Wednesday, February 28, 2007

My American Idol Picks

I was going to write a post last week about how I was disappointed in American Idol this season but I just didn’t find the time. Scott & I just aren’t as excited about this season’s contestants. They are kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong, many of them are good singers, but I just don't think they are that unique and I can’t see myself buying any of their future albums. And last week the guys especially sucked it up with their performances.

The good news is that last night the men gave much better performances and my excitement is somewhat renewed. Scott & I, like many others, name Chris Sligh as our favorite, both personally and to win the whole thing. He is a funny dude - both in his look and in his sense of humor. He looks like a cross between Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons and Jack Osbourne. At his Idol audition, he said he wanted to win so he could make David Hasselhoff cry (referring to when the Hoff did indeed cry at last year's Idol finale). He also has a great voice. I also like Beatbox-er Blake Lewis and the soulful Sundance Head (nice name, huh?). Tonight I was also impressed with Chris Richardson who reminds me of Justin Timberlake. The guys were so much better last night than last week, although who told Sunjuya to wear that hat? And I also thought that Brandon's song choice was bor-ing. Maybe this thing is getting better and they just got off to a bad start.

As for the ladies, they sang better than the guys last week but they still bored me. Everyone thinks LaKisha Jones and her big voice will win it all – she is the odds on favorite in Vegas. In second is Melinda Doolittle who used to be a background singer. I have nothing against her but I do think she looks kind of like a troll doll, poor girl. I personally like 17 year old Jordan Sparks. Scott likes Troll as well as Stephanie Edwards and Gina Glocksen, who he calls Gilmore Girl because he thinks she looks like one of the Gilmore Girls (Lorelei, not Rory). The embarrassment for the women is one Antonella Barber who can’t sing that well but is very pretty. Her looks along with the compromising pictures of her that were posted on the internet last week will keep her around way too long, I worry. I don’t know, maybe the women will bring it tonight like the men did last night so AI can once again be my guilty pleasure instead of just a waste of my time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Parental Instincts Backed Up by Science

Hello all. In past posts, I have described my style of parenting some including holding my child a lot and responding as promptly as possible to his cries. I mainly do this because it just feels right and natural. I am following my instincts.

I recently found an article from researchers at Harvard that supports these practices and explains some of the repercussions for taking a more detached parenting style that currently seems to be the norm here in the U.S. (although not in the past and not in the rest of the world). Its from 1998 so this is not new news, but I think it is just now getting to the general public. I still think that parents are entitled to make their own decisions and will, undoubtedly, have their own styles of parenting based on their own experiences, beliefs, and personalities as well as their children's temperaments, but I still think this information is useful to consider. While I think that trauma and fear in children who are held less often or let to cry-it-out are rare, I think that if people knew that they weren't spoiling their babies, and were in reality helping them form healthy foundations for their futures, parents would feel less guilty and would follow their parental instincts more. I also think that young people in this country need to be educated that parenting is not for the lazy. Its a lot of work and that's how it should be. In a future post, I'll post some information on how this whole "spoiling" theory came to be in this country (for the record, I do think that toddlers and older children can lack discipline and have behavior problems, but the ideas about spoiling go so much deeper than that). But for now, here is the Harvard article:

Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say
By Alvin Powell

America's "let them cry" attitude toward children may lead to more fears and tears among adults, according to two Harvard Medical School researchers. Instead of letting infants cry, American parents should keep their babies close, console them when they cry, and bring them to bed with them, where they'll feel safe, according to Michael L. Commons and Patrice M. Miller, researchers at the Medical School's Department of Psychiatry.

The pair examined childrearing practices here and in other cultures and say the widespread American practice of putting babies in separate beds -- even separate rooms -- and not responding quickly to their cries may lead to incidents of post-traumatic stress and panic disorders when these children reach adulthood. The early stress resulting from separation causes changes in infant brains that makes future adults more susceptible to stress in their lives, say Commons and Miller.

"Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently, " Commons said. "It changes the nervous system so they're overly sensitive to future trauma." The Harvard researchers' work is unique because it takes a cross-disciplinary approach, examining brain function, emotional learning in infants, and cultural differences, according to Charles R. Figley, director of the Traumatology Institute at Florida State University and editor of The Journal of Traumatology.

"It is very unusual but extremely important to find this kind of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research report, " Figley said. "It accounts for cross-cultural differences in children's emotional response and their ability to cope with stress, including traumatic stress." Figley said Commons and Miller's work illuminates a route of further study and could have implications for everything from parents' efforts to intellectually stimulate infants to practices such as circumcision. Commons has been a lecturer and research associate at the Medical School's Department of Psychiatry since 1987 and is a member of the Department's Program in Psychiatry and the Law. Miller has been a research associate at the School's Program in Psychiatry and the Law since 1994 and an assistant professor of psychology at Salem State College since 1993. She received master's and doctorate degrees in human development from the Graduate School of Education.

The pair say that American childrearing practices are influenced by fears that children will grow up dependent. But they say that parents are on the wrong track: physical contact and reassurance will make children more secure and better able to form adult relationships when they finally head out on their own."We've stressed independence so much that it's having some very negative side effects, " Miller said. The two gained the spotlight in February when they presented their ideas at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting in Philadelphia.

Commons and Miller, using data Miller had worked on that was compiled by Robert A. LeVine, Roy Edward Larsen Professor of Education and Human Development, contrasted American childrearing practices with those of other cultures, particularly the Gusii people of Kenya. Gusii mothers sleep with their babies and respond rapidly when the baby cries. "Gusii mothers watching videotapes of U.S. mothers were upset by how long it took these mothers to respond to infant crying, " Commons and Miller said in their paper on the subject.

The way we are brought up colors our entire society, Commons and Miller say. Americans in general don't like to be touched and pride themselves on independence to the point of isolation, even when undergoing a difficult or stressful time. Despite the conventional wisdom that babies should learn to be alone, Miller said she believes many parents "cheat, " keeping the baby in the room with them, at least initially. In addition, once the child can crawl around, she believes many find their way into their parents' room on their own. American parents shouldn't worry about this behavior or be afraid to baby their babies, Commons and Miller said. Parents should feel free to sleep with their infant children, to keep their toddlers nearby, perhaps on a mattress in the same room, and to comfort a baby when it cries."There are ways to grow up and be independent without putting babies through this trauma, " Commons said. "My advice is to keep the kids secure so they can grow up and take some risks."

Besides fears of dependence, the pair said other factors have helped form our childrearing practices, including fears that children would interfere with sex if they shared their parents' room and doctors' concerns that a baby would be injured by a parent rolling on it if the parent and baby shared the bed. Additionally, the nation's growing wealth has helped the trend toward separation by giving families the means to buy larger homes with separate rooms for children. The result, Commons and Miller said, is a nation that doesn't like caring for its own children, a violent nation marked by loose, nonphysical relationships. "I think there's a real resistance in this culture to caring for children, " Commons said. But "punishment and abandonment has never been a good way to get warm, caring, independent people."

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Kewpie, Not a Sullustan

For those of you reading my husband's blog, you know that he is comparing my child to Star Wars aliens, namely the Sullustan. Yes, my child has jowls, or more nicely put, chubby cheeks. But I think he looks more like a Kewpie doll than an alien - you know, those cute little old-fashioned dolls that have big rosy cheeks, big eyes, and little wings like angels. Our friend, Beth Allin, who visited from Chicago this weekend made the same comment so I know I am not full of it. For those of you who aren't familiar with Kewpies, Wikipedia defines them as "based on illustrations by Rose O'Neill that appeared in Ladies' Home Journal in 1909. The small dolls were extremely popular in the early 1900s. Their name, often shortened to "Kewpies", in fact is derived from "Cupid", the Roman god. The early dolls, especially signed or celluloid, are highly collectible and worth thousands of dollars." I also found out from Wikipedia that a "Kewpie Doll" is also a derogatory term for a short person. Who knew? Anyway, I could get Nicky down to his diaper and twist his hair up into a Kewpie point and take a picture for you, but that is just too embarrassing. Plus, I've tried it before and he looks more like Ed Grimley because he isn't almost bald like most Kewpies are. So, just check out the comparative pics below and use your imagination on the hair part!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

As If I Don't Spend Enough Time on the Computer...

I joined MySpace today. If you are curious, the link is on the right. I will still keep this as my primary blog, though. If you are on myspace and want to add me as a friend, please send me an invite.

Let Sleeping Nickys Lie

So how did my sleep experiment work out, you ask me? Well, the data show that Nicky's sleep is abnormal but somewhat predictable. Unlike most 3 month olds who are "supposed to" take 2-3 naps and sleep 10 hours a night, my kiddo takes like 4 or 5 naps and sleeps 8-9 hours a night. He predictably gets tired after being up for 1 1/2 hours or so, sometimes 2. He also goes to sleep around 10pm (I wish it were an hour or two earlier). Looks like he's not quite ready for much else. No matter what happens, he is on that pattern. The good news is that he is getting better at going down for the night without a fuss. In fact, a miracle (in my eyes) occurred on Tuesday night. It was 10pm and Scott & I were tired. Nicky wanted to play and was kicking his little feet. I had a talk with him about it being Night-Night Time and put him in his co-sleeper beside us. Scott went to sleep, and I played being asleep to see what Nicky would do. He actually settled down and went to sleep on his own! Yeh!!! If only this would become a definite pattern now. Last night he went down at the usual time, but was gassy all night and was kicking his little legs in his sleep the whole night which kept waking me up! It did wake him up at times, but sometimes he was able stay in light sleep. Anyway, I was tired today. He is also getting better at taking naps outside my arms, many times in his crib. It is still hard to predict if he will tolerate being put down without waking up again, though.

In other developments, Nicky seems to have started teething. That, too, is a bit early. Who knows when the first little tooth will pop through, it might be months from now, but Nicky is drooling a crazy amount, sucking or gnawing on everything in sight (including my neck, my shirt, and his entire fist), his stools are somewhat looser (from the drool), and a few days he has had a warm head indicating a possible low grade fever. Scott & I both feel the possible edge of a tooth in the gums of his upper jaw. We'll see... This kid seems to be ahead of the curve on lots of things. He is happy to have his pacifier back since he loves to suck so much. For the first few days he had forgotten how to use them or just wanted to chew on them, but now he is back in love with them. One little problem occurs when he can't decide if he wants to suck on his hand or the breast or both while breastfeeding. I have made it clear that he needs to make up his mind!

Think of us on Saturday morning. We are going to our first Mommy/Baby playgroup. A fellow psychologist put together a group with 4 other mommy psychologists and their infants. It should be fun. Hopefully Nicky can make some friends. I won't mind having the adult company either.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My Little Snow Angel

I thought I'd share some cute pictures I took of Nicky the other day after he woke up from one of his naps. I think he looks like he's making a snow angel in his white blanket. This is why I check on the kid when I have him wrapped up or swaddled - he always breaks free and he hides in the blanket. As you can see in the second picture, he thinks its a pretty cute trick!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Sleep Saga Continues...

I am currently conducting the Nicky Naptime Experiment. I am trying to figure out when to try to schedule his naps so we can get him on a more regular bedtime. For now, I am just observing his spontaneous naps so I can go with what he’s already doing but just tweak it a bit.

I thought for sure after last night, I'd have quite a day today with a grumpy ole Nicky. He fell asleep at 7:30pm last night, which I should have known was too early for him (usually its more like 9pm which is a bit late), and Scott put him down in his co-sleeper when he looked to be in a deep sleep. Thirty minutes later, he was up again and stayed up until 10:30pm. After that it was cat nap, wake up and scream, drift off, scream, etc. until I got him down for good around 12:30am. I don't know what happened. Maybe his naps yesterday screwed him up or maybe we missed his tired signals and didn't get him settled down before he became overtired. So, like I said, today I expected a crabby baby.

But, I got him to sleep this morning til 9am (his usual wake-up time right now - I am hoping to work him back to an earlier wake up time and thus an earlier bedtime) and he woke up happy as can be. He went down for his first nap at 10:30 and slept an hour, then went down again at 12:30 which was earlier than expected, but I'm not fighting him on it. He's been sleeping for an hour and a half now, and I will let him go 2 hours before I wake him up. Then hopefully he'll be up for a few hours before taking a third nap. The problem is that he is such a restless sleeper. He moves around both because of his startle response and because of his gassiness. He is really fighting the swaddling so that isn’t as good of an option anymore. He still kind of needs it, though, so I am experimenting with wrapping him up in a bigger blanket but loosely so it holds his arms back a bit but isn’t a full fledged swaddle. It seemed to help today. It kept him from hitting himself in the head and when he broke free of it a few times, I caught it early enough and wrapped the blanket back around him before he woke himself up… I just try to check on him to make sure he doesn’t push the blanket up onto his face. I can’t wait until my child is able to sleep peacefully.

Its now later in the evening and I am very confused. Nicky has been sleeping too much overall today. He woke up right after I wrote the last few paragraphs, was up for an hour or so, and went down again, this time for 2 ½ hours. He woke up at 5pm and went back down now at 7pm. I am very worried he won’t sleep well tonight because he has slept too much today. I swear this is too hard! It impossible to keep him up if he’s tired – he gets super crabby and won’t go to sleep later when you want him to. And if I just let him sleep when he wants to, he will sleep too much during the day like today and then won’t be tired enough at night to sleep the 10 hours he is supposed to be sleeping in the evening at this age.

Anyway, I am going to keep observing and recording for the rest of the week. Next week I will try to push him toward more of a schedule. My hope is that I can get him to an 8pm-6 or 7am night schedule and three 1-1 ½ or maybe 2 hour naps during the rest of the day. We’ll see if he’s ready for that yet. Honestly, if he needs something else that’s fine with me. I just want to make sure he starts getting more quality sleep so he is happy when he is awake. He is such a grump when he wakes up before he’s rested. Here’s hoping the experiment yields some useful data.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My Intense, Spirited Child

Hi everyone. I never seem to have enough time to write my blog posts these days. I have a million ideas for them in my head, but that's where they stay. I am usually holding or entertaining Nicky, and while I am a master at typing with one hand, usually its just too annoying and Nicky knows he doesn't have my attention which he does not like. Right now he is in his swing, by the way, which usually keeps him calm when it doesn't put him to sleep. I also use a baby carrier such as a sling at times for the same purpose. My child's disposition is not what I anticipated, I'll admit that straight out. This little guy is intense, very emotional, sometimes fussy, quick to make his needs known, and not afraid to scream bloody murder if they are not met. I hate using words like fussy and colicky. First of all, he does not cry non-stop like some babies. He is often quite smiley and happy. He loves people and action and is very content when he's on the go or interacting socially. But, he gets overwhelmed and overstimulated fairly easily, his startle response if very easy to trigger, and when he gets upset he goes from zero to pissed off in a few seconds.

Some people have referred to infants like this as "high-needs" or as I labeled my post, "intense." In fact, Dr. Sears has described high-needs babies in 12 ways:
  1. Intense - talked about this already
  2. Hyperactive - this just a description; it doesn't mean the kid is going to end up having ADHD. Nicky is very active. He loves trying to stand and likes to kick his legs all the time.
  3. Draining- all of the holding, patting, bouncing, walking, entertaining, burping, etc.
  4. Feeds Frequently- because it helps them settle and soothe them and can help them work out air bubbles as well
  5. Demanding - he knows what he wants and lets you know it to
  6. Awakens Frequently - I'll talk more about this later on
  7. Unsatisfied - just when you think he's having fun doing something, he changes his mind
  8. Unpredictable - see above; the plan is always changing
  9. Super Sensitive - he freaks out at the smallest things - sometimes Scott and I can't even figure out what the original trigger was for it
  10. Can't Put Baby Down - my arms are tired
  11. Not a Self-Soother - he isn't good at finding a way to help himself feel better or fall asleep. He tries to suck on his hand or fingers or your fingers or just about anything else but he can't get it to work to his liking and that makes him mad!
  12. Separation Sensitive - so far Nicky likes most people and goes quite readily to them, but we'll see what happens when he get him babysitters
I understand the high-needs label because he does require a lot of my time, but I feel like his needs are no higher than any other baby's, he's just more persistent in making sure those needs are met! Most any baby loves to be held, played with, rocked, bounced, etc. but my child demands it. He loves motion and often requires it to settle down. When he was a wee infant, Scott & I used to have to bounce him to sleep by holding him while bouncing on our exercise ball. Now he prefers to be rocked or bounced while you walk around holding him (he doesn't care for the rocking chair or being held while you sit still). He has a hard time sleeping and fights it at all costs - he doesn't want to miss any action! He has to either be swaddled, bounced, or nursed to sleep, and then needs to continue being held. If you put him down, he will immediately wake himself up. Yes, I know that you should lay a baby down while he/she is drowsy and not asleep, but this little guy will not cooperate. He will not fall asleep that way, is totally grumpy, and screams to no end. I am not a fan of crying it out in the first place, but even if I was, this kiddo could and would scream for hours in that scenario. And he is not a horse - I am not trying to break him. He is a child that is supposed to be dependent on me right now and his cries all have a purpose so I don't want to train him to stop crying. Some babies are much more easy going and not as needy. I didn't get that model:) Sure, it is more demanding of my energy and time and can be quite stressful to take care of him 24/7, but I believe that I am helping him form the healthy attachment to me and Scott that he will need to feel secure and trust us. Once he does that, and as he grows into toddlerhood, he will become independent because he knows he has a secure base to come back to. I worry that people will think I am spoiling him, but I know I am not, because for one, you can't spoil an infant - they really are dependent on their adult caregivers and are not capable consciously of manipulating us. They have needs, expect you to meet them, and cry and behave in such a way as to get those needs met. Pretty simple. This is out of reflex. They don't think to themselves, "Let me see how I can make Mommy jump!" since they aren't that sophisticated yet:) As he becomes older, I will have plenty of time to shape his behavior and encourage his independence. The worst thing I could do right now is have my intense baby come to distrust that I will take care of him - he will then just cry that much harder.

If you have not yourself had a high-needs baby or known one very well, I think it is very hard to relate to what I am saying. These babies are not terrors. They are still very lovable. In fact, Nicky is so expressive and emotive and that helps us bond. Also, I feel like he is helping me become a good parent with lots of different skills because I am always on my feet with him, trying new things, and maybe more tuned in to him than I would have been if his temperament had been a more mellow one. I have to be patient, loving, and attentive. I do think that his gastrointestinal problems have contributed to his upset at times, but believe me, his personality is firey whether or not his tummy is cooperating or not. I believe its a combination of temperament with development (or lack thereof) that set this up. Some experts have called it the "fourth trimester syndrome" meaning that babies are used to conditions in the womb and their bodies, especially their nervous system, are not yet developed enough to handle all the stimulation their receive in the outside world once they are born. So, they become overstimulated. They are calmed by things that remind them of the womb like swaddling, motion, white noise, shushing noise, and heart beat sounds. Also, some references have said that high-needs babies are often quite precocious, outgoing little toddlers and children who like to be the first to do things. In fact, here are some words used to describe high-needs babies as they move from infancy to toddlerhood to childhood and then adulthood:

Infant: alert, intense, draining, demanding, cries impressively, loud, inconsolable, super sensitive, high-touch

Toddler-Child: busy, high-strung, exhausting, spunky, energetic, stubborn, impatient, strong-willed, interesting, tantrum-prone, tender

Teen-Adult: enthusiastic, deep, passionate, resourceful, opinionated, determined, insightful, compassionate, sociable, empathetic, caring, affectionate

I guess I better anticipate having a spunky toddler who will need consistent structure and rules to help contain his energy and will:) I think I am up for the challenge, at least I hope I am!

For now, Scott & I have become experts at tricks to calm Nicky and his tummy. For anyone who has a similar baby, or is expecting a child soon, I recommend reading the book or watching the DVD "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp. He denotes 5 strategies called the 5 S's to calm babies by recreating a womb environment. They are:
  1. Swaddling -many babies are done with swaddling by 3 months but Nicky still needs it - he wakes himself because he hits himself with his hands when he startles in his sleep. I wish I had known about the Miracle Blanket when he was born. We just got it and it is the only swaddling blanket that works, in my opinion. It actually holds the baby's arms in place and it has enough fabric to wrap around the baby snugly a few times so he/she won't break out of it plus no Velcro or snaps that might irritate baby or wake them up when you use them.
  2. Stomach/Side position - for holding the baby, not for sleeping
  3. Shhhh- making the shhhh sound really loud in Nicky's ear can bring him out of a screaming fit and calm him right down
  4. Swinging - Nicky likes being rocked in a person's arms as well as his swing, although I wish he had a swing that went from side to side and not just back and forth. He likes the side to side motion better and the back and forth sometimes initiates his startle reflex.
  5. Sucking - on the breast, bottle or pacifier. Nicky loves to suck. And I am giving him back his pacifier as soon as the new ones I ordered show up in the mail. The model I found is more like the breast nipple so hopefully it won't interfere with breastfeeding anymore. Problem was I couldn't find them around here. Thank goodness for

Nicky is getting more sleep at night these days - because of swaddling which we had given up on for awhile but went back to out of desperation. The little Houdini always breaks out of it but for the last few weeks it has usually given us 4-6 hours of sleep for the first stretch of the night which we appreciate. We're hopeful that the Miracle blanket will help keep that consistent because when Nicky breaks out of the swaddle, he wakes up. If he breaks out of it early in the night, we are screwed! Only sad thing is that the Miracle blanket is one-size-fits-all but is really only made for the first 4 months. Our little chub doesn't even fit in the foot pocket, so when we just use the arm wraps and leave his feet out, it looks like a straight jacket! Oh well, he sleeps and that keeps him happy. Now we just need to work on getting his naps on a more regular schedule and taking them outside of Mommy's arms. Dude, I'm tired! Pray for me please. It might be an exhausting few years, but hopefully I will be up to the challenge. If you have a high-needs child, please email me or comment and we will commiserate.