Feeding Ava.

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I want to start by saying that I believe fed is best.  Whether that is accomplished with breast milk or formula, I believe that we all do the best we can for our babies with the resources we have available to us and in the circumstances we face.  This is simply the story of my experience feeding my one and only child and that experience has been breastfeeding and a baby led weaning introduction of solid food.  If we have another child, I imagine that the experience will have some similarities but also be unique and different and personal to that child.  I’m not a lactation consultant or a pediatric nutritionist, so I say again – this is simply the story of my experience.  I did learn a few things though from lactation consultants and my extensive online research (wink wink), so I’ll put those little gems (wink wink again) in bold font in case anyone is interested in what I actually learned and not just anecdotal story.

Breastfeeding was not easy.  For the first 6 to 8 weeks (it’s all a blur – I don’t remember exactly), I would start each nursing session with the goal of simply making it through that session.  If there had been the slightest obstacle to me continuing to breastfeed, I don’t know that I would have persevered.  The stars aligned though and really, I had the best situation possible.  I never had a milk supply problem, I didn’t go back to work until Ava was three months old and even then, I only went to the office for four hour stretches, I pumped a bit to be offered to Ava in a bottle when I wasn’t with her (she was never very interested in a bottle), and really – I know I had it easy.  But it was still hard.  It was painful and it was emotional.  But we made it work and at around four months, we really hit our stride and I started to enjoy breastfeeding.  She got her first two teeth at six months old and then the second set at seven/eight months old.  Between six months and nine or ten months, I would be really tense during each feeding session because I had felt the sharpness of those teeth and I did not care for it.  I returned to the mindset of starting each session with the simple goal of making it through THAT session and that session alone.  Ava was overall, in hindsight, not a biter, which I’m very thankful for, but the anticipation and uncertainty was nerve-wracking.  At some point, I grew more comfortable and while my guard is never completely down, I guess I’ve just accepted the fact that she may bite (on purpose or unintentionally) and I’ll survive.  As of now, Ava, at 15 months old, is down to three milk feedings a day and that is working well for us.  She would probably nurse more if I offered – sometimes she tugs at my neck skin, which is her way of saying, “Hey Mama, is the milk shop open?” (she’ll also sometimes pull at Kevin’s neck and look down his shirt, which is pretty funny) but I have stuck with only feeding her milk three times a day for the past couple of weeks.  My goal is to continue to nurse her around three times a day until she’s eighteen months (if she gets a cold, I’ll likely up the feeding count), then feel out if she seems ready to start weaning further.  I imagine we’ll drop to two feedings a day and then one, so I anticipate that it’ll be a slow and steady process.  I’m definitely ready to not feel like a milk cow, but I know I’ll miss the quiet moments that we share.  The thought of weaning is bittersweet, for sure.

As I mentioned, I was lucky and never had a supply problem.  If anything, I had oversupply, especially if she went more than six hours between feedings.  I’d use a hand pump when I first woke up to slow the flow a little bit because otherwise she would sputter and choke a bit.  I know that sometimes there are health issues and supply simply isn’t there, no matter what.  I found that drinking a lot of water (80 ounces a day), eating a balanced diet, and offering milk often was key in establishing and maintaining a good supply.  I used this lactation cookie recipe, which may or may not do anything to help but they’re delicious and any excuse to eat cookies, amiright?  Provided there are no underlying issues, it is truly a supply and demand system.  The more the baby is offered the breast and the more the baby consumes, the more is produced.  I pumped around once a day from the time Ava was about three months old until she was around six months old (I think – I don’t remember for sure) and built up a little supply of frozen milk for her to drink when I was away from her.  I hated pumping and didn’t get much from a pumping session so it felt kind of pointless.  If you pump and don’t get much, don’t worry about how much the baby is consuming, provided the appropriate number of diapers are being change and weight gain is on the curve (even a low curve – Ava was in the 3rd-5th percentile for the first 9 months or so, but she was gaining steady and staying on that curve, so there was no need for concern.)  A baby is always going to get more milk than a pump!  Always.  That’s how our bodies are made.  If we have another child and our lifestyle remains the same in terms of when I go back to work and how often I’m in the office, I anticipate that I won’t pump and we’ll have formula on hand for when I’m not there to feed the baby (provided I am able to/decide to breastfeed in the first place!).  But who knows – why make that plan before it needs to be made?

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We got the go-ahead from our pediatrician to offer cereal at four months, but I was intrigued by the idea of baby led weaning.  After reading Baby Led Weaning:  The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater and talking to Kevin about what it entails, we decided to go that route.  Official baby led weaning means that the baby is only offered breastmilk or formula until they are at least six months old and even then they need to meet other criteria like being able to sit up unsupported, have lost the tongue thrust reflex, and be able to grasp and hold on to food.  The book talks about how a baby’s digestive system isn’t fully developed at four months old.  I am no doctor and know nothing about the development of a baby’s digestive system, but I genuinely believe that it does not hurt to let their little systems develop without the introduction of solid food (even something as mild as rice cereal) in the first six months.

When Ava was six months old, she met the above criteria, so we started introducing solid food to her at that point.  We started slow, but basically gave her whatever we were eating.  Ava loved food from the beginning.  She loves flavor, including a bit of spice, and she’s been very good about trying things.  It was really, really cute to watch her discover different flavors and such a relief to skip right over the puree stage.  If baby led weaning is something that interests you, I highly recommend the aforementioned book.  A few things that stood out to me as I read it are as follows:

  • An advantage of baby led weaning is that a baby learns to chew early.  With purees, the baby can continue to suck, like they do from a bottle or breast, and they do not learn to chew.  When solid chunks of food are eventually introduced, the baby has a tendency to suck rather than chew because they are accustomed to sucking.  This can lead to choking.
  • Speaking of choking, there is a difference between gagging and choking.  A baby’s gag reflex is much, much further forward in their mouth than an adult’s gag reflex.  It is triggered very easily!  This is a defense mechanism because it forces forward anything that has triggered the reflex before the item moves further back and gets lodged in a baby’s throat.  The baby learns early on how easy it is for their gag reflex to be triggered and how to control the amount of food they put in their mouth because they, by instinct, want to avoid triggering the reflex.  Baby led weaning can include A LOT of gagging.  The baby is learning about that gag reflex and because it is so far forward, it doesn’t take much to trigger it!  The gagging part of baby led weaning is scary.  It is so hard to sit idle and watch a baby gag.  But it is really, really important that the baby is allowed the opportunity to let the reflex push the food forward and that they work it out for themselves.  Adult intervention can cause the food to move backwards and get lodged in the throat, which can lead to choking.  If the baby is turning blue and not breathing, follow the steps of infant first aid/CPR, obviously!  But if they are gagging, let them be.  This was by far the scariest and hardest part of baby led weaning to me.  And Ava wasn’t a frequent gagger at all, so we were lucky.  But it’s still nerve-wracking.
  • Baby led weaning allows a baby to eat at their own pace.  They have control over what goes into their mouths and the quantity.  If they try something and don’t like it, they can spit it out and not try it again during that meal; the food can be offered to them repeatedly but it isn’t forced on them.  (Recently we have repeatedly offered vegetables, and Ava has repeatedly refused them and that’s okay.  We’ll keep offering and eventually she’ll come around to them.)  Eating is enjoyable to them because they’re in control and they’re part of the family gathering at the table.  There aren’t any tricks like zooming the airplane (spoon) into their mouth to get them to take another bite of something they don’t really want.  They follow their own instincts and also learn by example.  They won’t forever be eating with their fingers as long as they are given the opportunity to use utensils, because ultimately, they want to do what mom and dad and older siblings are doing.   Mom and dad can focus more on their meal because the baby is picking up their own food and bringing it to their own mouth, versus mom or dad wielding the spoon. 
  • A baby learns to recognize when they are full which can help them develop healthy eating habits as a child and later as an adult.  Rather than meeting a “quota” amount of jarred pureed food, the baby follows its own instincts, eats at its own pace, and stops eating when he or she is full.  Healthy eating habits are established as young as infanthood, and can help prevent obesity later in life. 

I haven’t read the book in around a year and I know I’m not mentioning so many perks, so again, read the book if you’re interested in learning more!  The biggest con is the mess, but really, isn’t feeding a baby and/or toddler messy regardless of how the food is delivered to them?  I reiterate what I said above – we all make the decisions that we feel are best for our child so if that means cereal at four months for you and your baby, you do that, mama (or dad!)!  Baby led weaning was simply the option we chose for introducing solids to Ava and we have been very, very happy with how it worked for our family.

How did you introduce solids to your kids?  What did you like or not like about the process? 

Garden update.

Our garden is doing well overall.

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Some of the flowers we planted are past their prime but others (I think they are begonias) are thriving.
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We have harvested three tomatoes and there are many many more on the vine. Hopefully they’ll ripen up soon.

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We have three eggplants in various stages of ripe and two bell peppers on one of the pepper plants.

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The two types of thyme, rosemary, and lavender are doing quite well. Really the biggest disappointment this year has been the basil. You know how I love my basil pesto and our basil plants have really struggled since about late June. I think it got too hot for them. Or maybe we should add some nutrients? I don’t know, but they are a sad light green color.

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The monsoon season has brought a few really good rainstorms and there is nothing quite like rain to help the crops (even when the crops are our little garden). It has been another fun summer in the garden.

Did you plant a summer garden? Is it thriving or wilting?

Snapshot {July}.

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Making: A tough decision.  I think I have to break up with the girl who has cut and colored my hair for the past 5 years.  It’s not me – it’s her.  She moved to a new location across town that is kind of a pain to get to, and the price goes up every. single. time. I go, which is kind of annoying.  I’m still not absolutely certain I’ll make this change, but am drafting “let’s go our separate ways” texts in my head.  It’s okay to break up with a stylist via text, right?  Maybe I’ll go one more time and break up with her in person….

Cooking: Nothing!  I went out to breakfast this morning with my great aunt and a couple of great uncles and cousins, so didn’t have to cook breakfast.  Tonight we’re having dinner with Kevin’s parents and his cousin Doug who is visiting from Paris.  So it’s a cooking free day for Amy.

Drinking: Water.  I may indulge in a little peppermint mocha this afternoon though.  Feeling wild.

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Reading: Still making my way through The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Wanting: To leave a legacy.  Not for a very long time, of course, but recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact our lives have on others.  It has been on my mind because of The Bully Pulpit (what a legacy Roosevelt and Taft and the journalists of the era left!) and because my great uncle Tom loaned me a CD with a recording of an interview he did for the Library of Congress about his time in the military.  I have had the disc on repeat in my car for the past week and find his stories fascinating.

Looking: At this shirt.  And these shorts.  And this shirt.  Sometimes I like nothing at J. Crew.  Sometimes I like everything.  I’ll let you guess what phase our relationship is currently in.

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Eating: Nothing now.

Wishing: The weekend lasted just a few more days.

Enjoying: Frozen cookie dough that I bought as part of a fundraiser.  One by one, the cookies are not making it to the oven because I am eating them raw.

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Loving: Ava.  As always.  Also…alliteration.

Hoping: We continue to get some late afternoon/early evening rainstorms.  One of my favorite summertime weather patterns.

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Needing:  A snack.  I really enjoy fire roasted tomato Triscuits with sharp cheddar cheese slices.

Smelling:  I never have a good response for this one.  I guess I’m seldom around scents.  Unless I’m changing a diaper.

Feeling: Good.  I’ve been doing 10-15 minutes of yoga each day.  It’s not much but it’s enough to make me feel limber and a bit more centered.  I also have been consistently doing squats while I brush my teeth – fifty in two minutes, twice a day.

imageWearing: My summertime uniform – shorts and a white t-shirt.

Watching: Kevin typing.  The new system at work has gone over quite well really, but he’s still fielding a lot of questions.

What are you wishing/needing/loving/eating right now? 

My kitchen bucket list and other randoms. 

I’ve had this kitchen bucket list draft going for awhile, and I am not good at keeping drafts in limbo for a long time.  Publish or trash, that’s my motto.  So {lucky you} publish it was with this one.

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Here are a few things I’ve never cooked with but want to:  leeks and fennel.  I want to cook with more fruit zest and I want to use more fresh herbs.  I want to make a few varieties of herb butter.  And I want to make angel food cake.  When I was a kid I made a mean angel (does that make it a devil?) food cake, thanks to my old trusty Baking III project in 4-H.  I remember separating the whites from the yolks and whipping, whipping, whipping, until the dough was light and fluffy.  I also want to learn to make the perfect poached egg.  I’ve poached a time or two, and they were passable eggs, but nothing special.

And that’s a pretty wimpy post, so here are a few other random recents and upcomings.

For the first time in probably 10 years, I’m watching The Bachelorette.  I usually pride myself on NOT watching those shows, but a Junior League friend has a Bachelorette bracket competition and I do love a good bracket.  So I joined and I’m holding steady in 2nd place.  I like Luke and Jordan best.  Don’t tell Kevin I’m telling you this {oh wait – he reads all my posts.  Everyone say, “Hi Kevin!”}, but he’s actually kind of getting into the show too.  It’s fun to cuddle on the couch and watch the crazies.

Have you seen this video?

This is me being, like, super honest and vulnerable right now – I can’t get enough of that video.  I love it.

I also loved Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.  Sat on the couch laughing out loud because some parts were just that funny to me.

Our garden is doing great thus far.  The basil in particular is looking especially vibrant and healthy, which is great because it’s my favorite of our crops.

In other house news, we’ve got some big projects coming up – replacing a furnace and a swamp cooler, new rain gutters, new blinds on our new windows…  Grown up stuff, you know.

And here’s an adorable baby, because she’s far more photogenic than rain gutters.

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Do you have a kitchen bucket list?  Are you watching The Bachelorette?  What fun (or not so fun) projects are you planning around the house?

The Whole30 that wasn’t. 

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I was intent on starting a Whole30 on the day after my birthday.  Kevin was hesitant, but willing to take the challenge on after he thought about it a bit.  No sugar, no grains, no dairy, no legumes, among other things.  Basically no happiness.

Kevin got sick on my birthday and didn’t feel well the following day.  I cooked a Whole30 approved breakfast for myself and snacked on the carrots and celery that I’d so carefully prepared over the weekend.  Then Kevin’s mom brought over a big pot of chicken, rice, and dumplings soup, and I was like, “Whole30 will be there tomorrow….  I can’t let dumplings go to waste.”  So I was Whole30 compliant for one meal and one snack.

And we started talking about it. What did I hope to accomplish by taking on the Whole30?  I don’t think I have food sensitivities, so that wasn’t it.  Mainly, I guess, I just wanted a reset.  And to show I could do it.  And if I lost a few of the 10 lbs that are lingering around my thighs, hips, and midsection, well, that’s the icing (mmm, icing… Cake.).  But Kevin was very not excited about the 30 day challenge, and I didn’t have a noble or necessary reason for taking it on.  As I thought about it more, I started worrying about whether cutting out dairy and legumes (specifically peanuts) abruptly and then adding them back in after the 30 days while breastfeeding could raise the risk of Ava developing allergies to those things.  That’s probably never happened and not a risk at all, but mama’s gotta worry about something, so why not that?

So we came up with our own plan for January (no sweets, no pasta, no fried stuff, no fast food, no cokes, etc.) and decided to just do our best to remain righteous in our food decisions post-January.  It’s manageable and nearly sustainable as a lifestyle (sometimes a girl needs some pasta).  It was a good decision for us now.  Maybe I’ll do Whole30 in the future, just to prove I can.  But today…I’ll take some cheese, please.

Have you tried the Whole30?  Or any other cleanse or eating challenge?

To-do in 2015 – final recap.

Here I sit on the final eve of 2015.  My belly is full of beef stroganoff and there’s football on TV.  What a year it has been!  Ava wasn’t on the to-do list, but she ruled the year.  We love having her here with us and can’t wait to see what is in store for 2016.  I’m so thankful for my beautiful family of humans and cats.  And I’m thankful for you, friends.  Thank you for the kind words on my post about life now.  I have missed regular blogging (writing and reading) because I feel like my connection with all my wonderful blog friends has suffered.  Know that I think of so many of you so often.  Kevin can attest that I often start stories with, “My blog friend {insert name here} said…”  :)  This Desert Girl thanks you for a lovely year.

1. K & A:  Go to Europe.
Done!!  You can read about here.  And here and here.  And here.  Oh yeah.  And here and here

2. K: Read a classic.
Kevin read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a classic tale of one man, two personalities.  He enjoyed it.

3. A: Do all Christmas shopping in local/independent stores or give homemade stuff.  Like crocheted scarves, vanilla extract (inspired by Tiffany, who gave me homemade vanilla extract for Christmas 2014!), or hot pepper oil (inspired by Allie, who blogged about it here).
I failed at this!  I wasn’t proactive and then had no motivation to shop around town close to the holiday.  I love the idea though and hope to accomplish it someday. 

4. A: Read 52 books.  (Bonus points if I manage to complete this 2015 reading challenge, which I think is only – ha! – 50 books….thanks, Tiffany, for sharing the idea!)
I read 54 or 55 books this year and finished the 2015 reading challenge.  You can read a bit about each book I read for the challenge here.

5. A:  Blog 104 posts.
I only blogged 71 times this year (well, 72 including this one!), so fell short of this goal.   

6. K & A:  Fund IRA’s for the year.
Done.  We take different approaches to funding the IRA’s:  Kevin takes the automatically-send-money-to-the-IRA-with-each-paycheck approach and I write a lump sum check.  But both methods get the job done!

7. K & A:  Complete at least one home improvement project. (New tile downstairs, master bathroom, shelves in the garage…)
We started the year with a new furnace (out of necessity), then we did our tile replacement in June.  Eight new windows were installed in July (and eight more are on the way!), we ripped out the wet bar and replaced it with built-in bookshelves and storage in July as well.  You can read about our renovation projects here.

8. K & A:  Run a 5k.
I was a lazy bum and didn’t run a 5K (or even work on training for one) at the beginning of the pregnancy or pre-pregnancy, so that didn’t happen.  But Kevin ran one for me on a random day in July.  And he ran a race for himself on October 10. 

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9. K: Smoke a rack of ribs or a brisket.
My mom gave Kevin a brisket (we get all our beef from my parents, who have cattle), and he had planned to smoke it in the fall.  But fall got away from us!  Maybe in the spring. 

10. K & A:  Take a road trip to a historic destination in New Mexico.
We’re counting our trip to my step-dad’s old school in Encino.  It was really so special to explore that beautiful building with my stepdad and his brothers and their families.  You can read about that here.

11. K & A:  Try 10 new restaurants.
We have tried 11 new restaurants.  We’d like to continue to broaden our horizons, but we fully admit that we tend to get into restaurant ruts.  Delicious though they may be…

12. K & A:  Try 15 new recipes.
We’ve tried 27 new recipes.  Several were hits and have made it into the regular rotation.

13. K:  Start and complete an entire workout program.
Kevin took up Crossfit in September and completed the boot camp program at the gym he attends.  He’s hooked!

14. K:  Take a golf continuing ed class or attend three golf lessons.
This one didn’t happen.  But maybe 2016 will be the year of golf! 

15. A:  Host a theme party.
I hosted a Favorite Things party and it was a lot of fun.  Here’s more about that!

Did you set some goals for 2015?  If so, how did you do? 

Life now.

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Of course I knew that having a baby would change my life.  I knew I’d get less sleep and that it would become more difficult to go anywhere or do anything.  I knew that there would be a physical recovery and I knew that my emotions would be all over the place.

Still – knowing all that I knew (little that it was, admittedly), this being a mother thing is so much harder than I thought it would be.  Not the loving her part.  That has come so easily.  But the day to day BEING A MOTHER part is hard.  It almost seems unfair that it is so much at once.  First, you’re tired because you’re nine months pregnant and that’s exhausting in and of itself.  Then you have the labor phase, which is – as the name implies – work.  Immediately after that is the beginning of the physical recovery – probably my least favorite thing ever and seemingly never ending  And simultaneously, you’re learning about this little human for whom you are responsible.  Feeding, bathing, soothing, deciphering every little whimper and wail.  It was a lightbulb moment when it occurred to me that a baby needs care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I couldn’t just put in a solid 8-10 hour day and call it good.  Leave the work to pick up again after a good nights sleep and some Amy time.

I am completely and utterly aware of how blessed I am.  I have a wonderful, supportive husband.  An amazing group of family and friends.  A safe and warm place to live.  I have good health insurance and the financial resources to keep stress at bay as the hospital bills started rolling in.  My baby is healthy and very easy.  I am so, so blessed.

But even with all of that, in an effort to keep it real – the past two months have been the hardest of my life.  Postpartum blues sent my emotions into complete chaos – I haven’t kept a tally, but I think I’ve cried at least once on more days than I haven’t cried, often for reasons that I can’t even put into words.  The tears come because I’m overwhelmed or tired or hurting or scared or happy or amazed or sad or because my heart is so full that I think it will burst or because there’s a Subaru commercial on TV.

I have never blogged because I like writing.  I don’t mind writing, but it is not a passion that I love to coddle and cultivate.  I enjoy reading back on past blog posts and I know that I’ll treasure the ones that talk about Ava, so it makes me a little sad that I didn’t prioritize writing more consistently during her first eight weeks.  But there were days when I was just focused on survival, yo.

And surviving I am.  I love spending my days with Ava and think that she is the coolest little girl.  I am trying hard to not be too Type A about the tidiness of my house or the number of items I check off my mental to-do list each day.  These newborn weeks are precious, I know, and I want to savor them.  Even if the feelings are sometimes overly robust, I’m thankful for them because they remind me how full of love I am for my two favorites – my daughter and her father.

Have you ever been surprised by how you were affected by a life-changing event?