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Misconceptions about “normal” baby patterns

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If I have learned anything since becoming a mother, it’s that there is SO much information available to us about what our babies should or shouldn’t be doing, but the majority of it is just not very accurate or realistic. I think this is a major contributor to our maternal mental health issues. When we are misinformed about normal infant development, we develop unrealistic expectations. When our baby does not meet those expectations, we are left thinking there must be something wrong with us or our baby. It’s important to educate mothers about normal infant development patterns, and so I created the following brief list of some common misconceptions. Note: This is NOT a judgement call on anyone for parenting differently, and if your baby doesn’t do some of these things, that can be normal, too! The point is that there is a wide range of “normal” for babies, and it’s important to have accurate information to make informed parenting decisions.

It can be NORMAL for a newborn to cry when not being held.

Babies are comforted by physical touch and warmth, especially by their mother. There are so many benefits to holding your newborn, including bonding, physiological regulation, and prevention of plagiocephaly. Baby-wearing is a great hands-free way to get things done that allows many of the same benefits.

It’s NORMAL for babies to nurse on demand & frequently, not only every 3-4 hours.

Babies have tiny tummies, and breastmilk is digested quickly, both of which result in the need for breastfed babies to be fed often. Frequent nursing also helps to establish milk supply. Formula-fed babies usually eat a larger quantity at a time and less often than breastfed babies.

It’s NORMAL for babies (and mama) to fall asleep while nursing.

Nursing to sleep is not a bad habit that needs to be prevented. It is a physiological, normal response resulting from the hormones that are released during nursing.

It’s NORMAL for babies to nurse for comfort.

You are not being used as a pacifier, mama. You are the original pacifier. Babies nurse for many reasons, including nutrition, comfort, pain relief, and bonding with mom.

It’s NORMAL for babies to breastfeed past 1 year.

Our society’s description of this, “extended breastfeeding”, is not very accurate.  The biological normal age of weaning appears to be somewhere between 2.5 and 7 years. Breastmilk does not lose it’s nutritional value after 1 year.

It’s NORMAL for babies to not adhere to our modern schedules very well.

Babies are biological creatures. They feed, sleep, and poop when and where they need to. Trying to force them into rigid schedules can create additional stress.

It can be NORMAL for babies & toddlers to wake and nurse during the night.

We expect and understand that babies are totally dependent creatures and rely on us for all of their needs (diaper changes, eating, bathing, getting from place to place etc.), except when it comes to sleep. The expectation of early sleep consolidation and sleeping through the night is a culturally created construct based on our modern, busy schedules. These sleep expectations are much more about what we desire our babies to do than what is realistic and appropriate for them to do. Sleep is a developmental process that babies can be gently & lovingly guided through, much like we would guide them through learning to crawl, walk, eat, ride a bike etc. The ability to sleep independently takes time. Research demonstrates that night waking and nursing actually serve as a protective mechanism for babies under the age of 1. It’s normal, not a problem that needs to be fixed through sleep training. (Check out cosleeping.nd.edu for more great research on the benefits of cosleeping and how to do so safely.)

It’s NORMAL for babies to cry when they need something.

Babies do not have the cognitive ability to manipulate us. We cannot spoil them. Babies make their needs known by crying. By responding to their cries and fulfilling their needs, we are helping them to form secure attachment relationships with us, which are the foundation of their mental and emotional health.

It’s NORMAL for older babies and toddlers to have strong emotional reactions when things don’t go their way.

This is the only way they know how to express themselves at this age. Their communication is limited, and they are just starting to begin to learn how the world works. By validating their emotions and providing alternative ways to express themselves, we can teach them more appropriate ways to cope with big emotions and set them up to be able to successfully navigate challenging situations and relationships. This takes consistency and time (years, even!).


Now, I know that many of the normal behaviors I listed are not ideal. It can definitely be inconvenient and downright HARD when your baby needs to be attached to you 24/7, or won’t sleep without you. That’s why we need to start finding more ways of supporting moms through these tough times, rather than giving really unhelpful advice that is contrary to normal baby behavior. Rather than shaming the mom who is bedsharing, we need to provide safe bedsharing recommendations and let her know that it’s biologically appropriate and beneficial. Rather than casting judgment on the mom who is nursing her cluster-feeding baby in public, we need to offer kind words of encouragement and boost her confidence. Rather than scaring the mom who doesn’t want to sleep train by telling her the child won’t ever sleep alone, we need to let her know that she’s giving her baby what he/she needs right now (research actually shows that cosleeping fosters future independence and self-esteem among many other benefits). Rather than rolling our eyes at the mom who is having a difficult time with her toddler having a meltdown in public, we need to tell her she’s doing an amazing job and tell her this won’t last forever. We need to institute better maternity/paternity leave policies, provide more widespread and comprehensive breastfeeding support, and take better care of mom’s postpartum health. We need to recreate the village.

Check out my online, postpartum recovery course, Prepared Postpartum, for more empowering information about normal infant development, pelvic health, mental health, and postpartum recovery. You can also purchase it as a gift for that special mama in your life HERE!

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My Postpartum Journey

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I think it’s important for us, as women, to share our experiences. Too often, women’s healthcare & medical challenges are minimized and ignored.  There is often shame and embarrassment associated with the many challenges women face in the postpartum period: anxiety, depression, pain, pelvic health issues, urinary incontinence etc. This leads to the majority of these issues NOT being resolved, and women being left to suffer (often in silence) with them. I think the only way to change that is to start talking about it more. It’s nice to share happy things on social media, but what’s more powerful is when a community of women get together and share the tough stuff as well. This fosters community, awareness, and support which in turn facilitates advocacy and change. So, here is some of my journey (still in progress). It may not be as wonderful, beautiful, scary, hopeless, or painful as another woman’s experience, but it is mine and it matters. Your journey matters, too.

I had an uneventful, unmedicated, hospital birth. My labor was 10 hours from start to finish. It went as smoothly as I could have imagined at the time. However, this did not prevent the baby blues from creeping in when Ella was 2 days old on the morning we were getting ready to leave the hospital. I remember feeling overwhelmed, and I couldn’t stop crying. I will always remember the kindest nurse, who had only just come on for her shift 30 minutes prior, who sat and talked with me for an hour. She assured me that I wasn’t alone, and it was normal to feel this way.

Fast forward to arriving home with our new baby. I was so relieved to be back in my own space, and I had a surge of energy. The day I got home, I cleaned the house and did laundry. I wanted to make sure everything stayed super clean for Ella. I felt great! The next day, however, I felt like I had been hit by a bus with increased pelvic pain and excessive bleeding. This was my body telling me I overdid it. I made an effort to cut back on the activity, but I didn’t follow the advice I received from so many mothers telling me to “sleep when baby sleeps”. I constantly felt anxious and wired, and I couldn’t relax to fall asleep when Ella was napping.  The nights were rough since Ella still hadn’t sorted out night from day. All of this combined with my poor sleep hygiene habits (I was sabotaging myself from getting rest) meant I was seriously sleep deprived.

As time progressed, my anxiety worsened. I became obsessed with keeping the house orderly and clean, more so than ever before. I had no patience with my husband, and I felt rage at him over the smallest issues. I also remember having a lot of intrusive thoughts of accidentally harming my baby. These thoughts scared me, and I felt like a horrible person for having them. I would often feel this sense of dread and sadness thinking about terrible things that may happen to Ella when she got older, knowing that I couldn’t protect her forever. I loved her so deeply, yet also wept at the magnitude of that love, knowing that it would eventually cause me pain. I was also stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed because Ella was a challenging sleeper. I felt so much pressure to get her to “self-soothe”, sleep in her crib, and be on a schedule (because I thought that was what normal babies did) that I hardly enjoyed snuggling with her those first few months.

Physically, I was exhausted and had severe pelvic pain the first couple of months. I was not eating a balanced diet, and the foods I was eating added to my fatigue. I was not getting the nutrients my body needed to properly heal or support my mental health. My pelvic pain and bleeding lasted longer than I thought they would. I had a difficult time adjusting to all of the changes my body was going through, most of which I never even knew to expect. Sore nipples, engorged breasts, hair loss, excessive sweat, and even differences in body odor were among changes I experienced. I didn’t have a great understanding of how long I should have rested after childbirth or how to return to activity, so I went through several cycles of easing into activity, then doing too much, and taking several steps backwards because my pain and bleeding increased again. I had no knowledge of how to support and strengthen my pelvic floor.

As I started researching some of my own challenges and experiences, I realized that I wasn’t alone! As women, we are not being given the information we need to facilitate optimal healing during the postpartum period. Furthermore, this information is not easily accessible to most of us. It’s a constant battle of peeling back layers and navigating through inaccurate information before you get to the good stuff. Every expectant mother should be empowered with this basic, foundational information, but instead, we are treated as passive participants in our own childbirth and postpartum experience. I knew I needed to find a way to share the ESSENTIAL information I learned with expectant and new mamas. That’s why I created Prepared Postpartum, an online postpartum recovery course. Check it out & see for yourself!

Learn more!

Strategies to Improve Mom’s Quality of Sleep

For new mothers, sleep is so important to aide in physical recovery and prevent or minimize postpartum mood disorders. Unfortunately, the circumstances of being a new mom and caring for a brand new, dependent human make getting quality sleep incredibly difficult. But, there are some strategies that can be implemented to help you get more sleep and function more optimally. Many of them require making thoughtful changes to your daily routines, habits, and even reviewing your thoughts and goals.

Evaluate your sleep set-up

While I won’t get into the details and benefits of bedsharing in this post, I advocate for safe co-sleeping because research has shown that moms who bedshare get the most sleep¹. Know that it can be a great option when safety criteria are met. Click here and here for more information about safe bedsharing recommendations. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of bedsharing, please see Dr. James McKenna’s extensive research regarding the breastfeeding and bedsharing relationship for tons of helpful research and recommendations to support your decision. Even if you don’t intend to bedshare, I strongly recommend setting up your sleep space to safely accommodate sleeping with baby because 60-75% of breastfeeding mothers will bedshare, even if they don’t plan to, and 40% of breastfeeding mothers have fallen asleep on a couch, chair, or recliner¹. The dangers of co-sleeping come into play when people unexpectedly fall asleep with baby, not with planned and prepared bedsharing.  The reality is that breastfeeding causes the body to release hormones that cause mama and baby to become relaxed, soothed, and often very sleepy. Falling asleep while nursing is common and almost inevitable. Preparing your sleep space to allow you to safely share it with your baby can ease your anxieties and allow you to get much needed sleep in a pinch.

If bedsharing isn’t right for your family, consider whether you can move your baby closer to you. Try to eliminate the need to get out of bed to get your baby if possible, or at least minimize the distance required to walk to your baby. Consider using a bassinet or side car beside your bed.

Assess the methods you are currently using to get your baby to sleep. Many moms find themselves losing sleep over time spent trying to get baby to fall asleep by themselves, or “self-soothe”. Understand that it is not possible for babies to self-soothe because they lack the ability to regulate their emotions. There is nothing wrong with nursing, cuddling, or rocking to sleep, and in fact, most babies need to be assisted to sleep. This is completely normal and beneficial to facilitate secure attachment relationships. Try to rid yourself of the common idea that these are “sleep crutches” that will create bad habits. Transitioning your goal from getting baby to sleep independently to optimizing the quality of sleep for everyone in the family can help to shift your perspective in a positive way. Nursing to sleep is often the quickest and most efficient way to help baby fall asleep (in addition to the benefits it has for baby’s development), so if this is true for your baby, use this normal, physiologic response to your advantage!  Pick the path of least resistance tonight and realize that your baby will sleep independently when he or she is ready.

Ask for help

ALL moms need help and there is no shame in asking for it. In fact, moms NEED to ask for help for their own mental health and well-being. Most of us have been told to “sleep when the baby sleeps.”, and while this is crucial for mom’s health, it’s not always easy.  It’s all too common for moms to struggle with napping when baby is napping because how will the laundry, cooking, and cleaning get done? I strongly believe that women should do nothing but rest and care for baby for at least the first several weeks postpartum. Understandably, that is not always an option for new moms, so let’s talk about some of the ways you can get additional support to reduce your load.  Make a list of your local support system. Do you have family, friends, neighbors, or members of your church who can come over for a couple of hours to care for baby while you get a much needed nap? Perhaps they can help you with a couple of chores while you nap with baby in your prepared, safe sleep space? Think about how your significant other can help to relieve you of some things on the to-do list. Many moms feel guilty asking for help from their significant other who works while they stay home with the baby, but being a mom of a newborn and recovering from childbirth is also a full-time job. You are worthy of receiving support. Here are some simple ways that your partner can assist you:

  • Making you breakfast before he leaves for work
  • Preparing next day’s lunch for you at the same time he packs his own lunch
  • Doing laundry on the weekends
  • Cooking dinner when he comes home
  • Caring for baby when he gets home from work while you nap for an hour
  • Doing one housekeeping task each night
  • Shifting his work schedule so that he goes into work earlier and gets home earlier in the evening
  • Changing baby’s diaper before he leaves for work
  • Assisting with diaper changes during the night
  • Washing pump and/or bottle parts
  • Bringing baby to you for a feed in the middle of the night

Explore options with your significant other and see what works for your situation. Have an honest discussion about your needs. Postpartum is not the time to be super-mom and put too much on your plate. If you do not have a large support system local to you, consider making room in the budget to hire a postpartum doula or housekeeper for the first several months.

Frontload your days for restful evenings

Try getting the things you need to get done in the morning or afternoon while baby is napping. Many moms have success with getting chores done or errands completed while baby wearing. Do you find yourself rushing to get certain things accomplished at night? Instead, try finding a time you can get them done either before or immediately after dinner. Front-loading your day in this way will allow you to mindfully create restful and relaxed evenings. Try getting ready for bed- putting on your pajamas, brushing your teeth, washing your face- early on in the evening so that when you start to feel sleepy, you are ready to head to bed.

Be mindful of how you are spending your evenings. Many of us stay up too late scrolling social media on our phones or catching up on our favorite shows. This is something that I am definitely guilty of! How can this affect our ability to sleep? The blue light from electronic devices can suppress the body’s melatonin levels, and melatonin helps regulate sleep cycles, so that even when you are ready to go to bed, it may be more difficult and take longer to fall asleep. Consider turning your electronics off or on airplane mode an hour or two before bed and participating in a favorite relaxation promoting activity instead. Try a warm bath, prayer or meditation, reading a book, or journaling. Just laying down and relaxing during the hour before you go to sleep can help you to expend less energy and feel more rested, even when you are not getting long periods of uninterrupted sleep.

Try not to sabotage your  opportunity for sleep during the night! If you are prone to letting thoughts of tasks that need to be done prevent you from falling or stay asleep, try keeping a notepad next to your bed so that you can jot down reminders, then let them go, and address them in the morning. If you can safely complete night feedings in bed, this will increase your opportunity to get rest. If you have to get out of bed for night feedings, try to avoid turning on any bright lights or looking at your phone. Use this time to focus on your deep breathing strategies, which will encourage continued relaxation. This is when having a prepared safe sleep space may come in handy in case you just can’t stay awake. Remember, safely sharing a bed with baby is much less risky than accidentally falling asleep with baby on a chair or couch. 

While sleep deprivation is common for new moms, it doesn’t have to be that way. Being mindful of how your day is structured, making the most of the time you have available to sleep, and using relaxation strategies to wind down before bed can help you increase your sleep and feel more rested. I’d love to hear from you- have you tried any of these strategies? Are there any other strategies that have worked for you?

Check out my online, postpartum recovery course, Prepared Postpartum, for more empowering information about normal infant development, pelvic health, mental health, sleep hygiene, and postpartum recovery. You can also purchase it as a gift for that special mama in your life HERE!


1. Wiessinger, D., West, D., Smith, L. J., & Pitman, T. (2014). Sweet sleep: Nighttime and naptime strategies for the breastfeeding family. New York: Pinter & Martin.

OT’s Role in Maternal Health

As an occupational therapist, I often get asked what I do. Many people do not have any experience with OTs, or if they do, it’s limited to a specific setting such as rehabilitation or early intervention for kiddos. Occupational therapy is such a beautiful profession, yet sometimes difficult to explain because our scope of practice is so broad.

So, what do occupational therapists do?

Occupational therapists help facilitate increased participation in a person’s meaningful life activities. When a person is having difficulty participating in any aspect of their life, that’s where OTs can help! For children, OTs may help facilitate optimal development through play and feeding, or even self-care when it is age-appropriate. OTs often work with adults who have experienced an injury, stroke, surgery, or illness and now have difficulty completing their self-care or managing their home. OTs are trained to help a person improve their specific physical deficits such as strength, balance, and flexibility, but are also trained to assess each person through a holistic lens and examine their environment, social supports, mental health, cognition, and spirituality. OTs are also uniquely educated in analyzing a person’s roles, routines, and habits.

How can OTs help mothers?

Transitioning from pregnancy to childbirth to motherhood is complex and challenging. Becoming a mother often brings a variety of concerns and difficulties. These can include, but are not limited to: pain, weakness, difficulty completing self-care, difficulty caring for baby, anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, decreased social interaction, limited time for leisure activities, difficulty with time management, and marital struggles.

OTs are able to address all of these concerns! Occupational therapists are knowledgeable in the physical aspects such as strengthening, stretching, and body mechanics. We also have training in mental health and can assist mothers to cope with their circumstances, relax, and sleep better. OTs are able to help mothers with time management skills and developing routines that fit into their new role and lifestyle. On top of all that, OTs are educated about human development, so we can help mama and baby bond and make sure baby is on the right track!

Why should I see an OT and not another professional?

There are many knowledgeable and qualified healthcare professionals that mothers would benefit from seeing, and sometimes mom does need more specific help in a certain area that OTs cannot provide. However, OTs are able to address mother’s concerns in a more integrative and holistic way than most professionals can. OTs understand that so many facets of a woman’s life affect her pain, mental health, and overall wellness.

Here’s an example:

Jane is a new mom to a 4 month old baby boy. Jane has been experiencing some back pain and pain with sexual intercourse. She has not been feeling like herself since giving birth. Even though she loves her son, she often feels sad and overwhelmed about everything she has to do. She feels as though she has no support system because her husband doesn’t understand, and her friends don’t have children. She has very little time to cook and usually ends up eating takeout.
Jane meets with an occupational therapist, and after an initial evaluation and goal setting, she meets with her OT once a week for a month. In addition to a core and pelvic floor strengthening program, the OT shows Jane better ways of picking up and holding her son that are easier on her back. She teaches Jane how to relax her pelvic floor muscles so that sex becomes more comfortable. Jane and her OT role play ways she can more clearly share her feelings with her husband. Her OT encourages her to join a local mothers’ group that meets weekly. The OT provides Jane with some simple, quick recipes she can prepare in advance so that she can have access to healthy meals, which improve Jane’s overall health and mood. Jane chooses several leisure, stress reducing activities she enjoys, and her OT shows her simple ways she can  incorporate baby’s play time and routine into these activities. Before Jane is finished with her OT sessions, the therapist collaborates with Jane to determine how she will fit her exercise program into her daily routine so that she can continue to strengthen her muscles on her own.

In this scenario, the OT was able to understand the dynamic interaction of the many factors that influence Jane’s well-being and address them holistically.

Mothers selflessly serve their families to make sure they are healthy and happy, but what about you mama? Research demonstrates that a child’s development is directly correlated with the well-being of his mother. Motherhood is hard, and I believe that ALL of us need more support. There is no shame in that. So, mamas, reach out for the support that you need and deserve!