Monday, May 23, 2016

Snippets From our 'California Strawberry Festival 2016' Experience

Ever since I was a little girl living in Oxnard, I fantasized about the strawberry festival. I envisioned an all-around strawberry paradise of unimaginable proportions. 
We never went because it was literally held in our backyard (Oxnard is a smallish city) and we truly believed in the certainty behind the words: "there's always next year." But year after year we kept missing it. Until this weekend.

My sister Irene and I picking strawberries near our grandmother's house. Circa 1986.
The California Strawberry Festival 2016 was fun but extremely crowded. 
There were long lines for everything. 
The Früli line (strawberry beer) went around the corner. We waited about an hour for Benny to get a face painting. 
There were crowds everywhere, just trying to get their hands on an attractive order of a strawberry something
Meanwhile, protesters outside the festival boycotting the event handed out flyers reminding us that strawberry field workers are commonly mistreated on the job (didn't expect this)! I guess you can say the experience was different than the expectation. 
That's not to say we regret going. After all, we do feel a sense of pride knowing that so many people travel from all over the place to enjoy two days of strawberry madness in my very own hometown!

We made the best of our expedition to the festival and waited in line for the strawberry beer, which helped with the patience required to wait in line for Benny to get his face painting (a baseball on fire). We had several strawberry goodies and a ton of carnival food.

Benny rode the Berry-Go-Round and took a sweet picture with a cute girl dressed as Strawberry Shortcake and my sister bought a big box of organic strawberries to keep the theme going at home. My nose and arms look strawberry red because I got sunburned but the boys are fine and overall, it was nice to people-watch, share some laughs with husband and sister and enjoy an outing with my baby boy too, who got a diaper change on a changing table with a strawberry pattern cover!
Berry good memories indeed. 

Have a good week, everyone! 

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Breastfeeding Experience-- Part 1: Milk Supply!

If breastfeeding is the most natural way of providing nourishment to a baby, then why is it so darn hard, painful and exhausting?
That was the question i started asking myself about a week after Toby was born. He was latched on, I was in pain, on practically no sleep and wondering if my child was getting enough milk because he kept crying, acting fussy and looking smaller than when he was born.
My husband kept looking at me like I was crazy. He would say things like:
"Why are you doing this yourself?"
"Give him a bottle of formula. He's hungry!,"

Then I got a text message from my cousin Luana.
She was checking in to see how I was doing and offer support.
What a difference a little support can make from a mommy who's been there & done that.
My cousin shared some of her experiences and offered advice, tips and recommendations, many of which you can read on her blog So Much Time, So Little ToDo.
Text conversations with my cousin started uplifting my breastfeeder spirit immediately.

Then I had a lactation consultant come over and help me. Twice!
At one point my best friend and her family spent an afternoon here and she shared her own struggles and what she did to overcome all challenges.
I spent countless hours researching on sites like
I bought lactation smoothies and cookies and fenugreek capsules and mothers teas.
And now, 2 1/2 months later, I'm still nursing and things have certainly gotten better.
Here is my story with a few tips, based on my own experience. 
Please keep in mind that:

a) I am not a medical professional. What you read here is simply what's worked best for me but you should always consult with your lactation consultant/doctor/doula.

b) Every nursing experience is different and not all things work for every mom.

Further, I place absolutely no judgement on mothers who give their babies formula. My son Benny was formula fed from Day 1 and he's a happy, healthy little boy.
Nonetheless, giving myself the opportunity to breastfeed this second time around meant more than just filling my second son Toby's tummy. It was the ability to feel a powerful connection with my child, a therapeutic motherhood experience and the satisfaction of knowing it's the best & healthiest form of nourishment I can offer my baby.
So through these ten weeks of breastfeeding, I've answered my own question.
Why is it so hard, painful and exhausting to breastfeed?
Because all good things in life take hard work, commitment & perseverance. That's why.
Here's how I've made it work for Toby and I so far.

This post is divided into four parts:

Milk Supply

Milk Supply

I have to correct my own belief about what happened to me with my first son Benny, back in 2012. My birth experience was everything opposite of my birth plan and Benny was given formula at the hospital from the beginning because the hospital staff and my family felt the colostrum I was expressing, was not enough for the seemingly hungry boy. My milk --did-- take quite a while to come in, but Benny wasn't latching on as much as he should have been to stimulate a faster milk letdown (that's when the milk comes to the front part of the breasts). Instead, he was drinking formula. I didn't have a lactation consultant and by the time I purchased a pump, it was nearly two weeks later. I didn't aggressively follow a proper pumping schedule that could have helped me produce more milk and Benny was already drinking far more ounces of formula from a plastic nipple than what I was able to provide by pumping.

Paul holding a two-day old Benny at the hospital. December 2012.

I share this because I've learned that when it comes to milk supply, you must trust your body. Trust your ability to produce the amount of milk your baby needs. It will come. It may take time and certain pediatricians may insist on supplementing with formula, which is fine. In my case with my second son Toby, the doctor kept me at the hospital an extra day so the baby would drink formula and gain more weight in order to be released home since he had lost 10 percent body weight in the two days following his birth.
Weight loss in newborns is VERY normal. Those few drops of colostrum you produce at the beginning are sufficient to satisfy their tiny stomachs in the first few days.
At the same time however, many mommies would rather not deal with a weeping baby or a doctor who insists the child's not having enough.  So for that scenario, keep in mind formula is NOT poison. One of my lactation consultants put it quite simply-- if you want to breastfeed, then think of formula as a type of "medication" for the baby while he gains a little bit of weight and your milk comes in.

There are several things that are recommended to help build up/increase your milk supply.
First of all, stimulation. If you're not immediately lactating upon giving birth, it's a good idea to give your boobs a sign that their milk is wanted in order to produce it. For this, make sure your baby latches on!! A baby's suckle is the single best way of sending that signal. Also, a pump is very important.

I personally started with the Medela Pump In Style Advanced Backpack, which has worked wonderfully for me. I plan on carrying it to the office when I return to work.
Further, you can rent a hospital-grade pump from either a hospital or places like Babies "R" Us and those usually rent for about $50-$80 a month. The longer you use it, the better the deal you may get on the rental.


You must eat, eat, eat, eat, eat!
You should have a diet rich in nutritious foods, including grains, proteins, legumes, fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, zucchini, spinach, etc.

A delicious & nutritious "Caldo de Pollo" or Mexican Chicken Soup. Notice the avocado and the tortilla... you need to eat healthy fats AND carbs while breastfeeding.

Oatmeal is said to help with milk production too. Forget about all pressures to slim down to your pre-pregnancy weight. Remember, we have the rest of our lives to work on our hot bikini bodies! In the grand scope of things, the nursing period is incredibly short and we're burning up an average of 500 calories a day at that. Also, many mommies claim that at one point during your breastfeeding journey, you will suddenly start shedding the weight (anxiously anticipating this moment...ha!) although I was forewarned it doesn't happen to all breastfeeding mommies (sad face).

Products I've used to help increase milk supply:

The following are things I purchased to boost my milk supply. I did this because I started worrying about building a freezer stash for my return to work. Plus, I was so sad I didn't offer Benny this benefit that I wanted to avoid a repeat situation with Toby. Since there's no way of telling exactly how much your baby is drinking, I wanted the ultimate assurance that Toby was getting enough. Again, you have to trust your body but if you're a little OCD like me, then you'll understand why I wanted to try these products.
Very important to clarify-- I never tried these products all at once/all in one day. Also, I'm not sure exactly how much my milk supply increased, if at all, because of these products but I'm certainly growing my freezer stash while continuing to nurse and baby is getting big and chubby.
Valerie Rosas of The Feel Good Company picked up my placenta within a few hours of delivery.

Placenta Encapsulation
I'll start with what I believe was the best pre-delivery investment to help avoid the baby blues and boost milk supply-- a unique service where my placenta was picked up at the hospital and encapsulated, for my own consumption. I'm convinced placenta encapsulation helped my milk come in, considering I had a cesarean birth. Not only that, Valerie Rosas (above) from The Feel Good Co., delivered my bottle of capsules at the hospital and made a fresh tropical smoothie with pineapple, grapefruit, almond milk and part of my placenta...Yum!
I continue to take the capsules, though not as often as the first month and I'm still feeling good.

Lactation Smoothie Mix
This one is a really awesome product. It's a smoothie mix made by M.O.M.M.A. that tastes like cinnamon and vanilla. I've made different smoothies with it, including the one featured above with bananas and strawberries. It's also good if taken as simple drink: 6 tablespoons of the yummy mix with 8 oz. of water. The drink mix has key ingredients that may increase the production of breast milk: Organic Oat Flour, Flax Seed Meal and Nutritional Yeast.

Oat Mama Lactation Granola Bars
For someone who loves granola bars, these were an obvious choice. The Nut & Berry bar, for example, is made with rolled oats, ground flax, brewer’s yeast, toasted almonds, cashew butter, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, honey, organic brown rice syrup, organic coconut oil, vanilla extract, cinnamon, salt. You can buy them HERE.

My Own Lactation Cookie Recipe
I made my own cookies at home. They were actually really good! I purchased some of the harder-to-find ingredients on and when my cookies were freshly baked and out of the oven, I ate about three in a row. Call it chance, coincidence, luck or the normalcy of nursing on demand but a few days later, I pumped a significant amount of milk.

Healthy Mama Tea
These teas were purchased at Target. They taste "ok" but here's the catch-- in order for them to have any real effect on your milk supply, you have to drink at least five cups of tea a day. That's a bit ambitious for me considering I'm not a frequent tea drinker. In other words, not "my cup of tea"...

Fenugreek Capsules
I also bought these capsules at Target. They're labeled "More Milk Plus", and have Fenugreek as a main ingredient. Fenugreek is an herb commonly grown in Mediterranean countries and used to make dishes such as curry. I'm not sure why it's widely known to help with milk supply but it is. You're supposed to take these four times a day. One funny observation, whenever I take these, I feel like they make me smell like maple syrup...


It is extremely important to keep hydrated. Drink lots & lots of water and healthy drinks like fresh juice and smoothies.
A recommended amount of drinking water would be (at least) half of your weight in ounces. For example, a 160 pound woman like myself should drink at least 80 oz of water per day, per my primary care physician.


Be careful with stress and other factors that can affect your milk supply. Even a heated argument with your partner can have negative effects on your body and its milk producing process, according to one of my lactation consultants.

Remember, we're releasing oxytocin when we nurse. That means we're giving off a happy hormone. Try to surround yourself with happy, positive, supportive people. I'll admit it took a while for my husband and I to reach this harmonious happy medium, and once we did, everything got easier. Breastfeeding my child is seriously one of the most peaceful and therapeutic things I've ever done. It's so, so calming.

I'm not sure how long I will breastfeed, given my fast-approaching return to work (my job requires travel, but I'm aiming for at least a few more months, although I've learned it's all about taking it one day at a time and setting short-term goals. Nonetheless, I am convinced that if breastfeeding is the route you choose to take, you're in for a very rewarding journey!

Thanks for reading and click HERE to read Part II-- Nipple Care

My Breastfeeding Experience-- Part 2: Nipple Care

This is the second of four posts about my breastfeeding journey with my second child plus information on products that have worked for me (and some that haven't).
Click on the following links to read about my experience with:

Milk Supply

Nipple Care

Nipple Care

Let me keep you abreast (get it!?) on the reality of the first days/weeks of breastfeeding... they can be VERY painful. In fact, so painful that many women give up altogether (even I considered giving up every day, during the first 2 weeks). I wasn't ready for cracked, bloody and sore nipples when I decided to take this route, and even typing this gives me a chill as I remember those painful days. But I dealt with it and now things are fine. The way I handled the pain was by first of all, reminding myself that it was worth it. I'd look at my child nurse and seeing him depend on me gave me the biggest motivation to keep trying. I did use a few things to help soothe though. Throughout these breastfeeding posts, you'll notice I've purchased stuff. Basically, we decided that since we're saving money on formula this time around, it was ok to buy a few items that would make my experience with breastfeeding, a little better. It is important to note that there will be light at the end of the tunnel... all the pain and cracking will go away!! Here's what I did to relieve my nipple pain and soreness:  


In my opinion, this stuff is kinda icky. I know lanolin is the go-to remedy for breastfeeding mommies experiencing nipple discomfort but I cannot honestly say it helped me too, too much. Even though in the early days of trying (and crying) to make the pain go away, I would apply some and feel relief, I felt the relief was extremely short-lived (like 10 seconds). Lanolin is basically the grease found in sheep wool. It works for many moms and causes no harm to the baby. Though not my favorite, I keep a tube around at all times and wouldn't dissuade anyone from trying it. There are a number of brands that sell lanolin. This one is from Lansinoh, which was given to me at the hospital.

Coconut Oil

To be honest, after feeling a little disappointed by the lanolin, I tried coconut oil and felt much better. This was my nipple remedy of choice. And if you place it in the refrigerator, when you apply it, it will feel nice and cool. I would gently wipe it off before nursing, just because I didn't want Toby getting too much oil. Fortunately, before I knew it, I didn't need it anymore! 

Breast Wipes

I used a few "soothing" gel patches from the brand Medela (they came with my pump) and I hated them because although they provided immediate relief, separating them from the breast was ridiculously painful, worsening an already sore area. Instead, I bought breast wipes and gently patted the area every time I felt the need. They worked so well for me! The ones I use are the Bella B Nipple Nurture Breast Wipes. They also come in handy for wiping after a feeding when baby falls asleep and there's milk to clean up or when you remove your breast pads and there's a little bit of leakage. These have aloe vera and chamomile. They come in a nice bright yellow package that allows them to stand out from the baby wipes, make-up wipes and disinfecting wipes stored in my diaper bag...ha! 

Massaging your breasts in a hot shower IS. SO. HELPFUL! I can't stress this enough. Something about hot water falling on your suffering nipples makes everything better. I still remember the earlier days when I would take several quick showers just for the relief. 

Comfy Nursing Bras
Wearing a nursing bra is not enough. The bra must be wireless and made of soft fabric and very comfortable to avoid the awful little moment when you don't wear a nursing pad and the drops of milk at the tip of the breast dry up and basically stick to the bra... umm... Big ouch. The most comfortable nursing bra I own is by Gilligan & O'Malley (sold at Target)! These things can get pricey but are sooo worth it! 

Nursing pads
I received a box of nursing pads from my cousin Luana. They are by Target brand "Up & Up" and work perfectly. Believe it or not, during the first few weeks of breastfeeding, I would put a couple of nursing pads in a small plastic sandwich bag and place it in the freezer. The result was a very cold nursing pad that soothed and avoided leakage... So convenient! I've also read these are tremendously helpful when you wear a sports bra during a workout.

Do you have any other ideas for soothing sore nipples? Please share the knowledge!

Thanks for reading and click HERE to read Part III-- Breastfeeding Support

My Breastfeeding Experience-- Part 3: Support

This is the third of four posts about my breastfeeding journey with my second child and information on products that have worked for me (and some that haven't).
Click on the following links to read about my experiences with:

Milk Supply
Nipple Care

Breastfeeding Support

My best friend Sheryl shared that she attended several conferences on breastfeeding as part of her job as a social worker. These took place before she had her daughter Zuraya. One of the things she remembered from those gatherings was a statistic that left me stunned-- that one of the most common reasons why moms give up on breastfeeding is due to a lack of support from their partner. 

I'll be honest, my husband Paul wasn't too crazy about the idea of breastfeeding. We would argue at first because he felt we needed to supplement with formula, even after Toby had regained his birth weight. 
Other times, he was frustrated that he couldn't do much with the baby since Toby was fussy, cluster feeding and basically latched on and in my arms, ALL day & night.In a separate instance, he thought I'd go crazy since I was up all night practically, on some days. He would push to give the baby a bottle of formula to help me sleep a bit. 
These were trying times between him and I because I was extremely protective of my desire to exclusively breastfeed and I didn't care if I hadn't slept a full 8 hours. I constantly felt like he was challenging me.

This was a chart given to me by one of my lactation consultants.

It was during these moments that I turned to different support groups: my lactation consultants, my breastfeeding support group, my cousin and my bestie.

Fortunately, Paul and I had a long conversation, which actually was the reason behind this 4-part blog post. I sat him down one day and broke it down to him, explaining why breastfeeding mattered so much to me (see part 1).  H
e not only encouraged me to write about this, he recently told me he's appreciative of my willingness to breastfeed and thanked me for doing this for our baby.

But if you're in a similar situation where your partner feels like it's too much unnecessary stress, even when you're willing to do the work, and you're feeling a lack of support at home, call someone! 

Lactation consultants charge an average of $130/hour but they guide you, support you and most importantly teach you how to maximize your breastfeeding efforts.
Here in the San Fernando Valley, there is an organization called "The Pump Connection". You basically make an appointment online, indicate how soon you need someone over and they'll either take you in their offices or dispatch a certified lactation consultant to go to your house! I love this company!

Also in the San Fernando Valley, Dignity Health Northridge Medical Center, where I delivered Toby, welcomes moms to a free breastfeeding support group that meets every Thursday at 10am. It's open to all breastfeeding mommies, regardless of where you gave birth! The first time I went, I felt so good to be surrounded by other women with similar frustrations, challenges and goals. I walked out feeling more motivated to keep breastfeeding Toby!

Finally, in this day in age of technology and quick access to information, do consult the following sites for additional cyber support:

Thanks for reading and click HERE to read Part IV-- Breastfeeding Miscellaneous

My Breastfeeding Experience-- Part 4: Miscellaneous Products & Info.

This is the fourth and final post about my breastfeeding journey with my second child and information on products that have worked for me (and some that haven't).
Click on the following links to read about my experiences with:

Milk Supply
Nipple Care

Miscellaneous Stuff for Breastfeeding Mommies

There are so many unique items out there for nursing mommies-- from trendy clothing pieces to carriers and alcohol test strips so your baby doesn't get any of your martini in his milk. Here are some items I've purchased and others I've researched and ultimately decided against buying. I guess you can say maternity leave turned me into a serious online shopper! 

When it comes to organization and breastmilk storage, I purchased an awesome system called Kiinde.

Kiinde has it all-- bottles, breastmilk storage baggies, a bottle warmer and even pump adapters that basically allow you to pump & store. You can warm up the milk in a special warmer called the Kozii and insert the milk pouch on a holder that turns into a bottle when you attach the enclosed nipple! It basically eliminates the need to transfer precious milk from bottles to bags and back again, according to the website. It's a great European concept. The only trouble I had with this system was that Toby initially refused the nipples that come with it. But we're working on it and he's beginning to adjust to them. Further, when baby gets older, you can use the Foodii, which allows you to use the same baggies and storage for homemade solids. 

PINKBLUSH Multi-Use Cover
If you follow my Instagram Account, you've probably noticed I love black and white stripes! I found an adorable, striped breastfeeding cover that also serves as a scarf, a baby carseat cover, and a grocery car seat cover. It's comfortable, flexible, soft and best of all, ample enough to allow you to peak at your baby while he nurses.

Loyal Hana Nursing Clothes
This is a super cute online shop with amazing pieces for breastfeeding mommies. I purchased a black & red checkered shirt from them and wore it during my pregnancy and now I get to use it by unzipping the side openings and allowing Toby to latch on. It's a great concept. The only setback is that you have to have an open budget. Items average $100 per piece. 

Alcohol Test Strips
For a breastfeeding mommy who enjoys a cold beer and a stiff cocktail every now and then, there is nothing better than these alcohol test trips, which can detect an approximate percentage of alcohol in breastmilk. You use them by dabbing the tip of the tester in breastmilk. If there is no alcohol detected the strip remains white. I learned about these from my best friend Sheryl and immediately ordered them. There are actually quite a few companies that make them, I just happened to get these by Safe Milk for Breastfeeding. It's just nice to enjoy an adult beverage but also have the assurance that your little baby is not consuming any of it.

Bun Maternity Sweater 
This sweater is very comfortable and allows you to "breastfeed in a snap". I actually don't always go through the trouble of unsnapping the top layer because its flexible enough nurse the baby between the sweater's soft layers. It's seriously one of my favorite clothing items for nursing. I love it and I recommend it! 

Honorable Mentions:

At one point I considered buying a Koala Kin
It's a hands-free breastfeeding sling. 
It's kinda funky when you think about it but breastfeeding does take several hours out of your day and in this age of multi-tasking mommies, someone had to come up with this concept of breastfeeding your baby while keeping your hands free to do other things. I learned about it recently and haven't made up my mind about purchasing it since I actually enjoy taking time to sit down and hold my baby to nurse him. Plus, I'll be going back to work soon and won't have a chance to breastfeed Toby during the day anyway.

Another item I contemplated buying but ultimately decided not to, is this shirt/carrier/nursing cover called the Lalabu Soothie Shirt. It's a three-in-one concept and looks interesting but Toby will be reaching the shirt's weight limit soon and it's just one of those neat products that isn't absolutely necessary. It promotes the baby wearing concept and looks really adorable, especially on all the skinny mamas that model it on the website. Not sure it would be a good fit for me, with my huge gut and all...just saying.

So this concludes my four-part series on my breastfeeding journey.
Thank you so much for reading & have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Del Real Blogger Food Recipe Challenge-- Voting Time!

My family has been enjoying Del Real Foods for over a year now, since the day they sent me some delicious products for a blog review. We fell in love with the taste and convenience of the meals and have continued using their products every time we find them at our local grocery store.

Today, I'm sharing some of their foods with a few recipe ideas as part of their annual blogger recipe contest. These are super simple, nothing too fancy but just as yummy. If you like any of my ideas, or those of other bloggers, you can vote here:

Del Real Foods Voting Page

Tamale Egg Scramble

1 Del Real Cheese Tamale
2 Eggs
Del Real Refried Beans

Directions: Slice the Del Real Cheese Tamal. Fry in pan for a few minutes until tamales brown and get slightly crispy. Add eggs and scramble them along with the cheese tamale. Serve with beans and enjoy!

PupuSandwiches (Pupusa Sandwiches)

Del Real Cheese & Bell Pepper Pupas

Directions: Begin by slicing a Pupusa in half. Place the slices on the griddle, cheese side up. Once they start getting toasty and the cheese starts melting, remove from griddle and build your Pupusa Sandwich by adding ham, lettuce and tomato. Enjoy!

Grilled Chicken Mini Flautas

Del Real Pollo Asado Kit
1/4 Cup of Mexican Cheese Blend
1/4 Cup of Thinly Sliced Lettuce
1/4 Cup of Sour Cream
2 TBSP of oil for deep frying

Warm up the taco kit tortillas and chicken. Slice lettuce and set aside. Lay out the warm mini tortillas and spoon chicken and cheese on the center of each one. Roll into small tacos and use toothpicks to secure them to avoid spillage of the chicken and cheese. Fry the rolled-up taquitos in cooking oil, until golden brown.
Take them out, lay them flat, remove the toothpicks and any excess oil.
Garnish with sour cream and lettuce.

Thanks for reading!