Monday, June 30, 2014

Traveling with a Breastfed Toddler

Last month my husband and I traveled with our daughter across the country for a wedding. Since we knew about the trip far in advance I had plenty of time to research/freak out about what it would be like to fly with a 14 month old child.

Now, I'm sure there are those who would disagree, but I think that's probably the hardest age to travel with. These days Boo is eager to walk/run/tumble around so she's less satisfied staying put than a baby would be.  But her attention span is probably about 3 minutes so she's not as easy to keep entertained as an older toddler would be.  With these things in mind I began my quest to plan our trip.  The strategies below are what worked for us on a plane, though I'm sure some of the ideas could be relevant for road trips, too, as well as for any toddler regardless of how they are fed. If you're planning to travel for the upcoming holiday weekend I'm hoping these tips help you out!

Planning the Trip

Consider whether you need a passport for your tot. We decided to go ahead and get one rather than take her birth certificate with us. The best way to do this is to take terrible, out-of-focus pictures then wait until exactly the six week deadline to send them in. This way your anxiety will grow as you wait for the passport to arrive two days before you leave for the trip.

Um...child, can you please sit still?
Experts say the best time to get airline tickets is 6-7 weeks before your departure. I use Kayak to look for tickets and I like their graph thingy (that's the technical term for it) that advises you whether to buy or wait.

Some parents have shared they prefer short layovers to long, but hear this: schlepping your early walker and all their stuff through the airport is no small thing. Better safe than sorry with layover time in my opinion. An hour or more is ideal.

The next big decision is whether or not to purchase a seat for your bug or hold him in your lap.  This was a no-brainer for us: there was absolutely no way Boo would sit in my lap for a 6 hour flight. She's not in love with her car seat, either, but when she was in it I could focus my energy on entertainment rather than restraining her from grabbing the passenger's hair in front of her. 

In terms of timing, there truly is no perfect time of day to drive an hour to the airport, spend an hour or more checking in and going through security, sit on the plane for x hours (for us it was two legs, 1.5 hours and 5.5 hours), then spend several more hours to disembark, get your crap, and find your way to your destination. If you have a long leg like we did, you could consider taking a gamble and booking a red-eye. We were fortunate in that Boo slept for about half our red-eye, which meant we got to sleep, too (or at the very least simply sit instead of making funny faces, singing songs, reading books, etc.). In the end we were glad we did it even though it interrupted all of our sleep patterns. Not only was the flight cheaper, but it also gave us an extra day of vacation to see some fun sights in the city without needing to pay for another night in a hotel. Take heed: there were a few screaming kiddos on board so it is possible that your child will refuse to sleep and act like the world is coming to an end. Honestly it probably upset the parents more than those around them. Fortunately the engine noise dulled the sound of the cries.  We also brought a tub of cheap earplugs to offer to those sitting in the rows around us (no adorable pinterest baggies here....we weren't aiming for cuteness, just for people to hate us less).

Packing for the Trip

Goodness gracious. I must have combed the internet a gajillion times making sure I had every magic
bullet to keep Boo happy on our long flight. I found some helpful advice here and here.  We ended up checking two bags (our pack and play was in one of them along with Boo's clothes and stuff) and carrying three on (though we condensed it to two on the way home).

One carry-on had diapers, wipes, a change of shirt for me as well as a change of clothes for Boo, and miscellaneous other necessities. This carry-on was used more during the day so we stashed it overhead during the flight.

I used a 31 tote bag for our other carry-on. I put it on the floor in front of Boo's seat and loved how easy it was to access stuff because of the open top. I also liked all the outer pockets for things like binkies, her sippy, lovey, etc.  As I was pondering what to bring I contemplated Boo's obsessions. Things she truly loves. Number one: touching. Touch and feel books are her jam. We raided the library for some new, never-before-seen-by-her titles and kept them top secret until plane time.

Touch and Feel Farm     Biscuit's Pet and Play Easter
I Like Fruit     Little Feet Love

 Number two thing Boo loves: turning pages. On the flight she wanted to read these over and over again (which was fortunate since she only slept for 30 minutes the entire first travel day).

These titles have twice as many pages as most board books.
Hippopposites       Up Close

Boo also loves food. We tried to pack food that was mess free or would at least take a long time to eat, like blueberries, string cheese, clementines, and of course, pouches. Love #4 would be pushing buttons, hence the old cell phone and calculator we stashed in the tote pockets. The 3 Little Pigs toy you see in her bag was recommended by a friend. It has 3 houses, 3 pigs, and a wolf. All the parts can nest inside the big house, which has a handle for carrying. It was a lot of play potential for the small space it took up in the bag. (Boo didn't end up loving it, but now that she's 15 months and in the "put in take out" phase it's a bigger hit.)

One thing I didn't do that probably would have been a huge success was raid the dollar store for little knick-knacks like a spiky ball or other novel thingamabob.

It's tough not to pack an entire arsenal of toys and necessities, but remember that you and your mate are the only ones who will be lugging all this stuff around (and retrieving it from beneath seats on the plane). Try to be choosy about the toys/books/snacks you take and know that last minute purchases in the airport or at your destination can help you out if you end up forgetting anything.

Travel Day

We knew we were renting a car during our trip so we took our car seat which Boo also rode in during our flights.  To get everything through the airport we used our stroller. It isn't light, but that didn't matter to us. We were able to toss our car seat on top (it didn't click in but stayed nestled in the seat just enough to stay put). We put the tote on top of the car seat and stuck the other carry-on in the bottom basket of the stroller. I wore Boo so I had hands free to pull our checked luggage into the airport. (Wearing her was also handy when she needed to shut out the stimuli of the airport and nap on me.)

I was intentional about my duds. I wore comfy jeans, comfy flats (oh my word they are my obsession), and layers comprised of a nursing tank, thinner tank on top, cardigan, and infinity scarf. That way I wouldn't have to suffer through feeling hot, but I could still feel covered when I was NIP.

After checking our bags and heading to the gate, we let Boo race around like a banshee. She was very friendly and it gave us time to show passengers at our gate how adorable this little pumpkin was before she might blow out their eardrums on the plane.

I was hesitant about utilizing the family pre-boarding that Delta offered, but we did it and were so
glad. It gave us plenty of room to secure her car seat in the plane and time to get situated. Plus she loved watching everyone board. It was worth losing the running around time in my opinion.

I'd heard a lot about nursing during takeoff and landing to help with ears popping. However Boo never seemed bothered by that, plus she was too interested in everything going on outside the window anyway. Nursing did come in handy when she was over-stimulated in the airport and needed to wind down. Her favorite position is to sit upright on my knee and nurse like that. She loved playing with my scarf while she nursed and it was a helpful way to block out the world so she wasn't too distracted while she was breastfeeding.

I had packed TSA's guidelines for traveling with an infant as well as our airline's breastfeeding policy because of recent BF mishaps in the news, but I didn't need them. From security to boarding to the flight itself, it was the best travel experience we've had. I guess having an adorable tiny person with you tends to charm everyone in your path.

Well, that's it for my probably way-too-detailed account of our recent travel adventures. Just FYI, I wasn't paid to include any products in this post, though some of the links to the items I used are affiliate links. I hope the vacation you're planning goes as smoothly as ours did! It was definitely the most exhausting trip I've ever experienced, but it was immeasurably better than I anticipated.

Bon voyage!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Breastfeeding as Birth Control

Did you ever consider that breastfeeding can be a method of contraception? Many women will go an extended period of time while breastfeeding and not have a menstrual cycle. The hormones associated with breastfeeding can suppress the menstrual cycle for quite some time, although this length of times varies for each individual since no two women are the same. Breastfeeding can impact fertility, which can be seen as positive or negative depending on how you feel about conceiving again. As a Catholic, I practice NFP, or natural family planning. I don't use artificial methods of preventing pregnancy and I accept that every time my husband and I have sex, we have to be willing to welcome a new life into our family.

Before I go any further, let me say that this is not a foolproof method and I think knowing your body and your cycle extremely well are crucial for using this method. With that being said, Ecological Breastfeeding can serve as a great form of contraception and natural child spacing. While it isn't for everyone, it can be extremely effective. As evidenced by the chart on this page from KellyMom, LAM (lactational amenorrhea) has a 98-99.5% effectiveness rate when used properly.

The Seven Standards for Ecological Breastfeeding include:

  • Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life, offering no other liquids (including water)
  • Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts
  • Don't use artificial nipples (bottles, pacifiers)
  • Sleep with baby for night feedings, continuing to feed on demand
  • Sleep with your baby for a daily nap feeding
  • Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules
  • Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby
Photo Courtesy of Whitney Morales Photography
Now I realize this isn't realistic for everyone. It works great for me now because I only have one child. When I have another child someday, I may not be able to follow all the rules exactly. Perhaps following futures births, I'll regain my fertility much quicker. However, Nora is 16 months old now and I have yet to have my cycle return. I've actually been hoping to get pregnant soon but haven't had any luck yet. I've considered some gentle night weaning, or at least cutting back the number of times she nurses at night, but that is proving to be quite difficult. For now, I'll continue to cherish our naps together and hope that at some point, I won't be an all night buffet. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you (or would you) practice ecological breastfeeding? What do you think would be challenging about it and what do you think would be rewarding?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Help, I'm Sick!

Last night I ended up in Urgent Care thank to a lovely finger infection I developed.  I'm a chronic nail-biter so it was bound to happen eventually I guess.  I tried some natural remedies first, but they just weren't working and knew I needed something stronger.

After having my finger lanced, I left with a RX for an antibiotic.  The doctor had offered pain medicine but when she found out I was still breastfeeding she rescinded.  I wanted to tell her that I could still take pain medication but because I wasn't in that much pain and didn't need anything, I didn't push the issue.

Depending on how long your breastfeeding journey lasts, it's fairly safe to assume that you'll either get sick or (hopefully minorly) injured in that time. 

Here are some tips that will help protect your breastfeeding relationship while make sure you feel better at the same time.

First,  if you're prescribed anything by a doctor or want to take anything OTC, check LactMed to see how it make effect breastfeeding.  This is an extremely comprehensive database of drugs and their potential transfer while breastfeeding along with any effect the medication may have on your infant.  Bookmark this link for easy access: LactMed.
The Infant Risk Center is also an amazing resource for determining the safety of a medication while breastfeeding.  You can call them at (806) 352-0219 or find them on the web at They are simply wonderful in working with lactating mothers.

You've got to weigh the risks of a medication vs the positive effects they will have.  If you're really feeling awful one does off a decongestant will probably be okay but you need to weigh that against the possible risk of a dip in supply.  This is something you really should consult your doctor and an IBCLC about. 

Also, remember that if your sick, nursing your baby is the best thing you can do for them.  I will help transfer all of the antibodies you are producing to fight the illness to your little one.  Some people may try and tell you that you'll transfer the illness via breast milk (yes, I've actually has someone say that to me!) and it's NOT true.  Yes, being in close proximity may spread illness, but your baby lives with you.  There is a really good chance they've already been exposed to what you've got!

If you're given an antibiotic is is really best if you can begin taking a probiotic yourself and also giving one to your little one.  This will help protect their digestive tract (and yours) and also hopefully prevent yeast, and therefore thrush, from developing. 

Practice side-lying nursing.  No, this won't necessarily help you get better faster, but you can lay down and take a little rest while your baby is eating - and we all know even 10 minutes can be a luxury for a mom!

Stay as hydrated as possible.  Not only is it going to help you feel better, you don't want to get dehydrated since that can effect supply.  Keeping a water bottle nearby at all times is a great idea when you're not feeling well (just wash it often to get rid of germs).

Illness and injury don't have to change your breastfeeding relationship at all most of the time.  Just come up with a plan that works for you and hopefully you're feeling better in no time!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

If I would have written myself a letter...

...with what I know now, what I'm doing now, and read it before all of this started, I would have laughed. Hard. I breastfeed my toddler and even though I thought he was ready to wean, (a few times), he is nowhere near done. The kink in this whole thing is, when I try to hand express, there's hardly anything there!

Is it ok to comfort nurse my toddler?

I really struggle with this for some reason. Some days, I feel like a super-mom for continuing to nurse him but other times I feel like just the opposite and that I'm using nursing him as a crutch to delay learning other coping mechanisms. Toddler trips and bangs his head: whip out the boob. Toddler isn't feeling great: snuggle and snack all day in bed. Then the thoughts come full circle and I realize that I am a good mom. The same people who side-eye me when I even talk about breastfeeding my son beyond a year, compliment me on how happy he is, how well-behaved he is, how healthy he looks. Would all of this be if he wasn't still nursing? 

Let's dissect this for a moment, shall we?

Toddler bangs his head and wants to nurse. Toddler nurses. Toddler feels better. ===> Weirdo Mom With No Coping Skills or Awesome Partnership?

Toddler is sick and wants to nurse Toddler nurses. Toddler feels better. ===> Weirdo Mom With No Coping Skills or  Super Efficient Way to Get Toddler Antibodies and Fluids at the SAME TIME?

So I guess I answered my own questions. In my mind, there's no difference in my son using me or a blanket/toy/[insert other lovie here] when he's down, ill, hurting (physically or emotionally). Actually, there is a difference. The lovie isn't going to provide DHA, immunity, a strong bond. Like any lovie, he will grow out of me eventually but for now I will enjoy it. I just have a hard time believing that one of these is more ok than the other: 

15.5 months vs 6 months

Til Next Time, Mamas
Keep Calm and Nurse On

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Breastfeeding Heroes: Princess Srirasm of Thailand

If there's one drum we beat repeatedly on Adventures in Breastfeeding, it's about the need of all women to have support on their breastfeeding journey. It is this fact that has led so many women (and some men!) to become Lactivists, putting themselves out in the public sphere to promote breastfeeding, normalize it, and assure all the mothers out there who struggle with nursing that they are not alone. Among the many stories I've found of these remarkable characters, a recent favorite is that of a bonafide princess: Srirasm, Princess of Thailand and Royal Consort of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Princess Srirasm was a commoner who married the heir to the Thai throne in 2001, giving birth to their first (and so far only) child in 2005, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti. Once recovered from the caesarian birth, Srirasm began nursing her son, and was so moved and impressed by the experience that within a few months, she launched an extensive campaign to promote breastfeeding in Thailand. The project, titled "Love and Care from Mother to Children" received the full support of the royal family, including the written endorsement of Srirasm's husband, the Crown Prince.

Source: Breastfeeding Situation in Thailand
While much of the available data on breastfeeding rates may be inconsistent or unreliable, most sources show Thailand in the 20th Century having the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding [for the first six months] in Asia, and among the lowest in the world. Estimates as recent as 1998 had the number hovering just above 2%. Studies blame everything from poor education and diet in rural areas to the growing influence of the formula industry, and cite consequences like higher rates of disease and lower average IQ scores for children. The Ministry of Public Health has made a number of efforts since the 1980s to improve breastfeeding rates, but as of 2006, the number was still a paltry 5%.

Enter Princess Srirasm and her adorable little boy. From its inception, the Love and Care project centered around this pair, with interviews, photographs, pamphlets, and posters appearing all over the country, featuring the growing and healthy young prince and his pretty, doting mother. Srirasm was not shy about her experience, answering personal questions about her fears of not producing enough milk, discussing how her own diet could upset the prince's stomach when she ate the famously spicy Thai cuisine, and even sharing just how large a stash of pumped milk she had frozen (50 bags by 4 months)! Aside from the obvious fact that, as royalty, she had access to much better resources than most Thai mothers, she seemed incredibly and wonderfully NORMAL.

And IT WORKED. As of 2009, studies now show a rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Thailand of at least 15%, and some put that number at 30% or higher. Though the same problems of methodology and sample size continue to make it difficult to collect reliable data, there is agreement from a wide range of reputable sources that there has been a marked increase in rates of nursing, and these clearly coincide with the active phase of Princess Srirasm's program. The Ministry of Public Health is so encouraged by their success that they have pushed aggressive new policies to attempt to meet reach goals of +50% exclusive breastfeeding by 2025.

Of course, not all of us have access to a microphone with national or global reach, but I still find the princess' story inspiring. She used the resources with which she was blessed to reach out to fellow mothers, and she succeeded in making that connection and effecting a change in the culture. Given the well-documented positive health effects of breastfeeding, this could have a direct and powerful impact on the future of Thailand.

And if any of you nursing mamas have ever wanted a reason to feel like a princess, well, now you have one! Well done, Your Highness!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Celebrate What's Right

When I began my breastfeeding adventure over a year ago, I was unprepared for the roller coaster highs and lows it would bring. The reason I contribute to this blog is because I want to come alongside moms in encouraging each other, commiserating with one another, and sharing our experiences so we can all know better and do better. This last purpose is why we have loads of troubleshooting tips here, here, here, and here.

One thing that's difficult to troubleshoot is the myriad emotions moms experience as they breastfeed. This journey is fraught with joy, sorrow, frustration, and pride. It means coming face to face with your own shortcomings. Some moms may battle depression. One thing that kept me sane through it all was celebrating what's right with the world.

Several years ago I saw a film by Dewitt Jones, a former photographer for National Geographic. It was called Celebrate What's Right with the World

In the introduction to this video on his website, Jones shares some insight about this philosophy:
Photo credit: Dewitt Jones
How easy it is to celebrate a birthday, a marriage, a holiday. How hard it is to hold that same perspective in our daily lives. Everyday we are inundated with messages that tell us what’s wrong with our world. It’s not surprising that we lose sight of all the things that are right with it; of all that is truly worth celebrating. As a photographer, I have a choice of what lens I put on my camera; a choice of how I am going to view the world. I choose to celebrate. Why? Because it imbues me with gratitude, because it allows me to see the best in people and situations, because it fills me with energy.

This idea has stayed with me and has been especially helpful as I settle into motherhood. I try to surround myself with people who inspire and uplift me. I look for ways to refuel, refocus, and celebrate what's right. For me that's my faith and my family. Music. Nature. And most importantly of all, for me that is documenting these celebrations through photos, facebook, and scribbles in my journal. I've had to let go of my perfectionism because capturing joyful moments in any way is more important to me than the perfectly framed shot or perfectly worded caption.

Now that Boo is one, I've spent a little time looking back over these pictures and statuses and little bits of bliss. Life is fine right now, and these things are a reminder to me to be intentional about looking for bliss in the everyday. To be searching for things to celebrate - on purpose.

And when I'm facing tougher times, these tangible pieces are proof of what's right in the world. I can look back at my facebook feed, flip through the baby book, and reread old journals. And as I do, my weary heart marvels at the victories over devastating circumstances and the sweet spots in between the bitter moments. In the midst of sadness, I think to myself, In some far-off life, I had goodness and grace and glorious small wonders. And I look around my life, bleak and blurry, but a little more bearable now that I understand this is only one piece of my story.

This isn't to say I pretend heartache doesn't exist, or ignore sadness around me. It certainly doesn't mean I am the champion of noticing awesomeness in my life (because let's be honest, most of the time I am a hot mess who's too often too busy). I don't run up to a despondent friend and chirp, "Celebrate what's right with the world!" I listen. I notice. And when I take time to celebrate what's right, even when there seem to be more things wrong, I am grateful. I am kinder. And I feel whole.