Category Archives: All about Baby
It’s not at all accurate to call my Jacob a baby anymore. At this point, he’s well into the prime of his toddlerhood. Still, in his first nineteen months of life, he never once had snipped a single strand of hair. So, in my mind, his first haircut still counts as a “baby’s first.” Plus, I think the cut was a little overdue—my husband would argue that it should have happened when Jacob was indeed still a baby.
I’ve had my reasons for waiting. I’ve written before about my love for my little guy’s luscious curls. And, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that my husband is the designated barber in the house. As an ex-marine on a budget, he refuses to let anyone else cut his own or my stepson’s hair. I even have to put up a bit of a fight to convince him that, in spite of his special scissor skills, a salon is necessary for my own hair. While I imagine he could trim a woman’s hair, the only style I think he’s ever cut is the traditional marine “high and tight.”
I’ve been fending off my husband’s eager clippers since Jacob’s curls first appeared. For my son to go from sweet swirly, twirly curls to a military buzz cut just hasn’t been okay for me…not to mention my thoughts that Jacob will likely sport the jarhead head for as long as he lives under our roof… or until he is a teenager, either insisting on growing his hair long or sneaking behind his father’s back to have someone else cut his hair. To say the least, I’ve been pretty adamant about delaying the inevitable. Until…
A few nights ago, Jacob was playing on the kitchen floor while I was making dinner. While forking strands of spaghetti squash into a bowl, I looked over to find him lying on his back and scooting himself around the room. When he sat up (yes, this is a clear testament to how often I sweep), his curls were full of dust and lint. He looked especially scraggly and unkempt. The term “mop top” was taking on a whole new, more literal meaning.
Immediately, I yelled to my husband to grab his trimming tools and my son…with the disclaimer that he probably had only about five minutes to drag Jacob upstairs and begin chopping that mop before I changed my mind.
Well, to make a long story a little less long, let me just say it’s done. There were tears and screams (mostly Jacob’s—I think he was afraid of the sound the clippers made, but Mommy struggled a little too as those locks fell). In the end, the bathroom floor was covered in hunks of fine, curly hair, and where once was my curly headed baby stood a little boy who looked much, much cuter and tidier with his new do. Who knew the high and tight would be so becoming? I hope that I can remember this day when those curls begin to reappear!
I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while—life has been a little crazier than usual. We’re in the middle of some financial difficulties. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that things have changed for us in major ways. It’s not just simple stuff—like having to limit my random expenditures or to make my own coffee instead of stopping at Starbucks (I do that anyway!). I have to cross things…lots of things…off our grocery list (meat, organic anything, everything unnecessary). I layer and wash the same few outfits over and over instead of buying new clothes for our growing boys. In general, I just don’t spend money unless absolutely essential.
My husband is working pretty much all hours (evenings and weekends) when I’m not at work, and I’m working multiple jobs outside of my main one. Anytime I’m not working at the office or to the beat of an aerobics CD, I’m with the kids. This translates into little time for me and even less time for blogging…especially because the housework just keeps falling further and further behind.
Don’t worry. We’re okay…just a little busier than normal.
So, in the name of saving time, which is the theme of my life right now, I thought I’d share a short update…
My toddler son would rather fall asleep soaked in both his own and my or my husband’s sweat than to fall asleep alone. He has to have some physical connection (a leg, arm, etc.) to one of my or my husband’s body parts in order to fall or stay asleep. (See photo.) And, he still can’t sleep without a pacifier (which we do not even allow as an option in the daytime!) After nearly 17 whole months (since his birth) of trying variations of bassinets…and cribs…and crib mattresses on the floor without the crib, my son still has yet to sleep a single night by himself, without the presence of me or my husband. Really.
And, yes, we have tried…and tried…and tried. There have been tears and screams, hours of them some nights, sometimes coming from both toddler and parents…well, mama at least.
One day, we just stopped fighting it. We both figure that when he’s old enough to understand that it’s way uncool to sleep with us, he’ll eventually sleep in his own bed. Fingers crossed. (Can you please cross yours too? I could use some extra help in this area.)
Until I find another free moment, take care!
My son was born bald…sort of. To be more accurate, I should say he had a bit of peach fuzz on his tiny, misshapen head (that got stuck in mommy’s chute for way too long while attempting to make its grand exit). However, mostly bald is about all we got for…I would say…the first six months or so. And, even when my Jacob’s hair was coming in, no one could really tell it was there. It was thin and blond.
Then, one glorious day, a curl grew. I had always wanted curls of my own. As a little girl with stick straight hair, I spent many a night praying by my bedside for curls. Throughout my elementary and middle school years, I endured long afternoons of stinky perms, restless nights of readjusting my pillow under a head full of foam rollers, and early mornings, hours before the sun rose, hot rolling my hair for school. After all that work, didn’t I deserve some natural body in my tresses? Then, like a mean trick, somewhere around 10th grade my flat hair stayed flat in the front and sides but took on a kink in the back (for a precise mental picture, think of what a 1980s crimper can do. Yes, I live with that as my natural do). Why couldn’t I just have curls?
A few months ago, with that curl on my son’s head, my prayers were answered. One after another, perfect little curls grew upon his darling head, where once resided fuzz alone. One by one they came until his previously (almost) bald head became an adorable garden of blossoming waves and ringlets. And, they grew. And grew. And, we never cut his golden locks. Until one day, a loving look from mommy to son became a triple take, as visions of Billy Ray Cyrus, Michael Bolton, and Rod Stewart danced through her head.
At fifteen and a half months old, he has yet to have a single strand snipped. What to do? After all, “business in the front, party in the back” cannot apply to anyone in diapers, right? Still, I would hate to see him go through life as Jacob Dirt, having acquired a nasty nickname at such a young age due solely to mommy’s curl fetish. Decisions, decisions…
It’s a good thing kids are durable. I’m often astounded by the resilience of my little guy. In the mere thirteen months of his life, my Jacob has fallen on his head more times than I thought a baby or toddler could take…and countless more than I would like to admit (because that means I didn’t prevent the falls). It occurred to me that infants may not be as fragile as they appear circa his third month, well before I thought he could roll over from his back. Wrong. He rolled right off the bed in our room onto our wooden floor about two feet below. While my husband and I suffered near heart attacks, Jacob hardly cried. Even the doctor said not to worry. It took several days of guilt consuming my entire being (plus a detailed list of renovations my husband was to make immediately– including the removal of our bed frame and the installation of bed rails) until I forgave myself…or at least stopped beating myself up so much about it.
Several months ago when Jacob was first learning to stand, I would sit or kneel behind him and scoot around as he trailed the furniture and walls, stopping only to bounce his pudgy legs and squeal in pride of his new accomplishment, or to plunge backward into my arms. As he began to master falling onto his butt instead of flipping back onto me or his head, I decided he should learn to move through the world without his mama hovering over him just inches away. Since my decision to give him this independence, my eyes never have missed a tumble. Yet, in spite of sudden lunges and determined dives, my frantically flailing arms have failed to block many a bonk of my busy boy’s head. Surprisingly, nearly every time, as I’ve almost passed out from holding my breath and waiting for screams and tears, Jacob has surprised me with a smile, or simply carrying on as if nothing happened.
The last few days have marked the peak of his falls and of my near-fainting experiences. Only recently, I told the story of how my mini-man learned to walk on his own (Jedi-style, with a lightsaber in hand). Well, in less than two weeks since he took his first unsteady steps, my little Yoda has turned to Yoga. His favorite pose is Downward Dog, which he holds amazingly well, often with the added challenge of a book or toy in his hands…until he collapses onto his head. When he is not practicing his Adho Mukha Svanasana, he seems to be training for the 100-yard dash. As if his wobbly walking weren’t enough to make me worry, my son has completely lost interest in the slow speed of sensible strides. He has moved onto sprints, which involve a crash and a giggle from him every few steps. And, me? I’m just trying to breathe…and remind myself of the solid and strong little creature he is. Sigh….
Lightsabers are a hot item among the males in my household. We started to amass a collection of them sometime a year or two ago when my stepson, Jackson’s fascination with Star Wars peaked. Even after we had several of assorted colors, shapes, and features floating around, my husband insisted on his son having the biggest and best one to hit the shelves last Christmas. (Talk about ulterior motives—he uses the thing just as much as Jackson.) The result–well, besides more toys for mommy to pick up before sweeping the floor–is that lightsabers have become an unexpected asset to my 13-month-old Jacob’s development.
Baby’s first duel occurred soon after he could sit without the support of a Boppy pillow or someone else’s lap. And, my little guy was mimicking the swishes and whooshes of sword swipes around the time he learned to speak his first words. I think he’s even working on saying “lightsaber” itself, because whenever he sees one, he points at it or picks it up, and says his new favorite line, “uhzzhat?” (For those of you who don’t speak toddler, he’s asking, “What’s that?”) He watches our lips very carefully when we respond. Although I’m not sure how I feel about “lightsaber” being one of the few words of Jacob’s limited vocabulary, I may not have a choice in the matter.
Given Jacob’s history of lightsabor-related milestones, his latest should not have taken me by surprise. No, his first few steps were not a toddle toward mama’s voice or a wobbly walk to dada’s smile. My Jacob took his very first few strides this week (and then hundreds since in the past couple days) with a lightsaber in hand, headed straight toward his big brother.
A football player in the making? Future president? Nope. Not my son. He’s gonna be a Jedi.
The act of putting my 13-month-old son to bed ranks on two of my personal top-five lists. Sometimes I would say it’s right up there with chocolate chip cookie dough hot fudge sundaes and post-workout highs among the things that give me utter pleasure. Other times it ranks somewhere among Spam sandwiches and scrubbing out toilets on my things-I-try-my-best-to-avoid-at-all-costs list. Fortunately for both me and my son, we have more ice cream/endorphin-ranking kind of nights. And, I have to say it’s nice to be presented more often with a sundae when you’re fearing a meat (?) product with a gelatin glaze. (To my dismay, I ate Spam quite a bit when I was a kid, and I still have nightmares about that mysterious gel).
What going to bed looks like for us
On a good night, Jacob eats a solid meal, lets me clean his teeth and gums, doesn’t put up a fight when I’m changing his diaper or his clothes, and smiles when I lay him down and put the pacifier in his mouth. (Yes, he still uses a binky to sleep—I was a little opposed to it at first, but it settles him better than anything). Then, I lie down with him; he snuggles close, wraps his tiny little arm around my neck, and drifts off to sleep within five or so minutes. After I’ve gotten a good dose of cuddling, I slip out of the room for a couple of hours to revisit my task list until it’s time for me to hit the sack myself.
Other nights are far more painful. Some of the challenges are him refusing to eat beforehand (and then being famished and restless as my husband or I struggle to put him to sleep, only for him to wake shortly after and want to eat), doing everything in his power to keep us from cleaning his teeth and/or changing his diaper and clothes, or playing, exploring the bedroom, or just crying inconsolably instead of going to sleep. (Just in case you missed it, let me re-share a link to a new book I find hysterical that reminds me of how I sometimes feel at such times: http://www.amazon.com/Go-F-Sleep-Adam-Mansbach/dp/1617750255#_. Make sure to preview a page from the book—you won’t quite get the essence of it until you see a few lines of the masterpiece. Oh, and a word of caution: if you are anti-curse words, then don’t bother clicking on the link…wouldn’t want to offend anyone.)
Why isn’t our son sleeping in a crib?
It’s funny because my husband and I never even considered pulling my stepson, Jackson, into bed with us. Ever really. When Joe (husband) and I got together, Jackson was just a bit older than Jacob. But, he was a totally different type of toddler. Among the many differences, Jackson always slept very well in his crib. We could put him in there when he was awake, and he would drift off to sleep on his own for three-hour naps or twelve-hour nights. The idea of having him sleep in our bed never came up.
In fact, when I was pregnant with Jacob or even for the first few months after his birth, if someone had asked me if I would consider having Jacob sleep in the same bed with us, I probably would have said, “why would I do that?” That all changed when I went back to work.
Jacob had been a good sleeper for the first few months of his life. He was easy—I put him down in his bassinet around 7 or 8PM, pulled him out when he woke to nurse around 2 or 3AM, and then put him back in again until he awoke around 6 or 7AM. That worked for my entire maternity leave….but, then I went back to work full time.
Suddenly, we were separated from each other for 9, 10, sometimes even 12 hours at a time on the days I taught aerobics right after my day job. All at once, Jacob had no interest in going to sleep or staying asleep during the nighttime. He wanted to nurse all night long. He would do anything he could to be close to me…probably because he never saw me during the day. It was amazing how much he would fight sleep when I put him in his bassinet. Then, he would wake soon after and cry until I nursed him. And, the cycle would repeat again, and again, and again until I was hardly sleeping at all. The night I threw in the towel and pulled him into bed with me was the first night we both slept a solid 6 hours. And, after he woke to nurse and I turned on my side so he could get his early morning meal, we slept for another 4. Since that night, we’ve never gone back to sleeping apart. Jacob now sleeps 11 to 12 solid hours each night in our bed (without nursing.)
Cost and benefits
One annoying thing about co-sleeping (one of the terms used to mean “babies or kids sleeping in their parents’ beds”) is that mommy or daddy has to sort of be on call all the time. When the kid is safe within a crib, you can worry a little less. For instance, I’m typing now to the white noise of the video monitor next to me. I glance over every few minutes to make sure Jacob’s still on his side or tummy and not on all fours crawling toward the edge of the bed (well, what’s left of my bed at least, now that the frame is removed. It’s really just our mattress with rails we added so he doesn’t roll off. Unfortunately, Jacob can pull up on the rails and flip over them–not safe at all.) We also have a gate at our door so he can’t get out of the room.
Also, as I mentioned earlier, we have to be there when he falls asleep. This means my whole night gets pushed back sometimes (more than if I were putting him in his crib at a certain time and expecting him to fall asleep on his own). And, yes, once we’re all in bed, having a child between mommy and daddy pretty much squelches any potential for intimacy in the bed (although my husband and I have devised our own plans for saving our sex life, which I’ll spare you).
The upsides are: like I said, I work five days a week and go to the gym (my stress prevention and relief) a lot in the evenings until close to Jacob’s bedtime. Through the week, I hardly feel like I see him. So, I really cherish time to be close with him at night. Plus, most nights everything works out well. Once he’s asleep at 7PM or so, we don’t have to worry about him, except to keep the monitor on high volume, so we know if he were to wake. Finally, we all get a great night’s sleep (in spite of the occasional kick in the stomach or bonk on the head.)
Co-sleeping, bed-sharing, sleep-sharing, whatever you want to call it, it’s what we do. And, some people think it’s weird or that we’re spoiling our little one because of it. Maybe. I think it’s more simple than that: it’s just making everyone happy and finding a way we all can get a good night’s sleep. And, apparently, in most cultures around the world, babies sleep with mommies. Regardless, it’s what works for us. For now at least. Just thought I’d share.
I remember the first time I set foot in a Babies“R”Us. I was only a few months pregnant, and I had been looking forward to the day I could wave that scanner gun thingy at all the cool stuff that I wanted for my son. My husband and I had been waiting to register until we knew baby’s sex. Within a couple days of spotting the beans on the ultrasound, we decided it was time.
I had imagined that creating our registry would resemble a shopping spree. I thought it would be totally…awesome. Unfortunately, it totally…well…wasn’t. The store was like a giant warehouse full of products we had no idea if we needed. What was a Diaper Genie, and why was it better than a trash can? Did baby really need his own tub and laundry detergent?
When we found something we knew he would need, we were overwhelmed with options. How do we choose among so many styles of strollers, shapes of bottles, or types of pacifiers? We left the store with our heads full of questions and not one item on our registry.
For the next few months, I started gathering info from all the moms I knew. I called the girlfriends I grew up with; I approached women in my classes at the gym; and I talked to my coworkers. Finally, I spent hours online researching various products. And, lo and behold, I was able to complete my registry and do some shopping before Jacob was born. Much of what we got worked; a few things didn’t. Some of what we bought or had bought for us simply wasn’t necessary. I’ve gone through a similar process with every buying decision over the past year since my son’s birth. My intention with today’s post is to save other mamas at least some of the trouble.
Recently, I asked the readers of this blog to share the strategies and products that made their lives easier during baby’s first year. Thanks again to all of you who contributed. In my last post, I included strategies–things moms can do for their babies and themselves during the first year. Today, we’ll look at products–things moms can buy (or have bought for us). Just like last time, I organized everyone’s thoughts, added in some of my own, and included a few anecdotes straight from the mouths (or emails) of moms. And, again, I want to preface the list with a reminder that different things work for different babies and different moms. In fact, you will see there are even a few contradictions within the list itself.
Here’s what real mamas suggest you get your hands on…
Think 0 to 3 months. Tell everyone you know NOT to buy you a bunch of newborn outfits. My son weighed in at a whopping eight pounds, five ounces at birth. Newborn clothes go up to eight pounds. That meant many of the adorable little outfits people bought were never worn (by him—I did give away some of them). Although it’s possible you’ll have a preemie on your hands, the average baby weighs somewhere around seven and a half pounds. If you’re counting on the odds, you pretty much will have no use for newborn clothes. Go for the next size up: 0 to 3 months.
You’ll need lots. I mentioned this in my last post—my child was always spewing at one end or the other. He spit up all day long and had several leaky diapers most days of the week. This translated into going through ten or more outfits on a bad day. And, Lord knows I didn’t have time to do a bunch of laundry. Have clothes washed and ready to go well before your due date so when you arrive home with your precious package, doing laundry can wait.
Keep it simple. I had received many cute outfits—overalls, button-down shirts with jeans, and socks and shoes to match. None of that stuff got worn…well, more than once, at least. For the first month or so, when you’re busy enough trying to get a handle on more important things, I say to go for the one-piece outfits. In the summer, the short-sleeve onesies are great. For the rest of the year, the long-sleeve sleepers with the feet and the built-in hand mittens are perfect—lighter cotton fabric works for spring, and thicker or lined fabrics are better for the cooler months.
Bibs with plastic lining. In addition to being the king of spit up, my son had an uncanny ability to produce buckets of drool each day, which soaked through his clothes in minutes. The cloth bibs we received as gifts only delayed the problem slightly before the drool soaked through to his clothing underneath and left a rash on his skin. The bibs that worked best were fabric with a layer of plastic underneath.
Don’t forget mittens. I was due in April. At my shower, I received newborn mittens and thought it was a joke. Why would my little guy need mittens in the middle of spring? (I know, I know—laugh if you must, but I hadn’t been around many newborns.) Well, I learned quickly. Somehow my soft and cuddly baby had razor sharp talons that grew at unbelievable rates and that always ended up leaving tiny red scratches on one of us. The mittens are GREAT for protecting baby and you from falling victim to his claws.
Zutano booties. I had the good fortune of being handed down a few things from a fellow mom just before Jacob’s birth. When she gave me these fuzzy booties with buttons, she said, “Really, we found these are the only ones that will stay on.” She was right. We tried lots of socks to no avail. The booties never failed.
BPA-free bottles. You’ll want Level 1 nipples to start (and nothing higher if you are breastfeeding—you don’t want baby getting milk from the bottle faster than it comes from your boob.)
Thick burp cloths. Although most of the burp cloths out there are super thin, a few moms agreed that burp cloths that soak up a lot of liquid are much more practical. All babies spit up a little. Some babies, like my son, spit up 10 to 20 times a day. A heavy-duty fabric is the only way to go when trying to catch the puddle as it hits your shoulder.
Boppy pillow. After my c-section, my entire abdomen was sore for about six months…so sore I couldn’t hold baby against my body. Until Jacob was several months old, I would sit down, position the Boppy pillow around my waist and over the arms of the rocking chair, and place him on top. That way, his entire body weight was on the pillow instead of on me. He nursed and napped this way without me wincing in pain. It works for bottle-feeding too:
“During feeding, my Boppy pillow saved my back….[it’s also great] for support when babies start to sit.”
Cheerios. These are often one of babies’ first finger foods—they’re easy for tiny fingers to grip and for tiny teeth and gums to chew, as they soften quickly.
“I’ve heard moms call them ‘baby valium,’ and it can be true in restaurants or in the high chair…sometimes [my son] throws them on the floor, so they become ‘Floorios’ if he eats them before Mommy cleans them up!”
Freeze-dried fruit and yogurt melts. Even picky babies like these. My son is all about freeze-dried apples and bananas. Just like Cheerios, they’re easy to grasp and soften up when they hit baby’s tongue. They’re great for travel too and often come in portable containers.
Yogurt. I’ve mentioned before that my son is a picky eater. In fact, there’s not one baby food he likes…unless it is mixed with yogurt. When mixed with yogurt, he does not discriminate between carrots, peas, green beans, squash, or any other puree that he’ll reject by itself. I can do 50/50, and he’s still kicking and squealing for the stuff. Who knew it was all in the mixer?
For Keeping Baby Satisfied, Occupied, and Safe
The Happiest Baby on the Block (by Dr. Harvey Karp) on book or video. A few moms mentioned this. One of my best friends gave me the VHS tape while I was pregnant (yes, I still have a VCR). It was so, incredibly helpful. The video was only about 30 minutes long, and out of all the hours upon hours of time I spent reading baby books and websites, it provided the simplest, most practical advice that I actually used.
Pacifier. Although this is a no-brainer for some moms, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to offer one to my son. When Jacob was about a month old and breastfeeding was going well, I thought I would give it a whirl in the middle of a major crying fit. It shut him up like magic. Unfortunately, since the day I decided to use it and even still, I must say Jacob depends on it for sleep. Still, we save the binky for naps, nighttime, and public emergencies when he’s super cranky. It still works like a charm to soothe him.
Pack ‘N’ Play. There’s really no need to buy expensive baby cribs. These are durable, portable, and cost much less. We keep ours in the middle of the kitchen with a bunch of toys inside. It’s perfect for keeping Jacob safe and somewhat occupied when I need to do the dishes, prepare a meal, or just eat. (Although, I admit, these days, my son cries in there mostly, unless I’m facing him and actively amusing him in some way.)
Bouncer/jumper. This is one thing that actually worked for Jacob (although it was for a short spell, and I had to be within 5 feet of him.) Still, it meant I could get a few things done, as long as I was in close proximity. He loved bouncing along with me when I did my step-aerobics videos. He would watch my feet and bounce to the music.
Thick foam mats. Play mats are safe and cushiony. The best are about an inch or an inch and a half thick, because babies fall way more than you expect (or than you will think is okay!). Jacob’s favorite pastime when he first learned to sit was to fling himself into a backbend and bonk his head on the floor. Then, as he learned to stand, he fell on his head quite a bit before realizing that falling on his bottom was a better plan. Although you learn pretty quickly about just how durable babies are, the foam mats can ease some anxiety.
Baby-proofing products. Outlet covers, latches for drawers and cabinets, and gates for stairs are some of the necessities once baby is crawling and walking.
Rocking chair. I mentioned using my rocking chair in combination with my Boppy pillow. The rhythmic motion also works to soothe baby to sleep.
Good swaddling blankets. Most babies, especially newborns, like to be wrapped up tight. Swaddling is one of the five “s”s of the Happiest Baby on the Block video mentioned above.
“We swaddled [our daughter] until she was nearly six months old, and it really helped her sleep. We used receiving blankets at first, but she was able to wiggle out of a regular swaddle within a few weeks. Next, we used the miracle blanket for a few months. When she outgrew that, we devised our own two-blanket technique that functioned pretty much like the Miracle Blanket. Whenever we would find her unswaddled, we’d just adjust our technique to keep her in. In fact, other moms would tell me that they couldn’t swaddle their babies because they would get out of the swaddle and I would think to myself ‘clearly, they aren’t trying hard enough!’”
Sleep sacks. A lot of pediatricians warn against the use of loose blankets. Once baby is too old for the swaddle (usually once he/she can flip over), sleep sacks are great for keeping him or her warm without the risk of suffocation.
For Tidying Up Baby and Baby’s World
Baby nail file and/or clippers. For reasons I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to keep a constant eye on baby’s fingers and toes. Some moms are all about the tiny clippers made just for babies—if you use those, then wait until baby is sound asleep, clip the corner of the nail, and peel the rest away. Baby nail files work if you are afraid you will clip more than the nail.
A gentle baby soap. Our favorite is a Vanilla-Tangerine Organic soap (http://www.naturesbabyorganics.com/organic_shampoo.html). As I mentioned, Jacob spit up so much those first few months that he smelled like some kind of fancy, stinky cheese within a couple of hours of his bath. His neck was a permanent hideout for remnants of dried breast milk that formed into balls resembling cottage cheese. Ugh. This soap made him smell like the push-up pops I used to get from the ice cream truck as a kid.
Natural house-cleaning products. I was surprised to learn that babies mostly do not discriminate about what they stick into their mouths. I remember one mom watching me wash my Jacob’s pacifier and saying, “For the first few months, you’ll do everything you can to wash things off before he puts them in his mouth. Then, when he begins to crawl, he’ll start licking the floor, and you’ll just give up.” It’s true. I feel like the least I could do is steer clear of harsh chemicals.
All Free Clear Detergent. This is a detergent that I’ve been using for years because my husband, stepson, and I all have sensitive skin. It has worked equally well for Jacob. It’s free of dyes and perfumes, is gentle on our skin, and it actually works! Plus, it’s inexpensive and available at most stores.
For Going Places
Grab ‘n’ go bag (or diaper bag). It’s pretty straight- forward that moms should have some sort of diaper/travel bag. More than one mom suggested the Diaper Dude bag—which is practical for both parents to carry. I also got a lot of suggestions for what should be inside: toys, books, diapers, wipes, Desitin or Balmex for diaper-rash prevention and treatment, Eucerin for dry skin (pediatrician-recommended and hypo-allergenic), extra clothes for both you and your little one, cereal or freeze-dried fruit, a first-aid kit, and baby hand and face wipes (I like http://www.babyganics.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=86.)
Stroller/jogger. Nearly every day of my maternity leave I took at least one walk with Jacob in the stroller. To this day, as soon as the weather is nice, I strap him in the jogger and go for a walk or run. It’s the getting out of the house that’s key, I think. Even when he’s crying, it’s out in the open air instead of echoing off the walls. Priceless.
Carrier. Different ones got different votes. For me personally, the suggestions I received didn’t work. With only the best of intentions, many people recommended we get an Ergo or a Baby Bjorn. I can’t imagine they could possibly have been nursing moms. For the first half year of his life, anything that reminded my son of ma’s milk made him cry until he got a sip. This meant he could absolutely never face my breasts unless he was about to eat. The carrier that worked best for me was the Moby because he could face outward in it. Plus, it distributed his weight evenly. My husband loved the Infantino Flip (though this one hurt my shoulders if I had it on for more than an hour or so.) Each was under $40! Here’s another opinion:
“I made the mistake of asking for a Baby Bjorn as a gift. My son hated it! I later learned that it’s not very good for boys, because the whole contraption holds up your baby boy by one point, right under…his wee-wee. I’ve collected many other carriers, and the best ones (I did an informal poll with my mommy friends) are the regular sling and the Ergo carrier or Boba.”
Lansinoh Lanolin and Soothies Gel Pads. Sore nipples, be gone.
Spanx. Some moms bounce back to their pre-pregnancy bodies in no time. I wasn’t so lucky. It took me about a year to get rid of my belly. In the meantime, to fit into my clothes and especially my spandex aerobics instructor gear, I was all about undergarments that sucked me in. I had several “shapers” and wore them under almost all my clothes for about 11 months.
Video monitor. There’s something very comforting about being able to see your baby even when you know he or she is resting peacefully. I mentioned in my last post that my son goes to bed hours before my husband and I do. He sleeps upstairs, and we’re downstairs, with the monitor next to us. We watch his chest moving up and down to ensure he’s breathing (yes, we’re a little paranoid). Our monitor is portable so we can even clip it on as we go about our business throughout the house.
Gym with a nursery. Although this isn’t exactly a product, it’s something you certainly pay for. I know there’s no need for me to say much more about exercise as my saving grace, as I write about it all the time. But, one more thing—being able to get a break from my munchkin and bring my blood from boiling to baseline with a good workout…yes, salvation!
Fenugreek supplements. This one is exclusively for the breastfeeding moms. It’s a safe way to stimulate milk supply that is often used when moms return to work and have to pump (which isn’t as efficient as baby’s mouth).
“I had a noticeable decrease in milk supply when I returned to work (probably due to the transition from nursing to pumping during the day), and taking fenugreek nearly doubled my pumping output. [My daughter] is almost a year old, and I’m still breastfeeding. I seriously doubt we would have made it this far without the fenugreek.”
Nutrition bars. This isn’t too new of a thing for me. I’ve always been all about nutrition bars—they’re quick, and they feel sinful even though they’re not quite as bad as eating the triple dip ice cream sundae I’m craving. As I’m even more in a hurry as a mom, I make sure to have a few Luna, Lara, Pure, and other bars in my purse, diaper bag, and desk at work.
A plan for childcare. Again, this isn’t exactly a product, but it’s something many of us put a good amount of money toward, so I thought it fit. If you plan to work post-baby, get recommendations from friends, coworkers, and family well before baby arrives. Some day care centers have ridiculous waiting lists—like years. Also, have at least one good sitter who you can call when you need a break. If you have no family around (like me!), then have a few sitters handy. I even use them for doctor appointments or to go to the gym when the nursery is closed and my husband’s not around. I’ve found you may have to pay a little more for someone who is reliable and pays careful attention to the things that are important to you, but the peace of mind is worth every penny.
That’s what we got for products. Hope this helps some of the soon-to-be and new mamas out there! Please send your comments, critiques, and additions so we have an even better list. Happy mommy-ing!
I think it occurred to me sometime within the first hour of arriving home from the hospital after the birth of my son. I don’t know if it was the shock of being sore, mostly unable to move, and all alone with his fragility after having nurses on call for days. Or, maybe it was being squirted with projectile, fluorescent yellow baby poo, or having changed his clothes four times in less than 45 minutes after the spewing of two pee-pee fountains, loads of spit up after his first nursing session at home, and a second batch of liqui-poo that leaked out the sides of his diaper. No matter the cause, the reality was clear—this whole baby thing was not going to be as easy as I thought.
Since that day over a year ago, I’ve learned that I am not the only mom who was faced with this truth and actually quite astounded by it. With all the books and websites out there on babies and mothering, it’s a little curious that many of us aren’t prepared for the challenges that baby brings. Instead we learn from our experiences and from going to other mamas with our questions as they come up. With all this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to be a bit more proactive.
In a recent post, I asked the moms who read this blog to share their tried and true methods for surviving the challenges of the first year. Thanks to all of you who sent emails and Facebook messages, and who left comments on the post. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with how much good stuff everyone brought to the table. I organized, edited, and added to the ideas that you all sent. I also thought of some miscellaneous recommendations I received. Finally, I included some verbatim quotes from the moms who sent them, because I just thought they were valuable.
For the purposes of keeping the post from being painstakingly long, I divided all the info into two: (1) strategies–things moms can do and (2) products–things moms can buy (or of course, even better, have bought for us). Today’s post will tackle the strategies. Before I jump in, I want to add one cautionary note: not all of these things will work for everyone. In fact, some of the recommendations from other moms did not work for my son, and I’m sure some of the tactics that worked for Jacob or me did not or will not work for others. This may go without saying, but it’s important to remember that we, moms, and our babies are all quite different. What works for us will vary accordingly. Still, much of what worked for one of us will likely generalize to others.
Here’s what worked for the mamas who contributed…
Before baby arrives
Don’t pack up the oversized clothes quite yet. Many of us don’t realize that the baby belly remains for a while after baby is born. I know moms who headed to the hospital with plans to wear home a cute outfit in their pre-pregnancy size after giving birth. It wasn’t over-optimism fueling their plans—it was mere expectation. They didn’t know any better! It varies for everyone, but for most of us, there’s a deflated balloon around our waists for at least a couple of weeks after baby makes his grand exit. If you have a c-section, you probably won’t want anything hugging your sore mid-section for even longer than that. So, hang onto the maternity clothes—or at least the slightly larger clothing you wore about midway through your pregnancy—you may need them for a little longer than you expected.
Find breastfeeding support. Out of all the complaints I’ve heard, nursing, especially during those first few months, may have been the most common hurdle. Have a lactation consultant ready in case you need help. Thank goodness I joined a couple of breastfeeding support groups with other moms who were going through the same. I’m not sure what I found more helpful—the information from the lactation consultants who led the groups or the consolation of being with other moms enduring similar trials. I’m still friends with a few mamas I met in these groups. Being able to trade stories has been priceless.
“[Breastfeeding is] …the most beautiful thing to do, but in most cases takes about 4 to 6 weeks to perfect. Both baby and mommy are learning something new, but it’s worth it.”
Gear up for the first week. Have meals ready in the freezer. Ask a family member or friend come over to cook and clean (not just socialize), and help you catch up on sleep. If your own mother or someone else who has kids can do it, that person can be a good resource for sharing stories from her own experiences as a parent.
The first couple months
Be prepared for visitors to come and meet your new precious bundle. Set rules if you want to limit who comes to the hospital. Have your partner enforce them. If friends or family want to visit once you’re home, ask them to pitch in, like holding the baby while you have a nice, long shower.
Accept help and even request it. If people offer a hand, say, “yes!” If they don’t offer, they simply may not know what you need. I could hardly walk for weeks after my c-section. I would have killed to have someone drop off a meal or watch the baby while I took a shower, threw in a load of laundry, or got out of the house for an hour. No one did. Mostly though, I feel it’s my fault because I didn’t ask.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s taking out the trash, painting your toenails, or changing your baby’s diapers. If you want an extra set of hands, say so. People want to help, but they are also sensitive to your ‘I am supermom and I need no one.’”
Focus on healthy habits from the beginning. As much as you can, eat nutritious foods and get a good amount of sleep. You’ll be recovering, and you’re going to need your strength, especially to get through those first few weeks of baby adjusting to night and day and to being out of your belly and in the world. Eating well, going to bed early, and napping during at least one of baby’s naps can help a lot.
Tell your partner what he can (and can’t) do. Remind daddy he’s important, but new babies often just want mom at first, especially if she is breastfeeding (and therefore is baby’s lifeline). Plus, mom’s smell and voice are all baby has known for the past nine months inside her womb, so she provides the most comfort. Dad’s job is to be mom’s manservant: fetch her a glass of water, fluff her pillow, cook her a meal. And, when mom needs a break from baby, dad can help with that too, even though baby may resist a bit.
Let the housework go. This also goes for yard work, preparing elaborate meals, and pretty much anything that is not essential to keeping you and your baby happy and healthy. A friend shared this poem, which I had never heard but loved:
“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ’til tomorrow,
For, babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow;
So, quiet down, cobwebs, and dust, go to sleep;
I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.”
Take baby into the shower with you. I was going it alone for the first few months of motherhood with my husband at work and no family or close friends nearby. One thing that worked, so that I could get cleaned up and so I didn’t have to make extra time to give baby a separate bath later, was to pull him in with me. It was easiest when he was a tiny baby, but my husband and I still do it now. Make sure to hold on tight—babies are squirmy and very slippery when lathered up.
Start tummy time right away even if baby resists. Although some babies are quite content on their backs and fight time on the flipside, having them on their backs all day and night sets them up for flat heads and slower development of their muscles.
“[My son] hated tummy time. At his 3-month checkup, I was reprimanded by the doctor about his flat head and told that it would take up to 6 months to fix.”
Don’t wait until baby starts crying to react. Many will say that the only way baby can communicate is through crying. This is not the case! They have a lot of other ways of saying they are hungry, tired, or just need a change of scenery. Pay attention to your baby’s cues such as a bobbing head when hungry or a rub of the eyes when tired. Then, act before the tears and wails begin. This way, babies start to realize they don’t need to cry every time they need something.
Get into the habit of putting baby to bed early. I have friends who wait to put their babies to bed until they go to bed. Not this mama! I need, need, need time to unwind, especially at the end of the day—and if baby is awake, the winding continues, and the unraveling never has an opportunity to start. I use the couple of hours between Jacob’s bedtime and my own to journal, catch up on housework, and reconnect with my husband. From what I can tell, babies are flexible in the sleep-timing department—why not make it on the early side?
Take a time out. Can’t get a break? Make one. I mentioned this suggestion in my post about battling stress but the suggestion came up so many times from other moms that I figured it was worth including. When the going gets tough, put baby in a safe place and go take a breather.
“If no one is there [to help you], put the baby in the crib and let him cry while you cry it out yourself.”
Be open about your feelings to at least one person. Having a baby involves a wide range of emotions that aren’t all positive. Once we accept this and admit our feelings to others, the emotional jumble often is easier to manage. Open up to your partner or another close friend or family member. Tell them exactly how you feel. It may be joy, but it may be frustration, anxiety, sadness, or anger. And, that’s okay.
“Whatever it is, share your feelings. I had mild postpartum, and I held everything in. I would then either explode at my husband in a mean way (which caused him to be angry) or end up holding it in and crying in the shower (my one time to be alone). When I finally gave in and talked to my doctor, my family, and my husband about it…my depression went away.”
When newborn turns baby turns toddler
Ease back into your job (if you have the flexibility). As I was about to return to work, one new mom told me to use the first day away from baby to cry and get a handle on my emotions. A lot of moms who have to go back to work full time start with just a few days a week and gradually build up. Since I started back at work when Jacob was almost four months old, I have worked four 9-hour days and one 4-hour Weds. I look forward to the middle of the week when I have my whole afternoon to spend with my son.
Try co-sleeping. When I was back to my full-time job and my four evenings a week at the gym (my most effective anti-stress therapy), I felt like I hardly ever saw my son! Also, I found it so hard to fall back asleep after getting up to pull him out of his crib and into a rocking chair to nurse in the middle of the night. As soon as I started having him sleep next to me in the bed, I got much more sleep and overall time with my son. We still do it this way—the only time he still nurses is at night. And, thankfully for me, he still loves to cuddle up close to his mama (though during the day, he’d much rather be exploring!). I value this time with him so much. Note: This is one of those recommendations where you may want to proceed with caution. Some people who know I co-sleep are appalled. After Jacob become mobile, it meant disassembling our bed frame so only a mattress remained and also getting rails for the bedsides. Factoring in the impact this may have on your sex life (or the faded shadows of its existence) also is probably not a bad idea.
Don’t let yourself go completely for too long. After your belly starts to shrink back down and your baby starts to follow some semblance of a schedule, do some things so you feel better about you. Wash your face, put on some makeup, tweeze your eyebrows, etc. Whatever will make you feel like you again. By a few months out, I say: pack up the maternity clothes. Do not put them back on only to set yourself up for someone asking when you are due. Wear your husband’s baggy tees, your jeans without buttoning them, whatever. Do NOT wear clothes that are meant for pregnant women. You will only feel larger than you are. I still remember the first time post-childbirth I actually put on makeup and a matching, non-maternity outfit: I felt renewed!
Plan mamas’ nights out. Hallelujah to the nights when I can put on my dangly earrings (without fear of having them ripped off by a tiny hand) and share some wine and stories about the adventures in mommyhood. When you’re a mom, girlfriends are important. Girlfriends with kids are a necessity.
Don’t force baby to finish his food. Learn your baby’s cues for “I’ve had enough”. Turning his head away or crying during nursing, bottle-feeding, spoon-feeding, or even eating finger foods are usually good signs. When they’re hungry, they will eat.
Strive for consistency and routines. Nighttime routines and somewhat consistent naptimes and pre-nap preparations usually help to soothe baby to slumber. A few moms recommended putting baby to bed while he’s still awake. As babies get further along in the first year, letting them know what to expect in various situations also is a good idea.
Question social norms and the advice of others. I wrote a whole post on this a while back. Sometimes what works for everybody else may not be helpful to you and yours. You may consider questioning recommended strategies before you attempt them and suggested products before you buy them. They may not be as necessary as you thought.
Read books and make it fun. Reading is something we want our children to do for life. Get them used to it now. Although for the first several months it may mean them exploring the books with their mouths (okay, trying to eat them), getting them excited about reading early has its benefits. Use voices, facial expressions, and funny noises as you flip through the pages.
Start baby-proofing early. Outlet covers, latches for drawers and cabinets, and gates for stairs are some of the necessities. Also, be mindful of common products that your child could easily ingest.
“One time, [my toddler daughter] …saw a bottle of rubbing alcohol in my bag. I learned that she drank the darn alcohol! I called poison control…immediately. They said that most likely she only drank a small amount because alcohol tastes bad. Apparently, this happens all the time…”
Let babies be babies and kids be kids.
“Sometimes we want [our children] to act a certain way, [and] we forget they are young.”
During my first few months as mom, whenever Jacob cried, I would apologize or say, “he hardly ever does this” (I think I was trying to convince myself). After I came to terms with the idea that it’s okay for him to cry and be fussy, things got much easier for me to handle.
Have a sense of humor. Hopefully, each of us possesses a little of this naturally. Still, sometimes we all have to remind ourselves to look for the humor in challenging situations. Getting into the habit of smiling or laughing instead of crying or yelling can only make the hard times a little less difficult.
Remember that things get easier with time and that you’ll likely miss the “baby” years. A lot of moms say they are sad when baby’s not a baby anymore, no matter how challenging it was. When you are in the midst of trying times, attempt to focus on the little things you treasure a lot and that won’t last. The-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel approach also can’t hurt. Although there are certainly some challenges in store for the years to come, many things will be easier. To name a few, it’s only a matter of time before baby will not only be moving around on his/her own but also feeding and entertaining him or herself. Cherish the time when everything is tiny and cute and when baby needs you. Because, whether you like it or not, you won’t always feel so needed.
“[My husband and I] always knew [parenting] would be the toughest and most rewarding job of our lives… and now we have a really awesome dude we can call our son.”
Thoughts? Thanks again for all who contributed. Feel free to leave a comment to say one of these suggestions didn’t work for you and what did instead. And, if you want clarification on any of the above, I’m happy to consult with the moms who contributed. Finally, if you have any other ideas, I’m sure the new and expecting moms out there would be happy to hear them.
Next time, we’ll move onto the products: what to buy for baby and mama.
Although my blog may lead you to believe otherwise, I’m actually #1: not a huge complainer and #2: quite satisfied with my decision to have a child. And, I guess I should point out that I’m also #3: NOT on the brink of a major breakdown. Thankfully.
I got a call today from a well-intentioned aunt who expressed her concern for the negativity in my posts. She wanted to check in to “make sure everything was okay” because I sounded “very [pause]…tired.” After a 30-minute conversation consisting mostly of me working to convince her everything was just fine, I started to question two things. (Neither of which was related to whether or not everything was fine—things are not easy, but they also are definitely not too hard to handle.)
The first question I asked myself is if I am, indeed, too negative in my writing. My answer to that was another question: what is too negative? I’ve mentioned it before, but a few reasons I created this blog are to vent, work through my problems, organize my thoughts, and share my experiences with other moms. Although a bitchfest is not exactly what I was aiming for, there are some days that my posts become just that. Sorry. But, writing is my therapy, and I want other moms going through the same to know they’re not alone. I consider myself a positive person by nature. I want to be motivating and cheerful as much as I can. More than that, however, I want to be honest. I don’t want to have to censor what I say…especially considering my goals of writing in the first place.
The other question that came up in my conversation with my aunt stemmed from a suggestion she made multiple times: that my situation is different and more difficult than those of other moms—that it’s not that hard for everyone. Maybe.
In case I haven’t complained enough, I did a bit of reflecting on why my situation may be more challenging than most, and I did come up with a few things.
A terrible c-section. As I was preparing for my all-natural childbirth, enduring the 40+ hours of labor, and pushing for several hours more, the idea of a cesarean frightened me. Yet, since my c-section, I’ve heard stories that are not bad at all. Mine was awful. I couldn’t walk or ride in a car comfortably for over a month. I couldn’t lift baby or move faster than walking without pain for at least three months. It wasn’t until four months postpartum that I was able to get back into any of my exercise routines. Over a year later, I still have pain and swelling on one side of the scar, where the doctors say they “must have pulled the sutures too tight, but there’s nothing we could do.”
No family around. It definitely isn’t easy not having any family within several hundred miles of where we live. Since my son’s birth over a year ago, I’ve had one extended weekend visit from my mom, one week-long visit from my dad, a couple of days with my (aforementioned) aunt, and a few weekend visits from my sister . That’s all. Getting a break means paying a sitter $10+ an hour or hoping that baby can last in the gym nursery long enough for mommy to get some exercise therapy.
High-maintenance baby. My baby has had to be held or entertained nearly every waking minute from the day he was born. For the past year, the only time my son has been content is in my arms; next to me, my husband, his brother, or someone else entertaining him enthusiastically; or when he is sleeping. I look in awe at the babies and toddlers I see who are content in their bouncy chairs, Pack ‘N’ Plays, cribs, Exersaucers, etc. Jacob has never been one of those babies. The most he ever has lasted with any of those (unless asleep) is 10 minutes…usually he cries as soon as we put him down. That translates into no breaks for me. I know, you may say, I should have just left him until he got used to it. We did that and do that…nearly every day…because we have needs (like using the restroom and eating dinner). Jacob is relentless. He cries until he is choking on his snot and covered in a rash. He doesn’t stop until someone picks him up.
In addition to those things, which (arguably) make my life harder than those of other moms, I’m also juggling a full-time job, being a stepmom to a 2nd grader, and dealing with my husband’s work schedule, which requires him to leave before the sun rises and to work evenings and weekends. Last but not least, one of my self-induced sources of “suffering” is that I have a ridiculously high need to be productive. Before baby, I worked out 1 to 2 hours a day; spent several hours a week beading, sewing, and writing; managed to keep the house in order; and worked full-time as a researcher and part-time as a step aerobics instructor and a karaoke disc jockey. I’ve had to cross a few of those things off my to-do list since becoming mommy, and that makes me a little sad.
Normal or not?
But, am I worse off? Who knows? I’m not sure we really can compare. I’m not sure it matters. We all have our complaints, our difficult times, no matter how hard or easy it is from an objective outsider.
Although my aunt can say with conviction that she “rarely experienced the negatives” when it came to having kids, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of moms who beg to differ. Again, whether it’s the norm or the exception, I’m not certain. However, I’ve gotten tens of responses to my last post requesting ideas for ways to make mom’s life easier. That leads me to believe that a good number of mamas think it’s worthwhile to share their tips on easing the hardships of new motherhood.
Anyway, thanks, Aunt Sandy. I appreciate your genuine concern for my sanity. You will make a fantastic grandmother someday (hint, hint to other potential readers of this blog.) And, one more time, let me say that I’m…totally…okay.
As for the rest of you, I think I’m gonna need an extra day or two to organize all the great suggestions for things that work for mamas and babies during the first year. I got more ideas than I expected. Thanks everyone! (Please do keep ’em coming if you have something to add.) More on that soon. Happy 3-day weekend!
I still don’t quite grasp why no one told me how difficult it would be to have a baby. I guess it’s not cool to throw a bunch of negative comments at a soon-to-be mom, especially when she’s sportin’ that mid-maternity glow and all. Yet, someone could have at least hinted that it wouldn’t all be a joyride, that I’d be treading water sometimes, only to barely keep afloat. I think the lack of forewarning may have made the whole thing even harder on me—because my expectations were completely unrealistic.
Don’t get me wrong—motherhood is a wonderful thing. I love my son more than I’ve ever loved anything or anyone in the over three decades I’ve been alive and able to love. There are times when I’m just basking in all the glories of having a little guy. However, I’ve found myself struggling with the challenges of parenting equally as much. And, for this reason, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be one of those moms who pretended to the pregos out there that having a kid was all fun and games.
When I talk to a pregnant mom, I tell it like it is. I confer my congrats, compliment the cute belly, and tell her that being a mother is one of those marvelous miracles you simply can’t understand fully until you’ve done it. But, I don’t stop there. I make sure to mention that it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and that I wished someone had told me that—the way I’m telling her.
And, this leads me to the topic of my next couple of posts…
Jacob entered his second year of life a couple of weeks ago. Frankly, part of me feels very proud (and somewhat surprised) that we made it through the first year without any major crises. Sure, we had our moments, but mostly we stayed strong. I’m proud of us both for that…but it wasn’t without trial and error.
As I have a few friends who read this blog, and who are expecting, or just a few weeks or months into their new mommy titles, I thought it might be worth sharing some of the things that made my life easier during baby’s first year of life. Also, if you’re a mom, I think they’d appreciate it if you share your secrets. Because although they could leaf through hundreds of pages of baby/parenting books or scan through websites on the topic, a bulleted list from a few friendly moms is so much easier. I’m starting the list now. If you have any ideas or suggestions for products, ways of taking care of baby or mama, etc., please send them my way.
Now that I’m a mom, practically all I hear are complaints. No one holds back on sharing the pains of parenting once the bun has officially exited the oven. How helpful is that? Don’t we want to know if we’re coming up on a challenge well in advance, so we can step into full battle gear?! I know I do. Calling all mamas: send me your thoughts. It’s time to help a mama out.