Q&A: partner taking night shift

Audrey writes:

"I’m embarrassed to ask this, but since you’ve mentioned it various times, and in comments to others, I’m finally gonna.  Can you share the gritty details of a dad taking "nightshift" for a frequently-awakening breastfed babe? We’ve got a co-sleeping 11 month old who wakes, oh, every 1-2 hours all night long, and nurses just about every time he wakes up.  I work outside the home (dad is a stay-at-home dad, actually) so I like the snuggle time, and mostly get enough sleep by a wickedly early bedtime.  I have no desire to night-wean–our son is not too much into solids yet, and also since I’m gone during the day, I always worry about keeping up my supply (though no problems yet).

I would love just a couple nights of really good sleep, especially after a few "rough" nights in a row.  But I can think of 2 concerns with daddy taking the night:

1) We live in a small (800 sqft) townhome–I’m not sure I can sleep through the screaming.  I totally agree that crying in daddy’s arms is NOT the same as CIO.  But still, I’m afraid that laying on the sofa while I hear him cry will be far less restful and more stressful than just doing the nightshift myself.

2)  What do you do about feeding?  I can barely go 3-4 hours during the day without pumping–certainly I imagine he’d need to be brought every 4 hours or so to feed during the night.  How does the dad decide when the fussing is hunger vs. anger at the change in routine?"

First of all, I want to say that I’m in no way saying that everyone should try to cut down on nursing with a co-sleeping child (or even with a crib-sleeping child). If you’re happy with your sleeping situation, then it’s great, even if you’re nursing throughout the night. A baby (or even toddler) who wakes repeatedly throught the night to nurse is not going to have any lifelong sleep problems. The only dangers to having a night-nursing baby or toddler in with you are that 1) it makes you tired, and 2) your partner can get kicked repeatedly in the kidneys. If those things aren’t bothering you, then keep doing what you’re doing.

But, if you have decided that you want to cut down on the night waking, one way to do it that doesn’t involve CIO (although it might involve some crying) is to have your partner take the night shift for 3-4 nights in a row.

A note: I think this plan is only going to work for families in which one parent is most usually the one who deals with the night-wakings. My experience is with breastfeeding, but I’m guessing bottlefeeding families in which one parent is the one who always does nightfeedings might have gotten into the "reflex-waking" cycle, too. If the two partners always alternate who deals with feedings at night, this plan isn’t going to do anything for you.

Now, back to the logistics of the "plan" (if you can even call it that): Basically, you find a different place to sleep in your house or apartment. (I’ve been on the couch for almost two glorious weeks, because we have a small apartment.) Then you do the last feeding before you go to bed (for me that’s around 11 pm). If you’re ready to go to sleep and your baby hasn’t woken up, try going into the room where your baby is sleeping and making a little noise to see if s/he’ll wake up and want to nurse. Then, once that feeding is done, it’s all about your partner until morning (the two of you should decide what time is "morning").

One of two things will happen: Your baby will wake up the same number of times s/he usually does, and your partner will have to comfort the baby back to sleep. Your partner will also have to determine when the baby is aqctually hungry and when the baby is just waking up. When the baby’s hungry your partner will have to give a bottle of pumped milk (or, if you’re me and your baby won’t take a bottle, your partner will knock on the wall and you’ll come in and nurse).

The other thing that could (and IME probably will) happen is that without you and your milk there, your baby won’t wake up as often. I know that I can’t go for longer than 4 hours during the day without eating anything, and less than that without drinking anything. But I can sleep for 12 hours in a row with no food or water. A baby may not be able to go 12 hours, but most babies can go a lot longer while asleep without eating or drinking than they can awake. It’s entirely possible that your baby will only wake one time, or even not at all.

How your partner determines whether or not the baby needs to eat is up to the partner. It’s part of their being able to trust each other and develop a relationship that doesn’t have you as the gatekeeper. If you’re nursing, you’re always the one determining the eating schedule, but that doesn’t mean your partner couldn’t do it if given the opportunity. If your partner seems at a loss, help set up some general guidelines beofre the first night of the plan, some signs to watch for. Audrey, in your case, since your husband is at home all day with your son, this won’t be any kind of problem. Your husband will definitely know what to look for.

You should also have some sort of way for your partner to summon you if you really are needed. (For us it’s my partner knocking on the wall between our room and our living room–I can easily hear it when I’m sleeping on the couch. If you have a bigger living space, maybe you can sleep with your cell phone by your head and your partner can call if you’re really needed.) That way you can make yourself relax and go back to sleep if you hear crying, knowing that your partner is taking care of things, because if s/he really needs your help you’ll hear the signal. Who knows if there will even be any crying at all? If there is it will tug at your heartstrings, but you can trust your partner to comfort your toddler or baby.

The question about feeding is a tricky one, because the baby might not even need to be fed, and certainly probably won’t feed as often. When we did it here I just figured my husband would be able to tell when my son needed to eat (we’ve been working on the sign for "milk"), and that’s exactly what happened–when morning comes, El P wakes up signing "milk." If your baby doesn’t sign yet, your partner is going to have to figure it out. If I had a child who would take a bottle, I’d probably pump right before bed and leave the bottle right on my partner’s nightstand so it would be room temperature and easy to get in the middle of the night. But you know what your routine is, so ask your partner how s/he wants to work it, and then make a plan.

But don’t have every problem solved for your partner ahead of time! IME a big part of the experiment is that not only are you getting more sleep, but you’re also not the one in charge at night for a few days. If you’ve planned every detail out ahead of time, you’re still in charge, and you’re not letting your partner take responsibility.

My recommendation is to talk with your partner, pick a start date, and just do it for 3-4 days. See what happens. Your baby may surprise you and sleep really well those nights (and then nurse like a pie-eating contest winner in the morning). You may surprise yourself and sleep through unless you’re summoned. It may go poorly the first night, in which case you should try to figure out if there’s anything you can do to make it go more smoothly the next night (like feeding earlier or later before the time your partner is in charge, for example).

Whatever happens, see if you can stick to 3 nights. That way, even if it doesn’t have any lasting effect on your baby’s waking up habits, you will at least have gotten a few nights to catch up.

Q&A: how much sex is enough?

Tess wants to open up the question:

"How much sex after a baby is the right amount???"

Funny you should ask that, Tess. I’ve been thinking about that exact question, and have come up with two formulas. If you have:

  • one child under 6 months old, or
  • two children whose combined age is less than 4 years, or
  • three children whose combined age is less than 7 years, or
  • more than three children,

Then the right amount of sex is: [(the number of times per week you want to have sex times 3) + (the number of times per week your partner wants to have sex times 1)] divided by 4.

If you have:

  • one child who is older than 6 months, or
  • two children whose combined age is more than 4 years, or
  • three children whose combined age is more than 7 years,

Then the right amount of sex is: [(the number of times per week you want to have sex times 3) + (the number
of times per week your partner wants to have sex times 2)] divided by 5.

So, for example: If you have a 5-month-old, and you want to have sex once a week but your partner wants it 5 times, the right amount is [(1 x 3) + (5 x 1)] / 4, or 2 times per week.

Or, if you have a 3.5-year-old and a 9-month-old, and you want to have sex 4 times per week and your partner wants it once a week, the right amount is [(4 x 3) + (1 x 2)] / 5 = 14/5, or 2.8 times per week.

Any questions?

Seriously, though, I don’t know. We already talked about how long it takes to get the desire back. I’d guess that the two biggest factors affecting how much sex a mother wants are how much sleep she’s getting and whether or not she has her cycle (and normal hormonal level) back. So if you’re getting a good night’s sleep most nights and have gone back to normal cycles, you’re probably way more interested in sex than someone who’s dealing with lots of night waking (or the hidden problem moms don’t talk about, insomnia) and is still in the no-period zone.

I guess I’d hope for everyone (including myself, of course) the answer would be "more than I wanted three months ago, but not as much as I’ll want three months from now."

How do you negotiate if you and your partner have vastly different ideas of how much sex you should be having? Does one person’s opinion trump? Or have you found some special compromise that both of you can live with?

Anyone want to discuss this? Tess? Anyone else? (As usual, if you don’t want to post your real email or URL, just put a fake URL in the "URL" box and no one will be able to see whatever email you put in the "Email Address" box except me.)

Q&A: finding a babysitter

Beaver Girl writes:

"What’s the best way to find a good sitter/nanny?   Agencies?  Craig’s List?  Local parenting bulletin boards?  Word of mouth?

What sort of questions should I ask a nanny candidate?  I know the basics that you can download from any website, but do you have any secrets or tips on finding a good one?"

I’m going to need some reader participation here. I’ve only found part-time babysitters, never a full-time one. So I can tell what I know, but those of you who’ve done a full-on search for a full-time nanny are going to need to throw in your 2 cents.

For a part-time sitter, I like to use college students, either a mature undergrad or a grad student. College students often have nice chunks of time available for someone who needs some hours but not a half-time or full-time schedule, but won’t desert you for a full-time babysitting gig (because they have classes to take). College students are also usually quite willing to do things exactly the way you want them done because they don’t have preconceived notions about how babies should be raised (as many professional babysitters do). If you want the nap at 10, they won’t argue about it. If you want the baby to eat green beans, they’ll feed the green beans.

I also think that if your baby is over 6 months old, a college student is going to be great at being goofy and tiring your kid out. Once your kid starts trying to walk, a college student has the huge advantage of youth and vigor, and can spend hours bending over to hold a walker’s hands. A student will have the stamina to play 5 games of Candyland in a row, or push the swing for 45 minutes. After a certain age, playing becomes way more important than anything else (assuming the babysitter feeds your child and changes diapers every few hours).

IME the thing you really want to look for is a connection between the babysitter and your child. Skills can be learned, so as long as the potential sitter has common sense (and your cell phone number), I’d go with the one you get along with best and who really thinks your kid is super-cute and super-funny.

For a full-time (or half-time) babysitter you’re definitely going to want to go with a professional babysitter, since college students will take time off at the end of each term, and that can leave you high and dry. If I were looking for a full-time sitter, I’d go hang out at the playground (or wherever nannies go in your area) and watch until I saw a great one, one that you’d trust with your child. Then approach her and ask if she knows anyone looking for a full-time position. Good nannies know and hang out with other good nannies, and a good nanny wouldn’t recommend a bad nanny. (You should hear the things good nannies say about bad ones. It makes the SAHM vs. WOHM debate look like a tea party.)

I don’t know if I’d go with an agency (unless you were in a serious time pinch). It’s going to cost you way more than the going rate in your area, and there’s no guarantee that the nanny they send will be great, since so much of it is personality and what clicks with you and your family. That’s not to say that you wouldn’t be able to trust the nanny, just that you might not click the way you would if you found someone through another parent or nanny you trust and get along with.

You’re also going to want to make sure you’re on the same page with the nanny with regards to things like naps, feeding, and discipline. I know it’s hard to imagine when you have a newborn, but at some point discipline is going to be a huge issue, and you want a nanny who continues the same tone you do so you have continuity of discipline.

A great babysitter can be a huge advantage, almost an ace in the hole, because she’s another person who knows your child well and with whom you can discuss your child’s development and issues. So you want someone who can really be attuned to your child, whether or not she has gobs of experience with other kids. (I’d go for the inexperienced enthusiastic nanny who loves playing with your child over the experienced jaded nanny who’s tired from too many years of running around the playground, even if the experienced nanny knows everything there is to know about kids.)

OK, experienced WOH moms? How did you find your babysitters? Anything you did right? Anything you wish you’d done differently?

Q&A: preschooler just won’t stay asleep

Jenn writes:

"We have
some major issues at this house. All of these problems are highly
likely a result of conditioning, by us the parents regrettably. Perhaps
you could provide some helpful insights / tips on how we can make it
better before it gets any worse, if that’s even possible (probably
possible but I don’t dare to envision it).

Baby Boy is 31.5 months old.

me start with the sleep problem. For background information, Baby Boy
has never slept in a bed / room for an entire night alone, ever. We
were clueless first-time parents. As an infant he had reflux and lots
of spit ups, we held him upright a lot. He slept in our arms / swing /
car seat a lot. I was nursing and working night shift and it was
easiest to have him in our bed, so we co-slept. He went to an in-home
care where the woman carried him on her back to fall asleep for naps
and such — which I did at home sometimes as well. Other times it was
rocking. He was then moved to a bed / crib once he’s fallen asleep. He
was still waking up and having milk once during the night until he was
14 months old. The co-sleeping went as far as 20 months at which point
my husband has had enough of rib-kicking that he said The Boy HAS to
move out of our bed. At that point I first tried to have Baby Boy nap
in a crib by himself, without assistance from someone else to help him
fall asleep. And no surprise, it caused havoc and huge resistance. He’s
the type who’s cries escalates into hysterical screaming, red in the
face, even vomited after only 10 or 15 minutes of crying. So we gave
in, I mean I gave in after a few tries.

So we made some small changes. I’d lie in a full-sized bed (in another room) with him, once he’s fallen asleep I’d leave the room to do chores and whatnots. When he wakes in the wee hours, he always comes looking for me or dad. He woke one to three times at night. One of us (usually me) goes back to the room and sleep with him, usually until morning because I’m too darn tired to get up again. This arrangement went on for about 6 months until Baby Girl was born (Baby Boy was 26 months old). Then hubby slept with Baby Boy in one room and mommy slept with Baby Girl in another room. This arrangement went on for another 6 months. And meanwhile, Baby Boy still night wakes, and goes back to sleep easily by himself if there is someone in the bed with him. If not, he gets upset, sits on the bed and cries until one of us go to him, on very few nights he’ll come out looking for us. (You can see that the horrible parenting choices just keeps getting worse and worse…)

Last week we made a bigger change. Eight nights ago to be exact.

We moved him to his own room. By himself. He has (very) reluctantly accepted it. One of us stays in the room (sitting on a chair or standing, making no eye contact with him) until he falls asleep. Most of the time it goes quickly and he’s out within 5-15 minutes. For naps, he sometimes will wake up crying, obviously quite upset (note: he does this sometimes even if we’re out and he wakes up in the stroller). Other times he will just come out and gets his vitamin gummy and all is well. At night, he still night wakes at least once or twice. Every single night without fail. Sometimes he will sit and cry for us, other times he will come out of the room, and one of us (usually hubby) bring him back to his room (sometimes he wants to bring a certain toy or book back to bed) and stay with him until he’s asleep. About half of the time hubby’s too tired and left the room before Baby Boy fell asleep, and miraculously he didn’t complain too much and soon fell asleep by himself until morning (anywhere between 5-6).

However the last two nights have been nightmares. He woke up at least 3 times per night and does not not go back to sleep and yet he’s clearly dead tired. Last night he was awake from 2:30 a.m. to 5:50 a.m., crying every 30-45 minutes for us. Hubby was up late, so I’d go and tuck him back in bed, then leave. He didn’t sleep. I finally gave in and stayed in the room at 5:50 a.m. and that’s when he passed out within a minute. He woke up at 8:10 a.m. I hope these last 2 days has been a fluke and not the start of another trend. We got him Toy Story and he watched it part of it on Friday night. He decided it was too scary and turned it off about halfway or less. Could this be the cause? I sure hope it is as simple as this — but that still doesn’t solve explain his once or twice night wakings.

Overall, I think this is good progress (minus the last two nights!) considering the history. At least he’s out of our bed & room! But it’s not what we would like to do for another 6 months or year(s). We need him to sleep all night. STAY in his room until the sun comes up. We need him to stop having night wakings (impossible to ask because everyone night wakes..) well, we need him to go BACK to sleep by himself when he night wakes, without crying or coming out of the room at all. We’ve tried to tell him that he cannot come out of the room until the sun comes up. Or Seven O’clock is waking time, not 2 a.m. Etc. Nothing. Works.

So the question is, how can we get him to sleep all night, by himself, STAYING in his own room??"

First of all, I fail to see where there are any bad parenting choices being made. In fact, I think you guys have done an excellent job with a kid who sounds like he has a hard time sleeping by himself.

So many people think if you just put a kid down s/he’ll sleep. Those people have never had a child who has a harder time. You’re looking at it as if the things you did to respond and reassure your son caused him to continue to wake up. I think it’s the opposite–he was going to wake up anyway and have problems sleeping, so you did what he needed by being there for him and reassuring him. He’s obviously not the kind of kid for whom crying releases tension and helps wind down. Think how much worse things would be if you had ignored him and persisted with CIO! Then you’d have an anxious kid who might stay quiet at night (because the CIO would have "worked" to let him know not to bother crying for you, which is what happens to kids who don’t release tension by crying) but who wouldn’t be well-rested and who wouldn’t trust that you’d be there for him. Sleep would be even more of a struggle for him, and he’d probably end up an insomniac.

Let me tell the story one more time of my brother (who’s now a happy, well-adjusted 30-year-old, with his own apartment, a job he loves, a college degree, tons of friends, and a car–if he could find a girlfriend who lives in his actual same city he’d be all set). He needed to be nursed to sleep, for nighttime and naps–every single time until he was 3 1/2 years old. He never took a bottle, and wouldn’t let anyone else put him to sleep. He needed our mom, and the nursing. He even had a one-word request: "nursenadtakeanap." He woke up every night at least once, and would call for my mom, and she’d have to go in and nurse him back to sleep.

(Let me interrupt the story to answer the obvious questions: Didn’t this drive my mother insane? And why did she keep doing it? I think it did wear on my mom a lot, although at least she wasn’t working outside the home at that time, so at least she could catch a nap later on. She kept on doing it because I had been such an easy sleeper that she knew he slept the way he did because of personality differences, not because of anything she’d done. She figured he’d grow out of it eventually, and it would go faster if she gave him all the emotional support he needed. Smart lady, my mom.)

So he finally stopped waking in the night around age 3 1/2. Or so we thought. When I had my first son and was with my family and was complaining about my 9-month-old still waking at night to nurse, my mom told the story of my brother. He heard her and said, "Mom, I still wake up at least once in the middle of the night, every night. I’m awake for anywhere from 10 seconds to 20 minutes. I just stopped calling you because I figured out I didn’t need you to get me back to sleep." (Our jaws dropped.)

My mom thought she was laying the foundation for my brother to sleep through the night, but what she was actually doing was laying the foundation for my brother to feel secure and self-sufficient enough not to need her when he woke up. Did it take a lot longer with him than with other kids? Hell yeah. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. And it certainly doesn’t mean she did anything that caused him to be that way. (She treated us both the same–actually she probably coddled me more, since I was the first–and I went down from being awake at only a few months, while he needed her for years.)

So I want to say you’re doing an amazing job of responding to a kid who is not an easy sleeper at all.

Now for the practical suggestions (which may not be miracle cures, since he may need to grow out of this on his own).

Definitely stop watching movies at night before he goes to bed. This could absolutely be the cause of his night wakings. Anything scary, or even not scary but exciting, could get his body all geared up and make the adrenaline flow, and that could cause multiple night wakings.

Keep his schedule as boring and predictable as possible. Again, some kids (easy sleeping kids) could sleep after any stimulus and not have any problems, but you know he’s not that way. He needs the schedule to stay the same and be nice and calm and boring to be able to relax into happy sleep. So no exciting late-night parties, movies, late-afternoon playdates. When he starts school you should try to get him into a morning program instead of an afternoon program, if possible.

Definitely give him a nice, sleepy snack before bed (involving milk, definitely) that will stay in his stomach and make him drowsy. You mgiht want to try giving him a backrub to sleep with something like Badger Sleep Balm (it has lavender and fir and other scents that really help people relax and fall asleep).

In short, you really want bedtime to be as boring and comforting and stress-free as possible, so he has as easy a time as possible drfting off, and then drifting off again when he wakes in the night.

The other thing I’m going to suggest is to try to help him not be afraid in the night. I’m assuming he already has a night-light in his room. If not, make a big deal about getting one, and let him go along to buy it.

Also consider getting a monster-scarer (ideas in the post and also in the comments) so that when he wakes up he’ll be able to trust that the monster-scarer will work, and maybe he won’t need you to come in.

Another idea is a musical bear. We have a bear that has an old-fashioned twist music box inside that a 3-year-old could definitely operate himself. When he wakes up he could wind up his bear and have some music to go to sleep with.

You could do a different version of the music theme and get a small CD player to sit by his bed, and he could press "Play" when he woke up. The CD would stop playing when it was done.

I think it’s going to be easier to stop his night-wakings than it will be to stop the early waking. And I think there’s a 0% chance of fixing them both at the same time. I’m assuming the night-wakings bother you more, so those are the things I’ve focused on. I also think morning-waking is a problem that’s easier to solve in an older child (my son is 4 and we’re just now having success with getting him to stay in bed until 7). So try the night-waking suggestions and see how they work.

In the meantime, continue to provide him with as much emotional support as he needs to get to sleep. You’ve done an amazing job already of responding with care to a kid who, for whatever reason, isn’t an easy sleeper. I know it’s hard to believe, but you’re in the home stretch. Someday he’ll be 30 and living on his own, and you won’t know or care how many times he wakes up.


Preventing PPD 3: Getting your other support in place for the first few months

This is Part 3 of the Preventing PPD series. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

You’re leaving the hospital with your newborn baby, feeling either pretty proud of yourself or pretty shitty about yourself, and wondering what on earth you’re going to do with this sweet, helpless little person that somehow came out of you. You get home and soon realize that you’ll be attempting to nurse, changing diapers, attempting to nurse, changing diapers, attempting to nurse, changing diapers on a nonstop loop, spelled only by going to the bathroom to change your pad and looking at your partner saying "We have a baby!" with a mixture of wonder and fear.

When you’re doing nothing but lactating and changing diapers, your partner has to pick up the slack by doing everything else involved in not only running a household, but changing your entire way of life. Plus fielding phone calls and dealing with a crying baby and crying mom (the hormones!). It’s really hard.

You’ll need help.

It’s easy to think about how romantic the first few weeks after the baby’s birth will be, when your cozy little family will be working things out. And it’s true that it might be like that. Some people have a pretty smooth postpartum period. But it’s also a possibility that you’ll be either a little or a lot overwhelmed, the three of you, with odd sleeping schedules and engorgement and sore nipples and poop all over and dirty laundry and crying (all three of you) and friends demanding pictures and thank-you notes and it’s-8-o’clock-what-are-we-having-for-dinner? and you’re all just so tired. And it would be really helpful to have someone there who could fix you some food or take out the trash or even just smooth your hair and tell you you’re doing a good job.

You need someone who will actually help you, not make you cook or make tea or have certain things on hand while s/he holds your baby and gets all the sighs and coos you should be getting. The only people who are allowed to come for more than an hour are people who understand they’re there to help you, not just fawn over the baby.

It should be someone you feel comfortable being topless around, because learning to nurse is a full-time job, and you need to be able to let it all hang out literally while you’re figuring out the logistics. More than a few women have had their breastfeeding relationships torpedoed by having too many visitors for too long that they couldn’t nurse in front of. And don’t even think of allowing anyone to come "help" if they’re not committed to helping you do everything you can to establish breastfeeding successfully. You may not end up nursing, but if it’s because someone else interfered with it in the first few weeks, you’ll be resentful for a good long time. (For more on the first few weeks of nursing, read "Breastfeeding: What’s the normal learning curve?".)

It should be someone who either has your same parenting style or has no preconceived parenting ideas or keeps her ideas completely to herself. You need support and validation, not someone undermining what you’re doing.

You need someone who will let you do the parenting while you figure out your rhythm and routine, not someone who wants to jump in and "fix" things with the baby for you. You’re the one who went through the long wait for a baby. You are the perfect mother for your child. No one else can do this better than you can.

You need someone who will take care of you while you take care of the baby. Someone who will do your laundry and wash your dishes, make sure you drink enough water, tell your partner s/he’s doing a great job, and call the lactation consultant for you. Someone who will sympathize about hemorrhoids, and listen to you and not judge you when you whisper "I think I made a horrible mistake," and tell you that yes, the baby is clearly a genius because she recognizes your voice already.

You need someone that you can stand to be around for hours at a time during the most sensitive and confusing time of your life, when hormones are coursing through your body. Anyone who rubs you the wrong way after a few hours during normal times will make you want to stick a pencil through your eye during the first few weeks postpartum. (Which would be counterproductive anyway–you should stick a pencil through the other person’s eye instead.) Stress is not going to help you take care of your baby, learn to nurse, or be able to catch some sleep, so don’t invite people who stress you out into your house. 

If this means that you can’t let your MIL (or mother, or best friend) come stay with you for the first few weeks, decide that now and get your partner on board and get your story all ready. You can come up wth any number of excuses about why they can’t come stay (hint: when in doubt, blame your pediatrician), but don’t let anyone guilt you into inviting stress and discord into your house.

Let me say this one more time:

You cannot allow someone to stay with you if they’re going to stress you out.

The newborn period is the time for you not only to bond with your baby, but also to develop your confidence as a mother. If you don’t have any support, or you have someone telling you you’re doing things the wrong way, you’re going to feel like a really shitty mother. If you start out feeling like a shitty mother (instead of just a slightly inadequate and unorganized mother, as most many of us do), it’s hard to climb out of that hole, especially if you still have no support or the wrong support.

If you don’t have a person who can come help you for a few weeks who won’t stress you out, consider hiring professional help. There are two kinds of professionals you can hire: baby nurses and postpartum doulas.

If given the choice, I’d choose a postpartum doula over a baby nurse for a lot of reasons. The main reason is the focus of care they give. A baby nuse is there to take care of the baby, not to take care of you. This means that you’ll be fixing your own food and doing the laundry while she’s holding the baby. She’ll be bottle-feeding the baby pumped milk at night while you sleep pump because your breasts are so full you can’t sleep doze lightly hoping the baby won’t cry. For some women a baby nurse is a big help, but I’ve heard too many stories of women whose confidence was undermined by bossy baby nurses (who aren’t actually RNs or LPNs, even, just women with varying experience who sign up with an agency) who ignored the mother and took over the baby. You hire a baby nurse by the day (for a 12-hour or 24-hour shift, usually).

A postpartum doula, on the other hand, comes to take care of the family while the parents take care of the baby. There’s a great description of the kinds of things postpartum doulas do on this site. Full disclosure: One of my friends is a postpartum doula. The things she does for a client are cook big meals (including some to freeze), cleaning bathrooms and kitchens and floors, doing laundry, addressing birth announcements, helping with simple breastfeeding problems (like positioning problems) and helping you decide if it’s serious enough to call the lactation consultant about or if you can wait for the breastfeeding support group in a few days, holding the baby while you nap or take a shower, playing with older children, fielding phone calls from family and friends, helping look up odd things in the baby book, dialing the pediatrician, and telling you you’re doing a great job. A big thing she focuses on is helping you set up your routines, so you can be self-sufficient once she’s gone.

A postpartum doula is likely to have gone through a certification process, which includes training in breastfeeding support, recognizing the signs of PPD (not just normal hormonal moodiness), understanding newborn behavior, and normal stages of emotions for the mother and her partner. You hire a post-partum doula for a set of hours (usually 15 to start), and she works those in 3-hour chunks (usually a 3-hour shift every other day, or as needed).

If you are interested in having a postpartum doula but can’t afford one, call up your local La Leche League leader and explain the situation. She may know of a doula-in-training who needs to work at a discount while she’s getting certified.

Whether you end up with your mother, a postpartum doula, a friend, or even your unmarried little brother (who can order in food for you, do the laundry, and load photos of the baby onto your Flickr account), make sure you choose someone who’s going to be kind to you and your partner while you learn your baby and your new lives. You can absolutely come back from a crappy first few weeks, but it’ll be much easier to stay on an even keel if you’re already feeling good about yourself and your skills by the time the 3-week growth spurt hits.


Reader Tip: Spring Holiday Tips

We’re about to hit Passover, Easter, and Mothers’ Day (or is it Mother’s Day?), so I thought we could share some wisdom to help make things easier for each other. I’ll go first, then you go. (A reminder that if you don’t want to have your email clickable for the whole internets, put a URL, any URL–like www.google.com or www.fake.com–in the "URL" box and it covers whatever email address you enter. Only I can see the email address. If you don’t want me to know your email, either, then put a fake one in that box, too.)


Instead of that nasty plastic grass that goes in the bottom of kids’ Easter baskets (and then ends up everywhere and clogs up your vacuum), use Veggie Booty instead. It’s green like grass, but it’s edible (providing a nice savory note amidst all the jellybeans and chocolate), safe if a baby gets hold of it, and easy to vacuum up.

You can buy fair trade chocolate eggs (milk chocolate only, unfortunately) from the A Greater Gift catalog. They also sell fair trade Easter baskets made by  a cooperative. (This catalog is also a good source for fair-trade Hanukkah gelt in December.)

If your family tends to get into fights at the Easter dinner table, consider replacing the traditional ham with turkey, so people will fall asleep before they can start fighting. (That tip is courtesy of my mother.)


I’m not Jewish, so I’ve really got nothing here, except that I think I could eat a whole lot of these Raspberry Brownies from One Tired Ema.

Mothers’ Day:

If you end up cooking a brunch, make (or buy) a quiche the day before. Then on Mothers’ Day all you have to do is heat it in the oven and toss together a green salad and put out some scones and you’re set. No stress.

Q&A: television with babies

Shandra writes:

"Can you talk a bit about your approach to television?  We don’t get any channels on ours (no cable and we’re in a dead zone for plain old airwaves), but my husband and I do watch dvds a couple of times a week (we like films) and enjoy that downtime – especially a pizza-and-movie dinner once or twice a month.

Up until now I haven’t worried much about it, but for the last month or so I’ve restricted the movies our 6 month old is awake for (or for part of) to movies that don’t have a lot of screaming or loud horrible things. It seemed to me that he was starting to watch the screen, even though we kind of had him turned the other way on the floor with toys. My husband doesn’t completely agree this is necessary yet and has had the baby play in front of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Do you think we should be really choosy about the movie if we keep chilling out on Friday nights with a movie and pizza? Should we only watch them after he’s asleep? Is it okay to have a movie night ritual with a child under two even if the AAP says no tv at all?  And what are you finding with your older boy, is television really important to social stuff with kids? If we keep the set off are we going to doom him to miserable play times?"

I hate television. I think it’s almost completely bad for kids. I think it changes brain waves in babies, I think it makes toddlers and preschoolers squirrelly and hyperactive, I think it sucks up a ton of time that could be spent being friends with real live people and doing actual fun things. But we watch TV here all the time.

I wish I could quit television for myself. I don’t watch too many shows regularly–just Lost, ER (still), What Not To Wear, and Entourage–but if I’m alone in the living room I always turn it on, "just to check the weather." And then I end up watching. The easy solution would be to get rid of our TV, but I can’t even imagine that for myself.

I used to hold the line against TV pretty well when my older son was little. I completely scorned those Baby Fill-in-the-name-of-a-famous-genius-here videos as marketing and hype–as if watching a video could possibly be helpful to a 4-month-old. I kept the TV off all day, until the magic 5 pm hour came and I just couldn’t take it anymore until my husband got home from work. Even then I only watched the Food Network, reasoning that it was educational, and was almost like having another person in the room just talking to us, and not too stimulating.

Eventually we started watching a little Sesame Street or Mister Rogers (oh, how he loved Mr. Rogers!) in the morning. Maybe a Sesame Street DVD from the library or two (but it was OK! because they helped him learn his letters and numbers!). And at the age of 2 he already knew that you were supposed to smash a clove of garlic with the flat side of a knife to get the skin to peel off easily. So I was still smug and self-congratulatory.

But then I got pregnant with #2 and spent a winter enervated and pukey on the couch with a boy who needed some distracting. And TV became my best friend (cue the Rolling Stones "Mother’s Little Helper"). I’d fall asleep on the couch to the opening music to "Clifford" and wake up to the closing theme music from "Jakers!: The Adventures of Piggly Winks." I’d struggle us out side to go do something real, but then when we came home I’d collapse and he’d watch Dora while I tried to hold it together.

After the baby came, I needed TV to allow me to put the him down for a nap without having the bigger one keep coming in repeatedly "to see what the baby’s doing, Mom." I’m still kind of smug about it, though. It’s DVDs of shows we like, a couple of PBS or Noggin shows (not all of them every day!), and Food Network. I do think some of the things he watches teach him things that he absorbs easily because they’re animated–letters, the consonant clusters ch and sh, what a negative number is–but they also make him disconnect from the rest of what’s going on in the world.

So that’s my confessional. I hate TV, but I use it. It makes me feel like a crappy mom that I use TV so much, but it allows me to be a decent mom in other areas, so I’m trying to simultaneously cut down and make my peace with it.

Now, to your specific questions:

I really would try to limit the violent or scary (and scary music certainly counts) things your son sees and hears, and he’s definitely old enough to pick up on mood and tone if not actual content. So yes, be very choosy. I’m assuming in a few months he’ll probably have shifted to an earlier bedtime anyway so it won’t be much of an issue as you can just watch when he’s asleep.

I think it does do some damage to little babies to watch TV (yes, even those dumb baby videos that are supposed to make them smarter. If you need to use them to get a shower, fine, but don’t try to convince yourself that they’re actually doing anything good), but how much? No one knows, so I guess you just have to try to find some balance you’re comfortable with. If you really want him to be part of the movie night then that’s where your line is. As long as he gets real caring attention from you when the TV’s not on, he’s in better shape than kids are who have no TV exposure but also not as much focused attention from adults.

There’s also something to be said for teaching kids media literacy from an early age. I started talking with my older one even before he was 2 about what commercials were and what they were trying to convince us to do. We still play the what are they trying to sell us, does this commercial make us want to buy it, is it a good deal, is it a useful product that we need, should we buy it? game at least a few times a week.

Are you dooming a kid with no TV exposure to a difficult social life? Certainly not by the time he’s 4 (the age my experience goes up to). Kids all seem to recognize the animated and licensed characters whether they’ve seen the shows or not. My son recognized Shrek two full years before he saw even a tiny part of a Shrek movie. One of my son’s friends lives in a house with no TV, yet she knows who Dora, Boots, Diego, and Backpack are. Your son will be able to talk about the characters and play the pretend games just fine at the younger ages. Maybe once the kids are older and knowledge of actual storylines comes into play he’ll run into problems, but that’s a long way off.

I say stick to your guns, and keep the guns out of any TV your kid sees at this age.

Here’s a list of the DVDs we’ve seen (many of them from the library) and like:

Sesame Street Learning About Letters –Old-school sketches from the pre-Elmo days teaching the alphabet.
Sesame Street Learning About Numbers — Same as the letters DVD, but with numbers.

Bear in the Big Blue House Potty Time — Love the trippy Shadow song, and the Toileteers song is unfortunately catchy. Plus it helps maintain interest in using the potty.

The Muppet Show Season 1 — Funny, and kids certainly won’t understand it, but they’ll like it. You’ll probably have to explain why the gorilla tries to destroy Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s lab, and Miss Piggy gives someone a karate chop in one episode, but overall it’s harmless and silly.

The Best of The Electric Company — It will all be worthwhile when you hear your preschooler walking around singing "ch, ew, chew! doot doo doo doo doot."

Wallace and Gromit in Three Amazing Adventures — The shorts are suspenseful crime mysteries and are definitely not for kids under the age of 3 or 3 1/2, but 4-year-olds love them. The full-length feature "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" has a ton of guns and shooting, though, so skip that one for now.

Herbie Fully Loaded — The new one with Lindsay Lohan. It’s cute and there are enough racing scenes to keep most car fans happy. Do not rent the old Herbie movies. They move much more slowly and there’s actually a surprising amount of violence (slapstick things of people bonking each other on the head, etc.) and people yelling insults at each other. I could have done without being called an "idiot!" because my son saw it on the original Herbie movie (and then had mightmares about our building being knocked down with a wrecking ball). The new one has none of that.

Drumline — Predictable plot, but this story of a kid from the big city who goes to an historically black college and makes it on the marching band drumline has some truly amazing drumming and dancing scenes, with no cursing or violence. There are a couple of sexual innuendos that would go right over the head of any kid younger than 7-8, and a scene in which two men yell at each other, but that’s it. We’ve watched the final drum-off again and again, and we always drum along.

That Thing You Do! — Totally goofy, sweet movie about a garage band in Erie, Pennsylvania, that has a one-hit wonder in the 60s. Cute, silly music and amazing production design.

Anything you want to recommend in favor of or against?

Search phrase report, Vol. 2

Oh, the site referrals!

"adult breastfeeding relationship" — I truly hope this person is wondering if having been breastfed has any effect on a child’s relationship to his/her mother as an adult, because the other option is something I don’t want to spend much time thinking about.

"daycare won’t wipe my preschooler" — Aieee! They let your kid come home poopy? This is not acceptable. Please switch immediately.

"Could I be pregnant so soon after having a baby? — Yes. Yes, you could. Some women ovulate 2 weeks after giving birth, so if you’ve had sex even once since the baby’s been here, you could be pregnant. It’s not that likely statistically, but you probably want to pee on a stick just so you know.

"opportunities of moxie soda" — I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never tried Moxie soda. Moxie is a goofy nickname a friend gave me. So I have no idea what opportunities Moxie soda could provide, but if you find out, drop me a line. 

"4 year old whining & screaming" — Try putting him to bed earlier. I’m reading an awesome book about sleep deprivation right now and will post about it when I finish in a few days. In the meantime we’re trying a more sleep experiment here for our 4-year-old and it seems to be helping with the tantrums and oppositional behavior.

Q&A: Can you overfeed a baby?

Stephanie writes:

"My son will be 1 next week.  My husband and I both work full time, and he spends three days a week with his grandmother, and two days with a neighbor.  From as early as 5 months old, when he first started going to these respective places, he has consistently eaten more, a lot more, at the neighbor’s house.  When I was still pumping, for example, when he was at the age where I would take 12 ounces to my mother-in-law, I would take 18 to the neighbor.  Six ounces to my mother-in-law, 12 to the neighbor.  As you can imagine, this was serious supply problem when I was pumping.  However, we got through it, and now I no longer pump.  He has a little bit of drinkable yogurt or soy milk in a bottle or sippy cup during the day, but he mostly eats finger food.

Now that we are no longer under the constraints of what I can pump, the neighbor seems to be feeding him even more!  On a normal, 10 hour day, I will bring her 9 ounces of soy milk, six ounces of drinkable yogurt, a banana, an avocado, and leftover dinner, such as pasta and sauce.  It is rare that I would get anything back.  However, I would bring my mother-in-law 3 ounces of yogurt, 6 ounces of milk, a banana, and either an avocado or dinner.  Often she doesn’t feed him the yogurt, and I will probably get either half the avocado or half of the dinner back.  I know they both give him some of the food they have in their house, but for both of them, I believe that is incidental.

I am concerned about this, and I’m not sure if I should be.  Can a one year old overeat?  The neighbor argues, and she has a point, that you certainly can’t make a baby eat, so he must be hungry.  I think,
however, that if you offer him less, and then let him out of the highchair, he would be more likely to go off and play than want more, but if you keep him penned up, he’ll eat what you give him next just as something to do.  It’s hard for me to judge his appetite myself, because on weekends he still nurses a great deal, and in the evenings he has a bit of cut up dinner, and then nurses.  He is only starting to be night-weaned (Sleeping issues are a whole other post!).

Should I just let this go because it’s only two days a week?  Am I setting him up for bad habits?"

Bad habits? No. I think what you’re teaching him is that the rules are different with different people. That means he’s going to be able to roll with it more easily as he grows older. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to learn.

It seems like there could be any number of things going on here. One possibility is that the neighbor really is encouraging him to eat more, but you can’t actually force a baby to eat. (You can push bottles when a baby’s only drinking, but I can’t imagine being able to force a baby to eat solids.) He could be just eating more out of habit while he’s in the highchair, as you guess, but if the food is nutritious it’s not a real problem. Another possibility is that your mother-in-law is interacting with him way more and he’s too busy to eat at her house, so normally he’d eat an amount closer to what he eats at the neighbor’s, but he’s too high on life at grandma’s to eat much there. A third possibility is that your MIL is feeding him a lot of other food and not telling you, so his intake is actually closer to equal in both locations, but you only know about the food you bring her. (Only you know if that’s a real possibility or not.)

Of course, this is really all academic, because I don’t think there’s much you can do about it, and now that you’re past the pumping stage it isn’t really an inconvenience for anyone. If he’s growing and happy and you’re not spending down his college fund on drinkable yogurt*, I think your life will be simplified if you try to let it go. In another few months he’ll probably go through the first of many picky stages, and you’ll be wishing he’d eat something, anything that isn’t white (or green, or orange, or whatever color he goes with). So it’s good that he’s packing it on now, like a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter.

If there is some kind of vast food conspiracy of any sort going on, you’ll probably find out about it in about 15 years when your son brings it up in casual conversation. "Mom, remember back when I was little and you thought I was eating too much food at the neighbor’s? Well,…"

Have a good time at his birthday party. It’s hard to believe how fast time flies, isn’t it?

* If you want to save money on drinkable yogurt, you can buy regular yogurt and mix it with milk to the right consistency, and voila!, drinkable yogurt at half the price.

Q&A: toddler destroying books

Kate writes:

"My 21-month-old loves books. To death. At this point, we’ve only delved into board books because she is so rough on them. On the one hand, I am thrilled that she asks to be read to, and even more excited that she will take books and sit down to peruse them herself.

On the other hand, it bothers me that she is ruining–bending them in half, snapping the spines, pages coming apart–her books at the rate of about one every five days. Goodnight Moon, which is part of her nightly routine, is hidden from her during the day to keep it safe. I am the type of person who refused to even use a highlighter in my college textbooks, but that aside, I think it’s getting excessive. We’re expecting a new baby within weeks, so I would love for this board book library to be as intact as possible for #2.

Is she too young to learn respect for her own property and/or that of others? How do you teach that? Sometimes I feel like I spend the entire day saying no, and books/reading is an area where I want to tread very carefully, especially because I will be spending a lot of time in the very near future attending to her sibling as well. I’d appreciate any words of wisdom!"

How annoying. It must just make you want to throttle her, there in the last trimester of unwieldiness and sleep disruption. Or at least give her a lecture on how the printing press changed the world and she needs to respect that.

Her book-destroying is probably accelerating because of the impending arrival of the baby. Your daughter is picking up on the excitement and is scared by it, so she’s acting out more now. Not that that helps with the actual behavior, but at least you can be pretty sure that your daughter isn’t going to grow up to hate books or be one of those people who underlines words and writes in the margin of library books (shudder).

I think 21 months is probably the very earliest border of being able to understand respecting other people’s property, but you’re not going to have much luck with working on that with your daughter right now because of the baby coming so soon. If I were you, I’d focus on damage control instead of behavior modification. Keep out a couple of books that are mostly destroyed already, and put the others in a safe place. Start steering her more toward stuffed animals and dolls, and then when the baby comes you can do some parallel play with her as you take care of the new baby. In a few weeks after the baby comes she may have calmed down enough (because the baby won’t turn out to be as scary as she imagines) to be able to read a lot again. I hope so, because reading to an older child is a great way to get the time to sit down and nurse the younger one.

But yeah, don’t even try to get into it with her–it’s a losing battle at her age and this stage of your pregnancy. Just protect the books, and try to hang in there for a few more weeks.

And here’s a not-so-secret: As sucky as the first few months of new baby + toddler can be, it’s way easier than dog-tired-and-pregnant + toddler.