Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Why I'm Not a Cry-it-Out Mom....

I set out to write a thoroughly-researched paper. And I’m still going to do that, to the best of my ability, because I think research is important and necessary. I think each parent needs to individually research for themselves what they’re doing and potential effects. But first, my own story and why I’m not a cry-it-out mom….just my heart and my ideas, not because of the latest research, but because of the visions and dreams God gave me as a mother.

Because you know what? I think research is important and revealing. But I also think that sometimes, mothers (and people in general) just need permission to think for themselves. Moms need permission to trust their God-given instincts, not just what Dr. Jo-Shmo says. I know that can be taken to a harmful extreme, because some moms will use it as justification for the selfish decisions they make in regards to their children…however, those moms aren’t likely do the research anyway. And what’s even more hurtful and angering to me, is the fact that there are so many moms who are trying to do the best they can for their babies. Moms who really do care about their babies. And because we’re taught to listen to the experts, they gradually crush out their instincts. They do everything that goes against what they believe in their hearts to be best for baby, all for the sake of their baby’s “good”. If someone had just told these mothers, “It’s okay for you to trust your instincts and do what you feel in your heart your baby needs. GOD gave you those instincts, and the ability to know what your baby needs,” then maybe more babies would feel the love their mothers feel for them. More babies’ needs would be getting met.

Sometimes, this mothering instinct doesn’t exist. But I believe God created it in every woman. Some women crush it out in their selfishness, choosing self over their baby so many times, that eventually, it doesn’t even phase them. Some women let the experts crush it…becoming so convinced that what they say is right, and that they must set aside any personal feelings which will “harm” their baby’s well-being. Sometimes, an undeveloped girl, who perhaps never had a solid family or good mothering role model, becomes a mother, long before she’s mentally and emotionally prepared. But I believe in God’s plan, every woman has a mothering instinct. And the women of America and other similar countries can reclaim that if they so desire. They can grasp a hold of the right and privilege God gave them as a mother, instead of letting the experts fill that role. They can choose to kick selfishness and become the mothers their children need. Role models can become available to girl-moms, coming along side as gentle friends, guiding and aiding. We can reclaim what God gave us.


For years before I became I mom, I knew I’d never do cry-it-out. I read occasional research, but otherwise didn’t thoroughly research it. It was one topic I didn’t need to in order to reach my conclusion. I just knew, in my heart, that I couldn’t, and that it couldn’t be part of God’s plan for babies. There’s an aspect of God that’s nurturing, like a mother. The aspect that pulls us close to his breast….he chose mothers to show this kind of love to the world. And I don’t think cry-it-out fits in with the nurturing picture of God.

In my heart, I knew God had entrusted me with a beautiful daughter to care for to the best of my ability. Ben and I are the primary people right now who get to give her a picture of God’s love- the kind of love that never leaves or forsakes. Leaving her to cry in a dark room doesn’t get that kind of message across. She has real needs.

I know…she doesn’t, especially at 11 months, need to nurse every 45 minutes for nutritional purposes. (And most nights, she doesn’t.) But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need me. Even if her diaper’s dry, she’s not hot or cold, and she’s not hungry, she still may need me. She isn’t developed like an adult, and expecting her, at her maturity level, to learn to “self soothe” is absolutely ridiculous. Sometimes she needs to nurse just because she needs to know I’m there with her. Sometimes she needs to touch me just to know I’m taking care of her. There isn’t anything wrong with this. It’s just my baby girl acting like a baby….in older babies/children, it’s toddlers acting like toddlers. Someday, they’ll need to learn a certain level of self-soothing. Independence, to a certain degree, is healthy for everyone. Society doesn’t need clingy, useless, dependent people. But adulthood is a long ways away from babyhood and babies just aren’t developed to the degree of being able to healthily self-soothe. Before my little girl can become independent, she needs to know that she can rely on me. She needs to know that she can trust me completely, before she becomes confident in her own self. If I let her cry it out, but met all her needs during her awake times, I’d be conveying that she can trust me….sometimes. And that sometimes, I’m just going to ignore her. An older child might need to learn that you can’t always be there for them. They might have to deal with difficult situations in school or the neighborhood, they’ll have to reason out problems on their own. But not a baby.

If I were a helpless baby, I can’t imagine enjoying being a dark room, in a cold bed, by myself. Being put and there and told to “go to sleep” and then seeing the door shut on the thing (person) most familiar and beloved to me would be terrifying at best. And so…I choose not to cry-it-out.

Cry-it-out doesn’t fit with any other aspect of our parenting philosophy. And for the record, I do desire healthy, independent, confident, bright, social children. I think cosleeping, babywearing, and in general, meeting their emotional needs until they’re ready to fly on their own, accomplishes that. I’ve seen it in my own daughter already, and I’ve seen it in the lives of many others. Forcing independence doesn’t create independent children. If anything, it causes more issues for them.

Basically, I want my babies to know that I love them, and that they can trust me to always be there for them. Cosleeping, soothing our babies to sleep and meeting their nighttime needs help me accomplish that. Cry-it-out doesn’t.


A quick web search will reveal that cry-it-out is a very heated topic, with plenty of “research” on all sides. Everyone has their bit of proof….sometimes hard research, sometimes random opinions based on a few examples. From what I’ve found thus far, there needs to be a lot more research on this topic before we can make very scientific conclusions. There’s been a lot of preliminary research but not enough follow up yet. Studies like these are especially difficult and costly, because people need to be followed for decades to learn of all possible outcomes. Furthermore, there are lots of factors to weigh in- humans are such complex beings, that it’s hard to isolate cause and effects. Nonetheless, as more parents move to a mindset of being concerned about the well being of their children, and as more question the authorities and consider their instincts, I think we should see some pretty interesting in-depth studies over the next few decades. Unfortunately, that means that tons of babies in the intermittent decades are going to be very affected- positively or negatively- by cry-it-out or not. Which means we need to take what we have, trust our instincts and parent to the best of our ability with what we know.

I personally believe that cry-it-out is harmful, and that we’ll see more evidence of that over the next few decades. I think we’ve seen enough about the damage excessive crying in general does, and also, as mentioned before, I sincerely believe God gave us instincts for a reason. However, it’s a choice for each parent to make, and you can find all sorts of stuff on both sides out there. Like I said, we only have so much to work with….and if you, as the parent, decide it wouldn’t be harmful to your baby, it’s up to you to decide what to do. There isn’t enough solid evidence for me to try and scientifically convince anyone. But there is enough to feel convinced myself.

Babies only have one means of communication: crying. They cry to express all sorts of needs, and as parents, it’s our job to meet those needs. Many parents are told they must be careful of spoiling their baby, but you can’t spoil a baby by responding to their needs. When a baby is much older, you can tell the difference when they’re crying just because they’re mad (i.e. you take something away they can’t have) and because they have a need. Till then, you don’t need to worry, because your baby isn’t tantruming, they’re asking for you- because they need you. And your 6 month old won’t turn into a 6 year old brat because you answered their cries.

According to a Harvard study, amongst several others, leaving a child to cry unattended predisposes them to a sensitivity towards trauma later in life. Cry-it-out is specifically addressed in the Harvard study. M. Commons and P. Miller of the Harvard study say: “Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they'll feel safe.” Commons goes on to say, “Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently. It changes the nervous system so they're overly sensitive to future trauma.” It appears that the high levels of stress a baby undergoes when left to cry uncomforted results in a permanent change to their hormonal makeup, thus causing them to be oversensitive to stress and trauma later in life. It means they might not be able to handle very small inconveniences without breaking down in stress.

There are many studies out on the effects of prolonged/excessive crying, and none of them look promising for the neglected babies. While most of these studies don’t specifically address cry-it-out at night, crying is crying. Also, we don’t know what “excessive” crying is. What qualifies? Would 30 minutes at a time? 60 minutes? Or is it 60 minutes a day? We don’t know- and, due to how inhumane a study with the intentions of finding out would be, we may never know exactly what the mark is that we must stay under in order to avoid permanent damage. A baby who’s made to cry-it-out, and only cries for 5 minutes before falling asleep, may not suffer permanent damage. We just don’t know when the hit point is. I, for one, would rather err on the side of instincts and attend my baby when she’s crying.

It might be worthwhile to note here, that we’re talking about prolonged/excessive crying alone. Some babies are naturally fussy, and we aren’t seeing long term damage so long as all their needs are being met- which is to say, they get attended to whenever they fuss. Vivi was an extremely fussy baby, and I spent many hours pacing with her, or trying other methods of soothing, while she fussed. Unlike with most babies, just having her close to me wasn’t enough to soothe her, even though I never allowed her to get to a point of hysterical crying in the first place. But, I was holding her close, attempting to comfort her. She knew- and knows- that I was there. The issue here isn’t fussy versus non-fussy babies….it’s responsive versus non-responsive parents.

Cry-it-out is typically promoted for babies as young as 3 months- and some even promote as young as 8 weeks. This is very disturbing, considering that all the research that has been done on cry-it-out (leaning in all directions- harmful/unharmful, helpful/unhelpful) has been done on older babies and toddlers. There have been a few 4 month olds included in some of the studies, however, most are over a year, with a minority of children in the 6-12 month range. I don’t promote cry-it-out as being healthy at any age (and there are some interesting things out there on the damage cry-it-out has caused to toddlers), but I find it most disturbing when experts are telling parents to let their tiny newborns cry-it-out when we haven’t seen anything about the success or harm of this mentality on babies this young.

Another issue to question would be: is cry-it-out really successful? Yes, some, maybe even many, of the babies learn to sleep through the night. And in our American culture, that’s what we want. But is that really what’s best- for anyone? The American culture as a whole is so set on the healthiest thing being to sleep 12 hours straight that we’ll go to any lengths- even that which feels against everything we believe- to make it happen. Some studies suggest that many babies, especially breastmilk babies, still need at least one nighttime feeding for nutritional purposes at 1 year.

Perhaps part of the push for sleeping through the night is our culture’s idea that babies should sleep in their own beds (often in their own rooms). In this situation, it wakes a baby totally up when they have to call out for you, wait for you, be removed from the crib, etc. This disturbs their sleep, and could, perhaps, eventually become unhealthy. It also fully disturbs your sleep, as you’re completely awake by the time the charade is over. So, it’s no wonder parents feel exhausted and desperate. But there’s another alternative to consider- safe, healthy, and ideal for everyone: cosleeping. When parents cosleep with their babies, no one has to fully wake up in order for the baby’s nighttime needs to be attended to. And if your baby is older and you feel the need to nighttime-wean, the family bed is an emotionally-comfortable (for the baby) place to do that. Here they can still feel and touch you (ideally, the father, so aren’t right up against your breast/milk), and know that you’re there. When they’re ready to be independent (somewhere between ages 1-4, usually), they can move to their own bed. By this time, they’re probably already putting themselves to sleep naturally, and they’ll still feel confident in their ability to come/call for you in the night if need be.

Many pediatricians and researchers are finding that the sleep a baby falls into after cry-it-out is a deep sleep as a result of trauma, rather than a healthful, restful sleep. In other words, many of the babies who cry-it-out eventually get so exhausted, they give in. However, this is after their cortisol levels have been raised, experiencing elevated stress, and more, which leads to a troubled (and unhealthy) sleep. The child might sleep through the night, but it isn’t restful sleep, and most certainly, it isn’t healthy. It’s not healthy for adults to go to bed stressed (that Bible verse about not going to bed angry really has some healthful merit behind it!), and it’s not healthy for babies. So when it’s bragged that someone’s baby “sleeps through the night” perhaps we should stop and evaluate just how healthy that sleep is, how it was achieved, and what kind of sleep they’re getting.

Other potential negative effects of sleep-training/cry-it-out include: detachment, long term sleep problems, brain damage and underdeveloped brains, and long term dependence. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say for certain that these things are linked to cry-it-out, but there’s enough to make me very suspecting. I really hope I’m wrong and that there won’t be long-term negative effects on babies who cried-it-out. Many of the mentioned items are issues cry-it-out is supposed to guard against, like dependence. But, babies who are forced into independence won’t be naturally independent…these often tend to be even more clingy and to lack self-confidence. Babies who’re given love, attention and attentiveness will thrive and mature, and when they’re ready, they’ll grow naturally in independence.


Obviously, science never proves anything, and in this case, science is so lacking that there’s a lot of grey space. Which leaves room for each parent to consider and contemplate what’s best for their babies. And that, I believe, is where common sense and instincts come in. My instincts, unmarred by a need to listen to experts, tell me God intended for me to be close to my daughter (and future babies)…they tell me my body was created for this season of life….they tell me that when Viviana cries, it’s because of a real (whether physical or emotional) need…they tell me that I was created to nurture, love, respond and care for my daughter, at all hours of the day and night.

What do your instincts tell you?



Also, Sweet Dreams by Dr. Paul Fleiss & The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep for the Whole Family by Drs. William, Robert and James Sears and Martha Sears.

~And various other sites whose links I forgot to jot down (or which weren’t overly helpful because they were more emotional than anything else)- found mostly through Google (or the sites listed above), as Google Scholar didn’t provide much.~

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Going Green, week two

Welcome to week two! I had best intentions of getting this written before hand and posted first thing this morning, but I’ve become rather lost in a little research project, and every time I’ve sat down at the computer I’ve ended up diving into that, instead of this. J Don’t forget to link up with your posts, sharing your story of going green, or a favorite tip!

An easy place to get started in the cloth realm is getting rid of stuff like paper napkins, paper towels, Kleenex and disposable wipes.

As a wedding gift, someone gave us a (homemade) tablecloth along with a dozen or so napkins in various calico prints. That made it quite natural to plunge into using cloth napkins, which we’ve loved from the start. I soon added a dozen or two more to our collection, so we could use them when hosting large crowds. Before getting into a more “thoroughly” green lifestyle, we bought paper napkins once for a large open house Christmas party. Otherwise, though, we haven’t bought or used paper. Cloth napkins are so easy- and convenient to have on hand. Not only do we use them as napkins, I use them to clean up spills, wipe Vivi up partially when she’s done eating (where a paper napkin would just shred and make a mess), and lots more. When they’re dirty, I just throw them in a load of laundry, and for maybe a minute a week (for the folding/putting away) we use cloth. They’re really pretty, too….it’s a easy and inexpensive way to spruce up your dining room table. My siblings think they’re the coolest thing. Especially the first several months after we got married, they were quite faithful to ask, before food even came out, if they could “please have a napkin”.

If you’re going green in other areas, paper towels are easy to get rid of, too. We have a package of paper towels my in-laws left here when they were painting, but otherwise have never had to buy paper towels. We’ve gone through 2 rolls in our 2 years of marriage- including for Vivi’s birth. This would be a good place to add- births are one area where we don’t intend to go totally non-disposable. We’ll still use paper towels, bed pads, etc., to make clean up from the birth much easier for my husband. I know it’s not perfect, but we figure if that’s pretty much the only time we’re using disposable stuff, we’re not doing too bad. :-) Getting back on topic, rags, sponges, or whatever other cloth things you have on hand work as great replacements. (for example on the “other cloth stuff”: if you use cloth Kleenex, they double wonderfully to wipe down a messy toddler.)

Kleenex is a recent switch for us, though over the winter, Vivi and I also used her cloth wipes- just not exclusively, there weren’t enough to go around. I used my diaper scraps to make them- most are made out of bamboo velour, and they’re the softest, silkiest things ever! I’m in love… These, too, just get thrown in the laundry. And no, it’s not even gross, like I thought many years ago!

Cloth wipes just make sense if you’re going to do cloth diapers. If not, or if you’re beyond the diaper phase, or not into it, cloth wipes or something similar can be really nice to have on hand for various quick wipes. Mine are all made out of flannel or bamboo velour, and usually I just wet them. There are also many solutions you can make and spray on the wipes, and I’ve done this as well. If you don’t sew, another option I’ve heard works really well is baby wash cloths. Some people have found these dirt-cheap at Goodwill.

If you do sew, all these items are really easy to make- and all are made very similarly. Basically, you just cut the fabric and serge (regular or rolled edge) around the edges. If you don’t have a serger, you can hem or zig-zag the edges. Especially of fabrics that don’t unravel, like bamboo velour. If you want something thicker, especially for your wipes, you can sew two layers together (either serge or sew/turn/topstitch). Personally, I’ve preferred just one layer of fabric. Dimensions of my napkins are 14” square. Cloth wipes and tissues are about 8-8 ¼” square. I also like to do some wipes that are ½ sizes- 4”x8”. I still use this size most of the time for Vivi, but it was especially nice when she had a tiny little bum!

If you don’t sew, these items are available in various places, and as mentioned before, baby wash cloths make great wipes. The first place I would check is Etsy, where lots of moms make “green” products, and you have the opportunity to support stay at home moms.

Although it might sound overwhelming at first, these items are an almost effortless way to get started. I’m sure it does take me a few extra minutes per week, but I don’t notice. If you’re totally new to green concepts, consider picking just one item- say, napkins- to eliminate, instead of jumping into everything. Or (as I still do) keep a roll of paper towels on hand, but out of site…so that if you feel the need to use it, you can, but they aren’t there to be automatically grabbed. It really doesn’t take much or any extra effort to clean a bathroom with a sponge and/or rag, but I know it was nice to have paper towels on hand for cleaning it when I had morning sickness for Vivi, especially since Ben was doing so much of the housework, in addition to his job.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Going Green, week one

*Disclaimer: “Going Green” has become rather a pop phrase over the past couple years. We don’t hold to all the beliefs wrapped up in this, and, like any new “craze” I think there’s a lot in the trend that’s missing the mark. Marketers are really enjoying it, and lots of things are now labeled “green”, “environmentally friendly”, etc. Which may or may not be true…but buying more stuff you don’t really need (because it’s labeled “green” after all!) isn’t green at all. That said, here’s what we do believe, and what I mean when I use the phrase: we believe it’s wise to be good stewards of what we have. We believe God created a beautiful world and that we should do our best to preserve and enjoy its beauty. Health is also very important to me, and this typically goes hand-in-hand with a “green” lifestyle. I want to protect, preserve, and build up my family’s health as much as possible. I also want to contribute (in the small ways I can) to healthier air for the sake of my in-utero babies, children, grandchildren, and future generations. We’re also major savers and hate waste….which motivates this lifestyle, too.*

I think my biggest motivators for making greener choices were health and saving money. I’m very passionate about finding what’s healthiest for my family- not just in food, but in our general living. I’m also a major saver and non-waster. So naturally, those first perked my interest in cloth diapering. I’ve always been a fan of not wasting and doing what we can for the environment, but it wasn’t a passion. Ben, on the other hand, was much more into the environmental aspects of the green choices we’ve made. And, through his passion and through the research I’ve done the passion’s caught me. I’m way more passionate about living a greener lifestyle than I ever thought I would be just a few years ago.

We both grew up in families that did a few things….recycling, for instance. Ben’s family also composts religiously. My mom has since started making greener choices, like cloth diapering. They also buy in bulk and cook a lot from scratch- mostly for the health/financial benefits. When Ben and I got married, we decided to take things a few steps beyond our families. And over the past (almost) two years, we’ve grown by leaps and bounds, gradually accumulating lots of new ideas. Currently, I have about a dozen ideas we’re working on implementing…and probably several dozen already firmly established.

Going green can seem like an overwhelming decision to some people, but it doesn’t have to be, especially with baby steps. You might choose one small area to start working on- like cloth napkins- and once it’s a completely implemented area of your life, add one more small area. You don’t have to instantly toss every convenience item you use. Even the small things make a difference. And like all of those that have started implementing a greener lifestyle, I think you’ll find once you’ve been in it for a while, that you wouldn’t go back even if you could. While it might seem like extra work at first to wash/fold cloth napkins, it can quickly become a one-minute part of your weekly routine. Cloth diapers are that way, too. If I have disposables on hand, as I did during a busy season this past December right before a trip I’d bought them for, it’s easy to settle for that. But if I don’t have them around, and am in the habit of using cloth, it doesn’t feel like a problem at all- just a part of the daily routine, like grinding my own flour. (I’ve since decided to commit to never [barring any unforeseen emergency that would cause us to turn our whole lives upside down, such as a hospitalized child] buying diapers again- but we’ll get to that later.)

I thought I’d start a series of weekly posts sharing some of the things we’ve done to become a greener family. This series will last indefinitely- currently I have enough info for a few months worth of posts, and who knows what new ideas I’ll accumulate by then! The plan is to post every Wednesday- but I won’t promise perfection. :-)

I would like to do this as a weekly link-up so you can share your ideas, too. Spread the word so we can gather a large pool of great ideas! Please kick off with a “background” post- sharing how you got into a greener lifestyle, what motivates you to continue to move in that direction, etc. Anyone is welcome to join at any time, and is not obligated to contribute weekly. Hop on over when you can, but don’t avoid it just because you can’t participate weekly!

Some topics you’ll see from me over the next few months: cloth napkins, diapers, wipes, pads, tissue/Kleenex, freezing seasonal foods, cooking from scratch and eliminating convenience foods, recycling, compost, reusable grocery bags, homemade cleaners, eliminating disposables (paper towels, saran wrap, aluminum foil, Ziplocs, paper plates, etc.), reducing plastic, hang drying laundry, canning, reducing plastic, living a minimalist lifestyle and lots more!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Q&A for Natural Parenting Blog Party

The Peaceful Housewife

I decided to join the Natural Parenting Blog Party over at The Peaceful Housewife. To join, head over to her site. It'll be going through the 30th of April. So as a kick off, for anyone who's fairly new around here, or hopped over through the blog party, here's a Q&A (put together by The Peaceful Housewife) to help you get to know me a little.
  1. How many children do you have, and how old are they?

Viviana Marie- she’ll be 1 year May 18. We’re expecting our 2nd at the end of October.

  1. Do you have a partner, or are you a single parent?

Not only do a have an amazing husband (2 years this June!), Ben, but he’s almost as into natural parenting as I am. He wears Vivi a lot, totally promotes cosleeping, and all that jazz.

  1. What are your “hot button” parenting issues?

By nature, I’m a very passionate person. I work hard at respecting others and their rights to parent the way they see fit, but being said personality, I have a few things that are “big” for me….and lots of things I’ll avoid mentioning for now, that I can also be rather passionate about.

Firstly, treating babies and children like real people and meeting their emotional needs. All my other passions flow out of this primary one, which is a “life goal” of my husband and mine. Basically, we just believe that like adults, children/babies have real emotional needs that need to be met. This means that when a baby cries, it’s for a reason. It means that when they’re crying during a cry-it-out program, they’re expressing that they need you….if for nothing more than comfort. It means that 5 year olds have really important stuff to say. It means that kids have important opinions that should be weighed and not laughed at.

Babywearing is definitely a huge thing for me. I love promoting it to people. And I really don’t like seeing all the car seats in shopping carts, and everywhere, anywhere I go. I think babywearing is one of the most beautiful things a parent can do…and it makes me sad to see so many babies by themselves- untouched, often not even being talked to- who just need some loving. I don’t babywear for this reason, but I also think it makes moms’ lives easier, so when I hear people complain about how they can’t get everything done, I’m likely to suggest babywearing as the perfect solution. You can do anything, all while cuddling your baby!

Cosleeping could be added to this, too- especially as opposed to cry it out. I’m very opposed to cry it out; it makes my heart break to hear babies screaming to know that someone’s there and cares about them, without any response. And while we’re talking about sleeping, getting children/babies the healthy sleep they need makes the list.

Breastfeeding to meet emotional and physical needs, for as long as those needs exist (year wise) and however often those needs exist (every hour, every 3 hours) is another one. It makes me sad to see babies whose mothers won’t nurse either because they’re keeping a strict schedule and so it doesn’t matter if the baby’s hungry/emotionally needy, or because they “just nursed him” and so assume he doesn’t really “need” it.

  1. Have you made any parenting choices that you didn’t think you would make before you were a parent, i.e. cloth diapering a child when you had previously thought it was disgusting?

Hmmm…I don’t think I’ve made any drastic changes. Since I was a young teen, I knew I wanted to parent naturally, as I sorted through different parenting styles. Before I was married, I never thought I’d say using natural family planning (as opposed to letting God plan family size) was an acceptable thing. We don’t use it/have plans to, but I know longer hold that it’s wrong, especially for everyone.

  1. Is there one book or person in particular that’s heavily influenced your parenting choices?

Definitely, my mom! She wore her babies, coslept, breastfed on demand and all the natural jazz when she was totally alone and had zero support. And since our two daughters are the same age, and we’re pregnant together again, she still does it all!

  1. If you had to describe each of your children using only one word, what word would you use?

Viviana- vibrant, or lively! She lives up to her name meaning…. :-)

  1. Is there one parenting decision that you regret more than others and wish you could change?

Not yet…but we don’t have years of experience under our belt yet. Ben and I love to talk and communicate as best friends, which has led to lots of in depth conversations about our parenting. We like to know exactly why we do what we do, and ultimately, I think this will lead to fewer regrets, as we avoid doing things “just because”…so many parents don’t even know why they do what they do, and the results can be damaging to kids.

  1. Is there an area of your parenting you wish you were better at?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m far from a perfect parent….but perhaps I don’t have enough munchkins to point out my biggest flaws and “holes” yet. :-)

  1. Now for the fun questions- is there one particular food or type of food that you could eat every day?

Chocolate. A necessary component of everyday. Enough said.

  1. Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?

Let’s be real, folks- chocolate. Or something with chocolate in it.

  1. What’s your guilty pleasure?

Right now, I have a few too many, being pregnant. :-) Like store bought food, which I don’t usually crave. Especially pizza and MiCasa’s (Mexican Restaurant). And ice cream....lots of ice cream.

  1. This question, about tv shows, doesn’t apply to me at all. So I thought maybe I’d sum up, in a few words, without comment, what aspects of “natural parenting” (or parenting in general) I stand for.

Babywearing. Breastfeeding on demand, and anywhere. Cosleeping. Relational parenting. Meeting children/babies’ sleep needs. Cloth diapering. Natural (and incredible!) birth. Healthy, whole food eating- with lots of protein and fats. Natural means of healing. And probably more…but that’s a start!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Sleep is So Important to Me...

Confession: I have a bit of an obsession with healthy sleep, especially for babies and children. So I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, and now here it is, for my sake if for no one else’s. I need to get it out of my system. :-)

I’ve been interested in healthy sleep for several years, through the journey of some of my younger siblings. I’ve seen first hand the results both of well-rested children/babies and those who aren’t. When I was pregnant with Vivi, and when she was a newborn, I devoured books that went into the how-to as well as the science of sleep, what’s necessary and why, and how it has life long effects, negatively or positively.

But my actual obsession probably grew mostly out of our journey- because God blessed me with a daughter who taught me just how valuable sleep is. While healthy sleep is very important for all babies/children (okay, and people in general- but the purpose of this is to talk about our small fry), some absolutely demand it. They just can’t live without it, and you won’t survive if your little one doesn’t get the sleep they need. That little one was Vivi. Any baby can benefit greatly from healthy sleep, and experience positive changes, but in Vivi’s case, healthy sleep meant a 180* turnaround in her personality and interactions with people.

*A quick note before we proceed: I don’t necessarily see sleep as being the most important aspect to Vivi being where she’s at today. But it’s definitely a very important component. If you’ve been around very long, you know that I’m passionate about natural mothering, and many facets of that, especially babywearing and cosleeping, helped Viviana tremendously, as well. The many things that helped her are all probably somewhat interrelated. But some of those are a topic for another day…*


People tell me all the time how lucky I am to have such a happy, social, content baby. Sometimes, I wish they knew the other ½ of the story….others, I just feel highly complimented, remembering back to the comments I got in the early months of her life, and thinking how far we’ve come. It’s kind of wild, looking back on the journey, that people would assume she’s just one of “those babies” that rare moms get lucky and have. When she was an infant, I got my fair share of advice from random strangers- “She’s probably hungry…” (Um…actually, if you lift the cover, you’ll see that it’s all hanging out and she’s not buying …) “Sometimes babies just like to be put down and left alone.” (Totally see that one working out…) There were also comments about my array of baby carriers, and fairly often, a mentioning of how cute or beautiful Vivi is. But I don’t think I ever heard the “you’re so lucky to have such a happy baby” comment I get all the time now, till she was several months old, became a model child, and started smiling at everyone and cooing and talking during our shopping trips and outings.

During the first two or three months of Viviana’s life, she was very fussy/high needs. Part of it was just her personality and high level of neediness. But there was another contributing factor: she soon became very sleep deprived. She had conflicting needs in the first few months. On the one hand, she needed constant touch and a lot of movement. On the other, when sleeping, the slightest sound or movement shift would wake her up. And, she took many hours to get to sleep. This was a problem that just grew with her sleep deprivation, because the more tired a baby is, the harder time they have falling asleep. So- she struck me as the type of baby that would probably do best transferred to a bed (or nursed to sleep in bed), in a quiet, dark room, free from any interruptions. That just didn’t work with her needs for touch and movement.

Somewhere around 2 ½ or 3 months old, we hit a turning point. I started being able to transfer her to our bed after I walked her to sleep in the sling. We had a month or two of centering our lives around her sleep schedules and needs. It took about that long to make up for the damage of being sleep deprived for two months, and to develop healthy routines. Some naps, she stayed on me, in the sling or ergo. For others, I put her down in bed. Sometimes she’d stay asleep, or sometimes she’d wake up. Usually, if she woke up, I could nurse her back to sleep, and after a while, creep away. Sometimes she’d be back awake 20 minutes later, but not ready- so I’d be able to nurse her to sleep again, and repeat the process. That might happen 3-5 times during a nap before she woke up happy and ready to greet the world. If she was tired at someone else’s house, I’d try to wear her to sleep, which worked till she was at least four or five months old- if I was in a room by myself during her nap and there weren’t any abrupt noises that drifted in.

She went to bed for the night really early- often between 6 and 6:30. It made it difficult to see families, so we had a “dry spot” of not seeing them as much, but it was what Vivi needed. She was tired, and ready to crash. She slept till somewhere between 6:30-8:30am. (She had plenty of nighttime wakings- but that was her wakeup for the day range.)

I also worked hard on hitting her narrow window of tiredness before she got overtired, which occurred one hour, or a little less, after she woke up. This meant that if I had to go to the grocery store, I’d get everything ready to go while she slept, nurse and change her when she woke up, fly out the door and make sure we were back home 15 minutes before the one hour mark, so I could change her again and start to put her down. Our days were totally centered around her sleep needs, to an almost crazy degree.

But, it paid off. By the end of the couple months, she was doing so much better with life in general. She was pretty stable when it came to naps, and I was consistently able to nurse her to sleep in bed and creep out. Her naps were usually solid, long, and very restful for her. We still had rough days occasionally- and days when I wouldn’t quite catch one of her naps at the right time and that’d throw the day off- but overall, it was consistently good.

I still watched her closely for her first tired signs, and we still went home really early in the evenings, because she was tired and needed sleep. Her naps were a little further apart, if I remember correctly- but still no more than 1 ½ hours. She stuck with the one hour trend for a long time…it was obviously what her body needed. She was several months old before she moved to 2 hour spacings.

At this point, she still didn’t have “scheduled naps”. Since she absolutely couldn’t be up any longer than 1-1 ½ hours, waking up at times just a ½ hour different would swing the day into totally different modes. Also, her naps varied in length, which affected it drastically. But, I could predict from one waking when the next nap would probably fall, and plan the next couple hours around that. In a healthy sleep cycle, routine and following tired signs is much more important than following the clock. There are some general guidelines that can be good to follow, but a baby’s body knows better than the clock when it’s tired. And following a rigid schedule has plenty of other negative effects on babies, in my opinion.

Her personality was much happier at this point. She was very cheerful and social. When she was tired, she let you know it….but otherwise, she was an incredibly content baby, as long as her emotional needs for touch and interaction were being met, and she was well rested. The difference was really pretty incredible.

Over the following several months, leading up to now, at 11 months old, things just continued to get easier. There were some rough spots- where I’d spend a couple hours getting her to sleep at night before I could leave her, or when her naps were shorter than they needed to be- but overall, it’s been good. She’s also able to handle more deviation from her routine if it doesn’t happen all the time. We might stay later at one of our family’s on occasion now, or I might risk messing up her nap routine and getting her down extra late to go to a babywearing meeting. It’s the privilege of having a well-rested baby- meeting her sleep needs enables her to be happy and rested, but it doesn’t chain us anymore. Because she is well-rested, it isn’t a big deal to deviate from time to time, and do something different.

At this point, she’s transitioning to one nap a day. Most babies hit this point around a year, some as late as 15 months. On her good days, she wakes up between 7 and 8am, takes a 2+ hour nap between 10:30-11, and is ready to go to bed at 7pm. On bad days, anything might happen. :-) Sometimes she doesn’t fall asleep when I put her down at night, even though she’s tired…so she gets overtired and hyper, and ends up going to bed rather late (8:00-8:30, usually, but on rare occasions, later). Sometimes her nap is only 45 minutes long, so we do a second mid/late afternoon nap.

When she was still doing 2 naps, one occurred a couple hours after she woke up, and the other early/mid afternoon. I knew we were ready to start transitioning when her naps were falling late enough that the second nap often wasn’t starting till 4pm or later, and it was much harder to get her down the second time. During this transition phase, if her first/single nap is short, I try to get her to take a second, because she still needs a certain number of hours of sleep. I suspect in the next few months, her ability to be flexible and just go to bed earlier or sleep in a bit later will increase. Somewhere in there, her single nap will probably start happening later, around 12 or 1.


So…that pretty well sums up our journey. You can’t really blame me for being obsessed with sleep, can you? I try to avoid analyzing people and what their kids’ needs are, because I know the parent’s know that child best. But with sleep, it’s kind of like how specialized doctors notice certain things in people pertaining to their field….how a midwife notices certain things….how a scientist notices specific things in his field around him. Except that I’m not a doctor, midwife, scientist or otherwise expert. :-)

Sometimes, it’s really aggravating to see sleep deprived babies- and it’s something I see a lot of. Aggravating, because I can’t do anything about it….and usually, the parents don’t even notice it. I’ve seen children and babies get punished and disciplined when their only problem is that they’re tired and/or sleep deprived. Most adults don’t do a very good job at holding themselves together when they’re severely tired and/or sleep deprived. Try living on several less hours a day of sleep for a long period of time, and see how it effects you. Or try sleeping on a schedule that completely conflicts with what your body’s used to and needs- say, sleeping day shifts. It’s not easy, and you, at least, are a grown adult who isn’t growing and maturing still.

A word of clarification: I use the terms healthy/unhealthy sleep a lot. What do I mean? Obviously, the first step is enough sleep- which varies not only from age group to age group, but from baby to baby, even within families. Just like it varies between adults, within a general range, it varies quite a bit in babies- usually, within a general range. However, there’s another extremely important, often neglected component: getting sleep at the right time. One of the biggest aspects of this is putting your little ones down early (typically between 6:30-8:30pm, depending on the baby and their age) for the night. It interrupts adult schedules and life as it used to be. But it’s critical to baby and children’s health and general well being. Modern research shows clearly that early bedtimes (9-10pm, typically) are extremely important even for adult health. These studies show how much more valuable sleep before midnight is, than sleep after. It’s the healthiest time of the night to get sleep, and it’s when we, and especially babies/children, sleep the most soundly/restfully. Adults can choose what they like, since it’s their own bodies- and while consistently late nights do cause damage, I think adult bodies can probably handle it a little better. But babies and children are still growing and developing. Their bodies are working hard to grow and mature, their minds are expanding…and all the while they play hard and live full days. Healthy sleep, including early bedtimes, is critical for a happy, well rested, healthy baby/child. Another timing aspect is hitting their first tired signs for naps as well as bedtime. Unhealthy sleep encompasses all the opposites- not enough, staying up late, getting overtired before sleep needs are met.

Most babies get what they need sleep wise the first couple months of their life. Often, they fall asleep when they’re tired and sleep as long as they need to. For most babies, this all happen effortlessly for the first two, sometimes 3, months of life. Especially if you wear your baby a lot, and they can just nestle in and sleep when they want/need to. Obviously, all babies aren’t that way, and I don’t have any personal experience with those types of babies. But I’ve heard they exist, anyway. In fact, I’ve heard most babies are that way- so maybe I’ll get to try it out, sometime! :-)

However, while there are a smaller number who continue in this fashion for several months, most babies start needing more routine and help falling asleep by the time they’re 3-4 months old, if not sooner. By this time, they have more of a set number of naps they need (3-4), and it’s also critical for them to go to bed for the night early (6:30-7:30, usually). Prior to this point, your baby may’ve stayed up with you all night, sleeping on and off, and just going to bed with you when you did. That wasn’t a problem before, but at this stage, it’s becoming one. For most babies, this is the age when you start developing a healthy routine- whether you’re able to just put your baby down and have them fall asleep on their own, or you nurse them to sleep and lay them down, or wear during their naps, or wear to sleep and then put down, it’s likely they may need help, or at the very least, guidance. They need you to read their early tired signs, which happen long before the cranks come out in full force, and help them fall asleep. For some babies, that means being at home, or being in a quiet environment, distraction-free. For others, it means very minimal effort. Each child is unique and will have different needs.

Early sleep signs include a slowed-down pace, yawning, droopy eyelids, slight lethargy, etc. Each baby’s just a little different, and each parent has to learn how to read their baby’s sleep signs. I had to learn what Vivi’s were, and learn how to watch for them- it wasn’t something that came overnight.

From there, life in the sleep journey typically just gets easier. Eventually, they drop to 3, then 2 naps, and finally, 1 nap. They may also reach points of being able to stay up till 8 or so. For most babies, once you’ve established a healthy routine, it just gets easier to put them to sleep as they get older.

Just like in our journey with Viviana, if your baby is sleep deprived (which doesn’t take very long- within just a month or less of unhealthy sleep it can be set in fully), it may take extra effort initially, for a month or two. But it more than pays off! You might have to settle in for a few months of centering your life around your child(ren)’s sleep needs….and especially with a difficult baby, it may take all your extra time everyday. But the end results are so huge, and so incredible- and so worth it. By the way…don’t automatically discard the idea of your baby/child being sleep deprived. I know so many babies and children that look desperately sleep deprived all the time (all times of the day), but whose parents don’t see it- probably because they live with it and assume it’s just normal. If your baby/child hasn’t been getting the healthy sleep they need, chances are very high that they are, to some degree, sleep deprived. Unlike what’s commonly assumed, babies can’t make up for lost sleep themselves. It doesn’t just automatically happen. It makes sense that if a baby was extra tired, they’d just sleep really well/long- but it doesn’t work that way.

Healthy sleep is a journey….and it can be a really exciting one! It’s exciting to see so tangibly how the decisions we’ve made for Vivi have influenced her life so positively- one of those decisions being for healthy sleep. But it’s also one that involves sacrifices and commitments, for the sake of your baby/child’s well-being. Just like with other aspects of parenting, though, the rewards reaped more than make up for the small sacrifices. And in the long run, to speak in self-centered terms for a moment, it makes your life so much easier, because a happy baby is much easier (not to mention, more fun!) to take care of than a cranky, sleep deprived baby. Viviana and I are best of friends and constant companions. She’s an absolute joy to be around, as anyone who knows her now will testify to. And while there are many factors, at least part of that owes to being well rested.

For more reading, consider these resources:

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. This book is in depth and has a lot of research and the science behind sleep needs. He brings up studies showing permanent effects of healthy/unhealthy sleep, talks about sleep needs for different ages, goals to strive for, and more. He also gives ideas for putting babies to sleep. I don’t agree with him totally in this area- while he isn’t a totally cry-it-out philosophy, some of his suggestions tend that way, which is something we disagree with. (I believe his main premise with all this is that if you catch your baby at just the right time, they won’t cry for more than a few minutes. It’s better than standard cry-it-out, but that’s not the case for every baby, and in any case, not a direction we’re willing to go in or encourage.) However, all the research in a very readable format is fascinating and well worth the read.

The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley.

The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Rest for the Whole Family by William, Martha, Robert and James Sears.

These two books share some research and information about needs, and are largely just practical books on the how-to, especially if you have a difficult baby, and have issues soothing to sleep- or are totally new to the parenting/baby game and want ideas under your belt. Both encourage gentler methods of sleep-soothing. I really appreciate Sears’ perspective on “nighttime parenting”, too, since you hear a lot of complaining on that end…although that isn’t something we touched on in this article. Maybe that’ll be a part two edition. :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Thoughts on Letting God Control Your Family Size and NFP

*Warning: This post delves into a rather controversial subject. The good news is, I’m not asking you to agree with me. Mostly, I’m just sharing our journey and how we got here- and perhaps in the process, giving you some food for thought. I’d love to hear our reader’s thoughts- your opinions, what you agree and disagree with, etc.*

When I was a teen, I had several “make it or break it” issues that would have to line up between me and my future spouse. One of those was in regards to letting God control your family size. Because as far as I was concerned, natural family planning (NFP from here out) was wrong. (My beliefs on the birth control pill remain unchanged….that as an abortifaciant, it is wrong under all circumstances, and above and beyond that, not a good choice simply for what it does to the woman’s body….not to mention her potential to be able to conceive later when she does want to.) So, in the month between being “just” friends and getting engage, I shot out the question. Little did Ben know how important his answer was, but thankfully, he answered the right way! :-)

Now, almost 4 years later, my thoughts on the matter aren’t so black and white. It’s not very clear-cut anymore. There are a few things I still believe, wholeheartedly. I believe children are a blessing…I believe each child is a gift from God, to be rejoiced greatly in. I think big families are awesome- I love being part of one. I believe in accepting the good gifts God has for us.

But there are a few other things I believe, as well. I believe that with great blessings come huge responsibility. I believe that each child has a lot of individual needs which it’s imperative for the parent to meet. I believe that if these needs aren’t met, it could cause far-reaching emotional damage to your children.

I believe small families are a blessing, too. I know lots of small or smaller families who ache to embrace more children. God opens and closes the womb, for reasons we don’t fully understand sometimes. Sometimes, when a couple doesn’t conceive right away, or has large spacings, or “only” has 2 children, it isn’t their “fault”. It’s just the path God chose for them.

In general, I think the idea of letting God plan your family size is a beautiful thing. Choosing to hinder pregnancy is a serious and huge decision, especially because there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to conceive when you feel “ready”. But some of it has gotten ugly and out of hand in the homeschool circles. It’s turned into a holier-than-thou competition. This family’s more holy because their children are all 13 months apart….and WHAT? Your kids are all 3 years apart? What a bad Christian… Maybe that isn’t vocalized very often- but I guarantee it’s been thought. Even though I never went quite that far, I know there was always a natural draw for me to the bigger families, the ones with closer spacings, and so on. Those moms were more heroic. Ones whose kids are 2 years apart? They have it so easy, and they really aren’t exactly doing their job. Too often, in the “take over the world” mindset, judgment gets passed far too quickly on the families that God chose different paths for. Some women just can’t conceive very fast. Some can’t conceive at all. I don’t think we’re more or less holy for something that’s outside our control.

And there’s another form of ugliness….the lives of the children who live in these families. Families who are piously “obeying God” and having as many children as possible. Their kids may be 11 months apart or 15 months or even 2 years. The families are upright and fit all the rules to being a great Christian family. But inside, behind closed doors….their kids are starving for attention. In the race to obey God and have as many kids as possible, older siblings are getting left behind. Their needs are going unmet, possibly even unseen. Permanently scarring your children doesn’t seem very biblical to me. I’ve seen it personally, in a lot of families. I’ve seen kids who are absolutely starved for attention- to the degree that they’re difficult to like, because as soon as you give them 30 seconds, they’re like leeches you can’t get rid of. I’ve seen moms so totally stressed and burned out that they don’t take the time to smile at and play with their children. Every thing in their daily lives is just one more thing that has to get done- there isn’t any pleasure in what they do. And if you want to take their baby for a while- take it and welcome, because the stress is so high that having “one less thing to deal with” sounds great.

Just to clear the air on something, I’m not saying children spaced close together is a bad thing. I’m not saying that guarantees that your children will be attention starved. By many standards, Vivi and our next one will be fairly close (17 months). Each person can handle different levels. There are children 2 years apart who are just as starved. I’m just emphasizing that having kids spaced so closely together, especially if life as it is is already stressful beyond enjoyment, just to be a better Christian….might not be the best idea.

If I was stressed with Vivi, and didn’t honestly think I could meet her needs and the needs of this baby (whatever those may be), I had no business getting pregnant. As it was, that wasn’t the case for us. Life in general is very simple for us right now, and while Vivi is still “high needs”, she isn’t difficult. She just has a lot more needs than the average 11 month old. Nonetheless, she is gaining independence, and I’m confident that by the time the baby arrives, she’ll be enjoying many pursuits, including doing more “helping” (as opposed to being worn while I do stuff). Depending on the needs of this baby, and if/when it starts napping by itself, I’m confident I’ll still be able to give Vivi a lot of individual, one-on-one snuggles and time together. All that might sound a little pompous, which it isn’t intended to….to round off, I know there’ll be challenges. There were with Vivi. There’s sure to be with two individual munchkins. I’ll need God’s grace, I’ll get to the end of my rope, I’ll probably wonder how I’ll ever get it done. It’s just in general that I have reason to believe the transition will be smooth….not that every day is and will be perfect, because I’m Supermom! :-)

To wrap this segment up, I just feel so strongly about meeting your children’s emotional needs. I believe God views emotions as important, and one of our jobs as parents is to provide emotionally for our children- not just physically. Sometimes, children’s needs could be better met just by changing our lifestyles to better accommodate our children and their needs, as opposed to preventing more babies from entering the family. Perhaps some of the stressed-out moms need either some hands-on help from their husbands, or guidance into embracing motherhood and figuring out what is and isn’t important in her daily activities. Maybe families could cut out activities or change activities to focus more on the needs of their children. So, in some situations I’ve seen, I think lifestyle changes could be considered first, because the whole goal of using NFP shouldn’t be for selfishness and to keep living your self-centered lifestyle even as life changes. In fact, a lot of situations where kids are starving and moms are stressed/depressed simple lifestyle changes and sacrifices could go a long ways. I know they have in our ability to meet Vivi’s needs stress-free…it would be so much harder to parent her the ways she needs if Ben or I felt it was imperative to keep up our previous lifestyle or pursue selfish interests.

So, how do all those ideas play out in real life? Mostly, I just don’t have a cut-and-dry opinion on NFP anymore. I can see how some families use it responsibly not out of selfishness, but because they believe it’s in the best interests of their current baby and children. I can see situations where it might be wise to consider using it. And I still think- with the right heart and goals- letting God plan your family size is a beautiful thing. Mostly, I just believe that children are beautiful people- amazing gifts- and need to be treated as such not only in embracing pregnancy, but in meeting their needs throughout their lives.

On a personal level, I don’t see the shift in perspectives changing anything in our lives, at least at this point. I still want a big family, and I still adore babies. After Vivi, at least, my cycles didn’t come back for 6 months…by then, Vivi was much balanced out, and shortly thereafter I was feeling like she was way too big and I desperately needed a baby again. Also, I don’t see myself being able to do NFP, because I know I can’t wave a magic wand and get pregnant whenever I want to….and it would be really hard to not be able to conceive when I want to after months of preventing it. We’ll see what God has for us!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In which pictures are worth thousands of words...

I decided to do something a little different this time around, and share a few of the things we're most passionate about through pictures with minimal words. If you've been around much, you're pretty familiar with what we believe in as parents- which could be simply summed up in: relational/attachment parenting that considers the needs of each child in the decisions we make.

So, because actions speak a whole lot louder than words, here we go....

Working together...doesn't she look like a happy helper? :-)

Exploring, touching, making messes, learning...

Working together, again...this time, messing up all mom's folded towels....

Reading together- exploring high quality literature for the sake of building family bonds, developing character and stretching our minds. First picture: The Giraffe That Walked to Paris. Second picture: a board book about farm animals. least one topic I don't need to say more on. :-)

Babywearing feels like such a phenomenal and important part of parenting naturally and meeting our children's emotional and touch needs.

What? You already got the point? Oh well..babywearing pictures are too fun!

Babywearing keeps you warm during the winter- and avoids the issues of strollers and slush.

One more for good measure...

Playing together....all as real people....

Co-sleeping....after all, what's more inviting than a bed where a sleeping angel lies?