Yes, Your Life is Different. But You Can Get Used to It.

Starting a family is an exciting, nerve-wracking, enriching time, full of ups, and yes, downs,  too.  It’s difficult to describe how much your life will change the minute your baby is born. You will probably experience exhilaration, exhaustion, tears of joy, tears of frustration, awe, anxiety, incredulity, worry and almost every other emotion you can imagine.

Sometimes it’s hard to find a second for yourself. The pace of life never lets up. Even in the middle of the night.  You are never alone, life is a whirlwind.

With all the commotion and activity, it doesn’t seem possible to also feel alone, but it is often the case with new parents. The spontaneity in your life is gone (honestly, for quite a while). The struggle to get out of the house can sometimes be overwhelming. Staying in seems so much easier. However, that can lead to isolation and loneliness.

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You may wonder where your social life has disappeared to. Your friends without children seem to be doing activities you enjoy but can’t work into your life now: camping, hiking, weekends away, late nights out, etc. Even going to a movie is fraught with obstacles.

Don’t despair.  The search for happiness is ubiquitous. Everyone looks for it. And you will find it.

Here are a few suggestions to combat isolation:

  • Invite your friends over for dinner and to watch a film. If cooking for company
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    seems overwhelming, don’t worry. Order takeout. Your friends didn’t come because of the food, they came because want to spend time with you.

  • Make sure you have some evenings exclusively with friends who also have young children. You really will want to talk about parenthood, and you will want to do that with others who also find it a fascinating topic.
  • Find a sitter you love and arrange a consistent weekly or bi-weekly date night. And don’t cancel even if you’re tired. Maybe you just go to a bookstore and sit in the café and read. Or go to someone else’s house and eat takeout and watch a film (and possibly fall asleep).

    Photo: Bigstock
  • Plan regular exercise. Besides keeping you fit, exercise improves your mood and lessens anxiety. If you can go for a walk with baby and a friend, all the better.
  • Start (or join) a play group in the neighborhood. It’s great for your baby to socialize with other babies, and it’s a great way for you to get closer to neighbors in a similar stage of life.
  • Find a family yoga class.

There are plenty  more ideas in the same vein but you get the idea. Get out there and have fun!

 

 

 

 

An Easy-to-Sew Lap Quilt for Everyone in the Family

I’m a big fan of using my bed, in the sunniest room of the house, as my office. I’ve got my big, firm pillow with arm rests to lean up against, the sun streaming over my shoulders, working on my laptop and listening to my music. It’s a great place to take that inevitable nap, too.

But I have standards. The bed has to be made, so I can sit on top of the covers so there’s no doubt I have actually gotten up and faced the day before settling down to write in my “office.” So a good lap quilt is indispensable.

As I have mentioned before in my craft blog posts, I’m all about easy, fast construction. I’ve got no room in my life for being frustrated by a sewing project.

This is a pretty, soft, light lap quilt that is easily put  together in a hour with a  sewing machine. Start with 1.5 yards each of two different double gauze fabrics. Double gauze is a loosely woven cotton, which makes it very light. As you can see, I used a gray and white print for the top and an aqua solid for the bottom. I bought the double gauze at a local quilt shop — if you don’t have a fabric store nearby you can  easily buy it online.  It’s also easy to find whimsical prints for children and vibrant colors.

A few caveats of working with double gauze. It can shrink when washed. You may want to wash it before working with it, and I  wouldn’t put it in the dryer. Also, because of its loose weave, it is stretchy so be alert  when sewing that you don’t pull the fabric. If you have a  walking foot for your machine, I strongly suggest using it to help manage the stretchy material.

Double gauze sometimes comes in slightly different widths so cut both the fabrics to match.

Purchase a crib-sized quilt batting, which is 60″x46″. I like to use wool batting. Cut it to exactly match the two fabrics. A quilting rotary cutter will give you the sharpest edge. Place the two fabrics together (if there is a right side and wrong side to your fabric, place them right sides together). Place the batting on top. Pin securely around the edges.

Cutting the 2 fabrics and batting to match up using a quilting cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter for accuracy.

Start sewing in the middle of one length. Sew the three pieces together. (It’s as if you’re sewing a big pillowcase.) Stitch about an inch in from the edge. Sew around the blanket, stopping about 8 inches from  where you started. Turn the blanket right side out and finish it off by hand or machine sewing the opening shut.

Final step, tying the quilt. You want to make sure the fabric stays in place, so you’re going to use the simplest quilting technique ever.  Use some embroidery and a very large-eyed  needle. Darning needles work well. Mark the quilt with dots in symmetrical 8 inch squares so the rows line up evenly. An 8-inch square quilting grid ruler works well.

Cut a long length of the embroidery floss, thread down and back right at each

dot, then trim the floss so each end is about 2 inches long, and tie a square knot.  (I’ve linked to a short Youtube tutorial, which will be a lot easier for you to follow than me trying to  write out instructions. ) Left over right, right over left. You can trim the strands closer after tying the knot, if desired.

And there it is, you’re done! Honestly, I completed this in just about an hour.

Traveling With Baby

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Let’s be frank here — it’s not always a  picnic traveling with a baby whether or not you’re breastfeeding.  There are a multitude of things you have to remember to bring, so many you push the limits of suitcases allowed.  And invariably you forget something, and it seems like a disaster.

Two examples: Once we forgot our daughter’s portable crib on the baggage claim conveyer belt as we straggled out of the airport at midnight, ignoring her saying “bed, bed, bed” and pointing to  the luggage. We discovered our error 30 minutes later.

Another time we forgot every single pacifier we owned and which our 2-year old son depended on to fall asleep. We also discovered this at midnight, long after all the stores in the vacation town  were closed.

Of course, we easily survived both events and learned the beauty of being resourceful and spontaneous.

Photo: Bigstock

 

None of that changes that traveling with babies can be stressful. Most parents are consumed with efforts to keep their baby quiet and happy. Even a 10 minute delay on the tarmac can cause nervous sweating on the part of parents — there’s something about thinking that 150+ people are about to be annoyed by your darling that can cause nervous palpitations.

This post is mainly directed towards those with infants. We’ll save toddlers for another day.

First off, getting through TSA. You are allowed to carry breastmilk and

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formula through security and it does not have to be stored in 3-ounce bottles. However there is no refrigeration available, which could be a concern for a long-haul flight. This excellent article from Romper points out that since there are no industry-wide regulations for airlines regarding breastfeeding and/or pumping, you should contact your airline before traveling to make sure you understand your rights.

That is a good segue into the topic of breastfeeding in public. Personally, I am disappointed that this is even a topic of controversy. Of course, as a lactation consultant I am not unbiased. But even putting that aside, I generally believe that it’s your own business how, where or when you choose to breastfeed. As anyone who has tried to soothe a hungry baby knows the only thing that is important is the baby getting fed pronto!

In the US, you are allowed to breastfeed in public situations (which would include an airport). If you are traveling abroad, you will want  to find out your legal rights in whatever country you are traveling to. I would also encourage you to find out what is considered culturally appropriate where you are traveling.

Check with your airline to find out your rights vis a vis breastfeeding, or pumping, on the plane. While I would like to believe your seatmates and flight attendants will be very understanding and supportive, it’s always good to be prepared. Also, if you are pumping, you might also want to check if you can get a cooler bag filled with ice on the plane.

Sometimes, however, mothers would like to find a private place to breastfeed. More and more airports and other public places are installing breastfeeding/pumping pods that accomodate one or two mothers with their babies.

Designed by two mothers, Mamava pods are 4 x 8 with a bench, electrical outlets, USB port, a fold-out  table, a mirror and a locking door. The accompanying app pinpoints the location of the pods. The sites include 35 US airports, 34 sports arenas and convention centers, and 34 companies, including Amazon and Walmart.

The last thing I want  this post to do is dissuade anyone from traveling with their babies. It does take some extra planning time, and some ability to roll with  the punches, but it can also be very enriching. Babies are a great conversation-starter and way to make friends.

So, plan carefully, and bon voyage!

 

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and How Can You Use It?

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As most of you already know,  the United States does not have a nationally mandated leave policy that covers time off.  Employers can have a wide variety of leave policies, some more generous than others.

Acknowledging this, in 1993 President Bill Clinton included the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in his agenda to support parents in the workforce.

FMLA covers pregnancy and birth, adoption, foster care placement, serious personal or family illness, and family military leave.

In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. FMLA covers both public- and private-sector employees,

FMLA-eligible employees can  take up  to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year.

In general, your rights under FMLA are as follows:

  • the same group health insurance benefits, including employer contributions to premiums, that would exist if the employee were not on leave.
  • restoration to the same position upon return to work. If the same position is unavailable, the employer must provide the worker with a position that is substantially equal in pay, benefits, and responsibility.
  • protection of employee benefits while on leave. An employee is entitled to reinstatement of all benefits to which the employee was entitled before going on leave.
  • protection of the employee to not have their rights under the act interfered with or denied by an employer.
  • protection of the employee from retaliation by an employer for exercising rights under the act.
  • intermittent FMLA leave for his or her own serious health condition, or the serious health condition of a family member. This includes occasional leave for doctors’ appointments for a chronic condition, treatment (e.g., physical therapy, psychological counseling, chemotherapy), or temporary periods of incapacity (e.g., severe morning sickness, asthma attack).

However, if you are in the top 10% of earners at your place of employment, your employer may be able to claim that denying the employee their position is “necessary to prevent substantial and grievous economic injury to the operations of the employer.” 

Some states have expanded the FMLA coverage, extending the definition of a family member to include domestic partners, step-parents, grandparents, parents-in-law, among others. It’s worth it to check on your state to get specifics.

‘Tis the Season…

It may seem like it was just summer, but the gift-giving season is fast upon us.  That means that parents have started the  annual search for gifts for their children that please everyone — make your children happy,  satisfy parental standards of appropriateness, and don’t break the bank.

I contacted my trustworthy group of friends who are parents to children ranging in ages from babies to high schoolers and beyond. I asked for suggestions of toys that were their children’s favorites, that always ranked high in the children’s and their friends’ estimation and earned top spot in the toy chest. Final criterion — they should cost less than $50.

Here they are, categorized by age:

0-5 years:

This is the easiest age to make happy. One of my sons was content for years with Matchbox cars. I’d go to CVS, and for $20 buy a fleet of the little cars. He’d be over the moon!

This is the age that is sometimes as happy with the box and the ribbons as they are with the gift. And their excitement over every little thing is enchanting.

A perennial favorite in my house (and every house  where I have given it as a gift) was play food. There are many different versions out there, but my favorite is this cutting food set:

 

 

 

The segments of the food are velcroed together, and can be  easily cut apart  with  the wooden knife. Voilà, hours of fun!

 

In the same vein, play pots and pans and medical sets are always popular. This is the age when children are great imitators of adult behavior so child-sized baby strollers, toolkits, grocery carts, cash registers, etc. are always great gifts.

Brio trains, those classic wooden train sets that attach with magnets, have pleased children for decades. And it’s nice to have toys that are so aesthetically pleasing, with their strong lines and vivid primary colors.

Even though it comes in at a few dollars over $50, the Cozy Coupe deserves a mention.  It is so sought after by the kids it’s a great way to emphasize lessons in sharing.

It’s also good to remember hand-me-downs are great gifts. A well-loved gift outgrown by neighbors will be as welcome to your little one as a new gift would be.

 

Elementary school age:

There are many great card games out there but Uno is always popular. It’s great for anytime, but especially well-suited for travel.

One of the best gifts my daughter ever got was a suitcase filled of dress up

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clothes bought at a thrift store: scarves, hats, colorful shoes, purses, dresses and costumes. In fact, it’s all still in our basement.

Don’t forget to include plastic light sabers with the dress up!

This is also a great age for Lego and Playmobil.

Middle school and high  school:

For lovers of board games,  Settlers of Catan is a top seller. It’s not hard at all  to  grasp, and doesn’t take forever to play (Monopoly, I’m talking about you) and is great for a family game night.

Another good board game is Bohnanza, which teaches strategic thinking and deal-making.

After your kids have outgrown Uno, try Set. Also a card game, it is a fast paced game of patterns and visual perception. Suitable for middle and high schoolers, it’s also a favorite with a cousin who is a computer science professor and has his students play.

My son suggested older edition X-Box games, which are often under $50. At first I resisted, thinking that video games are just another kind of screen time. But then I thought about the evenings  I have spent listening to my sons and  their friends playing sports video games in the basement. They are having a great  time, all crammed on the couch together, laughing and good-naturedly trash talking. It’s teenagers having a ball being teenagers.

There are hundreds of inexpensive gifts for children out there. This is a random sampling of gifts that have been user-tested and found excellent by children I know. I hope some of these will help  you with your gift-buying this year and in the future.

 

The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact

Commonly, after the birth of a newborn, the infant is put on her mother’s chest, called skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care. The baby is naked except for a  diaper, and put tummy down on the mother’s bare chest,  with the baby’s  head  turned to the side, neck straight and nose and mouth uncovered  A blanket covers the two of them.

This practice became very important in Brazil in the 1970s, when they had a very high rate of death of premature infants. However, the medical staff noticed infants who  were held by parents much of the day fared much better than their peers. It was the Brazilians who coined the phrase kangaroo care.

The practice has now become a common recommendation, for all babies, preterm or fullterm.

So how does it  benefit the babies?

Researchers have found that skin-to-skin contact:

  • normalizes the baby’s body temperature (in fact the mother’s temp rises to warm a cold baby and drops to cool an overwarm baby)
  • stabilizes the infant’s respiration and oxygenation
  • increases glucose levels, thus reducing the risk of hypoglycemia
  • regulates blood pressure
  • reduces stress hormones in mother and baby
  • decreases crying
  • encourages the baby into a quiet-alert state, which is optimal for successful feeding

And, for those of you who are breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact has been shown to stimulate milk production in the  early days.  How?

Last post introduced the topic of the hormone oxytocin and the maternal

instinct (albeit the subject was worms but the same link between oxytocin and the maternal instinct exists in humans).

Oxytocin is also the hormone that stimulates milk let-down.  The baby sucking releases prolactin,  the hormone that regulates milk production. So skin-to-skin increases the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone”, both of which decrease stress, which encourages babies quiet-alert state,  which improves baby’s ability to breastfeed, which encourages the release of prolactin, which increases the mother’s milk supply.

Skin-to-skin contact with infants and fathers also produces many of the same benefits.

Just remember, whoever is holding the baby, skin-to-skin should be awake and make sure the baby’s head is turned to the side, with  the neck straight and nose and mouth uncovered.

Maternal Instinct and the Simple Worm

Caenorhabditis elegans
Photo by Society of Mucosal Immunology

Whoever thought research on worms could produce heart-warming news on the maternal instinct?

The maternal instinct is known to be a powerful force. Simply put, it is the desire in mothers to perpetuate their offsprings’ survival, sometimes even at a detriment to herself. It is driven by hormones, namely oxytocin, sometimes affectionately called the “love” hormone. Skin-to-skin contact is known to increase amounts of oxytocin in both mothers and children. The rise in oxytocin also has been proven to reduce anxiety.

So what does this have to do with worms? Are worms driven by anything but their own need to survive?

Yes, it turns out. Scientists in England have discovered, in the course of researching the simple worm, C.elegans, that the worms work to help their offspring to survive, even at their own sacrifice.

The worms feed on a bacteria, the same bacteria they lay their offspring in. Thus they are competing for the same food source as their offspring.

The researchers from England’s University of Southampton, working with the National Infection Service at Porton Down and KU Leuven in Belgium, discovered the worms recognize their offspring and develop a “food-leaving” strategy, designed to ensure the offspring get enough to eat.

The scientists made a connection between this behavior and the hormone nematocin, which is an ancient version of oxytocin. So, according to the researchers, our maternal instinct was derived from “the ancient organization of simple nervous systems such as those found in worms.”

Cool, right?

More to come on oxytocin next week…

In the middle of the night…

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My first child was born 22 years ago, when basic cable was really, really basic. It was January, and those were some long, cold nights nursing her in the middle of the night, while I struggled to stay awake.

TV was my friend. Specifically AMC (American Movie Classics). It was either that or half-hour long infomercials. It turns out that in January 1995 AMC was running a marathon of versions of Doc Holliday and the Shootout at the OK Corral.

The first one was entertaining, the second wasn’t bad (sort of a different take on the story) but by the third film it was all getting very old.

photo: bigstock

New parents nowadays are in a much more enviable position. They have tons of options for middle-of-the-night binge watching while feeding or soothing baby. It’s an embarrassment of riches. How to choose?

I polled a handful of friends for suggestions. Only restriction — the shows should be soothing, or at least not disturbing. We want you to be able to get back to sleep ASAP. So Game of Thrones and Criminal Minds are not included in this list.

I’ve loosely categorized the shows to make this post easier to skim. As always with parenting, time is of the essence. This post would be way too long if I provided a summary for  each show so instead I’ve linked each one to Wikipedia.

Starting with my favorites: British shows.

British dramas are ideal for watching at any time, but especially appropriate for the wee hours of the morning. They are not action-packed, and have a slower pace than many American shows. Even the police procedurals are light on violence and noise.

The Crown

Doc Martin

The Bletchley Circle

Lark Rise to Candleford

The Night Manager

Foyle’s War

Agatha Raisin

Home Fires

Delicious

Pride and Prejudice (definitely make sure it’s the 6-part BBC version with Colin Firth. You won’t regret it)

The Great British Bake Off

Next, Australian shows:

Similar to British shows in that they tend to be less action-packed than American shows, but also delightfully likeable. Also, Australians seem like people you want  to be friends with.

Offspring

A Place to Call Home

Perennially fresh sit-coms:

There are some sit-coms that stand up to the test of time, are still funny and don’t even seem dated.

M*A*S*H*

Friends

Seinfeld

Gilmore Girls

The Office

30 Rock

Arrested Development

 

 

And more recent sit-coms:

 

 

 

 

Modern Family

Blackish

Parks and Recreation

Silicon Valley

Veep

Catastrophe

Odd Mom Out

Younger

Some really good dramas:

 

 

 

 

The NIght of

Friday Night Lights

Transparent

Mozart in the Jungle

The Americans

The Get Down

GLOW

Wolf Hall

And some difficult-to-categorize but really absorbing shows:

Shark Tank

The 1900 House

CNN Decades documentaries

My hope for all parents is undisturbed nights of rest. However, circumstances differ and many parents sometimes find themselves awake when it seems like no one else is. First of all, don’t despair — this too shall end. Second of all, you’re definitely not the only one awake — there are plenty of others in your temporary boat.

In the meantime, I hope some of  these shows will help the time go by.

 

Parenting as Grandparents

When I started this blog, I envisioned it as an informational, and sometimes entertaining, resource for young parents. What I didn’t think about was grandparents filling the job of parents.

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Grandparents serving as parents “is one of the fastest growing demographics in the world,” says Judy Kreag, a Licensed Parent Educator in Duluth, Minn. Kreag developed a course known as parenting again.

The current opioid crisis has sparked the rise in grandparents taking responsibility for grandchildren, though there are other situations, as well. In particula, Kreag has found that families touched by drug abuse have some special needs.

Often, the adult children have had their children taken away from them and the grandparents find themselves spending their money put aside for retirement on legal fees to get custody of their grandchildren.

“Courts are set up to try to get children back with their parents. They are not set up to give the children to the grandparents,” said Kreag. She knows of one couple who spend $30,000 to get legal custody of their grandchildren.

In addition, “the children are confused.” She spends a good part of the course

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discussing ways to talk to the grandchildren about why they’re not living with their parents.

Grandparents with adult children struggling with drug or alcohol abuse often feel guilt that their children have turned to drugs. “There’s a lot of shame involved and people don’t always want to air their problems,” says Kreag, who only has 3-5 couples sign up for the course each session, despite offering free dinner and childcare during the classtime.

Kreag says she recommends to her students they go to Nar Anon or Al Anon meetings where the literature discusses that you are not responsible for your adult children’s behavior.

Grandparents who are parenting also sometimes struggle to help with their grandchildren’s schoolwork, especially assignments that involve technology.

And, of course, an issue familiar to parents of every age, exhaustion. It can be very draining to parent at any age, but particularly at retirement age. Kreag says she stresses self-care.

To families who are looking for similar programs in their area, Kreag suggests checking with the public school district, county education programs, and religious organizations, such as churches and synagogues.

“Does everyone do this?”

Recently I read a very moving article in the New York Times  called “Maternal Instinct or OCD?”

Written by Kelly Kautz, it’s a piece that resonates in every  new parent’s mind — is my anxiety about parenthood “normal” or is this something more? Everyone checks to make sure their sleeping baby is still breathing, right? But do they check continuously throughout  the night, forgoing sleep themselves?

Eunice Pinney (American, 1770 – 1849 ), Mother and Child, c. 1815, pen and black ink and watercolor on wove paper, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch 1953.5.112

Everyone worries about the temperature of the bedroom, the level of air conditioning in the car, the sun glare on the baby, right? But how often? And does this anxiety make it impossible to enjoy being a parent?

Ms. Kautz vividly describes how becoming a new mother triggered a resurgence of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder she had suffered as a teenager, which she thought she had firmly under control after working with a therapist on cognitive behavior therapy. She writes how she was operating in a fog of anxiety, checking on the baby obsessively, so concerned about her baby she wasn’t enjoying her baby.

But what resonated most with me was the comments section. Reader after reader described their struggles, wondering if others were similarly suffering. Then there were the readers who counseled the writer to relax, just stop worrying, enjoy your baby. (If only it were that easy!) Or those who asked what is wrong with erring on the side of safety when it comes to taking care of an infant.

What is clear throughout the comments is everybody is empathetic, but most are also unsure of when the line is crossed into the region of a mental disorder. Is it OCD, or maternal instincts? Post-partum depression or fleeting “baby blues”?

The truth is, advice from family, friends and neighbors, while always well-meaning, can sometimes send you astray. If your feelings or anxiety is troubling you, I urge you to seek professional advice.

If you  are already working with a mental  health professional, you should alert them to your pregnancy and continue to stay in touch throughout the pregnancy and post-birth. This is particularly important if you are taking medication. While pregnant or nursing,  every health professional you work with should be aware of every medication you are taking.  That includes vitamins, OTC medications, and herbal medications, as well as prescription meds.

(As I wrote in a previous post, many medications are deemed safe to  take while pregnant or breastfeeding, but it’s important to check them all with your obstetrician or midwife and pediatrician.)

If you are not yet working with someone, you can start with your obstetrician or midwife and ask for recommendations.  You can also work with your insurance company to find a mental health professional covered by your benefits.

In addition, national organizations usually have a resource list for you to find local  professionals.

For OCD, the International OCD Foundation has a very helpful resources page with tips for looking for therapists, programs, support groups and information.

Another useful resource is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

It’s also relevant to note that anxiety on the part of new parents is by no means limited to mothers and partners should be alert to their own wellbeing, as well.

The most important thing to remember is there is no reason to be embarrassed or secretive about mental health issues. You wouldn’t want  to hide hypertension and just hope it  will get better, and neither should you try to ignore mental health concerns. Work as a team with your health providers and your partner to do the best for your family.