Friday, October 2, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday


Last Sunday Thomas turned 10 weeks old and rolled over for the first time, then tried valiantly to capture That Elusive Toy.



Whole-family fun at John's evening soccer practice . . . 


I was feeling irritated as Mary was cutting up bits of paper (trash! mess!) during one of our school lessons. She was listening and talking but intently cutting all the while. Good thing I bit my tongue from yelling at her because it turns out she was carefully cutting out the words that would read "I love you." Practicing fine motor skills, check. Loving her Mama, check.


Bonus reading: "How 'Soul Mate' Nonsense Is Destroying Christian Marriages" by Eric Mataxas.


What We're Watching . . . Family Movie Night last Sunday offered "Follow Me, Boys!" (Disney 1966) which was darling and enjoyed by those ages 4 and above. There are plot lines available for varied age interest from young kids (fun songs!) up to adult (self-discover, maturation, marriage). Bonus points for interesting boys due to the Boy Scouts serving as a framework for the movie. Available for rent at Amazon Instant Streaming.


John calmly and bravely suffered a big disappointment yesterday when his anticipated-for-an-entire-year Altar Boy Camp (run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter) was cancelled due to anticipated bad weather resulting from Hurricane Joaquin. I had checked out from the library a bunch of great books on CD for the road trip, Chris had gotten out all the camping supplies, John had packed his suitcase by himself. Daddy, who would have been taking John out of state, had taken such good care of us, even taking his girls and toddler boy out to a special goodbye breakfast on Thursday and bringing home a double order of restaurant French toast for me to serve on Sunday, knowing that Daddy is the one who makes special breakfasts before Mass.

Our local city is anticipated to receive 8-12" of rain, and we're right on the border of the zone anticipated to receive 12-15" of rain, so it should be a sopping mess.


Today I caught up on filing artwork and school work for July through September. Margaret (4) has recently begun drawing much better so that I now have trouble distinguishing whether she or her 6-year-old sister drew a picture.

Follow 7 Quick Takes Friday over at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cereal Was Our Ham

We recently discovered a case of our own "cutting off the end of the ham," which, when corrected, has helped our morning routine.

A young woman was preparing a ham dinner. After she cut off the end of the ham, she placed it in a pan for baking.

Her friend asked her,"Why did you cut off the end of the ham"?

And she replied ,"I really don't know but my mother always did, so I thought you were supposed to."

Later when talking to her mother she asked her why she cut off the end of the ham before baking it, and her mother replied, "I really don't know, but that's the way my mom always did it."

A few weeks later while visiting her grandmother, the young woman asked, "Grandma, why is it that you cut off the end of a ham before you bake it?"

Her grandmother replied, "Well dear, otherwise it would never fit into my baking pan."

What was our ham? Eating cold cereal for breakfast!

NO CEREAL without special permission. WAIT for hot breakfast.

Because I have an infant, I currently am not the first one downstairs in the dark of the morning like I am when my babies are older and through toddlerhood. Instead, I wake, change baby's diaper, nurse baby, pump, change baby's diaper again, and by then an hour has passed. During that time, my four kids would run downstairs unsupervised, tear into the boxes of cereal, eat a bunch of it, and I'd come downstairs to find bowls of soggy remnants spread all over, milk spilled everywhere, the jug of milk getting warm on the counter, and kids playing (and fighting). No morning chores had been completed and, most importantly, the kids were in a mindset that this was now their Playing Time, not Mama's Morning Routine Time.

I would interrupt their play and rope them into morning chores (e.g., emptying the dishwasher) or family prayer time, and they'd fight me because their mindset was a post-cereal mindset. Then I'd cook a hot breakfast and the kids weren't hungry enough to eat it and it would go to waste. So, we'd start school instead and within a half hour, they were all famished for real food, thus interrupting our attempt at schoolwork.

By then my eyeballs were swirling in my head and steam was coming out of my ears.

All of this, I came to see, could be traced to the cold cereal.

And the cold cereal was our 'ham.'

For two years until a couple months prior to Thomas' birth, I woke up first around 6:00, crept silently downstairs, and exercised. While I was working out, the kids would each wake up and they were allowed to eat cold cereal in order to tide them over till I cooked hot breakfast, which was delayed due to my exercise. There was a reason for eating cold cereal.

Now, there has been no reason to eat cold cereal for about four months. So, I declared a new rule by fiat and I designed a sign with the nearest piece of construction paper and marker that wasn't dried up, which I posted in the pantry: NO CEREAL WITHOUT SPECIAL PERMISSION. WAIT FOR HOT BREAKFAST.

This change has significantly improved our mornings. The children did come to understand the reason why they had been allowed to eat cereal and that the reason is currently not occurring. Now, for two weeks, the 8-year-old empties the dishwasher first thing without my asking. The kids play fairly nicely together. As soon as I come downstairs, I am making them hot breakfast, which they are ready to eat because they're actually hungry. Slowly, slowly our morning routine is getting faster so that I can again reach my goal of always starting school by nine o'clock in the morning.

We probably all have 'hams' that need regular review to make sure we're doing what meets our family's needs now, not the needs of the past.

So, what's your 'ham'?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review of Treasure Box books

I didn't notice when my book review of the Treasure Box series was published in August over at TAN Homeschool's great website. These books are such a winner with preschoolers. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Feast of the Archangels

Back when I had two and three children, I was That Mom who was great at living the Catholic liturgical life and immersing my children in such. Along came Number 4 and I really began "just surviving." With Number 5, I basically feel like a hero if we're all at Mass on Sundays and nobody is barefoot.

I do have on my Gmail calendar some helpful feast day reminders which get emailed to myself automatically: in the 'Notes' section, I include links of things to do so I don't have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

Today is the Feast of the Archangels, so I printed out two coloring pages (with catechetical information on the back) and handed the tots some crayons (see here and here).
Mary wrote her own prayer:

Somehow the children thought that the Feast of the Archangels is a day worthy of greeting cards, so I was gifted with three sweet ones.

Dear Mama, I can't wait till tonight. Will we have ice cream or watch a movie or something else?
Since it's a feast day, I think we should do something special. Love, Mary

Margaret loves Mama. Happy Angel Day. Love, Margaret

Dear Mama, Happy archangels' Day. I hope you are feeling good today.
I am sorry about not listening to you. Love, Joseph (as dictated to Big Sister Mary)

My only hope of baking something or getting a dessert on the table now is to keep the pantry stocked with junky mixes, like brownies and cakes. Today we made chocolate chip cookies in heart-shaped cake molds, and a certain 6-year-old swiped a bite before I could safely lock them away.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What We're Reading: "Obadiah the Bold"

I have a thing against pirates. (Just like I have a thing against murderers, thieves, and thugs.)

I don't think this should be controversial but it is because there are cartoons about lovable pirates, children's books about friendly pirates, and even Talk Like a Pirate Day.

But I've never allowed friendly pirate play among my tots for the same reason Michael O'Brien insists that the only permissible dragons are evil dragons ("A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind"--I recommend this for all parents). If my kids are going to "play pirate," it needs to be that there is a Good Guy trying to capture and bring justice to the Pirate while rescuing the victims on the ship.

Pirates are bad guys--always! Pirates are by definition "a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea" or "any plunderer, predator, etc." Pirates steal hard-earned goods belonging to others, they kill people, and they do other acts unspeakable on a family blog. If they didn't do those things, they wouldn't be pirates.

So, I truly dislike friendly pirates seen on children's shows like Veggie Tales and I won't let my children watch them.

I was sharing this little rant--that I know in this modern world makes me seem loony--to a kindred spirit of mine when she gasped, "Have you read "Obadiah the Bold"?"

Why, no, I hadn't!

So, she rushed off to get this book from her shelf and loaned it to me. "Obadiah the Bold" is the story of a little Quaker boy who receives a spyglass for his birthday and desires to become a pirate when he grows up. But one day, his siblings "play pirate" with him: they tie him up, lock him in a dark closet, then make him walk the plank. Obadiah is understandably terrified and hated playing pirate. When he talks to his wise father about it, his daddy explains to him that Obadiah's grandfather was an honorable and incredibly brave sailor and a loving captain of his ship. "That's what I want to be when I grow up, Daddy!"

We don't want to squelch little boys' desires to be swashbuckling, brave, and bold . . . we want to channel their desires in the proper direction . . . away from pirates!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

What We're Reading: "Rabbit Hill"

I had never heard of Robert Lawson's "Rabbit Hill" (1944) but picked up the audiobook version of it while perusing the shelf at the public library recently. This book turned out to be an absolute delight, most loved by the eight-year-old and me.

Mothers of boys will appreciate this excerpt, as Mother Rabbit worries about the new folks moving in to the human's house: 
"DOWN in the Rabbit burrow Mother was worrying harder than usual. Any occurrence, good or bad, which upset the quiet order of Mother's days always brought on a fit of worry, and of course the present great excitement had resulted in a perfect frenzy. She had thought of every danger or unpleasantness which might accompany the arrival of new Folks and was now inventing new and unlikely ones. She had discussed the possibility of Dog, Cats, and Ferrets; of shotguns, rifles, and explosives; of traps and snares; of poisons and poison gases. There might even be BOYS! "
This is a charming, light story of a bevy of small animals who anticipate the new folks moving into the long-empty farmhouse. "There's folks and there's folks."

I highly recommend this one for the whole family!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Parish Carnival 2016

The annual carnival is our parish's biggest annual fundraiser and an event our children anticipate all year. About two months ahead of time, they each draw up little calendars to mark off the days. 

I look forward to it all year because I can buy Miss C.K.'s famous beer bread at the ladies' bake sale!

A fine mist and occasional outright sprinkle kept us wet all day, which unfortunately resulted in fewer crowds (= less fundraising). The temperature was quite pleasant and many of the games and bouncy houses were simply housed indoors, so the experience was pretty good.

Cotton candy!

Mary and friends


Thomas amicably spent most of the day sleeping in my sling.

John (8) got to be a Big Boy this year and stay behind with Daddy during his end-of-day volunteer shift at the BBQ booth while I took the younger children home. Age has its privileges.

Teaching the children to walk like ducklings

As we drove home, Mary (6) remarked wistfully, "I wish Carnival could last all year . . ."

The children were absolutely tuckered out by their long day of excitement. Not only did they all actually get tucked in bed without protest at 8:00, but they were all (except Miss Night Owl, of course) asleep within five minutes.

Friday, September 25, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday


Mary (6) had one of her stories, "The Castle Blessed," printed by one of those make-your-own-book companies (and doesn't understand the difference between this and 'being published'). Her joy was precious to behold . . . 

. . . and I considered it well worth the cost of the book when she unveiled her big surprise: the dedication to me!

"This book is dedicated to my mommy who taught me to read and write. Thank you, Mama. I love you."


Thomas found his hands this week. Interestingly, this discovery alone now entertains him for quite a few minutes in a baby seat, so I can finally set him down sometimes. Finally!


When Thomas wasn't busy watching his hands float, he was busy gaining weight: at his two-month well-baby check, he weighed in at 13 lbs 12 oz, which means the chunker gained 12 ounces in the 7 days since I turned in my rental scale. Since he's only been off bottles for a week and a half, it was a comfort to see confirmation that he really and truly is gaining beautifully from exclusively breastfeeding.


On Wednesday we took a family day trip to a small farm.


I've been reading aloud "The Lost World" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a 1912 fantasy novel written during the period of fascination with the nascent theory of evolution and the growing field of paleontology. This book is assigned by John Senior's "Good Book List," as used by Angelicum Academy. As I began, I discovered that the book is highly challenging, written at a Lexile level 1250--essentially senior year of high-school or college-level reading. Would my kids even have interest, and why on earth is this assigned for third grade reading?

Nonetheless, my doubts are unfounded: John (8) and Mary (6) love it every night, even jumping up and down with glee when we begin. One night Mary was writing (scrawling) at terrific speed in her notebook while I read and I discovered later that she was doing essentially a Charlotte Mason-style narration.

"Roomer [rumor] of seeing tairadactol [pterodactyl] in South Cairalinea. There is fear of dinasor's, fear of the fucher [future]. They just set camp and chalenjer [Professor Challenger] said on his last visit he clom [climbed] a tree and killed a tairadactyal [pterodactyl]. He tried to bring back the body of it but it was lost in the river. The only evedense [evidence] he had was a wing of the tairadacktol [pterodactyl]. Then chalanjer [Challenger] said it was a stork with leatherly wing's but he was joking and they are camping at the edge of a clif. They said that they would either find a way up or go back to were they started. Then they said look the plato [plateau] has life. He pointed to a snake. Then chalenjer [Challenger]  said yes but will you not grab me by the chin?"


This postpartum time has been very challenging for me, more so than I ever express on this public blog. This week, after long, long talks, we changed our curriculum for the entire week: no book work, instead attending The School of Life.

Subject matter? Learning how to be a family of seven!

With book work cleared away temporarily, I could take as much time as I needed to run the kids through morning routine so it doesn't take an hour, or through meal clean-up, or through bedtime routine (yes, we really do have to pick up our clothes every day, just like I've been saying for six years). This project is worth a whole blog post of its own some day.

I'm so glad I homeschool so Chris and I can focus our teaching on whatever needs to be taught--even (ESPECIALLY) if those things are life skills!

It will remain a great accomplishment if I can get the children's bedtimes and waking times moved back somewhat earlier again, especially Miss Night Owl who is regularly discovered at nine, nine-thirty, even ten reading by flashlight . . .

Reading "Uncle Remus" too late at night


Bonus Reading: "Motherhood, Screened Off" by Susan Dominus sums up what Chris has been hearing me rail about for years now regarding my distaste for personal screen time. When we read books in each other's presence, whether at home in the den or on a public bus, others know what book we are reading and can engage with us. "Oh, you're reading such-and-such? How do you like that?" When we read a book on Kindle or the like, everyone else is shut out.

When we read a newspaper or pay bills or write a letter at our desk or look up something in the dictionary or get out our favorite, food-splattered cookbook, everyone in the family can engage with us. When we look those things up on our smart phones, everyone is locked out.

As does the woman in the article, I long ago took to trying to narrate to my children why I'm on the computer. "I'm filing receipts now." "I need to look up your soccer game information." "I want to check the weather." Unfortunately, it is a Band-Aid on a major wound to our society.

See other 7 Quick Takes over at This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Day at the Farm

We spent Wednesday as a family visiting some lovely friends of ours to celebrate their son's fifth birthday. They live on a small homestead about 90 minutes outside of Charlotte. We fulfilled our roles as City Folk, exclaiming with excitement when we saw along the drive a dead deer, a dead mouse in the road, and--most exotic of all--a gopher standing sentry in the grass.

Our children have no pets whatsoever, so you can imagine their awe at this family's cat, dog, dairy cow, calf, coop of chickens, pen of meat rabbits, and several pigs. We had some useful conversations on the way home, sparked by the children saying how they wanted to come back to see the calf "when it is all grown up!" and our explaining that the calf was going to become food for the family before too much longer.

"Yum, this dress is delicious!"
As might be expected at a Catholic clan gathering, we laughed to note that there were at least three Katherines, two Christophers, two Johns, and a Mary plus a Margaret plus a Margaret Mary  . . . but with so many kids among the various families running around, I'm sure I didn't catch all the duplicative saint names!

The children have all declared that they want to live with this family forever and, if that is not possible, they want to go back and visit there tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Thomas' Journey from Bottle-feeding to Exclusive Breastfeeding

Thomas' Journey from Bottle-feeding to Exclusive Breastfeeding:

A detailed account that may be of help to other mothers

I have been breastfeeding for nearly nine years, with breaks of only several months. I have breastfed five babies, three of whom had submucosal, posterior tongue ties, one of whom could nurse but developed severe limitations with eating solid foods, and two of whom couldn’t nurse at all without interventions, such as this essay describes. In addition to practical experience, I benefited from the education and certification process to become a La Leche League leader, attending those monthly meetings for about five years before retiring as a Leader.

New to learning about how tongue ties and lip ties can affect breastfeeding? One of the best introductory, overview articles is an interview of Dr. Bobby Ghaheri, M.D., by "The Milk Meg."

This is the story of my fifth baby, Thomas Vincent, whose tongue and lip ties prevented him from nursing, and his journey learning how to be an exclusively breastfed baby. I documented this--in possibly an over-long way!--because I think it will be helpful to someone, somewhere out there who wants to nurse her struggling baby. It may be the mom herself who reads this, or the grandmother or friend, or the doula or midwife, any of whom can share it with the mom.

N.B. This is a special interests blog post and I expect only those with this strong interest in lactation management are going to read it!

WEEK 1 (birth to 7 days)

Even with all my experience with babies nursing normally and abnormally, I was in such a postpartum, hormonal fog that I needed my husband and several friends to tell me that I needed to hire an IBCLC to help Thomas. He wasn’t passing his meconium quickly enough (only one dirty diaper per day): wet diapers don’t count nearly as much as poopy diapers because ‘poop indicates calories!’

Happy birth day! 8 lbs 3 oz

At four days old, I began supplementing him with expressed milk using a blunt syringe; he belatedly transitioned to green poop at five days old and the much-anticipated ‘yellow seedies’ at seven days old.

At five days postpartum, I'd called an IBCLC (international board-certified lactation consultant) for an appointment and sent my husband to rent a hospital-grade breast pump and transfer scale before the lactation consultant even could come out to us: I knew the drill, I knew what was coming.

There are three necessary components to breastfeeding:

  1. production of milk, 
  2. getting the milk out of Mama (her anatomy), and 
  3. getting the milk into Baby (his anatomy). 

A breakdown at any point in that chain results in a baby who is not getting enough milk. In the case of a baby with a tongue tie, the initial problem is getting the milk into Baby, but that results in a failure of Mama producing enough milk: no demand, no supply.

While trying to determine and fix the problem, Rule #1 is to feed the baby. An important and sometimes overlooked fact is that, while older babies who get hungry will cry vociferously, newborns who get hungry get increasingly quiet and sleepy, till they seem content but way too skinny.

When Thomas was six days old, I met with a wonderful lactation consultant, Linda. I’ve worked with three IBCLCs over the years, each devoted and helpful, and I very much appreciate Linda’s wide range of experience: she is also a Registered Nurse and works in a hospital setting, both with regular maternity patients and with premature NICU babies, and works in a home setting (like me, a rather different kind of clientele). A hallmark of a good IBCLC (as I witnessed in mine) is affirming the mother at every interaction in specific ways: “You are such a good mother. You are caring for your baby. Your baby loves you.” A mother who desires to breastfeed and cannot is feeling so broken as a mother and she needs this encouragement.

At the IBCLC's visit, we used a transfer scale and learned that poor Thomas transferred only 4 mL on one side and 0 mL on the other side in 20 minutes. A typical feeding at his age of one week would be about 30 mL (one ounce), so he wasn't consuming nearly enough milk, nor was he signaling my body to make any milk.

Ultimately, we hired the lactation consultant to come to our home for two visits, plus I availed myself of her free follow-up advice many times via phone, text, and (primarily) email. We were still communicating at least weekly two months later.

I began exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding, using the paced bottle-feeding method, which makes the baby work harder and more closely mimics breastfeeding.

WEEK 2 (1 week old)

I began pumping with a hospital-grade pump eight times daily for 15 minutes each, including twice overnight. When pumping exclusively, only a hospital-grade pump will provide enough stimulation to maintain or create supply. A hospital-grade supply costs about $1,500 so a mother typically rents one from a local hospital's lactation department (ours rents them for $40/month).

When pumping, one wants to imitate a nursing newborn, who should be nursing well 10-12 times per 24 hours. It is important to pump about eight times per day, including at least right before bed, in the middle of the night, and right at waking, with no more than about a 4 hours' break during the night feedings. (It is best to consult with an IBCLC about this when establishing a milk supply than to rely on blog posts like this one.)

An exclusively pumping mama is really doing something similar (not equivalent) to feeding twins. She is "feeding the pump" about eight times daily plus feeding the baby 10-12 times daily, and she may be attempting to feed the baby by both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding at most or all of those sessions. I found the idea of "caring for twins" helped me psychologically because I was crushed under the duties of pumping and caring for my newborn: once I thought of them as twins, I realized that everybody knows caring for twins is crushing, so what I was doing was anticipated, in that sense.

My milk supply remained "in the tank" for a week more even though I was pumping around the clock, taking a galactogue, and drinking sufficient water. We eliminated the main three causes of milk failing to "come in"--blood loss at delivery, retained placenta, thyroid problems—and never did figure out what was going wrong.

I reached out to my former LLL community, where those wonderful ladies embraced me immediately. By the end of one day of emails and text messaging, a mother whom I'd never met agreed to donate frozen breast milk to Thomas, so my husband drove to pick it up. I was moved to tears by the generosity of Thomas' other "milk mommy" (who ended up donating to us a second batch later when we still needed more).

Thomas was 11 days old before my body made enough milk to match his requirements. That is actually a rather long time when one considers that, without supplementation, the newborn would have spent that time losing weight and crying a lot, or slowly sleeping more and more because he was undernourished.
Getting enough sucking with his pacifier

This week, I bought my baby a pacifier, which may seem standard to many American moms but wasn’t to me: I'd raised four babies without using a pacifier. However, this time around, I realized that babies need a lot of sucking for proper oral-muscular and neurological development and that an exclusively bottle-fed baby isn’t going to get enough hours of sucking from ten or so bottles per day. Thomas did not like to spend time at the breast because it was so frustrating and I decided, for his sake, he deserved a pacifier, which, it turns out, he loved.

WEEK 3 (2 weeks old)

Waiting for his frenectomy at two weeks old

Thomas' appointment for a frenectomy to surgically correct his tongue and lip tie were scheduled for a month out, but a patient cancellation let us get Thomas in for his frenectomy at two weeks old. Then, every six to eight hours (including in the middle of the night) for the next two weeks, I had to stretch Thomas’ wounds so they wouldn’t reattach while healing (following these video instructions from our doctor).

At 15 days old, I was able to freeze extra milk for the first time!

At 20 days old, Thomas was able to transfer about half an ounce of milk before tiring out. I rented a transfer scale from the hospital: such a scale isn’t a standard scale to weigh a baby, but a more sensitive one that can measure exactly how many grams a baby gains in a feeding. (One gram = one milliliter, and 30 milliliters = one ounce.) When using a transfer scale, one weighs the baby in clothing and diaper ahead of time, then nurses immediately. If the baby poops during the feeding, don’t change the diaper; if the baby spits up during the feeding, don’t wipe it away but make sure the milk stays on the baby’s own clothing. After the feeding, weigh the baby in exactly the same clothing and diaper, then calculate the weight gain, which will equal how much milk the baby transferred from Mama. I find a transfer scale (which rents for $40 per week at our local hospital) an invaluable tool for getting a baby from bottle to breast.

My emotions were so dark during those weeks. When Thomas was exclusively bottle-fed, I tearfully asked my LC if he would ever know I was special as his mommy, or would I just be anyone who can feed him a bottle. I truly, sincerely felt that he wouldn't know me, and it was such a joy to me when, by about a month old, I could see that he stopped crying if I picked him up, but no one else: he knows me!

WEEK 4 (3 weeks old)

I took Thomas to two sessions of Cranial Sacral Therapy, one before his frenectomy and one after, having heard a lot of "buzz" around this new practice for the last few years. I tend to steer clear of things that seem to be "New Age" and/or that can't be proven in placebo-controlled, double-blind trials. Ultimately, I didn’t perceive any benefit from CST, but I have only two anecdotal experiences with it.

By three weeks old, Thomas could transfer one ounce of milk during his best nursing sessions before falling asleep from fatigue, which looks different than a baby being satisfied and “milk drunk.” This was an improvement, but he had a long way to go considering that his intake was an average 30 ounces per day and his bottle feedings were about 3 ounces each.

Around this time is when I bought a Medela Special Needs Feeder (SNF), formerly known as a Haberman feeder. It is an extremely useful bottle for rewarding even the weakest sucks (which is why it is used with babies who have challenges, such as Down Syndrome) and teaches oral muscle strength in order to learn to breastfeed. I used this excellent bottle, although not exclusively.

Ten pounds at three weeks old
I felt vulnerable during this time. One day we lost our power for many hours. Thank God, I had bought an electric converter to connect my Symphony pump to the car battery, as I had to pump in the car in our driveway that afternoon. Later, it was 9:30 at night and I was minutes away from having to go pump in the dark in the car and face doing that over the course of the night when our power came back on. Even if I had formula in the house, I couldn't have gone 12 hours without pumping without me getting sick with mastitis, and that created an alarming feeling.

It has been vulnerable to go out in public. I learned quickly that if I had used powdered formula, it wouldn't really spill nor did it require its own cooler and ice packs, but my containers of milk spilled a few times! And then I had no milk with which to feed my baby! I became very careful to seal everything tight and I'd take enough milk with me for three times as long as my outing required, just in case I spilled some.

WEEK 5 (4 weeks old)

Eleven pounds at four weeks old

Thomas continued transferring only one ounce and fatiguing easily. This was an emotionally dark time because I felt internal pressure to get back to a normal life caring for my other four children. I tried going back to Mass (too early), I tried resuming homeschooling the core curriculum, but meanwhile I was racing back to the pump so many times per day, leaving my children unsupervised, and trying not to lose my temper when they understandably got into mischief. If my baby had any hope of learning to breastfeed exclusively, I was willing to do this much work, but I felt no hope, so was this all a waste of my time and effort, and that of everyone supporting me?

WEEK 6 (5 weeks old)

At five weeks old, Thomas began being able to transfer two ounces on occasion! This was also the first time he began occasionally rejecting plastic (his bottle and his pacifier) for his real mommy, a milestone that remains utterly precious to me. I felt like Thomas was slowly falling in love with nursing.
Bittersweet that other people could feed my baby

This week was the first time I felt confident enough that Thomas could breastfeed enough quantity that I'd go out in public with only one 3-oz bottle's worth of milk just in case. And then he achieved the milestone of not needing that bottle when we went out! (It was two more weeks, though, that I still packed a bottle every time we went out, even though he didn’t use it, before I left that ‘security blanket’ at home.)

WEEK 7 (6 weeks old)

At six weeks old, Thomas was able to transfer three ounces! This was the milestone I was watching for because that meant Thomas could--at least sometimes--manage an entire feeding on his own strength.

Waking up to an empty bottle, never having used it overnight

I set my sights first on making nighttime easier: It had been brutally exhausting overnight to attempt nursing the baby, then prepare him bottles, then get him back to sleep, and then stay awake myself pumping, only to catch a few winks before the baby woke hungry again. All these weeks, I’d been getting by on three to five cumulative hours of sleep with wakings of one to two hours during the night, so making nighttime better was the first place I focused. I noticed at six weeks old that Thomas began to be satisfied increasingly by breastfeeding overnight and would fall back to sleep, and one night he needed only one bottle all night! Soon, I eliminated bottles from our overnight routine!

It was this week that I, for the first time--despite my lactation consultant’s encouragement and assurance this whole time--felt a glimmer of hope that Thomas would actually learn to be exclusively breastfed. Invigorated by new hope, I began tracking not just daily pumping but my bottle-feeding and my breastfeeding. I began watching numbers carefully to see if Thomas could take over maintaining my supply, which required I begin pumping a little bit less to see what he could do.

I began trying hard always to breastfeed Thomas first, then offer a bottle only if he were crying. I noticed that at those times he would take only one ounce by bottle, then spit the nipple out of his mouth: by following his lead instead of putting him on a schedule of how many ounces he would be given at what times, I knew he was just needing an occasional “topping off.” As soon as I began this effort, Thomas’ intake by bottle dropped to a cumulative eight ounces per day (over about eight bottles), which told me he was taking a good 20 ounces directly from Mama!

This article on “responsive bottle-feeding” is very interesting and instructive, in my opinion.

WEEK 8 (7 weeks old)

This week I learned that weaning down from pumping 40 ounces daily over 8 sessions to pumping 20 ounces daily over 4 sessions in just more than a week is really, really stupid, and my case of mastitis told me so.

On the bright side, I watched Thomas reduce from about eight “top-off” bottles per day to five of them, to three of them, to finally the grandest milestone of them all:

Bottles on the drying rack

At seven weeks and five days old, Thomas went an entire day without needing any supplementary bottles! And he hasn’t needed any in the days since!

Storing away all Thomas' bottles for if we ever need them for another baby,
but this baby doesn't need them!

WEEK 9 (8 weeks old)

8-week birthday and 13 pounds even!

At eight weeks old, I returned our rental scale to the hospital—a huge symbolic gesture for me because I no longer could rely on the scale to confirm that Thomas was nursing well and gaining weight. I gave up my 'security blanket.'

WEEK 10 (9 weeks old)

From birth, I had kept track of Thomas' weight on a scratch paper taped to my mirror. I knew that when bottle-fed, he was gaining at a certain rate and I watched him continue to gain at that same rate as he gradually gave up bottles. When I returned the scale, I took comfort in knowing that Thomas would go to a well-baby check one week later and I would know if he were continuing to gain well.

13 lbs 12 oz at 9 weeks

Indeed, in one week since returning the scale, Thomas gained 12 ounces! He's doing just fine and I truly feel confident for the first time in his nine weeks.

Thomas is now an exclusively breastfed baby. The next part of our journey is for me to wean down safely from pumping, which will take some more weeks.

Special thanks

When being certified as a La Leche League leader, one is taught that studies show that the most influential factor for whether breastfeeding will be successful or not is the degree of support the husband offers his wife. While a League Leader, I saw this truth exemplified again and again. Special thanks go to my husband Chris for his support during these two long months, without which I am certain Thomas would not be exclusively breastfeeding today. Chris ran the household entirely during my postpartum time, plus brought in the help of his parents and then my stepfather to stay with us so I wasn’t actually running the home myself until six weeks postpartum (and after that he still helps tremendously). Chris spent the necessary money on hiring the lactation consultant, renting the pump and scale, and buying accessory pump parts, all of which adds up. Chris did grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, watching of our children, and driving to a strangers’ home to pick up her breast milk for me. Chris listened to my woes, dried my tears, and always encouraged me that getting Thomas successfully nursing was our family’s current top priority, and that it ranked above my cooking dinner or dressing the two-year-old in daytime clothing or homeschooling our third and first graders. If Chris hadn’t chosen to support me in these ways, my efforts would not have been enough, and for this I thank him.