Tsabary, Shefali. The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children. Vancouver: Namaste Publishing, 2010. Print.
In a nutshell:
Where many parenting books focus on how to change our child's behavior, Shefali Tsabary's The Conscious Parent suggests the opposite. According to Tsabary, the first step in improving the parent and child dynamic is for the parent to move from unconscious to conscious parenting and to see the task at hand as a path of spiritual growth. Tsabary outlines the trajectory from parenting an infant to a teen in terms of how we need to accept our children for who they are while also acknowledging and accepting ourselves. When we do, we no longer tread the worn paths of the way in which we were parented. Instead, we do the important work of healing ourselves and our relationships with our children. In terms of what this looks like on a practical level, Tsabary saves a discussion of discipline for the end of the book - which she terms constraining and behavior shaping.
I found much to love in this book, particularly the way in which it acknowledges that parenting is a paradox involving both the utmost joy and a whole ton of inner turmoil and questions of self. The book doesn't cite research or offer heavy footnotes. Instead, it narrates the struggles of parenting in a manner that makes the reader feel understood, and offers examples from Tsabary's own experiences with clients as well as her own parenting journey. The the language of "spiritual awakening" and "consciousness" may not appeal to every reader - and if that is the case for you, there are other books that also examine the connection between our own feelings and triggers and the work of parenting that may better suit you. (Like this or this.)
Some quotes to consider:
"The transition to parenthood is complex, requiring us to surrender to an irrevocable loss of our identity as we have thus far known it. To create the internal space required to embrace the tending of a new spirit, the pillars of our old lifestyle have to crumble. Who we were before becoming a parent doesn't and cannot exist with the same ferocity. Once children enter our life, their impact is indelible and we are required to reinvent ourselves in response" (96).
"When you are able to respect the unfolding of your child's particular journey, you teach them to nurture their own inner voice and simultaneously honor the voice of others" (31).
Have you read The Conscious Parent? If so, I'd love to know what you think! Share in the comments below. Find more Nested Mama reviews here.
Looking for a way to safely regain strength postpartum but not sure where to go? To answer this question and more, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Dr. Hannah Anderson, DC, CACCP of BIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids. As the BIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids Regional Director, Hannah shares about the movement that is BIRTHFIT and how it can benefit you to strengthen your body before and after birth.
Before we talk about BIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids, I'd love to know about your background. Have you always been interested in fitness or when did that passion develop?
Sure! I was always a B team athlete if that makes sense? I've never been competitive enough to go crazy, but I've always liked sports, movement, and play. As a chiropractor I look at how people move all day long. I have a specialty certification in pediatrics and pregnancy, and care for a lot of moms during and after pregnancy, watching how they change throughout the whole beautiful motherhood transition.
Like a lot of moms, I'm also a planner. When I was pregnant I wanted a plan for working out, and had heard of BIRTHFIT through the grapevine of other doctors I went to grad school with. I love how the online prenatal programming emphasized meeting your body where it's at today, and moving with intention. Before BIRTHFIT I did the classic "hop on the elliptical for 20 min just to say I worked out today". I wasn't working towards anything and it was hard to stay motivated by anything other than being able to tell someone I worked out, which wasn't very fulfilling. BIRTHFIT emphasizes training for birth. Whether you call yourself an athlete or not, as soon as you're pregnant, you're "in season" for birth. It's possibly the biggest athletic event of your life and you don't know if it'll be a 3 hour sprint or a 36 hour marathon.
At a certain point in my pregnancy I couldn't run anymore, but I still wanted to be active. It felt wrong, and weird. However, I could lift a bunch of heavy stuff. So I would go to the gym with my big belly and nestle in with the big body builders (they got out of my way pretty fast). I did lifted and did conditioning that was modeled after contractions (work really hard for 90 seconds and rest!) and was in the gym until 39.5 weeks.
BIRTHFIT Postpartum programming was just as awesome and helpful, and an amazing reminder that healing takes time, and postpartum movement should be intentionally strengthening you for mom life and not just "losing weight". It's way bigger than that!
I love the idea of using your workout as training for birth and focusing on gaining back strength in the postpartum period. Overall, our culture sends us a much different message about pregnant, birthing, and postpartum bodies. Can you walk us through what we could expect from one of your classes? How do your classes encourage members to understand the importance of healing and the importance of, as you said, intentionally strengthening your body for this next stage of life?
Absolutely. We start every class with some breath work to engage our diaphragm, and wake up the core and pelvic floor. It's also time for a mini-mediation, or at least setting the intention to appreciate your awesome mom bod. Then we shift our focus to core strengthening, especially in a way that is safe for a postpartum body and helps moms heal diastasis recti (the abdominal split).
We do strength training based on functional movement patterns (i.e. stuff you have to do for the rest of your life: squatting, pushing, pulling, etc.). They're movements that make life easier, not vanity bicep curls. Then there's conditioning, again, movements tailored to the postpartum body, so not a lot of running or jumping, but still work.
We end with some mom chat time, words of wisdom, q&a, and homework before the next class - which might be as easy as buying yourself a coffee or making time for a relaxing bath!
It's very chill, and class sizes are limited so everyone gets individual attention. You're encouraged to move with the body you have today, not the body you wish you had. Generally, non-mobile babies are welcome, but a lot of moms love having that hour to themselves twice a week! I love babies (who doesen't!), but it's fun to be the one to turn the tables and take care of moms instead so they can keep going for everyone else.
That's fantastic that you use it as a space to encourage moms to practice self-care. I often think that's one of the hardest parts of the transition into motherhood - learning to take care of your needs, too. Has teaching BIRTHFIT shaped your own motherhood journey or are their lessons you've learned in motherhood that you bring to your classes?
It has. I (luckily) don't really know pregnancy/birth/postpartum without knowing about BIRTHFIT and having the positive influence of some bad ass women. Without it though, I could easily see myself having been that person completely frustrated and annoyed with the changes in my physical fitness after baby. I remember walking up hill for the first time outside. I wasn't even pushing the stroller, my husband was. I had to stop because my pelvic floor was so weak. I had a great birth, with no complications, and no tearing, and I was still taken back to ground zero because bringing a baby into this world is so transformative. Luckily with the whole BIRTHFIT community reinforcing the importance of a slow and steady recovery, I was able to appreciate it all (even in the midst of a colicky baby), instead of getting angry with myself.
I think a lot of moms don't understand the timeline of healing because society pushes us to jump back in at full speed after this huge life event. A lot of us either go back to work, or feel like we should be "back to normal" after 8-12 weeks, when physiologically, the tissue in our bodies takes on average 280 days to heal.... way longer than 12 weeks! I like to remind moms that they should have zero obligations other than feeding and snuggling that new baby for 2 weeks minimum. Exercise shouldn't even be on your mind the first 2 weeks, but some moms, especially ones that like to exercise, feel the pressure to lose baby weight like a celebrity. It's not reasonable and not necessary. It was hard for me to relax and just "be", instead of being the busy body, but it was a a great lesson to learn and to reinforce with other moms. If all you accomplish in a day is being with your child, nourishing yourselves, and enjoying it - that's enough. You're enough.
As a postpartum doula, I LOVE to hear other perinatal professionals sending that message to birthing and postpartum women. We are lucky to have you as a resource in our community, Hannah! Thank you so much for sharing a bit about you and the work you do with BIRTHFIT - I know so many women who could benefit from the encouragement you provide.
Whether you are getting ready to introduce the bottle or transition baby to daycare, what follows are a host of helpful resources on bottle feeding for the breastfed baby you'll want to have your finger on.
What is paced bottle feeding?
When you think of bottle feeding, the image of a baby reclined nearly horizontal in a caregiver’s arms with the bottle angled down into the baby’s mouth is perhaps the traditional picture that comes to mind. However, this may not be the best approach to bottle feeding your infant, especially if that infant is fed from a bottle only when away from the breastfeeding parent and fed from the breast when together.
Why paced bottle feeding matters?
From the infant’s perspective, breastfeeding takes a lot more effort. Where a bottle can give a fast steady stream with minimal work, the breast has an ebb and flow and requires work for the baby to draw down more milk. When an otherwise breastfed baby is fed via bottle feeding - reclined and bottle angled for a steady flow of milk - that baby may then become impatient when she returns to the breast.
If you’ve ever eaten a meal too quickly, you know that it often takes awhile for your stomach to send your brain the message that you should slow down or be finished. The same goes for babies and bottle-feeding. Where the effort of breastfeeding and pauses in milk flow give the baby on the breast the opportunity to tune into those cues, bottles offered without a paced feeding approach run the risk of continually overfeeding baby.
If baby is overfed via bottle, it can mean a cranky, uncomfortable baby. It may also give the breastfeeding parent the impression that there isn’t enough milk for the baby and make it difficult for pumping to match the amount of milk baby consumes when away from the parent.
If your baby’s caregiver is unfamiliar with paced feeding or more accustomed to feeding formula fed bottles, it may be important to offer resources and education so that your baby is fed in a manner that works with your breastfeeding goals. For example, it is common to offer formula fed babies larger bottles, whereas breastfed babies often thrive with smaller bottles offered more frequently to better mimic their experience when at the breast. For more on how much expressed milk a baby needs, see Kellymom’s explanation of the recommendation for 1-1.5 oz per hour away.
If you are looking for solid information on pumping and maintaining supply, Nancy Mohrbacher’s discussion of the “Magic Number” is a helpful read.
How to paced feed - a collection of resources
Here is a whole collection of written and video resources that explain and demonstrate the paced bottle feeding approach. If you find yourself needing to communicate with your baby’s caregiver about this method, these are awesome resources you can share.
Kellymom on how to bottle feed a breastfed baby
Nancy Mohrbacher on paced feeding for the caregiver
Paced Bottle Feeding Video 1
Paced Bottle Feeding Video 2
Paced Bottle Feeding Video 3
Want more support in the childbearing year? Nested Mama offers breastfeeding education, doula support, sleep consultations, and more. Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook or Instagram for more tips and helpful information.
Wiessinger, Diane, et. al. Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Families. New York: Ballantine Books, 2014. Print.
In a nutshell:
If you've ever paged through LLL's hefty The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, you will find many similarities in Sweet Sleep. Most notably, the authors attempt to bring you the intimacy of a support meeting but in book form by speaking directly to "you" the reader and filling the pages with first-person accounts of sleep struggles and successes. While most sleep books on the market focus on training your baby or scheduling feeds, Sweet Sleep offers a different perspective on nighttime parenting.
The book opens with a checklist of The Safe Sleep Seven. If met, these seven requirements "make your bed as SIDS-safe as a crib and greatly reduce other risks in just a few steps" (3). Indeed, Sweet Sleep suggests that if you can meet these criteria, bedsharing may provide a low-risk option to get more rest while meeting your baby's needs for nourishment and attachment.
The middle sections of the book work through developmentally normal expectations for the naps and nighttimes of your nursling at all ages and stages. Throughout it all, the book maintains that needs for nighttime nursing and reassurance are normal into toddlerhood. The book saves the nitty-gritty work of wading through research that often is cited to warn against bedsharing for the end of the book and makes a thorough but accessible argument in support of their view. The book concludes with a guide to handle any negative responses you may receive from family and friends.
For those who meet the Safe Sleep Seven criteria, Sweet Sleep provides a welcome perspective different from most sleep advice books on the market. If you are a breastfeeding parent and committed to responsive, attachment-promoting parenting, this book could provide much needed reassurance.
Other quotes of note:
"Our immature babies don't have much choice in how they behave. But we as mothers, with our fully-developed brains, can choose our behaviors. Our brilliant little still-developing babies, who are helpless without us, count on us to choose well. We're not just filling their stomachs; we're feeding their souls. And our own" (44).
"All children move out of your bed and your room and sleep through the night, without your having to do a thing. Sometimes you can make it faster with well-timed nudging. Sometimes you need a change for your own sake. And sometimes the best approach is no approach . . . yet (or maybe ever). The essence of nudging is that you can always relax about it for now and trust that time - with or without a little nudge - will take care of it. It will" (193).
"Probably the single best tip is to step outside each day, even if it's raining or snowing. Throw your shoulders back, look up, and take a couple of deep breaths. You're one of billions of mothers, now and across time. You're built strong, and you're built competent. You're going to find happiness and skills that you never knew you had in you. Even if it doesn't feel like it yet" (239).
Are you finding yourself exhausted and looking for sleep support? Nested Mama offers a heart-centered holistic approach to family sleep. Learn how you can get the support you need today and the rest you need tonight.
Looking for a way to stay active that is specifically tailored to the changing needs of a pregnant body? Prenatal yoga offer a chance to build strength and flexibility even as your body changes and your belly grows. And, prenatal yoga classes are an awesome chance to meet and bond with others who are expecting a little one.
Not sure how to find the right class for you? Check out these awesome options we have for prenatal yoga classes in the Corridor! Click the links to find out studio info and read below to hear from the prenatal yoga instructors why they are passionate about what they do.
The goal of prenatal yoga is to help guide the body through pregnancy in a healthy and intentional way. Prenatal yoga helps prep your body for the act of labor but also helps keep your body comfortable as it changes in dramatic ways. We work on encouraging pelvic floor strength and intentional movement to maintain strength and mobility. As a facilitator I support all choices and birth preferences. I also provide information on various resources for pregnancy, delivery and postpartum life. I LOVE being able to part of the journeys of soon to be moms and am so honored to be part of this beautiful community in Iowa City.
I have been teaching yoga for many years and the reason why I specialized in prenatal yoga was how it tailors to the expecting mama. Most people know what yoga is, the physical postures, meditation and breath, which are all needed in labor and birth. However, prenatal yoga takes it a step further, the connection and relationship between mama and her baby(ies). Preparing for labor is physical but even more emotional, which is something mamas don't hear much about. In prenatal yoga I am able to teach and show mamas different poses they are able to utilize in labor and birth but also guide them through breath and meditation to listen to their own body and tune into baby, too. Another cool aspect of prenatal yoga is the community. Mamas come together each week, on a different journey in their pregnancy, but they are all expecting! They are able to ask one another questions, give advice in a safe space, from trusting mamas they have come to know each week.
At balance kids & family yoga we pride ourselves in creating a community of moms and soon-to-be moms who share resources, information, and experiences, while build a lasting support system for one another. Supporting mamas to be the healthiest and happiest version of themselves during this very special time in their lives is what I love most.
My combined prenatal & postnatal classes are designed to expertly guide mom-to-be through a gentle, modified yoga practice with your changing body in mind. Experience relief from aches and pains commonly associated with pregnancy, while building strength, flexibility and confidence in preparation for labor and delivery. This class is also great for the new mom to gently ease back into a practice or a fitness routine post delivery.
I believe that empowering women to trust their bodies and tap into their breath as they prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for labor is so important, as these tools can translate equally well into preparation for parenthood as well as life skills that serve us on and off the mat. I truly hope that each and every woman leaves my studio feeling relaxed yet rejuvenated, stronger, and more confident, knowing that they are the perfect person for the job of becoming mama to their precious bundle. Just breathe mamas, you got this.
As a new mother, I found so much peace and community by attending prenatal and baby yoga classes in Iowa City (Sweet Feet Yoga). When I moved up to the Cedar Rapids metro, I found myself wanting to create the same environment and community around pregnancy, birth, and motherhood to support a family’s growth through the transition. Within the last year, I became certified as a prenatal and children’s yoga (3 months – 5 years) instructor through Dana Robinson at Sweet Feet Yoga. And today, I am now the owner/instructor of Sage Nest Yoga, where I teach Baby & Me, Tots, and Tykes yoga. In July 2018, I will begin teaching prenatal yoga on Wednesday evenings in Marion.
I love that our yoga practice builds community, gives us time to bond with our sweet babies, and allows us to be breathe and be active together!
My approach to prenatal and postnatal yoga weaves together ancient wisdom and modern women. My classes are designed to help mamas prepare for birth and beyond in body, mind and spirit. You can expect a practice focused on the breath with opportunities for meditation, pranayama, relaxation, alignment based movement and a sacred space to connect with other mamas. The season, weather, time of day and energy of the room are all integrated in my classes. My passion for supporting women in pregnancy and postpartum comes from my own motherhood journey. I hopes to help mamas feel empowered to make the best decisions for their individual needs and families. I completed my RYT200 at Hothouse Yoga in Iowa City and have since studied at Prajna Yoga in Santa Fe and completed my level 1 RPYT with Hannah Muse at the Mount Madonna Institute in Santa Cruz. My postnatal class is open to mamas up to two years postpartum. I ask kindly that babes only up to crawling join mama and after that for mamas to come solo.
Looking for more resources as you move through pregnancy and transition into life with baby? Nested Mama offers prenatal and postpartum doula support, childbirth education, breastfeeding education, eco baby consultations, and infant sleep education. Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook or Instagram to get more tips and insight into pregnancy and life with baby in the Corridor.
Like a switch flipping, summer is here. Our days are longer and move with the sun. We adventure in the morning, rest in the heat of the day, and maximize our evening hours biking to the neighborhood park after dinner.
When the seasons change, I’m always struck suddenly with the changes in my children, and I find myself taking stock of how quickly it seems their baby days passed by. My once timid oldest hangs confidently upside down from the monkey bars. My middle guy tackles sliding down the pole without any help. And my sweet once-baby-now-toddler stretches out her tether to my side as she explores.
While relishing the summer heat with a splash pad/park/picnic morning, I found myself squinting past the water spray to see my youngest investigating an old tree stump on the other side of the splash pad. Amazed at her adventurous wanderings, my friend remarked that she seemed like a completely different and more independent kiddo than the last time we got together a few weeks previously.
I had to agree. It wasn’t long ago that she journeyed no father than a 5-foot radius from my feet. But here she was, confidently navigating the splash pad and nearby play structure with stops back to the home base of our picnic blanket in between.
In the course I’m taking to become a Certified Infant Sleep Educator, we’ve been learning about the evolution of parenting ideas across the past century and the way in which our culture still voices truisms of early 20th century “experts” whose underlying philosophy we’d no doubt reject in a heartbeat -- such as John B. Watson's childcare writings that prohibited hugging and kissing your children beyond one nightly peck on the forehead. The legacy of that and other behaviorist ideas about children can be found in these pearls of wisdom that one hears or reads about so often:
“Don’t let him use you as a pacifier.”
“You can’t always pick her up when she cries.”
“You need to train him to be more independent.”
“If you hold her too much, you’ll spoil her.”
“You’re just making a rod for your own back by getting up with him at night.”
“Ignore her when she cries. She’ll get the message that she can’t get anything by crying.”
Behind all of these commonplace observations lies one great fear - that by showing our little babes too much affection, we undermine their ability to successfully separate from their caregivers as children and later adults. In this view, independence must be taught, separation must be imposed, and emotions must be squelched in pursuit of toughening our children for life ahead.
So what about my almost Miss 2 who suddenly felt comfortable exploring the splash pad and playground instead of staying in my lap or my arms? What lessons did I teach her to make this independence flourish?
Or rather, no lessons on independence, per se.
Topping the list of the lessons I hope she has learned so far in her nearly 730 days earthside are the following:
That her parents are always there when she needs us.
That our laps, our arms, or our voices will be there whenever she needs reassurance.
That we respond to her distress whether the sun or the moon lights the sky.
That we will listen to her feelings with empathy and respect.
That we will set boundaries to keep her safe and hold them with love.
That we make mistakes, but we also ask for forgiveness and work to make things right.
Like the picnic blanket at the park offered her a home base from which to check in and depart, the closeness of our relationship offers her the steady support to explore and embrace the work of growing up. We don’t need to force her to explore or to grow. When she’s ready, she’ll do it just fine.
In fact, our house fairly echoes with declarations of “I do it MYSELF.” All. Day. Long.
Even as she needs the closeness of a parent to drift off to sleep, she needs the space to experiment with her own capability, but on her own time. Instead of demanding that she take a step toward independence and feeling frustrated when she pushes back, I wait with confidence. And, I leverage the help of a spouse and self-care time when my own frustrations or triggers get in the way of me parenting her with the patience that confidence requires.
Because in a way, I’m parenting myself as I parent her and my other children. Instead of living in a place of fear and opposition, I choose to give confidence to her, and in the process, to myself. That she is enough and right where she needs to be, and I am enough, too.
Are you looking for support as you grow your family? Check out the full range of Nested Mama services, including doula support, childbirth education, eco baby consultations, and infant sleep education.
Our cultural moment is an odd one. Things we laud - bouncing back after baby, returning to our pre-baby body (as though we could ever truly be the same), and getting back to our normal obligations as soon as possible after the birth of a baby.
We also speak highly of so-called “good” babies - those babies that “don’t make a fuss,” those babies that are “happy to be put down,” and those mythical babies that “sleep through the night” within weeks of birth - as though these little markers of supposed independence are the ultimate indicators of a baby’s relative goodness or future successes or the trajectory of an entire parenting journey.
Oof. That's a crushing amount of pressure.
Recently, in a continuing education webinar with Julia of Newborn Mothers Collective, I learned something fascinating. In cultures that still embrace the postpartum period as one that requires specific care and traditions, the expectations for that 40-day period immediately following the birth of a baby are straightforward. Mothers are to feed their babies and to fall in the love with them.
This is simultaneously an incredibly simple and complex idea of the postpartum period to carry out. For truly, just resting, bonding with baby, and meeting baby’s needs for food and comfort can fill your days postpartum. But, juxtaposing this view of postpartum against the way the term is most commonly used in our culture (that is, laden with the expectation that you cruise out of those postpartum days and leave behind that postpartum body with little acknowledgement of the tiny, completely dependent-upon-you human you have just birthed), the radical differences in these approaches to life after baby emerge with clarity.
Given these cultural pressures and a lack of tradition in our contemporary moment to meet our needs on the other side of a birth, what can we do if we want to embrace a different definition of postpartum? Start with a postpartum plan.
So, what is a postpartum plan?
A postpartum plan is like a birth plan, where you learn as much as you can about the process of postpartum recovery and demands of newborn care, explore your options with evidence-based information, and together with your partner or support person, craft a statement communicating your wishes with those who care for you in the days and weeks after baby arrives.
Just like a birth plan, the postpartum plan is made with the understanding that life can be unpredictable and postpartum life can come with different situations that need different levels of adaptability and care. But, a postpartum plan also brings with it the understanding that having the ability to make choices for your family and being supported in those choices matter immensely.
Perhaps most profoundly, a postpartum plan offers the opportunity for you to connect with your partner and dig deep into your priorities. Forming your own family unit comes with the sudden need to establish and communicate boundaries with family and friends. A postpartum plan aids you in thinking through your needs as a little family and how to create boundaries that help you flourish.
Additionally, a postpartum plan offers you the chance to think through and engage your support team ahead of time. Who can bring you meals, help with older siblings, or grab you groceries after you return from the hospital? Who can walk the dog or care for pets while you are in-hospital? Who can come and hold the baby for a bit while you take a hot shower or grab a much need nap? Who can you call or text when you need to reach out for support?
By creating a postpartum plan, you are creating the space and building the support essential for a better postpartum experience. Rather than rush through it as though a race to the finish, you can prioritize what matters to your family and savor the first days and weeks with your little one. While we can’t change our culture’s view of postpartum with a snap of our fingers, we can do all in our power to embrace a different view of postpartum in our own lives.
Do you want to make a postpartum plan but don’t know where to start? I’m thrilled to share that I offer a Planning for Postpartum Workshop as part of Nested Mama’s services.
Available in private and group settings, these workshops combine education about the physical and emotional realities of the postpartum period with a workshop that steps you and your partner through the conversations you need to craft a postpartum plan that works perfectly for your little family.
Workshop topics include:
Finding Joy - acknowledging yourself and your partner
Setting Expectations - understanding postpartum recovery
Bringing Baby Home - understanding infant behavior
Setting Boundaries - charting your vision for postpartum life
Intimacy After Baby - deepening your connection as a couple
For information on the next workshop or webinar or to register, click here.
To the Mother in one of these beautifully intense seasons of motherhood: parenting a toddler while pregnant
Some days of mothering are beautiful. Some days are beautifully intense. Some are beautifully intense and also exhausting and hard.
I remember being in my second pregnancy and so tired. Just so tired. And, despite my overwhelming desire to sleep and rest, my wonderful toddler continued to move into new, exciting, and challenging stages. These stages required lots of physical play, vigilance over choking hazards, and growing pains for me as I learned how to parent her in year two.
A few weeks ago, I found myself scrolling through the posts of one of my favorite online parenting support forums. A mom* posted about the challenges of being in the third trimester of a pregnancy and parenting a toddler. She asked if anyone could share some suggestions for how to handle a toddler who was struggling with change and transition.
Thinking primarily of helpful parenting tips, I shared a favorite parenting resource I turn to when a phase of kiddo development sends me scurrying for new tools. I also mentioned my go-to recipe of empathy, verbalizing my kids feelings, and repeating over and over, “My child is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time.”
But, a few days later while out on a run, I couldn’t stop thinking about this mom and my response to her post. To be fair, the original post had asked for parenting tips, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d neglected something important in my reply. In my rush to offer helpful advice, I forget to say something even more vital - that finding yourself at the end of a pregnancy and facing toddler parenting is hard. So hard. And, it is okay, human, normal, and healthy that this would be a challenging time.
As my feet found their rhythm on the pavement, my mind continued to swirl around the words I wished I said. These words would offer not a list of how-tos, but acknowledgment, validation, and support.
Amazingly, the next time I found myself scrolling through the forum, this lovely mom had responded to my comment. She thanked me for my suggestions, but also expressed the same fear that lurks - sometimes fuzzily, sometimes sharply - in the back of my mind - the fear that I am failing my child.
With that opening, I found the space to say the words that had played on a loop in my head for all those miles. Words that, better than any article or parenting tip, speak to the reality of that moment when heart and hands are full and body and spirit are tired.
Gathering my courage, I wrote:
“I was thinking about you on my run this morning. And, if I may be so bold, I wanted to share this with you. I know it is hard - this beautifully intense season of being at the end of a pregnancy, on the precipice of a huge family change, and parenting a toddler. Honestly, my end of pregnancy/early postpartum days with my toddlers were some of my big parenting challenges. But, I also know that one day, maybe in a month or a year, you'll look back on this time in a quiet moment and see it all with such clarity. You will feel both wonder at and utter conviction in your strength as a mother and your love for your children. You are not letting him down. Even when the individual moments seem oh so messy, know that you are enough.”
I realized, as I posted this response, that I was speaking as much to her as myself. Each season has its own intensity, its own challenge. But, if I’m honest, the biggest challenges come not from my children, but from me. How do I grow and change alongside my children? How do I parent them in a season that requires I constantly fill their cups when I find mine is almost always drained to the last drop?
For in responding to this lovely mom late in pregnancy and on the verge of transitioning into life as a mom of two, my own struggles surfaced. I was reminded of how I wept as though my heart was breaking about my fears of having enough love for two children before my labor finally started with my second child. I was reminded about how the times that seem most challenging with my children almost always coincide with my own big feelings rising up and fears speaking loudly in my mind.
I was reminded, too, about the driving conviction behind my leap into work as a prenatal and postpartum doula. In these moments of transition, we need support. We need to know we aren’t alone. And, we need to know that we can do it, no matter how hard or overwhelming or frustrating it seems in the moment.
If you find yourself in one of these beautifully intense seasons of mothering, dear reader, know that the moments may seem messy, but one day you will step back and see it clearly, outlined by your strength and love.
*All details in this blog are shared with the permission of the mom who posted the original comment that is its inspiration. I am grateful for her willingness to let me share these thoughts and also the way in which our conversation deepened my own understanding.
Looking for more support? Learn more about Nested Mama Prenatal & Postpartum Doula Support. Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook.
Wondering what you can do to ease your fur baby’s transition from only child to happy sibling status when you bring baby home? To answer this question and more, I’m thrilled to share an interview with Rebecca from Pals for Paws Petsitting. As a pet care professional, Rebecca shares important strategies for integrating your beloved animals and your new bundle of joy. And as a mom, she shares her personal postpartum experience and how life after baby doesn’t always look the way one expects.
Before we get to questions about pets and babies, I'd love to know how you and your husband Aaron began Pals for Paws. What drew you to starting this business?
We both loved animals, of course. Aaron grew up with a house full of dogs and cats - due to family allergies, I did not. Still, I had dreams of being a veterinarian, and worked for a vet in high school (where I promptly learned I did not want to be a vet anymore!).
In college I worked for an animal shelter and pet supply store. Aaron's aunt had friends who needed pet care and suggested us, we went to meet with the lady, and she asked how much we charged. Charged?! I thought, amazed that someone would pay us to hang out with her animals. We took care of her animals, then she referred another friend, and another. I was in school for graphic design so I built us a website, and we started getting strangers for clients. It was very exciting and surprisingly busy.
When we completed school, we both got full-time jobs and had to start turning down our clients. Aaron was unhappy in his job. We felt a little bad turning down the work we loved (the animals) in favor of the work he was struggling to enjoy, so we took a leap and he quit his job and started waiting tables so we could focus on the business. It grew and grew. Eventually, he was able to stop waiting tables and I was able to quit my full-time job, then quit my freelance work. It took about 7 years to go from our first clients to sustaining income for two people, and from there we added employees. We are almost 12 years in and employ five people.
That's an amazing story, Rebecca. In those 12 years, I'm sure you've seen many clients bring home new babies. Can you share with us any tips for how to get ready to integrate a new baby and pets? Specifically, are there things families can do prenatally to make for an easier transition?
Oh yes - many clients! I very much suggest taking your dog to training prior to the baby arriving. If you have never done training before, and especially if you regard your dog's "bad" behaviors as sweet quirks, this is the time to address them, NOT after. If the dog barks a lot, or jumps, it's time to start working on those issues. Training will also give you a better general sense of how to communicate with your dog and tools to use once the baby arrives.
Even if you have a very well-behaved dog, I suggest refreshing them on commands like "Stay," "Off," and "Place." These are commands that you will be using! With a new baby, you will need space, and having a "Place" command teaches your dog that they have "their" space and they need to go to it. "Off" or "Leave it" is useful for dogs who are excessively interested in the baby's toys or, later, snacks. And "Stay" is something you'll use often for when visitors arrive. You will not be able to teach your baby to "Stay," but you can teach your dog, and that will make life easier.
In terms of making the transition easier on the dog, in the months leading up to the baby's arrival, think about an area that can be the dog's space so they have a safe place to go to where the baby is not allowed. Let them become comfortable in this space prior to the baby coming so it doesn't feel like a time out or punishment space. If there are any areas that will be off limits for them when baby comes, start blocking those areas ahead of time. Also, think about how their routine might change and make those changes in advance so they become accustomed to fewer walks, walks at different times, shorter walks, going potty in the yard, and tapering down one-on-one time.
While it's tempting to go all out giving them as much love as possible since it's about to change, that will be all the more abrupt of a change when the baby arrives. You don't want the dog to associate their decline in quality of life with the arrival of the baby. Plus, many pet parents feel guilty about "not having time for the dog" after the baby arrives. Getting yourself used to the new normal in advance of the rush of hormones (because let's face it, you're going to feel guilty about literally everything) may ease those feelings because it's not an abrupt change for you either!
Finally, get the baby equipment out so they are familiar with it. Strollers and car seats can be a bit scary, especially if you have a skittish dog! If you are installing a gate in your vehicle, do that when you put the car seat in.
Trust me when I say that it is much, much easier to address and prepare for these things during pregnancy than during postpartum!
I love the idea of slowly easing into the changes ahead a time - makes so much sense to make these changes when you have the time and energy before baby arrives. If we follow this plan before baby, what would suggest we do after baby arrives to make a more positive transition?
The traditional wisdom is to bring home a blanket or piece of clothing with the baby's scent from the hospital for your dog to get used to before bringing baby home from the hospital. When you actually come home, the baby should come in last - your pup is going to be so excited to see you after you've been away for a few days. He or she will most likely not be taking care to be gentle with the unexpected additional tiny human being in tow.
When the baby is introduced, you can do it on whatever timeline feels comfortable to you, given your dog's behavior. The AKC suggests letting the dog get used to the baby's smell and sounds for a few days prior to letting the dog approach the baby. That being said, I'm not sure I know anyone who actually was able to do that! Regardless of how long you wait, you'll want a separate person holding the dog on a leash and paying close attention to their behavior. The dog will pick up on your nerves, so try to stay calm and positive. Whoever is holding the leash can also have treats if your dog handles itself well with treats - my dogs tend to get overly excited so I would not introduce that stimulus for my crew! Speak in your normal, happy voice and allow the dog to sniff the baby's feet from a distance. Things to watch for in terms of nervousness in a dog would be licking of lips or a tense stance. Praise your dog for gentle behavior then redirect to a sit or lay-down and give the dog some good pets and love.
In my experience it really is common to see dogs immediately fall into a protective, gentle role around babies, BUT you don't want to just bank on that. Even if you have the friendliest dog, you still need to be proactive and careful when they're together. The dog should associate positive feelings with being around the baby, so having a partner (or even friends or visitors) love on the doggie in the same room as the baby will help make those associations.
I do want to point out that if you haven't done preparations during pregnancy to get your dog used to the new routines, things might be difficult for a while. My best advice for that is to stick it out. Don't make decisions on rehoming your pet during the fourth trimester, because let me tell you, even with the best intentions, pets can make that period really difficult.
In addition to your professional experience, you also have personal experience bringing a baby into a home with pets. Was there anything that surprised you about your postpartum experience with your pets?
Being a pet care professional, I definitely went into it with a bit of the idea that I knew a lot about dog behavior and had a great handle on everything. I had my baby at home, and one of my dogs was in the room (the other went to a boarder because he's a bit on the wild side). My girl met my daughter within minutes of birth and it was very sweet and beautiful. On my daughter's first day on Earth, we all five sat in the nursery together: my, my husband, my daughter, and my two dogs. So idyllic.
Annie, our big white gentle giant, meeting Adeline as we follow none of the proper protocol.
Photo Credit: Riley Curry
I was surprised, then, that it didn't take long for me to not want them around me. At all. I adore my dogs! But when I was learning to care for another person, barely sleeping, breastfeeding nonstop, I found them to be two more warm bodies who just needed something from me when I just didn't have it to give. That was really a surprise to me, I was expecting this magical world of harmony and happiness. Their barking didn't wake the baby, thankfully, but it disrupted my peaceful moments, and I would find their hair stuck to my nipples when I was trying to get babe to latch. I was so frustrated by their presence, and I was not prepared for that. I felt immense guilt, and I felt like I didn't deserve to take care of other peoples' animals if I couldn't even stand to be around my own. The fog lifted, I became more confident in caring for my daughter, and I began to cherish their presence again. Of all of the things I felt prepared for, I wish I had known that this was ok, and normal, and, especially, temporary.
My husband definitely fell into being the primary animal caretaker for the first year or so, and to a certain extend remains so. The best advice I have from my personal experience is to have a plan for who is going to take care of the pets' physical and emotional needs, because mama doesn't need that pressure.
Our big, happy family.
I love that you are sharing these personal experiences, Rebecca, because so much of the postpartum experience is just that - deeply personal, unexpected, challenging, and beautiful. As far as planning to have help with the pets, your business Pals for Paws is an awesome resource for those who want to meet their animals physical and emotional needs while they rest, heal, and settle into life with a new baby. Can you share a bit about the services you offer and how they may be helpful to postpartum families?
We actually take care of peoples' animals even before the baby comes home! I think it's a great idea to establish a relationship with a pet sitter so you have a plan for your pets when you go into labor. Friends and family are often very helpful in this role, but we have on many occasions received the "we're heading to the hospital" text and got the dogs on our schedule until we heard they were ready to come home - it's one of those things that can give you peace of mind and allow dad and family to focus on being in the hospital and not worry about the dogs' schedule.
I mentioned earlier adjusting the dogs' expectations in advance, and if you do so, you may not need any help with your dogs. However, if it's very important to your dog to get a walk each day (and for some dogs this makes all the difference in their behavior), you don't have to cut that out. We have dog walking clients who we have continued to service all that way through pregnancy, postpartum, and going back to work, without taking a break. For these families, it allowed them to keep that routine going for their dogs and get the dogs the exercise they need. If you've never used a dog walker before, you may consider it for the postpartum period to ease that pressure of "How am I going to take the dog out?" and "the dog is just so wound up!" Doggie daycare (which we don't offer, but there are many great facilities in the area) is another great option if you're feeling overwhelmed by the presence of your pets or guilty that they're bored. Your dog gets to go and spend all day playing with friends and comes home wiped out.
That being said, once you are healed, walking your dog with your baby is a wonderful way to get exercise and fresh air. Just make sure to be safe - if you have a bigger dog whose pulling and strength you could handle pre-baby, it's a good idea to invest in a harness like an EasyWalk to give you a bit more control since you'll be managing a stroller simultaneously. You can babywear and walk dogs (I do!), but I do consider it a bit on the risky side if you have a large dog or a puller so use caution and your best judgement if you feel there's a possibility that you could be pulled forward.
Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing all of this fantastic advice! I know I’ll be adding it to my Pinterest board to share with anyone who has questions about bringing home a new baby to meet their beloved animals.
If you are looking for petsitting or dog walking care in Iowa City, North Liberty, Coralville, and Tiffin, you can reach Pals for Paws at (319) 535-0748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Witching hour or as we call it in our house, “Unhappy Hour,” is that time when parental exhaustion meets baby’s desire to list all of the wrongs of the universe at the loudest possible volume. Baby standard time dictates when this will occur.
With my oldest, her wind up began around 4:30 p.m. so that by the time my spouse returned from work, I was in desperate need of a hand off and hot shower. With my middle guy, 6:00 p.m. marked the beginning of unhappy hour, meaning bedtime for the oldest was often a juggling act of bouncing an unhappy baby and corralling a overtired toddler.
Whether it occurs at 4 or 8 p.m., this tricky hour (or three) requires a basket of tricks and Nested Mama’s got a basket ready for you. In this three part series, I’ll share with you my favorite resources, tips, and sanity promoting approaches to surviving unhappy hour.
Last week in Part 2, I shared with you some ideas about relaxation and affirmation to alter your experience of stressful moments. This week in Part 3, I’m sharing my witching hour playlist - those songs that always make me move and smile.
The witching hour - that time every day when baby is done and you are done. And everyone is exhausted.
Sometimes this time of day calls for a tight swaddle and white noise.
Sometimes this time of day calls for a walk outside.
And, sometimes, it calls for an epic dance party. That’s right - sometimes you just need to dance it out. I find this to be even more the case as we add more children to our family and the toddlers and preschoolers hit the tricky time of day right alongside the baby and the adults. Weary of being asked to play quietly lest they wake the baby, older children love the chance to jump and dance through this time day. Dig out a couple flashlights, pull the curtains, and you have your own light show, too.
Here is my playlist for making it through the witching hour and then safely to dinner and (hopefully) an early bedtime.
These songs not your brand of happy tunes? No problem. Build yourself your own witching hour playlist so it is just a click or a swipe away. Whatever you do, don't forget to boogie.
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.