For most new parents, sleep becomes an obsession, their most precious commodity. They will happily trade exercise, sex, and time with friends for just a shot at catching some Z’s–kind of like how a rat with ad libitum access to cocaine will happily forgo food.
As first-time expecting moms and dads, we read up on pregnancy, on labor and delivery, perhaps on breastfeeding, and, if we are wise, on baby sleep.
But most of us fail to read up on the profound ways having a child will affect our lives, particular our partnership with our spouse.
Contrary to what some of your colleagues at work may believe, having a baby is not some kind of convenient excuse for a months-long staycation. Having a newborn is like a bomb going off in your life. You and your partner transmogrify from well-rested, well-adjusted, social people to a tired, infrequently showered, and low-EQ zombies.
As difficult as this transition is, few books or blogs tackle this huge life shift. It is a startling lack, given the profusion of books on pregnancy, delivery, baby sleep, and the first year with baby. Perhaps no one wants to deliver the bad news to glowing first-time mom-to-be. Or perhaps we all engage in a collective forgetting that allows the human race to survive.
Whatever the reason, the result is clear: Many new parents woefully underprepared, left to navigate the marital challenges of early parenthood without a map or even a compass, and often with profound sense of isolation and loneliness, despite how commonplace these challenges are. It’s the reason books like “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids” are written.
I would like to recommend two books that help–in very different ways–new parents-to-be prepare for the emotional toll of being a new parent.
The second, which I describe below in detail, is Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift.
For a year and a half after giving birth to my third child, a full night’s sleep eluded me like some kind of impossible dream. In retrospect, it is clear that I was suffering from chronic insomnia, and it persisted long after my daughter had started sleeping through the night.
Sleep researchers define chronic insomnia as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep that persists for at least 3 months. Chronic insomnia may affect as many as 1 in 6 adults in the U.S., and, as will surprise no one, it is especially common among new mothers.
Whether I was exhausted or well rested, every night, I would lay awake from 2 or 3 am until 5:30 am, running over my problems in the most negative possible light, and despising myself for being unable to fall back asleep.
Then, at dawn, I would finally fall into a deep sleep, only to have to awaken an hour or so later.
The effects on my ability to function were severe: My nerves felt constantly frayed, my patience was thin, and my mind felt like it was encased in cotton. Overall I felt like I was constantly running on empty, pushing myself to get through my day.
Don’t give your baby solids until 6 months of age. This is the unambiguous advice of the world’s most highly regard medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the UK’s National Health Service, and the World Health Organization.
Ignore the “mistaken” belief that introducing solids earlier will help your baby sleep better. Early solids could have the opposite effect, worsening your baby’s sleep, according to popular parenting sites like Kelly Mom and the Baby Sleep Site.
Or so we have been told.
That first glimpse of two pink lines–can it be?–and your heart start to pound with excitement. You’re pregnant!
But after a few moments of celebration, you descend back to earth. Okay, you’re pregnant, but for how long? Will this pregnancy stick?
You have entered a new, more hopeful limbo than the much bemoaned two-week wait. But it’s still no picnic. This is especially true for women who have spent lots of money on fertility treatments just trying to conceive.
We all know that miscarriage is very common, especially early in pregnancy. And for most women, good info about viability does not come until the first ultrasound usually performed at 8-10 weeks (as I describe extensively here.)
There’s not much good to say about undergoing fertility treatments. But one silver lining is this: Once pregnant, you receive information about your chances of a healthy pregnancy much earlier, from your “betas”–blood tests of your beta hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) levels.
As longtime readers of my blog know, in 2011, carrying my first child, I became obsessed with the question of whether pregnant women could lie on their backs–either for short periods of time, such as during a yoga class, or while asleep at night.
Several OBs told me to avoid lying on my back. But their justifications were murky, and their advice conflicting. Not a one could point to a single published study backing this advice up. And when asked at what point in pregnancy I needed to start avoiding back sleeping, their answers were all over the place. One told me it was verboten from 4 months on, another from 5 months on, and the third claimed I should worry only in the last month or so.
Sleeping with a bowling ball-sized stomach is challenging, to say the least. At the same time, groundless sleep prohibitions with vague but terrifying warnings that you might harm your baby are immensely frustrating, and yet almost impossible to disregard.
As part of their “baby-friendly” initiatives, some hospitals now require women to sign consent forms before receiving formula. These forms purport to list the “harms” associated with “a single bottle” of formula, and ask that parents signify their understanding that formula should not be given unless medically necessary.
On its face, asking parents to sign a waiver to receive formula, a long-used and widely available way of feeding babies, seems astoundingly paternalistic. But what I find most shocking are the allegedly “scientific” claims these forms make about supplementing with formula.
The human microbiome is one of the hottest topic in medical research today, and with good reason.
This collection of trillions of microscopic inhabitants–bacteria, viruses, and fungi—cover nearly every interior and exterior surface of the human body, and many scientists now believe that these unseen co-passengers, far from being incidental hangers-on, are instead actively cultivated by our bodies and play a critical role in our immune and metabolic health.
Over the last decade, studies have linked the composition of our microbiomes the to a panoply of modern ailments: obesity, asthma, allergies, acne, C difficile induced diarrhea, and autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s and Type 1 Diabetes.
Our microbiome may matter most in early infancy.
Who needs prenatal testing for genetic disorders? How much does your risk of carrying a baby with a genetic disorder increase with your age? Which prenatal test or screen is right for you?
These are among the questions my amazing co-author Molly Dickens (and fellow pregnant scientist blogger/partner-in-crime) and I tackle in our new ebook on prenatal testing. We provide a quick “cheat sheet” on how these tests compare, and then dig into the nitty-gritty details of each as well as the history of prenatal testing and how to estimate your personal risk of carrying a baby with a genetic disorder.
Too little iron in infancy can cause irreversible cognitive deficits. And iron deficiency can have no symptoms. It’s scary.
Yet the advice parents get on meeting your baby’s iron needs is complex, conflicting, and incredibly confusing.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (yes, yes, I know–it ended yesterday), we need to talk about a widely overlooked aspect of breastfeeding, its recipients!
Nope, I am not talking about our babies. (After all, who could overlook them?) I am talking about our babies’ gut bacteria.
Breast milk contains carbohydrates (known as HMOs, for Human Milk Oligosaccharides) specially designed to nourish specific gut bacteria, particularly Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria contain genes designed to metabolize HMOs–implying they have co-evolved with us for a long time.
This process of seeding your baby’s gut begins not with breastfeeding, though, but before birth. During pregnancy, women’s bodies cultivate these bacteria while pruning out others, seemingly in preparation to pass them onto our babies during birth.
Why does this matter? Health benefits.
Breastfeeding may benefit health indirectly–by cultivating the right gut bacteria. Scientists now believe that having the right balance of gut bacteria helps to calibrate your baby’s immune system and metabolism, possibly with lifelong effects.
I dig into the latest research on this breastfeeding-gut-health axis in my latest post for BloomLife. Check it out!
While over half of mothers in the U.S. drink alcohol while breastfeeding, many of us are foggy on how this does (or does not) affect our babies.
Can you drink a glass of wine while breastfeeding your baby? Or do you need you wait 2-3 hours for the alcohol to clear? And exactly how much alcohol is too much alcohol to nurse?
Doctors and trusted sources like KellyMom and Babycenter give wildly conflicting advice on these points.
As you may have noticed, it has been a while since I have posted on this blog. Rest assured, I have a ton of great content in the works.
But what has been keeping me too busy to post and up at night? Well, Baby #3 for starters. (Now 8 months! How time flies… or with a new baby, how it passes in slow motion and sudden leaps.)
And in my stolen moments (read:naps) I have been writing content for a company called BloomLife. BloomLife makes a contraction tracker, just like those used in a hospital but for at home use. It syncs with your phone and lets you know if you are experiencing contractions, how strong they are, and how long they last.
Many of my posts for Bloom will be of interest to my readers, so I wanted to share them with you here. Hop on over and check them out!
- Prenatal Genetic Testing and Screening. My take on the new kid on the prenatal genetic screening block, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) and why it needs to be offered to all women, not just women over 35.
- Stalled Labor. My first labor was going gangbusters until I arrived at the hospital, where it swiftly ground to a halt. This is a common birthing experience. At the time, I blamed the slowdown on stress, but another unexpected culprit may have been to blame: those glaring florescent hospital lights. Here’s more on how humans evolved to labor at night, and why laboring women would be wise to dim those darn lights!
- Exercise during pregnancy. Should you avoid starting a new exercise program while pregnant? Do you need to keep your heart rate below 140? Will lifting weights prompt preterm labor? Contrary to what you may have heard, the answer to all of these questions is an emphatic NO. I discuss the all these exercise myths here, and talk about the latest research and recommendations on exercise for pregnant women.
- Natural Remedies for Group B Strep. Anywhere from quarter to a third of pregnant women test positive for Group B Strep (GBS) in their third trimester. In the U.S., this means receiving IV antibiotics during labor, to prevent early-onset Group B Strep, a serious but rare infection that occurs when a newborn contracts GBS during birth. But nobody wants to receive antibiotics if they can avoid it, especially during birth, when mom needs to pass her microbiome–a diverse collection of healthy bacteria and other microbes–to her baby. So, is there anything you can do to avoid testing positive? I talk about the research on vinegar rinses, yogurt squatting, and probiotics here.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on this blog, so I wanted to give my readers a bit of an update on what I’ve been up to these past couple of months.
Mostly I’ve been away because of some good news: I’m expecting our third child, a girl, coming sometime in October!
Last week, I wrote a post about sleep training and stress, in which I argued that everything we know about stress suggests that sleep training is not harmful.
In response, some people objected that sleep trained babies continue to experience elevated cortisol and significant distress, even after they have stopped crying. In their view, sleep training teaches babies that crying does not help. They haven’t learned to self-soothe or to fall asleep on their own, they’ve simply given up.
What a heartbreaking thought. And one that surely strikes fear in the heart of many parents.
So it’s important to realize that this claim comes from a single small and deeply flawed study of 25 babies, led by Wendy Middlemiss, a researcher at the University of North Texas’s College of Education.