Inside the Mind of a Mom With Social Phobia

It’s not as though I chose to be terrified of other people or want to bow out of most social events. But I’m learning to conquer the fear.

We will have a great time.

I’m super excited!

Actually, I feel a slight headache coming on.

It’s a little hot today, so maybe that’s why.

Whatever it is, I don’t feel so great all of a sudden.

Maybe I should stay home?

Wait, wasn’t I super excited just a few minutes ago?

These are the thoughts that are going through my head shortly before departure. It’s not a long trip – just a few blocks away at our local craft store. My friend set up a play date with a bunch of other moms and dads. Our kids will be creating holiday-themed projects.

I am very tired, but that is not unusual. It’s actually pretty common for me – a person who worries about so much on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve been placed in the same situation. It’s still there.

After the embarrassment of realizing just how silly my behavior’s been, we leave the house. I’m already sweating. I know there will be quite a few parents and kids attending today, but I am missing some crucial info.

How many people will be there?

Do I know them?

I feel quite dizzy.

The walk is exhausting. For me, there’s no such thing as a nice and pleasant stroll. If I have to be out, I am uneasy. Because…people.

This is not the way I intended it to be. After the birth of my daughter, I figured I would settle into my cute little neighborhood and make friends right away.

It didn’t matter that I was painfully shy.

It didn’t matter that I was terribly self-conscious.

Mommy friends would come in time, I told myself.

I was right.

For the past few years, I’ve been pretty good at playing the game. My initial mommy meet-ups involved alcohol. Drinking was my secret weapon of sorts. It helped to relax me. It helped make me outgoing. It was also very exhausting at times.

I always felt afraid I’d be “found out.” What if they figure out my secret? What if they realize that I am quite terrified of other people?

In college, I was diagnosed with social phobia, also known as “social anxiety,’’ and given a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil. They had finally found a term for it. Before that, I’d always been told I was shy or introverted.

As a kid, I was the one who never raised her hand for fear of being laughed at. As a teenager, I sought to stay alone. It was very lonely, and painful, too.

In college I discovered drinking. It did help. But the next day I always crashed and worried about what I might have said or done. Embarrassment was my enemy. I spent my life trying to avoid it – often with no luck.

Interestingly enough, the mommy “cliques” are not that different than the ones in high school. Many of us feel the need to “keep up” and live vicariously through our children. Luckily, I’ve escaped this trap.

I know that I am far from alone. I’ve met other moms who are introverted like me. The struggle is real.

Some days, I anticipate immense stress. Those are days that I know will require a great deal of socialization. The massive worrying can start days in advance. It’s not uncommon to lose sleep as well.

In those instances, I remember who I’m doing this for. My kids are my world, and I would never want them to feel that they missed out because mommy felt uncomfortable. That is, perhaps, my strongest motivator.

This year, I expect a full calendar and a nervous stomach. I am praying for a smooth season. I don’t expect the anxiety to ever go away. More than likely, it never will. But I’m not giving up. 

On a recent trip to my son’s school, I became sentimental. It was a beautiful autumn day and the air was crisp. I thought about all the precious moments that had been altered due to my social phobia – from avoiding the local coffee place after pick-up to the bad headaches that always seemed to pop up during parent/teacher conferences.

I am learning to be gentler with myself.

My life is too short and I deserve happiness. I will take each day as it comes. “Just do it” has become an appropriate mantra.

With age, I’ve learned to relax a bit. With the stress of managing a family and household, I have concerns outside of myself. In many ways, that has been the perfect preoccupation.

One thing I’ve noticed is how strong I feel after conquering the fear. I feel relieved. I feel grateful that I survived. I now understand that being an introvert is not a character flaw. I am learning to embrace my introverted side. It has made me who I am. And that is more than okay.

Do Naps Make Kids Smarter?

Over the last several years, studies have continued to link napping with better memory and other learning skills.

When my children were infants and toddlers, nap time was a sacred part of the day – mainly because it gave me a much-needed break. I scheduled meals, playdates, mommy and me classes, and errands around their naps.

I dealt with plenty of pushback from friends and relatives for sticking to this schedule. They didn’t understand why I had to leave early or arrive late to some events. Deep down I knew that it was best for my children – they needed that nap or they’d be cranky, which would ultimately lead to chaos later in the day.

But another secret to my napping obsession was that I had read how naps can actually make kids smarter. What parent doesn’t want to do everything possible to help their kid get ahead in life, right?

The science of napping

The study that caught my attention was released in 2010 by University of Arizona. It found that babies who nap are more likely to show an advanced level of learning known as “abstraction.” This is the ability to identify a pattern in information. Naps actually help the brain retain new information more effectively, allowing infants to learn more about their surroundings.

During this study, researchers played the same phrase from a made-up language to 48 15-month-olds over and over again until they were familiar with it. Testing showed that toddlers who slept within four to eight hours of hearing the phrase displayed more abstract learning. This was not the case for children who did not take a nap within the same time frame.

Why does this happen? Infants have mostly REM sleep, which involves intense dreaming as a result of heightened brain activity. Children need to experience REM sleep within a reasonable amount of time after learning new information in order to process it. If they don’t sleep within four to eight hours, they will not be able to retain as much information.

Over the last several years, additional studies have continued to link napping with better memory and other learning skills. 

In 2012, scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder investigated the effects of naps on cognitive responses in two- and three-year-olds. They found that children who did not nap consistently did not learn and solve problems as well as those who napped.

Next, the University of Massachusetts Amherst released findings in 2013 that showed how a midday nap plays a crucial role in improving memory and learning in preschoolers. This boost was not found after a night of sleep if kids did not have a daytime nap.

The researchers studied more than 40 preschoolers at six different schools. They conducted two different experiments: the first one focused on a memory game and the second one involved observing brain activity of children during nap time.

In the first experiment, children played a memory matching game using various pictures very similar to the Memory board game we play with our kids. Every child learned the game at the same time in the morning. Researchers then split the children into two groups. One group took naps lasting an average of 75 minutes and the other group stayed awake. Then the children were asked to play the memory game again.

They found that daytime naps were associated with significantly greater memory recall. Skipping the nap led to a 10 percent decrease in the children’s accuracy in the memory game. Also, the children who performed best on the memory game had consistent daytime naps. 

Scientists believe that memories are processed during sleep in a way that makes it easier for the brain to access and retrieve information later. In order to make room for new memories, the brain continues to work while we sleep, processing what we learn into long-term storage to free up space for new information.

To confirm the findings from the first experiment, researchers then observed brain activity of a different group of preschool children while they napped. They found an increase in the density of sleep spindles, which are bursts of electrical activity in the brain believed to play a role in long-term memory. Researchers determined that an increase in sleep spindle density of kids who napped was linked to better memory skills. 

Finally, in 2015 researchers from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom reported a link between infant napping and memory skills. After studying over 200 young children, they concluded that daytime naps of 30 minutes or more help infants retain and remember new behaviors.

They tested whether daytime sleep after learning helped babies remember new skills more effectively. The study focused on 216 healthy six- to 12-month-old infants. The children were shown how to remove and manipulate a mitten from a hand puppet and were given the opportunity to demonstrate these actions after four and 24 hours. 

Half of the babies slept within four hours of learning, while the rest either had no sleep or napped for fewer than 30 minutes. Only the infants who napped after the learning activity remembered what they learned, while those who did not nap showed no evidence of remembering the new behavior. In a nutshell, they found that those who sleep after learning are able to grasp the information better. Therefore, the researchers suggest that the best time to learn may be just before kids go to sleep.

How these finding impact nap time

Now that we know from several studies that naps enhance our children’s ability to learn and retain information, what changes can we make in how we parent?

Train your kids to nap from the very beginning. In order to get your children used to napping, set a routine for them from a very young age. 

Make naps a priority. Don’t succumb to peer pressure when friends and family give you a hard time about your children’s naps. Build naps into your family’s schedule and gently explain to people the importance of your children taking that break during the day to recharge their batteries.

Choose daycares and preschools that include nap time. In order for young children to function and learn at the optimal level, they really need a nap even while at school. Many schools are eliminating naps to make room for more curriculum. If your school doesn’t include a time for napping, consider sharing the science with them about the educational benefits of naps.

Read before nap time. The research shows that children grasp material better just before they fall asleep, so try to make a habit of reading to them before nap time as long as they aren’t too cranky.

Why Teen Alcohol Use Spikes in December, and What You Can Do About It

Part of parenting teenagers is teaching them how to make wise decisions when it comes to alcohol. These facts and figures can help lead the discussions.

Many parents realize that when kids become teens, they will at some point be faced with pressure to try alcohol. What many probably don’t realize is that first-time alcohol use among teens follows a pattern and doubles in the months of June and December.

For many, the winter holidays are a time to indulge. Alcohol sales are higher than average, possibly due to the popularity of alcohol as a gift and the tendency to upgrade to a pricier version of many liquors to serve at holiday gatherings.

December is the most popular month to purchase specialty cordials. (One store in Montana reports sales of Baileys triple in December.) These sweeter, sipping beverages are frequently the alcohol of choice for first-time drinkers.

The holiday season also typically brings an increase in social commitments, making parents too busy and distracted to monitor their teens the same way they do at other times of the year.

We know that teens are curious, and many are determined to experiment. Although alcohol is a somewhat controlled substance (limited to those age 21 and over), we live in a society that encourages the use and sometimes the abuse of alcohol. Most social activities include or even revolve around drinking. Many forget that alcohol is a chemical substance. The effects can be very much like those of drugs.

Some parents make the decision to allow their kids to try alcohol, thinking it better to experience its effects in a somewhat controlled environment. This may not be a good idea.

As reported in Science Daily, “In a study of 428 Dutch families, researchers found that the more teenagers were allowed to drink at home, the more they drank outside of home as well.” Not surprisingly, teens who drank often had a higher incidence of problem drinking two years later. “The findings, according to van der Vorst, suggest that teen drinking begets more drinking – and, in some cases, alcohol problems – regardless of where and with whom they drink.”

Though many look to European alcohol regulation (or lack thereof) as a model, a survey of 15- and 16-year-olds in Europe indicate there is more teen drunkenness in Europe than in the US.

Alcohol researcher Caitlin Abar from Pennsylvania State University says, “It really calls into question the strategy that parents are adopting of the European drinking model. The most protective strategy for parents is to make it really clear to their teens that they completely disapprove of underage alcohol use.” Abar states that parents with a zero tolerance policy will not necessarily prevent their kids from drinking, but that these teens tend to drink less.

This is backed up by research

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 80 percent of young people report parents have the greatest influence over whether they drink. SAMHSA’s program, Talk, They Hear You, encourages parents to start talking to their kids as early as age nine about alcohol and the associated dangers.

Noting that when teens drink, they do so excessively, William D. Crano at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA, focused on conditions in adolescence to see whether these conditions could predict teenage alcohol abuse. He found that paying attention to what teens are doing and providing a supportive family environment can go a long way to prevent binge drinking.

Your habits make a difference

Parents’ behavior sends a message to their kids about what is acceptable. While acknowledging that kids will form their own ideas about alcohol, Crano believes that parents should talk about drinking, saying, “You want to be the person to help them.

A study done by Christine Jackson at RTI International in Durham, NC, goes further and suggests that allowing children to taste alcohol at home “simply teaches them that parents don’t mind if they have alcohol.” She adds, “allowing children to have alcohol increases their odds of underage drinking during adolescence.

Instead Jackson advocates a home-based parenting program that promotes an alcohol-free childhood. In a study evaluating such a program, those participating were significantly less likely to drink four years later.

Binge drinking is a real problem

In 1994, Harvard’s Alcohol Study established what is still the definition of a drinking binge: five or more drinks in a row for a man, and four or more for a woman. Binge drinkers of today often have 10 or more drinks in a night. Though the numbers indicate that fewer students are binge drinking, many of these are now doing so to the extreme.

A study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Health Education found that 77 percent of college freshmen “drink to get drunk.” What today’s college student calls being drunk is oftentimes what an expert would define as being in a blackout.

Some scary stats

More than a third of teens have a drink before age 15; almost two thirds have tried it by the time they are 18.

Studies show that those who drink before age 15 are six times more likely to become addicted.

Eleven percent of alcohol consumed in the US is consumed by 12- to 20-year-olds.

Those who engaged in underage binge drinking had higher arrest rates 8 to 14 years later.

According to SAMHSA, those who regularly engage in underage drinking are at a higher risk of using other drugs, engaging in risky behavior (including unprotected sex), doing poorly in school, and having serious health issues such as depression and anxiety.

A UVA study showed that about half of alcohol related deaths among American college students at four-year institutions were caused by drunk driving.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that up to 70 percent of water recreation deaths are also related to alcohol use.

Each year, according to the NIH…

• an estimated 599,000 students are unintentionally injured while under the influence
• an estimated 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking
• an estimated 97,000 students are victims of alcohol related sexual assault or date rape

College students who drink regularly are more likely to miss classes, earn poor grades, or even drop out altogether.

Walking the line between intrusive and aware

If you are the parent of a teenager, you know these conversations can be difficult. Rather than starting with a lecture, ask your teen if he or she has witnessed underage drinking and ask his or her thoughts on the subject. Explain your concerns and make suggestions on how to avoid the pressure to drink.

Pay attention to the messages you give about alcohol. How do you talk about drinking? Do you say you “need a drink” after a hard day at work? Do you drive after having a drink? It is possible, even likely, that your child will ask you why you drink. If you have a complicated relationship with alcohol, this can be a difficult question to answer.

If you are hosting a party, do not serve teens. If both adults and teens will be guests, make sure adult beverages and soft drinks are located in separate areas. If the party is just teens, make your presence known. You can do this without being obvious by regularly walking by with more food. Confiscate any alcohol brought by a teenager.

Know what your kids are doing. Know where they are and who they are spending time with. Help them find productive ways to spend their time. A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse indicates that a bored teen is 50 percent more likely to drink, smoke, or use illegal drugs.

If your teen is going to a party, ask if there will be alcohol. Don’t assume that the laws will be followed. Fact check if you have doubts. Look for evidence when you drop your child off.

Let your teen know that he or she can call you for a ride. Save the lecture for another day.

Talk to your teens about drinking

Be honest about your past. If you drank as a teen, point out why it was a bad idea. This came up recently in our home. I told my children that much was different then. At the time, the legal drinking age was 18 where I lived. Brain science had not yet discovered that our brains are still maturing into our 20s or how much alcohol could affect a growing brain.

You might want to share some stories (about yourself or people you know) and point out some of the bad, even potentially dangerous, decisions that were made while under the influence.

Like other difficult parent-child conversations, it is ideal to start to talk often and early. Don’t just say “Don’t drink.” Offer realistic limits, or ways to “fake,” such as nursing a drink or drinking lookalikes (plain soda out of red Solo cup does the trick). Suggest some possible excuses, like “I’ll get in trouble with my coach,” etc.

It’s also important to set hard and fast rules: no drinking and driving, no binge drinking, and calling for help if things get out of control.

Most importantly, be available. Your kids need to know they can come to you if they or one of their friends has made poor choices and needs help. That said, they may be embarrassed or feel they have disappointed you, and not come to you as a result. Let them know about other trusted people who can help, such as doctors, school counselors, or clergy.

Teens are not small adults, alcohol affects them differently

Brain science has come a long way in the past few decades. We have learned that the human brain develops well into one’s 20s. It has been a long-accepted fact that alcohol can have damaging effects on brain cells, but we are just learning that the damage to teens and young adults can be even greater.

Alcohol limits what teens can do, thwarting chances to learn and subsequently not meeting their potential. Alcohol reduces inhibitions, causing riskier behavior at an age already predisposed to such behavior.

In addition, teens are susceptible to addiction due to the plasticity of younger brains. Since there is also a potential genetic component, teens with a family history of alcoholism or mental health issues have to be more aware.

Parents need to understand all this and, as with other grown-up issues, give independence gradually. Teens don’t simply wake up one morning as adults ready to make responsible decisions. They need education and guidance.

They also need to recognize that not everyone is affected by alcohol in the same way. The popular weight chart, indicating how many drinks one can have before becoming intoxicated, can be useful, but not relied on. If one is drinking on an empty stomach, for example, alcohol has a different effect. People of the same weight don’t always metabolize alcohol at the same rate. Each person is different.

Taking cold or other medicine can cause one to become intoxicated quicker and can also have potentially dangerous effects, especially to the liver.

Watch for signs of a problem

Know the risk factors that increase the likelihood your teen may have or develop a problem: depression, a family history of alcoholism, or issues with peer relationships. Teens with a family history of alcoholism are four times more likely to have a drinking problem of their own.

Unfortunately, many signs that your teen may be abusing alcohol (moodiness, resisting family rules, a change of interests and/or friends, problems in school) can also be caused by other factors. It may even be normal teen behavior. Jumping to conclusions and making accusations can backfire, so you might want to investigate quietly.

Trending in the right direction

Though it’s wise to be vigilant, don’t let the statistics worry you too much. Teenage alcohol use as a whole is on the decline. According to a CDC survey, the number of teens who had tried alcohol dropped from 81.6 percent to 63.2 percent between 1991 and 2015. Those who reported having five or more drinks in one night went from 31.3 to 17.7. Today a third of teens drink, down from 50 percent 25 years ago.

Society is Wrong, Your Body is Perfect

As a mom to three kids, two of whom are girls, I hope that I can start promoting a healthier environment in which they can grow.

I have struggled with body appreciation for the majority of my life. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are comments that people made about my hair, eyebrows, and clothes that made me think that I needed to change my appearance.

I hit puberty earlier than the majority of my friends, and my body started changing when I was very young. It was difficult to accept my new, mature form.

Even when I was thoroughly dedicated to fitness, ate well, and in phenomenal shape, I was under the impression that I was still not thin or pretty enough. Now, after giving birth to two children, having struggled with postpartum depression and overcoming a number of medical issues, my self-esteem is low.

Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly.

According to dosomething.org, an organization that encourages and helps young people make social change in the world, approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. That is a terrifying and sad statistic. Magazines and websites teach us how to cover up all of our “flaws,” and women often resort to extreme dieting and surgeries in an attempt to get the “perfect” Hollywood body.

But it’s not just magazines and movies that teach us our bodies aren’t good enough. For many women, it starts at home. According to the Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the following scenarios may contribute to weight concern for females:

  • Having mothers concerned about their own weight
  • Having mothers who are overly concerned about their daughters’ weight and looks
  • Natural weight gain and other body changes during puberty
  • Peer pressure to look a certain way
  • Struggles with self-esteem
  • Media images showing the ideal female body as thin

Curious about these statistics, I asked some of my female friends and family about their own thoughts and experiences. The variety of responses was fascinating and eye opening.

Heather, a middle school teacher, willingly pointed out her perceived flaws. “I am overweight and have lots of stretch marks. My cheeks are too round, my eyes are too small, and my nose wiggles on the end when I talk.” She mentioned that her father would often tell her that she was too skinny and her mother often commented negatively about certain features.

Although she has noted that her views toward her own body are mostly negative, Heather shared that her fiance, Mark, has started to help her view herself in a more positive manner. “Mark has helped a lot. He thinks I am beautiful and tells me all the time that I am perfect. It is hard for me to understand that – but I love that he thinks I am beautiful. [He] makes me less ashamed.” Heather thinks we can help women view themselves in a more positive light by teaching them to love themselves and their unique features.

Next, I asked one of my extended family members about her views regarding her body. “There were things I thought were positive and other things that caused some insecurities. Having acne and wearing glasses since before grade school made me an easy target to pick on and created insecurities and doubt, [so] if anyone did say I was pretty, I had a hard time believing it was true.”

When I asked how she thought we could positively influence society’s view of women, she suggested we should stop buying magazines that promote these trends. “Maybe the publishers would take a second look at what they are putting out there.”

Hannah, a mother of four and a music teacher, was adamant that her views of her own body are positive. She attributes that attitude to the support of her husband, family, and friends, regardless of her weight. She acknowledged that her mom, while well intended, was not always helpful with her comments on Hannah’s weight and eating habits.

“I think my Mom always meant to have a positive attitude toward my self-image, although it wasn’t always the best. There were times where she would notice my poor eating habits and suggest I eat healthier. We did Weight Watchers together when I was in the eighth grade, and I’m not sure that was a positive experience at a younger age.”

Hannah shared that her own mother struggled with her body image and weight, but that watching her mom’s journey helped her see that the perfect body is not what matters most. “[It] helped me to understand that beauty is not always outward.”

When I asked Hannah to share an experience that negatively affected her body image, she said that she was a victim of bullying in middle school. “Your peers can make or break you as an adolescent. That definitely took a toll on my self-perception.” But she noted that her faith has helped her positivity through it all, and she offered some advice for others.

“I think the biggest thing we can do is to love and respect others as we love ourselves. Those are the fundamentals of my Faith and a standard I truly try to live by.”

One in five women struggle with an eating disorder. The Office of Women’s Health says culture, stressful events, life changes, biology, and family health history are some of the frequent triggers for eating disorders.

When I spoke to one of my cousins, she opened up about her own experiences with an eating disorder. “As a child, I was always told I was so skinny and I just remember loving to hear that. As I got older, I hated my body. I had gained too much weight around middle school. Even when I did lose the weight, I still wanted to lose more and more. If I ate too much, I wanted to throw it all back up. Most of the time I would just over exercise to the point of almost passing out.”

She did share that having a daughter of her own was a turning point for her, as well as having a supportive husband who loves her regardless of her outward appearance.

The last woman I talked to was a longtime friend of my husband. She, unfortunately, did not grow up with positive reinforcement about her body. “I would say my mother definitely negatively affected my views. She’s pretty much always had negative views of her own body, and still does. My mom has outright told me that I’m fat or made comments about my stomach.”

When I asked her how she thinks we can positively influence change towards the unrealistic beauty standards to which society holds women, her response was thought provoking. “I think the way that we can influence change is to encourage people to be healthy. Healthy doesn’t necessarily have to be a body size or look, but rather how we treat our bodies. We never have to mention the way your body looks or anything like that, (but) rather encourage each other to be active and eat as healthy as we can.”

While some of the answers I received from these beautiful women were positive, it was saddening to hear their experiences. I couldn’t believe some of the comments that had been made. Even our own family members can be so cruel.

I am humbled and honored that so many women were willing to share their experiences, good or bad, regarding their self-image. These women are all mothers themselves, and know the importance of teaching our children to love themselves.

As a mom to three kids, two of whom are girls, I hope that I can start promoting a healthier environment in which they can grow. I’ve started to become more aware of my comments about myself. Instead of focusing on weight, I want to show them the importance of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. 

I want to teach my girls that society is wrong. There is no perfect look and no perfect size. We are all born unique individuals, and we should embrace that rather than shaming each other for it.

Sources: dosomething.org, https://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/kids/index.html,

Why Experts Want Your Baby Rooming With You Until Age One

The AAP recently announced a new recommendation that removes some of the mystery around best infant sleep practices for new parents.

One of the most challenging aspects of parenthood is making decisions about how, when, and where your baby should sleep. Many young parents spend hours researching this topic, arguing about nap schedules and who will do the middle of the night feeding. Parents lose a lot of sleep during those first few months – no exaggeration.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently announced a new recommendation that removes some of the mystery around best practices for new parents:

It is recommended that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate surface. The infant’s crib, portable crib, play yard, or bassinet should be placed in the parents’ bedroom, ideally for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months.

This new standard may come as a surprise to many parents. Why was this change made? What is the scientific reasoning behind this new recommendation? How will it impact families?

Reasoning behind the recommendation

The AAP determined that this new guideline was necessary for one critical reason – to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and sleep-related suffocation, asphyxia (trouble breathing or choking), and entrapment among infants.

SIDS is defined as the sudden death of an infant under one year of age when the cause of death remains unexplained after investigation. Unfortunately, experts are still not certain what causes SIDS. Some suggest it is related to respiratory and cardiovascular control and failure of the infant to wake up properly. Research points to brain abnormalities, genetics, and dangerous environmental factors (e.g., loose blankets and smoking households) as triggers.

Approximately 3,500 infants die each year in the United States from sleep-related infant deaths like SIDS. In 1992, the “Back to Sleep” campaign – now called the “Safe to Sleep” campaign – was launched. This effort helped reduce the risk of SIDS by about 50 percent. After this improvement in the 1990s, the overall sleep-related infant death rate has not changed much.

SIDS remains the leading cause of post-neonatal death, which occurs within 28 days to one year of age. Ninety percent of SIDS cases happen before an infant is six months old, peaking between one and four months of age. The AAP has determined that room-sharing can decrease the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent, so they believe that this new guideline is necessary to prevent future SIDS deaths.

Why room-sharing is effective

Based on numerous studies from around the world, the AAP believes that room-sharing is safer than both bed-sharing and solitary sleeping, or when infants sleep in their own room. The safest place for an infant to sleep is on a separate sleep surface designed for infants located close to the parent’s bed. Infants can be brought into the bed for feeding or comforting, but should be returned to their own crib or bassinet when the parent is ready to go back to sleep.

Bed-sharing, also sometimes referred to as co-sleeping, tends to be quite controversial. Epidemiological studies have shown that when a parent and infant share a bed, there is an increased risk of SIDS because the infant is exposed to potential suffocation, asphyxia, entrapment, falls, or strangulation.

Room-sharing is beneficial because the close proximity allows the parents to more effectively monitor their children while they sleep and respond to their needs throughout the night. Scientists explain that babies who sleep near their parents have more opportunity for their senses to be stimulated (by noises in the room, a parent’s touch, etc.), and therefore, spend more time in a lighter sleep to protect them from SIDS.

When babies sleep in separate rooms they tend to sleep longer and deeper. That may not always be healthy, and could be a risk factor and contributor to SIDS.

Sharing the room also increases parent supervision of the baby and allows for a faster response in the event of an emergency. Although this does not guarantee a baby’s safety, the expectation is that parents may become aware of potentially dangerous situations, such as the baby rolling over to the tummy position, an object covering the baby’s face, the baby choking, or the baby moving in a distressed manner.

In addition, infants within reach of their mother or father may receive more comfort and physical stimulation than if they were down the hall in another room, according to Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, co-author of the AAP report. She added that mothers who are near their babies find it easier to breastfeed, which is known to reduce the chance of SIDS as well. Overall, room-sharing makes it easier for parents to feed, comfort, and watch their baby.

Potential challenges for parents

With every new medical breakthrough comes its challenges. The expectation that children should sleep in the same room as their parents until their first birthday may be a difficult adjustment for some parents for the following reasons:

  • Parents may not be able to sleep well for a very long time, which can impact their own health and how they function throughout the day while they care for their child or try to focus on their job.
  • The baby’s sleep may become too sporadic and interrupted because of the parents’ voices or snoring.
  • Infants may become too reliant on parents comforting them every time they fuss or drop their pacifier.
  • Parents may become too tempted to check on the baby constantly, causing increased anxious feelings and behavior.
  • It may be very hard for the parents and child to separate into different rooms after the suggested time frame of one year is over.
  • Parents lose privacy and opportunities for intimacy when the baby sleeps in the same room. 

Other critical sleep recommendations

In addition to the room-sharing advice, the AAP also announced the following guidelines and reminders related to infant sleep conditions:

  • To reduce the risk of SIDS, infants should be placed for sleep in the supine position (wholly on the back) for every sleep period by every caregiver until one year of age. Side sleeping is not safe and is not advised.
  • Infants should be placed on a firm sleep surface (e.g., a mattress in a safety-approved crib) covered by a fitted sheet with no other bedding or soft objects to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation.
  • Keep soft objects, such as pillows, pillow-like toys, quilts, comforters, sheepskins, and loose bedding, such as blankets and non-fitted sheets, away from the infant’s sleep area to reduce the risk of SIDS, suffocation, entrapment, and strangulation.
  • Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime.
  • Avoid overheating and head covering in infants.

What do you think about this new room-sharing recommendation? Let us know in the comments below. 

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5 Questions Moms of Girls Should Know How to Answer

The questions our daughters ask only get more difficult as they grow up. Be prepared for how to answer some of the stickier ones.

Parenting is all about preparation – as long as you realize you’ll never be fully prepared.

Early on, our jobs are crystal clear. We learn our child’s likes and dislikes and anticipate their needs. We get the bottle ready before they wake up. We pack an extra set of clothes in case of a diaper blowout. We always carry snacks.

Then there’s a subtle shift when your child realizes there’s an entire world outside their front door. It’s at this point where every sentence they string together ends with a question mark.

It’s easy at first. “Why is the sky blue?” (Asked Siri.) “Where does money come from?” (Googled it.) “Who cleans up the dog poop in heaven? (Easy. Dogs don’t poop in heaven.)

The questions never end, and they only get more challenging to answer.

Some of the queries are factual, such as where babies come from, or why do men have penises. While uncomfortable in subject matter, these can be answered with a specific and swift statement.

But sometimes the questions are harder to answer and more subjective in nature.

Now I’m spending my time preparing myself for questions. Questions that can be awkward. Questions that are important and will shape my daughters’ lives. Questions where I often don’t have the answers.

It’s not shocking to know that most older kids report feeling they cannot talk to their parents because they won’t listen, will overreact, brush off their claims, or the universal “they just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”

So when your daughter comes to you, it’s important not to lie, evade, or ignore, even when you’re not sure how to bridge our uneasiness about the topic with their expectations for an answer.

Having “the talk” with your daughter is something I think most of us dread. It’s one thing to talk about sex with our girlfriends over a glass of wine, but it’s a whole other issue when you’re trying to decide how to tackle it with your baby girl.

There is a time when all of us need to have “the talk” with our kids. The best advice I’ve received is don’t do it in one fell swoop: spread it out over time so you encourage ongoing communication.

But what about other questions? Questions that relate to body image or friendships or self-confidence? Questions that come out of nowhere when you’re least expecting them and can break a young girl’s spirit if handled inappropriately.

Here are five questions every mom of daughters should be prepared to answer. I don’t have all the explanations, and I think it depends on your personal life choices as to how you want to respond, but be prepared.

1 | Why do you wear makeup? 

I work hard to try to promote a good body image for my daughters, but I totally flubbed this simple question. What I was thinking was: “Mommy needs to cover up all the wrinkles and dark circles, so I don’t scare people.”

Instead, I fumbled through, talking about covering up a few blemishes and making my eyes look bigger.

What I wish I would have said: “I use makeup to enhance the features I already love, and it gives me an opportunity to express myself depending upon the occasion, but I’m way more concerned if people like me for who I am on the inside.”

2 | Am I fat? 

Ugh. A wide variety of studies shows that girls as young as nine are dieting. That is messed up. Yes, the media is largely to blame; but as mothers, we have to do a better job of setting the tone.

Even though you may want to dismiss her concerns, don’t end the conversation with a simple, “No,” or, “Of course not!”

I’m not normally a fan of answering a question with a question, but in this instance, it’s important to delve deeper into why the question was asked, which is more important than the answer itself. You may want to ask your daughter if she feels fat or if there is a reason she’s asking.

We all know we need to focus on healthy eating and exercise, but when it comes to body image, we need to walk the walk and talk the talk. Modeling a strong body image and healthy lifestyle is the most important thing we can do for our young girls.

Try offering to walk with her after dinner or encouraging her to join you at the grocery store. Focus on the benefits, such as feeling good and spending time together, not on losing weight or changing her appearance.

We need to stress that women are much more than their physical appearance, our health is more than just our weight, and our character is more important than the size of our skinny jeans – until the question becomes irrelevant.

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More reading on this topic:
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4 | | Does this look good on me? 

This is a tough one. I think we need to honor the girl code with our daughters when it comes to what they wear, but sometimes it’s just a matter of taste.

Take a barometer reading of your daughter’s attitude towards what she has on and act accordingly. Does she seem happy and confident or fidgety and unsure? Make sure your response isn’t critical of her body type (i.e. “You don’t have the body to wear crop tops”) and instead make a few suggestions on what may better flatter her assets. You may even want to let her try on your fancy scarf or new hat so she can figure out her own personal style.

4 | Why doesn’t anyone like me/why don’t I fit in?

Many parents often brush off comments when kids sound like their world is falling apart, but two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. That means your kid can be physically hurting from the social rejection they perceive.

It is important to determine if your daughter is just having a bad day (and may be a little dramatic) or if something else is going on. You may want to talk to her teachers or other parents you trust. Try to find out why she feels that way and make suggestions on how she can improve her friendships, but most importantly don’t write it off. There could be an underlying issue you may need to address. And remember, kids of any age do not realize that there is a life beyond their school years.

5 | Can I wear that/Can I have that/Can I do that? 

Girls often like to push the boundaries a little earlier than their male counterparts, but quite often they are looking for structure. This is the one time you do not need to offer an explanation. Just say no if you don’t think it’s appropriate. Sometimes as parents we fear our kids will be left behind if they don’t have something or do something like their peers; but the truth is, when just one parent is brave enough to say no, the others often follow.

Be brave.

What scary questions have you had to answer?

Don’t Let Postpartum Anxiety Rob You of the Early Years

Hours spent googling symptoms, paralyzed with worries of failure and danger, postpartum anxiety is more common than postpartum depression. Let’s talk.

I can’t help but wonder how much I missed when my children were younger.

When I try to think about their first years of life, it’s difficult for me to remember first smiles, first words, the first time they said “mom.” Instead, what floods my thoughts is time spent at the computer Googling symptoms and hazards, struggling with breastfeeding, trying to prevent anything bad from happening to them – hours feeling like a failure as a mother.

All because I suffered from postpartum anxiety.

Severe anxiety is three to four times more common than depression during pregnancy and early motherhood, according to research from the University of British Columbia. The study suggests that anxiety disorders in new moms are outpacing depression, yet health care professionals have given postpartum depression much more attention.

Lead researcher Dr. Nicole Fairbrother found nearly 16 percent of pregnant women and 17 percent of new mothers could be diagnosed with anxiety compared to the four percent of pregnant women and nearly five percent of new moms diagnosed with depression.

What’s even more frightening is that very few obstetricians screen for anxiety during pregnancy or ask about it after birth. While any new mom can develop postpartum anxiety, those who are especially vulnerable include women with a personal or family history of anxiety or previous experience with depression, eating disorders, or OCD. 

As Fairbrother explains in an interview with On the Coast, “Pregnant women and postpartum women who are suffering from an anxiety disorders may not be getting the screening or assessment or treatment that they need because we aren’t thinking to ask about these kinds of concerns because we’re so focused on depression. We know that outside of reproduction, anxiety disorders come in as a group. They’re about twice as common as are mood disorders which include depression.”

I am actually a bit embarrassed to say that relief was the first thing I felt after reading this study. For the first time ever, I felt some sense of comfort knowing that the debilitating and intrusive thoughts that took over my life during both pregnancies and for many years after, did not belong to only me. I finally knew that I was not alone. 

Symptoms of postpartum anxiety look very similar to those of other anxiety disorders; constant worry, a feeling that something bad is going to happen to your baby, disturbances in sleep and appetite, racing thoughts, and physical symptoms such as an increased heart rate, headaches, and nausea are common.

In addition to those symptoms, I also felt a constant need to be reassured by family and my children’s pediatrician about everything that had to do with my babies’ health and safety. I spent countless hours questioning my ability as a mother and even more time wondering if every decision I made was putting them at risk.

No matter how hard I tried, I could never quiet the thoughts that raced in my head at all hours of the day and night. I struggled to bond with both of my children because every time I tried to relax, all I could think about was what I wasn’t doing. 

Postpartum anxiety has been referred to as the “hidden disorder” because so few moms recognize the symptoms and seek help for this all-consuming condition. Too many women suffer in silence because they feel their thoughts are crazy and out of control. Many of them hide it for fear of being found out and judged by those who don’t understand, while others have no idea that what they feel is felt by others.

Even now, as I write these words, I still feel shame about my own mental health. I wonder why I can’t be stronger or fight harder. I think about how unfair it is to my family that so many of our days are spent living with my anxiety.

As my son lays his head on my shoulder and watches me type, I know he won’t remember any of that. All he sees when he looks at me is his mom, perfect just the way I am. He loves me and will always understand that his mom worries more than she should. What I take comfort in the most are the days when my anxiety does not take over and I am able to relax and take everything in.

I can just be.

Anxiety has been with me for as long as I can remember – my constant companion. I now understand that everything I do in life and everyone I love will have to share space with these intrusive thoughts.

While this study may be too late to change the outcome for me, my hope is that pregnant women and new moms may finally get the help and support they so desperately need. It’s time we speak up about something that affects so many, so deeply.

Help is available. Ask for it, fight for it, demand it. And please remember, above all else, that you are not alone. You don’t have to suffer in silence. 

Posted on Categories _Health and Safety