump!

After that, Scott and I stayed bundled up and went for a walk to Vics to get a few groceries while my mom watched the kids. It felt like so many other pregnancies when we would try to “walk them out”. (We even went to Vics when I was in early labor with Julian!) Each contraction that came would make me stop, and Scott was there to support me through each one.

Walking to Vics

Walking to Vics

 

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says "She's a thing of beauty"...love that man!

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says “She’s a thing of beauty”…love that man!

When we came home and still nothing was progressing, I started feeling really discouraged. I had been keeping my midwife, Jillian, in the loop and she really lifted me up when I started messaging her with all of my fears (i.e. What if the baby is posterior? What if he is stuck on my pubic bone? Why am I starting and stopping labor? What if I never give birth? etc.). I told her how I was trying everything under the sun to get him to turn if he was posterior, and she said that she saw no reasons for concern, and that I was doing all of the right things. This helped me to release most of my frustration, anxiety, and pending panic.

My mom took Julian and Elliot for an excursion to McDonalds which left the house considerably quieter with just Ruby and Ophelia who were playing independently. Then our friend LeeAnn showed up to deliver our milk, and even though I slipped into our bedroom to bounce on my ball during contractions, I stopped thinking about whether or not I was in labor. It felt like it was just another day as I putzed around in the kitchen while LeeAnn told Scott about her recent cruise. Then my dad stopped by, on his way home from doing business up in the U.P., my mom brought Julian and Elliot back from McDonalds, and as the house became full of tickles, laughter, and love, my contractions seemed to have been put on the back burner and totally subsided.

When my dad was getting ready to leave, I encouraged my mom to go home as well,

“I really don’t think anything is going to happen for awhile,”

I told her with defeat, but she insisted on staying nonetheless. By the time we put the kids to bed, my mom was already tucked in for sleep. The kids were very helpful during our bedtime routine.

After we put the kids to bed, Scott and I stayed up to watch most of La La Land and then headed off to bed around 10:00 p.m. I was starting to feel contractions again, but I just wanted to get Scott into bed so that he would be well rested if indeed the end was near. Even though I didn’t think that I would be able to fall asleep, I did. When the contractions came, they were enough to wake me up and I had to moan softly, but not get me out of bed.

Finally at about 11:30 p.m. I couldn’t take lying in bed anymore. Not only were the contractions getting too strong, but I suddenly realized that I hadn’t pooped yet that day (TMI maybe, but hey this is a birth story…what did you expect?). So first things first, I drank a Fiberwise and then putzed around the kitchen until I needed to poop. After that, the contractions started coming on stronger and more quickly. I even had to get on my hands and knees to rock through them. It was really sweet though because our cat Storybelle would crawl under my belly as I did this, and focusing on the softness of her fur really distracted me and made the pain melt away.

After a particularly painful contraction, I hurried into our bedroom to grab my birthing ball and came out to the living room to watch the parts of La La Land that we had skipped. (Sidenote: I really love how this movie shows how love and family are more important than a career and dreams of individual happiness via external achievements.) I sat behind the couch in our living room, bouncing on my ball, watching the movie, and moaning softly with each contraction.

At about 1:30 a.m., I started to feel like I needed Scott’s support. The contractions were getting a bit more painful, but with all of the delays, I still wasn’t convinced that anything was really going to happen. When I gently woke up Scott and said,

“I need you now. I can’t do this alone anymore,”

he bolted out of bed like it was a fire drill and stumbled into his sweat pants and shirt in about 3 seconds. I gathered up a nightgown, told Scott to grab my birthing kit box, and we crept past a soundly sleeping Elliot and out into the living room.

As Scott sat on the couch watching me expectantly, I almost felt foolish when after minutes and minutes nothing was happening. He asked me if I had called the midwives yet, to which I curtly responded,

“Now with you here, I don’t think anything is going to happen again.”

But seconds later…something did.

Active Labor

All of a sudden, the waves of a very powerful contraction washed over me, and I yelled to Scott, “My hips!” He immediately sprang into action and expertly began rubbing my hips and back like he had done with every other birth. The pressure from his hands was strong and soothing and helped to dull the pain of the contraction, but it was still painful enough that I moaned loudly. When it was over, Scott sternly said,

“You need to call the midwives now! This could be happening fast!”

After another powerful contraction, I called Jillian and told her that things were happening and that they were happening fast.

“We might have the baby before you get here!” I stammered while completely failing to sound calm.

In between contractions, Scott started laying down chux pads while I unpacked the birth kit. As I visualized giving birth unassisted, my mind switched from just getting through each contraction to worrying about all of the possible things that could go wrong. (Would he get stuck in the birth canal? How could I get him to rotate if he was indeed posterior? What if he got tangled in the cord on the way out? etc.) Jillian called me when she was on the road (later she told me she could hear the panic in my voice) and reassured me that they were on the way and to let her know if we needed her to walk us through anything.

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laurie and Jillian were each about 45 minutes away on a good day and now the roads were icy and it was the middle of the night. But just knowing that they were on their way put my mind at ease, and I went back to focusing on my Enya mix and getting through one contraction at a time. In between contractions, the pain melted away, and I continued putzing around. I really wanted to get more videos of me going through contractions and of the birth, but this (below) is all that we managed to record!

Laurie was the first to walk through the door at 2:30 a.m., and Scott and I joked that she was our babysitter there to give us a night on the town. She unpacked her bag and checked on me right away. The baby’s heart rate was good and after watching me have a contraction, I could tell by the way that she hovered that she thought things would be happening soon. Jillian arrived shortly after Laurie and after about twenty minutes, their assistants Sarah and Stephanie arrived. It was about 3:00 a.m. at this point, and frankly, I was completely surprised that he hadn’t been born yet.

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Transition

Transition is defined as the dilation of the cervix from 8 cm to 10 cm and typically lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours with really intense contractions typically occurring every 2 minutes and lasting from 60-90 seconds. It’s hard to say when transition really began for me because right up until the end, my contractions were anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes apart and lasting about a minute. But even with my erratic pattern of contractions, I could tell with an internal check that I was pretty much dilated all of the way and just waiting for that pushing sensation.

The midwives kept coming in to check on me to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing, and at one point it dropped to 116 beats per minute (from about 138 I think). Scott knew that with the lowered heart rate, I needed to pick up the pace. He gently encouraged me to walk around in between contractions to get things going, and I did so with shuffled feet and tearful eyes.

With every contraction, Scott was right there by my side to expertly massage my hips and back, but it wasn’t making the pain melt away like it had with all of my other births. As each contraction came and went, I was getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t getting the urge to push. I started to feel a sense of panic creep into my psyche as once again that feeling of being stuck in this moment for ever and ever and ever penetrated every ounce of my being.

The contractions were wearing on me, and I started crying when they came, not sure how much longer I would be able to hang on. “Why am I not feeling the urge to push???” I asked in exasperation. The midwives could tell I was having a hard time, and even though the baby’s heart rate was back to normal, they wanted to encourage me to move things along. I felt like I need to do something different, but I didn’t know what. I asked Jillian if I should squat she said, “NO!” (*If the baby was posterior…which we weren’t sure of at this point, but suspected, then squatting would have made him descend posterior and could have led to over an hour of intense pushing.)

Jillian recommended instead that with the next contraction I get on my hands and knees and sway my hips back and forth. So with the next contraction, I did just that.

With my hands out in front of me and my butt up in the air, I gently swayed my hips back and forth, and as I did, I felt his head turn about 90 degrees in my pelvis.

The pain was excruciating beyond all measure of belief, yet I somehow managed to bring my hands up to the edge of the couch and buried my face in the cushions so that I could scream with reckless abandon. Scott was still expertly massaging my hips and back, but at this point, nothing was helping with the pain.

It felt as though time was standing still and this pain and this moment were somehow holding me captive to live in this experience for all of eternity. But then a little voice inside me whispered,

“I promise that this is the last time you’ll ever have to do this.”

And somehow knowing that this would be the last time ever, gave me the grit to see that the end was near.

Birth

The previous contraction was about 90 seconds of the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life, and after that I was immediately racked with another one.

I felt like I was spinning out of control and that my body was being turned inside out, but I kept telling myself over and over that this would be the last time and that it was almost over.

With a pop and a gush, my water broke, and FINALLY I got the urge to push. It was such a relief!!! The feeling of his head coming down the birth canal consumed the cognition of every cell in my body, and I pushed with all of my might like a sprinter reaching desperately to break the final ribbon at the finish line.

I heard everyone frantically clamoring behind me trying to process the sudden uptick in the pace of things. Jillian asked Scott (who was still massaging my hips while I was on my hands and knees) if he wanted to catch the baby. “Yes, of course!” he said.

“Well then get ready,” said Jillian, “here comes the head!”

Scott looked down in shock to see that yes indeed here came his head! With every other birth, after the head is delivered I have waited until the next contraction to push out the rest of the body, but I just wanted things to be over so badly this time that I reached into my primal core and used the reserves of all the strength I have ever saved to push his entire body out in one go…and so out came his head, shoulders, and hips all in one big strong push.

After the Birth

After he was delivered, I awkwardly spun around while Scott listened to directions for how to hand him through my legs and up to my chest. I glanced at Jillian and noticed the look of concern on her face when he didn’t cry right away. Typically, the passage through the birth canal will help to aspirate the lungs, but with our little guy coming out so quickly, he was having difficulty taking his first breath. With the cord tugging at the placenta still buried inside of me, I brought him up as far as I could and patted his back while Jillian tickled his feet and massaged him a bit trying to get him to cough or cry.

After the longest 20 seconds of my life, he coughed a wet raspy cough, gave a little cry, and I could immediately see him pink up. Right away, I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.

I nestled him to my bosom, skin to skin, and finally said hello to my son. I cannot even tell you in words the feeling of elation, wonder, and joy upon first meeting a child after getting to know him over nine long months in every way possible except for sight. To see his little body, sweet face, and big eyes looking up at me, recognizing my voice, and feeling a complete flood of oxytocin love hormones as snuggled on my chest rooting for my breast, well it was enough joy to fill a thousand lifetimes with happiness. When I looked at our little boy and felt his warmth, I caught a glimpse of him taking his first steps, learning to ride a bike, falling in love, having children of his own, and being by his side every step of the way. What an endless miracle a new life is!

Scott quickly ran to wake up Ruby who had been anxiously waiting for this day to come. She came and sat down beside me simply in awe of her new little brother. I suddenly got the urge to deliver the placenta, and I could see her eyes widen in shock as she watched it come out. When the cord had stopped pulsing, the midwives clamped it in two places and handed Ruby a pair of special scissors. With one snip, a little blood spurted out and with a some encouragement, she went back in for two more snips to complete the job.

In that moment, I saw Ruby’s maternal instincts awaken and blossom…she was so tender and loving, and it made me remember what it was like to cut my sister’s umbilical cord some 30 years ago. It was a moment of pride for me and a special memory that I have not only cherished but that has helped to shape me into the person I am today.

Ruby Cutting the Cord

Ruby Cutting the Cord

The midwives helped me up to sit on a chux pad lined couch, and we gathered around our son as he latched on to nurse. I asked Scott to wake up my mom, and she was thrilled to meet her grandson! We enjoyed telling her all of the details of the birth, and she couldn’t believe that she had slept through it all! When we noticed the meconium poop all over our nice swaddling cloths, we realized we should have put him in a diaper. So we quickly cleaned him up, put him in a diaper, and continued to bask in the glow of what had just taken place.

Ruby, Scott, Jack, and I

Ruby, Me, Scott, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Baby Jack

Baby Jack

While Ruby and my mom went to boil the herbs for my herbal bath, Scott and I talked about names. We originally really liked the name Reed and thought about Reed Scott or Reggie Reed. We also liked the names Kurt, Easton, Bradbury, Landen (Ruby’s idea), and Alex or Alexander (Elliot’s idea). But when we were driving to Chicago for Christmas, we heard one of our favorite bands come on shuffle right while we were passing under an overpass with the street name the same as the band’s name…Phoenix. We both looked at each other with eyes wide saying, “It’s perfect!” But then we remembered some friends of ours had a son named Phoenix, so we were torn. A few weeks later, Scott finished a Steven King book about JFK whose nickname was Jack. He really loved the story and we have both always been in awe of JFK, not to mention Jack White from the White Stripes and all of the nursery rhymes featuring Jack. Plus, Jack has such a versatile and regal resonance to it that can allow for any path that our son may choose in life.

When we met our little boy, we knew that the name Jack Phoenix Maaser suited him perfectly.

Jack passed the newborn screening with flying colors, and after inspecting him (practically no vernix, just a little in the crease of his thigh) and seeing his placenta (many spots of calcification showing its age), we knew that he was definitely overdue!

Newborn Screening

Newborn Screening (Me with a pinkie in his mouth, Stephanie checking him over, my mom watching, and Sarah charting)

After going over some information with the midwives, Jack and I took a nice relaxing herbal bath. He nursed hungrily on both sides and soon we were all tucked in bed right as the sun was rising. Ruby cuddled up inbetween us as we reflected on the birth.

After awhile, she went to go play, Scott and I stayed in bed to sleep, and my mom stayed up to take care of all of the kids as they woke up one by one. (We had the big kids miss school.) I was prepared this time around with my After Ease Tincture and a heating pad to help with the after pains (which started to become tremendously painful after baby #3.)

Family Cuddles with Jack

Family Cuddles with Jack

At about 9:30 a.m., Elliot crept into our room like he always does on the weekends to cuddle us in bed, and he was thrilled beyond belief to discover that there was a baby in there with us! He was so sweet and kind as he snuggled up to his new little brother, and then he ran through the house saying, “There’s a baby! Mom had her baby!” The other kids soon came in after that. Ophelia was so happy to see the baby, but right away wanted to call him Jude (her friend Adeline’s little brother’s name) and said, “Awwww, he really likes you!” Julian was excited too and said, “That’s a baby in mom’s tummy!” When Ruby came to cuddle us, she didn’t leave for hours, and we had a very sweet conversation. Scott and I were able to take another nap and woke up feeling very rested. My mom stayed long enough to help put the kids to bed, and then she went home. Life was feeling very sweet.

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

Life with Jack

Since Jack was born on Friday, we were all happy to head into the weekend together. Scott took over the house on Saturday and let me rest and stay in bed. On Sunday, we had our two day visit from Jillian. Jack was looking really good, and Jillian was happy to see that I was resting and mostly staying in bed. (I can’t even tell you how amazing it has been to have had all pre and post natal appointments at our home.) Most babies lose weight at first and then come back to their birth weight by two weeks, but Jack had already gained 3 ounces! I was kind of having difficulty getting him to latch at first (which all started right after we gave him a pinkie to suck on, which soothed him at the time, but probably created a bit of nipple confusion), and so I had been pumping and feeding him colostrum in a dropper which probably really helped him to gain some weight!

Jillian Weighing Jack

Jillian Weighing Jack

Just like after Julian’s birth (and all of the others probably), but to a WAY worse extent, my hips and lower back/top of my butt were in terrible pain following the birth. This made any type of sitting very painful and difficult. (Someday when I’m fully recovered, I’d like Scott to rub me again like he did towards the end of the birth to see just how hard it was.) At any rate, after going through about 3 hours of intense contractions with Scott’s special hip, back, and butt rubs plus going through a posterior labor, it just took a toll on me. When my midwife suggested a chiropractor visit, I was determined to get an appointment. We went to Family Chiropractic Health Center with Dr. Tracy Morningstar, and I was overjoyed that she was able to bring my pain level down significantly and immediately. (My pelvis was really out of whack.) She was also able to do some work on Jack who was having trouble latching on the left side, and he went from being a calm baby to the calmest baby ever who could now nurse on both sides!

Jack at the Chiropractor

Jack at the Chiropractor

Not only has Jack been our sweet little miracle bonus baby, but he has been the easiest baby, and what a wonderful gift that is to have with baby #5! He nurses well, poops and pees like a champ, is alert and awake during the day, sleeps wonderfully all night, sleeps in most days so I can shower, naps wonderfully, takes a pacifier, doesn’t spit up, hardly ever cries, and brings joy to every single member of our family and everyone he meets.

We love you Jack Phoenix Maaser! Welcome to the family.

Jack Phoenix Maaser

Jack Phoenix Maaser

What To Do When You’re Overdue

So here I am, 12 days overdue with baby #5, and of course I’m feeling a crazy mixture of emotions that range everywhere from excitement to fear.

I’m full of anticipation and wonder as I think about meeting my sweet little boy, but I’m also very thankful for every day that he decides to stay put because I know that he’s active, growing, and doing well while I’m busy taking care of a sick household.

When I was ten days overdue with Elliot (our second), we were living in Colorado, and they had a law about not being able to have a home birth when you were past two weeks overdue. That (in addition to the fact that I was working full time and had limited maternity leave that I was using up with the end of my pregnancy) motivated me to try everything under the sun to get him out (including castor oil…do not do this ever!!!).

Now with this pregnancy, I am a stay at home mom with no agenda or timeline and no laws about timing out of a home birth. The midwives and I continuously monitor things to make sure he is still growing, active, and that I continue to remain healthy, but now as I approach the two week mark of being overdue, I want to be prepared if I DO need to “encourage” him to come out and know with certainty what my risks and options are.

How is a Due Date Calculated?

Before I get into induction methods and such, I wanted to reflect on the accuracy of a “due date” and take a minute to look at where it came from.

A woman’s due date is calculated by Naegele’s rule, which states that the due date should be approximately 280 days (40 weeks) from the start of the last menstrual period. The median found by Naegele’s rule merely shows that half of all births occur before 280 days and half occur after with birth data typically clustering around the “due date”.

A standard deviation diagram of human gestation showing the curve's center is at 280 days (40 weeks) past the last menstrual period.

A standard deviation diagram of human gestation showing the curve’s center is at 280 days (40 weeks) past the last menstrual period. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, 2009, Nasha)

Naegele’s rule doesn’t take into consideration that women don’t always have menstrual cycles lasting 28 days with ovulation occurring precisely on day 14, so those with a shorter cycle could have a shorter pregnancy and those with a longer cycle could have a longer pregnancy. In addition, studies show that first time mothers are more likely to be overdue and that women of African and Asian descent tend to deliver about a week before Caucasian mothers (Source).

Ultrasounds used to measure the size of the developing embryo before the 12th week of pregnancy are 95% accurate within an error margin of six days and those in the second trimester have an an error margin of 8 days.

When I was in my tenth week of pregnancy, we had an ultrasound (basically because I was wondering if we were having twins…like I do!) and they gave us a due date of Feb. 18th. So if you add six days to that and then two weeks, that would make March 10th as my latest date of arrival. Being that it’s only March 2nd right now, I’ve still got plenty of time!

Risks of Being Overdue

No one really expects to give birth ON their due date (only 5% are in fact), but with most births being clustered around that time, when you reach one week overdue, it becomes common practice for strangers to start telling the mother that she should eat spicy food/go for walks/have sex, and at two weeks overdue, an induction is absolutely expected. Am I right?

So why do we expect induction at two weeks past the due date anyways? Well, in one case, researchers looked at ten studies involving 6,000 women, and they found that when labor was not induced after a certain time, about 9 out of 3,000 babies died and when labor was induced after 41 completed weeks of pregnancy, 1 out of 3,000 babies died. So basically, without knowing any other factors in these individual cases, we could say that inducing labor after 41 weeks of labor reduces the chances of infant death by 8.

When looking at the risks to the baby when the mother is overdue, these are the main concerns (Source):

  • Aging Placenta – The main risk with being overdue is that the placenta might stop providing the baby with the nutrients or oxygen that he or she needs.
  • Infections – The risk of infections in the womb and unexpected complications during childbirth increases too.
  • Meconium Aspiration – The risk of breathing in meconium is decreased with induction (from 11 out of 1,000 to 7 out of 1,000). When the baby’s bowl contents are released into the amniotic fluid during labor and the baby becomes distressed, he or she may breathe in the meconium and it can cause breathing problems.
  • Stillbirth – The risk of stillbirth between 37 and 42 weeks is 2 to 3 per 1,000 deliveries and increases slightly to 4 to 7 per 1,000 past 42 weeks (Source).
  • Health Problems with the Mother – If the mother is overdue and at risk for preeclempsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or any other health complications, it could lead to an emergency Cesarean section.
  • Baby is Too Big – Macrosomia is the medical term for a big baby and some researchers consider babies over 8 lbs. 13 oz. to be big while others say anything over 9 lbs. 15 oz. is big. Trying to predict whether or not a baby will be “big” can be difficult and researchers have found that ultrasounds are only accurate at predicting “big babies” 50% of the time and that women suspected of having “big babies” have higher inductions, Cesarean sections, and maternal complications. If you don’t have type 1, 2, or gestational diabetes, then the risks of vaginally delivering a “big baby” (such as perineal tears and shoulder dystocia) are not statistically significant to warrant any intervention (Source…this is a good one!).

I have heard many stories of women who have had “ten month pregnancies” and they feel like their babies just needed to “cook” longer. Many practitioners feel that we should actually be advocating for 43 weeks to be considered the definition of late. Basically, reaching your due date (or getting close to it) is not reason enough to force an induction.

Making Sure Everything is Safe

Although some sources say that medical examinations are not typically able to detect problems when women go past their due date (and use this as justification for inducing ALL women who go past their due date), there are several things that my midwives check for to ensure the safety of both myself and my overdue baby.

  • Fetal Kick Count – This is the most effective assurance that the baby is doing fine. Every baby will have his or her own patterns of movement, and if a mother is in tune with the times, duration, and frequency that her baby moves, that is the best way to ensure that everything is fine. Basically, when your baby is active, you should feel at least ten movements in two hours (Source).
  • Fundal Height – The measurement from the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus is the fundal height. After 16 weeks of pregnancy, your fundal height measurement (in centimeters) should match the number of weeks you’ve been pregnant. So if you’re 40 weeks, you should measure 40 cm. Just keep in mind that you will lose some ground when the baby drops!
  • Low Amniotic Fluid Levels – This is known as oligohydramnios and affects about 12% of pregnancies that go past 41 weeks. Low levels of amniotic fluid could be an indication of declining placental function and lead to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) where the baby doesn’t grow as it should (Source). Trained midwives are able to use abdominal palpation (feeling with their hands) in order to detect the amount of amniotic fluid. Basically, the baby would be very easy to feel and in some cases you could see limbs, the uterus would be smaller than expected, and there may be fewer movements (Source).
  • Fetal Non-Stress Test (NST) – The goal of this test is to measure the heart rate of the fetus in response to its own movements. Healthy babies will respond with an increased heart rate during times of movement and the heart rate will decrease when the baby is at rest. This test is an indicator that the baby is receiving enough oxygen and uses electronic fetal monitoring (Source).
  • Auscultated Acceleration Test (AAT)– This is an alternative to the fetal non-stress test that doesn’t involve any electronic fetal monitoring. Basically, you’re listening to the baby’s heart rate for 6 minutes and looking for at least one acceleration (Source).
  • Swelling – Some swelling is to be expected during pregnancy, but excessive swelling could be a sign of preeclempsia, and if a woman were to show signs of preeclempsia (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, retaining water) after she reached her due date, she would definitely want to deliver very soon. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications for the mother including liver or renal failure and future cardiovascular issues. It can also prevent the placenta from getting enough blood which will deprive the baby of oxygen and food (Source).

Baby’s Growth Towards the End of Pregnancy

I am thankful for every day that my baby is growing inside of me. During the final days and weeks of pregnancy, some amazing growth and development is taking place (Source). If you were to rush into an early induction, your baby could be missing out on some of the following.

  • Passage of Antibodies: During the last weeks of pregnancy, maternal antibodies that will help fight infections in the first days and weeks of pregnancy are passed on to the baby.
  • Putting on Weight: Starting at about 35 weeks, your baby will start to gain weight rapidly at the rate of about half a pound per week.
  • Growing Brown Fat: Brown fat is found in hibernating animals and newborn babies and develops in the final weeks of gestation to help regulate the newborn baby’s body temperature.
  • Building Iron Stores: In the final weeks in the womb, babies build up a reserve of iron stores.
  • Developing Sucking and Swallowing Abilities: Oral feeding that requires coordination of sucking, swallowing and breathing is the most complex sensorimotor process for newborns sensorimotor process for newborns and develops in the later part of pregnancy.
  • Lung Development: The final phase of lung development occurs during the final weeks of pregnancy. If a baby is suspected to be premature at the time of delivery, the mother can be given a steroid injection to speed along the lung development process (Source).
  • Brain Development: The last three months of pregnancy provide your child with the basic brain structure that he or she will have for the rest of his or her life. The brain grows rapidly during this phase and roughly triples during the last 13 months of gestation (Source). Every day in the womb allows the brain to grow and develop even more.

Risks of Inducing Too Early

Many women breathe a sigh of relief at 37 weeks because that has typically been considered “full term”, but now the true definition of full term is considered 39 weeks for the best chance of optimal development. Not only that, but you may think that you’re 37 weeks based on inaccurate measurements and really only be 33 or 34 weeks along. Yes, the later part of pregnancy is uncomfortable, but inducing a baby to be born before she is ready can bring about way more problems. If a baby is born premature, there are several risks involved (Source):

  • More Interventions: Interventions tend to lead to more interventions. If you are induced before your body is ready and labor doesn’t begin, it can lead to a Cesarean section and other interventions that might not have been necessary.
  • Stay in the NICU: Babies born too early can have problems breathing, staying warm, dealing with jaundice, sucking and swallowing, and may require a stay in the NICU.
  • Long Term Health Problems: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); and as adults, they are more likely to get diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Medical Methods of Induction

According to birth certificate data in the US, 23% of labors (in 2012) were medically induced, but this is not something that is always reported on a birth certificate. Survey data shows that number to be more like 41%. Here are the possible medical methods of induction (Source).

  • Prostaglandins: You can be given a medication containing synthetic prostoglandins inserted into the vagina to thin and dilate the cervix or an oral dose of misoprostol that will do the same thing. *Note: there are MANY natural ways to do this, see next section.
  • Foley Catheter or Cervical Ripening Balloon: By inserting a thin tube into the cervix with one or two tiny uninflated balloons on the end and then filling these balloons with water, the pressure on the cervix stimulates the body to release prostoglandins which can ripen the cervix. Then when the cervix opens, the balloons fall out and the tube is removed.
  • Strip or Sweep the Membranes: If the cervix is already somewhat dilated, a finger can be inserted and manually separate the amniotic sac from the lower part of the uterus. This will cause the release of prostoglandins as well. This can be a bit painful and uncomfortable, but can stimulate contractions. *This is something a midwife can do or you can do if you are familiar with your body.
  • Rupture Membranes: This is otherwise known as “breaking the water” and involves inserting a small hooked instrument through the cervix to break the amniotic sac. There’s a small chance that this will stimulate contractions, but if it doesn’t, then pitocin will be given.
  • Pitocin: The synthetic version of oxytocin (the hormone released that naturally stimulates labor) is called pitocin and can be given through and IV pump to stimulate contractions.
    • Oxytocin versus Pitocin: During natural labor, oxytocin is released into the mother’s body in a pulsing action that provides for breaks during labor, but pitocin is given in a steady stream through an IV so it causes contractions that are longer and stronger than your baby or placenta can handle which can deprive him/her of oxygen. It also prevents the mother’s body from releasing endorphins (that will prevent and counteract pain), is not as effective at dilating the cervix as oxytocin so more is required, lacks the peak that oxytocin provides allowing for a faster easier birth, and interferes with the release of oxytocin…otherwise known as the love hormone that helps promote bonding after birth.

Natural Ways to Induce Labor

If your body is ready to go into labor and just needs a helping hand, then there are many natural methods that can help to spur things along. Some are very gentle and safe while others carry a certain risk and must only be used with extreme caution (Source).

  • Get the Baby into Optimal Position: Ideally, a baby will be LOA (left occiput anterior) when engaged for labor, meaning that if the mother looks down at her belly, the baby’s head will be down and the back can be felt on the mother’s left. If the baby is in an OP (occiput posterior) position with its back lined up with the mother’s spine, it can prevent a mother from going into labor or make labor start and stop. Spinning Babies is a wonderful website and goes into great detail about baby positions, when it’s recommended to turn them, and how to go about doing this.
    1. Bouncing on a Birthing Ball – This can help tremendously to get the baby into an optimal position. I must have a uterus perfectly designed for posterior babies because they have all started out this way and then turned during labor. But I have always relied heavily on my birthing ball to help me bounce and swivel my hips at the same time. My husband has also been a great help by pushing on my hips or on my lower back…it really helps to be very vocal about what feels good and you want your partner to do!
    2. Kneeling on all Fours  – I love getting on my hands and knees to release the pressure of the baby. It also helps to stick my butt up in the air to let the baby move more freely into an optimal position.
    3. The Miles Circuit – This is a series of positions and movements involving lunges, walking on an uneven curb, and side stepping up stairs to open your pelvis and get the baby into an optimal position. (Read more here.)
    4. Chiropractor Visiting a chiropractor trained in working with pregnant women can help to align the spine and joints to help the baby be able to get into optimal position for birth.
    5. What About Deep Squats? The idea that squatting with your knees higher than your hips may seem like a good idea to get the baby further into the pelvis, but really should be avoided in later pregnancy because it can cause the baby to get settled into an unfavorable position. (Read more here.)
  • Walking – With every baby, we always talk about “walking it out”. The bumping up and down can help to move the baby into the birth canal. Walking up and down stairs, especially two at a time while lifting your legs up really high can also help to move the baby downward. Swimming can also be a nice low impact way to help move things along.
  • Sex – What you did to make the baby can help the baby come out too! As long as your waters haven’t broken, it is still generally safe. Also, have fun talking to all of your coworkers and friends about all of the raunchy details of your sex life when they suggest this method of induction. 🙂
    1. Sperm – Sperm contains prostoglandins that can soften the cervix. May be taken orally or vaginally. 🙂
    2. Female Orgasm – The uterus contracts during orgasm and this can help to stimulate labor.
  • Nipple Stimulation – You can gently rub or roll the nipple in order to release oxytocin to help stimulate contractions. But it can make contractions very strong, so use with caution! (Read more here.)
  • Stretch or Sweep the Membranes – By inserting a finger into the cervix and doing a gentle sweep between the uterus wall and amniotic sac, it can help to stimulate labor within hours or days. (I’m not sure how many women would feel comfortable doing this to themselves, but I did this to get Elliot’s birth going. Here’s some more info on how to do it.)
  • Oils to Ripen the Cervix – Instead of synthetic methods or sperm, there are other ways to soften the cervix. Borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and black current oil are natural sources of prostoglandins which are fatty acids that can soften the cervix and increase the flexibility of the pelvic ligaments that will help with effacement and dilation. You can take them orally starting at about 35 weeks and with the evening primrose oil, you can insert it vaginally (just do it at night and use a panty liner).
  • Meditation, Visualization, and Yoga – I recently wrote another blog about this because I think that having a peaceful mindset is very crucial before giving birth. Recently, everyone in my family has been sick and needing me, and I have certainly felt the signs of labor stop when I am needed or stressed out.
  • Acupressure – There are accupressure points in the ankles and webbing between the thumb and forefinger that can cause muscle contractions in the uterus and help to stimulate labor. (Read more here.)
  • Herbs to Take Towards the End of Pregnancy
    1. Motherwort – This herb makes contractions more effective, regulates Braxton Hicks contractions, and stops false labor. If taken before birth, it can calm nerves and potentially help to prevent postpartum depression. (Read more here.) *Get the herb here and the tincture here.
    2. Red Raspberrry Leaf – Starting at about 34 weeks, this herb can be taken as a tea or a pill to strengthen the uterus and potentially lead to a shorter labor, especially the pushing stage (Additional source). *Get some in bulk here or in tea bags here.
  • Foods to Help Stimulate Labor
    1. Bananas – Bananas have a lot of potassium which is crucial for muscle contractions, so being low in potassium could potentially delay labor. *Don’t overdue the potassium or take supplements as they can be poisonous when taken incorrectly.
    2. Basil and Oregano – These herbs are emmenagogue that can help to bring on a late period and in higher doses can cause uterine contractions. You can make food with these herbs or steep them in a tea to get things going. (Read more here.)
    3. Dates – Six dates a day leading up to your delivery date can make labor start sooner, make it shorter, and help with dilation (Additional source).
    4. Pineapple – Fresh raw pineapple contains a small amount of an enzyme called bromelian which can soften the cervix and get labor going.

Natural Methods That Might Do More Harm Than Good

  • Castor Oil – Because castor oil causes severe diarrhea, the theory is that these bowel movements will stimulate contractions. I actually got desperate enough with Elliot and tried this method, and let me tell you IT WAS NOT WORTH IT! Yes, my body was ready to go into labor and it probably did help to kick things off, but my butt hurt worse than my vagina after labor, plus I ran the risk of dehydration. No thanks.
  • Licorice rootLicorice root and licorice extract contain an ingredient called glycyrrhizin, which can cause uterine contractions but also have some negative side effects, so beware.
  • Spicy food – Even though there is no scientific evidence that spicy food can bring on labor, many women swear by it. The theory is kind of the same as castor oil in that it can upset your digestive system enough to cause cramps that may lead to contractions. Personally, I’d like to avoid the discomfort, but if you’re really desperate, it can’t hurt too bad!
  • Black/Blue Cohosh – If you’re past 40 weeks and already experiencing contractions, these herbs can help to strengthen and regulate uterine contractions. While generally regarded as safe, there was an isolated incident of it causing heart trouble in a new baby, so use with caution. (Read more here.)
  • Clary Sage Oil – By mixing with a carrier oil and rubbing on your belly, it can help to promote labor and relieve pain, but it should only be used under the guidance of a trained professional as there can be other complications if not used correctly.
  • Golden Seal – Golden seal can be taken orally in tablet form and has hydrastatine and berberine that have been known to induce labor. Because of complications, however, it is recommended that you only take it with professional guidance.

What Causes Labor to Start

Labor will typically begin when the maturing baby and aging placenta trigger an increase in prostoglandins that will soften the cervix and get it ready for effacement and dilation. Estrogen will rise and progesterone will increase which will make the uterus more sensitive to oxytocin. The baby will move down into the pelvis and contractions in the last weeks of pregnancy may start the effacement and dilation of the cervix. Women will typically feel a burst of energy to help them make the final preparations before labor begins (Source).

In addition, the uterus has an increased number of immune cells (macrophages) there to help to fight lung infection that begin to migrate to the wall of the uterus during late pregnancy (called surfactant protein, aka SP-A). Once there, a chemical reaction takes place stimulating an inflammatory response in the uterus that starts the process of labor. So basically, when the baby’s lungs are developed, labor will begin (Source).

In Conclusion

Even though I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of our precious little guy, I am in no hurry to “make him” come before he is ready. I have viewed each additional day as a gift where I get to accomplish one more task or cuddle with one more child before my little guy enters this world and demands my full attention. I have also enjoyed eating special meals, treating myself to organizational tools for my home, doing yoga daily, nesting in every possible way, getting caught up on things I would have never dreamed I would get caught up on, reading, journaling, spending time with my husband, and taking lots of time to reflect and enjoy every aspect of life.

Now that I am knowledgeable in all of the risks of being overdue and aware of a variety of methods of induction, I am ready to turn this part of my brain off as I listen to my body, become aware of my baby, and prepare for this miraculous journey that will bring a new life into the world.

The Importance of Visualizing and Meditating Before Giving Birth

The Importance of Visualizing and Meditating Before Giving Birth

Visualizing and meditating before birth has helped me to have three peaceful home births (Ruby, our first born, was a slightly different story…read her birth story here and my afterward thoughts here), and as I prepare for the birth of baby #5, the reality of being 8 months pregnant has finally hit me, and I know that I need to make a conscious effort to get in tune with my baby and my body before the birth happens.

Using Yoga to Meditate

I absolutely LOVE the way my body feels when I regularly move through yoga. After several weeks of a new routine, the awkward and stiff feelings are replaced with strength and confidence and the world melts away as I focus and concentrate on my movements.

Yoga is as much about freeing your mind as it is about freeing your body from tension and pain. With four young children to take care of and so many things to constantly make, prepare, and do, it’s really hard for me to find time to clear my mind and really concentrate on the present moment.

But when I do find the time to move through a yoga video, the calm music and gentle guidance of the instructor allow me to let go of the world and to be fully present in the movements of my body. I can let go of my to do list, my worries, and my fears…everything else simply melts away as I focus on my breathing, my baby, the position of my limbs, and the intricate placements of each of my ligaments, muscles, and bones.

Sometimes it’s hard to justify setting aside a full hour for myself to do yoga, but when I make it a priority, I feel stronger, calmer, and more at peace. Some other amazing perks are that it makes my leg cramps go away (I also have found GREAT relief using this magnesium spray), helps with my lower back pain, and helps me to sleep better at night.

My Favorite Yoga Vidoes

When I first started doing yoga, I went to the local library and checked out everything they had. I also looked for YouTube videos for “prenatal yoga” and found two videos that have stood the test of time throughout all five pregnancies.

My ultimate favorite is Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga by Gaiam. This workout is put together sooooooo well and incorporates every single little movement that a pregnant woman should go through to release tension and strengthen her body. I also love the modifications for each trimester, the soft background music, the serene setting, and Shiva’s gentle guidance.

Another top favorite video is ZenMama Rainbeau Mars: Prenatal Workout. This video is a bit easier than Shiva Rea’s and because Rainbeau talks during her movements (rather than having the sound dubbed over later), there are little mistakes and such, but I actually really enjoy this video more because of these foibles. I also LOVE her guided relaxation piece at the end.

I encourage you to explore several videos as well and find something that works for you. When you do the same video/videos over and over, it can help you to memorize the routines so that when you need a quick little “pick me up” you will have some go to moves.

Visualizing Life with a New Baby

The reason why I usually start “nesting” so early is that I spend a lot of time visualizing what our lives will be like with a new baby. My husband and I will talk late into the nights about what our new bedtime routine will look like, how he will take care of me and support me during the important recovery stage of postpartum care, what our new morning routine will look like, where the baby will sleep, how we will regulate the temperature of our bedroom, what nursing stations I will require throughout the house, and every other possible little detail that we can think of.

I find times when I can let my mind go (usually before I go to bed or when I’m cuddled up with a little one during the day) and totally visualize what it will be like to cradle a sweet little babe in my arms. I think about being tied to a bed or chair for long periods of time as we establish breastfeeding and I recover, and I try to see what I will see then…which inevitably leads to lots and lots of organizing and cleaning because I just KNOW that the dust on the ceiling fans, the organization of our book baskets, and interior cleanliness of our refrigerator is going to gnaw at my mind!

Visualizing the Birth

Whenever I get into the final weeks of pregnancy, the fullness of what I will be going through hits me, and my first instinct is to panic. I start worrying about how I will get through the pain of transition, how I will manage pushing out an entire body through my lady parts, and how a potentially long labor may drain me of every speck of energy until the point of collapse.

My second instinct is one of excitement as I visualize meeting this tiny being that has been nestled in my womb for so long. Seeing his little face, knowing that he will grow up like all of my other children with a unique and definitive personality all his own, feeling the soft touch of his skin and the elation that my husband and I will feel when we actually get to hold him and gaze into his precious little face…all of these things lift me to a tremendous emotional high.

But then back to the birth…I reflect on my past births, but know that this one will be its own story. I picture myself feeling the first acknowledgement of labor, the recognition that these contractions aren’t Braxtons anymore…they are real, and this baby is coming. I know that the excitement of that moment will trump any notions of sleep, and it makes me treasure those moments of rest that I have now.

I visualize myself keeping it a secret as long as I can letting my husband rest or work…finishing whatever he needs to do so that he will have the energy to support me in my final moments when I know that I will need him the most. I see myself putzing around the house in the beginning stages of labor as I prepare food, tidy up the house, and pull out my birthing kit. (Ummm, I still need to order this…) I also know that I will need to rest during this beginning stage and save my strength for the more difficult parts.

I see my body starting to take things seriously as I’m no longer able to move during contractions, and I wonder, “Where will I want to be when this happens?” For Julian’s birth, I liked being in our living room, far away from the children’s bedrooms with the soft glow of the fireplace and the large windows in the doors that give me a view to the backyard. I think about lighting candles (Oops, I forgot to add some to my last Melaleuca order…), turning on my Pandora Enya mix, and preparing a stack of pillows and my exercise ball (I need to clean this off and pump it up…) for what will probably result in back labor once again (I have a body that cradles posterior babies it seems.).

I think about where I will want to be when I push (probably on my hands and knees like the last three births), where I will rest afterwards, and how we will sneak past Elliot (if he’s sleeping) to get to the large sit and stand jaccuzi tub in our bathroom for an herbal bath afterwards.

I also think about where the midwives will be while they are here and how they may need a place to rest if labor is long and food to eat to help everyone keep up their strength. I wonder when I’ll call my mom to let her know labor has begun and think about whether or not the other children will need to be entertained so Scott can support me or whether it will all happen in the dark hours of the night.

As I think about all of these things, and continuously prepare for this upcoming journey, it puts my mind at ease. I can “see” what is going to happen, and it’s takes away my initial feelings of panic, anxiety, and self doubt. When I think about the birth after visualizing and meditating, I feel tranquil and excited for what is soon to happen.

Helpful Resources

As I embark upon my fifth birth, I have plenty of my own stories to reflect on and think about, but when I was preparing for my first and second birth, these are the resources that helped me to learn more about what would happen to my body before, during, and after labor. This knowledge helped to alleviate my fears about the unknown and put my mind at ease during the process of birth.

*Note: I am a person who likes to know EVERYTHING inside and out, I LOVE research, and I strongly believe that knowledge is power. Some people, however, will say that the best advice is to not listen to too much advice because everyone has so many different opinions. When it comes to childbirth, you might feel more comfortable in a hospital, at a birthing center, at home with a midwife, or completely unassisted, but the bottom line is that some crazy stuff is about to happen to your body, and I truly believe that the more you learn about the process, the less you will succumb to fear of the unknown and therefore pain.

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – Ina May is a very knowledgeable midwife, and I love the way she explains exactly what happens to a woman’s body during birth with special attention to information that supports a natural birth. I also loved reading all of the birth stories. *I also really like Birthing from Within by Pam England. 
  • The Business of Being Born – I can’t even fully explain how this opened my mind up to the world of birth, but when everything was so foreign and so new during my first and even second pregnancies, this documentary was nothing short of a miracle for my mind, and something that I watched several times. It was really good for my husband to watch as well. There is also an additional four part series called More Business of Being Born that is in some ways even more amazing.
  • Hypnobirthing Resources – I’m trying to find exactly what I used for this, and I think it was the cds from the Hypnobirthing Home Study Course ($170), but this Birth Hypnosis cd by Gabrielle Targett ($1.99) sounds very soothing as well. I remember taking a bath when I was very much pregnant for Ruby (our first) and falling into a deep state of meditation as I prepared for my birth. I never really entered a state of hypnosis, but listening to these cds during labor really helped me to connect with a very peaceful center (that along with my Enya and Sigur Ros mix), especially when I started to feel like I was going to panic from the pain.
  • Orgasmic Birth – Personally, the idea of having an orgasm during birth seems quite strange to me, but I was very fascinated to learn about the close connection between pleasure and pain. This documentary helped me to open up to the idea that birth isn’t just a painful experience to endure, but a beautiful and amazing experience to take part in. *It also makes me chuckle when I prepare my “birthing area” with dim lights, flickering candles,  and soft music because the ideal environment for having a baby is truly best when it’s the same environment used to make a baby. Speaking of which, this video hilariously makes this point quite well…seriously, you have to watch it! 

  • Birth Videos and Stories – In a birthing class Scott and I took before Ruby’s birth, we watched some videos of women in Africa giving birth outside with very little assistance. Even though we knew we would be more comfortable with having the assistance of a midwife present, I enjoyed watching numerous videos of unassisted births (like this one) because they helped to give me the confidence that my body was made to do this. I also liked reading stories about unassisted births (like these) as well.
  • Prenatal Massage – My husband is so sweet and loving to give me some amazing pregnancy massages throughout all of my pregnancies. At first, we enjoyed using the guided prenatal massage in Shiva Rae’s prenatal yoga video, but now he just massages me while we unwind and maybe watch a bit of TV at the end of the day. I’m having trouble tracking down a reliable copy of Shiva Rea’s yoga dvd that includes the massage other than this, but this article and video provide some nice tips as well. The bottom line is that if your partner is willing to massage you, there is really no “wrong” way to do it as long as you have open communication about what feels good and what doesn’t. I have also enjoyed getting a professional prenatal massage that really helped with some sciatic nerve pain.
  • Chiropractic Care – When I was pregnant for Ophelia, I had excruciating sciatic nerve pain. After several trips to a chiropractor who specialized in treating pregnant women, I was able to have the pain completely relieved. I highly recommend asking your doctor or midwife for a chiropractic recommendation, especially if you’re feeling any pain. There is a lot they can do when it comes to helping with the baby’s position as well. If you have a baby in a posterior position (which can lead to some pretty painful back labor), they can help with this as well. The Belly Mapping Workbook is also a good resource for “spinning babies”.
  • Birthing Classes – We were originally planning a hospital birth for Ruby, and so Scott and I took every single birthing, baby care, and breastfeeding class that we could. When I was about 31 weeks along, we made the decision to switch to a birth center and proceeded to take every class they had to offer as well. It was really fun to learn together!
  • Birthing Plan/Support Team – I highly recommend writing down a birth plan and discussing it thoroughly with your birth partner who will be an advocate for you while you concentrate on giving birth. You may also want to consider hiring a doula who can be your advocate, help guide you, and provide support to both you and your birth partner. Knowing that you have this plan and knowing that you will have proper support will help to put your mind at ease throughout your pregnancy.

In Conclusion

Being able to enter a meditative state during pregnancy is so helpful because it makes it that much easier to enter that same state during the process of labor and delivery. Visualizing the birth, anticipating what it will be like to go through each stage of labor, and making sure you are completely prepared will help to eliminate the fear, panic, and anxiety that can come with the unknown. As I sit here in my eighth month of pregnancy, I am grateful to have the time to write this all down and reflect on my own journey that will soon bring me face to face and skin to skin with baby #5.

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How I Survived Postpartum Depression

Let’s be honest. Being a mom is hard. Being a person is hard. Sometimes it’s hard just to “be”. Period.

I am not perfect. I am not happy all of the time. Sometimes I even totally lose my shit…but you might not know that about me because I have a tendency to mostly share just the positive…because that’s what we do. We celebrate what we’re proud of, and we sweep the rest under the rug.

I was at a MOPS meeting the other day and felt such a profound connection with all of the women there as we started sharing stories of postpartum depression. To be honest, I was completely floored when I heard story after story that kept sounding like my story, and as I looked around the room, I noticed not just a room full of tears, but a room full of love and support. It made me realize that none of us really have the answers, but by sharing our stories, we feel connected, we feel like we’re not alone, and it made me feel, well…ok, almost normal even.

The bottom line is that it made me want to share my story. I have tried to write this blog for a long time, but I could never find the right words, and then I realized, there are no right words. There are just words – words that come together to form a story, and that’s what I’m going to do now; I’m going to share my story. Just know that yes, I’m happy now, and I’ll share that part of the journey too, but first I want to take you to some of the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

Postpartum Depression Round #2

About 9 months ago (when Julian was 13 months old, Ophelia was 2, Elliot was 4, and Ruby was 6), I started writing a blog called, “I’m Choosing to be Happy Today”, as way to work through some of the depression that I was feeling. But while everything I was writing was completely real, raw, and full of emotion, there was no happy ending, and so I had to put it aside until things weren’t so bleak.

Now that I’ve been able to crawl out of the depths of postpartum depression (for the second time), I think I’m finally ready to share my story.

It was the middle of winter and yet another cold and flu season was upon us when I noticed a little bit of spotting, and then a bit more, and pretty soon, I was experiencing the first period I’ve had since…gosh, I don’t even know how long! (4 births in 6 years…hello!) My mom warned me about fluctuating hormones, but I brushed her warning away thinking,

“I’m too tough to get emotional. I’ll be okay.”

At the same time as I got my period, it seemed like my milk was drying up. Julian was up to feed in the night just about every hour, and he would get really rough, pulling on my nipple, hitting me with his arms, and flailing his legs. (On a side note, I think this is what led to my nursing aversion.) When he woke up with a practically dry diaper after an all night nursing marathon, I knew that it was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

This made me so sad – desperately sad. The only way he would go to sleep was with me nursing him, and even though he ate food with us at every meal, I never really had to worry about how much he ate because he would just nurse him all. the. time. (In hindsight, I wish I would have started this bedtime routine with him a little sooner.)

The thought of not being able to breastfeed Julian anymore, the ongoing lack of sleep, the constant busyness and business of our daily lives, feeling overwhelmed and constantly behind, and now these hormonal changes with the onset of my period absolutely turned my head upside down. It was a gradual change for sure, but one day, it felt like a switch had been flipped. Everything that used to make me happy was suddenly driving me bat-shit crazy.

The way that everyone needed me every single moment of every single day made me want to run and hide. I felt like a failure, a loser, and a fraud. I started fantasizing about going back to work and putting them all in day care. I just didn’t feel like I could handle it for one minute more…and then I remembered feeling this same way when Elliot started to wean. I tried hard to pinpoint why I was feeling this way. Was having two little ones 2 and under just too much for me to handle? Did I need to work on creating more of a balance in my life? Did I need more things just for me? I just couldn’t figure it out.

Usually, I’m pretty good about seeing what I’m doing well and planning new areas of growth for my future, but with everything going on…

My self-doubt started to outweigh my self-worth.

I started feeling like I was failing everyone. I started feeling like I was doing everything wrong. I started feeling like I wanted to quit being a mother. I started feeling like I wanted to find someone more capable to take care of my kids and just get a job where I knew I would be able to succeed (as if that would be so much easier).

Whenever I would hear the little voice of self-doubt in my head, the one that said, “You’re not good enough. You are a fat, frumpy, disheveled mess. You are a failure.”

I would scream, “NO!” and I would try to quiet that little voice and instead look at my sweet little darlings, and I would choose to be happy.

I felt like I was at the edge of a precipice and could go either way. With one more little negative event or thought, I knew that I would tumble into the abyss of sadness, but with every conscious choice placing me into the world of “happy”, I saved myself from that doomed path.

Then one day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and noticed a giant zit on my chin. That was it. It was the zit that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Everything came crashing down around me, and all of those little walls of happiness that I had worked so hard to build suddenly came crashing down.

I tried to choose to be happy again like I did before, but I just couldn’t. Every little thing was making me cry, and I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Usually, I have a long list of things that make me happy – things like making a healthy meal from scratch, cleaning out and organizing a drawer or cupboard, designing a new learning activity, cuddling up and reading with one of the kids, getting the house clean and organized, writing, or researching a new blog topic,- but no matter how many times I went through the motions, NONE of these things were making me happy.

And then I couldn’t even go through the motions.

I would find myself just sitting there on the floor, looking out the window with a blank stare while the kids played around me, feeling like I was in a fog, and like I could just start bawling at any second.

When my husband came home for lunch one day and didn’t say the right thing, I snapped. I got angry and told him to LEAVE. We fought via texts until he came home hours later, and I just bawled about all of the things that were making me sad.

He was very kind and supportive, but he said,

“It doesn’t make any sense. None of these things were making you depressed a few weeks ago. Where else could this be coming from?”

Those words really struck me because he was right. I didn’t have a reason to be depressed. My life was good, and I was surrounded by things that should make me happy. Why couldn’t I see that? Why couldn’t I feel that? And of course…that just made me even more depressed.

But I kept thinking over and over again about choosing to be happy. And even as the tendrils of depression tried to reach out and pull me into oblivion, I kept thinking, “NO! YOU’RE NOT TAKING ME!!!”

I tried thinking about all of the things that were spiraling me into depression in a positive way, and so instead of thinking, “When will Julian ever sleep through the night?” I started thinking about his sweet little smile, the feel of his body tucked into mine, and how I was the only one who could comfort him at night.

That evening, I cracked a beer, slipped into a warm bath, and just thought about all that was good in my life. Then I pulled my daughter Ophelia into the bath with me. She was so happy to pour water and to “swim” in our sitting Jacuzzi tub. I looked at her face, really looked, and noticed how she was happier than ever just by being with me. She didn’t need any special activities or toys, she just needed me.

The more I started to think about how I was enough, how just the mere existence of me was enough to nourish and sustain all of my children, I could feel the veil of sadness begin to lift.

Where before every thought had been in a muddled in a fog of sadness, suddenly everything started to look so clear, so simple, so…attainable. And just like that, I felt my breasts fill up with milk. I almost wept with tears of joy! It was almost like all of my worry, self-doubt, and depression had inhibited my milk supply. I was overjoyed to feel my milk let down as Julian nursed hungrily. In the times of nursing him after that, I noticed that if I wasn’t present in the moment, I couldn’t make any milk, but as I became aware of his warm body, his sweet eyes looking up at me, and my love for him, I could feel that old familiar fullness of milk.

And that was that. It wasn’t a long list of things that helped me to lift my head up, it was a moment. I forgot about my insecurities, my fears, the future, and my past, and just really and truly tried living in that moment. Noticing the smells, the sounds, the textures, the sensations…just being in the moment…it was my life preserver.

Now, it wasn’t a completely magical fix after that. I still felt like I was at the bottom of a deep dark well, but it was like the sun finally came out and illuminated a step that I never noticed before. Every day, I worked hard to see the sunshine at the top of the well and the light that illuminated the way, and brick by brick, I found a way to climb out.

Postpartum Depression Round #1

Now, before I delve more into what helped me come out of my postpartum depression for good, I want to step back in time to my first experience with postpartum depression because this was truly my darkest time, and I never even thought that this could be connected to postpartum depression until my experience after Julian.

Before we had children, I loved being a teacher, and I mean LOVED it. After I got my Master’s degree in Linguistics, we were blessed with our first child, and the year after that I landed my dream job as an ESL coach working with teachers to help make input more comprehensible for English language learners. Little did I know, however, that I was pregnant again. After only one year on the job, I knew that I just couldn’t leave my sweet babes in daycare anymore, and so I quit my job to be a stay at home mom. (Read more about that story here.) We decided to move back to our home state, lived with my parents for 8 months, and then finally moved into a rented house in the city (which we would later come to find out was a pretty rough neighborhood) while my husband worked over an hour away.

Instead of feeling like we had made it, I felt completely lost. Who was I? How would I fill my days? And what was there to stimulate me besides poopy diapers and preschool activities???

I mean sure, I was loving being home with my little ones and really enjoyed challenging them with creative learning opportunities, but I started to get depressed…and I mean REALLY depressed. I thought that by moving “back home” we would be surrounded by the positive support of friends and family, but what they had to give just wasn’t enough to fill the deep whole in my heart. I longed for adult interaction and the need to be challenged intellectually, I wanted to own a house in the country, I wanted a good friend group, I wished my husband worked closer to us, I felt like I was missing so many parts of me…and then, just like with Julian, my period returned, my milk started drying up, and I started slipping into a really really deep and dark state of depression.

Because it was so long after giving birth, I never thought of it as “postpartum depression” or even “depression”. (I think technically it’s called postpartum distress syndrome.) All I know is that I would cry…a lot. I would check the mail ten times a day hoping for something exciting to happen. I felt listless, restless, lost, and worst of all…empty. I hated that I couldn’t lose the last 10 pounds of belly fat, and I hated how I looked in the mirror. I used to have all of these dreams and aspirations, but then, I felt like I had nothing, and then I would feel so GUILTY! I mean, I was able to be home with my two golden treasures, wasn’t that enough? I got to cuddle them, read to them, take them to play groups, build forts with them, go to the library for story hour, put them down for naps, feed them healthy food, and just BE with them.

But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel whole, or complete, or even like me really.

Then one night, my husband and I got into a HUGE fight that ended up with him driving away. I wasn’t sure if he would come ever back because he’s usually never the one to leave. I was so relieved when several hours later he came back. We were finally able to talk without screaming, and we decided that we didn’t want to end our marriage. I also knew that I wanted to find happiness as a stay at home mom, and so that’s what we set out to do. It wasn’t always easy, but we just took things one day at a time.

After that conversation, I started discovering the new me. I read Nourishing Traditions like it was my Bible, got really into feeding my family healthy food, I started working out and eating a better diet, we found out we were pregnant again, we moved one mile away from my husband’s work to a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood where he could come home for lunch every day, and I started my blog about embracing the new me…embracing motherhood. After Ophelia was born, I was prepared. I encapsulated my placenta into pills and started taking them after she was born. Whenever I felt the first signs of depression, I would take a pill, and I would immediately start to feel better.

Now, as you know, postpartum depression did find me again after our fourth child, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time, and somehow, I found my way out of it once again.

What is Postpartum Depression?

After going through all of this, I started to realize that it was more than just a choice of being happy or not. Yes, that was a battle going on in my mind, and yes all of the chaos of my life made me more susceptible to depression, but there was something going on with my hormones that made it the perfect storm.

When you’re pregnant, your body produces extraordinary amounts of estrogen and progesterone to help you grow your new baby. The moment the placenta leaves your body, however, estrogen and progesterone return to pre-pregnancy levels. This hormone crash is why up to 80% of women feel the “baby blues” in the first few weeks after pregnancy. About 10% of women will suffer from a more severe form of the “baby blues” in the first year, and this is what is known as postpartum depression (PPD). After the baby is a year old, postpartum depression is actually called postpartum distress syndrome (PPDS), but is still primarily related to fluctuating hormones. A more serious form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis (PPP) in which the mother may suffer hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, and thoughts of harming the baby. This is more related to a bi-polar disorder and should be treated immediately.

The reason why postpartum depression can affect mothers so long after birth is because many of the hormones present during pregnancy still remain afterwards. Relaxin, for example, takes about 5 months to leave, which is why you are more prone to sprains at that time, and prolactin, that hormone that produces milk, will stay present during the entire phase of nursing. Proloctin is also what suppresses the production of the fertility hormones estrogen and progesterone (which prevents ovulation and menstruation). Once the baby starts to nurse less, estrogen and progesterone levels will increase, ovulation will resume, and the menstrual cycle will return. If there is an imbalance with these hormones and there is too much progesterone, anxiety can occur, and if there is too much estrogen, depression can occur.

The bottom line here is that after you have a baby and when your period returns, your hormones can get out of whack and make you feel crazy, especially if you already have a history of depression.

Tips for Overcoming Postpartum Depression

These are the tips that have helped me to completely pull away from postpartum depression, or postpartum distress syndrome, or just plain old depression, or whatever the heck you want to call it.

  1. Find happiness in the moments. At first, you just have to find the happy moments…the moments that make life worth living, the moments that make you smile, and the moments that make you see that being on this earth is where you need to be. After awhile, you can find the happy days, and then the happy weeks, and eventually they will lead to happy years and a happy lifetime, but you have to start small. Baby steps. Find the happy moments first.
  2. Build a support system. Talking with other women who have experienced the same thing is so valuable, and something I simply can’t even express enough. Now, if you talk to someone about what you’re going through, and instead of listening to you, they try to “fix” you and tell you all of the things that you “should be doing”, RUN! You need to find someone, anyone, who can just listen to you and let you talk about every feeling you have, every thought, and every idea without judgement, and without trying to fix you. All they need to do is listen. Sometimes, the best option might be to speak to a therapist or psychiatrist about what you’re going through.
  3. Know that the cause of (and the solution to) your depression lies within. Does it seem like your husband, your kids, your job, your appearance, etc. are all contributing to your depression? If you fall into this trap of thinking, it can make you think that if you leave these things, then your depression will simply end, but it’s not that simple. The way you perceive the world and interact with the world is controlled by you and only you.
  4. Have open and honest communication with your significant other. My husband has been there with me through the good times and the bad, and through it all, I have learned that he cannot read my mind, he cannot always pick up on subtle clues to figure out what I am thinking and feeling, and that I need to share my feelings openly and honestly on a regular basis. If I bottle things up, they will eventually explode, but when I share my feelings often, it helps me to figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and that’s what open communication is all about.
  5. Feed your intellectual adult brain. Yes, being a stay at home mom is a very rewarding, thrilling, and amazing experience, but I needed something to stimulate my adult brain too. By creating a reading system for young children and blogging, I feel like I have an outlet, a voice, and a form of expression. It continuously motivates me to research, learn, stretch myself, and grow.
  6. Accomplish something. Sometimes you need to see something checked off a list that isn’t part of your daily routine. For example, once I found my niche of blogging and creating a reading program for young children, I have continuously needed to see myself making progress in order to be happy. Sometimes, I need to complete something as small as making a list of blog ideas in One Note, collecting some research based articles online, drafting an outline for a blog, or perfecting the rough draft of a flashcard sketch. But whatever it is, I need to feel like I’m moving forward.
  7. Know that sometimes you might need a life preserver. Have you ever physically felt what it’s like to drown before? I have. When we lived in Colorado, we stupidly went tubing down a river that was full of spring rain with no life jackets and cheap little inner tubes. As I went over a mini rapid, my tubed slipped out from underneath me, and I was immediately pushed to the bottom of the river by the very powerful pressure of the rapid. I tried desperately to reach for the surface, but it was so so hard, and I thought, “This is it”. I could feel myself slipping, ready to let go. I could literally see my life flashing before my eyes, and suddenly I thought, “NO!!! I’M NOT READY TO DIE!!!” With every last bit of strength, I reached for the surface, and as if by some miracle, my hand latched onto something. It was a kayaker, my guardian angel, there to save me. As my head exploded to the surface, arms flailing and mouth gasping for breath, he yelled at me to STOP panicking, to hold on, and to kick my legs. When he brought me to shore and then disappeared down the river as if he were some sort of apparition, I felt as though I had been given a second chance at life. That story is pretty much the best analogy I can think of to describe depression. When you’re in the depths of depression, it literally feels like you’re drowning, and sometimes you just need a life preserver, something to rescue you so that you can tread water again. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa, maybe it’s making a big change in your life or many small ones, maybe it’s seeing a therapist and/or taking some medication, but the important thing is that you need to grab ahold of something so that you can tread water again.
  8. Don’t be afraid to facilitate change. If it bothers you that your house is continuously messy, find a way to keep it clean! Get rid of the clutter, get your kids and spouse to pitch in more, or hire some cleaning help. If you hate your body, find a way to work out, cut out the sugar, or count calories. If you’re upset that you haven’t accomplished anything, find something to accomplish! Try a new recipe, sign up for an online class, or do a paint by number. If you’re mad at your husband because he won’t help out enough, TELL HIM!!! How else is he supposed to know? If you are frustrated that your kids don’t help out enough, TEACH THEM HOW! How else are they supposed to learn? Anyways, you get the point. 😉
  9. Create healthy habits. This may sound simple, but it is so so important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and plenty of sunshine, eat a healthy and well balanced diet, make time for mediation/yoga/reflection, and find something to be thankful for every day. Before you can take care of everyone else, you have to take care of yourself.
  10. Take placenta pills. I didn’t learn about encapsulating my placenta into pills until my third pregnancy, and boy what a difference that made! Whenever I would start to feel a little depressed, I would pop a couple of placenta pills and feel like a completely different person. Now I just to remember to save some to see if they’ll help when my period comes back.
  11. Know that sometimes, it’s just hormones. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, it’s just hormones. After Julian, when I realized that it was actually the hormones making me sad and not my entire life, it was a lot easier to mentally switch gears.

In Conclusion

I have been very hesitant about sharing my experiences with postpartum depression because I don’t want people to judge me or feel sorry for me. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m weak, and most of all, I don’t want people to look at me with pity and say things like, “Are you really okay,” while touching my arm in a consoling but also slightly condescending way. I’m tough, I’m strong, and I’m capable, but I’m not stronger than postpartum depression, and I think I’m finally okay with that.

I’m glad to share my story because I think that we all need to share our stories. It’s the only way we can feel – it’s the only way we can know – that we’re not alone. So, if you have a story that you’d like to share, share it. Share with your loved ones, share it with your girlfriends, or share it here. If you’d like to submit a guest post about your experience(s) with postpartum depression, that would be awesome! You can even post it anonymously if you want. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, you’re not a failure because you’re depressed, and there is a way out, you just have to find it.

Additional Resources

  • Click here to see a map of the United States to find someone to talk to about what you are going through.
  • Tools for Mom – Here you’ll find checklists, questionnaires, support groups, and more.
  • Postpartum Support International – This is a great portal to learn more and to find many additional resources.