Monthly Archives: September 2010

Man vs. Mastitis

Life has a funny way of knocking you down to size when you start feeling just a little too comfortable or a little to confident. Point in case: After four months of rather successful breastfeeding, I developed mastitis last week. And boy, I don’t wish that on any newbie mom.

For those who haven’t experienced the misery of mastitis, it’s a boob infection, plain and simple. And like most infections, it sucks. Not only is your boob super sore, but it can be swollen (mine was) and have crazy red lines on it (mine fortunately didn’t). And you feel like absolute poo. Not like oh-I-have-a-cold-and-don’t-feel-good kind of bad, but like I-can’t-get-out-of-bed-and-I-think-I-might-be-dying kind of bad.

In my case, a clogged milk duct was the root cause. I’d had a clogged milk duct before, back in the first couple weeks of breastfeeding, but I was able to get rid of it pretty quickly with some firm massage while nursing and pumping. But this time, no dice.

I pretty much knew I had crossed over into mastitis territory when it was 90-something degrees outside and I was in my house wearing jeans and a cardigan sweater and was still freezing. I had a temperature of 101 degrees and was experiencing periods of shivers and chills followed by the sweats. At one point, my face was on fire, my shoulders and arms were cold, my legs were hot, and my feet were ice blocks. I also felt somewhat nauseated at times.

My doc prescribed antibiotics and assured me in a couple days I would feel better. I would say that within 36-hours I was feeling remarkably better in that I was no longer sprawled out on my bed, eyes half rolled back in my head as I panted out of one side of my mouth. But I still had a lot of tenderness and was swollen, which were adding to my fears that I was going to develop a breast abscess and need surgery.

I tried loads of things to try to unplug the stubborn duct:

  • Constant nursing followed by pumping
  • Varying nursing positions
  • Hot compresses
  • Cold compresses
  • Massaging the affected area in a hot shower
  • Cabbage leaves (hot and cold)
  • Increased water intake
  • Pain medications from ibuprofen to acetaminophen
  • Herbal salves

I would feel some relief when I applied nearly scalding hot compresses or got into a super hot shower and I think the ibuprofen worked to help take down some swelling, although my so-though brilliant idea to down a couple of aspirin to try and thin out my blood and presumably milk didn’t do much to speed the clearing process.

Despite the engorgement-alleviating success stories, the cabbage leaves were more a less a bust, especially when I microwaved one. Turns out you want to be sure you remove the entire stem or risk burning yourself. And it made my kitchen stink. Now I have to figure out what to make for dinner that would call for an entire head of cabbage.

One mom-friend suggested that I boil some water with ginger in it–ginger has some known healing properties–and then soak a washcloth in it and apply it as a compress. One mommy blog that I had consulted suggested doing something similar with a rosemary infusion. So, I thought why not combine the herbs to concoct my own medicinal miracle?

I can’t say for sure that the ginger-rosemary-infused hot compress solved my problem, but the swelling and tenderness went down the following day. It could have just been the antibiotics kicking in or the combination of all my home remedies finally taking hold, but the timing was noteworthy in my book. And my kitchen smelled good, although my compress cloth was temporarily stained.

If my symptoms hadn’t started to clear, I had two more options on the back burner. One was investing in a mini hand-held electric massager. Granted, I think this would have been a painful exercise, but maybe it would’ve gotten things moving more quickly.

The second was to try yet another homeopathic remedy called a fenugreek seed poultice. Basically you create a type of paste out of the seeds, slather it on the affected area, and put a hot compress over it. Of course, in my version, I was going to break open my fenugreek capsules rather than boiling and mashing the actual seeds. How much fenugreek can one lady have anyway? I wasn’t about to go buy more of it when I was already worried that taking it–fenugreek is an herbal supplement that purportedly helps moms maintain their milk supply–while having mastitis was going to exacerbate the clogged duct by stimulating more milk production. I’m not sure it works that way, but that’s the logic I was following.

So, it’s been a week exactly since I first noticed some initial soreness and I feel totally back to normal–hallelujah–although I have quite a few more days of antibiotics to go. In retrospect, I think I could have avoided this whole thing if I’d been just a little more careful, more respectful of my body.

See, breastfeeding hasn’t been a bad experience for me. For as much as I stressed about all the things that could go wrong, when it came down to getting started, I really got rolling without too many bumps. I don’t know if it was because I was adequately educated–I took two classes and read a number of books and articles on the subject–or whether my baby and I just figured out what to do quicker than some, but once we were over the initial period–that can be painful but it doesn’t last long–it was working out for us.

And that was just it. I treated it like no big deal, like my body could handle whatever stresses I put it through with impunity. But one long weekend later and I got my painful reminder. Turns out seven-plus hour drives up and back to Rhode Island, little sleep, lots of rushing around, not enough pumping, some booze, and a new bra (I had to have one that worked with my dress) is a nearly lethal combination for nursing mom.

To be able to continue nursing as successfully as I have been, I realize that in situations like that, I really need to reorganize my priorities. At home, breastfeeding is a major part of my daily life and I learned, extremely painfully as it turned out, that it has to be that way on the road, too. Breastfeeding, even when it feels like old hat, is a delicate balance. And when you upset that equilibrium–be it for a wedding or whatever–there are consequences, as evidenced by the current scoreboard: Mastitis-1, Sarah-0.


Filed under babies, breastfeeding, daily life, health, infants, lactation, mommy care, newborns, nursing

A Pig Pen in the Play Pen

Baby had his first play date the other day. Play might be a bit of an exaggeration. More like lie-on-a-Boppy-next-to-another-baby date. But it was fun, mostly because it was a chance for the moms to get out of the house, eat some spinach dip with pita chips, and vent.

But as the four of us moms snapped pics, laughed about how the kids looked like their dads, I had an awful realization: My kid is the dirty kid.


Mr. Un-clean

I guess I should have considered changing his outfit before the photo shoot rather than after. I didn’t realize it was so obviously bad.

Baby has always been a spitter-upper. My mom (and pretty much any other mom-like woman over the age of 60) is convinced he spits up because I give him a bottle cold. Like right-out-of-the-fridge cold. The pediatrician looked at me like I had 10 heads when I asked her if this was true. But even without doctor’s confirmation that it was indeed a motherhood myth, I knew cold milk was the unlikely root since he would spit up after nursing, too.

For whatever the reason, I can count on baby to make at least three wardrobe changes in a day because of spit up. (Diaper blow outs are another animal altogether.)

But as a mom, I have pretty much stopped noticing how nasty spitting up is. In my head, I know it’s gross, but it’s so expected now that I don’t even sweat it. I just make sure I have at least two cloths within arm’s reach at any time for mop up. And when I say cloths, I mean those flannel receiving blankets most people use to wrap up their kids; plain old burp cloths can’t really handle this kid’s volume.

My husband reminds me occasionally of how nasty it is by gagging like Vince Vaughn in the scene from the 2008 classic Four Christmases when a baby vomits on Reese Witherspoon. (As an aside, I highly recommend it for people like us who have divorced families; you’ll likely appreciate the humor more than those with unbroken families.) Here’s the clip, in case you haven’t seen it:

But it’s not until you see a picture of your kid like the one above that it really hits home. Now I worry that he’s going to evolve from the dirty baby at the play date to the dirty kid in school. God, I hope not.

But this baby is a magnet for dirt. Despite daily baths and constant trimming, it’s always a battle to keep his nails clean, for example. I mean, really, how do infants get dirt under their toenails? What’s it going to be like when he’s crawling? Do people start giving their kids multiple baths a day? That seems a little excessive.

But the one comfort I take is that he’s a boy. I don’t think many people really expect boys to stay clean very long, so maybe mine won’t look as exceptionally stained as he does today.


Filed under babies, bathing, bottle feeding, boys, daily life, hygiene, infants, newbie parents, parenting, spit up

Is This Bad?

I am blessed to have what I would consider a good baby. He really only cries when one of two things are wrong: he’s hungry or he’s got a dirty diaper. And sometimes he doesn’t even bother crying over the latter unless it’s what I call a diaper blowout. Sure, he might get a little cranky if he’s tired but addressing one or both of the two aforementioned issues usually gives him enough time to settle down.

So, while I’m happy to avoid (at least for the current moment in time) bouts of unexplained crying, one thing I can say that he does that can frazzle some nerves is get super clingy–to the point where I’m wearing him as a living, breathing accessory for the day. Forget about trying to rock him to sleep with a few stories, putting him in his crib with the Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart-playing mobile, or sitting him in his vibrating bouncer chair to the soothing sounds of B-I-N-G-O! He’s not having any of it.

Moms love to hold their babies. I mean, really, who doesn’t love to snuggle with a wee one–except when they are crying, of course, in which case mom ends up holding the babe anyway. But when my baby turns into a creature from the planet Clingon, it can make it next to impossible to do something as basic as maintain hygiene.

This was my dilemma of the day recently.

I badly needed to shower, not only because I don’t feel human until I am lathered and rinsed but also fall in D.C. still means 80+ (and sometimes 90+) degree days, which equals sweat and more sweat. Plus, I figure I should at least be clean–make-up has fallen into the optional category these days–and out of my pajamas by the time the hubster gets home from work. I figure it’s the least I can do.

But as the morning turned into noon, and then into afternoon, and then late afternoon, my window for washing was closing and Velcro baby was showing no signs of unfastening. Now, I’m not opposed to letting my kid cry for a few minutes while I finish typing a quick e-mail, put something away, throw in a load of laundry, or what have you. He usually stops when he sees me again or finds a way to chill himself out. But I just can’t take that long, sustained wail that comes out when he’s in this mood, the one that can’t be quieted until he’s wrapped around my hip.

So after a few unsuccessful attempts (and admittedly naked ones since I had already turned the water on) at putting him in his crib, in his bouncer chair, and even the Boppy pillow on my bed so I could shower, I came up with an idea. What if I brought the play mat into the bathroom with me? I hadn’t tried that toy yet, so there was some hope the novelty might quiet him. He needed some tummy time anyway. Plus the cleaning lady just cleaned the bathroom top to bottom the day before. And maybe if I could poke my head out from behind the curtain every so often, he wouldn’t cry–or at least as hard. So, away me, baby, and the play mat went.

Well, he cried. And he cried. And he cried some more. And then nothing.

Silence is a bad thing at this stage of mommyhood. If I don’t hear a peep from him, I think he’s stopped breathing. So, I rip back the shower curtain only to find that baby has fallen asleep. He’d completely exhausted himself.

I think: “Cool. I guess that means I have time to shave my legs.”

I get out of the shower and decide I should leave him be while I get dressed and maybe rake a brush through my hair, or what’s left of it at the rate that it’s still falling out. I check back. He’s still soundly asleep. So, I run to the basement to throw a load of laundry in the washer. I check back. Still asleep.

At this point, I have a decision: I can either leave my infant lying on the floor and get dinner started or try to move him without waking him up. And I know that if he wakes up, it’s good times with Gorilla Glue baby.

I go for Option A. Dinner’s not going to make itself, I tell myself. And my mom always told me that what they say about dogs is also true of babies: Let sleeping babies lie.

But did she mean on the bathroom floor?

Probably not. And I sort of felt like a bad mom. I kept thinking every time I checked in on him, “Is this bad?” But he was sleeping so soundly–finally. In fact, he slept for a couple hours like that, believe it or not.

I actually couldn’t believe it, so I took this picture. Please, moms, tell me you’ve been here before.

Parenting at Its Best


Filed under babies, boys, daily life, infants, naps, newbie parents, newborns, parenting, sleep

Look, Mom, No Hands!

So, I’m into Week 3 of working out of the home office–a.k.a. my dining room table–and I feel like I might be embarking on a new career as an efficiency expert.

It’s a lot to juggle–an infant and a job–so I’ve got my mornings planned and organized right down to the minute so that I can take care of baby (and husband and animals) and get my work done. I know exactly in which order to do my morning tasks so that it takes less time to do them. For example, I always throw a load of laundry in the washer when I feed the cats or take the dog out for his walk through the back gate so I can take the recyclables and trash out.

So, in my quest for efficiency and efficacy, I started thinking about the time I spend pumping. This is usually a 30-minute, twice-a-day activity, during which I do nothing more strenuous than press the “next page” button on my Kindle. (Incidentally, the Kindle is the greatest thing to make the time pass when pumping or nursing; I’ve read more books in the past three months than in the past three years.) In addition to the Kindle, I generally have my Blackberry right next to me so I can check my e-mail. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I was all about efficiency.)

Now, responding to any messages with a more than a one-line answer  was a little awkward since I only could type with one hand. The other hand was basically useless because I needed it to hold the plastic flanges tight to my chest to keep the suction going.

That’s not bad multi-tasking, but I thought I could do better. So, I busted out this hands-free pumping contraption that a friend of mine gave me. She never used it, but thought I might give it a whirl. (I’m not sure if that says anything about me or not…)

At any rate, this thing is called the Pumpin’ Pal. First off, seriously? Who names these products? Ranks right up there with the My Brest Friend nursing pillow in that there’s nothing cute about the name or the product.

But I digress. Basically it’s made out of this cord-like material that reminds me of what older people attach to their bifocals so they don’t lose them. You pretty much put the cord around your neck and in cats-in-the-cradle-like fashion it attaches to a skinny, antennae-like flexible stick that holds the pump’s flanges place.

Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to do.

Let me say that my first attempts at using this thing were a little rough. My husband came downstairs one morning to find me at the dining room table with my shirt off and this thing twisted around my neck. I was hunched over with my forehead nearly on my keyboard, trying to get the flanges to stay suctioned so I could sit back with comfort and go through my inbox, as promised on the packaging.

It wasn’t a pretty start to the experiment, but I persevered and finally got to the point where I was more or less hands free. A piece of advice for soon-to-be and newbie pumpers looking to try this at home: The trick is to hold on to the flanges in the contraption until there’s about an ounce of milk in them; the milk gives them some weight, which helps them suction on for the long haul. Also sitting straight up and pushing your chest out definitely helps, too.

Although I finally achieved success with my Pumpin’ Pal, I started researching to find out if there were other hands-free aids that might be more secure. There are, but I don’t see them as any less disturbing than what I’ve got. It’s a case where fashion and function will never meet.

A Picture of Perfection?

Take for example, this model, pictured at left. Oh, to count the ways that this photo is perturbing. I saw this and was trying to imagine myself using this while trying to maintain a shred of professionalism. I mean, who would actually try to make or answer a phone call while pumping? The sound of the pump is more of a groan than a whisper, so there’s no doubt in my mind that the person on the other line could hear it doing its job in the background. (Curiously, the one I use sounds a little bit like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons–wanh whan, wanh wanh, wanh wanh…) How awkward would that be to explain?

“Excuse me, could you repeat the question? I didn’t hear you. There’s some background noise. Are you driving or at a coffee shop or something?”

“Uh, no, it’s just my breast pump. I’m multi-tasking.”

The other issue I have with the photo–besides the fact that the woman is also smiling–is her outfit. I don’t see any bra, camisole, or tank top scrunched up around her neck or pulled down around her waistband, where mine usually are when I’m pumping. So, this begs the question: Does she wear this thing under her sweater or does she just wear the sweater with  nothing underneath? Because the idea of leaving mom boobs unleashed might be as troublesome as the idea of wearing this thing as a full-time undergarment.

Of course, I’m not full time in an office anymore, so I probably shouldn’t really worry so much about the logistics of using one of these things when wearing anything nicer than jeans and a t-shirt. But probably more important, I should just come to grips with the fact that short of someone inventing a Bluetooth for boobs tomorrow, I’m going to have to just take a timeout from my to-do-list of a life if I need to pump. I was getting pretty good at one-handed typing anyway.


Filed under babies, bottle feeding, breastfeeding, daily life, infants, lactation, newborns, nursing

To Be Or Not To Be a Godparent

Lord knows that I’m not a model Catholic. I rarely make 10am mass on Sunday even thought it’s the only one out of seven held every Sunday that’s in English. (My Spanish, Vietnamese, and Haitian aren’t what I would call current.) I can’t tell you (sadly) the last time I was at confession, which is of course one of the reasons I don’t go to confession. And I seem to always forget about even the biggest of church holidays. (Ash Wednesday was when?) But for my inability to be totally committed or consistent, getting baby baptized was a must.

The Unofficial Baptism

The way my  husband and I look at it, baby actually had two baptisms. One was held on a Saturday in the presence of… well, actually nobody but my husband and me. It was simple, sweet, and a little southern in that it was nothing more than a first dunk in the mighty St. Lawrence River off my parents’ dock. It’s the fastest way to get christened as a River Rat.

The Real Deal Baptism

The second baptism was more traditional, although I imagine that certain parts of the Catholic Church would be less than impressed with our ceremony. There was a priest, but other than that it in no way resembled any other christening I’d been to. There was no church; the scene was my parent’s house with the River as the backdrop. The guest list had only marginally more people than at baby’s first, unofficial baptism. Parents, siblings, and godparents.

Choosing baby’s godparents was an interesting exercise. My husband and I decided that we would each pick one godparent. Neither one of us could veto the other’s choice, and the only other caveat was that whoever we picked couldn’t be family.

That might sound a little strange. But here’s how we thought about it: Family automatically plays a big role in a baby’s life–good, bad, or indifferent. A baby’s godparents are an opportunity to invite someone outside the clan to help raise baby. And when I say raise, I don’t mean as a go-to babysitter.

Godparents are people who can uniquely enrich baby’s life. They are removed from the family headaches, drama, and other nonsense, so they can model different–and sometimes better–behavior. Not only that, but chances are they have discrete talents, perspectives, and priorities than baby’s parents and family. And in our minds, that’s a good thing. More exposure to diversity of thought and action equals a more well-rounded person. At least in theory.

Fortunately we are blessed with many close friends who would make spectacular godparents. So, we started considering another factor–geography. There’s no doubt that godparents are more influential when they can actually see the baby from time to time. Being military, there are few guarantees that D.C. will be our last stop. But there’s one place, we always–and will always–go back to: the River. We’ve got the most family concentrated in the area and the River itself is tangled up in our whole relationship. So, we needed to find baby godparents who, if all else failed, would be close(ish) to the River so we could all see each other.

And so long story short, baby has a wonderful set of godparents (to include their respective spouses who are just as amazing as they are) who more than fit the bill.

But the whole exercise really made me realize how lucky we are to have such a fantastic circle of friends, all of whom would–and will–have amazing things to add to baby’s life. The whole decision process left me wanting to have a whole slew of kids so they could each experience the richness of all of our closest friends. How many ways can I count my blessings?


Filed under babies, education, family, infants, moms, newborns, religion

On the Road Again

As all good things must come to an end, baby and my summer at the River ended on Labor Day Weekend.

The original plan was for my husband and I to caravan back to D.C. on Sunday, beating what we imagined would be crazy traffic on Monday. The plan was completely foiled when my husband got sick on Sunday morning. So, Plan B had us up at 5am for a 5:30am departure. Both trucks were packed up, so all we needed to do was throw the baby, dog, two cats, and ourselves in the car.

Baby and dog–no problem. But the cats… to ensure that they’d be around in the morning, we’d put them on a 24-hour fast. We figured a little jingle of kitty kernels in their porcelain dishes and we’d be able to do our own snatch and grab and we’d be headed south. All went according to plan, baby and dog were in the cars and the cats came running at the sound of food. We were good to go–right up until the second cat started clawing, growling, and spitting. Steps from the car she squirmed right through my husband’s hands. He leaped forward to grab her again, landing chest first on the gravel driveway. All I saw was a fluffy black tail disappear into the woods besides the garage.

Have you ever tried looking for a black cat in the woods in the dark? Good luck, sucker.

It took us an hour to chase the cat into the garage, where she immediately hopped up on top of some 8 foot cabinets, curling into a ball right in the unreachable part of the middle. As my husband was standing on two milk crates, trying to pry her from her spot with a broom handle, I finally was able to pull the hammock that she was sitting on toward me enough to where I could grab her, stuff her into a milk crate, and wrap the whole thing in a smock to keep her from escaping before we got her in the car.

It was 6:45am. We hadn’t even pulled out of the driveway yet and it felt like a really long day.

I was glad we waited and got the cat (I seriously considered leaving her at the River until Thanksgiving), but I kept thinking about how the romp in the woods totally screwed up our time line. And when traveling long distances with an infant, it’s all about timing. I could just imagine get 15 miles down the road and having baby wake up and want to eat. That thought was so depressing to me because it was a reminder that not only did we have a long way to go, but we were going no where fast.

Fortunately, baby was pretty much the angel that he always is throughout the whole trip. We stopped twice to feed him, which coincided with a run to D&D and a stop for gas, and only lost a little more than an hour. The traffic gods must’ve been smiling on us because we hit no traffic despite the giant stretches of construction.

The Pace Car

My husband took the lead for most of the drive, so I got a good, long look at the ass end of our gypsy truck . Despite my husband taking one carload of baby gear back to D.C. with him in early August, both of our vehicles–one Toyota 4-Runner and one Volvo XC90–were packed to the brim. (Yup, the roof rack totally came in handy once again.)

But how did we accumulate all this stuff in the matter of a couple months?

The Caravan Caboose

I went north with one overflowing car and now we were coming back with two. It was so bad that when we pulled off for coffee and bagels, my husband got out to walk the dog and there was another guy walking his dog and he says to my husband, “Why don’t you just get a Winnebago?”


While there were some miscellaneous items brought home–a cast-off grill from my parents, a sewing machine, and a rice cooker–the vast majority of stuff was baby stuff. Until I packed it up, I hadn’t realized how much new stuff I had received as gifts from wonderfully generous friends and, as much as I hate to admit it, how much stuff I had bought for baby.

After all the baby showers, I couldn’t imagine that this kid would need anything else for a long time other than stuff like diapers and wipes. Not so. All summer, I found myself buying cute things I saw in sizes 9 months and 12 months under the rationale that he really didn’t have much past 6 months. Even his 6 months wardrobe seemed a little skimpy. Not to mention that it’s really hard to say no when you’re seeing end of summer sales, where the cutest little jammies and onesies are like $3 or $4. I couldn’t help myself.

But now that I managed to fit it all in the car–or cars, to be more exact–I just have to figure out where to put it in my house.


Filed under babies, baby travel, daily life, infants, moms, newbie parents, newborns