16 Ways to Help your Budget

So since our family is 6 people living on one income and trying to send our eldest (and later, his siblings) to private school for his (their) education, we have had to really work at making our money stretch as far as possible.  We have a budget and we haven’t done a great job of sticking to it this summer but mostly because things have been so stressful and crazy adding the girls to our wild brood.  But now we are about to enter the school year and routine will be introduced and things should settle down so that we can stick to it.  I thought I’d share some ways in which we save money and stick to our budget.

Have some easy, go-to meals.  When you’re out of meal ideas by the end of the week or if you do your meal plan and you’re down to the end of it but need one more dinner and it’s between eating out or eating at home, it’s always cheaper (and generally healthier) to eat at home.  I buy a giant bag of Kirklands meatballs, a giant bag of frozen broccoli, the large package of a zillion spaghettis, and the Cascones spaghetti sauce at Costco and I always keep them on hand.  So if we’re out of meal ideas or I need something quick I can always make spaghetti and meatballs with roasted broccoli and everyone in the family will eat it.  I also keep hot dogs on hand in case I need something quick for the kids and Mike and I will just kill off the leftovers, which brings me to #2.

Have leftover night.  If you’re like me, most meals end up leaving some leftovers.  I have tried to better estimate exactly how much will feed the whole family and only make that much (another budget-friendly idea) but at least a couple meals have leftovers.  We save them and try very hard to eat them before they get disgusting and have to be thrown out.  If we don’t get to them in a week, it’s time for leftover night.

Meal plan, freeze stuff and look in your fridge/freezer.  So when I make my grocery list every week, the first thing I do is plan out the dinners I’m going to make for each night.  A lot of consideration goes into whether I will be especially busy any particular morning (and therefore won’t have time to make a Crock pot meal) and into what I already have in my fridge and freezer.  If I have a bag of potatoes and a frozen pound of ground beef, we’re having meatloaf and baked potatoes one night and I don’t have anything additional to buy unless I’m out of a particular spice or potato toppings or something.

If I’m making meatloaf one night and tacos another, I go ahead and buy a 3 pack of ground beef from Costco and just freeze the other pound of meat and then I have it for the next week.  Actually I freeze all three of them because sometimes plans change and I don’t end up making dinner one night and I don’t want the meat to sit in my fridge and go bad before I get to it.  All my meat goes into the freezer when I buy it for that reason.  It means you have to think ahead and remember when to set the meat out to thaw but it also saves you from throwing out food that’s gone bad.  I also do this when I buy something that I don’t use regularly and have too much.  For instance, I made Zuppa Toscana last week, which has kale in it and we don’t eat kale frequently.  (I know, it’s right out of the Garden of Eden but in Zuppa is pretty much the only place I find it edible and that’s because it’s made with bacon, sausage, potatoes and heavy cream.)  So the leftover kale went into the freezer for the next time I make Zuppa or if I end up making another kale meal where the kale is made edible by bacon.

Strategize when you eat out.  Everyone needs a break from cooking some times.  When we go out unless it’s a really special occasion or someone has offered to treat us all, we go to a non-sit-down restaurant.  This has the double advantage of not requiring a tip for the wait staff (by the way, if you do go somewhere with a server and you have kids, for the love, leave them a good tip, they’re cleaning up after your circus and it’s a hard job and they get most of their money from tips ::hops off soapbox::) and being less likely to be offensive if your kids are bouncing off the walls–mine never do this, of course, they sit with their hands in their laps praying quietly while they wait for their food.  But as a side note, I also usually clean up stuff off the floor that they drop because you aren’t tipping anyone for cleaning their mess (unless it’s Chick-fil-a because they are sent from the heavens and they say it’s their pleasure to clean up after your kids).

Another thing we do is split meals.  At Freddys (not that we ever go there because it’s totally unhealthy) the boys usually want hot dogs and Mike and I usually get burgers.  And with the meals they give you enough fries to feed a small army.  They have a meal that has both a burger and a hot dog, so we order that and each of us splits it with the kids–they get the hot dog, we get the burger and we split the fries.  The girls are still little enough that we bring their food along, but this means we can get out of there for less than $20 for the four of us.  At Chick-fil-a, the boys split the kids 6 piece meal and I just get an extra juice.  If you want to mess with it, you could probably even ask for cups and split the juice.  At Panera, we can do the pick 2 and I eat the sandwich or salad but order the mac and cheese with it and one of the boys can have that for his meal.  It’s hard to look at a menu in the restaurant with hungry kids whining around you to order, so if you’re going to do this it helps to check out the menu online beforehand and figure out what you’re going to order before you go.

Lastly, look for places that do kids eat free or kids eat for 99 cents.  KC parent magazine has a whole list.  If you don’t live in Kansas City, you could probably just do a google search for kids eat free in your area.  The ones we frequent the most are Firehouse Subs on Thursdays and Planet Sub on Mondays, but find ones that your family likes.

Drop cable. So recently when we were deciding how to cut our expenses to pay for Elijah’s tuition, we were down to pretty much eating out and cable as our only “non-essential” items.  So we switched from cable to hulu, netflix, and sling.  It’s saving us about $30 a month, which isn’t much but it adds up over time.  So far we have missed the Olympics but I’ve seen highlights online and if I really wanted to watch it, I could probably get an antenna or something.  But we still watch 90% of our shows on hulu (though most of them are on break right now because of summer) and don’t miss the other ones enough to pay the extra money.

Don’t feel bad about reevaluating insurance from time to time.  Obviously you don’t want to be switching your car insurance or homeowners insurance every month but at the beginning of the year the premiums usually go up and Mike always looks into finding us a better deal.  If there’s a better deal out there, we switch.

Find cheap or free entertainment.  For Mike and I we’re pretty much limited to netflix but for the kids, parks, Crown Center exhibits, the zoo (it’s not free but we have a membership already so we take advantage of it), spraygrounds, cheap or free play areas, etc.  At least in KC Parent magazine is a good resource for cheap or free places to take your kids.  It’s been extremely helpful for us.  Even if you don’t have such a magazine in your area, usually a simple google search will bring up some ideas.

Accept help.  Mike’s parents live right down the street, so babysitting for us is generally free.  If you don’t have family nearby willing to watch your kids whenever, you can find a friend and basically agree to trade off free babysitting.  You’ll watch their kids when they need some help and they’ll return the favor.  Or start a co-op  with a few couples in case more than one couple is busy the same night.

Our parents also often treat us and/or the kids to dinner or if the kids want dessert or an appetizer, our parents will put that on their bill.  We don’t ask them to do it, they just do, which makes this maybe just something that applies to some families but my point is, if they offer, don’t say no.  Think about if it were your kids, you would want them to accept your help.  Obviously, don’t abuse it but there’s no reason not to let people who have more disposable income help you.  (This isn’t to say that our parents are rolling in money, just that they have multiple incomes and no kids at home.)  Any time they ask if they can take the kids for dinner, plop the kids out by the curb.  Kids get fed, you don’t have to pay for it and you get some kid-free time.

Additionally, if you have family members that work in certain places that can get discounts or help you out, take advantage of it.  My stepdad sells appliances so if I feel like something’s about to crater, I have him look for a dented one or one that’s been returned or a floor model they’re about to unload.  Translate that to the people you know.

Cloth Diaper.  I wrote a whole blog about switching to cloth so I won’t reiterate everything I already said but it was a lot less intimidating than I anticipated.  I bought most of my diapers second hand so it wasn’t a huge up front expenditure.  And while we’re on the subject of diapers, when we get disposables, we buy the Kirklands/Costco brand because it’s like $10 cheaper than the Huggies and pretty much exactly the same.  Also, don’t bother with Butt Paste or Desitin, just buy a giant jar of Coconut Oil (a.k.a. the nectar of the gods).  It’s all natural, smells way better than any other diaper salves and a jar of it will last you forever.  I bought my last jar at Target and it has lasted for months.  If I had purchased the giant jar they have at Costco, though, I probably could have used it starting with Elijah (who is 6) and still have some.

Buy things second hand.  Phoebe is reusing Simon’s baby crib and Leah is in one my mom found second hand.  There are tons of Consignment Sales for kid stuff all the time or there are swap groups on Facebook and Craigslist and Garage Sales and Once Upon a Child.  There are some exceptions but with most things, used is just as good as new, especially when it comes to kids who use things for a few months and then outgrow it.

Most of my clothes are second hand or cheap Target clothes.  I don’t need to dress nice for my job, I end up sweaty and skanked out every day anyway.  For the few times I do need to dress nicer, I buy a few nice pieces with gift cards that I get at Christmas or for my birthday.  It’s okay to ask for gift cards for gifts.  I usually explain that a gift card may seem impersonal to some people, but when you give one to someone who spends all their time with kids, not only are you giving them free money to spend on themselves for once, you’re also giving them time away from the kids to relax and shop.  It’s a great gift.

Use coupons.  I know some people hate clipping coupons but seriously, it’s free money if you’re using it for things you were going to buy anyway.  I shop most frequently at Costco and Target.  Target automatically gives you coupons every time you shop there and you can use the store coupons along with any manufacturer’s coupons you find.  When you’re making your grocery list, look at your coupons to see if you have some for the things you want to buy.

Also, if you shop at Target for heaven’s sake, get the Cartwheel app.  I save about $20 per week using it.  You just search for the things you’re buying anyway and if there’s a coupon, bam, instant savings.  A lot of times it’s for Target brand stuff, but who cares, that the less expensive stuff anyway.  For instance, if I’m buying new toothbrushes and there’s a Cartwheel offer for Up and Up brand toothbrushes, guess what kind I’m buying? I also think it’s smart to buy generic for most things.  Even if I have a coupon for the name brand, I whip out my phone and use my calculator to determine whether the coupon for the name brand results in a lower price than the generic item.  If it doesn’t, I buy the generic.

I also have the Target debit card because it isn’t a credit card, it comes right out of my checking account and saves me 5% every time I go there, which is weekly.  It saves me about $3-5 a week, which isn’t much by itself but it adds up.  My last Target receipt said my savings this year so far is almost $300.  I know another card, even a debit card, is not a good idea for everyone, so you have to be smart about whether it’s a good idea for you but it works for me because we don’t have many cards and I shop there so often.

Drink Water.  Generally, I don’t buy juice for the kids.  Occasionally I might buy it as a treat but mostly it’s an extra expense and we don’t need it.  They have juice and lemonade at Grandparents’ houses.  Water is healthier anyway.  When you eat out adding a drink with your meal usually costs around $2 a person.  Now, $2 isn’t that much but if everyone does it, it starts to add up, which also means the less frequently you get it, the more you save.  Generally if your meal doesn’t come with a drink, it’s best to just order water.  Everyone needs a break from water sometimes, of course, so you just have to decide if the extra $2 is worth it this time.

Ask for memberships as gifts.  For the last couple of years, my Costco membership has been a birthday gift from my Mother-in-law.  It’s been a huge blessing since I’ve gone from shopping there once a month to every other week to every week as we’ve upgraded to four kids who eat regular food.  I save a ton shopping at Costco.  As an example, at Hen House, a 1 pound container of strawberries is $4, at Costco, a 2 pound container is $4.50.

And if your kids are anything like mine, they have toys coming out of their friggin ears.  Zoo memberships, museum memberships, pool memberships… these are all things you can ask family to buy instead for your kids for birthdays and Christmas.  And, bonus, fewer toys to step on and clean up.

Make your own baby food or do baby led weaning.  With Elijah and Simon, when we started solids, I made the food myself by steaming it and using my blender and putting it in ice cube trays to freeze until I was ready to thaw it and feed it to them.  It takes some time but if you want to do purees, the savings is phenomenal.

With the girls I have been doing baby led weaning.  The disadvantage is that it seems to be messier because the girls have their hands all in the food and it often ends up in their hair or down their shirts, but babies are messy anyway, so whatever.  The advantages is I don’t buy baby food, I just make sure the food is soft enough for them to gnaw on and I cut it up for them to hold, so way cheaper, and I don’t have to do the steaming and pureeing part, plus, they feed themselves which means I have my hands slightly more free to eat my own food.

Breastfeed.  I know breastfeeding doesn’t always work.  I wrote a whole other blog about this, too, so I won’t rehash everything again.  But if it’s possible for you, breastmilk is free, formula is mega expensive.  If you do have to do formula, though, Kirklands/Costco brand is literally half the price of Enfamil and Similac. HALF. THE. PRICE.

Don’t take kids with you to shop.  This is one reason our budget has been having a rough time this summer.  With kids out of school all day every day I have to bring them with me to do my grocery shopping unless I want to do it on the weekend and I hate doing that because that’s when everyone else is there.  Introvert nightmare.  And if your kids are anything like mine they ask for a billion stupid things we don’t need.  Most of the time I say no, but every once in awhile I give in just to stop the constant asking.  And because of Target’s dollar toy bin at the front (thanks for that, Target marketing guy who doubles as an evil genius), they pretty much assume that they get a $1 toy if they behave well (and we’re playing it fast and loose with the term “behave well”).  I know it’s my fault for giving in at all and if you’re stronger than me, maybe you won’t have this problem, but it is what it is and I’m really looking forward to shopping without the children that can talk (hashtag “Bye Felicia”!).

So those are my tips.  Obviously everyone’s situation is different and if any of these tips simply don’t work for your family, ignore it.  But hopefully there’s something in here that helps you save a little if you need to find a place to cut your budget.

Forced to rely on Grace

So here’s what happened yesterday.

  1. Our very expensive, bought-before-we-had-4-kids-and-no-money TV broke.  So to give the kids any screen time, I had to give them my kindle, which they fought over even though they wanted to watch the SAME FRIGGIN SHOW!
  2. Was trying to do laundry for a 6 person household, including sheets that hadn’t been washed since the dawn of time and cloth diapers.  (I’m still not done with it.)
  3. Had to give Phoebe a bath in the sink when she got blueberry and poo all over herself right before we needed to leave for Elijah’s meet and greet at his school.  Then had to disinfect the sink.  Had to leave a poo diaper in their room because I couldn’t dunk and swish it right then, we had to go.  (I got to it later but still, poo sat in the diaper in their room on the changing table for a couple of hours.)
  4. Got all kids and everyone in the car and discovered Mike had mistakenly taken the garage door opener for the van with him to work.  Called him and probably yelled loud enough that he was holding the phone away from his ear and all his coworkers are now convinced he’s married to a psychopath (if they weren’t already, this isn’t the first time I have called and flipped out at him for something as innocuous as taking the wrong garage door opener).
  5. Went to the meet and greet completely sweaty and skanked out from the stress of the morning.  (I should just accept looking like a skanky homeless person every time I go somewhere and stop trying to look even semi-decent.)
  6. Simon had an epic meltdown in Elijah’s kindergarten classroom because he didn’t have a desk or a present like the one Elijah’s teacher gave him, which, by the way, consisted of fruit snacks, goldfish crackers and play-doh, all things which we HAVE AT HOME.  (It was a very nice gift from her, I just mean it made no sense for Simon to be flipping out about it.)
  7. Everyone got to witness my stellar parenting as I failed to get Simon to stop throwing a fit and eventually just had to leave.
  8. Elijah “made” Simon a present with the bag he had his present in by putting in some toys that they have (including the play-doh he just got from his teacher) and closing the bag back up.  Simon flipped out because there were no snacks in it.
  9. Put the girls down for an afternoon nap that lasted about 45 minutes. UGH!  And when I went up to get the, I discovered that they had both removed their diapers.  Phoebe had peed all over herself and her bed, but Leah had pooed.  It was poo city in her bed and she had some on her hand that she was trying to put in her mouth, so she probably ate poo.
  10. Gave Leah a bath in the tub while Phoebe screamed in her crib in the next room with no diaper on.  Then had to disinfect the tub, re-diaper both girls, dump poo from Leah’s sheets into the toilet and then wash MORE LAUNDRY because all the laundry I had started earlier was STILL NOT DONE and I apparently needed some more things to wash.
  11. Spent the rest of the afternoon with cranky babies in the playroom and a four year old who still was on the edge of returning to meltdown mode and continually running into things and hurting himself (one of these days someone is going to call DFS on us from all his bruises but I swear he’s just epically clumsy).
  12. Could not get space from the screaming babies to make dinner so as soon as Mike got home I left for the Chick-fil-a drive through.  Super healthy.  And even though I have been trying to exercise and lose this stupid baby weight, I decided this over-the-top stress ball of a day merited a high fructose corn syrup laden beverage that was sure to make me feel much better (it did not).
  13. And then there was bedtime–no explanation needed.
  14. And the girls slept until 11:30, right about the time I was falling asleep, and then woke up crying and wouldn’t go back to sleep no matter what until about 1:30.

Days like yesterday I feel like a complete failure.  It’s even worse when my failure is out in the open in front of everyone like at Elijah’s school.  I’m forced to rely on the Lord’s grace and I’ll be honest, I don’t like that.  I prefer to think of grace as something I needed before I became a believer, something for all the sin I committed in ignorance.  Not something I need for my heart when the stress piles up and I scream at my husband or at my son because he won’t stop following me around crying about nothing and I have been patient with him for hours and it’s just enough.  Or when I run back to sugar for comfort and stress relief and realize, again, that it doesn’t really help and I don’t understand why I keep craving it when I know it doesn’t do anything for me.

But he is infinitely gracious even though I need his grace to even accept his grace, to even accept that I need to accept his grace.  That’s how amazingly gracious he is.  Lord, work on my heart and for the love, please let today be less stressful than yesterday!

How I Transitioned to Cloth Diapers

So when I had Elijah I planned to do cloth diapers for the savings (and for the earth).  But then I registered for cloth diapers and hardly anyone bought them for me and I didn’t have the money to purchase all of them up front.  I don’t know why I didn’t think to look for used ones, but it was my first kid and swap groups on facebook weren’t as popular then.  Oh well.  Hindsight.  Anyway, I ended up doing disposables with him and with Simon.

When we found out we were having twins, I really had to start thinking about how to save money.  We were going from 2 kids to 4 in one fell swoop.  Plus, Elijah starts kindergarten this fall at a private school, so money is going to be really tight (as if it wasn’t already, but oh well).  I planned to breastfeed, but if you’ve read my earlier blog, you know that went out the window.  So we ended up with that added expense.  (Fortunately, that will only last us through October when the girls turn one.)  But I also thought about how much trash we produced when we were diapering just one child, not to mention how much money we spent on diapers for one child.  Cha-Ching!

So I bought a bunch of pocket cloth diapers through facebook swap groups where people were selling their used diapers.  But then life happened again and things were so difficult during the first few months that I just fell back into old habits.  And, honestly, cloth diapers intimidated me because it seemed like from the stories I had heard that they leaked more and then, of course, there’s the laundry and how do you wash poo diapers without turning your washer into a sewer?

As we approach the school year where we actually do have to come up with tuition money and still keep paying our other bills (so rude!) and are now having to pay for formula, I decided to take the plunge and it has turned out okay.  Here’s my experience in case anyone out there is thinking about switching to cloth or even starting out doing just cloth.

First of all, I don’t do cloth all the time.  At night we still use disposables because they’re just more absorbent and we already have a hard enough time getting the twins to sleep, I’m not going to add that additional headache.  I was going to also use them at nap time but then it’s like constant diaper changing and they sleep 2 hours maximum at a time, so it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to soak through in just 2 hours (plus, they usually sleep less than that amount of time, ugh!).

As far as diapering goes, the pocket diapers seem to be pretty similar to disposables, especially if it’s just wet.  You take the wet diaper off, wipe if you’re so inclined, let the bum dry and put a new one on.  I like the velcro ones better than the ones with snaps because they’re easier to just slap on, you don’t have to be precise about putting the snaps together while your baby tries to flip over and wiggle her way off the changing table.  However, I have heard of other people disliking the velcro ones because the velcro wears out faster after being washed so many times, so I understand why that may not be the best for some people.

Poo diapers are a little more tricky. First, I still use disposable wipes and toss them in our disposable diaper pail.  If I were to make cloth wipes, I would probably just cut up some burp cloths or something and get an old disposable wipes container and put them in that in a solution of water and vinegar.  But since wipes are primarily for poo, I would have to deal with poo on the wipes and cleaning those off, too, and you have to find the line between savings and your sanity.

Second, if your baby is eating mostly solid foods, poo should be pretty solid and then you just dump it in the toilet.  Unfortunately, mine are still consuming enough formula that its still pretty soft.  A lot of people buy diaper sprayers that you attach to your toilet and it sprays the poo off the diaper and into the toilet.  I don’t think they’re very expensive but since the main point of this was to save money, I haven’t gone to the trouble of buying one.  Instead what I do is just dunk the whole diaper in the toilet and swish it around and flush.  I have to do this several times before it’s clean enough to toss in the hamper (I have a hamper solely for cloth diapers).  Yeah, it’s gross but if you’re grossed out by poo, you should probably rethink parenthood altogether.  Mike wanted to buy me some disposable gloves to use when I dunk and swish but not only do I not want to mess with that, I would still feel the need to wash my hands like a mad woman, and it kind of defeats the whole purpose of using cloth, in my opinion.  So instead I just wash my hands like I’m about to perform surgery after I get done.

The biggest difference is doing the extra laundry.  I wash diapers twice a week now and I usually have to separate them into two loads.  I do our regular laundry on Wednesday so I also do diapers then, too, and I also do them on the weekends.  It’s not that complicated really.  You pull out the inserts, toss it in the washer and do the wash.  Washing is slightly more complicated than washing regular clothes because they’re more soiled than regular clothes (obviously), so you have to do a rinse cycle and then an extra long wash cycle with hotter water, etc.  But the washer at least does that portion of the work.  The most time consuming aspect for me is once they’re clean and dry I have to stuff them again and put them away.  But stuffing them is pretty mindless so it’s something I can do in the evenings after the kids go to bed while I watch Jimmy Fallon.

All in all, transitioning to cloth has been a lot less horrifying than I thought it would be.  I do not regret waiting until now to use the cloth because with as insane as my life was those first several months, there is no way I would have had the time to do the washing of the diapers in addition to everything else I was dealing with.  But since things are calmer now and I’ve made some changes to relieve some of the pressure on me (i.e. switching to formula), I can find the time to do that and it has helped because now we throw out maybe half a bag of disposable diapers and wipes per week, where before we were throwing away at least 2 full-to-the-brim trash bags.  And I bought a giant Kirklands box of diapers (don’t get me started on my love for all things Costco/Kirklands) about a month ago and I still have half of it left.  Before I was buying at least one box every two weeks, and that was taking into account that nice people kept giving us diapers.  So it’s definitely saving us money.

Anyway, I hope my experience can be of help to someone looking into cloth.  I was intimidated by it but it turned out to be less daunting than I expected.  And my experience is only with the pocket diapers so I can’t speak to other kinds but I would imagine at least some of my thought could translate.  The only other advice I would give is to join a facebook cloth diaper group so you can get answers to your questions from other moms who do cloth.  Happy diapering!

How Bottle-feeding has made me more Pro-breastfeeding

Of my four kids, I nursed my first and second for a year.  With the twins, it was impossible.  You can read more about that here.  However, I did pump my breastmilk and feed it to them through bottles for almost the first 8 months of their lives.  And I also bottlefed them formula because I couldn’t pump enough for both (and because we eventually made the switch).  So I have experienced all the forms of baby feeding and I can with confidence say that nursing is the best method for both mom and baby in most scenarios.  Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying if you choose not to breastfeed you’re making the wrong choice.  I wasn’t able to breastfeed my twins, so there are certainly multiple situations where breast is not an option or the best choice for your situation.  But all other things being equal, here is why I think you should choose breastfeeding if at all possible.

  1. It is the easiest form of feeding.  Again, don’t misunderstand.  I know that often times breastfeeding can be challenging at first.  It was difficult for me with both boys and impossible with the twins.  But if you can get the right support, if you have access to lactation consultants and resources and can get the hang of it, it is the easiest way to feed.  This is coming from someone who has done all ways of feeding.  The hardest is definitely pumping milk and bottle feeding it, second is formula feeding (though that is monumentally easier than pumping and bottle feeding) and easiest, once you get it down, is nursing.You don’t have to pack a bottle, keep it cool or possibly throw it out if it spoils before baby consumes it all.  Your boobs are with you at all times anyway.  You don’t have to heat anything up, body heat keeps the milk at the perfect temperature.  You don’t have to worry about running out and having to make a midnight run to the drug store to get more formula.  Whatever your baby demands from your boobs will come out for him or her.  Even if you have to use a nipple shield or like to wear a cover, you can easily throw those things in your diaper bag or purse without worry that it’s going to spill or spoil.  It does take effort to learn and get the hang of it, but once you do it is definitely easier than any bottles.
  2. It is the cheapest form of feeding. I buy our formula from Costco.  I estimated that our bill for formula was $100 for two weeks.  Granted, we have twins and that was for two weeks.  So maybe for one baby it would be more like $25 a week, which breaks down to $100 a month.  And that’s just for one baby.  If you have multiples the amount is going to double or triple, depending on how many babies you have.  And it’s assuming you have a membership to Costco or Sam’s Club where you can buy larger amounts for less money.  The membership also costs money.  Also, that isn’t taking into account growth spurts, when the amount consumed (and so the amount spent) will increase.  Additionally, that doesn’t include the cost of bottles, the cost of water spent washing bottles, or the cost of water you use mixing the formula.  It is mega-expensive to formula feed.  If you can, save yourself the money!
  3. Breastfeeding prevents illness.  Neither of my sons (who were exclusively breastfed) were sick at all for the first year of their lives.  Now, neither of them went to or had older siblings going to germ festivals like daycare or preschool (no shame intended but we all know there are tons of germs where tons of kids congregate) so I’m sure that played a large part.  But during the winter each of their second years (after they’d been weaned) they did get illness after illness after illness. I especially remember Simon’s second winter.  I don’t think the kid had a day where he didn’t have something.  He would get over a respiratory virus and then catch a stomach bug.  This was one of the many times I wished I hadn’t weaned him at a year, but hindsight is 20/20.Additionally, during the girls’ first winter (they were born at the end of October), I pumped for them and even though their older brothers were sick several times from preschool germ-sharing, the girls never got more than the sniffles that faded after a couple of days.  There is even research now that says some of your baby’s “backwash” gets into your nipples and lets the milk know what kind of antibodies to make.  Obviously I’m not suggesting that breastmilk is a magic potion or that formula will turn your baby into a disease-ridden child, but if you can, why not help your baby’s new immune system?  Easier on baby and easier on mom not having to take baby to the doctor or stay up all night with coughing, ill baby.
  4. Breastfeeding burns calories.  I’m not one of those lucky people who can lose weight without actually making an effort.  I haven’t ever been able to lose without counting calories and exercising daily.  However, some women are luckier than me and nursing just sucks away the baby weight.  (No, I’m not giving you the stink eye, that’s just how my eye looks.)  If nothing else, at least it means when you’re in survival mode during the first 6 months to a year of baby’s life and you are eating way more fast food and consuming Starbucks like it’s going out of style, you won’t be putting on extra pounds.  (No, I’m not speaking from personal experience, what are you talking about?)  The downside, of course, is that when you’re breastfeeding you’re going to be hungrier because you’re burning more calories.  But hey, gives you an excuse to have another slice of pizza, right?
  5. Nursing (presumably) means you can sleep more.  I say this with the caveat that this scenario doesn’t work for everyone but before I knew I was having twins, I completely intended to put an extra mattress, pillow and blanket in baby’s room and just plop myself down on my side, whip the boob out and let baby suck while I snoozed.  I realize that some babies refuse the side-lying nursing position or if you have multiples it may not be realistic.  But with bottle feeding you don’t have this option at all, you have to use your hand to hold the bottle.
  6. Nursing can be done hands-free.  You have to learn how to baby wear in order to do this but there are multiple ways to pop baby in a carrier, whip the boob out and latch baby on and let him or her go to town while you’re doing other things.  When Simon was a baby I used to put him in the ring sling and take Elijah different places to play (like the mall) and latch Simon on in the sling with the tail draped over him and no one even knew I nursing him.  Again, not possible with a bottle, you have to use hands.  At a certain point baby might be able to hold his or her own bottle but that didn’t happen for my girls until almost 7 months.  I could nurse Simon hands-free a lot sooner than 7 months.
  7. Poo Stench.  This only counts for the first 6 months (or until you start baby on solids).  I’m not saying breastmilk poos smell like roses.  I mean, it’s still poo.  But it is WAY less pungent than formula poos.  I never gagged opening a baby diaper (prior to solids) until the girls.  Formula poos are STANKY.  I mean, you deal with it if you have to, but why make more bad smells?
  8. You can’t please everyone no matter what you do.  If your reluctance to breastfeed is based upon fear that someone will see you with your boob out and try to shame you, remember that women are often also shamed for bottle feeding, too, because “breast is best”.  We in the real world (not up on our high-self-righteous soapboxes) know that in all situations FED is best.  But some people will shame you for formula feeding even if your baby is adopted or you have some kind of illness that prevents you from breastfeeding altogether.  The point is, don’t worry about what other people think, only think about what will make things best for you and your family.  Sometimes that isn’t breastfeeding, but I maintain in most situations it makes things easier on mom and baby.  (Note: If you’d rather be modest because it makes YOU uncomfortable to have your breast out, there are ways to nurse discreetly but don’t do it for fear that you’ll offend someone else because you’re always going to “offend” someone no matter what you do.)

Our Feeding Issues Part 2

Read the first part here.

When we moved the girls into their own beds in their own bedroom, this meant that I had to help with night feedings.  So Mike and I would get up and feed them.  I would feed one and he would feed the other.  Then once they went back to sleep (which wasn’t always immediate), he would go back to sleep and I would sit up for 30 minutes pumping.  More than once I fell asleep sitting against my headboard and woke up an hour or two later, my pump still running.  Often times, I would only get 1-2 hours of sleep, and that’s not even consecutively.  I was living on coffee.  Finally, once I almost fell asleep at the wheel taking the boys to preschool (only a 10 minute drive from our house), we made the decision that night feedings would be formula.

During the day I kept pumping but not pumping at night made my milk drop and so pumping during the day wasn’t providing enough for both of them.  The ironic thing is, if I had been pumping for one baby, I was producing more than enough.  So I had to deal with all the problems of oversupply, such as clogged ducts–never had I had so many clogged ducts before–but I also had to deal with undersupply issues, like having to supplement with formula.

I continued pumping every 3 hours until they were almost 7 months old.  So many other things got put aside while this was going on.  I hardly ever had time to play with the boys.  I *never* had time to exercise.  I was extremely stressed out, not only because of the feeding issues but also because of sleep issues, but I will blog about that later.  But because of the extreme stress, I was consuming WAY too much sugar.  It was just too easy when I was going to go through the drive through at Starbucks since it is right down the street from the boys’ school.  I guess at the very least, pumping so much milk prevented me from gaining weight, though I certainly wasn’t losing any baby weight.

Once 7 months had passed, I had just had enough of being chained to my pump like a slave and never having time to play with my older kids or being able to go anywhere for more than 1-2 hours.  So I started dropping pumps and adding in more formula.  We purchased a Baby Brezza to make the formula feeding easier.  I got down to 2 pumps per day: first thing in the morning and in the evenings after the kids went to bed. And, of course, my supply kept dropping.  I wasn’t even getting the same amount at each pump session.  They were basically only getting 3-4 oz of breastmilk per day and formula the rest of the time.

So here we are at almost 8 months and I have dropped to one pump per day and next week we are going out of town and I’m deliberately leaving my pump at home to end this altogether.

This journey has been heartbreaking and bittersweet.  With Elijah and Simon we did have difficulties at first but once we got the hang of nursing it was a wonderful bonding experience.  With the girls it has been nothing but work and pain and heartache.  I hate to say that because I am so in favor of breastfeeding and would definitely go to bat for any Mama being shamed for it.  But I will also go to bat for any Mama being shamed for formula or bottle feeding.

First, you don’t know if what’s in the bottle is formula or breastmilk.  And as someone who knows, let me tell you, pumping and bottle feeding is most definitely the hardest form of feeding.  And second, you have no idea what this Mama went through or why she made the decision to feed the way she has.  Assuming you don’t put Coca Cola in your baby’s bottle, you are a good Mom doing the best she can for her baby.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

I intend to do another post soon about how this experience has actually made me more in favor of breastfeeding, but I’ll save that for another day.  We also had a lot of problems with sleep–problems that are still on-going, though they have improved a lot.  I will blog about that when I have time.  As life transitions more out of survival mode (I hope that it continues to do so), I will write more.  In the meantime, so long for now.

Our Feeding Issues Part 1

So as I suspected, having four kids under 6, including twin infants, has kept me so harried and busy that I haven’t had time to blog even though I have wanted to because of the deep frustration I have been feeling as I deal with our feeding issues and many other problems.  I want to write about many things we’ve been encountering during this time but our biggest issues have been with feeding so I’ll start with that

I breastfed Elijah and Simon each for the first year of their lives, so it was always my intention to breastfeed the girls as well.  Elijah got to be a year old and no longer seemed that interested in nursing so I just let him quit and I dried up and by that time I was pregnant with Simon anyway.  Simon turned a year old in June of 2013 and since I got pregnant with Elijah in October of 2009, I had pretty much been pregnant or nursing someone for the past four years.  I wanted my body back, at least temporarily, so I went ahead and gently weaned Simon at a year.  In hindsight, I wish I had kept nursing him.  It would have been really helpful during his toddler time with meltdowns and tantrums and winters where he was sick constantly.  So when we started trying for a third, I fully intended to nurse until the baby self-weaned.  After all, this was going to be my last baby and the last time I would ever get to nurse anyone at all.

Alas, it was not meant to be.  The girls were born prematurely, as you know if you read their birth story.  For the first four months of their lives I tried and tried and tried and tried to nurse them.  During the course of this hell, I learned that I apparently have very large nipples (sorry for the TMI).  I had no idea because it’s not like I go around checking out other women’s nipples all the time for comparison sake.  I’ve, of course, seen other women nursing but it isn’t like I notice anything but a baby having a meal.  They were not dangerously premature but the point is that they were very small babies with very small mouths. Small mouths and large nipples made latching and drawing enough milk out very difficult.

Additionally, they spent the first couple of weeks in the NICU for weight gain.  I pumped my milk out for them and they got it through tube feedings.  We tried to nurse and I saw about a billion lactation consultants while they were there.  When we got them home, I tried to just nurse them but they were always hungry, never satisfied, and–as we eventually discovered–not gaining enough weight.  Plus, my milk that had been abundant when I was pumping in the NICU for them, had almost disappeared.  Fortunately, we had a large freezer stash leftover from my NICU pumping days so we switched to pumping and bottle feeding.  Every three hours I would pump both breasts for 30 minutes while we fed both girls 3 oz of my milk.  Finally my milk came back up–not as much as it was when it first came in, but enough–and they started gaining weight.

At that point we tried again to transition them back to the breast but despite trying literally everything, they just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it and transfer enough milk.  It was a constant cycle of try to nurse one or both girls, have them nurse and nurse and not get full–assuming I could even get them to try and latch, often they would refuse to latch at all, just scream and cry–then finally feeding them a bottle and pumping for 30 minutes.  They cried almost every time and so did I.  I was getting so frustrated with them not doing what they needed to do in order to feed themselves.  I know and knew even then that being frustrated with them was irrational–they were babies and didn’t know any better–but the emotion was real.  As a result, trying to nurse them was actually damaging my bond with them, rather than enhancing it.

Things that I tried:

  • Multiple lactation consultants, often ones we paid for out of our own pocket
  • Laid-back breastfeeding
  • Nipple shields
  • Nursing vacation
  • Nursing in the shower
  • Tandem nursing
  • Individual nursing
  • All different holds: football, cradle, etc.
  • Side-lying nursing
  • Standing up while nursing
  • Dangle feeding
  • Paced bottle feeding
  • … in short, EVERYTHING…

I was determined to nurse them.  The failure to be able to nurse them had nothing to do with determination or support.  Everyone in my life was totally supportive.  It just simply didn’t work.  Often times when I tell pro-breastfeeders this news, they don’t know what to do with it.  Like there’s not a category for someone who actually tries as hard as they can with the support of everyone in their life and still isn’t able to breastfeed.  But I’m here to tell you, it is real.

After four months of this heartache, I made the painful decision to simply pump and bottle feed for as long as I could, ideally for a year.  This cut out the hurtful process of trying to nurse and failing, but I still had to pump for 30 minutes every 3 hours.  At night I would often try to go four hours if the girls would allow me to but it just depended on how long they slept.  At first this worked out okay because they slept in rock and plays in our bedroom so Mike could just sit between the rock and plays and feed them each a bottle while I pumped.  But, eventually, we had to move them into their cribs in their bedroom.  And then things got more difficult.

Read the second part here.

The Twins Birth Story

So for awhile I had been feeling really awful. Most of my problems were things that could be normal pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, reflux, indigestion, swollen feet and hands, and general exhaustion. Plus I hadn’t been sleeping well due to all the discomfort. I was also having some pain in my chest right underneath my bra and pain in my upper back about the same spot. I assumed it was soreness in my diaphragm from all the reflux and vomiting (it didn’t feel like my heart).

Halloween night I didn’t get to do any trick-or-treating with the boys because I was in so much discomfort. I was just lying in bed feeling awful and praying. Mike was out with the boys trick-or-treating but he finally made me call the on call OB for my doctor’s practice. She just said “You need to go straight to labor and delivery and I will let them know you are coming.” So Mike got me, his mom stayed with the boys and we went. I was feeling extremely stupid for going to the hospital for what I thought was severe reflux. However, when we got there and got checked in, they checked my blood pressure and it was high. That’s when the midwife working that evening said the word “pre-eclampsia” and that though it was the doctor’s call, she was fairly certain we were having these babies tonight.

She checked my cervix while I was still in triage and said I was about a four. I wasn’t too surprised because at my last appointment, I was at a three already. Anyway, the doctor agreed with the midwife and they sent me to a labor room. Since I wanted another vaginal birth, we had been planning to break my water and do pitocin on the November 9. When the OB came in, she checked my cervix again and said I was now a five and while she was checking me, my water broke. Normally to break your water, they have to use this little instrument that looks like a crochet hook (it was used on me at both boy’s births), but this time, just checking my cervix did it. I guess maybe I was already in labor even though I hadn’t had any real contractions yet. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions since like week 16, so since they weren’t more painful than that, I kept assuming that’s all they were. But after my water broke, she didn’t even have to give me pitocin because the contractions started to mean business.

They were already giving me IV fluids and the anesthesiologist came in shortly to do my epidural. Of course that’s the worst part because you have to sit in a position that’s not exactly comfortable for dealing with contractions and you have to sit still while they numb up your back and then thread a catheter in there to deliver the epidural medicine. Of course, since it was like game 3 or 4 of the World Series and the Royals were in it (sorry I don’t remember which game, I was in labor for heaven’s sake), everyone had one eye on the TV the whole time. But finally after several awful contractions, they got my epidural going and I was able to watch a few minutes of the game before the doctor checked me again and said I was now a nine. At that point, they moved me to the OR.

I should probably explain that even if I hadn’t wanted the epidural, I probably needed to have one, because there is a 20% chance that even after baby A comes out, baby B could turn and she would have to be delivered by c-section. That’s also why I had to deliver in the OR. Fortunately, they were both head down or a vaginal birth wouldn’t have even been an option.

The anesthesiologist did a good job because the severe pain of the contractions was gone, but I still felt the urge to push. So pretty much right after we got in the OR, it was time to start pushing. It took maybe five good pushes and Leah was out. Then in addition to pushing, I was praying Phoebe wouldn’t flip over. She didn’t and was also out in about 4-5 pushes as well.

I didn’t get to hold them right after birth, unfortunately. Leah had lost some blood somewhere along the way, either it was siphoned through the placenta to Phoebe or it’s even possible that I got it. There’s no way to know now, but she did have to be taken to the NICU for a transfusion. She was also on CPAP for a day or two, but came off that pretty quickly. Phoebe got to come with me at first but after a couple of days was unable to maintain her blood sugar so she ended up with her sister in the NICU as well. Since I had pre-eclampsia (and also HELLP syndrome, which is associated with pre-eclampsia), I had to stay in bed for the first couple of days. And the treatment is magnesium which is just the worst crap in the world. Or at least, it makes you feel awful. So I wasn’t even able to see Leah much for the first couple of days, unfortunately. They did wheel my bed up to the NICU once to hold her but I started feeling terrible again from the magnesium and the high temperature in the room, so it was short-lived.

The second day I was able to finally get out of bed so I was finally able to go up to the NICU. And I was discharged at the end of day three. The girls are still here and probably will be for a couple weeks. They are improving every day but they have to learn how to nurse and gain weight. So we are working every day on learning how to nurse.

The birth wasn’t as perfect as I had dreamed it would be. I didn’t want my babies in the NICU and I certainly didn’t want all these health complications with the pre-eclampsia. But I did want a vaginal birth and with all the other complications we’ve had both for my health and theirs, I am SO grateful not to be recovering from surgery on top of everything else. I’m not even really in any pain from the delivery. Just trying to get my heart and blood pressure back to normal and my babies healthy and eating so they can come home.