Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sleep -

The title says it all. Sleep. We all want more of it. For ourselves. For our babies.
It is one of my top 3 topics discussed with other moms (the other two being food and poop. Yup, bodily functions haven't had this much air time since a 10th grade boys locker room.)

With Sophia, we've been really lucky, on the sleep front. She's a good overall sleeper. She has her moments, as do all babies, but all in all, we've been able to count on a good overnight sleep from her from fairly early on. We have our hiccups, for sure, like anyone else. We just try to roll through them. I find they definitely affect me more if I'm overtired.

I often felt guilty admitting this to people. It's definitely something I don't offer up unless I'm asked about it.
Because, you see, misery tends to love company. I was in Target once when Sophia was about 4 months old. Another mom came over to me and struck up a conversation (she was holding a child who was similar in age to Sophia). Her first question was about how Sophia was sleeping. I responded with my usual - "She's a really good sleeper. We're very lucky. We know it can change at any point, but we'll take it." Her response "Oh. I can't stand people like you. Must be nice."

Um hello? You asked the question!

I remember attending sleep discussions and reading about them nauseum in the beginning. I wanted to "learn the trick" to creating a good sleeper. I kept getting frustrated as everything I read or everyone I talked to would caveat it with "Every child is different." I know that. In my sane, rational self, I knew there was no blanket answer. But I wanted one. So I decided to create my own. That works. For my daughter.
I think moms can have the most success supporting each other, not dragging each other down into their own hell. So give it a shot. Add your own. The more info the merrier.

Here are some of the best tips and tricks I learned. Some may work for others. Some may not. Give it a shot. And some of these may work better at different ages. For the first 3 months just go with whatever works the best and gets everyone the most sleep.

1) Consistency. There is really something to be said for this. Babies do really enjoy a routine. It makes life easier for them when they have a general idea of what's coming. Try and stick to a schedule give or take 30 minutes.

1a) Be flexible. Seems contradictory to #1, but it's true. Not every day is going to be exactly the same as before (at least, not without going crazy). Maybe you get stuck in traffic. Maybe your friend is in town and you want lunch together. Don't worry, you'll figure it out. And one day here and there isn't going to blow the whole thing up.

2) Offer sleep every 1.5 to 2 hours. This one was a lifesaver for us through the first 6 months of Sophia's life. Studies have shown that babies can't really comfortably stay awake for much longer than that. I was a slave to the clock, but I also learned to read her signs. Eye rubbing, yawning and general crankiness were sure fire signs.

2.5) The Ab Ball. I don't think Sophia would have napped or slept without us bouncing her on this in the beginning. Actually, for probably close to the first 4 months. About 10 minutes before I suspected it was time for nap or sleep, we would go to the ball and bounce our little hearts out. Dave was the master at it and my mom even got into it. It bounces and soothes at such a motion that is next to impossible to gain while standing. Just make sure it's pumped up well or your lower back will start to hurt.

3) Swaddle. The swaddle worked like a charm for the first 5.5 months. We used a Kiddopotamus version (velcro included). Sophia would constantly whap herself in the face otherwise. It made everyone much happier at night.

3a) Consider co-sleeping. This worked really well for us in the beginning. Again, not for everyone and not the answer to everyone's problems. The AAP recommends against it, mostly in the case if you have a substance abuse problem that would lead you to possibly roll over your child at night. Assuming that you're not a heavy sleeper (or your partner) it can work. Just make your bed a safe bed (watch blankets, walls, etc.) We had Sophia in bed with us for the first 6 weeks before transitioning her to her crib.

3b) The swing is your friend. Sophia lived in the swing for naps throughout the day until about 5 months. It was a lifesaver for us. We could leave her in the middle of the living room happily swinging away for long periods of time.

4) White noise. We still use this. We might not even need it now, but it's become part of the routine. I downloaded a track from iTunes and hooked it into a iHome that plays on repeat throughout the night. It definitely blocks out loud noises from the city street and most in-house hullabaloo. (In the beginning, we ran the hairdryer to get her to fall asleep if she was really fussing!)

5) Bedtime routine. We have a fairly consistent routine for bed: (at almost 9 months). Eat "dinner" solids around 6, followed by a bath, a bottle and some books. Then it's into the sleeping bag, followed by a quick rock in the chair and into the crib. Sophia still whines a little when we're putting her down at night, but after 5-10 minutes, she generally settles right down.
(See earlier posts on sleep training. Everyone has their opinion, method or thoughts on this. Ferber worked for us. It's not for everyone. Go with your gut).

6) Naps promote good nighttime sleep. When Sophia has good naps during the day, she sleeps better at night. We do a mini-bedtime routine for naps. Morning nap is always the first to develop and afternoon comes later. We just recently reduced Sophia from 3 naps/day to 2.

7) 2-3-4 rule. I got this from one of my friend's sister. It seems to generally apply to babies 7+ months. We started this with Sophia in the past week or so. First nap happens 2 hours after wake up. Second nap is three hours after wake up from first nap. Bedtime happens 4 hours after second nap wake up. Some days it works. Others it doesn't. We'll keep plugging at it.

8) When in doubt - go for a walk. Fresh air, stroller movement, Bjorn (especially when they're little) is a lifesaver for creating naps. And you get the added benefit of fresh air and human interaction.

9) Or go for a ride in the car. I tried to time my longer trips around Sophia's nap schedule so that she'd conk out for most of the ride.

10) Be patient. Just when you think you've got it down, teething or growth spurt or just neural development happens. And it can throw you and your baby for a loop. I remember Sophia waking up at 2am a few nights in a row right around her 6 month birthday. She wasn't crying, just whining. When we came in - she was completely rotated in her crib and was so excited to show us her new "tricks!" You can literally hear the neurons connecting in her brain!!

Moms? Any other sleepy tips or tricks that work?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

If I only knew then...

As a new mom, I was lucky enough to have a group of 8 friends who all gave birth around the same time as I did. The wisdom that has been shared is priceless. I hope some of these tips help the new/soon to be moms who read this blog. They are in no particular order. Feel free to add more in the comment section:

1. Surround yourself with as many moms who have a baby in the same general age range (give or take 3 months) as you. Talk and email with them often. Share stories, pains, frustrations and joys. It truly does take a village.

2. The Three Week Growth Spurt – why is my baby eating every hour? Am I not making enough milk? Nope. It’s the three-week growth spurt. It’ll last for 24-36 hours. It will be hell, but there is nothing wrong. Your little one is growing. Fill your water bottle and pop in a movie. It's going to be an exhausting few days, but you'll get through it.

3. Do whatever you need to do to get sleep as a family – even if you swore it all off before having the baby, no one will (or should) give you any crap for changing your mind. Co-sleeping isn’t the answer for everyone, but it can work if you need & want it to.

4. Breastfeeding is natural – but it doesn’t always come easy. Seek help. Talk to other moms, lactation consultants, whomever. But talk and ask questions.

5. Pumping is so easy, but so hard. Make sure you have the right equipment. Ask people how to do it. The best shortcut I learned – take a cheap sports bra and cut holes in it to hold the phalanges in place to go hands-free.

6. There is nothing wrong with formula supplements. Or full-time formula. You need to do what is best for you and your family. Don’t do one thing or another just because someone tells you that you should. I personally chose breast feeding because I felt it was best for my daughter and that I could and wanted to do it. There is too much stress and guilt placed on moms to add another thing to the list.

7. Don’t read too much. There is so much information out there – you can find something about everything. Read enough, but trust your instincts. We’ve been doing this for thousands of years before books came along.

8. If it doesn’t work the first time, try it again. And again, and again. Swaddling – Sophia hated it. Till she couldn’t sleep with out it. Food. Avocados = bleahh. Until she liked them.

9. Everything your baby does will affect you 10x more when you’re exhausted. Take a breath (or a shower) and it’ll be ok.

9.5 Try to get a shower in every 24 hours. You may not feel like you have time/energy for it. But trust me - you will feel better. And your baby will be fine sitting in his vibrating chair or swing.

10. Just when you think you have a schedule or pattern set, it changes. Teething. Brain development. Time change. Just go with it.

10.5 Don't be afraid to ask for help. From your husband, your mother, your mother-in-law, best friend, neighbor. You can do it all by yourself, but you'll be better off if you don't. This was the hardest one for me.

11. Get outside as much as you can with your baby. Fresh air is amazing for both of you. You can bundle them (& you) for the cold. Trust me, it’ll do wonders for your sanity.

11.5 Learn to prioritize, make lists and be efficient. If only babies held up a little flag saying "I'm going to sleep now for 45 minutes, so don't start anything big" or "I'm in for a 2 hour nap, so relax and enjoy yourself". But they don't. So make the most of the time you think you have. I found I have such mommy brain - I'll start 5 different tasks and finish none of them before Sophia wakes up. I have to manually force myself to figure out which is most important and then finish it before walking to another room (Kind of like the dogs in "Up" - blah blah blah - SQUIRREL!)

12. You will never be a perfect mom. Or dad. Just be the best you can – the spectrum of what is “right” for your baby is huge. The area of what is “wrong” is so very small and obvious. Go with what works for you and your family.

13. You never, ever expected poop to be such a conversation piece: descriptive emails, subject headers and phone calls discussing the subject extensively. But hey, you gotta talk about it.

13.5 Try to ignore the percentiles and comparisons. We all get caught up someway or another in it. People will constantly assess your baby's height/weight/hair. Generally these people have no clue or memory of what a baby is "supposed" to be at that age anyway. And even if they do know, if they're not your doctor, ignore them.

14. Trust your baby's father. He may not have given birth to your baby, but assuming you love and trust him enough to be in your life, he will manage to keep your child clean, safe and fed. He may not do it the way you'd do it. But the end result will be the same.

15. Take time for yourself. Physically and mentally. Your body went through hell giving birth (whether natural, with medication or a c-section). You are obviously very focused on caring for your child, but don't forget about you. If you're not in top form, you won't be able to be the best for your child. Take that yoga class. Call your girlfriends to talk. Go to a movie. Have a glass of wine.

So, what do you do all day?

I know this blog is mostly about Sophia's development and fun pictures. This post is a little different, but still very much encompasses how Sophia is growing, learning and developing. This response was triggered by an interesting commentary I just picked up online from the Washington Post:

When I graduated college and started working, I was excited to be a part of that world. It was fun, different and exciting. I worked in advertising and for those of you Mad Men fans, it wasn't that far off: The pay was crap, but there were lots of perks to make up for the crappy pay and long hours: food, travel, expense accounts and great clients! (well, mine was at least.) Someone asked me what I thought about having children. At that point in my life, a child was the furthest thing from my mind. I suppose if I had one, I'd take my 3 months then jump right back in where I'd left off. After all, how attached could you get to someone in just 3 months?

As people in my office began having children, I was someone resentful. After all, I was at the bottom of the totem pole, so if they had to leave early to (insert appropriate "excuse") pick up the child from daycare, work from home because the child was sick, go coach a t-ball game, etc, I was stuck carrying the load. Sure. Throw it on the single 20-something who clearly had nothing better to do than wait for Traffic to tell me that the creatives hadn't finished the edits yet.

Then, some of my friends started to have children. Not many, but just enough that they were more a part of my life on a regular basis. I saw the ebb and flow in my friendships and I'm sure, had a few choice phrases about why my friend was no longer able to "keep up" with her part of the friendship. I mean, wasn't she up at 11pm feeding anyway? Why not just shoot me an email response? And if her child wasn't sleeping, well, clearly she was probably coddling the child. Just let 'em cry it out for goodness sake!

Fast forward almost 10 years and I now get it. I'm not saying that you have to have a child to understand it, but you have to have them in your life on a regular & constant basis (friend, sister, big Italian family, etc) to understand that while we're at home with our children, it is about them. Your needs come when you can get to them. I don't care if you stay home full time or if you are working part or full time while being a mom - (sorry dads, I know there are dads who are the primary caregivers and you are included in this!) it is a feat unlike anything you've ever accomplished in your life. As the woman in the article puts it: take what used to require 15 minutes to accomplish and tack on an additional 30 minutes to really make it happen.

I have a good friend who tells me she isn't ready for kids because she's still got a lot left on her list. And you know what I tell her: go for it. Tick off as many things as you can now. Not because you can't do it when you have kids, you most certainly can. But it will be different. Because if you want to fly across country to race, you can. It just requires a hell of a lot more planning (and stuff!) The days of showing up to the airport 20 minutes before the flight with a backpack and water bottle for a weekend are long gone. But if you plan it right, you can still do it.

And as for me time, it's still there. I am a firm believer that if you don't take some time for yourself, you will crumble. Emotionally, physically and psychologically. But as this column states, we are much more stingy with the "me" time. That's not to say we can't hold up our end of friendships - that's a cop out. But the definition and execution of friendships has to evolve. My outlet is exercising. I used to go out on 5-6 hour bike rides and hour long runs with a nice stretch and shower afterward. I still get out on my runs. They may not be as long, but they are just as sweet. And Dave makes sure that I get my stretching time in afterward. But I know Sophia's waiting there for her mom to focus back on her. And as for the biking, it's pretty much on the shelf for this year. I'll get out a few times for a few hours, but logistically, it's a little too much commitment. But that's ok. I'm not abandoning it. I'll be back when it makes sense. And my bike will be there.

I have every intention of incorporating as much of my "former" life into this new life with Sophia. It's how she'll learn and grow into a strong, independent woman. We've already done a cross country visit taking nothing but carry on by ourselves (no Dave!). But my best friend on the other end had everything we didn't bring - pack n play, extra clothes, stroller, etc. And next Spring, I have no doubt that Sophia will be sitting behind me on the bike as we head around town to do errands.

Everything changes and evolves. And I couldn't love it more.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grandma & Grandpa's Beach

Last week, Sophia & I escaped to my parents house in CT for some cooler temps and lots of quality family time. It was exactly what we both needed.

When we arrived on Wednesday afternoon, we started to settle in. Recently, Sophia has become a little more clingy later in the afternoon when she is around new people. (We had an unfortunate meltdown with Dave's mom earlier in the week, but Harriet was a trooper and toughed it out.) We had a similar meltdown when Sophia first went to my dad late in the afternoon. She wouldn't take the bottle from him and, in general, just pitched a fit.

Luckily, this subsided by the next day. I think the more contact she has, the better she'll get.

It is so tough to watch because you know it's just a phase, but our hope is that she is comfortable as possible with other people. It's strange that it is just later in the afternoon. At any other point during the day, she'll happily go to anyone as long as they are smiling and paying attention to her!

Grandma & Grandpa had a great time spoiling her. She went on the swings at Foote Park (where I used have my Field Day growing up at St. Mary's School)

We went to visit my Aunt Joan and Grandma, who just ate Sophia up! (My grams is 88 and in fabulous shape - her mind, eyes and ears are all there. I hope when I get to her age I'm looking as good!)

She got to play with her new friend Ryan (one of my best friends from high school, Colleen, had her son about 6 weeks after I had Sophia).

We got a visit from Mary & Web - my basketball coaches from high school. They spoiled Sophia with lots of new, beautiful outfits! She gave them lots of smiles and playtime.

And finally, there was lots of outdoor playtime:

in the water with Grandma (which was fun, until the jellyfish came along. But no fear, my father speared it and tossed it into the sea grass)

Breakfast and playtime on the patio (what could be better?)

On a developmental note, she started making the first motions towards crawling - her butt got up in the air a little and she is rocking the baby pushups. We totally want her to go, but at the same point, love knowing she'll stay put when we put her down somewhere! :)

And then, it was time to go home. I remarked how bored she'll be this week with just plain old mom to entertain her!
Until our next visit...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Outdoors in Newport

With temps skyrocketing in Boston, we escaped to Newport as quickly as possible Friday morning for the long weekend. We weren't sure how long we'd be able to stay down at the beach, given last week's shenanigans with Sophia being sick and becoming much more aware that she was sharing a room with mom and dad. After some creative curtain hanging, it all worked out.
In the meantime, we tried to be outdoors as much as possible.
Here's a video of Sophia playing on the grass at our favorite park overlooking the Newport Bridge:

It was also our first adventure in the "new" (to us) backpack. We took Sophia for a little hike out at the Norman Bird Sanctuary. It heads out to the place we call "Pride Rock" overlooking 2nd beach.

Ready to Hike:

Snuggle time with Mom on top of the rock:

Loaded back up and ready to roll:

And we also learned that Sophia really CAN sleep anywhere: