do you really even need a nursing bra?

do you really even need a nursing bra?

This post is sponsored by Nakturnal. All opinions are my own. 

Now that I’m definitely done breastfeeding (!!!!), I’ve been cleaning out my closet.

It’s amazing what I have buried back there.

Enough baby carriers to wear a small army. (I’m keeping all of those forever because reasons.) Maternity clothes of various seasons and sizes. (Why do I have so many summer maternity dresses when I was only ever pregnant in the winter?) And nursing bras.

This last item is particularly absurd, considering I barely ever wore nursing bras.

Buying bras is bad enough at the best of times, but buying bras while pregnant just adds insult to injury. I for one had no idea what my actual band and cup sizes were even before I got pregnant, and getting measured while pregnant? Not my idea of fun.

So if you’re pregnant and planning to breastfeed — do you need nursing bras? Here’s my argument for no:

  1. You don’t necessarily need a bra at all. Ever. No, really — hear me out. We’ve all been told all our lives that not wearing a bra will cause our breasts to sag, right? But a few years ago this study came out, and it was just the scientific excuse I’d been waiting for to quit wearing bras. This topic merits its own post, but short version: if you’re going to quit wearing bras, while you’re breastfeeding is the time to do it. Because pregnancy and breastfeeding will keep your boobs perky all on their own, at least until you wean. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  2. You don’t need an actual nursing bra. Any old bra will do, as long as it’s comfortable and it meets the criteria of the best nursing bras (most important here is fit — any squeezing on your breast tissue can lead to plugged ducts, which, believe me, you do not want). But that little latch that lets you unhook your bra to breastfeed is often more trouble than it’s worth. As long as your bra is stretchy enough, it might be simpler to just stretch it to the side and nurse that way, without bothering with a hook.
  3. You can convert any bra into a nursing bra. If you have a bra you love that fits well, and you want to be able to to unhook it so you don’t stretch it out, it’s pretty easy to add hooks to the strap of any bra. I did a couple of these myself (because I was crazy during my first pregnancy and thought I wanted to sew things), but you can probably get it done professionally for a very reasonable fee.

Not convinced? Maybe you do need a nursing bra. Here are the arguments in favor:

  1. Nursing bras are designed to adjust to your changing breasts. Your cup size can change considerably while you’re breastfeeding — as much as a size or two just over the course of the day. Most bras are designed to hold a specific shape and size, while a good nursing bra is designed to stretch and shrink to accommodate your body changes.
  2. You need new bras anyway and you deserve good ones. This was actually the reason I did go get fitted and buy expensive nursing bras during my first pregnancy. The chances of your pre-pregnancy bras continuing to fit during pregnancy and postpartum are essentially zero, so you might as well get some good bras — and if you’re planning to breastfeed, there’s no reason not to buy nursing bras.
  3. Some nursing bras are multi-purpose. My favorites are nursing tanks, which have a built-in bra (real bra, not shelf bra!) and the added benefit of keeping your belly covered if you pull your shirt up to nurse (huge bonus for breastfeeding in public). My absolute favorite of these, which I sadly didn’t discover till my babies were too big for its primary purpose, is the Lalabu babywearing shirt (still my favorite bra, even though I’m way past breastfeeding).

At this point, though? I can probably let most of these go. Anybody in the market for a Bravado?

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5 things a breastfeeding mom can do when she can’t sue

5 things a breastfeeding mom can do when she can’t sue

Texas representative Debbie Riddle got all the lactivists up in arms last week when she posted on Facebook that she opposed a bill that would enable breastfeeding women to sue someone who interfered with their right to breastfeed. Her argument was that breastfeeding is already legal, and a lawsuit would be going too far, and anyway there’s nothing wrong with a little modesty. All reasonable points — if she had never breastfed. Since she claims she did breastfeed, I can only conclude that 1) She only breastfed for six weeks and never left the house with her baby during that time; 2) She did scheduled feedings instead of the (recommended) on-demand feedings; or 3) Her breastfeeding days were so long ago that she just doesn’t remember what it’s like to breastfeed a newborn. Or maybe 4) She was just lucky and was never criticized for breastfeeding.

Because anybody who has breastfed a newborn out of the house — and especially anyone who’s been criticized for it — knows perfectly well that 1) Modesty in that situation is frequently impossible; and 2) A lawsuit isn’t going too far. If anything, a lawsuit doesn’t go far enough. Combine postpartum hormones, leaking boobs, a screaming baby, and a nasty look from a stranger, and that stranger should count himself lucky to walk away with a lawsuit. He could walk away with much, much worse.

So. If you are like me and live in one of the many states where even though your right to breastfeed is nominally protected, you have no legal resource if it’s questioned, fear not. You have many other recourses. Like these. Feel free to try one the next time someone gives your boob the stink eye.

1.  Throw a blanket over his head. (The critic’s head. Not your baby’s.) Problem solved.

2. Use this hat. That will make him look twice. And three times. Actually he probably won’t be able to look away. He’ll be entranced by your baby’s clever fashion sense. And who can blame him?

3. Spout statistics and facts. Most people are easily overwhelmed by science and/or numbers. Memorize the legislation citation for your state’s breastfeeding law (it’s Ga Code 31-1-9) and recite it verbatim, complete with the number. Practice this till you can say it fast. Memorize a few statistics or facts on the benefits of breastfeeding, and recite those as well. Keep talking till the naysayer gets scared and backs away slowly.

4. Laugh. And mean it. Criticism is silly. It’s nothing to get mad about. Just smile and nod and keep doing what you’re doing.

5. Squirt him in the eye. It’s poetic justice, really. He doesn’t want to see breastmilk? Let him get a closer view. It won’t hurt him.

See what I mean? Lawsuits may not be so bad.

Photo: Lorna Watt

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10 things I love about holidays with family

Holidays with extended family are so much fun. Sure, there are challenges when ten or eleven people spend a week in a house that’s usually home to two. (At some point some of us are going to have to stay in a hotel. I figure we can postpone that longer if we cosleep.) But still. I love my in-laws, I really do. For a million reasons. Here are some of them.

1. My mother-in-law gets up early. Every morning. My kids usually sleep in till a reasonable hour, but if by some chance they do get up early, Grandma is happy to play with them.

2. My niece is exactly the same age as my daughter, and my nephew is only 18 months older. Cousins the same age = built-in playmates. What could be better? True, the first four or five family get-togethers of my daughter’s life all culminated in her biting her cousin (we can blame sleep deprivation and overstimulation for that, right?). I guess that’s a hazard of living with playmates. It certainly was when I was growing up, anyway. My sister has the scars to prove it.

But most of the time, the kids actually entertain each other. It’s pretty awesome.

3. They live in Virginia. I love Virginia. Sure, we’re pretty established in Atlanta right now, but I love visiting Virginia. You can see real mountains from my in-laws front yard. And it actually gets cold there. Sometimes it even snows for Christmas.

4. My sister-in-law (the one who’s also a mom) makes tea every night. Sure, I can make it myself. But it’s so much more fun to drink with someone else. And it’s even more fun when it’s actually cold outside. Which it is in Virginia.

5. My (fellow mom) sister-in-law brings out the ice cream. She’s from Canada, so she never thinks it’s too cold for ice cream.

6. My father-in-law plays piano. When my husband and I were dating, he used to play piano a lot. I loved listening to him play — it’s so romantic! — but since we’ve been married, he rarely gets to play anything besides nursery rhymes on his synthesizer. But my father-in-law is a talented musician, and he has a real piano. Which my husband also plays while we’re there. It’s great. There’s a lot of music in the house.

7. Everyone likes to read. I married into a literary family, and yes, that was on purpose. Actually, I pretty much decided I had to marry my husband after I met his family. They talk about interesting things like books and history and religion and family traditions. They’re fascinating people.

8. My brother-in-law loves G.K. Chesteron. Need I say more? I need not.

9. My (cool single) sister-in-law loves ALL THE BOOKS that I love. And she’s a writer. She and I have spent many hours at family events huddled in a corner talking nonstop about the latest novel we’re reading or writing or about Oxford commas or blogging or work or the meaning of life. I think if I hadn’t married my husband, I still would have become close friends with her. She’s awesome. Tragically, she couldn’t come to Virginia this year. Boo.

10. They’re frugal. Translation: we don’t buy gifts for everybody. I love this. Buying a present for everyone in your family means a whole lot of shopping, even when your family isn’t that big. So a few years ago, we started drawing names for gifts instead of everyone shopping for everyone. We all still get presents for the kids (because really, how can you resist?), but we put all the adult names in a hat and we each draw one. Then everybody gets one nice present instead of a bunch of not-as-nice presents. And the whole present-opening ritual isn’t so involved and lengthy. It’s great all around.

Plus, my (cool single) sister-in-law and I have drawn each other’s names almost every year since we started, which is just a bonus. She gives the best presents.

How about you? Are holidays with extended family fun or stressful?

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happy Christmas eve!

happy Christmas eve!

A year ago today, my son was one day old.

On Christmas Eve morning, my daughter came home from spending the night at my mom’s house and met her brother for the first time.

When I posted this picture on Facebook, one of her preschool friends saw it and said, “But I wanted a baby for Christmas!”

I hope you and yours get everything you want for Christmas! I know I have everything I could hope for!

Here’s Teddy celebrating yesterday with one of the most exciting experiences of his life — chocolate cake!

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how sharing breastfeeding can change your life

how sharing breastfeeding can change your life

Our culture is squeamish about breastfeeding. We think breasts are sexual, breastfeeding is a private act, and breast milk is a dangerous substance that spreads disease, pestilence, and subversive thinking. Sure, breast is best and all that, but keep it in private, people. And nowhere is this more obvious than in our attitude toward cross nursing.

Cross nursing, in case you don’t know, means nursing someone else’s baby. It was common as daylight a hundred years ago, when wet nurses were employed by women who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed. But since the invention of formula, cross nursing has been stigmatized. Even the “lactivist hippies” of La Leche League discourage it, and the average woman on the street is disgusted by the idea. Sure, the breast-is-best movement has sparked a small but noticeable revival of wet nursing. But those who do it are secretive about it.

And when it happens accidentally? Bad news. This woman’s baby was breastfed by another mom last week because of a hospital mix-up. This ought to have sparked an outcry about hospital procedures that involve separating babies from their moms (this could never have happened if the babies were rooming-in), but instead the hospital is saying that the poor baby needs to be repeatedly tested for HIV and hepatitis over the next year. Seriously? Was the other mom HIV positive? Because if she was, then why was she breastfeeding her own baby? And if she wasn’t, then why the worry? Sure, I’d be concerned too if my baby was breastfed by a total stranger, but I don’t think it deserves this level of fear. But maybe that’s just because I’m a crazy hippie mom who always wished for some help breastfeeding my babies.

I haven’t done much cross nursing, but I often wished to. I finally have a mama tribe now that’s comfortable with cross nursing, and it really has changed my life. Here’s how.

You can take a break. Having a babysitter who can nurse your baby is magic. Baby won’t take a bottle? No problem. Baby will only fall asleep nursing? Taken care of. If I’d had this when Anastasia was little, let me tell you, I would have had a lot more evenings out with my husband. I haven’t actually taken advantage of this with Teddy, because right now if I skip or even shorten a nursing session, I get mastitis. (At least it seems that way.) Which brings me to my next point:

You can get help with engorgement when you’re away from your baby. Last weekend I went to a party with my mama tribe. I left both kids at home with Dad — my first time doing that, so it was a real treat! But three hours away from the kids? Not good for my boobs. Lucky for me, my friend who has twin newborns was at the party. While she was nursing one, she handed me the other, and I nursed him to sleep.

You can learn to breastfeed. When my friend handed me her second twin, she told me I could breastfeed him if I would fix his latch. He makes a clicking sound. I wasn’t able to fix it — I suspect he has a tongue tie — but it made all of us at the party think about the value of experienced moms breastfeeding new babies. After all, when you have your first baby, you’re both totally new at breastfeeding. You learn to do it together. Which is why it’s often easier with your second baby — by that time, at least one of you knows what you’re doing. So if a first-time mom is having a problem breastfeeding, it just makes sense for a more experienced mom to try breastfeeding her baby. She knows how a good latch is supposed to look and feel, and she knows how to hold a baby and help him latch. It takes one variable out of the equation.

You can bond with other mamas and babies. I don’t agree at all with the idea that breastfeeding is a special, private bonding. (In case you hadn’t figured that out.) At least I don’t think it’s any more private or bonding than bottle feeding, or rocking to sleep, or babywearing. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t special. I love rocking other people’s babies to sleep and bottle feeding them, and I love cross nursing in the same way, for the same reasons. Knowing that another mom trusts you enough to help her take care of her young baby is a special thing. Cuddling, rocking, and bonding with someone else’s baby is a special thing. And having friends that you trust like that, and who trust you, is pure magic.

You can do it safely.  I mentioned that I thought the mother, not the baby, was the one who should be tested. And ideally, I think moms who are nursing each other’s kids should be tested. I wouldn’t let anyone breastfeed my babies before I asked them what they’d been tested for — and trusted them enough to believe them about the results. But with a few guidelines in place, I think cross-nursing can be very safe, and it can help in many ways.

I feel lucky to have a mama tribe that practices cross nursing. You can feel squeamish or laugh all you want. Someday I’ll get a job as a wet nurse for some big celebrity. Then I’ll be the one laughing — all the way to the bank.

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13 little-known tricks to gently help your baby sleep

Parents don’t need to sleep.

You know that, right?

Babies need sleep. It’s absolutely essential for their neurological development that they get at least 70% of the recommended hours of sleep (which you can reference here). If they get less, their cognitive development will be permanently stunted, mostly because their parents will be too tired to play with the baby or do anything other than sit and stare at him.

Toddlers need sleep too — even more than babies. If a toddler or preschooler doesn’t get at least 75% of the minimum recommended hours of sleep, he will become so cranky, irritable, and difficult that most parents will be forced to shut themselves in a closet and hold the door closed while the toddler pounds on the other side and screams that he needs a cookie NOW. This can have permanent negative consequences on a toddler’s emotional and social development.

But parents? We don’t need sleep. It’s perfectly fine — normal, even — for a parent to stay up all night trying every trick imaginable to persuade a wide-eyed baby to drift into dreamland.

And fortunately, there are a whole lot of tricks to try. You can fill a whole night with different creative attempts to get a baby to sleep.

If your baby sleeps well, you will never need to try most of these. I hope you never do. But if you have a baby who can’t sleep, there are many ways to help him. Here’s a collection of some of the less common ones I’ve tried.

1. Play different kinds of white noise. You’ve probably heard that white noise is helpful for sleep, because it sounds similar to the rush of blood through your veins that your baby listened to while in the womb. For most babies, the noise should be louder than you would expect it needs to be. The sounds in the womb are really loud. But what you may not know is that some babies might be soothed by a particular type of white noise even though other types disturb them. So it’s worth it to try different kinds if your first attempt isn’t helpful. Some babies like random noise, like a vacuum, radio static, or a coffee grinder. Others prefer rhythmic noise, like a heartbeat toy, a train, or rain falling. Get a white noise machine with different sounds on it — you can buy one for about $20 at Target — and try them all.

2. Vary the motion. You know that bouncing or rocking can help your baby sleep. But you may not know that alternating between them can be more effective than either alone. Try swinging your baby back and forth in a cradle motion and then shifting to a gentle up-and-down bounce. Sometimes the shift in motion distracts your baby enough to enable him to relax and fall asleep.

3. Ignore him. No, I don’t mean leaving your baby alone in a crib and sleep training him. I just mean not looking at him. For some babies, the stimulation of eye contact is so exciting that they have to stay awake for it. If your baby is older than four months and has good head control, try wearing him on your back — the physical contact combined with the lack of face-to-face interaction might do the trick. If that doesn’t work, try holding him or patting him without looking at him. You can gaze over his head or close your own eyes to set an example of what you want him to do. Yes, you’ll look silly. But nobody’s looking.

4. Try a new bed. If your baby is sleeping well, then you should keep the bedtime routine — and location — the same. But if he stops sleeping well, he may be telling you that he’s outgrown his current location. If he’s in your bed, try a hammock bed or a crib. If he’s in a crib, try a floor bed or your bed.

5. Breathe deep. Of course you can’t control how your baby breathes — although you can teach a toddler to breathe deeply and slowly — but you can help him relax by relaxing yourself. Try holding him close to your body or lying next to him and relaxing your own body. Take deep, slow breaths, and slowly relax all your muscles. Your baby might follow suit.

6. Make a nest. Little babies often love to be swaddled, but older babies and toddler can benefit from similar strategies too. A smaller space can make sleep come more easily. For babies too old to be swaddled, try a sleep sack, a hammock bed, or a “human swaddle” — wrap your arms around him gently so he can’t wiggle around so much. Your toddler may love a body pillow to snuggle up against or a canopy bed so he’ll feel more enclosed. My daughter often sleeps curled up in her play tent on top of her bed.

7. Experiment with lighting. Think pitch-black darkness is the best way to induce sleep? It may not be. Remember that babies are biologically adapted to sleep outdoors, so light that mimics the night sky might make sleep come easier. A nightlight that projects stars onto the ceiling will give an older baby or toddler something interesting to look at. Or a flickering nightlight that imitates candlelight could help your baby relax.

8. Lower the temperature. The evening drop in temperature is one of nature’s signals telling your brain it’s time to sleep. That’s why baths are often a useful part of a bedtime routine: when you take your baby out of the bath, the air on his wet skin makes his body temperature drop, which helps make him sleepy. Try turning the thermostat down a degree or two, or open the window if it’s nice out, and the evening chill might make your overactive baby chill out.

9. Start bedtime in the morning. Forget bedtime routines. For a troubled sleeper, your bedtime routine starts the minute your child wakes up. You can’t control what time he goes to sleep, but you can control when he wakes up, so wake him up on time, and get him outside, even if just for a few minutes. Being out in the sunlight will trigger his brain to be awake — which will mean better sleep once night rolls around.

10. Plan your day around naps. Try scheduling your day around naptimes. Even if you can’t get your baby to sleep for “naptimes,” make sure he rests and has the opportunity to sleep. But don’t spend all day trying. Schedule a reasonable amount of times for naps (60 minutes if he’s on 3 naps a day, 90 if he’s on 2, or 2 hours if he’s on one nap), and if he doesn’t go to sleep in that amount of time, then continue with your day and wait for the next nap. And if he falls asleep late (say, at 10:30 for a nap that was supposed to start at 9:30), then wake him after an hour if he hasn’t woken on his own. Napping too late will push bedtime later, which will push your day later the next day, which will start an endless cycle of later-and-later sleep.

11. Forget about naps. Some babies resist all attempt to be scheduled. If your baby is one of those, try ignoring nap schedules. You might discover that your baby sleeps better while you go about your day. He might resist all efforts to sleep at home but fall asleep happily the minute you put him in the stroller, the car seat, or the Ergo. If that’s the case, you might be able to shift him onto a nap schedule that involves you going out for a walk instead of putting him in bed.

12. Give him lots of exercise. Even non-mobile babies need exercise. Wearing him in a carrier gives him the opportunity to move his body in tandem with yours and feel how to balance his muscles. A few minutes on the floor give him the chance to stretch his limbs and discover his fingers and toes. Older babies and toddlers, of course, need to practice crawling, standing, walking, running, jumping on trampolines, and climbing to the top of the bookshelf.

13. Know your baby’s personality. I don’t advocate “crying it out” for any baby (although if you decide that’s what you need to do for yourself and your family, I support you in making that choice for yourself — it’s just not a technique I’m going to address here), but the reality is that some babies need to fuss before they can sleep, especially if they’re overtired. Some babies work up more stress by crying, and some let out stress by crying. So if your baby needs to fuss in your arms while you soothe him to sleep, don’t feel bad for “doing CIO.” You’re not. An earlier bedtime can sometimes help, but not necessarily. If your baby calms down pretty quickly and goes to sleep, then you know it was because he was tired. It’s okay to be tired at bedtime.

And if none of these work? Take comfort in the reminder that you, at least, do not need sleep. You are strong. You are like a Spartan who can fight for days without food, water, or rest. All you need is a little caffeine and a sweet baby smile.

And as for your baby’s neurological and socio-emotional development being affected by lack of sleep? Don’t worry about that. Worst case scenario is that your baby turns out a little less smart than he otherwise would have been, which seriously? Is okay. It just means he’ll have to work a little harder to outsmart you.

Disclaimer: I am kidding about parents not needing sleep. Obviously. You need lots of sleep and you should get it however and whenever you can. Also, I’m kidding about the brain development. Your baby will be fine if he doesn’t nap. 

I’m not kidding about caffeine.

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the why stage: how to answer the questions to life, the universe, and everything

the why stage: how to answer the questions to life, the universe, and everything

A friend of mine recently reminded me about a stage I’m looking forward to experiencing with my second child: the Why Stage.

If you’ve ever had a three year old, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s something you’ll never forget. The Why Stage can be worse than tantrums, worse than fights over clothing, worse than bedtime battles. Like the slow drip of water torture, the Why Stage wears you down subtly. Drop by drop, question by question, it erodes your brain into mush.

In case you’ve never had a three year old and don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll explain. The Why Stage is the point at which your child’s long-anticipated ability to talk transforms from “cute and fun” to “frustrating and annoying.” One minute you’re making videos of your child saying “Hi! Bye! Baby!” The next minute you’re trying to ignore him as he chatters on and on outside a locked car in the parking lot while you try to remember what you did with your keys. But you can’t ignore the Why Stage. Because in the Why Stage, your child asks questions, and questions require an answer. If you don’t answer, he will keep asking over and over and over in a louder and louder voice. He will keep getting louder until you break down and respond or the parking lot security guard comes over to make sure you’re not torturing him. Whichever happens first.

But answering, you will soon learn, does you no good at all. Because on the other side of your answer, your child lies in wait with another question. And another. And another. Your answers aren’t satisfying; they’re just fodder for more questions.

A typical conversation might go like this:

Child: Mommy, what are you doing?
You: I’m peeling potatoes.
Child: Why are you peeling potatoes?
You: So we can eat them for dinner.
Child: Why are we going to eat them for dinner?
You: Because we need to eat something, and I felt like making potatoes.
Child: Why did you feel like making potatoes?
You: Because my body is hungry for potatoes.
Child: Why is your body hungry for potatoes?
You: Because it’s been five hours since I ate lunch.
Child: Why has it been five hours since you ate lunch?
You: Because five hours ago was lunchtime.
Child: Why was that lunchtime?
You: Because it was noon.
Child: Why was it noon?
You: Um. Because the sun was halfway between rising and setting.
Child: Why was the sun halfway between rising and setting?
You (realizing uncomfortably how little you actually know about astronomy): Because of the rotation of the earth.
Child: Why because of the rotation of the earth?
You: That’s just how it works.
Child: Why is that how it works?
You: I don’t know.
Child: Why don’t you know?
You: Because I don’t know everything! I’m not going to answer any more questions now, okay?
Child: Why aren’t you going to answer any more questions?
You: Because you’re driving me crazy.
Child: Why am I driving you crazy?
You: !?!?!?!?!

And if you think that’s cute, then you have obviously never lived through it. It’s cute when it goes on for five minutes with somebody else’s kid. But when it goes on for twelve hours straight, it will do you in. By bedtime you will be reduced to a screaming puddle of goo, like the wicked witch of the west, and you will have no energy left to do anything but sit on the couch and stare at the wall. If anyone — like, for example, your hapless spouse — asks you one more question — like “How was your day?” — you will throw a pillow at them. Or possibly a shoe.

But I told you I was looking forward to this stage, right? Because I have found the secret way to survive it. No, not to survive it. To overcome it. I have learned how to defeat the Why Stage. Yes, my friend: I can outsmart a three year old.

What’s my secret?

Big words.

Big words, and long, detailed answers.

Here’s the thing. Your three year old, despite his impressive ability to (mostly) switch pronouns correctly from “I” to “you” when repeating your words back in the form of a question, doesn’t really understand most of what he’s saying. That’s why he asks why. He’s practicing the art of conversation. He’s uncovering how things work. He’s trying to learn the meaning of life.

He is, in other words, trying to exercise his mental capacities to the limit. He wants to grow his brain.

So all you need to do is oblige him.

Stop trying to give him toddler-sized answers. Instead, give him more information than he can understand. This will cause his brain to stop flipping answers to questions as it pauses to try to digest the information. Which will cause a reset that will stop the endless question-answer-question cycle.

For example, let’s take the conversation above. We’ll start where things get interesting and potentially complicated — when you introduce the topic of astronomy.

The new conversation would go like this:

Child: Why was five hours ago lunchtime?
You: Because it was noon.
Child: Why was it noon?
You: Because as the earth was completing its daily rotation around its axis, we had reached the place where the sun’s meridian reached the zenith, placing it at its highest point from our perspective, which makes it noon local time.
Child: Oh.
(Pause.)
Child: Can I have dinner now?

It doesn’t always work that easily, but that’s okay. That just means your child is smart. It takes more than a few big words to challenge his brain. Just keep going, making your answer as detailed and complicated as you can, and eventually you’ll reach the limit of your child’s understanding. Like this:

Child: Why was five hours ago lunchtime?
You: Because it was noon.
Child: Why was it noon?
You: Because as the earth was completing its daily rotation around its axis, we had reached the place where the sun’s meridian reached the zenith, placing it at its highest point from our perspective, which makes it noon local time.
Child: Why did the earth complete its, um, rotion around its axes?
You: Because as planets form through the coalescence of space dust, the gravitational pull of the star causes them to spin, and the conservation of angular momentum makes them spin faster as they collapse into planets, and then they keep spinning because of inertia, because the vacuum of space offers no resistance to their movement.
(Pause.)
Child: Oh.

As you get better at this, you can make it into a game. My husband and I used to have contests to see who could keep going the longest and come up with the best answers. He always won, because he knows more about science and math than I do. I was often embarrassed to realize that I don’t actually understand electricity, gravity, or the manufacturing of pretzels well enough to explain them to a three year old. But that’s another advantage of using big words: it doesn’t matter if your explanation isn’t exactly correct. Your kid won’t understand anyway.

And if your spouse happens to be listening to your not-precisely-correct explanation of how cell phones work, you have the perfect excuse for your lack of knowledge. It’s not that you don’t know these things. It’s just that your child is in the Why Stage. You’ve been answering why questions all day long. You have every right to be confused. Your brain is mush.

Finally, when in doubt, you can always resort to the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. Just keep repeating it in answer to every question: 42.

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what not to do when your preschooler is on school break

My four year old is on break from preschool right now. Which is awesome. Really. I love being with her all day. She’s fun and clever and interesting.

Except when she’s crazy and impossible and wants to climb all over me while I’m holding the baby and wants to nurse more often than he does and wants to play with all her friends who are of course not available.

Because they’re in school.

I absolutely love her preschool, and she does too, but right now I hate the fact that they are on a different schedule than the rest of our county. I don’t know what the reason was behind their logic — and I’m sure it was good — but all I know is my daughter is on break and almost none of her friends are. Most of her friends are starting public pre-K this year, which means they started school yesterday. Pretty much the only kids her age that we could play with are her friends her age who are also staying at her preschool for another year. Of whom there are two.

Friday was the last day of school, and on Saturday I texted the parents of both her friends asking when we could set up playdates. Because Anastasia woke up saying she missed them. The first day of vacation.

That’s when I knew it was going to be a long three weeks.

And I seriously don’t know what parents do with a whole summer. If you just did that, my heart goes out to you. I could not be more in favor of year-round school right now.

I love the idea of homeschooling. Or better yet, unschooling. But the truth is that preschool is great for my kid. She thrives on being around peers and having a routine and having adults in her life who aren’t her parents. I thrive on it too. But now I have three weeks of break, which really isn’t long and I should be grateful. And I am. I am also discovering everything that you shouldn’t do when you have a young child who is usually in school but is currently on break.

For example.

1. Renovate your house. Seriously? What were we thinking? I guess we were thinking that we really wanted to fix our fireplace, which was installed incorrectly and was not usable as it was, and plus we had this really cool energy efficient wood stove that we’ve been wanting to install for years. We definitely didn’t plan to be doing this renovation when school let out. But being stuck out of the house all day during break — without anywhere specific to go — was not the brightest idea. We can’t stay in the house while it’s being worked on, because my daughter will try to help the contractors as they lay the hearth, which seems really sweet as an idea but doesn’t turn out great in practice.

Luckily, there’s a wonderful new kid-friendly coffee shop I’ve discovered. And when I say “discovered,” what I really mean is, “moved in.” Come check it out. Yes, I’m here now. I’ve been here constantly the past few days. I will probably be here for the next three weeks. Don’t worry, I’m buying lots of coffee.

2. Work. I guess whether you can work with kids around depends on what your work is. If your work involves anything that a preschooler shouldn’t help with — like, say, writing, just for example — then you shouldn’t try to do it while your child is out of school. Because she will want to help, which means typing your keyboard while you are trying to and hitting your caps lock key and closing your computer and opening it again and somehow opening another program like Photoshop or Evernote. You will not get much work done.

3. Blog. See above. Don’t blog when your kid is on vacation. Just don’t.

So if you don’t hear from me much over the next few weeks, that’s why. I didn’t really plan for an absence because, well, I didn’t realize we were going to have three weeks of vacation until last Thursday, when I casually asked the director of the preschool when we were starting back up again. So if you don’t hear from me for a while — or even until after Labor Day — now you know why.

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New York breastfeeding initiative: more control or more choice?

New York breastfeeding initiative: more control or more choice?

On September 3, some New York City hospitals will implement a new policy. Formula will no longer be given to newborns for free. In fact, it won’t be given without a doctor’s order. Instead of being readily available in nurseries, it will be kept locked in a cabinet, and nurses will need written permission to bottle feed an infant.

Most of the response to this idea has been negative. It’s been called a “ban,” a “nanny state”, a push that “forces” women to breastfeed, a move to take away choice.

But as much as I support mother’s feeding choices, I think the naysayers on this one are dead wrong.

Why?

First, let me clear up a few myths that have been circulating about the Latch On initiative. It does not involve banning formula from hospitals so it’s unavailable for babies who need it. Nor does it involve lecturing mothers who ask for formula. What it does involve is a conversation between mothers and nurses before a baby is given formula. Yes, there needs to be a “medical reason” to dispense formula. How exactly that will be applied is anyone’s guess right now — is the mother’s mental health a medical reason? How about her simple desire to formula feed? If you’re planning on formula feeding, will your doctor write a note before your baby is born stating that you plan to formula feed and your  baby can have formula? I’m going to go out on a limb and say probably yes.

But let’s suppose they won’t. Let’s suppose that a woman who is planning to formula feed without a “medical” reason will not be “allowed” to get formula at the hospital. I doubt that’s the case, but even if it were, is this really such a horrible thing? Because here’s the truth: Nothing is free at hospitals. Nothing. They charge you for drinking water, diapers, gowns, and maxi pads. The only thing that’s free to a birthing woman at a hospital is formula, which many women don’t even want. And it’s not free because the hospital is concerned about the well-being of hungry babies. It’s free because formula companies pay for it — out of their marketing budget — and give it to hospitals. Because they know that babies who have formula during the first few days are much, much more likely to become long-term customers. How is that ethical? How is that choice?

And that is why you bring stuff to the hospital. You bring your own chapstick and baby clothes. You probably bring a few diapers and even some toiletries for yourself. Is it really that big a deal to bring some formula if you know you want to use it? And if you’re going to argue that some women can’t afford it, let me point out the obvious that you’re going to have to buy it when you get home anyway, and WIC includes formula.

And in any case, the women who walk into the hospital planning to formula feed are a significant minority. That doesn’t make their needs or desires any less important. But it does mean there are a lot more women who are having the opposite problem. In New York City, 90% of women walk into the hospital stating they intend to breastfeed. But only 39% of newborns are exclusively breastfed. That means around 50% of mothers are not succeeding in their chosen plan. They’re not formula feeding because they want to — they’re formula feeding because something went wrong.

And what went wrong? For some of them, it’s just biology. Their bodies simply don’t produce enough milk and never would have. But, although nobody knows exact statistics on how many women that’s true for, the likelihood is that most women are capable of breastfeeding. Which means that many of these women could have breastfed, and the problem was preventable.

And much of the time, the thing that went wrong was not just preventable — it was something that a medical professional did wrong.

Look, I’m no expert on breastfeeding. I’m just a mom who happens to have been breastfeeding for way too long and who likes to read about it. But I know more about breastfeeding than some medical professionals. I know this because many of my friends have told me things their pediatrician or obstetrician or nurse said to them, and sometimes I know that what the medical professional told them is just plain wrong. Things like “Your baby just needs a few bottles till your milk comes in” or “Newborns only need to eat every three hours, and if he seems hungry more often then you’re not producing enough” or “You should never let him nurse longer than 10 minutes at a time.” These statements aren’t just terribly inaccurate — they’re terribly undermining to a mother’s choices. Because “just a few bottles” means a lot more than a few formula feedings. For many mother-baby pairs, it undermines the whole breastfeeding process to the point that breastfeeding becomes impossible. And that’s a big deal. That is taking away the mother’s choice.

And that’s the real issue behind this initiative. It’s not about breast being best or breastmilk being magic or formula being awful. It’s not about making women feel guilty about the choice to not breastfeed. It’s about stopping practices that force women to bottle feed — practices that are commonly done by people who really should know better.

Take, for example, formula supplementation of breastfed babies. It’s rampant in hospitals. As one friend of mine pointed out in a discussion about this initiative, a woman’s who’s planning to formula feed doesn’t need to worry that a nurse will breastfeed her baby in the nursery. (Cue mental image of a Salma-Hayek-style guerrilla breastfeeding movement, with nurses in masks whipping out their boobs for NICU babies.) But a woman’s who’s planning to breastfeed needs to watch like a hawk to prevent a nurse giving her baby a bottle. Is it really such a big deal to create a policy that adds an extra layer of protection to prevent that? Especially when you consider that a “just a bottle or two” could actually make it impossible for her to breastfeed at all?

The way I see it, this initiative isn’t going to make formula “unavailable” for women who choose it. All it’s going to do is add an extra step so that someone with a accurate information about breastfeeding talks to a mother before she agrees to unnecessary supplementation. If some uninformed nurse tells her that her one-day-old baby needs formula because her milk hasn’t come in yet, hopefully this extra conversation will be enough to reassure her.

Because I’m sorry, but giving out free formula to every mother and supplementing at the drop of the hat is not supportive of mother’s feeding choices. Not at all. Breastfeeding is a choice too, and until we have policies in place that truly support it, none of us are choosing freely.

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the real dangers of cosleeping

the real dangers of cosleeping

Cosleeping is a controversial practice these days. You’ve probably heard the warnings: it will ruin your sleep, destroy your marriage, prevent your child from developing independence, and give your baby an oedipal complex. Not to mention raising the risk of SIDS, asphyxiation, and overlying.

These accusations are untrue. Done properly, cosleeping can be very safe. Just like with crib sleeping or carseat use, you need to follow guidelines. But more babies die in cribs than in adult beds. And nobody’s throwing out all the cribs. (Wait, actually they did. But that was just so they could make us all buy new ones with safer standards.) And instead of issuing blanket condemnations of cosleeping, we ought to be issuing cosleeping safety recommendations.

And then, maybe, if the cosleeping guidelines for babies were more widely known and practiced, we could move on to make cosleeping safer for parents. Because right now, it’s a little dangerous. No, you won’t suffocate from it. But you are likely to suffer some injuries. And the current cosleeping safety guidelines don’t even address these dangers.

Don’t believe me? Let me explain. Here are some of the dangers you risk by cosleeping.

1. Cramps and aches. These stem from the fact that you cannot choose your sleeping position. For as long as you cosleep, your baby will choose your position for you. Amazingly (and rather beautifully), most cosleeping mothers end up sleeping in almost exactly the same position.

You will probably be most comfortable (I use the word loosely) lying on your side, facing the baby, with your arm above your baby’s head, your boob conveniently exposed, and your body curved protectively toward him with a slight twist of your back to make your boob more accessible to his mouth. If you think this doesn’t sound dangerous at all, you’re right. This is an extremely safe position for your baby. Your arm serves the double purpose of keeping pillows and blankets away from his face and preventing you from rolling toward him, and your facing him keeps you aware of his movements throughout the night. But it is an pretty uncomfortable position for you. Especially if you sleep in exactly the same position every night for three years. You will wake up with arm cramps, neck cramps, back cramps, shoulder cramps, leg cramps, and possibly carpal tunnel. Get a good chiropractor. You’ll need it.

2. Repression. Well, either that or regression to your wild pre-baby ways. Yes, I’m talking about sex. Your sex life could become either nonexistent or really creative. Don’t take this the wrong way, because I don’t want to imply that cosleeping partners never — or can’t — have sex. Obviously, it’s perfectly possible to have sex outside of your bed, right? And what better way to get out of a sex rut than to be forced to find different locations?

Not to mention the spark added by the possibility of interruption. Nothing spices up your sex life like the fear of getting caught. (You used to be scared you’d get caught by your parents. Now you’re scared you’ll get caught by your toddler. See? Circle of life.) What with the fear of the baby waking and the excitement of getting busy on the kitchen table, cosleeping can actually be really good for your sex life.

Not that I have ever done the kitchen table thing. Don’t need to. We have a guest bed.

But if you are neither lucky enough to have a guest bed nor adventurous enough to christen the rest of the furniture in your house, then your sex life — and your relationship — could suffer.

3. Bruises. As your baby gets older, he may get more wiggly at night. You may get kicked in the teeth. And the boobs. And the ear. And the chest. And the arm. And the mouth.

This is when many parents decide their cosleeping days are over. If that’s you, be assured you’re not alone. Nobody wants to wake up with toe-shaped bruises on their face.

In the meantime, keep your toddler’s toenails trimmed. At least then you won’t get scratches with your bruises.

4. Overcrowding. You will have no space in your bed. Almost. Actually you’ll have about five inches. Your spouse will have the same. Your baby will take up the rest. This is true no matter how wide your bed is. You could have three king beds all in a row, and your baby would still take up all the space, minus about five inches on either side. Cosleeping babies are like gaseous molecules. They expand to fill all available space.

Learn to sleep in a small space. It’s good practice for if you ever have to downsize your bedroom. You and your spouse will both be able to sleep in a twin comfortably, with room to spare.

5. Insomnia. I’m not talking about the lack of sleep you’ll experience while you’re cosleeping. Of course your baby will wake you, but he’d be doing that no matter where he was sleeping, and cosleeping parents actually get more sleep than those who sleep in separate rooms. No, I’m talking about the long-term danger of cosleeping: the insomnia you’ll suffer for the rest of your life. Because no matter how uncomfortable and difficult cosleeping seems while you’re doing it, and no matter how impossible it seems that your baby will ever move to his own bed, eventually the day will come when he no longer sleeps with you. You will wake up one day and discover that you can sleep in any position you want, and no one is kicking you or grabbing you or chewing on you, and no one is waking you up in the middle of the night because they want to eat. You will stretch out your arm across what feels like an endless and empty stretch of bed before you find another human, who will feel so far away he might as well be in another country.

And when that day comes — that day that you long for so eagerly now — you may discover something. You may discover that having your bed to yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You might find that you miss the warm, cuddly softness of a baby pressing against you in the middle of the night, the sweet smell of a baby’s breath on your face, the comforting feeling of a baby rooting against your chest. You might even find that it’s hard to sleep without your baby snuggled next to you like a human teddy bear.

Besides, by the time your baby finally quits cosleeping, he’ll probably be a teenager, so you’ll be lying awake wondering when he’ll get home and worrying that he’s crashed the car.

And that is why they tell you that once you have kids you will never sleep again.

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