Baby & Toddler · Pregnancy · Tips and Tricks

Tips on Pumping

Yes, I know: strange coming from me, who hated pumping (then again who doesn’t) and stopped breastfeeding when Georgia was 9 months old. But I’ve found myself in the odd position of helping others who’ve struggled with pumping and low supply a lot recently, even though I myself tried everything and had pretty spotty success. So I decided to write it all down, in case you can benefit, too.

At least I had a constant companion in Tasha to cheer me up.
At least I had a constant companion in Tasha to cheer me up.

I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to skip breastfeeding. By all means, do it and pray for an easy time — I want that for you. But let me be the one to explicitly tell you: it IS possible to try everything the lactation consultant, pediatrician and mom blogs tell you, and still not make it to a year (or longer) nursing. I don’t know who set that deadline, but I can’t tell you the hours of undue stress it caused me (and my husband) when I felt I was “falling short.” And trying isn’t just OK, it’s downright heroic. Because you grew a child in your body, and you are continuing to give it life today, whether that’s with breast milk or formula.

Nursing 24/7 and having the doctor tell you your baby isn't growing properly: devastating.
Nursing 24/7 and having the doctor tell you your baby isn’t growing: I’m not sure there’s a worse feeling.

Formula, though not ideal when compared to Mother Nature, is quite literally life-saving for some babies. I’m aware of all the things people don’t like about it, and I am definitely troubled by statistics showing that only 16% of women nationwide are able to continue exclusively breastfeeding by the time their babies are 6 months old. But I think the solution will come via national change at the policy level, when this country decides to support all mothers’ and  babies’ health by providing high-quality prenatal, postnatal & pediatric care (plus lactation consultants and dual-phase, double electric breast pumps), at least 6 months of paid maternity leave for all parents, and access to high-quality, affordable child care. It’s shameful that one’s race, finances or address have anything to do with breastfeeding outcomes, but this chart has the latest data and it’s pretty damning:

breastfeeding_who

breastfeeding_where

breastfeeding_numbers

Personally? As a mom to a baby labelled with “failure to thrive” just two weeks home from the hospital, I feel like a freakin’ champion to have lasted 9 months. I know breast is best, but I won’t apologize to everyone I meet for not being able to “EBF” (exclusively breast feed, for those of you with better things to do than follow internet mom jargon). My breastfeeding experience is not the totality of who I am as a woman. Plus, where does this debate leave adoptive parents? Or gay dads? I could go on. But I won’t; I’ll just cut to the chase and give you my tips.

Tips on Pumping

Tools of the trade

First, you’ll need (ahem) a pump. Call your insurance to see what Obamacare will provide to you for free, then order it from an approved vendor. Or, ditch that route and do what I did — get the one you want on Amazon. In my case, that was a hands-free, double electric, hospital quality pump from Medela (affiliate link). I used and loved the Freestyle, but the Pump In Style is another great option (key difference is that the Freestyle clips to your clothing so you can walk around, whereas the Pump In Style is built into a tote that you carry and sit with. Both have multiple speeds and shield sizes and are relatively quiet and fast).

Second, you’ll need a hands-free breastpump bra. I tried and returned a lot of these. Thanks to friends, I finally settled on this one by Simple Wishes. Women of literally any size can wear this thing, because it’s so adjustable, which helps as your boobs change size gradually; it’s also extremely easy to put on and to fit the pump flanges into, and the seal is really secure.

For a basic introduction to setting up and using a breast pump, check out this step-by-step video by FitPregnancy.

Some other things that help:

  • Extra bottles. I got another set of the Medela bottles that came with my pump, so it wouldn’t be as problematic if I left full bottles at work or clean bottles at home accidentally, but they are small. So you may have to transfer the milk to a larger bottles for feedings, or get extras in a bigger size if your supply is really high and you fill these really quickly (alas, not my personal case, but I suppose I have other talents). You can also use special freezer bags if you’re pumping enough to put some away for later. These store flat and can be marked by date so you don’t let them expire, and are great if you travel for work or go away for the weekend. Most day cares will take either bottles or bags, as long as they’re clearly labelled.
  • Bigger nipples as baby gets older. You can get faster flowing nipples for the Medela bottles (or whatever brand your pump requires) so that your baby doesn’t get frustrated trying to drink from a tiny newborn opening. This helped Georgia a lot. We couldn’t seem to overcome nipple collapse, however, because Medela bottles (as well as Dr. Brown’s) share a nipple design that just didn’t work for her (and in my opinion, looks nothing like an actual boob!) To work around this, I only used breast milk straight from the Medela bottles at bedtime, when she wasn’t as ravenous and thus didn’t drink so forcefully, which caused the nipples to flatten or cave into the bottle.
  • At least one ice pack. My pump came with a reusable cooler pack and a contoured ice pack (meaning it could fit in between four round bottles) but it couldn’t hurt to have a spare in case you lose or forget it. There was a point, before I realized I just wasn’t going to be one of those women who could pump enough to replace three 8-oz. bottles during the workday, that I considered getting a mini fridge or an extra freezer for our basement, since the fridges we have at home and at work are pretty tiny.
  • Cleaning supplies. You can use any number of products to clean your pump in a hurry, but I always found that it performed best when I took everything apart and washed it with good old fashioned warm water. Then you just dry it with some paper towels and pack it up for next time. Other options: wipes and steam bags. I had access to a microwave and a sink near my pumping room at work, so I tried all three methods.
  • A nursing cover. This comes in handy if you have to share a nursing room with someone else at work, or pump in your own cubicle/office discreetly, or in the car. It’s good to have on hand if you’re headed to a meeting or conference where you don’t know what pumping accommodations can be made (it never hurts to call ahead). I have one by Bebe Au Lait but I’ve heard good things about Udder Covers as well.
  • You might also find hand sanitizer, extra makeup for touchups, spare napkins for spills, and nursing tea plus a mug to be helpful items to keep around. I also found that breastfeeding made me really thirsty with very dry skin and lips, so I stashed lip balm, hand cream and bottled water in my diaper bag and pumping tote.

Getting set up at work

I was very fortunate. My company set up a privacy room for nursing mothers to use two years ago, and then expanded it when we had a bit of a baby boom. With a solid computer terminal, a full-length mirror, a rocking chair, fridge and plenty of locked cabinet storage, it had essentially everything you needed to pump while working or resting. The only thing it lacks is a private sink to wash the pump parts, but with a bathroom and kitchen down the hall, those resources were in close proximity. What companies are obligated to provide varies by state and workplace size, but it can never hurt to ask for more. That’s how we got an improved setup at my place!

I was also lucky that my workplace offers nursing mothers extra breaks or unbilled time in the day during which to pump, which is crucial to being successful at breastfeeding, no matter how much supplementing you’re doing at home. The main challenges I encountered? Rescheduling meetings around my pumping time, without extending my workday beyond 9 to 5; people texting me questions while I was pumping, so as not to “bother me” by phone; having to eat lunch while pumping because I had no other time to fit it in; eating and drinking enough before pumping so my supply didn’t drop; and keeping the stress of work problems at bay so they wouldn’t affect my letdown or my yield. While the pumping room was awesome, fitting in the actual pumping in a workplace that values long hours, no lunch breaks and tight deadlines was beyond tense.

What to wear

At home, this was easy: leggings or a stretchy skirt plus a nursing tank top. Drop the front panel, attach pump, and go! At work, this was harder to figure out. Some days, I simply made a nursing camisole my base layer under a blazer, sweater or cardigan, and then took off the top item to pump; other days, I wore a dress that unzipped in the back instead of going over my head, and that was equally comfortable. It turns out that dresses make great wardrobe staples for busy mornings with crazy toddlers, too, since you don’t have to think about matching separates. Thus, I continue to build my professional wardrobe around them, and hardly ever wear pants anymore at all. I found it helpful to keep a pashmina or other soft scarf in my office in case it got cool in the nursing room at work.

Taking care of you

Not getting adequate sleep (ha, HA!), drinking too much caffeine and too little water, stress, and exhaustion can all drastically reduce your supply. Same goes for waiting too long to eat lunch, or not eating the right things. Sound like anyone else’s typical day at work with a newborn at home?? Right. Do the best you can not to guzzle an XL coffee or engage in a tense discussion with your boss before pumping, and block out enough time for the full phase of expression on your pump to get what you need (for me, this was the full 30 minute cycle just to get 2-3 ounces per side, so the whole affair took a solid hour after setting up the pump, disrobing, cleaning the pump in another room, rearranging myself and storing the milk). If you have to pump more than once per day, which is very possible, then I suggest doing one when you first get in and another in the late afternoon so you’ve eaten a meal before each session and you don’t go so long between nursing that you get engorged on the way home. Other moms I know had better luck pumping at home while they were getting ready for work, or just before bed, in addition to once during the workday. It all depends on your supply and your baby’s appetite!

Eating right

Good foods to eat: oatmeal, soup, lactation cookies (seriously!), granola bars, good fats like nuts, olives and avocados, and cold-water fish rich in DHA such as salmon, shrimp, catfish and crab. Fenugreek is a supplement that several lactation consultants suggested I take to boost my supply. Keep a reusable water bottle at work wherever you pump, so you can’t forget to fill it every time. As a general rule, have healthy snacks on you at all times. And keep taking your prenatal vitamin.

Bad foods to eat: salad, unless topped with any of the foods mentioned above to round out the meal; too much alcohol, which enters your breast milk and can affect your let down; excessive caffeine, in the form of coffee, tea or energy drinks; any soda; and anything that may irritate your baby via the bottle, such as garlic, beans, onions, peppers and broccoli, all of which can cause gas and fussiness. The last thing you want to do is pump all that milk and have baby refuse it (been there — Thai takeout, we cannot be friends until baby is weaned).

Here are two helpful charts to help you meal plan while pumping:

food chart breastfeeding

chart breastfeeding

Overcoming hurdles

You know, I wish that all women were as supportive as some of my friends and family. At one point, when I really felt like a failure for all of this nursing business not going the way I had planned (so what else is new with babies), Mark just turned to me and said “where are you feeling all this pressure from? It’s not me. It’s not our parents. It isn’t even Georgia’s doctor. So what is it?” And I didn’t know what to tell him, except that I spent my entire pregnancy being indoctrinated that breast is best so intensely that I never even considered the possibility it wouldn’t turn out to be so simple. I know I was lucky to give birth at a hospital that didn’t give formula in the nursery after birth, and that made so many lactation consultants available in the first few days. That coaching was invaluable. If you’re running into problems with nursing, pumping, or both, I would highly encourage you to reach back out to your OB, or your child’s pediatrician — that’s who connected me with my local LCs, when Georgia was a few weeks old and we were really struggling — or search online using the International Lactation Consultant Association’s web tool. Insurance is obligated to cover these services now. And, please, never hesitate to reach out to me directly. When I confessed how much trouble I was having nursing over social media, loads of women reached out….but what killed me was how many said I could never tell anyone  about it, because they had lied to their own families and friends about supplementing!

This madness has got to stop. Surely there are better things women can be doing than judging one another for this crap. Do you know what’s actually important? This.

Georgia and Dad

Now on to a few reasons you might pump (other than to make bottles). Even after I stopped pumping at work, I used my Freestyle to “pump and dump” after I’d had migraines that required medication Georgia couldn’t safely ingest through my milk. Because I continued to nurse her before and after work and on the weekends, I had to pump off any contaminated milk that resulted from taking my migraine medication. The same would go for having drank too much alcohol (generally one glass of wine or beer is considered safe while nursing) or for any other non-nursing-safe meds. Of course, you could also keep a simple hand pump around for times like these.

You might also want to pump just to “take the edge off” when your baby first sleeps a good long stretch at night, until your body gets used to going 6+ hours without nursing. Within a couple days, your body should regulate, just like it will as you gradually wean (whenever that happens). I’ll never forget pumping for 10 minutes while blow-drying my hair on the way out the door just to make sure I wouldn’t leak during the opening night of my husband’s show last fall. The things we do.

If all else fails

I practiced pumping between feedings in the weeks before I returned to work, so I’d get used to it, and so my supply would ramp up. I pumped twice a day when I got back to work full time. My supply fell bit by bit every month until eventually, no matter how many times I pumped or what I ate and drank, I was only getting an ounce or two total — and my baby was drinking three (!!) 8-ounce bottles while I was away. So, I made the decision to stop pumping when she was 6 months old, right after we went to Florida, and then two months later she started to refuse nursing at the two remaining times I offered every day (6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.) I continued to offer her the breast until it became clear, between 8 and 9 months, that we were done. Apart from nursing her for comfort when she had two bouts of the flu at the end of May, that’s been that.

Do I miss it? Not really. She’s not an infant anymore, and by 9 months she was standing, crawling and investigating her world, not cuddling up to me for hour-long feedings. Also, I got my body back. The last pregnancy pounds dropped off, I had freedom to go running early or take yoga late, and I didn’t physically “belong” to someone else anymore. I could reconnect with the greater world again. No more rushing home to do bedtime or risk my milk drying up, or going into work late on those days Georgia decided she really missed me and needed an extra-long nursing session in the morning, or hiding in someone’s bedroom during a cookout or family gathering. Nor do I miss having to craft my outfits around half-undressing at lunch to put on a pumping bra in a cold office every weekday.

But, not knowing whether or not we’ll have more kids, I am sad that I may never again have the lovely feeling of nursing a tiny baby to sleep, or of smelling that musky scent they get after eating, or have a tiny hand reach up to stroke my cheek when it’s just the two of us in the wee hours. Those things are really, really, profoundly special, and I’m blessed that I got to experience them at all.

My boobs shrank back to their previous size (sigh) and I’ve packed away all my nursing tanks. There are days I can’t believe it’s over, and then there are days when I trip over my pump — still sitting in my office at work — and wonder how the heck I did that for so long. And I know so many with babies Georgia’s age who are still going! It’s an individual journey, ladies, and no two experiences are the same. If I have another baby, I guess I will see how it goes for me next time… for now, I’m simply enjoying my perfect, beautiful, precious joy-filled miracle of a baby.

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‘Later ta-tas, it’s been real.

Psst: If you love data and can’t get enough breastfeeding stats, you can read the CDC’s full 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card right here. Other great web resources for pumping and nursing in general are KellyMom.com and La Leche League. Special thanks to the staff at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Melrose-Wakefield Hospital for critical coaching, literature and support. And, of course, my friends who sent supportive Facebook messages, texted advice, drove me to lactation consultant appointments with a screaming, hungry newborn in back, or recruited me into local breastfeeding support groups. It’s mind-blowing that some women have to go this alone, and I am thankful every day that I don’t.

Uncategorized

Back to work

Well. I went back to work this week. The parts I thought would be difficult were a piece of cake; conversely, I was blindsided by things I hadn’t anticipated.

She's usually asleep at drop-off AND pick-up :(
She’s usually asleep at drop-off AND pick-up 😦

I thought I would cry when Mark dropped me off at the train. I was actually fine, and getting back to the office felt like I’d just been on vacation for a couple weeks. But finding clothes that fit and are flattering every morning has been difficult, and Georgia has been waking up at different times every day — anywhere from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. — which makes it hard to figure out when to shower, blow dry, do my makeup, etc. I know it’s been hard on Mark to get up and play with her while I’m getting ready, since he’s used to sleeping in after working late at night. I know we will figure it out in time.

How I prepped

Getting lunches, dinners, snacks and breakfasts ready ahead of time was essential. Thankfully my Mom came over the Sunday before I went back (since Mark works weekends, often until very late at night) to help me prep. She did my laundry, helped me clean my house and do the dishes, and just generally served as a second brain so I wouldn’t forget to pack anything. Even better, she played with Georgia when she wasn’t napping, so that I could focus a little bit on getting one thing done without any interruptions.

My friends at work offered to bring me breakfast that first day, which I thought was very sweet 🙂 And I had a couple presents waiting for me when I got back to my desk — check them out in my office! Pretty, right?

Two colleagues treated me to welcome back plants on Monday-- a Christmas tree and a bunch of blooms!
Two colleagues treated me to welcome back plants on Monday — a Christmas tree and a beautiful bunch of blooms!

My dad & stepmom also helped out by dropping off some pre-made dinners the day I went back, and by subtly checking in on my husband during his first day home at what he calls “Daddy Day Care.” He did great, actually. I left him detailed instructions and prepped all the bottles, bibs and toys he would need that first day, and he took it from there. I’m so blessed to say they they are getting on great together every day, which makes it easier for me to be back at work even though I miss her so much while I’m gone. In fact, I stayed home on Thursday, and found to my dismay that she already prefers his style of eating and going down for naps. I was nothing but a huge disruption!

I’ll be posting the recipes for what I made myself to eat for breakfast for the week very soon.

Since I’m pumping midday, to facilitate better nursing success and to help keep my milk supply up, I did the following:

  • Brought instant oatmeal, which helps maintain milk supply
  • Carried a reusable water bottle everywhere, for the same reason
  • Packed clementines, cheddar cheese, yogurt, granola bars and dark chocolate to snack on, since breastfeeding makes you famished (and you need the extra calories to produce enough milk).

I made myself my favorite Tropical Smoothie also, and I pre-made some Risotto for Mark to have around the house for lunches and early dinners before work every night. I know how hard it is to make yourself lunch at home when the baby is there. When it’s just me, I eat these awesome Campbell’s Go Soups — you heat them right in the bag and can pour them into a bowl one-handed — and for this upcoming week I am going to make Mark a Shepherd’s Pie. All he’ll have to do is reheat it, and it’s nice and filling. You can make it meat-free, too. (The soups are great for me because they help keep up your milk supply).

Pumping at work

This has been a challenge. Between remembering the ice pack and the Pump, to figuring out when to charge it and how to clean it, I’ve been juggling a lot of logistics. And that’s before having to beat people away from my desk with a stick in order to get to the privacy room in our office! I feel lucky that we have a dedicated lactation room, and so far I’ve been able to get there every day by 1 p.m. to pump. My yield has, unfortunately, been going down a little bit every day, so I may have to go twice a day or just make sure I’m eating and drinking (and minimizing stress) enough, as all those things can affect supply.

This breastfeeding thing is no joke.

Georgia at 16 weeks

She is amazing. Still so sweet, so fun to be with, and a pretty good sleeper (though not every night is a breeze to be sure). These shots were taken on Thanksgiving Day at Mark’s grandfather’s house in New Bedford. We also got some great pictures with her two cousins! My sister-in-law is due with their third baby in early January, so by the New Year Georgia will have three little cousins to grow up with. To think that less than three years ago there were no babies in the family! Life is amazing sometimes.

Baby & Toddler · Pregnancy · Tips and Tricks

Newborn Essentials

Miss Georgia Vivien is now two weeks old, and just beautiful. She’s got such a sweet, good-natured temperament, and we fall in love with her about twenty times a day. Expecting, delivering and breastfeeding her has been without a doubt the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life, and we are learning more about how to nurture her every day. I’ve been amazed at how effortlessly some aspects of parenting come to first-timers like us, and equally surprised at how difficult certain “perfectly natural” things have been (nursing comes to mind).

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The first few days home were overwhelming: she had her days and nights mixed up, she fed constantly, our cat was totally freaked out and we were zombies from lack of sleep. Thanks to the generosity of family & friends who brought over food, cleaned our house, or held Georgia while we showered, Mark and I survived. I don’t know how anyone does it alone, or with a partner who isn’t also your best friend — you need to divide, conquer, and laugh when things get crazy!

A few of the other key items we couldn’t live without in these first few weeks?

FOR SLEEP
The My Little Snugabunny Rock n’ Play sleeper by Fisher Price (it now comes with a vibrating feature; ours didn’t have that, and we wouldn’t have used it anyway).

We can’t imagine not having this. Georgia naps in it during the day in our living room, and she seems to prefer the slight incline and self-rocking motion of this to her flat bassinet or her co-sleeper. It keeps them hugged around the sides in a safe way, which newborns seem to prefer to a big crib or play yard. It’s also portable, so you can move it to another room (or another story, if you have an upstairs) or even take it to a friend’s house, and the center comes out for easy cleaning (we’ve already had one diaper blowout in it, and you’d never know). This is great for times when the baby falls asleep in the living room and you need to quickly move them to your bedroom or the nursery to sleep overnight without waking them.

We also use this Summer Infant sleeper on our couch and on the bed, and will likely take this with us when we fly to see relatives in a few weeks. Until she transitions to her crib, Georgia is sleeping nightly (sort of) in the Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper, which is attached to the side of our bed (by a strap under our mattress) for easy access for 2 a.m. diaper changes and feedings. Later, it can convert to a four-sided bassinet or a play yard, and it’s portable for travel. We’ll see how well that works out because it seems kind of heavy and not-so-simple to break down so far. This comes with one sheet (though you can buy more on their website) and that sheet Velcros to the thin mattress on its underside, so there’s no SIDS risk.

The Arm’s Reach Mini Co-Sleeper.

Georgia was born at 7 lbs 7 oz, which is very average; nevertheless, we still found ourselves without enough newborn-size outfits for daytime, so we made a run to Babies R’ Us after her first pediatrician appointment to pick up some Carter’s onesies on sale. We also grabbed more sleep outfits — in particular the Halo Sleepsack, and some Gerber Sleep n’ Plays which kept her feet warm. I found those little mittens utterly useless, so if you’ve got a face scratcher, just get outfits that have fold-over cuffs on them instead. We also got these fabulous swaddling blankets by Aden and Anais as a shower gift, and I can’t say enough about how indispensable they are. You can swaddle them during the day for comfort, tuck them tightly into their crib or bassinet, cover them up in the car seat and stroller, wipe spit-up, block the sun in the car, use as an emergency diaper-changing pad if you forget yours, and drape over yourself while nursing in public. I used this so much more than my nursing cover, stylish though it is! They are SO soft and get more so with each washing. If you’re ever in need of a shower present, these should be tops on the list. You can never have too many! (Well, you probably need a max of about six).

Aden + Anais Swaddle Plus Wrap Blankets.
FOR FEEDING

OK, I am going to level with you — breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Despite my baby having what the doctors and nurses called “a perfect latch,” I still found the first week and a half to be constantly painful. AND WHEN I SAY PAINFUL, I MEAN REALLY PAINFUL. Newborns feed even more frequently than I could have imagined, especially overnight, and often want to nurse for comfort when they get startled, overtired or over-stimulated. I feel like I’m finally turning a corner in terms of the pain now that she’s two weeks old, but I find it very psychologically trying to  be the only source of food and soothing for such a tiny being. It makes recovering from labor and delivery that much harder, too, and because you’re not supposed to pump for the first few weeks, nobody else can step in to give you relief  unless you decide to supplement with formula. Add to all this the fact that society is super judgmental about the choice to breastfeed or not, and moms can be left feeling guilty, inadequate and exhausted. If I said I hadn’t considered giving up in the first few days, I’d be completely lying. Thanks to the kind words of many moms in my life, I am trying to keep going. Here’s what’s helped.

The “My Brest Friend” pillow. Essential.

Screw the Boppy, this is the best breastfeeding pillow around. It straps around your waist and perfectly positions the baby in your lap so you don’t have to hold her up against your tummy to latch. It offers back support and has a little pouch for your water bottle, cell phone, snack, lanolin cream, etc. I use it on the couch, in bed, in the rocking chair, you name it. What you don’t need: extra covers. They sell them, and they’re very pretty, but use your money on something else. Like diapers.

$21.98 nursing camisoles at Motherhood Maternity. Comes in six colors.

Good nursing tanks and bras will make you the most comfortable while breastfeeding. A friend sent me these from Motherhood Maternity, and I really like the snap-down front. I also bought this bra for day and this one for night at Target, and wear both with regular shirts (although having a v-neck or button-down neckline helps when baby’s frantic and you’re in a hurry to nurse). I’m only wearing leggings, yoga pants and cotton skirts on bottom, since I still have sutures that need to heal and comfort is paramount. Nursing tanks are great because you can layer them with a pretty cardigan if you have to leave the house or have visitors over and want to look human. Other great options for colder weather include hoodies, soft cotton button-downs, henleys that can be undone, and scoop-neck shirts that can be pulled down in front.

A super comfy and stylish henley from LL Bean.
A super comfy and stylish henley from LL Bean.

What else do you need for nursing? Snacks are key, as is lots of water. Breastfeeding is dehydrating and also requires between 300 and 500 extra calories per day, so I even leave granola bars, dried fruit and oatmeal raisin cookies on the nightstand for middle-of-the-night feedings. Most babies vary between 10 and 40 minutes per feeding, and those long sessions can really leave you starving and shaky if you don’t stay ahead of your appetite. I also like to keep my Nook, some fluff reading (think People magazine) and my iPad handy. Sometimes I play music to relax us both, or I catch up on Netflix if I need to keep my hands free to help her latch.

Our baby doesn’t seem to respond to pacifiers yet, but the pediatrician told us it’s fine to give them one if they’ve been fed and are demanding the breast for comfort soon after. It’s more important to preserve your tender skin for the next session and not let them use you as a pacifier, as long as you know they’re full. We got lots of brands as gifts, but have been told Soothies are the best for breastfed babies to minimize nipple confusion. I’ll update this post in the future when I know what we ended up using. Along those same lines, we bought Phillips Avent bottles designed to have a slower flow that mimics the way milk “lets down” from the breast, so you can offer pumped milk to your newborn and not cause them to reject your nipple. So far we are using the newborn nipples but they have a wide range of “flows” so that you can keep increasing as the baby gets older. We based our bottle decision off the top-rated brand in the Bible (by which I mean the Baby Bargains book, a.k.a the only book you need when you’re pregnant). The top-rated bottles in there were Phillips Avent and Dr. Brown’s, and it comes down to personal preference on which to choose between those two. I know of folks who swear by Dr. Brown’s for fussy babies, but honestly, they have about fifty bazillion pieces to dissemble and wash, and with a 100-year-old house, we have no dishwasher (plus a dad who’s often gone 12 hours a day and not able to help wash bottles). Maybe if you’re a stay-at-home parent or have a dishwasher (mechanical or human), but otherwise, ain’t nobody got time for that. I also have friends who have loved Tommee Tippee and Playtex bottles, so those come highly recommended as well. If you’re interested, here is the Medela hands-free pump I bought. It’s the fastest and most hands-free/portable option short of a hospital grade pump. Sadly insurance does not pay for this one (at least not public employee insurance like we have), so you’ll have to pony up for this one if it’s important to you to be able to do other things while pumping, and to do it as quickly and quietly as possible.

The Medela Freestyle, a hands-free double electric hospital-grade pump.

Last but not least, if you find yourself with bleeding, cracked or burning nipples, it can’t hurt to keep a ready-to-feed bottle of newborn formula on the nightstand. If it can buy you 4 or 5 hours to heal, it might make all the difference in you continuing to breastfeed your baby long term, even exclusively. Two things I found useful for soothing wrecked nipples: reusable cooling gel pads, and Lansinoh lanolin cream.  The cream is particularly nice because you don’t have to wash it off before feedings.

I also found it helpful to have a reference book on breastfeeding handy, and the bible on this seems to be The Nursing Mother’s Companion. I read it before having Georgia, and found it twice as useful after she came home when I was having a lot of trouble.

FOR BATHING

Talk about scary — bathing a newborn?! Luckily they don’t get that dirty so you only have to give them a “bath” 1 or 2 times a week. And until their umbilical stump falls off, it can only be a sponge bath. All you really need here are some soft washcloths (I find homemade has been best), a couple hooded bath towels, and baby hair & body cleanser. The hospital gave us Johnson’s Baby Wash but we are not wild about its ingredients, so we have purchased natural products from The Honest Company, BabyGanics and California Baby. In my opinion, the softest, best-sized hooded towels come from Pottery Barn Kids. We registered for a set of Winnie the Pooh towels and washcloths from Babies R’ Us, but they fell apart after just a couple washes, and were scratchier than we’d hoped they would be. Save your money — spending more up front really does make a difference!

Pottery Barn’s Gingham bath set.
FOR POOPING

Changing diapers: probably the least difficult newborn skill to master. Mark did the first few in the hospital and now he does the lion’s share of changes at home, too, since I’m on 24/7 boobie duty. My top suggestion here is to buy plenty of diapers and wipes before you go into labor, because you’ll go through them faster than you can imagine when baby is home. Dozens a day at least. We explored the option of cloth diapers, both the kind you wash yourself and the kind you send out with a service, but for a variety of reasons we decided it wasn’t right for us. If you want to know more about my reasons, I’m happy to share, but I know people feel passionately about this issue (as with all things baby-related). If you are committed to cloth, MamaNatural has a great guide to selecting the right option, plus tutorials for cleaning them. If you’re in the Boston area, Diaper Lab is the best in-person resource. So, we are trying all the eco-friendly, non-petroleum-based brands available, and at this stage are sticking with the ones that fit her best physically to prevent messy blowouts. I’ve already had to put all three bassinet pads and her changing pad in the wash due to bad blowouts with ill-fitting diapers, so fit is critical — brand be damned! As for wipes, we are also buying the “sensitive” and eco-friendly versions of each brand, and so far we like The Honest Company and Seventh Generation Free & Clear, available at Target or online, as well as Costco’s Kirkland brand wipes. We bought a changing pad that we mounted to her dresser, but to be honest we only end up using the portable changing pad that came with my diaper bag because you can slap it down on the couch, the guest bed, the back seat of the car, wherever.

Carter’s Zip Front Diaper Bag. Doubled as a hospital bag for me! $50 at Babies R’ Us, often marked down to $39.99. Mark has a more gender-neutral, messenger-style diaper bag from Skip Hop that is awesome.

To leave the house, all you need is the pad, a couple diapers, a spare outfit and a pack of travel wipes. If you want to use diaper cream with each change to prevent a rash and make cleanup easier, we recommend Butt Paste and California Baby. While I started out not wanting to use any product with oil refinery by-products, such as Aquaphor, a couple of multi-week bleeding diaper rashes forced me to adopt vaseline as a healing ointment, and it truly was the only thing that worked. So I’ve changed my tune. Last but not least, get a diaper pail such as Diaper Genie (what we have and like so far) or Ubbi. Ubbi is more stylish looking and doesn’t require special refill bags, but the Diaper Genie was taller — important to Mark — and had a foot pedal for hands-free operation.

FOR EVERYTHING ELSE

There are so many other little things. Such as: hand sanitizer for you and your guests to use before touching the baby and after diaper changes; newborn hats, even in summer; fragrance-free laundry detergent for baby’s clothing (we use Honest Company); and a nightlight for your hallway to make middle-of-the-night diaper changes and feedings easier (even if the little one is in your room, you’ll appreciate having this ambient light from the hallway instead of turning on your bedside lamp and waking everyone up completely). We haven’t used our baby carriers yet, but we got an Ergo Baby and a Moby wrap, and I’ve heard great things about the Baby K’Tan. If you’re interested in what we use for our car seat and carriage(s), we have the Chicco KeyFit (awesome) and caddy (BEYOND ESSENTIAL), and the City Mini GT (which has a height-adjustable handle to accommodate 5-foot-tall Mom and 6’4″ Dad!) We also considered the UppaBaby Vista or Cruz and the Bumbleride Indie, which are much pricier and (if I’m being honest) a little bit snobby and status-y, but ruled out both because they were significantly heavier and also — critically — too wide to fit on the MBTA (Boston’s 100-year-old subway system), so we stuck to the one everyone in the city seems to have. (Read a funny rant on this from another Boston mom blogger here). Friends seem to also love the Britax B-Agile and the Bob Revolution, so those might be worth checking out. We keep the fold-able caddy in the car, pop the car seat in for errands, and we’ll use the City Mini just around the neighborhood until she outgrows her infant seat. The City Mini also has an optional, affordable car seat bracket mounter.

The ErgoBaby carrier can be used from birth with the newborn insert. Baby can ride front, back or on the hip, always inward-facing. Newer versions, such as the Ergo 360, allow even more positions, including forward-facing when baby is worn on your front. Another popular brand is the Tula.

Last but not least, remember to take care of yourself, Mama. Minimize visitors (we learned this the hard way) so you don’t over-tire baby or miss out on naps yourself, and accept any and all requests for help in cleaning your house, doing your laundry, or bringing you food. The hospital will tell you to take home a supply of the maternity pads, mesh underwear and witch hazel wipes they provided during your stay, and you should take them up on this offer. In fact, ask for extras. If you are really uncomfortable healing from a tear, I can’t recommend Dermoplast spray highly enough for the pain and itching. It’ll help you sit and sleep while the stitches are dissolving and making your life impossible. And, call your doc to see if you’re allowed to take sitz baths, which can help tremendously (provided you can find someone to hold the baby for long enough to go take one). Healing takes time and every little bit helps. Take care of yourself. XOXO

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