Q&A: another sleep deadline question

Cas was having problems with her daughter waking repeatedly in the night. Those problems have mostly resolved, but Cas has a new problem:

"The problem: a couple of weeks ago after my daughter refused all but a teensy bit of dinner I was worried she would still be hungry….so I offered her a bottle before bed. She fell asleep in my arms, rocking, took the whole bottle (too sleepy to fight the sitting still) and slept straight through the night. Thinking this to be a wonderful development I began rocking her to sleep every night with a bottle. All was good I thought. In addition to the obvious appeal of a 7-7 sleep, I like to rock her, it’s a nice way for her to fall asleep and she wasn’t having any problem with nightwaking…if she was waking at night she was putting herself back to sleep without incident. She was falling asleep on her own for naps.

Then things began to deteriorate. She began fighting against taking her bottle, only wanting to be rocked. But she still wanted to be rocked and cried furiously when I tried to put her to bed awake (even though she was still going for naps awake with no fuss). So I rocked her or my husband did.

We didn’t mind and once asleep she stayed asleep. After a few days of that she decided she wouldn’t settle for hubs….only mama could put her to sleep. I rocked her to sleep and she went to sleep for my husband easily after her 3am bottle. Then she stopped accepting his comfort at night and cried until I got up to rock her to sleep again. Then she stopped accepting going to sleep at naps on her own.

I accepted each new development as just part of this phase of her life…she has started walking in earnest and has also hit the sep. anxiety just recently too…I didn’t think it would be an issue because hey, here I am right? So what if she needs me to put her to bed? I’m never not here.

But I am looking at surgery on the the 30th of this month. I will not be here. Not for naps, not for bedtime, not for her nighttime feeding. I thought I had all the time in the world to let this pass but now I feel I have a huge deadline for fixing this…that I should fix it while I am still here to offer her reassurance and comfort even if I am not rocking her to sleep. I am trying desperately to find a way that she will not need me to sleep so that she doesn’t have to face the fallout of my not being able to
fill that need.

I of course have been advised that my wee dictator simply has a bad habit and that it is nothing a few nights of crying herself to sleep wouldn’t fix. But I honestly feel that **I** started the habit (in hopes of getting more sleep) so it is patently unfair to make the baby cry herself to sleep because I want to stop."

(Cas is going to be in the hospital for one or two nights, and then won’t be able to do any care of her daughter for 3-4 days after that.)

Before I answer the question, I have two thoughts:

1. Rocking to sleep isn’t a bad thing unless you get caught by not being able to rock one night. So it isn’t the rocking (which she’d grow out of anyway) that’s the problem–it’s the surgery. Don’t feel bad about the rocking, just feel bad that you got busted.

2. Crying is horrible if she’s by herself alone and scared, but it’s not that bad if she’s being comforted by your husband and is just angry. It doesn’t make it any easier to listen to, but it’s a different experience for her.

Now to the question:

I’m wondering if your daughter would allow herself to be rocked to sleep by your husband if you’re not home. At that age, my older son only wanted me to put him to bed, unless I was gone (book club without fail once a month, whether I’ve read the book or not) in which case he was perfectly happy for my husband to put him to bed. Now that I think about it, my younger son is the same way. He won’t even take a bottle from my husband, but will allow himself to be rocked to sleep easily by him if I’m not home (whereas he’ll put up a fight if I’m home and my husband tries to put him to sleep).

It may be worth a try to go out one night during her bedtime and see how your husband does getting her to sleep when you’re not physically there. If she’s fine with it, then the problem of your hospital stay nights is solved.

If she won’t accept your husband putting her to bed, then you and your husband should go out on a date and see if someone else (one of your parents or a babysitter) can get her to bed while you’re gone over her bedtime hour. It never fails to amuse me that kids who are locked in iron-clad nighttime routines that can’t! be! deviated! from! ever! with their parents will often just go with the flow with a grandparent or sitter.

If she’ll do it once, she’ll do it again, so you just have to go out at her bedtime once a week until your surgery to get her more used to it.

The next problem is the days that you’ll be at home but unable to put her to sleep at night. I’d suggest that your husband try to get her to sleep in her crib, but if she won’t go in or won’t go back in when she wakes up, just bring her into bed with him. You should sleep in another room so she isn’t tempted by your presence when she wakes up (you may also need to sleep by yourself for a few days because of your surgery anyway).

For naps, every day your husband should just pull an audible. She may be too stressed to nap easily, or she may go down for him with no problem. He may end up driving or strolling her around to get her to sleep or rocking her for naps, too. Since naps are less predictable in general than nighttime sleep is, there’s really no way to predict what will happen and he should just try to go with the flow of each day and not worry too much about the next day.

I think if she’ll allow herself to be rocked by someone other than you when you’re not in the house, you’re basically home-free for the end of the month. If she won’t, then your husband is going to have a couple of really tough nights and he might have to give up and end up sleeping on her floor with the lights on. Really, though, the worst case scenario is that she’s mad as hell and won’t sleep for a night or two and then crashes the next day. It’ll suck for those few days but I don’t think it’ll leave any lasting damage to her psyche or sleep schedule. Your poor husband may not recover so easily, though.

I hope your surgery goes well and you heal quickly.

Q&A: aggressive 2-year-old

Linda B writes:

"My friend has a 2 year old son and a 3 month old son. Her older son C has always seemed older than his age. He walked at 9 months and at a year, was already out of his baby stage. He’s always been very active, running around and playing with every toy in sight. In the last few months, he’s been kind of aggressive towards other kids, walking up to them and pushing them really hard until they fall back. Sometimes he will get a running start so he can push the kids harder.

The reason I am writing about this is because our family spends a lot of time with this family and we are actually pretty good friends. We meet every week for a church group and we see them every Sunday. He’s always been really good with my daughter, but since the aggressive behavior began, he’s
been really taking it out on her. He will slowly walk up to her, wave hi and then BOOM. Push her to the ground or against a wall. His parents try so much control their son. They give him time outs, tell him to be gentle, sternly lecture him on why not to hit and continue to watch him carefully when he is around other kids, especially younger ones like my daughter. It seems like they’ve done everything they can. However, nothing seem to work. He continues to be rough. I think he seems to think it is a game. He is a smart kid and I know he understands what it means to be nice and not hit/push.

I feel badly for the parents, especially the mother, because I know she feels horribly when he pushes E. She feels hopeless and doesn’t know how to control her son from acting out this way. Why do you think he is continuing to do this and what are the ways she can get him to stop? Also, is it wise for us to discipline him as well if he harms our daughter again? We really enjoy spending time together but my husband is worried that one day he might really hurt E.

Any advice would be helpful."

This seems like a pretty classic scene to me. Many many many 2-year-olds go through aggressive phases because they’re frustrated and can’t express their thoughts as well as they want to. Add in the new baby, and it’s a real recipe for pushing, hitting, biting, and all sorts of other unacceptable behavior.

Essentially, C can’t process his negative feelings about the baby or his frustrations at not being able to say what he wants to say, so he pushes and gets rough. The important thing to remember is that his feelings are absolutely normal and valid, but he’s dealing with them in an inappropriate way. So to stop the behavior, we need to give him another way to vent his feelings that doesn’t hurt anyone. Being stern and giving time-outs are a way to try to modify his behavior, but they aren’t teaching him how to manage his feelings in a better way, so they aren’t going to stick in the face of the overwhelming urge to just hit someone.

I hit on a way to deal with this in this post on disciplining a 2-year-old:

One highly effective way to deal with this kind of violent outburst is
to recognize that it’s from the frustration and allow the kid to have
those feelings. Instead of trying to get the kid not to hit, give the
kid a a designated object to  hit/bite/scratch/push/throw. That way the
kid is still allowed to release the frustration, just not at people or
animals. If you’re consistent about using a designated object,
eventually the kid will ask for that object when the frustration
strikes.

(How pompous is it to quote myself, BTW?)

This method came from my grandfather in the 40s. When El Chico was 2 and biting all the other kids when he’d get frustrated, I called my mom sobbing that he’d be an outcast with no friends and she told me what her dad had come up with to curb the biting when her little brother was 2. Grandpa had gone into his woodworking shop and made two rounded, smooth pieces of wood. He gave one to my uncle and one to my mom (so she wouldn’t feel left out), and told my uncle his wood was named Toby and when he felt like biting a person or animal he should bite Toby instead. I’ve known my uncle for 33 years, and I’ve never seen him bite anyone, so apparently it worked.

I don’t have a woodshop, so I took El Chico to the pet store and let him pick out his own braided rope chew toy for dogs in the colors of his choice. I explained that the toy was named Toby and whenever he felt like biting someone he should bite Toby instead. Then I carried Toby in my pocket constantly for a few weeks, and when I saw El Chico start to open his mouth to bite a kid, I’d quickly shove Toby in so he’d bite the toy instead. After a few weeks of constant vigilance (and my being teased by the other moms in playgroup), El Chico stopped biting the other kids. When he’d get frustrated he’d run to me and ask for Toby and give him a hard chomp.

I think your friend could use the same idea by buying C a big stuffed animal or pillow that’s his designated hitting/pushing toy. You could help her out by taking some pillow duty since she’s got the baby and it won’t be as easy for her to be there constantly to shove the pillow at him when he starts to push. At the same time reinforce that "We don’t push people or animals" when he’s pushing the pillow. It takes constant vigilance for a few weeks, but it will pay off.

The good news is that the problem will ease in a few months because 1) the baby will start crawling and will be more interactive so C has a playmate instead of just an attention-grubbing larvae of a sibling, and 2) C will be able to express himself more and won’t have to push to tell people he feels sad or angry or whatever he’s feeling.

I think as the friend and not the mother, it’s your job to be vigilant and step in to physically remove C’s hands (calmly and matter-of-factly) before he shoves your daughter. Better to stop bad behavior than to let it happen and then punish it. I think having a pushing pillow will help him vent his feelings, but he also needs to know that it’s just not going to happen anymore because someone will physically prevent him from pushing your daughter down.

The next two weeks are going to be a pain because you and C’s mom are going to have to be helicoptering around him (and your daughter when she’s near him) constantly. But physically stopping the bad behavior plus giving him an appropriate outlet should do the trick in stopping the pushing.

Just a note about aggressive phases: IME there’s a first agressive stage that starts around one year for many kids. You know the one I mean–when your kid hits your face or pulls your hair or scratches, and laughs when you say "No!" sternly. I think that’s just experimentation and limited ability to control impulses, and the only way through it is to physically remove the temptation. The aggressive phase around 2 years seems to be a result of frustration so providing an outlet will help reduce or stop it.

Q&A: transferring toddler to her own crib

Spring writes:

"I have a 17-month-old daughter that sleeps with me. I
weaned her from breastfeeding at 12 months, but I am having trouble
transferring her from my bed to her crib. My husband has been sleeping
on the couch for the past year and a half and is tired of it. I too
want him to come back to bed. I’m also 8 months pregnant and I would like
her to be in her crib before the new baby comes, (the new baby will not
sleep in bed with me, I’ve learned my lesson.) Is one month enough time
to transfer her? How do I go about it?  I’ve been told to let her cry
herself to sleep but this hasn’t worked. After four hours of her
screaming, crying, pulling out her own hair, trying to get out of the
crib, and her throwing herself against the inside of the crib, I give
up, and let her back in my bed. What should I do? I don’t want her to
feel rejected, especially with another baby coming, but I really want
her in her own bed. Please help."

First of all, please please don’t feel like you "learned your lesson" and can’t sleep with your new baby. You’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by giving up the ease of cosleeping with a newborn just because you don’t want to be cosleeping with a toddler a second time. Think about how rough it’s going to be trying to comfort a 2-week-old in a crib while also dealing with your older child’s sleeping stuff–you’ll have a much easier time if you cosleep with the little one for at least a few weeks.

Many many kids have a window right around 6 months in which they stop cosleeping well and do better in a different room than their parents. Those of you who have kids older than 6 months are probably nodding your heads right now, remembering when the extra wakings and kicks in the kidneys started right around that time. Those of you who switched your kids out of your room right around then are also probably remembering how it was way easier than you thought it would be to make the switch. I feel like there’s another window of time right after the 9-month regression is over (around 11-12 months) when you can make the switch relatively easily.

I think for a lot of us the first time around we feel like cosleeping for as long as possible is going to be the magic bullet that makes our kids happy, and if we quit cosleeping things will all go into the crapper somehow. So some of us miss that first window because we just don’t want the snuggling to end, even if it becomes more work than sleep. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s normal. Heck, some of us miss the window with a second or third child for the same reasons. Just know that if you don’t want to be sleeping with your second baby this long you can still start out with the baby in your bed and have a relatively easy switch at a couple months or 6 months or 11 months.

But back to the immediate problem. The good news is you don’t have to worry about nightweaning. The bad news is that you’ve only got a month and your daughter is at one of those clingy times. (If only your baby could stay in until your daughter was 20 months, I think you’d have an easier time with the switch.)

But you can have her in her crib for at least part of the night by the time the baby comes (assuming you don’t have the baby too early), and I don’t think it’s going to be a Battle Royale. The last thing you need at this age is to set up a situation in which it’s a battle of wills over who controls the sleeping situation. It’s just not going to end well, and frankly, the toddler will probably win. (Also, anyone who tells you seriously to let your child cry for four hours is not your friend. This is unreasonable emotional abuse for both of you–a pregnant lady doesn’t need that kind of stress–and is just going to cause more drama around nighttime and completely backfire. So stop listening to parenting tips from that person.)

The first thing I think you should do is reevaluate her sleeping situation. You don’t want her to feel like the crib is her punishment. You want her to think it’s fun and cool and for Big Girls. It may be as simple as getting Dora sheets or putting Bob the Builder stickers all over the crib. Or, she may be the kind of kid who pushes back really hard against a crib but is so proud to be in a toddler bed that she stays in it all night. You know what her personality is, so think about what’s going to motivate her most. It doesn’t matter if this is a true long-term solution for sleeping for her, since everything’s going to be different with her sleep when she hits 20-21 months anyway. So if you need some crazy cool thing to get her sleeping in her own bed initially, just go with it. My older son is absolutely in love with his racecar bed. I have a friend who had her daughter sleeping on a child-size Aerobed at that age, and her daughter loved it so much she’d stay in it all night (and she’d been climbing out of her crib for weeks before that). I know another mom who put her son’s most annoying talking toy in his crib and that was the only place he was allowed to play with it, so every night he’d fall asleep listening to that toy happily (and sometimes she’d hear him listening to it in the middle of the night, but she didn’t care because he stopped calling for her). If she were a dog I’d suggest putting a juicy bone in her crib, but you get the idea. Whatever is going to make her want to be there is what you should try.

Next, you’re going to harness her increasing verbal and reasoning skills. This is such a tricky age because they really can hardly say all that much, but their receptive verbal skills are huge. So they understand so much more of what you say than they can tell you, which makes you think they don’t understand that much. But if you work on a certain concept she’ll get it. So start hyping the Big Girl Bed, with the idea that Friday is going to be an important day because she’s soooo big now that she gets to sleep in her own Big Girl Bed. And keep hyping it for the rest of the week as if it’s going to be a ton of fun, and that she’s only allowed to do it because she’s such a Big Girl now. She’s not going to be able to tell you that she understands, but if you have a few days and you talk about it a few times each day (and remind her before bedtime every night about how it’s only a couple more days until she gets to be a Birl Girl!), she’ll get it. And don’t mention the S word (sister, big) because you don’t want to link the baby with the Big Girl Bed.

The last thing, which is key, is that your husband is going to have to be responsible for the heavy lifting part of the bed switch (which is why I said she’d start on Friday, assuming your husband will be off work on the weekend–if he’s not, the make the start date the night before he has off work). You can put her to bed in the crib for the night (with whatever toy or cookies you need to get her excited to be in there), but then he’s got to be responsible for wake-ups. The idea is that if she doesn’t have the same situation to go back to (in bed with you) then resisting the crib won’t be as satisfying because she won’t really get what she wants anyway. If waking up only results in Daddy coming in and retucking her or rocking her (or bringing her in to bed with him) then there’s no real incentive to wake up. She can’t go back, so she might as well go forward.

It sounds like your husband hasn’t been responsible for a lot of the nighttime parenting so far, but that’s going to have to change when the new baby comes (it turns into a man-to-man defense, which he’ll probably understand instinctively). So he might as well ease into it now, and get his spot in the bed back at the same time. It’s to his advantage on so many levels to do the switch, but go easy on him by starting on a night when he doesn’t have to work the next day.

I’m guessing that this plan will get your daughter into her own bed for at least part of the night (which will gradually stretch longer and longer over the month, we hope), but if you do it for 3-4 nights in a row and have no success whatsoever, let me know and we’ll figure out what to do at Defcon 5.

Preventing PPD 2: Getting Your Feeding Support in Place

Here’s part 2 of my Preventing PPD series. This part will focus on getting your feeding help set up ahead of time. Feeding is the most important part of caring for a newborn, so if things are going poorly it’s virtually impossible not to feel bad about yourself and your life. In all likelihood, you’ll have at least some minor feeding problems, but if you have the support to get through them they won’t drag you down into PPD.

I’m going to be talking about breastfeeding, because most women try to breastfeed. But if you know you can’t breastfeed because of medication or physical issues or because you’re adopting* or because you’re a one- or two-dad family, you’ll still be doing yourself a favor by throughly researching your options for formula (regular? organic? DHA-enhanced? soy? etc.) and doing some reading on reflux and GERD so you can recognize the signs right away if your baby isn’t tolerating the first formula you try well. There is nothing worse than feeling like you can’t even feed your baby, so knowing the issues and being prepared can end up making your first few weeks way less stressful.

I read in a book (I can’t remember which one) the following idea, and it hit me as cold truth: Most women wouldn’t dream of highlighting or cutting their own hair, but they try to nurse their babies–which is much harder and much more important–without any assistance or support.

"It’s natural," they say. Well, of course it’s natural. But that
doesn’t mean it’s easy. And most adult women in this country have never
seen anyone nursing close-up until they have their own babies. If you
haven’t seen it day in and day out, and you’ve never done it, and your
baby’s never done it, then how, exactly, are you supposed to just know
how to do it? And yet women think it’s just going to happen.

I hear all kinds of women considering whether or not they should take a breastfeeding class. Are you kidding? Of course you should spend the three hours to learn about what’s going to happen and get an intro to the most likely pitfalls. It shouldn’t even be a question of whether or not you should do it.

But that doesn’t mean that taking a class before you have a hungry baby in your arms is going to give you everything you need to nurse successfully. There are all sorts of completely normal things that make the first few days and weeks of nursing scary and irritating and confidence-shaking. And there are all sorts of completely normal but correctable things that make the first few weeks painful and bizarre and dysfunctional. With no support, you might not be able to keep going. With good support, you can slog through the first 6-8 weeks until it gets easier.

What do I mean by "good support" (aside from a comfortable nursing bra)? I mean having a good lactation consultant that you can call for help, a good support group you can go to for non-pressing questions and moral support, and people in your house you can trust to help you give your best effort to nursing.

A good lactation consultant can save your nursing relationship if things are going badly. It’s difficult to try to find one when you’re in the throes of post-partum hormones and actual nursing troubles, so it’s imperative to have the number of a good LC written on a note on your refrigerator before you have the baby. If you never have to use the number, that’s excellent. If you do have to use the number, you’ll know where it is to call or to have your partner call because you’re crying too hard.

There are a couple of ways to find a great LC. One is to call up your local La Leche League leader (find her number on the LLL website) and ask her who she thinks is the best LC in your area. Another is to ask the leader of your breastfeeding class who she recommends. (If it’s a hospital class, the leader may not be an LC or may not be an IBCLC LC.) Another is to check the IBCLC website to find an extensively-trained, certified LC. Do not just assume there will be an LC at your hospital when you give birth. Some hospitals don’t have any available (especially if you give birth on a weekend). And you can’t be sure of the training you’re getting with the "lactation consultants" at some hospitals. Many of them are RNs who have no more specific education on breastfeeding than the three-hour class you just took. Take the time to look for a trained, experienced LC before you need her and things will be much easier for you.

The only way to find a support group is to try them out until you find one you like. My mom forced me to go to the breastfeeding support group near me when I was still pregnant (I think she wanted me out of the house so she didn’t have to listen to my complaining for a few hours), and it was eye-opening. I discovered that the leader of the group was a good personality match for me, so I felt comfortable going back once I had my baby. But I also sat through the meeting and heard all the odd little problems women were having that the leader corrected easily and that gave me faith that I could deal with any problems I had because they would probably be totally routine to the LC (they were).

If I hadn’t gone to the meeting when I was pregnant, I don’t know if it would have been my first instinct to go when I was having minor problems once the baby was out. Most women are emotionally fragile in the months after having a baby, and it’s hard to go someplace new. And since we’re all convinced we’re doing something wrong, we anticipate being judged by other parents and by the leaders of parenting groups. If you know already that a group feels fine to you you’ll be able to go without worrying about being judged or feeling stupid about asking your questions. And, as an added bonus, you’ll have the schedule of meetings posted on your fridge and you’ll already know how to get there.

The first place I’d look for a breastfeeding support group is La Leche League, because they’re all over the world and they’re free. LLL groups vary radically depending on who the leaders are, so you definitely want to check your local group out. Just because your friend didn’t like her local group doesn’t mean you won’t love yours. And just because I think my group in Manhattan is amazing doesn’t mean you’ll click with your local group. So find yours on the website and go check it out.

Other ways to find breastfeeding support groups:
*Call and ask the LC you just spent 45 minutes researching. You have her number on your refrigerator.
*Ask your midwife or doctor.
*Call up the local alternative birthing center and ask the receptionist.
*Check out the website of the hospital you’ll be delivering at.
*If you see a mom nursing out in public, walk up and ask her if she can recommend a group. She’ll be happy to talk to you.

On the home front, the people who are around you for the first few days and weeks postpartum can affect your nursing relationship more than any other factor. As Jamie said in her excellent post "Breastfeeding: What’s the normal learning curve?":

If your baby won’t latch, do you want your spouse to say, "Let
me bring you the formula," or, "Let me bring you the cordless phone and
let’s talk to the LC together"?

When you are wacked out on hormones and convinced you’re screwing everything up and can’t feed your child and your body isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, the opinions and suggestions of the people in the room with you are going to take on a huge amount of importance. So, if nursing is at all important to you, you need to talk to those people and make sure that they’re on board with your giving nursing your best-faith effort for a set amount of time. Probably the most common suggestion is 6 weeks. I don’t know anyone who enjoyed breastfeeding or felt any super-bonding rush or even could really stand it much before 6 weeks. The people with you don’t have to have nursed their own children. They don’t have to be female. But they do need to know the basic support plan, which is to:

1. Take care of diaper-changing, meals, cleaning, and laundry, because recovering and nursing should be your only jobs until you’ve got the nursing down and are recovered from the birth.
2. Bring you a glass of water every time the baby nurses.
3. Not watch the clock at all because newborns nurse at all crazy times and it’s normal and good.
4. Encourage you to try nursing first when the baby fusses. If the problem isn’t hunger the baby won’t latch on and you can move on to checking the next thing.
5. Tell you you’re doing a great job!
6. Call the LC for you if they find you sobbing or your nipples are hurting more than just some mild irritation.
7. Not suggest supplementing with formula until after they’ve called the LC.

Of course it’s possible that you’re going to have problems that will mean you’ll have to supplement or go completely to formula, but won’t you feel better about doing that if you know you got all the help possible? And that the people who love you helped you get that help? Then you can walk away feeling proud of yourself for doing everything you could instead of like you "failed" at nursing. (And you won’t resent your mother or MIL for undermining your efforts.)

To summarize: I cannot emphasize enough how much improved your post-partum life will be if you have all the breastfeeding support you need lined up before you need it. Lining up the four pieces of support (pre-natal breastfeeding class that you and your partner go to, finding an IBCLC LC, finding a support group, and making sure your support people are committed to helping you make it through the first 6-8 weeks) should be part of the preparation checklist you have, and you should do it before you pack your bag for the hospital. You’ll thank yourself for it once your hungry baby is home with you.

* Some adoptive moms can breastfeed. If you’re interested, check out afrindiemum’s great summary post
of a way to get a full supply. If you’re not up for the full protocol,
you can probably still get a partial supply just by using a SNS or
LactAid with formula while you nurse. Any milk you can give your baby
is good.

Q&A: teething baby biting while nursing

Jenn writes:

"Our baby girl is turning 6 months next week. She started teething about 2.5 weeks ago and has done well, until today. She bit me so many times I’ve lost count. How do I get her to stop!!! I tried to hold her close/tightly, it didn’t work. I’ve been prying my finger between her gums to remove my nipple when she bites — and she wails as if I’m the one hurting her! I should also mention she is fighting a cold / stuffy / runny nose, and has had fever a few nights in the wee hours.

Our son teethed a lot later, and I weaned before he started teething, so this is all very new to me. I don’t wish to wean yet, and I don’t want to pump. Please advice.

This other thing will probably be a non-issue soon and likely have to do with her not feeling too comfortable right now. But I’m making way more than she’s eating these past few days. What do I do! My boobs are ready to explode!"

Ouch! I’m kind of in the same boat with you. My second son has been teething on and off since he was 6 weeks (yes, weeks) old. Most of the time he’s fine (except on an airplane), but when he goes through rough patches of teething, he’s a biter.

With my first son I stopped the biting pretty easily without any thought. He bit me, I screamed in pain, he pulled off, we both started crying, and the feeding was over. The same thing happened at the same time the next day, but then that was it. A couple of times he’d kind of scrape/bite as he was falling asleep and losing control of his mouth muscles, but basically he never bit again.

My second son is harder to work with, though. Every time he bites I scream and he cries, but it doesn’t prevent him from doing it again in 4 hours. I’m beginning to think the solution is to have a good teething toy on hand when he nurses during bad teething spells. If he bites I’ll scream and then shove the teething toy in there so he has something to bite down on that’s not me. You could try it with your daughter, too, to give her something to chew on when the urge is too strong.

The good news is that this is a time-delineated problem, but the bad news is that it’s a time-delineated problem. She’ll stop biting once the tooth comes in, but she won’t lose the urge to bite until the tooth comes in. (Anyone who could come up with a potion that would make a kid’s teeth come out faster would certainly deserve the MacArthur Award.) I hope you can teach her to bite the teething toy instead of chomping on you.

You could also consider medicating with Baby Tylenol (or my super-favorite, the tylenol suppository) when she’s really worked to see if that helps stop her need to bite while nursing.

My suspicion is that she doesn’t have a cold, but that her runny nose and fever are symptoms of the teething, too. I hope they go away when the tooth or teeth finally pop out.

I only have two ideas to help relieve the engorgement. The first is to pump a little off a few times a day just to relieve your pain, or even just go into the bathroom and squirt a little off into the sink. The second is to try to catch her as she’s waking up from a nap or even wake her slightly during the night to nurse. Sometimes babies will nurse a lot when they’re half-asleep if they’re not nursing much when they’re awake.

Thank you for writing in with this question, incidentally. It forced me to try to think of a solution for my own son’s teething-related biting problem, and now I’m going to try switching in the teething toy immediately if he bites me. Let me know if it works.

Potty Training 2: Electric Boogaloo?

I’m wondering what else to say about potty training, since my own experience is so limited. And I’ve noticed that the parents I know don’t seem as consumed with potty training issues as we are/were with feeding and especially sleep problems, so we don’t talk about it constantly. I wonder if there’s some shared wisdom that’s being lost with our generation because we’re just not talking about it as much as past generations were.

One important thing to bring up is that it’s often a shorter process to potty-train a child that’s "older" when you start, meaning over 2. (Witness P’s stomach-churningly daring but successful plan to go cold-turkey, or -Blue’s done-in-a-couple-of-weeks system.) OTOH, it seems like a kid who is closer to 3 when you start can be resistant and really dig in her heels. I’ve been told that there’s definitely a window in which kids are interested in potty training, and if you miss that window it’ll be much harder to train. My own personal guess is that there are several windows that vary from kid to kid, so you have to be alert and hop on the interest when it pops up.

So here’s a question for you guys: If, for whatever reason, you’ve missed that typical early-2-year-old window, how do you get an older kid (closer to or older than 3) to be interested in training? I’ve gotten this question several times by email, and the only thing I can offer is to try to use peer pressure and have the child spend as much time as possible with a potty-trained child. But is there something else they can be doing? Surely there’s got to be another answer, since you don’t see many kids who are still in diapers at the age of 4.

Q&A: what to bring to vacation with a baby

Shandra writes:

"My husband and I have a 6 month old, and we’re going to a (winter climate) resort in March for 5 days. They’ll provide a crib, which I think will be okay even though he sleeps in a co-sleeper, because we can push it up against the bed.  I breastfeed, but he’s started some solids – whole grain cereals so far, but by then I expect some fruits and veggies in as well.

My questions are, what should I know about travelling with a baby? Is there anything we can do to prepare? What gear is indispensible and what can we leave behind? We have a Honda Civic so the space question is a big deal. We haven’t gone anywhere since having our boy."

I read somewhere that there are two kind of New York City mothers–those who pack everything they could possibly need, and those who pack almost nothing, knowing they can buy whatever they need on the way. I’m the second type, so I tend to pack only the bare essentials.

Since you’re able to drive to your vacation destination, I’m assuming you’re staying in an area that’s going to have the same sorts of products you usually use at home available to you. (Did that make sense? All I meant was that you probably won’t have to hunt down things in a foreign language.)

Your big areas are, as always, sleep and food. It sounds like you’ve got the sleeping thing covered, and the feeding thing should be fine as well. If you use jarred food, just make sure to bring enough along. If you do mostly mushed table food, you’re still set.

The rest is all gravy. Depending on what you’ll be doing you’ll probably want to have a sling or other carrier for him. You may or may not need a stroller, depending on where you’ll be walking (and if you’ll be walking). If you’ll be doing hiking or cross-country skiing or anything rugged like that you may want to borrow or buy a good backpack to put him in.

Are you going with just the three of you, or will you be with other people? If you’ll be with others, you’ll probably play a lot of Pass The Baby, so you’ll hardly have to pack anything to entertain him. If not, you may want to bring the smallest toys that entertain him the most. In other words, no to the exersaucer, but yes to the Skwish. I’d also leave behind the swing or bouncy seat. If he’s not used to tummy time, now’s as good a time as any to let him get some, because a blanket’s easier to pack than a seat is.

If you have a portable high chair (like the kind that hooks to a table) you could bring it, but I’m guessing at a family resort they’ll have high chairs. You can stick your diaper bag behind him in the high chair to stabilize him.

Bibs, wipes, diapers, baby soap, clothes, nail clippers(!), baby Tylenol, teething tablets, butt cream, lovey. If he’s crawling, bring along a pack of outlet protectors. Toss a roll of duct tape in your bag just in case.

If it was summer I’d mention sunblock, and if you were going on a plane I’d remind you to bring the carseat, but you can’t forget that on a car trip anyway.

I can’t think of anything else that you couldn’t easily get on the road. Someone will remind us if I have.

IME, if you can maintain the same bedtimes and naptimes (within reason), things should go really smoothly, because this is the perfect age to travel with a baby. Have a great trip!

Q&A: Discipline methods for a 2-year-old

Charissa writes:

"I have a two year-old daughter who is generally a
laid back kind of kid.  She sleeps and eats well, and we’ve never had any
kind of screaming/crying/throwing fits from her.  Personality wise, she
tends to be pretty cautious, and prefers to scope out the (social) situation
before getting involved.  I’m only telling you all of this to give a little
background on the type of child she is. 

As far as discipline, we haven’t had to do a whole
lot of it.  What we do do is time-outs, typically for hitting (usually me),
throwing things, or blatant disobedience (it’s fairly easy to tell the
difference between her curiosity and defiance).  When one of these things
happens, I will tell her it’s time for a time-out, and escort her to either a
corner in the room, or to a chair (we don’t have a specific time-out
place).  She will then sit there for a couple minutes (I’m not strict on
timing), and then I will talk to her about the time-out.  I’ll hold her
hands, get on her level and ask her to look me in the eye.  I’ll then
explain why she had the time-out, and ask her if she’s ready to do (or not
do) that specific action any more.  Then I will ask her if I can give
her a hug, and I’ll tell her that I love her.  So that’s our drill. 
We also try our best to give her lots of positive reinforcement (verbal and
physical) for positive actions.

The thing is, lately she has started putting
herself in time-out.  Meaning, she’ll throw something, for example, look at
me and say, "time-out", then go to the corner and sit down.  I had thought
that the point of a time-out was to convince the child not to do the undesirable
behavior?  But she seems okay with a time out, to the point of doing it
herself. 

So I guess my question is, am I doing it
wrong?  Or is there some different type of discipline that you would
suggest?  I’m pretty strongly against any kind of spanking, but I do
believe that it’s my responsibility to teach her appropriate and inappropriate
behavior and so I need a way to do that."

I’m just going to state for the record that I’m against spanking, too (although that doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt the urge to do it!). So now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about discipline that doesn’t involve pain (physical pain, or emotional pain from humiliation, etc.).

As I’ve said previously, I don’t think time-outs are particularly good as punishment or deterrent to bad behavior. They just don’t have much long-term bite, and what’s happening with your daughter ends up happening an awful lot: The kid realizes the only thing that’s going to happen is a time-out, which is nothing, so they do the bad thing, sit through the time out, and go on their merry toddler way. (It kind of reminds me of that game in which you have a contest to see who can punch the lightest. You let the other person go first, then you punch them really hard and say "You win.") I use time-outs mainly as a physical or temporal separator to just stop the immediate situation. Or sometimes because I need to stop the bad behavior but don’t want my son to see me either laughing at what he’s done or counting to ten so I don’t go Homer on him. So they’re good tools for on-the-spot situation management, but not really as consistent punishment.

Especially for 2-year-olds. They are interested in absolutely everything under the sun, so it would be virtually impossible to find a place to put them for a time-out that would be a real deterrent to negative behavior. (Contrast that with a 15-year-old who has to be in a room with no X-Box, for example.) And a 2-3-minute time-out really isn’t anything, but you can’t do a longer one because a kid that young doesn’t have the attention span.

I think they also learn that the looking-in-the-eye and apologizing and hugs is part of the drill, so it ceases to have much meaning in that context anymore. They’re just too young to really process it as anything but ritual. (Which is not to say that some kids aren’t extremely sensitive and responsive to any mode of correction, so time-outs probably work for them because they’re so embarrassed to be caught in bad behavior anyway.)

I think, sad as it is to say, that there’s no one method of discipline that’s going to work with a 2-year-old. You’re going to have to turn into a detective to try to figure out either why she’s doing what she’s doing (and how you can stop it) or what you can do to avoid or redirect her behavior even if you don’t know why she’s doing it (and there may not be a reason, because, well, she’s 2).

There seem to be a few huge causes of misbehavior in 2-year-olds. One is frustration at not being able to express their feelings as well as they want to. That usually results in some kind of violent behavior (hitting, biting, scratching, pushing, throwing) that just explodes when the frustration wells up inside of them. One highly effective way to deal with this kind of violent outburst is to recognize that it’s from the frustration and allow the kid to have those feelings. Instead of trying to get the kid not to hit, give the kid a a designated object to hit/bite/scratch/push/throw. That way the kid is still allowed to release the frustration, just not at people or animals. If you’re consistent about using a designated object, eventually the kid will ask for that object when the frustration strikes.

Another big cause of misbehavior is tiredness or other physical discomfort. (I’m actually just about to start a new book by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka [the Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles author] about how sleep deprivation is a leading cause of misbehavior even in older kids. I’ll let you know how it is.) No nap and everything gets out of control and they have tantrums about things like wearing blue socks instead of red socks. They skip a snack and their blood sugar goes low and they freak out about not being allowed to unlock the front door (and it’s just not the same if you relock it and let them unlock it again). Too many errands in a row and they become that kid you always thought was the spawn of a Truly Bad Parent, screaming and demanding candy at the checkout, in those scornful days before you had kids yourself. So if you notice a connection between some kind of physical discomfort and bad behavior, you might want to make a concerted effort not to let the situation happen again and give the kid a pass (within reason, of course) on the bad behavior.

Testing limits is another big one. The only thing you can really do about this is to decide what your limits are and then stand firm. If you don’t care about something, don’t set up an artificial boundary just to back down later. It’s not going to hurt a kid to be able to make the choice about some things in his or her life. But the things that you do care about, just stand firm on them, and be as calm as possible. You may need to redirect your child physically (I had to do this all the time with my older one–I’d have to physically move him from the situation, or put my hands on his and give the toy back, or put my hands on his and brush his teeth for him while he held the toothbrush–and sometimes still do when he gets very tired) or just sit down with your kid and hug her so she calms down, or just let her rage until the fit is over. You may have to physically restrain her from doing something, or take something away from her, or just stand between her and the thing. Whatever is going to work with your daughter to get her not to do what she’s not supposed to do (or to do what she’s supposed to do).

The most important part of this is to remain unemotional about it. It’s not you trying to get her to do something. It’s simply time for the thing to be done, and that’s that. Just "Nope, we don’t run into the street!" and then click her into the stroller. Or "It’s 8 o’clock and that means time for bed. Let’s count to 20 together and then we’ll put on your PJs." Or "Oh. You dumped your juice on the floor. Here’s a rag. I’ll help you wipe it up." Decisive, swift, calm, and not punitive.

The things you describe your daughter doing sound like they are probably in the category of frustration or just not being able to deal with emotions that are way more complex than her speech is right now. So I’m betting that you’ll have luck with trying to help her channel her frustrated and angry feelings into something else (increased physical activity and/or hitting a special pillow or stuffed animal) or logical consequences (she runs away from you so she has to ride in the stroller instead of walking, or she yanks the cat’s fur so she can’t go into the room with the cat for the rest of the evening, for example) or even just continuing with everyone’s perennial favorite–distraction.

It’s a really tough age, because they’re so much more advanced than they can express, and they are just nonstop. My mom says that the trick to dealing with 2-year-olds is making sure you get enough sleep, because if you’re rested you can stay on top of them and not lose it, but if you’re tired it all spirals out of control. So try to get enough sleep, pick your battles (which it sounds like you do), and try to ferret out what is making her do the misbehavior (which shouldn’t be too hard since it sounds like you know exactly what makes her tick) and react specifically, swiftly, and pleasantly.

It sounds like you’re on the right track in general, and
that you just need to switch out the time-outs and try some other
things.

If you want to do a little more reading on how you can get your own head realigned for the next few years of discipline, I’d suggest Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting. The practical tips are more useful for kids aged 3 and up, but the ideas behind how to look at kids’ moods and misbehavior can reduce your stress level with a kid at basically any age (I first read it when my older son was around 15-16 months, and it helped me even then).

Anyone else who’s been through the 2-year-old stage? What did you do that worked?

Potty Training: peer pressure

SarahA writes:

"My daughter is 18 months old,
and although I had no intention of starting to potty train her this
early, it looks like we’re into it.

For
about a week, she’s been sitting on the potty at daycare, where two
older girls (both 24 months) are being trained. The daycare provider
says my daughter just wants to do what the big girls are doing, and she
seems to be more into it than the other two. She has yet to pee or poop
in the potty, but sits there whenever the other girls do. Over the
weekend, we were at our friends’ house, and their daughter, who is 16
months, had a potty chair. My daughter got very excited about the chair
and played with it all night. So I picked one up for her.

Since
Sunday, when I brought the potty chair home, she has been carrying it
around the house and sitting on it all the time. Sometimes she wants
her diaper off, but mostly she’s fully clothed when sitting on it.

I’m
wondering if it’s ok to let her play with the potty, since I have no
intention of pushing the issue right now. If she asks for her diaper
off, I oblige, but I don’t encourage her to sit on it, or to remove her
clothes before she does. Is this ok? Should I be letting her play with
it like it’s just another toy?"

Why not? I think you should just go with whatever she’s showing an interest in doing with the potty, and soon she’ll be peeing in it. Whatever makes her want to spend more time with it is fine, IME. In a few months you might want to push it a little by taking off her clothes (once the weather gets warmer!), but for a kid that age potty love is a good thing in and of itself.

Your email brings up another great potty training technique, which is to use peer pressure to get a kid interested in training. It’s amazing how much toddlers and preschoolers want to be like each other and do what the other kids are doing. (OK, maybe not so surprising, considering the popularity of things like Von Dutch hats in 2004 and those I-Pod onesies in 2005) You can leverage your kid’s desire to be like the "big kids" into an easier time potty training.

If your kid has a friend who is trained or further along in the process, try to arrange for the two of them to spend as much time together as possible for a few days. Whenever the other kid goes to the potty, let your kid go, too. Whatever kind of underpants your child’s friend has, run out and buy them. (Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-homespun-wool anti-licensed-character-consumer, Bob the Builder or Dora underpants can be your friends.) Make sure your child has a potty at home. Start talking about using the potty, and talk about how the friend can do it and "soon you’ll be able to do it, too!"

How susceptible your child is to peer pressure in pottying depends on his or her personality, obviously, although I don’t know if it necessarily translates into susceptibility to peer pressure in other areas. My aunt told me the possibly apocryphal story (it happened 25 years ago) of how my very counter-culture, headstrong, road-less-traveled cousin potty-trained. My aunt sent her over to play with the neighbor girls one day when she was around 16 or 17 months old. When my cousin came back 4 hours later she was potty-trained. The girls next door had learned to use the potty, and she just decided to do it with them.

So you never know. But if the rule for dressing for career success is to dress for the job you want to have, not the one you currently have, then the rule for potty training is to hang out with the kids who go the way you want your kid to go, not the way s/he currently goes. Hooray for your daycare providers for encouraging your daughter. Good luck, and start looking for cool underpants.

Two Updates

Bobbie wrote in to let me know that she talked to her daughter’s teachers. Her daughter is one of the most prepared in the whole class, so it was no problem for her to be out. So they went to visit Bobbie’s husband with no worries. Yay!

Sheila C sent me the link to this article about an enzyme present in the blood of people who died from peanut allergies. It may be a way to tell who will have fatal reactions and who won’t ahead of time. Very cool, and why I love science. Thanks, Sheila.