Monday, November 28, 2011

Baby "Milestones" are Stupid

I received a message from one of my former students today in distress over her family comparing her baby to her sister's baby, who is just two weeks younger. I have a feeling a lot of us can relate to this.

"I'm starting to receive concern from family members about Ellie being slow to hit milestones. She is a happy, alert, curious baby, but she does not sit unassisted yet, and she is nowhere near crawling. She is 7 1/2 months old. Of course all the concerned people are trying to figure out why she is "delayed" and pointing fingers at: too much breastfeeding, lack of solid food, the fact that she doesn't sleep in her own room or know how to "self-soothe," or the fact that I carry her too much.

I doubt everyone would be so concerned, except that Ellie is being directly compared to her cousin (my sister's baby) who is exactly 2 weeks younger. He has been sitting and crawling for weeks, and now he is starting to pull up on furniture to a standing position. He is formula-fed, started solids at 4 months, and was trained to sleep in his own crib (in his own room). My sister is also careful not to pick him up "too much" so as not to "spoil" him. So those methods now look more successful than my methods.

Anyway, I just wondered if you had a blog post about this (or maybe if you wanted to write one!), or if you had any other info about it, so that I could send a link or something to the relatives that are bugging me."


Give that boy a ribbon!  Oh wait, the ribbon goes to the mom, right?

When my first baby was little, I remember comparing him to every baby that was remotely close to his age.  The only thing he did "early" was sit up.  He was 5 months old and fat as could be.  He looked like a bowling ball.  I think that is the only reason he did sit up!  I was so relieved when he got his first tooth at 9 months.  He finally started crawling at 10 months.  In fact, my earliest crawler was 9 months.  Of four children, my earliest walker was 13 months.

As you could probably guess, my babies, like this mama's baby, were all carried extensively in the sling.  I was constantly talking to them.  They were learning language and engaged in all kinds of  activities they otherwise probably wouldn't have been from a stroller or car seat.

I have read -- and maybe this was made up by someone who wanted to make parents of "slow" babies feel better -- that babies who do things later tend to be soaking up more around them.  They tend to speak sooner and often more clearly.  I do think that when they are engaged in whatever activity their caregiver is engaged in, they are preoccupied.  When they are left "alone" they find ways to occupy themselves, often finding out what their body can do.  This is so not true of some babies and I'll probably incite a riot with that statement.   Babies who do things early are more focused on doing than learning.   Like I said, I have no idea if that has any merit whatsoever.  As we all know, babies are all so different.  They do things when they are ready.

I was concerned about one of my kids being dyslexic when she was small.  I took her in and they wouldn't even give me the time of day.  They said at that age  -- she was about pre-K -- the spectrum was enormous.  They said by 3rd grade that gap narrows significantly. 

I've always felt like, who cares if one kid can read at 4, or crawl at 6 months, or eat solid food at 4 months, or walk at 12 months!  It doesn't mean they are smarter or better than the next kid.  It also doesn't mean that you are a better mom!  Once they are talking, walking, feeding themselves, swinging on the swings, playing tag on the playground, playing video games, Facebooking with their friends, and downloading music on their ipod, no one cares about these milestones.  It's like due dates.   40 weeks is an estimated time of arrival.  As we know, it means little. 

Ultimately, those milestones, in my opinion, are kinda stupid.  I think a mom knows when something is not right.  Those milestones, like fetal kick counts, make a mom super paranoid, almost always unnecessarily.  If you do feel that something is not quite right, visit with your pediatrician about your concerns.  Follow your gut, but not what the kid next door is doing!  Don't compare your baby with other babies.  For that matter, don't compare your teenager with other teenagers!

A couple of years ago I had to tell one of my students to put the books away and just focus on her baby.  She was making herself crazy with all the things her baby should be doing, or parenting exactly the way the book said was the right way.  At some point, you have to just look at you, your kid, and your situation and do what works for your family.  Some things sound great in a book but just don't play out that way in your real life.  I experienced this quite a bit with my babies. 

As for my former student's message?  I feel bad for the other kid.  He's not getting breastmilk, he's choking down solid food, not getting held nearly as much as his cousin, and he sleeps alone.  Follow your instincts, Mama!  You are doing a fabulous job.  And your baby is so lucky to be parented with so much love.

For the record, none of my kids read at the age of 4, but they all read now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Toddler Tantrums - Keeping it In Perspective



I am totally out of the toddler tantrum era (thankfully) and am fully immersed in teenage drama.  I don't know which is worse, really.  The toddlers are physically draining, but the teenagers are mentally and emotionally exhausting.  I love telling my toddler-freak-out-moment stories, but I'll refrain.  We've all been there, done that. 

I have a good friend that is dealing with a very active and inquisitive toddler and she has received some mixed advice lately.  She posed the question to a few of us and I wanted to share one of the responses she got.  I think there are probably several readers that could benefit from her words.  She practices Attachment Parenting better -- and more accurately -- than anyone else I know.

Here was the question:
This is so random, but I need veteran mommy help. Seems like (toddler) is having a lot of tantrums lately. Somebody recently told me that I need to stand him up and make him obey, that he shouldn't be allowed to have his way and that I should not nurse him after a fit as not to "reward" that behavior. Thinking on that. I try and reason with him, as he comprehends very well for 17 months. Any thoughts?
Here is the (fabulous) response:
A) I don't think children should be treated with less respect because they are little. B) if someone told (husband) to stand up to you and make you obey you would think they were a total jerk.

That being said - you don't deserve to be treated disrespectfully by (toddler) just because he is little either.

I don't want to raise obedient children, I want to raise thoughtful respectful adults. Respect begets respect in my opinion (well until they are 15, but I think that's a temporary freak out thing, kind of like being a toddler).

The problem with toddlers is that they are so frustrated in their little bodies because they cannot execute their big ideas. He's not freaking out to be spiteful or mean to you, he's just trying to get his point across using his improving communication skills. For all his life you have given him most everything his heart desired. Now his desires are getting more particular than just cuddling and nursing, which means that he is having to learn to not get everything he wants which sucks for him.

Our job is to teach them it's okay to have wants, it's okay if sometimes they aren't immediately fulfilled, and what the appropriate ways are to make those requests are and deal with the disappointments.

I think when a child tries to express frustration through a tantrum and a parent "stands up" to them with a scary show of force, it reinforces that that is acceptable behavior (a mommy tantrum) and also tells him that mommy has no better coping skills than freaking out too.

Going the alternate route of speaking in a very quiet voice and offering alternatives to the tantrum, and soothing words that you know he can take deep breaths and calm down reinforces that fact to you and him. If also forces him to lower his volume to hear you. Even if you achieve that reaction 51% of the time, you are reinforcing the message that most the time, overwhelming feelings can be dealt with calmly.

It is hard as heck to be calm when meltdown is occurring so that's why I focus on that scale being tipped rather than insisting on perfection in myself. For some reason this week has been really hard for her and I and a couple of times I have loaded everyone up in the car and gone for a drive.

I feel for (toddler daughter) when she wants something so badly and can't have it, while I just walk over and pick it up, or get it off the shelf. Now she is starting to self regulate and tell me she is taking deep breaths and thinking in the middle of her tears.

I don't do nursing sessions at this point to get a big tantrum under control (unless it's really a crisis), but at the age (toddler) is at, I would ask her if nursing for a moment would help her to relax and think more clearly and if she said yes I would nurse for a bit. That's been his comfort and how he regulated his emotions for his whole life- why should that change abruptly?

Also as nursing is changing, also pay attention to whether he is hungry/ thirsty/ tired , less nursing as he grows means different patterns of food and water consumption and of his blood sugar is down his behavior will suck....

Thanks Shannon, of simplebaby.com, for those words of advice and perspective.  I have no doubt they will help another mama dealing with the exact same situation as our friend.  I have determined that it is easier to deal with a toddler tantrum than one of a 15-year-old not getting his way.  At least they are still cute as toddlers!  Good luck mamas!  This too shall pass.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Postpartum Sex -- Or the Lack Thereof

This is anything but a sexy post.  Let's start with the semi-sexi though:  50% of women have an increased sex drive during pregnancy.  Of course, the flip side is that 50% have a decreased sex drive.  I can usually tell which category women fall into when we have this discussion in class by the look on the dads' faces.  The sexy side is that sex is good during pregnancy for a number of reasons -- reasons that I'm not going into right now -- but then, the baby is born.  The crazy sex (for 50% of you!) comes to a screeching halt.

Your entire universe is turned upside-down by this little bundle of joy.  You now have a crying baby on your hands.  You are leaking milk everywhere, waking up in puddles.  The furthest thing from your mind is sex.  Maybe you tore and had stitches.  Maybe you've had a hard time going to the bathroom or sitting in a chair.  Things can be very tender for varying lengths of time.

Dads, on the other hand, have that 6-week postpartum check-up circled on their calendar.  You know, the one where they talk about birth control and give you the go-ahead to engage in sexual activity again.  (The significance of 6 weeks really has to do with the position of the cervix more than anything.  I didn't know that until my 4th baby.  I thought it was all about bleeding.)

News flash:  Many moms are not ready to have sex again by 6 weeks!  

New moms are wired to be 100% preoccupied with their new baby, even for months.  It is so important that couples have this conversation and do not just assume that at 6 weeks she will be ready.  I never tore with any of my babies and the first time having sex after giving birth was always pretty intense.  I'll be the first to admit, I was not into it at all, but felt bad for my husband.  It was guilt sex.

Physical obstacles include leaky breasts (some men like this and others are really turned off by it) and vaginal dryness.  Breastfeeding contributes to the dryness, but I've never been comfortable "blaming" breastfeeding.  As you know, sex for a woman is as much about what's going on in her head as it is what is happening physically.  Like I said, she is 100% preoccupied with the baby.  A lot of women find it hard at this point of motherhood to feel like the sexual being they were previously. There can be some emotions to work through and adjust to, and sometimes this can take months.


Depending on what baby number this is, she may be "touched" all day long by various numbers of children.  Nursing, holding, changing, consoling.  At the end of the day, she may just want to be left alone.  This is so hard for a relationship.  I've seen lots of moms (and dads) go through this.  I know, when David and I have frequent sex, our relationship rocks!  When we go long periods of time without it, we fight and get annoyed with each other.  He'd be thrilled to know that I'm writing about this!  I have no doubt that every relationship is the same way.  Going months without sex is hard on a relationship. 

I have not gone through this personally, but I know plenty of people who have.  It's been very trying and every mom I know feels terribly guilty.  In every case I know of, the mom tore pretty bad and was stitched.  They all felt that the stitches were too "tight" and not quite right.  All of them were embarrassed to talk about it and felt that what they were going through was very rare.  That's really why I wanted to write a post about it.  It should be talked about and women need to know that they are not alone.  Communication and compassion are crucial in a marital relationship enduring this trial.

Over the years, I've heard a few dads comment that they feel like they've been replaced by the baby.  This, too, is short-lived, trust me!  Every day I feel like it's me and David against these 4 crazy kids!

 A good friend of mine gave me a silly book several years ago called The Diaper Diaries: The Real Poop on a New Mom's First Year.  Normally, I really hate books like this, but this one is really pretty funny and I'm pretty sure I've laughed out loud at several of the pages.  I have often referred to this "chart" of a typical 20-year scenario with a child.  It's divided by years of motherhood-- what the baby does and what the husband does in that year.  I hope you enjoy it.


1st Year: 
Smiles every time he sees you and cries when you leave the room.  Says his first word:  "Mama."
Wants to breastfeed like the baby.  Changing diapers makes him sick to his stomach.

2nd Year:
Loves to sit on your lap and read Are You My Mother?
Baby bumps his head when husband is supposed to be watching him.
 
3rd Year:
Wants to marry you when he grows up.
Teaches baby Three Stooges eye poke.

4th Year:
Has developed bad habit of wiping his nose on your pants.
Wants to cuddle with you after you've had a bad day.

5th Year:
Insists on wearing Spiderman outfit to kindergarten every day.
Will listen to you complain about your boss every night.

6th Year:
Won't let you kiss him at the bus stop.
Expands cooking skills beyond "grilling" so he can make dinner the other 10 months of the year.

7th Year:
Begs for (and gets) puppy.
Will gladly turn off the baseball game to make out with you.

8th Year:
Is tired of puppy (now dog).  Will only talk about baseball.
Takes over puppy duties.

9th Year:
Thinks girls, homework, and vegetables are all stupid.
Watches Sex and the City with you.
 
10th Year:
Loses an average of one sweatshirt and one pair of sneakers every week.
Occasionally leaves sticky love notes for you on the bathroom mirror.

11th Year:
Will only talk about soccer.
Is willing to spend his whole vacation with your parents.

12th Year:
Thinks his friends are cool and you are dorky.
Worries about you when you have to drive in bad weather.

13th Year:
Won't leave his room because he has pimples.
Still thinks you're hot, especially when you wear your cut-offs.

14th Year:
Drives friend's motorbike through high school cafeteria on a dare.
Washes and vacuums out your car when you are harried.

15th Year:
Allows motorbike friend to tattoo rattlesnake on his ankle.
Encourages you to go back to school to get your Master's.

16th Year:
Wants to quit school to become a magician's apprentice.
Buys you a sexy sports car for your birthday.

17th Year:
Needs to borrow $4500 for a "once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity."
Reads the same novel you are reading for Book Club so he can discuss it with you.

18th Year:
Stops by the house just to shower and change.
Rearranges his work schedule so he can cheer you on in the tennis final at the club.

19th Year:
Wants to move in with girlfriend who is 4 years older than he is.
Waits up for you after your Investment Club meetings.

20th Year:
Wants to move back home with girlfriend because magician gig isn't panning out.
On your 20th anniversary, he says he'd marry you all over again.


Sometimes a bigger perspective is helpful.  Talk to each other.  Communicate.  If the bottle of lotion has to sit on the nightstand a little longer, so be it.  In a lot of cases, time changes situations if you can both be patient.

Monday, November 7, 2011

POOP

That's right, you read the title right. Let's talk about poop for a few minutes. Did you know that you might poop when you push your baby out? Most people never think about this, and others are completely obsessed with the possibility of this happening. I've even had one of my couples have a c-section over this topic. She made it to a 7, everything was going great, and she opted for a c-section. She just could never let go of the fear.

Approximately 30% of women poop when they push their baby out. There is a trend I'm starting to see pop up of offering/pushing enemas to women when they are in labor. I got an email from a friend this week and here is a portion of it: "They gave her an enema before starting pitocin because the doctor didn't want to be pooped on. Yes, he personally told the mom this."  Gotta love the OB that does things for his comfort and not the mom's. 

At any rate, the body, typically at the beginning of labor, will naturally get rid of waste.  She'll usually have loose bowels, sometimes even diarrhea.  She should eat and drink throughout her labor though, which means more waste.  And that's ok!  So, along with all the questions I've given you over the years to ask your care provider, here's another one:

"How do you feel about poop?"

If you are super concerned with pooping when you are pushing your baby out, do the enema.  If it makes you feel more confident, by all means.  Know that I am not advocating the enema whatsoever!  In fact, I'd really just like to see women comfortable with their bodies and not afraid to eat and possibly poop in labor.  But, like all interventions, I believe there is a time and place. 

Let's go back to the mom who just can't let it go, no matter how much her husband and care provider tells her it's ok, it's normal.  They don't care if she poops.  There are some other issues associated with this fear.  At the top of this list is sexual abuse.  Pooping during pushing is not about vanity.  I strongly suggest counseling in this situation.  To most, this topic is funny and only slightly embarrassing.  To others, it's completely paralyzing.  

Last I read, approximately 1 in 4 women have been sexually abused or molested.  Poop has the potential to be a big issue for many women -- even one million per year -- about to give birth.  I can't help but wonder about the women who elect to have a c-section and never experience any labor.  It's a question that simply cannot be asked, and yet, I can't help but wonder.  Is sexual abuse a part of their history?  Labor and birth is an extremely vulnerable time in a woman's life.  She is exposed in every way possible.  It's a lot for a woman who has not been abused or molested to come to grips with.  But for a woman who has endured abuse or molestation, vaginal birth  may be much too overwhelming.  

If you have seen Orgasmic Birth, they address sexual abuse and birth in a very tender story.  The woman is terrified to surrender to the power of her birth.  When she does, she comes out stronger on the other side.  If you have not seen the movie, check it out.  It's about much more than just "orgasmic" birth!

What started out as a funny post, took a very serious turn.  You know me, I can't end like this.  So, in class, the mamas planning a water birth always want to know about pooping in the water.  (My water birth is the only birth I didn't poop!)  I tell them that if they are really worried about it, if the dad will just throw a bunch of tootsie rolls in the water at the time of birth, she'll never know if she pooped or not.  (I've never had anyone actually do it, but it would be a very funny trick to play on a midwife.)