Category Archives: Op Ed

Baby carriers and back pain

Baby carriers do not need to hurt your back. If you're wearing them correctly, you'll feel the weight of the baby, but it shouldn't be so painful that you need to take pain meds. If you are feeling that much pain, you can Google the name of the carrier you have and the word "instructions" and someone somewhere will have posted photos of the correct way to wear that carrier. Or else try a different kind of carrier, because there is no perfect one, and maybe there's a better one for your body.

In general, the closer to you and higher up you can put your baby, the less pain and movement you'll have. If you're using a Bjorn or Bjorn-style carrier (which I don't actually recommend because I think other styles are far less painful, notably the Ergo if you like a constructed carrier or a wrap carrier if you like less construction), make sure the cross in the back crosses below your shoulder blades. It should be where your bra strap goes. Here's a really old post on different kinds of carriers.

Also, wearing your baby should be something you do because you want to. Not because it's "in fashion" or because Dr. Sears tells you to. Do it because babies who are worn tend to cry less, or because you like having your little one snuggled against you, or because your baby won't stop !@#$%-ing screaming if you put her down, or because your best friend walked all the baby weight off by wearing her baby, or because you can't deal with your stroller, or whatever. But let it be because you want to. Not because the lady at the grocery store or the women on the message board or the misogynist ad-writers at Motrin tell you you have to and then make fun of you for it.

You are the parent. You get to decide.

Also, seriously–Lucky Magazine? I read you because I want to get away from the "moms should do this and that" crap that bombards me every effing day in this country. All I want from you is to know whether ruching is in this fall and how to wear suede booties with a sweater dress and why shea butter is the miracle that's going to solve all my hair problems. I do not want misogynistic mommy drive-by ads in your pages. If you want to take ads from the hacks at Motrin (who apparently have never heard of a focus group), force them to give you ads about pain and *actual* fashion. They could have done a heck of an ad about stilettos and other painful shoes, but they chose the easy, inaccurate, bottom-feeding low-hanging fruit. Don't participate in the proliferation of mom-guilt on the hardworking women of the world. We get enough of it every day from people wearing Christmas sweaters. We want your magazine to be a safe space.

I think I'm going out to buy a big bottle of Advil tomorrow.

(Hey–if you're feeling carpal tunnel-type pain from lifting or carrying a baby or toddler, before you despair or get cortizone shots or dope yourself up on a pain reliver that starts with M that I'll never buy again, try homeopathy. Go to a health food store and plunk down $6 for a tube of pellets of Rhus Toxicodendron. Get 30x if they have them–if not get whatever dose they have. Take one under your tongue three times a day. If it's the proper remedy for your kind of pain, you should feel less inflammation and pain within three to four days. Keep taking until the pain is gone. If it isn't doing anything after four days, then it's the wrong remedy for you, so you can stop. Safe for breastfeeding, and no interactions with anything else! I had debilitating carpal tunnel from lifting my horse of a firstborn, and his pediatrician, who is also a homeopath, prescribed Rhus toxicodendron for me, and it worked like a charm. So I'm passing it on to you, the pain sufferers of the internet.)

Q&A: wood toys and constipation

"Wood toys and constipation" is the subject Anna gave her question to me, so I left it. Unfortunately, it turns out to be two separate issues, not one (I don’t know why, but the idea that wood toys might cause constipation was just too funny to me). Anyway, here are her questions:

"My daughter is 6.5 months and we think getting some teeth.  All of a sudden crabbier, droolier (didn’t think that was possible) and clingier.  When she was 3 months she went 10 days without pooping and that is happening again.  Her poop came out fine then, just a lot of it.  Now its been 8 days and I did the manual check the pediatrician recommended and she wasn’t backed up with any compacted poop as far as I could tell. She’s also starting to crawl and when she wakes up at night all she wants to do is scoot around on her belly; she’s even started to crawl up to me on her belly to feed, sort of like a self-serve gas station.

Any recommendations?  Did I forget to mention that the previous week we’d been feeding her the dreaded rice cereal that I just (10 minutes ago) finished reading about that would give her constipation?

She seems miserable…unless we’re outside on a walk and she’s pulling leaves off of trees and sticking them in her mouth…

oh, the wood toys thing- should we get rid of all the plastic seeing as they keep coming out with recalls? All of our toys are hand-me-downs, at least 2 years old."

I love it when people send me questions like this, specifically, because they answer their own question! Yes, Anna, I’m going to bet on the rice cereal being a big cause of the pooping changes. (Remember the treatment for diarrhea and upset stomach is the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. So those are known "binders," as my grandma would say.) But it also sounds like it really isn’t constipation, since when it comes out it’s fine.

Her body’s just going through a lot of changes. There’s a growth spurt at 6 months (3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months). She’s eating the (blechy) rice cereal (seriously, have you tasted it?). She’s scooting and learning to crawl. Plus all the teething stuff, which has a very direct effect on poop because it can put a ton of drool into her stomach (it usually causes shards of drool in the poop, or loose stool, and often causes a really acidic poop that you can smell and which may leave red rash around the anus to match the rash around the mouth).

So pretty much everything you mentioned is why her poop has changed, but the rice cereal isn’t helping, for sure.

Now, about the toys: I’ve gotten at least a dozen emails about this recall stuff, but I have no idea what to do about the toys. Someone asked, "Do I have to start buying only German wood toys?" It would be nice if you can afford it, but I think the realities of our world economy are starting to come back to bite us in the ass right about now.

Here’s where I’m probably going to offend people. If you’re not prepared for some self-righteous navel-gazing, turn away now. 

It’s making me think way more seriously about the choices I make when I shop. And how maybe my kids really don’t need another vehicle. Even if it’s nice and cheap and I can afford it, because it’s made in some country that has no environmental or labor regulations. I don’t want to promote a system anymore that has Americans squeezing factories so hard that workers in those countries are abused and they’re pumping clouds of pollution into the air that can be seen by satellite. And then when something goes wrong, instead of examining the practices of the American countries and the foreign factories they contract with, people just sit back and let the foreign government force the head of the factory to kill himself. (Because they took so much international heat for actually doing the execution themselves a few months ago when it was the toothpaste recall.)

Maybe I could trust in the safety of our products if I wasn’t participating in a house of cards that forces the factories to operate on such a crazy tight margin that there’s no way for the head of the factory to assure safety early in the process.

I just don’t want everything to cost 99 cents anymore at the cost of my kids’ health.

So I have no idea when the next time they’ll be getting a new toy is. I have no idea what to do with the toys they have now, whether new or hand-me-downs. I have no idea what’s going to happen for the winter gift-giving holidays. And I have no idea how I’m going to deal with everyone else who gives them gifts.

I just don’t know. If anyone’s looking for a business idea, you could start a research company that figures out which toys are safe and not destroying the economy or the lives of the people who make the toys. You could charge for access to the database, and we’d all pay it, because how else can we know?

(A reader wrote that she’d asked Melissa & Doug [the toy manufacturer that makes the famous Cutting Vegetables set] about their safety testing process and got a nice, if somewhat vague, response from them. I emailed to check it out and have not gotten a response from them after 10 days.)

Maybe the title of this post really isn’t that funny. The toy safety isn’t making me feel constipated, but it is making me feel kind of sick.

Late for work, no time to edit, please add comments even if it’s just to tell me I’m a navel-gazing middle-class twit.

Moxie Manifesto (May 2007 edition)

Reading Kted’s comment on the toddler angst postmade me realize that I’ve never really posted anywhere my basic
philosophy. (My friend Scott gave me the idea of putting up my philosophy on my blog. I’m just calling it a manifesto because of the alliteration.) Those of you who read my very first post ever, or who are
regular readers, have a good idea of where I’m coming from and why I
write this blog. But for those of you who are newer or just ended up
here from a Google search, I thought I’d lay it out for you.

(And, hey, this is a work in progress. Do you guys have any idea how much I learn from you? There’s no way I’d be able to write this without all of you commenting and keeping me honest and on track. And giving the correct answer when I’m not coming anywhere near it.)

  • You know your own child best. When there’s a decision to be made about anything, you need to think about what you know about your own child, and do what’s going to be better for him or her.
  • Don’t worry about what the "experts" say. A lot of what they write
    is based solely on their own experience, anyway. Are they there with
    you and your child at 3 am? No. So who cares what they tell you you
    "should" do?
  • There are some thing parents do that really screw up their kids.
    But those things don’t have a whole lot to do with the sequence in
    which your baby eats, sleeps, and plays, or when s/he gets off the
    bottle/breast/pacifier/thumb, or how old the baby is when it sleeps in
    a bed in a room alone, or when they’re potty-trained. Yeah, those
    things affect your day-to-day life right now. But in the longterm,
    they’re not something you’ll remember or that your child will remember.
    So do what makes it easier and more loving for everyone in your house
    right now, and what gets everyone the most sleep.
  • If anyone tells you there’s something you have to do one
    way or your kid will be screwed up, run fast the other way. If you like
    reading books, read a bunch of them; something you read might help you
    out. But be really wary of anyone telling you what you’re doing is
    absolutely wrong, or who prescribes some way of life that just doesn’t
    seem to make sense for the way your child and family are. (I really
    really can’t stand the people who tell you you have to do it their way or your kids will be ruined! forever! *cough*EzzoSearsHoggWeissbluth*cough* If you read them, take them with a grain of salt.)
  • No one gets to tell you what to do unless they’re also willing to take a shift at 3 am.
  • Everyone has problems with their kids. Most people don’t talk
    about them, because they’re afraid of admitting weakness. If you’re
    having a problem, chances are a bunch of other people are, too. And it
    doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the choice you made, because
    people who make different choices just have different problems. It’s
    all a trade-off.
  • If you can control the situation, then you won’t have to worry so much about controlling your child. If you can avoid having to control your child, it’ll be easier for you to teach your child to make good choices instead of having a constant battle of wills.
  • When you’re having a problem, realize that you’re doing the best
    you can at the time. Don’t blame yourself, and try to step back and
    look at the problem from a systems point of view. What’s the real
    issue, and how can you solve that issue, even if it doesn’t look like
    you thought it would look? If it fixes the problem, it’s working.
  • How your child sleeps doesn’t say anything about you as a parent or a person.
  • If you can just wait long enough, the problem will probably go away as a function of time. If you can’t wait, then change something.
  • I think you’re doing a great job. Your child is lucky to have you as a parent.
 
Everyone has a philosophy, whether you’ve verbalized it or not. Want to share yours?

Your comments on sleep regressions

You guys are smart, and very, very kind. I’m going to pull some of the comments and we can talk about them some more.

First, though, let me list the posts about sleep that people seem to think are helpful:
Quick and Dirty on Sleep
11-week-old and self-soothing (about using "props" and teaching your kid to soothe himself)
What are sleep regressions anyway?

If you don’t have time to go in and read, the developmental leaps (according to The Wonder Weeks) are at 5, 8, 11, 19, 26, 37, 46, and 55 weeks. (Remember to add or subtract weeks if your child didn’t gestate for 40 weeks.) It seems like the ones at 19 (4 months) and 37 weeks (8-9 months) are the worst, followed by the 26 (6 month) and 12 week ones.

Also, if you care, here’s the big post I wrote on CIO. I was a dedicated anti-CIOer (and still hate the idea of setting out to break your kid by letting them scream for as long as it takes). But after having my second child I came up with this theory that there are kids who release tension by crying (so they need to fuss or cry for a few minutes in order to release enough tension to fall asleep) and kids who gain tension by crying (so if you let them cry for more than a few seconds you’re screwed because then it takes forever to calm them down again). If you know which kind of kid you have (or how they are for nighttime sleep vs. naps, for example), your path with regards to crying vs. soothing becomes a little more clear.

J said: "That’s the problem with expectations. They always let you down." This made me laugh, because it’s so true about baby and toddler sleep. And Valentine’s Day.

Davida said: "But I do know that YOU are the one there with your daughter, not any of
the experts, and so they mustn’t be allowed to make you feel guilty." Seriously. And that’s my big beef with this culture of expert-worship. Everything’s great as long as your kid conforms to their set pattern, but if not, you feel like it’s your fault. Yes, there are some things that you might be doing that could hurt your kid’s sleep (like mainlining those caffeine or ginseng/guarana energy drinks, or not having a regular routine of some sort), but if you’ve got a decent structure and set the stage for sleep, it’s not your fault.

Shandra said: "I personally decided that I wouldn’t do anything at night that I wouldn’t do during the day." I did, too. It’s extremely hard, sometimes, although easier now that I’ve relaxed my daytime standards. (Ha! I’m my own best audience.) Anyway, it was important to me, and once I identified that as one of my core values (congruence in actions) I was able to release some of the anger at the nighttime egregiousness.

Marsha said: "our babies are not enjoying whatever sleep disruptions, tantrums, or
whatever else is making us parents want to pull our hair out in
frustration/fatigue either." Yeah. It’s so hard not to get all adversarial in the middle ofthe night, but you and your child really have a common enemy, which is baby insomnia. You and your baby can work together (OK, so you do most of the work) and you’ll stay in a better frame of mind than if you sink into that tempting-but-empty mindset of battling with your child.

Charisse said: "There are various things you can try, but no one of them is necessarily
right for you, and sometimes the idea that you "should be doing
something about this" is worse than just getting through it." Dude. Yes. Which is why I spend half my time here saying, "There’s probably nothing you can do about this now, so just try to split things up so neither you nor your partner are taking the full hit." And one day, yes, one day you will be annoyed because your child forgot to brush his teeth when he put himself to bed, and woke up at 7 instead of 7:30 in the morning.

Laury said: "It seemed to make a huge difference smiling (I know this sounds hypocritical) and telling him, knowing that he could do it." I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all. Think about it–if you were supposed to be doing something you weren’t sure you could do and were a little scared of all by yourself, wouldn’t you feel much better about it (and maybe even be able to do it) if the person you most loved gave you a smile and encouraged you before leaving you to do the task? Contrast that with having her scowl and tell you to "Just do it!" and leaving angry. The pleasant way sets a person up for success.

What other sleep wisdom do you guys have? I don’t really mean techniques (because those are a dime a dozen and won’t work for everyone anyway), but ideas and concepts and attitudes that have helped you get through the long nights.

(Mollyball, if you’ve checked all the physical stuff–like silent reflux, etc.–I’d try either the Calms Forte 4 Kids homeopathic pellets, or finding a pediatric chiropractor or cranio-sacral practitioner.)

Babies and CIO

I’ve gotten a couple of questions and comments lately asking about my well-publicized stance on the CIO (cry-it-out) method of getting your baby to sleep. Pretty much everyone knows that I’m opposed to CIO. But I think it’s important to clarify what I consider CIO, and why I really dislike it.

(If your baby is around 4 months, 8 or 9 months, or 18 months, read my post about "sleep regressions" once you finish this post.)

I think* that there are a couple different kinds of babies. There are babies who release tension by crying, and there are babies who increase energy by crying. If you treat them both the same way, you’re going to have trouble, so it’s key to figure out which kind of kid you have.

A kid who releases tension by crying will not always nurse or be rocked down to sleep. It may happen sometimes, but often times the kid will get progressively more active and jittery, almost manic, as the nursing or rocking session goes on. He or she may cry during the rocking/nursing, and not settle down in a few seconds. It’s almost as if the kid wants to cry. If you leave the child alone, the child will wail initially (for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes), but then settle down to a fuss or whimper, and will soon fall asleep. A child who releases tension from crying will often wake up happy and refreshed, and will play alone in the bed, co-sleeper, or crib for awhile before you come to get them.

A kid who gains tension by crying will go to sleep easily (and maybe exclusively) by nursing or rocking. It may take awhile, but rocking/nursing is a sure, gradual path toward relaxation and sleep. If left alone before s/he’s asleep, s/he’ll start to cry. And will cry and cry, increasing in intensity until the child goes hoarse or throws up or you give in and go to comfort him or her. Many kids who increase tension by crying, even if they go to sleep peacefully and happily, will wake up crying or grumpy and need to be gotten immediately from the sleeping area.

If you have a kid who releases tension by crying, the child seems to need to fuss or cry a little before falling asleep. If you don’t recognize it, you’ll be miserable. You can rock and rock and rock, and your child won’t go to sleep easily and will end up crying anyway, but you’ll think you’re doing something horribly wrong that you can’t comfort your baby to sleep. In reality, the child just needs to release tension by crying or fussing, and will go to sleep easily after a few minutes of this.

If you think this might be your child, see what happens if you say goodnight and walk out of the room for a few minutes. If your child starts to quiet down after a minute or two of initial crying, you’ve got a tension-releaser. Adjust your routine accordingly. (Some parents I know don’t want to leave a baby to cry alone ever, so they assign one partner the duty of sitting silently in the room being a comforting presence while the child fusses to sleep, but not interrupting the child’s fuss-to-sleep routine. Other parents just say goodnight lovingly and walk out, knowing the child will be asleep in a few minutes.)

Fussing to sleep, or crying to release tension to fall asleep, is not CIO by my definition. CIO is forcing a child to cry until the child falls asleep, even when the child is clearly in distress and gaining tension from the crying.

If you have a kid who increases tension by crying, doing full-blown CIO is, in my opinion, cruel. The books will tell you that letting your child scream and scream is teaching your child to go to sleep on his or her own, but let’s be real. Teaching involves showing someone how to do something, and staying with them until they learn. Would you just send your child out alone on a two-wheeler bicycle with no help and practice? Then why would you just decide that since the child is x months old or x weight, it’s time to just let the child cry and cry until the child shuts down and falls asleep out of self-defense? It makes no sense. And it can be dangerous to the children.

A kid who builds tension by crying will get progressively more and more upset by crying, and the effects last longer than just that night. There’s an American study showing that these kids maintain this tension, and that CIO "changes the nervous
system so they’re overly sensitive to future trauma."
There’s a British study showing that lengthy periods of crying can cause brain damage. I’d be interested in seeing a study that figures out if kids who were forced to do CIO have higher rates of insomnia in later life because they associate going to sleep with intense trauma.

Take a few days or weeks to figure out which kind of kid you have, and it will simplify your life immensely. You can try the go-in-every-10-minutes thing and see if it seems to be helping the child relax or making the child more tense. If you have a kid who releases tension by crying or fussing, then that’s going to be incorporated into your bedtime and naptime routine (although even releasers will sometimes go down easily and without fussing if you happen to hit the exact sweet spot of time and tiredness). And if you have a kid who gains tension by crying, then you know that CIO isn’t even an option to consider for you, as it won’t work for more than a night or two without making you both miserable (and maybe causing later problems). You’ll have to use other methods to get your child to sleep. It may take longer than you want it to, but it will happen, and eventually your child will go to sleep easily and happily, on his or her own.

(Incidentally, I thought this was all crap when my first son was my only child. He was and still is a kid who increases tension by crying, and if I had let him cry for more than a minute we would have been up all night recovering from it. But then his brother came along, and he’d cry himself to sleep while he was nursing. He needs to be left alone to fuss himself to sleep most nights. When we’re in the stroller he’ll start wailing out of the blue, then be dead asleep 30 seconds later. I was stunned, but then it all made sense to me that people would talk about how CIO was the greatest thing ever. It wasn’t that CIO was so great, it was just that their kids needed to fuss to sleep. As usual, the assumption that all kids are the same was causing huge problems for everyone.

Oh, and my first son, who gained tension by crying, goes to sleep on his own almost every night, with nothing more than a hug and an "I love you, Mom." So even "bad sleepers" will turn good eventually if you listen to what they need.)

* And reading the new Mary Sheedy Kurcinka book about sleep, I found that MSK thinks the same thing, too, which made me beyond happy because she’s the most knowledgable parenting expert I know.

High Stakes

At brunch the other day one of my friends was holding my 1-year-old. He was chomping on a sour pickle (and flicking the juice all over my friend, who thought it was funny), and reached for the piece of cake on my friend’s plate. "Can he have that?" my friend asked. "Sure. He’s the second child. He can have pretty much anything," I replied.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation, and why it is that the experience of parenting the second child (or subsequent children) is so different from being a first-time parent. The recent exchange I had with Jody and Elizabeth on the posts about the woman who didn’t want to spend a weekend with her friends got me thinking about even more, specifically about how sometimes as mothers we can’t let anyone else take too much care of our children. But then I read Kateri’s latest post, and thought, "Aha!"

"Aha," because Kateri wrote in the most direct way possible about why being a first-time parent feels so high stakes and raising subsequent children does not. Go read her post. It’s short (something that can’t be said about any of my posts) and pithy and hit me right between the eyes because it’s the essence of why parenting’s so hard emotionally. I’ll wait. No, seriously–click and read it, leave a friendly comment, then come back here.

Now that you’re back, can we talk about two things? The first is how it feels to let go and let other people take some of the emotional burden of parenting, and the second is how to give yourself a break and avoid putting yourself in a perfectionistic parenting box.

Letting other people take over some of the care and emotional energy of thinking about your child is rough. That’s been one of the hardest things for me as a mother–the letting go of needing to be the one in charge all the time, or the repository of knowledge (and let’s face it, I’m Cliff Clavin), or the one the baby really wants. And I think that I had an easier time than lots of mothers do, all things considered. I had to make a serious effort to force myself to allow my husband to do things the way he wanted to with our son when he was tiny. It was hard to listen to my son crying, knowing that I knew how he wanted to be held and that my husband wasn’t doing it "the right way." I started leaving the apartment so I wouldn’t have to swallow my words of "advice" to my husband.

But it got easier and my husband started to know what our son needed more and more. The feedback loop worked like a charm. And then, when my husband was laid off and home all the time, he and my son really learned each other. He had 15 months of being at least as hands-on as I was, and I think that’s still a major influence on our relationship and my identity as a mother. At one point I started being afraid that my husband might be a better parent than I am. When I realized how scared I was of that, I forced myself to really consider that it might be the case. And you know what happened? Nothing. If my husband was a better parent than I was, it was still OK. I was still a great mother, my son still loved me, and the world kept turning.

So, Question #1 for you: Do you feel like you’ve come to terms with other people being good at caring for your child? If yes, how did you do it, and if no, what work do you think you could do to get there?

On to the second thing, which is giving yourself a break and making parenting decisions less high-stakes. I’m not sure there’s really any good way to do it. First-time parents are, by nature, concerned about everything they do in taking care of their children, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I just wish we could put less pressure on ourselves to do things perfectly all the time. That pressure leads to stress, depression, and the one-upsmanship that makes interactions with other parents so much less helpful than they could be.

I don’t tend to feel guilt very often or to let others’ opinions of me guide my thoughts or actions. (I think that’s a result of the way I approach decisionmaking about parenting and in general, but that’s a whole different post.) But even if I did, I think I’ve devised a pretty decent strategy for putting parenting decisions into perspective. When I was pregnant with my first son, I made a parenting mission statement for myself. I figured out what were my main goals as a parent, and then some smaller goals, too. When I started to get stressed out about what I should do, I referred back to my mission statement. If it didn’t have anything to do with one of those goals, I just took the path of least resistance or more fun. It’s been remarkably freeing.

So, Question #2: How do you keep yourself from sweating every small decision you have to make as a parent? Is it getting easier as your child(ren) grows older?

I’m hoping we can start to find some way out of the mental and emotional mazes we keep ourselves running around in. So please share your experience, whether you’ve gotten to where you want to be or not. As usual, you can post anonymously if you want to by putting "www.google.com" or "www.fake.com" into the "URL" box and only I’ll be able to see whatever real or fake email address you put in the "Email Address" box.

Q&A: introducing solids

Cat writes:

"How about a primer on introducing solids? Like…

You know
how the general rule is 4-6 months? What if you wait six months and he
doesn’t like it right away and you have to put it away for a week or
more. Are you screwed? Should you start at five in case things don’t go
well or quickly?

I’m a sucky cook, but I feel like I might be
able to handle boiling and mashing food matter. Can I do it with my
handy dandy hand blender or do I have to buy a real food processor?
Which books or web sites would you recommend for recipes? Does one even
need recipes to mash up some veggies?

What should I know that I can’t even think to ask about?"

Americans are totally neurotic about introducing food to babies.

There, I said it.

We’ve concocted all these rules for ourselves, some of which are based on research, some of which are almost sort of based on research, and some of which appear to originate from the vicinity of the gluteus maximus of the teller.

And yet, even though we follow all these rules with a religious fervor not seen since the Crusades, our kids (and adults) aren’t any healthier than people in any other developed country. In fact, we’re probably less healthy than most of them. So let’s take a look at some of the things you hear all the time and whether they’re based on facts or hearsay. (And remember that I’m no expert either. I’m just someone who reads a lot and is extremely skeptical. So if you think what I’m saying sounds fishy, look it up.)

#1: You have to introduce solids within a certain time window or your child won’t learn to eat them. Really? You mean my kid won’t learn to eat if I don’t introduce rice cereal on Day 183 and pears on Day 192? That’s funny, because my mom never gave me any Guinness, spicy kimchi, or coconut curry soup as a baby, but I sure learned to put those away. (Mmmm….forbidden kimchi…) This one is just plain dumb. People all over the world introduce different foods on different timeframes to their kids, and yet we all manage to eat successfully (barring any actual eating or digestive disorders, of course).

If you don’t want to start food until your kid is 6 months, or 6.5 months, or even 12 months, your child will be fine. Breastmilk or formula should make up the bulk of your child’s nutrition for the first year anyway. Before that eating’s mostly just for fun.

#2: You shouldn’t introduce solids before 6 months. This one’s actually based on some recent research. Before 2005, the guidelines were to introduce foods at 4-6 months. The AAP changed the recommendation to advise waiting until 6 months. A study showed a correlation between children who started solids earlier than 6 months and an increased rate of diabetes later on. Bear in mind that a correlation is just that, but unless you have a strong reason to introduce solids sooner, you might as well wait until 6 months. I’m guessing we’ll have more of the story on this in another 5-10 years.

#3: Always start with fortified rice cereal. It’s non-allergenic, and babies (especially breastfed ones) need the iron. This one’s part old wives’ tale and part incomplete science. Some people do have allergies to rice. Also, rice is extremely constipating, so if you have a baby who already has pooping problems, you absolutely don’t want to start that baby on rice (or bananas or applesauce, either). There’s also some recent thought that even though breastmilk has a low iron content, babies are able to process all the iron in it, so they actually absorb more iron from breastmilk than they do from other sources. Once they start eating things that have been fortified with iron, though, they lose this ability to process the iron in breastmilk as efficiently. So giving breastfed babies things fortified with iron may actually impede their ability to absorb iron. Not at all what you want to do.

This also just doesn’t make any sense logically. If you had to start with rice, wouldn’t all cultures across the world start their babies on rice? Some do, definitely, but not all of them by any shot. And even the ones that do are more likely just to cook down regular rice instead of using processed fortified rice powder.

#4: Start with rice cereal, then do that for 3 days, then introduce a new food only every three days. That way you’ll know if your baby is allergic to something and it’ll help prevent allergies. Unless you have a history of food allergies in your family, there’s no need to do this. Most other countries have no higher rate of food allergies than the US does, and they don’t wait three days between new foods. It’s the kind of thing that makes us feel good about how vigilant and structured we’re being, but is just extra busywork.

#5: After you’ve gone through the cereals, introduce vegetables next. If you start with fruits your baby will develop such a taste for sweet things that s/he will never want to eat anything savory. On the surface, this sounds like it makes sense. But I think the person who came up with this one had never tasted either breastmilk or formula as an adult. Short of pure sugar water you could hardly come up with sweeter liquids than those two. I’m betting that almost everyone reading this spent weeks or months consuming nothing but sweet breastmilk or formula, but I’m also betting almost everyone reading this loves savory things like hot buttered popcorn, crispy green beans in sesame oil, a huge chilled Cobb salad, spicy Buffalo wings, and, well, I’d better stop now before my drool shorts out my keyboard.

#6: Don’t give your baby nuts, honey, egg whites, or shellfish until at least one year old, although two would be better. There’s truth in this one. Nut allergies can be life-threatening, so you don’t want to introduce them any sooner than you need to. There’s a form of botulism in honey that toddlers on up to adults can easily process, but babies can’t. Cooked honey is fine because the heat kills the botulism, but you should hold off on raw honey for a year or two. Egg whites can be allergenic, so you should probably wait until a year to give them. Shellfish (shrimp, lobster, etc.) can also be allergenic. And besides, wouldn’t you rather save the lobster for yourself until your child is old enough and smart enough to ask for it?

So those are the things you hear most often about introducing foods. Other than that, the way you introduce foods should be a function of your personality more than anything else. Some people really want to cook and mash things. If you want to make all your baby’s food, check out the books Super Baby Food (especially good for vegetarians), First Meals, or Mommy Made and Daddy Too!.

Some people really like doing jarred foods and advancing up the "stages." Yes, the stages are completely a marketing gimmick, but they aren’t going to hurt, so if you like the ease and selection of jarred foods, go for it. Just make sure you read labels, because some jarred foods have tons of crap in them. (I even saw MSG–a neurotoxin–in one of the jars at my local grocery store. Not good.)

There are other people, though, that think babies will do perfectly well eating selected table food as soon as they start eating solids. With my first I did all the cereals first like a good little mommy (until I tasted one and vowed never again to serve my child anything I wouldn’t eat, and rice cereal is pretty blechy) and then moved on to cooking and mashing all his food (I never used a food processor or blender–my old-fashioner potato masher did the trick). It turned into almost a full-time job. I’m pretty lazy, so I vowed just to let any subsequent children eat what they could manage on their own.

With El Pequeño, as soon as he was around 6 months I just stopped preventing him from grabbing things and putting them in his mouth. He tried bread, corn tortillas, apple, banana, mango, papaya, green beans, and a bunch of other things in that first week. Some things he’d chew for a long time. Others he’d spit out right away. He didn’t really swallow much of anything until he was around 8 months old.

At about this point, someone left me a link here on Ask Moxie to this Dutch study: Guidelines for implementing a baby-led approach to the introduction of soild foods. Woo-hoo! Paydirt to justify my gut feeling that there was no need to spend hours mashing separate foods for my baby. It also explained why he wasn’t swallowing–he just wasn’t ready yet.

For those of you who aren’t going to click over to read the whole article (in English, not Dutch, BTW), the money shot is that babies are actually less likely to choke if they control (with their own hands) what goes into their mouths and how. It also appears that no matter how early babies are allowed to pick up foods and stick them in their mouths, they won’t start swallowing them (if they can control it) until closer to 6 months. Fascinating, isn’t it? Seriously, go read the article, or at least scroll down to the bottom to the "DOs and DON’Ts" section.

So if you ask me what I do for my baby, I’ll tell you that he eats what he wants to from whatever we’re eating. (Today–he’s 10.5 months–he ate a huge apple, half a whole-grain English muffin, turkey burger, lots of soup with barley and carrots and peas and kale, and part of a baguette.) But you should do what you want to with your own child. If you want the structure of following a schedule to introduce things, make one up (just consider your poor child’s taste buds if you’re thinking of starting with cereals–maybe sweet potato or banana would be more appetizing?). Go crazy cooking and mashing, or line up all the little jars in a neat row.

Just don’t let yourself get tied up in knots about it. There will be plenty of time for that when he’s a toddler and stops eating a bunch of things, and then again when he’s 3 years old and only wants to eat bagels, French fries, and buttered toast. The best advice anyone’s ever given me (and probably everyone else) about feeding is to offer a variety of nutritious foods, but let the child choose how much to eat. And don’t take it personally when the child doesn’t eat, because that can start a control game you don’t want to get involved in.

Have fun starting foods. And make sure to take lots of pictures.

Q&A: television with babies

Shandra writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, to your specific questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you want to recommend in favor of or against?

Judgment

A little anecdote for a Tuesday afternoon.

A few days ago I was with my mom, and we were struggling to get El Chico to get out of the car to come into a store with us. It was about 25 degress F ( -4 C) and he was refusing to put on his coat to walk across a long parking lot. There was a guy loading his kids into an SUV next us, and the whole time I was thinking, "He’s got to think I’m a horrible mother who can’t even get her kid to wear a coat in the freezing cold." Finally I got the coat on El Chico and glanced up at the man, and he was smoking outside the SUV, while his kids were inside with the doors shut. He looked at me and nervously said, "I never make them breathe secondhand smoke!"

I had this flash of realization that we parents are expecting to be judged at all times by other parents. He didn’t care if my kid was wearing a coat, but I thought he did. And I don’t care if he smokes outside his car, but he thought I did.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Q&A: 11-week-old and self-soothing

ValleyGal, like, writes:

"So I know Sleep Week is over, but I have a sleep questionanyway.  How do you “encourage” a child to develop better self-soothing
skills?  My 11 week old son is only able to self-soothe to sleep in two
places: his swing (after some fussing) and in my bed.  Now, I know that
most people would consider that an accomplishment and let him nap in the swing
(which I often do) and co-sleep (again, often done).  But, while he sleeps
like an angel when he co-sleeps, I don’t.  I barely get any
sleep.  So, I don’t want to co-sleep as a general practice.  He
will happily sleep in his crib, but will only allow me to put him down when he’s
in a deep deep DEEP sleep.  Which is fine, except now I’m so
exhausted that I fall asleep in the rocking chair and end up spending half the
night in the chair (getting painful, crappy sleep) and half the night in the
bed (also getting crappy, but less painful sleep).  I know crappy sleep is
better than no sleep and I know that at some point, he’ll be able to be
put down either awake or drowsy or mostly asleep, but I’m looking for help
in getting him there.  Neither one of us is ready for CIO, so that’s
not an option (although I am okay with FIO (fuss it out)).   

What can I do to help him develop self-soothing
skills?  Am I doomed to several more months of this and then a CIO battle
at 4 or 6 months?  Do I need to let him stay awake longer/shorter before
we start the soothing process?  Put him on a strict schedule?  Find
the magic gadget that works for my kid (crib thingie, sound thingie,
etc.)?  Am I just an anxious over-tired first time mother who doesn’t
know how good she has it?  Help!"

It is my opinion that almost nothing you do has any lasting effect on how your kid sleeps.

I base this opinion on the fact that at any given age, a huge number of babies will be displaying the same sleep "issues" (sorry for taking you back to 1992 with the lingo), no matter what their parents have done or are doing with regards to sleep. Most 4-month-olds are sleeping poorly whether they’re in their parents’ beds or in co-sleepers or in cribs in their own rooms, and I assume kids who sleep on animal skins or tatami mats or in hammocks still have the same disrupted sleep around that time, too. My friends who did CIO (or FIO, or even SIO) and had kids who slept all night at 5 or 6 months found that the sleep crept back into a few wakings, or problems going down to sleep, within a few months. And remember how thrilled I was that the flax seed oil supplements I took made El Pequeño sleep for 7 hours at a stretch during his first few months of life? Well, not even the super-powers of Omega 3 supplementation* could save me from the 8-9-month sleep regression. Talk to the mother of any 18-month-old, and she’ll say either a) "He was sleeping through the night with no problems and now all of a sudden he’s waking up 3 times a night!" or b) "He never slept through the night and now all of a sudden he’s sleeping through even though we didn’t do anything differently!" There are just crappy times for sleep that have nothing to do with the parents at all.

So I think, basically, the way your kid sleeps is a function mostly of your child’s sleep personality, and also of your child’s age.

Knowing that, I think the way you can "teach" your child to self-soothe is just to bide your time. Because the older a child gets, the better able s/he will be to soothe himself or herself to sleep. A little baby has no knowledge of the world and also no sense of time, so there’s really no way a baby that small can understand that you’re in the other room but are still in the world. For a small baby, if you’re not there, you don’t exist, and s/he’s alone in the world. Some kids are extremely bothered by that and will cry and cry, but others don’t seem to mind being alone. In a few months, though, those babies will have learned to trust that you are there, that you’ll come when they need you, and they’ll be able to determine when things aren’t bad (they just wake up between sleep cycles and can go right back to sleep on their own), or when something’s so bad that they need you (like a nightmare or hunger, which makes them cry to get you to come).

Because kids are all different, you’re going to have to really pay attention to how your child is and what he needs. There are some kids who just always need to be nursed or rocked to sleep. For months and months and months, until you think you’ve made a huge error in rocking them in the first place because now they’re dependent on it. But then one day, the kid just won’t need to be rocked to sleep anymore and will go to sleep happily and without incident. Other kids seem to need to fuss to sleep, others need to be left alone to go to sleep (I was one of those, apparently), others need some kind of music to help them get to sleep, etc. until one day it doesn’t seem to matter and they go to sleep on their own. None of us had to take our mothers with us to college, after all.

I really think it’s important to listen to your child and figure out what s/he needs, and not listen to anyone who’s trying to sell you on a one-size-fits-all method. Especially if that expert is predicting all kinds of gloom and doom about what will happen if you don’t "teach" your child to self-soothe by doing CIO. How, exactly, does crying it out teach a child to soothe him- or herself? All it teaches is not to bother crying for you because you won’t come. It’s effective in taking you out of the loop of night-wakings, but it certainly isn’t teaching your child to self-soothe–it’s actually creating anxiety in the child. (Note that I’m not talking about "fuss it out," which some kids seem to need to do to wind down, or the thing you do when you go in every 5 minutes to soothe, which seems more like sleep training the parents to me, but seems to work for some people.)

(I’m also highly suspicious of any expert that claims a baby needs to learn to go down awake and get himself or herself to sleep within the first few months. Why, exactly? Kids who are rocked or nursed down to sleep all learn to go down by themselves anyway, so who cares if they can go down awake by a certain number of months? Given the choice between rocking to sleep for 15 minutes and knowing my baby will definitely fall asleep, or struggling for 45 minutes to get my kid to go down awake with no guarantee the baby will actually fall asleep, it seems like the "going down awake" plan is the clear loser. But people believe the predictions of disaster that their child will "have problems" if they don’t get them to go down awake. I call bullshit. It seems like something designed to create guilt and feelings of inadequacy in the parents, who will then run out to buy more books from that author. Follow the money…)

(Oh, and I’m also suspicious of any expert who says that all babies need to co-sleep for any set period of time. We’re a co-sleeping family, and I think anyone who has their kid in a separate room for the first few months is a little crazy because they’re creating a bunch of extra work for themselves in the middle of the night, and who needs extra work in the middle of the night? But it’s asinine to think that all babies need or want to sleep with their parents for any set amount of time. If your baby sleeps better alone, then you’re not compromising anything by having separate sleep space. Your baby will give you cues about when it’s time to move to another bed, so pay attention and it’ll be an easier transition than you anticipate.)

So, this has been my long-winded and highly opinionated way of saying your baby is totally normal. Very few 11-week-olds can be put down without being in a super-deep sleep. None of them can truly self-soothe (although some of them don’t seem to mind being alone, so they don’t fuss, so people think they’re self-soothing). And it’s so normal to feel trapped and at the end of your rope at this point in your child’s life.

It will get better even if you do nothing. But it’s just too demoralizing to do nothing, so here are a few tricks you could try to rearrange things more to your liking:

  • Borrow a co-sleeper or take off one side of the crib and tie it to your bed to be a sidecar. Then nurse the baby to sleep and gently roll him into the cosleeper/crib when he’s asleep. Or, if your boobs are big enough, put him in the cosleeper/crib and then nurse him to sleep (on your side, boob sticking into the sidecar), then sneak out of bed yourself.
  • Get a musical lovey, like a stuffed animal with a music box in it. At a time of day when he goes to sleep easily (maybe the first nap of the day if he’s taking regular naps yet–snort, or going to sleep at night), put the lovey with the music going snuggled in with the two of you while you nurse him to sleep. After a few weeks of this, after you nurse him, when you do the transfer to the crib, wind up the lovey and put it right next to him as you do the transfer, so he gets soothed back to sleep before he really wakes up all the way.
  • Do the same thing with a non-musical lovey, although I think the effect will be stronger with the addition of music.
  • Start doing a solid routine at night. Bath, jammies, books, nurse to sleep. The same exact sequence every night, starting at the same time. In a week or two he’ll start to anticipate it and it will be easier to get him to sleep once you hit that point in the routine. This is probably your best bet, and is definitely the one thing I’d recommend to anyone, even if their child sleeps well generally.
  • Associate words with actions. Every time you latch him on, say clearly "nurse" (or whatever word you use for it). When it’s time to go to sleep, say "sleep." When you put him in the bath say "bath." In a few days or so he’ll start to put it together, and he’ll get the predictability of it. And if he’s cranky you can ask using the word, and he can tell you what he wants by responding.
  • Start watching him like a hawk during the day to see if he’s doing anything like the 2-3-4 nap pattern. If he is, run with it, because the more regular the naps are, the easier all his sleep will be. Of course, it’s usually easier to get naps into place once the nighttime sleep is more regular, but it’s worth a shot.

You’ll notice that none of these things are instant fixes, but most of them are things that will end up helping you communicate better with your son. That’s the big payoff, because once you’ve got that strong communication going, everything will be easier for both of you. Less crying, better sleeping, more laughing. For both of you.

*For those of you who have been asking for details of flax seed oil supplementation for pregnancy, I’m working on a post about it as you read this, and will get it up soon.