It’s no fun being sick

It took exactly three days of daycare for Little Boy to catch a cold.  And another three days for him to give it to me.  Thanks, kid.  Consequently, we’ve been a house full of sick people for the past week.  After the cold (or at least the worst part of the cold), there was the stomach bug.  My husband and I spent that morning taking turns in the rocking chair, soothing our poor little sick baby to sleep on our shoulders.

I know we’re in for many repeats of this cycle as Little Boy’s immune system confronts a whole new world of germs.  Ugh.  Oh well, it has to happen sometime.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

A wonderful thing happened on the first day Little Boy spent at daycare: I missed him.

Of course you missed your baby, you might be thinking.  Every time you talk about daycare, you talk about how much you’re going to miss him.

What I didn’t realize was how strong that missing would be.

It’s a visceral emotion, this missing.  An overwhelming desire to see my Little Boy’s expressions, hear his voice, pick him up and shower him with hugs and kisses.  I want to hold him to my heart and feel the solid warmth of him in my arms.  When we all got home that first evening, my husband and I were competing for who got to change Little Boy’s diaper.  Not who had to, who got to.  That’s how much we missed him.

I’m so relieved.

So this is what parental love feels like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved my kid.  But as a culture, we present motherhood as a magic, all-consuming love like nothing you’ve ever felt before.  In consequence, it’s hard not to feel like there isn’t something just a little bit wrong with you when you want to take breaks from your baby.

It turns out I really, really need that time to be me.  Because in the freedom to do my own thing, knowing that my child is safe and happy and having fun without me, I realize just how much he means to me.  And I’m reassured that I am, in fact, capable of that kind of emotional connection.

Thanks, daycare.

The lazy mom’s guide to introducing solids

(I know dads feed their babies too.  But “The Lazy Dad’s Guide” sounded overly stereotypical, and “The Lazy Parent’s Guide” just didn’t have the right ring to it.)

STEP 1:  Start with something that can be prepared quickly, easily and in small quantities. 

(We chose iron-fortified rice cereal.)

Offer daily.

Be entertained by the fact that baby is more interested in spoon than in food.

STEP 2:  Scrounge cupboard / fridge / freezer for food that is soft or can be easily squashed / puréed with a hand blender.  Bonus points if this is yesterday’s leftovers.

Ignore all the old rules about allergies.

Be grateful that the latest research and your pediatrician recommend ignoring all the old rules about allergies.

Be highly entertained at the faces baby makes when given a spoonful of applesauce.  Seriously, who doesn’t like applesauce?

Occasionally remember to put avocados and sweet potatoes on the grocery list.

STEP 3:  Put some finger food on baby’s high chair tray.  Prepare for chaos.

Discover that Puffs get soggy and gross really quickly and replace them with Cheerios.

Be extremely impressed at the rapid improvement in baby’s pincer grasp.

Realize that your little one is growing up.

Weird mommy guilt

On the way home from taking our son to meet the teachers at his new daycare, my husband said, “It’s going to be really hard to drop him off that first day.”

I was silent for a moment before responding.

“Sometimes I secretly wonder if I’m a bad mother, because I don’t feel guilty about this at all.  I’m going to walk in and go, ‘Here, take my kid, thanks, bye.’ ”

He laughed.

There are some important caveats to that sentiment.  I don’t entrust our baby’s care to just anyone – only close and competent family members, carefully-screened babysitters, and a thoughtfully-selected and widely-recommended daycare.  I will miss my son after a while, for sure; he is adorable and I love his little habits.  And my comfort level with handing him over to anyone who’s not his father has definitely increased significantly as Little Boy has gotten older.  It wasn’t until he was about four months old that I felt confident giving a caregiver a basic schedule rather than a long list of “if he cries, try this and this and this and that.”

Oddly though, much of my difficulty in leaving Little Boy in the early days was not concern for him, but concern for the person taking care of him.  In the beginning, when you’re nursing completely on demand – especially before your baby is old enough to take a bottle – mom’s absence means removing the easiest and most reliable soothing method.  Even later, I felt awful heading to school knowing that my husband’s postpartum depression was going to get worse with every minute that he had to take care of a baby who wasn’t perfectly happy.  Somehow, I’d internalized the idea that an unhappy baby was my fault even when I wasn’t there.

Now, however, I don’t feel guilty that Little Boy will be spending much of his time with “strangers.”  I’m a better, calmer, and more engaging mother if I get real breaks, and my husband will hopefully be a much-less-stressed father when he can stop having to try to get work done during nap time.  Plus (weirdly capitalistic as this may sound), we’re paying the daycare providers; I don’t have to feel like I’m taking advantage of their goodwill on those days when my son becomes a Purple Minion.

My brain, however, is not so easily settled.  Does my lack of guilt about daycare make me a bad parent?  Aren’t I supposed to feel guilty about this?

Enrolled at daycare

We’re very fortunate: daycare wait lists are almost non-existent in our city.  We didn’t have to pay any registration fees during pregnancy, nor worry about whether any infant spots might open up in time.  In fact, when I called around over last few weeks, all four of the centers I contacted had openings for an eight-month-old.  Whew!

The original plan had been to keep Little Boy home for a year, trading baby care shifts between parents throughout the day.  Both my husband’s job and my grad-school “job” can be accomplished remotely and at odd hours, and nobody bats an eye if I bring a cute little baby to the office with me from time to time.

Like most plans made by new parents, this one didn’t fully mesh with the realities of caring for a tiny human.  Hauling Little Boy to campus turned out to be way more work than it was worth and has thus been reserved for only very particular situations.  My maternity leave was only half the length of the need-intensive “fourth trimester,” so we struggled to find time to work and sleep and stay sane until our son developed a more consistent sleep schedule.  But we managed.

Now, however, we’re ready for daycare.  Little Boy is down to two naps a day and my husband’s boss has started dropping passive-aggressive hints about “face time.”  What’s more, I think Little Boy has reached a stage of inquisitiveness and interaction where he will benefit from some new people, new toys, and new activities.  He loves his Mommy and Daddy for sure, but we sometimes run out of exciting and fun baby games by the end of the day.

As lovely as a one-on-one nanny would be, we can’t afford one.  And I’m extremely uncomfortable using an in-home daycare without knowing the caregiver personally.  That leaves daycare centers, where at least I know there’s oversight, training and backup plans.

We ended up touring three such centers.  The third was struck from the list immediately after the tour: although in a prime location, it had a run-down playground with a swingless swing set and rough AstroTurf.  The sole caregiver for five infants spent part of her time washing high chair trays, her back turned away from the small baby sleeping on the floor while others crawled around him.  (This makes it sound really terrible – it was OK, but we’d seen better.)

The remaining options both had definite positives.  Daycare #1 was a nationwide chain with a sparklingly clean center, close to home, with large playgrounds and attractive wooden toys.  But the infant care ratio was still 1:5, and their full-time cost would be a serious strain on our budget.  Daycare #2 was a local place, close to work, with an older building and a religious bent.  Their classrooms lacked the neat uniformity of the other place, but they put 2 caregivers in a room with 8 children (caregivers working on early childhood degrees, I might add) and you could just feel the increased level of personalization.  Moreover, several friends highly recommended Daycare #2, and the center offers a 3-day-a-week plan that we can afford.

So Daycare #2 it is!  Tomorrow we take Little Boy for a visit; next Monday, he starts his new adventure.  Like every parent before me, I’ll miss him when he’s gone, but for now we’ll still have two whole days a week together by ourselves (plus weekends as a family).  Plenty of time for him to practice those hugs he’s recently learned how to give.

Readers with kids – what did you choose to do for childcare?  Was it an easy decision or a hard one?  If you went with daycare, did you have any trouble finding an open spot?

Lies the baby books told me

Before Little Boy was born, I read: three books on pregnancy, one book about birth, one book about baby sleep, two books on general baby care (à la What to Expect the First Year), and countless online resources about all of it.  This was perhaps a little excessive.  The biggest thing I learned from this reading spree was that you can know every available detail on how to take care of a baby and still have absolutely no idea what to actually do with your baby.

Some of the information in the baby care books was helpful, some of it was clearly inapplicable to my kid, and some of it was just bizarre (do some hospitals really give you dry gauze pads instead of baby wipes?).  And then there were these:

 

“A breastfed baby’s poop smells sweet [or at least not bad].”  If by “sweet,” you mean “like a dozen rotten eggs,” then yes, I guess the poop of a breastfed baby does smell sweet.  (See also: “Breastfed babies don’t need to be burped as much.”)

 

“Your baby will naturally fall into his own schedule.”  Everything I read promised that after the first month or two, if you just kept track of your baby’s feeding and sleeping preferences for a week, his personal schedule would become clear.

Uh-huh.

To coax Little Boy onto a schedule, we had to:

  • Wake him up at the same time every morning.
  • Wake him from naps to make sure he ate enough during the day.
  • Deliberately aim to begin the bedtime routine around the same time every night.
  • Wait until he was nearly 5 months old and consistently able to nap longer than 45 minutes at a time.

 

“Newborns spend some of their time in a ‘quiet alert’ state.”  Is this the “I’m bored but I’m too little to be entertained by anything you do and I’m not tired so I’m just going to fuss until I get hungry again” state?  No?

 

“You don’t need to change your baby’s diaper at every nighttime feeding.”  I suppose this is theoretically true if your kid doesn’t consider every middle-of-the-night meal the perfect opportunity to poop.

 

“One pumping session with a double electric breast pump takes 10-15 minutes.”  Yeah, I wish.  Thank goodness I can work while I pump.

 

I can’t wait to see what gems the toddler care books have in store for us.  “Potty training is easy,” perhaps?

Character study

Today’s Writing 101 assignment was to write a character study of someone who has recently entered your life.  I, of course, chose Little Boy.


I see him stirring in his sleep.  The video monitor was his father’s idea, a shiny and expensive piece of technology that past generations had surely survived without.  But I am the one most captivated by it now, watching my son first curl up on his side, then fling both his arms straight out in what looks like an effort to occupy the maximum amount of space.

He is always in motion.  Even lying on his back with his arms tightly swaddled at his sides, he rotated like a sundial and inch-wormed his way across the crib.  Awake, he is a perpetual ball of energy, stymied in his attempts to run across the room by the fact that his infant body has only just figured out how sit up.  But we will be chasing him around the house before long, I am sure.

His approach to the world is that of a dedicated explorer.  Offer him an item and watch his eyes light up, his legs kick, and his arms vibrate with excitement.  The most mundane things become objects of great interest; one week he was utterly fascinated by the presence and feel of his room’s ordinary blue wall.  He runs his fingers through the tags on his toys, over and over, contemplating their texture as though it were a great revelation.

All the while, he is talking.  I have seen some babies lie quietly and play; mine does not.  Long strings of vowels and “fffff”s and “babababa”s accompany his daily life, along with emphatic raspberries and loud shrieks of joy.  He does not yet know what words mean, but he understands communication – he will say something, then look at me and pause, waiting for my response.  He is particularly fond of talking with his father, conversing in a back-and-forth of “aah”s and “oh”s.

Many mothers mourn the rapid passing of the newborn days, but not me.  My son grows more solid with each new day, changing from a mysterious tiny creature into a real little human.  He will be a different person in one year, or five, or ten – a person I greatly look forward to meeting – and yet he will always be my Little Boy.

In praise of Dr. Ferber

Ferber seems to take a lot of flak on the internet these days.  I’m referring, of course, to Dr. Richard Ferber, author of Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems and founder of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.  His method of sleep training has become so well-known that it has its own verb: “Ferberizing.”  But spend any time on mommy forums and you’re bound to encounter science-y sounding proclamations about how terrible the so-called “cry it out” methods are for your baby.  Abandonment!  Brain damage!  Instant breastfeeding failure!

Those people are nuts.

I think when a lot of folks hear the words “sleep training,” they think of situations like the one described in this New York Times article, in which a doctor recommends leaving your 8-week-old alone for 12 hours, no matter how much he or she cries.  Don’t do that.  Don’t even think about doing that.  Seriously, that is a terrible, terrible idea.

That’s not what the Ferber method is about.

I actually read Ferber’s book, in its entirety, and it is the very opposite of ignoring your child’s needs.  His (in)famous method occupies just one chapter out of eighteen.  Most of the book deals with a variety of other sleep issues: nightmares, sleepwalking, bedwetting, circadian rhythms, etc.  It was clear to me that Dr. Ferber cares deeply about children’s well-being.  For instance, his recommendation for an older child dealing with severe anxiety is to do “whatever is necessary to help your child feel safe” – the italics are his emphasis, not mine.

My Little Boy stopped nursing himself to sleep somewhere around the 2-month mark.  Bedtime became progressively more and more of a struggle, as he grew less and less interested in being rocked or sung or swung to sleep.  By 3 months, it was taking a solid 90 minutes to put him to sleep at night, and then we’d be on tenterhooks for another 45 minutes in case he woke up at the end of that first sleep cycle.  The stress and lack of personal time was making my husband and me very unhappy.  Something was also making Little Boy very unhappy: he started crying the moment we took him out of his bath and kept it up all through his bedtime story and song.

That’s when we decided to sleep train.  Ferber’s book told us to lay him down in his crib with a kiss and leave for 3 minutes.  Go back in for more kisses and shushes and reassuring words.  5 minutes.  More reassurance.  7 minutes – wait, he’s quiet.  He’s asleep!  The next morning, Little Boy went down for his first nap with zero crying, and he cried for less than 5 minutes that next night.  Night 3 was a bit rough with 20 minutes of angry baby, but he’s been good at falling asleep ever since.

Now 7 months old, Little Boy falls asleep on his own and greets us in the morning with giant smiles.  He will sometimes grump for a few minutes when we leave him at night, but more commonly he happily babbles for a bit before getting comfy.  He sleeps well in strange places as long as he has a quiet, safe space to rest, and he’s added two teeth with extremely minimal sleep disruption.

We are happy, because nighttime is much less stressful.  Even more importantly, Little Boy is happy.  He stopped screaming during his bedtime routine, perhaps because he is confident in his ability to fall asleep.  (Ever been tired but unable to convince your mind and body to sleep?  It sucks.  It would make me scream, too.)  Sleep training has meant a lot LESS crying for Little Boy.

There are other methods of sleep training, with varying degrees of parental presence and intervention.  I liked the Ferber method’s balance of giving my baby the chance to fall asleep on his own while still allowing me to make sure he was OK.  We still check on Little Boy if he fusses for more than 5 minutes; on the rare occasion that this happens nowadays, it’s almost always because he needs a clean diaper.

Of course, you don’t need to sleep train your baby.  If you’re happily co-sleeping or just have a kid who sleeps easily and well – awesome!  Don’t fix what isn’t broken.  But if it takes hours just to put your baby to sleep at night, or if he’s waking up every 45 minutes all night long – the rest of this post is for you.

I call it “Crazy Grad Mama’s guide to (mostly) guilt-free sleep training.

Wait until your baby is old enough.  Most sources will say to hold off on sleep training until 4 months; some say to wait ’til 6 months.  The real hard-and-fast rule is to wait for the end of the “fourth trimester,” that 3-4 month period in which your baby is still adjusting to life outside the womb, his nervous system still developing to a point where it can handle the big wide world.  You can gently try to make your newborn sleep longer, but you can’t force it.

Sleep training is not the same thing as night weaning.  (In fact, they’re separate chapters in Ferber’s book.)  “Sleep training” should be about falling asleep, not specifically about sleeping through the night.  If your baby needs to nurse every hour because that’s the only way he knows to fall back asleep at the end of a sleep cycle, then yes, sleep training will mean fewer night feedings.  But you should never let your baby go hungry (duh, right?).  In our case, Little Boy had dropped to 0-1 night meals of his own accord before we sleep trained.  Since we knew that when he woke out of hunger, it was around 4-5 a.m., we decided to treat any wakings before 2 a.m. as not-hungry times.  (As it turned out, this happened only once.  I don’t remember what was bothering him, but his dad comforted him a few times, and he went back to sleep.)

Have a plan.  Consistency is key to learning any new skill or habit.  The first couple of nights of sleep training will probably suck, so it’s important to be prepared.  It’s also important to implement a legit sleep training method and not a haphazard “I’m going to let my baby cry for a while and see what happens” approach.  Read a book (or books, if you’re me) or find a non-crazy internet site for reference.  Noob Mommy has a great explanation of Ferber, and BabyCenter’s Teaching Your Baby and Toddler To Sleep board is a good resource for sleep training options (this is only time I will ever recommend a BabyCenter forum, so take note).

Commit for a week.  Again, the first few nights will be the worst, but you should see noticeable improvement after that.  It’s also not uncommon to see some improvement, then have a random worse night (like our third night).  But if you stick to it, things should be better after a week.  If they’re not, stop and reevaluate; either you, the parents, have implemented something incorrectly, or your kid needs a different approach for sleep.  (If you have Ferber’s book, you can refer to the section titled “If Things Are Not Getting Better.”)

Remember the importance of sleep.  Some people dismiss sleep training as selfish, and it undoubtedly benefits parents.  But sleep is important for growing babies, too.  Memories consolidate during sleep; the mind and body refresh and renew themselves.  Solid sleep is as important a biological need as food and human interaction.

For those about to embark on a sleep training adventure, I wish you luck!

Silent night

It’s about a baby.

It’s about a baby sleeping.

It’s about a baby sleeping silently.

I don’t care how many months it’s been since Christmas.  “Silent Night” is the perfect lullaby.

Also, I know all the words.

Where the pro-breastfeeding movement gets it wrong

Little Boy and I have been very lucky when it comes to breastfeeding.  I don’t say that to brag; quite the opposite, in fact.  Our success at breastfeeding is due to little more than luck and genetics.  Sure, I did a few things that helped – attending a breastfeeding class, for instance, and pumping after a few feedings a day once my milk came in.  But I didn’t work harder or want it more than any other mother.  Actually, since things went relatively smoothly for me, I worked a lot less hard than many new moms do.

I like breastfeeding.  It’s cheap and it’s portable, it gives my kiddo the benefit of my immune system, and it means that I don’t have to decide among the 85 different types of formula available at Target.  Avoiding complicated decisions is one of my favorite things.

However, I’m getting really, really fed up with the all the rhetoric surrounding breastfeeding.  There was another round in the news this week:  Breastfed babies have higher IQs!  Breastfed babies grow up to make more money!  Here’s some more guilt if you couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed!

That guilt is a big deal.  I know several women who were unable to exclusively breastfeed despite trying past the point of exhaustion.  I have read the stories of many, many more such women, some of whom cite breastfeeding problems as major factors in their postpartum depression.  The strident pro-breastfeeding messages seem to actively encourage this guilt – I’ve seen discussions on mommy forums where the attitude “I’d like to breastfed if I can, but if not, formula is fine” is dismissed as “doomed to failure.”  Anything less than 100% dedication must mean that you’re going to pull out the Enfamil the minute things get tough.

That’s not true.  And it’s horribly counterproductive.  We should be supportive of all interest in breastfeeding, not trying to make it into an elite club.  Breastfeed for a week?  Good job!  Breastfeed for six months?  Good job!  Breastfeed for three years?  Good job, but it doesn’t make you “better” than other moms.

“Formula is fine” is not only a healthy attitude, it’s the truth.  Let’s take a look at that latest study, shall we?  “The difference in IQ between the most extreme groups [breastfed for less than 1 month vs. breastfed for 6-12 months] was nearly four points, or about a third of a standard deviation.”  Woah, a whole third of a standard deviation?  In my field that would get you laughed out of the room; even results at the level of 2 or 3 standard deviations can be suspect.  Moreover, mean IQ actually goes back down a few points for babies breastfed longer than 12 months (vs. 6-12 months; see the study’s Table 3).  Is anyone jumping up and down to say that mothers should stop breastfeeding after a year?  Didn’t think so.  (On a related note, breastfeeding longer than 12 months is also associated with a small increase in rates of celiac disease.)

For comparison, that same study shows that a higher family income leads to IQs up to 15 points higher, or more than 3x the effect of breastfeeding for 6-12 months.  (See Figure 1 in the study linked above if you’re visually inclined.)  This is a common theme in breastfeeding research.  It turns out that not all women are equally likely to breastfeed; those who do are typically of higher socioeconomic status, meaning they have access to more resources, better childcare (or they have the money to stay home), more educational opportunities, etc. etc. etc.  Their children could be healthier/smarter/whatever because of all those things, not just because of the breast milk.  In fact, when breast-fed kids are compared to their bottle-fed siblings, the differences are negligible, strongly suggesting that family environment is the true key.  Similarly, another study noted that the apparent IQ boost of breastfeeding disappears when you account for mothers’ IQs.

So let’s stop making formula-feeding parents feel like they’re dooming their children to an inferior life.  That’s not what the evidence says at all.

Moreover, let’s stop acting like giving your baby any formula inevitably ruins your attempt to breastfeed.  Yes, it has to be done carefully (and admittedly, it wasn’t done carefully 40 years ago), and yes, nipple confusion can be an issue in the first few weeks, but there’s some evidence that judicious formula supplementation can actually dramatically increase breastfeeding rates.  Plus plenty of parents combo-feed (some breast milk, some formula) for long periods.  It’s not an all-or-nothing situation, and presenting it that way hurts rather than helps. 

And don’t even get me started on the reverence of breastfeeding as “natural.”  Arsenic is natural, folks.  So are grizzly bears.  So is dying in childbirth, and so are high rates of infant mortality.  And yet so many doulas and lactation consultants (definitely not all lactation consultants, but a vocal subset) seem to harbor a bias against modern medicine, the very thing that is keeping those last two “natural” events at wonderfully-low levels.

Just yesterday, I ran across a blog, which I won’t link here, written by a lactation consultant.   One of her posts was a long warning about the dangers of birth “interventions” and elaborating at length about how important the hormones of labor are when it comes to successfully establishing breastfeeding.  The post was directed at moms-to-be, not doctors.  Here you go, moms: one more thing to feel guilty about!  Make sure to suffer through your labor – stay away from that pain relief!  And if you have to have a Cesarean, well, you’re totally screwed.

Again, this kind of attitude hurts mothers.  I had a C-section without ever going into labor, and yet had no trouble breastfeeding.  There is some evidence breastfeeding in the first 24-48 hours can be less successful if you’ve had an epidural (see here, for instance), but the long-term effects are unstudied and there could easily be other confounding factors.  Maybe mothers who ask for epidurals are already less likely to be interested in breastfeeding.

Even if epidurals are the direct cause, no mother should be made to feel guilty about easing her labor pain.  Change the medical culture to ensure epidurals aren’t pushed on women?  Yes.  Encourage further research into pain management options?  Yes.  Limit women’s choices and make them feel bad?  No.

As I said above, breastfeeding shouldn’t be a club of martyrs.  Nor should it be presented as though you have to do everything just right or else everything will go wrong.  You can gently guide your breastfed baby into a feeding schedule once your milk supply is established.  Your breastfed six-month-old doesn’t NEED to be fed every 2 hours all night.  It’s possible to breastfeed without sacrificing yourself, and it’s possible to be an excellent parent without exclusively breastfeeding. 

Because when it comes down to it, the question that matter is this: is your baby getting enough to eat?  If yes, then you’re doing a good job.