Amy's Corner. our lactation consultant answers your questions about nursing.

Coping with Sleep Deprivation

One of the universal experiences of new parenthood is sleep deprivation.  During the early months of your baby’s life, your baby may only sleep for two or three hours at a stretch.  Depending on your baby’s feeding schedule, sensitivity to wet diapers, digestion and other factors, your baby will likely be up several times during the night.  That means you’ll be up too!

Your baby can sleep off her exhaustion because the only things on her to do list for the next day are eating and sleeping.  But what are parents to do when they are sleep deprived yet have to be functional the following day.  It’s a tough issue that new parents across the globe face.  When you only sleep in short increments, you never enter deep REM sleep that is required to restore, repair and refresh yourself mentally and physically.  Fragmented sleep leads to impaired cognitive function, feelings of grogginess and less memory capacity.  All of these problems make new parents less effective and more likely to be frustrated by even minor situations.

Today we’re sharing some tips on coping with sleep deprivation.

sleepFirst, the number one rule of sleep during new parenthood is to sleep when your baby is sleeping.  You’ve probably heard this from your OB, pediatrician, nurses at the hospital, mom, sister and friends.  Everyone gives this advice because it is essential to your survival.  You may not get to catch some zzz’s every time your baby is napping, but try to make up for lost sleep during these quiet moments.  Rather than fret over the piles of laundry to fold and what’s for dinner, solicit help with some of your chores to ensure baby’s sleep time can be your sleep time too.  And when you do have the opportunity to sleep, make sure you’re set up for success.  Your room should be dark, cool and quiet.  Turn down the monitor so you’ll only wake for cries, not coos and gurgles.  And don’t eat or drink heavy meals, caffeine or spicy foods before rest times.

Often parents, especially new moms, are running on adrenaline and all sorts of other mood-elevating chemical and hormonal reactions right after their babies are born.  This gives strength and energy to power through the first few sleepless nights.  However, spending nights-upon-nights with very little sleep can really take a toll on your mental and emotional state.  Postpartum depression increases when the body is deprived of precious sleep.

One of the key strategies to coping with sleep deprivation is ensuring a better night’s sleep every few nights.  To achieve longer stretches of sleep, you’ll need help from your partner or other care givers by taking turns getting up with the baby.  You can alternate nights or develop a schedule that works for your family, but each person needs some time to recuperate from lack of sleep.  If mom is breastfeeding, consider giving a bottle of breast milk for at least one middle-of-the-night feeding or have the “on duty” parent bring the baby to mom for feedings.  That parent can do all the burping, diaper changes and fussiness calming when it is their turn, allowing mom additional sleep.

When your baby is up, bring her along on some invigorating activities to help keep both of you stimulated.  Taking a walk outdoors or doing some mommy-and-me yoga can help energize your body and get your blood flowing.  Our bodies need lots of oxygenated blood to keep us physically and mentally alert.  Doing some sort of physical activity can help get your blood pumping.  Also, be sure to drink a lot of water.  Dehydration is a huge cause of fatigue and can only exacerbate existing exhaustion.  A small amount of caffeine is OK during wakeful hours, but be careful not to over-consume as it can keep both you and your baby awake.

Also, when you are sleep deprived, adding responsibilities to your plate is not a wise decision.  Try reducing your obligations so you can focus on your family’s immediate needs, taking care of your baby and making space for sleep when the opportunity arises.  If you’re constantly involved in a project, your precious time will be consumed with things other than sleep.  Plus, stress is counter-productive to sleep.  Try to eliminate stress and anxiety and don’t put yourself in intense situations.  When you are sleep deprived, you’ll be less likely to handle them with grace and civility.

Lastly, look for help where you can get it.  If you have other children, asking friends for extra play dates, taking your turn to drive carpool or even playing with your baby for an hour so you can take a nap is OK.  Super moms aren’t the ones who do it all, they are the ones who know how to delegate effectively.  Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.  Your entire family will benefit when mom gets some sleep!

Postpartum Smoking Reduced by Breastfeeding

smoking-while-pregnantWe all know that smoking during pregnancy is extremely unhealthy for a growing baby.  After all, everything that is consumed by mom makes its way to the baby as well.  That includes substances that are inhaled, like nicotine and tobacco.  So most responsible women who smoke find the strength to quit during pregnancy.  But what happens after the baby is born?  A new study reported in April by Science Daily examines that very issue and how breastfeeding plays a major role.

Cigarettes are addictive because nicotine found in tobacco relaxes the body and reduces stress.  After inhaling, nicotine reaches the brain quickly, offering almost immediate stress relief.  Other methods of stress relief are harder to achieve and may not be as effective in the short term.  However, the “high” from a cigarette only last a short time and then the body craves it again and again, forming an addiction.

Women who work hard to break their cigarette addictions during pregnancy are making an amazing choice for the health of their babies and themselves.  But, the report originally published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research indicates that 70% of women who smoked before pregnancy return to smoking within a year of giving birth.   Of those women, over two-thirds return to smoking within three months of childbirth and 90% of them are smoking again by the time their babies are six months old.  As we all know, having a new baby can be stressful, and a quick fix for stress relief like cigarettes is an easy habit to repeat.

However, the one and only indicator of reduction in postpartum smoking is breastfeeding.

New mothers who breastfeed for at least three months are less likely to return to their pre-pregnancy smoking habits.  The study followed 168 women and looked at other indicators including use of other substances and whether or not their partners smoked.  It was only breastfeeding that showed an improvement in postpartum smoking habits. There are a number of reasons that nursing moms may steer clear of smoking.  First, nicotine does enter breast milk and is obviously not healthy for babies.  Second hand smoke is also extremely dangerous for all children, especially newborns and infants.

According to, babies who are exposed to cigarette toxins and cigarette smoke have a higher risk for health problems including ear infections, asthma, sinus infections, respiratory infections, high cholesterol, croup, pneumonia and bronchitis.  Babies in a smoking home are more likely to have colic, die of SIDS, become smokers later in life and develop lung cancer.  Also, moms who smoke while breastfeeding experience less milk production, less let downs and babies tend to wean earlier.  For all of these reasons, many former smokers choose to avoid smoking while breastfeeding.  And they are greatly improving the health of their babies and themselves in doing so.

The study encourages breastfeeding education as one of the best interventions for postpartum smoking.  With the statistics overwhelmingly pointing to this one and only indicator of postpartum smoking reduction, breastfeeding may be even more powerful at ensuring a healthy life for mothers and babies than anyone ever realized.

Plan Your Own Mother’s Day

mothers dayMother’s Day is just around the corner…have you thought about what you want to do?  Depending on your partner, kids and family members, advanced planning and making a schedule full of mom-centric activities may not happen.  Some dads and kids are amazing at organizing Mother’s Day but others just aren’t.  It’s one of those times when you have to accept their short-comings and love them despite of it.

However, not having a “planny” family doesn’t mean your special day is a wash because you can plan your own Mother’s Day!  Yup, if you want it done right, do it yourself.  Don’t do it begrudgingly, do it so you can ensure your family has the best shot at a wonderful day filled with all the things you love.  If your family surprises you with flowers or gifts, that’s a great bonus.

Think about your perfect day and plan your own Mother’s Day accordingly.  Make sure you communicate your plans with your partner and family so everyone knows how you’d like to spend your day.  If you want something special from him or your kids, don’t be afraid to ask for it.  Remember, some of the best mom gifts are homemade, such as a creative card, hand-painted picture frame or macaroni necklace.  And make sure you have the supplies, reservations and anything else that may require forethought all situated before the big day.

Mother’s Day Morning

You may prefer a lazy morning with your favorite cup of coffee, breakfast in bed and some family playtime at home.  Make sure you have your coffee and breakfast items readily available.  Ask your partner and kids to make the meal or at least participate in making it as a family.

If you’re a get up and at ‘em kinda mom, wake the family early for a breakfast outing and fun activity.  Perhaps you can go to a park before it gets crowded, take a nature hike or go bike riding.  Request that your partner gets the family ready so you can take your time getting yourself ready, which is probably a rare luxury.  These moments can be more precious than any gift.

Mother’s Day Afternoon

In the afternoon, consider visiting grandmothers and aunts who may live close by or make a point to video-chat with them to wish them a warm and happy Mother’s Day.  Then, consider another family activity that is fun for all – a trip to the zoo, going to a movie or playing in your own backyard (with a glass of wine in hand) are some ideas.  If you want a few hours to yourself, ask your partner to cover the kids while you get a massage, go shopping or spend time reading a book.

Mother’s Day Evening

Dinner in or out can make for an enjoyable Mother’s Day as long as you plan ahead.  If you want your husband to grill out, make sure you have your meats and veggies marinated and ready to sizzle.  If you want a nice meal out, be sure to make reservations early as Mother’s Day can be a crowded night at restaurants.  If you have a special dessert in mind, make it the day before or ask your partner to buy it for you.  After the kids go to bed, spend some adult time with your partner or do something else for yourself, like take a bath or watch your favorite indulgent television show.

When you plan your own Mother’s Day, you’re sure to do the things you want with the people you love.  Stop being upset that your family can’t get it together and start taking control of your own special day.  You’ll be much happier and at peace on Mother’s Day, which is truly a gift to yourself.

Being a Good Patient during Pregnancy and at the Hospital

There may be a few things you don’t realize about being a good patient during pregnancy and at the hospital.  After all, you probably aren’t pregnant, giving birth or in the hospital very often in your life.  Thank goodness, right?

But the team of doctors, nurses and technicians that take care of you during pregnancy, labor & delivery and anti-partum are accustomed to dealing with people in your situation day-in and day-out.  Your medical team has probably done it all and seen it all when it comes to pregnancy, labor, delivery, newborn care and taking care of moms after childbirth.  With all of their experience, they most certainly know what they are doing to ensure you and your baby are healthy.  Your role as a patient is to support your medical team in that same goal, and there are some key components to being a good patient.

doctorFirst of all, select doctors who you feel comfortable talking to and who you feel have the right expertise to meet your needs.  Many women prefer female OBGYNs while others disregard gender and look for other qualities in their doctor.  Some practices have nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and mid-wives who you may see during some pregnancy visits.  Know how your practice operates to ensure you are comfortable seeing others besides your primary OB.  Also, keep in mind that childbirth sometimes comes unexpectedly so a different provider in your practice may end up delivering your baby.  If you have a specific vision during labor and delivery such as a water birth or silent birth, make sure your practice will support your wishes.

It is essential that you are always honest with your doctors and nurses during pregnancy and while at the hospital.  Their job is to evaluate you not judge you, so don’t be ashamed to tell them about your lifestyle habits, diet, exercise, symptoms or mental and emotional wellbeing.  Your medical team should have a full picture of your health in order to treat you appropriately.  A small issue to you may be a sign of a larger problem to a trained professional so be forthcoming about your health.

Also, do not be embarrassed in front of the medical professional at your doctor’s office and the hospital.  Child bearing is not a time for modesty and it’s a rare situation when private parts are no longer private.  Many strange and unusual things happen to your body during pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.  You will have to quickly learn that talking about these things and even showing them off are just part of being a new mom.

You have trusted your medical team with your health so when they give you advice, you should follow it within reason.  And if you don’t follow medical advice, don’t be surprised by the results.  Doctors and nurses can only help you if you’re willing to help yourself.  If you feel you have “mushy mommy brain,” write down your doctors’ and nurses’ instructions so you can revisit it later.

All of this is not to say you should take advice blindly without fully understanding the rationale of the recommendation, however.  After all, you know yourself and what feels right even if you don’t know all of the science behind it.  Ask questions when you are unclear about your physician’s orders, especially when it comes to medication.  Medical professionals are there to answer your questions and address concerns so be vocal.  In the hospital, make your goals clear to your anti-partum nurses.  If you plan to breastfeed and have your baby sleep in your room, make sure you tell your nurses so they can honor your wishes.

When you do speak up, remember to be respectful to everyone, even the receptionist at your OBGYN office and the housekeeper at the hospital.  Being demanding and condescending will not speed up your test results, get you a better appointment time or change your health status, but it may anger and frustrate your medical team.  Treat these “teammates” with kindness and esteem – they are only there to help you and your baby.

Additionally, an important part of being a good patient is patience.  Certainly request a speedy response if you have an emergency, but otherwise, know that your team is doing their best to treat you along with their other patients.  They are dealing with hundreds of people who have similar needs as you.  If your appointment takes forever, remember that if you were having a problem or delivering your baby, you’d want your doctor to take as much time as he needed and give you undivided attention.  If you find that you are not getting a timely response to something such as test results that don’t arrive when promised, place a courteous call to your doctor’s office.

When you’re a good patient you will improve your entire pregnancy, childbirth and anti-partum experience.  Remember, being a good patient is not about being complacent, but rather respectful, trusting, honest and responsible.

7 Easy Ways to Burn Calories with a Baby

Finding time to exercise while tending to an infant can be challenging.  But burning calories to lose some of your pregnancy weight and re-tone your body is still possible nonetheless.  It just takes some creative thinking to incorporate an unconventional workout into your day.  We’ve come up with 7 easy ways to burn calories with a baby that will help you drop the pregnancy pounds ands get fit without hitting the gym.

1)      Baby-wearing:  There are many benefits of baby-wearing including bonding with your baby and calming her with closeness and constant movement.  A huge bonus is that carrying around extra weight makes your body work harder and burn calories.  Baby-wearing only lasts for a short window so try wearing your baby throughout your daily activities before she gets too big.  Switch up wearing your baby in the front and back (when she’s old enough) to work different muscles.  Strong muscles burn calories!  The stronger your muscles, the more calories you’ll be burning.

tenderness2)      Breastfeeding:  Nourishing your baby through breastfeeding should be rewarding enough on its own, but an added advantage is that your body has to use a ton of energy to do it.  In fact, your body requires 25% of its energy to breastfeed which means you can burn between 300 and 500 calories per day just breastfeeding.  That’s major burn for not even moving!

3)      Strenuous Strolling:  Walking is great medium-impact exercise and pushing a stroller while walking makes it an even more rigorous physical activity.  Look for parks and neighborhoods with lots of hills that will require extra strength to push your little one uphill and muscle control to go downhill.  If the weather is cold, rainy or too hot, try mall walking.  Many mom groups organize stroller walks if you’re looking for some company on your strolls.  And don’t forget to wear your sport nursing bras for easy breastfeeding wherever you go.

4)      Mommy & Me Yoga:  Striking a yoga pose can be hard enough but what if you add your baby to the mix?  Enroll in a mommy & me yoga class or buy a video that you can do at home.  You’ll be using your baby’s weight as resistance to make your poses even more challenging.

baby wearing5)      Housecleaning:  Vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing and dusting can all be done with baby in tow.  Housecleaning is a great time to wear your baby to increase the physical workload.  Babies often love the repetitive motions and may even enjoy the sound of the vacuum.  If you don’t have time to get in your workout because you have so much housework to do, make a workout out of housework with a little help from your baby.

6)      Baby-lifting:  If you need to incorporate some strength exercises into your baby workouts, use your baby as an increasing source of resistance.  Test all of your favorite weight-lifting moves – bicep curls, tricep dips, chest pulls, overhead presses – using your baby as your weight.  She’ll probably love the movement and watching her face light up in delight will make the time fly.

7)      Steps & Stairs:  Intentionally keep your changing table and other supplies you need regularly away from your main play spaces so you’ll have to walk further every time you need them.  For example, if your baby’s bedroom is upstairs, don’t set up a separate changing station downstairs.  Rather, take the time to walk upstairs to change diapers.  Climbing the stairs more often will increase your caloric burn.

Your little one will give new meaning to the phrase, “burn baby, burn.”  Enjoy your time together with these easy ways to burn calories with a baby.

Babies and Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the most common chronic health condition among children.  An estimated 15,000 children are diagnosed with the disease each year in the U.S. alone.  The cause of type 1 diabetes or juvenile diabetes is unknown but if managed correctly, children can lead normal productive lives.

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that affects how a child processes sugar.  Normally the body produces insulin to break down and digest sugars.  Those with diabetes do not produce insulin or not enough insulin leaving blood glucose levels too high for the body to function baby photoproperly.  If left unmanaged, prolonged elevated blood sugar levels can be harmful to organs and may lead to heart disease, kidney damage, vision impairment, skin conditions, nerve damage and low bone density.

Type 1 diabetes can occur during infancy, childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.  The medical community does not know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, making it impossible to prevent. It is believed to be an auto-immune disorder where the immune system attacks cells that produce insulin for no reason.  Those with genetic predisposition to diabetes are at greater risk but most babies diagnosed with juvenile diabetes do not have a family history of the disease.  But here’s some good news for breastfeeding moms:  breastfeeding is linked to lowered risk of type 1 diabetes.

Most parents are unaware that their babies have diabetes at birth as it cannot be determined in utero.  However, parents should be vigilant of common symptoms of the disease including extreme thirst and hunger, increased urination, weight loss, fatigue, fussiness, vomiting or vision impairment.  Parents should notify their pediatrician as soon as they noticed these symptoms.  An official diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is determined through a blood test.

Babies with type 1 diabetes will have to be closely monitored all of their lives.  Because their bodies do not produce insulin on their own, they will have to take insulin, either by injection or through an insulin pump.  Their diet and exercise will have to be regulated to ensure blood glucose stability and prevention of further complications.

While there is no way of preventing babies from getting type 1 diabetes, knowing the symptoms and diagnosing the disease early will help ensure the baby is getting treatment before organ damage or other health problems occur.  With modern medical and technological advances, living with type 1 diabetes is manageable.  With vigilance, attentive care and love, families with babies with type 1 diabetes can persevere.

Preparing to be a Stay at Home Mom

iStock_000008954862SmallA baby changes a lot about your life.  The decision to go back to work or stay home with your kids can be tough for many families.  Even if you always planned to stay home once you had kids, making the transition could be harder than you think on several levels.  There are three important elements to preparing to be a stay at home mom:  the first is financial, the second is family dynamics and the third is your personal adjustment.

Budgeting to be a Stay-at-Home Mom

Reducing your family’s income could cause some major changes in your household.  One way to adjust to the change is to begin living on one income before you leave your job.  It may take a lot of discipline, but put aside your income for six months before your baby is born to get a real feel for being a one-income family.  At this point you can create a new family budget to see what expenses can be cut and where you can begin to save more money.  Sometimes entire luxuries may have to go for a few years, such as travel, morning lattes and trips to the spa.

Make sure that becoming a stay-at-home mom won’t put your family in debt.  Be smart about using credit cards and accumulating major bills.  Having a new baby can be expensive so budget accordingly.  Also, account for changes in your insurance and contributions to your retirement due to leaving your job.

Shifting Family Dynamics

You and your partner may agree that staying-at-home is the best choice for raising your children, but not about the new roles you will each play in your new situation.  Whereas you may have eaten out, had a cleaning service and paid for lawn care in the past, your partner may expect you to take on these responsibilities now that you’re staying at home.  And while your husband typically works long hours, you may assume he’ll be home more now that you have a baby.  Discuss these changes on a specific level to set expectations that satisfy both of you.  Your marriage is an essential part of raising a happy family and the tone you set forth will be reflected on your children.  Keep an open dialogue so you can readdress issues and challenges as they arise.  The truth is, even if this is a mutual decision, neither of you know exactly how it will turn out so be open to adjustments as necessary.

Not Losing Yourself in Stay-at-Home Motherhood

Happy mothers are better at being mothers.  Making the decision to stay at home with your kids does not mean you have to change who you are completely.  Make it a priority to stay in touch with old friends and co-workers to keep a pulse on your old life.  You’ll also want to make new friends whose lifestyle is similar to yours – people with kids around the same age and who share your values.  And be sure to do some things for yourself away from your kids.  You need an occasional break from motherhood.  This can be in the form of a book club, mom’s night out or simply going to a movie by yourself when your partner can be home to watch your children.

If you are worried about becoming irrelevant in your career field, consider keeping a foot in the door by working part-time or picking up contract work.  This may alleviate some of your budget issues while also eliminating the gap in your resume should you want to return to work in the future.  Many stay-at-home moms put their skills to use in ways that support and benefit their families, such as chairing committees at your children’s school, doing volunteer work in the community or sitting on the board of your home owner’s association.  These productive roles will keep you involved in adult activities that improve your life on many levels and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Preparing to be a stay-at-home mom is a multi-dimensional task.  Be aware of the changes that lie ahead so you can navigate the road smoothly.

Rules of Babysitters: How to Keep Your Babysitter Happy

babysitter-hidesy-istockReliable and nurturing caregivers can be hard to come by.  Finding the right babysitter for your kids and your family may take some effort and there will probably be trial and error involved the process.  So once you do find that perfect babysitter, you’re going to want her to stick around.  Today we’re going over rules of babysitters so you’ll know how to keep your babysitter happy.

Treat Your Babysitter Like Family.  You trust this person with the most precious thing in your life so you should treat them with the upmost respect.  You’ve most likely vetted your sitter already and have determined her a fit caregiver.  Although she is working for you, this type of childcare should not feel like a sterile corporation, but rather a loving mutual experience.  Just as you would any family member watching your child, show kindness, compassion and interest in her.  Periodically ask if she needs any advice or supplies to make her job easier.  Also, be sure you have plenty of food for her, especially if she is feeding your kids.

Be Clear about Expectations.  Make sure your babysitter knows the rules of your home, including what your child can eat, when your child should go to bed and which areas of your house are off-limits.  Write down basic important information such as your pediatrician’s phone number and an emergency contact besides yourself.  Outline a schedule and routines without giving too many overwhelming details. While children are creatures of habit, they can also go-with-the-flow under new circumstances.  It is good for your kids to learn that it’s OK for people do things differently than you.

Teach Your Babysitter about Breast Milk.  If you are leaving a bottle of expressed breast milk for your babysitter to feed your baby, giver her a tutorial on breast milk.  You may need to explain how to thaw frozen milk and that you should never keep leftover milk if your baby has not finished her bottle.  If you are concerned about wasting breast milk, have your babysitter only pour in a few ounces at a time into a bottle.

Have Your Babysitters Back.
  If your children have misbehaved or you get conflicting stories from your sitter vs. your kids, trust the adult or at last do not undermine her in front of your children.  Sometimes kids test img-guide-babysitterboundaries with new caregivers and may try to get away with some inappropriate behavior.  Your children should respect your babysitter’s authority from the get go or the relationship could be doomed from the start.  Arm your sitter with acceptable ways to discipline your children.

Be On Time.  Let your babysitter know when you expect to be home.  If you find that you’re going to be late, call her to let her know and make sure she’s able to stay.  You should also pay extra for the time.  Additionally, if you have to cancel on short notice, pay her some of her fee since she may have been counting on the income or turned down another babysitting opportunity.  Respecting her time is an important part of keeping your sitter happy.

Pay Your Babysitter a Fair Price.  Whether you have an occasional nighttime sitter or a long-term nanny, if you pay a fair price you ensure she’ll want to continue working with your family.  Babysitting poaching is completely possible when you pay less than the going rate and your sitter can find a more lucrative gig.  Think of it this way, you are paying for your child’s care and well-being, which you should consider quite valuable.  Also, if you are asking your babysitter to do extra work – watch multiple children, take your kids on an intricate outing or do chores around your house – you should consider paying more.  Tips are also a great way to show your sitter that you think she’s doing a great job.

Give Your Babysitter a Good Recommendation.  If you no longer need your nanny or are not filling enough of your babysitter’s time, she may need to find other work.  Give her a good recommendation so she can get another job.  Many families fear they will not be able to use their sitter if her time is committed elsewhere so they don’t give glowing reviews.  But that could backfire if your sitter feels slighted.

When you keep your sitter happy with respect, fair pay and clear expectations, you and your entire family will benefit from the relationship.

Raising Happy Kids

Happy and healthy are the two most desired traits parents wish for in their children.  It’s pretty obvious that the role of health care falls on parents starting as early as in the womb.  But happiness is also a parenting responsibility.  Scientific research offers some eye-opening tips on raising happy kids that we can all employ.

The first step is being a true role model for happiness.  Children are keenly aware of the emotions and mental state their parents exude.  Negativity in the home, especially within a marriage, can result in children who have tantrums, misbehave and are aggressive towards others.  Aggression is usually solidified by the age of 5 and leads to hostile behavior later in life.  We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine and when it comes to happiness, a happy childrendose of laughter is exactly what children need.  Laughter is truly contagious and can change a child’s mood almost instantly.  Lighten up and act silly with your kids to let the laughter and joy flow.  Also use this time for creativity and make believe to expand your child’s imagination.

Play is an important part of a child’s development from infancy to teenage years.  Make sure your child has plenty of time to play everyday. While you don’t need rooms filled with expensive toys, do make sure you provide a colorful and warm environment with different types of sensory, manipulative and thought-provoking toys.  Often items you find in your kitchen, in nature or around your house make the best toys.  Happiness should be a habit, not a chore.  Find activities that make everyone in your household happy together.  Also, ditch the technology.  More screen time is associated with less happiness.

Emotional intelligence is another large part of happiness.  Being able to identify, express and redirect feelings is a learned skill that parents should work on starting in the toddler years and continue to discuss throughout your child’s life.  In the early years it starts with sharing, using manners, curbing frustrations and acting kindly towards others.  As children develop more verbal skills you can talk through anger issues and role play the proper response to intense situations.  This requires active listening and labeling feelings – sad, scared, mad – on the part of parents.  Learning to apologize is another piece to emotional intelligence.  Also, teaching optimism in the face of adversity will help encourage and control emotions.  Explain the bright side of negative situations and assure your child that nothing is ever as bad as it may initially appear.  This develops self-compassion and problem-solving too.

Strong relationships also help in raising happy kids.  This starts within the family as parents, grandparents and extended family spend time together, respect one another and support each other.  Eating dinner together is one of the best things you can do to strengthen familial relationships and be an active part of your child’s life.  From there, you can teach your child how to make friends by setting a good example as a caring friend to adults and other children.  Encourage your children to play with other kids and to work out minor tussles during playdates themselves.  Teach empathy and love through acts of kindness, such as creating a card for a sick friend or letting others take their turn first.

Lastly, do not expect your kids to be perfect.  No one is!  Sometimes you have to let things go, which is a good lesson for you kids to learn too.  Not everything in life will go your way and dwelling on the negative will only bring you down.  Not sweating the small stuff will help eliminate stress.  This includes minor indiscretions on the part of your kids.  Testing boundaries is a normal part of childhood development.

Raising happy kids is a lifelong process.  When you set the right tone, spend quality time together and teach some important life lessons, you’ll be on the right path to a happy family.

Eating Fish During Pregnancy and While Breastfeeding

Nutrition is a huge consideration when it comes to the health during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.  Good nutrition sustains mothers and helps the growth and development of fetuses and babies.

There has been much debate about whether, how much and what type of fish pregnant and breastfeeding women eat.  The U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency advise pregnant and breastfeeding moms to consume 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish, or two to three servings, per week.  The new recommendations set forth in 2014 indicate that the benefits of fish outweigh the risks from methyl mercury.

pregnant-women-fish-intakeFish and shellfish offer incredible nutrients for mothers and babies.  In fact, neither should go without these rich, diverse nutrients including lots of protein and essential fatty acids.  Fish is an excellent source of lean protein, along with chicken and turkey, and good fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3s give cells a terrific boost and help brain development.  While omega-3 supplements are available, the best sources are those from nature, such as fish.

However, while moms are increasing fish intake, they should be very picky about which fish to eat.  Moms should choose fish low in mercury content.  Methyl mercury is the neurotoxin byproduct of mercury and can cause damage to a developing baby’s nervous system and autoimmune disorders in mothers. Fish high in mercury include mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, albacore tuna and shark, all of which should be avoided during pregnancy.  Low mercury fish include salmon, trout, pollock, shrimp, cod, flounder, herring, sardines, light tuna and tilapia.

Also, where fish come from may alter mercury and other chemical contamination levels as some local and foreign waters are more prone to pollution.  The Gulf of Mexico is one such area of concern.  Moms should be picky and ask questions about where their fresh fish has swam from to get to her plate.  Ask butchers at your local market or chefs at restaurants if you are unsure about the origin of your fish.  There are several apps that can calculate mercury content based on the type and location of fish and also keep track of your weekly dietary mercury intake.

Diversifying your fish diet is important too.  Different types of fish offer a variety of nutrients and will also balance your mercury consumption.  Don’t eat the same type of fish more than two or three times a month.  Never eat raw or undercooked fish.  That means no sushi or sashimi, moms!  If you do happen to eat fish high in mercury one time, there is no need to panic.  Chances are it will not affect your health or your baby’s.

Many new moms are confused about fish recommendations during pregnancy.  The new guidelines are clear: fish should be an essential part of every pregnant and breastfeeding mother’s diet.  With two or three servings of low mercury fish per week, moms can provide crucial protein and essential fatty acids for themselves and their growing babies.

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