Tag Archives: toddlers

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.

Milestone Madness

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It has been a huge week over here in the Mothering for Me household! Both of my babies are doing amazing things, and this momma is proud!

My youngest, almost 6 months, has been working so hard on rolling from her back to her front, and by Jove, she’s finally got it! I have spent the week waking up all night to her screaming, when she rolls to her belly and gets stuck there. Yesterday she spent an entire two hours rolling to her belly instead of napping. I went up there no less than 8 times to return her to her back before I finally gave up, and no sleep was had at all, which made for an interesting rest of the afternoon.

Last night was a difficult one again, but when I woke up this morning, I found her asleep (!) on her belly! She’d rolled over at night, decided it was suddenly not the worst thing in the world, and just went back to sleep on her own like she used to do. I’m hoping that means we are in for some better sleep in the coming nights. It’s hard to become used to sleeping for a few weeks, only to have it pulled out from under you once again.

I am so proud of my little girl, though! My baby can roll! It’s the little things.

And it’s the big things, too! My son, being much older, hit an even bigger milestone this week! We’ve been working with a speech therapist since late May, after a series of ear infections caused him a major speech regression. He’s been trying more words every week, with more or less success, but most of them you hear once and then never again. This week is particularly exciting though, because this is the first week in his life where I really feel like we are understanding each other most of the time. There are still moments where I have no idea what he wants, but over the past few weeks, he’s learned to point, make more eye contact, and he’s just started to say “Ya!” and “All done!”, which are hugely helpful words to have. He’s 28 months, and we’ve still got a ways to go, but I am more and more confident that the day of mutual understanding is a’coming.

Milestones mean less sleep all around, but it’s always temporary. In fact, baby girl put herself to sleep for the nap she refused yesterday after needing help just once! This week, the sleep deprivation feels worth it.

Book review: Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner

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Another short book review to clear out the backlog.

bumgarner-mothering-nursingYes, I have a nursing toddler (going on 28 months!), which is surprisingly different from having a nursing baby, and I went looking for some help on what’s “average” for this age. Recognizing that there’s a lot of variation in what babies do at any age, I was really looking to see how often toddlers were nursing, how many moms were doing on-demand nursing versus sticking to a schedule, how and when moms chose to wean, and the like. This book was published in 2000 and so is a little older, but there’s not a lot out there on nursing toddlers in the US, sadly, and this book was recommended on some parenting blog or other.

I really didn’t like it. I thought the author’s tone was pedantic, and there were lots of unquestioned assumptions about, well, everything, from the composition of families as a mom, dad, and kids, to styles of discipline and limit-setting, and even to why parents were choosing extended nursing. The book included a lot of personal stories, which I did find interesting, but they are all twenty to thirty years-old at this point, and thus not always relevant to today’s society.There also wasn’t much practical advice, and since that’s what I was looking for, I didn’t find it helpful.

If you  don’t need practical advice and are interested in stories from moms nursing toddlers in the 1990s for some kind of cultural research project, then this is your book!

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Book Review: “How Weaning Happens” by Diane Bengson

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I read this when my son was 15 months-old and was still nursing four times a day, but not overnight. I’d had mixed experiences with our pediatrician office, where some doctors were recommending cutting down on his nursing to encourage him to eat more solid food, and some doctors weren’t. I didn’t feel like he was nursing too much as he doesn’t drink any other kind of milk, and some of my research indicated that extended (after 1 year-old) breastfeeding had health benefits for mom and baby. But, there are a wide variety of opinions and it can be hard to find research on extended breastfeeding done recently with any real population size or diversity of study participants.

bengson-how-weaningSo, although we’re not really interested in weaning yet, I thought this book (sponsored by The La Leche League) would be a good way for me to get a sense of what some moms who choose extended nursing are doing, how often their kids are nursing a day, and at what point they’re choosing to wean. The book is certainly biased toward extended nursing and child-led weaning, but so am I, so that was fine for me. Most of it is a collection of La Leche League members’ stories about their children and their experiences with extended nursing, organized into vague categories.

This is still not a scientific study on weaning or extended nursing, but it is a highly informational read representing a wide variety of opinions and experiences, considering that everyone had chosen to breastfeed for an extended period of time. It really helped me understand that there’s no real “normal” in terms of what kids or families choose to do after one year. Some kids are still nursing six times overnight, some nurse once a week, and most are in between somewhere. I just appreciate having a collection of different experiences to work from while we were trying to figure out what a good solution was for my family. And I was very reassured that my son was not nursing too much, and I am still nursing him (now 26 months) until he decides to wean on his own.

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

Book review: What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff

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Now that I have a few book reviews under my belt, it’s time to talk about a big one! Yes, I mean What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff et al. I got this book at the Good Will while I was pregnant with my first baby and read it slowly as he went through his first year. As you might expect considering What to Expect’s fame, it has a lot of good information about when babies hit milestones on average, ideas for games and toys that are appropriate by age, and it discusses some of the major concerns that parents run into in the first year. That said, I think there are a lot of better books out there for first-time parents, and I would not particularly recommend this one.

murkoff-expect-first-yearFirst of all, some of the health-related information is out of date even in the most recent edition, and doesn’t conform to the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here, I am particularly thinking of their section on introducing solid foods. The current research and recommendation by the AAP is that it is not only safe to introduce highly-allergenic foods before age 1 to children whose parents have no history of food allergies, but that introducing these foods early may actually help prevent common food allergies.* I hope this kind of stuff will be updated in the next edition, but as of this moment, the book is out of date, as are a lot of the materials on the corresponding website.

Second, this book didn’t support breastfeeding to the extent that I was hoping. Murkoff repeats over and over that it’s best to breastfeed until at least age 1, but there’s also a lot of material about weaning to the bottle or formula. That’s fine, as it’s information many families will certainly want or need, but as a new mom who did have some difficulties with breastfeeding, I felt like I was constantly being told about how hard breastfeeding is without being offered any support structures to help. The book didn’t provide information for new mothers about continuing to breastfeed after the first year, and certainly didn’t touch at all on the health benefits (for mother and child) of doing so. Breastfeeding is hard and it’s important to acknowledge that, but I feel like its benefits are well-known enough that a book like this should really be supporting the breastfeeding relationship for as long as possible.

Obviously, some people will not be interested in breastfeeding or will not be able to breastfeed, and that’s okay, but there’s a way to support those decisions without constantly pressuring those of us who are breastfeeding to stop at age 1. Additionally, there is some outright wrong information about breastfeeding repeated over and over in the text, especially as concerns what’s normal/average in terms of weaning. Murkoff’s expectations for infant sleep also don’t line up with the books I’ve read on infant sleep that were grounded in scientific research.

Finally, I feel that this book spent too much time on a lot of very rare and uncommon illnesses. It’s great to have rare concerns listed briefly, and to provide resources for more information, but reading over and over about all the ways your baby could get sick is probably not a good idea for a new parent. It’s stressful enough to handle a healthy baby; spending your energy processing information that you’ll never need isn’t worth it, especially since that kind of worrying can create emotional issues you really don’t need. There is definitely such a thing as being too informed when it comes to certain topics. I say, give me information about the common cold, why vaccinations are important, what to do in a choking emergency or during a febrile seizure, and skip the several hundred pages on all the 1/10,000 ways my kid could get sick.

I feel like with What to Expect’s history as the “go to” pregnancy and child-rearing book series, it needs to be held to a high standard. People all over the world trust them to get it right and to provide information that is correct and reliable, and unfortunately, What to Expect the First Year just doesn’t deliver on those fronts.

*See http://aapnewsde.aap.org/aapnews-open/201302_o?pg=13#pg13 for one example.

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

Book review: 1, 2, 3… the Toddler Years: A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers by Irene Van Der Zande and the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center Staff

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Let’s move away from baby sleep books for a little while and take a look at discipline! I know, it’s a subject everybody dreads, but I am firmly in the camp of seeing discipline as a way of teaching a child how to be happy and productive while living in a society with other humans. Discipline is not punishment for behavior we decide we don’t like, but rather a way to set limits on behavior to keep a child safe and happy. When you view discipline as a way of teaching, it’s much easier to remember that you and your baby are a team, working together to learn about the world and how to function within it. Every parent has an off day, (and so does every baby!) but it’s easier to get back on track when you realize that you and your kids are in this together.

van-der-zande-123For parents of older babies and toddlers, I really do recommend 1, 2, 3… the Toddler Years: A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers by Irene Van Der Zande and the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center Staff. When I first read this, my son was definitely showing that he had his own ideas about the world, and we were encountering some of the upsets that come along when you discover that your toddler has different opinions about how to spend his time than you do. I wanted a book that had practical methods of discipline based in communication. I don’t want to coerce my kid into doing something through trickery, but rather to establish a relationship based in honesty and open communication. I understand that trickery is more or less necessary occasionally, but I’m not personally interested in approaching my everyday relationship with my child that way.

Anyway, the Santa Cruz Toddler Center is a daycare set up along the philosophy of Magda Gerber, who’s famous for RIE, which is a child-rearing approach designed around respecting childrens’ autonomy, individuality, and ability. You can read more about it on their website here. I personally find the philosophy part a little out there for me at times, but I think the practical result of the philosophy is just great. And 1, 2, 3… the Toddler Years is all practical stuff, with a lot of situational examples and scripts, which I kind of need when my son is screaming at me because I wouldn’t let him play with an electrical socket.

Another important reason that I recommend this for other parents is that it’s an extremely quick read. The book is relatively short, the text is clear and direct, and it’s well-organized. It’s perfect for parents who need some help with discipline, but don’t have time to read a book the size of a dictionary. It’s a great find!

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