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.