Tag Archives: babies

Why you should talk to your baby before changing their life

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My youngest child turned 18 months-old last week. She’s officially a toddler, talking and running and climbing stairs, and although I’m getting better at not treating her like a tiny infant, sometimes I forget how much she understands and thinks for herself. Here is a cautionary tale about why you should talk to your kids, even when they’re tiny, especially if you’re changing the routine on them. It helps, you guys, it really helps.

My daughter has been sleeping in my room since she was a baby, first in a co-sleeper and then in a crib. She still sometimes wakes up for an early morning feeding, but she’s more than ready to night-wean and my partner and I want our room back! So we decided that we’d move her in with her brother and carve back some space for just us.

We talked about timing and made careful plans, and then for various reasons, those plans didn’t work out and we ended up moving her crib into the new room more-or-less on a whim over last weekend. We talked with my 3 year-old about how Sister was going to sleep in his room now and made sure he felt okay about it. I assumed that our daughter would be fine, because it’s a familiar room and we were keeping her in the same crib, and she routinely sleeps in pack ‘n plays in strange rooms when we go to visit friends in the evening. But still, I completely and totally failed to, you know, actually explain to her what was going on. Because she’s a baby, right, and why would she care? I know better than that, but it was a day full of distractions and a last-minute decision, and it just didn’t cross my mind to explain it to her.

Anyway, we put her down in the new room at bedtime, and she was smiles and smiles until I closed the door. Then, utter panic and screaming! My partner and I were unprepared. We’d expected to maybe have some upset from my son, but neither of us thought the baby would have any trouble at all. We gave her a few minutes and then my partner went up to try to calm her down, but she was so upset that he eventually gave up and set up a pack ‘n play in our room where her crib used to be. It still took her forever to fall asleep, and she woke a few times overnight extra upset, which made us feel terrible, and also exhausted in the morning.

We decided to just try again the next time it seemed convenient, but I had no intention of trying again the next day when the first night was sooooo terrible. But then we got home from our errands later than I expected, and by the time we had finished lunch, we were late for my daughter’s naptime and it was already time for my son’s nap, and I had an inkling that maybe she would be calmer if her brother was in the room with her when she laid down. So, I asked them both together where they would like to have their naps. My son said “Sister sleep with me!” (isn’t he a cutie?) I told the baby, “Baby, you can have naptime in your crib in Brother’s room, or in the pack ‘n play in our room. Where would you like to sleep?” She ran into her brother’s room and stood waiting by the crib, where she then slept for 2.5 hours with no fuss at all (even though Brother didn’t fall asleep for the entire naptime, and spent the whole afternoon singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and making raspberries with his mouth!) That night at bedtime, she fell right asleep, and though we’re having some frustration from her when she wakes up an wants to nurse at 5:30AM, I’m much more confident that we’re all in for a good night.

Two morals to this story:
1) Talk to your babies, even when they’re tiny. It helps them know what to expect and it helps get you in the habit of explaining what’s going on to them, which is better for everyone once they get older and understand what you’re saying.

2) Realize that your babies get smarter, and that you need to respond to their growing intelligences by helping them make decisions and control their own lives, as appropriate. I know that sounds obvious, but I think a lot of us pay attention to “milestones”, like walking or saying the first word, and then it’s easy to forget that babies get smarter in ways they can’t show you, too. Two months ago, my daughter would not have been capable of making a decision about where she had her nap, but now she is. Giving her the chance to make the decision on her own would have saved us all a lot of grief if we’d done it in the first place.

On nursing an older child

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I am lucky to live in a place where many families choose to breastfeed for an extended period of time. It is very common to see moms nursing their toddlers and preschoolers in public, and so I can feel comfortable nursing my babies in public too. My oldest son is going to be 3 in April, and he still nurses three times a day when he’s home with me. He always nurses in the morning at wake up, at night before bedtime, and he also nurses after nap times if he’s home (but obviously not if he’s at school). Nursing my toddler has been occasionally frustrating, but I also think it’s gotten us through a lot of the tougher periods of his development.

Because my son and I have been sitting down together for at least 20 minutes, at least three times a day over the past 3 years, we have a close relationship, and we read each other very well. Even on days when he’s tantruming every 5 minutes, and I feel like I’m going to lose it, that time to deliberately reconnect is what makes it possible for me to keep going. And, I do actually think we have seen fewer tantrums overall because my son and I have that time of connection.

Of course families who are not nursing can still have deep relationships with their babies, but I think it can be hard to make myself deliberately find the energy to cuddle when my baby is yelling at me all the time. At least for me, it’s hard to bridge that gap when I’m feeling angry and worn down after the eighth tantrum of the morning. But, nursing happens in our family whether I am particularly feeling it or not, which means my son knows that it’s a part of his routine that will always happen, and that his mom will always be there for him, even on a rough day. My son and I have very different personalities, so it’s helpful for both of us to have the encouragement that comes with a built-in nursing routine.

I should also mention that I do think that breastfeeding my son when my daughter was little minimized the separation anxiety he felt from having a new baby in the house. He adjusted to his little sister’s homecoming very well, much better than I anticipated, but that kind of situation can be a struggle for any child. There are new routines, new noises, and obviously all the family’s attention goes to the new baby. I disappeared for a few minutes four times a day when I had to get her down for naps. I couldn’t get up from the couch for my son when I was nursing the baby. Sometimes my son wanted to nurse, but the baby needed to nurse first, because I only have so much milk.

But, my son could still look forward to those specific times of reconnecting with me, and he knew he’d get that specialized attention from me even if I couldn’t give it to him all the time any more. And now, when he sees me nursing his sister, he’ll often come up to the couch and say, “Nursing sister!” and smile at us, which is super cute.

(On a practical note, nursing a toddler when you have a second baby is the best way to prevent clogged ducts and mastitis that I’ve ever found. I had huge oversupply with both of my babies, which sounds great, but was really frustrating and caused a lot of problems for me. Luckily, my son could be counted on to take extra milk when it caused me discomfort, and he was also instrumental in clearing some plugged ducts when neither his sister nor my pump were strong enough to clear them on their own.)

Even though nursing my almost 3 year-old hasn’t been a joy 100% of the time, it’s been great for our family overall, and I think it’s benefited my son’s emotional health a great deal. I’m really glad I’ve been able to offer this for him for so long, and I hope his sister has the opportunity to nurse for just as long, if she wants to.

On birthdays, on Wednesdays

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As I kid, birthdays were just for me. It was the day when everybody was nice to me, noticed me, made the dinner I liked, sang to me before cake. It was my day – just mine.

As a mom, birthdays are just for me, too.

My son turns 29 months next week. For a long time after he was born, I marked not every month, but every week of his life. He was born on a Wednesday afternoon, and every Wednesday I would think, “He’s this many weeks today!” Every single week, I thought about how many Wednesdays I had lived without him before he was born, and how much his birth had changed my life.

My daughter turned 6 months-old just last week. She decided to be born on a Wednesday too, and since she came just 20 minutes after midnight after a very short labor, I rather believe it was intentional on her part. I can’t say I’ve had the mental space to dedicate quite as much time to deep thought every week now that I have two babies, but I still notice Wednesdays. They are the days that my life changes.

My children are still very little. Their birthdays are just like every other day to them, though they may notice more friends and relatives gathered around, more colorful balloons, more cake than a normal day. As they grow, their birthdays will become more important to them, a day they look forward to every year, a day to celebrate who they are as individuals. Their birthdays will be just for them.

But their birthdays will always be just for me, too. They will always be the occasion for me to celebrate the day I became a mother, a parent, a person who grew another person in my body, brought them out into this world, and guided them through their life with care and attention. Their birthdays will always be my birthdays, too.

Book review: The Dream Sleeper: A Three-Part Plan for Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep by Conner Herman and Kira Ryan

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Still clearing out the short book review backlog, though this one went and got longer on me.

If you are on this blog in the baby sleep tag looking for a decent book on baby sleep, you may have noticed that I haven’t been impressed by most of the baby sleep books I’ve read. This is really sad, because I’ve read a lot of them! I say that I’ve been unimpressed with the caveat that my first baby, my son, was just not a great sleeper, and he was never going to be a great sleeper no matter what method I used, until he was ready. He never dropped feedings as early as all the books said he should, and despite multiple frustrating attempts at night weaning, he really needed at least one night feed until he was 13 months. That’s not average, but now I know that it’s normal, because “normal” encompasses a wide range of behavior when it comes to the first year of life. But most books don’t tell you this, and when you end up with a baby who doesn’t (or can’t!) respond to common sleep training methods, you end up feeling like a failure for no good reason.

Now my son is 2 and he sleeps wonderfully, and it turns out that my daughter is one of these “normal” babies I’ve read so much about. But if you have a baby somewhere between my son and my daughter, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally found a book I can recommend for you.

When my son was about 9 months-old, he was still waking to eat 2-3 times at night. A friend with a baby 7 months older than my son had read The Dream Sleeper, and it had helped her with her son’s sleep issues, so she got it out of the library for me.

Spoiler: it wasn’t the magic spell that got my son to sleep through the night. But, it’s one of the stronger baby sleep books I’ve read, for a few different reasons.

herman-the dream sleeperFirst, I like how the book is laid out. Its structure was intuitive for me, and it was easy to find what I needed. I also really appreciated how much the authors emphasize that it’s okay to want to sleep! It might sound silly, but when your baby won’t sleep, you can feel guilty about your own need for sleep, and start to feel like your not being supportive of your baby’s needs because you’re so tired. Some parents have great reasons (or a great need) to sleep teach and are doing it for the right reasons, even though it’s hard.

What was really helpful for me, though, and one of the reasons I recommend The Dream Sleeper so highly, is that the authors spend a lot of time on nutrition at different ages and how that affects sleep. This is a major piece of the puzzle missing from most of the other sleep books out there. If your baby is hungry at night because of a scheduling issue over in the day, you will never be able to night wean, your baby will be screaming with hunger, and everyone will feel awful. So nutrition *must* be a large component of any plan to work on sleep.

To this effort, The Dream Sleeper offers useful optional daily schedules for babies of different ages, which actually helped me figure out that I could get the same amount of milk into my son without having to nurse every two hours. We were all much happier, and I still remember how much easier it was to transition him to the new schedule than I expected it to be.

There are some caveats to my recommendation that you should know about. The Dream Sleeper is a book that recommends a cry-it-out style of sleep teaching, which isn’t for everyone and didn’t really end up working for us. The information on the scheduling and nutritional components of sleep training can be applied to any method, though, and that’s what I think makes the book so valuable.

The other issue I noticed was that the book doesn’t reflect the most up-to-date research that the breastfeeding relationship can be sabotaged by early sleep training. If your baby’s over 4 months-old and your breastfeeding relationship is strong, or if you’re not breastfeeding, this won’t be an issue, but do your research on breastfeeding and sleep before any kind of training effort.

Have a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment or email me.

Breastfeeding was hard because I’d been doing it wrong.

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I’ve had two babies, and I’ve had trouble breastfeeding with both of them. Before my son was born, I read all these books, and my partner and I took a breastfeeding class – I was deeply committed to making it work. I knew that some women had trouble breastfeeding, but I thought I’d prepared and had support (and I had been leaking colostrum for months, ew), and maybe the first time would be hard and then I’d just get it.

Anyway, my son was born, and I did alright nursing in the hospital, but then we came home and I couldn’t get him latched without a lot of pain. I was a hormonal, useless mess. My doula had to talk me off a cliff, and my mother-in-law ran out in the middle of the night to get formula. I was able to see a lactation consultant and rent a breast pump the next day. Eventually, we did get it  (my postpartum doula helped a lot!), and now my son is almost 28 months-old and still nursing a few times a day, with no plans to quit as far as I can figure! But it was definitely a bumpy start.

When I got pregnant again, I didn’t even consider that nursing a newborn would be difficult. I nursed my son through the pregnancy, and I was looking forward to nursing a new little baby who theoretically wouldn’t be trying to do cartwheels while latched, like toddlers do. But I was wrong. Again.

My daughter is a bigger baby than my son was, and her head and neck were so strong when she was born that, whenever we nursed, she would latch and then arch, yanking the nipple along with her. It hurt, and it caused bruising, clogged ducts and serious discomfort for me until she was old enough to control her head a little better. I tried all the recommended nursing positions, visited a lactation consultant several times, and the only way I could find to nurse her without her hurting me at least some of the time was on my side. Since you can’t just lay down in the middle of the grocery store aisle when your baby gets hungry, this limited my ability to get out of the house for a few months after she was born.

I will be honest – I hated nursing her for many weeks. I felt like a failure for considering pumping and bottle feeding, or even just formula for her when I was still nursing her brother, but every plugged duct took an entire day of constant, painful pumping and nursing to clear, and although none of them turned into mastitis (a breast infection), every single one felt like an emergency. I wasn’t sleeping and was still healing from the birth. I didn’t have the energy for an emergency.

But, with some luck and a lot of support, I persevered, and as my daughter started to get better at nursing in other positions, I started to realized that if I could nurse upright if I leaned back and put her belly-to-belly on top of me. It wasn’t perfect, but it meant I could nurse her in the car, or on a park bench while my son played. None of the lactation consultants had recommended this position to me, and I wondered if maybe there was some risk associated with it, or some reason I didn’t see other mothers using it.

And of course, as soon as our nursing problems were mostly figured out, this article turned up on my feed: Many Moms May Have Been Taught to Breastfeed Incorrectly: Surprising New Research by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA.

Take a minute and open that in a new tab and look at the photos! (If you’re at work, be aware that it’s women breastfeeding, not that anyone should shame you for that.) Look at them! They’re in a reclined position, belly-to-belly with baby, with one arm supporting baby’s head. That is exactly what I had been doing successfully with my daughter, the baby who had such trouble in traditional breastfeeding positions, and here were a bunch of other moms doing the same thing! I was floored, and wished I’d seen this article when I had my son two years ago.

The article explores the idea that the ways that women are taught to breastfeed now are just not working for the vast majority of us. Mohrbacher says that 92% of women report trouble breastfeeding in the first week of their baby’s life, and that the most common reasons women give up on breastfeeding are trouble latching, nipple pain, and worries about producing enough milk. These are exactly the issues that come up when I talk about breastfeeding with other parents, especially with moms who chose to give up breastfeeding because it was just too painful and frustrating. Throughout the article, Mohrbacher argues that most of these problems are exacerbated, if not outright caused, by our poor breastfeeding postures, and that teaching new parents this alternative posture (which she calls “natural breastfeeding”) would alleviate many of these issues.

The article is a fantastic read, and I strongly recommend it, especially to expecting parents who are planning to breastfeed. Please share it around! There is nothing wrong with formula, and it’s true that sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t work, but I know far too many mothers who had their hearts set on breastfeeding and weren’t able to for exactly the reasons mentioned – pain, latching trouble, or concern with milk supply. Knowing about this nursing position could save a lot of breastfeeding relationships, and I personally think they’re worth saving.

Book review: The Mother of All Pregnancy Books by Ann Douglas

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I have a backlog of shorter book reviews, so I’ll be posting those in the next few weeks.

douglas-mother-allI found The Mother of All Pregnancy Books at the Good Will down the road when my partner and I were first talking about trying to conceive. It was $1 and the title is cute, so I bought it. It’s a perfectly fine pregnancy book, including sections on planning and conception, pregnancy itself, and postpartum issues. It is unique among the pregnancy books I’ve read in that it is not organized by month, but rather focuses much more on questions you’re likely to have throughout pregnancy. There’s a good, extensive section on common complaints, and I found the chapter on prenatal testing options to be particularly helpful.

It’s a good resource book to use while pregnant, but it lost points for me because it doesn’t really stand out among the crowd of other pregnancy books out there. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but I didn’t feel that it provided me with any information or new perspectives that I hadn’t already gotten from elsewhere. I do like it better than the What to Expect series only because it doesn’t dwell on all possible worst-case scenarios. Most expecting parents are anxious enough without the addition of the unnecessary stress that comes from reading about all the things that go wrong 1 out of every 100,000 pregnancies.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Further thoughts on the 4 month regression.

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As predicted, I fell off the face of the internet for a little while, but my daughter seems to have figured out how to sleep with her fancy new brain with remarkably little intervention from me. The 4 month sleep regression is unpredictable, and this might be the eye of the storm rather than the end of it, but she has slept from 8PM-5AM for two nights in a row, and has been putting herself to sleep for bedtime and naps with no or very little fussing. I am ridiculously proud of her, and also relieved. Even if this is just a respite, my back and shoulders deserve the rest – rocking a 15lb baby to sleep 5-6 times a day is a lot of work!

This is also completely different from our experience of our son’s 4 month sleep regression, which lasted for months, and our son required significant intervention from us to learn to handle his new sleep patterns. I have vivid memories of rocking in a dark room for what seemed like hours, counting to myself to determine when it might be safe to try to put him down in his crib. As a second-time mother, I wonder how much of the trouble was really his different personality and temperament, and how much of it was just me getting in the way of him teaching himself sooner, but I really do think he was just a very different kind of baby from his sister.

Anyway, in my efforts to get through this regression with my sanity intact, I have been reading a lot about this age, and there are two articles I found in particular that I want to recommend strongly for any parents going through this period.

First, Ask Moxie has a great, lucid post explaining what the heck is going on during the 4 and 9 month sleep regressions, and reminds us all that it’s normal for these regressions to leave you feeling defeated and frustrated, even though they’re normal developmentally for your baby. The comments are good reading to help you feel like you’re not alone! A reminder about sleep regressions

(I do feel like I want to mention that, though she’s right that lots of babies seem to only take 20-40 minute naps as newborns, my daughter was the unicorn baby that would take 3 hour naps and always needed to be woken up to eat. So, these babies do exist, and are just as normal as the 20-40 minute nappers!)

Second, I love this article from KellyMom: Wakeful 4 month-olds

It addresses the supremely problematic advice a lot of parents get from their pediatricians, families, and an unfortunately large percentage of books on parenting and sleep, to resort to cry-it-out when their 4 month-old suddenly stops sleeping at night.

“Has NO ONE stopped to consider the developmental stage of the breastfeeding baby that begins at about four months and can go on to 6 or 7 months? Think about your four month old breastfeeding — what are they doing? This baby is on and off the breast — so interested in the world around him he can hardly stand it. “Oh look! There’s the dog! Hi, Mommy, I love you SOOOO much! The phone?! A car went by. The TV is on. Big sister comes into the room….hey, there’s just too much going on for me to concentrate on eating. I think I’m full now. I’ll see you later…..” – Jan Barger, RN, MA, IBCLC

Of course, of course, of course a baby distracted from breastfeeding during the day is going to be more hungry at night! I am moderately conservative when it comes to sleep training – I think there are a lot of gentle, limited-cry methods that are a great help in teaching babies how to sleep independently, but I don’t think cry-it-out is the Devil when used appropriately. The problem is that, in my experience, cry-it-out is almost never used appropriately. You do not wean a baby by leaving them to cry in the dark by themselves. You alter their daytime schedule to make sure they’re eating enough, you feed them in a quiet place so they can concentrate on eating, and then, only if needed, you work on night weaning in a gentle, supportive way. A lot of babies will drop night feedings on their own once parents ensure that they’re getting full feedings during the day, so why not try that before leaving them to cry at night?

I hope these two articles will be helpful to other parents going through this regression, especially if you’re going through it for the first time.