Q&A: confusion about when to nurse teething 5-month-old

Becca writes:

"I am not sure how to phrase this question but I am confused about
the cues to feed my exclusively breastfed 5 month old daughter.  This
was not a problem before because it was a very distinct signal of
rooting around compared to other fussiness.  Yet, now, she has popped
two bottom teeth and mouths everything-all the time.  So, as everyone
says, "she is obviously not starving", and has no problem at the
breast…I decide to feed her only if she gets FUSSY, it has been over
two hours, or I just pick her up and TRY to see if she is hungry.
Every time I try she will eat at least for a few minutes.

this problem I have a few questions.  Is this common to most
breastfeeding situations (this is my first child)? Can you overfeed a
breastfed baby…I am afraid by "just trying" I am (or could) override
her natural signals of hunger and fullness? Also, I go back and forth
wondering if I am losing milk as she mouths a lot, I "try" and feed her
a lot, and she eats for small periods.  Therefore, my last question is
how you can tell if you are losing milk?…as long as she is gaining am
I okay?

is very healthy, so truthfully my problem is really nothing but
confusion. The thing I am scared of most is messing up her natural

Teething makes everything strange. That’s one of the truisms of parenting (along with "if you start to feel cocky about something it’ll go to crap" and "at some point the kid will puke in your mouth" and a bunch of others). So when your kid is teething you can feel like everything’s all messed up and strange, and it is. You kind of just do what you have to do to get through it.

Her wanting to take a bunch of short drinks sounds very par for the course to me. Some kids refuse to nurse during teething. Others want to nurse all the time, and drink and drink and drink. Others want to nurse often, but hardly drink much at all–it seems like it’s mostly just for comfort or because they can. It sounds like the last is what your daughter’s doing.

I don’t think you can go wrong by offering the breast to a child that age. If she’s not hungry (assuming she doesn’t have a metabolic disorder or feeding disorder and that you mostly feed on demand so she’s used to regulating her own intake) she won’t nurse. (If you haven’t seen that yet, don’t worry–you will. You’ll offer and she’ll refuse and you’ll feel like chopped liver.) If she’s thirsty but not hungry, she’ll nurse a little but then stop. Babies are more like cats, who will stop eating when they’re full, than like dogs, who will eat until they make themselves sick. By offering and giving her the choice you’re actually helping her learn to distinguish her body’s signals.

I also think that her going on and off and mouthing a lot is all about the teething and has nothing to do with you or your supply. The extra-annoying thing about the teething process is that it interferes with the pattern you’ve gotten into with nursing because it’s mouth-centered. If she’s still making enough diapers (both poop and pee, although the teething can change the consistency and smell of the poop) and is alert and happy and engaged, then your supply is fine. If you feel like she’s never doing a full feed, you could always add a pumping session or two to make sure your supply stays up while she’s in the throes of teething, but if she’s still nursing a lot, just over a bunch of smaller feeds, your supply is probably fine.

Once she pops another tooth or two she’ll probably go back to nursing bigger meals at longer intervals and making it more clear when she wants to nurse. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to work on the sign for "milk" with her. When you offer her the breast, say clearly "nurse" (or whatever word you use for it) and make the sign at the same time. She’ll probably recognize the sign within a few weeks, and may start making it herself in a month or two. Then she’ll be able to give you a crystal-clear signal that she wants to nurse, which will make both of you feel good. Two thumbs up for communication.

I sometimes think teething is nature’s way of prepping us for what it’ll be like to parent a teenager. Hang in there.

Back to school roundup

Since those of us with school-age (preschool or older) kids have had a few weeks to cope settle in, I thought now might be a good time to talk about some of the stuff that crops up at this time of year. There are already some great discussions of kindergarten-related stuff over at Jody’s, and some high school stuff at Lisa V’s. If anyone’s got discussion about middle-school stuff, let me know and I’ll link it.

Let’s talk about a couple of things that seem to come up for a lot of people, and see how everyone is getting through them.

Separation anxiety

Kids going into new school situations (and even sometimes going back to the same classroom and teacher) often feel separation anxiety for the first few days or weeks. Different schools handle separation in different ways. The school my older son goes to asks the parents to stay in the hallway outside the classroom until the child is comfortable in the classroom, while friends’ schools ask parents to leave the first day and make a distinct break.

However your child’s school handles drop-off, there are some things you can do to ease the transition. Be positive about the school and teachers; make it clear that school is for kids and teachers, not grown-ups; tell your child when you’re leaving, don’t ask them if it’s OK; and always, always say goodbye–never sneak away. Remember that your child’s teachers are your partners in parenting now, and they’ll tell you how your child is doing and how the separation is really going. You may be hearing a ton of crying when you leave, but your child might cry for a minute but then go off happily to the sand table soon after you leave.

Some kids seem to have a huge problem with being left while you go away. My cousin had this problem, and for weeks he’d cry and cry when my aunt sropped him off at school, even though he loved school. Finally my aunt realized it was the leaving he couldn’t take, not the school, so she worked out a solution with another mom that worked perfectly for them. The other mother would come to their house and pick up my cousin, so he got to be the one leaving my aunt. They’d say goodbye as he left, and he had no more problems going into school. Then my aunt would do pick-up for both kids.

Other parents have noticed that kids who get really upset when one parent drops them off at school are often not upset at all when the other parent or a grandparent or babysitter drops them off. So if you have a child who’s still having a difficult time at drop-off, it may not be a problem with the fact of drop-off, but with the method of drop-off. See if you can rethink the logistics to see if that helps the situation.

Anyone else have problems or ideas about separation anxiety?

Changing sleep patterns

Lots of kids change sleep patterns when the school year starts, even if they’re getting up at the same time, just because school takes so much energy from them. Kids who don’t nap during the summer might take naps after school, and bedtimes are usually earlier during the school year.

Just when you’ve probably all adjusted to the new amount and pattern of sleep your child is getting, it’s time to change the clocks back to standard time. This year the switch is on October 29. We talked about the time change back in April, and people gave some strategies for adjusting to the new time. Pick a strategy (inching your child to the new bedtime, or just going cold turkey), and be prepared for a couple of days of strangeness.

Applying to schools

This is the time of year parents are busy choosing and applying to schools for the next year. Everyone who’s happy with their local public school, count yourself lucky. All the rest of us are busy applying to magnet public schools or to private schools. It can be quite a crazy-making process that requires a ton of intense research and planning and work, followed by a long period of nailbiting.

I’m strangely fascinated by the whole process, which is why I agreed to review The Kindergarten Wars: The Battle to Get Into America’s Best Private Schools by Alan Eisenstock. Eisenstock follows several families (mothers) as they go through the process of trying to get their children into top private elementary schools. I really liked it, despite not wanting to. I thought it would be overly sensationalized, but it was actually calm and rational and funny. His sections on minority children are hilarious (directors admit frankly that they don’t have any non-white kids in their schools even while touting the value of "diversity" as if "diversity" is a consumer product for their students) and he shares the emotions as well as the actions of the families he follows through the process.

The schools are composites of top privates across the country. Eisenstock agreed to leave the school his children went to in California out of the book, and in exchange he got help accessing heads of school, admissions directors, and parents at schools across the country. And they told him all sorts of stuff you wouldn’t think they’d admit. It had enough insider stuff to be entertaining, but it wasn’t a dirty schadenfreude-laced tell-all.

We’re not planning to go through the process of applying to private school, so I read this book more as entertainment than as an instruction manual. I found it as interesting as any recent books on private school admissions follies, but with better writing and no unnecessary subplots. I’m not sure, however, that if I was a parent in the middle of applying to a private kindergarten I would love this book, since it doesn’t give you any magic bullet to get your kid into the right school. Eisenstock’s revelation is that the best way to get your kid in is to be a normal, loving family that clicks with the admissions director, and to be known by the director of your preschool. I thought it was a breath of fresh air in the middle of an industry that feeds itself by escalating the panic, but that might enrage the very parents who need it most. If there’s one thing my time in New York has taught me, it’s that de-escalation is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Let’s hope the parents who need to step back a little for their own emotional health (and their childrens’ health) can find this book helpful. If you do live in a not-so-crazy area of the world, this book will probably help you keep persepctive on the whole process.

Q&A: wanting to spank children

An anonymous reader writes:

"I’m not a mom, I’m a nanny, for two twin boys who are almost 21 months old. They’re great kids, but I have a problem that’s been feeling harder to deal with as time goes on.

When I was younger, my parents used corporeal punishment on my brother and me. It’s the only form of punishment that they ever used until we were old enough to hit them back. I never really thought anything of it until I was old enough to start babysitting, and then one time, a small child I was caring for did something wrong that made me angry, and I struck her. Not violently, just a spank. But I’ll never forget it, because I quit babysitting the next day. I didn’t tell anyone I was afraid I’d beat the kids, I just decided I shouldn’t babysit, ever. Everyone thought I didn’t like children because I didn’t tell them I was afraid that I’d hit them.

The twins I’m nannying are children of dear friends of mine, and I do it because they need all the help they can get; their mom still works and dad does too, and I don’t currently have a full time desk job, so I wanted to help out. I’ve been sitting for them since they were 4 months old, and I feel comfortable with them and they like me; we understand each other and they know the limits I set. And let me make it clear – I don’t hit the twins. I’ve smacked a hand or two, but that’s it.

The problem is that as they increasingly try to test boundaries, I feel that same angry feeling that I know leads to hitting, and I don’t don’t don’t want to do it. I’ve read lots of book and information about positive reinforcement, the uselessness of severe punishments like that, and I’ve even worked in a preschool and gotten to see the techniques of teachers who believe any form of punishment is wrong.  When I try to take a minute to calm down, I can’t; I just feel stifled and guilty and out of control. I have to spend several minutes  in the other room taking deep breaths. I feel like a monster. How could I be like this? The twins are wonderful guys, and I know they don’t know any better.

My friends who are their parents think I’m God’s gift to babysitting, and I can’t see raising this issue with them without upsetting them or just getting the old ‘Oh, everyone feels that way." Can you offer any advice or encouragement?"

Welcome to the club?

I think you sound like you’re having hundreds of small victories.

There’s a huge difference between thinking "Shut up, you stupid little asshole!" and actually saying it to your 9-month-old at 2 am. Are you not human? If someone’s been waking you up by crying every night for months on end, of course you’re going to feel some resentment (just to begin with). But it’s your actions that matter, and that’s why you go to get your child and offer a soothing "What’s wrong, sweet baby?" even when that’s not what you feel like saying.

The same goes for toddlers (and preschoolers, and big kids) and spanking. Of course you want to just pummel them sometimes, especially if you yourself were physically punished as a child. I think being a victim of violence (and yes, spanking and hitting is violence, even if your parent only meant it as "correction" and thought they were doing something appropriate) rewires us somehow to make the violent instincts bubble closer to the top. Which is why, even when we know without a doubt that hitting our kids is counter-productive and wrong, it’s still the thing that seems like it’ll be the most effective and satisfying. Having that instinct doesn’t mean we’re bad people or hopeless caregivers. It means we’re having an initial response that we don’t want to have. It means we have work to do.

I’m not going to go into alternative discipline strategies here, because (fortunately) there’s enough information about that out there other places. And I’m still working on it myself. The message I want to get across in this post is that deciding not to hit your child or use other corporeal punishment is a process, not a one-time thing. It isn’t like you determine that it isn’t something you do and then magically you never feel like doing it. When people give up smoking they don’t just lose the desire to smoke. They work through each urge one at a time. Not hitting or spanking is the same. It gets easier the longer you do it, they tell me. I’m hoping that by the time my kids go off to college I’ll have completely lost the urge to smack them on crappy days. Then I can be the calm voice of reason as a grandmother.

The one thing I do know to be absolutely true about not using violent methods of discipline is that it’s a lot easier to stay out of situations that trigger you than it is to struggle with the urge to spank. Plan your day and control the situaion so that the kids can be as well-rested and not too hyped up. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep so you stay on top of them. Limit the things you ask them to do that you know are tough for them. Don’t procrastinate. And be with other people as much as possible. Isolation is the enemy of good parenting.

I also think you should talk to the parents to get on the same page with disipline methods. Maybe they’ve found some things that work for them and could share them with you as more tools in your non-violent toolkit. And I’m sure you have techniques that could help them, too.

Since you were spanked as a child, you could probably use a little
positive reinforcement yourself. Maybe every time you resist the urge to
wallop them you can give yourself a little mental pat on the back for
successfully not hitting; "I’m the positive discipline queen!" "I’m
giving these kids what I should have gotten." "Only three more hours until I get to go home." That sort of thing.

You’ve been doing absolutely the right thing by reading about and surrounding yourself with people who use non-violent discipline methods. You’ve fought your urges and cooled off and not hit the kids. Now keep doing it. It’s all you, or any of the rest of us who struggle with the urge to hit, can do.

Discussion: Emergency preparedness

Yesterday’s plane crash here in NYC didn’t turn into a full-blown emergency for the whole city, but it was extremely serious for residents of the building that was hit. It made me reexamine my ideas about emergency preparedness. I had been thinking primarily in terms of having supplies to help us wait out a blackout, terrorist attack, flu epidemic, or weather emergency in our apartment, and in having Go Bags (do they call them that in other countries, or is it just am American thing?) with essentials in case we had to evacuate the city.

Yesterday exposed a major weakness in my plan. Watching the smoking wreckage on TV, I realized there were hundreds of people who lived in that building that left for work or school in the morning, and then weren’t going to be able to access their homes or stuff for at least another day. This accident was an anomaly, for sure, but there are fires in buildings every day, and a mid-sized fire could keep people out of their apartments for days, so anyone could end up locked out of their homes with no warning. (We had a fire in our building last year, in fact, so I know it’s a real possibility.)

So here are my two questions. 1) Is there any way to set up a plan to cover what to do if you can’t get your Go Bag and stuff from your home for a few days? Or do you just have to depend on the kindness of friends and hope that everything will still be there when you get home? and 2) What are other emergency situations we haven’t thought of that could come up? Is there any way to prepare for them at all?

Q&A: should you say anything to a friend if you suspect something about her child?

Lisa writes:

"I was innocently reading a blog and linked from a comment
to a different blog.  This 2nd blogger has a son with Sotos
Syndrome and she describes some of the problems she has encountered, first with
getting a diagnosis, then with the treatment program.  Being the curious
monkey that I am, I googled “Sotos Syndrome” and
it matches a close friend’s son exactly.

Our boys are two weeks apart in age (both are first/only
kids), but light years apart developmentally.  My son is in a home daycare,
and hers is at home with his dad; so I would expect some differences there just
on a social level.  But I’m recalling the last time the boys played
together and noticing the extremes.  Her son is almost twice my
son’s size (ok, his parents are large, and I’m petite and my
husband is average); but all of the skill levels are different, too.  Maybe
I’m naïve, but I would expect that with development differences, her
child should excel in some areas, and mine in others, but I don’t see any
of that.

Which all leads to my question: Should I mention this to my
friend, and if so, how?  I can’t think of any way of bringing it up
that isn’t going to sound like (to her) “So what’s wrong with
your kid?”  Also, I like to brag about my degree from Dr. Google U,
but other people aren’t as impressed.  I don’t want to give
out assvice that I don’t know anything about just to worry her; but her
son’s 2 year check-up will be at the end of October, and a great time to
ask the pediatrician if she feels there is a problem."

This is a tough one. On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for minding your own business. On the other hand, if you can help her family by getting her son therapy and help for a disability, you’re almost under a moral obligation not to withhold information.

The easiest test is "Would you want someone to tell you?" Of course, that doesn’t really help a whole lot, since people are probably polarized about the answer to that question. (This reminds me of discussions of cheating spouses. In any discussion people seem to be evenly split between those who absolutely would not want to be told if a friend saw their spouse cheating, and those who would be devastated not to be told.)

So then consider what, if anything, telling the friend would accomplish. If her child does have Sotos Syndrome, early intervention in the form of occupational, physical, and speech therapy could make a huge difference in the child’s development. So you really can’t say nothing. The repercussions of saying something and the boy not having Sotos Syndrom are much less than the repercussions of his having the syndrome and not saying anything. So you have to tell her.

You also have to be prepared to lose her friendship when you do tell her. If she hasn’t noticed anything, she may be so blindsided and insulted by it that she won’t talk to you anymore. In this case you can only hope that she gets her son checked out. She may have had suspicions all along, and your telling her might make her feel more fear, and she may cut off contact with you. Or she may be relieved to be able to talk about it with someone. There’s no way to know how the situation will go.

I have no magic words for you to say when you tell her. I’m kind of blunt (as you can tell), so I’d probably say something like, "I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it: I think it’s possible that Dylan has Sotos Syndrome. He fits all the physical and developmental characteristics. I’m telling you now so you can ask your pediatrician about it at his 2-year check-up." But if you think it’s likely that she’s been wondering about him already, you could try to draw her out about it a little. Or you could ask her how extensive the developmental evaulation is at her pediatrician’s, because your ped is going to look at a bunch of questions to rule out any developmental delays–talking about it as a universal screening tool might make her feel more comfortable getting her son evaluated.

Readers, if it was your child, and telling you would help you get your child useful and necessary help, how would you want to be told?

Q&A: post-partum depression starting 5 months post-partum

B writes:

"I have finally accepted the fact that I am depressed and have been for a month or two.  Not really sure when the clinically defined "depression" started.  My baby is five months old, so I am not sure if this still counts as post-partum depression.  I have been put on medication and told that it is still safe to breastfeed my child. All this time I thought it was due to sleep deprivation because my kid still wakes up every four hours for nursing.

I hate being part of that 10% of women who experiences depression because I would have liked to believe that I could handle this on my own and not enlist the aid of mood enhancers.

Would you consider this a post-partum depression?"

Yes, I would. I think depression that comes on you after you’ve had a baby is post-partum depression.

Even though it seem like you’ve been mothering your baby forever, 5 months is still pretty tiny. I don’t think it’s at all odd that you developed post-partum depression once the initial flurry of activity and adrenaline rush of parenting a true newborn is over.

In a lot of ways, I think 3-4 months has the perfect conditions for PPD. You’ve survived the intial hormone rush of the first 12 weeks, so you stop being so vigilant about monitoring yourself for PPD. The baby might be old enough to sleep through for four hours at a time, but that’s still sleep-depriving for you, even though it’s normal for her. And you just don’t have the support anymore that you did at the beginning. Everyone expects you to be an old hand at this, and doing it with no problems. In the meatime, it’s starting to sink in to you that this is the new normal, and you wonder why it’s even worth getting out of your pajamas if the whole day is just going to be the same grind.

I hate that so many of us develop PPD*. (I think that 10% figure is extremely low, BTW. Maybe 10% seek treatment, but I think there are tons of us walking around with some low-level depression at any given time.) I hate that we have to take drugs to help us function appropriately. But I think they’re an appropriate response to an inappropriate situation.

If we had more cultural support for mothering and parenting in general–and I don’t mean people stopping us to tell us how cute our kids are and then giving us some guilt trip about either working or not working and what and how we’re feeding our kids–we wouldn’t be stretched to the breaking point physically or emotionally. If we lived in less isolation from each other we’d have people to share the burden with on a daily basis. If we hadn’t screwed up our food chain so much we’d be eating foods that were naturally higher in the nutrients our bodies need to be able to keep us on a more even keel emotionally. If we were able to trust our parents more, and therefore learned to trust ourselves more, we wouldn’t be so twisted up about every minor decision we make about our kids and we wouldn’t judge other parents so harshly.

Mothering in this time and place can be a really screwed-up proposition. It’s amazing most of us come out of it as whole as we do. 

I’m sorry you have PPD. I’m sorry you have to go on medication, and that that makes you feel bad. But you have to take care of yourself, for your own sake and for your child’s sake. PPD is an illness caused by a lot of factors, not a personal weakness. You will get better. You might also want to consider seeing a therapist to talk through a lot of the stuff that seems to happen as a matter of course to most modern mothers–body issues, issues surrounding the pregnancy and birth, relationship issues, self-esteem, etc. It’s too much to just stuff down and try to cope with on your own.

Can we start talking about this more? I don’t just mean here. I mean IRL. When you see a mom with a baby, can you tell her her baby is cute and then ask her "How are *you* doing?" And then let her talk about it if she needs to? Let her know she’s not the only one barely holding it together, and that it will get better, and she can and is doing it.

* Full disclosure: I’m the daughter of a parent with clinical depression who has been on medication for 20+ years. I have had depression myself for years (never medicated), and was severely depressed during part of my first pregnancy. I made a conscious plan to ward of PPD, and aggressively followed that plan after the birth of my first son. I believe that (and the hormones from nursing) kept me from developing PPD despite my many risk factors for it. After having my second son I stopped following the plan (I got cocky), and found myself depressed from the time he was around 4 months until he was around 11 months.

Q&A: clingy four-month-old

Joanne writes:

"My question concerns my wonderful daughter who is four monthsold.  She’s got a great temperment, not fussy, sleeps well at night (in
a co-sleeper), hardly cries and smiles all the time.  The only thing is
she is very needy of my attention.  I have to carry her all the time
and can’t leave her alone.  I can’t even e-mail at my desk while she’s
on the floor next to me.  She NEEDS me close by interacting.
She has
a good bouncy chair that I thought she would like, but the moment I
place her on it, she gives me this incredulous hairy eyeball and starts
to fuss and cry out.  I realize I shouldn’t be leaving her alone
anyway.  But even leaving her for short spurts (loading laundry,
brushing teeth) causes her grief. 

Now here’s the kicker.  I AM
able to leave her for longer periods if I place her in front of the tv
(I know!).  But lately I’ve been tuning into cooking shows or talk
shows.  I hate to do the tv thing to her but it’s the only way to get
anything done around here, or to fix my lunch!

sick of all the older folks in my life telling me that I’ll "spoil" her
by picking her up so much.  I know this won’t happen, but sometimes I
start to second guess how much I’m holding her and if indeed I am
spoiling her.  The "What to expect" book (I know it’s not your
favourite) says at this age she should have independant play for a few

I realize I cannot force her to separate from me.  But are
there gentle ways of nurturing independance?  I play peek-a-boo every
day to enhance object permanence awareness…I don’t think she’s a shy
child per se.  She loves the mommy and baby programs we attend and
becomes nicely distracted by everyone and especially the other babies.
I think she’s just social and likes to be interacting with me or her
father here at home.  Like I said, I’m starting to confuse myself a bit
and would love your take on this."

She’s normal. Normal, normal, normal, normal.

Babies like (and remember that at this age wants and needs are the same) to be with their primary caregivers as much as possible. It’s how they feel normal. It’s how they survive infancy. A baby who allowed herself to be put down and left alone was a baby who got eaten by coyotes or who froze to death on the cave floor. Just because there aren’t any coyotes in your heated home doesn’t mean the same instincts aren’t there still in our human programming.

"Should" have independent play for a few minutes, I really don’t know about. "Could" is more like it. I’ve known some babies who could play alone for a few minutes at that age. But I think it’s ridiculous to expect every (or even most) babies to. My guess is that it’s more common for second or later babies to be content "alone" at that age, and only because there’s more general noise in the house than for first children. (Which is why she’s content when the TV is on. If you could borrow a 3-year-old, she’d be content without you for even longer.)

If you were back in the tribal days, you’d strap her to your back and go about your daily work, which would include interacting with plenty of other adults, and by the time you started wondering "Why does she need to be strapped to me all the time?!" she’d be ready to crawl and would be struggling to get down.

So my advice is threefold:

1) Lower your expectations. You have a child who loves to be with you, and in a year she will be running away from you, and in 13 years she won’t want to be seen with you. She’s normal, you’re normal, and as long as you can feed yourself and go to the bathroom you’re in an appropriate (albeit annoying) stage.

2) Get a sling/Ergo/mei tai/wrap and strap her in. Wear her around as you put in laundry, vacuum, fix a sandwich, e-mail, etc. Talk to her and explain what you’re doing while you’re doing it, and she’ll surprise you with how much she understands. Your arms won’t hurt, and she’ll be happier in general than with the put down/pick up routine.

3) Smile and nod. "Oooh! Thanks for the advice. I hadn’t considered that before." Then do what you want to do anyway.

This too will pass. She sounds very attached to you, which is excellent. If you can accept not getting much done right now, it will change in the next few months. Object permanence will kick in at the normal time (around 9 months or so), and any effort you make to push her into independence will probably backfire. The best way to encourage independence is to give her as much closeness as she wants, so she gets her fill and can separate when she’s ready.

I know it doesn’t feel like it (I sometimes felt ready to jump out of my skin at this stage) but you’re doing so well, and things are progressing exactly the way they’re supposed to. To ease your own sense of being touched out, do a hand-off as soon as your husband gets home and just do other stuff for an hour, if possible. It’ll be good for all of you.

(FWIW, both of mine at that age hated the bouncy seat like it was electrified, but now I could leave the apartment after breakfast and come back for lunch and neither of them would have noticed I was gone. She will definitely learn to play independently.)


Today I have two questions about kids screaming and shrieking.

Brooke writes:

"My son is 14 months old.  When he was
younger (about 9 months old) he use to scream A LOT (all day long)!!  I ignored it, acted like I did not even hear him and he eventually
stopped.  Now he has started back to shrieking again and I am not sure
what to do.  He is older now and I know he understands better.  I know
giving him attention for his screaming is giving him what he wants, but
when we are out and he is screaming it is so bothersome to others, so I
tell him "Tyler No, No screaming!"  And of course he stops for a little
while and then begins to scream at the top of his lungs again.  Should
I continue to tell him "No" or just completely ignore him like I do not
even hear him?  I almost feel like others around me feel like I am a
Mom that is just not doing anything about her screaming child.  What
would you do?"

I’d get some heavy-duty earplugs and a bottle of wine. Seriously, though, all the advice about ignoring it is great if you sit around in a soundproofed room all day, but it’s not so helpful when you’re out in the world and your kid is shrieking like he’s being poked with a sharp stick.

He’s on the young end for talking about it, but you have to start somewhere, so start rehearsing with him before you go out that "We’re going to use our inside voices" when you’re out and about. If he starts to scream, remind him that you’re going to talk quietly. If he still keeps screaming, leave. You don’t want to back yourself into any corners by threatening to leave if he screams (especially since he really can’t always control his impulse to shriek at this age), and sometimes you’re going to have to go back in to get the milk or whatever you were buying from the store. So don’t do any threatening or ultimatums so you don’t end up having to carry them out. Just calmly take him out when he screams, and then go back in if he gets calm again or if you need to complete a transaction.

You’re being responsible by not allowing him to annoy others by taking him out, but you’re also promoting good behavior by telling him exactly what you want him to do (talk quietly) instead of what you don’t want him to do (SHRIEK!).

None of this is going to fix the problem overnight, but it’s all a process at this age anyway. An annoying, mind-numbing, teeth-clenching process. Hang in there.

Jamie writes:

"My son is 8 months old and a few weeks
ago he started screaming.  When I say screaming I don’t mean crying –
it’s a deep guttural scream.  He screams whenever he’s unhappy – when
his diaper is being changed, he wants a bottle, we’ve taken something
away, he’s in his highchair, etc.  Because the scream is connected to
an unhappy moment I understand that he’s not hurt, but it’s slowly
chipping away at my sanity.  I’ve tried distracting him by singing,
tickling, playing peek-a-boo.  I’ve tried ignoring him.  Now I pick him
up and sit with him until he’s done.  Yesterday he screamed until he
fell asleep.  It was not near naptime or bedtime.  He screamed until
his body shut down.  I don’t know what to do.  Suggestions?"

It seems a little early to me for him to be reaching the phase of physical exhaustion and rage from not being able to make himself understood, but maybe he’s just advanced. The inability to control himself when he’s frustrated that turns into a scary physical symptom (the gutteral screaming) sounds exactly like what some older kids (young toddler age) go through when they just can’t get the adults to understand what they want to communicate.

I would see if trying to help him put things into language helps. While you’re doing something he doesn’t like and you see him getting upset, try talking about how you imagine he feels. For example, "You don’t like to have your diaper changed and it’s making you feel very angry. You want to scream and kick until Mama leaves you alone!" See if that helps him feel a little more understood. If he has very good receptive language it might alleviate things a lot. Even the tone you use might make him feel more understood.

And if you haven’t already started it, you might start teaching him some sign language. Some babies that age can do simple signs like "milk," more," "all done," "sleep," and others. There are books and videos you can buy (Kate‘s daughter adores the Signing Time series), but I’m too cheap for that, so I just look up our signs on the Michigan State University American Sign Language Browser site. It’s amazing how much less frustration children have if they can make even a few of their needs known.

I hope you can help him make himself understood. It’s such a rough thing for young children, and your son sounds particularly eager to communicate.

Q&A: not feeling upset about miscarriage

Maria writes:

"I seem to be in the beginning stages of a miscarriage–not-quite-period bleeding, very low betas.  I’d say the pregnancy was not quite six weeks along, and planned.  Is it odd that I feel pretty OK? I mean, I’m sad that I won’t have this baby in 8 or so months, but I’m not devastated.  I suppose that’s because I have an absolutly wonderful 2 1/2 yr old son, and I got pregnant the first month I tried (with both pregnancies), so I feel like the miscarriage isn’t the end of my world.  I’m sure I’ll grieve, but right now I don’t feel like I need therapy or close emotional monitoring.  Is this normal?"

Yes, it’s normal. It’s normal for women to have all sorts of different emotions about miscarrying, ranging from devastation to sadness to indifference to relief. Sometimes a woman will experience feelings from all over the spectrum about the same miscarriage. It’s all normal. It’s normal for a woman’s feelings about a miscarriage to change over time, too.

Most of the women who write about miscarriages on the internet are sad and upset about them, but that’s because they’re using writing on the internet to help them process their feelings, and to get support. The women who aren’t hit as hard by a miscarriage just won’t have as much to write about. So that’s why you may feel unusual–because other women who feel just a little sad aren’t as represented online. But it would be a mistake to think that they aren’t out there or that your feelings are unusual.

Years ago, women who miscarried were told that it was no big deal, and shamed into thinking there was something wrong with them if they mourned a lost pregnancy or baby. But it was (is) healthy and OK for them to feel whatever they felt and to work through it. And it’s OK for you to feel whatever you feel and to work through it, even if "working through it" means looking forward to your next cycle and getting ready for Halloween with your son.

I hope this is the last miscarriage you ever experience, and that your child is with you at this time next year. Take care of yourself.

Q&A: persistent ear infections

Anna writes:

"I am hoping that you might be able to help me and my little boy.  My11-month old son has had over 5 ear infections in about 3 months.  The
doctors keep prescribing different antibiotics, but he is still getting
them.  The pediatrician wanted me to wait another month or so to see an
ENT but I went ahead and made the appointment anyway (and got one for
next month).   Have you ever dealt with this or any or your readers? 
People keep telling me that ear infections are normal but this seems a
bit extreme.  I am so frustrated and don’t know what to do to help my

What a frustrating problem for you. Good for you for being proactive.

If I were in your situation, I’d try a 3-4-week test of taking your son off all dairy and wheat products to see if that helps stop the ear infections. Food sensitivities won’t cause ear infections outright, but they could be causing extra mucus buildup that aggravates the ears or makes it difficult or impossible for the infections to completely clear. If that’s the case, then all the antibiotics in the world won’t really stop the problem (and will only cause problems later on from overuse–you want them to work when you really need them). You need to top the mucus buildup instead.

If you’re still nursing, the bad news is that you’ll have to go off dairy and wheat for that time, too, but it will be worth it for a short time if it helps you stop the ear infections. And if you can’t eat wheat products it’s an excuse to eat a lot more French fries.

If your son is on cow’s milk or cow’s milk products already, I wouldn’t switch to soy equivalents (because soy is another common allergen), but would go to fortified rice milk instead while you’re doing the elimination test.

I would also seriously consider taking your son to a pediatric chiropractor, since there have been several studies (and a ton of anecdotal evidence) that a few adjustments can eliminate or reduce ear infections by relaxing the spine and putting things in better alignment so the ear tubes can drain properly. (Chiropractic adjustments on babies and kids done by pediatric chiropractors are extremely gentle–more like massage than like the adjustments adults may be familiar with. My cousin adjusts babies while they’re sitting in their parents’ laps, and says most of them don’t seem to notice anything during the actual adjustment.)

If eliminating allergens and getting a few adjustments doesn’t help the problem, the other possibility is that the way your son’s ears are shaped makes him more prone to ear infections. I don’t know of any remedy for this other than having tubes put in. This is obviously a last resort, because any surgical procedure has much more risks than non-invasive treatments, but it has provided relief to tons of kids with chronic ear infections.

Does anyone else know more about chronic ear infections and have any tips to eliminate them?