Baby advice (part 2 of 3)

Written by on March 29, 2013 in Learning to Breathe - No comments

Recently, a Facebook friend I only somewhat know asked for baby advice on Facebook. Unfortunately, just as I was finishing my long paragraph of advice, my network connection crashed and all my advice was deleted. Rather than rewriting it, I instead decided to make it into a blog entry (or rather 3, as there’s just soooo much to say – see last month’s entry for the first part).

This month’s entry will include my first three key bits of advice that I’ve used on my own personal baby (or, rather, children by now): advice based on raising my own two little girls.

Basically, I would divide my advice into five main areas (in order of when it comes up age wise): 1) Routine, 2) Sleep, 3) Eating habits, 4) Manners & compassion, 5) Parents rule.

1) Routine

About the most important unsolicited advice I received when I was pregnant came from a colleague at that time.  “Congratulations on your pregnancy,” he’d said in passing. “My wife and I have raised three kids already,” he added; “and about the most important thing we’ve found is to get them onto a good routine right away.”

For some reason, this passing advice stayed with me and made an incredible impression. It certainly didn’t hurt that baby advice favourites like The Baby Whisperer and The Contented Little Baby Book advocated routine almost above anything else (especially the latter Gina Ford book). My routine became a running joke in my family as I’d hand my parents a typed up 3-pager each time they’d babysit to tell them exactly when my firstborn daughter should eat, nap, play, bathe, sleep, and even have her pacifier (ok, I definitely mellowed out significantly for my second daughter, thank goodness). However, it didn’t take long for that same 3-pager to be requested by all other relatives as they realised just how much less my little one cried when her routine was followed. With my second daughter, I began the routine immediately upon bringing her home from the hospital and she was such a good, calm baby that strangers everywhere (especially in cafes and restaurants) would stop me to tell me that they’ve never seen such a good baby and what was my trick. She so rarely cried as a baby that I would occasionally awake in a panic the first few months afraid that she’d died of crib death. In fact, she would just be opening her eyes waiting patiently for me to feed her, so accustomed was she to the routine being exact, trusting in mommy following it to the letter and her basic baby needs being looked after in time.

And that’s the thing about routine: children like it. It makes them feel comfortable with the fact that they can at least predict something. I must say that I had a period of being less controlling in my routine during the period of time when my husband and I were separating and we were moving. At the time, I decided that mommy mellowing out a bit was better for my children, in that difficult situation, than keeping to a strict routine. But I have to say that (though flexibility in all facets of life is key to survival, and this is no less true when raising children, especially as a single parent), whenever I let the routine go too far out of control, I would see the negative effects in the behaviour of my children at some point after. Allowing them to stay up too late, or not feeding them on time, would often lead to tantrums, sibling contentions, and whining –  not a pretty sight. So, though now that they’re older, I’m obviously much more flexible on routine, I still try to maintain this most of the time (particularly on school nights), especially when it comes to the next big category: sleep

2) Sleep

The theme of sleep seems to be an ever important one, and not only for babies. “Early to bed, early to rise…” is still being written about for adults, with articles discussing the importance of sleep for everything from beauty, energy, and personality. I must admit that I, myself, rarely am able to follow this rule as I am very much a “night owl” and often stay up way too late, especially as the time when my kids are sleeping and “time to get things done” is so precious. But it never feels all that great the morning after I’ve pulled a late one, no matter how much I was able to accomplish in those late hours. The truth is, that even I feel it when I’ve pulled too many late nights and I feel better when I get myself off to bed early. So, of course, I see the result of proper sleep very clearly in my kids. On school nights, I am extremely pedantic about this rule. But on holidays, when this rule isn’t well stuck to, as I try to play “Ms fun mom” every once in a while, I often see the negative results in a significant increase the next morning in whining, yelling, and fighting. Unfortunately, I have found inadequate correlation between allowing my kids to go to bed later and them then waking up later the following day. Rather than sleeping significantly later, they often awake at the same time as always (a body clock is a body clock after all and the sun seeping into their window, even with the blackout blinds, still causes them to wake up at the usual time) but then are more cranky and whiny the following day for lack of sufficient sleep.

Gina Ford, in her baby book, writes a very clear sleeping plan for babies (which, by the way, I followed exactly for my second daughter, to fantastic results). She spells out, many times, that babies that don’t sleep well or enough at night will then make up this sleep during the day – following crying sessions; and that this will then create a negative spiral of baby sleeping too much during the day and then being awake and ready to play at night. This will then continue until the baby is “taught” to sleep properly. In fact, most of Ford’s books centre mainly around sleeping and eating routines. It’s no surprise: whether we’re adults or children, we need our “beauty sleep”.

My little sister found this principle to be very true with her own daughter who would awake very early in the morning only to nap copiously during the day and then sleep badly at night, awaking many times during the night and keeping my sister and her husband awake. As my sister was planning on returning to work after an extended maternity leave and found herself as exhausted as her baby during the day and often ending up napping with her, she decided that possibly extreme measures were in order. She skipped Gina Ford and moved right on to the “Ferber” sleep training method. I’m happy to report that “Ferberizing” worked wonders for my sister’s baby and that now the whole family is sleeping well again, with baby being much happier. But the main reason that this worked well for my sister (and was relatively painless) is because she began the process while the baby was still a baby and unable to climb out of her crib.

I know personally of several parents who decide to return to work when their children are toddlers and begin, at that point, trying to amend poor sleeping habits in which kids were allowed to stay up until 9 or 10pm and now need to be waking up for nursery for an 8:30 start to allow for the parent to make it to work on time. By this point, not only can these children talk and actually yell whole sentences for their parents when unhappily forced to go to bed earlier, but they can also climb out of their cribs or don’t even sleep in cribs anymore. Sleep training at that point, clearly, is not only nearly impossible, but it is also pretty painful for the parents emotionally. So, if you’re smart and don’t want this scenario to happen to you, teach your baby to sleep at night and for the appropriate amount of time at around the time that they are 2-3 months old. If you need help, I highly recommend Gina Ford’s books on raising contented little babies.

3) Eating habits

Children form their eating habits very, very early in life. You can’t imagine the amount of times that I spend time with a friend and have her tell me that her daughter or son only eats chicken nuggets and chips (french fries in American speak) or plain pasta, and only if the two aren’t touching, oh and definitely no tomatoes or cucumbers with the skin on them… Even my own kids sometimes were guilty of being averse to trying certain foods that just “didn’t look good” (and I’m definitely guilty of allowing plain pasta over pasta with sauce as they just didn’t seem to like sauce). The other thing I see much too often is moms who spoonfeed their kids food as if they will starve to death if they don’t finish everything on their plate. I must admit that I see this almost more often with mothers of kids who are more likely plump than skinny (so these mothers really shouldn’t be worrying). My own mother worried constantly about my poor eating habits when I was little and now worries the same way about the eating habits of my kids.

This is one thing that I have to say I am not strict about. I encourage my kids to eat as much as they can of what I put onto their plates, and I also make getting desert afterwards conditional on them finishing the majority of their food (mainly because otherwise I would foster very unhealthy habits of them substituting “real food” for sweets, and this would also lead to a continuous sugar rush). However, they are welcome to walk away from the table having eaten very little if they so choose to. The only thing that they are told though is that this is the meal that they are getting until the next meal and that there won’t be any junk food or other food substituting this food given straight after, so that if they choose not to eat what they’re served, then they may end up feeling very hungry in a few hours. Having now enforced this rule several times over dinner, and having my children be very disappointed when I actually stick to the fact and don’t in fact allow them to “eat a snack” when they are hungry after not having eaten dinner properly (something all too many parents I know are guilty of not keeping to), saying something akin to “sorry but the kitchen is shut now”, my kids now have learned that it’s better to actually finish the majority of their meal and to not be hungry. That doesn’t mean that they, at times, don’t end up eating very little and still asking me if they can “have a snack”, usually right before bed claiming that “they’re hungry”. However, by now they also know what my response will be to this question.

I have a close friend who, with her husband, unfortunately make the big mistake of allowing their kids to “choose what they eat”. So that if their kids don’t like what they’re being served, they can actually choose to eat whatever else they want that is in the house, and I do mean whatever. When visiting them one night for dinner, I witnessed the 4 year old boy saying that he only wanted to eat crackers, which apparently was all that he’d been eating for the past few days. I don’t think I need to go on about how unhealthy it is nutritionally or even emotionally to allow a 4 year old to have that much freedom. I can imagine that my own girls would pretty much just eat cereal and chocolate if they were allowed to run the show and decide what they want to eat. As it happens, now they eat healthy soups, vegetables (including salads which they enjoy), fruit, fish, and healthy meats. Yes they also love dessert and cereal, but they have a limit of just how much junk food they’re allowed to eat. They happen to be both very healthy and rarely get sick, even when things are going around school. They also are encouraged to try foods (though sometimes only one actually ventures) and have tried (and like) such foods like miso soup, salmon sushi, salads I order when out at restaurants, and sometimes even prefer fresh fruit to ice cream. One of my kids actually even doesn’t like french fries or chips (a food I read is often the only vegetable in some American children’s diets). Ok they also at times have cereal for breakfast rather than eggs as it’s just faster and more convenient, but I try to give them a particularly healthy breakfast the following day to make up for it.

Stay tuned for next month’s blog entry where I write the other two points of my baby advice – including how to help instil manners and compassion and the idea of parents still ruling the household of my own baby and child advice.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Leave a Comment