Category Archives: Baby Care

Commitment and Kids

Why the Couple Relationship Is So Important When You Are Parents

baby shoesWhat is it exactly that makes a committed relationship work, after kids come into the picture? It’s maintaining a loving and safe connection that  allows new parents to weather the storms of raising kids with their relationship intact.

If you want to maintain a good marriage, your relationship with your partner has to come first. Most of us have to work to earn a living, and some of us even enjoy our work. And we all have to take good care of our children. But if your partner always comes last, even a good relationship may fail, which will impact both your children and your financial future. A committed partnership takes love, commitment and hard work, and it’s a rare one that can stand many years of neglect.

Most of us want to be the best parents we can. But we don’t always remember that keeping our relationship happy is one of the most important things we can do for our children’s well-being. This means finding a way to spend time together away from the kids, as well as doing things together as a family. It also means keeping your sex life alive and kicking, whatever that takes. And it means working through your relationship difficulties and finding a way to connect and create time for your relationship despite whatever else is going on. It also requires that you accept your partner as a human being and a parent, as imperfect as they may be. Studies show that children fare much better in a family in which the parents’ relationship is solid, even if the parents do an imperfect job.

Communication is crucial. In the short run, it is always easier to bury resentments and avoid conflict. But in the long run, resentments build up and fester – killing intimacy and poisoning your sexual relationship. Learning how to communicate clearly and connect on an emotional level while remaining responsible for your own feelings and reactions can save your relationship.

For example, if your partner spends time caring for the baby and you’re annoyed that you find him sitting in front of the TV watching football, take a minute to think about how you want to respond. Angrily attacking him for not being engaged with the baby will only drive a wedge between you. On the other hand, biting your lip may be even worse, if it will lead to you feeling resentful and unloving toward your mate. If, after letting yourself cool down, you find that you are still resentful about it, one way to start a conversation is by saying something like: “I know you have had a hard day and you enjoy watching football to unwind. And your time with the baby is yours, so I don’t want to tell you how to do it. But I can’t help feeling resentful, after spending the day entertaining and caring for the baby, when I see you watching TV rather than playing with her.”

It may be that this discussion will involve some conflict, and your partner may express anger. But he also might acknowledge that he is at a loss for how to interact with the baby, or that he feels inadequate or inexperienced with parenting a baby. And you might express your concerns about exposing the baby to TV, and your desire for both of you to be good parents, while acknowledging that a football game probably won’t ruin your child for life.

After such a discussion, you might find that you don’t feel angry anymore. You may understand where your partner is coming from and recognize that the baby will survive some football-watching with Dad. Or, the discussing may spark the idea of giving Dad more time with the baby to improve his confidence. But either way, your feelings of resentment will be less if you work through the issues and understand each others’ feelings.

This is not to say that there are never times when it pays to let something go rather than discussing it with your partner. But the important question to ask yourself is: “will I truly be able to let this go?” If the answer is no, then you have to talk about it, preferably when you are both feeling calm, so you can move past the feelings of resentment and reconnect with your partner.

Remember that there is no intimate relationship that can remain loving without dealing with some conflict. Expressing feelings in a sensitive way is how you grow closer and resolve difficult situations. If you find that these discussions are unproductive, get the help of a qualified couples’ counselor sooner rather than later, so there is enough good will between the two of you to work on making the relationship better.

Often, the issues that keep coming up between you two mask fears and anxieties about the safety and security of your relationship. Reestablishing that bond can make all the difference in resolving the little conflicts that arise and maintaining a strong, healthy bond with your mate.

Letting Go of Parent Guilt

pregnant mom sonThere is no guilt quite like the guilt of a parent. We feel so uniquely responsible for the care of our children. Every lapse in our parenting weighs on us.

Throughout life there are always reasons to feel guilty: the call we forgot to return or the birthday card we forgot to send, or the time we snapped at our partner for no good reason. But when we feel we have failed with our child, this guilt weighs even heavier on our minds.

Guilt is an emotion with a conscience — it helps us try to do our best, and it reminds us of what is important to us. But too much guilt can rob us of enjoyment. And as a parent, there is so much to feel guilty about! If we dote on our child, there’s the house, friends, partner or even job to feel guilty about, and if we try to meet our other obligations, it is easy to feel that you have failed as a parent. It’s a Catch-22!

I wonder sometimes if our parents felt as guilty as we do, or if it is unique to our generation to expect so much from ourselves. And guilt in itself is purposeless. It doesn’t help anyone, but only makes it more difficult to do our best.

When you are feeling guilty, it is important to look at this feeling from some emotional distance, seeing it objectively instead of being its victim. Decide whether your sense of guilt is justified. Sometimes sharing your feelings with a fellow parent can help you sort out what is legitimate and what is perfectionism.

When you feel that you have truly let someone down, it is important to do what you can to make it right. Apologize to the friend you neglected, or the partner or child you yelled at. Try to learn from your guilt to change your priorities and do things differently. Then let the guilt go.

When the guilt is baseless, or unavoidable, like when you feel guilty for a feeling you have, or because you cannot do more than you are capable of, then you need to practice using your “interior parent” to counter those feelings.

If you had a beloved friend who told you she felt terrible because the baby cried while she was on a much-needed outing with her partner, what would you tell her? Probably you would reassure her that she is a wonderful mother, and that she must nurture herself and her relationship in order to be the best mother she can be. You would tell her she has nothing to feel guilty about, and you would also empathize with her pain. This is the role you must also play with yourself.

Listen to your own thoughts, and when they are self-defeating or judgmental, respond to yourself the way you would to a loved one — being a good parent to yourself is part of being a good, loving and joyful parent to your children.

For New Moms: When You’re “Just Not Yourself”

By Meri Levy, MFT

canstockphoto14016122Being a new mother should be a joyous time in your life. But what if you’re not feeling like yourself after having a baby? About 10-15% or of new moms experience postpartum depression, which can begin any time during the first year after childbirth. Depression is a treatable illness that causes feelings of sadness, indifference, and/or anxiety.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is different from the “baby blues.” A majority of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” a period of sadness that isn’t debilitating and passes quickly. Symptoms of the “baby blues” include tearfulness, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. But when symptoms of sadness, irritability or anxiety continue for more than two weeks or make it difficult to care for your baby, there is more going on and it’s time to reach out for help.

Symptoms of PPD include:

  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Trouble sleeping/sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite/increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating/confusion
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Fear of harming the baby or oneself

Symptoms can vary in severity, but persistent depression often causes new moms feel isolated, guilty, or ashamed.

You should tell your doctor if you have several of these symptoms for more than two weeks; if you have thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming your child; depressed feelings are getting worse; or you are having trouble caring for your baby or yourself.

Depression is an illness. It is not a sign of weakness or of being a bad mother. It can be treated successfully, and getting help is the best thing you can do for your baby.

Risk Factors for PPD

Any new mom can develop PPD. Its causes may include hormonal and other physical changes, sleep disturbance, emotional adjustments and chronic stress. However, women are at increased risk of depression if they have a personal or family history of depression, if they are have experienced particularly stressful life events such as significant losses, a high-risk pregnancy or traumatic birth, or if they don’t have adequate support from family and friends.

Other Postpartum Conditions:

Postpartum Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Many new moms experience anxiety rather than sadness after giving birth. Anxiety, panic attacks, irrational fears or intrusive thoughts, or images can be associated with Postpartum Anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack can include a racing heartbeat, unusual physical symptoms, a sense of impending doom, the feeling that you are dying, dizziness or nausea.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after Childbirth
New mothers can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic childbirth experience. PTSD involves reexperiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, having difficulty sleeping, and feeling detached or estranged from friends and loved ones.

Postpartum Psychosis
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare but also very serious. It affects only two out of every 1,000 new moms. The symptoms are severe and may include insomnia, agitation, hallucinations, and extreme paranoia or suspiciousness. Postpartum psychosis is a serious medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

Treatment for Postpartum Disorders is Effective

If you believe you are suffering from a postpartum disorder, the first step is to talk to your doctor or mental health provider.

You should be evaluated by your doctor to rule out a medical cause that can contribute to depression.

Psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two may be needed to get you back to feeling like yourself. But you must continue treatment even after you begin to feel better, because discontinuing treatment too soon can cause symptoms to recur.

The support of family and friends is also instrumental to your recovery. In addition, joining a support group for postpartum disorders can help overcome feelings of isolation, increase coping skills and provide social support.

Getting help is the most important step you can take for yourself and your baby. Untreated maternal depression is associated with developmental delays in babies, as well as potentially serious emotional consequences for your growing child.

How Partners Can Help

New moms suffering from Pospartum Depression and Anxiety need the support of their partner, as well as friends and family. Help with baby care and household responsibilities, provide an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, and be patient and understanding with her struggles. And make sure she gets help.

Partners also need to take care of themselves. Having a new baby is hard for partners too. And if the mother is depressed, you are dealing with two major stressors. Partners can also suffer from Postpartum Depression, a often undiagnosed problem.

How to help a partner suffering from a postpartum disorder:

  • Encourage her to talk about how she is feeling. Listen without judging her. Instead of trying to fix the problems, just be there for her to lean on.
  • Offer help around the house. Chip in with the housework and childcare responsibilities. Don’t wait for her to ask!
  • Make sure she takes time for herself. Rest and relaxation are important. Encourage her to take breaks, hire a babysitter, or schedule some date nights.
  • Be patient if she’s not ready for sex. Depression affects sex drive, so it may be a while before she’s in the mood. Offer her physical affection, but don’t push if she’s not ready for sex. She will recover in time!
  • Go for walks with her. Getting exercise and sunshine can make a big dent in depression, but it’s hard to get motivated when you’re depressed. Help her by making walks a daily ritual for the two of you.

If you’re not sure if you have PPD, complete the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. It is a fairly accurate way of determine if your symptoms are normal or may require treatment.

I offer a support group In my Lafayette Office for mothers suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression. You can download a flier for the group here.

Feeling Clueless? Reading Your Baby’s Cues

By Meri Levy, MFT

father babyPeople have a physiological reaction to the sound of a baby crying. Our hearts pound, our blood pressure rises, and we start to sweat. This reaction causes most of us to try to stop the crying, regardless of how tired, irritable, or hungry we might be ourselves. And that’s a good thing. It’s how our babies learn to trust that their needs will be met and that the world is a safe place.

But sometimes (often!) new parents wonder what the baby is trying to say? What does the baby need? We run around randomly, trying different remedies: jiggling the baby, rocking the baby, changing her diaper, offering a breast or the bottle, or a pacifier. And sometimes the baby still cries. We desperately want to eliminate the cause of the crying, and we become frustrated, angry or guilty when we fail.

I faced this situation with my first child, Benjamin. I never knew what he wanted. He seemed to be constantly fussing, and I was never very good at calming him (and I did not feel calm myself). My second child, Elijah, always wanted to eat, so it was easier to consistently meet his needs. But I had not really improved my ability to read a baby’s signals.

With my third child, Emma, I hoped and prayed she would never (or rarely) cry, so I wouldn’t feel quite so inadequate again. But in the meantime, I picked up a copy of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. I had heard her on a talk show, and she claimed she get babies to sleep through the night, on their own, without letting them cry. This was a secret I wanted in on.

What I got from the book was very different from what I expected. The book is not for everyone. The author is not an advocate of “attachment parenting,” for example. But regardless of your parenting philosophy, The Baby Whisperer has a lot of good information about caring for your baby in a respectful way. She focuses on honoring your baby’s individuality, understanding how babies communicate, and learning how to meet their individual needs.

The book prompted me to stop when Emma began to cry, and to really listen and observe her, rather than jumping in and trying to “rescue” her without knowing what she was asking for. When I figured out what she was saying to me, I was in a much better position to meet her needs.

Here are some of the body language cues discussed in the book that I have found helpful:

Tiredness:

    • Yawning;
    • Moving head from side to side;
    • Flailing, uncoordinated arms, clawing at face;
    • Strong, uncoordinated kicking;
    • Bloodshot eyes.

Overstimulation/overtiredness, same as above, plus:

    • Turns away from objects and faces;
    • “Seven-mile stare.”

Hunger:

    • Turning head to one side and craning neck back with an open mouth;
    • Bringing hands to mouth, trying to suck them;
    • Pursing lips;
    • Curling tongue at sides.

Coldness:

    • Quivering bottom lip;
    • Extremities turning bluish;
    • Mottled skin;
    • Goose pimples;

Pain/gas:

  • Silent screaming, then gasp and audible wail
  • Grimacing, often scrunched up face
  • Arms shaking, slight tremor
  • Rigid torso
  • Legs pulled up to chest

What I discovered, from observing Emma more closely and choosing how to respond to her body language and cries, is that frequently what I used to interpret as hunger or gas was in fact tiredness or overstimulation. What happens if you feed a tired baby who isn’t hungry is that frequently she may get gas and be overtired and more difficult to put to sleep.

The goal is not to stop all crying. Babies cry to express themselves, and even a “perfect” parent, if such a thing existed, couldn’t prevent all crying. Nor should you, necessarily; your baby may benefit from having a chance occasionally to self-soothe, which is an important skill as your baby grows older. For subsequent children, this skill is learned by necessity because parents can’t always respond immediately. But by learning to read your baby’s cues, you can avoid some frustration for yourself and have the confidence to know you are doing the best you can for your baby.

Co-Parenting With a Partner

The First Year Can Be Rough, by Meri Levy, MFT

family twinsIf you’re like me, I really thought that, despite my decision to breastfeed, my husband was so gung ho about being a Dad that we would share the parenting responsibilities pretty equally once our first child was born. I was in for a rude awakening. Breastfeeding meant that much of the time I was literally attached to my new baby, and when I was not, I had an easier time calming him than my husband did. And even when I didn’t, I couldn’t stand to have my husband trying to comfort our fussy baby without stepping in and trying to help. Whether due to biology or psychology, I was so attached to my new baby that I couldn’t tear myself away long enough to really get a break. As a result, I became more comfortable in the baby care role, and he became less.

There are many reasons why fathers often take a backseat in the early days with a new baby. Whether because of a hormonally-afflicted “helicopter” Mom, an inexperienced Dad, a baby who is more easily calmed by the mother, or gender-related attitudes about who does what, newborn care often falls disproportionately to the mother. And since Mom is generally recovering from childbirth, likely adjusting to breastfeeding, undoubtedly sleep deprived, and in the throes of huge hormonal changes, this disproportionate share can become a BIG PROBLEM. You know that saying that “if Mom isn’t happy, nobody is happy?” I think the truth of that statement is widely underestimated.

So, we’ve got a Mom who can’t let go to allow her partner to care for the baby, a Dad who is either mildly incompetent or feels he is (or is being treated like he is), a baby who’s getting used to being cared for by Mom, and a Mom who is at the end of her rope and feels like she just can’t get a break (and is not sure she would take one if she could). Not a recipe for a happy family.

Negotiating who does what, recognizing the barriers to fairly allocating parenting and household responsibility and actually making and carrying out a plan to address those barriers and create a cooperative, supportive and fair allocation of workload is one of the major tasks of the first year of parenthood. Working out a plan for who does what, figuring out how to set goals for change if change is needed, and implementing those changes, can make a world of difference.

I once read a study (and I don’t have a citation, but I like to believe that it is true) that claimed that of all the factors that might predict the well-being of children as they grow up (e.g. praise, affection, discipline, structure, etc.), the one variable that is most predictive of a child’s future well-being is the degree to which his or her parents have a cooperative relationship around parenting. So, if that is true, it matters less who does what (or if it is done correctly), and it matters more that parents are supportive of each other as parents and partners.

Bonding With Your Baby

The Importance of Attachment to Your Newborn, by Meri Levy, MFT.

Most new mothers face a number of fears as they look forward to welcoming their first child. Will they be “ready” when the baby comes? Will they have everything they need? Will the birth go smoothly, without too much pain? Will the baby be healthy? Will they know how to care for their new child?

But the process of bonding with a new baby is rarely considered. Of course you will love your new baby. Of course you will feel attached, and be able to relate to your own flesh and blood.

What is bonding?

Bonding is the process of attachment which, when everything goes smoothly, creates a symbiotic relationship between mother and baby. The mother feels a loving bond with her baby and feels capable of meeting her baby’s needs. The mother’s hormones (aided by breastfeeding in the best case), combined with the babies reflexive response to soothing by the mother, help the two form a positive attachment. Add in a good dose of mother/infant physical and eye contact and the bond between mother and baby are virtually guaranteed, in the absence of other barriers.

What can cause bonding difficulties?

Sometimes the process of bonding doesn’t go as smoothly as expected. There are many factors that can contribute to a new mom having difficulty bonding with her baby. Among others, these include:

  • A traumatic birth experience and/or a difficult recovery
  • A colicky or fussy baby who is difficult to care for or soothe
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Separation from the baby associated with medical interventions
  • A lack of support for the new mother, causing feelings of being overwhelmed or unable to cope.
  • Perinatal depression or anxiety, which can also be correlated with the other factors

Sometimes, a combination of these or other variables can cause a new mom to feel disconnected from her baby. She may feel unable to calm her baby, like the baby isn’t really “hers,” or that she is a bad mother.

Early intervention in the case of bonding difficulties can have a dramatic effect on the well-being of both the baby and the mother. Prolonged failure to bond can be associated with attachment-related mental health problems in the developing child, as well as a sense of failure by the mother. Getting help early on to recover physically and mentally from birth, addressing feeding and calming difficulties, maintaining close physical contact between the baby and mother, and addressing other barriers to bonding can have a huge impact on the lifelong relationship between mother and child.