Practical advice for first-time moms

Practical advice for first-time moms
Last week, I participated in my first ever Tweet chat. My friend Jennifer is a  news anchor in Seattle and eight months pregnant with her first baby, so her station hosted a Twitter chat discussing the dos and don’ts of new motherhood. The conversation led me to consider how my own entrance into motherhood transpired and what advice I would give myself that actually worked. This is what I would say:

Relax—you’re pregnant.
According to Brain Rules for Baby by biologist and author John Medina, one of the best practices pregnant women can do for their unborn child is to relax. That means don’t stress, particularly during the first trimester. I heeded this advice most of the time and fortunately didn’t succumb to chronic stress.

However I did take pregnancy paranoia to a whole new level. I didn’t drink any tea—even decaf—for fear that a single drop would harm the baby. Same with any deli meats, even if they were heated or not. I also stayed away from all canned tuna and peanut butter, didn’t cook with any alcohol, nor traveled anywhere even though my due date loomed far in advance.

Sleep. Yes, even when the baby is asleep.
Most moms bemoan the common advice of “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I get that. After all, when else are you able to get anything done when the rest of your time your arms are occupied holding a baby? I hardly napped when my baby did, which led to some serious sleep deprivation. Granted, I probably clocked in a full eight hours at night, but because my sleep was always interrupted and I hardly reached deep sleep, the eight hours felt more like four. Any opportunity to sleep would have surely helped.

Life will be different—accept it.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was accepting that life would be different with a baby, including household maintenance and self-care standards. Silly of me to realize this long after the fact—especially since everyone tells you how different life would be—but I didn’t know just how much (or maybe wasn’t prepared to make those sacrifices so suddenly). For some insane reason I thought I could still keep up with my weekly chores and take my time getting ready. I had to learn to put those needs aside and trust others when they said I would eventually have more time—just not right now.

Try not to get the baby used to rocking to go to sleep
When SSBE reader Mommy’s Organics asked me what I would do differently if I could go back in time, hands down my answer was not to rock my baby to sleep. We do what we have to do, but in my particular circumstance, I felt like I could have given him more of a chance to lie down on a blanket or his crib much more than I did. The constant rocking led him to quickly rely on motion to sleep, which led to a long path of insanity that eventually ended in sleep training.

If I could do this again, I would try putting the baby down to sleep and give him the chance to fall asleep on his own first before assuming that he needed to be rocked. I particularly liked SSBE reader Rashida’s advice to set up a blanket or activity area and lay your baby on her back with a few toys nearby. The baby will enjoy watching her surroundings while getting used to laying flat on her back.

Limit methods that you plan to wean your baby off of
During the chat, many moms recommended swaddling, and of course I had to be the black sheep of the group that actually didn’t recommend swaddling my friend’s baby. At least not the ridiculously tight ones. Along with excessive swaddling and rocking, I also wouldn’t recommend white noise and any other sleep aid that you plan to wean your baby off of.

I understand desperate times call for desperate measures (and believe me, my husband and I were pretty desperate), but I also feel like we jumped in too soon with these tactics instead of allowing my kid to sleep unaided first. So sure, swaddle, but maybe a loose one to see if he’ll fall asleep that way before applying the strait-jacket method.

Keep your baby’s awake time to a minimum
While you don’t have to stick to a strict schedule, having some sort of rhythm and flow proves extremely helpful. Looking back, I probably kept my baby awake way too long, contributing to his fussiness. I only learned much later that babies don’t really stay awake for longer than an hour to an hour and a half at a time. That means if your baby has been up five hours entertaining guests, it’s time to prioritize her sleep and have her rest. You’ll also be able to create some sort of schedule and routine by reminding yourself to put her down frequently.

Follow the eat-awake-sleep rhythm
I initially nursed my baby to sleep but soon ran into a major problem: like swaddling and rocking, nursing was yet another sleeping aid that he relied on. I then read about the eat-awake-sleep rhythm and decided to try it: rather than nursing my baby to sleep, I would nurse him when he woke up. After eating, he would begin his play time with plenty of energy. Then once he had enough play time (remember, not too long!), we would put him down to sleep. And once he woke up, then we would begin the cycle and nurse once again.

My biggest advice
Whether Jennifer heeds my words (or any of the other bazillion pieces of advice she has probably heard by now) is up to her and her family. They don’t kid when they say every baby is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Given my personal experiences though, I would follow my own advice again until results prove that I need to switch things up a bit (maybe babies really do need that darn swaddle!).

To Jen and other first-time moms to be, perhaps my biggest advice to you is to remind yourself that you are learning on the job. I read a ton of parenting books long before my baby was born, but even that was nothing compared to actually experiencing caring for a newborn. We all continue to learn as we go along and make many mistakes as we do. With that, realize that things won’t always be perfect and that while weeks and months seem eons away, your days really will get better. You’ll adjust to motherhood, and your newborn won’t be so new anymore.

And you’ll find that you’re actually getting the hang of this mom business, sleep-deprived and everything.

What advice would you give first-time moms, based on what worked and didn’t work for you?

State of the blog: new things are brewing

Starting tonight, I’m going to attempt to make some changes around here that I’m hoping will benefit everyone. What does that mean for you? For one, this place might look different from what you’re used to, if not downright quirky as I gradually update the design. Another issue is that I may have to ask WordPress followers to receive their email updates via Feedburner instead of via WordPress.

Otherwise, the web address stays the same, and I’ll continue to churn out posts. Hopefully my shenanigans turn out all right and I’ll be able to move on with these upgrades and have a nice, new look over the next few days and weeks. If however things look the same then you’ll know I probably spent the night wishing I was more tech-savvy when it comes to blogging and deciding to throw in the towel in the meantime.

But here’s hoping that I’ll figure out this tech stuff all right.

Note: I wish I could re-write this post and include the wealth of advice you ladies offered in the comments section; you guys are amazing. If you haven’t already read through what others have said, please do—these have been some of the most meaningful and insightful comments I have yet to read here.

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How to exercise while caring for young children

How to exercise while caring for young children
“I’m blocking off tomorrow morning for a dance class,” I informed my husband, leaving all kid duties to him while I work out a sweat. I had been slacking with exercise the last several months and needed something fun to kick me back into gear. With taking care of a toddler, working, and a slew of other lame excuses (“I’d rather watch How I Met Your Mother” and “I just ate dinner” among them), exercise wasn’t a priority.

Not that it was ever a huge priority to begin with. See, ask me to run around the block and I’ll be ready to pass out in five minutes tops. I was good during pregnancy though, when I scheduled appropriate workouts like walking, stationary-cycling and cardio workout videos at home. But now that I have a kid, I regret not taking advantage of working out when I had a zillion more hours to myself.

That’s why I’m excited to introduce Erika from You Just Did What?! whom I interviewed for this very topic. You might remember Erika from the guest post I wrote on her blog, and she’s now paying us a visit here at Sleeping Should Be Easy.

Erika explains the importance of finding activities you want to do (hence the dance class) instead of those you don’t. She’ll also describe how she went from barely running for two minutes to running several races—all while parenting a two-year-old. She’s an inspiration to any mother who has ever doubted her abilities and strengths, and I couldn’t wait to feature her story.

Who knows, maybe I’ll give running a second chance after this:

Sleeping Should Be Easy: How did you get into running? How would you compare yourself now to when you first started?
Erika: I ran off and on since college, running a couple of miles here and there. It wasn’t until after having my daughter that I began to take exercise seriously. Needing to shed the beloved “baby weight” I had gained during pregnancy, I joined Strollers Strides, a group fitness class designed for mamas. The group happened to have a couple of runners, and I decided that it would be a great idea to get back into running. On a whim, I signed up for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon at Disneyland. At this point I could barely run comfortably for 2 minutes, and the race was only seven months away.

During my training, I signed up for a shorter 10k and realized how much I enjoyed running, so I kept signing up for more races. It can definitely become an addiction.

I have changed a lot over the course of my running journey. I am stronger both physically and mentally. My endurance is greater, and running has provided me with an outlet to relieve tension and stress—perfect when raising a toddler!

SSBE: Speaking of toddlers, I can’t imagine exercising regularly while taking care of a young child. Clearly it’s possible since you’re a great example, so how do you make time to exercise with a toddler in tow?
Erika: I am asked this question all the time! Exercise makes me feel good, so I make it a priority. With that in mind, it’s easier for me to stick to my guns and make sure I squeeze in a workout. When I was training for my Half Marathon, I had a specific training plan in place—I followed the same routine every week and made sure I had babysitters lined up on those days.

I’m not training for anything at the moment, so when I do workout, my daughter comes along with me. She will ride in the Bob Stroller if I’m going for a walk or jog. Or I take her to the gym where she plays in the kids club. I also take her to Stroller Strides. And I often wake up at 5am to get my workout over with before anyone wakes up!

SSBE: What’s a typical day for you and your daughter?
Erika: We wake up around 6am and see my husband off to work. We lounge around until about 8am, eating breakfast and playing quietly. If I decide to work out to a video, I’ll do it then while my daughter plays quietly or joins me.

If I don’t work out then, we’ll hit the gym or go for a stroll. After that, she gets in her outdoor play time at the park or with friends. We head back home for lunch and nap time. When she wakes up, we usually play in the backyard (and now that it’s summer, we love to turn on the sprinklers!). I’ll also get chores done in the afternoon and head over to the store to run errands.

We eat dinner once my husband comes home. Then, we start the bedtime routine at 7:30pm. The next day, we get up and do it again!

SSBE: How do you stay motivated when you just want to quit?
Erika: Ha ha—good question and one I am still trying to figure out myself. Exercise makes me feel good so I try to keep that in mind. I’m most motivated when I’m working towards a goal (I usually have a training plan set out for me, so knowing what I need to do and having my workouts planned makes it easier).

I’ll also add that nothing has helped me more than the support of friends and family. I would much rather work out with someone than by myself. It’s so much easier (and way more fun) when you have accountability partners who are going through the same thing!

SSBE: What advice can you give moms who are just starting to run or exercise?

  • Find a community of other mothers who enjoy working out. There are tons of mother running clubs out there catering to moms getting together, becoming healthy and having fun. Plus, they are sure to have some Mom Night Outs, as well.
  • Set a goal for yourself and don’t be afraid to dream big (for instance, sign up for a half marathon when you know you can only run 2 minutes at a time).
  • Get a babysitter. Try to reserve some workout time for yourself.
  • If you work, try to get up early and do a short 30 minute workout (if only for a week). My favorite runs are in the morning, when the air is cool and crisp.
  • Find an activity you enjoy and mix it up. You don’t have to do the same thing over and over again! Don’t let yourself get bored. Exercise should make you feel better afterward. If it doesn’t, rethink your activity.

Thank you Erika, for sharing your story and hopefully offering other moms the inspiration they need to exercise and be healthy. I know I’ve since made working out more of a priority. Even if on most days my workouts consist of brisk walking or simple cardio videos, my heart is pumping, my muscles moving, and best of all, I feel so much better for it.

Do you exercise regularly, or whenever you can squeeze it in? What workout goals are you trying to reach? How can you involve your kids in your workouts?

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What’s your favorite age for kids?

What is your favorite age for kids?
This morning, I asked my toddler, “Do you want to eat blueberries and yogurt breakfast?” to which he promptly responded with a bellowing cry about wanting to sit at his little table instead. Yet despite this unexpected outburst so typical of a two-year-old, I have to admit that I’m loving the toddler age.

His growing independence could be part of the reason. When he can play independently by himself, climb into his own chair and now, even help with dishes, taking care of him has gotten so much easier. He also sleeps much better, and considering that me and sleep-deprivation don’t go well together, I’m able to function with longer hours that he now lets me have. And more importantly, my own growth as a mother has helped me appreciate and enjoy this time so much more than the newborn and infant years.

Other moms may feel differently. I remember talking to one mother who much preferred the newborn and infant days of her now-toddler aged son. Sleep deprivation and baby worries were much preferred to the tantrums and defiance that her son was now exhibiting. Still, other parents could easily prefer even the older ages such as the school years.

I can’t say that toddlerhood is without its struggles though, however small or grand they may be. There’s the typical tantrum frustration of course, but even the little defiance here and there drives me nuts. He’s so much more opinionated (like when he can only take a bath with his blue Lego), and all the more stubborn (it’s so much easier to go home from the park when your child is just five months old).

Every age has its own struggles, and just as you think the ones you currently have are done, new ones emerge as they grow older. We were at the park the other week when I overheard a girl about seven years old scolding her friend for crying: “I’m not going to be your friend if you keep crying,” she threatened the other girl. I immediately thought, “Kids are so mean!” I can’t even imagine the social struggles that older kids and their parents go through, with stories of former friends no longer their BFFs or kids feeling left out of a group.

That said, I try to look at the positive side and imagine the fun things we can do once he’s older: we’ll be able to attend grander events like musicals and baseball games without lugging a huge diaper bag or worrying about cutting into nap times. We’ll probably do a ton more crafts and school-type of activities. And who knows, maybe we’ll even squeeze in a swim or two.

Do you have a favorite age for your kids? What has been the easiest stage? The most difficult?

Weekend links

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Do you suffer from parental boredom?

Do you suffer from parental boredom?
On most days, I’m on top of my parenting game: I read with my two-year-old, help him make crafts from Pinterest, and encourage him to help me cook in the kitchen. On those days, I’m an A+ mom.

Then there are the other days… the days where I can only take so much of repeating the same answers, fiddling with a puzzle over and over, and watching my toddler play with crayons and dominoes. Days like these, I’m ready to conk out and can even feel my eyelids drooping, with of course a list of tasks I still need to do running through my mind.

In short, sometimes I get bored. Never mind that all my energy comes zooming back the minute my toddler is down for the night. Some days, parental boredom takes over and I’m doing my best to keep from falling asleep while we’re lounging on the floor talking about the same things over and over.

During the days when I’m sadly bored out of my mind, I try to follow these tips:

  • Participate in activities you actually enjoy. I’m not a rough housing kind of parent. I dread when my toddler wants to play hide-and-seek or run under my legs. On the other hand, I can get down with some pretend play, so my toddler and I will often sit at his little table cooking and eating pretend food. Find the activities you like and stay away from those you don’t. Thankfully my husband will gladly fill in and play chase and hide-and-seek with the little guy.
  • Let him play by himself while you do something else nearby. When I’m ready to go bonkers from boredom, I’ll often pull out a book and read near my toddler. Or I’ll take notes or write in my journal. I’ll even do the dreaded chores. I’m perfectly content with letting him play independently and doing activities that I not only need or want to do, but are good for my toddler to witness (e.g. so that he knows adults enjoy books too).
  • Find kid-centric activities you and your little one can do. When I’m out of ideas, I normally hop online and find activities I can quickly and easily do with my little guy. I tend to stick to one activity per day and keep it simple, whether it’s painting with watercolors or applying stickers on paper. You can even take it further by making an agenda and scheduling in several activities in one day and assign “subjects” like math, reading and social studies. Some of my favorite resources include: Productive Parenting, A Place of Our Own and No Time for Flash Cards.
  • Get out of the house. You know you’re a parent when you go to the grocery just to get out of the house! Groceries or not, getting out of the house can provide you and your little one the break and even fun that you need. Some of the places we’ve visited include: the library, park, beach, mall, garden center, pet store, play dates, and yes, the grocery.

I love parenting. But there are those days where I can’t believe how much of the day has gone by and it seems like we’ve done absolutely nothing. I’ve accepted that, as with any job, there will be bouts of boredom that are perfectly normal and will likely disappear in lieu of more fun and stimulation. In the meantime, I try to stick to activities I enjoy as well as new ones I find online to push the boredom aside.

How do you handle boredom at home? What are your favorite (and not-so-favorite) activities to do with your kids?

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“Are dads the new moms?”: The generation of hands-on fatherhood

"Are dads the new moms?": The generation of hands-on fatherhood
Dads have raised the ante with the role of fatherhood. While I’ve seen plenty of dads at park outings, I’m seeing more and more of them taking an active role in the daily routine. On Facebook, my dad friends post blurbs about helping with homework or taking their kids to the doctor’s appointment. In my own home, my husband isn’t merely the occasional babysitter and instead feeds, bathes, and regularly interacts with our toddler. And recently, my brother—long known for packing his daughters’ lunches, doing their laundry and playing ridiculous games with them—proudly proclaimed, “I know how to do a French braid!”

Welcome to the new dad: men who no longer see themselves merely as husbands or providers, but have stepped up their game as amazing fathers.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal writer Susan Gregory Thomas asks, Are dads the new moms? She writes:

Whether it is because today’s men were raised amid the women’s movement of the 1970s, or because they themselves experienced the costs of that era’s absent fathers, there is little question that the age of dads as full partners in parenting has arrived.

I’ve long since been a fan of hands-on dads for several reasons:

  • When more dads want to be the primary caregiver just as much as women want to be the company CEO will we truly blur the gender lines often found at home and in the workplace.
  • In dual-income families, women end up assuming not only the role of the income-earner but often the role of child-care provider alone.
  • Kids benefit from having an active relationship with their dads, whether through stronger bonds with both parents or a less fearful view of the disciplinarian dad.

I’m excited that dads are stepping up to the plate. With both mom and dad attempting to balance it all, perhaps we’ll see a cultural shift that will support working parents as they attempt to create a healthy work/life balance. And to all the awesome SSBE dad readers: Happy Father’s Day! My hats off to you on this well-deserved day of yours.

What role does your partner play in your family? How does dad balance career, marriage and fatherhood? What was your father’s role growing up, and how has it affected your own perceptions of fatherhood?

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