Family planning · Life · Work life balance

40 days postpartum

I’m almost at the 40 day postpartum mark as I write this. That means 6 weeks! Its unbelievable how quickly time has flown. Everyone told me to savor the newborn days precisely because of that reason. In the initial few days I didn’t think time would go by fast enough because of how sleep deprived I was 24×7. Now that I am at the 6 week mark, I know the advice to be true. Our baby is growing so fast and I can’t keep up! 

I have a mild headache while I write this but instead of pumping milk and sleeping early, I decided to make time to write this out. Why? It’s because I’ve been wanting to write for the last few days and just have not found the time to write. Tonight is one of those evenings that I have time, I am one feed ahead of schedule and so I did not want to waste the opportunity. Writing has become my personal form of therapy. It has been for a long time, but I feel its need even more so now. It helps me understand my thoughts and make sense of my feelings. It also helps resolve conflicts and confusion in my head. 

Month 2 has helped resolve many of the issues I was experiencing in month 1. Physically and emotionally I feel more like myself now. Of course I am still 15 pounds over my pre pregnancy weight and need the express permission of my obgyn before getting back to my usual exercise routine. And even after getting back to regular exercise, I know it will take my body time to get back into shape. Expecting to drop those pounds like that is simply impossible, although one can hope! Celebrity moms make it harder to justify this too. 

Breastfeeding and raising a newborn has brought joys of all kinds and challenges too. In the previous blog post, I was mostly talking about the lack of sleep. Now, I’ve found that my body clock has gotten used to the lack of sleep. Or maybe it’s nature’s way of syncing my sleep with that of the baby’s. When she wakes up, I am able to automatically wake up and my body recognizes that its time to go to work! The sleep deprivation does not hurt me as acutely as it does my husband. I am guessing because his body isn’t secreting the kind of hormones mine is. He does not get the same hit of dopamine that I do when the baby latches, begins feeding and I experience a letdown. Like I said, being a mom brings with it all kinds of joys and challenges. This is one of those newfound joys that I’d never thought I’d experience or appreciate! Motherhood is truly incredible. 

What are some of the challenges? Where to even begin? 

I wish I knew how expensive breastfeeding was. I remember reading a research article about how expensive breastfeeding is compared to bottle feeding. I first heard about the Harvard article, on a podcast. The podcast poo pooed the article heavily. They had the assumption that all of us do- bottles are expensive, how can breastfeeding that comes naturally, be more expensive than that? 

When I read the article myself, I found myself agreeing to its conclusion. Today’s post talks about my biggest revelations postpartum and how I plan to continue breastfeeding when I return to work!

Lack of clear information 

The biggest issue I discovered was the lack of clear information for working moms or rather, the multiple streams of confusing information. It reminded me of the time I was applying to dental schools back in 2013. There was so much information out there, completely unsynthesized, that I felt very overwhelmed and directionless. It took me a while to make sense of it all. There are many blogs, podcasts and even state/federal websites dedicated to breastfeeding moms, but nothing specific to dentists. Our profession is not standard. We are on the go the whole day and sometimes don’t have the 15- 30 mins required to pump milk in lactation rooms, because of our schedules. Heck, I don’t even remember there being a dedicated lactation room in any of the dental practices I worked at or at dental schools I’ve had the opportunity to visit over the years.  Most information was crowdsourced from colleagues, friends and blogs/youtube videos by nurses!

Portable dentistry 

Portable dentistry poses some unique challenges. I won’t have access to a lactation room, or a fridge because I don’t have a physical office. How can I be gone for nearly 12 hours, traveling all over the Bay Area in my car, and still provide our baby with milk at the end of the day? If I do not pump milk every few hours, my body will think it does not need to produce any and my supply will drop. Ultimately I’ve decided to use the Elvie– a portable pump that you can wear under your clothes and control using an app on your phone. This makes pumping easy because I could be seeing a patient and still pumping milk simultaneously. I don’t have to run to my car/private room or worry about missing a pump session and becoming engorged. As a backup, I also have my Medela pump which comes with a portable adaptor. The only issue is that it would require me to hold the pump with my hands and a 15 min break every 3 hours between patients. While that is possible with my schedule, it is inconvenient and not very ergonomic. My wrists are already pretty unhappy with me! 

Building a stash for the fridge/freezer

The other concern I had was how to go about building a stash of breastmilk for the freezer. I learned only recently that a good way to do this is to give the baby formula at night for a single feed and use that time instead to pump. That pumped milk can then go to the freezer! This was more simple for us to implement instead of me trying to pump in the middle of feeding sessions which resulted in lesser outputs. There are other ways to do this besides giving the baby formula. One could pump simultaneously while breastfeeding. Or could use milk collectors throughout the day to save every leaky drop. I tried the former and it didn’t work for me. I am yet to try the latter and plan to use the next few weeks to see what works best for me before I head back to work.

Additional equipment 

I also realized quickly how many supplemental things I needed to make breastfeeding a success while at home and at work. Nipple shields, nipple cream, pumps, bottles, bottle warmer, freezer bags, breastfeeding pillows, a sterilizer, etc. Sure bottle feeding requires bottles, bottle warmers and a constant supply of formula. However the assumption I held prior was that breastfeeding is ‘free’, but it isn’t! I also found that I needed to try multiple sizes of pump flanges and shields to get the right one. Most of these items are not returnable. Being in this scenario has shown me how commercialized the women’s health industry is. So many items marketed to women are built to make us dependent on them, rather than help us relieve discomfort and pain. 

Inequality of pay

It is not surprising to me anymore when I hear of fellow dentists drop out of the workforce after having a baby. Most of my colleagues and friends quit working for 6 months to a year after their baby was born. The logistics of coordinating breastfeeding was just not compatible with the income they were getting. It was ‘not worth it.’ How unfortunate is it that as a healthcare provider, we are forced to leave the workforce to help our babies become their healthiest, best selves? 

Women still make less than the men in the same job across multiple American industries. This holds true for dentistry too. It is one of the reasons I’m happy to be working for myself and be answerable to no one. I can set my own fees and decide which patients I want to serve. It hurts me to watch women go back to jobs where they are earning less than their counterparts yet working twice as hard when they go back to their homes to breastfeed their babies, sacrificing on sleep. 

Support systems 

I’ve also found how helpful it is to have someone at home to help during this critical postpartum period. Our nanny started working full time last week. She takes care of the baby’s laundry, bottle feeds her during the day while I sleep, cooks us lunch and dinner, and keeps our house tidy. She also sings songs and reads bedtime stories to, plays the baby music and gives her a bath. Having a nanny has given me 3 productive hours between 9-5. To me, that’s a lot. I usually sleep for 2 of them and use 1 for admin work. Once the baby sleeps more at night I will start sleeping for 1 hour during the day and have 2 for admin work. Admin work also includes making time to write articles like this! 

I hope everyone reading this can find solace in the fact that we are not alone. Advocating for equality in benefits, pay, can help our community of healthcare providers become stronger. As I continue on in my journey I hope to write and share more. In the meantime, if you are in the same phase of life as I am, or considering it, I congratulate you and wish you the best. It is the best experience of my life as I know it will be for you! 

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