What I’ve learned in 9 years of mothering is that you can’t learn how to take care of your children until you’ve learned to take care of yourself. I’m often categorized as a baby blogger, baby merchant or other kind of “baby person.” In reality, my blog and the Baby Love Carebook are mother-focused products.
A recent study confirms the correlation between depressed mothers and depressed children. The results are startling, considering that nearly 400,000 babies are born to depressed mothers each year in the United States.
Nearly half of the children with depressed mothers will develop depression.
And did you know that the average age of the onset of depression is 34; peak childbearing years? All these facts and study references were published recently in the Wall Street Journal. I encourage you to read the full article by Martha Beck.
And an interesting side note: the most severe consequence of depression happens during the first year of a child’s life because they will not form the necessary attachment to Mom.
The bottom line is that children fare better when Mom gets help as early as possible. So the good news is that this is not a hereditary condition as most people assume; it is environmental. It can be corrected and prevented by teaching your children how to regulate their own emotions.
My retail slogan is Journal. Organizer. Encouragement for Moms. My goal from the very conception of my business was to help new mothers navigate the more difficult day-to-day struggles of caring for a fussy baby. In fact, my About page spells out my mission:
As the mother of three small children, my goal is to help other new parents feel empowered and to instill in them the confidence to care for their babies in a loving, positive way that respects the uniqueness of all children.
If you or a new mom in your life is struggling or seems depressed, the first step is to recognize the problem and to realize it’s not at all uncommon. In fact, lack of sleep is the leading cause of post-partum depression and can be corrected easily and without drugs.
The second step during the baby years is to establish a consistent routine and really pay attention to baby’s cues. When a new mom feels more in control and not at the mercy of her baby, she is better able to experience joy and fight off the feelings of seclusion and depression.
The most common keywords that lead to this blog are “sample routine for xx month baby”. New moms are searching for the magic formula to get through their days and nights. Here’s the real secret: it’s different for everyone.
While most first-time parents are prepared to some extent for the sleepless nights with a new baby, I’m guessing that the ensuing relationship discord comes as a huge surprise. Research published last year by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reveals that marital dissatisfaction in first-time parents is directly related to daily sleep duration. In other words, less sleep equals less marital satisfaction.
Having survived our two very fussy babies and one easy one, I can certainly attest to the relationship strain that occurred during those years. My girls all had digestive problems and two had a severe dairy protein intolerance. I could not consume any dairy food while nursing them and they were also sensitive to soy proteins. One of the unfortunate side effects of an upset stomach was the inability to sleep for long stretches.
My husband and I had been married for five years before embarking upon our parenting journey. Yet, that first year left our tensions raw and exposed. Three children and nine years later, we can laugh about our first years and the drastic changes in our married life.
But not all marriages make it through the transition to parenthood. In another study of marital satisfaction, 45 percent of men and 58 percent of women reported a decline in marital satisfaction during the first year of parenting.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these tips to help new parents get a good night’s sleep:
Breastfeed your infant. This will help prevent sleep-disrupting problems such as ear infections and diarrhea.
Reserve the bed for your own sleep. Put your baby to sleep in a nearby bassinet, cradle or crib.
Try your best to keep your baby on a consistent schedule. Both you and your baby will be able to sleep better.
Take naps when your baby is asleep.
Make caring for the baby a team effort. Create an “on-duty” and “off-duty” schedule to share tasks with your spouse or other caregiver. This will give both of you opportunities to rest.
Recruit family members or friends to help care for the baby when he or she is awake. Use these breaks to get some sleep.
Ask family and friends to help with meals and household chores. This will give you more opportunities to nap.
In addition to these tips, I would add a few of my own from our years in the trenches:
Make a new date night ritual with your spouse. Carry out a favorite meal, eat in your home wearing your pajamas and snuggle up in bed for the sole purpose of sleeping. Allow each other to take long naps on the weekends, without judgment or resentment.
Become friends with your breast pump. I hated to pump, but after enduring our first baby who would not take a bottle, I quickly changed my ways for the next two. Because of our dairy and soy problems, formula was not an option. But pumping in the morning allowed me to express enough milk for a full bottle. This allowed my husband to give a full feeding at night so I could go to bed earlier.
Talk about how you are feeling. For moms who give up a career outside the home or cut back on freelance hours, you are dealing with the loss of your old identity. Your spouse may be dealing with new challenges, but mostly his life is still about getting up and going to work. New moms often lose friends and business associates (I was promptly released from a long-term client immediately after giving birth.) It’s important to work through these changes together to avoid feelings of resentment. If you’re not sure about how to discuss these feelings without arguing, seek out a trained pro-marriage counselor.
Most importantly, keep your experience in perspective. The baby year is literally just one year in what should be a long and supportive partnership. But during that one year, make sleep your top priority. Lack of sleep not only kills a marriage; it can also kill a job, a friendship and cause a multitude of health problems. So, seriously, shut off the computer and get your sleep!
One of the most debated and misunderstood tools of parenting has got to be the implementation of a routine. Personally, I think there is some major confusion going on about what a routine is and why it is used. After more than eight years of attachment parenting, I’ve come to realize that routine and schedule are not dirty words, they are simply a reality.
A Routine is Not a Schedule; A Schedule is Not a Routine
While these words often get used interchangeably, they are definitely not the same. Let’s say, for example, you wake baby up at 7 a.m. every day, eat breakfast at 7:15 and are out the door by 8 a.m. This is a schedule.
On the other hand, if baby wakes up (usually at 7 a.m.), gets a diaper change, nurses for about 20 minutes, followed by playtime, then one more diaper check and it’s time to leave the house. This is a routine. It may be bound by some time restrictions, but it’s a consistent set of activities that take place each day in the same order. Your baby knows that as soon as diaper is changed, eating will begin, then playtime.
When you are not bound by a schedule (from work, older siblings or your own daily agenda), a routine can be very flexible. You could let baby sleep in if teething or illness prevented a good night’s sleep, but you would stick with the consistent order of activities. If your baby normally stays awake for 3 hours before needing a nap, you would simply count 3 hours from the time baby woke up to readjust the nap.
Or perhaps you will need to be somewhere outside the home during a time when your baby is usually napping. Clearly adjustments need to be made. My youngest daughter’s natural rhythm involved an afternoon nap at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, this is when her older sister needed to be picked up from school. (The car ride was only a few minutes, not long enough for an actual nap.) I had to tweak her natural routine a bit to meet her needs while still meeting the needs of our family. So, in this regard, our routines are driven by the schedules of all five people in our family.
Why does it matter? Science knows.
Ah, that’s the real question. Whether parents want to believe it or not, routines make happier babies. They cry less because they know what to expect. They don’t need to cry out in hunger or tiredness, because those needs are met before they become urgent. Personally, I fell into a routine almost by accident and, oh, how I wish I had saved myself the eight months of exhaustion and simply set up some consistent routines from the start. (You can read more about that at Confessions of a Disorganized Mom.)
But, there’s research to back up the importance of a routine as well. In June, 2010, a sleep study involving 8,000 children (the largest of it’s kind) revealed the following:
Children in households with bedtime rules and children who get adequate sleep score higher on a range of developmental assessments;
Results indicate that among sleep habits, having a regular bedtime was the most consistent predictor of positive developmental outcomes at 4 years of age. Scores for receptive and expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and early math abilities were higher in children whose parents reported having rules about what time their child goes to bed. Having an earlier bedtime also was predictive of higher scores for most developmental measures.
“Getting parents to set bedtime routines can be an important way to make a significant impact on childrens’ emergent literacy and language skills,” said lead author Erika Gaylor, Ph.D., early childhood policy researcher for SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. (SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, June 7, 2010, read full text here.)
Behavioral Impact of Routines
Literacy and language skills are one thing, but behavioral improvements can drastically impact a household. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL is now a part of Vanderbilt University, one of the leaders in autism research) published a reference manual for early childhood teachers titled “Helping Children Understand Routines and Classroom Schedules”. Here’s an excerpt:
Studies have documented that schedules and routines influence children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development. For example, predictable and consistent schedules in preschool classrooms help children feel secure and comfortable.
Also, schedules and routines help children understand the expectations of the environment and reduce the frequency of behavior problems, such as tantrums and acts of aggression. Activity schedules that give children choices, balanced and planned activities (small vs. large groups, quiet times vs. active times, teacher directed vs. child directed, indoor vs. outdoor), and individualized activities result in a high rate of child engagement. (Read more here.)
Let me repeat that last sentence about the importance of activity schedules that give children choices. Many parents resist routines because they fear it will become too rigid or create a child who is unable to be flexible when necessary. What happens, however, is just the opposite. Children become more adept at making choices based upon what is available to them; as opposed to demanding something that they simply expect will be available.
A Routine is not a Label, It’s an Action
Our children are at our mercy. We set the tone and the pace of their days. As a parent, I strive to create a flexible, fun and nurturing environment for my three daughters that respects the unique needs of each child, and I help many new parents do the same.
I also advise new parents that for the first four months your routine is this:
Fall in love with your baby, eat healthy foods, get more sleep.
MOM DARE: The key to setting up a positive routine is to resist the notion that “one-size-fits-all”, and develop a strategy that respects the individual needs of each member of your family (including yourself). If you don’t have a consistent routine for your young child, this is the week to try it. Write everything down to see what works best. Then repeat. If you need help based on the age of your baby, write a comment or question here. I’ve got sample routines that I can post.
Grace and Peace.
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