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Parenting

The 5 Things You Must Do for Breastfeeding Success

One thing I hear all the time from friends who struggled with breastfeeding is “I wish I had done things differently at the start”. Pregnancy is such a whirlwind with all the preparations we make for baby, especially when it’s the first. Many people don’t give much thought to breastfeeding ahead of time, assuming it will just happen naturally after birth. The truth is, being prepared and knowledgeable can be the difference between breastfeeding stress and breastfeeding success.

must do for breastfeeding success

1. Nurse as soon as possible after birth

Following an uncomplicated delivery, request that the baby be put directly on your chest for skin-to-skin. Just following birth, the baby has a window of time when they are unusually alert and awake so you want to take advantage of this period. Research has shown that babies that attach to the breast within an hour after birth have more successful breastfeeding outcomes months later when compared to babies who were not placed at the breast until 2 hours later or more.

In the event of a C-section or other complications, it may not be possible to breastfeed within that first hour. Just make sure your medical professionals know that you wish to breastfeed as soon as it is safe for baby and mother.

During those first attempts at breastfeeding, some babies immediately latch on correctly and instinctively suck, swallow and breathe correctly. (Remember they have had practice in the womb drinking amniotic fluid and sucking their thumbs!) Other babies will not latch on right away but instead just hold the nipple in their mouth or move their tongue unproductively. This is not cause for concern, and after a few more tries baby should catch on.

2. Meet with a lactation consultant

If your goal is to breastfeed, part of your planning during pregnancy should be to line up a lactation consultant. Many hospitals have their own on hand, or you can ask your OB for a referral for one to meet with you shortly after birth.

A lactaction consultant has expertise at checking to make sure the baby has the proper latch and can fix any latch problems early on. A bad latch can cause damage to mother’s nipples, pain when nursing, poor letdown and subsequently poor supply. Meeting with a lactation consultant while you’re still in the hospital can prevent problems from happening later on. She can also make sure your posture and positioning is correct so you aren’t straining your back while nursing or disturbing your incision if you’ve had a C-section.

Note: I have heard a few stories of people who had a bad experience with a specific lactation consultant. If you are unhappy with yours, do not be afraid to find a different one! She is providing a service to you and if your needs are not being met, by all means have them met elsewhere.

Need help finding a lactation consultant in your area? The United State Lactation Consultant Association makes it easy with this searchable map.

3. Check for tongue tie

Some doctors do this routinely but you should take it upon yourself to make SURE yours does. I have heard a few breastfeeding horror stories centering around an overlooked tongue tie!

Tongue tie, or ankyloglossia as it’s called in the medical world, occurs in about 4% of newborns. It’s when the connective tissue holding the tongue to the bottom of the mouth extends too far. This makes it difficult for the baby to stick out their tongue, as it is seemingly “tied” down to mouth.

There’s a range in how severe tongue ties are. My fourth child was born with a mild tongue tie, meaning that his tongue was attached to the bottom of his mouth farther than normal but he was still able to extend the tongue past his lips. We monitored him at birth to see if he would need to have the procedure done to “snip” the frenulum (called a frenotomy). It turned out not to disturb his nursing so we opted not to do it. He has had no problems with his tongue tie since.

With a more severe tongue tie, the tongue is held almost completely to the bottom of the mouth. When the child attempts to stick out his tongue, the tongue will take on almost a heart-shape appearance as the center is still firmly tied down. Attempting to nurse a baby who can’t extend his tongue will result in painful, unproductive nursing.

must do for breastfeeding success
Photo credit: Top Health Doctors, Au

4. Feed on demand

Of everything you’ve ever read about what you must do for breastfeeding success, this is THE MOST CRUCIAL.

You can schedule your baby all you want after the first couple months, but in the beginning it is very important to breastfeed on demand. This is how you establish your milk supply.

The law of supply and demand is what regulates the entire breastfeeding process. Nursing frequently is what cues your body to make more milk. If you don’t nurse as often as baby wants, your supply will be too low. In the beginning stages when your body is just figuring out how much to make, it is not wise to go by the clock and try to “hold off” the baby from nursing again. Let nature do its thing and allow baby to determine how much milk you should be producing.

This means you will be breastfeeding very, very often in the first few weeks of your baby’s life.

One of the reasons newborns need to be fed very often is that their stomach is literally the size of a marble at birth. The small amount of colostrum you have to feed them after birth is enough to fill this tiny stomach. But their stomach is too small to keep them satiated for long, and they will need to refill themselves often, sometimes every hour to at the start.

Secondly, breastmilk is very easy for baby to digest. This is part of why it’s a perfect source of nourishment for your little one! It also means it is digested extremely quickly, much quicker than formula (about 1.5 hours vs. 3-4 hours). So even if you feel like you just fed them, they very well maybe hungry again.

It is extremely common and expected to feel like you are constantly feeding your baby during the newborn stage. Prepare for it and accept it!

5. Nothing else in the mouth for 3 weeks

The supply and demand process can be disturbed by giving baby a pacifier to try and buy time until the next feeding. When baby is crying to eat, that is the “demand”. Pacifiers delay the time between the baby demanding food, and you giving them the breast.  When you are still trying to regulate your supply this can disturb the cycle.

Many new moms inadvertently sabotage their own supply by worrying that they aren’t making enough milk. They may be tempted to pump and feed the baby bottles to see how much they’re getting. However this can lead to several more problems:

1.) The pump does not drain the breast as well as the baby does, so moms may see the amount they pump and think there is a supply issue when there really is not.

2.) Bottles are less work to drink from than the breast. The baby may decide he prefers the bottle and start to refuse the breast or start latching incorrectly at the breast.

3.) Pumping and feeding from a bottle may satisfy a Mom’s desire to feel “in control” of the feeding process. She may lose faith in her body’s natural ability to provide for her baby.

Remember that frequent nursing in the newborn stage is normal and does not mean the baby isn’t getting enough!

If you are unsure whether baby is getting enough, here are the signs:

must do for breastfeeding success

A note about nipple confusion: The idea of “nipple confusion” is debatable. Many babies, my own included, had no problem switching back and forth from bottle to breast. However I did not introduce a bottle (or pacifier) to them in their first few weeks of life.

What questions or concerns do you have about breastfeeding? If you’re an experienced mother, what helped (or hurt) you on your breastfeeding journey? Share in the comments!

5 Things Every Child Should Know by Age 5

Kid number 3 just turned 5 over here and for some reason that age stands out to me as a milestone. At age 5 they go to kindergarten and aren’t by our sides every minute. They have developed a sense of themselves and where they fit into the world. The therapist in me collides with the Mom in me at this age as I struggle to prepare her for all the possible dark scenarios she may encounter.

I’ve always been big on preparing my kids for the “what if”s: talking openly and honestly about topics even if they might be somewhat scary to little ones. Having worked with kids who have lived through a lot of scary stuff, I know it’s better to prepare my children than try to keep them in a happy, naive bubble.

Parents, don’t shy away from teaching and talking to your kids. There are more important things they need to learn than their sight words and ways to make 10.

safety skills for 5 year olds

1. Mom and Dad’s real names and contact info

Several times I’ve been faced with a lost child in public, and being the motherly soul that I am, I take it upon myself to help the crying kid. It usually starts like this:

Me: “What’s your name?”

Kid: [says name]

Me: “What’s your Mom’s name?”

Kid: “Mommy.”

Me: [Facepalm]

Think your under 5 year old knows your full name? Go give them a pop quiz and make sure.

Work on helping them memorize their address and phone number too. Since phone numbers can be hard for little ones, just pick the one number that is most important for them to know. Typically this is Mom’s cell phone and not the house line.

Pro tip: Make the phone number into a song to help your child remember it.

2. What an emergency is and how to call 911

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent the last 5 years trying to lock your kid out of your phone. If they get their hands on it, your camera roll ends up looking like this:

Regardless if they are allowed to use your phone or not, make sure you teach them how to call 911 in case there is ever an emergency. If you have an iPhone, they can bypass your passcode by pressing “Emergency” in the lower left corner and then dial 911.

safety skills for 5 year olds

Make sure you practice and rehearse this! My second child constantly mistook the emergency number for “991” when he was a preschooler.

While you’re teaching this, make sure they know what an emergency actually is. You don’t want your kid dialing 911 because their brother finished the Capn’ Crunch.

3. The bathing suit rule

If you haven’t worked with abused children, this might not be on your radar. But it should be.

The bathing suit rule is simple: any place on your body that a bathing suit covers can only be touched by Mom, Dad, or a doctor with Mom or Dad there.

And the same rule applies for the child touching other people. If their bathing suit covers it, you don’t touch it.

The bathing suit concept just makes it easy for kids to visualize and determine what parts are private. If you prefer to take the direct approach and name the body parts that are off limits, that works too.

Either way is far better than saying nothing on the topic.

4. There are no secrets from Mom and Dad

This one kind of goes hand in hand with #3, but can apply to many other situations as well.

Anytime a grownup tells your child that something is “their little secret” or that they shouldn’t tell their parents, that should set off an alarm in their brain to immediately go and tell Mom and Dad!

Unfortunately, most young children have been conditioned to blindly listen to any and all adults. Some will follow directions when a grownup tells them never to tell anyone their secret. Be clear with your kids that NOTHING is a secret from Mom and Dad, and anyone who asks them to keep a secret is breaking their family rule.

Note: All family members need to be aware of this rule. This means Mom can not take Suzie on a “secret” shopping trip that they aren’t going to tell Dad about. No secrets from Mom and Dad means no secrets from Mom and Dad!

5. Who the safe people are

Did you know that often times young children die in house fires because they are afraid and hiding from firefighters who are trying to rescue them?

It makes sense when you think about a small child, already panicked over the smoke and commotion, seeing a larger person with a dark suit covering their entire body including their face.

safety skills for 5 year olds
To a child this looks more like Darth Vader than an everyday hero

Prepare your kids by showing them photos of firefighters in full gear and labeling firefighters as helpers or safe people. Do the same for police officers and other community members that you want your child to turn to in case of emergency.

Along the same lines, identify specific neighbors to be their “safe people” that they will go to for help if they are ever locked out of their house or any other scenario where they are without an adult.

Can you think of more basic safety skills for 5 year olds? Do you think today’s kids are adequately prepared?

 

Teaching Children Healthy Ways to Express Feelings

This is part 2 in a 3 part series about teaching Emotional Intelligence to children. Part one focuses on teaching children the vocabulary to name their feelings, as well as recognize the corresponding facial expressions.

Part 2 is about teaching kids to express feelings in a healthy way.

teach kids to express feelings

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you order something after clicking my link I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Why is it hard for children to express their feelings?

The ultimate goal is that children will express their feelings appropriately with words. Developmentally, young children have two deficits that make it more difficult for them to do this. First, they lack the language skills to express themselves. Their language skills are more rudimentary than adults and they vocabulary to describe their feelings is still new to them. Secondly, they lack self-control. This means their responses are impulsive and tend to be physical, knee-jerk reactions like hitting, screaming, biting, or tantrums.

As our children grow, their language skills and self-control develop and these problem behaviors begin to fade. In the meantime, we teach our children to pause before responding and to use their words in an effort to have them expressing themselves appropriately over time.

All feelings are ok

It’s important to remember never to judge your child’s feelings. It will not help them develop healthy coping skills if you act like only positive emotions are acceptable to you. Even “ugly” feelings like jealousy, sadness, and anger are normal and OK.

Think of how many adults you know who need to learn how to feel these negative feelings after years of being taught to bury or hide them.

Without passing judgement, allow your child to feel their feelings. The goal is not to deny the child their negative feelings, but teach them appropriate responses to these feelings.

Separate feelings from behavior

Even if their behavior is not acceptable, their feelings are.

While all feelings are ok, the behaviors that come out as a result of these feelings are not always ok. For example, a child who hits in response to anger when another child has taken their toy is having an unacceptable behavior in response to an acceptable feeling. The important distinction for parents to make is that while all feelings are OK, there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to express these feelings.

Make the distinction clear to your child by telling them “it is OK to feel angry when someone has taken something from you. But we never use our hands for hurting.” Give them an alternative behavior to replace the problem behavior. “Next time you feel angry, try using your words. Did you ask your friend for the toy back? Let him know you are using it and he can take the next turn.”

Do not withhold love due to behavior

After children act out, they typically have feelings of shame. The parents’ job is to teach them how to behave without shaming them. Shaming a child for their bad behavior can cause them to believe they are inherently bad and even worse, unlovable.

When my kids calm down after misbehaving, I make sure to give them a hug and let them know I still love them. They know I don’t always love their actions, but I will always love them.

teach kids to express feelings

Validate, validate, validate

The golden rule of teaching your children healthy ways to express emotions is first to always validate their feelings.

It can be challenging for parents to take the step of validating their child’s feelings when their child is misbehaving. Most parents will skip this step and immediately reprimand the behavior and punish the child. Take the time to consider how this plays out for a small child.

  1. Suzie took my toy without asking when I was playing with it.
  2. I got so mad I hit her.
  3. Mom got so mad she yelled and put me on this stair.
  4. Now I’m even more mad because I’m mad at Suzie and I’m mad at Mom.

The child might do their time out and return to playing, but nothing has been learned to prevent this from happening again. The child has not built any skills to express themselves in a better way. Additionally, the relationship between parent and child has been weakened when it could have been strengthened.

When your child feels understood and validated by you, they feel closer to you. They will respond better to what you’re trying to teach them when they feel you understand them.

Practice healthy ways to express feelings

Work on these skills with your child to learn how to manage and express their feelings:

  1. Deep breathing: Taking deep breaths slows down the body’s response to adrenaline and assists in returning to a calm state. Practice with your child when they are not escalated. Tell them to practice taking a deep breath and blow out while counting to 5. You can have them imagine they are blowing up a balloon or blowing out birthday candles. The trick is to make sure they are doing long, slow breaths and not 5 short quick ones.
  2. Drawing your feelings: When children are having trouble expressing their feelings with words, you can give them blank paper and a box of crayons or markers and tell them to draw their feelings. I’ve seen children take this literally and draw a picture of a sad child with big tears going down the paper, and I’ve seen children go with a more symbolic route and emphatically fill the paper with red or black markings to indicate anger. Either way, the act of coloring is a release of these feelings. An extra benefit is that when they are done coloring, they tend to explain the drawing by describing what made them feel that way.
  3. Physical release: My children often choose to express themselves with physical movement. Sometimes they will request a certain song (or type of song) and express their feelings through dance. Other times they just need the physical release of some active toys and we have our basement playroom set up to allow this. With aggressive children who have a tendency to lash out and hit others, a step down approach might involve giving them a pillow or stuffed animal to punch in place of hitting another person.

Problem solving

You always want to listen to your child and validate their feelings, but you don’t want to solve their problems for them. Instead, guide them through with questions that will help them solve their own problems. Help them brainstorm some possible courses of action and ask them what the consequence of each one would be. The goal is to become your child’s inner voice. Eventually he or she will be able to pause before reacting to their feelings, and come up with a good solution on their own.

Books to help your child manage their feelings

These are books I absolutely love and used almost daily in my work as a child therapist:

Children who are prone to angry outbursts will be nodding their heads while you read this book. When the boy is told no, he feels his anger rise up and grow until he turns into an angry dragon. As the angry dragon, nothing is safe, “not even Mom and Dad”. It perfectly illustrates how out of control and scary it feels to be so angry. Eventually the dragon’s anger turn to sadness and his tears melt the angry feelings away. He turns into a boy again and his Mom and Dad are there to comfort him.

One of our favorite authors, Molly Bang, tells the story of young Sohpie, who gets in a fight over a toy with her sister. She feels her anger well up inside until she explodes and runs outside into the wide, wide world. Eventually she finds a tree to climb and looks out into nature and feels peaceful. After a little while, she cries. She feels herself calm and returns home to her family. The author shows a keen understanding of how children feel their emotions and many young children will relate to this book.

A great resource for kids with anxiety or who just tend to be more worrisome. It talks about what worries are and how they make you feel. Most importantly, it teaches basic coping skills for kids to manage their worries, such as relaxation, physical activity, and positive self-talk.

What has been the greatest challenge for you in teaching your kids how to manage their emotions? What topics would you like learn more about?

Share in the comments! I would love to write more posts that are useful to my readers.

How to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children

This is part 1 of a 3 part series about Emotional Intelligence in children. Part 1 focuses on laying the framework for your young child to develop their knowledge of feelings and facial expressions in an age-appropriate way. Part 2 is about how to teach our children to express their emotions in a healthy way.

emotional intelligence in children

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you order something after clicking my link I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Commonly referred to as EQ, Emotional Intelligence is calculated by one’s ability to identify and control one’s emotions, as well as determine how someone else is feeling and relate to others. People with with a high EQ can use emotion to communicate effectively and have successful relationships.

Why is EQ important?

The research has spoken: IQ is not the predictor for our children’s future success. What is? Emotional intelligence.

People with a high IQ are smart and capable, but people with a high EQ are relatable and likable. They are sensitive, and instinctively know what others’ want and need. They’re easy to engage with and remain calm under stress. Sound like someone who might do well in life?

Simply put, the higher one’s EQ, the healthier relationships they will have with others. Poor EQ is linked to being short-tempered, having poor social skills, and engaging in unethical behaviors.

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

Unlike IQ, EQ can absolutely be taught. In fact some schools have begun programs specifically aimed at raising social and emotional intelligence in their students. In a study of 379 of such programs, the following outcomes were found: fewer discipline problems and suspensions, reduction in bullying and antisocial behaviors, better school attendance, and higher academic achievement (https://prodimages.6seconds.org/pdf/case_for_EQ_school.pdf).

So now that we know what EQ is and why it matters, how can parents teach this set of skills to our children at home?

Part one is all about laying the foundation for being able to discuss feelings with your kids.

Teach them to name their feelings

This is child therapy 101. Kids can’t talk about their feelings if they don’t know what their feelings are called and what they look like.

During my time as a child therapist, I came across kid after kid who thought there were only two feelings: happy and sad. Every now and then I’d a get a kid who would include mad.

Don’t let that be your kid!

Give them the vocabulary for more complex emotions, including:

  • scared
  • jealous
  • frustrated
  • disappointed
  • surprised
  • guilty
  • worried
  • excited
  • irritable

How to build their feelings vocabulary

Teach these words the same way you build all language skills in your children: by infusing them into your daily conversation with your child.

You can do this by:

  • Reflect your child’s emotions back to them. “You look frustrated right now. I would feel frustrated too if my block tower kept falling over.”
  • Name your own feelings out loud to your child. “I’m feeling disappointed because it’s raining and they cancelled the baseball game.”
  • Talk about others’ emotions. “Your cousin seemed upset when it was time to leave the party. How do you feel when it’s time to leave a party?”

Identify feelings based on faces

Going hand in hand with knowing the names of feelings is recognizing what those feelings look like. A really easy game you can play with your child is to name an emotion and have them hold up a Hand Mirror and try to make the face that matches. Inevitably it will turn into giggles because it is pretty funny to see someone trying to look angry or sad when they really aren’t.

There are also some great books with pictures of faces that can help your child learn to interpret how others’ are feeling. Lots of Feelings is a good one for young kids because instead of cartoon drawings it has actual photographs of children’s faces.

You can also draw faces for your child and have them try to guess what feeling you intended to draw. If they guess incorrectly, try to guide them there by giving more detail about the feeling. For example, if you’re drawing “worried” and the child guesses “scared”, this is an opportunity to teach them the nuances between the two. “Yes, this person is feeling a little scared, but it’s more like they are nervous about something that may or may not happen and they can’t stop thinking about it for a long time.”

Another great staple to have on hand is a “How are you feeling today?” chart. Even if your child can’t come up with the correct word for their feeling, they can choose a match from the faces shown and just point to it.

emotional intelligence in children

If your kid loves emojis, those can work just as well too.

Naming emotions in the moment

It’s one thing to be able to recognize a feeling during a game or while reading a book, but it’s a lot more difficult to be able to recognize one’s emotions in the midst of it. Once you hear your child do this, you will know that the effort has paid off and your child is fully understanding the vocabulary. I still remember the first time that my son shouted mid-tantrum: “I AM REALLY FEELING VERY FRUSTRATED RIGHT NOW!” I did a little happy dance inside because I knew we had built the foundation for emotional intelligence and were on our way to expressing emotions in a healthier way than a tantrum.

Coming up:

Now that you’ve laid the framework for your child’s emotional intelligence by teaching them to name and recognize feelings, it is time to teach them healthy ways to express their feelings, found in Part 2. In Part 3 (coming soon!), you will help your child learn how to apply their knowledge to others and develop empathy.

 

How to Celebrate Your Christmas Baby’s Birthday

Long story short: two of my children are what I consider “Christmas babies”. My son’s birthday is within days of Christmas so he was my original Christmas baby. Three years later, I went into labor with Elle on Christmas Eve. All I could think was, get this baby out before midnight so she doesn’t end up with the worst birthday of the year! She ended up being born at 2am on Christmas Day. Aka the worst birthday of the year.

So now I have TWO Christmas babies.

Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about how to manage these unfortunately timed birthdays.

how to celebrate your Christmas baby's birthday

Your Christmas Baby’s Birthday: DON’TS

  1. Don’t let your child hear you complain about their birthday. It’s been 8 years for my son and 5 years for my daughter, and they are still completely unaware that their dates of birth are the worst. I have successfully brainwashed them into thinking a Christmas birthday is extra special and fun. You can complain to your mom friends about how horrible their birthdays are, but never in the presence of the kids.
  2. Don’t let their birthday party be an afterthought. December is so busy and stressful, I can relate to the temptation to just put off having their party until January. But think about the days leading up to your birthday as a kid. It’s basically as torturous as the end of pregnancy. Don’t make them wait extra long! I always err on the side of doing it early, because no kid ever minds getting presents early. Also, it does feel special to get presents before Christmas. After all the holiday hoopla, having a birthday party in early January is going to feel anti-climactic.
  3. Don’t make their birthday Christmas-themed! The whole month of the December is Christmas-themed. Let their birthday be a birthday! That means no Christmas wrapping paper, no Christmas party decorations, etc. If your kid is into trains or ponies let them have a train or pony party like all the kids who were born in the other 11 months of the year.
Christmas birthday
The two on the right are the Christmas babies, but their party themes include rainbows and the Wiggles

Your Christmas Baby’s Birthday: DOS

  1. Do talk to family members about keeping the birthday separate from Christmas. Of course it’s always up to the giver what type of gift they want to give, but some relatives might need subtle hints about how Christmas babies truly appreciate not having their Christmas and birthday gifts meshed into one (or skipped altogether).
  2. Do keep it small and manageable if you have to. Only bite off as much as you can chew when it comes to throwing a party. The last thing any kid wants for his birthday is to see Mommy have a stress-induced meltdown. Remember it doesn’t need to be huge (or Pinterest-inspired) to make your child feel special and loved.
  3. Do carve out some special time for the birthday child. A one on one lunch date with Mom or Dad doesn’t take much time out of your busy day but it will make a big impact. When my son’s birthday falls on a school day, I join him for lunch in the school cafeteria. It’s 30 minutes out of my day and he feels like a superstar on his birthday. If your school doesn’t allow lunch visits, ask if you can come in as a mystery reader and read a book to the class. Other simple ways to squeeze in some special time could be a family game night, movie night or just letting your child stay up past bedtime hanging out with Mom and Dad.

A Note About “Half Birthdays”

People have suggested to us that we shift our kids’ birthdays away from the holidays by celebrating their half birthdays in the summertime instead. While this seems to work well for some families, I’ve always felt like the day when their age changes is a big deal for kids and needs to be acknowledged. I have a hard time getting on board with just saying “yesterday you were four, today you are five and we will celebrate that in six months.” That said, my children’s opinions are the ones that really matter so if they ever decide they want to move to half birthdays, I would follow their lead.

If your child is a Christmas baby (or if you yourself are!) I’d love to hear from you!

What are the biggest challenges of birthdays during the holiday season? What have you tried that works for your family?