5 Specific Ways to Support a Nursing Mother

World Breastfeeding Week came and went without any comment here at Tinkerbell Road. We were busy having a baby! Little boy arrived in the morning on Thursday. We are over the moon. It wasn’t long, however, until we were back to square one with getting life organized with a newborn in the house. Having a toddler here too is a new thing. More on that later. One of the first challenges with any newborn is breastfeeding. That is pretty much all they do aside from sleeping and dispatching the breast milk.

My focus is on how the nursing partner, in my case Dad, can and should support the mother as she gets in the swing of feeding the little one. There are a number of resources on the subject. I hope that you did a lot of research before the baby was born. All you dads to be should also find a breastfeeding class to attend. It was enlightening for me. These resources aside, I am going to share with you ways I try to support the nursing mother in our house. (If you think the other people in the house don’t have a role to play in breastfeeding you are quite mistaken. Nursing mothers need and want support.) During the birth you were a birth partner. Now, you are a nursing partner. Here are five things you can do:

  1. Boost her confidence.

Even if you have a mother who has done it before the worry about the child’s latch and her milk production will raise its head. These worries are also topped with postpartum feelings, emotions, and moods that only add more complexity to the issue. Remind her she is doing a great job. Quickly dash any negative self talk. You know her. Provide the type of positive reinforcement that connects with her.

2. Take the child when she is not nursing. Do the breastfeeding Tango.

Breastfeeding is a dance. The partners trade off when needed to get the other one sleep and rest. The mother will have more work to do because she is feeding the baby and you can’t. So when the child is done, ask Mom to let you burp and hold the baby while she sleeps. This is when Mom should try to rest. You have to nurse on demand so that baby will be back at it soon. Hand the baby back over for feeding and you get in your rest.

Also, try using assertive language. “Let me take him for you,” demonstrates that you are willing and anxious to help out. “Do you want me to take him?” sounds less committed like you really would rather sleep. I mess this up alot and quickly regret my use of questions. Mostly because there are times it is true I would rather have her deal with it, I want her to say no and carry on. Bad nursing partner behavior. I try to take polite action and toughen up for my role in all of this.

3. Know the signs the child is hungry and wants to eat.

This is fairly straightforward. The child will root, suck, chew on fingers, bob his head like a little chicken when it is ready to eat. This is also a trap. A SERIOUS trap for the nursing partner, especially dads. Ever take a baby and then tell the mom “I think he’s hungry again, you should take him,” minutes after Mom thought she had a break? False hope, take it away is one of the worst forms of torture. Do this and you will not only make mom mad and frustrated, but you will let down all of fatherhood too. “I just give her to mom, she hops on the boob and I can drink a beer.” Don’t be that guy. Try to soothe your child to sleep one more time before handing her over.

All of this aside, you should breastfeed on demand. So if the baby really is hungry back to back, pass her over and stay by mom’s side to quickly take baby when they are ready. This is our situation. Both kids were cluster feeders. Don’t go out and start doing the dishes or changing the laundry. Stay close. One of the things that can happen is mom enjoys holding the baby after feeding and passes baby off at the end of its little sleep cycle, missing the chance to get a solid 10-20 minute block of time without the baby. If you can be there to help burp and swaddle right away mom can get more rest.

4. Keep track of time and manage the schedule.

These little new dudes need to eat at least every 2 hours in the beginning. It can be a good job for the nursing partner to keep track of feedings so the stressed and sleepless mom doesn’t have to. Again, be polite when you ask when the baby last ate and when it is time to go again. Most of the time they will root well before the two hour mark, but there will be times they sleep too long and need a nudge.

5. Help manage her pain relief and water intake.

All mothers I know benefit from a schedule of Ibuprofen and Tylenol weeks after birth to help recover from labor. If you don’t know already, breastfeeding will heighten any cramping she has after birth. If the mother hasn’t taken any pain reliever nursing can be more painful. Not to mention, when her milk comes in and breastfeeding increases she will experience more pain. Here is another thing the mother has to manage. Help her out. You keep track of her pain relievers and make sure that she is taking them at the right intervals. Water too. Keep up with making sure she has enough water. It was a big deal as birth partner, its a big deal as nursing partner too.

There is more to share about what I am doing as a nursing partner, or am trying to do (I can’t say I am batting 1,000), but I am doing this on my nap time and need to get to it.

“Stay at Home” Parent Isn’t a Real Thing

the old family

If you have any worries about your role as a full time Dad, rest easy–any cultural pressure to “bring home the bacon” is based on myth.

The woman in the center is my great-great grandmother. Based on her face, would you dare call her a “stay at home” Mom? Was “stay at home Mom” even a phrase in her time? I strongly doubt it. Everyone worked. Everyone played a part. I know there wasn’t a level playing field for women (with legal and institutional exclusion of women from the workforce) but I bet no one accused women of not working hard like some of the Men’s Rights crowd does today. Why? Before there was electricity, gas, washing machines, dishwashers, irons, et al, household work was hard. This is of course in addition to the OBVIOUS task of raising that many children and being pregnant for 11 years of your life while butchering chickens and hoeing the garden. Take this back a few hundred thousand years and you get a feel for what is the true nature of being a human family on this planet — not the crap fed to you by the Mad Men era. (And by the way, being a woman and raising family is STILL a hard job in 2015.)

This idea that there is a stay at home person who “gets it easy” is only seen after industrialization. This false imagery of a the real “man” going out to support the family is so ingrained we forget it isn’t fact. For thousands of years the gathers (the women, the “stay at home” crowd) brought home all kinds of meat for the family like snails, crabs, turtles, you name it. And when the hunter did slay a 250 lb beast did he bring it home alone? No. He waited for the help from the rest of the family or community to haul in the heavy load.

Our thinking of historical gender and family roles is built on some very recent lies. This is important to think about not only for feminism, but also the full time father. We are often pegged as taking a less masculine role, or within ourselves we battle the notion that we should be out there “hunting” and being the main income provider. This perception is all rooted in myth.

I am on to this because of an important essay from Rebecca Solnit in the June, 2015, issue of Harper’s titled “Shooting Down Man The Hunter.” She lays out this case for rethinking our past. Check out this excerpt to get a taste of what she is saying:

For most of history, housework was much harder than it is now. It involved shoveling coal or chopping wood, stoking fires, pumping water, emptying chamber pots, washing everything by hand, and making bread, clothes, and much else besides from scratch. There have often been women of leisure, of course. But they were usually married to men of leisure. And their leisure was made possible not by hunter-mates but by servants, many of whom were also women.

In any case, leisure was not the primordial human condition, nor is it the condition of most women around the world now. There was a brief era in the Western world when many middle-class women weren’t part of the wage-earning economy and industrialization had made running a household a bit easier. You could look at some of these women as non-producing consumers, though to do that you’d have to discount the labor involved in raising children and keeping a house. This period lasted several decades, but it didn’t start 5 million years ago, and it ended when declining middle class wages sent many more women into the workforce.

So there you have it. Our concept of the family is just a blip on the scene. This imagery of the wife preparing the martini for the guy coming home from selling insurance should no longer be perpetuated. It wasn’t that way before and it won’t be that way in the future. Men never “went out to hunt leaving the weak women at home”. This puts to bed any useless discussion of how masculine caring for the family at home is or is not.

Please check out her essay in full.  The myth of man the hunter is so strong and a part of my schooling. I never knew how easily it can be torn apart.

The Greatest Time in History to Be a Dad

DSC_6168I often reflect on the ways in which being a Dad in 2015 is different than any other time period of fatherhood. There was a recent article about new survey data on The 21st Century Man in Huffington Post that spent some time on fatherhood. (I won’t get into the screwed up thinking on masculinity and homophobia that was also in the report.) I think about new fatherhood in terms of “What separates us from men that came before us?” I believe there is one underlying theme: we are the first generation with the level of respect for women that we see today.

It’s great for women because there is recognition of them as human beings with equal rights and opportunities as men. Wow. What a concept. Working without a slap on the rear or suffering through dirty jokes at the office is the norm, not the exception. The secretary pool is dead. Women can now lead and win the bread. (Although wage disparity and the glass ceiling is alive and well, and that part about men legislating the female body, blaming rape victims, body shaming… there is a long list of things still not right.)

I’ll stick to the family dynamic. No longer is there a man at home to be followed and feared. Bullies are on the run. The concept of a “man of the house” is over. I still see some posts from conservative Dad groups saying the role of the father is to “lead the family.” Nope. Sorry. Wrong answer. This is now a team effort with co-leadership at the top. A Dad who doesn’t do something as simple as change a diaper is old fashioned—let alone helping Mom by actually spending time with kids instead of the traditional rotation of work, couch, and making unilateral decisions for “his” family. Could you imagine, as a Dad today, saying that it’s not your job to change a diaper? This was the reality not long ago. It is still the reality for many Grandpas today. Dads in 2015 are thankfully held to a higher standard.

This modern fatherhood is great for us men too. We can now experience a richer life. There is so much to say, but let’s start with birth of our children. Even as short as 30 years ago a father couldn’t be in the delivery room. What? Yes, my Dad and Father-in-law were not allowed to be in the room during birth. Are you kidding me? The idea that one, you weren’t allowed, and two, that it was acceptable to these guys is unbelievable. I was there to witness the strength and courage Tinkerbell Mom showed us that day. Right after Boogie was born I held her to my naked chest so we could connect and create a bond that science shows us is good. I think back to the thousands of years of men that didn’t do this or couldn’t due to cultural norms. Some guys want to go back to what life was like and regain the “Man’s position in the family” or other conservative nonsense. Shoot me. I am not getting in that time machine.

What other ways do you have a rich life of being Dad that wasn’t open to generations of men that came before us?

3 Stages of Anxiety When Home Alone With a Baby

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Whoa. Home alone with this guy? We all have our first day. Everything will be alright.

This comes out of discussions with both full time and working Dad friends. It’s nothing new, but a good framework for those of you who are having any anxiety around one on one time.

Stage 1: You may physically hurt your baby.

This is the most obvious and lampooned of the Dad at home with baby worries. You won’t drop, sit on, or otherwise cause physical harm to your child. (Unless you are drunk—if so, seek help).

She will take a bottle. She will go to sleep. You can walk her around and all will be fine. If you feel worried take solace in how happy Mom (or Dad) will be when she (or he) gets back from some time away. The look on her face will make it all worthwhile.

Tips:

  • Write this out and hang it up:
    • Diaper
    • Milk
    • Sleep

If she is crying or fussy, check these items in this order. This is your job aid. In the heat of the moment you will forget one and wonder why she is crying.

  • Go over the game plan for the day. In construction, workers have a “daily job briefing” where they go over the work for the day. Even if it is something they have done time and time again, they take time to get focused and go over the day to stay safe and on task.
  • Don’t bother the other parent. Any little thing you say can be taken out of context, especially in text. If you are like me, you will be tempted to say something that you know will send an alarm with the hopes that they will come home (yes, guilty as charged). Don’t do this. Only text positive, happy messages and send a few corny photos.

Stage 2: Baby is bored. Her brain is shrinking while under your care.  

The next big fear is that you are doing some sort of harm to her development. In the beginning this will be focused on milk consumption. You have goals to hit for the day. If you are off, then she didn’t get nourishment and her brain is in decay. Same thing with sleep. Don’t worry. You are doing great and mom will be home eventually.

As baby gets older you will worry about her getting bored. Should I be doing signs with her? Why is she walking in circles talking nonsense? Should I be singing songs? Puzzles? We need more toys. Then you find yourself dropping $50 on learning toys for her age at the fancy kids store, all to get back home and she doesn’t play with them.

Tips:

  • Play games. Read, play peekaboo, chase, march in circles, dance, hide and seek. This will get you through. After a year you can always use the classic game of “moving things from one cup to another.” It’s fun and good for her brain. Kick a ball. Push a box around the room.

Stage 3: I just want her to sleep so I can rest.

“I have this precious time with my kid, and all I want is some alone time!” Oh the horror, right? Not really. You need the rest from fun times as much as she does. It is demanding work. They say the caregiver should rest when baby does. This is the truest thing I know in existence. Don’t feel compelled to email, watch TV, or do stuff around the house. Recharge your batteries so when she wakes up you are fresh and focused. Your little one is probably thinking the same thing “I want to stay up and play with Dad.” But you know that sleep is for her own good. It’s mutual.

Regarding “working” from home: if you have to, you have to. But know that it doesn’t work. I have balanced some online work time and used her naps as a way to send an email or write a blog post. It is okay once in a while but if you regularly do it you will see that syndrome in a meeting or group conversation where no one is listening because they are thinking about what to say and trying to get in the discussion. If you have plans of working they will creep into your awake time with your child. The goal here is to be involved, right? Hang up and drive, so to speak.

Tips:

  • Get the wiggles out. Move around! Sleep is a goal. To get there your little one needs to get all those wiggles out, as we say on Tinkerbell Road. If you have her engaged full tilt boogie with body and mind during play time she has a better chance at taking that nap you have both earned.

The Hope of Kindness

One day, “my kid is so kind” will hopefully be as common as “my kid is so smart.”

Am I the only one that finds “being smart” an obsession in our current parenting culture? Your child has to be smart. Smarter than other kids for sure, and better yet, smarter than developmental standards. “My kid can stack five blocks, when she is only supposed to be stacking three….she is talking way ahead of her time…he is so good at drinking from a cup….our child knows so many signs”. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, and I love to see people celebrate milestones and boast their kids’ achievements. That is fine. I am saying let’s all decide not to worry about it so much and tone down the horse race. The pressure to be smart is so strong, where does it come from?

I would like to think we know that being smart gets you ahead in life, makes you successful, so we prioritize that with our children. But success includes a number of other factors such as commitment, creativity, kindness and passion that are more than just being smart. I can’t help but think its more about avoiding a stigma of our time- not being smart. Much like parents in the past have worked hard to avoid their societal stigma of having a child who couldn’t work on the farm, couldn’t get married, didn’t go to war, or was gay. “Heaven forbid I end up with any of those.”

But what does agreeing on this stigma say about our kids who are not smart, but are kind and caring or posses other valuable qualities?

Enter the book “Far From the Tree”, by ,Andrew Solomon a friend left 20150306_103013at our house. He interviews hundreds of families that have children that are very much not like them, with identities such as down syndrome, physical disability, dwarfism, prodigy, etc. that are very different from their parents. In most cases the parents are living with a child they did not envision, and reality is different from their expectations. With this, of course, comes reflection on the standards we each set individually and as a society on what is good/bad, wonderful/horrible, or desirable/detested. It is a provoking read.

There is hope. I like the emphasis our culture has on sharing. Being bad on the playground is not acceptable. And bullying as acceptable behavior is on the run.

I gotta run, Boogie is getting up. But here is where I am at right now:

In the end, I want my daughter to be kind and compassionate. Do I want her to be smart? Hells yeah, and I will do all I can to help her. But at the end of the day, regardless of how smart she is, if she is kind to other people I will be overjoyed. Right now she hugs strangers and waves hi to squirrels. We reward that as much, if not more, than finishing a puzzle.

p.s. How many people will read this wondering if I have worries about how smart she is? If so, gotcha.

p.p.s. She is super smart by the way. Headed to the front of the class, top social click bound, spelling bee champ, future CEO, Nobel prize wearing, McArthur Genius grant grabbing type of kid.

The Oh-No Zone

We all cringe at the lampoon of the father with the clothespin on his nose with a dirty diaper, or the flat out refusal to change a diaper all together. We Dads are now involved and proud to be there when the going gets tough…change a diaper at a bar, bare hand a booger on the run at the playground, flush whatever needs flushing.

But each of us has our particular “oh-no” zone, right? Moms and Dads alike?

For me its clipping those little finger nails. Call me crazy, but the mental image of lopping off a little finger is too much. I cringe. I contort. I almost vomit from the anxiety. Luckily Tinkerbell Mom is there to do the dirty work. “I’ll do it when she is older”. Yeah right. I need to toughen up and get started. I think a supervised training session is in order. I have to get from no go, to slow go, to finally “no fear at all” go on this one.

For Tinkerbell Mom its the bugs and the slimy food goop that lives in the sink drain.

What’s in your “oh no” zone?

The Parent Performance Review

Ma’am, he looks healthy, but I don’t hear any organs. 

One thing I hated about professional life was the performance review. If I could just get a job that never had a formal review I would be happy. Enter full time parenting. No performance review!

Wrong.

We took Boogie to her 15 month check up. Up to this visit, every indicator has been spot on with her health and the pediatrician had nothing but praise. Cue the slo mo camrea and confetti cannons. Not ths trip.

Vitamin D: Low

Weight: no progress

Milk consumption: 16 oz a day? Really?

Tinkerbell Mom looked my way. I started to sweat. Oh no! This is performance review. If anyone is in charge of her getting enough vitamins, milk and water during the day it is me. And here we were a bit off. Nothing tragic or serious, mind you, but another reminder that with this gig performance is more than key indicators, sales numbers, or fundraising goals. This is the big time show with the most imporant results of all. So get it right Dad, and hope for a better review at the end of this quarter.