Mental Decluttering

blank slate
start with a blank slate

My minimalism journey began in the same way as many others: with decluttering material possessions. There were some relapses every now and then, especially with the arrival of my first baby because I bought a lot of things that I thought would make motherhood an easier journey (haha, the joke is on me! All they really want is mama). Eventually the clutter started to annoy me and I got rid of many of our things again.

When I became a mother, the mental clutter also began to pile up. Aside from the existing concerns, there were new parenthood-related things to think about. I am also an anxious person so there was more going on in my head than should be. It always got to a point wherein I get so stressed and end up releasing the negative emotions at home. Two weekends ago, I finally decided enough was enough. I threw everything out the window. I asked my husband to take care of everything else while I take a break and only do what I needed to do in a day and thankfully he was supportive in that. As the days went on, I realized that I am also able to apply some advice on material decluttering to my mental decluttering process.

1) One of my favorite advice on how to start decluttering is to box up everything you currently own and then just take an item out of the box whenever you are going to use them. For example if you are going to take a shower and dress up for work, you take out the towel, soap, shampoo, a set of clothes for work. If you don’t need socks for that day, you don’t take them out even if you think you’ll need them later on. The following days, you take out more needed items from the boxes.
In my mental decluttering, I listed down everything that was on my mind and cleared my thoughts to get to a blank slate, then I selected the daily needs (eat, bathe, sleep, work, put the baby to sleep) and stuck to those items for a few weeks.

2) If you want to add something, you have to let go of something else. You have to choose which one is more important or meaningful to you right now – the new thing you want to add, or the old thing that you currently have. In my case, I currently have some free time at night. I need to make a choice whether I want to keep that free time for my hobbies or replace it with something else from my list of activities such as exercising.

I decided to stick to my minimal list of activities for at least a week or two in order to get used to it. So far, I’ve noticed that having this list in my mind of basic activities has quieted the noise around me. In the past I would immediately join a lot of technical meetups, trainings, and other career advancement opportunities almost every week. To me they are like the big red SALE signs in stores. Recently though, whenever some event pops up, I first think to myself if it is in alignment with my ultimate goals, if it is something I really need, and if I do – do I really need it now or can it wait? I’ve discovered that many of them can still be achieved later on, some of them are not really in alignment with my goals, and some of them I don’t really need.

I also want to mention that in a stroke of serendipity, I started reading Leo Babauta’s book “The One Skill: How mastering the Art of Letting Go will change your life” the day after I decided to let go of my mental clutter. It helped me realized I was holding on to so many ideals and it was definitely time to let go.

A Reminder to Self on Minimalism

When I write about things, I write them not yet as someone with an expert viewpoint but as someone who is still going through the journey and is needing a constant reminder every now and then of why I started and where I am heading.
Here are some of the important things I have learned about minimalism so far, and the things that I want to constantly remind us about.

1. Minimalism is not impossible even when you have kids!

One of my constant worries ever since Amelie came along. We had accumulated so much stuff that I was getting stressed about where to store things. At some point we had 2 strollers, 4 baby carriers, 3 electric pumps, and an overflow of baby clothes. I thought I would want to keep everything of hers as a memento of this new chapter in our lives but eventually, I was able to let go as I learned that what was truly important was Amelie herself, and not anything she owned. We kept a lot of photos and we kept a few mementos that could fit in a shoe box, but we sold or gave away everything else that she was no longer using.

2. Minimalism is not about have the least amount of things.

It is about keeping only the things that bring you joy, meaning and fulfillment. It is about getting rid of the rest of the unnecessary things. If your source of joy is being surrounded by a hundred books that you all read every now and then or calligraphy pens that help you de-stress or DVDs of your favorite movies, so be it. There should be no judgment on whether another person is living a minimalist lifestyle according to your standards because each one’s journey and source of fulfillment is different.

3. Minimalism is more than just decluttering physical possessions.

It also involves decluttering the non-tangible things: “friends” on Facebook whom you haven’t really interacted with in the past several years or ever, negative people in your life, old files that have been sitting on your desktop for who knows how long, unused files on your phone, stress-inducing loans or people who induce stress by constantly loaning from you and never paying you back, work meetings that you don’t really need to attend, and so much more. You can get rid of these things, say no to what are not essential, in order to find time for yourself to do what truly need to be done.

4. Minimalism is a constant journey.

In this kind of journey, just like in any other, there will be times when we stumble and fall and there may be even times when we lose our way and end up going back to where we came from. I would like to remind myself daily, if possible, that these hiccups are temporary and that the journey can still continue as long as I make the decision to go on. Sometimes it’s difficult not to beat myself (or my husband) up for stumbling backwards and getting surrounded by clutter again, but after that we just need to stop, sigh, take a look around and start picking up the things one by one and asking ourselves again whether it is something we truly need in our lives or not.

Minimalism may take a month for some, or a decade for others. However long it takes, what’s important is that we are taking steps forward, even if it’s not every day.

Breastfeeding Series Part 2 – The first 3 months

The first 3 months postpartum were the most crucial and the most insane for me. Even though I had prepared myself for the breastfeeding part, I was not prepared for the lack of sleep part. It led to me getting cranky and doubting everything I was doing by the third day. I was actually at the point of requesting for formula in the middle of the night because I wanted my baby to sleep longer and thus let me sleep as well, but thankfully the nurses reminded me that it’s normal for breastfed babies to nurse so frequently because their tummies were still very small, like it can only hold about 1 to 1.4 teaspoon of milk. Imagine that! Once I was able to remember the things I’ve learned about breastfeeding, it was much easier to stay on this path even if getting more sleep was so tempting.

So what does one need to know about breastfeeding in the so-called fourth trimester?

  1. In the first 24 hours after delivering your baby, your breasts will produce only colostrum, which is a thick golden liquid full of antibodies. This is the reason why it is advised to have your baby latch on as soon as possible after birth, so that they can get the colostrum to increase their immunity.
  2. Baby’s tummy is going to be very small. They don’t need much milk yet to feel full, but that also means that once the milk is digested, they’ll be feeling hungry again soon.

    babies stomach size
    This is a visual representation of how big a newborn baby’s stomach is, and how much it can hold. (Photo credits to the owner)
  3. Babies breastfeed every 30 minutes to 2 hours. And sometimes, breastfeeding sessions can last for more than 30 minutes.
  4. Breastmilk is also digested much faster than formula, which is why your baby might feel hungry again even right after a breastfeeding session.
  5. Milk starts coming out around 2-3 days after baby’s birth. This is the time when the breasts start feeling full and hard, but milk will not necessarily be overflowing yet. At this point, most new mothers already expect a lot of milk to come out. That expectation, plus a baby crying for milk every 30 minutes, can make some new mothers very anxious and start thinking that they don’t have enough milk for their baby so they resort to formula. This was what I probably would have done if the nurses weren’t there to remind me of item number 1. Remember, less than 1 oz of milk is enough for your days old baby.
  6. Babies cry for many reasons, not just hunger. Again, some mothers think that they don’t have enough milk because their babies are always crying. Mine did too. And then I would cry because I wanted to sleep and didn’t know how to handle a lot of things. Babies cry because they also don’t know how to handle a lot of the new things in this strange new land. They might be feeling cold or gassy or itchy or just want to be held close and tight to feel the same comfort they had while they were in your tummy. Try some skin-to-skin contact with your little one everyday.
  7. There might be some nipple pain. While you are learning to breastfeed, your baby is also still learning how to latch. Sucking comes very naturally to the babies but proper latching is a learned art for many. Incorrect latching can lead to very painful and sore nipples so it’s important to teach your baby how to do this properly. It can also cause the baby to not get enough milk and so lower your milk supply. When in doubt, you can ask your breastfeeding-supportive pediatrician to check on latch, or find a lactation consultant or breastfeeding peer counselor to help you out in the first few days. If nipples do become sore, just apply some breastmilk to it and let it air dry. Once your baby gets the hang of latching, the pain should go away in a week or so.
  8. It won’t hurt to also check your baby for a lip tie or tongue tie. This limits their mouth’s movement and may result in an incorrect latch. I’ve always noticed that my daughter’s lips weren’t flanged wide enough and no matter what I did, she was limited to a certain angle. I checked and she didn’t have a tongue tie, but I wasn’t aware of a lip tie back then. I only read about it and noticed she had a lip tie when she was past her 6 month mark. No wonder she would latch so often just to get enough milk.
  9. The best way to tell if your baby is having enough milk in the first few days is to check the diapers. Babies should pass the meconium (a dark, tarry stool) within 24-48 hours, and have regular dirty or wet diapers after that. Your baby’s doctor will also require a wellness check around a week after birth to check if the baby is thriving. It’s expected for the babies to lose up to 10% of their weight within the first few days, but should be able to regain that weight and get back to their birth weight at around 2 weeks after birth. If your baby is gaining enough weight, then they are getting enough milk.
  10. It takes 6 weeks to stabilize supply. It’s recommended to have your baby do unli-latching in the first 6 weeks so that your body will know how much milk needs to be produced. Your body adjusts its milk supply depending on how much your baby is getting. This is why if a baby is getting some formula, it lessens his demand for the breast and the breast adjusts by producing less milk. It’s also not recommended to pump on top of doing unli-latching within this time frame because you might end up overproducing milk which can also lead to engorgement and mastitis. If you want to store extra milk at this point, you can use milk catchers such as breast shells or a Haakaa “breast pump”.
  11. Nipple confusion is when the baby starts preferring the bottle instead of the breast. This usually happens if bottles are introduced early and often because bottles have faster flow and doesn’t require much sucking effort for milk to come out. Personally, I would introduce the bottle to my baby right after the 6 week mark – 1 bottle per day just to get her used to it. I introduced the bottle to Amelie when she was already 3 months old and I think that was a bit too late. She refused the bottle for more than a week and I was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to take any milk when I returned to work. Thankfully, she did start taking the bottle just a few days before my first day back at work and would still latch on when I was back home.
  12. Even if your milk supply dips, you can still do something to increase it again. Your options are unli-latch, power pumping and galactagogues such as malunggay (capsules, tea, whatever), oatmeal or even lactation cookies.

Wow, I didn’t realize there are a lot of things to digest (forgive the pun) in the first few months alone. No wonder new parenthood can be so overwhelming, and to think these are only in relation to breastfeeding! Good luck new parents, and hang in there!

For my next post in this series, I’ll be writing about getting ready to go back to work and how you can continue your breastfeeding journey even when working full time.

Breastfeeding Series Part 1 – Preparing for Breastfeeding

Today is a significant day for me as a mom because today, I celebrate exactly 18 months of breastfeeding Amelie. This is a feat considering that I faced several issues in the early run, and I never imagined myself being able to carry on this long. I was just going with the flow and setting myself 6-month goals, and now I’m targeting to keep breastfeeding her until she turns 2!

To celebrate this milestone, I am writing several posts on how I prepared myself to breastfeed and the experiences I had gone through during the first crucial months of learning the ropes. I’m also adding a few of the lessons I have learned, things I had not done in the past but would definitely do the next time we decide to have a baby. 

Sometimes, being OC has its perks. I took down a lot of notes in the past 18 months and here I am now, happy to be sharing my notes with a lot of other moms and soon-to-be-moms to spare them the confusion and the anxiety and the stress. Becoming a new parent should be filled with happy moments bonding with their newborn, not stressing out about low milk supply or people nagging us about our parenting decisions. I definitely hope other mothers will find this useful and be inspired to breastfeed their babies for as long as they possibly can. 

Without further ado, here’s part 1 of the series. Before the baby comes, here’s a list of things that you can do to prepare.

    1. Join online breastfeeding support groups. They are chock-full of information and if you ever have any questions, other mommies are always there to help you. The moderators are also very vigilant in ensuring that you get the most helpful and correct answers to your dilemma. It might seem weird at first to join the groups even before you’ve started breastfeeding, but this is how you get a dose of reality fast.
    2. Inform your partner/family/friends that you are planning to breastfeed. In the first few days after giving birth, you will be grappling with a million different things inside your head and around you: the beautiful new being you just brought out into this world, the breastfeeding, the lack of sleep, the constipation, the blood gushing out for days, the breastfeeding, the bathing of the baby, the bathing of your self, going home, the breastfeeding… and so on.
      You will need all the support you can get from the people around you. They will need to be your anchor when the time comes that you think you are losing your mind. They will need to be strong for you, and remind you of your choices and why you chose what you did. They will need to be your cheerleader every step of the way. There is nothing worse than if people around you questioned your every move instead of supported you. If possible, invite them to the online support groups as well, and let them understand what’s to be expected.
    3. Attend Birth Preparation classes. There are a lot of these events you can find posted on the Facebook groups I mentioned in number 1. New parenthood doesn’t have to be so shocking if you make yourself aware beforehand of what to expect aside from the breastfeeding.
    4. Find an Ob-gyne and Pediatrician who are breastfeeding advocates. There is nothing more disheartening than if your own doctor or Pediatrician tells you off the bat that you should feed your baby formula (this is actually against the Milk Code or Executive Order 51). Talk to them about your plans to breastfeed and what kind of support they can give you. For me, I was not able to meet my Pedia before I gave birth because I had not seen any reason to (but now I know better), but thankfully, she was very big on breastfeeding. She made sure the baby was roomed in with me immediately after cleanup and clothing. I even heard the nurses asking why the baby was to be roomed in with me immediately, and when they saw the Pediatrician’s name, they said “Oh, no wonder. It’s Dr. XXX.” Amelie’s doctor also checked on her latch everyday.
      Now I’m not saying that formula should be avoided at all costs. There will be times when, unfortunately, some women have certain biological conditions that makes them unable to breastfeed or to produce only little milk, and the Pedia will recommend to supplement with formula if needed. But this is not very common and women without any known conditions should be able to produce enough breastmilk for their babies.
    5. Know your legal rights as a breastfeeding mom. The Philippines is one of the countries in Asia with the best laws to support breastfeeding. Unfortunately, like all other laws, it is not properly followed 100%. It would be best to arm yourself with knowledge on your legal rights when the times comes for you to breastfeed. Here is a post that summarizes the Milk Code, RA 7600 and RA 10028.
    6. Check if your office has a lactation room. Most women who go back to work after giving birth immediately opt to switch to formula, perhaps because they aren’t aware that they can pump their breastmilk at the office to take home to their babies. All companies are now required to have lactation rooms, and should allow up to 40 minutes of lactation break per 8 hours of work according to RA 10028 so if yours does not have one yet, talk to your HR about this law so they can comply with it before you return to work. 
    7. Know that you are not expected to produce milk before giving birth. I’ve seen several moms-to-be post on the FB groups that they’re nearing their due date and they’re still not producing any milk, which ends up discouraging them and making them think that they’ll never be able to breastfeed their baby. Milk production is stimulated only after the baby’s born and the placenta’s detached.
    8. Read the rest of my posts on this series. Of course, the knowledge doesn’t stop here. There’s more to know about breastfeeding especially in the first few months of your baby’s birth. Read up more so you can be prepared. See you in the next posts!




How I managed to breastfeed for 18 months

I was nursing my little girl earlier today and savoring her sleepy snuggles when it dawned on me that in a couple weeks’ time, I will be reaching the milestone of breastfeeding her for 18 whole months!
I can’t help but feel emotional in many ways at once because I would never have thought that I’d actually make it this far what with all the setbacks I had experienced.
Now, I just want to cry and jump for joy and give myself a huge hug and a pat on the back and shout to the world, “You did it, mama!”

Breastfeeding wasn’t really something that had been in my thoughts even when I was nearing my 3rd trimester of pregnancy. In fact, how to feed my baby was the last thing on my mind at the time. I was too engrossed in the call of Nesting and was more focused on getting clothes and blankets and beds that I, uhm, forgot the most basic thing. Thankfully, a mom friend was level-headed enough to ask me if I planned on breastfeeding my baby. When I said I hadn’t really thought about it, she invited me to join a breastfeeding support group on Facebook. After a few days of relentlessly reading information after information, my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of breastfeeding and I had been unwavering in my decision ever since.

But what did prompt me to decide to breastfeed? And exclusively breastfeed at that? Based on the Facebook group discussions and real talk from other mom friends and relatives, I’ve garnered that each mom has her own reason for going down this path. Most of them boil down to these three, which I have ordered according to my priority.

  1. It’s healthy and natural. There are a lot of studies out there now showing how breastmilk contains a lot of microbes that help boost babies’ immune systems and fight off infection. This is the number one thing that can’t be found in formula. There are also a lot of health benefits in exclusively giving the baby only breastmilk in the first 6 months of life.
  2. It’s easy to prepare. Or so I was told by a mom who formula-fed her first and breastfed her second, the reason being that you don’t have to worry about looking for clean water, or bring a lot of bottles, water, and powdered formula with you whenever you go out. All mama needs to do is whip out her boobies and baby is happy! Well, yes, breastmilk may take no effort to prepare, but I’ve also learned the hard way that breastfeeding is not an easy task at all.
  3. Breastmilk is free! Well, that’s what a lot of people are saying and at first I believed that, but let me tell you now that that is far from true for many. If you take into account the mother’s time and effort, the cost of pumps and bottles to be able to pump at work, the time needed to carefully store and transport the milk and meticulously wash those pumps and bottles, the nursing bras, the nursing clothes, and all the nursing paraphernalia to make the life of a breastfeeding mom more comfortable, then no, breastmilk is not free at all. Personally, I think it’s even more expensive than formula. I guess that’s why they call it liquid gold.

These three reasons are what got me started on breastfeeding, but the first reason is the only one that’s carrying me through this journey despite all the difficulties I encountered along the way. It’s awesome to see my little grow up healthy and happy and smart (although I don’t know if we can attribute this to the breastmilk).

Well, okay, there’s a second reason why I’m breastfeeding for nearly 18 months now. At some point, I actually wanted to stop breastfeeding already because it was getting too heavy for me to keep bringing the pump and bottles to work everyday on top of my laptop and baon. We tried giving Amelie fresh milk and powdered milk after she turned one year old (my initial goal for exclusively breastfeeding), but she would barely drink it. So it’s all her fault, really. But it’s also thanks to her that I have the will to push on until we reach 24 months of breastfeeding.

All in all, I am amazed and empowered at what my body has been able to do so far. I am absolutely thankful for this experience and if we decide to have another baby, I would still do the same. But when they turn 2 years old, me and my titties are definitely calling it quits.