My reaction: I love reading books that gather and work through the research, and Nichols certainly does that in this book. She also nicely includes highlighted statements and summary sections, so if you are more interested in her conclusions than how she gets there, you can get a nice handle on the material in a short amount of time. I especially enjoyed Chapter 4 where Nichols works through recommendations on lunch meat, alcohol and more. I also appreciated the balanced approach she takes when she notes that first-trimester nausea may make a diet overhaul unrealistic, but that it is something you can work toward as you feel able. And, she also shares that eating "real food" doesn't have to be all or nothing. As with so much in pregnancy and parenting, having the information you need to make the best choices for your family - even if those choices include small-scale changes in prenatal nutrition rather than following her advice to the letter - is what truly matters.
itSome quotes of note:
"Part of listening to your body is recognizing when your food choices don't leave you feeling well and making a mindful choice to opt for a more nutritionally balanced option the next time you eat. Your body deserves nourishing foods and you deserve to enjoy your food. There is a place for these two things to coexist" (27).
"Calorie and macronutrient needs vary widely and there fore there's not a single meal plan that will work for all women" (82).
"When you ignore your hunger cues, you tend to ignore your fullness cues as well" (26).
Real Food for Pregnancy gives you all the research with practical ways to apply it to your eating during pregnancy. While some nutrition books can load you with pressure, this one incorporates mindfulness and emphasizes that we are all different, making plenty of room for you to take what you need from the book without feeling completely overwhelmed. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking to trouble shoot their pregnancy nutrition or make changes preconception.
Looking for more evidence-based info as you prepare for birth and baby? Nested Mama offers a full range of classes including childbirth education, breastfeeding, infant sleep education, and planning for postpartum.
If you are like me, when you find yourself expecting a baby you take a deep dive into all things pregnancy.
Apps that tell you the size of your expectant joy in terms of fruit and vegetables alongside week by week diagrams and videos of development.
Maybe you've also fallen down the rabbit hole of the birth process and the benefits and risks of different birth preferences and interventions. Podcasts of birth stories and videos of birth can fill your free time, for sure.
In the months leading up to the birth of our first child, the stack of books about all things pregnancy and birth on my nightstand was a veritable rotating tower featuring all the books at the library as well as those acquired via Amazon Prime.
While I'm thankful for all that learning, I now know that switching gears to learn a bit more about the breastfeeding journey I was about to embark upon would have been time well spent.
To that end, I've put together a little checklist for pregnancy that can help you prepare a bit more for breastfeeding, no matter your goal.
Take a Breastfeeding Class
While this seems pretty straightforward, a solid breastfeeding class should provide you the evidence-based information you need to make decisions about feeding your little one. I always recommend that the breastfeeding parent-to-be attend a class with a partner or support person so that everyone is on the same page with expectations for what feeding a baby looks like in the early days and weeks postpartum.
Visit a Support Group
Yes, I am suggesting you attend a support group meeting before you even have a baby. This may help you in several ways. Practically speaking, it can be really tough to get out the door with a new baby and the thought of going somewhere new with people you've never met may be truly overwhelming. By attending a breastfeeding support meeting (or more) before baby, you'll be familiar with the location, people, and atmosphere such that it may be easier for you to attend the group newly postpartum. Breastfeeding groups are also a great way to find community with other parents in the same stage, which can make the early parenting days less isolating.
Make a Postpartum Plan
Feeding a baby with breast milk - whether pumped or from the breast - is a full-time job in the early days. A postpartum plan allows you and your partner to put together the puzzle pieces of support that will be essential for you to focus on this wonderful but often times exhausting aspect of caring for your baby.
Find a Doula
Having nonjudgmental, compassionate support throughout your experience of labor, birth, and postpartum can make a difference in how you find your footing with babe. And, your doula will bring breastfeeding knowledge as well as contacts and resources if any challenge you experience are outside the doula's scope of practice. (If you aren't local to me, Doula Match is a great resource.)
Learn about Baby Behavior
The question "is this normal?" will likely occur frequently in the first days, weeks, and months with baby. In addition to taking a breastfeeding class, a workshop that covers developmentally normal infant sleep may take much of the guesswork out of those first days. Truly, having developmentally appropriate expectations for your child at any age will save you so much stress and help you find strategies and solutions that work for your family.
In addition to the breastfeeding support groups mentioned above, searching out supportive communities before baby arrives can make finding support and friendship in this parenting journey that much simpler. For example, Hike it Baby is a great community to get moving with your little one and enjoy time in the outdoors.
Know your Resources
Compiling a list of resources including postpartum doulas, support groups, breastfeeding counselors, lactation consultants, and perinatal mental health professionals is a good task for those long third-trimester days when pregnancy seems to stretch on forever. You may not need to contact all or even any of these professionals, but having their contact info or recommendations from friends already in place can help you say "yes" to the support you need when you need it.
Like anything else in pregnancy, birth, parenting, and well, life, your breastfeeding journey may have unexpected challenges. In fact, you may make feeding choices different from those you initially planned on.
Know that you deserve respect, encouragement, and love no matter what.
Looking for a breastfeeding class? Nested Mama offers group classes as well as private webinars to help you get the information you need in a way that works for you.
When I worked with sleep clients, I often hear them lament that because of their babies’ or toddlers’ tricky bedtimes or sleep interruptions they have no “me time.”
I sympathize with this greatly, because I’ve been there, too, believing if only my baby behaved like “normal” babies that I could get the self-care time I craved.
Indeed, many popular books on sleep and child rearing equate baby's sleep time with sacred alone time for the caregiver.
While this sounds logical enough on the surface, in practice it sets up those whose babies have more or different needs around sleep for difficulty.
And, for me, it meant self-sabotaging my happiness.
When I made self-care time contingent on my baby’s sleep, I unwittingly raised the stakes of my baby’s sleep to a new level. No longer about my baby’s need for rest, now my adult need for self-care came along for the ride of any sleep frustrations.
The “shoulds” in my head became louder and my feelings about sleep became bigger.
You see, I’d invited my baby to a power struggle so far beyond her comprehension. Given the roller coaster that is baby and toddler sleep, even the most predictable of sleepers will have tricky spots and interruptions. My expectations were ahead of her abilities and my frustrations loomed large.
This mindset often proves even more challenging in the toddler years, as little ones become more vocal about their many needs at bedtime. Asking for one more drink, one more hug, or parental reassurance can turn the implicit power struggle of baby sleep to a very explicit one.
When I work one-on-one with parents, I often hear that they feel like their self-care time is held hostage by their little one’s ever so vocal and pressing nighttime desires. As a result, bedtime becomes a time of stress and conflict rather than ease and connection.
Imagine having an argument with your partner or a beloved family member and then trying to fall asleep. How long do you think it would take you to drift off?
When we create a power struggle that not only includes bedtime but a narrative around how and when we can care for ourselves, we set ourselves up for the opposite of joy. Bedtime as a battle means everyone’s stress level is high and rest and relaxation is that much harder to achieve for all parties involved.
So, what can we do when we find we’ve fallen into this sleep-time trap? Here are a few quick tips to dissolve the power struggle and find more room for self-care.
Change your mindset
If you take an honest look at your own attitude toward bedtime and acknowledge that the “shoulds” and power-struggle mentality have taken hold, you’ve take the first powerful step in changing the narrative and experience of that time. Hold limits with love, find ease and connection in closeness with your child, and turn sleep time into one that feels good for everyone involved. It may not immediately equal “one tuck and done,” but know that gentle transitions and growth are always on the horizon.
Schedule it in
One powerful way to change your narrative around sleep is to change what is at stake. Instead of making your yoga practice contingent on naptime, schedule a class or two a week in your calendar that don’t depend on your baby’s sleep for you to attend. Communicate clearly with your partner about your needs, dial in your support people, exchange childcare with a friends so you both get the time you need - basically, separate the baby sleep = self-care equation by making your self-care a priority.
Find joy together
Sometimes, especially with tiny ones, it is possible to make progress toward self-care and sleep at the same time. Maybe you enjoy a quiet coffee obtained via drive-though after errands because you know little one will nap a bit in the car. Maybe your little one sleeps best for naps in a carrier, so you leverage that time to take a walk, a hike, or a babywearing dance class. Look for parent and baby classes in your community that give you more of what you love while being with your little one.
Sometimes the thought of changing the narrative, making gentle transitions, or finding collaborative solutions that work for the family may seem completely out of reach. Here, a one-on-one consultation with an infant sleep educator may be just what you need to refocus and have a plan to help your whole family flourish.
Looking to make some gentle changes or want support as you switch up the narrative around your experience of baby and toddler sleep? Schedule a free 15 min discovery call to see if Nested Mama services are the right fit for your family.
As a infant sleep educator and a professional who provides sleep consultation services, you may be surprised that my outlook when it comes to sleep can be summed up by saying “sleep isn’t a problem unless it is a problem.”
I approach sleep as a spectrum of normal variation and maintain an evidence-based perspective that sees the need for nighttime parenting as developmentally and biologically normal for infants.
As I often share when teaching prenatal classes on infant sleep, I did not always understand babies’ needs for nighttime parenting as a spectrum that represents both their personality and the more general needs of relatively helpless mammalian offspring.
Instead, I truly believed the commercials and cultural images of babies sleeping peacefully without need for adult interaction - if only you purchased the right diaper, the right swaddle, the right sleep gizmo, the right sleep book, and so forth.
All that changed, abruptly, with the introduction of my first child. Now with three children and over six years of nighttime parenting in, I know that as far as baby sleepers go, she was relatively easy.
My experience of her sleep needs, however, was not.
Because my expectations were informed more by commercial and cultural rhetoric of “good” babies than developmental norms, I found sleep life with my sweet little one much more stressful than blissful.
Far worse than any nighttime wakings was the pressure I felt to make my daughter conform to the ideals set forth in baby parenting books. Words like “routine,” “habits,” “props,” and “self-soothing” dominated my thoughts day and night. Fears about independence and life long sleep kept me from returning to sleep with ease after a night waking.
And, what of my little one? While occasionally cranky when working on a new skill or under the weather, she was a happy baby who was growing well and meeting milestones on pace for her age.
Sleep, then, wasn’t a problem - for her.
Had I known that she would make gentle transitions to no night feedings and make progress toward finding sleep without nighttime parenting in the coming months and years, I’m sure I could have enjoyed the present and found more rest even amidst her nighttime needs.
Hindsight certainly brings clarity in parenting as in everything else.
Though particular to my child and experience, I share this narrative because what I needed, more than anything, during this challenging season of nighttime parenting was support and encouragement to trust my child and my instincts.
Even if baby sleep isn’t a problem, negotiating nighttime parenting and making gentle transitions certainly can be. Add in outdated parenting advice handed down to us by well-meaning friends and relatives and packaged as universal cultural wisdom - oof - and baby sleep can be just plain hard.
Because our culture places so much emphasis on our babies figuring out how not to need us at night at such an early age, it can be challenging to reach out and ask for help to navigate our busy lives if choosing a more developmental approach to sleep.
That is to say, embracing your baby’s needs for you as developmentally normal doesn’t automatically equal bliss.
In fact, as I was to learn with my second and highly-sensitive baby, it can be brutally hard to see through the fog of sleep deprivation and find solutions that work for everyone.
While with my first, I needed education and an encouraging word to trust my instincts, with my second, I could have used an honest assessment of our sleep situation and a bucketful of collaborative solutions.
In either case, it was me, not my baby, who truly needed a sleep intervention.
Instead of advocating I “fix” my baby, I could have benefited immensely from a listening ear with responses of compassion and empathy, support that expressed confidence in me and my intuition as a mother, and encouragement as I made changes that held true to our family's long term values and goals.
That's an approach to the problems of baby sleep could have made all the difference for me then and why I'm passionate about the work of infant sleep education now.
Are you looking for prenatal education on infant sleep or a holistic, heart-centered approach to navigating your families nighttime needs? Schedule a free 15 min discover call and find out if Nested Mama's services are the right fit for your family.
In the absence of a "village" to nurture us postpartum, it can be hard to know where and when to reach out for support. Our culture maintains a myth wherein the birthing parent can do it all. In reality, the days, weeks, and months after baby's arrival are a time when a go-it-alone approach can lead to isolation and exhaustion.
At least, it did for me.
Hiring a postpartum doula is one way families can say "yes" to more support and invest in a service that can bring ease into that first year after baby.
But, depending on your lifestyle or little one's age, traditional postpartum doula services that focus on in-home day and overnight support may not be the right fit.
Maybe your support network is great with laundry and meal prep, but you need more nonjudgmental, compassionate conversation to uplift you as you navigate a tricky stage postpartum.
Perhaps you've got your household running smoothly but the thought of having a link to evidence-based resources and a sounding board for your transition into parenthood would offer you a sense of ease.
Or, maybe the idea of a doula in your home doesn't sound like the right match, but a combo of emotional and informational support offered online fits perfectly with your preferences.
If any of the above sounds like you, Online Postpartum Doula services may be the support you always felt you needed but didn't know you could ask for. Now, you can.
So what is Online Postpartum Doula Support?
Nested Mama combines weekly video chats and unlimited emails to provide you heart-centered support when and where you are in life with baby.
Nested Mama is all about your parenting journey and how you build confidence and joy along the way. Online doula support is a flexible way to make that happen when and where you need it.
Want to learn more? Schedule a free 15-min discovery call and see if Nested Mama is the right fit for what you need.
“I want to sleep in my little beddy.”
Last night was a first, a first for this sweet little toddler who has been my sleep companion for her whole life. As a little baby, we used breastsleeping and side-lying nursing to make it through the tricky patches and big developmental leaps of that first year. *
When shortly after a year, she made clear that sleep in her crib in our room was not preferred for even a short portion of the night, she joined us in our bed where she has been night in and night out ever since.
We took down that unused crib - which I have to say made for excellent laundry storage - and turned that corner of our room into a nook for a toddler bed.
Having only bedshared on and off with my older two kiddos, I imagined we’d make slow steady progress toward more independent sleep as she moved toward age two.
Here we are, days from 2.5 and just now making that tiny but grand leap.
Our culture frames discussions of baby/toddler/kiddo sleep with such fear - fear that our little ones may need us both day AND night.
Given this cultural conversation, I’ve had friends and clients share with me that even when they know about biologically normal sleep they still fear they’ve messed something up or somehow gone wrong in parenting because their little one finds rest best close to a loving caregiver.
As a parent, I’ve felt that fear - the stress and the worry that I’ve somehow misstepped and if only I’d done the right thing, my littles wouldn’t need me so intensely.
As an Infant Sleep Educator with a background in developmentally normal infant and toddler sleep and an understanding of attachment theory, I know that our little ones needing us isn’t something to fear - their need for us is normal and healthy and the stuff of future independence when ready.
Embracing sleep as a spectrum of normal variation means acknowledging that just as some grownups can’t fall asleep well without the sleepy breathing of their partner next to them, some kiddos innately find sleep best when close to a warm family member.
And, it also means acknowledging that some little ones don’t seem to need constant touch quite so much to find rest. It is a spectrum, after all.
Perhaps most importantly, it means recognizing that just because a little one vocally insists on a parent’s presence to fall asleep at age two doesn’t mean that the parents have gone wrong or the child needs to “learn” independence.
Similarly, a little one who has happily babbled to sleep alone since x months may suddenly as an older baby or toddler require more support for initial sleep and more frequent nighttime parenting.
Embracing sleep as a spectrum of normal variation means just that - that just as our children are beautifully unique in the daytime, they may be varied in nighttime needs, as well.
So what of her first night in that “little beddy”? Alas, frequent growing pains meant many awakenings punctuated by the oldest announcing the presence of a stomach bug in our house at 4 a.m.
Such is the stuff of parenting.
What then do I expect from this gentle transition to slightly more independent sleep for our family? I’ll ask myself the same questions I ask my clients in one-on-one consultations - that I tune into my intuition and look at the situation both from my perspective and my child’s.
When we approach sleep as a spectrum of normal and each families' situation and needs as unique, there is so much space for empathy and collaborative solutions to meet everyone's needs rather than framing sleep as an either/or struggle for rest.
That means when I work with clients (and troubleshoot my own family sleep), there is no one-size solution. No discussion of "habits," "props," or forcing independence.
Just empathy and compassion for all parties involved and a supportive conversation that places emphasis on what each family values as most important.
So for now, I’ll trust that when ready, that little beddy will become her default spot for slumber.
Until then, I’ll savor her sleepy cuddles and know that this is just a short season I’ll never get back.
And, I won’t regret a second of it.
*For safety information on breastsleeping or bedsharing, please consult the work of Dr. James McKenna at the Mother Baby Sleep Lab of Notre Dame for a full understanding of safety guidelines and risk factors.
Are you looking for more education and support as you navigate your baby's or toddler's sleep? Looking to gently night wean or transition to solitary sleep? Nested Mama offers sleep workshop and consultations to help your family find more rest. Learn more here.
Life after baby with older siblings presents its owns particular joys and challenges.
In truth, when my third was born with siblings aged 2 and 4 years, I make the joke that every newborn should come with a 4 year-old. She was so capable and helpful, rocking the cradle so I could take a shower, finding the pacifier when I dropped it, grabbing a clean diaper when needed, and more.
One of the biggest challenges for me newly postpartum was finding ways to meet my older kiddos needs for boisterous activity, when I felt like snuggling in with little one and staying put.
Here are a couple free resources we make use of now when indoor fun is needed that work great for older siblings with a new little one in the house.
Cosmic Kids Yoga
Free on YouTube, this channel combines narratives your kiddos may recognize with easy to follow yoga poses. And, the channel also offers some guided meditations, which can be great if you need to bring the level back down to calm in the house.
These playful combinations of movement and rhymes or song can definitely make a dent in the wiggles. And, I've found myself busting out some of these when we are waiting in line or in a less than ideal situation and my kids need to focus their energy - some of our favorites include Purple Stew and Pop see ko.
Having a short list of simple games to play can make it easier to snuggle baby in the rocker or carrier and keep kids occupied. Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, Freeze Dance, and any other childhood favorites can be great tools.
Looking for other tools to keep older sibs entertained? Read about how we use audio stories and art tutorials in our postpartum toolbox.
Looking for more support in the days and weeks postpartum? Head on over to Nested Mama and learn more about in person and online support services.
When it comes to postpartum life, I'm all about the food. Nutrient dense, delicious food that can be easily prepared or, even better, brought to you by friends and family.
Last week, I shared with you some ideas for how to plan you postpartum food support before baby arrives. Today, I'm sharing one of our family's favorite easy slow cooker meals that I turn to frequently, even though I'm some 30 months postpartum myself!
Good food that can be made easily and fuel your family with good things never goes out of style, I find.
As you look at the ingredients, know that I share our favorite vegetable variation in the recipe, but what makes this recipe truly AMAZING is its flexibility. Have carrots instead of sweet potatoes? A squash? Regular potatoes? Zucchini? Like to add kale or spinach? All are fine with this recipe - just sub the veggies you have on hand and make it work!
Slow Cooker Lentil Chili
Inspired by a Zippy Lentil Chili Recipe from Weelicious
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 5-7 hours. Top with cheese, guac, or a few sweet potato chips to add a nice crunch.
Love sweet potatoes as much as I do? Check out these great postpartum recipes.
In many of the classes and workshops I offer, we talk a lot about how you can set yourself up for a better life after baby by planning and preparing during your pregnancy.
In the early days and weeks postpartum, having nutrient-dense meals prepared or easily reheated can be huge in making sure you can recover well from birth and have the stamina to meet baby's intense needs.
In cultures that have a rich tradition of postpartum support, there are specific suggestions for what the birthing parent needs from a nutritional standpoint after delivery. (Both The First 40 Days and The 4th Trimester are rich resources on this topic.)
If you want your meal planning to center more on meals that appeal to you, your partner, and any older siblings, that's fine, too. As with many topics I cover with my prenatal and postnatal clients, let what works and supports your family the be the guiding principle in your preparations for life after baby.
If you have a close-knit community, it may only take a friend or family reaching out with an email or signup sheet on your behalf to get a meal train going. On the other hand, if you're friends and family are more spread out in diverse groups, an online meal train may be the perfect option to organize the efforts of all those who want to love on you and your family. Easily shareable via social media or email, an online meal train also offers you the opportunity to specify so many aspects, including meal types and delivery options, too.
Freezer Meal Stash
Stashing your favorite easily frozen meals while in your third trimester is a great option for meals post-baby. I often recommend a make one/prep 2 approach to clients, where each week you plan to triple a freezer-friendly recipe. Eat one that week and put two on ice for later. Before you know it, you'll have a stocked freezer and fed yourself well in the process.
Many areas now offer online grocery purchasing with streamlined pick up or even better, delivery right to your doorstep or counter. Take the opportunity pre-baby to explore your local options, book mark them on your phone or computer, and find which works best for your family. This will make it straightforward to get groceries with as little time and effort as possible once baby arrives earth-side.
If you are like me, learning how to ask for help has a huge learning curve. Make it your default when friends or family ask how you are doing, to say that you would welcome a meal or assistance with meal prep. If you are the one who usually prepares all the meals, before baby is the perfect time to help your partner gain confidence preparing some simple meals that you both can enjoy.
Hire a Doula
Doulas can help make sure you are fed, too! Prenatal doula support is an excellent option if you need assistance stocking that freezer. You may also want to hire your postpartum doula before baby arrives - that way you'll go into the last weeks before baby confident that you'll have the support you need, including meal prep and more.
That special season is coming - you can sense the change in the air, right? As adults, the holiday season may contain obligations, to-do lists, and more - but seeing it through the eyes of our kiddos, the sense of magic all comes back.
If this is baby's first Christmas (or another holiday your family observes), you may be wondering what to put in the stocking or under the tree. One strategy I use when crafting a gift wish-list for my littles (a list that grandparents/aunties/uncles often ask for well in advance) is to think through what presents will bring us joy not just in the coming winter months, but for years to come.
With that in mind, I share below some gift ideas that have had true longevity in our house.
Wooden Unit Blocks
Their large size means these blocks are safe for little ones to grab, but their open-ended play possibilities mean years of fun (we're at 6.5 years and counting here!). We've found that starting with a basic set has allowed us to add blocks with color, mirrors, or other materials to add some layers of sensory engagement to block play.
Tegu Magnetic Blocks
While I enjoy these blocks as an adult, they are particularly great for little ones who are in that stage of wanting to build but often frustrated when the pieces don't stack like they want. And, the addition of magnets adds for a different twist on this fine motor activity. Packing just 4 blocks in my purse provided great entertainment on the go for my kiddos.
Wooden Train Set
If your little one is close to his or her first birthday, now may be a great time to add a simple train set to your list. Your participation may be required to help build a track for awhile, but eventually your child will delight in that part, too. Like the open ended wooden blocks, we've had toddlers as well as 12 year-old cousins get a kick out of our train set.
If you don't have the perfect year to get outside in colder temps, now is a perfect time to add that to your list. If you are set for winter but not the warmer rainy temps, adding a coverall and some rainboots will make it possible for you to enjoy spring weather, too.
Holidays mean roadtrips for our family and having good tunes is key to everyone's happiness. Check out the link above for some of our favorites and add a CD or digital download to your little one's Christmas list.
The more holiday seasons I journey through with my children, the more I value experience gifts. Instead of taking up space in our house, these gifts allow us to find joy together. Locally a music class at Preucil or West Music, a membership to the Iowa Children's Museum, or parent and baby classes like yoga or music
Stainless Steel Dinnerware
While it may seem impossible now, little one will be joining you at the table soon (if not already). Investing in some quality stainless steel dinnerware means you can feel confident that these dishes will last a long time.
This tray comes with a cover, perfect for storing in the fridge or taking on a picnic.
Stainless steel cups with silicone lids will last you from the sippy cup stage and well beyond. My 6 year old still drinks out of this size stainless steel cup, so we've gotten years out of our similar set, instead of buying new cups for each new stage.
Did I miss one of your favorite ideas for baby's first Christmas? Share in the comments below!
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.