What I Learned From Breastfeeding: Lessons from a Former Formula Feeding Mom

2 years, 2 months, and 31 days. That’s how long I breastfed my daughter.

I’ve known this day was coming. Once she turned 2, I knew that my time breastfeeding was likely coming to a close. For the past year, breastfeeding had become less about nutrition and more about a comfort. From 12 months to 24 months, she went from breastfeeding 4-6 times a day to primarily breastfeeding at night or when she was upset or anxious during the day. Since she turned 2, she has only been interested in breastfeeding before bed, and in the past month she has chosen to read books before bed rather than nurse. This week, after we went 5 days in a row without nursing, I knew she had made the decision for me: she was done.

And it’s hard. It’s so much harder than I thought it would be. If you would have asked me about this day when she was a newborn, when I had cracked nipples and she was cluster feeding, I would have said that I looked forward to this day with reckless abandon.

But I’m not happy. I’m sad.

I’m sad because it’s over. It’s the end of a era that signifies a great many things to me: that my baby is growing up. She’s a toddler now and not a baby. That she no longer really relies on me to meet her every need. That the special time that we had, each and every night before bed, a time when she would sit still and allow me to hold her and rock her, is over. And it means that I’m done with breastfeeding. Forever. I’m done with babies. I will never get this precious experience back again, and it’s one I never knew I would miss.

3 years ago I would have told you that breastfeeding was awful. It was painful, and inconvenient, and potentially embarrassing. I would have said that extended breastfeeding was weird and gross, and that if a baby was old enough to ask for milk, he or she was old enough to be weaned.

Today I know just how wrong and judgmental I was.

I wasn’t able to breastfeed my boys. For each of their first years, they were fed with formula. I did attempt to nurse both of them, but I wasn’t successful. With Cooper, I didn’t produce enough milk (or so I thought). I let his endless cries convince me that he wasn’t getting enough nutrition from me and I needed to supplement. Supplementing quickly turned into fully formula feeding. With my second child, I experienced two bouts of mastitis in the first 6 weeks, and after the second I gave up and switched to formula.

I went into my third pregnancy wanting to try to breastfeed, but I have to confess that in the back of my mind I had this thought that if it didn’t work out, I could always switch to formula. I did WANT it to work out. I knew this was my last pregnancy and my last chance to breastfeed. There was also the financial benefit of breastfeeding. But in the back of my mind I always knew there was a Plan B.

But it did work out. I went into breastfeeding thinking to myself “OK, Andrea, just make it to 6 weeks.” Breastfeeding was hard and painful and terrible and I just kept telling myself “6 weeks! You can do 6 weeks!” 6 weeks came and went and then I said “OK, Andrea, make it to 3 months.” 3 months came and at that point it was natural and easy and I said “we can do this for one year!” One year came and my husband said “when are you going to stop nursing?” All of a sudden, numbers and dates just didn’t matter to me anymore. She wanted to nurse and I was happy to have the ability to provide nutrition and comfort for her. I said that I would stop when I felt like stopping. She began to eat full meals. She began to drink cow’s milk. And still we nursed on demand, primarily when she was upset during the day and always at night before bed.

I’ve had people say to me “you aren’t still nursing, are you?” and I always say “Yes! I sure am.” Because somewhere on this journey I realized how beautiful and special breastfeeding truly is, how much of a privilege it is to be able to provide for my child in that way, and I had no desire to stop before she was ready. I told myself I would let her set the pace, and I have.

Until this past week. Our breastfeeding journey has drawn to a close, and I want to share what I learned with you.

What I Learned From Breastfeeding: Lessons from a Former Formula Feeding Mom

#1. Fed is best. Seriously. I truly, 100% do not care how you fed your child. You are a great breastfeeding mom. You are a great formula feeding mom. You are a great mom, period. You meet your child’s needs either way. Motherhood is hard – we certainly don’t need judgment on how we choose to feed our children.

#2. A lactation consultant is your best friend. Your hospital should have one on staff. Get to know her, and call her often. Ask her to come and watch you nurse. Follow up with her after you leave the hospital. I 100% credit my success with breastfeeding, after 2 babies where I was not successful, to my hospital’s lactation consultant. She taught me the proper latch. She reassured me my baby was getting enough milk at each feeding. She was so incredibly helpful to me that I confess I had fantasies of her becoming my breast friend best friend. Sigh. It wasn’t to be. Apparently that is stalking. Whatever. She’s on Facebook.

#3. Try not to supplement. Listen – I’m all about your making your own choices about how you feed your child. I’ve done formula – I’ve supplemented! There is not one single thing wrong with however you choose to feed your child. However, if you truly want to breastfeed, I would advise you to be cautious about supplementing. It’s a slippery slope. It makes it easy to give up and just fully switch to formula. (I say that because I did that!) Your pediatrician will often tell you to supplement if he/she thinks your baby isn’t gaining enough weight. THIS is when you talk to a lactation consultant! My LC had me come in and weighed my daughter prior to the feed, allowed me to nurse, weighed her again – the subtracted weight will tell you exactly how much milk your child is receiving from a feeding. That visit right there is what assured me that I did not need to supplement and it also reassured my pediatrician, who was supportive of my decision to continue to breastfeed and allow her to gain weight at her own pace.

#4. Find a pediatrician who is supportive of breastfeeding. I’m so lucky to have found our pediatrician, who is supportive of all of our parenting decisions, even when they aren’t always what he would choose or recommend. I had military doctors with my boys who insisted that I formula feed because I was starving my child and he wasn’t gaining the weight he needed as quickly as he needed to gain. Our current pediatrician did suggest supplementing when my daughter did not return to her birth weight in the recommended amount of time, but when I explained my desire to continue to breastfeed he was supportive – even if he did make me come in weekly to weight until she was where she needed to be weight wise.

#5. There are times when it will be difficult and painful and you WILL want to quit. Push past that. The first 8 weeks of nursing were terrible. I couldn’t figure out her latch. My nipples were cracked and would bleed as I fed her. It all seemed very hard and difficult and I was TIRED and I really just wanted to quit. A friend told me — give it 6-8 weeks. You will reach this magical point where something clicks and it becomes natural and easy. I held on, and she was so right – around week 8 my daughter just magically caught on and it stopped being painful and difficult. I figured out the perfect hold. I perfected my nursing uniform. It became like second nature, and suddenly it was less of a “grit your teeth and bare it” nursing session and more of a “this is a sweet and special bonding experience” nursing session.

#6. You’ll probably have an embarrassing nursing moment at some point. The primary thing I worried about, as a new nursing mother, was exposing myself as I nursed in public. I have large breasts, and the juggling of the baby and nursing bra and cover was always an ordeal. I eventually got the point where I would nurse her in the car, because I could just pull my breast out and not really worry about someone seeing me or offending someone. One night we were scheduled to have dinner with my extended family at Outback. My family arrived early, so that I could feed my daughter in the car before we went into the restaurant. I pulled my breast out, as I always did, and began to nurse, not worrying about who might see me because the two cars alongside us were parked and unoccupied. At some point, the car next to me must have left, and I looked up to see my brother had pulled up in the parking space beside me and was looking in the car to see why we were just sitting there. We never talk about that day. Ha!

#7. Tank tops will be your best friend. My friend Dana taught me this trick – as a well endowed woman, for modesty I would always layer a tank top beneath whatever shirt I was wearing. I could pull my shirt up, my tank top down, and my stomach would be covered without worrying about using a nursing cover (which I always found more of a pain that a help).

#8. You may not need a pump. My cousin gave me her breast pump, and I could have received a new pump through my insurance, but I wound up never really using it. I figured out early on that I just didn’t have the energy to pump and breastfeed. A lot of people do – a lot of moms need to pump so they can return to work or have time away from their child. I think, once again, either way is fine. I am a stay at home mom, and I learned quickly how to juggle errands and date nights so that I could nurse her and do what I needed to do before I returned home. I know some moms DO need to pump, and others prefer to pump to establish a supply just in case – again, you should do what works for your family. Just don’t feel like you HAVE to pump as a breastfeeding mom.

#9. Breastfeeding babies can still bond with dad. This is one argument I hear a lot in support of bottle feeding. I completely understand that some dads want to have the opportunity to feed their children. That would be a good case for pumping and using bottles. But the bond between dad and baby will not suffer because of the time that moms spends nursing. Your child will develop their own bond and special time with their father in their own way.

#10. Breastfeeding truly is a special, wondrous, beautiful experience. There is this sense of empowerment that comes from knowing that I was able to supply my child’s nutrition from my own body. I have a sense of pride knowing that I was able to do something I had previously been unsuccessful with. I will never take for granted all the special time spent nursing my daughter – and it is truly bittersweet that the time has ended.

Once again, moms, FED IS BEST. I support you no matter how you choose to feed your child. I hope you support me as well!

Lonely

It’s that time of year. Our kids are headed back to school, some of them for the first time. They may be nervous, scared, excited, or worried – or maybe a combination of all the above. Maybe you’ve heard a few of their fears: will my classmates like me? will she be my friend? will he talk to me?

I know how they feel.

I was a working mom for four years before I quit my job to stay at home. In a lot of ways, it is wonderful and rewarding. In many other ways, it is isolating and lonely. Funny, huh? I am surrounded by my children 24/7 yet I am lonely.

It wasn’t like I was a social butterfly when I was working. I wasn’t meeting up with friends daily for lunch or going out with the girls once a week. But I was busy. I worked 40 hours a week, some of those nights, and when I was home I wanted to spend what little time I had with my family. So friendships were often put on the back burner, unfortunately. I didn’t realize how much I missed and needed female friendships in my life until I was at home all day and had no one to talk to but my children.

In truth, I have one person in my life that I consider a “best friend.” She’s been in my life for 12 years now, and even though we’ve drifted away from each other recently, I will always consider her to be my bestie. She probably knows me the best of anyone on this earth, and that’s a bond neither time nor distance can destroy.

I do have friends, don’t get me wrong. I have a group of girls I get together with once a month. I have girls I socialize with from church. I have women I am friendly with from my son’s sports teams, Mom’s Club, and my neighborhood. Any of those women would most likely be there if I said I needed to talk. They would probably say yes if I asked them to hang out. The problem is that I never do.

This weekend I had some girlfriends over (see, I do have friends) and we were discussing life and friendships. I mentioned how hard I find it to make friends, and one of the girls said “really? I never would have guessed that about you.”

But it is true. Making friends does not come easy to me. I’m always worried about what other people think of me. Will they like me? Will they judge me? Are they going to talk about me behind my back? And while I KNOW that is ridiculous and completely unimportant, I still let those thoughts get in my head and paralyze me. I’m the girl sitting in the back row, smiling and hoping someone will talk to me. I’m the girl standing on the edge of the group, nodding but not participating in the conversation. I’m the girl sitting at home, lonely.

In addition to suffering from social anxiety, I also am proud. I’m too proud to reach out to people and tell them I need help. To admit I’m having a hard time and could really use a shoulder. To admit my kids are driving me absolutely crazy, I fear for my sanity, and could you help me, pleasepleaseplease? To admit I really need prayer.

I don’t know if anyone else is like this, or if it is just me. I will tell you – if you are like me – that most of what we fear is all in our head. No one is going to laugh at us. Most women will say yes if you ask them to lunch or invite them over for a play date. If you’re hanging at the park and you strike up a conversation with a mom that you really click with, I promise she won’t think you’re crazy if you give her your number. She probably was trying to figure out the least non-stalkerish way to give you hers.

Last week my friend Diana invited me to be a part of her Bunco group. I walked into a house of a woman I didn’t know and was faced with 10 women I had never met before.

I immediately wanted to walk back out. I had a total panic moment and contemplated making an excuse so I could leave. But I stuck it out. And you know what? I had a great time. It is never as bad as I think it will be, this making friends. It’s all in my head.

So reach out. Set up a play date. Invite some friends over for a girl’s night. Ask for prayer, or tell a friend you are struggling. I promise you’ll benefit, and so will your friends. We are all in the same boat, fighting the same battles. Remember that when you feel lonely.

Preschool Chore Chart

Last summer I was having an issue with Cooper not wanting to be helpful around the house. He didn’t want to pick up his toys, he complained and pitched fits about having to take naps, and he just overall wasn’t having a serving attitude, which is something I feel very passionately about teaching him. I decided to come up with a chore chart for three reasons 1) to establish set “rules” and routines that he must do daily 2) to track his completion of chores and 3) to reward/monitor his attitude and completion of chores.

This is the Preschool Chore Chart that I came up with!

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The file itself was purchased from Etsy, and when I tried to link to the seller, it appears her shop is closed. However, there are tons of chore charts on Etsy. Simply make sure the chart itself is editable (so you can add your own chores) or ask the seller to do a custom order for you.

These are the things I thought Cooper could/should be able to do at 3.5 years old:

  1. Pick up his toys
  2. Put dirty clothes in the correct laundry hamper (whites, darks, towels)
  3. Put his dishes in the sink
  4. Help me unload the dishwasher and put away clean dishes
  5. Fill up the dogs’ food and water dishes

Now that he’s 4.5 years old, he has added a few other responsibilities:

  1. Make up his bed
  2. Pick up Sullivan’s messes – the life of an older brother!
  3. Take the trash from our small wastebaskets and put them into our kitchen trashcan
  4. Pull weeds
  5. Water the flowers with assistance
  6. Pick up dog poop (this is done with gloves and is supervised)

Not all the things I listed above made it onto the chore chart. The chart you see is the original one I made last summer and it needs to be updated now that he’s older. Also, I included some things that aren’t really chores, per say, but are routines: bath, naps, etc. just because I wanted to reinforce when he did them without complaint. For example, getting dressed had become this huge battle each morning that always ended with me loosing my temper, so he got to check off when he dressed himself without meltdowns each morning.

Cooper can’t read, so it was important for me to add pictures so he could track his progress himself and see what he needed to do. He’d check the chart throughout the day and would see what he still needed to do.

The chore chart included:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Feed the dogs
  • Take a nap
  • Clean up your room
  • Pick up your toys
  • Obey your parents
  • Take a bath
  • Say your prayers
  • Go to bed

I included “obey your parents” because I was having to repeat requests 4 or 5 times before he would do them. We talked at length about what it meant to obey – which to me is doing something the very first time you are asked to do it, without complaint. We also related it to obeying God and how it makes God happy when we obey our parents and other adults.

I have a laminator at home so I laminated the chore chart and used magnets to place it on our fridge. I used a dry erase marker to check off items as they were completed.

As for rewards, I was never consistent about that. He received praise every time he got a check:  “thank you for picking up your toys, Cooper! I really appreciate your help!” If he filled up the chart for a week, he got to pick an activity (Chick Fil A, the park, swimming) or a small toy (from the Dollar Spot, for example).

We are thinking now of moving to an allowance, but my husband does not want to link it to chores. He believes strongly there are just things you should do because it is your responsibility as a family member. For example, Cooper would receive $5 a week for an allowance. He would be expected to do his daily chores. We’d also have a list of “above and beyond” chores he could do to earn more money (for example, $1 for vacuuming). As he gets older, those “above and beyond” chores would become harder and more time consuming.

Obviously we need to update the chore chart and make decisions on the allowance thing… that is probably something we will implement when he turns 5.

How do you handle chores in your house? Do you use a chore chart? Do you give your children an allowance? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Rainbow Behavior Chart for Pre-Schoolers

Hello friends! Happy Monday! I’m thinking good thoughts today and hoping that my positive attitude makes for a great and blessed week. Won’t you join me? It’s a new week full of new opportunities and chances to bless our families and bless others.

Today we’re going to be talking about a Rainbow Behavior Chart for Pre-Schoolers.

Before I get started, I want to first say I respect any parent’s decision for how they wish to discipline their child. I think whatever works for your family is 100% what you should do. I don’t judge others for their parenting decisions and choices, and I hope you would not judge mine. You will see below – I do spank my child. No, I don’t spank him every time he misbehaves. Spankings are for serious infractions, and they are not meant to hurt Cooper but to show him I mean business in a way (in a proven way, a way I’ve learned over years of trial and error with Cooper) that other discipline methods cannot. We discipline Cooper in a variety of ways – time out, taking things away, spanking, consequences, etc. Each method works best at a particular time for a particular circumstance. I encourage you to find what works for you and your child and be confident in your parenting choices.

Rainbow Behavior ChartMy sweet Cooper is 4.5 years old now. He is the sweetest, most loving little boy you will ever meet. He loves his family. He loves to give hugs, want to sit snug up against you when watching television, and frequently tells us “I love you” throughout the day. He is funny, inquisitive, and has never met a stranger. I’ve seen him go up to a perfect stranger in the Chick-Fil-A play area and ask if he can sit by her.

My son is also headstrong and stubborn. According to his teachers, he is “strong-willed” (which is, I think, a Christian way of saying he’s difficult. Ha!). He has quite the temper and he doesn’t transition well. When he doesn’t get his way, he melts down and throws fits.

We had a very difficult transition once Sullivan was born. Cooper had been an only child for 3.5 years at that point. He’d never had to share our attention. In addition to adding a new baby to the family, I also quit my job to SAH and I enrolled him in a three day a week preschool. In retrospect, it was too much change in too short a time period for him to handle.

About two weeks after Sullivan was born, we started seeing some serious behavior problems at home and at school. I met with his teacher and preschool director numerous times in an attempt to figure out how we could all help him. Ultimately I decided to come up with a list of 5 hard and fast rules he absolutely must follow, and I created the behavior chart and treasure box to enforce and reward the rules. The rainbow chart from a color system that was used in his classroom.

Rules:

  1. No biting your friends. (This included kicking, hitting, pushing, etc.)
  2. Listen to your parents and teachers.
  3. When you are asked to do something, you must obey.
  4. When you get mad or sad, you should talk about how you feel.
  5. You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit.

I went over the rules with him multiple times a day until he knew them by heart. We also talked about the reason behind each of the rules. #4, for example, it related to how he melts down and pitches fits when he gets angry. I’m trying to teach him to use words instead of blowing up and losing his temper. #5 is a saying they use at preschool – it means we do not pitch fits.

Here’s the chart:

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I found a rainbow coloring page and printed off on my printer, coloring in the rainbow to match the color system they use at school. I also laminated it to make it last longer. I hang it on my fridge with magnets. I also mark the current color he is on with a small round magnet.

Cooper starts each day on green. Green is good, average behavior. Blue means he is listening well and doing what he is asked to do. Purple means he is not only listening, he is doing chores and being helpful to his mom and dad. Pink is absolutely exceptional behavior – a day of no sass, no yelling, no fits, no disobeying… pink is meant to be hard to achieve.

Yellow means he has broken one of the rules. Orange is for pitching fits or hitting. Red is a truly bad day… a day with multiple fits, hitting or harming another person, or refusing to follow the rules (for example, pulling away from me in a parking lot, walking away from me in a store… things that could cause him serious harm).

As I said, he starts off each day on green. No matter what he ended the night on, a new day is a chance to start over. I stress to him when he has bad days that mistakes are just chances to try again and do better. He can move up and down the rainbow throughout the day. He can be on red in the morning and move back up to green if he changes his attitude and behavior.

I let him move himself. I talk to him about his behavior and then ask him to change his color. I have found over time that he often tells me when he needs to change color – i.e. when he did not clean his room the other day after he was asked multiple times, he told me he needed to move to yellow.

Rewards

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This is the treasure box. It’s a small rectangular plastic box that I filled with goodies from the Dollar Spot, the Dollar Tree, and clearance items from Target and Walmart. It is mainly filled with candy, glow sticks, small cars, some Angry Birds telepods, markers, stickers, etc.

When he ends the day on green or blue, he gets to choose a piece of candy. For purple he chooses a toy, and pink is a special outing such as the movies, splash pad, picnic, bowling, Chuck E Cheese, etc.

The treasure box sits on top of my fridge. I probably spent about $20 when I made it last fall and you can see it still is full. I haven’t purchased anything else for it. The candy fills it up and lasts a long time. Plus I add in seasonal candy, like Halloween or Easter, when we’re done.

Consequences

Again… I know spanking is not popular and many people have strong opinions. This is what works for us. You should of course do what works for your family.

Yellow means he gets something taken away. I often ask him “what do you think you should have to give up?” and let him choose. I’m often surprised that he goes immediately to the item I think he would not want to give up – his treasured monkey, the iPad, or his favorite toy. I put the toy in a plastic bin and set it on the counter so he can see it throughout the day. Even if he moves up the rainbow during the rest of the day, he does not get this item back until the next morning.

Orange is more serious. Orange often means fits, hitting, kicking, saying unacceptable things, etc. He gets a spanking and I take away TV and iPad time for the day.

Red is the worst behavior. It doesn’t happen often, but some days are nothing but fits (not losing his temper…. FITS: screaming, kicking me, losing all ability to speak to him or reason with him). I take away the iPad, his LeapPad, his favorite toys, his stuffed animal and put it in a plastic bin. He isn’t able to watch television, and he gets a spanking. He also does time out/quiet time and we talk about his behavior once he calms down.

I tried many things with Cooper, and this is what has worked for us. I don’t use this system daily anymore – I would not recommend a reward system long term (i.e. the treasure box) because children get more consumed with the reward than with good behavior. However, when we have a serious of bad behavior days (they come around every couple of weeks) I break this back out and we both get back on track.

If you have any questions, please let me know!