WE all know women are tired, so why are we surprised when they need a break?
When moms do an average of 98 hours of work a week, or the equivalent of 2.5 jobs, it is no wonder we are tired. But are we getting rest? No. Of all the new parents with kids aged 0-6 months, only 5 percent are able to get a full 8 hours of sleep. And nearly half are only able to 1-3 hours of sleep that is undisturbed! Ug!
And while modern heterosexual couples do share more equitable responsibilities of taking care of newborns at night, the overall emotional baggage and day to day tasks that come along with children are being completed by moms.
Traditionally our society has not been structured as it is currently: living apart from one another, handling all matters of emotional and physical needs for our children without help. We are folk who have survived because of our development of small clans and villages. Support, neighbors, family, and other nursing women around us to help nurture and yes, feed, our children. There is a reason there are "mama tribes" all over the internet. A tribe was a way to succeed in getting a small human to adulthood. The desire is still there for closeness and community.
More and more families are starting to get help for care at night by bringing in a postpartum doula, night nanny, or newborn care specialist during their child's first year. But for long term success - one recurring topic keeps getting beat home: Mom's need to take care of themselves.
Self care. Healthy boundaries. Rest.
Women on average need 20 minute more sleep than men because of our natural multi-tasking behavior.
Just let that sink in - for you heteronormative folks, that's already a deficit if we are going to bed and waking up with our significant other.
Moms are also taking more responsibility on by earning income (ie: Having a job). There are entire sites for inspiration on how to make money as a stay at home mom.
And let's not forget the article that made it's way around the internet opening up dialogue about the emotional work women do which is seemingly inescapable and exhausting. This work especially seems to be the silent resentment builder, and a reality that many men cannot seem to truly understand. (Author of that Harper's Baazar article has a book set to release this fall called Fed UP.)
Here is a brief yet accurate list of times women have claimed to get a "break" from their responsibilities:
With all this, it is no wonder more and more women are starting to take solo vacations, or vacations with their friends, and not their families. For many, they simply cannot separate from the responsibilities and mental work load that gets spent when around their most loved family members. And then...does the family vacation actually give you what you need? Many say no.
When women are not responsible for the needs of their children, a part of their brain that is always running, like open tabs on your computer, gets to rest. Her brain gets to reboot. She gets to breathe.
We know rest is essential for good mental health. We know every person, children and adults, need the same 6 things to thrive, one of them being autonomy. But getting that is hard once you become a parent. The adage that parents sacrifice for their children will always be true in more ways than can be imagined, but losing our entire selves is not a service to our children.
There can be smaller events that can become a part of a mom's self-care regime. But more studies are showing mom's need a break from Mom-ing. Going on vacation from your children seems an act of revolt when really it is an act of necessity. Mothers, we need to take care of ourselves because no one else is going to do it.
Consider a rest or a retreat. Retreat and start again another day.
It was time to be done. It was a good run while it lasted, but it was time. Time to retire the nursing bras.
It was embarassing, really, the number of hours it had been worn. The number of times it had been snapped open and closed was a slow metronome for daily life. But the snaps and clicking are done now. The fabric is tired - an accurate representation of the time I spent not sleeping myself.
These fabric bits were an extension of me. The straps knew where to settle. I had been able to un-clasp and re-clasp the front boob flaps for sometime now. So much that even when wearing clothes that isn't designed for chest-feeding-people I could get a boob in a crying baby's mouth remarkably fast.
My bras have absorbed so much milk, spit, and tears. They have witnessed milestones in my breastfeeding journey: Learning the ropes, latching with ease, and finally mastering the night feeds where I didn't need lights to see the path to putting my baby to breast, settling him down, and getting him back to sleep.
This wireless, kinda flimsy, tired workhorse of an undergarment is ready to go to the Intimates Store in the Sky.
Fairwell friend. You did well.
I'm ready for an underwire again.
Oh, but funny enough, I don't think my boobs were ready. I thought it was time, but my boobs...they are altered. Lol...
Did you know it's normal for one breast to produce more milk than the other? Yep. Things like anatomy, slow let down or fast let down, or baby's preference can mean that one breast develops more or less milk than the other.
So finding a bra that fits well - a very frustrating process for many bra-wearing people - is a new kind of frustrating.
I put on my non-lactating-friendly bra and was so excited. I didn't care that one cup was now too loose by a smidge. I didn't care that the I needed to re-remember how to put the stupid thing on, because...
It was so pretty! The nursing bras that ended up being a part of my regular life for 8 months were beige, or black with not much going on. The bra was there to do a job (and it did very well!) not to look fashionable while doing it.
Seeing some color on my décolletage felt like an awakening. A visual breath. A boost of energy. A lacy hug.
I bought my new armor and wore it out of the store, not wanting to put my dingy dishrag back on. And then I started to do my life.
And some of the shiny wore off.
Some feelings popped up. Some sadness about what I just ended.
The realization that I was really done using my body in a way that was fought for, well earned, and natural.
Some other feelings popped up too. Not good ones. Like the poking feelings from the stupid underwires. And sweaty feelings because this new bra didn't "breathe" as well. Before my boobs were wet because of milk. Now they were wet because of confinement and suffocation.
A know a well-fitting bra shouldn't hurt. But that is all noise to me in this moment. It felt like my new pretty bra that I was so excited about only few days prior was re-introducing me into the world of sexism and objectivity - which sounds extreme, but ug...it felt extreme.
It was pretty. But I loved taking it off for the day.
My nursing bras weren't pretty, but they had started to feel like a worn in pair of jeans: soft, reliable, like a good friend.
My new bra was like meeting Susan from HR. She was trying to be nice and helpful, but really she just wanted me to say in line.
All this was months ago.
Susan is still in rotation, but only for short periods of time. I love knowing she's there. I love looking at her. And I love not wearing my worn-down nursing bra...I really am done with that part of my life.
What I've found works well while wrangling two kids at various levels of mobility (and spontaneous dance-party-ness) is life requires a certain amount of flexibility - literally and mentally. My energy at the beginning of the day is drastically different than the middle and the end, and the amount of time I want to devote to getting ready is minimal. (duh.)
And I also now know why Athleasure is a huge thing. Because ain't nobody got time for that!
It isn't for everyone, but I am so thankful that yoga wear, sporting attire, and my mothering timeline have aligned in this moment of supportive garment history.
Susan, you're pretty, but I'm gonna be Sporty Spice over here for a bit.
Written by Ariel Swift
Sleep. We all need it, and babies need a lot of it! So...why do they seem to fight it so hard?
Passing out from exhaustion is not a sustainable way to ensure your body has the rest it needs, and that is why helping our children learn how to sleep is an important part of their first year of life.
For babies younger than 4 months, it is not recommended to introduce sleep teaching, or sleep training. But don't fret - there are still ways to help your littles. Here are some not-so-secret secrets to helping your baby while they are in their first months of life!
Routine VS. Schedule
For parents who are weary and trying to understand how they can help their infants with sleep, one way to give them comfort and increased secure attachment to his or her caregiver is to have a routine. A routine is not a schedule.
A routine is a predictable plan that your child can become accustomed to. It helps them understand what is going on around them, it can introduce them to words that are associated with specific activities, and it can prepare them for what is coming next.
For instance, infants older than a month, and younger than 4 who are at a healthy weight can usually begin a generalized routine of sleeping, eating, and "playing." Playing can also be awake time where your child is exploring their surroundings.
This gental routine does not need to have specific times associates with it to be effective. A routine is not a schedule.
When sleeping, try to place your child to sleep in the same location and beging a sleep routine. You can tell them it's time to take a nap, then draw the drapes together, turn on a sound machine, change their diaper, swaddle them for comfort, and lay them down.
When it's time to eat, you can feed them in the same chair or location of the house.
When it's time to be awake, it is not in the area where they sleep to help signify the difference.
It may seem silly, but your baby will pick up on these cues!
Watch for Signs of Sleepiness - And Make Naps a Priority
Babies need a lot of sleep! And they will let you know when things are beginning to be overwhelming if you watch and learn to interpret the signs.
A tired baby may start to be irritated, may not be able to settle, or may make more obvious cues like yawning and rubbing their eyes. If these occur, begin your sleep routine!
Babies from 0-3 months old need a recommended 14-17 hours of rest a day, including naps! For young babies, it may feel like they are sleeping again right after they ate - which is not a typical - eating food can mean they are expending an incredible amount of energy!
In line with learning cues - being sensitive and aware of how easily a baby can become overtired is a way to help them learn to sleep without needing a bottle or nursing session to settle down.
Having several restful sessions of sleep during the day will help with more restful sleep at night.
It may seem counterintuitive - but sleep begets more sleep for young ones.
Having knowledge that your baby is satisfied nutritionally can give peace of mind to know they are not fussy because of hunger. If you are a nursing mother, it becomes important to make it clear when your baby is nursing for nutrition, and when they are nursing for comfort.
There are many ways to keep track of feedings both electronically and traditionally (with paper!)
Tools we love are Baby Connect - available for both iPhone and Android, and Everyday Mother*.
*Discount code for 10% off Everyday Mother order: "BAARIEL"
Try to Avoid Comparisons
While having feedback from other parents is helpful, and recommendations for what you should do can be a great guide, your baby may not respond well to what worked for another baby. Even if it was a sibling! The first months are not only for your baby to begin to understand the world around them, but also to learn and develop trust in you! You also are learning about this new individual. Guides are just that - guides. Just like one position may not be good to help burp your baby, it makes sense to try a new method, not believe your baby is broken.
Your baby may need help to figure out to sleep soundly, but you are there to offer comfort, preditability, and safety. You can do it!
Patience and Help
Learning your baby will require patience. To have it, you may need help to delegate other responsibilities, or to have a break yourself.
As the adults, we have the cognitive ability to reason, and choose how we want to respond in situations. We we are tired, it makes responding appropriately more difficult.
If you need sleep, you need help. Help to re-prioritize, help to complete tasks, or help to reduce the worry and possible shame associated with life a new expanded family.
Nannies, doulas, family support, and regular self care are ways "successful" parents have learned to acquire the help needed. The myth of the "do-it-all" parent simply won't go away. That parent is hanging on by a thread. We want to help you weave a healthy and stable safety net of support so both you and your child have what they need.
Written by Ariel Swift
Rite of Passage: Noun
1) a ceremony performed in some cultures at times when an individual changes his status, as at puberty and marriage 2) a significant event in a transitional period of someone's life It is seen as a rite of passage to be sleep deprived in early parenthood. I'm here to tell you that is a lie.
It is not a rite. It comes as a slow delineation of adequate support. This thinking comes from being apart from families. It comes from feeling like we are the masters of our universe... and then a new human arrives who doesn't acknowledge our superiority.
But just like babies don't play by the rules, you don't have to do parenthood alone like the current "rules" teach you. You don't have to be sleep deprived at night so you are in a state of constant catch-up during the day.
Being tired will not feel like a badge of honor, so lets stop selling it like one.
Guess what we do.
We come to your house. We help and teach in the early days. We encourage and guide. We offer care and support. We are postpartum doulas and a new family's secret weapon for having a smooth transition from pregnant to their new normal.
We are postpartum doulas and we genuinely care about the success each family is striving towards. With each overnight shift, each swaddle we wrap, and each time we give comfort to a child that has not yet found his or her way to sleep through the night - we are trying to soothe.
Having support in the hours when you are tired doesn't seem like a huge deal before labor. It's just night time, right? But those lonely hours when it's dark and quiet are usually when the ugly voices come out.
A new mom may start hating herself for not being able to get her baby to feed at the breast.
It is right there! Just put it in your mouth and suck!
A new mom may wonder why they let her take this new human home when she doesn't have any idea what to do.
She's crying! She won't stop crying and I've done everything I can think of.
What if, instead of feeling alone and ill-equipped, you had a caring person to be with you? Someone to say "That is perfect. You are doing exactly the right thing. This just takes some time and you are doing so well as your baby is learning."
What if you had a person that was able to bring your baby to you, help you get her to latch, bring you a glass of water in the middle of the night, then swoop out of the room when the baby was done, to complete the burping, diaper changes, and ease your baby to sleep?
Being a parent is hard. Being a new parent is really hard.
You deserve to be equipped with tools that help you feel confident in this new stage of life.
You deserve to give your baby the best, and a parent who is rested is a better version than a parent who is tired.
New moms and dads do go through a rite of passage when they become parents: that is labor. That is birth.
The nights that follow are life, and you don't have to go through life and parenthood alone.
Written by Ariel Swift
Does this sound familiar?"She was sleeping fine and now I can't put her down!"
"I don't know what's wrong. He is fussy all the time and he acts like he wants to eat, but then he doesn't eat. Is he okay?"
"She was on a great schedule and now I can't seem to get her back in sync!"
As much as you plan and as much as you read, parenthood will never go the way you think it will. We get into patterns. We start to rely on certain behaviors from our children. We think we know what is coming next.
And that's when it happens - the organized world you worked so hard to create starts falling apart. Regardless of your parenting philosophy, your baby is going to go through life and experience what experts are now calling mental leaps. These are periods of development and learning that babies go through where (it seems) all of a sudden, they didn't know something, and then they do.
"Research has shown that babies make 10 major, predictable, age-linked changes – or leaps – during their first 20 months of their lives. During this time, they will learn more than in any other time." explains the Wonder Weeks Team.
You may have called them growth spurts.
Growth spurts occur between 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months (more or less). And they continue on into adolescence and teen years. But because your baby can't tell you what he or she is feeling, as parents, we'll see the cues (or not) and try to meet our babies where they are.
So what are the cues? Each child will respond to these developmental changes a little differently, but some common behaviors are:
You may be reading a book about your child's behavior at the same time they are going through one of these changes and not put two and two together.
Because when your baby is fussy, and you are tired, or you need to get work done, or dishes, or laundry, or a shower, it can be difficult to stop and remember,
"OH! My baby just learned that he has hands!
... And he can operate them!
...And that means he can grab that toy that I've been shaking in front of his face!"
So if your baby need a little more of your time, it's for good reason. If she seems to require a bit more attention and caring and love, try to remember that she may feel like she just jumped off a cliff, and needs some help finding a safe way to land.
Our Postpartum Doulas are just a call away if you need help for a few days, or long term support. We are well aware of the trials that come with leaping babies and we will help you, and them, every step of the way.It's a wide, wide world. You are your child's guide through it- itty bitty steps to great huge leaps.
Written by Ariel Swift
I am so excited for tonight. I get to have a sleepover!
I get to connect with another woman, I get to help her, talk with her, nourish her - with food or companionship.
I get to be welcomed into another woman's home, to meet her exactly where she is at. I am not her guest, I do not need to be entertained.
I get to hear her describe her birth.
I get to hear her describe the first moments of parenthood. I get to hear her describe her feelings. Sometimes, I get to see her ugly cry.
I get to see her heart poured open, in joy, or in fear of the unknown, or though the physical act of feeding her baby from her body.
I am given trust, to be in her home, to hold her child, to share my experience and knowledge of motherhood. I am allowed to see delicate moments. I am an audience to celebrate small and large victories.I am present to be with this woman as she is learning more about what it means to be a woman.
I get to have a sleepover!
I get to look into her eyes and see her without her make up. I get to walk the halls with her restless baby. I get to sing lullabies to her child.
I get to hear her house creak in the night, have my eyes adjust to the bright light of the bathroom, and wake up the house with the smell of coffee in the morning.
I get to help during the times when the other experts all go away. I get to be physically present to support when it feels like there is no one else to call. I get to tell a woman she is an incredible mother.
I get to have a sleepover!
Being a postpartum doula is not all about changing diapers and caring for a baby. It is about connecting and caring for mothers as they recover from birth and learn. It is about being genuine. It is about being available emotionally and physically.
Laundry can get done, bottles can be cleaned, and the baby can be rocked back to sleep - but being a postpartum doula is about the full and genuine recovery of the entire family after the birth experience, and it is centered on the care of the mother.
When the mother is looked after, the family can thrive.
The first few contractions can mean excitement and adrenaline are flowing while getting ready for a baby to be born. The baby is coming! Friends and family may be called. Boss may get notice not to expect you because...hold on... here comes another one...
But then that next part doesn't come.
The part where you go to the hospital and the nurses say, "Yes! You are in active labor, let's get you admitted!" They may send you home. Twice. They may tell you to rest, and relax. They may tell you this isn't the hard part yet.
What is going on?!
Welcome to the world of contractions. It may not be THE strongest muscle in the female body, but there is some evidence to show the uterus presents a strong case (other top contenders are said to be the tongue -which is actually 8 muscles, the eye muscles, the heart muscle, and jaw muscles.)
Even if it isn't the strongest, the uterus is a muscle and muscles are designed to contract. When a woman is feeling her abdomen tighten in a way she has never experienced before, understanding what is expected and normal may require some patience.
The first stage of labor can be described simply as a series of contractions that get longer, stronger, and closer together.
When contractions do not become longer, stronger, or closer together, they are not "labor contractions." They may be called Braxton Hicks contractions, or if closer to your delivery date - pre-labor, prodromal labor, or false labor.
What comes to be the distinguishing difference between Braxton Hicks contractions and pre-labor, (sometimes called prodromal labor) is that Braxton Hicks contractions typically don't cause noticeable change to a woman's cervix.
Braxton HicksSome descriptions of Braxton Hicks:
It is suggested that if Braxton Hicks contractions are being felt, a woman should ease up on activity, or change positions, and drink fluid (as she may be dehydrated). Use the restroom. Take a warm bath. Relax. After some time, Braxton Hicks contractions will usually stop.
Some believe that Braxton Hicks contractions are how your uterus prepares for labor, and the muscle is "getting ready" so to speak. I have seen it been described as "bicep curls for your uterus."
Irritating? Sure. Harmful on their own? No.
Pre-Labor, Or Prodromal LaborSome descriptions of pre-labor or prodromal labor:
A care provider may tell a client that she has no change in effacement or dilation (thickness or opening). A care provider can be asked about how soft the cervix is and its position, as those are important parts of progress as well. Or as one nurse I've worked with says, "You get credit for those contractions!"
So Is It Real, Or Not Real?Regardless of how it is classified, women should be believed when they say they are in pain. Braxton Hicks and prodromal labor both have the possibility of being strong or cause pain. A concern may be how long they last, but that varies widely from person to person - just as birth itself varies widely.
If a person believes it is Braxton Hicks:
If a person has been experiencing contractions for long periods of time but is then told she is not in active labor, it may discourage her and cause fear about what "real labor" will be like. There is no way to predict what a woman's active labor pattern will take, so remaining positive and encouraging is important.
If a woman is experiencing prodromal labor, she can do all the things mentioned above for Braxton Hicks PLUS:
Massage, music, eating and drinking regularly, and rest when possible (between contractions) can help prepare a woman for the time when her body begins to have contractions that are creating measurable change on her cervix.
If prodromal labor lasts to a point where a women does not feel she could sustain the intensity, time, and effort active labor may take, she may consider talking to her care provider about therapeutic rest as an option.
Having a team in place that is equipped to meet a laboring woman right where she is can help keep a woman encouraged, relaxed, and help renew her energy when necessary.
Remember, you get credit for these contractions!
Authored by Ariel Swift
You did it! You had a baby! You have looked into your precious little babe’s face, counted all her fingers and toes. You have eaten a glorious meal after doing so much WORK, and you have taken some time to call a few close friends and relatives to share the news that baby Amazing Lightning YourName-YourName is here with us!
You rest for a night (really, you stare non-stop into baby Amazing’s glorious face) then wake up feeling ready to share with your friends on Facebook that you have given birth and you are are fine, and oh-my-word-look-at-this-squish-baby-I-made-a-human!
But you pick up your phone, and instead of the news of Donald Trump’s latest rant and a quiz about what your coffee order says about your age, you are bombarded by…
Congratulations on baby Amazing!
You guys are awesome!
Love you both!
Can’t wait to meet baby Amazing!
You might be a little confused.
You ask your partner, Did you post it on Facebook? Nope.
Did your mom? Nope.
Instead of making an announcement then returning to love on your baby, you have become an amateur investigator, searching through the loads of notifications to see the one where you are tagged by The Perpetrator of the most heinous offense:
They stole your birth announcement.
A bunch of new feelings you were not prepared to deal with are now mixed in with all the other new feelings you were planning to not be prepared to deal with.
If they aren't your chromosomes, it's not your news. Parents are now making a social media plan before they deliver for just this reason. Besides planning for birth and labor options, they are thinking about their child's social media presence.
But as the planning moves closer to birth, some families are sending out an email/text/tweet to their family letting them know that news of Baby Amazing is asked to be shared first by Mom and Dad.
"Please refrain from posting information about Baby Amazing's birth until after it is posted by the parents. Thank you. Send food. Or gift cards. Love, freaking out almost-parents."
From the Doula Chair:
I've been in the room when a family has gone through this. It was with a family who had to unexpectedly spend time in the NICU, and were understandably occupied by things other than Facebook. When they found out they'd lost their announcement to an over excited (not close) friend, they were hurt.
In between learning their baby needed extra help and extended care, they were also trying to manage breastfeeding a newborn, pain from healing from a surgical birth, rooming at a hospital NICU that was not set up to care for a healing new mother, tender feelings from baby blues, separation from their family because of limited visitors, and stress of managing a house with pets and an impending move across the country!
They didn't have time to explain why they were in the NICU. They didn't know what they wanted to share. They didn't know what they needed. They had new priorities. And now, on top of all of that stress, they felt they were robbed of the joy that sharing their son's birth would give them.
As their doula, both being with them for birth, and then helping with postpartum care while they were at the hospital, I was witness to the vast pain that this one seemingly kind gesture caused this family.
Their friend simply wasn't thinking about what she was doing. She was on auto pilot. When they confronted her, she said she simply didn't think it was news that couldn't be shared.
So the family did what they could, and they kept moving forward. They sent out an email with their new "guidelines" for social media, and sadly, I found out they stopped talking to that friend.
If you have a friend and you know they are having a baby, mums the word. Not your baby, not your news. Not your birth, not your news. Not your chromosomes, not your news.
Are you looking for something to do until you hear that Baby Amazing has arrived? Here you go...
5 Things to share instead...
You've gotten the okay from the doctors that today you'll all go home! No test to determine if you know what you're doing, but here you go, jumping into the parenting wilderness with only two or three days under your belt.
After months of planning and peeing you get to see your baby's face without the help of technology. You can see how she still curls up habitually from her cramped first home, but still can't imagine how she was albe to fit. How did she fit inside of you?
The morning drags. Getting everything ready is slower and more tedious that you imagined. They check the carseat exists and usher you out of the door, and you are officially on your own. Your baby looks so small inside of that gigantic seat!
The car will seem to hit every bump Chicago can muster.
But you are going home. Finally home.
You carry your child up the steps and let the first sights, sounds, and smells wrap you and them in the warm hug that only this place can offer.
You have imagined what it would be like for so long, and now how does it compare?
You are a mom.
You are a dad.
Your home is not just an address, but where first words, first steps, and first loves will happen.
Regardless of the struggles that will come, in this moment, you and your baby have a safe place to land and nothing but the future to walk into.
Welcome home to the first days with your new baby.
Written by Ariel Swift