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mothering

  • Making Mistakes can Speed up the Learning Process with Breastfeeding

    A recent study by the John Hopkins School of Medicine showed that the brain learns motor skills faster by processing errors than any other way. In the past it was assumed that people learned and performed a motor task faster the second or third time around because they had more practice, but this is not the case. Although practice helps, the learning part comes from the brain's processing of mistakes. The brain, which never ceases to amaze and surprise us with its abilities and cleverness, stores memories of motor skill errors in performing a task which it then processes for making adjustments for the optimal outcome. We knew our brains were smart, but this shows that they are even smarter than we first thought as they can successfully automatically critique our every motor action to figure out what works best, sort of like self-coach we didn't even know we had.

    This science can be applied to almost every area of life figuratively and directly to physical areas that relate to motherhood, such as breastfeeding your baby. As we know all babies are different. So although it may be easier to breastfeed the second or third time around, what worked before on one baby (one particular hold or technique for latching) may not be as effective on a different child. It takes trial and error to find out what works for both your baby and you in the breastfeeding relationship. It also takes trial and error to figure out the times of day, amount of time and a multitude of other factors for optimal results in breastfeeding.

    For example, maybe your baby needs to be woken up a little first by having its diaper changed or a layer of clothes peeled off so they are not too hot and more awake. Maybe you need to play with your baby a little first to get them more stimulated. There may be a certain hold that works better at nighttime than daytime. Perhaps you nurse better an hour after dinner or a big glass or water as your milk supply is full. For some moms their best nursing sessions are first thing in the morning when they've had more sleep and restful time for their body to fully replenish their milk supply. There are so many factors involved in finding success in breastfeeding, particularly early on.

    One of the encouraging facts about this study is that your baby’s brain. which is amazingly wired, is also processing the trial and error information and figuring out how they can best feed. That’s one of the reason why its easier to breastfeed a baby with each additional week of life and experience that you stick with it. However, it is helpful to have an expert, such as a lactation consultant, to observe and offer advice on holds and techniques for breastfeeding your baby early on and especially if a problem arises. They can help speed up that learning process by using their expertise to narrow down on what might be going wrong or what adjustments you can try.

    The key is to stick with it and not give up hope when things don’t seem to be going well. With your brain and your baby's brain working together, breastfeeding will get easier. There will come a point when your baby knows all of your queues to nursing without you needing to spend fifteen minutes preparing a nest of pillows and props and mirrors to make sure they are positioned just perfectly. Before you know it you will only need to barely lift your shirt or nursing top ever so discreetly and your baby will know exactly what to do without you needing to pause for a breathe as you talk to a friend.

    Trust in the miracle of your brain with trial in error (and any additional professional help you may need) and nursing will be a piece of cake in no time. Also with all of those calories you burn nursing you can treat yourself to that occasional piece of cake without any guilt!

     

  • My Life as a Mom - Part 3

    I nursed my third baby nursed for 15 months until about the time I started feeling he was going to outgrow me. Looking back on it I realized I did succumb to a bit of social pressure or perceived social pressure. If I had it to do again I would have nursed him as long as I liked. Of course my husband believes our six year old would still be nursing if I didn’t wean him in that second year. However, the idea is to nurse him as long as I, the mother, would like and am able and not someone else tells me he is too big to nurse and should order for himself at a restaurant.

    I was actually quite surprised with how easy the weaning process was for all three of my kids. It always seemed so daunting when I would hear about people weaning their baby in a hurry before returning to work. What I discovered with the process is to do it gradually makes it easier for all, particularly my own body which was used to producing huge amounts of milk. I found that it is a lot less traumatic for the mother to emotionally and physically adjust to the reduced amount of nursing when it is stretched out over a longer time horizon than trying to power wean over a weekend. When weaning is done gradually over time, the baby barely notices and you might even find you want to hang onto that last nighttime feeding a little longer as you bond with your baby before he falls asleep and as you sometimes fall asleep yourself . One of the perks of nursing is that it does help you relax and fall asleep. It is remarkable how smart and flexible babies can be to new schedules and how fast the body can regulate to new supply and demand updates. Nature has made us elastic with our babies’ needs and babies are amazingly adaptable learners to new modes to feeding – although it may not feel that way at first because they have a lot to say about it.

    Looking back today as my youngest is 6, my middle child is 10 and my oldest 12, I am truly glad I was able to nurse all of my children for as long as I did. The first two I was able to continue to nurse after my maternity leave ended and I was working fulltime. It is amazing how you can make things work when you really want to do so.  Once we made it through the very rough first couple of weeks and even months it was a very fulfilling experience (and it did help me lose a lot of baby weight!) It provided me with a lot of bonding with my children and forced me to take my own “time out” of my busy day and evening to unwind with my baby. This was particularly nice when I was working fulltime and our caregiver would feed my baby my pumped milk during the day. The evening feedings when I was at home could be done in person and I could truly bond without a pressing commitment to my baby or hooked up to a machine.  I did find that keeping some interesting magazines around my go-to glider were a must have for daytime nursing. It also feel gave me a sense of competence and completeness that I was enough to continue to provide life and nutrition and comfort to my child. I was equipped with the goods as a mother. However I also know that having the support from my husband and caretakers when I was working fulltime was a big part of that equation as well, particularly when multitasking with other children and work responsibilities.

    Each stage of motherhood holds its own challenges and joys. As soon as you think you have one mastered, you enter the next. I have also found that each stage is less daunting than it seems from the distance. The terrible twos and toddler years can hold their share of stress but can also overwhelm you with joy and fun in firsthand experiencing your baby come into their own and literally start exploring and testing their world. The preschool years can be a big breath of relief as well as trepidation as you maybe for the first time drop off your child at school and leave them there for a period of time with people you have not personally hired and vetted. Even the older kid and tween years are an enriching time of seeing your child become more confident and independent and less in need (or desire) of constant handholding as they bond more with peers.

    Each and every stage holds its surprises and rewards. I have found and continue to find that reaching out for help when you need it is key. If you do not have family nearby (as we do not), finding a neighbor or mom at your school to help with carpooling, trading off on playdates and, if you can afford it, finding the occasional babysitter so you can escape on a date night is important in keeping some sanity and balance in your life. Everyone tells you to enjoy your kids while they are young. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy every moment, especially when you are tired and sleep deprived. It's easier to enjoy them when you have the support you need to take care of them.  Just remember to be kind to yourself, patient with your kids and say “yes” to help whenever it is offered! You also deserve a mom time out, even if it's just a cup of coffee by yourself or a trip to the mall or bookstore. Treat yourself occasionally to a nursing top or something you like. It will make your whole experience all the better when you are not feeling deprived and your own needs are met. Remember to put your own oxygen mask on first, then are best equipped to meet the needs of your child!

  • My Life as a New Mom - Part 1

    Pregnancy and motherhood is a sacred time in our lives as women. The miracle of growing a human life inside of us is awesome. When I look at my kids and think that they somehow arrived here through my body and have now matured into the full personality individuals they are at 6, 10 and 12 year olds, it is more than I can wrap my head around.

    Pregnancy and motherhood is a journey and a process. You become a mother once you are pregnant, even before your baby formally arrives. Already you are thinking for two, eating for two, even dressing for two in your maternity clothes. You start planning nurseries and logistics around working or staying at home with your baby. If you plan to return to work you begin the process of looking into daycare or nannies or even reducing your hours or maybe working a more flexible schedule.

    I remember going through this whole process as a first time expecting mom more than twelve years ago before my son was born. We explored all options for our son’s care before and after he arrived but finally decided on a nanny once my maternity leave ran out. It was a challenging process of commuting to work, pumping milk while away from my baby and returning home again to care for my child. I missed my baby while at work but also enjoyed returning to my identity as a working person. I appreciated my job more and liked having adult conversations with coworkers and making decisions that did not involve nap schedules or baby feedings. But none the less it was challenging leaving my baby and pumping milk when I would rather be nursing my baby in person.

    When I had my daughter two years later I was able to mostly work from home while my nanny cared for both of my children. I was very structured about separating work from mothering and would literally close the office door to shut out any noise and to physically compartmentalize my professional world during working hours. The only thing that crossed the line was pumping milk, which usually occurred while on mute during a conference call. None the less, I kept my “double life” pretty quiet although I was open with my manager about my arrangement. Sometimes I was able to nurse my baby during part of a lunch break - which literally became my baby’s lunch hour with the rate that my methodical daughter nursed. But, it was a welcome break and a special time of bonding that I felt lucky to have while working.

    When my daughter was approaching two, I quit my corporate job to stay at home with my kids and focus my attention on my new online business. Although it first felt like a vacation to stay at home with my two young children and not have an outside work commitment, I soon found that life as a work at home mom without a clear work schedule, or a schedule that my two under 5 children were willing to go along with, was more challenging than I first thought.

    Joining the ranks of the Stay at Home Moms was not an easy process. Although most were friendly and welcoming at preschool pickups and drops offs, I often felt like a foreigner who was not savvy on the many activities, mommy and me programs, playdate calendars and volunteering that these women could rattle off in detail as part of their daily lives. I observed how they communicated at a faster quicker beat (often frequently pausing midsentence to respond to a toddler’s questions or address a baby’s needs) than work colleagues’ deliberate measured tones and corporate lingo.

    I marveled at how these women could pull off so much while pushing baby strollers, dealing with toddler demands and hefting babies in and out of car seats without missing a beat in conversation or their daily itinerary of playdates, errands, meal planning and even social outings. Often toddlers would troll behind them like ducklings with sippy cups or snack baggies in hand as these fit mamas, often sporting stylish gym clothes in what appeared to be perpetual workout mode, pranced a few feet ahead, always in motion and cheerfully conversing with those in their path. Somehow they were able to seamlessly integrate their kid’s schedules and naptimes into their daily life on the go. Often naptimes were incorporated into errand running while kids were strapped into their car seats or strollers or taken to the park on a "Mom" playdate with another friend with young kids. Meals and snacks were often packed ahead so there was no need to return home, ever.

    By the time I felt I was getting the hang of it to legitimately fake being part of this league of moms was about the time I learned I was expecting my 3rd baby. That's when I found out I was out of my league.

  • Happy Mother's Day!

    bouquet.jpg Photo by Angela Sadler

    Mother’s Day is around the corner this Sunday, May 11th. If you are pregnant with your first child, then you qualify as a mother! Let the celebrations begin! Mother’s Day is a day we Moms can all appreciate. It is a time when we think of our own mother as well as scramble to buy a card and appropriate gift her, our Mother-in-Laws and other “mother figures” in our lives.

    As a Mom of three, I know it’s easy to get lost in the craziness of this time in May with many school activities jam packed into schedules, Teacher Appreciation Weeks, School Performances and Open Houses, Dance and Music Performances, Art Shows and everything else nearly every day of the week and month, not to mention homework! These are the days I feel I need a personal assistant to tell me what to wear, where to go and to point me out the door – but that’s just the service we are providing for our children, right?!

    Although busyness and motherhood seem to always co-exist, with a healthy dash of craziness, Mother’s Day is a time when we Moms should pause, reflect and relax, even for a few hours (or moments) just to savor all that we have. We are blessed to be mothers and to be able to raise and nurture our children. We are one of the most influential people in our children’s lives who they look up to, even if it doesn’t always seem like it in the midst of a toddler meltdown at the grocery store or when hustling them in and out of car seats while juggling diaper bags and snacks. We will always be their mothers, even when they are grown up and maybe someday have families and children of their own.

    My kids get very excited about Mother’s Day and I know I should not take that for granted. They are very proud of their homemade cards and school craft Mother’s Day creations as well as any knick-knacks they may have picked up with their Dad at the store. Those homemade cut out glue-sticked cards and pictures are my favorite (I always promise to laminate them and maybe one day I will!)

    Mother’s Day is truly about being appreciated for all that we are in our children’s eyes (and our Partner’s eyes as a mother to our kids). It’s our time to be open to relaxing and receiving that love for a whole day (even a whole hour!) If you are pregnant, you are on your way to meeting your child very soon, so savor Mother’s Day (while it’s still quiet!) and maybe enjoy a kick in the tummy or a cute ultrasound picture of your baby. Sooner than you think you will have a pile of homemade cards to laminate someday!

  • Our Breast Milk is Smarter than We Thought

    Just when we think we know everything healthy and nutritious and miraculous there is to know about breastfeeding and our baby’s health, we find out something new. A new study just uncovered even more amazing news about the mother’s body, it’s uncanny knowledge and ability to know our baby’s gender and produce customized milk for our baby girl or baby boy. (We already know it produced milk for the exact age of our child, be it premature or full-term, or a toddler a year or more after birth if we still nurse).

    Interestingly, a common theme in humans, monkeys and other mammals is that there are a variety of differences in the quantity and type of milk that is produced for our babies depending on their gender. Baby boys tend to get richer or denser milk which has more fat and protein in it, providing them with more energy while baby girls tend to get milk that is produced in greater quantities. (Didn’t we always say baby boys were pumped full of adrenaline and our baby girls calmly nursed forever?)

    Last Friday this research was shared at the Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. Although it is not clear why human mothers produce such different milk for their girl or boy babies, there is evidence that this customized milk is developed while the baby is still in utero. This does give mothers more reason to try and breastfeed our baby with our individualized formula which our body intelligently produces for our child.

    "Mothers are producing different biological recipes for sons and daughters," said Katie Hinde, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.

    "While the food aspects of milk to some extent are replicated in formula, the immuno factors and medicine of milk are not and the hormonal signals are not," Hende said.

    As new research continues to uncover more interesting facts about mother’s breast milk, it is clear that breastfeeding is the optimal food choice for our baby. As we continue to learn more about our body’s ability to produce the ideal milk formula for our infant, we are encouraged about how this new scientific knowledge can also help other infants who are in need of specialized breast milk and who cannot get it from their mothers.

    “Getting a better understanding of how milk is personalized for specific infants will also help hospitals find better matches for breast milk donated to help nourish sick and premature infants in neo natal units”, added Hinde.

    It’s powerful knowledge to know that you are your baby’s best nutrition source and you are your baby’s perfect biological match, not only for giving birth but for continuing to feed, nourish and nurture your unique child.

    If you are having trouble nursing, do not hesitate to ask for help. You can contact a lactation consultant or even a mother’s support group like La Leche League in your area to find the support that you need to help you nurse your baby successfully.

  • Happy Valentines Day!

    Lovely-Valentine-Day-2014-Heart-3We all know Valentine’s Day is about love – all types of love – romantic love, friendship love, family love and basically showing love to everyone who deserves it (or not!) whether they be a teacher, friend or someone you would like to know more (aka secret admirer).

    It’s a fun day of chocolate and hearts, candy, cards and romance. However I’m sure there are plenty of moms of school age kids out there who may feel a little burnt out by Valentine’s Day as it can become a bit of an “event” to prepare for with countless kids’ classmate valentines cards to oversee (as your younger child may want to painstakingly write out each classmates name along with a nice message while they are still mastering their letter formation skills). You may need to buy supplies and treats for the class valentine exchange as well as gifts for teachers, coaches, music instructors, grandparents and anyone else you might know. There are children’s class parties to organize, provide for and attend and help run and all sorts of extra after school events and parties to provide and participate in. Of course you need to remember to have cleaned/located/checked for fit or bought a red and pink shirts/dress for your child to wear to school for the day as you don’t want to be scrambling in the morning for the right valentine attire. Then maybe, just maybe if you are lucky, or have any energy left to change hats you might have a date night with your partner where you can look red hot to celebrate the romantic side of this love holiday. Of course that is provided you can squeeze it into the calendar and find a chipper babysitter who is free and dateless.

    Yes, it’s easy to go to the dark side of Valentine’s Day, and not as in dark chocolate, but let’s focus on the love, candy and flowers part. Let’s embrace this holiday for all the goodnes and sweetness it has to offer and not worry about our kids getting a sugar high for a few days. Remember everyone will not find you out if you have not done everything perfectly. It’s OK if you child has misspelled their friend’s name on their valentine card, the mother of the child will not hold a grudge against you for life and probably won’t even notice. If you have forgotten chocolate or sweets for the teacher, give her a cute IOU note with a big heart on it and bring her a little something next week. I’m sure she will have enough chocolate to OD on over the weekend!

    Cut yourself some slack on this holiday, so you can express the love it is really all about. Your kids will not know if you forgot to wash their red shirts and if they are a little crumpled that morning (they will most likely get candy and chocolate stains on it later). As long as there is a splash of pink or red or a heart, peace or love sign somewhere to be found on their clothing or accessories, it will do the trick. How about a bright red headband, scarf or red socks? Or last case scenario, grab a red sharpie and draw hearts on tee shirt. There’s always a way to improvise!

    So, you might wonder, where did this extra work come from? Apparently it’s been going on for a while. Americans began exchanging handmade Valentines cards in the early 1700s. Then in 1840 Ester A. Howland, a savvy Martha Stewart type entrepreneur, began selling the first mass produced valentine cards in America. Creative challenged types clamored to buy her pretty valentine cards which were elaborate with ribbons and colorful pictures on them known as “scrap.” Soon the valentine card industry soon took off and Howland was known as the “Mother of the Valentine.” Now Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular card-sending holidays of the year, second only to Christmas, with over 150 million valentines exchanged yearly. Interestingly women purchase 85% of these cards -I’m not sure if that is because we are more giving and expressive and simply enjoy the holiday more or if we are too tired to scrap together our own original creation. I’m guessing a lot of the buying our "85%" do is really done for kids and family members and all the classmates and teachers our kids give valentine cards and treats to. So, for all intent and purposes it has become the mom’s event to manage and participate in.

    The good news is if we want to be true to the Valentine tradition the entire month of February has long been celebrated as a month of romance. I think spreading it out is a better approach to Valentines as it takes the pressure off “the V-Day” itself. If you and your partner choose to celebrate another day in the month other than February 14th, even the last day in the month (just make sure it isn’t a Leap Year date but actually exists on the calendar), then that is perfectly fine. You can even have a different “family day” that you celebrate valentines with your kids other than their “class day” to deflate the pressure even more. Although for some, spreading out the love may bring more pain than joy. In short, you call the shots and do what’s best for you, just know there are options. I personally think Valentine’s Day should work around the Mom of the family, even if we have to find another patron Saint to affect this shift.

    So be sure to drink up the love, alcohol free preferably if you are pregnant, and find some sweetness or indulgence whether it be chocolate, a manicure or a pregnancy massage at the spa. Remember you have the entire month of February to honor this tradition!

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