Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

The staff of the UC Davis Human Lactation Center is taking a break to celebrate the holidays with our families and friends. Best wishes to all of our Secrets readers for a happy holiday season and a peaceful New Year! We'll be back with new posts on January 4th.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Too Much Fun: Preventing Overstimulation in Infants and Toddlers

With so many families traveling and celebrating this time of year, it is not surprising that we see overstimulated babies and toddlers just about everywhere we go. Given that overstimulation can lead to crying in babies and dramatic meltdowns in toddlers, we thought we'd use this post to offer tips for parents hoping to prevent some of the fussing and tantrums so common during busy holiday preparations and parties. For some of you, all of this advice will seem silly. Your babies are able to socialize for long periods of time without showing any signs of stress and when they get tired of it all, they fall peacefully asleep. None of us had one of those babies. So, for the rest of you, we offer the following tips.

1. Be prepared.

Experienced parents know to take extra clothing, snacks, and distracting toys on any outing with babies and toddlers. Packing for trips to family gatherings or holiday parties should also include familiar soft objects or other favorite toys. Light blankets can be useful as needed cover for younger babies who need a break from all the fun. If you know your baby is particularly sensitive to large groups, scope out a quiet place at your destination that you can use for a quick retreat if needed. Make a plan with your spouse/partner so you can take turns socializing and watching the baby. While family and friends may be very happy to help, be sure you let them know about your baby's cues, especially the ones signaling that he is getting overwhelmed.

2. Timing is everything!

Unless your baby is a newborn, you probably know which times during the day are best for socializing with your baby. Both of my kids were happiest in the morning or just after their afternoon naps. If you have a choice about the time for your outings, try to match them up with the time of day when your baby is most likely to be alert, interested, and content.

3. Watch for the early warning signs.

No matter how easy-going the baby or what time of day, too much fun can bring on the tears if parents miss the early warning signs of overstimulation. Remember, babies have to work hard to concentrate on new faces, new experiences, and all the learning that comes with visiting and playing with loving family and friends. All babies and toddlers will give signs when they need a change or a break from stimulation. Younger babies will look, turn, and even push away from whomever is holding them or yawn, frown, or breathe faster and fuss a little. Just remember, these same cues are used no matter why the baby feels uncomfortable - too many new faces, dogs barking, or Aunt Lulu's loud voice. Your little one can't tell you what he needs a break from; it's your job to figure it out. Older babies will provide these same early cues but they can be far more sophisticated using gestures, pointing, and specific noises to help you know better what they want. Even toddlers who seem to be having fun will show indications when they need to slow things down. By responding to early cues, you'll avoid the stress of the crying baby or the screaming toddler who can't calm down.

4. Slow things down.

Make sure you pace activities and visits so that your baby has time to communicate with you if things get a little crazy. For example, if you walk into the family gathering right after a trip to the mall, be sure to keep your child close until you are sure that he or she shows clear signs the he is ready to play with all the new people. Loving relatives will want to hold and play with your baby. That's what your baby wants too. Just keep the transitions (from one person to the next) at a pace that your baby can handle and be ready, every once in awhile, to have a little quiet time in your arms.

5. Take effective breaks.

If you've noticed that your baby is getting tired or too excited with so much going on, be sure that you take an effective break, not just a moment in another room. Make sure that your baby is ready by watching for engagement cues or that your toddler is completely calmed down before you venture back out into the busy world. That way, you'll be able to spend a lot more time with friends and family before baby needs a nap or your toddler needs to go home.

While it may seem like you'll need to spend a lot of time and effort in avoiding overstimulation in your baby or toddler, you'll find that a little prevention can go a long way in keeping all of you happy (including your excited relatives). Unfortunately, misunderstanding of baby's behavior can end up with more melt downs, frazzled nerves, and desperate family members unsuccessfully using bribes or time-outs to control your baby's behavior. You'll find it will be much easier to work with your baby's natural rhythms and abilities. Everyone will have more fun.

Next time: Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Choosing the Right Gift for Baby

There are many holiday celebrations this time of year and babies as well as older children and adults are being showered with gifts. Some of those gifts will become treasured possessions and others will end up being recycled or re gifted. While packaging for toys and other baby products include age guidelines, we thought we would suggest that gift-givers also consider babies' personalities when choosing presents.

For Active Babies

Active babies are driven to explore using all of their senses and their favorite toys will inspire them to investigate.
  • Rattles with several types of materials (for younger babies)
  • Toys that roll, bounce, or slide
  • Toys that babies can crawl or climb over or through (for older babies)
  • Baby musical instruments (pots and pans work well!)

For Social Babies

Your company is going to be your babies greatest gift so any gift that promotes time together will be well-loved.

  • Books
  • Simple age appropriate games
  • Finger puppets
  • Recorded music so that you and your baby can dance!
For Shy Babies

Shy babies often enjoy toys that allow them to play on their own such as objects they can manipulate and explore without help from others. Of course, they'll want their parents to stay nearby.
  • Play mats and mobiles (for younger babies)
  • Simple puzzles
  • Lift the flap or other interactive books
  • Blocks or other stackable toys
For Sensitive Babies

It seems that every toy sold today has flashing lights, noise, and vibration. For babies who are sensitive to the world around them, these toys might be overwhelming. Instead of these toys, we suggest the following:
  • Soft manipulative toys without loud sounds or lights
  • Baby dolls
  • Stuffed animals
  • Blocks
Which gifts have been your babies' favorites?

Next Time: Too Much Fun: How to Avoid Overstimulating Babies and Toddlers

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We’re 18 Months Old!

This week, Secrets of Baby Behavior turns 18 months old. Since our first post, our readership has grown to more than 6200 visitors per month in more than 100 countries. We wish to thank all of you who have taken the time to post questions or comments. While our readers already know this blog was created as a supportive place for parents and professionals to find research-based information about baby behavior, we thought we would take a moment to explain why we started the Secrets blog all those months ago.

As most of you know, the Secrets blog is written by a group of nutrition scientists (who are also moms) from the UC Davis Human Lactation Center. In 2006, we received a 3-year USDA WIC Special Projects Grant to fund an education project to help participants in the California WIC program understand more about normal infant behavior, including why babies cry and wake up at night, and how babies use cues to communicate with their caregivers. In our earlier studies, we had found that parents who misunderstood their infants’ behavior were likely to think their infants were constantly hungry. The intervention was successful in supporting mothers to follow WIC infant feeding guidelines. The project was so effective that we were asked to expand our trainings to WIC agencies all over California and into a few other states. During the trainings, we realized that many families lacked the information we were providing to WIC and we wondered how we could get this information out to others. Within a few weeks, was born. This blog is simply our way of sharing our research with as many families as possible. Thanks to all of our readers and to all of those who have shared the blog with others. Keep tuning in for more Secrets of Baby Behavior in the months ahead and please send us your questions!

Next time: Choosing the Right Gift for Baby

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting the Help You Need Part 3. Dealing with Help that You are Better Off Without

In the first part of this short series on getting help in the early postpartum period, we talked about how to ask for and organize help in those early weeks after your baby is born. In the second part, we shared some ideas about what to do when friends and family who have offered to “help” are making more work for you. In this last post in the series, we’re going to share some ideas about what to do when the help you are offered is incompatible with your ideas of parenting. An example might be a well-meaning grandmother who wants to give your baby “a little brandy” to help you get some sleep. I’m sure you all have been offered advice that you would never take. New parents tend to be barraged by advice. We shared some of examples of the worse advice we’ve received in a previous post.

Remember, we are focusing on situations and people in your life who are trying to help you, even if the advice they are offering is just...bad. For example, in the last post, we made up a story about a sister who has called bubbling with excitement about a book called “Baby Care in Less than 10 Minutes Per Day” based on the premise that babies can raise themselves (without help from adults). Far-fetched I know, but we used this example because, with all the baby-care books on store shelves, we assumed some of you may have been experienced a situation something like this.

When you find yourself needing to disagree with people who think they are helping you, keep the following in mind:
  • Pick your battles. If the person is a stranger, only visiting for a short time, or has little contact with you or your baby, you can get away with a non-committal “we’ll keep that in mind” and move on. If the “helper” is staying while, will be visiting frequently, or is someone who is close to you, you will find yourself needing to have “a talk.”
  • You have the right to your position; you are the parent. The responsibility of caring for your baby, however daunting, is ultimately yours.
  • Don’t avoid or skate around the important issues. Be honest and clear.
  • Don’t let the person confuse the disagreement over their advice with your relationship. Whether or not you choose to read your sister’s book does not affect how much you love her.
  • Providing a reason for your position can be helpful but you do not need to criticize or persuade the person to agree with your view. You need only to make it clear that you respectfully disagree.

So what would this conversation be like? Maybe something like this: “Hi Sis, thanks so much for coming over, we could really use some help with the house this week. I know you’re excited about that new book but Fred and I spent a lot of time while I was pregnant learning about how to take care of the baby. We know the way we’re doing things takes time (a lot more than 10 minutes a day) but we’re okay with that. I appreciate your offer but I don’t want to read the book. We like to spend time with the baby and we’re lucky to we have you to help with all the rest.”

Be prepared for a little awkwardness or frustration from the person who has offered help and give them time to move on. Things will soon return to normal. We realize that some of you are dealing with more serious situations and complicated relationships. If that’s the case, we again encourage you to reach out for professional help if you find yourself overwhelmed.

We hope that this short series has given you some practical tips to get the help you need. Remember, getting help is important, for you and your growing family.

Next time: Secrets of Baby Behavior is 18 Months Old!

A good resource for tough talks: Stone D, Patton B, Heen S. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books, New York 1999 (there is a more recent 10th anniversary edition).

Monday, December 6, 2010

Announcing Our New Arrival!

It's a girl! We are pleased to announce that Baby Charlotte was born at 9:47 am on December 6 weighing 8 lbs 4 oz. JenB and Charlotte are doing very well! We'll return with our next regular post on Friday.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Getting the Help You Need Part 2. What to Do When Your “Help” Isn’t Helpful

Picture this: Aunt Mimi has taken the long trip from Pittsburgh to “help” in those first few days after you bring your baby home. As she steps through the door, she sniffs at the air, asks how long it’s been since you cleaned your carpets, sits down on the couch, and asks “What’s for dinner?” Later, your sister calls raving about a new book called “Baby Care in Less than 10 minutes per Day.”* She explains she’s excited about trying the "let your baby raise himself" system out on your baby. These are extreme examples but sometimes the “help” you get is no help at all or not the kind you need. In our last post, we offered tips about how to ask for help. Today, we’ll talk about how to deal with family and friends whose “help” ends up to be more work for you (like Aunt Mimi). Next time, we’ll share some tips on what to do when you are offered the kind of help you are better off without (as in our sister example above).

Handling Challenging Conversations

Before we go any further, please note that we’re going to assume that all of the people we’re talking about here are well-intentioned if also a bit misguided. If you are dealing with people who are trying to belittle or berate you, it is best to discuss the situation with your doctor or therapist.

Most of us shy away from challenging or emotional conversations. Confronting Aunt Mimi is particularly tough because you do need her help and you don’t want to insult her. Here are some tips to get you started.
  • Know what you want. Think specifically about what you want to happen after your conversation is over, the more concrete the better. For example, it is too vague to ask for “more help.” It is much better to ask Aunt Mimi to “do the cooking and dishes for the next 3 days.” Remember, Aunt Mimi is not volunteering to be your servant and she should not be expected to do all the household chores you and your partner did before the baby came. If all of those chores matter to you, recruit more help.
  • Focus on the present need. Think hard about what is the most important thing you need to say and say it first. If you need Aunt Mimi to help with the dishes, don’t be concerned about her comment about your carpets. Let it go. Start from the present moment and move forward. Worry about the rest after things are a little easier.
  • Don’t wait. If Aunt Mimi’s behavior is making you mad, don’t wait until there is an emotional scene. It is best to get things out in the open as soon as things start going in the wrong direction.

What does this look like in action? Maybe something like this: “We’re so glad you’re here Aunt Mimi; there aren’t very many people who understand how much help we need. We have organized a list of friends who have offered to help with errands and chores. They signed up for specific days and times. They’ve been wonderful. Finding the time to make regular meals and do dishes has been impossible. We desperately need your help with meals and dishes for the next few days. You must be tired from traveling. We were thinking of picking something up at the deli for tonight. Tomorrow, I was hoping you’d make some of that great stew you made last time I saw you.”

What if the Problem is your Partner?

Sometimes we find that our biggest challenges are closest to home. We’ve had several posts on the difficulties related to becoming a new parent. When you’re lost in the haze of those first few weeks, it is easy to think that you are the only one who is tired and frustrated. Keeping two things in mind can help you through this tough time. First, no matter how much others love us, they can’t read our minds. Don’t get mad if your partner doesn’t do the dishes because you thought he or she should know you wanted them done. Second, your partner is going through the same adjustments and challenges that you are. Taking care of a baby can be overwhelming emotionally and physically. Under extreme stress, people naturally want to “feel normal again” and get back to familiar routines. So, for example, if you made breakfast every day before the baby came, don’t be surprised if your partner sits down at the table and waits for you to start the coffee, especially after a long stressful night. As frustrating as that may be, don’t get mad. Sit down yourself and talk about how you can trade off making breakfast. Even better, wake Aunt Mimi and ask her to make her famous biscuits.

Don’t forget to ask your partner (out loud) for the kind of help you need. Be open to your partner’s feelings and seek ways to get things done together, recruit others, or let things go. Ideally, you should have a plan in place before your baby is born but it’s never too late to get one started.

Next time: Coping with the Kind of Help that You're Better Off Without

*Note: Don’t get excited; this book does not exist.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting the Help You Need Part 1. The Art of “The Ask”

Anyone who has read more than a handful of our Secrets posts knows how strongly we believe that all families with newborns need and deserve help. With JenB’s new addition only days away, we've been thinking a great deal about the delicate balance between providing practical support and space for family time. We realized that, for all our rants about the importance of getting help, we hadn’t written a post on how best to get that help. In this short series, we’ll provide some tips to help you get to “the ask” (a concise and complete request for help) without sacrificing your pride or privacy. Today, we’ll share some ideas about how to ask for help effectively. Next time, we’ll help you deal with well-intentioned but misguided friends and family that manage only to make things more stressful.

As is true of many of her pragmatic and independent peers, JenB is not one to ask for help lightly, but she is more than willing to seek support when it is needed. Naturally organized, she and her husband set up their primary and back-up support systems early in the pregnancy. We encourage all expectant parents to do the same. As we’ve explained in an earlier post, taking care of a baby is a full time job, leaving little time for anything else. Friends and family can step in to help with the following necessities:
  • Running errands

  • Preparing meals and snacks

  • Grocery shopping

  • Household chores

  • Taking other children on walks or to the park

  • Sharing ideas and providing emotional support

  • Pet care

  • Outdoor/garden care

  • Driving (especially if mom has a c-section)

  • Being “on call” in case something comes up
With all this need, asking for help can be a little intimidating. You may be wondering how you can make “the ask” something that sounds reasonable. Here are a few ideas.

Be proactive
Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, and things are out of hand. Make a plan while you’re still fully functional to keep things on track. It’s much easier to mow a lawn with only a couple weeks of growth, to clean a kitchen with only one load of dirty dishes, and to walk a dog that has been outside every day.

Be realistic
Our closest friends and family are wonderful sources of support and we feel comfortable leaning on those we love. But, before we ask for their help, we need to think hard about their lives and other responsibilities. Divide your requests among as many people as is practical, matching each request to the appropriate amount of time and effort that makes sense for each person. If you’re lucky enough to have a relative who can take off work and visit you, they can take on a lot of tasks but they’ll need a break once in awhile. Your busy friends can bring over a meal or drop off some groceries they picked up when they were shopping for themselves. Your neighbor can walk your dog or mow the lawn.

Be specific
Whenever you need others to pitch in to help, it is always best to be very specific about what you need. When someone offers to help, instead of asking for “help with meals,” ask for “something simple for dinner on Wednesday.” Tasks seem a lot more reasonable when they are clearly described.

Be organized
If you are fortunate enough to have many offers of help (and we certainly hope you do!), you’ll want to keep tasks and helpers organized so that you don’t end up with redundancies, confusion, or way too much food! You can easily make a grid on paper or in a spreadsheet with chores/tasks down the side and days of the week across the top. You can use the list above to get you started. Let friends and family sign up themselves or get one of them to organize the group for you.

I know that asking for help can be tough but you’ll find that even a few tasks taken off your list can make a big difference. You’ll find that most people will want to help. Many of your loved ones understand how exhausting those first weeks are and they’ll want to make things easier for you, if not for the joy of giving, then maybe because they know you’ll “owe them one” when it is their turn.

Next time: Part 2: Coping with “Help” that Isn’t Helpful

Friday, November 26, 2010

Answers to our November Quiz!

1. What is the typical newborn’s heart rate?

Babies’ heart rates are typically around 100-160 beats per minute which is much faster than most adults.

2. What does APGAR stand for?

In the early 1950s, Dr. Virginia Apgar created a scoring system to be used to assess the effect of obstetric anesthesia on newborns in the first few minutes of life. The doctor created an easy way to remember the different parts of the assessment using the letters of her own name.
• Appearance – color of the skin
• Pulse – heart rate
• Grimace – reflexes in the face after a little irritation
• Activity – muscle tone and movement
• Respiration – breathing effort

3. How big around is the average newborn’s head?

The average is 33-38 cm, or about 14 inches at the widest part.

4. Which mammal produces the largest babies?

The blue whale. The calf weighs about 2.5 metric tons (5,512 lbs) and is around 7 meters (23 ft) in length. Blue whale calves drink 380–570 liters (100–150 gallons) of milk a day.

5. What is the typical newborn’s body temperature?

In a study of 203 healthy full-term infants, the mean birth temperature was 36.5 degrees C (97.7 degrees F). The babies’ average temperature increased with age, rising to 36.7 degrees C (98.1 degrees F) by 2-3 hours after birth and to 36.8 degrees C (98.2 degrees F) by 15-20 hours after birth.

Next time: Getting the help you need!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

All of us here at the UC Davis Human Lactation Center wish you a very happy and restful Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November Baby Quiz!

It's time for another baby quiz! Today, we're focusing on newborns. Let us know your guesses by leaving a comment. We'll post the answers on Friday.

1. What is a typical newborn's heart rate? How many beats per minute?

2. A common assessment for newborns generates an "APGAR" score. What does APGAR stand for?

3. What is the average head circumference for newborns?

4. Which mammal produces the largest newborn babies?

5. What is the average newborns' body temperature?

Next time: The answers!

Friday, November 19, 2010

A New Addition and a New Series

The Human Lactation Center is growing! I am just a few weeks away from having my second baby, another little girl, which, for those of you who are counting, will make 4 Human Lactation Center children under 4 years old and 2 over the age of 20 (5 girls, 1 boy). Because we started this blog just last year, writing about our personal experiences with our newborns has been reflective. Here are some examples: Jen G has written about her experience as a Sleep Deprived Mom and provided Tips for Surviving Sleep Deprivation, and about her Not-so-perfect start to breastfeeding and Breastfeeding after a C-Section. Jane has described what it was like Bringing Home Baby #2 and to be a New Mom with No Mom and I have shared my experience with Premature Labor and Life with a Hospitalized Infant. Although all of these posts provided personal information about our experiences, they were all written long after our children were born.

Since this is the first baby to be born since we started this blog, we thought we’d try something new. I am going to write about my newborn baby's behavior as it happens. Here's how we imagine it working. After my daughter is born, I will take notes about her behavior (sleeping, crying, cues, etc) and how my husband and I interact with her. Because our experience with our first child was unusual (she was born 15 weeks early and was hospitalized for nearly 3 months; see links above) this will be our first experience bringing our newborn home from the hospital. So, when I can spare a minute or two, I'll share my experiences and observations with you. Notice I am using the words "imagine" and "the plan" - because we haven't done anything like this before and it might not turn out exactly like we think it will. It will be an experiment!

We are hoping this series of posts will provide a new viewpoint for our readers and I think it may even spark some ideas for future posts. So, I"m "signing off" for a little while but will look forward to "seeing" you all soon.

Next Time: Another Baby Quiz!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Baby Behavior in the News! Feeding Method Doesn’t Affect Mom’s Sleep

Last week, a paper called “Infant Feeding Methods and Maternal Sleep and Daytime Functioning” by H.E. Montgomery-Downs and colleagues was published online by the medical journal Pediatrics ( Its surprising findings showed up in newspapers, online news sites, on TV, and in blogs. The purpose of the study was to find out if there were differences in sleep patterns and experience among moms who were exclusively breastfeeding, mixed feeding with both breast milk and formula or only formula feeding. Even though many moms believe that breastfeeding leads to less sleep, the researchers found no difference in sleep experience among the groups, no matter how they measured it.

The study included results from 80 moms who had been studied when their babies were between 2- and 16-weeks old. The mothers were asked about how tired they felt, how long they slept, and how many times they thought they woke up. The researchers also asked the moms to wear a watch-like “actigraph” on their wrists that measured movements so that they would have a more objective measure of how many times moms were waking at night. Using all of these different ways to measure moms’ sleep, the researchers did not find any differences even though many people believe that giving formula makes babies sleep more. This is not the first study showing little or no difference in infant sleep despite how babies are fed.

All of the moms were tired during those first few weeks and things got better as their babies got older. That’s probably no surprise to Secrets readers. What’s important about this study is that it challenges a common myth; a formula-fed baby does not necessarily sleep more and wake less than a breastfed baby. Differences in babies’ sleep (we know that some babies sleep more and others sleep a lot less) are more likely to be related to differences in babies and rather than to differences in how they are fed.

What does all this mean to you? It means that 1) babies’ waking is part of new parents’ lives, that’s why parents need help and 2) switching to formula won’t necessarily help parents of newborns sleep longer. We know that Secrets readers have many reasons for their feeding and childcare decisions. We hope that our blog can help you keep up to date with latest baby behavior research.

Next time: A preview of a new (and very special) series

Friday, November 12, 2010

Back to Basics Part 4: Crying: Your Baby’s Super Power

Welcome to the final post in the Back to Basics series. In this series, we’ve been re-posting the original Basics of Baby Behavior series, our first set of entries when this blog was started back in July 2009. Along with the original posts, we’re adding links to what we’ve learned about infant behavior over the last year and a half. Parts 1, 2 and 3 in this series looked at Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep Through the Night, The Many Moods of Babies, and Understanding Baby "Language."

Babies can communicate with you from the moment they are born. Instinctively, they use their ultimate “super power;” CRYING, to make sure their needs are met. Today’s post links back to: Crying: Your Baby’s Super Power. In this post, we explain that even though crying can be very hard for new parents (or anyone for that matter) to deal with, babies' ability to cry is actually a wonderful talent. We also provide a list of reasons that babies cry (not just because of hunger), some information that can be used to prevent some crying (reading infant cues), and ways to calm a crying baby (repetition, repetition, repetition).

Tools for Coping with Crying
Because babies love repetition (see our last post), routines can help babies feel calm and secure. In a post titled Repetition in Baby's Daily Life: The Power of Routines  we explain the difference between routines and schedules, why babies react so well to routines, and the benefits of routines for both caregivers and babies. In another, more recent post, titled Music to Moms' Ears, we present research about how music can be used to calm both moms and babies. Slings are another tool that caregivers may find useful when dealing with a crying baby and earlier this year, we discussed both the Good and the Bad about slings in a 2-part series.

Persistent Crying vs. Colic
Although we explain in the Crying: Your Baby's Super Power post that babies cry whenever they feel uncomfortable or distressed, we know, from personal experience and from reviewing the literature, that some babies cry more than others. In What's the Difference between Crying and Colic, we describe the definition of colic and why many experts now prefer the term Persistent Crying, how long persistent crying typically lasts, and a list of causes. In the following post, we provided Tips for Coping with Persisitent Infant Crying.

Late Afternoon Crying
Like we've mentioned many many times, all babies are different. When it comes to crying, however, it seems that the late afternoon is often the fussiest time of day. In a 2-part series, we explored The Phenomenon of Late Afternoon/Early Evening Infant Crying and provided Tips to deal with late afternoon and early evening crying

We hope this series has been useful to our new readers and look forward to hearing your comments and ideas for future posts!

Next Time: We'll take a look at some recent research you may have seen in the news.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to Basics Part 3: Understanding Baby "Language"

Welcome back! Today is part 3 in a series that takes us back to the basics of Baby Behavior. Part 1 explained the Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep through Night and part 2 explored The Many Moods of Babies. In today’s segment, we’ll discuss infant cues as we look back at Learning and Creating Your Baby’s Special Language.

In Learning and Creating Your Baby’s Special Language, we introduced infant cues and talked about how caregivers can learn to recognize their babies' unique cues. We talked about the two main types of cues that babies use: engagement (meaning they are ready to interact and play) and disengagement (when they need something changed in their environment) and included “what you’ll see” and “what you can do” for each type of cue. Then, in a post entitled: Happiness is No surprise: Why babies love repetition, we shared some tips for interacting with your baby when he shows you cues that he wants to interact and play.

Later, we followed up by sharing how communication with your baby changes as he gets older during a 2-part series on how babies learn to talk. Guest blogger, Taryn Barrette, shared a new study that showed how mothers’ brains change in response to “baby talk” and how the repetitive, higher-pitched “motherese” draws babies’ attention and helps with infant speech and emotional development.

Even newborns can give engagement and disengagement cues, but remember, a newborn’s cues can be misleading or confusing during the first 6 weeks. The good news: with practice, babies get better and better at giving cues when caregivers respond appropriately. Learn more about how newborns use reflexes to communicate their needs here.

Next Time: The final post in the Back to Basics Series: Crying: Your Baby’s Super Power

Friday, November 5, 2010

Back to Basics Part 2: The Many Moods of Babies

Today is part 2 in a series that takes us back to the basics of Baby Behavior. As we revisit the first series of posts that we wrote in July 2009, we’ve added links to related posts that we've shared since those early days. Part 1 in this series explained the Reasons Why Babies Don't Sleep through the Night. Today's post will explore the Many Moods of Babies.

In the original post The Many Moods of Babies, we introduced the topic of infant states (or moods) and talked about the 4 different states that babies move in and out of when they are awake: Drowsy, Quiet Alert, Irritable and Crying. We explained how to tell when your baby is in each of these states and shared what you can do to keep your baby comfortable and happy no matter what state she’s in.

Since we’ve written the above post, we’ve added more details about the quiet alert state and how babies in this state love to learn and interact with you. Keep in mind, all of this learning is hard work for babies! We’ll talk more about the importance of giving babies breaks in the next post which will focus on cues.

Because some of us had personal experience with babies that hated to be in the drowsy state, we wrote a post that explained why some babies hate being drowsy and provided tips for keeping those babies as happy as possible.

As those first months went by, we talked about other things that can influence how your baby tolerates being in certain states in a series about infant temperament. We explored the different elements of an infant's temperament, such as adaptability (how quickly babies’ adjust to new experiences) and intensity (the strength of babies’ emotions when dealing with the world around them), all of which help form an infant’s unique personality. Then we gave suggestions on how to handle all types of babies’ temperaments and talked about the importance of understanding the differences between your own personality and your baby’s in a post titled: Babies with Personality! How Temperament Influences Babies' Relationships.

We hope we’ve helped you understand your babies’ many moods (and personality) a little better. Remember, babies aren’t really mysterious once you know the Secrets of Baby Behavior. Now that you’ve reviewed the basics about infant states and temperaments, what other questions do you have about understanding your baby?

Next time: We’ll revisit your baby’s unique language: cues

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back to Basics Part 1: Reasons Why Babies Don't Sleep Through the Night

By Jennifer Goldbronn, RD

Today, we start a 4-part series that takes us back to the basics of baby behavior as we revisit the first series that started this blog back in June 2009. The 4-part series included: 3 Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep through Night, the Many Moods of Babies, Learning and Creating Your Baby’s Special Language, and Crying: Your Baby’s Super Power.

As our readership grows and new topics emerge, we strive to continue to help parents understand why babies behave the way they do and to share tools to help moms and dads cope with the ups and downs of starting a new family. Remember, babies are born with the skills and desire to communicate with you!

Secrets Posts about Babies and Sleep

Let’s start with the first Basics post: 3 Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep through Night. Infant sleep has been one of the most popular (and controversial) topics on our blog. Because our readers had so much interest in infant sleep and the fact that there is so much conflicting information on this topic, we shared a 4-part series on The Science of Infant Sleep that helped parents understand how their babies' sleep patterns change as babies get older.

Since we've written these early posts, we stepped into some controversy by writing about why we don’t like "sleep training" systems for babies . On a lighter note, we provided tips for helping parents with nap time and explained why babies might wake up when they are older even if they've been sleeping for longer stretches. I shared my own personal sleep story in the series: Thoughts from a Sleep Deprived Mom. We also shared an alarming report about the use of cough and cold medicines to treat “sleep problems” in infants. Last but not least, we provided an explanation of the findings of a well publicized study about nighttime waking and babies' risk for childhood obesity.

We hope that we have covered everything you might have wanted to know about how babies sleep. If not, please let us know!

Next time: Back to Basics Part 2: The Many Moods of Babies

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And Baby Makes Three - Part 5: The Rocky Road to Becoming A Mother

In this extended series of posts, we've looked closely at the importance of parents' relationships in babies lives. We've talked about the changes that new babies bring to couples' lives and how dads experience the transition. To end this series, we'll take a look at women's experiences in becoming mothers. Given that there are literally hundreds of studies about moms, we can't possibly do a good job in covering them all. Instead, we'll focus on some of the most common key findings.

The Realities of Recovery

While many mothers in the studies learned about childbirth by taking classes or asking questions, few moms were ready for those first few days home from the hospital. Muscles ache, stitches hurt, exhaustion sets in, and going to the bathroom becomes something to dread. Some moms are also dealing with nausea, incision pain, nasty headaches, and wild mood swings. Don't be surprised if you feel very emotional during those first few days, it is common for new moms to feel that way, but if you feel out of control of those emotions, you should talk to your doctor.

Feeling the Weight of Responsibility

Many new moms feel that they are responsible for the bulk of the baby care and still expected to meet everyone else's needs too - partners, other kids, friends, family and pets! The weight of all that responsibility can be overwhelming. It is interesting that many of the moms in the studies asked their health care providers how to manage all the responsibility rather than how to get more support. Secrets readers know that we think all moms should ask for help from family and friends so that they can get the time they need for their own physical recovery and to connect with their babies. Even the most independent and organized mom can't multitask enough to make those exhausting first few weeks easy; moms need help. It would be better for moms to use their organizational abilities to make a nice chore chart to share with helpful friends and family. These days, so many moms think they'll be able to go back to their regular routines in a short time - unfortunately, babies can't cooperate with any of moms' plans until they are older.

Dealing with the Fear

Babies are so tiny and they look so fragile, many mothers are worried that they'll make a mistake and somehow hurt their babies. They worry that they won't know if they don't have enough milk, or what to do if their baby gets sick, or if anything else is wrong. Since most new moms find themselves on an emotional roller coaster, the fear that they feel can be extreme. Some mothers question their ability to cope with it all and aren't reassured by their partners telling them "You'll be fine." Anxiety can be a tough thing; new mothers may need to talk about their fears with professionals they trust. Moms in the studies felt better if they knew they could call their health care providers or the one of the hospital nurses whenever they had questions.

A New Normal

I really don't know if anyone can be prepared adequately for life with a newborn. Routines, relationships, and day-to-day activities will need to be replaced with a "new normal" that won't ever be the same as before the baby came along. Many of the moms in the studies wanted to get back to their "normal" lives but they realized fairly soon that wasn't going to happen. Part of their transition to motherhood involved their acceptance of the "new normal."

The idea that you will never go back to what life was like before baby may sound intimidating to those of you still awaiting your special day but we can reassure you that the "new normal" will (eventually)be even better than the old one. Even though both my children are adults, my life is not like it was before they were born and I am thankful for that everyday. While I don't miss the fatigue or the scarier moments, I have thousands of precious memories that I wouldn't trade for anything. We hope that this series has helped shed some light on the challenges of the transition to parenthood. The transition is a rough and rocky road but the rewards are worth the ride. Be sure get some help at home! Help won't make it easy but support from family and friends will make a huge difference, to mom, to dad, and to baby.

Next time: Back to Basics!


Barnes et al. Learning about babies: what new mothers want to know. J Perinatal Educ. 2008; 17:3:33-41.

Forster et al. The early postpartum period:Exploring women's views, expectations, and experiences of care using focus groups in Victoria, Australia. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2008; 8:27.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And Baby Makes Three - Part 4: The Realities of Becoming a Dad

In the first 3 installments of this series, we talked about the joys and challenges of couples’ transition to parenthood. We’ll finish this series with two posts about how this transition differs for men versus women. While most of the studies of early parenthood are focused on moms, recent studies have explored parenting from the dads' perspective. We realize that each father enters parenthood in his own way, but there do seem to be some generalities that come up again and again. In this post, we’ll share a few these findings with you.

Lost in the Shuffle

Many fathers reported feeling left out of the picture during their partners’ pregnancies. Visits to the doctor or midwife were centered on the mother’s condition and feelings and many dads felt there wasn’t time to get their own questions answered. Prenatal and childbirth classes weren’t much help either because very little time was spent on topics directly related to being a father. Support from friends and family tended to be focused on the mom's needs as if she would be the only one affected by the birth of the baby. While dads wanted to support their partners, they felt that little useful information or advice was offered to them.

Dealing with Reality

Just as many mothers anticipate what their babies will be like, fathers spend much of pregnancy imagining their new lives with a newborn. The babies in parents' dreams are often nothing like the real thing. Many men have little experience caring for babies and some new fathers know almost nothing about newborns or how to care for them. Fathers in the studies reported feeling frustrated because they wanted their babies and partners to be happy yet they didn't have the skills to be much help. Dads were overwhelmed by the work needed to take care of babies and the sudden radical changes in their relationships with their partners. They relied on trial and error, friends, and their partners to help them build their confidence as new dads. Over time, they learned how to recognize and address their babies' needs. Despite their new abilities, many of the dads found that their efforts weren't recognized by friends, family, or professionals. They were still seen as the "second string" when it came to parenting and the lack of recognition of their importance in their babies' lives was a big source of frustration.

Building a Bond

In the 1960s (of Mad Men fame), the stereotypical man went back to work the day after his baby was born and accordingly, he had very little to do with his child until he bought him/her a basketball as an 8th birthday present. Those days are long gone. Most of today’s fathers want to play an active role in their children’s lives. Dads in the studies enjoyed spending time with their newborns and feeling that they were providing the care their babies needed, especially when their babies were able to respond by calming down or smiling back at them. Dads sometimes thought that feeding was the only way to bond with babies and some fathers of breastfeeding babies reported being disappointed that they had to “wait” to bond with their babies until breastfeeding was over. Of course, Secrets readers know that feeding is only part of parents’ connections with babies. Dads who understand baby behavior can play a powerful role (no matter how their babies are fed) as the “translator” of their babies' “language” (especially for sleepy and sore new moms) while providing a consistent source of love and comfort to their babies.

Building baby care skills helped fathers in the studies feel more confident, connected, and in control. They learned how to support and protect their new families through trial and error, from other dads, and reading. We know we have dad-readers out there and we hope that you’ll share your questions with us. Let us know what’s confusing you; we’re here to help.

Next time: And Baby Makes Three - Part 5: The Rocky Road to Becoming a Mother

Goodman JH. Becoming an involved father of an infant. JOGNN 2005; 34: 190-200.
Deave T, et al. Transition to parenthood: the needs of parents in pregnancy and early childhood. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008; 8:30.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Baby Behavior is on the Road!

Our baby behavior bloggers are on the road this week training and teaching. We'll be continuing our series on parents next week. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And Baby Makes Three Part 3- The Challenge of Change

In the first 2 installments of this series on parents' relationships, we talked about how having a baby can change couples' relationships and then we explained how one research study describes how couples become a family. In this installment, we'll talk about how these charming little beings can wreak such havoc on their parents. In what specific ways must couples change when their newborn comes along?

A New Orbit

When two people are at the start of their relationship with each other, they tend to feel as if they are the center of their own universe. They sneak away to their own special places, develop inside jokes, and smile secretly to each other among friends about shared experiences. Even during pregnancy, couples plan, fret, and dream together. Then, quite suddenly, the couple finds that their universe has shifted, they have a new orbit and this one, revolves around the baby. This reorientation can be tough at first but it doesn't take long before new routines fall into place. Children are an incredible source of inside jokes and shared experience - your new orbit will feel just as comfortable as the old one. You just need to give it some time.

No Solid Ground

Even if pre-baby couples felt confident in every other aspect of their lives, they often feel lost when it comes to the new baby. They recognize that the baby is so vulnerable but sometimes feel unsure about how to help when the baby is unhappy. We hope that our "secrets" are helping you feel confident that you understand what your baby needs, even if we can't help you catch up on all that lost sleep!

So Much to Do and So Little Time

Caring for tiny new babies takes an enormous amount of work. Feedings, diaper changes, baths, dressing, calming, and playing all take time. Using some very unscientific methods, we estimated that the average couple spends about 9 hours a day (24 hours) caring for their newborn - 300 minutes feeding, 45 minutes with diaper changes and cord care, 160 minutes calming (only at the peak of fussiness in the first 6 weeks), and 40 minutes playing and interacting. These activities don't include household chores, eating, showers, visiting, doctors' appointments, being with each other, and oh yes, sleeping. The baby will sleep 13-14 hours per day (in spurts of course). Let's say you manage to sleep 12 hours in bits and pieces, that leaves you about 3 hours per day for everything you did before you had the baby. So, when you feel like you have no time to get anything done, you're right! Things do get better as parents get more efficient and as babies get older and easier to care for, but those first few weeks are overwhelming.

Moving at Snails' Pace

Just when couples have more to do than they ever had in their lives, they find that even the smallest things, like going to the grocery store, takes forever. Going anywhere with the baby means packing and repacking, and checking and rechecking, using the unfamiliar car seat, the ever-jamming stroller, and everyone who knows you will want to stop and say hello (and tell you crazy stories about their own birth and newborn experiences). Unfortunately, it takes a long time before you feel like you can go anywhere quickly. With toddlers, the whole world slows even more (I used to like that!). But you can reduce your stress if you just plan for the time, including the time needed to deal with the big diaper blow out just as you get everyone settled in the car.

New Parents Need New Ways to Communicate

New parents may not believe me, but all the knowing smiles, the laughter, and the fun will come back, but while you're struggling through the early weeks, you need to be very careful with each other. When it was just the two of you, you may have thought that you could read each others' minds but don't assume that you can do that when the baby is young. You're both going to feel unsure, tired, and overwhelmed so you need to find new and direct ways to communicate your needs.

For those of you who have "been there" - we'd love to hear from you about your big changes and especially what you think of our 9 hour workload estimate! Let us know by leaving a comment.

Next time: And Baby Makes Three Part 4: How the Adjustment to Parenthood Differs for Women vs. Men

Fowles ER, Horowitz JA. Clinical Assessment of Mothering During Infancy. JOGNN 2006; 35: 662-670.

Deave T et al. Transition to Parenthood: The Needs of Parents in Pregnancy and Early Parenthood. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008; 8:30.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Answers to Our Parents Quiz

1. Which of the following countries has the highest average age among moms having their first child? a. Denmark b. France c. Switzerland d. United States

C. Switzerland where the average is 29.4 years.

For the others - Denmark = 28.4 years, France = 27.8 years, US = 25.0 years (all of these averages come from 2006).

2. Who pays more per year for childcare, parents in the United States or parents in the United Kingdom?

United States (but not by much!)
Of course, costs vary based on location, time, and age of the baby, but average cost (in 2009) for full-time infant care in the UK is (converted) US$13,350 vs. US$14,591 in the US.

3. Which state in the US has the lowest number of births per year?

Vermont with 6513 births (2007 data). The highest is California with 566,352 births!

4. Kids clothes are expensive. How old are kids when parents spend the most money on their clothes? a. 6-8 years b. 9-11 years c. 12-14 years d. 15-17 years

c. 12-14 years (I was sure it was 15-17 years!)

5. In which of the following countries do parents tend to have the most children? a. Japan b. Australia c. Germany

b. Australia.
The average number of children per mom in Australia is 1.78. Japan has the most children per household.

Next time: Back to Posts about Parents!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Time for a Parents Quiz!

Since we are spending so much time talking about parents, we thought we would have a quiz about them. We'll post the answers on Friday. Feel free to share your guesses by posting a comment.

1. Which of the following countries has the highest average age among moms having their first child?
a. Denmark
b. France
c. Switzerland
d. United States

2. Who pays more per year for childcare, parents in the United States or parents in the United Kingdom?

3. Which state in the US has the lowest number of births per year?

4. Kids clothes are expensive. How old are kids when parents spend the most money on their clothes?
a. 6-8 years
b. 9-11 years
c. 12-14 years
d. 15-17 years

5. In which of the following countries do parents tend to have the most children?
a. Japan
b. Australia
c. Germany

Thursday, October 7, 2010

And Baby Makes Three Part 2- Parents' Early Relationships: Chaos, Retreat, and Reorganization

In the last post, we talked about how parents' relationships with each other can influence their babies' behavior. When parents are frustrated and angry with each other, babies can be affected both by the stressful environment and by their parents' lack of attention to their early cues. We also described how easy it is for new parents to be frustrated, given how hard it is to care for a child, especially those first few unrelenting weeks. In this post, we're going to share a study we found that we think will interest you. We each decided that it described our own experience very well. We'd love to hear what you think.

The Evolution of Parents' Interdependence
In a study published in the Journal of Family Nursing (2007), Linda Bell and colleagues at the Universite de Sherbrooke in Montreal studied family relationships in the first 4 months after the birth of the couples' first child. While the study was small (18 low-risk families), all of the parents consented to detailed interviews (60-90 minutes long) when their babies were 1 week, 6, weeks, and 16 weeks old. Mothers and fathers were interviewed separately. We think having these interviews take place at such pivotal ages was brilliant and the story told by the researchers hit home for all of us. Their findings describe how family relationships evolve, focusing on parents' experiences and perspectives at each time point.

Week 1: Chaos
In the first week, parents were confused, stressed, trying to understand and relate to their babies. They ended up in survival-mode, trying to find ways to get through each day. The mothers talked about struggling to figure out how to keep baby happy and dads talked more about being fascinated with their babies' physical appearance ("he looks like us") and abilities. Because both parents were so confused about what to do with the baby, they relied on each other to help them guess what was best. They tried as best they could to "be on the same page" and work together to make sense of things. Neither parent had a set "role" or job.

Week 6: Retreat and Regroup
By the time the baby was 6 weeks old, parents had "figured out" their roles. Each parent could describe how they separately related to the baby. Parents (through negotiations or established routines) had developed "jobs" that belonged to them. Interestingly, moms tended to take on more jobs that involved direct infant care (not just feeding) and dads tended to have jobs that were more supportive or protective. Most of the dads in the study worked outside the home and it is likely that this separation made a difference in the outcomes. When discussing family relationships, the parents talked a lot about their new relationships with the baby but very little about their own relationship - as if the baby's needs had pulled them apart.

Week 16: Family Reorganization
As the babies reached 4 months of age, the parents were far more likely to see their family as a "unit" working together. The "couple" had reformed and parents realized that their relationships with the baby were different, but complementary. Out of all the chaos and struggle, they discovered common goals and ways to reassure each other. Since their babies were old enough to interact and play with both parents, moms and dads were able to develop individual relationships with their babies while building a sense of themselves as a family unit. The parents also rediscovered each other.

Happy ending, eh? While we know that this kind of harmony doesn't come quickly to every couple, we all remembered this evolution exactly as the authors described it. We hope that this study (and our perspective) offers hope to all of you who are still in those first few weeks wondering how you'll ever be able to manage it all. You will. You'll be pros in no time. Remember, talk things over, keep your sense of humor, ask for and accept help.

For those of you beyond those early months, let us know if your experience was like ours. We'd love to hear from you.

Next time: And Baby Makes Three Part 3- The Challenge of Change

Reference: Bell, L. et al. Mother' and Fathers' Views of the Interdependence of Their Relationships with their Infant: A Systems Perspective on Early Family Relationships. Journal of Family Nursing 2007; 13: 179-200.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

And Baby Makes Three, How Couples Become Parents Part 1

For those of you living through those exhausting first days and weeks of parenting a newborn, it must be unimaginable to think of yourselves 20 years from now reminiscing about the magic of that first year. “Magic?” you say aloud, “you’ve got to be kidding.” You wonder how I can think that the excruciating fog of unrelenting sleep deprivation, the confusion, the stress, and the overwhelming weight of responsibility can be “magic” for new parents. But I can, and not just because those days are so far behind me. That same first year is filled with exquisite moments that enrich, thrill, strengthen, and change you forever. That first year also has a powerful influence on the “couple” that now must become “parents.” So far, we haven’t talked much about relationships between parents, but we need to, because the relationship that parents have with each other has a strong influence on baby behavior. In this series, we’ll take a closer look at the evolution of couples into their new roles. In this installment, we’ll talk about the influence of parents’ relationship on babies’ lives. Next time, we’ll talk about how parents’ relationships tend to reorganize in the first few weeks and months. After that, we’ll share what’s known about the challenges couples face during the transition to parenthood, and we’ll finish up with what is known about how the process affects men and women differently. In a future series, we’ll take a look at the transition for single parents.

Three’s a Crowd
These days, it is not uncommon for couples to have lived together several years before they have a baby together. This early "pre-baby" time together can help each partner to mature and to grow more secure in themselves and in each other. With or without "pre-baby" time, most couples build routines and expectations based on what they’ve learned about each other and many become set in their ways. And then baby comes along with overwhelming needs and built-in stress inducers such as their ability to cry and their lack of ability to sleep very long. Few first-time parents are prepared for the effort required in those first few weeks and many parents feel that their partner just isn't doing enough to help. Communication breaks down, stress and exhaustion take over; intimacy flies out the window. Any relationship will be tested under such a strain. It is not surprising that many couples find themselves feeling out of control, isolated, misunderstood, and angry (at least some of the time) at each other.

Unfortunately, these feelings may play out in each parent's relationship with the new baby. Without a sense of support, parents may find that they can’t keep up with the baby’s demands and they may even withdraw. Without careful attention to early cues, parents won’t pick up on what the baby is trying to tell them and the baby will escalate the cues or give confusing signals, further frustrating parents. Babies become increasingly stressed, cry more, are unable to maintain their moods or control their response to their environment, and the cycle continues. While this scenario is a bit extreme, something like this happens to many families, even if only once in awhile.

Taking Care of Number One (and Two)
So what can be done to prevent this cycle from starting in the first place? Preparation is an important way to keep “the couple” from imploding. Keep in mind that no matter what anyone else says, you both are likely dealing with the greatest stress in your lives. Neither of you will be at your best or as sensitive as you may have been to each others' needs for at least a few months. Setting up and taking advantage of a support group can have a huge effect on the biggest stressors (lack of sleep, feeling overwhelmed, and social isolation). Friends and family can share the load, do the dishes, let you nap, let you go out together, reassure and nurture you. You can always “pay it forward” for other families or share your expertise in baby behavior to return the favors – favors that you should accept quickly and with gratitude! Parenting is not one of those things in life that should be done without support. One last piece of advice, talk to each other, right from the start. Don’t let anything fester. If you think you change more diapers, or get less sleep, forgive first, get the facts, and plan to work together to find solutions. Keeping peace between you will keep all 3 of you calmer and more secure and will help your baby grow and learn in a positive and nurturing environment.

Next time: And Baby Makes Three Part 2- Parents' Early Relationships: Chaos, Retreat, and Reorganization
Deave T, et al. Transition to parenthood: the needs of parents in pregnancy and early parenthood. BMC Preg Child 2008; 8:30.

Lutz KF, et al. Furthering the understanding of parent-child relationships: A nursing scholarship series. Part 2. Grasping the early parenting experience - the insider view. J Spec Pediatr Nurs 2009; 14: 262-283.

Gunnar MR, et al. Brain and behavior interface: stress and the developing brain. Inf Ment Health J 24: 195-211.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Music to Moms’ Ears

A Guest Post by Taryn Barrette, RD

In past posts we’ve written about various ways to use repetitive movements or sounds to soothe an upset or crying infant. Today we’ll focus on one more tool for soothing a crying baby: music!

Babies are exposed to regular beats even before they are born. The beat of your heart and theirs’ combined with the rush of blood surging through arteries and veins provide a veritable anatomical symphony - one which is rudely interrupted by the onslaught of noises, smells, sights, and interactions that distract a newborn once out of the womb. In the same fashion that rocking and speaking softly to your baby provides a constant repetition of the same stimuli, musical beats can supply the same soothing repetition to help your baby calm down. Whether you play music or sing to your baby, researchers have demonstrated that just 30 minutes of music per day can help babies cry less often and help mothers become calmer.

Researchers have shown that preemie babies who have been diagnosed as ‘inconsolable criers’ respond with decreased frequency and duration of crying when exposed to recorded music. Not only does crying decrease, another team of researchers found that music elicited a physiological response. In those babies who listened to music, their stress hormones, heart rate, respiration rate and energy expenditure all decreased. Premature infants listening to music had increased catch-up growth and shorter hospital stays too. It is thought that the soothing sensation of music decreases the energy spent on crying and allows more for growth and development!

But what about moms? Mothers who practiced skin-to-skin contact with their babies while listening to music experienced a significant decrease in anxiety compared to moms who used skin-to-skin contact alone. Infants of these calmer moms experienced more quiet sleep, less crying, and reduced stress. This makes a lot of sense. A stressed out mother may not be very responsive to her baby’s cues which could lead to escalation of the cues and eventually crying from the infant.

Rhythmic music has also been shown to increase rhythmic movement which is positively correlated with an infant’s good mood. This makes sense too! I'm never in a bad mood when I’m dancing! Music is also used in “Music Play Therapy” to help at-risk mothers safely and positively interact with their quiet alert babies. Moms and babies can move, dance and communicate through music to provide a fabulous learning environment for both mom and baby.

To sum things up: when your baby is upset and you are looking for safe, effective ways to help soothe your baby – soft, rhythmic music can be another option for you. Alternatively, when your baby is happy, you can use music to help your baby learn and have fun. Rock on!

Next time: We introduce a new series!


Cevasco, AM. “The effects of mothers' singing on full-term and preterm infants and maternal emotional responses.” J Music Ther. 2008 Fall;45(3):273-306.
Kaminski, J, Hall, W. “The effect of soothing music on neonatal behavioral states in the hospital newborn nursery.” Neonatal Netw. 1996 Feb;15(1):45-5.
Keith, DR, Russel, K, Weaver, BS. “The effects of music listening on inconsolable crying in premature infants.” J Music Ther. 2009 Fall; 46(3): 191-203.
Lai, HL, et al. “Randomized controlled trial of music during kangaroo care on maternal state anxiety and preterm infants’ responses.” Int J Nurs Stud. 2006 Feb;43(2):139-46.
Lubetzky R, et al. “Effect of music by Mozart on energy expenditure in growing preterm infants.” Pediatrics. 2010 Jan;125(1):e24-8. Epub 2009 Dec 7.
Stumptner, K, Thomsen, C. “MusicPlayTherapy—a parent-child psychotherapy for children 0-4 years old.” Prax Kinderpsychol Kinderpsychiatr. 2005 Oct;54(8):684-99.
Zentner, M, Erola, T. “Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Mar 30;107(13):5768-73.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Working Mothers: The Balancing Act

Here at the Human Lactation Center (HLC) we understand how hard it is to balance work life and home life, and we’re not alone. In 2001, over 60% of mothers with at least one child under 3-years-old were working. That’s up from about 34% in 1975. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.) Personally, I was not prepared for the amount of guilt and angst I would feel trying to balance the passion I have for my work with the love and devotion I feel for my child. However, I believe you can strike a balance between the pulls of work and the duties of parenting, though it won’t be perfect all the time. There will still be the occasional feelings of guilt and loneliness, and the days you feel like you can’t do anything right. Here are some tips that we hope will help you keep all of your roles in perspective.

~3 Tips from Blogs Past~

Feelings of guilt are normal!
You may feel guilty, especially during separation times, or when you say goodbye for the day. Talk about these normal feelings with other working parents. Also, realize that your child may adapt more quickly to goodbyes than you think. Right before you leave, talk through the reason for the separation with her and reassure her that you will be back and be with her again. Click here to learn more about separation anxiety (your child’s, not yours).

Take care of yourself first
I know, this feels counterintuitive, but if you aren’t healthy, you can’t care for anybody well!Take a little quiet time for yourself. Yes, I said quiet time. I take mine at the gym or during a walk at lunchtime. That way my quiet time does double duty! If you’re still in the throws of sleep deprivation, please sleep when you can (like during your child’s naps when you’re home on the weekends) or just rest while your child naps on the days you’re both home. Either one will leave you feeling more energetic. To read more about my own trials with sleep deprivation, click here.

It takes a village to raise a child
My daughter was cared for by some amazing moms while I was at work. My sister-in-law was the first mom to watch my daughter. When she moved away, a good friend of mine who was staying at home with her son watched Lily. When Lily was about 18 months old, she started going to another very good friend of ours’ home while I worked. Our good friend’s daughter was born only 1 week after Lily, and they are best friends to this day. Complicated? Yes, but she has been loved and well cared for her entire life. It takes a village. You can’t do it alone (at least while keeping your sanity).

~3 Tips from Moms at the HLC~

Routines make everything easier
By: Jen G, mom of Lily, 3 1/2
Arrange your morning routines to spend a little time with your child before you leave for work. This may sound impossible, but it can work! What I do is try to wake up before my daughter so that I can get myself ready. Then, when she wakes up, we cuddle and watch a cartoon together or read a book while I sip my caffeine requirement for the morning. Even 20-30 minutes in your morning routine can make a big difference toward connecting with your child before you leave for the day. If time is tight, just eating breakfast together will help you both feel better throughout the day. We also have a great bedtime routine that includes one-on-one time with each other during bath time, story time and cuddles. The day goes much more smoothly when we start and end it the same way.

Set aside special playtime each day with your child
By: Jen B, mom of Olivia (2) and Charlotte (EDD December 2010)
Set aside a block of time each day that is devoted to playing with your child (no checking email allowed!) I know it sounds hard to add anything else to your already busy schedule, but even 30 minutes of one-on-one time with your child will benefit you both greatly. If you make the play physical, you’ll both get a workout at the same time too!

Make family meals a priority
By: Kerri, mom of Elisabeth, 4

No matter how busy you get, plan to have family dinner together. Just sitting down at the table (with the television off) creates a sense of stability for children. Family meals are important to keep communication open and to strengthen relationships among family members. It is also a great way to enhance language development in young children.

As working moms, we are not by any means saying that striking a balance between career and motherhood is easy! However, it is possible, most days, to carve out a little quality time with your family. Precious time with you is the best gift you can give to your child. Whether it’s during a family meal, reading books together, or spending a half hour on the floor playing with your child before bath time, every moment counts. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and many days it won’t be, but rest assured that these small changes can make a big difference. Jane recently gave me a magnet that reads “Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” (Proverb) For now I’m trying not to worry so much about the time I’m not spending with my daughter while I’m at work. Instead, I’m making the time we do have together more meaningful.

Next time: Another Guest Blog Post!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Update - Where in the World are our Readers?

A few weeks ago, we posted a story about a chance meeting with one of our readers in an aiport. We asked you to tell us where you are from and how you learned about this blog. Today, we'd like to thank everyone who submitted comments and give you a little summary of what we learned!

We received comments from 22 readers! While most of the comments were posted by readers residing in the United States, we also heard from readers in Italy, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, England, and South Africa. Some readers learned about the blog by doing an internet search, some received recommendations from friends, family members, or lactation consultants, and a few couldn't remember how they stumbled across the blog. (To those of you who can't remember, don't worry, sometimes I can't remember what I had for breakfast!)

We were so excited by all of your responses (this post received the most comments of anything we've posted so far!) that we did a little more research using Google's website analytics feature and got even more information about where are readers are from! Since our first post in June 2009, we've had 29,867 readers from 6 continents (do you know anyone in Antartica? If so, spread the word!), 161 countries/territories, and 6,551 cities worldwide!

So, once again, we'd like to express our gratitude to all of our readers. For 4 moms in a small town in California, knowing that our work is reaching so many parents from so many different places brings us great joy! We hope that the information we provide on this site is useful and look forward to hearing from you in the future!

Next Time: Balancing work life and parenting

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Separation Anxiety Part II: Tips to Help Smooth Separation from Your Baby

Last time, we shared some basics about separation anxiety, a common behavior in infants and toddlers. In a nutshell, after the first few months babies will seek to be close to those they know best and will let their parents know (the best way they know how) that they are not happy when they go away. In this post, we’ll share a few tips to help you get through the tough transitions.

1. Avoidance is not the answer.
I know exactly how tough it is to walk away from your baby, especially if she is reaching out to you with a frantic look, tear stained cheeks, and a quivering lower lip. You just want to sweep your baby into your arms and promise you’ll stay. While that might be a short term solution, in the long term, it actually sends your baby the message that validates her fear and tells her that she won’t be safe with anyone else. That’s not good for either of you.

2. “Talk it over” with your baby.
Even if you don’t think that your baby understands your words, you should let your baby know where you are going, how long you will be gone, who she’ll be staying with and what you’ll do together when you get back. An older baby can be reassured by your words while a younger baby will benefit from seeing that you are calm and happy. Keep your explanation short and simple and don’t offer it until right before you leave.

3. Provide something familiar for your baby to keep with her.
Many babies will pick toys, blankets, and other soft objects that they like to keep near them when they are tired or stressed. Maybe your baby has a favorite blanket that she sleeps with. Making sure that your baby has her favorite snuggly along can ease the transition away from you.

4. Prepare your baby’s caregiver.
Make sure that your caregiver understands why your baby may be upset when you leave. Help him or her to see that your baby is likely to need a few minutes of comfort and/or distraction after you leave. With a few soothing repetitive words and actions, your baby will be ready to play in no time!

5. Be ready for a stormy or silent reunion.
While many babies will be excited and happy when their parents come back, don’t be surprised if your baby does not seem to be overjoyed right away, particularly if your separation has been a relatively long one (like overnight). By giving you “the silent treatment” or crying for a few moments, your baby is expressing how much she missed you. By reassuring her that you missed her too and telling her about what you’ve been doing, she’ll get the message that you understand her feelings and that you want to share your experiences with her. When she’s old enough to use words, she’ll be happy to do the same.

Next time: “Secrets” Readers Around the Globe!

Nurturing Children and Families: Building on the Legacy of T. Berry Brazelton; Barry Lester and Joshua Sparrow (Eds). Wiley Blackwell, 2010.

Social and Personality Development, David R. Shaffter, Wadsworth, 2005.