Tag Archives: self-care

On getting your time back

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This morning I was trying to remember how old my son was when I first left him alone for a few minutes to take a shower. My daughter is almost 11 months old, and I’ve just started to feel comfortable leaving her for a few minutes in a thoroughly baby-proofed space, away from my son, to bring the laundry upstairs or run the recycling out. I feel like I probably started to leave my son alone for a few minutes at around the same age. He wasn’t walking at that point, and he always self-entertained very well. My daughter is not quite old enough for me to take a shower while she’s awake and unsupervised yet, but it’s exciting to be 11 months along and to start to see a day when every single little decision of my life doesn’t have to be built around my youngest baby’s schedule the way it is now.

I truly believe that the radical schedule change that happens when you become a parent is the hardest part of childcare for most people to adjust to. Most people are able to care for a newborn just fine if they’re given the means and support, but having to eat, sleep, shower and everything else on a schedule completely dictated by a new little person can be a real challenge for a lot of us. I know a lot of parents, stay-at-home especially, lose themselves in childcare, especially in the first year, which is not good for their health or their families in the long-term. But I’ve also met parents who don’t seem to recognize how often newborns need to nurse and nap, and who are blithely running their tiny babies ragged with their bizarre, unfair expectation that the baby can adapt to an adult schedule. It can be hard to find the balance between getting your baby the sleep and meals she needs, and getting your sleep and meals too!

All this is just to say that if this is something you’ve been struggling with, you’re definitely not alone in it, and it does get better. Carve out some time for yourself occasionally by whatever means, but realize that soon your tiny baby will be walking and talking and making decent decisions on their own, which will mean that you can take a shower and your house will still be standing when you’re done.

Some days are rough.

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I have been working myself pretty hard the past few weeks, and this week, it finally caught up with me. I am tired, sore, low-energy, constantly on the verge of grumpy. My 7 month-old sleeps well for her age, but the night feedings are starting to wear on me, and her naps have been a challenge this week. And I hurt my back from constantly picking up my anxiety-riddled toddler to soothe his fits. And I forgot, once again, how terrible periods can be, since I haven’t had one in a while. Sometimes they are pretty terrible.

I have been trying to compensate for my lack of energy. We have been eating leftovers for days. I’ve been spending every second I can snatch napping on the couch. I tried to take a bath yesterday to relax and help my back, but my daughter decided that her traditional hours-long afternoon nap should instead be only twenty minutes, so that bath was aborted. I have since decided that having to get out in the middle of a relaxing bath makes me feel approximately five times worse than not having a bath at all, which is good information to have for the future, I guess.

I hesitated to write this post, but I feel like one of my goals with this blog is to point out all the places that motherhood/parenthood/family life is not like in the magazines, and this is one of them. Sometimes you are tired and grumpy and in pain, and you could really use a sick day, but the baby does not care. The baby cannot care, because the baby needs to eat and be clean and sleep, just like you, and she can’t do any of those things on her own. It can be tough. I am lucky to have a good support network, but I’ve also worked really hard to create a support network, because I know that I’m prone to depression and anxiety, and having babies is hard. I cannot be a good parent in a vacuum. I need help.

Today I am proud of myself for getting my toddler to his daycare on time, for loading the dishwasher even though I really didn’t want to, and for smiling at my daughter even though she does not want to sleep. Those are good things to be proud of, I think.

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.

Sleep regressions are the worst.

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I have been a little absent this week, and I might be a little absent for the next month or so (we’ll see!), because my daughter has run head first into the 4 month sleep regression. My daughter is a much more adaptable baby than my son was, and I had tricked myself into thinking that maybe her journey through this sleep regression would just be a little blip on the sleep radar, but gentle readers, I was wrong. Oh, so wrong!

Sleep regressions are a normal part of a baby’s development through the first few years of life, and are characterized by a baby suddenly refusing naps and bedtime, waking a lot at night, taking very short naps, and generally turning into a fussbutt. You think you’re going crazy, because what happened to your adorable, smiling, happy baby? Where did she go? It’s not you, though! It’s totally just a sleep regression.

The 4 month sleep regression has the dubious honor of being the only sleep regression that is permanent. What I mean by that is, the 4 month sleep regression is caused by a permanent change in the way your baby sleeps, and the associated miserable-ness is really your baby doing her darnedness to re-learn how to sleep under new conditions. I am not a sleep scientist, but from what I understand, babies under 4 months-old are almost always in deep sleep. Around 4 months, this changes, and babies start to sleep more like adults, cycling between light sleep and deep sleep continuously. A lot of the symptoms of the 4 month regression are your baby going, “What the heck is this light sleep thing, and how do I make it go away?!”

Although I have met many parents who swear that their baby has been sleeping well since they were 6 weeks-old, I have met many more who hit 4 months-old and started to fall apart. You’ve been getting up a minimum of twice a night to feed the baby for four months, and maybe you weren’t sleeping well during the later stages of the pregnancy, and maybe you are the rare adult like me who needs 9 hours of sleep to be a happy person. You think you’re finally getting the hang of this exhaustion thing, and then, BOOM! Your baby is suddenly not napping and waking up 10 times a night! Awesome, right?

The 4 month regression is a time for self-care if there ever was one. This is the time to call in all favors, to pay all the babysitters, to get a night nurse for even one night if you can. Get the teenager across the street to hold the baby for an hour so you can take a nap. Order pizza for dinner so you can veg out in front of the TV with your baby who will suddenly only sleep if you hold her. Find other people to worry about the crumbs on the floor and the dishes in the sink. The regression can last anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, and you will make it through, but you need to pace yourself. And above all, you need to sleep, as much as you possibly can.

There is some good news associated with the sleep regression! Once it’s over, your baby is mature enough to learn how to fall asleep by herself, and to fall back asleep on her own if she wakes up at night and it’s not time to eat yet. She might not *want* to do that, and you might not feel ready to teach her, but after the 4 month regression, you *can* teach her if you want to. In my opinion, there is ZERO point in sleep training of any kind before 4 months. I know lots of people disagree, and you can certainly get to 4 months in better or worse shape, considering, but I think a lot of new parents work way to hard on sleep in the first few months, see it all fall apart during the regression, and then are just too exhausted to make any real strides after the regression ends. And that’s honestly a shame, because after the regression is the best time to start sleep training – your baby is finally ready! You could probably all use some good sleep!

Anyway, I’m going to try to keep posting a few times a week, but if I completely disappear, now you know where I am. I am frantically bouncing/rocking/climbing stairs trying to get this baby to sleep.

Link: ” What You Should Really Bring Someone Who Just Had a Baby” at The Kitchn

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I just want to add a “Hell yeah!” to this post from The Kitchn: What You Should Really Bring Someone Who Just Had a Baby

Casseroles are great, but things I can eat with one hand, for breakfast and middle-of-the-night snack are even better! Read this article and remember it the next time a friend has a baby!

Three months-old

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My baby girl turned three months-old a few days ago. I can’t believe it. It’s probably just the sleep deprivation that makes the days flow together so seamlessly, but it feels like yesterday that I was laying in bed with my partner in the hospital, watching her sleep, still riding the endorphin high that comes after labor and birth.

It has been so interesting being a second-time parent to this little one – I’m really starting to understand how unique each new person is, even though there are patterns that repeat from one to the next. My son, for example, was never great at napping in the car. If he was already overtired, the car might make him fall asleep, but he’d wake up at every red light and immediately upon getting home, and would never fall back asleep. And the screaming . . . my gosh, the screaming. Especially as a first-time mom, the screaming really got to me, and it was really never worth a panic attack while driving just to get my son to sleep for twenty minutes.

My little girl, on the other hand, seems to sleep very well in the car, and I’m starting to understand why so many parents are still driving their one year-olds around for every nap. Today was the first day I gave into that impulse myself. After a morning of 20 minutes naps, endless crying, and obvious exhaustion, I packed baby girl into the car and drove into Boulder for no particular reason. I got a drink at Starbucks. I stopped for ice cream. I tried to drop off a bag for Good Will, but there was a line. She slept for almost the entire ride, and when I got her home, she woke up for long enough to nurse and then went straight back to sleep. I put her down in her crib and got an entire two hours to myself, and when she woke up she was her usual happy self.

When I got into the car I felt like I was giving up, but giving up in this case actually managed to turn my entire day around. I got out of the house and had some fun. The baby slept. No one had a panic attack. I may need to start giving up more often.