Our Baby Class

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Don't Throw the Baby Out With the Bath Water: Evaluating Parenting Books

Whilst lamenting my latest sleepless night to a friend, she offered to loan me her copy of Richard Ferber's bestselling/notorious book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems*. I balked at it, but she said that I might find the section on sleep disorders interesting.  She's a very good friend, so I accepted the book, and let it sit on my nightstand for a little while, looking very incongruous next to Dr. Sears' Baby Book.

Then, one night, after a particularly rough bedtime, I picked it up and started flipping to different sections.  My friend had made the point that, although I might not agree with his methods, Ferber is a doctor, and not just another mom like Elizabeth Pantley.  I was surprised to find that the entire book (it's actually rather hefty) was not all about letting babies cry in their bedrooms.  The section on sleep disorders was quite interesting, as was the section on addressing specific sleep difficulties.  It was the first sleep book I'd read that addressed extended night waking in a productive way, and it gave me a new idea of something to try with DC, who just turned one.  I'm actually quite glad that I read parts of the book. (To be honest, I don't see myself reading the whole thing because I find CIO methods upsetting to read about).

My daughter, AW, is almost three and has always been a fantastic sleeper, so I haven't been doing too much reading on toddler sleep.  On the other hand, there is a growing list of positive parenting books on my Amazon wish list, and I've read a few already.  I've also been spending time reading about approaches to eating, with the desire to help her cultivate a healthy relationship with food. My sister recommended Kids, Carrots, and Candy by Jane Hirschmann.  I didn't agree with everything in this book either (it said that comfort nursing would create unhealthy associations with using food for comfort).  The book recommends giving children free rein over their food choices to allow them to listen to their bodies, rather than insisting on clean plates at every meal.  Free rein isn't completely for us, but we did establish a snack basket and are trying to resist forcing her to eat if she isn't hungry.

I'm glad I read both of these books, even though I didn't come away loving them. They both gave me useful information, but my own parenting style remained intact.  While writing this post, I realized that I use OBC's guiding principles when reading parenting advice, whether in blogs or books, even though I don't word it that way to myself.  Here they are:

  1. Trust your instincts.
  1. You can’t spoil a baby.
  1. If what you are doing is working for you, your partner, and your baby, great! Keep doing it!
  1. If what you are doing is not working for you, your partner, or your baby, it’s ok! You can change it!
  1. There are no magical times when you must start or stop something.
  1. No habit you create now is irreversible.
  1. And never forget, trust your instincts!

As you can see, it's so important to trust your instincts.  That should always come first.  I turn to parenting books when my instincts aren't giving me enough information, and I reject anything that doesn't align with my instincts (such as letting a baby cry or refusing to make eye contact with my baby).  Even before I was an OBC teacher and agreed to promote these guiding principles, they aligned with what I believed as a parent, so they are great in helping me decide what advice might be helpful.

*In case you haven't heard of the Ferber method or "Ferberizing," it is a form of cry-it-out (CIO) sleep training, which is recommended against by Our Baby Class.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review: Sleeping Like a Baby by Pinky McKay

This post is a new feature for Green Mama Life and Our Baby Class of Piedmont Virginia: book reviews!  I've been reading a lot of parenting books lately, and thought I should share my experiences with what I've been reading.  

Today, I'm going to review Sleeping Like a Baby: Simple Sleep Solutions for Infants and Toddlers by Pinky McKay. McKay is an internationally board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and the author of several books. She has also appeared on many talk shows.  

First off, confession time.  The majority of the parenting books I've read lately have been sleep books. The Gentle Sleep Book is on my nightstand right now, and next up on the reading list.  I've read Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution, and some others that endorse some strategies that I am not comfortable with, but had nuggets of useful information: The Happy Sleeper by Heather Turgeon; the infamous Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, and The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight: Gentle Proven Solutions to Help Your Child Sleep Well and Wake Up Happy by Kim West. (More on these books in a later post about parenting books, babies, and bath water).  I've been reading all of these books because my son, DC, does not sleep very well.  I've posted in endless Facebook groups and feel like I've tried just about everything.  (So know that when I'm teaching the class on infant sleep and coping with sleep deprivation, I've been there done that!)

What have I learned from all this reading?

1) Most sleep books are geared towards supporting parents of babies that wake frequently throughout the night.
2) Much of the advice is about how to transition a baby from soothing methods that are heavy on parental involvement to more independent soothing.
3) Very few books have information about our specific problems: a baby that often won't be soothed if he knows that it's bedtime and a baby that enjoys one long extended waking compared to frequent but short wakings.
4) There's not a lot of information out there to help parents cope when their baby won't respond to the methods listed in these other books.

Now, back to the book at hand.

First off, this book is not going to solve all your sleep problems (necessarily).  But, many other things kept me bookmarking and highlighting. (33 notes and marks in my Kindle app).

The very first thing I highlighted summed up my problem with sleep books in one sentence: "If these magazine surveys are any indicator of sleep success, the regimes currently being offered are not helping babies and their parents get more sleep."

This book did not offer a regime of any kind.  There are definitely suggestions for improving sleep, but without promises and guarantees.  Some, I knew (such as creating a womb-like environment to help newborns transition during the fourth trimester) and some tips I hadn't heard before (DHA deficiency can affect both baby's sleep and mother's mood).  The lack of regime is exactly what I appreciated: McKay is adamant that there is no one size fits all solution to get babies and toddlers to sleep. Some babies thrive on the "sleep begets sleep" philosophy, and other babies need to get tired to fall asleep. Some babies crave sensory stimulation and others are easily overstimulated.  This book offers multiple perspectives, with the idea that parents are the ones that truly know their babies and can figure out what applies to their own child.

In that vein, this book had a feature that I don't usually enjoy: anecdotal paragraphs from parents.  In many books, these asides turn into a "I tried this method and it worked!" advertisements for the very book they are published in.  In this case, the perspectives shared by McKay support the idea that all children are different.  Different families tried different methods, and found success down different avenues.

I also found that Sleeping Like a Baby aligned well with OBC's Guiding Principles.  McKay writes: "One of the biggest issues around infant sleep is creating 'bad habits.'...Sleeping Like a Baby addresses these issues and shows you how to change any 'habit' at any stage gradually, with love, not tears, and how to gently introduce new sleep arrangements as your baby grows." (Principle #5 is "There are no magical times when you must start or stop something and Principle #6 is No habit you create now is irreversible).

This book addresses the science of infant sleep, the relationship between breastfeeding and sleep, safe bed sharing, SIDS risks factors and prevention methods, and how to cope.  Despite being written by an IBCLC and promoting breastfeeding's benefits, this book also talks about bonding and soothing for bottle-fed babies, including anecdotes from families that use bottles as well as from mothers that breastfeed.  In addition, the tips to promote a positive sleep environment are well fleshed out and explained clearly.  Although some are repeated in other books I have read, I felt that this book explained them the best.  They also would not be redundant if you have not read as many sleep books as I have.

In the end, if you are looking for a "sleep solution" book, this is not it. You won't walk away with a regime spelled out for you. But this is a book is for you if you need some new strategies in your bag of sleep tricks, want to understand how infant sleep works, and crave tips for surviving sleepless nights.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through affiliate links allows me to expand class offerings, purchase materials for my classes, and funds my continuing education as a parenting mentor. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Building a Parenting Village

At our teacher training, we were asked to share why we wanted to teach Our Baby Class.  Here's my why.

I read the course descriptions, and the courses sounded like they aligned with my ideas about parenting.  I knew all about the awesomeness of babywearing, we practice baby led weaning, and there's no cry-it-out sleep training in my house.

I am a former elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom, and could really use just a little bit extra to help with our home preschool expenses and homesteading projects.

But here's why I feel like what I do is actually important.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, two amazing things happened. I took a Bradley childbirth class and I joined an online due date club on the website Diaper Swappers.

Here's why those things were so important.

In my Bradley class, I spent 12 weeks in intimate discussion with 6 other sets of expectant parents.  Bradley classes tend to attract parents who are over-researchers (like me), interested in breastfeeding, and highly motivated to do what's best for their child (more on that in a minute). I became very close with three of these moms, which has been a life saver. We have shared developmental milestones and swapped advice as our children have grown.

The Bradley Babies
Bradley Babies, Age 2
Two August Mamas and two August Babies (just shy of age 2).
In my due date club, we started out with 40-odd expectant moms.  Only three of us were first time moms, and the age range of the moms was wide enough that some of the moms have kids who are college-age.  This was awesome. We were all in the throes of pregnancy and newborn sleep deprivation together. Now, we all have toddlers transitioning from age two to age three, and over 150 children between us.  Some of us have "Post-August Babies."  We talk daily in our Facebook group, and try to meet in person whenever two of us end up in the same area.  The mentorship has been incredible.

Before I met these incredible women, I had a plan.  My baby was going to sleep in his/her own room after six months, and never ever sleep in my bed.  Baby would be on a strict schedule. I was going to breastfeed for six months.  I'd get a Moby wrap and a Baby Bjorn.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things.  I would still have been a good mom.

But, my life is richer.  I learned about a wider world of babywearing that allowed me to continue wearing my daughter into toddlerhood.  I learned about babywearing meetings from the August mamas.

One of our first back carries, with a DIY woven wrap
 I learned about the benefits of breastfeeding to a year and beyond and about baby led weaning.  When my son wouldn't stop crying and struggled to latch, one of these moms told me to look up lip and tongue tie.  That revision changed my son, and my life, for the better.  Because of that support, I found out that he was actually a really happy and easy-going baby (who didn't like to sleep and would rather play).

With both sets of moms, we've shared stories and parenting strategies.  When I struggled to process the birth of my second child, these women were there to listen.  When my baby wouldn't stop crying, the Bradley moms held him.  When I had postpartum depression, one of these moms sat with me on my front porch, day after day.

Our first woven wrap--from an August mama
I am fortunate to have these women and to have stumbled upon my parenting village, quite by accident.  But I hear all the time about women who don't.  I hear about women who only get a single view of parenting, when motherhood is filled with rich dimension.  Because I had this village behind me, I had the confidence to follow my own intuition as a parent. That confidence is something I want to share with other moms, the ones just starting this journey.

At MommyCon
I want to provide breastfeeding support for women who want to breastfeed and are struggling.  I want to support the women who just want to feed their babies without judgement. I want to provide instruction on safe babywearing and offer options so that babywearing is only limited by the wishes of the caregiver and child and not by the weight limits and comfort level of mainstream carriers. I want to support maternal instincts in not leaving a child to cry when a pediatrician says it's time to cry it out.  I want to share alternative ideas like baby led weaning instead of baby food and purees so that mothers know they have options. I want to provide a safe space for a mother to share that she hasn't gotten a good night's sleep since the baby was born. I want to give resources to mothers struggling with postpartum depression and let them know that they are not alone.  I want mothers to meet each other and compare notes on their darling little babies.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

8 Things to Do When Your Baby Won't Sleep

Let me start off and say: this is not a sleep training post.

There are a lot of places to debate sleep training methods, from cry-it-out to gentle sleep training strategies.

This post is for the parents of babies who just won't sleep.

Dear Sleepless Parent,
You have bounced, swayed, sung, hummed, patted, and cuddled.  You have tried blackout curtains, white noise machines, infant massage, quiet bathtimes, and bedtime routines.  Maybe you've tried bed sharing, and yes, even letting baby cry it out. You've tried drowsy but awake and nursing to sleep.  You've cried out in desperation and walked away in tears to calm down, your baby screaming.  And you've gone back over and over again, to pick up that baby and soothe them, all the while wondering how you will function the next day.

I kept thinking he would fall asleep, but he immediately
popped up giggling
You see pictures of babies who have fallen asleep in strange positions, and wish your baby fell asleep that easily.  You cringe when people ask you if your baby is a "good" baby, which means a baby that sleeps through the night.

Maybe, once in a great while, you get a really good night. And you hope to yourself that it will repeat. Maybe it does, once or twice, and then things go back to your normal.

Your child won't go to bed. Or your child has extended wakings in the middle of the night. Or frequent wakings.  Whatever the problem, you are not alone.  Judging from the overnight activity on parenting Facebook groups, there are a lot of sleepless parents out there.  I'm probably up with you too.

Get yourself a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, and get ready for some survival tips.

1. Adjust your expectations.  One of my favorite quotations of all time is "Comparison is the thief of joy."  All children are different.  The more I compare my two sleepers, the more frustrated I get with the non-sleeper.  When my husband and I realized that we had just about exhausted our options for changing HIS behavior, we realized we needed to change OUR behavior if we were going to get through this stage.

2. Understand infant and child sleep patterns.  Your wakeful child may be outside the averages, but knowing that the mystical achievement of a good night's sleep is more elusive than we are led to believe.

3. If possible, get support.  Make support a priority.  My husband and I share the night shift, since it's not always all about nursing for my son.  We've also discussed hiring a mother's helper to come during the week (even if it's just so you can grab a quick nap!).  Postpartum doulas are fantastic, if they work for your budget.  Find a friend to swap with.  The advice "sleep while the baby sleeps" is fantastic, but not always feasible, especially if you have other children or have to work. If you can get a good night's sleep even once a week, you might be surprised how much it recharges you after days and days of exhaustion.

4. Caffeinate.  Although anecdotal evidence indicates that some babies have sensitivities to caffeine in breastmilk, there is no scientific evidence.  If you've cut out caffeine and still have a sleepless baby, go for the coffee or tea.  It won't hurt baby, and it might help you.

5. Go to bed early.  It's tough, because if baby did go to bed, this might be your only adult time.  But a 1am wakeup is much easier if you went to bed at 9pm than if you closed your eyes at 11pm.

6.  If you have a baby with extended night waking, and you've tried the whole "keep the atmosphere dark, quiet, and calming" thing and baby STILL wants to play, take the pressure off yourself.  Have a safe space for baby to play, lay down on the floor, and doze.  After a little while, try again to put the baby back to bed.  It gives you a chance to destress, which in turn can help baby relax.  Notice the floor bed in the photo above.  Baby's room is completely baby proof, and if he gets playful, he can play with some toys while we take turns resting.

7.  Put on your own oxygen mask first.  Self-care is important for ALL parents, not just the extra-sleep-deprived ones, but it is especially important.  Figure out what self-care looks like for you, and make it a priority.

8. Ignore the nay-sayers and the people who don't understand.  I say this kindly, having been one of those people who don't understand.  If someone says "just do XYZ and baby will sleep," they may not have walked in your shoes.  If someone says "embrace that time with your baby in the middle of the night," they might not know that your baby is screaming and it's really hard to enjoy that time when it happens every single night.

Another Sleepy Mom.

(Note: Sometimes, medical conditions can contribute to sleeplessness. If you are concerned about your child's sleep habits, contact a care provider or sleep specialist).

And when they do fall asleep, document it with photographic evidence!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Partners in Parenting

There's a good reason why the Our Baby Class curriculum includes a specialty class called "Partners in Parenting."  In my various Facebook groups this morning, I saw multiple complaints about dads who weren't just stepping up to the plate.  I also see complaints about grandparents that just won't toe the line and do things the way that Mom would do them.  (We do have a class for grandparents in development too).  These comments are dangerous.

I am the primary caregiver in our house.  I create certain daily routines, I tend to set the rules, I plan the meals, I provide most of the discipline, and do most of the parenting research (this last part is as much personality as it is because I am the primary caregiver. Once a history major, always a history major).

This means that I have some pretty set ways of doing things. Being the primary caregiver also puts me at risk of major burnout.

I'm going to share a story of burnout and why acting as partners in parenting is so important.

Yesterday was my son's first birthday.  This brought up quite a mixed bag of emotions for me. We had visitors, who provided fabulous distraction and company.  But, he fought nap and was uncooperative for birthday pictures.  This seems minor, but it's a capsule of how our year went.  DC is a joyful child. He loves exploring his environment, dances to music, charms his loved ones, and has the most infectious laugh I've ever heard.  He chases me at a fast-paced crawl, giggling, eyes bright, and catches me and gives me enormous sloppy kisses complete with "muah" sound effects.  He fills my heart with love when I look at him.  But.  His first year of life started off with a semi-traumatic c-section, breastfeeding struggles, and colic.  We've been to allergists and pediatric opthalmologists.  I've spent hours reading about infant sleep. I've read article after article about the detrimental effects of cry-it-out sleep training to keep my own resolve strong on sleepless nights.  I have tried crazy things over the past year, and his first birthday came after yet another sleepless night. I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, and didn't bond with him right away.

In celebrating the baby, it was hard to forget the struggles.  Finally, at 3:15pm, he was asleep in his crib. His two year-old sister was asleep in her bed.  I closed my eyes and fell asleep.  Two hours later, I woke up to the sounds of the kids also waking up. I hadn't started dinner or wrapped his presents.  Both kids woke up cranky.

I called my husband in desperation. I needed a special dinner--not for him, but for me.  A year ago, we had planned a special dinner for the night before my scheduled induction/c-section (long story), but the doctor's office had moved the procedure up a day and notified me with less than two hours' notice. I needed to mark this milestone in a special way.

And this is what my husband did.  He suggested lemon blueberry pancakes with whipped cream. He would pick up the necessary ingredients and make dinner while I wrapped presents.  He made our children feel better and I got to take some deep breaths.  After dinner, we unwrapped presents. Our toddler struggled with sharing her brother's new toys, and he calmly pulled her onto his lap and taught her.  At bedtime, when my frazzled edges frayed further, he just as calmly intervened.  And when the kids were finally asleep, he held me and listened to me talk.

It's not JUST because I'm lucky to have met the right guy and married him (there was some choice involved here).  It's that we affirm each other as partners all the time.  I show trust in him as a parent (after all, I did decide to share this parenting journey with him!).  We won't always do things the same way, but sometimes, he does things even better.  Sometimes, I get mad at him because he can't read my mind (why won't he just take the crying baby from me!).

But when we're calm, we talk.  I tell him that sometimes I need him to just take the baby without me asking.  We talk about parenting articles and books.  I tell him that I appreciate him--and he tells me that he appreciates me.  We make time for both of us--even if it's just after the kids are in bed.  I remember that sometimes he doesn't know my way, not because he's inept, but because he's out of the house more.  And sometimes? His way is as good or better.  Sometimes his instincts make him think of things that never would have occurred to me.

Here's what I don't do: Call him a babysitter. Participate in the "dad-shaming" culture.  Tell him what he's doing wrong.

We're partners. In this together.

Monday, June 8, 2015


DH and I try not to fill our house with toys that are plastic and made in China. We love wooden toys but they can be pricey. We also would like new toys to be something special.  It's too easy to end up with a lot of junk. How can you make green choices without spending a lot of money?

Remember the three Rs? Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. We just mentioned that we reduce the number of toys we purchase. We love reusing, especially now with the more fashionable moniker of "upcycling."

Pinterest is particularly helpful. I did a search for sensory toys and came up with tons of ideas, one of which I was able to implement during nap time. 

Ribbon Pull
4 ribbons (more or less), about 12" long. Exact measurements not necessary but they should vary in color and texture if possible. 
Oatmeal or other cardboard canister, with lid
Exacto knife

Scrapbook paper
Glue or Modge Podge

1. If using scrapbook paper to cover your canister, measure the height of your container. I measured from the bottom to the lip at the top. My paper wasn't quite wide enough to wrap all the way around, so I cut an extra strip to fill in the empty space.
2.  Glue or Modge Podge your paper to the canister, smoothing to avoid bubbles. I like using a foam brush to apply Modge Podge. I MP'ed the outside of the paper too. Hopefully that will keep Abby from being able to peel the paper off. 
3. Trace the lid onto another piece of scrapbook paper. I was able to use the leftover from the sheet that I used to wrap the container. 
4. Apply a thin layer of glue to your lid. If you have an opaque lid, glue to the outside. My lid was translucent, so I glued it on the inside. Press on the paper, smoothing out bubbles. 
5. You can start here if you didn't use paper! Using the knife, carefully cut small holes in the sides of your canister, just big enough for the ribbon. Cut one hole for each ribbon.
6. Thread the ribbons through the holes, tying knots on the ends outside the canister.
7. Cut holes in your lid and thread the ribbon through, again tying a knot on the end. 
8. Give all your ribbons a good tug from each end to make sure the knots won't go through the holes. 
9. Optional: glue on the lid. 
10. Supervise your child while they play, particularly babies.

Our Baby Class

Things have been busy around here. I am continuing to be a consultant and cloth diaper educator with Diaper Parties/Squigglybugs and a host site for Share the Love. I've also become a volunteer babywearing educator (VBE) with Babywearing International and am working with a new chapter in the Northern Shenandoah Valley area. On top of all that, I am so excited to announce that I am now certified as an Our Baby Class (OBC) teacher, and I am offering classes and support to new parents in Northern Virginia and the Piedmont region.

Our Baby Class’ mission is to build confidence in parenting through a simple, intuitive, and practical approach. I will be offering classes to new parents on topics ranging from infant sleep, to soothing and bonding with your baby, to returning to work, and everything in between. It’s my hope that as an OBC teacher and mentor, I can help create a parenting village of support that will guide new families and encourage them to listen to their inner parenting voice.

I hope you will let all of your friends, co-workers, and family know that I would love to meet them and help them navigate the wonderful journey that is parenthood.

Here are some links that will give you a great idea of the Our Baby Class program and philosophy:

If you have any questions about the program or the classes I will be teaching, just let me know!

Please share this blog post with anyone who you think might be interested in attending one of my classes. You can also help me by liking my new business page on Facebook, and simply keeping me in mind whenever you meet new and expectant families!

Thank you!