Germs are Great

If you’ve talked to me in real life for more than five minutes this year, you already know that I am currently obsessed with bacteria.  

I’m not a germophobe — quite the contrary: a host of new research shows that “good guy” bacteria — and there are billions of them on us — are extremely important in keeping us healthy.  I blogged about this  about a year ago after a report came out indicating that babies born by c-section are twice as likely to be overweight later in childhood.  Apparently, the difference is that since those babies didn’t go through the birth canal, they weren’t exposed to the good bacteria that live there, which “paint” a newborn’s skin, and get into her nose and mouth (and down into her gut) in a vaginal birth.

More recently, an article in the New York Times outlined how bacteria may also explain why breast-feeding may be protective against celiac disease and gluten intolerance:  probiotics (“good guy bacteria”) in breast milk, and pre-biotic oligosaccharides in breast milk (sugars in breast milk that exist not to feed the baby but to feed the good-guy bacteria that live in her gut) apparently help protect an infant’s gut from developing an inflammatory autoimmune response to gluten.

So, and here, today is another good piece, at Double X Science, called The Vaginal Ecosystem, which talks about changes in the bacteria that live in your birth canal during pregnancy.  The plain language explanation is:  the goo that lives in you changes while you’re pregnant because your body knows that a baby will be passing through and he’ll need to get a good coating of all your good gunk to get the best start in the world.

I guess the idea that you’re covered in germs (and that that’s a good good thing) is gross to some folks, but I think it’s awesome.  Truly, you’re the Mother Ship, and your crew are the billion germs that keep you in good condition. Go hug and kiss your kid: he’ll be all gooped up with your protective good-guys!

"When Mother Knows Best"

Here's an interesting piece over at Scary Mommy about what sounds like a vicious cycle:  a child is born and her mom is eager and enthusiastic and perhaps a bit worried about getting “everything right.”  She googles and reads about Everything, and, with a lot of work, becomes, eventually, more confident and super competent!  She has lists and Techniques and Methods and they work.  Yay, right?  She’s a little controlling about it, but oh well, whatever, right?  

Except that, according to Melissa Lawrence,years later, she ends up with her life like this on a typical Saturday: 

Time to head out? Mommy crouches down tying all the shoe laces while Daddy catches up on the iPad because Daddy doesn’t get the kids ready because he doesn’t know all the ins and outs.  Mommy hands Daddy the bag with the change of clothes, lunch and the water bottles.  The kids are firing questions at Mommy and she’s fielding them like a catcher during bating practice.  “Can I do this?”  “Why did he get that?” It’s only 9 a.m. and you’re so drained from the excess of planning, details and decision-making that you’re ready to head back to bed. 

She’s basically imprisoned in kid-minutiae, alone with it, because, as Melissa puts it, she has “trained [her partner] not to make any decision whatsoever regarding the kids.” 

Well, crap.

But before you’re like, “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” about it, I think there’s a lot more to it.  

First, there are a lot of different ways women grow into motherhood — not everyone has the same experience.  Melissa advises that to prevent this scenario, moms should,

Get the hell away from that baby and let Daddy do his messy, sloppy, imperfect, thing.

But:  For some women, even people who are usually pretty easygoing, part of the learning curve is a period where she simply is … how to put it gently?  … impelled to do everything and Extremely Controlling. It makes sense, when you think about it — the baby is a bunch of mysteries at first. For many of us, every little mystery that is resolved is like a hard-won, intoxicating gift — if doing something results in a sleeping baby, or a baby who stops crying, damn right you’re going to do it every time.  And you probably should, for now, because your sanity is a major ingredient in your family’s well-being.  

And if you’re, perhaps, be a smudge curmudgeonly when someone else starts to do it wrong?  You know, we’re all human.  Try not to be obnoxious, really do try.  But honestly, you’re entitled to a few grumpy moments when you’re getting used to your life being turned on its ear. 

This Controlling Thing isn’t a “problem,” it’s normal for lots of new parents, especially while the kid is still a baby. Many, many new moms get enormous satisfaction and pride out of being the one who “can” respond to the baby!  And for others, they may simply find it very satisfying or irresistible, for now, to “do everything.”  If this is where you are, it’s right for you for now, even if it’s unlikely you’ll love or need this much control in a few years. (BTW, if you are handling everything and *not* finding it satisfying or irresistible, but are, instead, annoyed/resentful, then foist some of that shizzle upon your partner (see below)!  But for now, I’m talking about moms who find it, temporarily, OK).

I don’t think you grow out of the temporary new mom desire to Control by being told that it’s going to ruin your life later if it goes on and on.  You know what does help you grow out of it?  

  • Time.  In time, you notice that if someone forgets to pack wipes in your diaper bag, you can pick some up while you’re out and it’s a hassle, but it’s not the apocalypse. Try to notice this stuff.  Then you start to ease up. And likewise,
  • Experimentation.  (Here Melissa and I agree) — when you can, let others take a turn, even if you know it will make a mess, take longer or potentially disrupt your balance.  This is how others learn why you do what you do, and it’s how you find new things that also work, and it’s how you learn you don’t have to do everything.  This is important; you should do it.  But do it when you can.  Don’t experiment when you’re not ready just because you’re afraid that five years from now your life will be bad.  Don’t experiment on a day where you’re already in tears mid-morning about how chaotic life is.  And if every day feels too chaotic to experiment with anything, though, you probably also need:
  • Company, friendship, fresh air, and food.  If you’re being well taken care of, there are a whole host of things that will bother you a million times less and you will be able to play with this more.  I promise. And, relatedly
  • A Partner who shows you he or she wants to be in there with you however works for your family now (more about this below).

If your baby is still basically a blob, and you’re basically doing everything and that’s working for you for now, take it easy on yourself. 

Second, though, and here’s what really bothers me about the article.  Can we just, collectively as a world decide not to use the word “trained” to describe what goes on in human relationships (except if we’re really joking or reading like Fifty Shades or something)?  Yes, we all respond to praise and try to avoid chastisement, but I hope there is more to your relationship with your partner than just a carrot stick situation.  

The truth is that a parent who wants to get in there, get his hands dirty and be, truly, a co-parent will do it, even if the other parent is a Bossy Beeyotch for years, even if her inherent personality is very controlling.  

I say this not just as someone who has seen it professionally but as a Bossy Beeyotch myself.  From a long line of Bossy Beeyotches (my mother calls us a “Family of Generals”; my cousin literally has a post-it on her computer with a little message reminding her to “Ease the Fuck UP!” which has, alas, not transformed her character).  Bossy Beeyotches, all, we nevertheless all have partners who are full parents.  I did not say “perfect” parents or “perfect” marriages. But all of our kids know that Dad can pack a lunch, arrange a playdate or hold your head when you’re barfing, even if he and Mom don’t do it the same way.  Why?  Because (a) it’s not fucking rocket science to do those things and (b) they wanted in.  Not in the same way, not on the same timetable, not like clones of us, and it wasn’t always beautiful or easy to negotiate.  But they got in there because they wanted to.

My point is this:  if you’ve got a bunch of kids and you’ve been doing the parenting thing for a while now, and Dad is taking a pass on all the daily crap of involvement, this is not because “mom is too controlling” and certainly not because she went through the normal new-mom controlling Thing.  It is because Dad isn’t trying to work with her.  

If he’s saying,  to himself, “she’s controlling, moody, difficult,” perhaps these are all true, and she ought to work on her tone.  Really, she should.  But it doesn’t end there.  Concluding that he ought to retreat into the Ipad and not bother to figure out how to make the kids’ lunch because Mom can be difficult? That is not the logical conclusion.  This is the person you’re sharing your life and raising children with.  If you want a relationship with your partner, you work with her.  If you want a relationship with your children as a full parent, you get in there and find something you can do.  

Being in the game can mean finding something the mom needs less control of and taking that on — because you want to do this.  Or it can be the simple statement, “I want to watch you and learn even if you’re doing it for now.”   

Even if it’s the early months and mom simply wants (or needs!) to handle many things herself, the simple expression, “I want to understand; I want to be in it” is so important and such a show that you are part of a growing family.  And from mom:  even the simplest expression that “I value your opinion and perspective” is team playing.

It’s not a woman’s responsibility to train her husband, for good or for bad.  He’s a dude, not a dog, and you are partners. No relationship is easy.  But that’s why we do this as adults.  

Go for it w/ your partner.  When you’re working together — whatever form that takes for now in your parenting adventure — it feels good.

Space Available in Upcoming Working Moms' Groups!

The Working Moms’ Ongoing Group helps new moms prepare for and manage work/motherhood concerns. Members are a diverse group of moms who come together to share information, problem-solve, vent and find a place for their dual identities.  This is a great group, and a sorely needed resource for working moms who want to talk and connect, with a sense of humor, wine and snacks. 

WINTER 2013 Dates:

CHELSEA:  Note, this GROUP IS FULL 129A W 20 Street between 6th and 7th.  Tuesdays: 1/8, 1/22, 2/5, 2/19  8-10pm 

TRIBECA: 299 Broadway (Tamid Synagogue).  Tuesdays: 2/12, 2/26, 3/12/3/26, 8-10 pm

UPPER WEST SIDE:  This group is FULL  (well, nearly full; if you are only one person and you contact me right away I’ll make space for you)(contact me for location after you register). Thursdays: 2/7, 2/28, 3/7, 3/28 8-10 pm (NOTE!  2/7 group meets from 7:30-9:30)

$140, register by clicking button at left.  More details here and here.

Toddler Parenting Workshop

Having kids gets a little crazy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy, productive, and sane. It is your life going by, after all.

I think everyone kind of knows that. But it can be hard to find a balance between an unrealistic Rigid Control Fantasy (let’s all make our kids French!), which your kid won’t do, and the Loosey Goosey of too much indulgent chaos, which no parent can live with for long. 

It helps to have some guidance. Next month, I’ll host a TODDLER PARENTING WORKSHOP where we’ll:

  • review four basic principles of living with a toddler, so you can use your energy wisely, and not waste a lot of time arguing, demanding, controlling, capitulating, feeling ineffectual and sounding like a two year old yourself! 
  • do hands-on role-playing exercises to play out real scenarios, and learn how to apply the stuff we all already know to real life situations. 
  • talk about all the fun stuff: Why your child resists getting her teeth brushed and what to do when she shuts her mouth tight. Why your iPhone is the most appealing thing. What to do when she screams whenever you try to have a conversation with your spouse. How to cope with the daily throw-down when it’s time to put on his coat. Dirty secrets about bedtime, nighttime, picky eating, playground politics, potty learning and new siblings. Yay. 

There are no gimmicks and no techniques. This is about learning to understand what’s going on in your child’s mind and make the most of your interactions, so you can get a little sanity back, without worrying that you’re creating a future monster. Once you get them, toddlers are actually pretty delightful.

The class is for parents of toddlers 11-30 months old.


Sunday, February 24, 2013, 10-noon

TAMID Downtown Synagogue*, 299 Broadway, Suite 716

$50 per person or $60 per couple. If you are a former student of mine, you can come for a discount if you bring a full-paying new student or couple.

Register by clicking on the paypal button at left (scroll down from “purchse a workshop”).

AFTER REGISTERING, please email me one or two scenarios that are currently challenging you with your toddler. We will use these real life examples in our session. You can contact me at meredith (at) amotherisborn (dot) com.

*Note:  Tamid members can come to this workshop for free.  Please email me to let me know you are coming. 

Home Birth, Barbie Style

I’m so not sure what I think of this slide show of Barbie having a home birth, with Ken and a midwife and her older child at her side.  

OT1H, some of the photos are hilariously similar to real birth pics (classically, in Black and White for additional gravitas):

barbie in labor

But OTOH, I hate the idea of the homebirth being glamorized in some Barbie-like way, (making it seem like yet another unrealistically perfectionist thing on the to do list, along with having the Barbie-looking hair, body and face), instead of what it is: one of many options an informed adult can make regarding the care of her body.  

And then, since I have an eleven year old, I immediately wonder what a Minecraft-Homebirth would look like (hopefully no creepers).  I may now go ask my son and his best friend to design that for me…


"In My Day . . . "

Yesterday a reader responded to What Not To Say - Grandma Edition with this hilarious story:

yes, my MIL loves to say “We didn’t have anything like that!”  My favorite is that she likes to say that about cloth diapers.  wtf? 

It made me remember some of the excellent/horrifying/unbelievable Grandma quotes I’ve heard over the years:

We always gave you honey to help with teething.

We always rubbed whisky around your mouth while you were teething

We didn’t have teething then.

No one breastfed then.

You were out of diapers before your first birthday.

There was no such thing as “side-lying” nursing in my day.

We just spanked you when you woke up in the middle of the night; that taught you quick!

(That last one, so horrible; I heard it probably ten years ago and have been haunted ever since — in case it’s not obvious, just don’t don’t don’t do that.)

So — what are the best “in my day” remarks you’ve heard so far?  And <shudder> what do you think you might say happened in your day, some time, decades on, when it’s your turn to be Grandma?

You Are Not Adam Lanza's Mother

Sometime over the weekend folks circulated an essay titled something like, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” – I’m not linking to it because I’m not sure I want to generate more traffic for her.  The post described a mother’s fear and sense of helplessness in the face of her son’s violence and mental illness.  The suggestion was that Adam Lanza’s mother may also have felt this same overwhelm, and that the “real” problem is our nation’s inability to properly attend to mental illness.

Then, there was a second round of sharing – this time another blogger’s criticism of the first, accusing that writer of being cray-cray herself and pimping her child out for media attention. 

Then people shared counter arguments and rebuttals, and so on – the Internet OCD of Refresh and Comment, which has become our culture’s response to tragedy.

I found the whole thing disturbing, as a mother and as someone who works with mothers.  On the one hand, I felt, and feel compassion for any mother whose beloved child is so ill that she simply cannot cope with him, especially when there aren’t resources to meet his needs and protect the rest of the world she’s brought him into.  Yes, yes yes yes yes, we need to do much better, as a country, when it comes to mental illness.  Yes. 

But what really bothered me was how many people shared the original link not just to say “we have a broken system and people like Adam Lanza can fall through the cracks!”  (which is true).  I felt, reading all the “shares” and the comments that went with them, that too many people seemed to identify with this woman’s plight, as though they were saying, “my kid (or my friend’s kid) scares me too and I relate to how frightening it would be to be the mother of a mass murderer!”

I bet that Adam Lanza’s mother was afraid of him, sure.  But – what mother – ever, anywhere – hasn’t ever feared her child?  Being a parent is frightening.  At first, it’s frightening because babies are entirely helpless.  Later it’s frightening because they aren’t helpless – they’re smart and savvy, and ultimately, you realize, they’ll be able to overpower you mentally, physically, emotionally … and what if they do?!  Fear is a sign you’re paying attention, not a sign that you are raising a murderer.  Statistically, whoever your kids are, they are so much more likely to be killed by gun violence than to be mass murderers.

I worry that in imagining and then identifying with Adam Lanza’s mother, we are taking the normal fears that mothers have in raising regular, or even unusually difficult children, and equating them with something that’s not just more intense but categorically different.  The goal isn’t to never feel afraid, it’s to learn some tools that help you cope with fear and raise your kid well.

However, if you are overwhelmed by your child and fear that he may be violent or that you can’t handle him – whether this is just part of the normal range or because your child is mentally ill in some way: apart from whatever else you do, you should not have guns.  Because if you do not have them, he can’t use yours.

And because there are evidently people who don’t have the judgment to grasp that, we need better laws to protect the rest of us.

Winter New Moms’ Groups!

The next round of my new moms’ series is starting in late November for downtown moms.  Join us for 6 weeks as we explore your new life with humor, information, pragmatism, and a lot of irreverence.

This is a comment I got yesterday from a mom in the series that’s coming to an end now:

I wanted to say thanks for doing such a wonderful job in facilitating the new mom group.  I got so much out if it — I find myself several times a day saying either “in my new mom group I learned…” Or “Meredith talked about…”
This group has been priceless to me! 

When you join, you can also join my listserve of new moms, to interact between sessions and continue to meet up well after your little ones are past the early months. 

Details: 6 week series, Wednesdays 11/28- 1/16, 1:45-3:45, held at 54 Warren St (downstairs classroom), through Tribeca Parenting.  $180.  (note, class skips 12/26 and 1/2).  Yes, you can bring your baby!  Register here.

More description of moms’ groups here.  And of course you can email me with any questions:  meredith (at) amotherisborn (dot) com.

You're not the most scatterbrained new mom

… because that award is held by me.  

I was just looking for something I was almost sure I’d find buried deep inside file folders in the bowels of a huge desk my husband and I use basically as a garbage can.

I found the document I needed.  But first?  I found a stack of thank-you notes I wrote but didn’t mail, for presents I got when my daughter was born.   

My daughter is. almost.  six.  years.  old.

More than half the people to whom the cards were written are now dead.  

So, just give yourself a pat on the back because you will certainly get to yours before your child is in kindergarten.


This is a shameless attempt to guilt you into voting, even if your day is really hectic.  Here is an article about a young woman named Galicia Malone, who got to the polls and voted while she was in labor.  Yep, her water broke, and her contractions were about five minutes apart when she left her home … to go to the polls.  After she voted, she continued on to the hospital.  Good for her. 

<To all New Yorkers affected by the hurricane:  If you are voting at a different location than usual, you will have to vote by affadavit.  That means filling out a form and the ballot by hand.  They will not have a booth with a lever to pull.  I suggest bringing your own pen (the place I voted this morning had only four!  And the line of displaced voters was out the door!) and something to lean on, like a book, because you will have to fill in the affadavit standing up in the middle of the polling place.>

Go vote.  

Need a freezer, shower, toilet or outlet?

My power is back on and I’m in the West Village. To all pumping moms affected by the storm: If you are without power and currently using fuel to maintain a generator for breastmilk storage, please come use my freezer instead! And save the gas for your car. Please spread the word — for anyone who needs freezer space; even if you have to drive in from NJ. Also available: hot tea and showers (if you’re commuting for work from a powerless home), outlets for your pump, whatever you need.  Please contact me at meredith (at) amotherisborn (dot) com

How To Take Care Of A New Mom, With Chocolate

You know those moments where mom is desperately hungry, but so is the baby?  That’s when it’s time for the Mom-Food-Chain: you feed mom, mom feeds baby.  

mom food chain

Also, are they not completely adorable?!  And isn’t this the most discreetly nursing baby ever?

I particularly love that he’s feeding her chocolate and berries — all the major food groups represented.

Have you tried this?

(photo taken with permission)

What Not To Say To A New Mother: Eleven Ways To Get It Right

Recently, I wrote about undermining things I’d heard hospital staff say to new mothers, and I have been overwhelmed by the feedback. I have read over a thousand responses and comments, too many of which confirm the themes of my original post:  that moms can feel seriously undermined by even small thoughtless remarks by their caregivers, mixed messages, or misinformation, and they hold on to the pain of that for years to come.  This comment struck me particularly:

when my daughter was placed in my arms, I had an overwhelming feeling of confidence that I could take care of this child, no problem; this was slowly eroded over 4 days in hospital, getting contradictory advice and information — so confusing!


Seasoned moms know that once the adrenaline of childbirth wears off – be it 24 hours or four months - taking care of a child is rarely a “no problem” thing.  We all doubt ourselves sometimes; no one has perfect confidence.  But in those first few days, moms need encouragement.  They need to be taught what to do when they feel doubt, and confusion; they don’t need more doubt and confusion heaped upon them.  

But!  Several people wrote in positive comments about their time in the hospital, too, and those stories are so moving – not just as a reminder that there are great, great hospital staff members out there, but as a reminder for all who encounter new moms: small positive comments and acts are surprisingly helpful, just as the small negative comments were surprisingly destructive. Years later, moms still remembered: 

  • how good it felt when a nurse congratulated her on how much she’d pumped, and 
  • when a L&D nurse brought a newborn who needed immediate pediatric care to mom’s belly for a kiss and hug before being rushed away, and 
  • the doctor who said “I can see you’re going to be great,” at a moment when the mom could not see it herself, and 
  • Nurses who knocked before entering, asked, “is this a good time?” or “do you need to pee before we do this?”

And there were several comments about caregivers who slowed down, sat on the edge of the bed and simply smiled.    

I don’t mean you should tell a new mom everything is spectacular if it isn’t. But if you’re a friend or loved one visiting a new mother, or if your work requires you to care for new parents – small things make a huge difference and are remembered for years to come. 

Helpers, loved ones, and all who interact with new moms can be memorable for the good they do with these eleven basics:

  • Put yourself on a five-second delay.  Helpers often “hit the ball back” with a response as soon as they hear a new mom’s question.  Whether you are a caregiver or a friend, take a pause before answering mom’s question, and think about what you’re about to say, and check the phrasing. 
  • Make sure you are qualified to answer.  (If not, there’s no shame!  You can say, “let me think about that” or “let me ask so and so”).  Then, get help for her.
  • Think about your tone.  If you sound bossy or defensive, New Mom may hear that, more than she hears your words.
  • You are responsible for your body language – If your shoulders are relaxed and you’re smiling, it’s easier for the new mom to hear the substance of what you’re saying, and to learn.  If she sees your eyebrows scrunched together and a frowny face and your shoulders up by your ears, it can drown out whatever you’re trying to tell her!  Even if you’re worried, don’t distract with your body. The most effective way to get the baby and mom cared for is not to scare them, but to use your brain and words to get them what they need.
  • SMILE.  It makes everything you say more absorbent.  Try not to behave as though there is an emergency unless there is an emergency.  
  • Stay away from hypotheticals (“if, by tomorrow, we don’t see a change in X, we will have to do Y” or, for friends: “if your baby starts doing A now, you’re going to be in for it when she’s B months old”) unless there is a clinical need to discuss them right now.  People do this to show off their knowledge and to spread their own anxiety around, but it’s not fair to the new mom.  Unless it’s clear you need to act, try to keep the mom to the present, and stick with her so you can jump in if need be.
  • Ask whether you need to say anything at all.  Sometimes a grin is truly enough interaction. 
  • Use open ended questions to get the mom talking.  ”Tell me how breastfeeding is going” or “How are you feeling today?” or “So, what do you think of your baby?” will get you more information than, “how many minutes did he latch?” or “has he pooped yet?” or “has he been crying a lot?” 
  • Observe the mom.  Find something she is doing well.  There will be something – the way she smiles at the baby, the way she holds him more confidently each time, the way she asks good questions or shows appropriate instincts.  Tell her, specifically, that you notice these good things.
  • Observe the baby!  Find something totally adorable, and tell them mom you notice.  I remember one client I had whose baby was in the NICU.  I saw them on day 2 and pointed out how adorable it was that the baby was gripping Dad’s finger.  The mom burst into tears, saying, “That’s the first compliment she’s gotten since she was born!  Everyone is only talking about all the things she’s not doing.”  
  • Friends and loved ones:  Help the new family develop a “home team” (and be part of it), to get their needs met and their questions answered once they’re home.

What about you?  Do you remember what helped in those early days and weeks?

Register for New Moms' Group!

Hey all,

There’s still space in the New Jewish Mothers’ Group starting next week!

This is a great opportunity to join an intimate new moms’ group and also connect with your spiritual side and think about Jewish traditions around lifecycle events.  It’s going to be awesome.  (info on my other moms’ groups starting soon here).

Things to know:

  • you don’t have to be religious. At all. 
  • you don’t have to be knowledgeable about Jewish lifecycle things, at all.
  • you don’t have to fit into Jewish Mother cultural stereotypes, at all!
  • We’re going to talk about all the regular new-moms’-group topics:  feeding, sleep, fussiness, routines, body changes, parenting with your partner … the lot.  
  • and also, the particular cultural distinctiveness and traditions in Jewish family life.
  • yes you can bring your baby
  • breastfeeding / not breastfeeding — doesn’t matter either way here.  You’re a mom; come talk.  
  • If you’re a Tamid member, it’s free!  For everyone else, it’s just like a regular new moms’ group:  $180 for six weeks and a lifetime of new friends.

DETAILS:  Thursdays, 11-1, at 299 Broadway. Featuring guest commentary by Rabbi Darren Levine on the role of Jewish spirituality in creating family life.


TO REGISTER: Click Purchase Button at left, scroll down.  If you are viewing this site on your mobile phone, you have to scroll down to the bottom and click “standard view” in order to see the purchase button.  If you are having trouble with this, email me at meredith (at) amotherisborn (dot) com

What Not To Say To A New Mother: The Hospital Edition

The other day I was visiting a family and their just-born baby in the hospital, and in the few short hours I was there, I heard a bunch of surprising comments:

  •  A nurse told a new dad (who was standing up, holding his 20 hour old baby) to put the baby down in the bassinet, warning him that his son was safer in the bassinet — otherwise Dad might drop the baby.  
  • A different nurse told a new mom (who was holding her 8 hour old baby) that her daughter would be safer in the bassinet because Mom might doze off and “co-sleeping is not allowed.”  

These comments, by two different staff members to two different families, are, to me, eye-rollingly laughable — obviously babies can be safely held by parents, both seated and standing.  Obviously babies don’t need to lie in a plastic bucket all the time for fear of being dropped.   

Probably the first nurse meant: “if you did drop him, we’d end up with a law suit,” I.e., it’s potentially dangerous to us, the hospital, not: “it’s actually likely you’ll drop him.” 

And probably the second nurse meant, “I have been trained to warn mothers not to fall asleep with their babies in bed because for non-breastfeeding babies there are certain risk factors to bed-sharing, and I see so many new moms per day that I can’t be more specific on an individual level,”  and not:  “it’s actually dangerous to for you to hold her right now, in bed, with visitors in your room.”

And, happily, both families took the comments with a grain of salt.  (The mom paused, concerned for a moment, but then looked around the room for encouragement and said, calmly, “well I’m awake right now.”  The dad made a comment under his breath about Americans’ fear of liability.) Both families have older children at home.

Here’s what I worry about, though:  first-time parents who have no other experience, and those who don’t have visitors to help them remember common sense.  Or who are just so tired and impressionable that they can believe that their urge to hold a newborn is wrong; and that he’s safer in a plastic box.  

It’s not that I think one statement, in isolation is so damaging, but, rather, the tide of small comments like this, pervading the new parents’ experience in the hospital.  Because while I was there, I also heard: 

1.  by a pediatric resident, re: a well baby:  “we’re taking the baby’s temperature to make sure she doesn’t have a fever.” (which suggests that she might have a fever, or might develop one),

instead of: 

we’re doing our well-check up of the baby’s vitals so we have a record of how healthy she is.”)  


2.  by a nurse:  “Here’s the breast pump.  If you don’t get enough to put in a bottle, we can give it by syringe.” (which suggests that mom might not make enough milk — a common fear), 

instead of: 

"one-day-old babies can only handle a tiny volume of colostrum because their stomachs are so small, and there’s no bottle small enough to appropriately feed a baby this young — so, we’ll give you a syringe you can put in her mouth, to give her the precious colostrum you get.”)  

(Or even better: "I hear you asked for a breast pump, so we’re sending one over along with an IBCLC who can teach and advise you, and help you figure out your options.”)


3.  by an OB, to parents being discharged early after a healthy birth (unprompted, without previous discussion of infant feeding):  “Definitely take home some of the formula. You can top him off after each feeding to make sure he doesn’t get dehydrated.” (which suggests that the baby will get dehydrated if “only” breastfed) 

instead of: 

"I’m not an expert on lactation, but if you have concerns about breastfeeding, let me get someone who can help you."

See how insidious this is?  Each remark alone might be a smallie (I don’t think this last one is a smallie, though), but the cumulative message, over and over is:  

Things are about to go wrong.  You can’t trust yourself, or your judgment.  That feeling of relief that the baby is healthy and in your arms?  It’s probably just wishful thinking and the rug is about to get yanked out from beneath you. 

Newborn parents, who, for the moment, are tired, sometimes overwhelmed, understandably confused and facing lots of new stuff, are more vulnerable to suggestion than the rest of us.  They need encouragement and support so that they can:

  • learn to take care of themselves and their babies, 
  • learn to distinguish “emergency, requiring medical care” from “common sense situation I can handle myself,” and
  • learn to cope with the normal new-parent anxiety.

They deserve to encounter staff who understand their concerns, worries and knowledge level. They deserve staff who don’t plant seeds of self-doubt and a culture of fear.  We patients pay huge sums of money to be cared for while we are vulnerable — it shouldn’t be “caveat emptor”: let the patient beware — any advice you get may be misguided.  

So, but here’s the thing:  I don’t think that hospital staff who say stuff like this mean any harm.  I don’t think they intend to undermine parents’ confidence or give faulty guidance.  At all.  I do think they may be influenced by the pressure to think about liability avoidance, and they may be too overworked to individualize service and attend to each new family’s particular needs.  Any of us can say the wrong thing when we’re under stress, because we’re human.

But I think it should be a priority, for all who work with pregnant folks and new parents, to try to get that tone right as often as possible.  To slow down, remember that that new dad holding his baby is, inside his head, probably worried, anxious and far more likely to be riddled with insecurity and self-doubt than he is to actually drop the baby.  It’s so unfair to saddle him with the hospital’s fear of a law suit, when what he needs is to be reassured that he is competent and has good instincts.  When we talk to him as though he already knows he’s competent, we are not reaching our audience. 

By the way, you know who *does* understand how to reach their audience?  You know who never gets so tired or busy with their other priorities that they get off message?  You know who’s really good at sending the message they mean to send? 


Advertisers think, all the time, about how their message will be received.  That’s what they’re paid to do.  And that’s why, when I see a sign like this (text at bottom)

bassinet sign

in every single baby’s bassinet in the hospital, with the Similac logo, and a completely horse-shit ambiguous message about infant feeding, I become pretty annoyed.  I have two Ivy League degrees, a pretty decent comprehension of English, and even got a full night’s sleep last night, but reading this message, I feel completely confused.  

That’s because the message is meant to confuse me.  I am meant to conclude that infant feeding decisions are very important and confusing and require far more complex micro-analysis than a normal person with normal breasts and a normal brain could possibly figure out, which is why, thank god, there are doctors, nurses, nutritionists (note absence of IBCLC in this list) and, most of all, Similac, bringing me this lovely “keepsake,” a reminder that I am completely incompetent.  

Note also that this solemn, authoritative missive about infant nutrition doesn’t mention breastfeeding.   

See how savvy this bit of marketing is?  Similac donates these advertising cards to the hospital.  The flip side of the card, which faces into the bassinet, says the baby’s name, age, and birth weight; the hospital accepts the cards so they don’t have to pay to make and print thousands of name cards.  The side with the Similac message faces out through the plastic and is positioned at eye level — it’s the first thing you see every time you look at the bassinet to check on your baby.

Unlike hospital staff who are, I think, unintentional when they undermine parents’ confidence, advertisers are cleverly exploiting parents’ fears.  This marketing message is aimed — visually — right at parents who are already a little confused, tired, worried that they don’t understand everything. The message is:  you can’t understand this stuff

It’s marketing designed to reinforce your worry and then sell you something to ease it.

Now look, we are lucky, in this time and place, to have ways to care for our babies if things do go wrong.  But we shouldn’t be starting there.  Scare tactics, and undermining messages should not be a part of routine patient care, whether by advertisers who do it on purpose, or by well-meaning, but careless, staff persons who do it because they’re not paid to prioritize anything else.

We can do better than this. 


  • New moms should not be isolated for long stretches.  Have someone who knows and loves you with you, not only during labor, but to stay with you while you’re in the hospital postnatally, to hold the baby while you nap, tell you how awesome you are, and to help you make sense of everything else that happens.
  • If you’re feeling confused by what anyone has said, ask them to explain why they’re recommending whatever they’re recommending.
  • If someone is saying or doing something that’s making you feel nervous or anxious, ask for more information.  Explanations demystify a lot.
  • If you’re told something that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, entertain the possibility that you’re right and ask for more information until it does make sense.  
  • If you have a clinical question about breastfeeding, it should be directed to an IBCLC.  If someone is giving you breastfeeding advice, ask them what training they have had. Anyone can call herself a “lactation consultant.”  Is this person an IBCLC or not?
  • Take the damn card out of the bassinet and throw it away.  Put in a new piece of paper with your baby’s age and name and weight.  Or turn the bassinet so the card faces away from you.  If you’re feeling energetic, tell someone at the hospital that you don’t like the Similac logo in your face.  (After you get home, when you have the energy (and this could be months later) write to the hospital and/or your caregiver and let them know what you liked and what you didn’t like.  You can use these form letters as a model.  Things change when people complain. 
  • If you’re feeling like everything is desperately hard, it is a good sign that you need help, not that you’re a failure already.  Ring the nurse.  Ask for help, and if it’s not something she can help with, ask who can.  Ask for help finding local resources for new parents in your neighborhood.  

I am sorry if this feels like all the burden is on you to ask.  But until our world changes so that all these things are just the routine, expected care of new parents, you do have to ask for the help you need.  When you do, you’ll find that competent, compassionate care helps.

(You can read more “What Not To Say” posts here (grandma edition), here (why comebacks are hard) and here (general dumb remarks), and you can read a followup to this post (what TO say) here).

10/9/12 update:  I’m sorry some readers can’t see the photo clearly enough to read the text.  This is what the Bassinet Card says:  

Deciding what to feed is an important decision, one that should be made by those who know your baby’s nutritional needs best.  Don’t make any changes in the feeding that has been specified for your baby without talking to your baby’s doctor, nurse or nutritionist.

Provided as a keepsake from Abbot Nutrition, Makers of Similac

In addition to the other problems with this card, deciding what to feed is a decision that should be made by parents, even if they have no nutritional expertise.

Fall New Moms' Groups!

Hi all —

Becoming a new mom can be crazy-making.  What helps, perhaps more than anything, is to break the isolation.  

In movies and online, new moms’ groups are like a frenzy of JudgyBitchy Mompetition, or some kind of Hyper-Crunchy Earthmama Fest that almost no one can relate to.  But in real life things it doesn’t have to be that way.  Come to one of my new moms’ groups and get the real deal — a comfortable environment of other cool, interesting, smart urban moms in your same life moment, with a guided topic each week and an experienced facilitator who can help keep it real and also fun.  It is friendly.  It is educational.  It is totally unprecious.  You will feel better, happier, more confident.  Sign up.

This fall, I’ve got three different mid-week options for downtown moms:  a monthly group, a weekly group, and a weekly group especially for new Jewish moms.  There is something for everyone!  More info here

(working moms:  my current working moms’ group is full, but please contact me if you are interested in joining the next session (starting November) or, if there is enough interest, I will open a second group).

Don't Be A Dick

The shelves of bookstores sag under the weight of varied parenting advice books proclaiming different methods for you to get it all right, but this one piece at Huffington Post pretty much nails it.  The writer is a reasonable mom of two who sums up her parenting “philosophy” as:  

I try not to be a dick to my kids, but it’s okay if sometimes they’re inconvenienced by my needing to be a human in addition to being a mother.

You really don’t need more than this very basic concept to be a good mother, or good at any relationship I think.

She also points out that childbirth itself is basically just “one really rough day,” that in the first couple years of motherhood, “you may lose your mind” (and if so, get help), that it’s worth joining a nurturing non-judgy mothers’ group, and that it’s worth fighting the urge to be controlling (it’s the hyper-controlling attitude, not motherhood itself, she wisely notes, that makes people lose their sanity, sleep and sex lives.)

I like this piece because it’s refreshingly cavalier without demeaning the way many moms experience motherhood as awesome and profound.  She’s not saying that you ought not care, that you shouldn’t be really deeply invested, or that your children should be trained to comply like little French Automotons.  She is saying, take it easy.   

So, do that.