Big Mother is Watching You

As my child crests the two year mark, much of the gear I considered essential to his early days of life is collecting dust in the basement. The Rock n Play, once one of the first non-human things I would rescue in a fire (after the wedding album, but before the cat), is now wrapped in a garbage bag and wedged between a stack of broken suitcases and a combo TV/VCR. The car-seat canopy and Bjorn are packed away in a plastic bin, the Ergo has been lying on the floor of my station wagon for months, and even the BOB Revolution spends more time in the car port experimenting with new types of mold growth than treating a neighborhood arts festival like a monster truck rally. Yet one device has remained in consistent use since C was about 10 weeks old, shepherding us through growth spurts and illnesses and nap regressions like our own personal Eckhart Tolle of childhood sleep—our Motorola Digital Baby Monitor 3.5 Video MBP36.

Back in the days of yore when little Gen X’ers ran in packs through their cul-de-sacs, playing on trampolines, accepting candy from strangers, preparing their own genetically modified, high-fructose-corn-syrup-based dinners in the microwave and putting themselves to bed after Arsenio, parents didn’t have wireless video monitors with infrared screens and two-way microphones to assess whether their babies were asleep. At best they had primitive one-way walkie-talkies, which made up for what they lacked in features with impressive range, allowing parents to maintain a watchful ear over their offspring while getting uproariously drunk on their neighbor’s back deck. Nowadays, however, a parent without a video monitor might as well be family-bedding in a yurt in Montana five hundred miles from the nearest Trader Joe’s. At its heart, the video monitor is truly the foundation for modern parenting. After all, if you do not begin keeping tabs on how many times your infant rolls from back to front between midnight and 6AM now, how will you ever have the energy and lack of boundaries to secretly rewrite his college admissions essays for him when he’s eighteen?

Despite my own inclination to want to raise my children in an airbrushed version of the 1980s (yes to playing outdoors ‘til the sun goes down, no to neon Jams and trickle-down economics), I found that using a video monitor has helped me foster my son’s good sleeping habits and thus overall independence. My husband and I were never pushed to the necessary point of sleep-deprived delirium to implement a true Cry-It-Out method of sleep training, however we did start letting our son “fuss it out” beginning around 12 weeks of age, once we had established a consistent bedtime routine. Having the video monitor helped me determine whether he was truly red-faced crying like he’d been laid down to rest beside an active volcano or whether he was just rolling around squawking and griping like my great-uncle watching the 2008 Democratic presidential debates. The former required immediate intervention, a figurative hitting of the re-set button, whereas the latter meant that he was on track to be asleep within five minutes and it was time to unscrew the wine. As a frazzled first-time parent with the ability to spiral into a black hole of guilt for putting my beloved firstborn in his bouncer seat on the bathroom floor so I could pee lest he feel the slightest twinge of abandonment, the visual confirmation that fussing and whining was simply a part of his self-soothing mechanism provided tremendous comfort until the wine could take effect.

Additional features also contribute to the video monitor’s overall utility. Most of them now have night vision, so you can see whether your baby’s eyes are open or not, which is helpful when they begin to exhibit that adorable habit of “sleep-crying” at 90-minute intervals throughout the night at around 4 months of age (this is part of the dreadful 4-month sleep regression, and it too shall pass). The two-way microphone has been an invaluable contribution to scaring the crap out of my toddler every time he starts to climb out of his crib during naptime, even if it does guarantee that one day he’ll be telling his therapist about the omniscient, disembodied voice that ruled over his childhood and always seemed to have old episodes of Friday Night Lights playing in the background.

As all parents will learn, infant and toddler sleep is not a one-and-done kind of deal. Brag all you want about your six week-old sleeping 12 hours a night, but unless you have sold your soul to the Devil (and I wouldn’t blame you, and send me his email address if you have it), you are likely to encounter a few hiccups over the next few years, and by hiccups I mean that government mandated form of parental torture known as daylight savings time. Sleep habits evolve, regressions occur, new problems arise. Our parents’ generation may have gotten by just fine not knowing if that weird gurgling noise they heard coming from the baby’s room was the peaceful coo of their sleeping cherub or the onset of another round of rotavirus, but they were also allowed to drink martinis while breastfeeding and paid their teenage baby-sitters $1.50 an hour, so you know, we deserve our breaks where we can get them.

*As for specific video monitor brands, I don’t have any glowing recommendations. The 2013 version of the Motorola has crappy battery life and the power cord has become really loose at the point of connection with the receiver and thus falls out all the time and is impossible to reconnect in the dark, but it has survived over two years of being tossed about by a small child (and occasionally a grown adult who is exasperated by her infant son’s gift of six straight nights of “reverse cycling” to thank her for going back to work), so I should probably give it some credit. Let me know if you have an amazing video monitor you recommend, and then send it to me along with a second camera for the upcoming new addition and I promise to write a glowing review.

Written by: Kathleen

 Without a video monitor, we never would have known that our child sleeps sitting up like an old man on the subway.

Without a video monitor, we never would have known that our child sleeps sitting up like an old man on the subway.

 

 

 

Co-Sleeping with the Enemy

These should really be called Co-catnappers, because the concept of true sleep is never realized while these apparatuses are in use. However, they do make the nighttime wakefulness a little less painful. I personally used the sidecar Arm’s Reach Mini Co-Sleeper. It fit nicely in the narrow space between my bed and closet door and came right up to the edge of the bed. My game plan for nighttime feedings was to move as little as possible. I had a diaper changing station set up on my nightstand and a nightlight to breastfeed and change diapers by. I wanted something that only required me to open one eye. There are numerous products on the market that fit these requirements—here are a few of the best:

#1 Pick: Arm’s Reach Mini Co-Sleeper: $156

·      ProJ Literally an arm’s reach away.

·      ProJ You can purchase extenders to match the height of your bed perfectly.

·      ProJ Good training for breaking down the Pack-N-Play in the future.

·      ConL When you are searching for somewhere to store it after 4 months, you may regret the          $39/month you put down. Make yourself have a second child to compensate.

#2 Pick: Graco Pack-N-Play Playard with Newborn Napper: $178

·      Pro: Two for one! Great value for something you can use during the first few months and              well into the toddler years.

·      Pro: Perfect for travel.

·      Pro: Price point is worth it when you factor in the length of time in use.

·      Con: Requires a bedroom with lots of space.

·      Con: You have to put your feet on the floor to retrieve your crying offspring.

#3 Pick: Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper: $41.99 (see our full product review by Kathleen)

·      Pro: Best choice for the price and the purpose.

·      Pro: Provides an ideal incline position and snuggle factor.

·      Pro: Easily toted from room to room.

·      Con: If you have a pillow top mattress or a bunk bed, reaching for your little one in the                  middle of the night when your stomach muscles have turned to chia pudding can be quite            the uncomfortable venture.

#4 Pick: Baby Delight Snuggle Nest: $39.99

·      Pro: Perfect for those with little-to-no floor space.

·      Pro: If you’re nursing, you simply have to roll to one side to pop a boob in baby’s mouth.

·      Con: Can literally create a wedge between you and your spouse—which might be a positive for those of you living in fear of the 6-week postpartum doctor’s visit.

Please note that these gadgets have an extremely limited life, and consider that when you are deciding on the level of investment that you would like to make. How much would you spend on a pair of shoes if you were only going to wear them for 3-6 months max?

Written by: Alice

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Baby, I've got you covered

This particular “essential” gear recommendation may be a tad specific to my own experience. The Rock ‘n Play and a baby carrier have become universal requirements for proper bourgeois parenting—run a Facebook poll of your parent friends and the endorsements will come rolling in. Minimalist as you may plan to be while you begin your baby registry journey in the first trimester, you will still find yourself in seven months, awake at 2am on your third night home from the hospital, cluster-feeding your infant in one arm while signing up for Amazon Prime on your phone with the other so you can order the RNP to be delivered in the next five hours.

But a Carseat Canopy, you ask? After all, you registered for several of those Aden & Anais muslin swaddlers, and your friends all assure you they are quite versatile, even if they do cost as much as your father’s entire four years of college. Why do you need yet another blanket, just because it has a heavy interior lining and Velcro straps?

One of the many things no one tells you about newborns is that they are easily overstimulated. I don’t mean that they get a little antsy at Chuck E. Cheese, I mean that turning on an overhead light can send their raw-pancake-batter nervous system into a manic frenzy. Some newborns are more susceptible than others—with zero data and only a vague recollection of reading this on BabyCenter, I think babies born on the early side of 40 weeks tend to have stimuli receptors that are more undercooked than their late-term counterparts. Maybe that’s just my excuse for why my son, born two weeks early, was a screaming ball of exposed nerve for most of his fourth trimester. He shrank from sunlight like a wrinkly-skinned mole, and if we had the audacity to have a ceiling fan going when the phone rang, he reacted like he was having dental surgery without anesthesia. My pre-baby visions of taking him on long walks in the stroller, admiring the fall foliage and opining on the meaning of life, were dashed by the reality of having an infant whose senses were frequently overloaded by the stripes on his crib sheet.

    Tiny infant C, snuggled deep in the Misty Mountains and dreaming of the Precious

 Tiny infant C, snuggled deep in the Misty Mountains and dreaming of the Precious

The Carseat Canopy is a thick blanket that attaches to the handle of an infant carrier and creates a sensory deprivation chamber of darkness and calm. It’s the newborn equivalent of scented candles, a warm bubble bath, and Enya on surround sound. Once I discovered the utility of the Carseat Canopy, I was finally able to take little Gollum out of the house and into the world. Enveloped in the womb-like solace of his car seat, he would stop screaming and fall asleep a few minutes into a car ride, as long as I played David Sedaris podcasts on the stereo and never stopped at red lights. I could even take him for walks in the stroller, secure in knowing that no UV rays would pierce his paper-thin eyelids and trigger his Saw-like baby nightmares.

Thanks to the Carseat Canopy, by 12 weeks I had my baby on a schedule the Baby Whisperer would envy. A one-hour nap in the morning, driving around a city route that elegantly avoided all speed bumps, stop signs, and traffic lights; an afternoon nap in my arms as I made impressive progress on Candy Crush; and an early evening nap while I walked a three-mile loop around my neighborhood, a roadie in my hand and triumph in my heart.

Written by: Kathleen

Pump It Up

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Is that your nipple in a vacuum? The first thing to think about when considering which breast pump to get is that they all suck: both metaphorically and literally.  There isn’t a woman in the world that will tell you she loved pumping. It’s a means to an end and a necessary evil, unless you plan to go the formula or attachment parenting routes.

My device of pain: the Medela Freestyle Pump. Don’t let the name fool you, there is nothing freeing about this pump. However, it does offer the efficiency of dual pumping, making it easier to open a bottle of wine while your nipples are being abused. A bonus to this particular pump is the compact “engine” that can be clipped onto your stretchy pants, allowing you to do housework, complete spreadsheets, sit in a restroom stall, and walk on the treadmill while expelling the liquid gold for your little one. If you are like me and will need to pump between board meetings and chats around the water cooler, then this model will definitely pay for itself. You can pump in a public restroom or in your office with ease. Further, if you are a stay-at-home mom who is looking to increase supply or readying your stash for going back to work, you can strap this baby on while ordering your significant other around.

Tips for Pumping at Work:

·      Take a cooler or freezer bag. I really liked the Playtex Freeze To-Go Tote. Just throw it in the freezer in the evenings and it is ready to go, and you can leave it at your desk during the day. This helps you avoid having to use the staff refrigerator and screaming at Bill for thinking he was funny for using your breast milk in his coffee. #thestruggleisreal

·      If your employer isn’t progressive enough to provide a pump space and you don’t have a private office, finding a space to relax can be a challenge. When I got a new job and lost the privacy of my own office, I pumped in a chair in a public women’s restroom with my nursing cover. It made for an interesting first day of work as I introduced myself to colleagues and even the board chair in the restroom and then sat silently while I listened to them pee. 

·      If you are working 40+ hours a week and pumping at least 3 times a day then you will likely experience a decrease in production. No matter how hard that pump pulls your nipple, it can not match your little one’s natural sucker—and your body knows it! Fear not, there are great formulas out there that you can use to supplement AND this does not mean that your child is more or less likely to throw your cat out of a window one day. It is a natural side effect to the demand on your body. NOTE: Avoid using bigger bottles for pumping unless you have the production of a dairy cow otherwise it will just make you feel like a failure.

Tips for Milk Storage:

·      If you are stockpiling, then the freezer bags are ideal.  Freeze in varying amounts as baby’s needs will change, and you don’t want to have to defrost an 8-ounce bag when you really only need 6 ounces, thus forcing your husband to drink a “mommy Russian”. *Frozen breast milk, much like raw meat, should ideally be consumed within 24 hours of defrost.

·      For daily storage, Medela offers ample solutions, including lids with dials to indicate the date of pump. These are helpful for working moms who are trying to stay one day ahead: Friday’s pump = Monday’s bottles. Get bottles in various sizes to accommodate for increasing needs.

When/How to Start Pumping:

·      Going back to work post-baby:

o   I suggest you start the practice of pumping 2 weeks postpartum.

o   Pump right after you’ve fed the baby. This will tell your body to increase supply and help to build your stash right away. This also works whether you are doing timed or demand-based feedings.

o   Use some of this stash to start introducing the bottle after the first month so that your babe will be well versed in bottle feeding by the time you are forced, after a quick 3-month maternity leave, to drop her off at daycare.

·      Staying at home with baby:

o   You can start as early as you want, but you likely won’t feel any real pressure to build a stash right away.

o   Do some intermittent pumping after the first month. This will allow you to build up a modest amount that can be pulled out of the freezer in the event that you get the flu or want to go see a movie.

o   For the more social mommy who wants to resume date nights and regular doctor’s visits, I suggest routinely pumping post-feedings starting after the first month. 

Written by: Alice

Rock 'n Play Me All Night Long

First off, you should know that every single piece of baby gear you buy will come with multiple warnings in a variety of languages that inform you that any alteration or misuse of this product will undoubtedly kill your baby. At first these warnings are terrifying, but worry not—eventually you will grow numb to neon yellow tags that threaten the spontaneous combustion of your offspring, and you will no longer tremble at the sight of the all-caps labels on your stroller barking at you like an irritable French waiter, “Mise en Garde! Mise en Garde you stupid American filth!” Indeed, soon enough you will be recklessly dressing your toddler in baggy pajamas and putting your lukewarm coffee in the cup-holder of your BOB accessory bar, but in the early weeks you will be bullied into compliance. Thus when I tell you right now that letting your newborn spend the night in the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play will save you from openly empathizing with terror suspects in Guantanamo, you will not listen. Babies must sleep on their backs on a hard, flat surface, you will think with the smugness of someone who has never put kitty litter in the coffee maker. That’s what both the Mayo Clinic and all of the other first-time moms on the What to Expect message board say, and by God that is how your baby will sleep, no exceptions.

Except that newborn babies won’t sleep flat on their backs on a hard surface because newborn babies are not preternaturally suited for a post-apocalyptic nomadic civilization or a third-world prison. Oh sure, maybe in the hospital your little bug slept in that plastic fish tank like a champ, but only because he was knocked out from the Fentanyl drip you got when you still thought you could handle a natural childbirth. Once home, your baby will only sleep in one of two places: your arms, or the Rock ‘n Play (aka the “RNP”, as those twats on the message board will refer to it after they enjoy three straight nights of cluster feeding).

The RNP is firm enough to mimic a prison cot, and it gives you no choice but to put your baby on his back, however, unlike on that slab of concrete they call a crib mattress, your baby will actually sleep in it. The curved basket imitates your own warm embrace, and it rests your baby at a slight elevation, which helps with colic and reflux and all of the other made-up reasons newborns scream non-stop for 4-8 hours a day. Plus his spastic muscle control will cause the RNP to rock back and forth, lulling him into that mythical “deep” sleep that lasts until the moment you put the shampoo in your hair.

Go ahead and register for the RNP, telling yourself you will only use it to lay your baby in while you read to him from the New York Times or sing him Italian operas. It will be there waiting for you after you drag the Arm’s Reach co-sleeper out to your front lawn and light it on fire, and it won’t even say “I told you so.” It will just cuddle your baby close, swaying slightly as if jostled by a warm summer breeze, while you weep quietly into your cold cup of litter-coffee and wonder if Guantanamo might not be so bad this time of year.

Written by: Kathleen

  Our first morning at home, marveling at the power of the RNP and wondering why my coffee tastes like cat pee.

Our first morning at home, marveling at the power of the RNP and wondering why my coffee tastes like cat pee.