Sleep & Nap Issues: Got a New Baby? How to Manage The Sleep Deprivation

Boy, am I tired. You'd think I'd get used to the lack of sleep by now -- this is our fourth child, after all. But the crushing effects of sleep deprivation continue to be the hardest part of parenting, for me. I could change diapers and nurse and even chase toddlers all day long, if I could just GET SOME SLEEP. But this baby is just like her siblings, and she sleeps sporadically at best. At 4 months of age, she sometimes awakens once or twice at night -- but more often three or four times -- to nurse and be comforted. I've got 3 other kids, a day job, and you, dear reader, to keep me more than busy. I'm tired. IMG00341

When I had our first child, I had secret visions of the wonderful sleep-inducer that I'd be. "Babies need sleep, and so do parents. I'll get the baby to sleep." Somehow, I thought I could use my super-shrink powers to calm, soothe, or hypnotize her to sleep.

I was wrong. Our first didn't sleep reliably through the night until she was four. FOUR!

Since psych grad school, oddly, is completely unhelpful in the preparation for parenthood, I sought out and read every single "Baby Sleep" book out there. All the major titles. I tried everything, religiously. Didn't work.

And in the process, I got more and more sleep deprived myself.

There's not much recognition out there that parents' sleep deprivation often goes on for a really long time, and despite how difficult that is, it's actually quite normal and typical for a baby to be up a lot at night for several months, and even beyond. I was doing some research for this post and I found something really annoying -- most articles only address the FIRST MONTH of how to survive with a newborn. The implication is that things really improve in the sleep department after that first month of your baby's life. AS IF! In the first month, you're getting by on adrenaline, grandma's help, and that extra sympathy and interest everyone still has in the new baby. It actually gets WORSE after that first month; you lose most of those extra perks, the baby STILL doesn't sleep very well, and you're slowly but surely losing your mind from the accumulated lack of sleep.

And of course there ARE some babies who sleep beautifully from very early on. (But parents of THOSE babies aren't reading this post, are they?) It makes those of us with crummy sleepers feel there must be something wrong with my baby; or, there must be something wrong with my parenting. The urge to compare our babies to other babies is just too tempting. Not recommended, but hard to avoid.

When Your Baby Starts to Sleep Better...and then Regresses It's also easy to worry that "something is wrong" when your baby seems to be sleeping better....then all of a sudden is back to waking several times a night. Please know that regression is normal in many developmental areas, especially in early childhood. Sleep is no exception. My second-born slept a good NINE hour stretch from the age of 9 weeks until the age of five months. Then he started trying to roll over, and he roused himself several times a night with his new-found pursuit. After prematurely congratulating myself that we finally had a decent little sleeper, I just about lost it when he regressed back to waking several times each night again. Just as you get used to being up all night with a newborn, you also quickly get used to regular sleep again. And when your baby regresses and you have to go BACK AGAIN to being up and down all night, it somehow feels WORSE than when you were used to it before. "Of Course, MY Baby Sleeps Through the Night!" Another thing that happens is that we compare our experiences to other parents'. That's a mistake, because PARENTS LIE. Not all parents, but enough of them DO get caught up in the game of comparing kids that you end up getting some pretty skewed information. And for some reason, the misinformation also comes from other parenting "resources", which are often misleading. Even most pediatricians have little sympathy for our sleep deprivation. After all, most of these doctors take overnight call and had to be awake for their residency training for a couple of days at a time for years, so sleep deprivation is a relative term for them. And when your pediatrician says you can expect your baby to "sleep through the night" at 12 weeks of age, guess what she means? Sleeping a 6-hour stretch (sometimes, at least), is considered "normal". But in my book, that's not sleeping through the night, especially when most babies that age want to go down for the night at around 7 or 8 pm. By the time YOU get to bed, the nighttime rounds are just beginning.

The WORST advice you get is to "sleep when the baby sleeps". Well, DUH. But it's not that easy, is it? Babies' sleep cycles can sometimes be so unpredictable that they have their best stretch of sleep smack in the middle of the day, when you need to shop, cook, do stuff with your other kids, and otherwise live your life. Waking up every hour or two in the middle of the night is often more the reality for many young babies.

And I don't know about you, but it's impossible for me to sleep "on command". OK, baby's asleep now, ready, get set...SLEEP! It doesn't happen that way, does it? There are biochemical reasons for that. Once we're awake for far too long, or we're awakened one too many times at night, our bodies start to produce hormones to keep us awake. That's when you get that hyper, wired, "I-know-I-should-be-sleepy-but-I'm-wide-awake!" feeling at 3 am.

You might think that I'm going to give you some fabulous secrets for getting your baby to sleep. Sorry, folks -- sleep is one of the things you can't "make" your child do -- along with other bodily functions like eating and pooping. And if I had found the holy grail of making a baby sleep through the night, I would be a very rich Baby Shrink indeed. The truth is, nobody's done that. But I have come up with some tips, over the years, from both my experience as a shrink and as a mom, for how to SURVIVE the sleep deprivation that most of us experience with babies:

How to Survive Baby-Induced Sleep-Deprivation In order to be safe behind the wheel of a car and to keep your body (and mind) relatively healthy, you MUST get at least adequate sleep a couple of times a week. Consider this a Doctor's Order: GET HELP so that you can at least 1) sleep in at least 2 mornings a week, complete with eye shade and ear plugs so that you don't feel like you're "listening" for the baby, and 2) get at least a 90 minute break most afternoons when you can lie down and rest (and hopefully sleep). If you're a first-timer, it might not be easy to trust anybody to care for your Babe, even if you're eyes are crossing from lack of sleep. But you MUST force yourself allow a trusted person to help you. Not easy to arrange? I know. Essential for your health and well-being? YES.

Get some exercise -- preferably outside -- for at least a few minutes each day. I know it feels impossible when you're wiped out, but there really is a magical effect in taking even a few minutes' brisk walk. Getting outside in the sun will also help to re-set your circadian rhythms, which are being hammered by your 24/7 schedule. I promise, you'll feel better. You might also be able to sleep better when you get an opportunity later on.

Learn meditation and breathing techniques to calm the stress hormones that keep you awake when you should be sleeping. Any "mindfulness", prayer, yoga, or other meditative technique that focuses on breathing will work. If you feel hyper and over-tired, even TEN SECONDS of mindful breathing will help you slow down and feel better. But do strive for 15 minutes a day in order to get your stress hormones under control. This will help you to sleep better when you DO have a chance.

Don't obsess over how little sleep you're getting. Believe me, I've been there -- staring at the digital numbers on my bedside clock, getting madder by the minute about yet another night of lousy sleep, up and down with the baby. The less sleep you get, the more upset you become, and a vicious cycle begins. Don't obsess about it. Let it go. Tell yourself: Oh well, another late night. This is something I can look back on later in life and laugh about. I know I feel beyond exhausted right now, but this too will pass. And if you can't sleep, then read or watch TV. Just give yourself a break about it.

Don't compare the amount of sleep you're getting now to how much sleep you USED to get or need. I know you used to sleep in until noon, and you couldn't function with less than 8 hours before this, yadda yadda. But your body has changed -- you're a parent now, and things ARE different. Yes, your body needs sleep, but you're also pretty good at adapting to less sleep -- at least for the short term. It feels impossible to "roll with it", but that's what you've got to do.

Don't be afraid of the "Cry It Out" method for your baby -- once she's old enough. I think you can safely start that at about 9 months of age for most babies -- after they have sufficiently developed the memory skills to remember that you'll be coming back eventually, despite being left to cry (and sleep). Before then, you can (of course, with your pediatrician's blessing), allow baby to fuss, grunt and make noise before rushing to get her; many babies are NOISY sleepers (another reason for them to sleep in their own rooms), and don't actually need to be picked up. Try to learn the difference between "grunty-noisy-baby-sleep" noises and actual "come feed or comfort me" noises.

And finally, try to adopt a bit of a Zen attitude about all of this. Because your crushing sense of exhaustion will quickly dissipate one day, sooner or later, as your baby naturally develops a better capacity to sleep at night. Then you'll be on to the next parenting challenge. So pace yourself. Our oldest is almost 9 and I still almost cry in relief as I check in on her, in a deep sleep, late at night. How can they grow this fast? (Cue the music to "Sunrise, Sunset".) Is this the baby that so challenged my sense of order in the world, simply because she wasn't a great sleeper for the first few years of her life? And here she is, a beautiful, intelligent, happy third grader, reliably sleeping from 8 pm to 7 am every day. Development is a magical thing, people. We parents can only provide love, structure, safety, support and guidance to shape these fabulous creatures that are our children, while the amazing processes of "growing up" happen before our (sleep deprived) eyes. We can't "make" them sleep, but we can't "make" them roll over, sit, stand, speak, and run, either. So step back for a minute to bask in the miraculous glow of your child's growth and development. It's a beautiful thing! I hope this helped. And now, please excuse me while I try to get some sleep!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Here's another post on babies and the normal range of their sleep patterns.

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding: Being A Good Mom And NOT Breastfeeding

So I'm still huge, and not yet in labor. Luckily the doctor has caved and agreed to schedule an induction for 10/19, if I haven't delivered by then. But in the meantime I'm looking for anything to take my mind off the discomforts and anxieties of imminent labor. Reader Lisa made my day with this email: Dear Dr. Heather,

I was googling the meaning of the term "mainstream parenting" and ran across your site. I read a lot of articles on BabyShrink, including one by the name of:

The “Good-Enough Mother”: Are Breasts Required?

This particular article made me feel choked up and teary-eyed as the mother of three boys. I experienced so close to the original poster's experience, that it was emotional for me to read about. My second son ended up in the hospital with failure to thrive because I did not know I had under-developed breasts, and the pressure to breastfeed was tremendous. It was as though if I didn't breastfeed I was not a good mother -- end of story.

Now don't get me wrong - I think breastfeeding is the most natural and wonderful way to care for a child that there could possibly be, but I have struggled against huge odds to get people to understand that there are those of us out here who simply CANNOT breastfeed... it's not that we chose this option.

I have since had my third son two months ago and planned right off not to fully breastfeed and just give him whatever little bit I could make, and the rest of his meals would be formula. This was the best choice I could have made. Taking the pressure off myself allowed me to make a little bit more milk, and I have totally enjoyed the breastfeeding this time around without feeling like it was forced upon me. (When I say a little.. I mean that I made about 1/3-1/2 oz of milk between both breasts, which increased to 1/2-1 full oz now.)

My close friends and I have always felt that there is no completely right way to do this job of mothering. It's very dependent on the individual child and his or her needs as a person. Reading your site only backed us up on what we believe and I shared it with my closest friend tonight. I have nothing against the AP crowd except that there are those extremists that ruin it's reputation. The ridicule and nastiness they can dish out is in a whole category by itself. I'm just grateful that there are those out there with credentials like you who see that there is good in several parenting approaches, and your philosophies closely resemble my own.

So this is basically a kudos to you, Dr. Heather.

---- Lisa Utah Mother of 3

Here's my response to Lisa:

Hi Lisa,

There are so many moms like you out there who feel this way.

I keep reminding myself that the WHOLE process of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and indeed parenting itself is an ongoing process. Trying to decide what is best for you, your child, and your family, from day to day, is what it's all about -- not following some kind of idealistic dogma about what is "best". In that way, we model to our children that we create solutions that are best for all of us -- not just based on something that someone else said was supposedly correct for everyone. We can (and should be) flexible, for the good of the kids and our families.

I am so glad you are having a nice experience this time around and trusting yourself. Enjoy and thanks again!!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Pregnancy Help: Dealing With The Anxiety of An Impending Birth

Somehow, this pregnancy has settled into a nice routine. At 38 weeks and counting, my body seems to have adjusted to the aches, pains, and lack of sleep I've been griping about for months. Somehow, it seems like the "new normal". Even my ankles would agree; instead of 2 pork chops protruding from the bottom of my capris, I've somehow got magically slimmed-down ankles. I'm scheduling work for the next 2 weeks (despite my co-workers' comebacks of "Yeah, right, you're coming to the next meeting!") and enjoying the comments (and even the stares) of strangers about my obvious state of pregnancy. My wonderful husband has fallen into the routine of giving the kids dinner and putting them to bed, and then doing the dishes, while I put my feet up and "talk story" with him. Hey, I could get used to this! Um, except that...Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, is it? As much as I'm wanting to avoid this thing called "labor and delivery", what actually FEELS like "jumping (or getting pushed) off a cliff" -- deep down, I know I can't pretend it's not about to happen. Deep down, this control freak is really scared about the unpredictable nature of labor, and the fact that an unknown doctor in the group is likely to deliver my baby, not to mention the fact that I'm about to meet a little stranger. An interloper into what has become the lovely rhythm of our family.

I've spent this pregnancy in deep gratitude for the upcoming birth of this baby; grateful for the simple fact of my pregnancy at age 41, grateful that the pregnancy has progressed so well so far, and grateful for the support I have to go through this again.

But now I'm getting worried about the incredible changes we're about to face. Yes, I know. I'll fall in love with her the moment I meet her (or perhaps soon thereafter). My motherly instincts will kick in -- they always have before -- and the baby will be a wonderful addition to the family. Yadda yadda. But at this point she's still such a mystery; such an enigma. So close, and yet so unknown. And she's about to change everything. It's a little scary for a control freak like me to anticipate!

I feel protective of the three kids we have, and our routine that this new baby is about to smash. As excited as the kids are about their new sister, I feel anticipatory guilt that they surely cannot know the degree to which my attention will be taken away by the baby (and the killer sleep deprivation I will endure). And I groan when I think of the messy recovery from childbirth, the weight I'll have to lose, and the strategic clothing that needs to be worn by a lactating mother who also attends Board meetings and clinical consults.

So I think I'll just pretend that this is "the new normal" for a little while longer.

Baby? Who's having a baby?

Pregnancy Help: The "Birth Plan" -- A Lesson In Futility

A first-time expectant mom asks: "Do you recommend any techniques for my upcoming labor and delivery? Does anything, in your experience, make things easier or more manageable in the delivery process? I'm trying to develop my Birth Plan. Thanks for your help!"

Seeing as though we're expecting my FOURTH labor and delivery in a few weeks, you'd think I'd have loads to suggest to this first-time mom. But you know what? I GOT NOTHIN'. Nothing! Each time I go through it, I'm reminded at how utterly out of control we life in general, but in the birthing process in particular. Now yes, I know there are all sorts of techniques and approaches out there. And I know many of you have fruitfully used Bradley, Lamaze, hypno-birthing....yadda yadda. Whatever. The truth is: NONE OF IT REALLY HELPS. It's all an illusion to help us feel like we're more in control.

Well, let me backtrack a little here. See, I'm up at midnight right now with a terrible case of heartburn, an aching back, some weird pregnancy-related skin condition and no way to sleep comfortably. There's a wriggling, basketball-sized being in my belly, and I'm sick of my maternity clothes, many of which are starting to get tight. So I admit it: I'm a little cranky. But when I get on the topic of labor and the infamous "Birth Plan", I get a little MORE cranky.

Let me break it down for you: Labor is unpredictable. Labor can be dangerous. Not so long ago, women used to die all the time in labor. The point is this: We shouldn't get too picky about the labor process. Thankfully, the vast majority of women (in developed countries), today, survive the process just fine. But the notion that we can control for all the possible complications that can happen is just plain wrong. And it's human nature to react to an out-of-control situation with the fantasy that we really CAN control it. But it's harmful to mothers out there who buy into the notion that they CAN and SHOULD control their delivery process...because many of us CAN'T, and then feel inadequate as a result.

I've heard heartbreaking stories from moms who felt guilty and disappointed because they couldn't live up to their "Birth Plans". Moms who felt scolded by their doctors, nurses, or midwives for going against the particular birthing approaches of the practice...mothers who changed their minds about pain control, or what kind of labor support to use, or even whether to scream and yell during labor. Mothers who had to have emergency C-Sections, who delivered prematurely, or who had bleeding problems. A close relative of mine recently delivered and had a really unusual -- and completely unpredictable -- complication that left her bedridden for more than a week, and on a walker for another two weeks. These things happen, and Birth Planning can't prevent them. And many moms feel inadequate if they can't live up to this supposed "ideal".

There is a mistaken notion that labor and delivery are somehow the culmination -- the end point -- of a process. After all, we go through a 9-month process to grow and deliver this child, which is truly a miraculous experience. But the truth is, LABOR AND DELIVERY ARE ONLY THE BEGINNING. Choices we make during pregnancy and delivery are actually the first parenting decisions we make. And that's the beginning of a life-long process; how to best parent this child we deliver, in whatever manner we choose to, on that miraculous day of delivery. And how best to roll with the punches of life, and still feel confident and satisfied with ourselves. After all, that's an important life lesson to impart to our children -- the ability to be flexible and adaptable to life's curve balls. The attitude that we can and will be "light on our feet" in the face of the unpredictable changes of life.

When seen that way, I think it's easier to see the process in perspective: The ultimate outcome is what's most important about labor and delivery. Forget techniques: You want a healthy baby and a healthy mom at the end of it all.

So, if a rigid Birth Plan isn't helpful, what IS? Here's what I recommend:

Thorough education about the process of labor and delivery. It really helps to understand what the "transition" phase is, in particular, and how you're likely to feel during that challenging time. I always vote for more knowledge and education to help get through a novel situation.

First-time parents really benefit from Infant Care classes, at least as much as from Labor and Delivery-type classes. Infant Care class helps answer lots of the questions you'll have about your new baby, and will take some of the overwhelming mystery out of caring for this new creature. It also helps to keep your focus in perspective; this is all about becoming a parent and taking care of your child, after all. Labor and delivery are just a momentary blip at the beginning of that process. The REAL hard work is the parenting!

Working knowledge of some type of breathing exercises. I've tried them all, and for me, the breathing techniques I learned in my regular yoga classes helped the most. Experiment with several. During labor, see what works. Often, breathing techniques are only useful UNTIL you get into "transition". At that point, do what comes naturally. I recently read a study that says swearing and cussing actually help us decrease our experience of pain. I plan to try that this time!!!

Accept the fact that you're jumping off a cliff here. Things will feel out of control at some point in your labor and delivery; maybe more so than you'd like. Keep focused on the outcome and don't worry about the process. It's temporary!

If you want to read more of my Birth Plan rantings, check out this post here. And I'd love for experienced parents to please post about your birth experiences, and whether your Birth Plan proved useful to you. Also, let us know your suggestions to first-time expectant moms!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Pregnancy Help: Tips & Resources For Coping With Postpartum Depression

I'm not prone to depression; I'm more of an anxious type, with a tendency to overreact and sweat the small stuff. So when our (4th) baby is born (I'm 30 weeks along now, folks!), I'm anticipating some hormonal upheavals (as well as the excruciating sleep deprivation that comes along with a new baby), but not depression per-se. But as a clinician, I'm very concerned about the high rate of postpartum mood disorders, as well as the tendency of new mothers to ignore or deny their symptoms. Many of you have written to me, with stories of untreated PPD in your pasts, begging me to help get the word out to moms who might be experiencing the condition now. POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION IS ONE OF THE MOST TREATABLE DISORDERS WE KNOW. If you, or someone you know, might have PPD, PLEASE help her to get help...immediately. You can show her this article, which is a nice, straightforward review of the condition, and you can also listen to my 16-minute, free podcast on PPD.

And I know you don't read BabyShrink for a dose of politics, but the situation regarding health care in America is at a point of critical mass. Insufficient numbers of primary care services in this country result in our missing PPD far more than we diagnose it. This is especially true in rural and semi-rural areas -- where many of us live. We MUST reform our health care system to ensure that ALL women are screened for PPD -- and given the treatment that we know works -- for the benefit of their babies, their families, and themselves. And that will only happen if we reform health care to emphasize the prevention and wellness approaches that we know WORK. Treating PPD isn't the hard part. Reforming health care IS. But it must be done. Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Pregnant with Baby #4 (and I Just Turned 41)

Dear Readers, This post isn't an emailed question from one of you. It's from me, your BabyShrink.

I can finally come out with the news I've wanted to tell you for 18 weeks now: I'm pregnant!

This has come as somewhat of a surprise to us, although a very welcome one. Many of you recall we originally went through infertility treatments to get this ball rolling, but needed no help with babies #2, 3, and now 4. So here we are: a 4-for-1 deal!

My age is not the least of it. As an old lady of 41, my OB chart has "Advanced Maternal Age" stamped all over it. I've gone through several rounds of genetics screenings, and all the anxiety that goes along with it. I had killer morning sickness (uh, ALL-DAY sickness) for several weeks. But the worst part has been keeping the secret: from you, my coworkers, and even my kids. But we finally feel safe -- at least safe ENOUGH -- to break the exciting news.

So thanks to all of you for your patience; I've been remiss in posting quite as often as I'd like, and my response time to your questions has stretched out a bit. But I've been accumulating some heavy-duty experience that I hope will continue to help make BabyShrink fun, interesting and new.

Depending on your interest and questions, I'll be posting some of the things I've learned these past several weeks. I expected to have a CVS (for early chromosomal testing) -- and didn't. Then I expected an amniocentesis -- and didn't have THAT, either. But there are some wild new screening procedures that helped us though that decision-making process, and these are all pretty new. I look forward to your questions about how to decide when, if, and how to make decisions about genetic testing in pregnancy, and all the strong emotions that can go along with the process.

And in the meantime, I've discovered that my good-old standby baby bottles -- the ones that have gotten us through 3 babies -- are no longer considered safe (due to the BPA). So I've got to learn about all the newest STUFF out there as well....and I LOVE baby "stuff". So I'll need your help in deciding what to buy (and what to skip) this time around.

I'll also be asking for advice from those of you with large families. Having #4 feels exciting -- but daunting. This is uncharted territory in both my family and my husband's, so we need all the help we can get!

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement, and I look forward to going on the rest of this exciting journey with you.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: The Challenges of Motherhood

Moms have too much pressure. (Sorry, Dads: you have too much pressure too. But I think society puts more of the burden on moms.) It aggravates me when the media (and even our neighbors and family) depict motherhood as some kind of utopia, and when we can't live up to that ideal, something must be wrong (with us). That's why I like to recommend writers who tell it like it is. I just came across this Oprah article and wanted to share it with you. Enjoy! And stay tuned: I have my own news to share with you in the next few days...!)

Click here for the Oprah article.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Food Allergies, Your Child's Behavior, and YOUR Guilt

I've been away on vacation for a bit, and we were able to visit lots of family and friends. I was struck by how many have kids with food allergies and sensitivities -- more and more of us are discovering what a difference our food choices have on how we, and our kids, feel and behave. But it ain't easy, managing special diets. The pressure to "join in" and have "just one cookie" is quite difficult. The pressure even comes from within the family, often in the form of well-meaning relatives who want our kids to "not be different" and "just have fun". Many parents feel guilty that they can't give their child what the other kids can have. But guess what? Parenting is at least as often about saying "no" as it is about saying "yes", and having limits and structure in life is good for our kids' ultimate development. On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extreme and be rigid when there's no need. So it's a balance between being realistic about food choices, firm in your decisions, and flexible when you CAN be. I appreciate the comments left by Hot Wife, KiwiLog and Margaret after my last post, and I urge you to review them, and their resources, if you're interested. Here are some of my additional thoughts and recommendations as well:

For parents of kids with food sensitivities:

Make a big deal out of exploring new, safe food options. Have fun in the kitchen and enlist your child's natural desire to learn the "rules".

Kids with sensitivities (as opposed to true food allergies) can often have a certain amount of the "offending" food. Determine, with her doctor and/or nutritionist, how often your child can have foods that trigger her sensitivities. Once a week? Once a month? Once a year? Then give her the freedom to pick and choose those foods within her allowed time-frame.

Be flexible in allowing "treats" that fit in with her diet -- don't make yourself crazy trying to follow every single rule about healthy foods. The more unnecessarily rigid you are, the more you risk a backlash against your rules in adolescence.

Stay closely in touch with online or in-person support groups, as information about food sensitivities and allergies changes rapidly, and your doctor may not have the resources to keep you abreast of all the developments, new foods available, etc.

For parents of kids with life-threatening allergies, I also suggest the following:

TALK to your child, even if she's very young, about her food safety issues. Empathize with the fact that she can't have what she wants; you understand that it's hard. Give her examples in daily life of you and others saying "no" to themselves in order to be healthy and successful. Explain that it's hard for ALL kids to say "no" to themselves, and you'll help her to do that until she's able to do it for herself.

Try not to feel guilty about "depriving" your kids of the junk they can't have. All parents have challenges with their kids, and this is yours. It's your job to keep her safe. She'll understand your reasons as she gets older.

Don't hesitate to tell everyone at your child's school, and playdates, about her safety issues. Don't worry about "rocking the boat". Use your child's pediatrician as a backup if the school doesn't take your child's safety seriously.

Use this experience as an example of how the whole family can effectively deal with one of life's challenges. This is only one of many that will be faced by you and your child, and you have the opportunity of making it a learning experience for everyone!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: Can Dad Decide the Color of Baby's Room?

When a new baby joins the family, it's normal for the couple to go through a re-organization of roles. A common struggle has to do with power and control. Who makes the decisions? About what? Who has "final" say about parenting? This often crops up in arguments about seemingly petty things; but they don't FEEL petty while we're in the midst of the struggle. I can't tell you how many times I argued with BabyShrink's Hubby about how often the stupid Diaper Genie needed to be changed. See reader Amy's question below for a similar struggle.Baby Painting Dear Dr. Heather,

My husband and I are disagreeing over what color to paint our impending child's room.

In a nutshell, this is the disagreement: I want to paint the room pale green; my husband wants to paint it orange. Yes, orange. I told my husband that orange is too vibrant for a baby's bedroom, that orange is a color that will stimulate the mind - possibly too much. The last thing I want is (another) child who won't sleep, and if there's a chance orange will enable or worsen daytime sleep problems, I do not want orange. He says it would be a light orange - but not peach - and that I'm crazy.

Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.



Hi Amy,

It is possible your baby MAY have some preference or reaction to a paint color, but not likely until she can look around and focus her eyes, and then only if she has a sensory issue. You won't know until you learn about your new baby's temperament.

But what I think is even more important (and probably the underlying issue?) is the question of Who Makes the Decisions About This Baby? Mom or Dad? Perhaps your hubby is simply looking for a way to feel he is contributing to the decisions being made about the baby. Many Dads feel pushed to the side; like they are "chopped liver" in the parenting department. Taking A Stand on a little issue like paint color might be the way he is asserting his parental authority; saying he cares about what happens when the baby arrives, and wants to be involved.

Dads often feel helpless and useless with a new baby. I remember a friend of ours, a tough guy named Zak. True story: Zak was "all guy", from old-school Boston. When he and his wife had their first baby, we asked him how it was going. "My wife does everything....feeds the baby, changes him, bathes him...all he wants is her. I want to help so badly, but it seems like there's nothing I can do. Last night I felt so frustrated I just went and sat in my truck and cried." We still have a good chuckle over the image of poor tough-guy Zak, crying in his truck.

But the message is poignant: Dads want to contribute...need to contribute...can contribute, in very meaningful ways.

Now I know that sometimes, their efforts can be...well, let's say, a little misguided. (I mean, seriously, orange?! I feel your pain!) But maybe this is an opportunity to make sure Dad has his say, and is made to feel like a partner in making important parenting decisions about this baby. It's an issue that will crop up over and over again while your baby grows through different developmental stages...a dance you and your hubby will continue to do together.

But the bottom line is, your baby will benefit from Dad's full participation, even if her room is day-glo orange.

Good luck, and happy painting!


Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Parenting Tips: When Your Parents and Kids Unite Against Their Common Enemy -- YOU

VickisphotoDear BabyShrink,

I have two children; a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl.  We are lucky enough to live close to three sets of their grandparents who all want to spend time with them.  The problem is that the kids have picked favorites.  They only want to spend time with the "fun" ones (the ones that let them eat whatever they want, watch whatever they want and go to bed whenever they want).  This has resulted in tension with the grandparents who believe in rules and boundaries.  The kids have also told my husband and me that they don't want to live with us anymore.  I realize they're just being kids, but they're also hurting feelings.  How do I speak to them about this in a way that they can grasp? 

Sincerely, Vicki

Hi Vicki,

Thanks for the picture! Your kids are adorable, and you can't really blame them for responding like they do when they're showered with gifts and given no limits. At this age, they're just following the cookies and the Wii. Social skills are not really their strong suit, yet.

But it is important to set a standard for them in how they treat people, and family in particular. In every family, there are differences in the way one set of relatives relates to the kids, vs. the other set. Differing cultural traditions and values can play a role. Sometimes, one family has tons of grandkids (and therefore less time and money to spend) and the other side has few, so therefore more time and money. The general level of intensity of the relationships within the family often dictate things, too. For instance, my husband's family is more involved in general in the lives of their friends and family. My family, on the other hand, is more "live and let live".  Neither is better, just different. Kids have to get used to the fact that everyone is different; and that's OK.

Grandparents have the inalienable right to spoil their grandkids; nothing I can say will change that.

But your children will learn over time, with your help, that you can't "judge the book by it's cover". Treats and presents are great, but they're not everything.

The kids do have to learn that some things in life cannot be controlled; Grandma X gives cookies and candy, Grandma Y gives fruit and crackers. All you can do is talk to the kids gently (but frequently) about manners, being polite with everyone, and the fact that everyone is different. Perhaps the less-lenient grandparents have other attributes: Maybe they can teach the kids to fish, or go camping, or how to sew. The grandparents also have to come to terms with the fact that they will each have different standards with the kids.

You can talk to all the grandparents (probably separately) about your dilemma. Try to generate some empathy for the kids, for the other set of grandparents, and for YOU in the situation. Talk to the lenient grandparents about the bind they put you in. "I don't want to deny you your right to spoil the grandkids. I don't want to control your time with them. But when they come back home to rules and to be with us, they're impossible, since they've had so many goodies. They even told us they don't want to live with us anymore, or visit with the other grandparents. Can we talk about toning it down just a little bit?"

Also, talk with the other grandparents about your plans to address it. Show them you mean business when you insist that the kids are nice and polite. Really play up the cool things that they CAN do with these grandparents. Show your kids that their tantrums aren't going to get them anywhere; they still need to have a cordial relationship with all family members.

Good luck and keep us posted!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink


Pregnancy Help: How To Interpret Your Weird Pregnancy Dreams

I’ve always been fascinated by the interpretation of dreams, and I study the process in detail. I’ve also found it really interesting and helpful to understand my own dreams as I go through major life changes. Our dreams are our way of sorting through the events of the day and pulling out important issues we still need to understand. It’s our way of communicating with ourselves; it’s our unconscious, giving us hints about things that need further thought or action. It’s really common to have particularly memorable and intense dreams during pregnancy. There are several contributing factors to this:

Frequent night wakings. I remember waking easily 3 or 4 times a night when pregnant. When you awaken just after dreaming, you are more likely to remember the dream.

The stress of the impending change in your life with a baby on the way. The stress of a major life transition is bound to result in more active dreams.

Hormonal and other physical changes. Your upset tummy, sore back and soaring progesterone all throw your body’s chemistry into a new time zone. Your dreams are disturbed as a result.

So how do you interpret those wacky dreams? The interpretation of pregnancy dreams follows the same general rules as the interpretation of other dreams: First and foremost, write them down, immediately after waking. Keep a pen and paper at your bedside and scribble down whatever you can remember. Even if you’re sure you’ll remember the details in the morning, chances are…you won’t. (Dreams are funny that way. We have to “chase” them if we want to understand them.)

Don’t judge the dream, no matter how wacky (or twisted) it was. Keep an open mind, which will allow the process of understanding the dream happen more easily.

After reading the dream again, start a new section of notes, where you will jot down any random associations to the dream. Include any impressions, images that come to mind, and feelings and thoughts, even if they don’t seem related to the dream. Also list the events of the day (or days) previous to the dream.

Finally, re-read everything to see what connections you make. Sometimes, you need to put the whole thing away for awhile, to let some of your objectivity return. Later, you might see new meanings and interesting relationships between your outer life…and your inner mind.

There are some common themes in pregnancy dreams, many of which my readers mentioned in the comments section to my previous post.

Dream Worries Pregnant or not, we often dream about losing control in a situation. I think that’s what Dawn’s dream was about, at least partially; teeth falling out is a classic, frequent dream symbol for feeling powerless.

Worry About Not Being a Good Mother Sharon, MamaBigDog, and Alianora’s dreams all had this in common. Having a baby is such a huge responsibility, and we wonder if we’re up to it. There also could be an element of wish fulfillment there; what if I just left my baby alone, while I did my own thing? (I could do my nails, date a fabulous movie star, etc.) We certainly wouldn’t do it in real life, so we act it out in our dreams. Then we’re shocked when we wake up…Oh My God! I’ll be such a Bad Mother (there's a club for that)! When perhaps the reality is, there’s a part of us that resents the enormous responsibility and changes brought about by a baby, no matter how wanted the baby is. It’s a fundamental dilemma of motherhood: I want to give everything to my baby. But I also need some energy for myself. How can I get some of the focus back on ME?

Worry About Something Being Wrong With the Baby Kimi, Sharon and Hot Wife had dream themes along these lines. This theme is really a variation on the one above. “If I’m going to be a Good Mother, I’d better produce a Good Baby.” Then…what if my baby is somehow different than I expect her to be? What if I’m disappointed at how my baby turns out? Or worse: What if there’s something "really wrong" with her? What if I give birth to a “defective” baby, and am therefore a “defective” mother? I can't think of a pregnant woman who hasn't had a dream like this one.

The worry about being a Good Enough Mother starts before the baby is even born, dear readers! The whole notion of the baby being an extension of ourselves starts when the baby really IS a part of us, physically. It’s normal to have mixed, ambivalent feelings about the baby, and your new role as mother. And if this isn’t your first baby, it’s normal to worry about the impact the new baby can have on your nice stable family situation at home. A new baby IS an intruder, no matter how wanted. Having ambivalent feelings about that fact is normal. More importantly, recognizing and accepting the mixed feelings we have about our babies…and our children…makes it possible for us to consciously own those feelings, so that we’re not blindsided by them, brewing in our unconscious. Understanding our dreams helps us to do just that...ultimately, be better mothers...and happier women!

Pregnancy Help: Do I Have Postpartum Depression? Me?

Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond are celebrities who are helping the sufferers of postpartum depression by reminding us that it can happen to anybody. Like all new Moms, they were told that they are supposed to “fall in love” with their newborns the moment they are placed in their arms. But for up to 15% of new mothers, a combination of biochemical changes and other stresses can result in real problems. Women with previous histories of depression, poor social support, or other life stresses have an even higher rate of difficulties. Feeling unloving about the baby, feeling sad, overwhelmed, and irritable; having trouble with sleep and appetite, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt, can occur in up to 80% of new Moms and are commonly referred to as the “Baby Blues”, but when the symptoms last for more than two weeks, it could be Postpartum Depression (PPD), and it’s time to get help. But new Moms are ashamed of these feelings, and often don’t ask for help. They are told to “get a grip”, to “appreciate your beautiful family”, or that “in my day, we didn’t have time to be depressed”. All these reactions make the PPD sufferer feel worse, and less likely to seek help. We now know that babies of untreated PPD sufferers have a much higher risk of developmental delays and other social, emotional and other health problems. Depressed Moms are not able to provide the strong attentive, responsive, emotional comfort and eye-to-eye contact that newborns need for their little brains to grow. Infants really only feel that they exist in the light of their mother’s eyes. If she is distracted by emotional pain, fatigue, and depression, the baby suffers. And as the saying goes, “If Mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy”. The whole family suffers from PPD. So, treating Mom for PPD helps Mom, the baby, and the whole family as well.

Living in Hawaii, as I do, or in other rural areas, can present unique challenges to new Moms. Many families are recent immigrants from far-away countries or the mainland, and are disconnected from extended family and friends who can help in difficult times. New Moms often feel stuck at home with a crying baby, and no energy to leave the house to get support and help. Other Moms are afraid of what people may think if they admit their feelings, based on highly publicized media reports of mothers hurting or killing their babies. A very rare but severe form of postpartum disorder, called Postpartum Psychosis, occurs in about 1-2 out of 1,000 Moms and can include feeling out of touch with reality, rapid mood swings, and obsessive thoughts of hurting the baby. This is a rare form of the disorder, and women with a history of Bipolar Disorder or other more serious psychiatric conditions are at higher risk of developing this disorder. Living on an island or other rural area also means that resources are limited, and it may be difficult to find treatment providers out there who are trained to recognize and address the problems faced by new Moms.

But help is out there, and it works!

For most women, a combination of counseling and short-term antidepressant medication makes all the difference. If you don’t want to try medications, ask your therapist about starting with counseling first, to see if that is enough – often, it is. Also make sure to ask about the importance of getting adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition….many studies show that these factors can help a lot! New Moms can ask their OB/GYN, Family physician, clergy, or friends for a referral to a psychotherapist who can help Moms suffering from PPD.

Let’s keep talking about PPD, so that we can have happier Moms, happier babies, and happier families!

Click this link for a great resource:  Postpartum Support International has regular, free, confidential chats, tons of information, and resources for moms, their families, and professionals.