Thursday, December 27, 2012

Road Trips with Young Children

Last weekend, we went on a road trip, all five of us, in my husband's Toyota Camry. We drove from the San Diego area up to the Bay Area to visit my dad. We wanted the kids to see some parts of the state they hadn't seen (California is a big state, y'all) and to build some new memories.

We took them to San Francisco, where they have an amazing science museum called the Exploratorium, and to the Mystery Spot near Santa Cruz, and we spent some time with Grandpa. To be honest, even just staying in a hotel was exciting for the kids, and our last night there, spent watching How To Train Your Dragon on the hotel TV and eating popcorn, was a highlight of their trip.

N and S looking at an exhibit at the Exploratorium.
Entrance to the Mystery Spot. Me with my dad and the three kids.

N and S enjoy a movie in the hotel room.

The drive itself was about 450 miles each way. We logged over 1,000 miles total, including the day trips in the Bay Area. We started out with G (15 months) behind the passenger, rear-facing, N (6 years, in a booster) in the middle, and S (4 years, in a 5-point-harness, front-facing) behind the driver.* The purpose of N's being in the middle was that he could help care for G and that he could reach stuff on the floor of the car. Unfortunately, it was also very difficult for him to buckle his seat belt, and it became very frustrating for us every time we got in and out of the car. Partway through the trip, I switched N and S, so S was in the middle instead. This was less comfortable, but getting in and out of the car was easier. It's a reasonably pleasant drive, through some mountains, lots of farmland, and, on the way back we took the 101, which took us right along the California coast for several hundred miles with a stunning view.

So, my tips for traveling with three kids six and under in a sedan!

1. Pack extra clothes. Everyone, including Mom and Dad, need at least one extra everything - up to and including socks. Before we even got to the end of the first day, G had vomited all over himself and me, meaning both of us needed to use our extra clothes almost right away! NJ's pants split one day, and we discovered that he had not packed four pairs of pants as instructed. We had to run to Target on Christmas Eve to buy him another pair. Everyone needs an extra set of clothes!

2. Get new things to do in the car. Even just a simple coloring and activity book, when new, will be more interesting than any well-loved toy. Especially since there's a limited number of things you can do while sitting in a car, it's vital to find stuff for the kids to play with. Now that N can read, his world has opened up, but S and G were harder to entertain. Some plain paper, a few coloring books, a new package of washable  (and I emphasize WASHABLE) markers, and a pair of clipboards were very successful purchases for the two older boys. For G, I got some inexpensive electronic toys - a pretend laptop and cell phone. As it happened, he didn't play with much. He mostly watched his brothers, slept a bit, and looked around.

3. Encourage the kids to look out the window. Our kids are used to being actively entertained. In fact, N got annoyed with my husband and me for mooing at the cows! We told him that we were required to moo at cows, baa at sheep, and neigh at horses, but that oinking at pigs was optional. (We didn't see any pigs, anyway, though we did pass a pig farm.) He didn't believe us, but after a while, he got into it. Part of the purpose of the trip was for them to see some new sights, and looking out the window of the car can actually be interesting.

4. Stop frequently. Just because Google Maps tells you the trip will take 6.5 hours doesn't mean it will take only that long. Plan for it to take at least two hours longer. Account for bathroom breaks, stretching legs, nursing the baby, finding dropped toys, getting gas, buying treats, eating, getting air for a carsick 6-year-old, etc.

5. Schedule your departure time so that the kids will sleep at one end or the other. We left at 4:00 in the morning - we woke the kids up long enough to get in the car, still in pajamas, and allowed them to drift back off to sleep. That killed about two to three hours of the 8+-hour trip for them. Sure, we were tired, but we could handle it (with a little help from our friend, Coffee). Sleeping kids are quiet kids.

6. Bring music your kids like. G right now LOVES "Gangnam Style" (as do a billion other people in the world, apparently). I don't know why, but it can calm him or cheer him up sometimes. We brought a CD of music the kids like so that we could, in a pinch, put it on to make them happy.

7. Bring movies. For $89 at Walmart, we bought a dual-screen car DVD system. There was a bit of a dilemma, because while they are advertised as being secured to the headrest of the front seats so that the back seat passengers can see them, these screens are not crash-tested, and I doubt the Velcro straps would really stay secured at crash forces. However, I also don't think they would go flying. We decided to take the risk, as a movie provides a good 90 minutes to two hours of quiet, and the kids enjoyed the novelty of watching movies in the car.

S watching Toy Story 2 while sitting comfortably in his car seat.

8. Have as many kids in car seats as you can. Kids in car seats are more comfortable, because they have their own head rest. We put the back on N's booster seat so he would have a head rest as well, even though he usually uses the seat without the back. It was advantageous for N to be buckled with the seat belt, because he was a bit more mobile and was able to lean over to pick things up from the floor. However, while the car was in motion, he wasn't supposed to be leaning over.

9. Bring snacks and drinks, and don't be as strict about eating rules. It's vacation. Bring stuff your kids like to eat, that they can handle on their own, and let them eat when they express hunger. This keeps them quiet and happy. Obviously, they shouldn't be eating all the time, but kids get bored and hungry in the car. Also, I got each of them a straw cup so they could drink whenever they were thirsty.

10. Be flexible with sleeping arrangements. We ended up in a hotel "suite" with two queen beds and a pull-out sofa bed. This actually worked amazingly well. N and S shared the pull-out sofa bed. I slept on one of the queen beds with G, and my husband had the other bed to himself. At some point during the night, either S or N (or both?) joined my husband in his bed.

What tips do you have to smooth a long car ride and vacation with kids?

*Unrelated, but I think I'll start just using the kids' first initials instead of two initials. It's less unwieldy and flows better.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Naps Overview

I've addressed sleep issues in a few posts, but I haven't talked much about naps. Naps and nighttime sleep are two different monsters, and I think naps deserve a post of their own.

Unfortunately, this post is not going to be full of wisdom and answer your every nap question. Three kids, and I still haven't figured out a few things. But here's what I know to be true:

Babies and toddlers need naps. 
Babies and toddlers who get the naps they need will sleep better at night and behave better during the day. 
Nap-time sleep and night-time sleep are different.

Let's look at a nap breakdown by age.

Newborns will nap periodically, not always predictably, and often not for longer than 45 minutes at a time. After the first week or two, most newborns will be awake for approximately two to three hours between waking from one nap and needing the next. Newborns can and should nap wherever and however works best for all of you, whether it's being held, being worn, put down in a swing, in a bassinet, etc. While it is not recommended for a newborn to sleep in his car seat (due to possible constriction of the airway), sometimes you don't have much of a choice. (So keep an eye on your baby if he's sleeping in the car seat.)

 The rule for newborn naps is succinct: Do What Works. If you can watch the clock and be ready to jump in after about 45 minutes of sleep to try to soothe your baby back to sleep, sometimes you can buy yourself a longer nap. It's worth a try. But don't be surprised to find that your newborn does not have a predictable nap pattern.

Infants Up to 6 or 7 Months:
Your infant will start to regulate his or her naps between three and six months. Many babies will start sleeping in longer stretches for their naps and consolidating to about three naps per day. I found that my kids would take a mid-morning nap, then an early afternoon nap, an evening nap, and then go down for the night a couple of hours after waking from the evening nap. Over time, a more predictable nap pattern emerged, and the three naps became two around...

7 to 10 months:
Between seven and 10 months, you should find that your baby only needs two naps, not three, and that the third nap instead merges with simply going down for the night, meaning an earlier bedtime, too. You can start looking for a 2-3-4 pattern for your baby's sleep at this point. I found that, by 10 months, my youngest's nap pattern was very predictable going by this pattern. What it means is simple: Your baby will go down for his first nap about two hours after waking up in the morning. He will hopefully sleep for about one to two hours. Then he will want to sleep again about three hours after waking from the first nap. This second nap should also last about one to two hours. He will then be ready to go to sleep for the night about four hours after waking up from the second nap. If your baby follows this pattern, he'll be getting about 14-15 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, which may seem like a lot, but remember, babies need sleep to grow and process what they're learning. Some babies won't need quite this much sleep, and you may find that they don't sleep as long at night if they're napping for three or four hours during the day. It's up to you if you want to try to shorten naps to try to lengthen nocturnal sleep. You can also modify this to a 3-3-4 or 3-4-4 pattern for babies who need less sleep.

Baby wakes for the day around 7:00am. He has breakfast, plays a bit, tags along while you take your older child to school, and by the time you get home around 9:00, he's yawning and wants to nurse. He goes down for a nap around 9:00, and hopefully he sleeps well and wakes between 10:30 and 11:00am, raring to go. Run your errands, eat lunch, take him somewhere to work out his energy and get tired again, and by about 2:00pm he'll be ready for his afternoon nap. If he sleeps from 2:00 to 3:30 or 4:00, you're set up for a perfect bedtime between 7:30 and 8:00. He gets an 11-hour night (though I'm not promising an absence of night-wakings, of course), wakes at 7:00 the next morning, and off you go again. See? 2-3-4.

Around 13 months, the convenient and predictable 2-3-4 pattern will start to fade. He'll be up for longer in the morning, and his morning nap and afternoon nap will merge. You'll find that you can put him down for just one, longer, mid-day nap. My youngest (15 months), right now, goes down about four to five hours after waking up in the morning, which puts his nap between 10:30 and 12:00, depending on how well he slept and when he woke up in the morning. (This can vary depending on whether his brothers "help" him wake up.) He usually sleeps for about 90 minutes to two hours. He then goes down for the night between 7:00 and 8:00.

Your toddler will continue to take one nap until about three years of age. Some kids will continue to need a nap even longer than that, and preschools usually enforce a nap or "rest" time until kids are five years old. Both of my older two simply refused to nap starting around the time they turned three. SB went through a period around two years of age where he refused to nap, and sometimes he was so tired I had to force him to fall asleep by driving around in the car until he dozed off. So that would be a normal thing, too. As they get older, the afternoon nap will shift a bit later. By about age two, NJ napped very reliably from 1:00 to 3:00 until he dropped his nap completely.

Yes, folks, this means that if you have an older infant and a toddler, there's a good chance that your toddler will need to nap just as your infant wakes from his morning nap, and that your infant will need his afternoon nap just as your toddler wakes from his nap. We went through this with our older boys. The good news is, it only lasts a few months until the younger one goes to just one nap and/or the older one drops the nap. The bad news is, it usually means the younger one's naps happen during errands or sometimes don't happen at all.

Another good rule for older infants and toddlers is no napping after 4:30pm. If you want them to go to bed at a decent hour, especially since many kids tend to wake at the same time in the morning regardless of when they went to sleep the night before, you don't want them sleeping past 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon. If your bedtime is more fluid, or your kid is really tired and he just has to sleep, then, by all means, let him sleep. A cranky, overtired kid is worse than a happy kid who's up until 10:00. At least in my opinion.

As for sleep routines, you'll find advice ranging from make naps completely different from bedtime to make naps as similar to bedtime as possible! I personally don't think it matters much. Naps are a good time to get a baby or toddler used to a new sleeping situation, such as a new crib, new bed, or new bedroom. If they feel safe for a nap, they'll be more likely to feel safe for their nighttime sleep. And it's less of a headache for you, as the parent, to work out the kinks in the middle of the day than in the middle of the night. We also found that it was helpful to have a nap time routine and to have a fairly consistent nap time.

Did/do your kids follow a similar napping pattern to mine? What tips or tricks for naps do you have to pass along to new parents?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tales of the Runaway Toddler, Grumpy Old Man Edition

The other day, I bravely took all three kids to Barnes & Noble by myself. I say bravely because GI is in a running-away stage. I can't just carry him - he's 25 pounds - and he's not content to be carried or sit in a stroller all the time anymore. He struggles and screams and wants to run around. So I let him. Which means I have to chase him. Which means leaving the other two to their own devices for a moment or forcing them to chase GI around with me.

So, Barnes & Noble. They've added a toys and games section, which is awesome, because they have some really great toys and games. My kids received Hannukah gelt from my aunt, who instructed them to each get a toy and a book with the money. B&N was an obvious place to go, and less intimidating than Toys R Us. I was following GI around the toddler toys aisle, and I stopped to look at a toy. When I looked up to keep following him, he had vanished.


The problem with toddlers is that they're short. And quicker than you think. And totally unaware of danger.

Sure, he looks innocent enough here. 
But let him loose in a bookstore and see what happens!

I told NJ and SB to STAY BY THE TRAIN TABLE and started asking other people in the toy section if they'd seen a baby. One mother offered to help look for him, which I gratefully accepted. Suddenly, a teenage boy came up to me and asked if I was looking for a baby. His mom had been tracking GI for me and had sent him to see if he could find a mom looking for a baby. WHEW. Sure enough, GI had made his way to the front of the store and was gleefully running through the business section while the teenager's mother followed. I thanked her profusely, and she explained that she hadn't wanted to pick him up in case someone thought she was trying to make off with him. I kept a much closer eye on him after that.

And then we had to stand in line to pay. I had somehow miscalculated how many hands I am currently in possession of. I was carrying a game of "Sorry!", 6 Magic Treehouse books, two picture books, a stuffed Dalek (yes, you read that right), a wooden train, an Etch-a-Sketch, and a Batman Lego set. And a 25-pound toddler. Something had to give. And the line was long. It became a choice of drop-the-toddler or drop-the-mound-of-toys-and-books, and I chose to put the toddler down before it got any worse.


I watched GI run away again, with clear instructions to NJ and SB to STAY WITH HIM. He went immediately to the front doors, because obviously the parking lot is a much more fun place than the cash register line. Fortunately, a collection of friendly adults, plus his big brothers, worked to keep him inside the store while I anxiously willed the cashier to finish my transaction. I indicated my distress by pointedly glancing toward the doors repeatedly, saying I was worried that my toddler was going to run away, and dancing from foot to foot in a manner quite similar to the Potty Dance. (I should add that I could see the doors from where I was standing. The kids were not out of my sight, just out of my reach for the moment.)

And then I was free, with two big bags of stuff.

I rushed to the doors, where SB and NJ were casually watching GI as GI casually watched the doors, waiting for his chance to escape. An old man said to me, "Is this your baby? He almost got his arm cut off! You weren't paying any attention to him!"

Taken aback but actually rather focused for a change, I responded, "I was paying attention to him. I sent these two to watch him while I finished checking out."

"These two were supposed to be watching him?" he sneered. "They weren't doing a very good job."

And here's where I'm very proud of myself. Instead of escalating, I simply said, "Thank you for keeping an eye on him. I appreciate the help." And we left.

I made NJ carry a bag so I could carry the wayward toddler.

In retrospect, I could have - and probably should have - asked the cashier to wait a moment while I rescued GI, then held him while we completed the transaction, but by the time we finally got to the almost-done stage, my arms ached with fatigue and I didn't think of it.

Next time, I'm taking the stroller. Or a leash. Or both. And maybe another adult or two.

Or maybe I won't go back there until GI is old enough to understand, "STAY BY THE TRAIN TABLE."

Or I grow another arm.

By the way, stuffed Dalek!

Also, please remember to check out smallnest, Jessica on Babies's first sponsor. It's a great new app for iPhone, iPod, and iPad, and it has some really interesting features that make baby care a little bit easier to track. First of all, it has a very simple, clean interface that takes no time to learn to use. Record feeds (breast, bottle, and solids), diapers, and sleep. The most exciting feature of this app is its ability to connect all of your baby's caregivers. By linking the app with your Facebook account, you can invite other caregivers, like Daddy or a nanny, to download the app to their device as well, and then they also can track feedings, diapers, and naps. This information is then shared to all devices that are connected to that particular baby, so all of the caregivers have all of the information. Plus, you can leave your phone downstairs and put the information into your iPad that you left by the bed, instead of worrying that you've left your device somewhere when it's time for a feeding. Click through and check out the app!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Upon the Deaths of Children

[Note: I started writing this article Thursday night, before the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. I had scheduled a different, lighter post to go up on Friday, but I have postponed it in favor of this more timely one. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre.]

I never knew fear until I became a mother.

Sure, I was scared of things. I had experienced a (thankfully) few scary moments in life. I don't like spiders much.

But this is different. This is an underlying, constant, pervasive, itchy fear. Fear that something terrible will happen to one of my kids (G-d forbid), to me (G-d forbid), to my husband (G-d forbid). I'm not talking about anxiety that rules my life, paralyzing terror, or a psychological disorder.

I'm talking about how if the baby sleeps longer than usual, I have to go check on him to make sure he's still breathing. I'm talking about how when one of my sons falls, I anxiously check for broken bones or blood. I'm talking about how when something does happen, I instantly imagine all the ways it could have been worse. I'm talking about how when I get in the car with them, I picture what my car might look like if we were T-boned by a truck.

Perhaps I've seen too many stories about mothers who have had to face that ultimate of fears.

Then again, perhaps I realize just how lucky we are that we have so far come through life relatively unscathed (B"H).

I'm not obsessive. I force myself to not be obsessive. It's easy to become so concerned about every possible danger that it consumes your life. We are driven to want to keep our children safe, so that we don't have to face the fears we know are buried deep within us, right beside and a little behind the huge ball of pure love in our hearts that makes us ache with yearning to keep our babies with us forever.

We do what we can. We are oh so careful. But, you know, so many of the stories I hear and see are about the one thing that was missed, or something that "they" could never predict, or something that couldn't have been prevented. Twenty first-graders at a peaceful Connecticut school are massacred by a mentally unstable man with semi-automatic weapons. A child dies in a car accident, not because they weren't buckled in, but because the seat belt latch failed. A chest of drawers that the parents thought was the sturdiest piece of furniture in the house falls on a child. SIDS, in a baby whose parents did everything they could to reduce the risks of exactly that. Heart failure in a nine-year-old girl while she was out ice skating. A nine-year-old boy who simply never wakes up in the morning. A 13-month-old baby who trips and falls head-first into a toilet and drowns in the middle of the night.

We can't foresee every possible danger. We can't prevent every fall, accident, or illness. We can't know when a crazy person with a gun will get there before we do.

So how can we live with this underlying, constant, pervasive, itchy fear? Why bother protecting our kids from anything, if it's so often the one thing we miss or couldn't prevent?

We can do our best.

That's all anyone can do.

We can prevent that which can be prevented. We can use car seats, practice safe sleeping habits, give our kids a healthy start, and make our houses as safe as possible. We can put latches on the cupboards with the dangerous chemicals in them and put gates on the stairs. We can keep the toilets or the bathroom doors closed. We can put fences around our pools, tether our furniture to the walls, and drive safely. We can teach our kids about strangers and proper touch and how to handle bullies. We can love our kids. We can love them. And we can pray.

Because being a parent, more than anything else, is about loving our kids, letting them explore, letting them out into the world. Our job is to help our kids grow up so that they can one day stand up to the world on behalf of their own children. And they can't do that from inside a bubble.

Instead of letting the fear overwhelm, let it live in that tiny pocket, right beside and a little behind that giant, glowing ball of love in your heart. Let it remind you to check those car seats, install those gates, and teach those lessons. But then squish it down. Don't let it consume you. Don't let it consume your kids.

There has to be a balance.

Listening to the news on Friday while stuck in traffic on the 405, I wanted nothing more than to run home to my first-grader and hug him close. I needed him to know that I love him, that Daddy loves him, that Grandma and Grandpa and Saba and Savta love him. I needed to know that he was safe, happy, and blissfully unaware that 20 of his age-mates, 20 kids just like him were lying in their own pools of blood on the floor of their elementary school classroom. I needed to know that he was surrounded by people he loves, who love him, and that I would soon be able to gather all 65 pounds of him (which suddenly seems quite small) into my arms, kiss his bright orange hair, and look him in the eyes and tell him I love you.

We can't protect our children from everything. There will always be that underlying, constant, pervasive, itchy fear that something could happen. Is he protected at school? Is that bookshelf sturdy? Does he know what to do if there's an earthquake or fire? Is the front door locked? Is his seat belt buckled? Is the bathroom floor dry? Is he healthy?

Is he safe?

Tell your children you love them. Hug them.

And pray.

Just pray.

This post is dedicated to Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6,  Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6,  Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6,  Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, and Allison N. Wyatt, 6, whose parents loved them and did everything they could to keep them safe, and to Mary Sherlach, 56, Victoria Soto, 27, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and Rachel Davino, 29, who gave their lives protecting beloved children.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sleep Training Is Not Happening Yet

Since I had reasonably successfully gotten both NJ and SB to fall asleep in their own beds on their own around 16 months, I had been waiting for GI to reach an age at which I felt ready to "sleep train" him as well. He is still sleeping in our bed, and he has been sleeping very poorly, nursing often through the night, and I'm sick of it. I'm ready for him to be out, in his own bed, sleeping better.

He hit 15 months, and I hit a breaking point. He had shown some signs that said to me that maybe he was ready. First of all, he occasionally sleeps two or three hours by himself in our bed before I go to bed. Secondly, the other night, I sent him downstairs with my husband so I could get a little sleep, and he had no trouble sleeping without me nearby. Finally, I have witnessed him, on occasion, wake slightly, roll over, and go back to sleep without needing me. I thought, surely he is ready.

I want to take the "sleep training" in slow, steady steps. The first step, I had planned, was to get him to fall asleep on his own in his crib, instead of nursing in my bed. I felt I had established a fairly strong routine at this point (which is really the very first step), and he knows it's dinner, then bath, then get in PJ's and nurse to sleep. I thought, we'll do everything, except I won't let him fall asleep at the breast. I'll nurse him to almost-asleep, then tell him he needs to sleep in his own bed and lay him down in his crib, then do a Ferber-style controlled crying. He'll be asleep in no time, surely!

I was wrong. So, so wrong. At first, he was a little confused about being placed in his crib awake. I said good night, told him to lie down, and left. He didn't cry. He decided to try to climb out of the crib, instead. Now, for lack of a better place to put it at the moment, the crib is right next to my bed. It's been there since he was about three months old. I had left the mattress at the highest setting, because it would be easier to lift him in and out, and it was safe since it was between my bed and the wall, and if he did climb out, he'd just end up on my bed.

After I returned, laid him down, and told him once again to go to sleep, and he realized I intended to leave him there, he started crying.

When I went back in three minutes later, he clung to me for dear life, as if he thought I'd never return, despite never giving him reason to think that was so. I unhooked him from around my neck, laid him down gently again, and told him again to go to sleep.

He started crying hysterically.

When I went back in five minutes later, he was sitting in the middle of my bed crying, red-faced, and signing "nurse" for all he was worth.

How can a mother do such a thing to her child? Only one who is desperate for sleep, I guess. I steeled myself, hugged him, calmed him as best I could, put him back in the crib, and told him to go to sleep. He promptly climbed back out. I put him back in, told him again to go to sleep, and left. I went to my computer to do a puzzle so that the seven minutes would pass more easily. SB came to me and told me that GI doesn't know how to fall asleep in his bed, and he needs me to nurse him to sleep. He told me GI is sitting on my bed and needs me to come.

From the mouths of babes, eh?

I told SB gently that GI needed to learn to fall asleep without nursing and that he would be okay. And then I heard the unmistakable sound of a baby about to vomit. I rushed to him and let him vomit his dinner and before-sleep milk all over both of us. And then I wiped us off with his bath towel and hugged him and told him that he could nurse, but I was just going to change his pajamas.

And then I nursed him quietly to sleep, which took a lot longer than it would have if I had just done so in the first place.

I don't know how anyone has the strength to watch their baby suffer like that, especially when it is unnecessary. My baby needed me. He didn't understand why I would just leave him like that, and he couldn't fathom a world where Mommy wasn't there for him.

Sure, one day he'll learn that I can't always be there, but why does he have to learn it at 15 months? Instead, I'd rather he learn that Mommy is there for him, that he can be secure in knowing that I love him, that I will always return, and that when he calls me, I'll come.

I think I'll change the first step of my slow sleep-change process. I'll wait until he has a twin bed in a room with his brothers, which will hopefully be in a month or two. Then I'll nurse him to sleep in his own bed. I'll worry about getting him to fall asleep without nursing sometime after that. It seems far less cruel that way, and should involve considerably less crying.

In the meantime, I guess I'm stuck with my cuddly, sweet boy in my bed. And is that really so bad?

Friday, December 7, 2012

So You've Just Had a Baby. Now What?

The initial postpartum period, the first six to 12 weeks after giving birth, is challenging. Whether it's your first baby or your fourth, you are adjusting to having a new member of your family, of meeting the demands of a helpless, dependent being, and of getting to know and love this new little person. Let's talk a little about what you can do to make this time of transition as healthy as possible for you and your newborn as well as the rest of your family.

Enlist someone to organize offers of help

You know you're going to need some kind of help after the baby is born. This can differ from person to person, but most new parents appreciate having others help them in some way, from caring for older siblings, to sending meals, to washing dishes, to folding laundry, to running errands. Figure out what you think you'll need the most help with before you give birth, and then ask someone to be in charge of organizing all the offers you'll (hopefully) receive. This can be a religious community leader, a good friend, a relative, a neighbor, or anyone else you trust and who you know can handle the responsibility. Often someone steps up to be the point person. Tell this person what you think you'll want the most help with and direct all offers of, "What can I do to help you?" or "Do you need meals?" to this person. There are also websites that can help everyone keep track of what needs doing and when.

A few things I can recommend, from experience, to put on the list:
  • Help with your other kids: Entertain older siblings, assist with school pick-ups and drop-offs, take your toddler for a few hours (playdates, baby-sitting by grandparents/aunts/cousins)
  • Food: Ask people to make meals that can be eaten cold or room temperature or that are easy to rewarm. Specify dietary restrictions, allergies, preferences to the point person.
  • Laundry: Newborns generate a lot of laundry, and the rest of the family still needs clean clothes and sheets and towels. If someone can throw in a load of laundry or fold and put away clean stuff, this can be very helpful.
  • Kitchen: You can use paper goods for a while, or you can take the offer from someone to wash dishes, load/unload the dishwasher, and put clean dishes away.
  • Errands: If someone offers, send them to the store with a specific list of random things you haven't been able to get out of the house to pick up. Maybe you're low on certain staple foods, diapers, or receiving blankets and burp cloths. Be sure to establish how and when you'll be paying them back, or give them cash to take with them to the store.
  • Company: Being home with a new baby can be lonely. Sometimes it's nice just to have someone come over with a cup of coffee and hang out. Keep the visits short and to close friends and family, and don't feel obligated to play hostess.
  • Baby-Holding: The thing you'll probably both most and least want is for others to hold your baby. Make it clear that what you need help with is everything else, not holding the baby. However, sometimes you just want to take a long, hot shower in peace, and then it's nice to have someone around you can trust to hold the baby for 20 minutes while you take some time for yourself. Alternatively, if you know the baby is content and fed and should be fine for an hour, ask someone to keep an eye on him for you while you take a nap.
Keep track of feeds, diapers, and sleep

It's very hard to rely on your short-term memory when you've just had a baby. This means that even if you're used to being able to remember things like the last time you ate, I guarantee, your brain will be too hazy and foggy to remember how many diapers you've changed, which side you last nursed on, and the last time the baby took a nap, all at once. Unfortunately, doctors and nurses LOVE to have this kind of information when assessing your baby's health, and it's important for you to have an idea of how often and for how long the baby is eating and sleeping and how many wet and dirty diapers he is producing in a given day. 

Some parents keep a detailed spreadsheet of every diaper, feeding, and nap. Others jot down the information in a notebook that they carry with them all the time. I tried to just rely on my memory with my three, but I can tell you, I usually had absolutely no idea how often my babies were eating. I usually only knew which side I had last nursed on because that side of my nursing bra was unhooked! Thankfully, in this era of smartphones and iPads, we can make technology do the work for us. There are a number of apps out there for both iOS and Android that can help keep track of all this information for you.

One app I can specifically recommend is smallnest. It's for iPhone, iPod, and iPad, and it has some really interesting features that make baby care a little bit easier to track. First of all, it has a very simple, clean interface that takes no time to learn to use. When you sit down to nurse, tap the "Food" button, select Left Breast or Right Breast, and it will instantly record that feeding. When you're done, stop the feeding. (You can also track bottle feeds and meals of solids.) It will then update the display to show how long since baby's last feeding and will add that information to a running list of the day's activities. You can also track pee and poo diapers and sleep. Secondly, the most exciting feature of this app is its ability to connect all of your baby's caregivers. By linking the app with your Facebook account, you can invite other caregivers, like Daddy or a nanny, to download the app to their device as well, and then they also can track feedings, diapers, and naps. This information is then shared to all devices that are connected to that particular baby, so everyone knows everything at the touch of a button. Plus, you can leave your phone downstairs and put the information into your iPad that you left by the bed, instead of worrying that you've left your device somewhere when it's time for a feeding. (Thanks to smallnest for signing up to be Jessica on Babies' first sponsor!* Click through and check out the app!)

Take care of YOURSELF

It's tempting to try to jump back in to all of your pre-pregnancy or pre-baby activities the minute you get home with your new baby. Often, we're still high on the hormone rush of birth and are raring to go. Take it from me: RELAX. The first six weeks postpartum are one of the only times we have in life to take license to simply rest. Your body needs rest. Your baby needs you to be rested. You have a lot of healing and recovering to do, whether you had a picture perfect, easy birth or a difficult c-section or something in between. The worst thing you can do is try to be up and training for a marathon two weeks after giving birth. Don't worry about weight loss. Don't worry about work. Don't worry about keeping up with your toddler. Take a few weeks to just RELAX.

One thing I won't say is to "sleep when baby sleeps." That was the one piece of advice I hated, because I know how impractical it can be. However, try to nap with baby at least once a day, or at least veg in front of the TV while he naps in your arms. You don't have to be running around all the time.

Surround yourself with SUPPORT

Help with meals and laundry is not enough. You also need to have a support system in place. Having people around who share your parenting philosophy and can offer support in the difficult early days is invaluable. They say it takes a village, and it really does. You need someone to commiserate with over the three-week growth spurt, the every-two-hours waking at night, the poo-splosions, and the boredom. You need someone who can answer your questions about feedings and give good advice (whether this is your mom, a trusted friend, or a professional IBCLC). You need people who will say the words you need to hear when you're feeling your most exhausted and worn out. You need people who will watch you for signs of postpartum depression, anxiety, or psychosis and ensure that you get the help you need. And you need people around who won't be driven away by your crazy hormone surges and moodiness.

Do you have other tips for new mothers that you'd like to share? We'd love to hear your comments!

* If you are interested in discussing a possible partnership or sponsorship with Jessica on Babies, please email jessicaonbabies (at) gmail (dot) com. I would be very happy to talk about what options there are to increase your visibility among new parents.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Being Jewish in December

I took GI to the doctor today, dragging SB along for the ride. The doctor was trying to engage SB by asking him if he's made his list for Santa yet. SB didn't seem to know what the doctor was asking, but he also didn't know what to say in response. I quickly jumped in and told the doctor that SB's birthday is coming up, which prompted the doctor, who apparently also has a December birthday, to commiserate about getting only half the gifts, because you get combined birthday and Christmas gifts. Poor SB was still confused, especially when the doctor asked SB when his birthday is, and SB proudly exclaimed that it's today. GI was unhappy (to put it mildly) about his doctor's visit, and I really just wanted to nurse the poor guy and get him home, so I wasn't in the mood to launch into an explanation about how we're Jewish, don't celebrate Christmas, and that today is SB's birthday on the Hebrew calendar, which we also celebrate, even though his English birthday isn't for another two weeks. I let poor SB be bewildered and the doctor think he was just absorbed in playing a game on the phone (which he was).

If NJ had been there, he would have proudly explained everything to the doctor. He's open that way. I guess as an adult, I've learned to be a little cautious about advertising our differences, sometimes because I'm just not in the mood for explanations of explanations, and other times because I just don't feel like being different. It's not fear, exactly, just burn-out. I've spent my life explaining to others about my religion and practice, and now I just want to do what I do and not open up the discussion constantly. I also didn't want the doctor to be embarrassed about having asked.

It's not that I don't want to educate, and it's certainly not that I don't want my kids to be proud of their heritage. I have no problem sitting down at an appropriate and convenient time and place and explaining anything anyone wants to know. It's mainly fatigue that prevents such discussion from happening more often.

I thought about what NJ would have done. "We don't celebrate Christmas," he would have said, just informing, not offensively at all. "We celebrate Hannukah." And as for the birthday question, "Today's his Hebrew birthday. His English birthday is on the 17th." NJ doesn't realize that not everybody understands when he pipes up with information like that. And he doesn't care. He's proud of who he is, of having the knowledge that he has, and of being different.

The other day, in the mall, we went past the area set up for pictures with Santa. A kindly-looking Santa, sitting in his chair with no children to pose with, waved merrily to SB and GI. I could see the wheels turning in SB's head. "Huh?" he was probably thinking. He knows of Santa Claus. He'll point out a display and say, "That's Santa Claus!" But I don't think he really knows who Santa is, or what the significance is for children who do celebrate Christmas. Indeed, last year, NJ proudly came home from kindergarten and informed us that he had told his friends that Santa isn't real. Fortunately, none of his friends' parents called to complain! And there was the memorable year in which a three-year-old NJ pointed excitedly to a big Santa decoration in Costco and exclaimed, "There's Samantha!" SB, since he's not even in a daycare or preschool setting, has not been exposed to Christmas very much at all, except for the decorations all over the place, so I don't know what he thinks "Christmas" is all about.

I don't feel that my kids are "missing out" on anything by not celebrating Christmas. For one thing, it's hard to "miss" something you've never experienced. We don't do a "Hannukah bush," or put up lights or decorations that mimic those we see throughout our neighborhood. Those don't have anything to do with Hannukah and are just a way to make the Jewish kids feel less left out. Instead, I hope that by instilling Jewish values in them year-round, and celebrating Jewish holidays with them year-round, they'll be proud and happy to be Jewish. They had a great time building and decorating a Sukkah in October, celebrating the Passover seder, and dancing with the Torah on Simchat Torah, and they will love the simple beauty of lighting the Hannukah menorah. If one is Jewish all year round, and not just in December, then there is plenty of celebrating to be done. And, hey, who wouldn't want to celebrate two birthdays every year?

I still worry about what will happen as my children mature and move away from my sphere of influence. I do hope that instilling a love of Judaism and Jewish practice in them when they are young will carry them forward. I hope NJ's enthusiasm will never wane. I hope that SB won't lose that innocence. I hope I can take a lesson from NJ in unashamedly and unabashedly speaking up when someone asks if Santa is coming to our house, or if we have our tree yet.

For more thoughts on the winter holidays, I wrote this piece on the Christmas/Hannukah issue a couple of years ago in a now-defunct blog. I also wrote this one about celebrating Shabbat dinner on Christmas Eve that same year.