Families in the Loop Spring Fling

The Chicago New Moms Group is offering the chance to win a free family four pack of tickets to this year’s Families in the Loop Spring Fling.

Are you looking for a great Sunday morning activity the whole family will love?

Families in the Loop is ramping up spring fever by throwing a party like no other. We’ll sip kickin’ mock cocktails, groove to our favorite tunes, mix and mingle with other parents, and treat our tots to cool crafts and tummy-lovin’ brunchies.

Here are the deets

When:  Sunday, March 25, 2012, 10:30am-noon

Where:  Lincoln Hall at 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

What:  Whole family fun including food, arts and crafts, awesome gift bags, raffle prizes, and family flash mob dance!

Who:  You and your family!  For families with children of all ages.

Here’s how you win the tickets

Post a comment below telling us your favorite family weekend activity.  The contest ends March 8.  The winner will be chosen at random and will be notified by email on the 9th.

I will survive

In the early months as a new parent, there are many days when the trials and tribulations of learning all there is to know about your baby and how to figure out and care for your child can be quite overwhelming.   There is nothing like the job of parenting that can throw a bright and intelligent person into a tailspin.  Prior to motherhood, women are doctors, lawyers, business executives, professors and, in general, competent individuals in their professional, pre-baby lives.  Enter:  small baby who poops, spits up, cries, makes funny noises and only sleeps in short intervals of time.  Sure, eventually this child will smile and coo and cackle and laugh and bring you joy beyond your imagination, but initially, this small human can really throw you for a loop.

As moms, we are often very hard on ourselves for not being able to “figure it all out.”  Friends with older children may have told you that it will get easier and it does but this takes time and experience.  The only way to get this experience is on the job.  It is nearly impossible to completely prepare yourself for the challenges that parenthood will bring.   No matter how much you read, how many experts you hear from or pediatricians you consult, you will come to know that your child is a unique human being that only you know best.

I often find that there is a constant internal conflict going on between just wanting to survive a particular moment in time and the struggles that occur at some of the stages and trying to focus on the here and now and enjoy each moment because they are often so fleeting.  If you haven’t read the article Don’t Carpe Diem by Glennon Melton, I highly recommend it.  I love how she talks about finding the brief moments in your hectic day to really appreciate one of the little gifts that children bring but also to remember that parenting young children is far from the bliss and harmony that some who have lived through it remember it to be.  Our minds have a habit of playing tricks on us and helping us to forget the difficult times and remember only the good.  Of course, there is good reason for this, because if we only remembered the tough days as parents or how challenging it was, no one would have more then one child.

On those tough days that leave me feeling like a far from “good enough” mom (my goal has never been perfection), I often find myself singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” in my head.  It keeps me going and reminds me that tomorrow is another day, another chance to improve on the day before, to learn from my mistakes and to move forward as a mom.  Now I try to remind myself that the longer I am a parent, the more I am able to look back on the tough days and remember that we all survived and even had some laughs about the crazy mishaps that occur that move us from one moment in time to the next.

Welcoming a new Chicago play space (aka “Mom survival essential”): Purple Monkey Playroom

Thank you to Jessica Roubitchek, the owner of Bucktown’s newest indoor play space,  Purple Monkey Playroom, for this great article the importance of finding ways to relieve the isolation of new parenthood. 

I read this article about a week back and I have revisited it in my mind many times since. It resonates on so many levels but the point I keep coming back to is that isolation can be the hardest part about new motherhood. As someone who has always relished time spent alone, I was shocked at how much I craved the company of other people when my daughter was first born, and how difficult it was to find.

Fisher eloquently recalls:

I invented errands and dawdled and took the long way home, but still had hours and hours to fill before I would hear my husband’s key in the door.

It was 22 months ago that I first experienced this, but I too recall it all too vividly. At 32, I was the only one of my close friends with a baby. And certainly the only person I knew who was home between 8 and 6 on a weekday. Drop-In play spaces were in their infancy when my child was in hers. I wasn’t connected enough to the mommy world to even know they existed. I spent hours alone, nursing my daughter in my bedroom chair. I craved companionship like air but had no idea where to find it. I can’t say my maternity leave was a particularly happy time.

One of my hopes, in opening Purple Monkey Playroom, is to help address this void for all parents and caregivers – but particularly new moms – in the greater Bucktown/Wicker Park/Ukranian Village/Humboldt Park and Logan Square areas. We’re reaching out to meet-up groups for new moms and even to pregnant women to try to combat the sense of isolation BEFORE it hits. We are a place where moms can venture out with an unpredictable infant, nurse as needed, and come and go as they please.

If you know a new mom or a mom to be, consider purchasing a Mini-Monkey membership for her shower gift or newborn welcome present. I already have gift cards written out for several of my pregnant friends. If you are a new mom, whether at Purple Monkey or elsewhere, be sure to seek out community while you’re redefining your life and learning the ropes.

Jessica Roubitchek, is the owner of Purple Monkey Playroom, a professional fundraiser, and the mom of an energetic toddler.  After having her daughter in 2010, she found it difficult to find nearby, unstructured activities for her little girl, particularly on rainy days and in winter. The introduction of drop-in play to Chicago fit the bill, yet all of the existing offerings required a trip in the car. She looks forward to welcoming children, parents and caregivers to a safe, relaxing indoor space for imaginative play within strolling distance of her home.  Please visit her website for more information. 

Prenatal University

The Chicago New Moms Group is proud to be a part of an incredible new program for families in the Chicago suburbs! This innovative new concept in childbirth education designed to support women throughout their pregnancy, birth experience, and parenthood.   Prenatal University serves as a central resource for all kinds of  information about pregnancy, motherhood and parenting.  Founded by the team at  OMG  Women’s Healthcare of Hinsdale, Ill., Prenatal University supports parents with high quality, expertly taught classes to build confidence, increase knowledge and have fun!

Check out all the great programs found in one place:

  • Baby’s Fresh First Foods
  • Hypnobirthing® – The Mognan Method
  • New Mom’s Group (brought to you by The Chicago New Moms Group)
  • The Breastfeeding Experience
  • The Art of “Baby Wearing”
  • Your Birth, Your Way!
  • Happiest Baby on the Block Infant Care Class
  • Pregnancy 101: The short and sweet solution to having a baby
  • Labor and Delivery: The Basics
  • Pre and Postnatal  Pilates
  • Balancing Babies with Big Brother/Big Sister
  • Going Green: The Fundamentals of Cloth Diapering
  • Baby Boot Camp
  • Rock your Postpartum Period:  How to maintain balance and wellness after baby comes

To learn more about any of these classes or to register, please visit the Prenatal University website at www.prenataluniversity.com or call (630) 203-8188.

Pumping at work: One mom’s frustrating story

Recently on the mother to mother Breastfeed, Chicago Facebook group, a mom vented a brief story of a negative interaction with a coworker that she had regarding her need to pump at work.  This story sparked a very strong memory for me of a time, now 6 years ago, when I too returned to work and was pumping so that I could continue to breastfeed my baby.  I wanted to share that story with all of you in hopes it might be helpful to others.

Whenever I think about new and veteran moms returning to work and pumping, I am immediately brought back to December 2005.  I was a new mom, returning to work after my 3 month maternity leave.  I was a social worker in an outpatient HIV clinic within a large hospital in New York City.  I was very fortunate in that my daughter was going to the day care that was part of the hospital across the street from my office.  This afforded me the opportunity to go over during my lunch and breastfeed her, thus eliminating one time a day when I had to pump and also one less bottle that someone would be giving her.  Like many new moms who have returned to work, I was no longer the same person I had been when I left to give birth just 3 months before.  I now had a new role in life, new priorities and my job no longer really ranked up there with the things that mattered most to me.  I knew that I was going to be moving in 6 months and had it set in my mind that I could handle pumping at work for that amount of time.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but with an end in sight, I thought, “how hard could it really be?”

At the time, I shared an office with two other coworkers, both female social workers.  One was, and continues to be a very close friend.  The other was a friend prior to me having a baby and even came to my home to visit me and my daughter while I was on maternity leave.  My actual cubicle was at the back of our office space, meaning that my coworkers did not have to walk past my office to get to their own.  On my first day back at work, both of my office mates were out.  It was great!  I did my job, saw my patients, put up my little curtain and pumped when I needed to.  In between I washed all my pump parts, and nursed my baby at lunch over at the daycare.  I felt empowered by my ability to work and also provide the most nutritious food for my baby. Sadly, when everyone returned, this all changed.

The coworker who I was very close with thought it was great that I was pumping at work.  She didn’t have children of her own but understood the purpose and the necessity of it.  The other one, we’ll call her Veronica (her name has been changed to protect the not so innocent), was another story entirely.  I told her that I would be pumping a couple of times a day in my office and that I would try to do it at a time that she wasn’t going to be seeing patients.  I asked that, if the actual door at the entrance to the office was closed, could she please knock before coming in?  She didn’t take this well at all.  She accused me of trying to control her and thus preventing her from doing her job.  She also told me she was not comfortable with hearing the pump from the other side of the cubicle wall.  I’m embarrassed to say that several screaming arguments took place between us which usually led to one of us storming off.  Suffice it to say, this did not make for a very relaxing environment to pump in.  In retrospect, I realize now that I was very hormonal, exhausted from being up at night with my newborn for the last three months, and in the midst of a major life change between having just become a mother and now transitioning into my role as a working mom.  I also naively assumed that all would be supportive of my choice to breastfeed.  Now when I think back on it, I realize that I did not have any other friends with babies, and I didn’t know anyone who had returned to work while pumping.  As time went on, I began to think about some of the things that had happened to Veronica that may have made her react how she did.  She was single and her slightly older sister had just had a baby a few months before I had.  Her sister had chosen not to breastfeed so the actual process of continuing a breastfeeding relationship while working was foreign to her.  That being said, she made no attempt to understand what it entailed or what I was going through.

The hostile climate in the office worsened, when a week or so after I returned to work, the New York City Transit Authority went on strike for 4 days, discontinuing bus and train service in all 5 boroughs.  Since I no longer had any sick time left (it was all used up during my maternity leave), I had no choice but to go to work, but that also meant figuring how how to get my infant daughter there as well.  Since many of the day care workers lived in the outer boroughs and it was taking them 2-3 hours to get home each night, one day they had to close the day care early.  Nothing was going on in our office (our patients couldn’t get to their appointments either) so I picked up my daughter early that day and brought her back to my office while I finished up for the day.  She quietly hung out in her car seat while I typed up some last few notes.  Next thing I knew, Veronica stormed into my cubicle screaming at me for once again assuming that the way I was choosing to use our shared space was okay with everyone else.  Suffice it to say, when I finally made it home that night, I cried for quite some time from all the stress this was causing.  I was totally baffled by her strong negative reaction to me and my baby.

My supervisor at the time tried to be as supportive as he could.  He was in a tough place because he was both mine and Veronica’s supervisor and although he knew that she was being unreasonable, he didn’t really know how to handle the situation.  As far as Veronica was concerned, I could use one of the exam rooms that were constantly in use for patient care and would never have provided any privacy.  The hospital knew that they were required to provide me a non bathroom space to pump in (although I did end up pumping in the bathroom at least once), but their solution was for me to make a 20 minute trek over to the NICU pumping room each time I needed to pump.  This would not have allowed me to do my job.  In the end, I was lucky enough to be able to move into a former supervisor’s private office where I could both work and pump for the remainder of my time at work.  Veronica and I never spoke again and the entire practice was divided among whose “side” they were on as a result of the entire situation.

In retrospect, I probably should have approached the situation differently.  Maybe I didn’t take into account how she would feel about it.  Honestly, at the time, I wasn’t really concerned with anyone else other than my baby and how I was going to provide food for her while being away from her for most of the day.  I certainly let my emotions get the best of me and probably seemed like this crazy breastfeeding woman to her, but I didn’t care.  I guess I still don’t.  I know that everyone has their own issues and some people, for whatever reason, are not entirely comfortable with breastfeeding.  As a nursing mom, pumping in order to feed my baby was a logical and natural choice for me.  However, for someone who had had very little exposure to breastfeeding, my decision must have made her feel awkward, uncomfortable, and imposed upon.

If you are returning to work and will be continuing to pump, my advice to you would be to seriously think about the environment you will be returning to and how you can make your very difficult job of pumping at work as easy as possible. In Illinois, your employer is required by law to provide you with a “non bathroom” space in which to pump.  Currently, 24 states have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.  Talk to your coworkers.  If they are a group of single 20 and 30 year olds who have not had any experience with breastfeeding moms, be prepared to educate them on all the hard work that moms do to provide the best food for their babies and share some of all the excellent benefits of breastfeeding (like how your baby will be healthier, resulting in you not taking days off to care for a sick child).  You may even make a difference in their decision to someday choose to breastfeed their own baby.

For a long time after this experience, I had this fantasy of sending Veronica a letter detailing to her how she had made my life a living hell for that six months.  I would have told her that I hoped that someday she would be lucky enough to find someone that would make her happy and they would be lucky enough to have a baby together.  I hoped that when she became a mother and experienced it as the total life change that it is, that she finally would understand why the way she treated me was so wrong, so hurtful, and so traumatizing.  I guess this blog post is that letter.

Perinatal Mood Disorders: What they are and how to get help

This article will mostly discuss Postpartum Depression.  Please note that Postpartum Psychosis, while it only impacts approximately 1.5% of all women, is a very serious illness and deserves its own article.  

This morning I went to a great workshop at Healthcare Alternative Systems on Perinatal Mood Disorders and was once again reminded how prevalent, under-treated, and serious Postpartum Depression continues to be.  I thought it might be helpful for our readers to hear what signs and symptoms of Postpartum Depression (PPD) to look for and to post some helpful resources if you think that you or someone you care about may be suffering from PPD.

Prenatal or Antenatal Depression

First off, PPD doesn’t just happen to women who have already given birth.  You can begin to suffer from a Perinatal Mood Disorder when you are still pregnant.  Sometimes this is called Prenatal Depression or Antenatal Depression.  Whatever you want to call it, it is rarely discussed and can be very debilitating, especially when the reaction that most have when you tell them you are pregnant is “You must be so happy!”  Depression during pregnancy can happen particularly if an expectant mom has a history of depression, but it can happen to anyone.  It can also happen at any point during pregnancy.  This is a real illness and should be treated as such.  Depression during pregnancy can have a negative impact on both the mother and the unborn baby. Women who are experience this sort of depression often are at risk for decreased prenatal care, less self-care, decreased nutrition, increased use of alcohol and cigarettes and are often at risk of being a victim of domestic violence.  It can result in low birth weight in the baby and/or preterm labor, pre-eclampsia and irritability in the newborn or colic.  When a mother is stressed during pregnancy, her levels of the hormone cortisol increase due to the body’s response to prolonged depression and/or anxiety.  This results in elevated levels of cortisol in the baby, subsequently leading to elevated cortisol levels throughout the child’s lifespan, predisposing him or her towards life long health consequences such as hypertension, heart disease, anxiety diorders and adrenal burnout.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression occurs anywhere from two weeks to 12 months following the birth of a baby and affects roughly 10-20% of all women.  Prior to two weeks, many women experience symptoms that look just like PPD (tearfulness, irritability, emotional reactivity), however, they resolve on their own without any outside intervention needed.  This is called the “baby blues” and it happens to roughly 50-80% of all postpartum moms.  It typically peaks at 3-5 days following the baby’s birth and is a result of the drastic hormonal shifts that occur after a baby is born.  PPD, however, does not resolved without outside intervention and is an illness that should be taken seriously just like any medical problem. Due to the fact that so many moms experience it, PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth in the United States.  However, it often goes untreated due to lack of screening and other factors which we will get into later.  PPD can last for months or longer if it isn’t treated.  Click here for a firsthand story of a mother’s experience with PPD.

PPD Causes and Impacts

There is no one factor that causes PPD, but there are some that can predispose a woman to develop it.  It often occurs when women have a history of mood disorders, mental illness, or have experienced PPD with a prior birth, have a family history of mood disorders or mental illness, a history of sever PMS or PDD (Premenstral Dysphoric Disorder), have had a traumatic birth experience, lack of support from partner, other family or friends, poor nutrition, severe lack of sleep, and/or an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.  When untreated, PPD can lead to poor mother-baby bonding and attachment problems, compromised care of the baby, conflict with one’s partner, and in the worst cases, suicide and/or homicide.  For the baby of a mom with PPD, there can be problems with emotional bonding with others, delays in language development, low activity levels, anxiety and distress, delayed and/or impaired cognitive and motor development, failure to thrive, and in worst case situations, infanticide.

Barriers to treatment

So if this is such a big problem, why do so many women feel as though they have to suffer in silence?  Why are more not seeking treatment?  I think the problem is two fold. Part of the trouble lies with the many providers who come into contact with postpartum women.  Often they are not screening for it.  Sometimes they don’t know how, sometimes they are too busy, sometimes they fear that they won’t know what to do if they find out that a mother has PPD symptoms.  They may be a pediatrician and more focused on the baby, they may be an OB who is doing a follow up postpartum check and is only concerned with the physical outcomes of birth.  The responsibility doesn’t just lie with the physicians though (but they should all be screening, nonetheless).  Anyone who works with postpartum moms can be on the lookout for signs and symptoms.  This could be a lactation consultant, a physical therapist, a yoga instructor, a doula (birth or postpartum), a new moms group facilitator, etc.  The other part of the reason moms are not being treated is because they may not be seeking help.  The reasons for this are vast: denial, shame, misinformation about maternal mental health, the stigma of mental illness, fear that the baby may be taken away, cultural or language barriers, fear of deportation (for non-legal immigrants).  My take home message for anyone who sees postpartum moms:  Pay attention to what that mom is saying or even what she isn’t saying. Is she expressing feelings of frustration, inadequacy, being overwhelmed, helplessness, anxiety, shame, exhaustion (beyond the normal up-at-night with a baby exhaustion), fear of being alone with the baby, feeling as though the baby would be better off with a different mom?  If she is feeling several of these things, there is help for her.

How to help

There are many excellent resources for mom experiencing PPD both in the Chicago area and nationwide.  One of my favorite referral sources is a 24 hour PPD crisis hotline that is run out of Northshore Hospital called The Jennifer Mudd Houghtaling Postpartum Depression Program.  Their number is (866) 364-MOMS.  Moms can call them anomoyously at any time of the day to ask questions and get support from licensed mental health professionals.  They also provide mental health referrals to therapists all over the Chicago area and can find someone who accepts your health insurance.  I often call them myself to find good referrals for moms who contact me looking for a PPD focused therapist.  For other referrals, there is the PPD program at Healthcare Alternative Systems that offers services in both English and Spanish at two locations in the city.  To schedule an appointment with them, please contact Marisol Vega at (773) 292-4242 ext. 32. Healthcare providers with questions related to the diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression can contact the UIC Perinatal Depression Consultation Service at (800) 573-6121.  You can also contact the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois at (847) 791-7722.  For those not in Illinois, Postpartum Support International is an excellent resource.  If you are unable to physically get out and get help, the internet can be a great source of support as well.  Please check out My Postpartum Voice for supportive articles as well as conversations with other moms who may be suffering as well through their Twitter chat groups.

For better or for worse

For the purposes of this post, most relationships will be characterized as marriages, however, by no means do I believe it is necessary to be married in order to raise a child.  It only takes two people who care about and respect each other and who are dedicated to caring for and loving the baby.  Married or not married, two mommies or two daddies, it makes no difference.

No one ever said marriage was easy.  Having a new baby certainly doesn’t make it any easier.  A very insightful new mom in one of the sessions of The Chicago New Moms Group commented that she doesn’t understand why a couple would decide to have a baby to save a marriage since having a baby can challenge a relationship in ways one may never have previously even imagined.  Shortly after the birth of my first child, my father in law told me, “You aren’t really married until you’ve had a baby.”  Why is this?  Because until this point in time, it is likely that nothing else that you have coped with as a couple has challenged you in quite this way.  I would say the only exception to this would be if you had dealt with a serious illness as a couple.

So your new baby has arrived, a baby who you have hopefully had some fun conceiving (unless this process occurred in a laboratory), now the work begins.  As a mother, your transition to motherhood may not be easy but your identity as a mother begins to consume you the first time you hold your new baby.  For a breastfeeding mother, your presence is intricately tied to your baby’s livelihood and nurishment.  However, often partners struggle to find a role within the family and sometimes this can lead to tension in the relationship.  I frequently hear new moms say that their partners often take a backseat when it comes to child care duties such as feeding, changing, putting the baby to sleep and general comfort measures because the mom just is better at it.  Although this may be true, it is largely due to the fact that she is solely responsible for these duties so much of the time and, well, practice makes perfect, right?  Moms who are at home with their babies during the day, whether it is on maternity leave or because they are staying at home full time, learn to read them better because they spend more time with their babies then fathers if the father has gone back to work. When given as much practice, clearly partners can do just as well, but often moms have a hard time giving up that control (myself included!).  Sometimes it just seems easier to do it yourself rather than show your partner how you do it or, better yet, let him learn for himself.  Even though a partner may not be directly responsible for feeding a baby in the beginning, there are many things he can do to help him connect with his baby.  Dads are often great at comforting babies, they can change diapers, they are often expert swaddlers, getting babies wrapped up snug so that there is no escaping and therefore leading to some longer sleep segments which in turn, helps everyone feel better.  Chances are he is going to have his own way of doing things that are different from you. I know its hard but with all your strength, resist the urge to correct him (unless there is a real safety issue involved) because this can lead to him feeling that his way is always wrong and ultimately, taking a backseat in parenting.  Building his confidence and his skills leads to greater satisfaction in his role as a parent and a greater sense of inclusion in the new family dynamic.  Incidentally, having the positive support of a partner is also one of the strongest predictors for a successful breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby.  All these ways of including your partner and also giving him greater responsibility in his role as a parent are essential to helping your relationship stay strong following your baby’s birth.

The other component to a well functioning relationship that I can’t emphasize enough is communication. This sounds obvious but when everyone is exhausted from being up all night with a baby, the first thing to break down is communication.  We get snappy, we get cranky, we make assumptions about things that we think our partner should know.  For instance, after the first few initially crazy months after your baby is born, he may assume that since you are into more of a routine as a mom, that you are okay with him going back to his original weekend plan of watching football and taking naps.  While you may have spent your whole week counting the minutes until Saturday when he will be there to help you and give you a little parenting respite (maybe you were looking forward to showering before 4pm or even running an errand or two on your own). Unless you directly tell him that you plan on relying on him for some very specific tasks, chances are, he has no clue.  I know, sounds simple but some basic communication can go a long way to keeping your relationship strong as you and your partner begin your new roles together as co parents.

Why do I need a new moms group?

Becoming a new mother is a transition like none other we have ever experienced in our lives.  When you are pregnant you are showered (sometimes literally in the form of a baby shower) with attention.  You visit a doctor or midwife regularly who ask you how you how feel; you are checked to make sure you are eating healthfully and your vitals are monitored- all to ensure that the baby is developing properly inside of you.  Fast forward to Labor Day.  Not the one in early September, the day when you actually begin the labor of parenting by bringing your child into the world.  After the birth of your baby, everything changes. Assuming you, as the mother, are healthy, your birth team’s focus (this applies mostly to birth in a hospital rather than in the comfort of one’s own home) has now shifted to the baby.  Checking all the baby’s vitals, making sure he or she is warm enough, administering various tests and even giving vaccinations if you have given permission.  Often times these activities take the baby away from you at a time when it is most important for you to be together.  And by together, I mean touching, skin to skin. I could go on and on about the importance of skin to skin contact between mother and baby following birth but you can also read about it here.  Despite all the research emphasizing the importance of this special time for mom and baby, it often doesn’t happen.  This can delay the initiation of breastfeeding and essential bonding between mother and baby.  If you are one of the lucky ones, you will be able to get your baby latched on with relative ease or there will be a board certified lactation consultant (not a nurse whose job it is to administer meds, take your blood pressure, etc., who has also been assigned to give you a little breastfeeding assistance, whether she likes it or not) available who can come help you get breastfeeding off to a good start. Sadly, I very often hear stories where none of these things have taken place. Instead, I hear (and these are direct quotes from other new moms), “My baby was separated from me for hours after the birth.”  “He was given formula in the nursery without my permission.”  “The nurse told me that it was my fault I was having trouble breastfeeding.”  All of these situations serve to take power away from you, a new mom.

Following your brief stay in the hospital, where you may or may not have been given the support necessary to make a good start as a confident new mom, you are sent home.  And there you will stay.  More often than not, I hear that new moms go for weeks without leaving the house and when they do, the only trips they do make out are to the pediatrician–someone who is primarily interested in the well-being of the baby and not the mom who is trying her hardest to feed and nurture this new life. Hopefully, if it is breastfeeding you are struggling with, you have found the help you need in the form of a lactation consultant, postpartum doula, a LaLeche meeting or other breastfeeding support group (PLEASE, if you are struggling, check out Breastfeed, Chicago! for many helpful resources).  Even with these supports, new moms remain very isolated within their homes. You have to now figure out how to take care of your baby, feed yourself, maybe take a shower, and function in general–all on very little sleep.  While you are learning all of these things, your baby is trying to figure it all out as well.  He or she has never pooped until just recently so babies make all sorts of funny noises and faces, sometimes appearing to be in pain, as their brand new GI system learns how to process breastmilk or formula. They are not used to sleeping in the manner that we are instructed to put them to sleep–flat on their backs. They often long for the days when they were snuggled in, cozily nestled in their mommy’s warm,dark, noisy uterus. So when you put your baby down for just a second to do some silly thing like, say, brush your teeth, they often react with screams and cries.  This can make even the most chill new mom frazzled.  If you were lucky enough to have your partner around a bit after returning home (or really lucky and he or she works for a company like Google and gets an awesome leave when a child is born), you may have been able to accomplish some of these activities of daily living.  Or maybe you have some helpful family members or friends who have put together a meal train and you have meals coming in regularly, at least for the first little bit.  This can help tremendously.

The Chicago New Moms Group, January 2011 group participants, 6-8 month old reunion

No matter how helpful our relatives or our partners may be, there is no substitute for the support that women receive from other women.  New moms groups provide essential support at a time when you need it most and in ways you never imaged. Meeting others who are experiencing many of the same challenges as you can go a long way towards helping you realize that you are not alone in your struggles. Finding other new moms who share your experience can ease your transition into motherhood tremendously.  You’ll learn that the women you meet in a new moms group will be one of the most valuable resources you posses as a mother.   A professionally facilitated group, such as The Chicago New Moms Group, not only provides you with peer support but also education on a wide variety of topics that new moms are always asking about like sleeping, feeding, returning to work vs. staying at home, your relationship with your partner, baby temperament and developmental milestones.  These groups also get you out of the house.  This has the added benefit of giving you the chance to practice going out with your baby, feeding your baby when you aren’t in the comfort of your home, and learning to be comfortable when your baby cries around others.  Knowing that you will be going to a consistently supportive and nurturing environment when you do venture out can make the process a bit less daunting.  All of these factors together help to reduce the isolation that often can lead to postpartum depression or a general sense of feeling overwhelmed by all the challenges that come with becoming a parent.  You don’t have to do it alone- join a new moms group.

Sleep, glorious sleep

I love to sleep.  When I don’t get enough sleep, I am a very cranky and grouchy person, and I recommend staying far, far away from me.  I can honestly say that before my first child was born, I really did not know that newborn babies do not sleep through the night.  I remember going to visit my first friend to have a baby about 10 years ago a week or so after her first child was born. At the time I remember feeling stressed out from graduate school, as though nothing could be more work or more exhausting than some studying and paper writing.  I have this fuzzy memory of my friend running around, doing lots of laundry, looking haggard and worn out, and I didn’t really understanding why she seemed so wiped (please see the last post What No One Tells You, under the section The Myth of the Sleeping Baby).  Four years later when my daughter was born, it all began to make sense:  the dark circles under her eyes, her inability to complete a thought, the memory loss.  Sleep deprivation.  It’s linked to decreased immune system function, poor appetite and strains on your mental health.  It can make everything seem more overwhelming than it already is.  Don’t forget, it is used as a method of torture.

In many circles, discussions of children’s sleep, and specifically how to get them to sleep, can be extremely polarizing. Often parents either fall on the “Cry It Out”/Ferber/sleep training side or the attachment parenting/cosleeping/anti sleep training side.  When we discuss the subject of infant sleep in The Chicago New Moms Group, I am very up front about the fact that I have a very clear philosophy when it comes to infant sleep.  I believe that learning how to sleep through the night and soothe oneself is a learned skill.  It is a skill that many children have to be taught in order to sleep a solid 11-12 hours without needing external soothing (from their parents).  It is a skill that they will use for their entire lives and therefore, one that, I feel,is extremely valuable to have.  We all know children and adults alike who have poor sleep hygiene.  They have a hard time falling asleep, they are up multiple times in the middle of the night, they have difficulty putting themselves back to sleep.  Although I don’t like to choose sides, when forced to, I guess I would fall on the side of Ferber and his methods.  I prefer not to think of it as the “Cry It Out” method because that puts too much emphasis on crying and not enough on the actual skill that is being learned:  self soothing.  I know there are many parents and experts feel strongly that the only way to help your children become securely attached is to share your bed with them and let them nap on you in a carrier.  I say, if this works for you, Great!  Go with it.  But what about all those exhausted parents out there who have tried this and found it not to work for them?  Sometimes parents can’t get a good night’s sleep with their child/ren in the bed with them and sometimes their child/ren are not getting a good night’s sleep there either.  These families are often left feeling like bad parents for even considering a method that involves any amount of crying and “abandonment.” What’s more is that there are no clear guidelines on this topic from a pediatric/medical standpoint.  When asked about sleep training, pediatricians’ responses as to when is a good time to sleep train a baby often range from 3 months of age to never.

With all the conflicting information, it is no wonder that parents are left feeling confused, overwhelmed and most importantly, exhausted.  I am not going to present the details of one side vs. the other or argue why my way is better.  I am just going to share with you what I have learned through my experiences working with new parents and also the veterans who are looking to make a change in their sleep plans based on where things went awry with their older child.  If you are looking to read studies on this topic, you can read an interesting review of the literature here.

These are my findings:

  • The earlier you teach your baby how to soothe him/herself to sleep, the easier it will be and the less time it will take, therefore, leading to less crying in the long run.
  • Babies, whether breastfed or formula fed, are capable of sleeping through the night (meaning 11-12 hours) typically starting as early as 4 months of age (depending on various weight and developmental factors).  They do not require solid food in order to be able to accomplish this skill.
  • Consistency is the key to success.
  • The “family bed” does not work for all families.
  • You know what is best for your baby, not your pediatrician or any number of sleep books.
  • It is important to have a plan that all adults involved can stick to and fall back on when you are sleep training your child.
  • A lovey/blankie/security object is a wonderful thing!  Please see The Power of the Blankie for more information on this.
  • It is very difficult for a breastfeeding mother to be directly involved in the sleep training process of her baby due to the fact that the baby will want to eat when the mom walks in the room.  The non-nursing partner, another family member or helpful friend should ideally be available to help, at least initially.
  • Children who are sleep trained cry less in general because they are well rested and therefore are less overtired and cranky.
  • The parents of a child who has learned how to self-soothe feel less stressed out due the fact that the burden of coaxing their child to sleep has been removed from them.  These children have learned how to put themselves to sleep after a comforting and familiar routine is consistently implemented.  The parents, in turn, are also well rested, happier and better able to function as parents when given time to recharge and take care of themselves.
  • Children who are sleep trained and taught to sleep on their own are happy and securely attached children due to the fact that their parents provide them with love and affection during their waking hours.

Still feeling exhausted and uncertain of what to do about it?  Do you need help?  Visit the Sleep Tight Consultants.

What no one tells you…

This post is dedicated to my good friend Melissa Dichter who is a first time mom, awesome friend, and all around incredible woman.  She is the new mom of an adorable 6 week old little boy and is really “in it,” and has been so helpful in relaying some of her thoughts on this challenging time because I too have a bit of Postpartum Amnesia (don’t worry, you’ll learn more about this as you read).  Thank you Melissa, for your valuable insights!

I sometimes think that the realities of the postpartum period (which I like to think of as the first year after you have your baby, not just the first 3 months) are one of the best kept secrets of parenthood.  I speak to new moms all the time who say that no one ever REALLY told them it was going to be like after they had a baby. What follows are some of the reason why being a new parent is so hard and why we are often unprepared for this abrupt change in your lifestyle.

The myth of the sleeping baby

Many people are under the impression that newborns sleep all the time because that is how they are seen out and about: asleep in the car seat/stroller, asleep in a carrier on their mom or dad.  Those of us who have survived this stage know that the reason for this is partly because the motion of the stroller or the coziness of the carrier is what is keeping the baby asleep and the other reason is because no one wants to take their screaming newborn out in public.  Much of the fussiness and crying takes place in our homes.  What ends up happening is that the myth of the sleeping baby is perpetuated and so new moms everywhere are blind-sided by the fact that newborns cry and they often cry a lot.  Babies cry.  This is normal but it can be difficult to get used to.  Also, babies do sleep but not the often in the ways we want them to.  It’s rare when I come across a new mom who tells me that her newborn always sleeps in his/her crib.  More often I hear that their baby only sleeps in the swing or the car seat or on them.  They are often thinking about the big “transition” to the crib.  I feel that there is nothing wrong with a baby, especially one that is in that 4th trimester when all they want is to be snuggled-in and cozy, to sleep wherever it is that they actually can stay asleep.  But that is probably just because I have survived this stage and am not longer in it.

We’ll get you through the birth but then you’re on your own

These days, there are many assorted professionals that help you give birth to your baby.  From the very beginning, if you are having fertility issues, you may even have a doctor that helps you get pregnant.  Then your doctor or midwife follows you throughout your prenatal care, checking in with you, asking how you are doing, how you are feeling.  Everyone is very focused on your physical and emotional well-being.  We spend much of our time and energy when we are pregnant concentrating on whatever discomforts we might have.  When you are pregnant with your first child, your time is your own so you can get yourself that prenatal massage or spend hours surfing pregnancy websites to figure out how to manage your indigestion and nausea.  You can take childbirth education classes to help you prepare for the birth of your child and even newborn care and breastfeeding classes to at least make you feel prepared for your baby’s arrival.  You can hire a doula to help you attain the birth experience you are hoping for. However, once your baby arrives, there is a dramatic shift from all that focus on the mom to the baby.  Now life revolves around meeting baby’s needs for comfort, nutrition, changing, sleeping… Now as the mom of a newborn, you grab quick opportunities to eat whatever’s handy (no cooking as you don’t know when your baby will summon you next), you wear the same spit-up stained pants from yesterday (you haven’t had a chance to shower anyway), and you have learned to pee and brush your teeth within the two minutes in which your baby will peacefully sit in the bouncy chair in the bathroom.  And sleep… what’s that?  Not to mention the fact that all those doctor’s visits that were focused on you with your OB or midwife are now focused on your baby at the pediatrician, a physician trained to be looking for all sorts of red flags with your child’s health but rarely looking at how the mother may be coping.  It’s no wonder that the postpartum depression rates are so high.  And let’s not forget about our own parents who are now so enamored with their new grandchild that they rarely even give you a “Hello” when they walk in the door.  It’s just straight to the baby, who you have probably just gotten to sleep.

Why no one tells you about this

I think there are a lot of reasons that no one tells you how hard it will really be or if they tell you, it doesn’t necessarily resonate that it will be that hard for you.

  1. Many parents who have survived the first year have amnesia.  Let’s face it.  If we remembered exactly how hard it really was, we might never have any more children.  I should lobby the American Psychiatric Association to add Postpartum Amnesia to the DSM IV as a real diagnosis.
  2. When you are in your state of pregnancy bliss, so to speak, is it really possible to hear that what comes next could be anything less than joyful?  Come on, you wanted this and this is going to be the greatest thing you ever did, right? And it will be, eventually.  But at first it is hard.  It is okay to ignore the pressure to be in love with your baby the instant he or she is born.  Many of us have the expectation of a “love at first sight” experience with this baby that we have just spent the last 9 months carrying and sustaining.  The fact is, however, that our newborn requires a lot of giving.  Giving of food, energy, sleep, etc.  Initially, in return, you don’t get very much back other than you will see your baby growing but this, in and of itself, doesn’t really provide instant gratification.  This will finally come when you baby begins to smile but this doesn’t happen until when you have worked nonstop for 6-8 weeks.  Years ago when my daughter was about 8 weeks old and I was on maternity leave, I went to visit my coworkers.  I ran into a doctor that I worked with and he asked how I was doing.  I told him that things were getting a bit better now that she was smiling.  His response was, “Yeah, right when you are about ready to drop kick them, they start to smile.”  So true.
  3. Whether you are a business executive running a Fortune 500 company or you work in retail, especially if you have waited a while to have children, you probably feel that, by this point in your life, you are fairly competent at what you do.  You have a pretty good grip on managing your day-to-day activities.  It can be hard to believe that one small baby can throw you for such a loop.  I always refer to having a first baby as “The Great Equalizer.”  No matter who you are, how many friends of yours have already had babies, or what skills you posses, having a first baby is very likely to be different from your preconceived expectation and will try you in ways your never knew were possible.  Still, when you are pregnant, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is what it will be like for you, someone who is generally an on the ball, functional, showered (ha!) individual.