Baby Boy Tag Archives

My Deep, Dark Secret: I Sleep Trained

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As I sat in the rocking chair this afternoon nursing Leo pre-nap, thumbing through momstagrams as I do, I came across a flagrant debate between two opposing viewpoints: to sleep train or not to sleep train.

Angry parents were openly criticizing the blog Your Zen Mama for posting an article by Beatrix James describing her personal choice to sleep train.  These upset individuals insist that sleep training is not exemplary of “gentle parenting” and that “scientific research proves” that sleep training is detrimental to a child’s development.

Well, guess what folks? My deep, dark secret: I sleep trained. It worked really well for our family. And I am pretty angry with the parents who make me–and other parents who decided sleep training is right for them–feel like that truth should remain in the shadows.

Firstly, let’s get a bit of context for the term “sleep training.” In simple terms, it is teaching your babe how to fall asleep on their own, in peace and security. As it was described to me by our pediatrician, everyone (you, your partner, your baby…) wakes up either partially or fully, multiple times a night. As adults we have learned that waking up in the quiet darkness is nothing to be afraid of. We can roll over and go back to sleep. But a new baby has yet to be given that reassurance. While the “cry-it-out” method has infamously become associated with sleep training, there are numerous techniques to chose from: verbal reassurance, pick-up-put-down (PUPD), a strong and consistent bedtime routine, graduated extinction, etc.

People, you are not leaving your child to scream in terror in his crib for hours, or even multiple minutes. And if you are (now here I go judging…) shame on you.

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I, too, was resistant for so long to the idea of sleep training. I couldn’t detach from the idea that anything other than tending to my baby’s every nocturnal whim, regardless of our doctor’s reassurance that he was gaining weight well and thus wasn’t waking out of hunger, was cold and damaging. Every night before bed I would embark on a crazy routine that was one step away from wearing our underwear inside-out and drawing a circle of salt around our bed. I was convinced that dimming the lights just so and speaking in languid tones would help–this time I swear it–the baby to sleep more than a couple of hours. How my husband had the patience to jump through my nocturnal hoops, i’ll never know. Beyond regulating the height at which he could keep his bedside lamp (on the floor was preferred) I went as far as to insist that he hold the baby in certain ways before bed…and so on and so forth…

The reality is that a soul-aching exhaustion and the feeling that I was trapped in a terrifying cycle of helplessness was making me unwell.

We fed more. We gave warms baths and massages. We used dock-a-tots and zen sacks and whale sounds and mood lighting and lullabies and rhythmic movement. We also co-slept for many months. Even in our bed, nestled warmly between his two adoring parents, Leo woke up every 1 to 2 hours crying.

So before anyone berates me for not trying hard enough, not giving motherhood my all, or being withholding of love and nurturing for my son, consider that I TRIED EVERYTHING.

The regime that ended up working best for our family was a combination of PUPD, verbal reassurance and graduated extinction. It was important to me that we did not let Leo cry for long periods of time, and while the no-tear methods may take longer to implement, they do work. Also–and this is KEY–I stopped nursing (or bottle feeding) Leo until he was asleep. Instead, we did our bath (if it was bath night…because  let’s be honest…he doesn’t get a bath every night) got in pjs, did our feeding routine (which in our case was a bf/bottle combo) and then read a story. If Leo fell asleep during the feeding I would WAKE HIM BACK UP before reading the story. Crazy, huh? Crazy enough to work. It is imperative that your baby be laid in the crib awake so that he understands that it is bedtime and time for him to put in those long nighttime hours.

And thus our sleep training efforts did just as they were meant to….they taught our son how to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Sometimes we have a bad night, especially after returning from a vacation–or other unavoidable (and important) life events–when sleep routines get jostled. Inevitably after a trip we have to start back at square one to reteach Leo to settle into sleep on his own. The first night can be really tough and I hear the confusion, frustration and, sometimes, fear in his voice. On those bad nights we nurse and snuggle more, just so there is no doubt in his mind that he is safe and loved. But the point is that you can hear the difference in your baby’s cries. There is a distinct difference in a cry of panic and a cry of protest. When your baby cries in panic go to him. When he is fussing and grumpy because it’s bedtime, but he’d prefer that all the wonder and exploration of daytime not be over, let him communicate his displeasure. He’ll be happily dreaming in no time.

What I found most surprising about our sleep training journey was how peaceful our nights became in such a short time. Even with all of our above mentioned “gentle parenting” practices, Leo was swinging in and out of distress every. single. night. He would fall asleep only to wake (at most) a few hours later in a panic. I would get him back to sleep for a short spurt before he would wake again, just as panicked. After we implemented our sleep training regimen, Leo’s rare night wakings are punctuated by a couple of chirps before he falls back to sleep. Most often, when he is placed in his crib and the lights are turned off, he falls asleep on his own without even a peep. If ever he wakes and cries out in fear or hunger, I go to him. And with this newly adopted routine I can sense a greater ease for him overall. And of course, I finally feel at ease, too.

With all of the parenting noise out there–studies declaring that you should breastfeed until your baby is 2 years old vs. those saying 6 months is perfect; message-boards commending stay-at-home parents vs. warning non-working parents against losing their sense-of-self–what happened to gathering all the information you can and then using your gut.

How about instead of relying on facts and figures so much, we honor ourselves and trust in our instincts to be good parents? Let’s believe in the deep connection we have to our children, and intuit that while we may not know what is best for them, we can most assuredly feel it.

I’ll trust in your parenting if you’ll trust in mine.

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Baby’s First Purée

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If WordPress allowed for sub-headings, the full title of this post would be, Baby’s First Purée: A party in baby’s mouth, A pain in mommy’s butt. 

Early motherhood seems to be riddled with moments that were better as fond daydreams than as reality. The greatly anticipated journey to solid foods with Leo was one of those moments.

img_0983.jpgI had planned to share this post weeks ago: my triumphant Pioneer Woman mission of hand-making meals for my baby. Unfortunately, my pioneer-woman-visions were quickly replaced by the reality that Leo was bewildered and a little grumpy at the prospect of eating food.

I boiled, sautéed, steamed. I mashed and blended. I put away an auxiliary stash of delicious, handmade food in the freezer as I had been told to do.

img_0324.jpgimg_0318.jpgAt first Leo would apprehensively tongue the purée he was presented with. Then his face would take on a look of confusion and disgust. He would begrudgingly swallow or, just as often, casually expel the contents of his mouth.

Worse than that, each time during the dinner dance, he would utter the animalistic growl of frustration that we’ve come to dread. It’s the sound a meat-grinder makes when you turn it on but forget to put the meat in: metal on metal. He makes this sound when he’s hungry but we’re not meeting his requirements. It happens occasionally at the breast when my milk isn’t letting down quickly enough. And now it was happening…every single time…when we fed him solid foods. It is the sound of my nightmares.

Needless to say, my dreams were dashed when my hard work of preparing and blending baby’s first purees seemed to go unappreciated.

Perhaps it was the fantasy of a full-bellied, soundly snoozing babe that had me so excited to introduce purees. Perhaps it was imagining Leo’s first foods as a gateway to our whole future together: rife with exotic travels and tastes.

Or perhaps it was ego. Another notch on my “perfect mommy” belt: nourishing my baby with my body and then by my sweat and elbow grease. Since our breastfeeding journey had led us to supplementation at 4 months, and no matter how much I rationally understand that supplementing is ok as long as baby is getting what he needs that’s all that matters, maybe I thought this was my way of somehow taking back the status I had lost.

Regardless, I felt defeated and nearly gave up on the whole concept until I read that it can take up to 15 times of introducing the same food before baby responds. He’s learning a whole new approach to eating, after all.

So we tried, again and again.

We used prepared foods, sometimes doctored up with cinnamon or paprika from our spice cabinet, to get an idea of his tastes before I would make the foods on my own. And now that he’s graduated to stage two foods…blends…I feel more confident sharing watered down versions of our dinners with him.

He seems to be getting the hang of things. Though there are some foods he still doesn’t care for, there are many that he flashes big smiles at the taste of, and I have come to realize the joy that I had originally anticipated in introducing my son to a world of new flavors.

img_0985.jpgimg_0335.jpgTherein lies the beauty, of course, of becoming a parent. It is learning that happiness doesn’t come from a perfect, manicured version of mothering but rather, the montage of messy, head-scratching (and head-aching) scenes that we navigate and become stronger as a result of. It is meeting the fear and unpleasantness head on and rejoicing in the ever-present silver lining.

Leo’s First Apple Purée:

  • 2 sweet eating apples (Pink Lady, Gala, etc.)
  • Water

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  • Peel, core and quarter the apples
  • Sautée in a pan with water until soft
  • Blend in food processor until smooth
  • Add a dash of cinnamon
  • Freeze for up to 3 months in a covered ice cube tray.

Voila!

Fast Food Fashion

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It was five days after I had come home from the hospital with Leo and sleep was hard to come by. So was clothing. On one particularly upside-down day I found myself wearing a tank dress rolled down to my waist and an old workout teeshirt knotted around my mid-section, holding up the makeshift skirt. It was a disaster and the last thing I needed in the midst of my hormonal maelstrom was something else making me feel crazy. Why the DIY ensemble failure, you ask? I had all-too-quickly discovered that when you are breastfeeding a newborn baby every 2 hours, there is no time to dress and undress. You need the wardrobe equivalent of a drive-thru restaurant. Aka fast food fashion.

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Everybody’s breastfeeding journey is different. Just ask my mom who insists that I was a dream baby who slept well and nursed at accommodatingly infrequent intervals. But when you give birth to the son of a man who as tall as he is handsome you’re in for an adventure. I believe my lactation consultant’s actual words upon learning Joe’s height were, “Oh, shit. Strap in, honey, it’s going to be a wild ride.”

And so I find myself, three months into this “wild ride”, with my son averaging only about an hour off of my breasts between each feeding (except for at night. thankfully he takes after me in that regard…), and getting very creative with the ways, places, positions in which I nurse him.

The most exceptional places I’ve find myself breastfeeding, so far, are as follows:

  • the on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge in gridlock traffic
  • friends’ empty Chinatown apartment in the midst of a move
  • the Canadian border
  • parking lot of a rural gas station in the White Mountains
  • Amazon’s NYC conference rooms
  • TJ Maxx

I always have to be ready to serve up a fast food lunch for my son and so long sleeves, tight straps and all manner of restricting clothing is no longer in my wardrobe rotation, rendering half of my closet unwearable. Nor have I been moved to purchase the expensive and completely non-versatile wares advertised as “nursing clothing.”

All hail the season of the tube top as I find this style of dress to be most handy in breastfeeding. Another blessing to having a May baby is that I can get away with wearing as little clothing as possible in these warm summer months. A close second to the convenience of the strapless dress, and best for giving the illusion that you’ve considered fashion when dressing, is the off-the-shoulder look which can transition seamlessly to accommodate a quick feed. Button-down ensembles, like the vintage dress pictured below (poached from my mother’s closet on our recent trip to Maine) are yet another way to discreetly get the job done.

Honestly, I don’t love wearing the modest nursing cover when I feed my baby (though I love and will occasionally use my beautiful swaddle blankets by Aden + Anais) because I can’t see where his face is to ensure the correct positioning. At this early stage in his nursing he is still often falling off the latch and needing to be put back into place.  And so these simple, wearable outfits are the best for accessibility, but also to keep most of my body concealed while offering up the goods.

As an added bonus? I can integrate them into my permanent wardrobe after my stint in fast food fashion has come to an end.

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Oh, Boy!

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As I write this I think, perhaps, next time around, when we are asked whether or not we want to know baby’s gender, we’ll decline. Of course, it is incredible to be given a better picture of what your precious child will “be,” but in this, my first pregnancy, I was unprepared for just how confusing such news…or lack of news…would be.

At 19 weeks, just before taking holiday vacation up to Maine to be with my family, we went to our regular monthly check up with the OB/Midwife group practice. After hearing a healthy heart beat (thank goodness…) and receiving a positive bill of health for the month, the midwife asked us if we’d like to know baby’s gender. As we had already discussed and had decided that, yes, we did want to know as soon as we were able to know, we agreed. The midwife told us, after a moment of inspection, that we were 80% sure to be having a girl. At the news, I began laughing and nearly crying with joy. A girl! Of course, they say every mother secretly harbors the wish to have a girl, but I was surprised at just how elated I was at the news. Perhaps it was the news of a girl that made me so happy, or maybe was simply receiving, for the first time, a clear picture of how our future was forming, day by day, within my ever-growing tummy. Moreover, the news seemed to affirm everyone’s hunches that I was carrying a girl. Momentarily it felt that we–friends, family, even Joe and me–were clairvoyant and that the world isn’t such a mystery after all.

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The holidays finally came and when sharing the news with my family we were met with gleeful yips and giggles. “A Girl! Yay!” I too, felt giddy each time we shared the news. Giddy to be bringing another strong lady into the world, giddy that this girl would have an exceptional, patient, kind and brave father to listen to her and to love her. I always told Joe that I believed it took a very special man to be a good father to a girl and that I thought he was this kind of special man. He agreed that having a baby girl join us would be the perfect fit.

During vacation I started having some light symptoms of a typical, mild pregnancy side effect–i’ll spare the details–and decided to get it checked out at the local clinic just to make sure all was well. There at the clinic, where all turned out to be well, we received another sonogram prognosis of baby girl. It seemed a sure thing at this point and visions of brown curls, sun dresses and prom corsages began dancing through our heads as we started to call baby by the name we had chosen for her.

I was scheduled for my 20 week anatomy scan upon returning home to Brooklyn. Joe was back to school and couldn’t join me at the morning appointment which seemed inconsequential as we had just had two sonograms in very close succession where all looked fine with baby and we had an almost guarantee of the sex. As I laid back in the dimly lit room and let the technician begin scanning my tummy I was the most relaxed i’d been before any of the many appointments thus far in the pregnancy. I felt like I knew everything I needed to know, so I could let go and let this routine scan run its course. The technician asked if I’d like to know the sex of the baby and I told her that we’d already been informed that we were most likely having a girl. Five minutes and many scans later she asked, “Who told you that you were having a girl?” “Well, one midwife and one doctor,” I sputtered off almost too quickly and a bit indignantly, “Why, do you think otherwise?”

This spawned a series of technicians joining the first gal and having a look at the precious contents of my belly, no doubt to prove to themselves in someway that they were smarter than the doctors and midwives. “You’re definitely having a boy,” they all informed me in turn as though it was the most obvious thing they’d encountered that day. I wanted them to stop poking and prodding me and turning my world upside down. I wanted Joe to be there to help explain to them that they were wrong and that we were having a girl, or explain to me that they were right and we were actually having a boy. Nothing made sense in that moment and some small, guilty tears began to gather in the corners of my eyes…

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But, after all this–and a few days to adjust–I am coming around to the idea of having a boy. For all the ways that having a girl would make sense to me in an instinctive way, there are just as many ways that having a boy will make sense. For starters, without ever being considered “manly” I’ve often been considered “boy-like.” I love the outdoors, I can hardly sit still in body, let alone in mind and I have a penchant for mischief. In fact, save a few, blessed girls that I have cut my teeth alongside (all sporting their own scabby knees, home-pierced appendages and calloused, bare feet–you know who you are) I grew up amongst a band of boys whom I’ve equally loved, fought with and learned from. I’ve always adored the attention from boys and giving it in return. I’ve felt comforted by their more physical, straightforward ways of communicating. I’ve been challenged and invigorated by their stamina and their strength. Does this mean I think girls or women are any less interesting or less capable? Not in the least. But, it does mean that something in me has always identified with boys, and with those girls that also identified with the boys. Perhaps, for these reasons, having a boy of my own makes the most sense.

I began this post a week ago, and we have since had the second part of our anatomy scan. To the best of our knowledge, we are, in fact, having a boy. I can now see him clearly in my mind’s eye and look forward to our future adventures, and to how much he is going to love his mother. What will happen if baby actually does come out as a girl–which sometimes, though rarely, can happen–you may wonder. I guess knowing or not knowing matters little in love.

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