Sunday, January 31, 2010

Quick response: Feeding a 3-week-old

We just received a question for one of our readers about a 3-week-old who sometimes is feeding quite frequently the morning and in the evening. Since feeding is such an important concern for babies and parents, we wanted to respond right away to this question.

Frequent feedings only at certain times of the day are called "cluster feeds" by most lactation professionals. Typically, frequent feedings are not unusual, especially among older babies who are trying to deal with overstimulation or growth spurts. In older babies, you'll see patterns of cluster feeding (in the evening) or for a few days while the baby works to increase the milk supply to meet his rapidly increasing needs.

With a 3-week-old, there are a few other things to consider. For many moms, the milk supply is still being established in the first month, so early cluster feeding may be just fine OR an early indicator that mom and baby may need a little help getting things back on track. First and foremost, you need to know how much weight the baby has gained since birth. Most doctor's offices are fine with requests from moms to check their babies' weight. If the baby's weight gain has been slow, the cluster feedings may mean that there may be a glitch with the breastfeeding. Your doctor or a lactation consultant should be able to help with that. If the weight gain is fine and baby is looking and acting healthy, it may be that the baby just needs a little time to be able to nurse more efficiently, may be sleeping a little too long between the other feeds, or may be very sensitive to stimulation around him. Again, your doctor or a lactation consultant can figure out what might be happening. Nearly all of these early glitches can be fixed easily.

Bottom line: Frequent "cluster" feeds are not unusual and not necessarily something to be concerned about (except that they are hard on new moms!) but they are one of those things that babies do that should get checked out by a professional. A quick weight check and a few words with someone who knows about lactation can set everyone's mind at ease.

Let us know how things go.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Babies, Growing Families, and Fitting In

Because babies are so small and needy, we tend not to think of them as needing to adapt to “fit in” to their new families. Instead, parents think of all the adjustments that they have to make to meet their babies’ needs. Yes, we know how hard it is to care for a new baby, but try to imagine early life from the baby’s perspective. Babies must adapt to a whirlwind of new experiences and learn how to communicate with no words and very little control over their own bodies. They must rely on adults to meet their needs and teach them everything about life. The relationships babies build with their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family members provide the foundation they need to grow and develop into happy, successful people. As we wrap up this series and babies' relationships, we'll take a close look at the critical role that the family plays in babies' lives.

The Foundation of Family

Sixty years ago, developmental psychologists thought that the only relationship that mattered for a baby was the one he had with his mother. These days, researchers realize that many people are involved in helping babies socialize and learn. Of course, the first and most influential group in a baby's life is his family. In today's diverse world, "family" is defined more in terms of members' emotional ties and responsiblities rather than by genetics or roles in more formal or traditional structures. For our purposes, a baby's "family" refers to the group of people who interact with and care for him.

The Family "System"

As scientists have learned more about infants' social development, they've come to understand that family influences on babies don't work in isolation from each other. Families form networks with each member playing a special role in the baby's life. As mentioned in an earlier post, family members' relationships with a baby are influenced by the temperament and behavior of the baby. But, these relationships are also influenced by family members' relationships with each other. The whole family works together as a "system" as they interact with the baby and with one another. In secure and happy families, this "system" creates a safety net for each member to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of childrearing. When families are uncooperative or in direct conflict, the safety net breaks down and everyone, including the baby, is challenged.

For many new parents and family members, the physical and emotional stress of dealing with a new baby is overwhelming. No one ever seems to be doing enough to help. Ties between family members that may be already strained can snap, and caregivers can turn against one another. Fortunately, no family "system" is inevitably stuck in one pattern. Familes have the capacity to change and develop just like their children. For many familes, this development happens naturally as babies get older and easier to care for, but others may need help, and even professional support, to work together.

Baby Behavior and a Lighter Burden

Babies need consistent loving care from those around them. Even when they are not exhausted, family members who don't understand what the baby wants or why the baby is crying are far more likely to avoid or resent having to care for the baby. As more family members learn to understand babies' behaviors and cues, more individuals are ready to confidently support babies' efforts to "fit in." Sharing the basics of baby behavior might help lessen the burden on everyone.

In our first post in this series, we asked "where is that village" that is supposed to be needed to raise a child? For some, that village is already close by and family members are ready to work together. For others, help is needed from trusted friends or professionals to get family members to see how working together is best for themselves as well as the baby. Still, others may need to build their village from scratch, reaching out to trusted friends and making a family "system" all their own.

Next time: We'll answer some of your questions!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Aren't You Curious?

We want to hear from you. What would you like to learn about your baby's behavior? We're ready to answer your questions.
If you are new to our blog, we encourage you to review the first 4 posts from June of last year. You can find them by using the links on the left side of the screen. Those early posts will give you a great start to learning about your baby. For other topics, we encourage you to use the keywords on the left side of the screen and pick out the words that are of most interest to you. Welcome to all of our new readers. Send us your questions!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When Stranger Anxiety Isn't Only For Strangers

Recently, one of our readers told us that her 3-month-old had been frightened inadvertently by her great-grandmother. Concerned that her baby and her great-grandmother were upset by the incident, she asked, "Why do babies tend to get scared of "strangers" around 6 months? What can parents do about it to help their child? Also, how should parents respond to the 'stranger' in that moment?" It is upsetting when babies shrink away or cry when introduced to our closest friends and relatives but "stranger anxiety" is a positive sign of infant development. While a 3-month-old is quite young to have this kind of reaction, other factors may have played a role in what happened. In this post, we'll take a closer look at babies' "stranger anxiety" that isn't always restricted to "strangers."

Stranger Anxiety and or Too Much Stimulation?

Stranger anxiety refers to a nearly universal behavior of babies that starts when babies reach about 6 months. Very young babies typically don't show concern when they see someone they haven't seen before. They may even look at new people for quite awhile, as if they were studying them, trying to figure out if they have seen them before. Young babies don't care very much about who is holding them and they don't get upset by being passed from relative to relative at family gatherings, unless all the excitement becomes too much for them and they have a meltdown.

While all babies develop at their own pace, most 3-month-old babies don't have stranger anxiety. It is more common that younger babies get upset because of over stimulation, too much noise, too many new faces, or things coming too close, too quickly. Many loving relatives want to reach out and hold a baby close to them while excitedly talking or laughing. For babies who need the pace to be a little slower, that kind of handling can be scary. You know your baby better than anyone; you'll know if your baby is "slow to warm up," meaning that she needs a little time for introductions to go smoothly. When you come to a gathering of excited friends and relatives, a quick explanation about why you need to hold the baby and take things slowly may be necessary. You can watch for the early signs that your baby needs a break from the group and point them out to everyone. That will keep the crying to a minimum.

Instincts Keep Baby Close Just When She's Able to Move Away

Sometime around 6 months, babies get worried about being around people that they don't see everyday. You may see your baby's "disengagement cues" at the very first sight of friends and relatives. She may cling to you frantically and cry if anyone else tries to hold her. Even though this reaction may be inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing, it is an important step for your baby. Stranger anxiety signals two good things. First, your baby has decided that you represent a safe haven for her. Second, your baby is probably gaining physical skills that allow her to move away from you like rolling, creeping, and crawling. Her anxiety ensures that she doesn't move too far away from those who will protect her. As she improves her skills to explore her world, her instincts tell her to stay close. Stranger anxiety doesn't completely go away but lessens by the time babies are 18 to 24 months old.

Dealing with Meltdowns

What should you do if your baby has already panicked and refused to be held by your very best friend or your great-grandmother? Taking a moment to calm your baby is the obvious first step. After your baby is calm, it will be important ensure that your friend or relative does not take the baby's reaction personally. Explain what has happened and why. Bring the baby back for a more peaceful introduction, letting the baby set the pace. You don't want to overreact to these situations; stay calm and confident and reassure your baby. Let her know that you understand what she feels but you also know that your friend or family member is someone you trust. You should be the safe haven your baby needs but at the same time, you don't want her fears to prevent her from the important work she has to do to learn about the world and relationships.

Next time: New Babies, Growing Families and Fitting In

Monday, January 18, 2010

Saying No to Unwanted Baby Gifts

In response to our recent post on baby toys, videos, and equipment that can interfere with relationships between parents and babies, one of our readers asked, “How do you stop people gifting you things you may not want or agree with?” This is a tough question. No one wants to disappoint loved ones who have been kind enough to bring your baby gifts. Yet, the gifts may be inappropriate for your baby's age, too loud, too big, or potentially harmful. How then, can we possibly look into friends’ or relatives’ excited eyes and tell them that we don’t want their gifts? While there's no way to make such a conversation easy, here are a few tips that might help you feel a little more comfortable.

Choose your battles. Sometimes, it is better to politely accept gifts you don't really want. If you don’t know the giver well, or you know that anything you say will be taken as an insult, it is best to quietly accept the gift. If the gift is large or expensive or given by someone you'll see often or know well, you might want to say something. You are the best judge to decide if a discussion about a gift will lead only to frustration and hurt feelings. If that is the case, it may be better to smile, say thank you, and move on.

Don’t expect people to read your mind. I know it would be much easier (sometimes) if our friends and family could read our minds. If they knew that we didn’t want certain gifts, we wouldn’t have to get into uncomfortable conversations about them. Unfortunately, unless your friends are powerful psychics, you cannot expect them to know what you want unless you tell them. You might be able to avoid receiving unwanted gifts by talking (or blogging) about what you think about the latest baby fads before the gifts start arriving. Many of your friends and relatives may be relieved that you don’t want expensive (and unecessary) things. If they ask what you really want, don't be shy; tell them.

Keep their good intentions in your mind. If you think carefully about why your friends and relatives chose their gifts for your baby, rather than the gifts themselves, you might find it easier to find the words you need to say. Your close friends and family may think that fancy gifts are necessary to express how much they love you and your baby. Acknowledge how much you appreciate their thoughtfulness then tell them about your concerns. Don't give them a lecture, talk with them. Keep your mind open to what they have to say. Make sure that they understand that your concerns about their baby gift have nothing to do with how much they are loved and valued.

If you decide to talk about the baby gift, don’t be vague. If you’ve made the decision that it is worth talking to your friend or relative about a gift, it is better to speak frankly and clearly. If you are vague, it is likely that all your effort will be for nothing. You might even find yourself having the same discussion over and over again.

Try the “sandwich” technique. If you have to say something to someone that may be uncomfortable for your both, you might want to “sandwich” the negative message between two positive messages. For example, “Aunt Hortense, thank you so much for thinking of us and bringing this [amazing baby gizmo], I know you went to a lot of trouble to get it but I have some concerns. We've heard that [these gizmos] may not be good for babies because….... Have you heard about that? I know we're so close that I can talk to you honestly about anything and I wanted you to know what I've learned.” With luck, this may start a conversation about your concerns while sending a clear message about how much you value the relationship.

We hope these tips are useful to you. We know how hard it can be to talk to those we love about difficult topics. Even in the best circumstances, you should be prepared for an unhappy initial response. If things don't go well at first, give the gift givers time to think things over. Maintain your loving respectful attitude and you’ll find that with time, most of them will come to understand your thinking.

Next time: Dealing with overenthusiastic friends and relatives who may scare your baby.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Entertaining Your Baby Without Breaking the Bank

Each one of us here at the Human Lactation Center knows what it is like to be a new mom. In fact, 3 of us have kids under 4 years old! We know how it feels to never have a minute to ourselves and to struggle to get everything done. In our last post, we talked about the time and expense involved in buying products designed to entertain babies and we shared some of the reasons why baby videos are not good babysitters. Now, it's time to share some ideas about ways to keep your baby happy while you're trying to get things done without buying any fancy baby "gear."

  • As we mentioned in a previous post, young babies get exercise just by being able to move their arms and legs. If you need a few minutes to make a phone call, let your baby spend some time laying on her back in her crib, even if she is awake. If you will be close by, you might want to put her down on her tummy on a mat or blanket on the floor (in a safe place where you can see her) so she has a chance to move around. You may think this sounds boring, but babies are easily entertained by simple things, even watching their own feet. If you want to make sure she isn't bored, you can put on some music.

  • While cooking dinner, place a few unbreakable bowls, spoons and utensils on the floor for your baby to play with. Or, designate a few drawers that are out of baby's reach in the kitchen where you can store safe playthings like kitchen towels, small pots and pans, or plastic/wooden bowls to keep your baby busy. Rotate these items by taking them out of the drawers and putting them back when your baby gets tired of them. Remember to vary their size, color, and shape to keep baby's interest.

  • Need a few moments in the bathroom? Pull a playpen into the bathroom or up to the open doorway. Fill it with a few fun, safe toys & books, place baby in, and you might get about 5 uninterrupted minutes to take a quick shower. Singing a few songs to your baby while you shower may entertain her enough to buy you 5 more minutes!

  • Wear your baby in a sling or front pack. You'll be surprised what you can get accomplished with both of your hands free! Also, your baby will love being close to you and watching (and learning from) everything you do. You can straighten up the house, throw together a quick lunch (just don't use the stove), gather laundry, or do other chores.

  • Share the fun! Ask your partner, friend, or family member to play simple games with your baby so that you can take a break. I know this seems obvious, but sometimes parents forget to ask for help! If you have older children, they can be wonderful "entertainers" for your baby. Just be sure to supervise their play in case they get a little too enthusiastic!

  • Plan 1 or 2 chores around baby's nap time. Don't go overboard on this one. Don't try to get everything done while baby sleeps. Your rest is more important than most household chores.

  • If you are trying to get a break from a crying baby, remember it is best to use repetitive sounds (like singing) and movements (like rocking) to calm your baby. It may be tempting to use a video to quiet your baby. Your baby may even stop crying for a few moments to stare at the screen, but all the noises and flashing images on the video won't calm your baby, so the quiet won't last long.

  • Some babies need "entertaining" because they are getting either too little or too much stimulation. If your baby spends too much time in the car seat or looking at the same wall, don't be surprised if she demands some attention. Watch for her cues that she is ready to play and rather than fighting it, give in and play for a little while. Babies get tired easily and you'll get your break. Alternatively, make sure that your baby doesn't get too much stimulation (for example, at dinner time) so that you end up having to spend an hour calming her down. A little goes a long way when it comes to playtime with your baby.

Now it's your turn. Tell us how you keep your baby entertained without spending money or using videos.

Next time: We'll share some ideas about dealing with overly enthusiastic friends and family.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Barriers to Building Relationships with Babies: Marketing and the Perfect Parent

More than 4 million babies are born each year in the United States, millions more are born in other countries around the world. For companies selling goods and services to new parents, these babies represent a perpetual marketing opportunity for an enormous array of products that seem to make it possible to be a “perfect, confident, and carefree” parent. Unfortunately, such marketing may result in desperate parents spending money on things that they don’t need and don’t work. Even worse, some of these products may interfere directly with parents’ relationships with their babies.

Lot’s of Choices, Lot’s of Money

A quick look at baby products listed on a popular discount store website revealed 234 different products intended to help you keep your baby occupied including more than 50 baby gyms, 23 baby swings, and 54 bouncers and “entertainers.” These products ranged in price from about $20 to more than $200 each. The time and costs involved in finding and buying the "best" bouncer or the "perfect" swing must seem staggering to new parents. In addition to the expense, there is another downfall to having so many gizmos available for today’s baby. Much of this baby “gear” (as it is called on the websites) is meant to keep babies quiet and distracted and away from their parents. As you know by now, we emphasize the need to look at your baby, to watch for cues, and to respond. All of these actions build trust and give your baby the best start for future relationships. We’ve also told you how talking to your baby helps your baby build language skills. All the “gear” in the world cannot replace your vital role in your baby’s life. Now, we’re not saying that you shouldn’t have or use any of these products but their overuse can be harmful and you certainly don’t need to have any of them to help your baby grow and develop.

The Case Against Baby Einstein (and other videos targeted to infants)

Over the last few years, videos targeted for infants have also grown in popularity. Many of the manufacturers imply that watching the images and listening to the music on these videos results in enhanced development, increased intelligence, and early school readiness. One of the most well-known of these products in the US is sold under the brand name of “Baby Einstein.” Last October, the Disney Company, the current owner the brand, offered purchasers refunds on the DVDs because of a growing concern that the advertising claims for the videos were not supported by research. In fact, some of the research had indicated that viewing videos at very young ages (6 to 16 months) had actually been associated with temporary delays in language development. Other researchers have found that having a television on in the room mesmerizes babies and reduces their interactions with their caregivers. For young babies, it may not be possible to pay attention to both the images and the sound on videos, limiting their ability learn words associated with the pictures that they see. Babies’ brains are not hardwired to watch and learn from video images, they are hardwired to watch and learn from you! We don’t want you to panic if you’ve been using baby videos to keep your baby occupied during the day. The researchers report that these potential negative effects of video exposure disappear as babies get older. But, you should realize that TV is not a reliable or trustworthy babysitter and lots of TV isn’t good for anyone. The American Academy of Pediatrics has solid evidence behind their recommendation that babies under 2 should not watch TV or videos.

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that you really don’t need any of the baby entertainment products to be a wonderful parent. The most valuable entertainer, teacher, and soother for your baby is you. Nothing extra needs to be purchased. The bad news is that your baby really needs your time and energy, just when you might think you don’t have any left to give. Human babies need human beings to comfort, teach, hold, and talk to them.

A large number of you probably just said (maybe out loud) “Get real! How am I supposed to cook dinner, pay the bills, get ready for work, or even take a shower without the swing/cradle/bouncer/baby gym/video products?” You probably think I’ve forgotten about how hard it is to be a parent AND live a life with moments and responsibilities that don’t involve wipees. You might be partially right; it is amazing how the rough parts of parenting fade away with time. Fortunately, I am surrounded by women in the "trenches" ready to share their tips about how they managed to get things done and get through the day without $1400 worth of products or baby videos.

Next time: Some tips for entertaining your busy baby without breaking the bank.

Friday, January 8, 2010

January Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to this month's baby quiz!

1. How many babies are born, worldwide, each year? Answer: 130 million (according to the United Nations Population Fund)

2. True of False: The best way to calm a crying baby is to try several different things in a short amount of time. Answer: False. By trying lots of different things to stop the crying, parents can make their babies even more upset. The best way to calm a crying baby is to try the same thing over and over. It may take a few minutes for the crying to stop, but babies are hard-wired to respond to repetition by calming down. More information about using repetition is available in our post Baby Behavior Basics 4: Crying: Your Baby's Super Power.

3. What were the most popular names in 1910? Answer: According to the Social Security Administration, these were the top 5 names 100 years ago (boys, girls):

  1. John, Mary
  2. William, Helen
  3. James, Dorothy
  4. Robert, Margaret
  5. Joseph, Ruth

4. How old was the youngest Olympian ever? Answer: Dimitrios Loundras, from Greece, was only 10 years 216 days old when he competed on the parallel bars in the 1896 Athens Olympics. His team won the silver medal.

5. Why do newborn babies wake up easily right after they fall asleep? Answer: Babies fall asleep dreaming (in "rapid eye movement" or REM sleep) and move slowly to "deeper" forms of sleep, without dreams. When babies are dreaming, they are easier to wake up than when they are in deeper sleep. For more information about Infant Sleep, read our post titled Baby Behavior Basics 1: Three reasons babies don't sleep through the night.

So, how did you do? We'd love to hear how you answered the questions. Also, if you have any questions about Baby Behavior you would like us to answer, send us a comment!

Next Time: Barriers to Building Relationships with Babies: Marketing and the Perfect Parent

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New Baby Quiz!

We thought it would be nice to start the new year off with a little quiz. We won't post the answers until later this week, so send us a comment to let us know how you answered each question!

1. How many babies are born, worldwide, each year?

2. True of False: The best way to calm a crying baby is to try several different things in a short amount of time.

3. What were the most popular names in 1910?

4. How old was the youngest Olympian ever?

5. Why do newborn babies wake up easily right after they fall asleep?

Next Time: We'll post the answers!