We reference birth plans almost weekly in our small groups, so today we're excited to again devote an entire panel to writing them!
There are many decisions to make in the moments right after your baby is born. Today's recap covers many of the important choices you have regarding the care of your new child, including breastfeeding, testing, immunizations, and more.
Birth is transformative. We meet women every day who could describe their births from many years ago in vivid detail. And we’re all familiar with the war stories... Part of our mission here at the TMC is to transform the culture of fear surrounding birth. We encourage women to educate themselves and create a supportive environment for birth. But the truth is, we all must enter birth with open hands. The stories we would write for ourselves are not always the stories that make us the strongest mothers for our children.
Welcome to one of our favorite topics! We were so pleased to have two health care providers willing to help us shed some light on common issues that are all too often kept in the dark. We welcomed Katie Page, CNM, and Dr. John Pierce, MD to our cafe' morning on February 8, 2016.
Our bodies go through a number of changes during pregnancy and birth. We spent some time talking about what to expect, what’s “normal” after baby and what are signs of possible problems. Too often women feel uncomfortable discussing these topics, but our sexual health is important, which is why we do this cafe' each year! Continue reading for a recap of our February cafe entitled: "Sex, Love and Other Things after Baby."
Q: Could you give us a brief description of what our most delicate, feminine parts of our bodies have gone through in the birth experience, etc.?
Katie shared an excellent graphic with us that detailed the variety of ways in which our vaginal area can be affected during and after birth. From minor swelling to 4th degree tears...some of the more severe tears were hard to even think about...but it showed that there are wide variations of 'normal', and healing will take different amounts of time for each woman. Also, our pelvic floor muscles will be weaker than before and need to strengthened.
Q: I’m curious as to your thoughts why a morning on this topic is even necessary? What have you seen women in the postnatal period (or later) struggle to grasp and understand regarding sex after having a baby?
John: It's a topic that needs discussing because women (and their partners!) need to understand, from a medical perspective, what is going on physically and emotionally in a woman's body after giving birth. He has actually walked in to a hospital room to find couples having sex after just having had a baby (!) ... while each woman's body is different and the timeframe will be different, that's definitely not recommended, and we need to understand why. Also, it's important relationally...for true intimacy and depth of relationship.
Katie: It's important physically, yes, but also mentally and emotionally...there are so many changes that happen in pregnancy and birth. Also, a birth experience, whether positive or negative, can dramatically impact sex.
Q: Our bodies physically undergo quite the transformation, but often women describe changes in their feelings about their partner and sex. What types of changes did your heart and mind undergo after becoming a mother? Did you feel the same? Different?
Katie: It was a big change, however, some of that is also cultural. We tend to be over-committed as a culture, and let things take over our whole life to the detriment of other areas of our life. I'm still ME. I'm a mother, but also all of these other things that I was before too...recognizing that this a new part of us, and a BIG PART of us, but not letting go of who we are as a person. That being said, there are lots of big emotions and big feelings that come and go after becoming a mother, and it is important to talk about them with your partner. It will take a lot of time, practice and patience, but it's worth it.
Q: Why is there a 6 week freeze on intercourse? What is going on in a woman’s body during this time?
John: It's different for everyone (although 2 days IS too short! see above). There is trauma, even in a good delivery. Muscles and nerves are stretched and nerves take longer to heal. To check how muscles are, you can 1) start to urinate then stop the stream or 2) put 1 or 2 fingers inside vagina and tighten, then release. This will help give you an idea of how well your muscles are healing (although the 6 week check is designed for your doctor to check on these things). If there has been a bad tear, it could be more than 6 weeks; if things are going smoothly, it could be as little as 3-4 weeks. Overall, take it slowly. There will probably be some vaginal dryness (use lubricant...even just some olive oil!) but there should not be pain.
Katie: There are some exercises that you can do to help...what John already mentioned are good things to do; if there is pain involved, you are not ready for sex. The 6 week check up is checking so much more than just the vagina; it's testing for soreness or issues in a host of other surrounding muscle groups as well. Kegels are good, but need to make sure you're both contracting AND relaxing...you need to be able to do both. Also, focus on good GENERAL health. When you feel better about yourself, you'll feel better about sex. Don't expect the baby weight to disappear in those 6 weeks, but give yourself some grace; be patient. Take time and space to take care of yourself, and you'll be more content and happy, which will have a positive impact on sex.
Q: What is 'normal' when it comes to having sex/frequency after baby? (note: when polled, the average time for the audience to have sex after baby was 'before 6 months'.)
Katie: There is such a wide range of normal! For some couples, sex everyday was normal before, but for others, sex once/month could be healthy and functional. Don't compare. If you and your partner are both comfortable, it's healthy. We as women tend to need to be aroused first, while for men, they think about it first and are then aroused. Add in abdominal/vaginal changes, and it's a lot! Talk about expectations and desires...both of you need to work together to find what works for your specific relationship.
John: Be aware of 'creeping separateness'. Where you slowly are drifting apart but don't really realize it. It will take time to figure out, but work at it as a team and together. It's important to continue to date one another and set aside time to talk as a couple about plans/dreams/desires for yourself, your relationship and your family.
Q: So many say that the “best” foreplay is seeing their partner doing the dishes! But seriously, what types of foreplay would you recommend? Is foreplay even necessary?
John: Referred to the phrase, "Men are like a frying pan, women are like a crockpot." In essence, if things are going well outside the bedroom for a woman, things won't get well inside the bedroom either. (editor's note: it was at this moment that we all wanted to record Dr. Pierce's insights and play them in the background of our homes.) Men NEED to talk about expectations too! Learn each other's 'love languages'...how does the other one best receive love? Is it by doing the dishes for them? Then do them! Is it by saying 'I'll take care of the kids, you go take a bath'? Then do that! Recognize that this is a season, and there may not be a lot of time for foreplay, but if you can try to put each other's needs first when you are able, the sex will come a lot easier. Also, lube. Again the lube...it can be your best friend during this season!
Q: How have you personally maintained and found time for a healthy sex life? Any tricks of the trade? Has anyone ever shared any particular pearls of wisdom that stick with you?
Katie: When they're a newborn and can't roll yet, it's a lot easier...just put them somewhere safe: the floor, their crib, wherever, and you're good to go! :) For a while...schedule it. We schedule everything else in our lives, why NOT this?! After a while, you'll start just finding the time and it will become a new rhythm. (although, she noted, our short maternity leaves do not help in this area...we barely have time to adjust!) Schedule parental 'nights off' for each other, split up chores and tasks...use an adult chore chart! Also, if it's scheduled in, it helps your partner to know and anticipate taking over some parental duties so that you can prepare.
John: We need margin for time and space. Focus on your family; personally he and his wife made a clear boundary: the parents were prioritized and it was not all about the kids. Also, use 'code words' for sex, so you can talk and plan when you have a few minutes, even if the kids are around! Example: I'd like to go to a restaurant. Fast food, not gourmet. (get it? wink, wink.) Or having a cue, like him coming home to a lit candle means that you're thinking about it and in the mood...but also realizing that sometimes the best-laid plans can still go awry, and the baby will start crying, need to nurse, etc. Remember that it's not just the act of SEX, but how we promote acts of LOVE.
And that is a great way to end! If you have additional questions or feel you'd like more info on something we touched on here, please feel free to contact our blog editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll help you find the answers you need!
Our panelists: Josie Olson (Play Therapist), Loan Kline (Pediatrician) and Katherine Brown (Early Learning Center Director), and our moderator, Lauren Barnes. We often talk about bellies and babies here at the Collective, but today's topic includes issues specific to our two- to four-year-old children. Potty training, big kid beds, and limits– there are lots of unique challenges within this age range.
Loan focuses mostly on gross motor skills in the first year and language skills during the second year. Katherine sees children develop at various paces; her organization does an assessment based on each child instead of comparing children to each other. They use the assessments, along with parents' assessments, to help the children achieve goals. While it can be tempting to push children to reach certain milestones, that behavior in parents can be harmful. Josie recommends setting them up to achieve these milestones by creating an environment that will help them to get there on their own.
Potty training is a big milestone that parents are often anxious to achieve sooner than later. Loan says that you can start before two, but most kids are not going to be ready by age two. Signs of readiness are the ability to follow two step commands ("take your pants off and sit on the potty"), recognizing that they have gone (if they will continue to play in wet underwear then they don't have this awareness yet), recognizing that they need to go before they go, and a willingness to sit on the potty. A potty in the car can be a solution for transitioning from at home potty training to going out in the world. Fear during potty training is another hurdle some children need to overcome. Josie recommends validating their fears; having them draw or use puppets to show what exactly they're afraid of, and then helping them find a solution (like picking out a new toddler potty).
Sometimes transitions and milestones overlap. Having a second child can make parents want to potty train their first child before they're ready. Reading their cues and waiting until they're ready is usually the better option for both parent and child. An audience member suggests that two babies in diapers is much easier than struggling to potty train a toddler that isn't ready, while juggling a newborn as well.
According the National Sleep Foundation, toddlers (1-2 years) need about 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. When they reach about 18 months of age their naptimes will decrease to once a day lasting about one to three hours. Naps should not occur too close to bedtime as they may delay sleep at night. Many toddlers experience sleep problems including resisting going to bed and nighttime awakenings. Nighttime fears and nightmares are also common. Many factors can lead to sleep problems. Toddlers' drive for independence and an increase in their motor, cognitive and social abilities can interfere with sleep. In addition, their ability to get out of bed, separation anxiety, the need for autonomy and the development of the child's imagination can lead to sleep problems. Daytime sleepiness and behavior problems may signal poor sleep or a sleep problem.
Loan finds that these guidelines are true for most toddlers. Toddlers that do well with less sleep usually have a parent that also functions well on fewer hours of sleep than average. One indicator that they are not getting enough sleep is growth; the growth hormone is released during sleep so if a child is not growing well sleep may be the issue.
Transitioning out of the crib usually happens around two to three years of age. Some children are ready earlier (if your toddler can climb out of the crib it is time to move them). For active/climbing children, consider taking anything dangerous or furniture that they can climb out of the room. Some parents stay in the room after bedtime to enforce the idea of staying in bed for the first few nights; do not engage with the child, simply direct them back to bed immediately.
There are various reasons that children have trouble with bedtime. Some children have trouble relaxing their bodies; you can gently massage or rub their back until you hear their breathing change and they are ready for sleep. Remember that with any transition it can take your child a few days, or longer, to get used to the new routine. Consistency will help them adapt easier. If children are afraid you can help them realize their monsters (with drawing or clay) and discuss how to overcome that fear (with "boogie monster" spray, for example).
Josie says to never do for your kids what they can do for themselves. Empower them to help and take care of themselves and their things. Model how to do things, give them the tools to help, and they will join in and eventually be able to do things themselves. Loan says a sense of responsibility is very important. Her office provides a list of age-appropriate chores for parents. Singing or making it into a game can help ("let's put all the blue blocks away first"). If a toddler fails once and then gives up, you can help them gradually learn to do it themselves. You can break the task into smaller steps to help it seem more manageable and provide more opportunities for success. Remind them of past successes, and talk with them about problem solving.
Emotional regulation for toddlers is a process. 18 months to three years is a period of negativity. They delight in refusing a request because it is a new-found power for them. This is also a time they are testing boundaries and seeing what they can do. Give them choices to help avoid the constant "no". Let them make small choices to help them feel empowered, and stick to routines. Tell them when there is going to be a change of plans and help them prepare for new situations.
Shaming your child is never helpful. You can point out bad behavior but reiterate that the child is not bad. Use positive language to tell them what to do, instead of using negative language to tell them what not to do ("walk, please" as opposed to "stop running"). Use books to help illustrate good and bad behavior. Katherine has classroom meetings to discuss problems before they arise. She lets the children talk to each other to help them learn from each other. Discipline is an ongoing process, but with young children redirection and distraction is often the preferred method. If you can get them to stop a negative behavior without a tantrum or fight, they are going to be happier and learn good behavior from your positive reinforcement. When it come to matters of safety you can still give options ("you can hold my hand or I can carry you in the street"), but do not negotiate anything beyond what is safe for the child.
The best time for a second or subsequent child depends on you and your family. Physically a woman's body is fully recovered from childbirth after two years. Some suggest that a three year old is much more capable of handling a new sibling than a two year old, as they are more independent. Our panelists suggest that you start preparing your child early for the arrival of a new baby. Use age-appropriate books and videos to introduce them to the idea (picture books are helpful for younger children). Getting them a baby doll of their own to take care of can be helpful, as young children like to imitate our behaviors. Talk to your child about what it means to be a sibling, and continue to promote the idea that siblings are the very best friends. Allow them to hold onto some "baby" things (like their special blankie, for example). When it comes to room sharing, experienced moms say that each child will get used to it and their sleep patterns will adjust as needed.
What a lot of helpful information! Thank you to our panelists for providing so much great advice. If there is anything that was not addressed in this article, feel free to leave us a comment here or on The Motherhood Collective facebook page.
Even though our days of December were filled with the busyness of the holidays, we still found time to get together a couple of times this month!
Our new playgroup calendar continued steadily with a morning & afternoon playgroup meeting on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month. We had so many great mamas and babies come out even when playgroup locations were changed to warmer, inside locations. (For the latest updates about playgroup, like us on Facebook!)
We were honored to be mentioned in The Clutch Guide, a local women's magazine, this month. Look for us at the conclusion of Amour Bebe, the monthly column about all-things-motherhood. What a treat!
Even though there were no cafe meetings this month (we understand how busy everyone is this time of year!), the leadership team was busy churning out new ideas for 2013. We can't wait to share with you what is coming up! (Do you Like our Facebook Page? We share TONS of info there during the month!)
Here on the blog, we asked our writers to share some of their holiday plans, their reflections on the past year and their thoughts and goals for 2013. Here are a few wonderful posts that were shared by our team of writers this month:
- Thriving on a low-budget Christmas
- Celebrating the Holidays with Preschool Aged Children
- Making a List and Checking It (more than) Twice
As 2012 closes, we are so thankful for the wonderful things that have happened at The Motherhood Collective over the past year and we are excited for all of the things in the works for 2013!