Q&A: PPD after weaning toddler?

And back to something more serious leading into the weekend…

Jeanne writes:

"I really want to know if anyone has dealt with symptoms of postpartum depression after weaning. I’ve tried to do some research and have come up with very little. I definitely didn’t see it coming, and actually assumed things would really get back to "normal" after we weaned, so it’s all a bit confusing.

My daughter turned 2 in May, and she nursed for the last time right around the 4th of July. For the months leading up to and after her birthday, she was only nursing after waking up in the morning and after waking up from her nap in the afternoon. Toward the end, we very slowly went from those two sessions (which were already brief) to only nursing in the morning, to nothing. So we were both ready for this chapter to end, and if anything, she and I are even closer now than we were before we weaned.

But ever since then, I’ve felt so down. The kind of down that I can’t control, where I know I can’t just give myself a pep talk or go out and be active and it’ll be okay. Looking back, it’s gotten worse as time has gone by. This has all been accompanied by poor sleep, bad headaches at least once a day, bone-tired feeling, lack of appetite…and now it just feels like an accomplishment if I get showered and get us out for a little bit during the day. What I’m grateful for is that I still want to be a mom (definitely didn’t feel that way on my relatively few mild postpartum days) and am having so much fun with my little girl. It’s just everything else – (patient) husband, housework, friends, spirituality – that I’m just not into right now.

In consultation with my midwives, I went back on a regular birth control pill about a year ago, even though I was still nursing when I went back on. The thought at the time was that I’d had really bad breakthrough bleeding on the progesterone-only pill and with depo provera shots, and since my daughter was eating solids very regularly at 15 months, she wasn’t getting a majority of her nutrients from nursing. And I didn’t think at the time that we’d nurse much longer, but we went for almost a whole year beyond that!

I’m sure that with the decrease in hormones from lactation, plus the pill hormones, plus whatever else, is all contributing. I just had never heard anyone talk about such an ordeal and would love to know if others struggled and what they did to help themselves."

I’ve
definitely heard of women suffering from some PPD after weaning, and
whenever I get questions about weaning I make sure to warn the woman
that she may suffer a dip in hormones that could throw her into some
PPD. That combined with the hormonal stuff of being on the pill is undoubtedly what threw you into PPD.

Some of my readers may disagree with me, but it seems
to me that most of the other things in your life are pretty stable
right now, you’re not having any hidden emotional issues, and you’re
dealing well enough to be able to experiment with some ways to get out
of the PPD without having to go on meds. I don’t have anything against
meds for women who really need them to manage, but it does take
anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for them to kick in, and
depending on which one you’re taking you can have truly a nightmarish
time getting off them (Effexor is the worst one I know about). So if
you’re not in crisis mode, I’d see if you can kick your hormones back
into place without the meds first. I’d make sure you’re doing three things:

* In her The Big Book of Birth (my review here),
Erica Lyon cites a study that showed that a 15-minute massage every
day prevented PPD as well as meds did in newly postpartum women. I’d
say it’s worth a try. If your partner doesn’t know how you’re feeling,
definitely ‘fess up, and when he asks what he can do to help, ask him
for a 15-20 minute massage every day. He’ll probably be thrilled to do
it, because it’s something physical and concrete that he can do (many
men love that). It sounds like you’re feeling some distance from him right now, and a short period of nonsexual touch every day from him could help bring you closer together without any real pressure on either of you to "do something about it."

* Make sure you’re forcing yourself to do 15-20
minutes of exercise a day. If you’ve got a T-Tapp DVD, put it in and
actually press "play" and just do the Basic Workout Plus. T-Tapp is
definitely a mood enhancer. (If you want to start with T-Tapp, read Summer’s great summary of how to start and what video to start with here.) If you’re not a T-Tapper, climb stairs for
15 minutes, or dance around the living room for 15 minutes, or (if it’s
cool enough where you live) go for a brisk walk for 15 minutes.

* And make sure you’re taking Omega 3 supplements, either fish oil or flax seed oil, every day. At least 1200 mg a day if you can.

If
you’re hitting your hormonal mood problem with the trifecta of massage,
exercise, and Omega 3s, you should start to feel better in a week. If
you’re not feeling better after two weeks, ask your midwives for help,
because you might need to have your thyroid tested or look for other
physical explanations for your mood.

In the long run, you might consider non-hormonal birth control. It’s not for everyone, but the fertility awareness method/natural family planning method has a high reliability rate when all the rules are followed by a motivated couple. For the basics on FAM, read Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility. (Yeah, I know those of you who’ve gone through infertility are rolling your eyes, but for people without fertility problems, TCOYF is a revelation about how your cycle works and how you can use your cycle to prevent or achieve pregnancy.) Giving your body a break from the hormones might help it regulate itself and get you back into a better frame of mind.

Did anyone else suffer from PPD after weaning? How long did it last? Did you treat it or did it just pass?

Titles of posts

Most of the time, I use the same title for a post that the questioner used as the subject line of the email. Sometimes I change it if I think the subject line doesn’t reflect the actual question, and I’ll put in more details if it’s too vague.

Somebody emailed me yesterday to say she thought putting the smacking in the title of yesterday’s post was a little harsh. I agreed, but it was the subject line Anonymous used in her email to me. I would have changed it if it hadn’t reflected the majority of the question ("Problems with pack ‘n’ play," for example). While I don’t think the smacking is the true issue (and would probably have titled the post something like "I’m drowning, and I really need help"), it is what pushed anonymous to email me. I also thought it would catch the attention of all of us who may have grabbed a little too hard, yelled a little too loud, or even hit when we couldn’t think of what else to do.

And it did, and you guys responded so lovingly and with such amazing support. I still have no idea why this blog attracts such kind, smart, sensible readers and commenters. I think in the hundreds of posts we’ve done I’ve had maybe one troll ever. Who knows why. I just want to thank you all again.

And now for something completely silly, just to give us all a breather. (I’m still a little sad about Anonymous, and for all of us, because it seems like we’re all just going around in our own little bubbles of pain and inadequacy, when really, we’re not alone.)

Linda writes:

"Why does my 13 month-old spend so much time standing on her head and looking through her legs??"

I think she likes the physical sensation. Have you tried it? it’s kind of cool to have your head hanging down and swinging like that, and to interact with gravity in a different way. Plus, she gets to see things upside down.

What are the other strange things that your kids do, and how old are they? My 5-year-old is obsessed with baseball and calls me at work to tell me how his teams did the night before. My 2-year-old does this funny little stumpy dance turning around and around and stomping his feet.

Q&A: smacking the kid to get to sleep

Anonymous writes:

"I have one baby who is 10.5months. My questions surround sleep. I hate putting the baby to sleep. It SUCKS. 

In our family and house, cosleeping and rocking baby and all the
other "unusual" choices that american’s hide are pretty normal. Now
that the baby is mobile what it means now is that though when the baby
wakes up in the morning, we all have to wake up. There is no 10-15
minutes of time that my husband or I can have while the baby plays. And
there is no place where i can leave baby if she is being fussy and
needs a nap but refuses to nap so I try to give her quiet time but
that means I need to lay in bed with her. Then at night we put her down
at 7 but that means until 9 or 10 when i go to bed she wakes up every
30 minutes (or every 1 hour) if we are lucky.. and that usually means
another 15mins or so of settling her down to sleep again. Which means
we just spend the 2 hours taking turns to resettle her.

We have thought about transitioning to a crib, because we suspect
that cosleeping is the problem, and so i tried to first use the pack
and play that we have to transition her. She would have none of it. I
do all the tricks to get her into a deep sleep and then the minute
i try to lower her into the pnp.. she is up and crying. I have left her
in the pnp but she is one of those who gains tension by crying (beyond
a little fussing) and so the most i have let her cry is about 20
minutes before i can’t take it anymore. At that point she is so upset
that she doesn’t sleep or when she does it is really disturbed.

I can’t handle the cosleeping anymore. I need for there to be a
space for her where i can leave her if she won’t nap. Or for her to
play in the morning for a few minutes occasionally so i can get an
extra 10 minutes. I just can’t handle having to stop my life for sleep
and it’s gotten to the point that i have smacked her (and this is my
shaming part). My mother used to do it to us. If we wouldn’t settle
down we would get a little smack just to remind us to stay in our
place. And the thing is my memories of this implies that we were old
enought to understand our behavior. But my daughter- she’s a baby and i
know she is but sometimes when i have to lay with her to put her to
sleep and she is fussing and kicking, a little smack on her thigh gets
her to settle down because i know that she will release that little bit
of tension that she has and then settle down. But it makes me feel like
the absolute worst piece of Turd in the world and yet there are days
when i know that it will bring us closer to the goal of sleep and so i
do it. It’s only been a handful of times but it’s been a handful of
times too many. I KNOW that this is wrong. I KNOW that it is hurts her
but yet I am at my wit’s end some days.

My husband is at work all day and he will try to help on the
weekends. We can’t really afford to get someone to watch her and i have
no family around to help out. How do i stop this? How do i not let
sleep ruin everything?"

Oh, honey. Take a deep deep breath, and then let yourself cry.

OK, I’m actually starting to tear up a little as I type this, because I can remember so vividly being here when my older one was 10 months old, and being so afraid to admit to anyone that it was harder, not easier, than it had been at 6 months. What was wrong with me? He was supposed to be sleeping better, not worse. And I was supposed to be getting better at parenting, not worse. And yet I felt strung out physically and unable to give anything emotionally.

The good news is, it’s normal. Tons and tons of us have felt this way at exactly the same point. I don’t think it’s a divide between cosleepers and non-cosleepers, either. I think some babies are just tough at this age. The bad news is it makes you feel like a complete failure.

I’m not really going to talk about the smacking, except to say that all of us–every single one of us–has done or will do something we regret. Whether it’s something big or small, no one comes out of parenting a child having upheld our ideals every single second. Personally, I don’t think the individual incidents are that worthy of note, but I do think they form a narrative and mood, and it’s that context that shapes the importance of each incident. A few smacks right now are going to fade into nothing once you can get some of your reserves back to parent as lovingly as you do when you’re not at the end of your rope. If you let the smacks become the foreground of the relationship, though, she’s going to carry the same sad memories you do, and you’re going to feel like a bad mother. Not good for either of you.

So. You need a plan to get some emotional space. It doesn’t seem like staying asleep is her problem, it’s just the cosleeping and getting to sleep. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think the pack ‘n’ play (I believe it’s called a travel cot in OZ and the UK–it’s a fold-out playpen that can also be used as a baby bed, but is low to the floor) is just destined to fail for a couple of reasons: 1) The mattress is so thin it’s really like sleeping on cardboard and a baby can totally tell the difference, and 2) it’s lower to the floor than she’s used to. Babies who start out in the PNP seem to be fine with it, but a baby who isn’t put to sleep in one until almost a year is not going to be fooled.

I think you should jump straight to a crib*. A person can be philosophically opposed to "baby jail" all she wants, but once your baby starts crawling out of bed or making you as stressed out as Anonymous is, you change your tune pretty quickly. Or at least, I changed my tune pretty quickly. You definitely can find someone who needs to switch their child from a crib to a big kid bed who will lend you the crib for awhile or sell it to you cheaply. Try Freecycle or Craigslist if you don’t have a friend who needs you to take a crib off their hands. (Just make sure not to use a crib that’s older than 20 years old or so, since the bars are too far apart and the baby’s head can get trapped. Also beware peeling paint, and old cribs with lead paint.)

Going cold turkey to a crib might be scary, but honestly, how much worse can it get? If you have the space, put the crib in another room. Then, at bedtime, do everything the same way you normally do, but instead of lying down with her in the bed, put her in the crib. You may have to sit in the room for awhile, or lie down next to her, but it’s a different task mentally than getting her to sleep while cosleeping is. If you can get your husband to take a turn getting her to sleep, please try it. If she won’t go to sleep for him initially, ask him to take any wake-ups from bedtime until midnight. (A surprising number of times, a baby who wakes up a ton for one parent will stop waking up for the other because there’s just not the same payoff. Again, it seems to be about shaking up the routine.)

If you can get the bedtime routine to be less attention-intensive for you, you’ll be well on your way to getting some of your emotional strength back. Another idea is to see if you can get a mother’s helper. Even if you can’t afford a regular babysitter, you might be able to afford a middle schooler who can come over for a couple of hours after school once a week. (I just saw my first mother’s helper a few weeks ago. He’s in college now, and is tall and almost a man. It made me feel old.) You might be able to leave the house by yourself, but even if you don’t feel comfortable with that, the mother’s helper can occupy your baby in one room while you do something else in the other, especially if that something else involves eating chocolate and reading a cheesy novel.

Whatever happens, cut yourself some slack and hang in there. You’re not a mom who hits her kid, so recognize the smacking for what it is–a desperate reaction to a stressful situation. And this situation won’t last forever.

OK, comments? Either talk about how horribly you thought you were going to lose it when your baby was this age (or any age, frankly), or comment on something you did that you didn’t want to do (to comment anonymously, put an obviously fake URL in the URL box, and a fake email address in the email box) and what you learned from it.

* As I said, I don’t think cosleeping is causing this problem, but I do think changing the sleep routine is going to give Anonymous some emotional space. You do what you do while it’s working, and then once it’s no longer working you switch to something else. If you’re having this problem and your baby’s a crib sleeper, you might try switching to cosleeping for awhile to see if that helps.

Discussion: School year length

I’ve started reading the Chronicles of Narnia. The only one I read as a kid was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, so when I saw them in the children’s section of the library last week I decided to read the whole series. So last night instead of writing a Q&A for Ask Moxie I was finishing up The Horse and His Boy. Sorry about that.

But it does give me the perfect chance to bring up something that’s been bothering me for a few days. I found out that there are some school systems that started classes already for the fall last week. The first full week of August. And my immediate reaction was that that was immoral. (Yes, immoral. I think my co-workers thought that was a little hyperbolic, too.)

I feel like since kids don’t choose to go to school, they shouldn’t be forced to go for as many hours as adults can squeeze into the day and year. They should have a ton of downtime to think their own thoughts and control their own actions. Starting school so early in August just seems wrong to me, like the adults in charge think that without school the kids will be running wild. And I don’t think having a longer year is really affecting how well kids learn. It’s just giving teachers more time to teach to the standardized tests. (I can’t imagine being excited to come back to work for that.)

I realize, of course, that some of this also has to do with financial and logistical pressures on parents. Since most families don’t have an adult home full-time anymore, it’s easier and cheaper to have kids in school as much of the year as possible. But I don’t think that’s good for kids. I’d rather have my kids in a daycamp playing games and running around than in school (which may not even have a single recess during the 6-hour school day, but that’s a whole different issue entirely) for the summer. But daycamp costs money, and school is free. What choice can parents really make?

Yes, this is whole bundle of problems. Can we sort it out today in the comments section? What do you think about the expanding school year?

Q&A: toddler understanding “no”

Dawn writes:

"At what point does a child understand
‘No’?  My 13 month old son is very very active, a climber and so
curious that he gets himself into places and things he really
shouldn’t. I try the calm ‘no’, I try a louder ‘no’, I distract him,
take him away from the object – (the tv, the phone, the dog dish) but
he beelines right back to it. Over and over and over. It’s really funny
sometimes but we try not to let him see us laugh of course! Eventually he gets frustrated and starts to grizzle. I don’t give in
but am I expecting too much to think he does understand the meaning
when I say no?  He does sometimes seem to get it, and will stop or
move off to other activities. I know he is not being ‘bad’ because he
has no malicious intent but is just into everything. He seems to
understand other things, like go get the ball, or do you want a cookie
😉  Advice?"

Good question, Dawn. Actually, a few good questions:

  • At what age do most/many (certainly not all) kids understand that when you say "no" you want them not to do something?
  • At what age do kids care that when you say "no" you want them not to do something?
     
  • At what age is it reasonable to expect kids to comply with your requests for them not to do something?
  • What are some ways that are as effective or more effective (depending on the age) to get kids to stop doing something?
     

Feel free to give your own answers to these questions, or other related ones you come up with, in the comments section.

I
think that a 13-month-old certainly understands that "no" is something
you say when you’re excited. It’s the sign that the child has gotten a
reaction from you. I’m not sure that at that age the child actually
understands that "no" means you want them to stop doing something. (If
you use pain to punish your kids, then yes, they will stop doing things
when they hear the word "no" but only because they associate that word
with pain and they want to avoid the pain, not because they actually
understand the meaning of the word "no.") In fact, I think sometimes
they take "no" as encouragement because it elicits such a funny (to
them) reaction from you.

It seems to me, based on my observation of my two kids, that
the real understanding that "no" means you want them not to do
something kicks in some time between 18 months and two years. Or so.
However, that still doesn’t mean that they’ll actually stop when you
say "no." It totally depends on the kid. My 5-year-old still sometimes seems
unable to stop when I say "no," and needs me to put my hands on his to
move them away, or walk him away from the temptation, or replace the
sharp stick with a bagel, or whatever. My 2-year-old sometimes stops,
but sometimes looks at me like, "Ha ha, Mama! I know you want me to
stop, but I am not going to!" So from my n of 2, I’ll say that understanding the meaning of "no" is necessary but not sufficient.

I
started writing this answer a few days ago, then asked Co-worker S, who
has a 5-year-old and an almost-2-year-old, what he thought. He agreed
that the ability to really understand "no" happened after 18 months but
closer to 2 years. He also agreed that understanding "no" and complying
with it are two very different things. "Sometimes it’s just not in
their best interest to stop what they’re doing," he observed. It’s
funny because it’s true.

So I’d say that "no" may be understood by 2, but not necessarily
complied with until later on. Some time between 2 and 60, I’d say.
(Although my dad still doesn’t do everything my grandmother wants him
to do, so maybe it’s even later than 60.)

Now, on to the reasonable question. I think it depends on what it is
that you want them to comply with and your general attitude about
obedience and self-discipline and discipline in general. If it’s
something really serious, like not sticking a fork in an outlet or
running into the street, you need to be more serious about enforcing
your rules.

As with the rest of life, follow-through is everything. You can say
"no" all you want, but unless you actually engage with your kids, you
aren’t teaching them anything about appropriate behavior and how to use
self-control. I know a dad who used to ignore his 5-year-old, so the
child would escalate and escalate and escalate his bad behavior as the
dad just said, "Stop!" Finally, the dad would explode in a ball of rage
and overreact to whatever it was the kid was doing and dole out severe
punishments that always left the kid crying. It could all have been
avoided if the dad had just engaged with the kid from the very
beginning and stepped in to stop things before both of them got out of
control.

If you’re reading this and wondering what I mean by engaging as a way
to stop bad behavior, click over immediately to buy Haim Ginott’s
masterpiece Between Parent and Child. It breaks down how to focus
attention in a way that makes you partners with your kids in helping
them learn to resolve situations for themselves, instead of engaging in
a control game that leaves you both worn out, angry, and hopeless.
Other books that people absolutely rave about (not surprising, since
both are based on Ginott’s work) are Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So
Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
and Lawrence J. Cohen’s
Playful Parenting. I think both these books are wonderful and I learned
new things from both of them, but if you only have time for one, go
with the Ginott.

But back to Dawn’s 13-month-old. At that age "no" is tricky, because it
doesn’t really connect with them yet. Instead, you’re probably better
off telling the child what you want him to do, instead of what you want
him not to do. It’s human nature to focus on what someone says, even if
they’re trying to tell you the opposite. If someone said to you, "You
don’t look fat in those pants," it would be a compliment, but you’d
start to wonder if you usually looked fat in pants and it would
probably end up making you feel bad. In contrast, if someone said, "You
look really slim in those pants" you’d just think about how great you looked.

Toddlers (and people older than toddlers) respond the same way. Instead
of saying "no" when your child tries to stick a fork in the outlet, try
"Put the fork on the table." That gives the child something to do and
provides a distraction. Instead of "Don’t hit the dog," try "Clap your
hands together and jump up and down."

You may be thinking that you want to teach your child appropriate
behavior, and if you don’t tell them what not to do they won’t know
what’s wrong. But a toddler has no impulse control anyway, so even if
they know something’s wrong they can’t actually stop themselves from
doing it yet. It’s more developmentally appropriate (and gives them a
greater chance of success) to tell them what you want them to do and
helping them do it.

I was going to get into Hedra’s "safe, respectful, and kind" idea now,
but this post is already too long. So please do two things: 1) Go read
the safe, respectful, and kind post and be ready to comment on how it’s
going in your family when I open that topic up next week, and 2) Tell
us about when you feel your kids were really able to exercise
self-control, and what worked best to help them guide their own
behavior.

Movie Review: Becoming Jane (spoiler-free)

SCROLL DOWN TO SEE TODAY"S PARENTING POST. DATA POINTS NEEDED.

In the past 12 months I’ve seen one movie in the theater. So when I was
asked to do a blog tour for the movie Becoming Jane I hopped on it. I
actually love seeing movies by myself, so I caught a late show last
night.

I definitely enjoyed the movie. It was lushly shot, and had the same
atmosphere as most movies made from actual Austen novels in the last 20
years. The casting was excellent (mostly people I’d never seen/heard of
before) and I thought Anne Hathaway was remarkably understated. I don’t
like Anne Hathaway, so I was pleasantly surprised at how often I forgot
it was her and just got lost in the story. Not enough James Cromwell,
but there hardly ever is. Maggie Smith playing Maggie Smith As The Mean
Aristocrat was, of course, excellent.

There was one thing that bugged me throughout the movie, though.

Continue reading Movie Review: Becoming Jane (spoiler-free)

Q&A: breastfed baby poop

Rachel writes:

"My daughter is one month old, and her pooping schedule has slowed fromthree or more dirty diapers a day to one every few days to one a week
to what we have now, which is a week and a half and counting. She has
tons of wet diapers, and lots of stinky gas with sometimes the tiniest
bit of poop leaked, but just no real poops. When she does poop, it’s a
huge amount, and it looks like a typical breastfed baby poop, just lots
more of it.

With my first child, who pooped all the time, I remember
reading that breastfed babies sometimes poop as little as once a week,
so I knew this was a possibility. I did some looking online recently
and found the same thing, with people saying breastfed babies are
almost never constipated and can sometimes go a week between BMs (one
site said, in extreme cases, three weeks, though I didn’t see that
elsewhere). Overall my daughter is very healthy. She’s been gaining
weight, she sleeps well, and she’s not really fussy (I know, I’m very,
very lucky). She is a lazy eater and often latches off in under five
minutes, but because of the weight gain and the fact that she just
looks great, the lactation consultant said she thinks my daughter is
just one of those babies who eats quickly (again, I have no idea how we
got so lucky). She fusses on the breast a lot in the late evenings
before bed and does seem to scrunch and grunt when passing gas, but
other than that, she seems perfectly fine.

My problem is this: my pediatrician wants to give the baby
some suppositories or other constipation remedy if she doesn’t poop in
a day or two. I really don’t want to mess with her system if it’s not
necessary, but I also don’t want to deny her treatment that she needs.
My husband is between jobs and we are without insurance for a few
weeks, but we could pay for the visit/treatment if she really needed
it, but the be honest that’s another reason not to do anything unless
it’s truly necessary.

Since my other child was a constant pooper, I’d love to hear
from readers who have breastfed kids who pooped rarely. How long would
your kid go between BMs? Did it ever cause problems? Are there any home
remedies we could try before sticking something up her bum? I’ve cut
out dairy for a few days just for lack of any other ideas, but no
movement so far. Any other things I could be eating that could be
causing her digestive problems, if this really is a problem? Did your
kid’s BMs ever increase in frequency? Was constipation a problem when
solids were introduced?"

I already answered Rachel privately, but let me just reiterate here that frequency of poop is not an issue for breastfed babies. Because different babies absorb the nutrients in breastmilk in different ways at different times, going a long time between poops is not necessarily a cause for concern. What you do want to watch out for is the consistency, color, and smell of the poop. If it’s still that same brownish-yellowish-orangish-greenish soft or seedy poop, and it has that smell that I always thought was a lot like elementary school paste, you’re fine. If it smells really foul (like the baby’s sick) and is hard or in nuggets and is black, that’s a problem and you should call your doctor. (Green poop can be caused by anything from your eating lots of spinach to having a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance to the baby’s having some kind of little cold or virus. It basically means the poop is going quickly through the baby’s system, and if it doesn’t seem to be accompanied by any other problems it’s not a problem in and of itself.)

I’m actually rather concerned that Rachel’s doctor wants to give a perfectly healthy baby suppositories. It shows a lack of understanding of one of the basic facts that anyone working with a decent-sized breastfeeding population should know. (By that I mean that the average breastfeeding mom only really knows her own kid’s patterns, but someone who deals with lot of breastfed babies certainly ought to know what the range of normal is.) I’d be extremely hesitant to give a healthy baby anything that’s going to interrupt his natural bowl functioning. If her doctor is truly insistent, she should call her LC or local La Leche League leader, who can pull any available literature on the range of normal for pooping.

Now to the anecdotes. I’ve said it thousands of times here, but both of my kids changed pooping patterns every time they went through a growth spurt. I think the longest time either of mine went was 3-4 days. Of course I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t start to get worried about it, but my worry was mostly that we’d be out somewhere and 4 days’ worth of poop would all come out and cause a poopsplosion somewhere I couldn’t really deal with it.

Another friend of mine said her daughter routinely pooped once a week for months. Said child is going happily off to college at the end of this month.

Anyone else with tales of poop? I posted this question mainly because I wanted there to be a bunch of data points gathered in one place, so any other moms frantically Googling at 3 am could see what’s actually normal.

Q&A: newborn how-tos?

Nancy writes:

"I’ve been enjoying your site for months now, and finally our babies are here.  Yes, twin girls, born 3 weeks ago today!  They are lovely and fun – and I am a nervous first time mom.  I would love to see a posting about "what the heck do I do now that the baby is HERE??" panic that I feel on many days.  I’m getting the hang of living with less sleep and am learning to respond to their needs, but honestly… is there a list of things I "should" be doing at this early stage, or is it really all about keeping them fed, dry and cuddled, and the rest takes care of itself?

Ok, I’m an engineer, and I’m used to procedures and data and all that stuff.  These babies have rocked my world in a really good way, but I’m kind of lost without my procedures and data.  I realized pretty quick that logging their feedings and diaper contents was satisfying my data collection needs but was making me crazy and stressed, so I’ve cut that out now that they’ve surpassed their birthweights and I know they’re well fed and content.  I’m having a really tough time letting go of the need for procedures though, or some basic "how-to" guide.  Is there such a thing for little babies?  For how long do they count as "newborns"? Several people (including members of our local moms of twins club) seem to indicate the first two weeks are the hardest — so I feel good for all of us getting through them.  But what now?  The Wonder Weeks book doesn’t kick in til 5 weeks.

Am I being to anal retentive?  Have you any advice? There are so many knowledgeable moms who read and comment on your site. Everyone had to have started off as a nervous new mom though… what did you do back then?"

Well, my mother* says, "If, at the end of the day, you’re alive and the baby’s alive, you’re doing an excellent job." And I have to agree with her. The first 8 to 12 (OK, 14 or 20) weeks are just about keeping your head above water. Is everyone (including yourself) fed? Diapers changed? Some semblance of sleep happening? No bodily pain? Then you’re doing everything right.

Honestly, there’s nothing you need to be doing at this age. Babies like movement, and it’s good for them, so if you could wear them around some it would be nice. And playing music and singing to them would make them happy, too. But at this age they’re really just working on getting organized, growing, learning that their needs will be attended to, learning what love is, and being snuggled. Everything else is, at best extraneous, and at worst overstimulating**.

I think that because you know you like checklists and data, you should start keeping track of something that’s interesting and is going to vary, but won’t stress you out like the eating did. I guess I’d go for poop, because it changes so much in the first 12 weeks. Both of my kids changed the frequency of their poop every time they hit a growth spurt (3 and 6 weeks and 3 and 6 months). You could make a number of interesting graphs and charts of the poop, especially with two kids.

I can’t speak to twins, because I haven’t had them, so I’m going to ask the moms of multiples to comment about the two-week thing. (Linda, Hedra, Jody? Everyone else I’ve forgotten?) With both of my singletons 6-8 weeks were the worst, but maybe it’s different with twins. (A postpartum doula friend of mine swears that there’s some major digestive thing that must happen around 6 weeks, because she has yet to see a baby who doesn’t go through a cranky stage that’s accompanied by excess gas or spitting up at that age. She thinks it’s a normal developmental blip that passes as inexplicably as it comes for most babies. So I’m going to guess twins hit that same thing, too)

But right after that nasty 6-week age it seems like the babies start to organize themselves a little more in terms of sleep and eating. You can start some kind of routine based loosely on feeding them every few hours, making sure to fit in a trip outside every day to maintain your own sanity. Then by 4.5 or 5 months or so the bedtime routine is solid for them and they may even be taking solid naps during the day, and it all seems to make sense.

I think that if you’re looking for something to do (which amazes me because at 3 weeks with my first singleton I could barely put on my own socks) your time is going to be best spent by observing your girls to start to figure out their personalities and what they like and don’t like, how they respond to different kids of touch and stimulation, how they like to fall asleep, etc. Having this knowledge of them is going to pay off for the rest of their lives, so it doesn’t hurt to start looking for clues early.

Did anyone have anything resembling a routine at 3 weeks? I guess I can’t imagine, since the babies are still changing daily at that age. But I know some of you are more structure-oriented than I am and probably came up with something that helped you feel more proactive about the minute-by-minute interaction. If you did, please share with Nancy.

* I know you guys must get sick of hearing about my mom all the time. She’s not perfect, of course, but she does have a lot of common sense, and she’s extremely sympathetic to mothers in the trenches. It’s made my life much easier that she doesn’t suffer from that rose-colored amnesia plenty of grandmothers seem to be struck by as soon as their children become parents.

** I just spent a full 5 minutes trying to figure out how to punctuate that sentence correctly. Editors/pedants in the crowd, what would you have done?

Q&A: going insane from lack of sleep

Stacy writes:

"Please help.  I am going crazy from lack of sleep. 

The baby is
7.5 months old.  He’s never been a good sleeper.  Every once in a
while, he’ll sleep in nice 4 hour chunks.  My heart soars with joy!  I
could do that until he’s 18, if I had to.  But much more often, he’s up
every hour.  Which is why I feel like I’m going to die.

He’s a big boy, strong and healthy.  He breastfeeds plenty
during the day, and gets some solids, too.  I don’t think he’s hungry
all night long.  I don’t even think he NEEDS the breast to fall asleep;
he’s fallen asleep in the Ergo, in the car, in the stroller, in his
grandfather’s arms, on a futon with his aunt, and even on the floor
while playing.  But he likes to nurse to sleep, and if he knows I’m in
the house and it’s bedtime, he demands it.  For a long time, I handled
this by co-sleeping.  It was okay, but I didn’t sleep as much as I
hoped, because I was always worried about rolling over him.  And, now
that he’s mobile, co-sleeping has become absolutely impossible.  He’s
kicking and squirming all night.  We’ve recently transitioned him to
the crib, and he’s actually okay with that.  He’s been napping in his
room for a long time, so he knows the drill.  But being away from us
doesn’t seem to be decreasing his night wakings at all.  The only
difference is, now I have to walk down the hall to feed him.

We’ve tried early bedtimes and late bedtimes.  We’ve tried
scheduled naps and random naps.  We do have a good, consistent bedtime
routine.  Nothing ever seems to change.  Yes, there are probably
teething issues/growth spurts and such going on, but since he’s been
doing this hourly wakeup thing for most of his life, I don’t want to
say it’s just that, either.

I think it’s time to do some sort of "sleep training," but I’m
stuck as to what.  I like your idea of letting Daddy take a night shift
or three, and my husband is game.  However, the kid is a drama queen.
He goes from zero to screaming-gasping-choking–hysterical
in two seconds flat.  And I can’t shake that stupid first-time Mom
feeling that I’m doing something *wrong* if he cries that hard, even if
I know my husband is there taking care of him.  I feel like it goes
against my instincts – but my stupid instincts haven’t gotten me any
sleep for almost 8 months, so I’m starting to doubt those, too.

Plus, and here’s the real sticking point, I feel like I just
don’t know how much my son needs to cry.  He almost always breaks down
before bed, usually when we are putting his pajamas on.  There’s
nothing physically wrong, no need unmet…he just knows bed is coming
and he has to let off steam before he can sleep.  So part of me thinks,
maybe I should just let him go for 10 minutes and see what happens.
But another part of me – the part that has to drive down the road while
he’s sobbing in the car seat and just will. not. stop. crying and is
getting louder and louder and louder as the minutes pass – that part of
me thinks the only thing those 10 minutes will do is make him upset and
less likely to ever sleep.

I feel like I don’t even know my own son.  Everyone tells me
to trust my instincts, but my instincts tell me a hundred contrary
things.  Meanwhile, I’m getting less coherent as the days pass.  I have
bags under my eyes.  So does my son.  An infant with bags under his
eyes!  I’m nauseated and so, so tired.  All the time.  I just don’t
know what to do."

This is a big bucket of hurt for you.

First of all, if he really
has dark circles under his eyes, it could be a sign of environmental
allergies, which could explain some of the constant waking. If it’s
dark circles, get a referral to a pediatric allergist, who can tell you
for sure if it is or isn’t.

Now, it seems like you’ve got a bunch of different issues and you’re going to have to tease them apart.

Before
we start with the specific issues, though, does crying help your son
shut down to be able to sleep? Knowing this is going to help you figure
out what to do even once you solve the immediate problems, so it’s a
good thing to spend time figuring out. I think you’re going to just
have to bite the bullet and see what happens. You know crying doesn’t
help him fall asleep in the car seat, but the crying during pajama time
might mean that he’s crying as a way of kind of creating some white
noise in his brain and letting himself disconnect from everything to
shut down at night. Or it might not. The only way to know is to find
out what happens if you let him cry for 5 or 10 minutes. After around 5
minutes you should be able to tell if he’s increasing in upsetness or
starting to lose steam, and another 5 minutes will really tell you
whether he’s escalating or not.

If he increases tension by crying, letting him cry for 10 minutes means
you’re going to have to spend even more time soothing him down to sleep
(I’ve been there), so you probably want to do the "What Kind of Cryer?"
Project on a Friday night so no one has to be up early for work the
next morning.

Here’s my hunch: I think that some kids melt down at bedtime because
their bedtimes are a little too late, so they’re already super-tired.
If you’ve already messed around with that and it doesn’t seem to be the
case, then my suspicion is that he’s melting down for the other reason
I suspect causes bedtime crying–because he’s starting the process of
shutting himself down for the night by crying. If that’s it, then he
may be a person who needs to cry/fuss to shut himself down and tap off
the tension before sleep.

Now, you’re looking at the night nursing as one big problem, when in
reality it’s at least two different problems. I’d attack one at a time
and let it stabilize before you move on to the next one. As I see it,
Problem 1* is how he falls asleep "for the night" at bedtime, and
another problem entirely (Problem 2) is how he wakes up and then won’t
go down without being nursed down again in the middle of the night.
Another problem (which could be part of Problem 2, so Problem 2A, or
could actually be Problem 3) is how frequently he’s waking at night.

Now, which problem you attack first is up to you and what’s bothering
you the most. If it were me, I’d work on Problem 2A/3 first, because
the frequency of waking would bug me waaaay worse than having to nurse
back to sleep would. But I know people who find it much easier to deal
with frequent wakings as long as they don’t have to nurse the kid back
down. Figure out what’s making you most stressed and go for that first.

Unfortunately, Problem 1 is probably the easiest one to attack. If he
must nurse down to sleep as long as your home, just don’t be home for
bedtime for a week or two. (Obviously your husband is going to have to
agree to participate in this plan.) Head out–to book club, to a bar,
to a movie, to the gym, or just for a walk–at bedtime and be gone for
a reasonable amount of time or until your husband texts you the
all-clear. How your husband gets your son to sleep is up to
them–you’re out of the loop.

Don’t think that two nights of easy bedtimes for your husband means
you’re off the hook. It’ll really take a week at least until you’re off
the hook while you’re there.

On to Problem 2. If you have a partner who has volunteered willingly to
take a night shift, you must take advantage of it. I know you feel like
you can’t stand to hear the baby cry (or your husband cry because the
baby’s crying, for that matter), but while your husband’s on duty, he’s
on duty and you’re not. You are not.

Now, two things about that. 1) Good luck hearing the baby cry and not
jerking awake with that drop in the pit of your stomach. But you can
train yourself to go back to sleep when your husband’s on the case. It
might also help if you take a calcium-magnesium supplement right before
you go to bed, since that can sometimes take the edge off that kind of
jittery worried half-sleep that doesn’t even have the dignity to
qualify as insomnia that lots of us suffer from periodically. 2) Don’t
berate yourself and give yourself any of this "nervous new mother"
belittling just because it’s hard to detach from nighttime duty. Think
of how many babies lives have been saved throughout the millennia
because of "nervous new mother" instincts. You’re doing an amazing job.
But all this waking up is essentially torture, and it’s breaking down
your system physically. Of course your judgment isn’t what you’d like
it to be.

So, bearing both those things in mind, if you have enough space that
you can sleep in a completely different part of the house where you
won’t hear anything, do it. If you can’t, make a policy decision before
you go to sleep about how long you’ll wait before you intervene, and
then stick to it so you don’t get frazzled in the heat of the moment.

(Think of what a gift you’re giving your husband by letting him solve
the problem on his own. Instead of owning your son’s sleep all by
yourself, you’re letting him step in and be an equal parent. That’s
going to pay off for the rest of your lives.)

My guess is that once your husband has been the one going in to get
your son for a few nights (OK, it’ll probably take more than just a few
nights), your son might stop waking up so much in the first place. Some
of these frequent-wakers just seem to have gotten into a loop of waking
up, and once something changes (like they’re forced to deal with dad
instead of mom and her amazing milk jugs) they just stop waking up as often.
But don’t count on it, because it might not happen that way, or it
could and you’d have a few good weeks until he hits the 8-9 month sleep
regression and he’s waking up all night again for another few weeks.

I think the takeaway from this should not be "There’s a Foolproof Way To Fix His
Sleep" but instead coming up with a few ways to ease things up so you
can get out from under some of the nursing and get one good stretch a
night, then you’ll be able to regain some health and get your
confidence back to figure out how to weather the next sleep regression
and make the longer stretches a permanent thing.

Sympathy for Stacy? I can still remember that nausea from sleep deprivation.

* Names of problems have been changed to protect the innocent problems.

Mending, with help

I’m slowly feeling better. And let me tell you what helped*: Rachel’s Yogurt, and Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.

Rachel’s Yogurt comes in a bunch of delicious flavors, such as pomegranate-acai, vanilla chai, and pineapple-passionfruit-mango. It’s got a nice texture, no artificial sweeteners, and a full range of probiotics (not just lactobifilus). It’s also DHA-fortified. And delicious. Creamy and cool and so delicious, especially when it feels like there are angry wasps buzzing around in your head.

Have you seen Dirty Jobs yet? It’s this disgusting-yet-compelling show on Discovery in which Mike Rowe, former opera singer, goes and works for a day with someone who has a messy job. He does things like tanning hides, sorting garbage, harvesting bloodworms from muck, shearing alpacas, cleaning owl poop out of owl-houses, and a whole bunch of other really gross things. If you have a 5-year-old, you should probably be watching this show. What will keep you hooked in is Mike Rowe, who doesn’t seem like much the first time you watch the show, but he grows on you episode by episode, until you find yourself having some rather untoward dreams about him in your feverish state.

* Besides the ibuprofen my office manager gave me. In his defense, it
was Free Lunch Day at work and he wanted me to feel good enough to
enjoy it. And be able to survive my post-lunch conference call.