Breastfeeding, Babywearing, and Boredom
I didn’t realize that my entire experience with motherhood depended on a healthy, strong back until I no longer had one. Everything I did for my child required me to bend, stand, or carry. As he got older and more independent, parenting has become easier to manage. But from the time I gave birth until he was a toddler, there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t engaging the strength of my back.
During my pregnancy, I found that everyone was accommodating. Once, my younger brother offered to help me with my laundry and errands. I thought I would fall over from shock, but he said, “Anything for my nephew.” Ah, yes, that’s right. I’m only the carrier. The oven baking the bun. I had been living with a chronic condition for a while, but pregnancy is what activated the help button on my “Little Brother” model. Although now I find it slightly aggravating, at the time it was absolutely wonderful. I was carrying my baby all in the front, and the weight pulling me forward made everything, from lying down to breathing, uncomfortable by the end of the second trimester.
I spent motherhood bent over
It was life in the fourth trimester, however, that really challenged me. As a stay-at-home mother, I spent more time bent over a crib, co-sleeper, swing, pack n’ play, bathtub, bouncer, or changing table than I did standing straight up. I was also carrying my son in my arms, in a carrier, or wrapped to my chest. I had not given up the extra weight of another human, even after birth. My back was beginning to hurt a lot more often than it did before I had a baby. Because of this, in combination with my unrelenting ulcerative colitis flares, it took me a while to find physical comfort while caring for my baby. During this time, I did discover a few tips that wound up working for me to reduce the strain on my body.
Being comfortable while nursing your baby is key. The nursing relationship may not be as smooth as we visualize or that we see on Instagram, so it’s important to control as many external elements as possible. One of these is posture. Supporting the back with pillows can help hug the body. Some breastfeeding pillows will wrap around the body and push your spine forward. It may be necessary to try some pillows before purchasing one. The Itzy Ritzy Milk Boss works a little different because it slips onto an arm, so mothers are free to adjust other pillows however necessary. It also allows sitting in any chair to nurse.
For pumping, creating a pumping station was amazing. My pumping station was near my most comfortable chair with all of my supplies on a round end table. I recently saw a friend post a photo of her pumping station on Instagram, which was set up on a utility cart. She placed the pump (which is the heaviest item) on the top. She didn’t have to move anything except the cart when she was finished pumping. If a pump becomes too heavy to carry for travel or work, a manual breast pump is a good alternative. A single electric pump, such as that sold by Medela, or the new wearable breast pumps by Willow or Elvie can be excellent alternatives to carrying a heavy breast pump engine.
As much as I loved wrapping my newborn, after he reached about 12 pounds, the weight of carrying him began to hurt my lower back. Even now with a ring sling, I can only carry a baby for a short amount of time. I need a carrier with lumbar support and comfortable straps. I use brands that can distribute the child’s weight evenly, have lumbar support, and comfortable straps. The Ergobaby Original, Ergobaby Omni 360, Tula Explore, Tula Toddler, Beco Gemini, and Beco Toddler have all worked out well for me both in and out of an ulcerative colitis flare-up.
Positions for babywearing are very much a personal preference for both the mother and the child. I have found that once the child is over 20 pounds, a forward facing carry has a shorter period of comfortable wear than does a back carry. Hip carriers are great for shorter carrying intervals. For back carrying, I like a longer carrier with a wider panel to prevent your little one from leaning back and therefore pulling on mom’s back. Also, wearing an older child a bit higher takes some of the tension off the back and legs.
The crib has always been my downfall. Trying to lean over and soothe a cranky infant has often left me in pain or unable to stand up straight for a while. There are cribs now that raise up high for use with an infant. Once the baby can stand, the crib can be lowered. Leaving the crib for only night time sleep also prevents having to spend too much time in a deep lean over position. I used a pack n’ play with a bassinet and changing table attached. Some are high enough that they can be used to change a diaper or place the baby in a bassinet from a sitting position on the couch. There are also pack ‘n plays that will unzip on one side for older babies. You will not have to lift a child out of the playpen, but instead can unzip the side and the baby can crawl out themselves.
A co-sleeper can attach to the bed, which means that the baby can be picked up out of it with minimal movement. Co-sleepers made especially to attach to an adult bed, such as Dock-A-Tot, prevent the baby from rolling out of the sleeper or an adult from rolling over the child while sleeping.
I kept my pregnancy pillows through my fourth trimester, and unwisely got rid of them once I stopped breastfeeding. Consider holding onto pregnancy pillows because they can be wonderful during a nap while in a flare-up, while breastfeeding, or even while resting.
Care seats, strollers, and other gear
Lots of people buy gear for every growth stage. I believe in buying quality gear that can carry through many different stages. Convertible car seats that have a range from newborn to 100 pounds which can be used rear facing and then extend into a hijack booster are fantastic. Carrier car seats can be heavy, hard to install properly, and have a strict weight limit. The only carrier carseat I have found that works well for people with physical challenges is the Doona car seat/stroller. It’s a carrier car seat that fits into a base in the car. But instead of carrying the car seat into the venue you’re visiting, you can stroll the baby in with a click of a button because the car seat becomes a stroller. It’s perfect for travel as well as everyday needs and is aircraft approved. It doesn’t have a bottom basket, but it does have a bag that attaches to the back that can fit a carrier, wrap, or ring sling when it’s time for baby to stretch out.
Strollers that can be both a bassinet and a toddler seat which have a large basket and are easy to wash or wipe down are good options. Having a bassinet built into the stroller can help with nap time when you are out and about. This will give you the freedom to walk around the neighborhood and/or make your physical therapy or doctor’s appointments during nap time. Compact strollers like the Ergobaby Metro or Yoyo that fold up small enough to fit in the overhead compartment on a plane are also versatile. They are lightweight, easy to manage, and have reclining seats. A compact, but not short, stroller options can help prevent too much bending. A diaper bag that can be strapped easily on the back of a stroller, while remaining accessible, is a great option. A backpack with comfortable straps that will double as a diaper bag and purse can also leave arms free for chasing a toddler.
I found that even though my baby kept me busy, putting focus on a human who was not verbal yet, coupled with my chronic condition, made me feel trapped in a weird sense of boredom. Being stuck in the house changing diapers, nursing, and being in pain can send a mom into a rut. Make a conscious decision every single day to take a few moments for self-care. If needed, use the stroller as walking assistance to take a walk, have some coffee or tea in a cafe, or visit with other moms.
Staying indoors focusing on the idea that the pain will not go away can lay a foundation for seclusion and depression. Staying active and engaging with the outside world through more than just social media will be important for the first year of motherhood, as well as during the years to come. When my flare-ups happen, I find that I have to push myself harder and harder to take time for self-care. But it is then, more than ever, that self-care is important.
Delegating to others
When babies arrive in the home, people often ask what they can do to help or what is needed for the baby. Sometimes moms are given too many unnecessary items for the baby, but are left without resources for themselves. When people ask what they can do, I often ask for practical things that will help me be a better and healthier mom, such as:
- Come over and watch the baby while I shower and/or nap
- Bring food or send food delivery gift cards
- Donate for housekeeping or babysitting services
- Offer to take on school pickups or run errands
- Give a gift of a professional massage
Don't wait to ask for help
If you are overwhelmed, do not wait to ask for help. People often want to help, but don’t know how or feel like they are invading. So, it’s often on moms to take the first step and ask.There are times when I wish that I didn’t have to modify my motherhood experience. But I have to remember that even able-bodied mothers have to make adjustments and modifications for all types of reasons to their motherhood journey. My parenting is not subpar or lackluster because of the steps I have to take to accommodate my disability. I have found that over time it has helped with the bonding of my child. We’ve taken things slow and deliberate. My child has become empathetic and loving, as well as respectful to those who are differently abled. My challenges have helped him see the world in a different way. And for that I am grateful.
Other than back pain and fatigue, what is the most common symptom that AS patients experience?