Showing posts with label Breast Milk. Show all posts

What Nursing Moms Really Need, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kindle (Guest Post)

My friend Kate and I met in a birth class more than 3 years ago when we were pregnant with our daughters.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her as one tough cookie of a mom and an all around wonderful lady.  I’ve been lucky enough to have her calming thoughts in my life, and would love to share them with you, our dear reader.  Take it away Kate…


It’s 3 a.m. Your baby has woken you for the umpteenth feeding of the night. You’re sore and you’re tired but you think, “Hey, at least I get to catch up on some reading.” So there you are, with your sweet babe nestled into her Boppy, while you do finger gymnastics trying to turn the pages of your book with one hand—until, inevitably, you lose your spot, the book goes splat on the floor, the baby snaps out of her milky reverie and starts screaming.

You think: Why won’t someone just invent a book that you can read one-handed in the dark already?

Dear reader, someone has. It is called the Kindle. Perhaps you already have one. Or perhaps, like me, you have a sentimental attachment to paper books. Perhaps you feel that e-readers violate the sacred intimacy between book and reader, that their tracking software intrudes on your private mind-space. Perhaps, like me, you tough it out with paperbacks and hardcovers while you nurse your first baby.

And then, pregnant with your second, you realize that you no longer require the crisp and creamy paper of a “real” book; you realize that privacy is a luxury that belongs to people with two free hands; you realize that, for about $100, the one thing you really, truly need to survive those sleepless newborn nights can be on your doorstep in one to two business days. You realize that you are ready for an e-reader.

So, what should you look for in an e-reader? If you want to read without having to turn on a lamp and wake up your partner, look for one that lights up. (Note: if you desperately want to wake your partner, I hereby empathize with and absolve you). The Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, Kobo Glow, and Nook GlowLight are among the readers with built-in lighting. You can also buy a clip-on light; there are plenty of choices under $15. Also recommended: a reader that features wireless downloading, because when you finish one book in the middle of the night, you want another one immediately, and good luck finding your USB cable with an infant attached to your chest. Do be aware that your book-buying judgment may be compromised by sleep-deprivation, and when you emerge from the postpartum haze a few months later, you may wonder why, exactly, you spent so many precious newborn moments reading Dune.

Actually, I take that back. You will not wonder, because it was awesome.

So, thank you, Kindle. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you for 1:00 a.m. And 3:00 a.m. And 5:00 a.m. And 5:45 a.m. I do still love my real books—you know, the ones made of paper—but maybe, just maybe, I am learning to love you, too.


Kate Becker is a science writer who spends most of her time writing about astrophysics, cosmology, and other mysteries of the universe, like toddlers. Read more and get in touch at or

Milk bags! (the kind that go in your freezer)

As we've discussed elsewhere on this site, if you're exclusively breastfeeding and have sufficient supply then it's a great idea to build up a stash in your freezer.  The best way to do that is by storing your milk in freezer bags.  (Here are some other good tips from around the web).

There's definitely good articles out on the Web comparing various brands of bags, and they are certainly worth a read. However, since this is my blog, here are my 2 cents on the topic.

What makes a good bag for freezing milk?

Having fed and pumped for one baby for a year, and currently being in the process of doing the same for another, I can certainly describe what my perfect milk storage bag would look like.  The perfect bag would

  • - Let me pump directly into it.  I've expressed (ha! there's some milk makin' humor for you) elsewhere on this blog that I like to have many back up plans for pumping at work that don't rely on perfect memory from yours truly.  Being able to pump directly into bags if you forget your bottles is definitely a great fall back option

  • - Have accurate volume markings.  This one is so obvious it seems like you wouldn't even have to mention it, and yet, so many bags fail on this criteria based on my own experience and also many Amazon reviews.

  • - Stand up on its own.  This is a great feature for when you're just finished and don't have an extra hand to detach and seal, etc.

  • - Have reasonable fields for you to mark, specifically: name, date, and volume. (The reason you need to write down the volume on the bags is that the volume frozen will seem bigger than the actual liquid volume... see: water expands when frozen, etc.)

  • - Never burst or leak.  Once again, being obvious here but it bears repeating.

  • - Store 6 ozs of milk.  You may ask why 6 and not any other number.  Many babies never eat more than 5 oz a meal at any point (which is why many bottles and bags top out at that number).  My babies are all gluttons.  My daughter definitely spent months downing 8 ozs a meal.  My son is still young but if he follows the trajectory he's been on he'll definitely match his sister.  So the more a single bag can store, the longer I can go using only one bag per meal.  I haven't seen bags that store more than 6 ozs and sadly they probably wouldn't fit in my freezer organizer.

  • - Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: My wife usually only fills, but does not empty, the bags.  Thus she left out another important criteria... ease of emptying the bag into a bottle, especially while holding a crying baby WHO WANTS TO EAT NOW. This may be the EXACT situation that created "crying over spilled milk" as an expression.

So which one do I use?

I have personally tried 3 brands:
  1. 1. Ameda Store'N Pour Milk Storage Bags.  These bags were supplied by my insurance company last time around, but I've bought a set for this time as well.  They kind of fail on most of the above criteria (don't stand up, have very inaccurate markings, only fit 5 ozs, and occasionally leak).  I have a set because the adapters that come with these guys screw on to any pump that takes Medela Bottles and let you pump directly into them.  I keep the bags and the adapters at work for emergencies.  I've also now used them enough that I can interpret their markings into much more accurate guesses at the volume. Oh and the fields to fill out on them are great. 
  2. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: These are the best for pouring. The tear-off section makes for a great spout and it's pretty easy to predict where the milk will go. On the downside, the tear section is below the seal, so once you open the bag, you're pouring all of it.

  3. 2. NUK Seal 'N Go Milk Storage Bags.  These guys are pretty much the inverse of the Amedas.  They stand up, are accurate, fit 6 ozs, and are super sturdy and leak free.  They do not however, allow one to pump directly into them.  Also, the fields they have you fill out are name, date, and time.  Time? What?  What possible purpose does that serve?  So this is the field I write the volume in.  These are the bags I use 90% of the time, which is to say, all the time that I'm not pumping directly into bags.
  4. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: I spilled about half an ounce of milk using these bags no less than 30 minutes before being asked to read through this post before publication. The zip-style seal provides an obstacle for the milk just before the top and frequently causes a double-steam, which is not good for a narrow-mouthed bottle.

  5. 3. Evenflo Feeding Advanced Milk Storage.  These are frankly the worst bags I've tried.  Originally I was optimistic because they advertised that they were made out of a thin plastic that heats quickly (this appealed to my husband for obvious reasons).  They also fit the Ameda adapters for pumping directly into bag so I thought I'd give them a try despite the fact that they only fit 5 ozs.  Well, it turns out that they are also leaky and difficult to use.  They don't stand up well at all, the markings are inaccurate, and the labels on top are upside down for some reason?
  6. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: The overall shape of this bag is reasonably conducive to pouring. The zip seal is further away from the spout so it's more predictable. although the flimsiness of the bag material does not make it a particularly rigid spout. While I didn't do any head-to-head tests, I did not feel that this bag heats more quickly than others, which would have excused the flimsy material if it had.
So in conclusion... I haven't found the perfect bags.  I wish the Nuks could be pumped into directly.  As it is, however, I use a combination of them and the Amedas and that works out ok for me.
Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: If you have enough of a backup in the fridge and/or at daycare and can cope with about one leaking bag a month (and want to simplify life for your spouse/non-pumping partner), add some extra credit to the Ameda.


Freemie pump adapters - because every mom can use an extra hand (or 3)

Eating and making food at the same time!
The first time you pump milk you may be shocked to find out that you have to hold the cones to yourself.  As you sit there for 20 minutes, bored, unable to even play tetris on your phone, your mind runs through all the things you need to do but are instead tethered to a machine making donkey noises (to clarify, the donkey noises are coming from the machine, not you). This combination of boredom and wasted time may inspire you to look for solutions advertising themselves as facilitating hands free pumping (things like the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra are a popular choice in this category).  I tried to make this bra work for me, I really did.  But after somewhere around 5 attempts I gave up and it stayed at the bottom of my pump bag for the rest of the year.  The bra was then lent to a friend who I also believe used it pretty much never. It was just too hard to get in to it in a way that it was tight enough to hold the cones, and even then, the cones never felt secure.

By the time it came to equipping myself for another year of pumping for my son, some very smart people had come out with with Freemie Collection Cups. (Note: they also make the Freemie Freedom Double Electric Hands Free Breast Pump, but by now I am too loyal to my Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump to give it a try).

So now, after using these guys for about a month here are my thoughts.  These are a bit tricky to assemble, but once you get the hang of it they really and truly allow for hands-free pumping.  I think these are awesome for occasional use.  I don't think I would use them for every pumping session because one's ability to massage and pump is quite limited with them, and I would worry about my supply dropping.  That said, here are the two scenarios I've used them in and been very glad indeed.
  1. 1.  On the weekend my husband fed the baby a bottle at 6am, allowing me to sleep in.  Then once I got up, I was able to eat breakfast with the family (pictured) while also pumping to make up for the missed feeding - technology for the win!

  2. 2.  Many weekday mornings when we are in a hurry to get everyone out the door on their way to day care and work, I am able to feed the baby from one side while simultaneously pumping from the other.  This allows me to make it until approximately noon for my next pumping session.  
Other than the potentially unfounded fear about supply drop, the only other downside to these guys is that not all the parts are rated for steam cleaning.  As this is my preferred method of cleaning my equipment at work, I am mostly using them at home.  That said, I think every mom can use an extra hand at work or at home, so I give these a hearty thumbs up!

Out and about when you don't lactate (or choose not to)

So one of the harder things for partners of breastfeeding moms (and to a similar degree, parents of formula fed children, see below for why I make the distinction) is the logistics of taking the kid out to the park, library, music class, etc.

You may have developed a routine for heating and prepping milk at home, but how the heck do you do this without a kettle, making a mess, or trying to explain why you want a cup of hot water but no teabag at whatever sandwich shop you stopped at when the crying begins, especially if you don't want a sandwich right now (see: crying)?

Ok, so what do we need?
  • - bottle, preferably with milk already in it
  • - milk, if not in bottle already
  • - heat
  • - contained place to apply heat to bottle


By now, you probably have a pretty good mental accounting of how long it takes your bottles to heat (and doubly so if you own multiple models). Our daycare only takes plastic bottles, but we have a small collection of glass ones for use at home for exactly this reason. Glass bottles heat much faster and as every non-lactating parent knows, every extra second listening to your kid scream is no fun. As they get bigger and recognize that "THIS IS A BOTTLE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I WILL GRAB FOR THE BOTTLE BECAUSE I AM HUNGRY AND DON'T UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF BOILING WATER," this gets only worse. For those of you out-and-about with your first kid, this is exacerbated when out in public (I cringed at every cry in a cafe, on the train, and even in the park. Especially when "well-meaning" old ladies started with their "advice.") I'm getting better with the second, though.  I figure if he hasn't puked on anyone else, we're good.

Anyway, we'll eventually write a post on bottle recommendations (we use the Evenflo Feeding Classic Glass Twist Bottles) but really just go with what works with your pump and baby's disposition.


The easiest thing is, of course, to store the milk in the bottle before you leave the house, but sometimes you gotta go with a bag (for example, from your freezer stash). You can read about our freezer bag preferences here.


So now we're at the crux of this all. Boiling water in a kettle and pouring it into a large cup or bowl is how we do this at home.  But, reliable access to boiling water was not something I wanted to count on in the park.

We tried some open-and-they-heat-up pad things, but found them to be garbage. (They advertised they wouldn't burn you because they only go to body temperature.  However, something at body temp takes a LONG time to warm up something that's cold or frozen.  Plus it was very slow to get TO body temp. My wife is the scientist here, but even I know enough thermodynamics to know this won't work). 

So if hot water is what we want, how about a thermos? That brings us to...

Place to Heat the Bottle

While any old thermos would surely work to transport hot water, we found the Tommee Tippee Travel Bottle and Food Warmer to be really useful because the lid over the main thermos part a) helps keep the whole thing relatively cool inside the diaper bag, b) contains spills if you have some leakage, which you shouldn't, and c) serves as a cup you can pour the water into to immerse your bottle and heat it! So for the size/weight of a normal thermos, you get all the stuff you need.

The only complaint is that you have to PAY ATTENTION to the open/close positions on the lid. It's the opposite of what is intuitive and I have poured scalding hot water on myself (or into the lid) a few times. Being a "safety culture" kind of guy, I now verify I have it in the closed position by turning it to a pouring position over the sink before I pack it in the diaper bag.

Could you just use a normal thermos and a cup? Yeah. Is it slightly expensive for a thermos and lid? Yeah. But it's extremely convenient and $20 is pretty cheap for the sanity it enables.

You said something about formula

We've not formula-fed, so I have no specific suggestions, but I do add the following thoughts:
  1. 1. There is a ton of formula-specific gear out there that looks pretty cool when I've seen other parents use it.

  2. 2. My understanding is that heating to body temperature is not necessary for exclusively formula-fed babies.  This is because breastfed babies are used to receiving milk at body temperature for obvious reasons.  If you introduce formula early enough, most babies can and do get used to drinking it at room temperature.  This certainly simplifies the feeding process.
That said, if you do find yourself in need of a way to heat things, this has been our go-to solution.

Cleaning your breast pump parts without losing your mind (home edition)

I often lament to friends that I wish breastfeeding could be a casual or part time activity.  I love nursing my children when they are around me.  However, unfortunately, being able to nurse means having to pump every 3-4 hours whenever the children have done me the courtesy of being elsewhere. (How long one can go without expressing milk depends on how old one's baby is and one's own feelings of discomfort.  Many lucky people can go longer than I can.  Also, once your baby is over 8 weeks, you don't have to pump at night if they sleep in blessed longer chunks.)

When I pump at home I do not use the same products and methods to clean the pump parts as I do at work.  This is because I do not need to minimize the time I spend in my kitchen cleaning this equipment for privacy reasons in my own house.  It is also because I try not to use disposable products (like the steam bags and wipes) when it is perfectly convenient to use something else (in this case soap and hot water)
The most efficient method I've found for cleaning my pump parts when in the comfort of my own home is this.

  1. 1. I boil water in my electric kettle.  I often start the kettle boiling before I sit down to pump for the last time that day (I keep my pump parts in the refrigerator between sessions if I am going to pump at home more than once in a day).  What's great about using an electric kettle is that you don't have to wait for the water to get hot enough in your sink, nor do you have to get up to turn the stove off as you would with a stove kettle.  My kettle very politely turns itself off when it's done (automatic shut off is also a convenient safety feature for those times that you start making yourself a cup of tea 4 times without actually completing the task because... baby).  We have a Medelco Cordless Glass Electric Kettle.  It's efficient, has automatic shut off, and is pretty and glass, though as previously mentioned any electric kettle with automatic shut off would work just as well. 
  3. 2. When I'm done pumping, I take apart the parts and dump them all into a bowl in the sink (pictured). I then add some dish washing soap into the bowl.  You don't need anything fancy here (or ever) like special "baby dish-washing soaps".  Just a good fragrance free soap that you use for all your dishes will do (we use Palmolive Ultra Pure and Clear Dish Liquid because I find that it gets grease off things with the least amount of scrubbing). 
  5. 3. I then just dump the kettle full of recently boiled water into the bowl and go do something else for 5 or more minutes.  The beauty of this method is that soap + *very* hot water, means that all the milk dissipates off the plastic by itself and I don't have to go over anything with a brush.
  7. 4.  If I'm going to rinse the parts right away, I turn the faucet on after 5 min and run enough water that I can reach into the bowl without burning myself.  I then rinse each part and place it on my drying rack.  Otherwise, I just come back to the bowl, sometimes even hours later to rinse and dry.
 That's it - the simplest method to clean your stuff while using the least amount of mental energy possible.  

Cleaning your breast pump parts without losing your mind (work edition)

If you're going back to work after having your baby, it is almost surely a mixed bag of emotions.  You may be terrified of leaving your baby with someone who doesn't know how to interpret their every muscle twitch (even if that someone is your partner or mother or exceptionally well rated day care).  You may be thrilled about the prospect of taking as much time to go to the bathroom as you damn well please.  You may be devastated about the fact that you won't be able to cuddle your baby for hours as you have him or her fall asleep on your chest.  You may be feeling all of these things and a million others, all within a matter of seconds.  And yet, one thing I can almost guarantee you is that you are NOT relishing having to trudge to the company kitchen 18 times a week to scrub down your breast pump parts while looking over your shoulder to make sure the overly friendly guy from PR hasn't followed you in there... again.

Some people deal with this conundrum by bringing their pump parts home every night.  This to me seems like extremely risky business.  What if you forget them at work one day?  What if you forget them at home?  You may be slightly more absent minded these days than you're used to.  So play it safe and follow this step by step guide for how you can quickly sanitize your pump parts at work.

  1. 1. You only have to wash the parts once a day if you keep them in the fridge between pumping sessions.  I recommend getting a storage container or disposable bowl you can pop in the fridge  until you've pumped for the final time that day (hopefully you have a dedicated fridge at your job for pumping mothers).

  2. 2. Once you're ready to clean the parts, grab your Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bag  and your Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump and Accessory Wipes and head to the kitchen.  You want to wipe down each part with a wipe, rinse under running water and place in the steam bag.  If you truly want to minimize the time you spend in the kitchen, you can even wipe the parts down in your pumping room (then all you have to do is rinse and place in the bag once you're out in public).  I know some people online say that they use Munchkin Pacifier Wipes to wipe down the parts but honestly, I don't know how they do it.  The Munchkin wipes are much smaller, thinner and less wet than the Medela ones.  One Medela wipe is enough for me to clean the full set of parts I use in a day, whereas when I tried to do the same with the Munckins I was using approximately 5 to do it.  This method of using wipes and the steam bag (each steam bag can be used 20 times, i.e. for a whole month of an average work schedule) allows you to clean the parts at work without needing brushes, a bowl of soapy water, or 20 minutes.  Everything comes out sterile in approximately 5.  They can also be used with almost any commercial personal breast pump (a couple of the Freemie parts are the only exception to this that I've seen - some of them are not rated to be steam cleaned).

  3. 3.  Once the steam bag is done in the microwave, simply dump the water into the sink and the parts back into the now rinsed container you had been keeping the parts in while in the fridge.  Store the container open to the air overnight (hopefully in the pumping room) to give them a chance to dry out.


Freezing Breastmilk

So you want to breastfeed your baby in the 21st century?  Well little lady, buckle up... this is going to take some equipment. (This is of course, assuming you want to leave your baby's side ever in their first year, or however long you want to breastfeed for).  We'll get to breast pumps and things you need to pump at work in some other posts, but this post will be about storing breast milk.

Should you find yourself lucky enough to have adequate supply to start a freezer stash, I would recommend doing so.  (If you do not find yourself lucky enough to have an adequate supply, worry not.  If you're reading this, I assume you find yourself living in or after 2015, a fantastic time in human history when we can just buy baby food in the grocery store and feed our babies.  The future is a pretty rad place to live.)   The freezer stash is great if your supply drops when you're sick (true for me and many, though not all, women).  It's also great if you need to travel or have the luxury to drop the kid off at the grandparents for the weekend or otherwise extended babysitting.  Every time I add a bag to my stash, I stroke the bags already in there and make the "my precious" sign, while mumbling to myself (I don't actually, but it does give me peace of mind that if I die, my husband could feed the baby for a couple of days before having to go out and buy formula).

So back to the practical advice... I would recommend getting an organizer box to store your milk. The organizer box I recommend is the First Years Breastflow Milk Storage Organizer.  Why do I recommend this?  Well, if you freeze your milk in bags (which I also advocate, because freezing it in bottles takes up an insane amount of space and costs an insane amount of money spent on bottles), the bags freeze funny on their own and are difficult to store.  This convenient contraption makes them freeze flat and gives you handy box to store the neat flat bags.  You can even use the lid for additional storage space if you build up a big enough stash.  Also, any brand of bag will fit in the box so you don't have to commit to a "system".  The photo to the left shows the current milk contents of my freezer - a full lid, with space still left in the main box; currently one bag is in the process of freezing under pressure.  If you look carefully you'll see 2 different brands of freezer bags being used.

What about the competition? There are a number of popular "systems", none of which I can frankly recommend in good conscience.  Here's why.
  1. 1.  The most popular solution I've seen based on extensive time spent in baby stores over the last couple of years is the Kiinde Breastmilk Storage Bag Holder and Organizer.  Their big pitch is that you can pump directly into their bags and their bags are recycle-able.  I'm super pro recycling, but that's where their goodness ends as far as I'm concerned.  There are a number of other brand bags that you can pump directly into.  For the same amount of space (approximately) that their solution stores 12 bags, the organizer in my freezer currently is storing about 20.

  2. 2. The other solution I frequently see is Medela Breast Milk Freezer Bottles.  These I personally find ridiculous.  They are 2oz each - an amount of milk most of my babies surpassed eating by 6 weeks.  That is a massive amount of freezer space to give up in order to store 24 ozes of milk.