Dads and the Bedtime Routine

Kids do well when there’s a standard routine for them to follow.  It provides a sense of comfort, especially when things are tense or rocky, and an anchor to which they can cling.  But a good routine has certain elements in common regardless of the child and his or her personality and age.

The rationale of the bedtime routine is that it provides the child an opportunity to calm down and relax after the course of a day.  They’re usually tired and the energy levels are lower after a busy day, but they can still become hyper and overly stimulated if the situation isn’t managed properly.  And an overly stimulated, tired child is a classic recipe for an evening meltdown.  So what should you remember?

  • Active play of any kind will tend to stimulate a child.  This includes chase/tag, wrestling and even playing in the bathtub.
  • Kids need to learn to remember things and a quiet talk about their day helps train their memory to what occurred.  It’s common to ask a small child what he – or she – did in a day and get a thousand yard stare.  It’s not being disobedient as much as simply not remembering and walking them through the day’s events will help train their memory for when they’re older. 
  • Early evening is not the time for additional snacks that contain sugar or any other kind of stimulants.  Any snack should be relatively bland or naturally sweet and devoid of sweeteners.  This ban also includes fruit juices, which typically contain significant amounts of high fructose corn syrup or sugar.
  • Most video games, especially action games, will stimulate the child so that the bedtime is damaged.  The child won’t want to stop the game and when they do, it will take additional time to relax and then fall asleep.

The key is to provide a calm environment.

So what might a bedtime routine look like?

  1. After finishing dinner, the child can have a bath.  Smaller kids get messier at dinner and an earlier bath simply avoids any additional mess.  The child also has an opportunity for wet hair to dry before bedtime – avoiding the morning bedhead – and if the bath gets boisterous, there’s still an opportunity to calm down before hitting the sheets.  And yes, bathtime was a rambunctious affair in my house.
  2. After the bath, you – and the child when older – can quickly pick up their room after putting on the pajamas.  This way, the day doesn’t actually end with a chore.
  3. When the pajamas are on and the room is picked up, he can watch some quiet television or play a game with you.  As much as I enjoyed Sesame Street, I found that the pace was just a little too quick for the time just before bedtime.  Again, this is an opportunity to play an easy card or board game.
  4. Take your child up to bed and curl up for a story or for some easy conversation. 
  5. Finish the routine with whatever customs you deem appropriate.  Prayer or final thoughts for the day can be done before the lights are out.
  6. Remember that kids crave physical contact.  They’ll someday grow up and avoid the little affections that they love when little.  It’s also important if there’s some anger or tension at bedtime, and yes, that’s liable to happen.  Even if you’re ticked off or frustrated, try to find it within yourself to provide that affection so that they don’t think that they aren’t loved because of something that they did.  I was surprised to find that children will believe that Daddy doesn’t love them anymore because of their behavior.  I also felt tremendously guilty.
  7. After they’re in bed, take a few minutes to hang around upstairs to assure that they’re settled.  A child who gets out of bed and walks into a lit area is prone to a bit of additional stimulation, so hanging around can avoid that situation.

You’re liable to find that the early evening television is ruined because of the bedtime ritual and I’ve found that some shows were almost off of the air before I was able to even see them.  But you can always catch the shows on cable, which is something that you’ll never be able to do with a child’s bedtime. 

Enjoy it while you can.

A Word About the Nipple

I’m talking about the one on the bottle, not the other one.

Now that I have your attention, pay the same attention to the bottle nipple as you pay to changing the oil in your car.  Because an overly-used nipple creates issues for Junior just like dirty oil does for the mini-van.


When the baby suckles from the bottle nipple, the milk flows through a tiny hole in the nipple into the baby’s mouth.  And it’s small size means that only a certain amount can enter at a time.  This is good for your child since it prevents too much into the mouth – and stomach – at one time.  But over time, the constant suckling and pressure of the milk flow increases the size of the hole so that more milk flows into the baby and creates the potential for a stomachache.  And if a baby drinks too much too quickly, more air will also flow into the stomach with all of the discomfort – and crying – that that entails.

What’s a good indicator that the nipple is ready for replacement?  When you turn the bottle over to test whether the liquid is too warm, watch how it flows from the bottle.  The nipple should be fine if the milk comes out in drops.  But if it comes out in a small, constant flow, then it’s time to replace the nipple.  Remember that for best results, the milk comes at a rate determined by the baby’s suckling, not one akin to a beer can being punctured by a screwdriver.

PracticalDad:  Needing a Mancave

A full summer with three boys.  I’m going to have a drink.

– Mother overheard by PracticalDad on the first day of school

You’ll love them and you’re willing to die for them.  But understand that the more time spent with them, the more likely that you’ll need a break from them. 

Children are many things, but you don’t often hear the reality about them either.  The large majority are born as egocentric narcissists and you are charged with the task of helping them grow into something better.  It isn’t easy and it’s only been in the past several years that TV shows like Supernanny and Nanny911 have brought the lowlights of screaming, misbehaving children to the screen.  Granted, these are culled from the worst for your viewing pleasure but there’s a truth in there that sitcoms and other shows don’t discuss.  Raising children isn’t easy – they can be petulant and random, testing their boundaries on a daily basis – and even the best parents can lose their temper. 

Which is why you should have a place of your own, a mancave.  Even Superman had a Fortress of Solitude, a place to go when he tired of having to deal with another falling airplane or Lex Luthor for the umpteenth time.  And it occasionally appears as though the kids are trying to push your buttons as frequently as Luthor did with Superman.

There was an article several years ago about the decline and coming demise of the average guy’s den.  There were fewer and fewer guys with their own retreat rooms, places where they could go to get away from the noise and fracas.  These places might look cruddy and dingy, but they reflected the inner guy.  My father’s retreat was a dank basement workbench that smelled of smoke and discouraged childhood attendance.  But with more men stepping up and pitching in, these retreats are fading as the guy sticks more closely to the main living area, decorated by the mate and strewn with the debris of childhood run amok.  One of the few exceptions is Brian, the father of Youngest’s friend, who tells his son that he’ll be in the mancave watching sports on the big screen.

And with the slow demise of the den, the need for another refuge rises.

So what can you do when the kids have pressed you to the limit?  How do you get a break?

  • Banish them to their individual rooms for a period of time.  Letting them stay together only asks for further trouble as they pick and annoy one another, further driving you to the breaking point.  And don’t guilty about it since a temporary Dad’s time-out is infinitely better than the alternatives.
  • Pop in a DVD acceptable to the kids and head to your room or some other place in the house.  Electronics will usually keep them in thrall to the Pixel God long enough that you get the break you need.
  • Schedule a regular time for a get-away from the kids.  It can be a night that the mate or a sitter takes the kids while you pursue what interests you.  Poker, pool, bowling or a good book.
  • It’s counter-intuitive, but let them invite other kids over to play.  Children don’t want to cannibalize playmates as much as siblings, so having someone else to hold their attention can buy you the time you need.  Understand however, that you are now binding yourself to maintain control of your emotions and actions.
  • Incorporate a regular time into the kids’ schedule for quiet, whether it’s listening to music, quiet play or reading/looking at stories.  That’s why I truly miss the naps that the kids took daily.

So there are alternatives when you don’t have a mancave available like Brian.  But I still gotta get me one of those.


Wish I’d Known Then What I Know Now:  Patience

 With fifteen years of full-time caregiving under my belt, I’ve learned that I’ve had to alter my concept of time and timeliness.  But I also wish that I’d understood that patience really is critically important.  Patience with my kids, my mate and myself. 

I’ve always been categorized as an easy-going person.  Before my marriage, my father-in-law asked his daughter whether I really was this laidback or if was just a display for the family.  Nope, he’s usually like that was her response.  And this continued through years of marriage and moving, despite some occasional lapses.  It even continued through the years with only one child. 

Patience with the kids

But there came a point with the arrival of Middle – Eldest was a toddler – that the patience started to break.  The baby took all of the attention that babies take, especially when they don’t sleep at night.  And there were nights that I swore that I’d never sleep again.  And Eldest the Toddler had her own set of needs as she processed the change in her life.  Middle cried and got the attention, and when Middle napped in the afternoon, Dad grabbed naps in the La-Z-Boy while she watched Disney to a soundtrack of paternal snoring. 

Eldest really was – and still is – a wonderful kid, but she had her own set of toddler issues.  Reaches for independence versus the need to feel protected.  Processing the usual new sibling feelings of love and competition.  And the almost universal egocentrism that afflicts all children until they hopefully outgrow it.  Or at least learn how to bring it under control.  And with the arrival of youngest, the circus took on a whole new dimension as Middle experienced the same general feelings for the first time and Eldest experienced them again from a different age with it’s own perspective. 

Change requires adjustment and sometimes adjustment is a bit difficult, even if it’s good.

And in the midst of it, I sometimes forgot that little kids can’t always control these things because they’re kids.  They aren’t "little people" with the implication that they’re just smaller versions of adults.  They are children having to grapple with issues that are far newer to them than to a thirty or forty-something adult, but without the ability to express themselves.  So when they encounter new situations, they respond with what they know.  Children are wonderful and deserve protection, good families and good parents but you have to understand that they are still children.  And that means that when they’re little, they frequently can’t control what they do.  They just do it.

Nike children, with a swoosh.

Patience with my mate

More men are taking a larger role in the family life – by choice or necessity – and this really is a break from previous American generations.  But this is new territory for the mothers as well as the fathers. 

Women now have to work to help support the family as much as the men.  And before this, they were sold the idea that they could successfully manage both a career and motherhood.  But they weren’t shown the cost that comes with such juggling.  Employers that expect loyalty yet frequently don’t return it.  A grudging acquiescence to the demands of parenthood when kids get sick or encounter difficulties.  The need to produce in order to compete with other families trying to support themselves.    My brother-in-law once remarked that women are starting to realize there’s perhaps a reason that American men die years earlier their spouses.  

So women are now finding that they aren’t there for the special moments that their mothers and grandmothers experienced.  Instead, these moments are seen by the fathers or others and they must get the news later.  The arena that they usually learned would be their purview – the home – would instead be managed by the father.  This last is probably most frustrating since the reality is that the really, really large number of guys never grow up learning what it takes to run a household.  She’s left trying to teach the right way and at the same time, un-do the wrong way that something’s been done. 

Let’s be honest.  When my mate was fifteen, she was reaching under the bed to clean.  When I was fifteen, I was reaching under the bed to reach the stash of Playboy magazines.

So this process of ceding the control of the household isn’t easy for the women.  Change and adjustment.

Patience with myself

Most men don’t ever think that they’re going to be spending a huge amount of time with the kids.  And like me, they’re unprepared for what’s coming at them.

Kids are egocentric.  Kids don’t think.  Kids are walking, breathing blank slates that you can never assume actually know how to do anything on their own.  Some can figure things out on their own, but it’s not safe to think that they actually will.  And a child can, in almost an instant, shift from screaming banshee to the child that you once again would die for. 

And an increasing number of children isn’t additive, it’s exponential.  They will react to their surroundings and one another and do so in ways that make perfect sense to a child.  But it’s been at least two decades since I was a child, so forgive me if I forgot the thought process.

The result is that I felt for years as though I was living in a real-life pinball game and because nobody ever really told me about the reality, I didn’t understand that these things were part and parcel of heavy involvement with children.

Be patient with yourself.  You are probably doing more with your kid than your old man did with you and in the great majority of cases, the fact that you’re doing it will mean all of the difference in the world to your kid.  With a divorce rate of about 50% for the past twenty years, a fair number of men have no real experience of hands-on fathers and are doing their damnedest by feel, thought and intuition.

You will get frustrated and you will get angry.  You will probably wonder whether they’re ever going to pull things together or whether you’re a failure as a father.  Kids will pull themselves together and your constant conversations will register with them and crop up later at the most unlikely moments.  And you will find those moments when everything comes together and renews you for the next round of childishness.

But one of the differences between you and your child is what you remember to do with the anger and frustration.  You’re the adult.

Hang in there.


Wish I’d Known Then What I Know Now:  Time

Next week is the fifteenth anniversary of my resignation from work to stay home with the kids.  And I’ve been asking myself the question, what do I wish that I’d known then?  And the first answer is:  time.

Adults live in a world that is typically regimented in terms of time.  There are work deadlines and due dates for bills.  Many usually have one or more favorite activities that fill in the unused blocks.  We fit in a trip to the gym for a workout before work or between work and dinner.  We arrange for a weekend away with the mate or schedule a regular poker night with the buddies.  And there are constant complaints about the lack of time and the constant rush to be somewhere or do something.

But kids are born with no innate sense of time.  Their awareness of time is something that is absorbed from the parents and they will frequently later take on the habits and attitudes of their folks.  But when they’re first born, they have no need to be somewhere and the only activities are the ones that the parents schedule for them.   

What kids are born with is an extreme egocentrism.  Initially, it’s necessary since a baby simply cannot take care of itself, but as the child grows and becomes aware, the egocentrism reigns supreme until he or she learns to consider others.  And until this starts to develop, you have to understand that your life is no longer your own.  You do need to find time for yourself to maintain some sanity, but your child isn’t going to care whether you were able to make the gym or have the poker night.  And the reality is that with the new requirements of parent- and fatherhood, you aren’t going to have time available for them. 

One of my major challenges over the years has been to find a balance between schedule and flexibility, especially when the kids are very young.  I have to make the doctor and dentist appointments work within the construct of their daily needs – feedings and naps – but what can be jettisoned if they’re in a growth spurt and need the additional sleep?  How do I reapportion the daily task load when she’s teething and especially needs hands-on attention while I should be making dinner?  What has to go away to make time for coaching the soccer team or leading the scout den? How do I function when I’ve gotten four hours sleep from caring for a kid with a g-i virus?

The irony is that while kids have no concept of time, time is what they require most.  You don’t have to give them a new toy a week to maintain their interest and you don’t have to sit them in front of the television or computer to occupy them.  What you do need to do is spend concentrated time with them.  Take them for walks or to the park, play games with them and read to them, and talk to them.  The child isn’t going to be terribly aware of what he doesn’t have until he’s taking in more television and spending more time with other kids.  And if you give him the time that he requires for his development – and no, there’s not a hard and fast number – then he really isn’t going to give a damn that somebody has more Bakugon cards. 

So don’t get terribly frustrated when it seems like there’s no time.  There is time and God willing, there will be time again when they’re older.  But accept that what you considered to be timely – in terms of activity and time spent – is going to change for the next number of years.  And try to enjoy them.  As someone once wrote to me, I miss those days.

PracticalDad and Sleep

How does a Dad handle the altered sleep schedule and survive?  After you have children, your sleep habits will change dramatically and a full night’s sleep will become much more dear.  I write this before dawn after spending part of the night curled up with a first grader to help him sleep. 

Having a child is a tiring thing and part of this will result of sheer lack of sleep.  When they are babies, it’s only fair that you take turns handling the night time duties; this isn’t just Mom’s job and she needs rest, too.  And as they age, you’ll continue to lose sleep because of child fear, nightmares, bedwetting and illness.  Once you think that they’re beyond that, you’ll be staying up late to wait for them as they proceed into the world.  This PracticalDad found out last night that he’s going to be a chaperone until 2 AM for a high school cast party.  I’ve found that as I’ve aged, I’ve had to rethink what is acceptable for my own sleep.

So how can a Dad cope with an interrupted sleep schedule?  Here are some possibilities.

  • Take turns with the mother on being "on call" on alternating nights so that you can get a decent night’s sleep.
  • When it’s not your call night, retire earlier to catch up on what you’ve missed.
  • Rethink your attitude toward naps.  I’ve historically felt guilty taking a nap since there’s always "other stuff" but I’ve come to accept that a nap is an acceptable way to compensate for the lost sleep since it helps me continue to function.
  • Keep a favorite kid’s video handy to occupy the kids when you need a rest.  One of our children slept horribly at night for about a year and I had to contend with an older child as well.  When the younger one went to sleep and the older one was awake, I’d pull the video out and let older child watch it as she curled up in my lap – while I napped.
  • Synchronize your nap with the child’s nap and even curl up with the child for a period.  I found that a half-hour snooze at the start of the child’s two hour nap left me 90 minutes – refreshed – to get work done.

Raising children is a marathon and when you have several of them, it’s akin to an Ironman competition.  Take care of yourself so that you can take care of them.

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.  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 a yellowish 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 yarmulkes.
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.  Among 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 ovarian and 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 pleasurable chemical effect when they are breastfeeding.  And if these reasons don’t convince you, let me sound like a GE hack:  think Green.   Breast milk 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.
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Special Thanks to Ms. Elaine Tobias RN, BSN, IBCLC for her review and suggestions to the article.

Dressing Your Child for the Weather

Even taking a walk or run outside with Junior requires additional thought and preparation, particularly in dressing him for the weather.  For the first several months of life, a baby’s body isn’t yet able to adequately adapt to cooler temperatures.  In fact, he feels better in temperatures that you find hot.  Consequently, he’ll be bothered when you find it comfortably refreshing.

My first child was born in Spring and it took time to grasp that she was underdressed – in a cotton sleeper – for a mid-morning Spring stroll.  What should have been a pleasant father/child session became an exercise in fret-management.  Unfortunately, I also underdressed her for the indoors as well until I adapted. 

So what are some guidelines in dressing Junior so that he’s warm enough?

  • As a rule-of-thumb, he should be wearing about one more layer of clothing that you are wearing.  In running shorts on a comfortable Spring/Fall day?  Keep him in clothing that covers his limbs and feet.  Wearing a sweatshirt or sweater in the house?  He needs likewise.  If it’s the height of Summer, shorts are fine but not during other seasons unless it’s justified.
  • If outside, dress him in layers so that you can remove or replace clothing as necessary.
  • He’ll tend to stay warmer in a chest carrier because of the proximity to your own body heat, but legs and arms still need to be covered.
  • Keep the head covered.  In colder weather, the bulk of a body’s heat loss is through the head; in warmer weather – colder, too – you want to provide protection from the sun.

He still can’t don ratty shorts and running shoes for a brisk Fall run with you, but give him time.  Until then, he’ll still like the run, but in something heavier.


I’ve Got the Baby…Now What?

So What Do I Do After the First Five Minutes?

Okay guys, you now have sole custody of the kid while your other half takes some time to run errands or kibbitz with her friends. "Damn," you think, "this will be really cool." But as she rolls out of the driveway, it dawns on you that this is going to be for hours.

What on God’s green earth am I going to do with this little kid for that long? This is my chance to show that I do have a clue so just tossing him in the crib or in front of the TV isn’t really an option here.

So what happens first? Babies and small children won’t need things done at precisely the exact moment, but they really do best if kept on a fairly predictable routine. Creating a simple thumbnail schedule is a place to start. Does Junior take naps, and is your timeframe with Junior in that nap period? If so, jot it onto the schedule and bear in mind that he’ll probably have to spend some quiet, "wind-down" time before being tucked in for a nap. Does Junior usually have a meal or snack in the time frame? If so, jot it onto the schedule and then determine what Junior’s going to eat and how long it might take to prepare. By the way, I have kids of both genders but I’m using"he" for simplicity sake.

And then what happens? Here are a few basic rules before getting on with the good stuff.


Rule #1 Remember that perhaps the most important thing that your child needs is interaction. He will have to learn to occupy himself at times, but his needs – cognitive, emotional and physical – and his ability to cope with the world are dramatically improved by regular interaction with you and Mom. Yes, love is absolutely a given here but let’s be honest, there are a lot of folks around who love their kids but don’t spend enough time with them.

This is your time, take advantage of it.

Rule #2 A little TV is okay, but only in limited doses and only certain programs. TV might be an option while you fix a snack/meal, or tend to a few quick chores; but it cannot and must not become a staple. Spending the afternoon in the woodshop while Junior watches the idiot box is not the right idea.

Rule #3 You have a little leeway if Junior isn’t crawling yet, but you are still going to have to pay attention to where he is and especially what is withing his reach. If he can reach it, it’s going in his mouth faster than a cop with a doughnut.

Rule #4 Relax. This can and should be fun; it does get hairier when you are responsible for more than one and they’re at different ages.

Okay, enough rules. Now what can I do with Junior? Try these for size.

Read to him. Even if he’s a baby, hearing the use of language will give him a leg up on his own verbal skills. When we lived in DC some years ago, the only way to get my regular dose of Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser was to read aloud to the baby while she lay next to me on the floor. If he’s older, cardboard page books are great: they are written for the youngest levels and he can work on his motor skills by helping to turn pages without the worry of tearing them.

Sing to him. In Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, a divorced and out-of-touch Tom Cruise lullabies his daughter – in a war zone, no less – with a lousy rendition of Little Deuce Coupe. It isn’t the melody and God knows not the singing, but the voice, language and rhythm that are important for the kid.

Get down on the floor with him. Play Peek-a-boo and lift him over your head. Wrestle. If he can sit up, spend time rolling a ball back and forth. Give him piggyback or bear rides. Build block towers and let him knock them down, but don’t get invested in creating masterpieces that you won’t allow to be destroyed. It might get monotonous, but it matters to him and believe it or not, this is part of your job as a parent. And not all jobs are exciting.

Go outside. If the weather isn’t bad, toss him into a backpack, stroller or wagon and go for a walk.

Make simple crafts. This doesn’t have to be rocket science and God knows I’m not Martha Stewart. Use your imagination. One neighbor spent an afternoon making more than a dozen light sabers out of rolled-up newspapers, water bottles and duct tape.  Make a space helmet from construction paper and a 24 pack soda case. Sometimes the simplest and goofiest looking stuff is the most memorable.

Pull out a deck of cards. You can use them to practice counting, teach him the difference between colors and shapes, or if he’s older, teach basic math skills by playing War. Smaller kids just get a kick out of 52 Pick-up.

Build a fort. If you have boxes, pull them out and let Junior climb in and through. Or just throw a blanket over the dining room/kitchen table to create a clubhouse.

Play "clayface". Let your kid mold your face into different shapes.

Teach cause-and-effect. If your child touches you, move something else. Touching a left cheek means a lifted left eyebrow or poking a lower lip rewards him with a wink. Have fun with it.

No matter what you do here, remember that the key is interaction. This benefits him immensely, as well as you with stronger bonds.

And one other note. If you have to leave the room for any period of time – regardless of the length – make sure that he is back in his crib or playpen. This requirement will diminish as he grows, but pay attention as an accident will happen in the blink of an eye. Trust me on that one.