Book Recommendations for Expecting Parents: The Second Shift

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 first is All Joy and No Fun by the amazing Jennifer Senior, which gives a breathtakingly thorough and data-based look at how parenthood affects parents.

The second, which I describe below in detail, is Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift.

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How I Overcame Postpartum Insomnia

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.

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Introducing Solids and Baby Sleep: Yep, Early Solids Improve Baby Sleep After All

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.

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An early beta hCG test is a good predictor of an ongoing pregnancy

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.

Continue reading An early beta hCG test is a good predictor of an ongoing pregnancy

Back sleeping and stillbirth revisited: A reason for caution, or a few extra pillows

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.

Continue reading Back sleeping and stillbirth revisited: A reason for caution, or a few extra pillows

Why is the American Academy of Pediatrics exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding?

The AAP doubled down on the long-term benefits of breastfeeding, just as the evidence for those benefits was crumbling underneath their feet.

In their most recent statement on breastfeeding, issued in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed their earlier guidelines recommending 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. They justified this recommendation by citing “the health outcomes of exclusively breastfed infants and infants who never or only partially breastfed.”

This statement represents a doubling down by the AAP. They are once again affirming idea breastfeeding confers massive, lifelong benefits to babies–benefits so profound, they say, that the decision to breastfeed should not be considered a “lifestyle” choice but in “investment” in your child’s future–despite recent, large, and better-designed studies have overwhelmingly shown that the benefits of breastfeeding in the developed world are trivial.

Continue reading Why is the American Academy of Pediatrics exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding?

Sign away mamas: Formula consent forms are based on unscientific fearmongering

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.

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Five little known facts about pregnancy weight gain

Even for the most body-secure among us, gaining anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds during pregnancy is no picnic. Sure, we have days where we are full of energy and glowing and ready to flaunt our adorable baby bumps. But we also have days, especially in the third trimester, where we feel less like mama-goddesses and more like sweaty, frumpy, nothing-fits-anymore messes.

To take the edge off, I turned to the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on pregnancy weight gain, which provides the evidence base for their widely-referenced weight gain guidelines:

  • Underweight: Gain 28-40 pounds
  • Normal weight: Gain 25-35 pounds
  • Overweight: Gain 15-25 pounds
  • Obese: Gain 11-20 pounds

Some of what I learned from their report was outright reassuring, like that a sudden bump up in weight in the second trimester is common and does not imply that you will continue to gain weight at a fast clip. Other facts, like that 15-30 percent of the fat gained during pregnancy goes straight to our thighs, were less reassuring. Continue reading Five little known facts about pregnancy weight gain

What’s the deal with the infant microbiome?

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.

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Surviving the First Year: Two books to help you understand baby’s sleep

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.

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Overwhelmed by prenatal genetic testing options? Download my ebook!

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.

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Prenatal Testing: Download my ebook (free)!

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.

Even having gone through prenatal testing twice before, I was still surprised to learn while researching this book that…

  1. Testing only women over 35, as was the case in the 80s and early 90s, misses around 70% of the cases of Down’s Syndrome.
  2. The risk of miscarriage from amnio and CVS is around 1 in 1000–far, far lower than the still commonly cited but outdated 1 in 100 estimate.
  3. Until you are 38 years old, you are more likely to carry a baby with a chromosomal disorders involving tiny pieces of chromosomes than carry a baby with disorder involving missing or extra whole chromosomes–but these disorders are not well detected by any prenatal screens. This is a huge problem, because younger women are often advised to get screens over diagnostic testing.
  4. How women under 35 are more than twice as likely to get a false alarms on prenatal screens as women over 35.

And so much more that I am excited to share.

We all need to up-to-date, evidence-based information to make the best decisions for us and our families. But with prenatal testing rapidly evolving, sometimes doctors and other healthcare professionals are woefully behind or outright misinformed on the latest developments. So please download and share with fellow parents-to-be!

Download the pdf here: Prenatal Testing ebook.

How much iron does my baby need?

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.

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Breast may be best, but why isn’t it better?

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!

https://preg-u.bloomlife.com/breast-may-be-best-but-why-isn…

Drinking While Nursing: 7 Things to Know

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.

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