This week I was in lactation nirvana.

On Tuesday I attended an all day conference on TOTs – this is Tethered Oral Tissues – this includes tongue tie, lip tie and buccal tie. The conference was put together by Dr. Scott Siegel, a physician and dentist who is uses laser to release these ties. The event was multidisciplinary with sessions given by and attended by IBCLCs (International Board certified Lactation Consultants), SLPs (Speech Language Pathologist) CNMs,(Certified Nurse Midwife) OTs (Occupational Therapist) Orofacial Myologists, doulas, and more.

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I have been in Private Practice as an IBCLC for 15 years. I have worked with hundreds of tongue-tied babies and even nursed two tongue-tied babies. I learned so much and more importantly had explanation for the things I knew instinctively and saw in my practice but could not quite explain. I have a better understanding of the impact of TOTs on people of all ages.

Wednesday night I attended a reading of the book, The Big Letdown by Kimberly Seals Allers. The subtitle is How Medicine, Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding. I live this book everyday. The obstacles against breastfeeding are immense. They keep coming. As we solve one issue another pops up.

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I was asked by a journalist yesterday to answer a few breastfeeding questions. One was “Does my ethnicity affect my ability to breastfeed?” My gut response was, “heck, no! Mammals are mammals.” But the reality is that breastfeeding is a learned and cultural experience.

What needs to happen is that families need to be supported on many levels. Education is imperative. There are so many obstacles. (More on these later.)

Sometimes I get weary of the repetition of some of the problems that could be resolved with education and normalizing breastfeeding. I never get weary of empowering and educating families. And I NEVER get weary of holding babies.

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I will continue to help families, educate myself and keep sharing my knowledge – even when met with resistance.

 

Babies & Holidays

November 22, 2016

The holidays are upon us and for new parents it can be fraught with anxiety. Whose family do we spend the holidays with? Do we travel? If so, how: car, bus, train, airplane?

Should we just stay home and have family visit us? But how will we be able to host people? I can’t even feed myself half the time let alone a dozen guests? And my baby just got into a somewhat predictable routine! Help!

Many families are eager to show off their new baby and want to have holidays with family and friends. It is not impossible to enjoy the the festivities with some planning and a change of expectations.

First, expect that your baby who is used to somewhat of a routine may want to be in the arms of her parents more. She may also nurse more than usual – nursing is calming for a baby, she feels safe in your arms, safe at the breast.

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Depending on where and how your baby sleeps, her sleep may be different when traveling or when you have company. This is not uncommon and know that you can get back into a routine once you get back home or the guests leave.

Sometimes it works to invite people over to your place so that your baby’s routine is fairly regular. Make it a potluck to take the pressure off. Make definite times for your event:

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People want to help but often need direction.

Assign jobs: setting the table, washing dishes, vacuuming, etc.

Some new families like to keep it simple and stay home and create their own traditions.

One family has a tree trimming party in early December. They make it an open house with set hours where people do not have to stay the whole time. Their friends bring ornaments and food. This is a great way to see friends and family in a festive way without the overwhelming scene of everyone all at once.

Another family started a tradition of staying home, eating their favorite junk food and watching silly movies. They wear matching pajamas. No friends or extended family – just their little family.

This may be the first time many of your loved ones are meeting your new baby. They all want to hold her. That does not mean she wants to be held by all of them.

I recall my sister’s wedding was the the first time many of my family were meeting my oldest for the first time. She was nine months old. She was comfortable in the arms of my husband, my mom, my sister and me. But everyone wanted to hold her. I have lots of photos of her with tears or a red face. It was overwhelming for her. After a while I told everyone they could take a picture with me holding her. Those photos show a smiling baby with her cousins and aunts and uncles – and me!

Some people may be critical that your baby is “clingy.” Your baby is in survival mode. You may be met with criticism of how often your baby nurses.

Speaking of nursing your baby may nurse more than usual or she may even get distracted and nurse less. If she nurses less your body will let you know! Just take her back and nurse her if your breasts are getting full. If she is distracted go to a private room – take a nap together! This can be your escape excuse!

Some have never nursed in front of family. Practice in front of a mirror or with a group of other nursing moms and you will see that very little skin shows. If you are one who feels like you need to partially undress to nurse, a pretty scarf can help offer some privacy.

Before these gatherings discuss your plans. If Aunt Martha is always critical of your parenting and you have to see her, plan on a few replies to her comments.

    “My that baby isn’t dressed warm enough! I would never have let my babies dress like that.”

     “Aunt Martha, thank you for your suggestions, we will consider them, for now things are working for us.”

    “My, that baby sure nurses a lot, you may want to give her some cereal in her bottle!”

    “Aunt Martha, our pediatrician says we do not need to give her cereal, my milk is all she needs.”

 

Many couples have an escape plan. They have a code for when the time is up.

It could be a wink or a phrase. “Honey, I left the oven on.” “Sweetheart, I have on two different color socks!”

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Make sure you take lots of photos. These memories should be preserved.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Tandem Nursing

August 10, 2016

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Tandem Nursing means nursing two babies at once. This can be twins or it can be siblings born at different times i.e. an toddler and an newborn.

Many people believe that you cannot get pregnant while nursing or that if you are nursing when you are pregnant you need to wean.

You can get pregnant while nursing.

Breastfeeding can be birth control under specific conditions. There is the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM).

LAM works like this:

  • No return of menses since birth
  • breastfeeding on demand, night, and day
  • baby does not take any food or other liquids regularly
  • baby’s sucking needs met primarily at the breast (no pacifier or bottles) baby is less than 6 months old.
  • baby does not go longer than four hours during the day and longer than six hours during the night between nursing

 

With LAM there is about a 1-2% chance of getting pregnant – similar to taking birth control pills.

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Many people get pregnant while nursing. Often moms are advised to wean their older baby if they become pregnant. There is no need to wean unless you are at risk for premature labor and you are advised by your health care provider to refrain from intercourse.

What can you expect while nursing while pregnant?

About halfway through pregnancy your milk changes from mature milk to colostrum. Colostrum is thicker and does not flow as easily as mature milk. Some toddlers get frustrated and wean. Others hold on for dear life!

One telltale sign of pregnancy can be sore nipples. Some moms find nursing painful or they become averse to nursing and they choose to wean their older baby.

Others will put limitations on nursing – one mom used counting as her strategy – “you can nurse for ten seconds – 10, 9, 8 . . .“ Another mom had a nursing chair where they could only nurse sitting in the chair in a quiet room.

Some advantages of tandem nursing can be:

  • nursing toddler can help relieve engorgement
  • older baby not feeling left out
  • mom doesn’t feel she is abandoning the older child
  • she still has her magic toddler wand
  • sibling bonding
  • stronger immune system of the toddler

 

Disadvantages:

  • mom may feel touched out
  • judgement from family, friends and health care team

 

When nursing twins it can be a good idea to alternate breasts for the twins. This can be every feeding or everyday – Twin A gets the left breast while Twin B gets the right breast for one feeding and then alternate the next feeding or on Monday Twin A gets left breast and Twin B gets right breast and on Tuesday Twin A gets right breast and Twin B gets left breast and so on. Many moms of twins will choose to nurse one at a time once they get older to have one on one time. In the early days it can be a time saver to nurse both at once.

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How does one manage tandem nursing babies of different ages?

Elizabeth Tandem nursing Read the rest of this entry »

The Last First Day

September 9, 2015

This morning as I dropped off my youngest child at school I was weepy. Was this Kindergarten or PreK? No, this was fifth grade. Finn is over five feet tall. He has been going to the same school since her was four years old. Why was I weepy? This marks the end of an era for me – as a mom, as a community member, as someone who is seeing time go by in my middle years.

This is my last First Day of School at the Earth School.

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My first First day of Earth School was in September of 2000. For the last fifteen years I have been trekking up and down Avenue B in the East Village of New York City

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Just north of 14th Street is Stuyvesant Town where we live. I have walked in snow, sleet, rain and in the blazing sun to get to our beloved elementary school. I have walked with babies in my belly, babies in slings and babies in strollers. I have seen teachers come and go and some come back! I have been through three principles. I have fund raised and recruited other families. I have escorted countless field trips often with a toddler in tow!

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At Earth I have found community. I have met some of my closest friends. My family has forged relationships with other families with whom we share holidays and birthdays.

I remember the first annual Earth School Auction.

I have enjoyed the art on the walls and read some inspiring poetry and memoirs by the wonderful children who populate the halls and hearts of our community.

I remember when the roof garden was an idea and then it became real.

I have seen families grow and I have seen families leave. I have seen tragedy and great joy and simply ordinary days at Earth. I was at Earth that terrifying morning on September 11, 2001.

I have watched children perform on the stage.

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I have nursed babies in the halls and in the lobby. I have sold popcorn and cookies in the lobby. I have done on-the-spot lactation consulting in the lobby.

I have grown as a human at Earth. I have watched my children grow and thrive. I have seen them learn to tie their shoes and learn conflict resolution and learn to construct a sentence and to defend an original idea.

I have learned about community building and about celebrating the seasons by marching in Tompkins Square Park to celebrate solstices and equinoxes.

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I learned about what education is. I have learned so much more. I have learned to let go and watch my babies grow into smart, confident people.

In nine months my youngest child will graduate from the Earth School. But today is the first day of fifth grade for Finn. I will embrace this day and open my heart to the Earth community.

The Lactivist

February 4, 2015

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Chloe nursing at the World Walk for Breastfeeding NYC 2002

The word was accusatory. I felt her anger over the internet.

What had I done to her? I did not say anything about formula feeding. I did make the case against the unethical marketing of formula. That is distinctly different from condemning moms who formula feed.

There is a formula campaign going around social media under the guise of making the “Mommy Wars” go away. In actuality most of the conflict of motherhood, parenthood really, is sparked by media and advertising.

The line between marketing and entertainment is becoming more and more murky. I have learned for the most part to discern what is being sold to me as opposed to what is there to entertain me.

This is the comment I made:

This is not about breastfeeding vs formula feeding, it is about the nefarious marketing of the pharmaceutical industry that undermines all families. Formula has its place. This is about using guilt to promote their product and to make us divisive – are we really? At the heart of it on the playground I can say that most moms get along. The images in the media create fear and defensiveness. I work professionally to support all mothers, I know when formula is needed and wanted. People are not always given the opportunity to make an informed choice.

Why was she angry with me? Why did she think I was attacking her?

I started thinking about it. She was directing her anger at me because I am safe. She does not know me – I am just that breastfeeding advocate. What had happened to her? Was she really experiencing grief and anger over her baby feeding experience?

I have many friends who did not breastfeed and they are not angry at me. They made informed decisions or at least dealt with what they were handed and they have made peace with it.

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I thought about the times I get angry at people. I moved to New York for many reasons but one of the big ones was for an acting career. I am not a Broadway or TV or movie star. I could list all of the obstacles that prevented me from becoming famous but it doesn’t matter. I still get jealous and angry sometimes when I see actors my age who have made it. I also wrote and performed stand-up comedy. I loved watching the Golden Globes but I felt little jolts of envy watching Tina and Amy up there.

These feelings are far overshadowed by my happy life. I have a loving husband whom I love hanging out with – he really is my best friend and I am looking forward to growing old with him. We have three awesome children who are smart, healthy and beautiful.

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I have moved on. (Casting directors – I can still provide a resume!)

I am also a bit envious of the moms who have had babies at home. Complications prevented that from happening with my babies and me. Still, I ache a bit about some of the birth experiences my babies and I went through. In the end they are all healthy and we made it through.

I have worked out the things in my life that got in the way of some of my goals. I have accomplished many of my goals and I am a happy woman.

So, going back to the name caller, I think she is angry and sad that she is not breastfeeding. I do not know if her birth interfered with her plans. I do not know if her family gave her a hard time about breastfeeding. I do not know if she is taking a medication that is incompatible with breastfeeding. I do not know if her body never made milk. I do not know what experiences she may have had in her past that makes it uncomfortable for her to have anyone touch her breasts.

I sure as hell bet she loves her baby immensely. I hope she can find some peace. I will be the brunt of many a new mom’s anger and frustration.

That is a role I can play.

Uniforms and Fairy Dust

January 30, 2015

Why do new parents seem so guarded or opinionated or defensive? Well, much of it is that they are protecting their new family.

Another thing I have noticed is that parents feel they have to subscribe to a specific style. In the years since I first became a new mom – over nineteen years ago, I have noticed that so much around parenting is trademarked. I believe that is all about marketing. I have written about how poor parents are the biggest target of marketing these days.

I remember when it was time to start feeding Phoebe solid food a mom at a La Leche League meeting suggested baby led weaning. This made sense to me – let her take food off the table – I would bite off a tiny piece of apple and let her chew it, I would continue to nurse her. Eventually I became a La Leche League Leader. A couple of years back at a meeting I was leading for toddlers a mom mentioned baby led weaning and I was thrilled to hear this concept being embraced until I heard about all the “rules around it. Rules? There is a book! Wow. I thought it was about being instinctive with a few guidelines about what foods to give and which foods to avoid so that they would not choke.

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I also noticed how people would comment on how attached Phoebe and I were. Of course, I am her mom, we are together (the company I worked for closed while I was on maternity leave and I was a full time mom then.) Then I learned there is an organization called Attachment Parenting – which I love! But I hear moms asking, “Is it is AP to . . . “ Or “does it go against AP if I . . .”

Then there are the breast feeders and the bottle feeders and the co-sleepers and the baby never comes into my bed, and there are “Never let the baby cry” and the Cry It Outs.

I belong to way too many groups on Facebook and I hear so many new moms asking permission to go outside of the rules of whichever category they have chosen to join. I hear arguments about how you cannot do this or you should do that.

Titles: Tiger Mom, Hippie Mom, Crunchy Mom, Stay At Home Mom, Working Mom

Does one need only belong to one “club?” Does anyone only do things exactly as planned out in a book? Do breastfeeding moms never give their babies a bottle? Do most parents have their kids in their bed at least some of the time? Do the families that make their own baby food sometimes use a jar or sometimes eat convenient food? Do the touchy feely moms yell? Does the Tiger mom cuddle? Does the home-schooling mom want to send her kid away to boarding school? Does the mom with the most awesome and fulfilling career want to quit her job and stay home?

If you asked these questions to these parents you would get a resounding YES from time to time.

It seems like a new mom has to wear armor to defend herself and her choices. She has to seek permission to care for her baby. Whatever happened to instincts? Have we cultured intuition away by writing books and coining phrases and categorizing everything and everyone?

Maybe the extended family has done things differently so a new mom feels she needs to defend her choices. Perhaps she is faced with criticism and needs to wear a uniform.

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Whatever it is I wish I could hug all new moms and blow some instinct like fairy dust at them and let them take it in, take in their babies. I want them to clear out the noise so they can hear. So they can hear that voice inside them that tells them: this is your baby, your child, do not strive to fit in, strive to find love, strive to find the wonder in your little person, strive to grow along with them.

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In the meantime I will interject my thoughts in those groups when I have it in me to do so. I imagine fairy dust with each click of the keyboard.IMG_7271

The Power of Tears

January 10, 2015

You never know what may come out of your mouth and how it may impact another person

In my early years as a La Leche Leauge Leader I used to hold meetings in my apartment. One steamy summer afternoon I sat on the floor of my living room folding laundry as Phoebe napped. The buzzer jolted me as I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was the day after the Series Meeting. A voice over the intercom said “I am here for the Meeting.” I buzzed her in.

At my door was a petite new mom with auburn curls and a five-month-old baby asleep in a dark red Baby Bjorn carrier. Beads of sweat speckled her stiff body. Tension permeated her.

“I am sorry but the Meeting was yesterday. Come on in and have a glass of water,” I said.

Her face fell but her body remained at attention.

“Come on in, I‘m just folding laundry. Have a seat.”

“No, I don’t want the baby to wake,” she replied.

She stood in my living room as I sat back down on the floor and went back to the task of folding a load of pinks, greens, oranges and yellows.

“It’s hard being a new mom isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes.” There was a pause.

Then, “and my own mother wants me to stop breastfeeding. She doesn’t understand me. I just want to cry,” she blurted out.

“Well, then, cry,” I offered.

“I don’t want to cry in front of my baby. I don’t want her to think I am weak,” she was incredulous.

“You know, there is strength in tears,” I said as I folded one of Phoebe’s flowery sundresses.

The floodgates opened. I didn’t know if it was five months of pent of tears or a lifetime.

Her body softened with each sob. Even her curls fell easier around her face. Her baby girl woke up and she sat on my couch and nursed her. At first she was stiff. I touched her shoulder and gently pressed her back into the back cushion. More tears fell.

This woman had traveled from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the East Village. If you live in New York City you know that is quite a journey on public transportation, particularly for a new mom.

I never saw the woman again or heard from her but I learned the power of simple words that day.

I often cry with the moms with whom I work and I cry in front of my children. I always feel powerful after.