Tuesday, June 2, 2009

When Somebody Needs a Nap (Besides Me)!

"Somebody needs a naaappp...", proclaimed in a sing-song voice, were words I detested as a child. I remember thinking to myself that I would never inflict that phrase on another living being. Now, my delivery is significantly modified, but today I am reinstating nap time at my house.
After checking out this list from Elizabeth Pantley's The No-Cry Nap Solution: Guaranteed Gentle Ways to Solve All Your Naptime Problems (pg. 115), I see that my youngest child is in need of a daily nap:

· Resists the idea of a nap but eventually falls asleep and sleeps an hour or longer.

· Wakes up in the morning in a good mood but gets whiny and cranky as the day progresses.

· Has more patience early in the day but is more easily aggravated later on.

· Cries more often or more easily in the evening than she does early in the day.

· Demonstrates a deterioration in his coordination over the course of the day.

· Shows tired signs in the afternoon or early evening such as yawning, rubbing eyes, a slump in energy, or looking slightly glazed.

· Late in the day, becomes wired up or hyperactive and won't settle down easily.

· Often falls asleep in the car or when watching a movie.

But what about my 7 year old? Surely she's too old for one, right? Turns out, it is entirely possible to implement a "Hush Hour" for children who are completely nap resistant. A Hush Hour is a daily quiet-time break from noise and activity that works well as a nap substitute. It is perfect for a child who is giving up naps but still needs a half-time break during the day, for a child who is just too wired or overtired to sleep, as well as for a child who flat out refuses to nap but whose parents (like me) desperately need that child to nap to preserve their patience.

Elizabeth Pantley recommends setting up a block of quiet time designed to refresh your child's mind and body but constructing an environment that encourages relaxation. Choose a place that would work for a nap, removing toys that might entice a child who is supposed to be resting. Regulate the temperature so it is comfortable, probably between 60 and 70 degrees, and remember to use a humidifier, dehumidifier or air purifier if necessary. Help ease the transition into restfulness by darkening the room, and consider using relaxing music or white noise to provide a calming auditory experience. Once this is done, Pantley advises setting up a cozy nest, adding some relaxing smells with essential oils, and making sure your little one eats some foods that encourage rest. Some winners, besides breast milk, include whole-grain carbohydrates, bananas, avocadoes, tree nuts or nut butters, and warm goat, cow or soy milk.

To read more about Elizabeth Pantley's ideas, and hear our interview on The Mommy-Muse Is In: Empowering Your Journey into Motherhood, click here: Sleep Expert on The Mommy-Muse Is In.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Men's Postpartum Depression: Myth or Reality?

It's only been in recent years that society has accepted the fact that a substantial number of new mothers become depressed in the weeks and months after the arrival of their babies. Growing evidence is mounting that new fathers also experience nearly the same type of postpartum depression as their partners. They, too, can feel a sense of stress and depression when transitioning into their new parental responsibilities.

Men have traditionally been viewed as the "rock" of the family, and of society itself - unable to express emotion or admit weakness, feeling only a drive for power and success. That old-world mindset is rapidly changing. Men are becoming empowered to admit their true feelings on issues their forefathers wouldn't have dared to address, including the depression they sometimes feel following the birth of a child.

I recently interviewed men's mental health professional, Dr. Will Courtney, to unearth some valuable insight on this condition that often plagues new fathers. He shared this: "So often, parents expect this experience of "baby bliss" that everyone suggests parenting is going to be like. Then, suddenly, this screaming, helpless infant is in their laps and they don't know what to do to calm this baby or soothe it. Suddenly, things start feeling a lot more difficult than they ever expected."

A rising social mindset is allowing new fathers to express their feelings more truthfully. This is finally shedding light on paternal postnatal depression, unrecognized until now.
For both sexes, parenthood is a life-altering event. Couples are turned into threesomes in the short amount of time that it takes the baby to be born. Although most men report feeling satisfied with being a father, they also report that making this transition can be quite daunting. In its most severe state, men's postpartum depression (also known as Paternal Post-Natal Depression) may necessitate help from a mental health professional who is sensitive to the needs of new fathers and understands the condition.

Sadness, loss of interest, and crying - symptoms that might accompany a new mom during postpartum depression are not atypical of the new father undergoing the same issues and dealing with postpartum depression. Men are notorious for masking their true feelings, so a man's outward signs may be a bit hard to detect. The best clues to a possible onset of the condition are signs that something has changed in a challenging way, or a feeling that something isn't quite "right" in his behavior.

According to Dr. Courtney, men may try to avoid parenting and new fatherhood altogether, a sort of "out of sight out of mind" mentality. "I'm hearing a lot from new dads about the experience of not being able to tolerate being around the baby. They can't stand the baby's cries, the screaming; they say it makes them crazy. Or, they can't stand to smell the baby, or to even see it or hold it. Typically, men feel horribly guilty about feeling that way, and also very confused because this is not what they were told to expect with the birth of their child. All they really know to do is to try to get away from the thing that is kind of making them feel all of these things. They end up spending as much time as they can at the office."

Before, during, or after the pregnancy, both new fathers and new mothers can begin to plan for possible postpartum depression by:

  • Understanding the condition from both the father's and the mother's point of view, and accepting that postpartum depression is NOT just an "old wives' tale."
  • For those new parents or parents-to-be with a history of depression, beginning mental health counseling before the baby arrives is recommended.
  • Open up lines of communication within the couple's relationship. Many couples have problems when it comes to communicating their feelings with one another.
  • Couple's counseling during pregnancy may be necessary to better understand the issues you might have and develop more confidence in the new partnership you are about to enter.
  • Although it is not practical to resolve all of your financial problems before having children, be aware that many of the problems that families experience are related to their finances. Establish a working budget before, during, or after the pregnancy in order to alleviate some of the stressors in the family.
  • Establish a reliable network of support that you can turn to when you need a hand, whether it is with babysitting, shopping, or other duties.

    The most important thing for new fathers and mothers to understand when it comes to postpartum depression is that it is a completely natural condition that millions of other new parents have gone through. With appropriate treatment and counseling, parenthood will feel more natural to both of you, and you will finally be able to relax and enjoy your new bundle of love.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are You Sinful or Saintly: Taking Time for You

You may think it's more important to tend constantly to the needs of other people rather than yourself. This appears at first glance to be the selfless, even saintly, way to behave. Aren't mothers supposed to put the needs of their family first?

In actuality, you will care for your loved ones better by taking time to refill your own well. If you are constantly on call, with no time for yourself, you will eventually run out of energy. Giving yourself a brief time to tune in and recharge will help ensure you are able to respond to the very real needs of your children as well as the rest of your family.

If taking care of yourself seems foreign, think about this for a moment. You are a primary role model for your children's lives. They will copy your actions more often than follow your advice. Many a mom has shed tears after becoming aware of the lack of self care they modeled during their children's formative years. You love your children and want to do right by them. Therefore, you need to show them how to take care of themselves by taking care of you! This will increase their capacity to be healthy, well balanced adults.

While meditation can be extremely helpful, you don't need to sit down and meditate to take 10 minutes for yourself. You can go for a short walk, just sit in a quiet spot inside, outside, or even in the car (while you're not driving). Sometimes I actually have to lock myself in the bathroom for 10 minutes to get the time and space I need, but it is worth it.

If you are a stay-at-home mom who is normally with your child (or children) 24 hours a day, I encourage you to find a creative way to take an hour or two away at least once a week while your baby is being properly cared for by another adult. This will allow you some mental and physical decompression time. It's amazing how much more you can appreciate the miracle of life that you helped create when you have a small amount of space that other people take for granted. Just being away for a short time can open you up to wholeheartedly enjoying your family even if you thought you were too tired to do so.

As you follow through with your new "self care" strategy, your unconscious mind will begin to trust the process. Your sense of well being and even body image may unexpectedly improve. When you behave as though you are a loved person, worthy of taking up space in the world, you will start to believe that it is actually O.K. for you to exist in the world. This cannot help but translates into feelings of better health and an increased sens of balance in the world, allowing you respond more easily and gracefully as a mother, partner or wife.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Be More Than A Sperm Donor: Top 10 Things New Dads Need to Know

1. I doubt you were a great lover your first time out, so why would you expect to know how to be a great dad without any practice? You may not know it yet, but fatherhood can be a lot more fulfilling than donating sperm! Relax, give yourself some time to learn, and have some fun along the way.

2. Diaper duty earns big points. So does feeding, rocking, and bathing your baby. Any hands-on fathering will be a big help to your partner and your baby.

3. You have undoubtedly discovered that your wife isn't much fun right now. She may be weepy, stressed, and a bit less groomed than she used to be. This is normal. The good news is that she will return to something like her old self again once your little family has navigated the gauntlet of new parenthood.

4. Your wife still needs you. Stay nearby and be patient. You may not recognize the woman you partnered up with 9 or 10 months ago, but she is still in there.

5. Your sex life may have taken a nose dive, but you will be able to engage in some adult fun (with your wife!), soon.

6. Nobody deserves postpartum mood disorders, and nobody causes them either. Don't blame each other when the going gets tough. Know that many symptoms will pass on their own in a couple of weeks, and all are treatable.

7. Sleep heals. Mothers typically take the brunt of sleepless nights, but you're probably not getting as much as you need either. Whoever came up with the phrase "sleeping like a baby" didn't know babies wake up a lot! One proven way to help both of you feel better is to support each other in getting sleep whenever possible.

8. Trust your instincts. Different "experts", including the guy in line at the grocery store, will tell you to handle your baby a different way. Trust yourself, your wife and your baby to tell you what you need to know.

9. Your baby needs to play with you. Here is a case where having fun is exactly the right thing. Playing stimulates your baby's mind and body to develop in healthy ways. You may feel more playful right now than your wife, so go for it.

10. Learn when to ask for help. Life can be stressful with a new baby. It should get easier with time. If things get worse, or simply don't improve, it is time to ask for help. Check out www.mommy-muse.com for a wealth of information and great resources.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Life With Postpartum Mood Disorders: Are You Perfectly Normal or Going Insane?

New mothers rarely admit to the full extent of their stress level or to the difficult emotions they live with. After all, women with new babies are supposed to feel blissful, loving and grateful for the miracle of new life in their care, right?

Many new moms fear they will be thought of as unfit mothers if other people knew the truth about their feelings. They may never ask for help because they don't have a baseline sense of what is actually normal and what's not.

What many people don't know is that mood swings, irritability, fatigue, persistent tearfulness, forgetfulness and anxiety are common symptoms in new mothers. The vast majority of birth mothers cope with some version of the "baby blues." The good news is that these symptoms generally pass without any intervention within a couple of weeks. The postpartum mother's' body simply needs a little time to normalize the tremendous fluctuations in hormone levels after giving birth.

But what if the symptoms are more severe and last longer? What if depression, hopelessness, feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy as a wife and mother, lack of interest in the baby or oneself, low level of daily functioning or severe mood swings are part of the mix? Surely this is crazy, right? Wrong. These symptoms are common in the 10% - 17% of women who experience postpartum depression.

What if the level of intensity is ramped up? What if a new mom has unreasonable fears, panic attacks, obsessions about cleanliness and germs, or visions of something bad happening to the baby and not being able to do anything about it? This may indicate postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, a bit more severe than postpartum depression, but still in the postpartum mood disorder continuum, and still sane.

What about the women who get sensationalized on the news, the ones who think their babies are from the devil? We've all heard stories about new mothers who think they were told to hurt themselves or their babies. Can these women be sane?

In these cases, they are dealing with the severe end of the postpartum mood disorder spectrum. This is the line between crazy and sane. Only one or two out of every 1000 women will cope with this rare disorder. Their auditory and visual hallucinations can be quite dangerous. Women with postpartum psychosis need immediate medical attention and hospitalization, and yes, their babies will have to be taken care of by other people for a while.

I like to put it this way: Anytime a new mom is worried about the well being of herself and her child, she is probably still sane. After all, it takes a significant level of self awareness to be concerned about one's thoughts and feelings. Rather than judging or ostracizing new mothers with postpartum mood disorders, let's make it easier to get help. Every symptom I've described is 100% treatable, and help is available now.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Belly Dance Prescription: Shake Your Hips and Depression!

I love to watch and participate in dance wherever it finds me, but have found that most dance forms which are typically accepted as “serious” art, including jazz and ballet, have a narrow range of “acceptable” body types. Pregnant and postpartum women with rounded bellies and a new fullness to their hips may be uncomfortable trying to fit inside these strict parameters. Movements that leap and extend away from the earth with long, straight lines do not come naturally to the rounded, feminine form.

Belly dance, on the other hand, consistently helps women of all shapes and sizes express their emotions and feel beautiful in their own skin. In my role as a belly dance instructor, women often approach me to say they are too fat, too thin, uncoordinated, or unattractive because of stretch marks and caesarian scars. They haven't yet awakened to their own beauty and their innate capacity for this fluid dance.

I invite them to join us, perceived flaws and all! If they are courageous enough, a wonderful process unfolds as they enter into a supportive group environment and begin to accept themselves. New dancers expand their energy, strengthen and lengthen their bodies, increase their endurance and reclaim healthy self-expression. Rather than sucking in their stomachs and being ashamed of taking up space in the world, women learn to accept themselves. Bellies begin to be embraced as the center of our bodies and as respected spaces to create new life.

As Lisa Sarasohn of http://www.loveyourbelly.com/ wisely writes in The Women's Belly Book, "Nature does not intend a woman to look like a ten-year-old boy. In fact, nature designs a woman's belly to shelter and nurture new life. A woman's belly holds and protects her womb, promoting the survival of the human species."

The survival of the human species. Imagine that. Something really important, right? Even more than fitting into a skinny pair of jeans with a flat stomach. Sarasohn shines the light of truth on cultural misconceptions, pointing out that "our culture tells us the best belly is one you cannot see, the one that's invisible to the eye." She goes on to say that "Our insecurities about our bellies bankroll the weight-loss, diet products, plastic surgery, advertising, media, shapewear, cosmetics, and fitness industries. Consumed by the idea that there's something wrong with our bellies, we're ready to trade our money for the fixes such industries are pushing....But the insecurities that make us such steady, compliant consumers are artificially induced; we're not born with them." (Sarasohn, 2006, pg. 38-39).

If we're not born with them, then we are free to completely re-evaluate our choices in light of this new information. Let's reconsider how we think about ourselves and our bodies that are born to dance. Do you really want to hand over your self-empowerment to people who have no business controlling how you live, who have never had your best interests at heart?

I didn't think so.

Is it worth it to you to begin to value your body's center once again, if it means you can reclaim your true power and dramatically increase your health and well-being?
I'm hoping your answer is an energetic "YES!"

If so, you're ready to take a deeper look at the magic of belly dance for increasing the grace and flexibility with which you move through all areas of your life! Join me on a journey of healing, transformation and empowerment through my e-book, The Belly Dance Prescription: Shake Your Hips and Depression, available now at Mommy-Muse.com.