We’re very pleased to share an abridged excerpt from the new book, The Virtual Breastfeeding Culture: Mother-to-Mother Support in the Digital Age, by Lara Audelo.
Have you benefited from the power of online mom-to-mom breastfeeding support? Tamara’s story below is a testament to this power in making breastfeeding work.
Somehow through a mix of my own upbringing and arbitrary standards forced on women to be “better” or “best,” I went into motherhood with expectations that reality slowly crushed, sending me into a chasm of self-doubt. Then people — strangers — reached through the Internet and pulled me out.
It took us seven months to get pregnant for the first time, and after two active, healthy trimesters I experienced preterm labor at 27 weeks. I was rushed to the prenatal intensive care unit and given fluids and medication to stop my contractions. My husband watched the monitor with a stoic face, almost willing the contractions to stop. I remember asking him how big a baby is at 27 weeks, and his answer was, “Not big enough.”
That was the first time my heart swelled with the enormity that is motherhood. I think for most people, it happens the moment their baby is born. For me, that day was my introduction. It was heavy and scary, and I felt like my body was failing to do something that seemed effortless for other women. That prayerful day turned into ten weeks of strict bed rest and tocolysis. The days were long and fear-filled. With nothing but time on my hands, I paged through the bibles of natural birth and breastfeeding. I dog-eared pages on latch and positioning, practiced Kegel exercises, and tried not to focus on my weakening body and spirit.
Early in the morning just past 37 weeks gestation, my water broke. I leaked fluid from ruptured membranes for 12 hours without a single contraction, and as the intravenous Pitocin began to drip, my granola dreams for an un-medicated birth slipped away. I held on tight, almost to a fault, as induced back labor worked against my body, which was so weak after being confined to a hospital bed for the last 10 weeks. I got an epidural and delivered a healthy baby boy, who was placed on my chest smelling of tears and musky clay. Looking back on that moment, it was not joy that I felt; it was relief. His safe arrival was my biggest accomplishment to date.
Within minutes of his birth, I had nurses with blue gloves manipulating my breast into my son’s tiny mouth. I felt clumsy and awkward as he refused to suckle. Over the next two days doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants bustled in and out of our room watching him cry, monitoring his climbing bilirubin, and commenting on his rapid weight loss. I remember one nurse rolling in a hospital-grade breast pump. She hooked me up to two small cups and told me to pump so that I could feed my baby colostrum. I turned up the pump and sat crying over those empty cups until I had abrasions on my areolae. I was given nipple shields, a supplemental nursing system and breast shells. My feelings of failure culminated with my husband finger-feeding our hungry baby formula, doctor’s orders. I had been a mother for less than 48 hours, and already I felt like I had failed him. People were examining me as if I was auditioning to be a mother: watching me struggle with nursing, with sleeping, with balance. I remember once we had our son home, I was trying to bring him to the breast before supplementing with pumped milk, and my mother said, “none of my babies ever cried like that.”…
I felt like both my pregnancy and birth expectations had slipped away, and I refused to give up on nursing. After a particularly frustrating day of trying to get my son to latch followed by finger feeding him milk and pumping every two hours, I posted a Facebook status about how hard it all was. A friend I hadn’t talked to since high school messaged me with her story and offered me help and support. Then another message came in, this time from a college friend, again commiserating with how consuming it all is at first, but encouraging me nonetheless. People I hadn’t talked to in years, even blog comments from people I had never even met–all cheering me on. These women were sharing their stories and encouraging me to nurse my baby.
I found a local La Leche League meeting, and was so embarrassed to attend with a baby who screamed at the breast. I sat through the meeting with my tiny infant in a room full of strangers telling their stories. I was amazed as they shared so many of the same feelings that had kept me so isolated. Meeting after meeting, I watched and shared, and learned not only to breastfeed but to be a mother. I found a weekly Twitter chat on Thursday nights called #bfcafe. Women used this hashtag all week to ask questions and share anecdotal stories and pictures of their breastfeeding journey. The women behind the hashtag–they lifted me up too.
My firstborn latched after 11 weeks and went on to nurse for 25 months, when he self-weaned. Those online messages, La Leche League meetings, Twitter chats, and blog posts got me through eight months of biting, chronic milk blisters, growth spurts, and multiple nursing strikes. At the same time, these strangers, friends, and strangers-turned-friends celebrated a love for nursing. They modeled parenting at the breast and helped me to revel in a motherly confidence that grew with each feeding.
We suffered a miscarriage when my son was a little older than a year, but became pregnant for a third time last Fall. My firstborn weaned half way through my second trimester on his own terms. With this pregnancy, a lot of fear came flooding back surrounding my miscarriage, preterm labor, birth trauma, and nursing difficulties. I read through forums on the La Leche League website, reached out to friends who had a second child, and prepared myself and my body, for birth and breastfeeding. I found a doula, talked to lactation consultants, and shared my fears online. I reached far and wide, and got back nothing but love and support in return.
I birthed my second son naturally in three hours and with only three pushes, in a hospital with the help of my husband and our doula. My body successfully carried a baby to 39 weeks, and I bravely and confidently gave birth to him on my own terms. They say you don’t get a medal for birthing naturally, but you actually get more. I have never felt more powerful, confident, or feminine than I did on that day. I put him to my breast and he nursed without hesitation from his very first feeding. My firstborn made me a mother, and my second child made me an even stronger one. Each time I nurse, I am hit with an instant wave of motherly love and vulnerability that comes with seeing your children grow. In succeeding at this primitive task, I have gained not only two secure and healthy boys, but also a mothering self-efficacy that can never be taken away.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about being a mother and about nursing my children. I have reached out to friends and strangers. I started sharing my journey through my writing. I shared my struggles, my triumphs, and my love for breastfeeding with the World Wide Web. I gave personal and intimate details of my postpartum anxiety, my birth stories, my miscarriage, and our weaning ceremony. I shared it all unapologetically, not because I am an expert on motherhood, but because I discovered that reading other women’s stories is a vital piece to navigating the journey. I wanted to give back a small portion of what was given to me. I’ve supported, without judgment, women who nursed for six days and women who nursed for six years. I have shared my breastfeeding story over and over until that pain went away, and then I did everything in my power to help other mothers never have to feel the way that I did because I wasn’t alone–and I never failed. I am so grateful to the women who reached out to me, and if I have helped one person nurse one baby during one moment of weakness, I’ve done enough.
We don’t live in an age where upon giving birth, we can be swept underneath a red tent by our elders to learn by example how to nurse, love, and care for our children, but we do live in a time where honest, supportive, and knowledgeable women can be found at any moment of the day or night with just the click of a mouse. Just log onto Twitter while you are feeding an infant, bleary-eyed at 3 a.m.; someone else across the country is staring at her phone doing the exact same thing. The two of you are instantly connected. Reach out and share the journey.
These formulas are carefully composed to address different causes of low milk supply and different situations. They use combinations of herbs to balance and enhance their effects.
Which ones is right for you? Here’s our guide to determining which Motherlove product will meet your needs:
My milk supply has dropped. This may have happened because of a separation, illness, pumping, going back to work, or another reason.
We recommend our More Milk Plus formula. It’s Motherlove’s most popular product, and the best-selling breastfeeding supplement in the US. It contains fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettle, and fennel seed. This combination helps most women increase their supply within 24-48 hours. Available in a grain alcohol or alcohol-free liquid extract; and as a liquid extract concentrate in vegetarian capsules. Not for use during pregnancy.
I need to increase milk supply, and I have PCOS, insufficient glandular tissue (breast hypoplasia), have had breast surgery, or am an adoptive mom:
We recommend our More Milk Special Blend formula, which contains the herbs in More Milk Plus blended with goat’s rue, an herb that helps to build mammary tissue. Specially-formulated at the request of lactation consultants, this product can help increase breast milk supply for women who have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), did not see an increase in breast size during pregnancy or have suspected or confirmed insufficient glandular tissue (breast hypoplasia), have had previous breast surgeries, or for adoptive mothers. Increases in milk supply are seen after 2-3 weeks of use of this product. Available in a grain alcohol or alcohol-free liquid extract and as a liquid extract concentrate in vegetarian capsules. This formula is not for use during pregnancy.
We also have a Goat’s Rue extract (single herb). Goats rue is not contraindicated during pregnancy, as is fenugreek and blessed thistle, which are included in More Milk Special Blend. Lactation consultants have used it in the last 2 weeks of pregnancy with women who know from previous pregnancies they have serious difficulty producing milk. Available in a grain alcohol base, and as a liquid extract concentrate in vegetarian capsules. Discuss product use with a healthcare professional before using during pregnancy.
I need to increase milk supply, but I cannot take fenugreek:
We recommend our More Milk formula, which has blessed thistle, nettle and fennel but does not contain fenugreek for those who may be sensitive to its potential side effects (usually gastric upset that may occur in either mother or baby). Not for use during pregnancy.
I’m pregnant and nursing, and need to increase my milk supply:
We recommend our More Milk Two formula, which contains raspberry leaf, nettle and alfalfa – a nourishing combination of herbs that is specially formulated to safely increase the breast milk supply of pregnant breastfeeding mothers. Alcohol-free and safe for use during pregnancy.
I prefer or need to take only Fenugreek, or that is what my lactation consultant recommended.
We recommend our Fenugreek extract. This single herb extract is most recommended by lactation consultants to quickly help increase breast milk supply. Available in an alcohol-free liquid extract. Not for use during pregnancy.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, great, cure, or prevent any disease.
Witch Hazel is an herb many mothers come to swear by after pregnancy and childbirth, and we thought we’d take a moment to share some details about this powerful (some mothers might say sanity saving!) plant.
But first, what does this plant have to do with witches? It’s likely an etymological mix-up, stemming from the Middle English term “wiche,” which means pliant or bendable and has nothing to do with witches. Or perhaps the use of the branches of the plant as divining rods is related the name.
Witch hazel is a shrub or small tree growing in the rich soils of the eastern part of the United States. The star shaped leaves become brilliant colors in the fall while the round fruits, which have projections, shoot their seeds several feet as they ripen.
Witch hazel leaves and bark contain astringent tannins which stop internal and external bleeding. Both the bark and leaves are used to treat hemorrhoids, varicose veins, swelling and bruises, and sore nipples. Internally it stops diarrhea, vaginal discharge and excess menses. Witch hazel is an ingredient found in eye drops and many skin ointments. It was used widely by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
And of course it’s used widely after childbirth to soothe sore perineal muscles, reduce swelling, slow bleeding, and help ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids. Used in a bath, as a spray directly on tissues or on a pad, or as a balm on hemorrhoids, it’s an effective herbal remedy recommended by moms and doctors alike.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
You’ll want to listen to our latest podcast on Maya Abdominal Therapy.
Tanya spoke with Catherine Gregory, a certified practitioner of the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy. She explained the origins of the therapy, how it can help women for anything from infertility, to painful menstruation, to incontinence and digestion. She explained what it’s like to have the therapy, how women can learn to do it for themselves, and how to find a certified practitioner.
Millions of women experience stress incontinence after having a baby. And millions more will develop incontinence as they age. But there’s a lot you can do about it, and our podcast discussion this month is all about that.
Tanya spoke with Tasha Mulligan, physical therapist and personal trainer, and creator of the Hab-It: Pelvic Floor DVD. She’s passionate about helping women like herself rehab their pelvic floors and reverse stress incontinence.
They spoke about how the pelvic floor is related to incontinence, how to properly do Kegels, how rehabbing your pelvic floor is about much more than Kegels, and answered lots of your questions!
Morning sickness is caused by the rapid change in hormonal levels that occurs during the first weeks of pregnancy. This change often results in nausea. There are a some women who never feel any morning sickness at all, and most women begin to feel better at the beginning of the second trimester. If you have severe and/or long-term nausea, if it’s accompanied by fever or pain, or it it continues well into the second trimester, be sure to consult your health care provider.
Herbs: The following herbs are recommended if experiencing morning sickness.
Nutrition: Eat small frequent meals with complex carbohydrates. Avoid high fat and junk foods. Eat a protein rich snack before you go to bed. Low blood sugar in the morning can cause morning sickness, so eat something before you get out of bed. Drink plenty of liquids and remember that it may be easier to drink a nutritious broth for some of your meals. Take B complex vitamins, especially vitamin B6.
Homeopathy: Natural Healing For the Pregnant Woman by Elizabeth Burch, lists many symptoms of nausea along with specific remedies for each. Common remedies for nausea include ipecac, sepia, nux vomica, and arsenicum. Only take these remedies in a homeopathic form, and consult a homeopathic practitioner for a personalized care plan.
Flower Essences: Flower essences work on the emotions. They are made by placing flowers in a clear bowl filled with spring water, and infusing them in sunlight for several hours. The finished water is usually preserved with brandy or some other type of alcohol. Bach flower essences are probably best known because of Edward Bach’s work in discovering their use on healing emotions. Mimulus and Scleranthus are two flower essences used for morning sickness.
Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy involves using a plant’s essential oils. These oils are normally very strong, and should not be taken internally without supervision. Oils can simply be sniffed or used in a spritzer to relieve nausea, stress or headaches. Drops can be put on a handkerchief to inhale and use as a compress. Add a few drops of your favorite scent to a massage oil. Citrus smells help relax queasiness, so it may also be helpful to smell lemon slices.
Acupressure: Acupressure works by stimulating the energy meridians of the body, thus alleviating stress, increasing circulation, and relieving nausea and headaches. The acupressure points that control nausea are on the wrist crease, in line with the little finger, and in the hollow between the collarbones. Press and rub on these points throughout the day. Acupressure wrist bands are available in most drug stores for dealing with nausea and sea sickness.
Relaxation: Fears or apprehensions you may have of parenthood can cause stress. There are many ways to relieve this and other types of stress, so take the time to find those that work best for you. Quiet time alone, reading, and exercise can help. Fresh air also does wonders to relieve nausea, so get outside and breathe or keep the windows open to encourage air circulation. Daily meditation is very helpful — bring your focus to a place of calm and centeredness, repeating “I am peace.” Lay comfortably on the floor or bed and release any tension you have in your body. Start at your feet and work your way up your body, tensing and releasing all your muscle tension. Be sure to release all that you are holding onto in your belly. There are also relaxation and meditation tapes and digital recordings available for purchase.
Visualization: Is there anything in your life that is making you “sick to your stomach?” Visualize yourself moving through it and letting go. See yourself as the radiantly healthy being that you are, creating a perfect vehicle for the soul that has chosen you to be its mother. You are part of a miracle!
Lyme Disease is an serious infection which is on the move. It’s spreading to new areas of the country, posing risks to mothers and babies in pregnancy and infancy, and raising questions about treatment during breastfeeding.
Tanya Lieberman spoke with Linda Smith, IBCLC about Lyme Disease in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Linda spoke about the risks of untreated Lyme Disease, transmission from mothers to babies, symptoms of babies born infected with Lyme Disease, and whether mothers who are breastfeeding need to wean to be treated for Lyme Disease.
Note: This podcast is provided for educational purposes, and is not intended as medical advice.
We asked Marianne Bullock of the Prison Birth Project to answer a few questions about what the experience is like in her area of the country. The Prison Birth Project provides prenatal, labor and postpartum support to women who are incarcerated in Western Massachusetts. Policies regarding pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding can vary by state and facility.
How common is it that a woman gives birth while serving a prison sentence?
The percentage of women in prison who are pregnant is about the same as in our general population, so anywhere from 6-10%. The average sentence of a woman in Massachusetts is 18 months, so most of those women will give birth while incarcerated. In our facility the family counselor does work really hard to help get women out before they deliver, so often times we are lucky to be able to serve clients who are back home with their families and support them in having the birth they envisioned for themselves and their baby.
In your area, where do these mothers give birth? What is particularly challenging for them?
The mothers we work with give birth in the hospital. There are many obstacles and tough situations. One of the most prevalent things is that women are transported with handcuffs to the hospital in labor and in the postpartum period are often transported in 5 point restraints, sometimes only 24 hours after delivery.
I think the most challenging thing that I am witness to as a doula is mothers having to hand off care of their children so they can return to the facility. It’s never an easy transition, but it is a situation that we work really hard with our clients to prepare for in order to make it the least traumatic as possible. Most of the time that looks like taking a lot of time to listen and plan out what will feel the safest for the mom during that transition and in the days following.
Are mothers who want to breastfeed or provide breastmilk for their babies able to do so in your area?
Breastfeeding is actually one of our biggest areas of success. A few years ago we had our first mama who wanted to breastfeed. We put a call out and the breastfeeding coalition donated a hospital grade pump to the organization. We got it cleared with the jail and trained the staff in how to operate it. Since then we have had a number of women choose to breastfeed and a few chose long term breastmilk for their children (one even for 9 months!). It has been amazing. Even though women only have one hour a week to visit when they can breastfeed skin to skin, it has meant so much for bonding and some women’s ability to overcome a feeling of loss of parental control.
What does the Prison Birth Project do?
Several herbs used safely used by women for generations are an excellent source for the increased vitamins and minerals needed during pregnancy, and to prepare your the uterus for labor.
These herbs can easily be made into teas and incorporated into meals on a regular basis. Every person is different, and your body may react differently now to foods than it did previously, but used wisely and in moderation, these herbs make wonderful teas and foods.
These common herbs are available in most natural health food stores and are well-worth using for their nutritionally-packed support during these special months.
This information is provided for educational, and not medical, purposes. Consult your health care provider for advice tailored to your needs.
But did you know that what you put on your skin holds the same potential? And when it comes to the delicate skin of your baby, it’s even more important to use only those products that are gentle and nurturing. Unfortunately, many popular body care products contain chemicals of concern.
We can’t rely on regulation to protect us from potentially dangerous chemicals in our body care products. The FDA has banned just nine chemicals from cosmetics, while the European Union has banned more than 1,000.
Shopping “natural” or “organic” is no guarantee that your products are free of dangerous chemicals. A product that is labeled as being “natural” may be mixed up with synthetic dyes or fragrances. Buying higher cost products is no guarantee either – many are full of the same ingredients and harsh chemicals as the less expensive brands.
So, what can you do to make sure you’re buying products that are safe and pure? Shop for products that don’t contain the chemicals listed below, in either their ingredients or their packaging. You’ll find a detailed explanation of the risks they pose on our website.
Want to find products that don’t contain these ingredients? Use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to search for safe products.
At Motherlove we’ve been committed to making safe, toxin-free, herbal products made with organic ingredients for mothers and babies for over 20 years. We were recently named a “Champion” (the highest level of compliance) of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Our products are all rated a zero (the lowest rating) the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database, and we are proud to publish our complete ingredient lists. Motherlove uses safe, recyclable packaging for our products, and they are free of “shelf life” preservatives and any artificial ingredients. You expect that from “real food.” You should expect that from your body care, as well.
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