Just So You Know: Pregnancy Brain Is a Real, (And Permanent) Thing

If you’ve been pregnant, you’ve probably experienced, “pregnancy brain.” This results in mindless moments and memory lapses you might not have had a problem with before.

If you’ve been pregnant, you’ve probably experienced, “pregnancy brain.” This results in mindless moments and memory lapses you might not have had a problem with before.
For example: Putting milk away in the pantry, walking into a room multiple times just to forget what you went in there for, looking for your cell phone while you’re talking on it, mysteriously losing items (frequently), leaving the sink running, letting the dog out and forgetting to let him back in, etc. (I’m guilty of all of these!)
Basically,  your brain is fried and you do dumb things. Another cute term for it is “momnesia.” My family calls it “P-brain.”
*Side note: During my second pregnancy, my then three-year-old proudly proclaimed to a store clerk, “My Mommy is a P-brain.” Thanks, kid. I couldn’t argue with him, though.
The good news is there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just biology. Research shows that the brain actually shrinks during pregnancy.
Not that we need research to prove our situation, but it’s nice to know we’re not just going crazy, right?
A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience revealed that pregnancy causes changes in brain structure and size that remain after delivery.
In the study, women underwent MRI brain imaging before becoming pregnant and again after completion of their first pregnancy. The postpartum images showed clear changes in the brain, specifically a reduction in gray matter volume. The hippocampus, which is associated with memory, also shrunk.
So, you kind of literally lose your mind. Well then, that explains a lot!
Interestingly, the women’s partners were also scanned and did not show changes.
The gray matter changes remained at the end of the two-year study. I highly doubt things go back to normal after that. You just change the name of it to “mommy brain” and on with life you go, forever accepting your persistent subpar mental state.
But, there is a silver lining.
Pregnancy affects areas of the brain associated with feelings, empathy, and processing perspectives of others. Scientists believe that this enhances maternal response and may serve to streamline mothering responsibilities and bonding.
So if you feel like your brain has turned into scrambled eggs, you’re not alone!
At least we know who to blame. Thanks a lot, kiddos! But I forgive you.
Do you have pregnancy and/or mommy brain? Share your moments below!

I Thought I Was a Guaranteed Natural But Parenting Is Hard

Parenthood is something that we grow into, and if we ever feel as if we’re making it up as we go along…? Well, we are.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a dad.

To create a unique human being who is part of you, who will look to you to guide them through life, who will always own the largest part of your heart – nothing else in life has ever seemed to be as important, as blessed, as purposeful as that.

I was not somebody with a clear plan of where I wanted to get to in life and I would never have described myself as stereotypically ambitious. I’ve looked to grow and make progress through following my passions, applying myself, seeking opportunities, and pursuing them as they arise. I am ever grateful for where this attitude has led me.

But I’ve always been clear about wanting to have children; all other goals have been shaped around this certainty. And I was certain that I’d be a good dad.

It’s impossible to adequately describe the experience of witnessing your child being born, although I do like Conor Oberst’s observation in “You Are Your Mother’s Child,” that:

“I remember the day you appeared on this earth
With eyes like the ocean, got blood on my shirt
From my camera angle it looked like it hurt
But your mama had a big old smile”

As I waited in the delivery room my daughter was showing very early signs of taking after her daddy – she was two weeks late and labor, too, was proving to be a waiting game. That’s my girl.

As I waited – and waited, and waited – I thought ahead to the moment I would first rest my eyes on my little girl and it was all I could do to hold back tears. But when the moment came, my emotions… well, they disappeared.

It was so overwhelming. The beginning of the life that I had so wished for, the moment that was to be the greatest, the proudest achievement of my life, left me momentarily numb. Instead of profound, all-consuming love, the initial sense that I had upon seeing this little person, this life that I had helped to create, was that she was a little stranger.

I guess I anticipated some kind of instant recognition, an instant bond with this beautiful being whom I had imagined meeting so many times. Instead I realized that here was a new and unique life. Here was somebody so very precious, and it would take the coming days and weeks, months and years to get to know her.

It wasn’t what I expected but it remains a very special memory, an early realization that parenthood is like nothing else, that it changes everything.

In those early days I was in for another surprising and destabilizing realization.

For years I held the notion that I would be a good dad. It would be the thing that would allow me to be the best that I could be, to give the most that I am able to give, and I would leave a lasting mark on this earth through the lives of my wonderful children.

Yep, I’d be a natural.

*** SPOILER AL… on second thought, I don’t think a spoiler alert is necessary here.

One of my most cherished memories is of holding my daughter, my first child, on her first night at home. This was everything I had ever wanted, everything I had imagined it would be. It was perfect. Well, almost.

As she slept peacefully in my arms, I grew increasingly tired and I put her into her moses basket so that I could get some sleep. She cried. I picked her up and held her. She stopped crying. I put her back down. She cried.

Okay, Daddy isn’t getting any sleep tonight, then. I stayed awake and held her all night as she slept peacefully. What can I say, I’m a natural.

After two weeks of little but feeding, sleeping, and being the most beautiful little thing that I had ever set eyes upon, the crying started.

And for months and months, the crying didn’t stop.

I say crying, but really that doesn’t do it justice. It is truly incredible how so much noise can come from someone so small. A cry so piercing it reaches into the ears, spearing its way through the ear drums en route to the head where it rattles around the skull like an errant pinball.

And suddenly this natural daddy wasn’t quite such a natural. Having a baby was hard work. The fanciful idea that I could even have been be a stay-at-home dad…?  Think again pal.

Parenthood is something that we grow into, and if we ever feel as if we’re making it up as we go along, well, we are. Those difficult early months are soon but a hazy memory, and as time flies and years go by, you’re left wondering just where your baby went. At the same time, they’re always your baby.

We see our parents in a different light when we become parents ourselves; suddenly the arguments, the disagreements, the frustrations that they just don’t understand you – they’re tempered somewhat by the realization that they once felt everything that you’re now feeling, about you. And being treated like a 10-year-old by my dad doesn’t feel quite so bad. Most of the time.

As my children grow I try to treasure every moment of getting to know them, to appreciate their uniqueness and to be thankful for the smiles and laughter that they bring to my life every day. And, in one of the few benefits of being a single parent, I’m more conscious of this than ever before.

There’s no such thing as a perfect anything, let alone a perfect parent. But through everything I do my best to make sure that they know that I will always love them and that I will always be there for them.

And if that’s not perfect? Well, maybe it’s as close as I could wish to get.

Why Do Parents Forget Their Babies in the Car?

The most terrifying scenarios of losing a child are the ones that we could so easily slip the image of ourselves into.

So far this year, 19 babies and toddlers have died of heatstroke after being left in cars.

And that number will rise before this piece goes to print because the number of fatalities due to Forgotten Baby Syndrome (FBS) skyrockets in summer, when it sizzles.

The facts and figures are stark:

Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2016: 19

Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2015: 24

Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 1998-present: 680

Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 37

Even on a mild day in spring, the inside of a car can become unbearably hot for an infant or child. The temperature in a closed, parked car rises 20° in the first ten minutes, continuing to climb over time. Scientists find that cracking a window makes very little difference (<3 degrees).

While most parents insist Forgotten Baby Syndrome couldn’t happen to them, FBS expert Dr. David Diamond, explains that,

[su_quote class=” is-fullwidthImage”]The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant. The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted—such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back—it can entirely disappear.[/su_quote]

“Memory is a machine,” said Diamond, “and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cell phone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”

What is executive functioning?

Dr. Diamond is talking about executive brain function. These functions allow us to plan trips, write papers, and do online research. Besides helping us plan and carry out daily activities, executive brain functions power working memory, our ability to reason, our flexibility in carrying out tasks, and problem-solving.

Getting to work on time, for instance, means getting to bed on time the night before; setting the alarm clock but leaving enough time to shower, eat, pack a lunch, and get dressed; remembering why the alarm is ringing when you awaken; choosing the best route to take considering time of day and the weather; and finding your car keys.

Executive functions are fairly automatic, but not as dependable as we’d wish. The brain has a built-in override that takes over executive brain function when we’re stressed out. That function is involuntary. In other words: beyond human control.

Getting to work on time.

Let’s say it’s your day to drop the baby off at daycare. As you drive to work, your working memory pings you to make the turn-off for day care. You’re well-rested, calm, and things are going great, so everything goes smoothly.

But then let’s say you’ve got an overdue work project, your boss has been complaining, hinting you’re not indispensable. Add to this bad weather conditions that make for poor visibility while driving. Now factor in sleep deprivation because the next-door neighbors had a loud party that went on until late, and then the baby was restless and teething the rest of the night. Finally, you had a spat with your partner at breakfast.

When so much is happening – sleep deprivation, strong emotions, and changes in routine – something happens inside your brain, something you can’t control. The memory circuits of your brain are overwritten, like highlighting text in a book. 

Parents are human.

The conscious mind has no power to resist this short circuit to the working memory, this overwrite of executive brain function. It’s an involuntary brain response, completely unavoidable. It’s how the human brain was created. Even parents’ brains.

Because parents are human.

Normal parents.

Take Mary and Jeff Parks, for instance. They were good parents with good jobs, a nice house, and two beautiful babies. But the kids were sick on and off over a period of weeks, and between wakeful nights, running to doctor appointments, and juggling work responsibilities, things got stressful.

Mary was driving to work when it happened. She meant to drop Juan off at daycare but Juan fell asleep, exhausted. He was quiet, and she was stressed, and her brain blanked out her working memory of his presence.

It was only when Mary went to pick Juan up at the end of the workday, and the caregiver looked surprised, that Mary realized and ran to her car, knowing it was too late. Juan was dead.

It’s what happened to Steven Lillie, who left his sleeping 9-month-old daughter behind in the pickup truck. Lillie, a police officer, held a high pressure job. He meant to drop his daughter off at daycare before work. But Lillie’s working memory failed him and as the baby had fallen asleep, there was no noise to remind him of her presence.

He remembered only hours later when a family member called and casually asked about the baby. Lillie rushed out to the car and found his daughter lifeless, in the backseat of the truck. It was the day after Father’s Day.

There are steps parents can take to prevent Forgotten Baby Syndrome. You can leave your purse or cell phone in the backseat of your car. This will prompt you to make eye contact with your baby or toddler in the backseat, even if the child is quietly asleep. Or you can download a free app to alert you to check the backseat of your car, such as the Kars4Kids Safety app. Kars4Kids Safety pairs with the bluetooth function of your car, alerting you to check the backseat of your car.

What kind of parent leaves her baby in the car? A good parent, a loving parent, a responsible parent, a human parent. Like you, like me, like any of us.

10 Simple Reasons You Really Need to Try Cloth Diapers

If you’re intimidated or overwhelmed by the thought of cloth diapering, don’t be! It’s easier than you think.

When I had my first 3 kids, I never even thought about cloth diapering. It wasn’t something I really knew existed and, even if I had, I’d probably have put it in the category of ” too crunchy” for me (I only consider myself half crunchy).

But when my daughter began wetting the bed at 4 years old, and I got tired of washing sheets and buying pull-ups, I looked into cloth. Since it was just pee, I invested in a few covers and some pre-folds and we began our cloth diapering journey.

It was so easy, and saved so much money, that when baby number 4 was on the way, I decided to go for it full-force. My baby is now nearly a year old and, while I only committed to cloth diapering while his poo was of the glorious exclusive breastfed kind, we are still going strong even after starting solids.

And I have no intention of going back because cloth diapering is seriously awesome.

Here’s why:

It actually saves money.

It’s easy to look at cloth diapers and get overwhelmed with the upfront expenses. Twenty dollars for a single diaper that my child is just going to poop all over. Really? But there are less expensive options like using pre-folds, or cotton towels with basic covers, that can be reused multiple times between washes.

But remember, even the more expensive ones will get used dozens of times between birth and potty training. And they can be used for multiple children or resold when you’re done with them.

I don’t have to watch sales, clip coupons or hoard boxes of diapers.

When my first son was in diapers, I had boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling in his room and it looked more like a warehouse store aisle than the cute little baby nursery I’d imagined.

I’d started buying diapers on clearance when he was still a tiny little peanut in my tummy. I’d collect coupons, obsessively watch the ads to find the best deals, and buy in bulk. Our diaper expenses stayed as low as possible, but it was a lot of work and required a lot of storage.

With cloth, you don’t have to constantly obsess over sales, and the space you set aside for your stash is all you’ll ever need. (Unless you can’t stop buying them, it can become a real addiction!)

You don’t have to make emergency runs to the store.

I’ve yet to make a last minute or late night run to Target for diapers (which saves me even more money) or paid full price for a pack because there hasn’t been a good sale lately. With cloth, as long as you stay on top of the laundry or keep some emergency disposables around, you’ll never run out.

Cloth diapers are better for sensitive skin.

Diaper rashes can and do occur in cloth, but they seem to occur less often and, in my experience, are usually less severe. Cloth diapers are not only more breathable, but there are fewer chemicals that will irritate sensitive skin. You can also choose to stick to natural fibers like cotton, bamboo, hemp and wool.

They’re as easy, or as complicated, as you want them to be.

There’s a cloth diapering option and style for every parent. From the all-in-one styles that go on and off just like a disposable diaper, to the popular pocket style that have to be stuffed and unstuffed, to the classic pre-fold and cover option, cloth diapers are what you make them.

With the use of liners, you don’t have to spend any time with your hands or diapers in the toilet. Poopy cloth diapers from babies who are exclusively breastfed can go straight in the wash, no rinsing required.

There’s less waste involved.

We all know diapers create a massive amount of trash but with cloth, that amount of trash can be cut down to zero. With the exclusive use of cloth diapers and cloth wipes, there is nothing to throw away. And even if you choose to use disposable liners and/or wipes like I do (simply to cut down on my time rinsing diapers in the toilet), the amount of waste for an entire day is less than the size of one full disposable diaper.

You’re already going to be doing laundry all the time.

No matter what your parenting style or choices, babies are tiny little mess-making machines and no matter how many bibs you own or how you diaper, you’ll be doing a crap ton of laundry (pun intended).

I’ve found that cloth diapering has actually helped me stay on top of the rest of my laundry because I can throw the baby and kids’ clothes in with the main wash of the diapers (after the pre-wash).

They’re not as gross as you think.

After potty training 3 kids, I know all about washing poopy things and I wasn’t sure I was up for cloth diapering with real poop, but it’s been surprisingly easy.

The baby clean-up is no worse than using disposables and the diaper cleanup is as complicated as you make it. I personally use cotton-like paper towels as liners between baby and diaper and simply peel it off and toss it. I rarely have to spray, dunk, swish, scrape or any of those other yucky cloth diapering terms that scared me in the beginning.

Cloth diapers help prevent those dreaded blowouts.

I’ll admit that there’s a learning curve to cloth diapering, and my little guy peed through pretty much every diaper the first few days. But now that I’ve got the hang of it, and stay on top of how often he needs to be changed, we hardly ever have leaks. We’ve only ever had one poop-explosion that escaped the cloth diaper. 

It’s actually fun.

Ok so, diapering isn’t ever really fun, but cloth diapering is a lot more exciting than disposables. With so many styles and cute prints to choose from, there’s something for every parent and baby. You can match to baby’s outfits and choose your favorite prints (we have a pretty cool airplane collection going) to create a stash that is uniquely your own.

Give it a try. You might just fall in love with cloth diapering!

How Involved Dads Boost Their Baby’s Brain Development

We all know that a baby needs a loving mother to maximize the chances of growing up to be a happy and successful adult. But how important is a dad?

We all know that a baby needs a loving mother to maximize its chances to grow up as a happy and successful child. But how important is a dad?

When my son was born I quickly had the impression that he didn’t need me at all. He was constantly seeking contact with my wife, and barely noticing me. I was already telling myself that I would get more involved once he could speak and walk, and that in the meantime I could focus on doing well in my career. At least I was contributing as the main provider for the family.

However, it wasn’t long before my wife was ready to chop off my head for not lifting a finger to help her with our son. I quickly realized that my days as a passive dad were numbered, and that I had a choice between accepting some father duties, or becoming a headless horseman. You can guess which option I picked.

But I do have to admit that despite good intentions, becoming more involved was a bit scary, initially. After all, our son looked so small and vulnerable. I had no idea what to do with Rafael and thought I would never be able manage him the way his mother does.

So I started helping with some basic chores – after receiving exact instructions from my wife – like feeding him and changing his diapers. To my surprise, Rafael and I quickly developed our own special bond, and were soon spending more and more quality time together. Ever since, our moments together have become a daily highlight.

This is when I started realizing what an important role I could have in his upbringing.  In fact, more and more studies are confirming the benefits of involved dads. For example, one study found that babies with absent fathers suffer from poorer peer relationships and school results later on in life. Another study suggests that babies with involved dads enjoy better language skills.

Involved dads = successful children

So why are dads so important for the development of our little ones?

Well, first of all, a baby needs full time attention. A mother can probably handle all the baby’s basic needs, often at the expense of feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. By having two parents involved, we can instantly improve both the quality and quantity of care and guidance a child receives.

Secondly, the first two to three years of a baby’s life are so crucial for brain development (and hence for a positive childhood) that any productive stimulation is extremely valuable. A baby’s intelligence and character are not genetically hardwired. Experiences and influences from significant people shape the architecture of a child’s brain. This leads to the simple equation: the more positive stimulation a child enjoys, the more opportunities she or he will have to develop.

Let me share two facts that really got me thinking about how crucial it is for a baby to have both parents involved:

1 | A baby’s brain develops at a tremendous speed.

A child is born with almost the same number of neurons as adults, but stored in a brain that is about 75% smaller, and with almost no neural connections. During its first six months, this brain will double in size, and by the age of three it will have reached around 80% of the size of an adult brain.

During this time, the simple structure of a baby’s brain quickly transforms itself into a true network of neural connections, forming more synapses than it ever will again during adult years – up to 700 connections a second. In other words, this is the time a baby uses every experience to learn and evolve its cognitive functions.

For example, the first year is crucial for learning languages as a baby will be extremely sensitive to various sounds. At the same time, this window of accelerated learning is not available for too long, as this surplus of neural connections will eventually be eliminated in what is often referred to as ‘’blooming and pruning.”

Around one year, the connections for a child’s native language will have been reinforced at the expense of other sounds.  This is why I speak German to our son, my wife speaks Russian, and together we speak English. While this may sound a bit bizarre, it also means we are stimulating his brain, and hopefully facilitating his ability to be fluent in several languages.

 

dad holding baby

 

 

2 | Dads have a unique way of interacting with their children.

Studies have shown that although mothers usually spend more time with their little ones, fathers have a greater influence with regards to a baby’s later success or failure at school or with friends. This is probably because the relationship between fathers and children evokes such powerful emotions.

For instance, fathers often engage in more physical, exciting types of games than mothers, allowing a baby to experience a whole range of feelings. By doing so, dads not only encourage an infant to take the occasional risk, but also help him or her to regulate emotions, one of the key characteristics of happy and successful people. This is especially so if a dad uses a positive and encouraging tone while communicating with his child.

A baby also watches for cues from its father to distinguish behaviors related to play time from those that signal that it’s time to wind down and relax. Over time, your child learns the invaluable skill of self-soothing, something that even many adults don’t master properly. By learning to manage their own inner world, it becomes much easier for children to relate to other people, which is why they become so much more social.

The bottom line is that involved dads make a huge difference for the development of babies, and help them prosper with social relationships and academics later on in life. 

At this stage you may be concerned that by investing more time into your family, you will be losing valuable time working on your career. I can tell you that initially I was wondering how I would manage scheduling quality time with my son, while remaining efficient at work.

I quickly realized, though, that planning some family time gave me an opportunity to structure my day with more discipline, become more productive, and use the joyful moments together to boost my energy and motivation at work. In fact, my son was becoming the best possible high performance coach, but an angel-like and pooping one, which made his support even more awesome.

Remember that the earlier you become involved with your baby, the better. Sharing core duties like diapering, feeding, bathing, or otherwise caring for your baby from an early age creates a bond from the start, and will increase the likelihood of spending regular quality time together later on.

The best news is that you don’t need to be amazing in your fathering skills: According to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, even ‘’good enough dads’’ appear to make a real difference in their children’s lives.

 

6 Health Benefits of Nature for Very Young Babies

Six science-backed reasons why a little time in nature goes a long way for babies’ development.

When the clock strikes 4 most afternoons, it’s as if an alarm reminds my six-month-old to get fussy. Thankfully, one activity calms him without fail: Putting him in a carrier and taking a walk around the neighborhood.

As we step outside, he goes from agitated to enchanted with the vivid colors, perfume of blooming flowers, and cool breeze. It’s clear to me there is something about that fresh air that is so soothing — even to an infant.

I suppose I have some other motives, too. By introducing him to nature at such an early age, I hope to establish a lifelong love of exploration and activity. Plus, I still get to enjoy my favorite trails with the added benefit of witnessing his wonderment with the world.

It’s also pretty incredible to think about the health benefits he is experiencing from our daily dose of outside time. Beyond the advantages of continued outdoor play through childhood, here are six more science-backed reasons why a little time in nature goes a long way for babies’ development.

1 | Jumpstarts language skills

From the wind to the sunshine to smells good and bad, babies simply have more sensory information to take in and process outside than when they are in a controlled, indoor environment. That, in turn, promotes early language development, according to a 2014 study published in the European Journal of Social Sciences Education and Research.

2 | Improves physical development

Studies have shown that children acquire most of their basic motor skills before the age of five — with much of the progress occurring within the first couple months of life. The same 2014 study found time outdoors helps facilitate the development of many of those skills even for babies, who benefit from observing others running around and playing.

3 | Lays a foundation for learning

According to The Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale, outdoor play prepares young ones to be future brainiacs — or at least more adept at learning science and reading skills. Technically speaking, that’s because varied environments promote the formation of brain synapses. Or, as researchers put it in a study of infant interaction with nature, “We believe that children are born natural scientists who are curious and ready to learn. Even in infancy, children compare and contrast objects as they explore their world.”

4 | Helps create healthy sleep patterns

Regular bouts of time in the natural sunlight aid the establishment of good sleep patterns for little ones. According to a 2004 study in the Journal of Sleep Research, babies younger than 13 weeks who slept well at night spent twice as much time in the sunlight than their wakeful peers. The lead researcher hypothesized that’s because the outdoorsy infants established their circadian rhythms sooner. But all that mom and dad need to know is that they will get more shut-eye, too!

5 | Wards off illnesses

Research dating back to the early 20th century shows young children who spend more time outdoors are actually less likely to come down with illnesses — possibly because early exposure to the non-sterile outdoors boosts babies’ immune systems. Thom McDade, PhD, associate professor and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University, told WebMD, “Microbial exposures early in life may be important…to keep inflammation in check in adulthood.”

6 | It’s good for mom and dad, too

For those dealing with postpartum blues, one of the official recommendations from the March of Dimes is to get outside. Another study published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine recommended taking exercise outdoors, which has been found to “improve self-esteem and negative mood subscales, such as tension, anger and depression.”

Using it as bonding time with baby just makes it a win-win situation.

If health and safety concerns still give pause, rest assured that pediatricians agree most newborns can benefit from time outside. The key is to take a few precautions for young outdoor adventurers, including staying out of direct sunlight, dressing in appropriate layers, and avoiding places where people are known to be ill.

What Not to Say to Parents of a Premature Baby

A quick search will give you list after list of what not to say to parents of premature babies, but there is one specific at least that I want to discuss.

When you give birth prematurely everyone looks for silver linings. I get it — it’s frightening and difficult to know what to say to the parents whose expectations have been shattered.

These well-meaning bright sides didn’t offend me, and these days I can laugh about them, but back then they made me feel more alone. They made me realize how out of the ordinary the experience was as everyone struggled to find the right words.

A quick search will give you list after list of what not to say to parents of premature babies, but there is one specific at least that I want to discuss.

“At least you’re getting some sleep.”

The assumption is that since you are not having to get up in the middle of the night with a baby that you are well rested. After all, this is every new parent’s dream, right? Maybe it’s true for a minority of NICU moms, but for me it could not have been farther from reality.

The 40 days that my son, Rowan, was in the hospital were some of the most sleep deprived of my life.

I had to pump every three hours around the clock. I was sleeping in my daughter’s bottom bunk, because it was the only bed I could get out of without excruciating pain from my c-section. I wandered blearily down the hall to the waiting breast pump, and I sat on the couch and thought. I thought about how unnatural this all felt. I wondered what my three pound son was doing at that moment. Was he sleeping? Was he having a good night? Did he miss me? I would picture him in his isolette, all wrapped up and alone.

Then, alone, I would stumble my way back to bed only to toss and turn. My brain, which is not known for being a calm and restful place, was in overdrive. Thoughts raced as I tried to settle down, eventually falling into a fitful sleep. I dreamed of babies dying. In one dream my five-year-old daughter was drowning in a pond as I stood at the edge and watched, powerless. Always powerless. I screamed a lot in those dreams. Wailing, out of control and primal as I let loose a terrified anger that I could not – would not – let myself succumb to in my waking life.

I would wake shaken, momentarily unclear what was real and what was not. The dreams would haunt the day, putting me at the edge of a cliff waiting for the rocks to crumble. I would find myself grieving for children who only existed in my nightmares.

I am thankful that the hospital was a mere mile away, because I had no business on the road. I pulled into the wrong lane. I cut off cars as I pulled into traffic. I was delirious and strung out on caffeine and adrenaline to get me through the day. I felt like my body was vibrating, and my skin actually hurt.

There was no “sleep when the baby sleeps” because I needed to be awake to clutch his tiny chest to mine. When I was not at the hospital I was dealing with the trappings of everyday life, which I found to be sadly lacking a pause button.

It is true that when Rowan came home my sleep debt grew ever larger, but those days in the NICU were the opposite of restful. I was a coil of tightly wound emotion and raw nerve endings, unable to find peace even in my dreams.

There was no at least about it.

How I Found Strength to Make It Through a Weaning Nightmare

What followed from our first weaning attempt is a nightmare – a toddler who wants to suck incessantly – using me for comfort not sustenance.

At three o’clock in the morning, my two-year-old daughter screams bloody murder. Be strong. Be brave. I silently chant to myself in the bed.

Pease don’t cry. I want to tell her. You can soothe yourself.

After thirty minutes of non-stop crying, she finally breaks me, and I go in and give her what she wants. The breast. I stroke her tired sobbing face.

Could she be independent enough to handle weaning? Can I handle not being needed as her only nurturer?

I weaned my first at eighteen months without a hitch, but nine years had passed since having a baby, and I had to relearn the weaning process. At two years and four months, my girl and second child, a mighty vociferous bundle of energy and a force to be reckoned with, would not accept “no” without putting up a fight. Since I didn’t have this kind of problem with the first, I now needed strength to go through the weaning process.

When she was a newborn, each nursing session perfected our love bubble thanks to being high on the hormone oxytocin. Garbage trucks would roar, and neighbors slammed doors and shouted in a foreign tongue, but I cocooned our precious bundle. That love bubble carried me through Mom’s death and the stress of moving into our new home.

Each time she’d grope for my shirt, I’d pull her silky head closer. Her mouth knew what to do. On a bus en route to New York City, I’d cradle her with our non-verbal language. Happy sucks and murmurs would soon follow a litany of murmurs: “I’ll protect you. I’ll comfort you. I’m here. Mommy loves you.”

At three o’clock that morning, I finally realize though how much my body craves a break from nursing on-demand for the past two and a half years.  I need to reclaim my “me” time.

What follows from that first weaning attempt is a nightmare – a toddler who wants to suck incessantly – using me for comfort not sustenance.

Two hours later, she cries again for the breast, and this time, I bar her from pulling up my shirt. She throws both hands up in hysterics. I silently moan. This is going to be one heck of a journey. My first born never pouted, cried or screamed. I show her funny pictures. I offer milk and a banana. But they don’t help. Neither does massive amounts of hugs and kisses.

What follows from that first weaning attempt is a nightmare – a toddler who wants to suck incessantly – using me for comfort, not sustenance.

At five o’clock in the morning, I seek weaning help from Doctor Google and instead of looking for information on how to stop weaning, I find myself racing through the section, “is this the right time to wean?”

I quickly learn that the World Health Organization recommends nursing to a minimum of two years old. On the site healthychildren.org, my eyes fall on the words: “The simplest, most natural time to wean is when your child initiates the process.”

Well, clearly, that was far from happening. She was far too enamored with the breast, and hesitant me didn’t want to rock the boat. Insecure me is looking for confirmation as to whether breastfeeding on demand is practical and sustainable. But on the Internet, I can  find data to support or refute anything. This search flip was initially a subconscious choice to get a green light to continue nursing.

I decide to stick with it and again, a few days later at three in the morning, she screams, “tzi-tzi, tzi-tzi!” (“Tzi-tzi” is the Hebrew word for breast.) My husband carries her down the stairs, arms failing, cries menacing. I remember what I read the other night online. “The simplest, most natural time to wean is when your child initiates the process.”

What do all the mothers do with this crying – wait it out? With my oldest, I stopped breastfeeding him one day, and he simply accepted it. I never had to struggle with screams or cries.

One mother said she breastfed until her daughter turned three and another vouched for breastfeeding until three and a half. But between the Internet and listening to other mom’s stories, I struggle to stay abreast of the situation?

At that stormy moment, I turn to my intuition. What was more important — preserving our breastfeeding bond or getting my body back? Between sobs and sleep, I take time to finally get quiet. “You need your body back. Get your body back,” the voice says.

With this need now clarified, I move forward with the weaning process, but I don’t research proven, kind ways to wean online. Instead, I continue with my Doctor Google route in the event I need to validate my decision to stop breastfeeding. I can always go back to breastfeeding.

Before settling in for the night, I find myself resisting change. I didn’t want to lose my breastfeeding baby to the forces of the outside world. So I cling to the thought she is my baby, and she won’t change.

I go through three weeks of theatrics, hysterics and tantrums – in short, a living hell. I curse and mutter, shout at myself, my husband, my son.

There is no short cut to the madness – just hugs, cries, tears, and frustration that leave me eating a chocolate bar and drinking wine at the end of each day. Off I go each morning, owl-eyed to work. I long for longer chunks of “me” time away from her cries.

And then, one night as if by magic, the madness stops. I wake up the following morning, [su_pullquote align=”right”]And then, one night as if by magic, the madness stops. [/su_pullquote]refreshed from a straight eight-hour slumber, the first full night of sleep I’ve enjoyed in years. I realize that my child doesn’t need the breast as much as I thought. In fact, she thrived without it! And from this hell, I reclaim something small but significant back for myself – my body.

These days, she roams the backyard, playing with toy cars and her baby doll. My latte warms my hand. Is this what it’s like to emerge on the other side of the weaning tunnel, emotionally stronger? Is this the same child who cried hysterically on my arm, screaming for my breast?  In retrospect, it isn’t selfish or damaging to wean my child from the breast even if she didn’t initiate the need to wean.

My decision has been empowering for both of us.

6 Ways My New York City Life Has Changed Since Having A Baby

Before I had a baby, I wasn’t exactly one of those New Yorkers who searched Time Out for the latest openings. But even for this New Yorker, having a 10-month-old baby changes things.

I’m not going to pretend that before I had a baby, I was one of those New Yorkers who searched Time Out New York for the latest openings; I have long preferred eating oatmeal in my pajamas over waiting to get into the latest brunch spot.

It has been years since I said goodbye to my twenties, which also meant bidding farewell to most events that involve cover charges, line-ups, parades, costumes, and port-a-potties.

But even for this New Yorker, having a 10-month-old baby changes things. Here are six ways my life in the Big Apple is different post-baby:

1 | Instead of reading The New Yorker on Saturdays, I try to prevent my daughter from eating it.

Most of the time I’m too late, and she has already chewed through The Talk of the Town. Cozying up with a cup of coffee and a long read is simply not possible for someone who enjoys paper products as much as pears. New Yorkers, travel guides, Pottery Barn catalogs, Victoria’s Secret coupons, Freakonomics – nothing is safe from this teething crawler.

2 | I now enjoy riding the subway.

The urine-infested underground tubes have become my friend; getting on typically signals I’m going somewhere without an infant attached to me. Any alone time is precious time, even if it involves regular rat sightings.

3 | I no longer search online for bargains on “desk to dinner” dresses.

Let’s face it, the only place I go to after work is my apartment, and the only dinner that’s happening involves my boob and a baby. “Reservation for one!” my husband often calls out as he hands over our daughter for her evening nursing session. No dress code needed at this restaurant. As for online shopping, there is still plenty of it – but instead of “cubicle to cocktail” dresses popping up in the “We thought you’d enjoy this item” section, now it’s breast milk storage bags, washable bibs and splat mats. Based on the number of purchase confirmation e-mails I have between 4:30-5:30 am, my peak shopping hours have also changed.

4 | The days of browsing through The New York Times Food section for 5-star recipes have been replaced with planning baby-friendly foods.

At first, these were purees, such as “Mango Tango,” “Blushing Bananas” and the “Green Bean Bliss.” Who knew that peas and mango went together? And that you can add pear to everything to please a baby – at least the one living in my apartment. Turns out, you can liquefy just about anything. I come from a family of seafood lovers, so perhaps I’ll puree an octopus next.

5 | I hate New York’s transportation hubs even more.

After living in the city for 15 years, I didn’t think it was possible to despise the lack of functioning escalators, elevators, ticketing machines and other basic elements of civilized travel even more. And then I had to run through hell that is Penn Station with an infant strapped to my chest while carrying a diaper bag on one shoulder and a duffel bag on the other. And with every stair I climbed on the non-working escalator, I became an even crankier, not to mention sweatier, New Yorker.

6 | Instead of noticing trendy boutiques, weirdoes and other staples of New York street life, I now only detect other babies and their parents.

When I see a couple maneuvering a stroller on a packed subway, or a mom nursing on a park bench, I try to give them a friendly, yet non-creepy smile. I’ve opened more Duane Reade doors for stroller-pushing moms than many doormen. I feel like it’s my responsibility, from one stressed out, sleep-deprived New York parent to another. Our madness-filled lives in overpriced shoeboxes are even crazier now, but for a good reason. I have a little person to take care of, and she’s going to be all grown up in a New York minute.