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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Ask the readers: When is parenting hard?

Ask the readers: When is parenting hard-toddler bed
My two-year-old has been relatively easy for the past several months.
We haven’t had any major tantrums or patience-testing phases. He’s been sleeping through the night like clockwork. And he has been so patient and compliant even when I would never expect a toddler to be (such as sitting calmly in an over-crowded Costco while waiting in the longest-ever line… sigh). In short—dare I say—we’re in an “easy phase” of parenting!

Throughout my short tenure as a mom, these “easy” periods seem to come and go. Just when I’m thinking, “I’m getting the hang of this!” my toddler comes up with another scheme to change my mind. In the early days, I would see parents of older babies and toddlers who seemed to have everything together and wonder when in the world I would ever get to that point in parenthood.

With two-and-a-half years of parenting, I realize that raising kids gets easier… and it doesn’t. There seems to be a general increase in “easy-ness” over time, but one marked with quick downturns of hardships as well. Below are some of the more trying times in raising my kiddo:

  • Newborn days. The first few months after my baby was born was by far the most difficult period of parenting. Some reasons are obvious: sleep deprivation, the extreme needs of an infant, breastfeeding every two hours. But perhaps the hardest factor was adjusting to parenthood and accepting the difficulties of raising an infant.
  • Worrying about SIDS. My toddler sleeps with a pillow, three blankets, bumpers, a lovey and a stuffed bunny… all piled on top of his face. I assume he’s rebelling against his first year when his crib had absolutely nothing in it because his parents worried relentlessly about SIDS.
  • Feeling like a camel strapped with pounds and pounds of baby stuff. Dropping off the baby to my aunt’s was no easy feat: in addition to a baby in a car seat, I carried my purse, lunch, pump and bottles and the diaper bag. And since it isn’t humanly possible to carry all of the above, I had to lug the car seat into the stroller so I could free my hands to carry everything else. Weekends were only slightly better if only for the fact that my husband was usually with me: going to our parents’ houses easily meant bringing most of the above plus a booster seat and pack-and-play (for the four times that our toddler actually napped somewhere else besides at home).
  • Insanely attached to me and no one else. My toddler went through a phase when he wanted to be with me and no one else. When my husband came home from work, LO wouldn’t want anything to do with him and preferred I do everything for him. Dropping him off at my aunt’s was a struggle, since he would cry and want to run after me while I walked towards the door.
  • Crying hysterically during bath time. Who knew that water could be so scary? Apparently to my toddler, taking a bath warranted a crying fiasco. The boy was scared—his whole body trembled if he even so much as got five inches close to the water, and would cling to us with all his might.
  • Transitioning to a toddler bed. We converted our toddler’s crib into a bed not by choice—he started climbing out of his crib and falling smack on the floor. Transitioning to a toddler bed felt like sleep training all over again (in fact we had to employ the same methods). I remember emotions surfacing once more as I wondered, When does this ever end? Will we always have to sleep on the floor next to his bed every night from now on?
  • Tantrums. I hesitate to list this because there’s no way tantrums are even remotely out of our lives just yet, but yes, tantrums are one of the most emotionally-draining experiences of parenthood to date. And I heard it all comes back in the teen years (yay).

Thankfully the kid has a way of making us love him even as he’s acting like the most illogical, obnoxious and demanding person ever. Yes, he tested our patience and driven us mad, but when the storm calms down, he also makes parenting the most worthwhile and rewarding job.

Your turn: what are some of the most difficult periods of raising a kid for you? Which situations made you realize that parenting is hard? Do you think parenting gets easy?

p.s. If you liked what you read, you can subscribe and receive free full-text posts from Sleeping Should Be Easy in your email inbox. Your email will only be used for this subscription, and you can unsubscribe at any time. You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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Overcoming other people’s judgment

Overcoming other people's judgment
When I was pregnant, I imagined taking my new baby out and about, happily pushing the stroller and  cooing at him as any proud new mom would. I couldn’t wait to take him to the park, maybe lay out a blanket and sit with him under the shade of a tree.

Then the baby was born. And I didn’t realize how much my baby would cry. Especially in a stroller.

We didn’t take him out on a stroll for the first few weeks for fear of another crying fit. But finally my husband and I decided, “Okay, we’re ready! Off to the park we go (insert high-five)!” We packed the stroller with every imaginable item we thought we would absolutely need: diapers, changing pad, wipes, toys, books, blankets… never mind that it takes all of five minutes to walk there. So out we went.

And the crying began.

The crying differed: on some days it was quick and we were able to pretend we were still having fun, and other times it’s all we heard during the whole walk. But most of our strolls were not the peaceful walks I had imagined with my new baby. What happened to all those rumors we heard about babies falling asleep in a stroller?! Apparently my baby didn’t get the memo.

And here’s the worst part: I was so scared to be out on a stroll not so much because my baby would likely cry, but because other people—especially other moms—might notice. I couldn’t bear the thought that they might think I’m a bad mom, or that I didn’t know what I was doing. Even the thought that they “could relate” because they were once in my shoes irked me, because as of that moment, they weren’t me, they weren’t in my shoes and they didn’t have a baby that cried all the time. Especially on strolls which apparently can knock every other baby but mine out into sleep.

I remember the first time I pushed the stroller by myself. I was grabbing hot chocolate with my husband at a shop that happened to be near a park. “You go ahead and order the drinks,” I casually told him. “I’ll walk around the park.” In reality I was shaking inside, nervous to be pushing the stroller on my own. There was a group of moms and nannies playing at the park, their little babies and toddlers happily smiling and crawling. And of course right when I walked in front of them, my baby—as if on cue—cried loudly. I was so embarrassed and assumed that they were judging my apparent lack of stroller-pushing skills.

Another time, I decided to drive to the library and pack the stroller too so that I could walk around the area with him. Once I arrived and managed to lug the stroller out of the trunk, I couldn’t figure out how in the world to unlatch the darn thing so that it would fold out. Meanwhile, my baby was crying in the car seat, still inside the car. I called my husband nearly in tears, frustration choking my voice, just so he could coach me on how to open the stroller.

I easily laugh now thinking about those scenarios considering that I can now flip and switch that stroller in two seconds flat, but in that moment, that fear of not knowing what I was doing, or of being judged, was very real. On one hand, I was too confident for my own good, and that confidence didn’t allow me to cut myself some slack and say, “Hey, you are a new mom, and you’re allowed to make mistakes and look like a fool trying to unfold a 30-pound stroller. And if you have a crying baby, you don’t have to look calm and collected while inside you’re reeling with embarrassment and fear of judgment. It’s really okay if you don’t know how to do everything, especially with motherhood.”

And it is. Suffice it to say my toddler now likes (or at least doesn’t mind) being in a stroller, and I have since mastered the art of the one-handed stroller fold down (take that, stroller). When I see moms of newborns, I try not to patronize or assume that they must be going through what I did, because they may not. I’ve also accepted that I’m always going to be a new mom dealing with new experiences as my child grows—if I’m not pushing a loud, crying baby in a stroller, I’m carrying a loud, crying toddler throwing a tantrum. And I don’t have to worry about what people think. Even if every mom is looking at me.

Did you have days when you felt like the new mom or the new dad? What advice would you offer new moms and dads from your experience?

p.s. Check out our Facebook photo album page to read the stories behind the blog’s photos.

How to prepare homemade baby food


Two years ago when my toddler was entering his fourth month, I offered him his first solid foods. (I was secretly hoping eating solid food would help him sleep longer. It didn’t.) My husband and I tend to cook meals at home, so making our own baby food wasn’t too much of a stretch. So although we bought jarred food from time to time, we opted to make our own for most of our baby’s meals. I’m so glad we did.

  • Homemade baby food provided variety
    Choosing my own ingredients provided near-limitless combinations: strawberries and cherries, strawberries and pineapple, cherries and pineapple… I tried to make every possible combination from different fruits and vegetables but there was no way I could have done it.
  • Homemade baby food helped transition to table food
    When my baby outgrew the pureed stuff, I wanted him to eat what I’ve cooked for everyone else, whether that’s chicken breasts or salad, spaghetti or clam chowder. Because we gave our baby homemade food, introducing a simple “table food” recipe wasn’t too difficult, like zucchini sauteed with garlic and thyme, for instance. Eventually his palette widened enough that he was eating exactly what my husband and I had on our plates.
  • Homemade baby food was cheaper
    Just as I saved money cooking at home instead of eating out, making my own baby food was almost always less expensive than buying food already made. Since I love to save me a buck or two, the money factor was a nice nudge towards making our own baby food.

There were times though, when homemade baby food wasn’t the ideal choice. I ran out ingredients. I just about had it with peeling and steaming. Or I simply didn’t have time to prepare anything. Plus homemade baby food wasn’t conducive for travel—when we went to Big Bear, we opted for convenience and bought jarred food.

And if I could do this all over again, I would change a few things:

  • First, I would skip the cereal. I kept hearing (probably from clever marketing preying on new moms—oh, we are such easy targets!) that cereal is the best food to start with when introducing solid foods. I didn’t see any benefits to starting with rice and oatmeal cereals, or even including them at all. When my baby started eating grains regularly, I would simply buy the Bob Mills crushed grains. Not only were baby cereals more expensive, they were probably not as tasty as fruits or vegetables like sweet potatoes or bananas.
  • And second, I wouldn’t introduce broccoli so early. Or bananas so late. I thought that the first foods I offered my baby would magically be his favorite food. Conversely I thought if I waited a bit longer to introduce fruits, he wouldn’t develop a sweet tooth. But alas, food isn’t always love at first taste—tasting  broccoli before avocado doesn’t guarantee he’ll prefer the former over the latter. And delaying the sweet stuff did nothing for my toddler’s penchant for fruits. My advice: start off with more palatable flavors and work the stronger flavors like broccoli much later.

Need some ideas on what to feed your baby and how to prepare them? Below are some of the fruits and vegetables we introduced during the first few months of solid food-eating:

  • Sweet potatoes, taro and yams: Place an unpeeled sweet potato on a foil or pan and roast unwrapped at 400 degrees in the oven for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the thickness. Let it cool, then peel and mash with a fork or masher. At a younger age, you’ll probably want to thin it out by adding some water.
  • Apples and pears:
    Peel, core and slice the apple or pear into chunks. Place the chunks into a steamer. (I just filled up a large pot with about an inch of water and left it at a low boil hot enough to emit some steam. then I placed a colander inside the pot and covered that with a lid.) Steam the apples or pears until they’re tender (anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes), then place the chunks into a food processor or blender to puree. You may want to add some of the reserved water (that one inch of water from the pot) into the blender to thin it out and make it easier to blend.
  • Zucchini and summer squash:
    Wash the zucchinis or summer squash but don’t peel them. Instead, trim the ends and cut the rest into small sections to steam until they’re tender. Then, puree in a blender until smooth. Since zucchini and summer squash have a lot of water, there’s probably no need to add extra water to the puree.
  • Peas: Make sure you’re using peas taken out of the pods (the actual circles or beads). Then, place in a steamer and cook until tender before blending into a puree.
  • Banana, mango, avocado, papaya and kiwi—These are the convenient foods! Simply scoop out the meaty parts and mash with a fork—no cooking necessary. Feel free to thin with water.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower: Be warned—these were not my baby’s favorite foods. That said, I probably didn’t do what I’m suggesting here now, which is to cut just the florets instead of the stem. This will make the puree tastier and smoother. Then, steam the florets until tender and puree.
  • Beets: Chop off the leafy tops of the beets completely, then wash and peel the beets. Cut them into smaller section and steam until tender before pureeing in a blender. Make sure to thin with new water, not the reserved water from the pot, in case any of the nitrates made its way into the reserved water.
  • Green beans: Wash the beans and cut off the tips from either end. Then, steam until tender and puree in a blender, thinning out with reserved water if needed.
  • Carrots: Wash and peel the carrots and cut into chunks. Then, steam the chunks until tender and puree in a blender. Make sure not to use the reserved water in case the nitrates seeped into it.
  • Peaches and nectarines: Peel and remove the pit, then cut into slices to steam. Once it’s tender, puree in a blender, thinning out with reserved water if needed.

Did you make your own or purchase baby food? What did you like and not like about preparing the food?

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Struggles of a new mom

Two years ago, when my toddler was four months old, I described in my journal how frustrating it was trying to get him to sleep and how much our lives had changed. You would think that after reading all those baby books, I would know how difficult caring for a baby would be, how much I wasn’t going to sleep, and just how different my life would be… I knew all that, but nothing compares to being slapped with a big fat reality check once the kiddo was born.

Up until we sleep-trained LO, I struggled with sleep deprivation, sleeping in one-hour increments. I felt robbed of my time because I was constantly breastfeeding, and frustrated when I couldn’t figure out why my newborn was crying and how to get him to calm down. It didn’t help that he was a crier. As in, frequent and loud—no soft mew-mewing here. I found myself wanting to speed up time just to get to the point when it would finally get easier.

I realize now that I felt that way because of the extremity of new babies (they don’t kid you when they say your life turns upside down), my baby’s temperament, and my own expectations of motherhood and what I could handle. There are certainly things I wish I knew then that I know now. For instance:

My baby could only stay awake at most one to one and a half hours at a time
I wish I realized that babies can’t stay up for very long. There were probably many times when my baby was over-tired. I probably could have established a better schedule knowing that babies sleep way more than we think.

Feed the baby after he wakes up
I used to nurse LO to sleep because it was almost guaranteed that he would knock out. While it almost always worked, I also created a little guy who relied too much on nursing to fall asleep. Only down the line did I start feeding him after he woke up. This way, he doesn’t rely on milk to sleep, and he’ll have energy from milk once he woke up.

Establish a routine
Establishing a routine is a must. We sort of did this, what with bathing him at night and reading books and singing, but we really needed a daily routine. I don’t suggest sticking strictly to the clock, but there are certain rhythms that babies have: they sleep, they drink milk, are awake for an hour or an hour and a half, then go back to sleep again.

No rocking!
I couldn’t believe it when people told us not to rock him to sleep. “How cruel! They don’t know what they’re talking about!” Never mind that they were mothers of several children, but I still couldn’t wrap my thoughts around the idea that you shouldn’t rock your baby to sleep. But I think I had the wrong impression—I thought they were saying not to hold them often, or to let them cry it out (too early at this age), but what they were really saying was to let your baby fall asleep on his own.

Give him a chance to fall asleep on his own
Then I heard the old adage of putting him down drowsy but awake. I would hold him (er, probably rock him) until his eyes would start to slowly close, and then lay him down into his crib in slow motion. The minute his body hit contact with the mattress… BAM! Those eyes flew open, and drowsy was out the door. I thought, “Oh no! He’s not drowsy anymore! Let me pick him up and rock him some more,” and the cycle would repeat over and over. I didn’t realize my mistake: I was picking him up right away. Yes, his eyes will open wide when he hits the mattress; but that doesn’t mean he can’t get drowsy and eventually fall asleep.

All in hindsight
I wish I could give myself advice back then, but at that moment I could only trust people when they said it would get better. And it absolutely did.

What advice would you give first-time moms?

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