How to get more sleep for mothers – Part 1

Posted by on May 19, 2014

Sleep. Once the baby has been born and feeding is going well, sleep becomes the primary issue for new parents. It’s understandable. Sleep is one of our basic needs. If we don’t sleep enough, we can’t function. New parents who are woken many time every night to feed and comfort a baby quickly become exhausted and that exhaustion contributes to post-partum depression and anxiety. And mothers, usually (but not always) the primary parent, believe that the only way they can get more sleep themselves, is to fix their baby’s sleep. They believe that if they are sleep-deprived it’s their own fault because they have given their baby “bad habits.” Perhaps they have nursed their babies to sleep, or rocked them to sleep, or held them while they slept, or, horror of horrors, taken their babies to bed with them! (I’ll talk another time about why the above “bad habits” are perfectly good strategies for caring for a small baby. But for now, let’s explore the issue of getting more sleep for mothers.) It takes a long time to “fix” baby sleep patterns. Many babies do not sleep long stretches until they are 6 months or a year. Some don’t sleep well until they are two or three years old. Some parents make the choice to sleep train, but even that does not always work and is not recommended for at least three to six months. And many parents feel that sleep training is too harsh for their children. So what is to be done? Sleep experts recommend setting up good sleep habits and bed-time rituals. Attachment parenting proponents recommend co-sleeping and bed-sharing. All of these can work. But they take time, and desperate parents wonder “When will my baby sleep?” The answer is, no one knows. Maybe the answer is, when you have babies and small children, you just can’t sleep the way you expected to until now. You are just not going to get 7-8 hours of undisturbed sleep every night. So how are you, as a family, going to manage this problem? Because this is a problem for the whole family. It’s not just the mother’s problem. Very often, the mothers who come to my baby groups tell me that they can’t ask their partner to share in the night-time parenting because “He has to work in the morning.” It makes me wonder what the mother does all day – is that not work too? Yes, she can sleep in a bit or take a nap during the day, but that doesn’t get her a long stretch of sleep. Sometimes, the lack of sleep for mom is blamed on the fact that she breastfeeds. I sometimes think, in my more grumpy moods, that breastfeeding is a great excuse for fathers or other parents to abdicate. “All the baby wants is the breast. I can’t feed the baby so I can’t comfort him. I can’t do anything for him at night, so I may as well sleep.” Really?...

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Posted by on May 14, 2014

Pain. I am in the midst of a horrible back spasm. My low back and right hip have been in a spasm since last week. I cannot stand or walk without sharp, knife-like pain, and even sitting is very uncomfortable. So I have been spending a lot of time thinking about pain. I talk about pain a lot in my work as a doula and childbirth educator. I talk about the pain of labour and how it evolves to tell the mother about her progress. I talk about strategies for coping with pain.I talk about ways to accept the pain, and work with it. But it’s been 20 years since I had my last baby. I have forgotten how intense and all-consuming muscular pain can be, especially when it goes on for hours or days. So I am trying to use this week of pain as an opportunity to practice my pain-coping strategies. I am trying to doula myself through this back spasm. I am using a lot of the same techniques my clients use: Heating pad, ice packs, position changes, distraction. Movement, music, snacks. Shower, bath, rest, silly TV shows. Whining, complaining, conversation, laughter. Just like a woman in labour, I know intellectually that this pain in finite. It will not go on for ever. Just like a woman in labour, I find it feels better when I lean forwards and worse when I lean back. Just like a woman in labour, I feels that my pain gets worse when I tense up. Just like a woman in labour, I get breaks from the pain. When that happens I try to notice it and relax completely. Just like a woman in labour, I feel trapped by the pain. My body is doing something I can’t control. I don’t know when this is going to stop and I can’t help letting my mind wander to the possibility that it will never stop. Just like a woman in labour, I sometimes feel angry, or sad, or discouraged. Just like a woman in labour, I need to feel safe and supported. My family and friends and colleagues have rallied round to help me. They bring me lovely things to eat and ask how I’m doing, and cover the classes I can’t teach. And I am SO grateful! Unlike a woman in labour, I cannot say that this is pain with a purpose! I will not get a lovely, squishy, warm, cuddly baby at the end of it all. But at the end of it, I will have had some peaceful solitary afternoons of knitting, some blog posts written, some email attended to, some sweaters mended, some naps. So maybe there is a purpose to this pain after all....

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Telling stories to our children

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014

The mother of a four-year-old recently commented on how much her daughter loved hearing stories about “when Mommy was Four.” So much does this little girl love those stories that the mother has started making them up. She just can’t remember enough real material from such a long time ago! It made me think about telling stories to our children and how we do that and how the stories change as our children grow. I think one of the first stories we tell a baby is the Suspense Story: “And… now… I’m… going…. to… blowonyourtummy!” I remember telling that one as early as a few weeks into my baby’s life. Soon after that, a variation on the Suspense Story is “Peek-a-Boo!” You have a scarf over your face and you’re saying: “Where is Mommy?” “Here she is!” Really safe, but mildly exciting little surprises, tension … followed by relief. A story we told often as a little “micro drama” was the “I’m going to bite you” story. With the baby watching, I would open my mouth wide and pretend that I was going to bite my husband Randy, and he would say, seriously: “No Biting!” I would look thoughtful and repeat “No biting?” We acted this one out a lot when the six-month-old was biting (or pinching, or hair pulling.) It was a way of “discussing” the problem of biting at times when it wasn’t actually happening. The baby always looked interested (or amused) and thoughtful. I think it helped the baby process the idea of the no-biting rule. A sure-fire way to put an older baby to sleep is to tell the story of her day in a sing-song voice. “This morning Josephine got up and put on her yellow jumpsuit. She had oatmeal with her Mommy and then her Daddy took her to the park. She loved the swings and went higher and higher in the air! Then she came home and had some hummus for lunch. And then she had a nice nap with her Mommy.” I find babies as young as 8 or 9 months can get into this sort of story-telling and it can become a lovely part of the bedtime ritual. Morality tales worked well when the kids were pre-schoolers. We used to tell stories about “The girl who never wore shoes” (her feet got very dirty and she got splinters) or “The boy who would only eat white food” (he didn’t get enough vitamins and got sick – but then he got better again when he started to eat green things too.) The children would assign the stories – they tried to make up really difficult situations. I remember they once asked for one about “The boy who would only eat square things.” I can’t remember what I came up with for that one… When my children were 6 or 7 years old, their grandfather used to look at their baby albums with them and tell them stories about what the baby...

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Posted by on Mar 21, 2014

Spring. So delicious! Such lovely smells and pretty flowers and warm breezes. The cherry blossoms down Moss Street, the camas in Beacon Hill Park. Going for my early morning walk in the daylight! Great pleasures. But then I get caught in a downpour, or shiver because I didn’t take a jacket. The wind blows so hard one day that the laundry, that I put out optimistically on my clothesline, gets blown all over the garden. It occurred to me that toddlerhood is a lot like spring. Such fun! Such a time of change and progress. Crawling, walking, eating more and more. New adventures – discovering the slide, the beach, what dandelions taste like! It’s such a great joy to help our children explore the world. And we start to rely on our new “big” kid’s ability to feed himself, or amuse herself with a puzzle for a few minutes. But as soon as we get a bit relaxed and used to the new way things are, the toddler turns back into a baby. Yesterday, your child insisted on climbing up the stairs by herself. Today she insists on being carried. Last week, your toddler loved story time at the library and sat next to the librarian. This week he clings to you and has to sit on your lap. Yesterday your big kid only nursed twice. Today, she’s back to nursing every 20 minutes. Yesterday he used the potty. Today he behaves as though it’s an instrument of torture! It’s just like spring. You can never tell what the weather is going to be like. But soon, very soon, it will become reliable. We’ll finally put the raincoats away and wear our sandals everyday. It will start to feel normal and predicable. Your child will start to use words. He will be toilet trained. She will learn to dress herself. You will think you’ve arrived. And then something else will change. There will be another season. More newness, more unpredictability, more...

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Ten Myths about Doulas

Posted by on Mar 13, 2014

#1 – A doula will prevent my baby’s other parent from feeling fully involved with our baby’s birth A doula works with the whole family. When the partner is looking tentative, the doula can say something like “Why don’t you stand here and hold her through the contraction while I rub her back?” Right away, the partner feels involved and knows what to do. In a study comparing families who had doulas with families who didn’t, it was found that partners who had a doula’s help touched the labouring mother MORE than partners who did not have a doula. And mothers who had a doula were more likely to feel satisfied with their partner’s role at the birth. For more on this – see #2 – A doula is the same as a midwife A doula works along with the mother’s midwife or doctor to provide emotional, physical and informational support during pregnancy, labour and the post-partum period. She can help them find information, provide reassurance, help them communicate with their care-provider, hold a hand, rub a back. She adds to the experience of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding by helping parents feel safe and supported. She is not a clinical care provider and does not have the level of training of a midwife or physician. For more about doulas see #3 – A doula will boss me around and tell me what to do during labour. A doula’s role is to help the mother feel in control and “on top of” the events of her labour. The doula spends several hours in prenatal meetings getting to know the mother and her partner, their preference and plans. The doula helps the parents implement the birth plan while helping them to accept the changes to the plan that may be needed as labour progresses. For more on how a doula can help, see #4 – Doulas are all natural childbirth types who will look down on me if I choose to use pain medication or need to have a caesarean. The doula’s priority is for the mother to feel that she had every support she needed during labour. If those supports include an epidural or a caesarean, the doula helps the mother to feel good about her choice and to experience her baby’s birth fully, with no regrets. #5 – Doulas only go to home births. Most of the births attended by doulas are in the hospital. Doulas’ clients may be in the care of a family physician or a midwife. Doulas work with all sorts of families and care-providers, in the hospital as well as at home. They work where their clients need and want to be. #6 – A doula will just be an extra stranger at the birth – I want it to be an intimate time with my partner and family. Labour and birth in a hospital are not intimate times – nurses, lab technicians, the obstetrician, the anesthesiologist, the paediatrician, the resident will...

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Talking to Babies – Part 2

Posted by on Mar 6, 2014

The best evidence there is that we should talk to babies, is that babies LOVE to be talked to. Tell a baby a story with an animated face and voice, and the baby will stare, in rapt attention – for as long as her little brain can handle it. Then she’ll turn her face away – to take a rest from the hard work of listening. A minute later, she’ll turn back toward you to see if you’ve got anymore to say. One mother told me how her baby hated having his diaper changed. So she decided to explain to him why she had to do it and what she was doing every step of the way. She found that the baby cried much less and seemed to listen to her explanation and accept it. Now I am not suggesting that the baby thought something like this: “Hmm. Mom makes a good case for this diaper-changing business. I guess I’ll go along with her to avoid getting diaper rash which I know can get darned unpleasant!” Of course not! But I do think the baby thought something like this: “Hmm! Mom is talking about something. I wonder what it is? She seems to feel pretty strongly about it. I wish I could understand what she was saying, but I’ve got a hunch that if I keep listening, someday I’ll figure it out.” And while baby is listening and trying to understand, Mom can quickly change that diaper. One night when my eldest son, Daniel, was seven or eight months old, he was teething and had swollen puffy gums. He was miserable – drooling and crying and rubbing his face on my shoulder. I tried to nurse him and soothe him and cuddle him and sing to him. I rubbed his gums with my finger and gave him a cold cloth to chew on. Nothing worked. Finally I got out the Tylenol and tried to give him a dose. He clenched his jaw shut and would not let me put the dropper in his mouth. He would have nothing to do with the sticky artificial-strawberry-flavoured medicine. I struggled with him briefly and then gave up. I took him out into the dark living room (leaving my husband to go back to sleep). I walked up and down and started to talk. I talked about his teeth buds growing in his gums and how extra blood was being sent there by his body to make nice strong teeth so that he could chew crunchy nuts and yummy steak. I talked about how the extra blood caused pain for him. About the Tylenol that would take away the pain. About the nice scientist in her white coat in the lab with the bunsen burner and the test tubes who invented the Tylenol so little boys could have medicine to make their gums feel better and so they could go to sleep and let their Mommies go to sleep too. I talked to...

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