What are Lactation Consultants?  A PracticalDad Primer

Bringing our first baby home was turning out to be a disaster.

Despite hospital guidance during the maternity stay, my wife had continuing difficulty nursing our new daughter.  The infant was chronically hungry from not being able to nurse properly, my wife was physically sore from the increasing milk supply, and we watched as our baby developed jaundice.  For a woman, being unable to feed her hungry baby is about as stressful and low as one can go.

What’s jaundice?  It’s a condition marked by a notable change in the color of the skin and eyes to a bilious yellow-orange.  It almost appears as though your newborn is becoming a traffic cone.  The red blood cells in the human body regularly breakdown into a substance called bilirubin; this is in turn normally excreted via human waste.  It’s no problem for an adult, but when a newborn is having difficulty nursing, the lack of food slows the bowels and leads to an increase in the baby’s bilirubin levels – hence jaundice.

I can honestly say that at 4 AM on a Sunday morning, formula cannot be had in the nation’s capital region.  My male hunter-gatherer instincts were as useless as tits on a bull and the home stress levels worsened markedly.  Fortunately, our pediatrician saw us that same Sunday morning and immediately set us up for a session with a lactation consultant.  As a corporate rat, consultants ranked on my need-to-know list somewhere between a sales rep and a pretzel vendor so I was going solely on faith in the doctor.  And during that interim day, we gave our first-born formula.

I’ll never doubt a pediatrician again.

As we drove to the appointment in the region’s outer limits, I envisioned a trip to the greater DC area’s sole ashram, ensconced near an orchard nestled on an organic granola farm.  And when the directions terminated in a neighborhood way better than my own, I began to realize the depth of my misconception.

The lactation consultant was a pleasant middle-aged woman who worked out of an office in her basement.  The result, inside of two hours, was a newly fed infant and a spouse who was no longer in pain and stress mode.  Better nursing techniques were taught and new Mom was on the road to becoming a pro.  I don’t recall if insurance paid for the visit,  but it didn’t matter as that bill was as worthwhile as an ER visit for an amputated limb.

So What is a Lactation Consultant?

These folks are expert in teaching women how to nurse and helping correct any difficulties that might arise in nursing your child.  And just like a person can work as an accountant while preparing for their CPA exam, a lactation consultant can be working while they prepare for their own board certification, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant).  The course work includes medical background courses such as anatomy/physiology, child development and nutrition, followed by an additional 45 hours of specific lactation education.  To top it off, they have to have documented a minimum of 900 hours counseling before they can even sit for their exams.

If you don’t meet a lactation consultant at prenatal classes, you – and certainly your mate if you’re not there – will meet one during the maternity stay.

Why Will They Matter to You?

Realize something first.  The medical research shows that there are much greater benefits from nursing, so much so that the CDC hs made it a goal to have 75% of all mothers nurse, at least initially.  Impressive, but the numbers haven’t always been so good.

My father would share Western Pennsylvania Depression stories, and one of them involved going to town to shop and seeing the long benches outside the local Woolworth lined with nursing mothers.  As Madison Avenue took over in the 1950s, the use of formula became prevalent.  Why nurse when you can get better from a can?  Today’s modern, affluent American mother can provide the best that American scientific know-how can devise for her young proteges!  Available from your friendly Safeway Grocer!  The reaction from American doctors of the period, as they lit up their Winstons, was that "sure, you can try to nurse, but if it doesn’t work, just buy some formula and it’ll be fine."

By 1971, according to the CDC, only about one quarter of American mothers nursed their babies.  The upshot is that because about two generations of American mothers didn’t nurse – and more babies were born in hospitals instead of through midwives – the knowledge and guidance that would’ve been passed along disappeared instead.

The irony is striking.  Generations of mothers who largely stayed at home used formula while their descendants, over half of whom are working, are strongly encouraged to nurse their children instead.  And thus the need for a specialty to help replace what was lost.

And y’know, they’re worth every bit the cost.

Breastfeeding:  A PracticalDad Primer

Although I was delighted to find that I would be a new father, the early months of the pregnancy seemed unreal and it didn’t sink in until I noticed the pre-"bump" changes in my wife’s body.  Like many pregnant women, her bust increased.  And that’s when the realization of impending fatherhood hit.
 
Changes in Your Mate’s Breasts
 
Your mate’s body chemistry is brewing quite a hormone cocktail and the increased estrogen levels are activating the long-dormant milk glands that will feed your new baby.  The first breast changes that your mate might notice would be increased sensitivity at about 4 weeks into the pregnancy.  This sensitivity will last throughout the first trimester before it diminishes and it’s during the first trimester that the breasts start getting bigger.  The increase will stop at a point and remain that size through pregnancy and nursing.  This growth is caused by additional fatty tissue within the breasts, not by suddenly appearing bags of milk awaiting the first sup.
 
Sorry, dude, but you can’t keep them.  After she’s finished nursing, it’s entirely possible that her breasts will revert to their pre-pregnancy size unless she’s maintained the pregnancy weight gain.
 
Several months into the pregnancy, her breasts may begin to leak small amounts of ayellowish fluid called colostrum.  Colostrum is loaded with vitamins and antibodies to bolster your child’s health and immune system and it’s this fluid, almost like a pre-milk, which she’ll drink for the first several days before it’s replaced by the standard mother’s milk.  Don’t worry, that’s all your child will need until the milk arrives naturally.  The value of colostrum is such that health professionals refer to it as "liquid gold".  Please note that this leakage might even increase in volume such that your mate will take to wearing small circular pads inside the bra to absorb the flow.  So that’s what you’re seeing in the washing machine, not undersized yamulkes.
 
Breastfeeding Benefits
There’s a reason that the US Government and the World Health Organization are strongly encouraging women to breastfeed.  The immediate and long-term benefits to the child and mother are striking.  Amongst children, statisticians note that breastfed children are less prone to diarrhea, ear/respiratory infections, obesity and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).  The long-term maternal benefits are decreased risks of ovarianand breast cancer and also diabetes.  New mothers will also suffer less soreness in the breasts – a result of the naturally increase supply of milk having someplace to go.  Emotionally, new Moms feel closer to their infants.  The other – physical – aspect of nursing mothers is that some mothers’ bodies produce a pleasureable chemical effect when they are breastfeeding.  And if these reasons don’t convince you, let me sound like a GE hack:  think Green.   Breastmilk is free and the savings from not having to buy formula can amount to hundreds of
dollars annually.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – yeah, it’s Prevention as well – has made it a specific goal to encourage breastfeeding, both in terms of the number of nursing women and the age at which nursing stops.  The CDC goal is to have 75% of all mothers nurse with 50% nursing through the baby’s sixth month of age and 25% nursing through one year of age.
 
Breastfeeding Basics
 
The process is straightforward, even though it can be nerve-wracking for the new Mom.  Your baby won’t just have the good stuff flow as though she were hooked up to a gas pump.  The infant will have to learn to form a tight seal around Mom’s nipple and by suckling, draw the milk out via a vacuum.
 
Almost all first-time Moms are nervous, even if it might appear to guys – me included, at first – to be as simple as filling a car at a pump.  Stick the nozzle in and away you go.  Within hours of birth, a new Mom will make her first effort at nursing.  There are specialists at the hospital – lactation consultants – to help; typically, there are no difficulties but it might not work properly at first attempt.  Junior might not be able to make a decent seal around the nipple, or the size/shape of the nipple might require Mom to hold the baby in a different position.  Yes, guys, there are multiple holds and each one has it own name.  Whodathunk?
 
So How Long Can Mom Nurse?
 
Nursing should start within hours, and for the first several weeks of life, will occur about every two to three hours with Mom.  After several weeks, you can figure out how to work in a bottle since Mom will be crawling the walls looking for a break.  For maximum health benefits, nursing should continue for six months, at which time you can start to provide solid foods; if your wife chooses to stop nursing, you can still supplement with formula in lieu of the breastmilk.  Remember, the CDC goal is to have one quarter of mothers nursing at the baby’s first birthday so she could be nursing even after the first birthday;  a few mothers will opt for nursing until the children are toddlers.  If this is the case, the number of daily nursings will probably decrease as hunger is sated by solid foods.  In many cases, the children wean themselves off because they are meeting their needs with a regular solid diet.
 
So how can some mothers nurse for so long?  The woman’s nursing physiology is a great example of market forces at work, i.e. supply and demand.  So long as nursing creates a demand for the milk, Mom’s body will continue to produce the milk.  As the baby’s demand wanes, the supply will likewise diminish.
 
A primary reason that the CDC might have difficulty reaching its six month goal is because of job requirements.  About 60% of American mothers work and most employers do not offer the time and privacy to permit expressing breastmilk via a pump.  Also, some women simply do not wish to continue nursing for an extended period.  At a couples’ gathering we attended years ago, a mother descended the steps buttoning her blouse.  As she entered the kitchen, she exclaimed "he’s six months old now – I want a glass of wine!"
 
So What Can I Do?
 
First, understand that nursing isn’t a speedy process.  Give Mom and child a chance to nurse without her feeling pressed and take more of the load.  Laundry, picking up, washing dishes, anything to ease the feeling of I have to hurry…  You can take up the gatekeeper/entertainer role; some new Moms feel as though they have to entertain the guests yet aren’t comfortable nursing in front of the company.  Entertain them instead and if necessary, feel free to suggest another time to visit.  I would suggest holding off on the vacuuming until later.
 
Second, check on Mom periodically.  Nursing mothers get thirsty and once they start the process, they can’t just stop and get a drink.  Frankly, a new nursing mother is going to be pretty scattered from the physical demands and the screwed-up sleep schedule.  Sorry, I forgot that new parents frequently don’t have a sleep schedule.
 
Third, make sure that what you give her to drink has no alcohol or caffeine.  What goes into Mom will then go into baby, even if in much smaller amounts.  But even a small amount of caffeine in your kid will ruin your night and probably your next day, too.
 
Fourth, make sure that when you start to feed the baby yourself, you don’t wait until the day that Mom has to return to work or is utterly unavailable.  There are some babies who want only Mom and will refuse the bottle from Dad or anyone else.  Don’t take it personally, but you’re just "not the Mama!"  Start the process early enough that you have time before Mom returns to work and is completely unavailable.  Screaming babies make for life’s longer days.
 
Fifth, offer to spell Mom and give a night-time bottle if possible.  A good night’s sleep is a wonderful gift.
 
And What Can Moms Do?
 
Be Patient.  You’re not a helicopter so stop hovering like Dad’s going to shove the bottle in your kid’s ear.  He has to learn too, and even if he’s not equipped like you are, it’s still a neat experience for him.
 
You have all kinds of books, instructional videos, friends and lactation consultants available.
 
He’s only got me.
 
For further information, try the following links
 
 
Special Thanks to Ms. Elaine Tobias RN, BSN, IBCLC for her review and suggestions to the article.
 

PracticalDad and the Miley Cyrus Photos

"I didn’t know they were going to strip her down and wrap her up in a blanket.  I was surprised when I saw it…but hey, that’s life.  Stuff happens."

– Billy Ray Cyrus on his daughter’s cheesecake shot, the Today Show, June 17, 2008

Help me understand this.  You’re there on a photo shoot when they strip your teenage daughter for a cheesecake shot and you’re surprised.  I understand that since I’d be surprised, too.  But hey, that’s life?!?!  Stuff happens?!?!?!

Dude, strange men will be ogling this shot of your teenage daughter.  What are you thinking?

I know a bunch of fathers – me included – who’d be out of there in a heartbeat.  Even if there’s a contract for the shoot, I doubt that such a shot would be enforceable in court.  And if there is a contract, tough.  It’s simply wrong to permit such a shot to occur.  Either he knew that such a shot would be controversial and hence, great for business, or else he’s negligent as a father.  Either way, he should be ashamed for what he permitted to happen.  She’s a 15 year-old girl.

There are moments when the pressure to go along can be overwhelming.  And it’s those moments that the parent has to be willing to be "the bad guy" in order to protect the kid.  It’s neither the manager’s nor the photographer’s job since they have a financial interest in letting this occur.  Whether it’s another parent, an employer or even a school system that’s trying to jam your kid, you have to be willing to enter unpleasant situations and stand for the best interests of your child.  Voices might be raised and threats rendered, but it’s your job to stand your ground.

When I was in middle school, I was badgered by other kids and several music faculty to take up the string bass.  I repeatedly said "no" to both groups and spoke to my father about it.  His response?  You have to learn to deal with the kids yourself, but the teachers should leave you alone when you refuse.  After a teacher called my father directly to enlist his support, I never heard of the issue again.  When I later asked what had happened, he simply said that it was part of his job as a father to stand up for his child.  As he also said, "a kid can’t be an SOB with an adult.  I can."  It was a relief to know that I was supported and it taught me a great deal about standing up to my peers when the need arose.

Yes, there’s a different world out there as mothers take to the workplace and fathers take to the home.  But that doesn’t mean that fathers are emasculated and can’t do right by their children.  You have to protect your young.

And as I learned, being an SOB can be a noble thing.

A PracticalDad’s Diaper Bag

Dad’s Diaper Bag

Don’t leave home without it.  Be Prepared.

You didn’t know that these lexicons of daily life also pertain to your new ball-and-chain, the diaper bag.

Hell hath no fury.

And that’s your mood when you find that it’s not properly stocked.  You’ll break a hip kicking yourself in the butt for when you don’t have what you need.

Let’s face it, you’re stuck with it so here’s how to make the best of it.

Not Your Mother’s Diaper Bag

Congratulations and welcome to the new world.  Since your other half is probably working and you’re doing your doody, that’s going to include taking Philo to the store and other spots.  Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a bag that, while obviously for babies, isn’t embarrassing.  When I started this gig 14 years ago – geez, I’m old – all of the bags that we saw in the store had cute, cuddly themes printed all over them.  Ideal, since I’m as far from cute as you get.  My wife understood that there was a difference between looking like a parent and the village idiot.  Consequently, our bag was a stolid navy blue and sturdy enough to last through three children.

I wore out before the bag did.

Since then, the number of actively involved men – Stay-at-home Dads and otherwise – has burgeoned.  And a few fathers, who also tired of looking like village idiots, came up with design lines of diaper bags and vests for the well-appointed father.  New bags, from DadGear (www.dadgear.com) and DiaperDude (www.diaperdude.com), sport updated designs and motifs to compartments for your mp3 and Blackberry.

So What Do You Need?

First, regardless of the design and motif, you need something with a shoulder strap that allows you to keep your hands free for Philo.

Next, there should be a portable changing pad on which you can lay him while he’s being changed.  Clean it regularly and even in a designated changing area, don’t expect it to be particularly sanitary.

Third, a large enough compartment for the spare wipes and diapers.

Fourth, consider a separate compartment to hold any bottles or liquids that you bring along for a meal or snack.  Some are equipped with insulated compartments for cold-storage.

Finally, you need sufficient smaller compartments to handle personal effects, like pens and keys.  Oh yeah, an mp3 player, too. 

Stocking the Bag

Diapers and wipes are obviously first on the list.  Carry enough diapers to last you through nasty situations, like a diarrhetic kid in a traffic jam.  Okay, that scenario requires a carton, but you get the drift.  I typically kept four in a bag at one time and would restock as needed.  What else?

  • Baby wipes in a ziplock bag.  Wipe manufacturers provide a small box in which to carry wipes, but I replaced it with a ziplock bag after the clasp broke and I was left with stiff, semi-dry wipes.
  • A full set of spare clothes, including an extra "onesie" for Philo after his customary blowouts.
  • A tube of ointment for chafing and redness; one with zinc oxide is preferable.
  • A plastic grocery bag to hold particularly nasty diapers when there are no receptacles available.
  • A small plastic container to hold Philo’s snack.
  • After he was weaned, a sippy cup for thirsty moments.
  • A small jar of Vicks Vap-o-rub for a nose dab during a particularly nasty mess.

Any Other Brilliant Suggestions?

Hell hath no fury.  Take a few moments to check out the bag and restock it with needed – and clean – items.  You can always stop at a local store if you’re desperate, but when you need the bag isn’t conducive for a Walmart run.  Finally, make it a point to regularly clean out the bag and wipe it thoroughly with a disinfectant wipe.  Philo’s bottom is nasty enough, don’t make it worse.

Damn, I would’ve liked the Skull and Maltese Cross look.

View From the Ridge

Parenting is truly a "forest for the trees" experience, especially when you have more than one child.  You are so caught up with the everyday minutiae of schoolwork, errands, activities – and squabbling – that you don’t always see that longer view.  And suddenly, it’s as though there’s a break in the tree-line and you realize that you’re on a ridge affording you a view of miles.

Tonight was that realization.  Youngest’s Tee-ball team met at a minor-league game to close out their season and the boys spent seven of nine innings tossing toy balls, wrestling, chasing and begging food.  They were typical early elementary boys:  wired and spastic.  Along for the ride was eldest, a daughter with a foot in the teen years and an ear in the iPod.  Middle was absent on his first non-family trip to go white-water rafting with his scout troop. 

So down below was the route of childhood as I’ve known it thus far.  Gradually starting to recede in the distance is the monitored playground romping and chase-tag of early childhood.  Adjacent to me are the first experiences of breaking away as the kids begin to expand and explore.  And ahead is the hilly and twisting passage into adulthood as they develop into the people that they’ll become.

As breathtaking a view as any overlook, whether in rural Virginia or British Columbia.

And suddenly, you’re again enveloped in trees as the next round of stuff happens.  And you keep that moment as long as possible until the next one arrives.

 

Helping Junior at Tee-ball:  A Practical Dad Solution

A truly fun – and nervewracking – experience is watching your small child participate in a team sport for the first time.  They’ve wanted to try it – hopefully – and you watch to see how they do.  The outdoor games, like soccer, are especially interesting since the budding star can get waylaid by low-flying planes, clouds and a particularly beautiful patch of dandelions.

Unlike soccer however, in which the junior Beckham chases the speckled round ball, tee-ball is more challenging.  The player not only is trying to figure out how to catch and throw a ball, he must also try to remember where to stand while in the field.  Players routinely shift from 3rd to 2nd base as they meet to look for worms or congregate at the pitchers mound to see who can kick dirt the farthest.  Or they just don’t remember where to stand.

One Dad on my son’s team solved the problem nicely.  Junior kept veering away from first base or played in the basepath, oblivious to any runner.  Instead of constantly having to yell to gain his attention and then communicating the right position, Dad just walked over to 1st base between innings and scuffed a big circle in the dirt with the instructions to "remember your circle".  And when Junior started to stray, Dad would yell "circle" and Junior returned like a faithful retriever.

By the last game of the season, all of the players did a creditable job knowing where they had to be.  And as we walked across the diamond after my son’s last game, I looked down and noted a circle at every position. 

Career Training for a Practical Dad

It’s a sunny and hot July morning in DC, when you understand why the English used to consider the British Embassy posting as a tropical assignment.  The spouse has gone to work for the first time after her maternity leave and I’m on my own after a weekend of cramming and preparation for my first time with the infant girl.  I’ve managed to feed and change her without dropping her on her head or setting fire to the crib.  She’s been successfully tucked in for a nap – I hate the phrase "putting her down" as it sounds sinister – and when I descend the stairs, the swelling confidence is overcome by the clutter in the sink and the pile of laundry on the sofa.  And it’s the first of many times that I’ll ask myself:

     What the hell do I do now?

What can prepare a former corporate rat, a business/economics-degreed suit, for a life at home raising children?  It’s not like I took Home Economics – excuse me, it’s Family and Consumer Science now, thank you – or even paid close attention when we visited with friends and their newborns.

Fourteen years later, I understand that the business/economics curriculum is perhaps the best education for being a stay-at-home parent.

Child #1

With the first child, you spend your time focusing on the concepts learned in Human Resource Management.  As Maslow described it in his Hierarchy of Needs, you want your little prodigy to go beyond what you’ll ever accomplish and attain the highest level of the hierarchy:  self-actualization.  Even after an ‘A’ in the class, I’m still not certain what it means; I do know that it sounds suspiciously like what some old-line Catholics consider a sin.

Get out of there right now, Aloysius!  Are you self-actualizing again?  Father Tim preached against that last month!

Regardless, you work to assure that Junior can reach his full potential and astound the world.  Who knows doing what.

Child #2

That perspective changes when the second child arrives and in a short period, you’ve begun to spend more time utilizing your Business Law background.  Especially property rights.  And labor relations/negotiations.  Don’t get me started on justice and fairness.

Sharing and altruism might be innate in some children, but they require effort to cultivate.  Even when you’ve convinced little Vincent that he has old toys that can go to "Sister Mary Margaret’s Home for Destitute and Wayward Children", if he sees little sister caressing a disemboweled, scabrous Teddy Bear, it will become the most beloved friend that he ever had.  And then there’s: 

No, Vincent.  You can’t take that toy away from Hortense after letting her play with it for two weeks.  That’s not sharing.  It’s wrong and you’re estopped from doing that.

I grew up in a "Highway Household" – so long as your feet are under my table, it’s my way or the highway – so it’s still grating to have children try to negotiate with you.  I understand that it’s how they learn and test their limits, but cleaning your room is just something that you do. 

Daddy, if I put away ALL of my toys, can I have a cookie?  And if I really put them where they belong, can I have a 50% COLA in my allowance?

No, Vincent.  Clean your room before I put a 50% increase in your donation to Sister Mary Margaret’s.  Got me?

Child #>=3

By now, you’ve moved onto the Operations Management portion of the curriculum.  The daily schedule – especially with older children – becomes an exercise worthy of the "Traveling Salesman" problem.

Hortense has a 3:45 Tuesday basketball practice at St Matilda’s while Vincent has a 4:15 guitar practice across town at Mrs. Shyster’s studio.  Vincent will be done in a half-hour while Hortense has Brownies at 5:15 until 6:00, at which time Vincent has his soccer practice at the Fieldhouse.  Remember that the bus wouldn’t even arrive at their stop until 3:40, so you’re picking them up at school.  Being children, meaning that they sometimes can’t find their tushies with both hands, you’re obligated to pack the van with two sets of gym clothing, a guitar and sufficient books and toys for little Abner, who’s begun to grow roots into the carseat.  Given the above, what’s for dinner?  Extra credit is identifying what vegetables will be part of the meal.

The flip side to Operations is Inventory Control.  Cost Accounting teaches that there are various approaches to the control of a firm’s inventory.

FIFO (First In, First Out) – the kids’ clothes are used regularly and the drawer contents are rotated to assure that Vincent and Hortense routinely wear all of their clothing.

LIFO (Last In, First Out) – the kids’ clothes are managed such that the last items in the drawer are used first by Vincent and Hortense.  The consequence is that some clothes are worn more than others and that really lovely outfit from Aunt Florence will see the light of day just when it gets dontated to Sister Mary Margaret’s.

JIT (Just In Time) – the inventory mechanism in which the daily wardrobe consists solely of what’s available in the dryer that morning.  It would be easier to just move the dryer into Vincent’s bedroom, but that would entail upgrading the outlet to 220.

But although the focus changes with each new addition, you still make the effort to come back again and again to Maslow.  And one more extra-credit question:  Was Maslow Catholic?

Father’s Lesson #2:  Uphold the Mother

Remember this:  Uphold your kid’s mother.  Even when you’re on the outs, uphold her to the kids.  Although it’s lesson #2, it’s actually the hardest to put into practice, and especially if the marriage is over.  But it has to happen.

Likewise, you should expect the same from the mother.  Hear that, ladies?

Why is this so important?

First, young kids aren’t stupid and they’ll see that marriages founder and families break up.  Even if your marriage is solid, snide remarks or complaints about your other half will cause concerns.  When my wife and I called the two eldest kids together to tell them of pregnancy #3, our daughter’s first question on coming in was whether we were going to get a divorce.  Why?  A friend’s parents had called her in similarly to tell her of their plan to end their marriage.  Growing up can be hard enough, don’t make it unnecessarily harder.

Second, each parent – Mom and Dad – deserve to be given respect by the other.  Kids will realize soon enough that the ‘rents aren’t perfect, and there’s no need to hasten that along or magnify the existing imperfections.

Third, and this feeds off of the second, kids are remarkably calculating.  They inhabit a world of egocentrism that only later gives way to a larger view – if it does at all.  To denigrate Mom – especially if she’s home with the kids – will only give them additional means to exploit any parental cracks for their own ends.  And this can only foster more problems for you, too.

Finally, adulthood can exist in remarkable shades of gray.  Unfortunately, children see in stark black and white.  They cannot comprehend the stresses and tensions that inhabit adult relationships and to expose them to such in any casual way is to potentially overwhelm them.  There’s a difference between a careful, planned explanation and an impromptu remark or slam.

There are difficult periods in any relationship, even if your mate is your best friend.  Don’t create additional problems by losing your cool in a momentary pique.

Your Child and Naptimes

Just as  your kid requires interaction and healthy food to thrive, she’ll also need sleep – far more than you require, and more than she’ll get at night.  This will diminish as she grows, but you’ll be surprised at how much time she spends studying the inside of her eyelids.  Years before our first child, we visited with friends who were new parents.  When I commented to them about how much fun their new son probably was, Mom’s response was "nah, he just eats and mostly sleeps.  We call him our VIPP – Very Important Potted Plant."

How long are the naps and how often will she nap?

While no two children are exactly alike in personality, there are typical patterns to the small body’s sleep needs.  Usually, the pattern will be:

AGE                                        # NAPS      AVG DURATION

< 12 Months                         2                  2 hours/nap

12 – 24 Months                    1                  2 hours/nap

24 – 36 Months                    1                  1 – 1.5 hours/nap

Remember that these are averages and yours just might be different.  One of my kids only napped for an hour at a time during the first year, while an acquaintance’s  son would sleep for three hours at a pop.

Near the end of each age level, the shift will begin to occur.  The morning nap will naturally shorten until she stays awake; the next day, she might again act as though she’s ready to conk out and the day afterwards, not conk out.  This is a natural transition until you’re clear the next level has been reached.  There is no absolutely certain sign that she’s dropping a nap or changing her sleep schedule.  The real adjustment that you need to make during this period is to be ready to feed her earlier so as to move up the afternoon nap.

Why does a child need to nap?

Your daughter is growing at a phenomenal rate and her body is consuming energy and fuel at a massive clip, kind of like Mainland China.  Even with a decent night’s sleep and a solid diet, her body’s capacity to cope will diminish unless she can get more rest.  The naps will lessen as she develops a better nighttime sleep pattern, but growth spurts and illness will place added burdens on her body and increase the need for a good nap.

"The Witching Hour"

If you ask most homemaker parents about their least favorite time of the day, the response would probably be late afternoon, aka The Witching Hour.  Even with naps, the kid’s energy levels are waning as she wears out after the day and she’ll likely need more attention just as you’re trying to get dinner ready.  It is a good test of your ability to multi-task, even with a nap.  So how would it be if there were no nap at all?

How do I know when my kid needs a nap?

Obvious signs of needing a nap are:

  • rubbing eyes;
  • yawning;
  • for babies, drooping head and neck.

Not-so-obvious signs of need are:

  • increasing crankiness or tantrum;
  • shortened attention span (if that’s even possible);
  • more fidgeting.

How do I put my kid down for a nap?

Let me say this now.  There is no 100% Guaranteed way to successfully put a child down for a nap, so be patient until you get the hang of it.

Kids do better with a routine as they find the familiarity comforting, so unless she utterly collapses on the floor from exhaustion – which occasionally happens – be prepared to spend some time in a daily ritual.  This involves a period of quiet time to wind down from activity; you can try a short book, perhaps followed by a hummed or sung lullaby.

You ideally want her to fall asleep by herself instead of in your arms, so make it a practice of getting her to the crib – on her back – before she conks out.  Whether or not she cries, be prepared to check on her every several minutes until she does sleep and don’t panic if she does cry.  In that event, reassure her and step out again; recognize though that persistent crying might be indicative of other problems and you should check for other issues.