Sunday, September 16, 2012

Postpartum Itch

At about 5 weeks postpartum I developed an itch. It took nearly two months to get to the bottom of it, during which time I read many complains on online forums of similar problems experienced by new moms. Though everyone's itch may well be unique, I thought I would share my story in case it provides a clue for some other itchy sufferer out there.

My itch started in a small spot on my right hip and I thought it was a flea bite. But it quickly spread all over my legs, arms, feet, and to some extent, the torso (front, not back). There was no rash, but an itch so maddening that even though I've had eczema since I was a baby and have had to deal with something itching on a daily basis all my life, I could not help but scratch. I scratched till I bled. I scratched till I bruised. I looked like something out of a zombie film. Night time was the worst - Offspring was still waking every 2 hours to feed and what little sleep I got was interrupted by the itching. Laying for more than 15 min on one side caused the skin there to itch more. Once an hour I would get up, wipe myself down with cold water and stand in front of a fan cooling off the skin. Later I discovered witch hazel and would climb into the tub and cover myself head to toe with it. Sometimes I would put ethanol on the raw scratched bits because pain, it turns out, is preferable to itch (pain is also inhibitory of itch, so says Wikipedia).

I thought that the itch might have something to do with the pregnancy. A quick google search showed that there were other mothers out there who developed an itch at about the same time. Though itching is common in women who had epidurals, the only thing I was administered during birth was pitocin for the last 15 minutes of pushing. Still, I thought that the rapidly changing hormones may have been the culprit. So first I went to see my ObGyn. Well, actually, I ended up seeing the nurse practitioner, who told me that she too had a bad itch with each one of her children, which lasted about half a year, that she did not know what caused it and that I should just suck it up. So onto the dermatologist I went, who pronounced it eczema, gave me a prescription for a giant bottle of Elocon lotion (a steroid topical cream that I sometimes use for eczema anyway). I had to be careful about when I would apply the lotion, since I didn't want to get steroid cream on my baby. But even with my careful applications weeks went by without any improvement. By this point I was using a dried up loofah to scratch myself, as it was a bit gentler on the skin that my nails. I was going delirious with sleep deprivation and itch and was accompanied everywhere by the fumes of colloidal oatmeal and witch hazel.

I consulted with my friend's mom who is a naturapathic doctor. She thought that it might be a buildup of toxins or biles, due to a faulty liver or the gall bladder, I don't recall now. Without examining me she had to go by my description and I really appreciate her taking the time, but after a cleansing diet of milk of magnesia and some rather pricy homeopathic pills (yes, I was THAT desperate) I was no closer to the cure. Well into the second month of my torment I went to see my GP (actually, the nurse practitioner in the office). I just sat there crying for a while and then asked if there is anything at all she could do - perhaps a blood test? She had seen me a few weeks earlier (we tried unsuccessfully a Clarinex treatment) and agreed to do a full blood panel. The only thing that was off on the test results was an elevated eosinophil count, common in allergic reactions, some infections and pointing once again to eczema. NP prescribed Singulair, a leukotriene receptor antagonists, which Husband had been taking all along for his seasonal allergies. Within HOURS the itch was gone. Seriously.

I took the Singulair for a couple of weeks. We also started cosleeping with Offspring, which meant that I could get basically a full night's rest. And the itch went away for good. When I saw the NP for a something else a few months later she told me that she had another mother come in with a crazy itch at 5 weeks postpartum and she too benefited greatly from Singulair. So even though n=2 in our little experience here, I figure there is no harm in spreading the word about a possible pp-itch solution.

PS: if you are wondering why I include pictures of elephants, it's because they always seem so itchy to me.

UPDATE 9-29-14: Since the writing of this post I have had a second baby and since this post appears to have been helpful for some folks out there I thought I would include an update on post partum itch after baby 2.0 (who is over a year old now! Gosh, time flies...) The good news is that I did not get the itch after my second pregnancy/birth. I was prepared for it but it did not materialize. There were few differences between my pregnancies, if anything I was more tired and uncomfortable during my second. The kids birthdays are just days apart so I don't think the time of year (temperature, humidity etc) played a role. The second birth was far shorter (5 hours vs 21) and I had to take an antibiotic during labor the second time.

There were, however, two differences in the post partum period that I believe made the real difference:

1) I got more sleep than I did with baby #1 because we chose to cosleep with baby 2.0 from the start, which I already felt comfortable with and knew worked well for us. So I was more rested.

2) I was far less worried about messing everything up, harming the baby in some fashion, and just less anxious in general as my confidence in my parenting skills had improved. So I was more relaxed.

I think these two factors likely resulted in me NOT developing the eczema/itch that I did with baby #1. As always, I hope this helps someone out there who is itching! May you find relief.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Introducing the Video Snob

When I hear a song on the radio, especially if I like it, I often picture in my mind what a nice video it must have. I don't even know if there is still an MTV or VH1 type channel out there, but at least there is YouTube and time permitting I make a point of looking up said song to have the combined audio visual experience.

Sometimes the videos are fantastic. They are interesting, visually stunning, unusual, tell a story or are just plane cool in some other way. An example of a good video would be Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and most of Lady GaGa's videos.

Most often videos are fairly plain. They feature parties, smiling dancing people, a few shots of the singer(s) singing, so mostly vague imagery or a not too elaborate story. Sometimes that's all a song really needs though, especially one that is mostly an upbeat dance tune. "Glad You Came" by The Wanted and "Stereo Love" by Edward Maya would fall into this category.

And then there are the videos that disappoint. Over the years I've come to realize that this must be a pet peeve of mine - boring, unimaginative, or worst of all - mismatched videos. This phenomenon is not unlike "the book was better than the movie," after all I have preconceived notions about what the video might look like, what the song is about, what feelings it inspires in me. Maybe the artist just feels differently. Or perhaps the artist was just lazy (or low on funds?) and thought that 3 minutes of watching him or her sing from different angles is satisfying? Anyway, I've decided to start a new series of posts in which I shall highlight my biggest video disappointments as they occur (and some from the past).

So here is my video snub of the week:     Ellie Goulding's "Lights"

The lyrics hold some drama, there is an interesting sort of change of pace towards the end - over all, a catchy song. I was picturing something medieval, probably due to the mention of a queen, or something Twilight-like, possibly because of something or other turning to stone. So for one thing I think this video is a mismatch. But then, to add insult to injury, there are the fabulous dance moves, the inexplicable tambourine, the seizure inducing lights (Oh... it says "Lights" in the title, so fucking original...) and the really high budget special effect twirly light things.

This gets 3 out of 5 snobby GaGas.

Let's cleanse our pallet with a truly haunting video for Fever Ray's "Keep the Streets Empty for Me" directed by Jens Klevje and Fabian Svensson.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The End (and Future) of Maternity Leave

Less than two weeks from now I will be returning to work after an extended maternity leave. I feel some excitement about returning to the lab, doing my job which I love, interacting with adults and wearing a real bra and earrings. I also feel a dread so great I have refused to even think about - the dread many mothers feel when entrusting their child to someone else's care, be it their partner, parent or daycare service provider. It's the dread of missing - missing the milestones, such as the first time she walks or says a word or even learns to wave; missing the little everyday things like her smiles, her kisses, her look of concentration as she babbles something to her teddy; missing holding her, the smell of her, the sight of her; and what's most dreadful to me is missing that connection with her that comes from being so in tune that I know that she needs to pee, or sleep, or why she seems grumpy at the moment. 

In preparation for our transition to daddy daycare I've been leaving the house for extended periods of time (3 hours - ha!) the last two weekends to give them some time to get into the groove of it. Yesterday I went to see Dark Shadows, an event I was looking forward to greatly as this was my first time seeing a movie since Avatar or similar. Aside from the fact that the movie was a giant disappointment (seriously, feel free to walk out during the Happening and don't look back. What a waste of my precious free time!!!) when I returned home and practically ran to my child with outstretched arms screeching "My baby!!!" I was completely ignored as she continued to methodically remove dirt from a flower pot and smear it on her pants. I waited patiently till she was done with this fascinating activity only to have her crawl away without even a backwards glance in my direction! I must admit this smarted.

Granted I have been very lucky. I have been able to take 11 months off by using a combination of disability leave, maternity leave and leave of absence and due to the awesomeness of my boss (and some blackmail). Most have not been this fortunate. I concede that there are women who return to work at the end of the 6-16 (depending on your employer) week leave with some relief. Out of my twenty or so friends who recently had children, one was glad to do this and felt it made her a happier, better mommy. But for most of us parting with our tiny newborns when we have just stopped bleeding from giving birth (~ 6 weeks postpartum) and are nursing them every hour or two day and night, and are loving the hell out of them - well it seems like torture. USA Today and the Mom's in Maine blog got me thinking about the plausibility of longer maternity leave for all American mothers (who want it). Did you know that Canadians get up to 50 weeks leave at 55% paid?

"France, 16 weeks rising to 26 weeks for third child – and up to 104 weeks unpaid. Yup, that’s 2 years. 
Germany, 14 weeks (100% paid) 6 of which taken before birth, then 12/14 months  at 65% paid. 
Sweden, 16 months parental leave (that’s right – for both mom and dad) at 80% paid. 
United Kingdom, currently 39 weeks paid, due to rise to 52 weeks paid."

In the US we have the Family Medical Leave Act (or FML eh?) for eligible employees only to take up to 12 unpaid weeks (including any time off just before giving birth, like those last two weeks where you can barely move for example). Well, it's too little in my opinion. I would be in favor of something to the tune of 6 months minimum, 9 months ideal and with at least some pay. A year would be easiest for employers I think as they could find a decent one year temp replacement. But as with any social program we run into the "who is going to pay?" and "why do you feel entitled to this?" problems. I think the Mom's in Maine blog covered some of the benefits of such an expenditure nicely. They include more successful breastfeeding and all the lifelong health benefits for mom and child inherent therein, and a better bond and more nurturing relationship between mother and infant and all the psychological and health benefits inherent therein. These aren't small long term benefits though they do sound all 'soft and fuzzy'. 


I haven't thought too much about politics lately but in thinking about why I'm so disgruntled with the state of this country (and why perhaps others are also) I have had a theory. It seems to me that the problem is that we are a two party state - two parties that are diametrically opposed on every issue. If party A believes X then party B will believe Y. Always. There is no middle ground. There is no third or forth option. Each party prevents the other from achieving what it wants and so nothing gets done. Perhaps this was a clever ploy by someone, to make sure this country remained at status quo and never budged but as any evolutionary biologist will tell you - if [a country] does not adapt, it will die out. Variation is the key to adaptability. So there are three options for the future: 
1. We abolish the two party system and get more parties up in here.
2. We split the US in to two countries, into North and South for example. Conservatives move south, Liberals north, we each get our own way.
3. We keep grinding our wheels in frustration for eternity!
Which one do you think will happen?

Husband and I are sort of like a two party system here at home. I'm all about protection (Watch where you put that knife! Don't let her crawl there! What are you doing with that flamethrower?) and he's all about freedom (who do you think she likes hanging out with more?). But because we respect one another I think we are able to build on each others strengths so Offspring is having a lot of fun exploring the world while not being over protected. So while I loathe to leave her, I think she'll be in excellent hands.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Breastfeeding SUCKsess

I've written and then erased this post four times now. It is so easy for me to get preachy and judgmental and I'm not sure that is the most constructive use of my time. Instead, I'll try to write about the things I did not know about breastfeeding before having a baby. First, I would like to point you to an excellent resource - This site has virtually everything you may want to know about breastfeeding, breast care, baby digestive systems, weaning (aka introducing solids) etc.

One of the things you'll hear about (or should hear about) in prenatal classes and baby books is the all important LATCH. The latch is the way the baby attaches to the nipple and since we don't have a lot of opportunity in our life to watch breastfeeding in action it may be useful to watch some youtube videos on the subject. Basically, you need to aim the nipple at the nose, not, as odd as it sounds, at the mouth. And if the latch is 'off' you will experience pain. At least, that's what I learned in all the classes. When Offspring came along I asked every nurse and doctor that stopped by to check on us if my latch was ok and everyone had the very unhelpful response of "It seems alright". When I developed bruises on my nipples I decided that my latch must have been off after all, but I now suspect the truth of the matter is that nipples need time to adjust to the rough handling they will be receiving for the next year or two, and soreness and sometimes even cracking (I have a scar to prove it), will be part of that. After a few weeks (or in my case a few months because of the bad crack) it's old news until teeth come along, those sharp little things and then you are in for a few more weeks of adjustment.

The other thing to know is that milk production is a system of supply and demand. When baby is first born the breasts produce colostrum, which is super good for baby but is low in volume. They will tell you it's all the baby needs till the milk comes in (which happens somewhere around day 3) but frankly Offspring was rather displeased and it is also the reason why babies may lose up to 10% of their birth weight before starting to gain weight. What's important to remember, is that the more the baby sucks to try and get milk out, the faster and more abundant the milk will be. So one important lesson is that supplementation with any kind of formula is not necessary and can in fact be detrimental to the whole process.

Breastmilk is amazing in so many ways. It changes composition throughout the day (more fat at night), with the weather (more watery in hot weather), contains EVERYTHING the baby needs for ultimate growth in just the right proportions no matter what the mother eats (though it doesn't hurt to eat healthy), is the right temperature, is free. You get my drift. The poop of breastfed babies does not stink, unlike that of formula fed babies. Strangely, breastfed babies also poop less but do not really get constipated as breast milk has a slightly laxative effect (as Husband discovered for himself).

One of the things I kept hearing about was that antibodies from mom would pass through the breast milk to the baby and protect him or her from infections, provide immunity against diseases mom had encountered and appears to ward off other illness and problems like ear infections, stomach infections and obesity. I couldn't quite figure out how ingesting antibodies would help baby acquire immunity until I read (on!) about how the baby's gut is 'leaky' till about 6 months of age. The cells in the gut are spaced far apart, leaving large gaps and allow entire molecules such as antibodies to pass directly into the blood stream. This is good for immunity but bad for allergies etc and is one of the reasons babies should NOT be introduced to solids till at least 6 months of age (not 4, as is so often the case in the US) because that's when the digestive system begins to mature. More on that later. Sceptical as I was, it seems to have worked for us at least. I got a terrible flu/cold when Offspring was about 3 months old and though I was a snotty slobbery mess she did not catch a thing!

The other thing I kept hearing about but did not understand fully until recently is the process behind hindmilk and foremilk. Foremilk is the first milk that comes out as the baby starts sucking, it is more watery and thurst quenching. Hindmilk comes next and is more fatty and filling. When the baby is done eating, the hindmilk that had moved to the front of the breast is left to sit till the next feeding and over that time the fats are reabsorbed by the body leaving behind - you guessed it - foremilk. Anthropologically speaking it seems that the best way to feed a baby is 'on demand', or more accurately 'on cue', allowing the baby to regulate his food/drink intake. It seems that biologically this is also true. When doctors started recommending scheduled feedings in the last century for fear of 'spoiling' kids by letting them dictate when they were to be fed the following scenario would play out - baby was fed for a specified time, lets say 10 minutes and then made to wait a specified time, let's say 2 hours till the next feed. Over that time whatever milk was in the breast turned to watery foremilk, so when hungry baby finally got a chance at the boob again he was unsatisfied, hungry and upset and he still only got 10 minutes and drank mostly foremilk! Meanwhile, the mother's body was producing less and less milk since it didn't seem like the baby was needing as much (supply/demand) and presto chango you have a situation of 'not enough milk' and a demand for supplementation (formula, early solids, etc). In reality, there is no such thing as 'not enough milk' (except I suppose in some super rare medical cases). And yes, the baby may need to be on the boob for hours at first, but that's the nature of the game people!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Catching Up

So my daughter, henceforth known as Offspring, will be seven months old next week. I thought I might try getting back into blogging a bit, time permitting. This may well become a parenting-adventure blog, who knows...

In the meantime, I'll try to summarize the last seven months. I had a pretty uneventful pregnancy and an excellent birth. It was a bit long for my liking - 21 hours, but that's pretty standard. The pushing was my least favorite part by far (about 3 hours) and left me with some complications that I'm still not entirely over. Other than that, I'm pretty proud to say, it was an unmedicated, pretty damned relaxed affair. Offspring is perfect in every conceivable way and the cutest thing I have ever seen in my life, ever. It's been said before, and I will say it again - I did not know I could love someone that much.

I've taken 11 months off from work, and frankly I'm not entirely sure I want to go back then either. I'd like to stay home maybe till she's 18 months or even 2 years. March is when my boss expects a decision from me so I have a lot of agonizing and pro and conning to do.

As far as parenting is concerned, I've been surprised to discover that I turned out to be one of those hippy attachment parenting types. Well, maybe not THAT surprised. So we cosleep (aka bedshare, sleep in one bed), nurse 'on cue', which at the moment is about 12 to 15 times a day/night, we do elimination communication (aka infant potty training), baby wearing (baby in a sling), I'm considering baby led weaning (no purees), and the only thing that didn't really work out for us was cloth diapers. I'm thinking each one of these deserves their own post so that's my plan for the near blogging future. I also have some baby book reviews for ya'll in case you are so inclined.

Mostly parenthood for us has gone something like this:
Me: "OMG, what do we do now about ____?"
Husband: "Dunno."
Me: (reads all available books, websites and blogs on the subjects, harasses all her parent friends and relatives) "No one seems to agree, isn't there a right way to go about _____?"
Husband: "Let's do ____, it feels right to both of us."
Me: "I'm a terrible parent."

I wish the afterbirth wasn't the placenta (which is in our freezer, by the way) but a manual.