Category Archives for Parenting

There Is No Secret

I’m here to break it to you. There’s no secret to parenting. There’s no 3 easy steps (popular “discipline” manuals aside).

It’s messy. It takes your whole-hearted participation. You are going to feel like you get stuff wrong . . . But while there are lots of possible descriptors when reflecting on parenting choices and approaches, with some obvious exceptions, there isn’t really a “wrong” because for a lot of parenting questions there’s no objective right answer. It’s not math. It’s guiding an individual person through growing up.

child covered in paint

Yes, sometimes that kind of messy.
©Jen Mueller

What is there then? There’s the approach that most closely honors your integrity and matches your core values executed with as much skill as you can manage in that particular moment. In short: there’s doing your best.

Yes, this post is absolutely a reaction to something that came across my Facebook feed. I writer who typically posts interesting material, posted something that really read to me like “if you are having this problem, you doing it wrong.”

The problem with the post (which, no, I’m not linking to) is that the author mixed up approach and values with results. I approve of her approach and values – in this case making the child feel heard and understood in regard to their feelings about some disagreeable task – but disagree that it will necessarily result in a cessation of resistance to said task in the short run.

That said, I generally take her approach to the problem. So why do I keep doing it if it doesn’t “fix” the problem? Because it’s the that matches my values and feels like integrity. So I will continue doing, likely in the face of continued resistance, until something shifts. My guess is that shift will be partly my skillfulness, but will mostly be my child growing up.


Featured image: two girls sharing a secret by www.personalcreations.com via flickr/cc license

Why I Don’t Encourage Pregnant Moms to Attend Breastfeeding Support Groups

Ok, the headline is a little misleading . . . I think it’s good for pregnant moms to attend breastfeeding support groups, but not as their only breastfeeding preparation.

babywearing

flickr user hugabug-babywearing by creative commons license, 4/20/2015

As a leader of peer-to-peer breastfeeding support, I’ve seen a trend of childbirth educators assigning La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA meetings as homework for their students. Yes, those meetings are free and expecting moms (and sometimes partners) are welcome. Yes, those meeting leaders are knowledgeable. Yes, peer-to-peer support has been shown to increase breastfeeding duration and satisfaction (which is pretty cool). As wonderful as a peer-to-peer meeting can be, it is NOT a class and is not intended to be.

A prenatal breastfeeding class presents the information for expecting parents in an organized format with an emphasis on the most common challenges and best practices to set up the breastfeeding mother and baby for success. A support meeting addresses the issues in response to the moms who show up, which may not be typical. 

Meetings tend to be focused on the mother baby dyad and, for the comfort of self-conscious new moms, may not even allow male partners to attend. Classes tend to be targeted to both parents as a team!

Meetings tend to be focused on supporting moms and babies from 2 weeks to 2 years postpartum. This is well after the critical first hours and days for establishing breastfeeding.  A class can can lay out a set of landmarks for expecting parents as those first hazy days with a newborn and need to know if things are going well or if it’s time to get help. 

A good class addresses the critical questions parents have in the early days: How much milk does your newborn actually need and how do you know if he is getting it? How often should your baby nurse and for how long? What is engorgement and what do you do if it happens? How do you know your milk has “come in”? What do you do if you aren’t sure if it has? Are the considerations (tips) different if you have a c-section birth? An early baby? A really large baby? What can your partner do to help? A peer-to-peer meeting might touch on all of these things, but it might not.

I don’t intend to start a firestorm since I strongly support mother-to-mother breastfeeding networks. I recommend attending even when everything seems to be going fine with nursing. Group leaders are usually experienced breastfeeding mothers, sometimes very skilled facilitators, and are extremely well educated on breastfeeding. Unlike a class, a meeting provides an valuable opportunity to hear first-hand about struggles and overcoming them and simply hanging out with other new moms is good for mental health during what can be an isolating postpartum period.

However meeting discussions are driven by the individual needs of the participants and can be very stream-of-consciousness. That can be hard for an expecting mom or dad to follow when breastfeeding and newborns are still very abstract.

I’d love to see expecting moms moms attend both organized breastfeeding education and peer-to-peer support before baby comes, but if they have to choose, I’d rather see them do a class designed especially for them.

 

 

New Parents Reading List

A really common question: What books do you recommend for new parents?

babywearing soft wrap carrier, dad, baby sleepingYeah, it’s overwhelming. I don’t even want to look up the number of parenting and baby books available on Amazon.com What’s more, recent studies have shown that all this advice is not only overwhelming, it’s making us depressed.

According to The Conversation, “[t]he problem is that these there is a potential mismatch between expectations of what the books offer and the reality of being a parent.” Many baby books promise long stretches of sleep and predictable behavior if you simply follow their schedule and method. But often, baby doesn’t read the book. Since the behaviors promised are often not developmentally typical, parents end up at odds with their babies and feeling like a failure.

But in an age when many new parents have little to no experience with baby care and are far from family and support networks, we need to turn to somewhere to learn right?

Recommended Reading List

Many baby care books are heavy on the advice and light on the science and citations.  These may not be the most common baby shower gifts, but are my favorite references because they are evidence based, cited, and declare their author biases (affiliate links):

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child

If you are looking for a manual of all things baby care and concerns that might come up in the first few years, the American Academy of Pediatrics book is pretty good.

Get the most recent version since advice changes as new science is published (and be aware that authors toe this line on AAP policy recommendations, including sleep safety.)

Brain Rules for Baby

Want to know what’s going on inside that adorable little baby you were just handed? This is a good one on brain development and why responding to baby is so important. This is not a practical manual, but still an excellent read.

Disclaimer: I don’t actually care for his perspective on sleep, but at least he admits that how it reads – as an overview of inadequate science with a justification of his personal preferences – is actually what it is. There isn’t scientific agreement on sleep and baby development at all and Medina put this section in the book reluctantly because of that.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

This La Leche League classic was last updated in 2004, which sounds like a long time ago, but babies and breastfeeding is actually pretty timeless. It’s organized in a very helpful prenatal-to-weaning format and including lots of first person stories from real families facing real struggles and triumphs. It covers a wide variety of topics for breastfeeding families including some basics on sleep and the baby sleep myths that are unhelpful, going back to work and pumping, introducing solids and more.

Your Amazing Newborn

An easy, well-illustrated read covering the prenatal and early antenatal development, reflexes, and perceptions of babies.

Baby Steps, Second Edition: A Guide to Your Child’s Social, Physical, Mental and Emotional Development in the First Two Years

This child development book is refreshingly devoid of parenting advice. It’s organized by month and quite comprehensive.

Happiest Baby on the Block

The 5-S’s method of baby soothing has become both a cliche and cottage industry, with a series of spin off books, videos, and other products (including a $1000 bed, yikes), but Karp’s advice in the Happiest Baby is solid.

I especially like the way Dr Karp encourages parents to look at the world from the baby’s point of view and adapting soothing techniques to match baby’s needs and expectations (hint: that works better than expecting the reverse to happen).

Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family

For an alternative take on bed sharing with lots of great advice for parents, Sweet Sleep is my top recommendation. As the subtitle indicates, this book is really focused on the breastfeeding family and the advice goes well beyond early infancy.

Many sleep books focus on night weaning and spreading out feeds in order to maximize sleep. Unfortunately, this goes against biology since babies are designed to eat pretty frequently and mom’s body is designed to deliver milk that often. Some babies (and moms) do just fine with long stretches of no breastfeeding, but lactation consultants will tell you that again and again sleep training is often one of the factors when mom presents low milk supply between 4-12 months and baby’s growth has slowed.

Is the current conventional wisdom – scheduling and sleep training – the only option? Nope. This book provides real family examples and tons of strategies for getting sufficient sleep while supporting breastfeeding for as long as baby/mom/family want to continue.

Sleeping with Your Baby

This simple how-to manual by sleep researcher Dr James McKenna is for parents wishing bed share to or deciding whether bed sharing is appropriate for their family. McKenna covers the pros and cons and how to bed share most safely. Since some 60% of parents end up with baby in their bed at some point, even if the aren’t planning it, bed-sharing safety is important for every family and this makes my “must read” list.

Bonus: Quality Blogs

  • Sarah Ockwell-Smith – Sarah is author of a series of books on Gentle Parenting, several of which are on my personal reading list.
  • Darcia Narvaez, Moral Landscapes on Psychology Today – Darcia offers well cited articles on a wide variety of parenting topics
  • Ahaparenting.com – The site of Dr.Laura Markham is something you might start looking into after those first hazy days when you start thinking: What’s my parenting philosophy? How do I want to raise this person? Good stuff.
  • KellyMom.com – Breastfeeding questions and no time for a book? This is a good site written by a lactation consultant that will not lead you astray.

Overwhelmed? Join us for a quick 2-hour overview of baby development and care at one of our Beyond the Bump workshops.

 

Amazon Affiliate Link Disclaimer: Breathing Space is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com

Why Take a Class to Learn Infant Massage?

baby being massagedIn some cultures, parents have been massaging their babies for millennia. In modern western cultures, researchers have confirmed many of the developmental benefits of the infant massage tradition – from improved growth and sleep to social emotional development or bonding and more. As massage has become more popular in the age of YouTube, you might wonder if attending a class is necessary.

The easiest way to learn to massage your baby is with the help of an certified instructor of infant massage. Our courses are taught over a number of weeks, normally 4 – 6, to give both the parent and baby time to learn and become comfortable with the massage.

Infant Massage Class Provides Personalized Instruction

The strokes and styles of massage are easier to grasp when demonstrated by our experienced instructors.  Baby position, parent posture and hand positioning, pressure, speed and reading babies cues all affect the massage experience and all are part of the class instruction. By taking an in-person class, your instructor can watch your technique, make suggestions, and answer questions. Because every baby is different, massage is not one-size-fits-all. You instructor will suggest variety of approaches depending on the babies in the class.

A Multi-Session Infant Massage Class Format Benefits Both Parent and Baby

Each week parents learn strokes for a new part of the body while reviewing strokes from previous classes. So new strokes are learned and previous information is reinforced. We teach a little at a time to ensure that you are confident with every aspect.

For the baby, the multi-session approach respects their unique response to massage. While beneficial, a skin-to-skin massage is an enormous amount of sensory stimulation. It is unusual for babies new to massage to have the stamina for the full body routine in one sitting. By learning over multiple weeks, we can go at baby’s pace.

Infant Massage Class Builds Community with Other Babies and Parents

Our classes are held in small groups to ensure personalized attention and allow participants to get to know each other. We offer supportive group sessions where parents can share experiences and learn from each other while having fun.

Classes are baby led. In our classes, it’s okay for babies to cry! Recommended age for group classes is from birth to pre-crawling.

infant massage

Flickr user jk_rocky CC License

 

Infant Massage Class is About More than Just Learning the Strokes

Besides teaching the time-tested massage techniques, valuable parenting tips will be shared and topics on child development will be covered. Our instructors are experienced parents and early childhood educators. Class discussions are also designed to enable parents to learn from each other.

 

Find out more about our classes and upcoming series.

5 Benefits of Infant Massage According to the Research

Babies thrive on loving touch. Parents and caregivers have known the importance of skin-to-skin contact for millenia, but it’s only been in recent times that science has begun studying and trying to quantify the amazing  power of massage and other touch techniques:

Massage after baby bathtime

Flickr user Miss Pupik CC License

Improved Sleep Patterns
Infants who were massaged before bedtime adjusted to a more favorable rest-activity cycle by the age of 8 weeks and produced more melatonin, a sleep regulator, during the night by the age of 12 weeks.

– Ferber SG, Laudon M, Kuint J, Weller A, Zisapel N. Massage therapy and sleep-wake rhythms in the neonate. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 2002;23(6):410-415.
Reduction of Stress

Cortisol levels, a stress indicator, was significantly lower after infant massage.

– White-Traut RC, Pate CM, Modulating infant state in premature infants. J Pediatr Nurs. 1987;2(2):96-101.
Improved Interaction in Families

Fathers who used massage techniques with their infants experienced increased self-esteem as a parents. The babies greeted their fathers with more eye contact, smiling, vocalizing and reaching responses. The fathers were more expressive and showed more enjoyment and more warmth during floor-play interactions with their infants.

– Cullen, C., Field, T., Escalona, A. & Hartshorn, K. (2000). Father-infant interactions are enhanced by massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 164, 41-47.

Support of Mother’s Mental Health
infant massage classLearning the practice of infant massage by mothers may be an effective treatment for facilitating mother-infant interaction in mothers with postnatal depression. Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scores improved for the mothers who learned massage, as did their video-taped mother-baby interactions.

– Onozawa k, Glover V, Adams D, Modi N, Kumar RC. Infant massage improves mother-Infant interaction for mothers with postnatal depression
Increased Weight Gain for Premature Infants
Premature infants that were massaged regularly had higher daily weight gain, increased motor activity, and better Brazelton neonatal behavioral assessment scores. They had a better conversion of calories to weight gain.

 – Field TM, Schanberg SM, Scafidi F, et al. Tactile/kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates. Pediatrics. 1986;77(5):654-658.

– Phillips RB, Moses HA. Skin hunger effects on preterm neonates. Infant Toddler Intervention. 1996;6(1):39-46.

Upcoming Classes

Why Take a Prenatal Breastfeeding Class?

By Kimberly Hawley, MA, MPH, CLEC

So you are pregnant, and it seems like you have a million things to do to prepare for your baby. Between your prenatal appointments, preparing for birth, and preparing your house and life for the new addition, a prenatal breastfeeding class might just seem like one more “to do” that you would really like to shove way down on the priority list. But for those who plan to breastfeed, preparing prenatally can be the best way to ensure a good start to your breastfeeding relationship.

4133664398_a9987c3803_zAlthough we live in a society that strongly promotes breastfeeding, there is still a lot of misinformation pervasive in both healthcare and the general public. Inaccurate information and structural barriers can make breastfeeding a more challenging experience than it otherwise would be. A breastfeeding class will give you the knowledge to navigate your breastfeeding journey.

So, how will this breastfeeding class accomplish this?

Knowledge

With all the information on the internet it is easy to feel like you only need Google to learn about breastfeeding. The internet, however, is full of incorrect and conflicting information. If you are relying on the internet for your breastfeeding information then you are responsible for sorting the bad articles from the good. When left to educate yourself it can be overwhelming to try and figure out what exactly you need to know about breastfeeding before your baby arrives. A prenatal breastfeeding class is designed to present the most relevant information in a clear and organized way, therefore taking the burden off of you.

8137751994_18d0359353_zConfidence

A breastfeeding class teaches you what to expect from breastfeeding and how to troubleshoot the most common problems. With such knowledge already in your head, you will feel confident in your breastfeeding abilities. Confidence in the process will make the first post-partum weeks a little less stressful.

Empowerment

When you are confident and knowledgeable, you will feel empowered to breastfeed and to ignore the unhelpful comments you may encounter. Many women begin to doubt themselves when barraged by the well-meaning questions that tie all infant behavior back to breastfeeding. Empowered moms can better stand up for themselves and their baby.

Why a class and not a breastfeeding support group?

1101531528_acc78b3541_z (1)Support groups such as La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are wonderful places to hear how other mom’s handled a situation. They are great for sharing experiences and finding a community, but their free flowing discussions can make it difficult for an expectant mom to learn what she needs to know to get her off to a good start with breastfeeding. Support groups usually focus on the questions brought by moms’ in attendance. This can lead to a discussion that doesn’t best represent the most common issues or leaves moms with a skewed perception of what to expect. They are great resources, but not set up for full out learning. A class is specifically designed to present the information in an easy to learn format.

So, I encourage you to make a prenatal breastfeeding class a high priority. Just like childbirth class’s best prepare you for birth, a prenatal breastfeeding class will best prepare you for breastfeeding. The better you prepare yourself to parent and feed your newborn, the more likely you will be able to relax and enjoy getting to know your baby.


Kimberly Hawley, MA, MPH, CLEC, is a certificated Lactation Educator Counselor and experienced breastfeeding mother. She has lived in Capitol Hill since 2008. Her work in breastfeeding support is informed by her background in public health and anthropology. Kimberly wants all parents to feel empowered and supported while breastfeeding their little ones.

Photo credits: Flickr users edenpictures, hugabub-babywearing , goetter. Used by creative commons license 4/20/2015.

 

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Babies – 3 Week Series

Baby yoga - Butterfly Pose

Itsy Bitsy Yoga classes contain dozens of unique yoga postures designed to support baby’s development. Each class is filled with calming, nurturing ways to enhance bonding and improve baby’s sleep.

During a Baby Itsy Bitsy Yoga class, babies enjoy yoga while on their backs, tummies, or held in loving arms. For parents, this class is a special opportunity to meet other moms, get support, and learn about baby’s emerging personality.

Most of the yoga we do in Itsy Bitsy Yoga is for baby, but you will also learn breathing and relaxation techniques as you practice a bit of yoga yourself. No yoga is experience required.

Dates: Sat May 31, Jun 7, Jun 14
Time: 10:45 AM  –  11:30 AM
Location: Hill Center

Cost(s): $ 45.00  SIGN UP

Drop-ins welcome with space availability; do not count toward minimum unless reserved in advanced. Email to use credits from your prenatal class pass or makeups from another series.

Please see our Class Tips, Fees & Policies and Tips for New Students for more details. See How to Sign Up for Class for more instructions.

Registration is for one child (approximately 6 weeks – pre-crawling) and up to 2 parent/caregivers. Bringing twins? We recommend bringing 2 caregivers, but it can be done with only one (contact us about a sibling registration discount in that case). Minimum registration 5 students one week in advance to run series.

 

 

Do Babies Need Yoga? Why Take A Baby Yoga Class

“Babies don’t need yoga. They’re fine the way they are,” was the comment made in my presence by another yoga teacher not that long ago. I totally agree, I also wholeheartedly advocate for and teach mom & baby classes.

Baby yoga, child's-pose, itsy bitsy yoga

Smiling Child’s Pose by flickr user lululemon
athletica

Babies are often described as natural yogis because they are so naturally “in the moment.” As parents, on the other hand, we spend much of the time we have with our infants thinking about everything but the present moment. Household chores, grocery shopping, caring for older children, commuting to and from work, and even working from home are among the necessities of modern life. Baby yoga class is a designated hour each week to focus on simply being with our child.

The poses and moves we do in class are developmentally supportive – meaning they are largely movements that baby will discover and practice on their own. Many parents report that their babies independently come into yoga poses such as downward facing dog, plank, cobra, and more. Itsy Bitsy Yoga creator Helen Garabedian explains:

“From birth, babies instinctively draw their knees up toward their chest as if trying to come into knees-to-chest pose (apanasana). The infant’s digestive system is sometimes underdeveloped at birth, and apanasana aids in digestion and relieves gas discomfort.

Sphinx pose helps the four-month-old lengthen the spine, energize the organs, and tone the upper body. Sphinx pose is a necessary precursor to weight-shifting and one-hand play as a baby rests on her tummy. As the five- or six-month-old baby is beginning to lift the head and torso to higher elevations, sphinx pose evolves into cobra pose (bhujangasana). Postures practiced on the tummy strengthen the muscles and connections needed for crawling and may help prevent future lower back pain.

Baby yoga, itsy bitsy, down dog

Baby in downward facing dog pose by flickr user kourtlynlott

As babies become mobile and work toward crawling, they move through more of the poses adults do on the yoga mat.

Downward-facing dog (adhomukha-shvanasana) is first practiced before a baby starts to crawl, and later is a favorite pose of one-year-olds. Developmentally, downward-facing dog helps connect a baby’s upper and lower body. After crawling is integrated into a baby’s movement repertoire, a baby may begin to walk in downward-facing dog (or bear walk.) This helps an experienced crawler get a feel for moving through space at a higher level than crawling, but at a lower level than walking.”

The wonderful thing about a baby yoga class is that we, as parents and caregivers, get to experience exploring these natural movements with them.

Baby yoga, seated forward bend, itsy bitsy yoga

Baby yogi takes pachimotansana variation by flickr user cianc (kidding, he may need rescue)

When my own daughter was an infant, yoga class was one of the highlights of my week for many of the same reasons the moms in my classes love it. It was a break from my day where I was encouraged to simply get to know my baby, connect with other parents,  relax and let go, and even learn a little bit about child development.

After I returned to full-time work at the office, my husband took over in yoga class and our experience is why I encourage moms to bring their partners to class or teach what they’ve learned to dad or other caregivers. When multiple caregivers know the same poses and songs, they become like a shared language and help parents meet one of their baby’s most fundamental needs: the need to communicate and connect with us.

When multiple caregivers know the same poses and songs, they become like a shared language and help parents meet one of their baby’s most fundamental needs: the need to communicate and connect with us.

What is preschool yoga class like?

Tot - downdogIf you’ve never taken your 2-year-old to a yoga class, you might have trouble imagining what we do there.

If you just don’t think your active toddler will stay on a yoga mat for 45 minutes, you are totally right and it’s totally ok! In kids yoga, we MOVE! We march; we hop; we skip; we gallop.

Scarf play in preschool yogaWe do yoga poses, but that’s only part of the magic (and when you’re in a room full of preschoolers in warrior pose shouting “sunshine” at the top of their lungs, it is definitely magic). We act out stories like jungle safari or trip to the beach, using very little Sanskrit to describe the poses we are doing and no detailed alignment adjustments.

Instead, we engage children in fun games as they explore their bodies and develop strength and coordination in the poses. We emphasize developmentally supportive movements as tykes master gross motor skills such as balancing, jumping, coordinating movements on both sides of the body, and more.

Tot - Toes to NoseWe embrace the children for who they are: some are watchers who might wait for the safety of their own homes to break out what they saw in class; others want to do every pose and make up their own; still others may need to burn off steam running in circles in the room and might only join the group when we do their very favorites.

Children learn age-appropriate poses and breath awareness, ways to relieve frustration, improve motor skills, and increase attention span by actively following directions.  They also connect with their parent and caregiver as grownups model a healthy and fit lifestyle while having fun.

Breathing Space Baby and Tot 587For parents, preschooler yoga is very much an exercise in yogic parenting: releasing our attachment to particular outcomes and being present to this moment we have with our child. Of course, my husband says his favorite part of preschooler yoga class is, hands-down, legs-up-the-wall at the end (with bubbles for the little ones).


See our current class schedule to the right and come check it out for yourself!


And check out this video interview with its Itsy Bitsy Yoga creator and child development specialist Helen Garabedian:

Yoga Weekend – Reflecting on Yoga During Pregnancy

 

2023590045_711a2e17d4_o_2

My daughter attended all nine Anusara
Yoga Immersion Weekends – but only
one on the outside.

 First cold weather car ride on Flickr

Back in February at the same time we decided it was finally time to have a baby, I signed up for a nine month Anusara Immersion program.

For the past eight months, I spent one weekend a month practicing asana and exploring Anusara, Tantric, and other schools of yogic philosophy with an amazing group of yogis.  For eight months, they watched Maya grow.  This weekend, they met her.

I was just a few weeks pregnant when I wrote the following essay on the meaning of the first principle of Anusara yoga.

Opening to Grace

Right now, to me, opening to grace means relinquishing the illusion of control in order to surrender to the divine.

If proper Attitude is a balance between effort and surrender, my challenge is to let go of my effort drive.  The drive to do more, push harder, set more goals, make more plans, and take on more projects can have an addictive quality and interferes with balance.  Resolution, willpower, creativity, and enthusiasm, crowd out mindfulness, quiet, harmony, and acceptance.

It is my practice on the yoga mat that regularly reminds me to release and surrender, opening to grace and a balance of essential heart qualities.

My husband and I are expecting our first child in November.  Even the first few weeks of this pregnancy has broken down any illusion of my control over it. No amount of effort on my part ensures a happy outcome and healthy child. There is no perfect dose of vitamins, exercise, rest, or extensive research that guarantees a healthy delivery. In fact, indulging a desire to control every aspect of pregnancy is not only futile, it may be harmful as it will inevitably lead to frustration, worry and stress.  While I can be a partner in creating this new life, I am not in charge of it; it is the work of the divine. This pregnancy has driven home the undeniable truth that only in surrendering to the divine, can I truly become a partner in creation.

Over the next several months, I will work to balance effort with surrender both on and off the mat for, at this moment, that is what opening to grace means to me.

 

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