Q&A: work-at-home opportunities for parents?

Emily writes:

"So, here’s my curiosity: There are seemingly a bazillion links to work for stay-at-home moms when you Google the subject. Does anyone have experience with sites that are legit? I’ve stayed at home with our 19-month-old from the beginning and have never considered anything else seriously, but, like a lot of people depending on one income, it sure would be nice to have some extra cash every now and again. I realize that stay-at-home opportunities run anywhere from simple web surfing/research to jobs needing a background (editing, for example, which is part of my work history), but I’d love to know if anyone has recommendations, probably on the simpler/more flexible end of things."

NOTE: I am going to police the comments section on this question heavily, so don’t even think of spamming here.

Now to Emily’s question. I’ve been WAH on and off for years, and in my experience, the best jobs you’ll get are with people you’ve worked with in the past who know what you do well and are willing to pay you fairly for your skills. What that means is that the easiest and best way to get some work is to call your old coworkers and let them know that you’re available to do any freelance version of whatever it is you used to do back before you were at home with your kids. They might not have anything for you immediately, but if they remember you and respect your work, they’ll work you in.

Then your only problems will be figuring out how many hours a week you can realistically work, what you’ll do with the kids while you’re working, and how to structure yourself to make it make the most sense financially (should you become a sole proprietor and deduct your expenses? or just add it to "extra income" on your tax forms?).

Now, I’m not saying that there are no legitimate work-at-home gigs that parents can get that don’t involve networking with former employers and coworkers. Just that at least you know you’re dealing with actual companies that will pay you actual money for actual work if you go this route. Otherwise, you’re going to end up chasing things that may or may not be scams.

Another route, of course, is to go into direct sales, usually with a multi-level marketing company. People have gotten badly burned by these opportunities, but there are also plenty of people who love doing it and make some extra money at the same time. The best way to weed out bad companies is to look at the way they pitch you (which is how you’ll be expected to pitch people): If the emphasis is on selling the (unique) products, it’s a model that can be maintained. If the emphasis is on building downline, it’s a pyramid scheme, and you almost certainly are not getting in on one of the top levels. (FWIW, I know people who are happy selling Mary Kay, Tastefully Simple, Pampered Chef, Southern Living At Home, and Creative Memories. But bear in mind that you really need to like to sell and teach to do this.)

What else am I forgetting? There’s money to be made on Ebay, if you can figure out what things will sell and obtain them at a low enough cost that you can make money even if everything you list doesn’t sell for top price. At it makes plenty of sense to watch the job ads on Craigslist and any internet boards for your former industry and apply to anything that looks remotely like a fit for your skills and experience (be sure to keep your resume updated so you can send it out in a flash).

Does anyone else have good ideas of what to look for and what to avoid? I’m going to be policing looking for genuine spam, so no overt ads, please.

Q&A: pulling up on…nothing?

Karen writes:

"My 7 month old has been pulling up to a
standing position in his crib for a few days now and he is actively searching
out other opportunities to do the same around the house. The problem is that we do
not have a coffee table or other furniture his level to pull up on. He is keenly
eyeing the full bookcases that fill most of the rooms. Our sofa is a futon and
we have 2 chairs that would not be sturdy enough to support a strong pull. My
question is this: should we purchase a coffee table and other
pull-up/cruise friendly furniture for him?"

Well, I would not invest any money in something for my child to pull up on, since I don’t have a lot of money and figure they’ll go through that phase soon enough anyway. But if you want to buy something, feel free. I’d think carefully about what you buy, though, so that it’s still a good purchase once the pulling-up phase is gone.

I guess my top two contenders would be a coffee table (we foolishly gave up our coffee table to make room for an exersaucer–I know!–and have never gotten another one, even though the saucer is long gone) or an activity table. You can buy an activity table (or train table), or you could DIY if you live near an Ikea by buying the size of plain coffee table you like, then going into the toy section and getting the wire bead toys, some train tracks, and some dollhouse parts, and Krazy Gluing or drilling them to the coffee table.

If you’re truly insane you could build a sand/water/bean table (or you could just do it and keep it outside for all the fun and none of the vacuuming).

Anyone else have any ideas? I think your son is going to learn to pull up in his crib and in other places you go, so it’s only worth getting something else if you truly want that new item. But what do the rest of you think?

Q&A: paint fumes affecting a fetus (updated)

Angie jumps right to the front of the long queue with this:

"I just arrived at my parents house for Christmas, with my partner and10-month-old baby.  I am 15 weeks pregnant, and haven’t told anyone as
I’m waiting for the amnio results.  We found out as we arrived that my
mother painted the whole house a week ago with both latex and oil
paint, to spruce up for the holidays.  A little shortsighted, since she
lives in New England and it is too cold to leave the windows open. 
Despite trying to air out the fumes for a week, the house reeks in all
rooms, including where we are sleeping.  I am miserable because of my
superhuman sense of smell due to the pregnancy, but I am especially
worried about exposure to the fumes for the fetus, as well as for the
10-week old.  We are supposed to stay here for a week, which I am not
sure I can stand.

Do you have any input or thoughts, or better skills than I at extracting specific info from the internet?"

Who leaves people hanging for amnio results over a holiday weekend?!

I wish I could say, "Don’t worry–it’s totally fine," but I obviously can’t. On the other hand, I wouldn’t spend much time worrying about it for two reasons. The first is that the rooms were painted a week ago so the paint is dry, and it’s just the smells and chemicals outgassing, not actual wet paint fumes. Is there any chance that the house is one of those charmingly drafty New England homes, the kind with high heating costs and no danger of radon scares? If so, then you have even less to worry about.

The other thing that makes me not worry so much is that you’re in your 15th week. From what we’re learning about fetal alcohol exposure, weeks 3-6 appear to be the most critical for staying away from exposure to damaging toxins, but the rest of the first trimester is also the time of greatest and most significant development. A day or two of exposure to smelly paint fumes at 15 weeks is hardly the same as it would be at 5 weeks.

If you want to leave the house, you’ll have to bring up the highly legitimate concern of whether your 10-month-old baby should be exposed to paint fumes. It sounds like your mother just wasn’t thinking clearly, and thought the fumes would be gone by now, because surely she wouldn’t want to expose her grandchild to the fumes. Use that to get you out of the house as much as possible, even if it’s just to go stand by the back door inhaling some clean air, or going out to post-holiday sales, or going to visit other people. You can always use the old standby of blaming your pediatrician as an excuse to get out as much as possible.

(FWIW, when I was nine weeks pregnant with my second, my aunt highlighted my hair for me. When I went to wash it out in the shower the fan in the bathroom was broken. I was sucking down hot ammonia steam for a solid 10 minutes, trying desperately to get it out of my hair and my system. I still look at him and wonder if he wouldn’t bite me so much if I hadn’t inhaled all that ammonia. I don’t really think it did him any harm, but I also don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling guilty about it completely.)

I hope your amnio results come back with no cause for concern.

Are there any toxicologists reading who know more about paint fumes specifically? Or anyone else to offer pseudo-comforting toxin exposure stories like my ammonia confession?

UPDATE: Reader Sarah reminds me that the best place to find out info about any kind of prenatal exposure is to call the counselors at OTIS, the Organization of Teratology Information
Specialists.  Their number is 1-866-626-OTIS.  They are experts at
giving pregnant women information about all sorts of situations like
this — this is the service the CDC refers women to when they call about exposure issues.

Thanks, Sarah!  

Reader call: depression during pregnancy and cleaning bath toys

Here are two things readers need help with today:

Amy writes:

"I just wanted to know if you got depressed with your second pregnancy?
I am in my first pregnancy, 2nd trimester and very depressed. It has
made me rethink getting pregnant again because it is so painful!!! I
feel like I am too scared to go through this again."

I did get depressed with my second pregnancy, but nowhere near as badly as with my first. (With my first I saw a therapist to help me deal and stop having panic attacks.) The depression wasn’t as severe and it didn’t last through as much of the pregnancy. I think the really important thing about it, though, was that I knew it was hormonal, and was therefore just another one of those physical symptoms I had to deal with, like constant nausea and restless leg syndrome. That way it didn’t really touch me the same way it had the first time through. I coudl tell myself it was an annoyance instead of a prediction or personal judgment.

Anyone else who was depressed during a first pregnancy want to share what happened during subsequent pregnancies? So many of us get depressed during pregnancy, and we really need to talk about it with each other, so your comments are very important.

And now for something completely different:

Molly writes:

"My daughter has a huge inventory of rubber and plastic bath toys. Some of them have ‘blow holes’ where you can squeeze water in and out of the toy. Over the course of the past few months these toys have gotten slimy, no matter how hard I try to rinse and dry them. Also, the water inside some of the toys never gets completely flushed out and I cringe to think of what microbes are flourishing in there.  I want to dunk them all in a bleach solution for the afternoon, and get the bleach inside the ‘blow hole’ toys, too.

What do you think?

My only worry is the possibility of residual bleach from the ‘blow hole’ toy coming into contact with my daughter at some point. (Of course she loves these toys the best.)

Should I just chuck them all and buy a bunch of new ones?"

I can’t be the only one laughing here, because I’m betting 80% of the readers have gone through this exact same process and line of reasoning. Sucking the bleach water in to get out the black mold, but then worrying about the bleach water, and thinking the whole thing is impossible.

I have no idea. My gut feeling is that the bleach water is probably less harmful than that mysterious black slime mold, but who knows? Ultimately, I just sidestepped the problem by switching us to hard plastic boats and a bunch of "guys" (action figures) that do lots of rescue work in the tub.

Anyone else?

Preventing PPD 6: Taking care of yourself emotionally

This is Part 6 of my Preventing PPD series. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here, Part 4 is here, and Part 5 is here.

Even when you’re taking care of yourself physically, you can still slip into depression if you aren’t taking care of yourself emotionally. It’s hard, when you’re pouring so much love into this tiny creature who may not even be able to smile back at you yet, to love yourself, but here are some steps you can take to help ensure that your emotional cup gets filled every day.

Maintain basic levels of hygiene. This sounds almost insulting, because maintaining basic levels of hygiene is just a given, right? But when you have a baby, it’s so easy to get caught up in the millions of things that need to be done, plus the non-stop drudgery of it all, that you neglect basic tasks like taking a shower and brushing your teeth.

The simplest way to make sure you get youself washed adequately is to stick to a routine. Maybe you hand the baby to your partner when s/he walks in the door and take a shower right then. Maybe you bring the baby into the bathroom with you and let him or her lie on a soft blanket or in a laundry basket or a bouncy seat while you shower right after the first nursing of the day. Play around with it to see what works best, then just stick to that schedule. You’ll feel so much more human if you’re clean.

Talk to adults every day. The best scenario is that you have plenty of mom-friends and you go to each others’ houses to hang out and share the experience, But if you’re not there yet, you should still make the effort to talk to at least one other adult every day. For months after the birth of my first son I called my mother three times a day (sometimes more). One day she told me she knew I was out of danger of PPD because I’d only called her once a day for the previous week.

If you can, you should try to get out to hang out with some other mothers. The breastfeeding group you researched before you had the baby is a good place to go, as is any kind of new moms’ meeting you can find. But even if you can’t find an actual meeting, it’s vital to try to connect with other women going through the same changes you’re experiencing right now.

If you have absolutely no one you can go see or call up and talk to who will understand, at least log on to your computer. Message boards and blogs have saved the sanity of more new mothers than anyone can know. The other benefit of "friends inside the computer" is that you can access them at odd times of day and night.

Maintain a routine. You have a little baby, so you can’t stick to a strict schedule with any reliability, but you can establish a general routine and stick to it. Figure out if your baby has developed any preferences yet for nap times or anything like that, and then make up a routine. It’ll evolve over time, but even the first day you’ll feel better if you know what’s coming next.

A sample (realistic) schedule to start with could look like this:

  • Wake up, feed baby, feed self.
  • Shower, get dressed. Change diaper and baby clothes.
  • Hang out while "playing with baby," or feeling guilty about not knowing what to do with baby.
  • Feed baby again, baby sleeps for 30 minutes. Feel like you should be doing something, but can’t remember what, so zone out on the couch until baby wakes up.
  • Change baby’s diaper.
  • Scrounge up some lunch for yourself and feed self while holding baby.
  • Clean dropped food off baby’s head.
  • Get everything together for trip outside the house. Stop to feed baby, then change diaper again. Finally leave the house on errand.
  • Do errand. Panic every time the baby starts to cry in public.
  • Come home from errand. Put baby down for nap.
  • Call your mother and ask for her sympathy without coming directly out and asking for it.
  • Change diaper. Feed baby. Change diaper again.
  • Turn on the TV and watch the Food Network, rationalizing that it’s educational and therefore good for the baby. When will your partner be home from work?
  • Check cell phone to make sure your partner didn’t try to call to say s/he’d left work yet.
  • Hear partner’s key in the lock and run to the door to hand off the baby.
  • Suffer option paralysis about what to do in 30 minutes without the baby.

Get out of the house every day. Unless it’s a true blizzard, you need to get out of the house every single day. Staying inside is a recipe for navel-gazing, which is going to lead you to feeling sorry for yourself. Getting out at least once will put you in contact with the outer world. Being out in nature will help you if all you do is go for a walk. And if you go out and see other people, they will say nice things about your baby and you’ll get to have a little human interaction, which will do your spirit good.

Going out at approximately the same time every day will help your body and mind, and your baby, adjust to your routine. You’ll probably be in a better frame of mind if you have an actual mission to accomplish outisde, whether it’s seeing other people, or running an errand, or even walking a circuit, but be sure to go out even when you have no plan in mind.

Hire help if you can. If you can afford it, consider hiring someone else to come clean your house every few weeks, or to take care of the baby for a few hours while you sleep or do something fun for yourself. It’s not easy emotionally to be on duty around the clock, or to juggle all the baby stuff with the other stuff that needs to happen. If you can afford it, take the help. It’ll keep you on a more even keel, which is much more important for the baby and for your family than having you struggle through it just because you can.

Work together with your partner. Presumably, your partner loves you just as you are. (If you don’t agree with this statement instantly, then you probably need to examine your relationship and consider changing some things.) S/he wants things to be as easy and satisfying for you as possible. That means that if something isn’t working for you, you owe it to your whole family to talk with your partner and ask for help with whatever can improve your situation.

Maintain a spiritual practice that feeds you. If you practiced a religion before you had the baby, stay in touch with it. Your faith community will be happy to see you with your new baby. If you aren’t part of any organized group, be sure to take the time to regenerate your spirit daily in a way that’s meaningful to you. Prayer, meditation, yoga, walking in nature, reading things that uplift or relax you, listening to good music. All these things can help nurture your spirit and keep your moods even.

Keep in touch with your friends. Even if your friends don’t have children, they can still be good sources of support and encouragement for you. And your friends who have older children will probably remember exactly what this phase was like and can give you more than a little sympathy.

Q&A: sudden daycare woes

Shruti (again with the beautiful names) writes:

"My 2 year old has been in daycare for a little over 2 months. The first
two months she really seemed to enjoy it, but strangely, after the
Thanksgiving break, she doesn’t seem to want to go there, won’t eat all
day and won’t play with any of the kids. Her daycare center is one of
the best, so it can’t be that. What could have triggered this and what
can I do to help her overcome this?"

Well, my first thought was (let’s all say it together now), "Did anything happen that changed her caregivers?" I also wondered if something could have happened over the holiday to make her scared and sad. But no. Here was Shruti’s reply:

"No, the staff hasn’t changed. She was with us mostly and some family on Thankgiving day. I’ve been noticing that some of the kids are a little
aggressive and push other children. Her teachers tell me that while she
does complain about being pushed, she doesn’t proactively do anything
about it such as defending herself. And that she has been isolating
herself to one corner of the classroom and doesn’t want to interact
with the other children.  I’m wondering whether her aggressive
classmates and/or her submissive personality has caused her to lose her
confidence. Or is it just one of those toddler ups and downs and a
matter of time before she becomes her usual self."

I think she might be out of the honeymoon phase and the reality of the challenges of being around other kids all day may be setting in. Going to a new caregiving situation is a lot like moving to a foreign country. At first you’re excited ("Mmmm! Real tacos! And so fresh! Right outside my front door! And look how hot all these men are!") but then at a certain point reality sets in ("Why can’t I get a Dr. Pepper in this country? And my head is going to explode if I have to think in Spanish for one more minute!"). And kids can’t know how the process is supposed to go, and they have no way of verbalizing it all.

It seems to me that with loving support and consistent routines at home, she’ll start to ease into daycare more and more until she doesn’t even really notice it anymore (like the point at which you wake up and realize you’ve been dreaming in a foreign language). You should also work with her on appropriate responses to kids who are more aggressive than she is. The problem with 2-year-olds is that they have little impulse control and can’t rely on their verbal skills to negotiate with other kids. You can remind her that kids who hurt her aren’t doing it to be mean, but just because they don’t know any better. Help her learn to walk away or stand up for herself and to call an adult for help if she’s being pushed or hit. Eventually she’ll be able to avoid the kids who are always looking for trouble while standing up for herself successfully with the other kids.

(Since I’m a SAHM, this question and all the other recent ones about hitting and pushing at daycare are making me realize how much easier it is to deal with only one or two kids in a hitting/pushing situation. When you only have your own to deal with, you either skulk away home and think about how horrible the other mothers are, or you skulk away home and obsess about how the other mothers must all think you’re so horrible. It must be really, really stressful to have to referee between all the pushers and the pushees all day long.)

Does anyone else have any tips to help Shruti’s daughter have a better time at daycare?

Q&A: white noise and language delay

Christianna (with the beautiful name) writes:

"My six-month-old son, Ben, sleeps with a
white noise machine on in his room.  We use it at naptimes and during
the night to mask household noises.  His room shares a wall with the
kitchen and our house is quite small.  I recently read an article about
a study suggesting that exposing infants to continuous white noise may
delay hearing and possibly language development.  Here’s a link to the
WebMD article
. Now I’m concerned that the white noise, something I assumed to be
harmless and quite helpful in bringing on sleep, is actually harming my
son and delaying language development!  Have you heard of this study?
What’s your take on it? I’d appreciate any insight you may have."

I love it when readers send links as part of the actual question! It does my lazy heart good.

Anyway, I think this is a case of the write-up of the study findings not saying the important parts. If you read the article (and go ahead–it’s short), all it’s saying is that rats who were exposed to constant white noise didn’t have language centers in their brains that were as developed as rats who weren’t exposed to the constant white noise did. What it didn’t mention is that that was probably not because of the white noise per se, but because the rats weren’t hearing other sounds that would develop those centers.

In a way, it would be as if researchers reported with alarm that kids who are only exposed to English at home all day don’t have brain centers that are primed to make the sounds used in Russian. Is this a problem? Only if you want your kids to magically learn to speak Russian while you expose them only to English.

Am I being snarky? Sorry. I haven’t had enough caffeine yet this morning. My point is that there’s no reason to think, at least from what this experiment is showing, that using white noise to help a baby sleep is a problem, as long as that baby also gets exposed to plenty of other sounds, including speech, during the rest of the day and while awake. It’s kind of proof writ large that what you give kids (well, rats, actually) is what you get from them. Give them speech and you get speech. Give them music and you get music. Give them white noise (and nothing else) and you get a brain that only produces white noise.

For me, the most interesting part of this study is the last line (isn’t it always?):

"We are already using this [white noise] research to better intervene
in children who are struggling because their auditory systems process
information in a fuzzy way," she says.

If they can mess around with this thing with the rats and figure out a way to help kids with processing problems, that will be a stellar use of time and money (and rodents, for those who aren’t opposed to animal testing).

Q&A: toddlers “flirting”

Erika writes:

"My daughter, Sophie, is 13+ months old. She’s in daycare full-time
and really seems to adore the other kids (6 total). She is one of the
younger kids and the oldest is about 5. My question is about using the
terms "flirting" and "has a crush". My husband thinks it’s harmless to
say to one of the 5-year old boys: "I think Sophie has a crush on
you.", or "Are you flirting with [insert boys’ names]?".

They both ring strange and wrong to me. It’s like he’s applying
more mature qualities on her very innocent friendships. Why can’t she
just be friendly and have friends without it being about crushes or
flirting? Am I reading too much into this? He says he’d never say it to
adults but these kids are all going to be older one day, too."

I’m with you–something about it just sounds strange to me.

Having said that, I’ll say that I definitely talk about my younger son "flirting" with people. But when I say it I mean that he’s kind of an equal-opportunity "flirter," and by that I mean that he works hard to draw people in and make them love him, adults, men and women, kids, other toddlers.

What I think bugs me about the way your husband is using "flirting" is that he’s clearly applying it in a romantic (if not sexual) sense, and that’s just so far away from appropriate at this age. I know parents think about their children growing up and becoming sexual beings–we hope for the best in everything for our children as they live their lives. But applying romantic and sexual ideas to kids this young is, in essence, robbing them of their innocence and the pure joy of being little and unaddled by hormones.

To me, labelling her normal toddler behavior "flirting" (and saying it to the other kids!, which would royally piss me off if it was one of my kids he was saying it to) is a lot like buying little girls pants with the word "juicy" written across the butt, or teaching your daughter to dance like Fergie in the "London Bridge" video. There’s just no need. She has the rest of her life to try to figure out how to negotiate her own desires and self-worth in the world. Why start messing with her head now?

The phone lines are open. What do you all think? Is this an overreaction? Would it be different if we were talking about a boy? Should I come up with another word to use to describe the way my younger one interacts?

Preventing PPD 5: Taking care of yourself physically

This is Part 5 of my Preventing PPD series. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here, and Part 4 is here.

Since depression is all about an imbalance of chemicals* inside your body, it makes sense that you’re more prone to depression when your body isn’t operating at full power. You’re already behind, since you went through the delivery process. Any way it happens, it’s a stress on your body. You’re probably sleep-deprived before the baby’s even on the outside, since the last few weeks of pregnancy are tough to sleep through (leg cramps, back pain, strange dreams, etc.). And that’s not even considering how fatigued you are just from the pregnancy. Add on to that the fluids you lost during delivery and the sleep you’re not getting now that the baby’s here, and it’s a real recipe for physical unwellness.

What that all means is that you have to be proactive about taking care of yourself physically. If at all possible, get your supplies and support all set up before you have the baby. If not, well, every little bit you can do helps.

Drink water. This is the single most important thing you can do for your health in the first few days post-partum. You need water to replenish yourself from the hard work of delivery and all the fluids you lost during the process. In addition, drinking lots of water will help flush out the pregnancy swelling, which will make it easier for you to get around and feel better about your body. (It won’t do anything about the creepy feeling of all your organs going back into place, unfortunately.)

When I was leaving the hospital after having my first son, the doctor told me to drink a gallon of water a day for the first three weeks. He said it would help my body rid itself of toxins and get back to normal more quickly. Aiming for a gallon meant I’d get half a gallon, and if I drank a full gallon it wouldn’t hurt me.

One stellar suggestion I’ve heard is to set up a few nursing/feeding stations around your living space. They should be comfortable places to sit and nurse or bottle-feed, and they should have all the things you’ll need right within reach for you, including a bottle of water (plus a phone, remote control, magazine or book you can read one-handed, chapstick, etc.). Eery time you sit down to feed your baby, make sure you drink 8-12 ounces of water. By the end of the day, you’ll have gotten what you need.

If you have a helper there, one great thing to occupy them is to put them in charge of keeping track of your water intake for the day and bringing you water when you need it.

Keep taking your prenatals. You probably need your prenatal vitamins more post-partum than you do during pregnancy to replace all the vitamins and minerals you lost with the baby and everything else. Vitamin deficiency can cause fatigue, problems sleeping, anxiety, depression, and all sorts of other things. So keep taking the prenates to ward off problems, especially since prescription prenatal vitamins can be cheaper through your health insurance plan than over-the-counter multivitamins are.

Keep taking your Omega 3s. I can’t emphasize this enough. There’s tons of research indicating the mental health benefits of taking Omega 3s. (The only problem right now is deciding whether to take fish oil or flax seed oil. I can’t advise one way or the other at this point, since the research seems to be conflicting and muddled. I still take flax seed oil every day.) Omega 3s fill up your seratonin receptors to give you a feeling of wellness. If you don’t have enough Omega 3 in your body, you’ll crave sweets and carbs to hit those seratonin receptors, but that just starts a bad cycle. Because of the way we produce our food now (grain-fed farmed animals, for example) it’s more difficult to get adequate levels of Omega 3s just from a healthy diet, so supplementation is critical, especially when you’ve just had a baby.

Lay off the diet products. Just as Omega 3s soothe your seratonin receptors, aspartame taxes your seratonin receptors, which makes you feel more hungry. Kind of a nasty trick, isn’t it, that you’ve been drinking diet soda and it’s just making you feel more hungry? People report headaches and irritability with consumption of aspartame, so if you’re sensitive to it you could be feeling bad for no good reason. Since you’re drinking at least half a gallon of water a day, you don’t really need the extra fluids. If you need the caffeine, drink real coffee. If you need the fizz, mix your own "soda" with fruit juice and seltzer. (My favorite is white cranberry juice and seltzer. It’s tart, and when you spill it down your shirt or on the baby’s head it doesn’t leave a stain.) If all else fails, drink a little bit of regular soda. The corn syrup in it is awful for you, but it’s better than aspartame, and we have no idea what aspartame does through breastmilk to a baby.

Eat as well as you can. That doesn’t mean truffles, Brie, and caviar, with a split of Cristal. That means 5 servings of vegetables a day, plus plenty of protein. Getting enough vegetables will keep your digestive system running smoothly, feed your cells, help you lose babyweight, and help you fight off illness. Protein is important to keep your energy level up. In addition, lack of protein sometimes masks itself as a craving for sugar. Sugar cravings can be just that, but often they indicate lack of liquids or protein. (So when you crave sugar, first drink a glass of water. Then eat some protein. If the craving is still there in 10 minutes, go ahead and eat the sweet thing.)

Having problems getting in the 5 servings of vegetables? Try doing green smoothies, with a huge handful of raw greens (spinach and kale are particularly great in this), some frozen fruit, and whatever liquid you want to thin it (fruit juice, water, milk, coconut milk, kefir, etc.), and blend until smooth. Extra bonus: You can drink it one-handed.

Get outside in the sunshine. It’s that simple. If it’s sunny, go outside for 15 minutes and expose some of your skin to the light, even if it’s really cold. If you absolutely can’t go outside, or there’s no sun where you live (Hello to my Scandinavian and Alaskan readers!), consider investing in a light box to help keep your body stocked up on healthy light. If you’re having insomnia or sleep schedule problems, you can also reset your system this way by going out in the sun first thing in the morning.

Do some exercise every day. Most women are cleared to go back to exercising at 6 weeks, but even before then you should be able to go outside and walk around slowly for 20 minutes at a time (listen to your body and don’t overdo it!). Once 6 weeks hits, make sure you do some walking every day with your baby.

Another great mom-friendly exercise is T-Tapp, an exercise method you do at home with the DVD that takes 15 minutes a day and requires no special equipment except cross-training shoes. I do T-Tapp and find that it helps me sleep better, increases my mood and energy level, and gives me increased focus throughout the day. It’s safe for people of all sizes and fitness levels (challenges even gym rats, but literally anyone can start it and feel benefits), and builds your muscular and lymphatic systems up from the inside. Here’s a concise explanation of what T-Tapp does. If you’re interested in starting out with T-Tapp but don’t know how to start, Summer wrote the best getting-started primer I can imagine right here. (Summer’s the one who got me started with T-Tapp, and I’ll always be thankful to her for mentioning it on her blog.) T-Tapp also has mood-stabilizing properties if you do it several times a week or every day.

Maximize your sleep opportunities. You’re not going to get 8 hours in a row when your baby is a few months old. You’re just not, unless your baby is one of those apocryphal babies who sleeps through the night at a super-early age. It happens occasionally, but not to the majority of us. So that means you need to maximize the time your baby does let you sleep.

One plan is to ask your partner, if you have one, to do one feeding at night, so you can sleep through that waking. Of course, that only works if your partner won’t wake you in the process of getting up with the baby. And if you’re nursing and you have to get up and pump then anyway, it doesn’t really make much sense as a strategy to get more sleep, since up pumping isn’t sleeping through anything.

Another way to get more sleep, if you’re nursing, is to ask someone to show you how to nurse lying on your side. Then decide to lie down every time you nurse during the day. You can latch the baby on and fall asleep (the nursing hormones will probably put you to sleep anyway if you’re lying down), then sleep while the baby nurses, and if the baby sleeps after nursing you get that time to nap, too.

If you have helpers who are willing to come hold the baby for you, take advantage of that to nap. You may not be able to relax if the baby is in the same house or apartment with you, so let your helper take the baby out for a walk. The fresh air will be good for the baby, and you’ll be able to sleep better without hearing baby noises.

If you find that you have the time to sleep, but can’t sleep because of anxiety or stress, first make sure your Omega 3 intake is good. If it is, then consider adding a calcium and magnesium supplement. Take it 20 minutes before you go to bed, and see if that helps you relax any. If you’re not already doing T-Tapp, it also helps people sleep better.

Keep your baby as close as you want to. You carried your baby for months inside you, never separate. All of a sudden, you are two entities instead of one. But you still need to be considered as a unit. If you’re having feeding problems, it’s a problem for both of you. The same with sleeping, bonding, and health problems. Hormonally, you’re still connected, so most mothers without PPD feel better when their babies are close to them physically for the first several months, at least. (In my experience, I felt strange when my sons were away from me until right about the time that they could crawl away from me. I’ve heard the same thing from other mothers, and I don’t think that’s coincidence.)

All this is to say that you should hug and cuddle your baby as much as you want to. You know there’s no way to "spoil" a baby by giving it too much physical closeness, but it will also help you physically and emotionally to keep your baby as close as you want to. If you’re feeling stressed, you may want to get out of the house for a little bit without your baby, but it also may be helpful to strap your baby on with a sling, Bjorn, wrap, Ergo, etc., and go outside with your baby. Go walk around, wander the aisles of the grocery store, have a cup of coffee at a cafe, or go visit a friend. Getting a "break" from the normal routine doesn’t necessarily mean separating from your baby, and if you’re one of those women who feels discomfort at being separated from her baby, you’re better off keeping your baby with you.

The newborn phase is so short in the scope of things, that there’s no need to worry about independence issues (for either of you) at this point.

Get a massage whenever possible. If you have the financial ability to get a massage every so often, you can help maintain your health by getting one. Massage will help move toxins out of your body and stimulate the lymph and immune systems. It can also be an antidote, ironically enough, to the feeling of being "touched out" that many new mothers have. All day we’re touched by our children, who want something from us, and then at night we’re touched by our partners, who want something from us. It’s surprisingly liberating to be touched by someone who doesn’t want anything out of the touching except to increase our health and well-being.

If you can’t afford a professional massage, your partner will probably be willing to give you one if you ask. Of course, this may make you feel even more "touched out," but if your partner does a good job the health benefits will be worth it.

Next installment: Taking care of yourself emotionally.

* After reading some of the comments, I realized that this is sloppy writing. Depression is a result of complex interactions that we don’t understand completely yet, but we do know that there’s an element of brain chemistry and/or hormones involved. Depression is sometimes an appropriate response to a crappy situation, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you to be depressed, or for your baby to have a depressed mother.