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Showing posts with label Pregnancy-Postpartum. 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

Walking the line of pregnancy and fitness (Guest post)

I am super excited to run our very first guest post, written by my good friend Alice. I invited Alice to write this post because my own exercising tastes run far more mainstream (I heart pre-natal Yoga) and this is a very important topic for pregnancy. So without further ado, take it away Alice…


Everyone will tell you that exercise during pregnancy is great! Wonderful! Essential! Walking, swimming, and prenatal yoga are the best! But if you're pregnant and want to get exercise in a less orthodox way, it can be difficult to sort the fear mongering from the science. Before I got pregnant I lifted weights, played ultimate frisbee, biked, and went rock climbing. I didn't want to stop all of those activities as soon as I got a positive pregnancy test. Since the scientific research is minimal to nonexistent, I relied largely on other people's stories and on listening to my body to decide what was safe. (I, of course, discussed all of this with my doctor and got her OK. My pregnancy was low risk and I picked a data oriented doctor who is on the relaxed end of the spectrum.)

According to my doctor, contact sports are a risk after the first trimester. She explained that since the uterus moves up out of the pelvis at that point, serious impact trauma can harm the fetus. Because of this, I didn’t play Frisbee after 12 weeks, though I know some women who played in low key games all the way through their pregnancies. Some ab exercises are likely to be a problem. Everything else, however, still seems to be up for debate.

Surprisingly, the exercise that I found most comfortable and kept up most consistently during my pregnancy was climbing. People hear climbing and think of mount Everest, which is far cry from what I do, pregnant or not. The place I went was my local friendly climbing gym, complete with comfy plastic holds, a readily accessible bathroom, and even the occasional other pregnant lady to commiserate with. Top roping with a pregnancy harness from Mountain Mama felt safe and (relatively) comfortable into week 39, and I trusted my partner to give me a tight belay, so I wouldn't have any big falls.

So maybe heights aren't your thing, but if crossfit or archery or tennis are - don't let anyone's knee jerk reaction keep you from doing what you love. And, of course, take everything you read with a grain of salt. In searching for rock climbing resources I found several sites that told me to avoid climbing stairs while pregnant. I’m curious what those people would suggest to those of us whose apartments are on the second floor. It's pretty hard to get more fear mongering and less practical than that!

Alice is a software engineer, mom, and obsessive gym climber. She lives in Boston with her husband and son, in a small apartment increasingly overflowing with toddler paraphernalia. To talk about sports and pregnancy, or to chat about the local climbing scene, find her at

Kicking and screaming to hugging - the saga of pregnancy pillows and Tums

Non-pregnant woman, sleeping peacefully.
When I think about the attitude I had towards pregnancy going into my first one, it's hard not to laugh.  I had this idea that I wasn't going to let pregnancy "change" me.  I was going to go about my life in exactly the same why I had been up to that point, and then eventually a baby was going to come out.  Then I would be the same exact me I had always been but with a cute new accessory.

Haggard pregnant woman, roaming the night, hoping to pass out in exhaustion.
One of the first places the reality of pregnancy really struck was when it came to sleep.  Pregnancy insomnia is a well documented phenomenon (here is a really great blog essay about it).  However, often throughout my pregnancy, even when I felt like I could fall and stay asleep, other things interfered.


Starting early in the first trimester I began to experience intense, fire breathing, life disturbing heartburn.   It would particularly peak any time I made the mistake of lying down.  Many women experience heartburn in their third trimester when the baby becomes big enough to press on the stomach.  Others of us are lucky enough to start with it a lot earlier.  (First trimester heartburn is caused by a hormone called "relaxin".  As the name implies, relaxin is released throughout pregnancy to relax the muscles and make room for the baby to grow.  However, it also has the unpleasant side effect of relaxing the muscles normally involved in keeping your stomach content where it belongs.)

Pass the Tums
Now being the tough cookie that I am, I was determined to just white knuckle my way through the pain rather than "endanger" my precious cargo with medication.  Thankfully, my husband had a clear head and a kind heart and did me the favor of looking up which antacids were safe to take in pregnancy.  This is how we came upon the incredibly safe (and obvious) solution of Tums.  Many of you are hopefully rolling your eyes right about now because who doesn't know about Tums?  However, since then I have spoken to enough pregnant women to know that many of them are suffering needlessly in exactly the same way I was.  Tums consists almost entirely of one simple and safe ingredient - Calcium.  That's right, it's a highly effective way to treat heartburn with a mineral that you're likely not eating enough of anyway.  Try it once and you'll likely be keeping a bottle on your nightstand, in your purse, at your desk at work, and anywhere else you can think of.

Note: If you also have to take iron supplements at some point during your pregnancy, be aware that calcium interferes with iron absorption.  This is unfortunate since iron supplements often exacerbate heartburn.  If you fall into this situation, I recommend taking the iron mid-morning.  That way you have something in your stomach so the iron is less likely to upset it, but you are hopefully far away in time from desperately needing the Tums to get some shut eye (the iron needs a 2-hour window to be absorbed fully).

Musculoskeletal pain 

This is a gift that just keeps on giving in pregnancy.  It is an extremely under-appreciated fact that a woman's spine literally shifts throughout her first pregnancy in order to accommodate the growing uterus (and never fully comes back to its original position).  Couple that with the weight gain, the round ligament pain, and a million other things, back and hip pain are extremely common, especially towards the end.  This can make getting comfortable in bed almost impossible. (I highly recommend prenatal yoga as a way to help your body cope with the changes.)

Many people will recommend that you sleep on your side, place a pillow behind your back, another pillow under your belly, and then another one between your knees to get comfortable.  Frankly those people are crazy because who sleeps perfectly still like that?  I will admit to resisting the pregnancy pillow for a long time because it looked huge and I surely wasn't going to need it and what was I going to do with it when I was no longer pregnant?  Then, somewhere around 6 months I broke down and got myself a Snoogle Total Body Pillow and haven't looked back.

The Snoogle makes sleeping without pain (at first), and later in your pregnancy with less pain, possible.  Also, unlike the pillow construction described above, it allows you to roll over (assuming you are at a point in your pregnancy where you're still able to do that). I will admit that it is quite large (my husband referred to it as "the great barrier Snoogle" when it was in constant use).   However, the Snoogle people undersell it as a purely pregnancy pillow.  It comes with a handy sheet that tells you all the different ways you can use it for more than just sleeping while pregnant. As a frequent sufferer of colds and sinus infections, it has been a convenient way to prop myself up in bed in the years since. We keep it in a storage bin under the bed for easy access when someone is sick.

I still can't sleep

Yeah.... yeah.  Anxiety about your future, the constant need to pee, the kicking from inside, the Braxton Hicks contractions - all of these will keep you awake much more than you previously thought possible.  I wish I had something helpful to say here but I don't.  Nap if you're able during the day or when you get home from work.  If you're passing out in exhaustion at 9pm (only to be maddeningly awake at 4 am) go ahead and go to bed at 9pm.  Maybe 4am can be a zen time for you to read?  In any case, this will all come to an end eventually (though you may continue to go to bed 9 pm because kids are kind of exhausting).  The baby will be born and babies can always be handed off to a partner/friend/mom while you go and pass out in the other room.


Heaven help us - we're talking about mom clothes again

Dr. Crusher - inspiration to moms everywhere.
My new baby spits up.. a lot... all the time.  As a result I find myself having to change clothes much more often than I did when my daughter was a baby.  So I thought I would try ordering some clothes from Milk Nursingware.

I am sorry to say I was very disappointed with the result.  Unlike the Momzelle breastfeeding friendly postpartum clothing I wrote about here, these are decisively not friendly to the postpartum figure.  The fabric is plastic-y and clingy in places you do not want to be clung to.  The nursing design is also much less convenient.  It's almost as though the designers saw a picture of a nursing shirt and put no more thought into the design after that.  All of the shirts I ordered are basically just 2 layer shirts instead of one shirt with a clever opening - thanks guys, I could have just figured out to wear two shirts myself.  I was looking for something with a bit more style.

Here I am pictured in the least bad shirt I received (I suppose it's more of a tunic).  I can only guess the design was inspired by Dr. Crusher's Star Trek uniform, complete with the diagonal cut and blue and black color scheme (it didn't quite look like it on the website).  Hilarious opportunities to dork out aside, ordering clothing from here is definitely not worth it in my opinion.

The nerdy mom's pregnancy reading list

Early on in my reproductive journey a couple of things occurred to me.

  1. 1. Most people have babies at some point in their lives.

  2. 2. Most books written for people on the reproductive journey make me want to throw them against the wall, probably because they are written with the assumption that the person reading them hates reading (see: women being condescended to in life).  You see I am a nerd.  You tell me a fact and I want to know why and how you know that and what the exceptions are and on and on.  Citations needed, damn it!  
Many pregnancy books are either:
Thus began my journey for a reading list that had some basis in reality.  I will confess here that I often have to read medical literature for a living and so if I have a specific question I can find the answer to it myself on Google scholar.  That said, prior to beginning and then partaking of my pregnancy journey I did want to read some comprehensive books on the topic.  And so, here are the ones that I have found the most useful, trustworthy, and worthwhile to read.

Trying to Conceive

Before trying to have a baby I really enjoyed reading a book called The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant.  This book described a lot of the data we have around fertility, including debunking some of the fear mongering about getting pregnant at an older age.  Additionally it explained all the science behind the various ways of tracking ovulation, research-based advice on mom-to-be nutrition, and some fun stuff about timing conception to increase the likelihood of babies of a particular gender.   I also found the chapter on miscarriage probabilities oddly reassuring.  It's a fun, easy read, written by someone who clearly knows how to do a literature search (the author is a Psychology professor) but is coming to it as an interested party and not a professional.


I'm sure as a self-described nerdy mom, you've already heard of the book Expecting Better.  This book came out in 2013 and made many waves for its controversial stance that a couple of drinks in pregnancy are probably fine (I occasionally drank wine in both of my pregnancies because I came to the same conclusion and my OB was totally fine with this).  I enjoyed reading this book and think its conclusion to not worry too much that you're gaining excessive weight or that a piece of deli meat will kill you and everyone you love is really helpful in combating the fear mongering that is often directed at pregnant women.  I will say that I was a bit annoyed at the author for complaining about her provider all the time and not switching to a practice that would fit with her better.  Surely somewhere in the 7 million residents of the great city of Chicago is a more science-based obstetrics practice.  That said, I do recommend reading this book.

Another great book that contains a review of our current understanding of the science of fetal development is Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.  I really loved reading this book because it opened my eyes to processes I didn't even know were taking place inside me.  Written in a conversational style by a science reporter who is herself pregnant, it's a great balance of hard data review and empathy for her fellow travelers on the reproductive journey.  This book, like the 2 recommended above, provides the actual references for you to go look up, should you be inclined to do so - heart.  I cannot recommend this book any more highly.  It's also a great book for dads to read, in my humble opinion.

For a more general review of the various physical, medical, and emotional aspects of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period, I recommend From the Hips.  It presents a lot of great information, helpfully organized by topic (ex. prenatal testing, nutrition, etc.), rather than trimester.  This makes it both easy to read in order or use as a reference.  Additionally, the margins have these great thought bubbles from recent moms and dads and their experience with the topic at hand.  I loved reading these most of all, especially when there was disagreement from one to the next.  The thought bubbles also normalized so much of the new and confusing feelings that arise when pregnant.  I don't know why this book is not more popular, frankly.  I think it is such a hidden gem.

Labor & Birth

Here, as already mentioned by my partner in his post on books for dads (and non-dad partners!), I greatly recommend The Birth Partner.  Technically this book is written for the person or people supporting the pregnant mother in labor.  However, I read it too because I found it to be the most comprehensive and clearest description of what happens in labor.  I also appreciated the judgement-free, concise descriptions of the various interventions that may have to take place when in labor.  This was a great starting point for conversations with my provider about those potential interventions.  Those conversations came in particularly handy when I needed medical help in my first labor.  There is also a great chapter in the book about nursing and other aspects of "the 4th trimester" (definitely the right name for the first weeks postpartum).

Photo credits - Wikipedian Protester under a Creative Commons license.

Labor Day - Proceed with caution!!

When you're pregnant with your first baby, it's impossible not to wonder how your own labor is going to go.  Different people respond to this wondering in different ways.  Some don't want to hear anything about anyone else's story because they don't want to psych themselves out.  Others yearn to read/hear every story they can possibly get their hands on to prepare themselves for any eventuality.  Both of these are completely valid approaches.  Eventually your baby will come out of you and you will have your own birth story to share/terrify/encourage/regale others with. (It's generally considered polite to only share these stories when asked, btw.  It's also considered polite not to terrify first time mothers - just sayin'.)

In case it hasn't been obvious from spending 30 seconds on this blog, I was definitely in the "tell me all the things" camp when it came to preparing for my own labor.  The problem with this, of course, is that most sources of labor stories are friends (I have a limited number), websites like Baby Center (where most of the stories lack coherence or punctuation), your birth class (which has the agenda of not wanting to scare you).  For this reason I absolutely loved the well written, well curated, beautiful and brutally honest stories in the anthology Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today's Best Women Writers.  To be honest, none of the writers's names jumped out at me as ones I recognized.  But also to be honest, I cannot say that paid all that much attention to their names - so engrossed was I in their stories.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I read this book in between my 2 pregnancies (perhaps had I read it while pregnant with my first, I may have had a different response).  My first labor was difficult and had some unexpected twists and turns (everyone came out healthy, see the many pictures of my daughter on this very blog).  I cannot say that I entered my second pregnancy relishing to give it another go.  Perhaps for this reason I found reading these stories so cathartic.  Some experiences described here were like my own, some were not.  Some choices were not ones I would make or have had to make.  Some of the stories in the book were quite tragic (the table of contents does tell you which stories to avoid if you are pregnant and want to avoid the tragic ones). However, the great take away I got from reading this book is that birth, no matter the trajectory or outcome, is so deeply and profoundly transformative for all women that it occupies our thoughts even decades after the fact.  In this I found my solace and my community.

If you're reading this review while pregnant with your first (or contemplating this path), proceed with caution to this book.  Know thyself.  Regardless, if you are pregnant, soon you will have your own story to carry with you.

You've gone and had a baby and now none of your clothes fit...

I'm sure your birth class, know-it-all friend, and every third pregnancy website you visited gleefully told you that you will still look pregnant when you leave the hospital and that you should be sure to pack some maternity clothes.

"No problem!", you naively thought "I can stand to wear my cute maternity dresses for an extra couple of weeks".

Then, suddenly you were 11 weeks postpartum, crying on your bedroom floor, surrounded by your pre-pregnancy clothes (none of which fit) wondering what on earth you were going to wear to the office next week.  Whether you lost your your baby weight by then (all together now... hahahahah) or like me, were still 10lbs+ over what you were just a year ago, it's almost certain that your wardrobe is suddenly much more limited.  Why is this (other than because there is no justice and life is a bitch)?  Your skin hasn't had time to shrink back, and your bones and body have rearranged themselves ('member those birthing hips that helped carry that baby around at 40 weeks?).

So what do you do now?

Well dry your tears, chin up... here is some advice:
  1. 1. Repeat after me "It took 9 months to grow a baby, it'll take at least that long to get my body back."

  2. 2. Go order some clothes from Momzelle (or their Amazon selection).  This is a magical website that will sell you magical clothing that will have discreet openings for you to nurse your baby AND make you look amazing. The company is Canadian and so they delightfully undersell the fact that their clothing is, as they put it, "Designed to flatter the postpartum figure" (seriously, that's like saying that newborns are cute but a bit time consuming). I don't know what these people do when they design their clothes and I don't know why no one else does it, but they will seriously make you look like a person shaped person, even when you aren't yet.

And now, internet, because we've become close friends, I will tell you a not entirely appropriate story to prove my point.  This was my second pregnancy and I became pregnant at 15lbs more than I was before I had my first baby.  Then, when I was 5 months along my husband had a health crisis that
landed him in the ICU.  Needless to say, a toddler, a very ill husband (who is fine now... phew), and a heady cocktail of pregnancy hormones does not make for a calm couple of months.  And so, I made the very rational decision at that time, to eat my feelings.  And the feelings, all of the stressful, heart wrenching, "what will the future bring" feelings, they tasted like chocolate milkshakes.  I then stayed pregnant until 41 weeks, at which point I could have held my own in a seesaw contest with an Orca. Below are 2 pictures of me modeling 2 different dresses.

Me at 39 weeks wearing one of their dresses that is designed to be both a maternity and nursing dress (my daughter was decorating me with stickers)
Me 2 weeks postpartum looking like a person even though I was actually a bag of blubber
Not only will these dresses make you look great, they also have clever openings that make them super convenient for breastfeeding.  Good looking nursing clothes is so hard to find that these are worth every penny.

Also I was recently at a work event where a co-worker complemented me (completely inappropriately... seriously guys, NEVER COMMENT ON A COWORKER'S WEIGHT) for having lost all my baby weight.  Of course... hahahah, definitely had not done that, but I WAS wearing a Momzelle shirt.

Pregnancy Books for Dads (and non-Dad-partners)-to-Be

Ok, parenting stuff for Dad is pretty dire in general, and doubly so for the pregnancy stage of things where everything assumes you're Family Guy's Peter Griffin or anyone who has appeared on CBS since 1994. An Amazon search of books for Dads-to-be includes a hearty helping of the word "Dude," advice to stop cheating on your girl / take your job seriously, and backwards-for-the-1970s expectations on gender roles.

I found two books that rose above the crowd.

I am not a bro-dad.
Don't be this guy.
First is The Expectant Father. Annotated with New Yorker cartoons (yeah, I feel like that makes the point about this book better than any other way), author Armin Brott goes month-by-month through the pregnancy covering the basics on symptoms and fetal development, sure, but also gets into your emotions, her emotions, how to react to her emotions, and dozens of other things. Sections include thinking about work-life balance (and how to talk to peers/superiors about your desire to be actively involved in your child), your relationship with your own father, baby gear, and sex life during pregnancy. It does a good job of covering some of the more "traditional" topics of finances, life insurance, and the like too.

Note: I read the 3rd edition before my daughter was born and the 4th edition has come out since then.

Also note: Brott has a whole series of books covering the first years of childhood as well as some other special circumstances. I enjoyed The New Father though it went longer between updates and the 2nd edition that I read was dated by that time. I imagine the brand-new 3rd edition is wonderful.

My second recommendation is The Birth Partner. This book is written by a doula about how to be the best companion for a woman in birth, either as a father/partner, parent, friend, or doula and was an invaluable resource for both births. The book is heavy on natural birth but entirely non-judgmental about those who opt for (or otherwise need) more interventions. 

Important point about "natural birth" that is often lost: We tried natural twice and wound up with a boatload of interventions both times, but having all the tools to try a natural birth made both of us (mostly her) more able to handle the various surprises, complications, and delays that made both of us (mostly her) need to fall back on various coping mechanisms. It also made the laboring "at home" portion before the hospital much more palatable (for her) that would otherwise be the case. 
Helpfully, this book is sorted by topic rather than month/trimester and key sections have pages with color edges, which makes it a great resource during labor. For this reason, I would recommend the print copy over the eBook one, even though I'm normally ambivalent about format.

Photo credits - Bad Dad: Rolands Lakis under a Creative Commons license