Eight Reasons to Wear Your Baby

babycarrierarticleBaby wearing is the experience of carrying your child in a sling or other carrier on your chest (and/or, as they get older, on your back). Baby carriers come in different materials and configurations, each with their benefits. Keeping a child close to you in a carrier is a natural practice utilized by people across time and cultures. There is something instinctual and natural about keeping babies close to our bodies in infancy. Baby wearing has many practical benefits but, more importantly, it offers a number of significant benefits for baby and caregiver. Here are eight benefits of carrying your baby in a carrier in his or her early days, months and even years.

  1. Baby wearing supports bonding.

When we wear baby close to us, we learn his cues and communications so intimately. This not only allows us to get to know our child, it helps us more effectively meet his or her needs, which will support bonding, ease the transition into parenthood, and so much more. Face to face orientation between baby and caregiver offers a powerful catalyst for bonding. Baby wearing can be great not only for mom and baby pairs, but also for dad (or other parent) and baby pairs, and babies and other caregivers, such as relatives. It gives others an opportunity to be close to and bond with baby.

  1. Baby wearing is good for baby’s physiological systems.

According to Dr. Sears, babywearing provides an external regulation system that balances the irregular and disorganized tendencies of a baby adjusting to life outside the womb, where all systems were once in harmony and regulated for them. If you think about it, the baby in utero is lulled to sleep by the rhythmic movements of his mother as she walks or moves about during the day. The gentle pulsing sound of her heartbeat and her breath are familiar and constant rhythms throughout womb life and likely offer tremendous comfort and stability.

Bringing baby close to us in a carrier or just being held, reintroduces those powerful organizing environmental cues back into baby’s life—baby places her ear to mama’s chest and hears mama breathing, baby is lulled to sleep by papa’s heart beat as he carries about his morning routine, baby is soothed by the familiar rhythms of walking as mom and dad go for a neighborhood stroll. All of these regular rhythms not only comfort but also have an organizing effect on an infant’s naturally rhythmic physiological processes, such as sleeping and waking; breathing; eating, digestion and elimination; temperature; heart rate; and more.

  1. Carried and worn babies are happier and cry less.

Likely connected to the phenomenon above, babies who are carried and held often are less fussy, cry less, and seem more content than those who are put into devices (such as cribs, car seats, and bouncers) most of the time. According to one study in which routine baby wearing (3 or more hours of carrying per day) was compared to a control given no instructions on wearing baby, the babies held more often throughout the day cried over 40% less. Wearing or carrying baby close helps make them secure and content. Furthermore, colic and reflux can be reduced by the upright position of being held, which can make babies more comfortable (and thus happier).

  1. Carried and worn babies learn more.

When babies are not exerting their energy on crying and fussing, they are able to devote more energy into taking in and learning from their environments. Research shows that babies who are carried show enhanced visual and auditory alertness and spend more time in the quiet alert state in which they are best able to interact with their environment. Carried babies also have the opportunity to see more and experience more varied environmental stimulus at an adult’s chest level than they would if they were on the ground or in a device. Carried babies are intimately involved in their caregiver’s world and learn what human life is all about from a young age.

  1. Carried and worn babies develop social skills

Along those same lines, being at an adult’s chest level, babies get an opportunity to pay close attention to the subtle non verbal language used by their caregivers and by others in their shared environment. They begin to learn how social interaction works, what cues are used for different feelings and needs, and the whole dance of human social life. Carried babies also get more opportunity to observe and learn verbal language as well. Research has found that carried babies experience enhanced speech development. Many report that carried babies seem to be more tuned into and attentive toward the world around them.

  1. Baby wearing is convenient.

Babies can nap in a sling or just be with you during their waking hours, happily carried about in a soft carrier. With your hands free, you can still attend to and be close to your baby while taking care of your life responsibilities and doing things you enjoy. You don’t have to be distracted by a baby monitor or constantly stop to soothe or check in with baby. Many mamas exercise with baby in a carrier, socialize with friends or family, get household chores done, and so much more with a baby in a carrier.

  1. Carrying baby in a carrier (versus car seat) is better for parent or caregiver’s body 

Sure there may be some times when baby falls asleep right before you get somewhere and leaving baby in the car seat means more rest for them while you go about your business. However, making a habit of leaving baby in the car seat can deprive you and your baby of the benefits of close physical proximity. More than this, carrying around a car seat is not easy on a caregiver’s body. Having that much weight outside your center of gravity is hard on the body and can cause or exacerbate physical pains and stresses. This is not ideal for the healing postpartum body. Holding baby close, in a carrier for example, is easier because there is no extra weight of the car seat and baby is much closer to your center of gravity, making it easier on the body to carry this additional weight.

  1. Baby wearing is economical.

Baby carriers can run from $10-20 (used—or free!) up to about $100 or so. This is typically far less than the cost of strollers, baby bouncers, and other devices meant to hold baby. Baby carriers often last a long time and can be used from a the newborn stage into toddlerhood.

These are just some of the many great reasons to keep baby close in infancy. If you choose to use a baby carrier, do some research into the different kinds, ask others for recommendations, and try them out to see what works best for you (many parents have different preferences in style. Make sure to follow safety recommendations as well to keep baby safe while in a carrier. Enjoy these precious times with baby.

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Infant Massage: How To

babymassageAs we mentioned last week in a post on the benefits of infant massage, this special activity with baby can be a great bonding tool with myriad benefits to both babies and their caregivers.

While no special training is required to offer healthy touch to a baby, here is some additional information on how to give infant massage.

When to massage

For young babies, it can be ideal to offer a massage when your baby is in a quiet yet alert state. You may want to avoid the time just after a feeding or when baby is sleepy.

Setting the scene

Lay a soft towel or blanket on the bed or floor where you will offer the massage. You may also wish to sit on the floor (or bed) with the soles of your feet together and knees apart, forming a diamond shape with your legs. Drape the blanket over your feet and between your knees. Undress baby down to the diaper and place him or her on the blanket, head toward your feet, facing you.

You can use massage oil in a non-breakable container. Almond oil or coconut oil work well for many babies, but you may wish to test the oil on a small spot on baby’s skin and wait a day to ensure they aren’t irritated by the oil.

Beginning

Start with a gentle stroke from baby’s head to toes. If baby stiffens up, cries, or becomes irritable, switch to another area of the body or end the massage for time being. If s/he responds well, start gently massaging his/her body. Here are some techniques for each body area.  Note: their is not one particular “right” order of body areas to massage.  You may choose to work from trunk to extremities, or the opposite, or massage in any order that feels right.

Tummy

  1. Hold your hands palms toward you, fingers pointing in (wrists bent), so the edge of your pinky can move across your baby’s belly. Starting at the base of the rib cage, stroke down with one hand, then the other, continuing one after the other.
  2. Massage her belly with your fingertips in a circular, clockwise motion.
  3. Do the “I Love U” stroke: Trace the letter I down your baby’s left side. Then trace an inverted L, moving across the belly along the base of her ribs from your left to right and then down. Trace an inverted U, stroking from low on the baby’s right side (your left), up and around the navel, and down the left side (your right).
  4. Walk your fingers around baby’s navel, clockwise.
  5. Hold baby’s knees and feet together and gently press knees up toward the belly. Rotate baby’s hips around a couple times to the right. (Great for expelling gas. 

Note: Avoid massaging tummy if the umbilical cord site hasn’t completely healed.

Head and Face 

  1. Cradle your baby’s head with both hands, gently massage the scalp with your fingertips, as if you’re shampooing. (Avoid the fontanel, the soft spot on top of baby’s head.)
  2. Massage her ears between your thumb and index finger.
  3. Trace a heart shape on baby’s face, bringing your hands together at his/her chin.
  4. Place your thumbs between your baby’s eyebrows, and stroke outward.
  5. Stroke from the bridge of the nose out over the cheeks.
  6. Using your fingertips, massage the jaw hinge in small circles.

Chest

  1. Place both hands on baby’s chest and stroke outward from sternum to shoulders.
  2. Beginning at the sternum, trace a heart shape bringing both hands up to the shoulders, then down and back together.
  3. In a crisscross pattern, stroke diagonally from one side of your baby’s hip, up and over the opposite shoulder, and back down to her hip.

Arms

  1. Hold her wrist with one hand and hold your other hand in a C-shape around baby’s upper arm; make long strokes from her shoulder down to her wrist
  2. With each hand grasping her arm, one right above the other, stroke down from shoulder to wrist with both hands rotating in opposite directions, as if you were gently wringing out a towel.
  3. Massage baby’s palms, moving thumb over thumb from heel of the hand to the fingers.
  4. Stroke down from the wrist to fingertips on the back or front of the hand. Gently squeeze and pull each finger.
  5. Roll her arm between both your hands.

Legs

  1. Hold the ankle with one hand and hold your other hand in a C-shape, thumb down, around your baby’s upper thigh. Stroke from thigh down to foot, skipping over the knee joint.
  2. With your hands grasping the leg at the thigh, one right above the other, stroke down from hip to foot with both hands rotating in opposite directions, as if you were wringing out a towel.
  3. On the sole of her foot, use a thumb-over-thumb motion to massage from heel to toes.
  4. Use your whole hand to stroke the bottom of the foot from heel to toes.
  5. Stroke the top of the foot. Gently squeeze and pull each toe.
  6. Roll each leg between your hands, as if you’re rolling dough.

Back

Place baby on tummy horizontally in front of you, or lay baby across your outstretched legs. Keep baby’s hands in front of him/her, not at the sides.

  1. With both of your hands on baby’s back, move each hand back and forth (keeping them going in opposite directions) from the base of the neck to her buttocks.
  2. Hold your baby’s bottom with one hand and use the other to make long strokes from the neck down to the bottom.
  3. Using your fingertips, massage in small circles down one side of baby’s spine and up the other. Avoid pressing on the spine directly.
  4. Massage the shoulders with small circular motions.
  5. Massage the bottom with big circular motions.
  6. Holding your fingers like a rake, stroke down her back.

Other infant massage tips:

  • Make strokes gentle but firm, and not ticklish.
  • Build massage into your baby’s daily schedule.
  • Follow baby’s signals about when to stop. A massage can last anywhere from a few minutes to as much as 30 minutes, depending on baby’s moods.
  • Enjoy this precious time with your beloved little one.

Hormonal Changes in Fatherhood

While many of us are well aware of hormonal changes and their effects in pregnancy and new motherhood; we don’t often hear of the physiological effects a man’s body undergoes as he becomes a father.  But doesn’t he just “supply his genetic material” and mom does the rest?  No, fatherhood actually changes a man’s physiology too.  And these changes indicate the biological importance of active fathering. DadKissingNewborn

Research shows that a man’s testosterone levels are significantly affected by fatherhood; and—even more striking—by the quality of his interactions with his child.

A large study showed that men’s testosterone levels decrease with fatherhood.  For the 600 men in the study, testosterone was measured at the age of 21 when the men were single, and again nearly five years later.  Those who had become fathers in the 4.5 years between check ups had higher baseline testosterone (T) levels compared to those not partnered with children by the second check up. However, the testosterone levels of partnered fathers declined significantly more (2 times more) than the non-fathers, suggesting fatherhood lowers testosterone levels (this even when natural age-related testosterone declines are accounted for).

What’s even more fascinating is that the men who spent three or more hours with their children each day—playing, feeding, bathing, diaper changing, reading or dressing them—had even lower levels of testosterone compared to fathers less involved in care.

Now, many men believe that more testosterone is better, so before getting bummed about these findings, let’s talk about the benefits in this hormonal change of fatherhood.

Lower testosterone levels increase the likelihood that men will remain committed to their family and be involved in a care taking role with children.  This study shows that women are not the only ones biologically adapted to caring for offspring.  It indicates that men are biologically adapted toward an active care taking role within the family system.

“A dad with lower testosterone is maybe a little more sensitive to cues from his child, and maybe he’s a little less sensitive to cues from a woman he meets at a restaurant,” said Peter Gray, a University of Nevada anthropologist who has conducted research on fatherhood and testosterone.

Lower testosterone levels exhibited in fathers are significant but subtle in the big scheme of things.  Researchers note that these fatherhood hormone “drops” are not enough to affect libido, sperm counts, muscle mass, voice range, body hair distribution/amounts, or all those other characteristics of the human man.

Lower testosterone may also provide some protection against disease.  Studies show that higher lifetime testosterone levels increase the risk of prostate cancer, suggesting that fathers in committed fathering roles might have lower long-term exposure to testosterone and thus a lowered risk of prostate cancer.

This study shows that human males have adapted to have similar hormonal systems to other animal in which the males care for young, such as some birds and primates.

Sources:

Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males

In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone (New York Times)

Partners at Birth

DadKissingNewbornMany partners find themselves in completely uncharted territory when it comes to what to expect with maternity care as well as labor and childbirth.

Here we hope to offer some insight and no-nonsense advice for mastering and navigating pregnancy and out of hospital birth.  We have collected the most frequently asked questions to which partners-to-be want answers.

For further reading, Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner and Rose St. John’s Fathers at Birth are two excellent books among those catered to birth partners.  Many childbirth education classes offer great information and support to fathers/partners attending birth (we offer a class specifically for families planning to birth with us!).

What? My wife/partner wants to have the baby where? Is it safe to have my baby out-of-hospital?

If your partner is a normal, healthy pregnant woman, the answer is YES. Research shows that having a baby in a birthing center or at home with a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) is as safe as, and in some cases, safer than, having your baby in a hospital.

If we have our baby at home…isn’t it messy?

On average we fill one to two kitchen sized trash bags with trash from the birth. We use the same disposable pads that are used in the hospital to catch any fluids. Our midwives do a great job of cleaning up after the birth and start a load of laundry for you before we leave. When all is said and done you would never even know a birth happened in your home.

What about cost? Is it expensive to have a baby at home or in a birthing center?

We offer a package price for your prenatal, labor & delivery, and postpartum care that is often less expensive than choosing other birthing options. We also offer a billing service that files your insurance claim for you after the birth of your baby. Remember, this is the only time you and your partner are going to experience this birth, and sometimes it’s worth paying more to get the birth you want. 

I am scared I will pass out at the sight of blood. Have you ever had a partner keel over?

We have never had a dad pass out.*** Normally you are so involved in what is going on that you don’t have time to get faint. For dads who think it is a possibility, we have you stay near your partner’s head and focus on supporting her through each contraction. If you do pass out, we are there to help and you will have a memorable birth story to tell your little one as they get older!

***Actually, this is not true anymore! One of our dear dads passed out twice at a recent birth!  We assure you this is not a common experience however!

How will I know what my partner wants me to do when she is in labor?

It is important to talk with your partner about her expectations for you at the birth as well as what role you would like to play. The more the two of you have talked, the easier it will be to meet those expectations in labor and have the birth experience both of you envision. At Health Foundations, partners can be as involved in the birth process as they want. Some options to consider include helping catch the baby and cutting the cord. Or if you’d prefer to leave all that to the professionals, that is fine too.

OK really…how long is it going to be?

Labor often involves a lot of waiting. The average birth lasts approximately twelve hours. You might spend several hours rubbing her back, counting to ten, offering her water, and supporting her in whatever position she choses to labor in.

Is there an instruction manual to tell me what I need to know and should be doing?

It can be pretty nerve-wracking to know your partner expects you to help her get through labor when you haven’t got a clue what it will be like or how to help. Our best advice is to attend a childbirth preparation class with your partner. Childbirth classes will help teach you how to work as a team, give you pain coping techniques to help coach her through contractions and give you an idea of what to expect. In addition have put together a few universal tips:

  • A laboring woman is always right.
  • Don’t ask a woman questions during a contraction. She will be annoyed with you.
  • Most women do not appreciate jokes when they are in labor.
  • Most women do not like their bellies touched during a contraction.
  • Don’t go to sleep unless she gives you the OK. She is working hard and has to stay awake. She will expect the same from you.
  • If something helps her during contractions (like rubbing her back), start it as soon as the contraction begins. Starting half way through a contraction is not helpful.
  • Laboring women are sometimes only able to get their thoughts across in one or two words and are often very direct in labor. If she tells you to STOP doing something stop. If she tells you to do something, do it right away.
  • She needs encouragement. Tell her she is strong and doing a good job.

My partner keeps talking about having a doula at the birth. Isn’t having our midwife and her assistant enough?

The pressure of being a super-coach in labor is taken away when you have a doula. A doula’s role is not to replace the dad or partner but to allow them to be involved in the birth at a level that is comfortable for them. The support a dad or partner can provide is irreplaceable. It is not fair, however, to expect them to retain every technique taught in their childbirth class. It is like asking someone who has never watched or played a football game to coach Monday Night Football with only a brief training session and a playbook. Parents who use doulas can shift the burden of remembering details from childbirth class and their birth plan onto the doula’s shoulders. They are free to follow their instincts and let the doula guide them when they need it.

What should I do after the birth?

  • Tell your partner you love and are proud of her.
  • Some dads give their partner flowers or a special gift to commemorate the special event.
  • Help her care for the baby. You can’t nurse the baby, but you can hold the baby so she can sleep. Arrange for someone else to help so you can both get some rest.
  • Hold the baby so she is able to take a shower.
  • Watch for signs of unusual sadness that might indicate postpartum depression.

 

Ten Tips for Partners at Birth

dad at birth 2While we tend to focus on preparing mama for birth, it is also essential that papas, partners or any other labor supporters to feel prepared.  While it would take the length of a book (or more) to fully prepare papas and partners for the birth experience, here are ten quick and easy essentials to keep in mind.

1.  Be responsive to your partner’s cues and protect her space.  Follow her lead.  Do what you can to ensure she is feeling safe and supported.  Keep the lights dim, the room quiet and the atmosphere calm.

2.  Minimize questions, distractions, and instructions (from yourself and others) especially during contractions.  Don’t take silence personally, it is probably a sign that she is going inside and focusing on the monumental task she is undertaking.  Silence is often a really good sign.

3.  Help her to be comfortable.  Suggest position changes regularly.  Observe her alignment and support her head, torso, low back, arms, hips, knees, and feet as needed.  Keep her warm, but offer ice packs or a cool cloth if she gets too warm.  Use comfort techniques you’ve learned together before the birth.

4.  Maintain your center and your stability.  Find your own breath.  Tend to yourself so that you can tend to her.  Do so discreetly so it doesn’t serve as a distraction.

5.  Take her to the bathroom hourly.

6.  Help her keep the pitch of her voice low and monitor her facial and physical tension.  Help her relax.

7.  Give her encouragement and tell her you love her.  You might even kiss if it feels right.  Feelings of love from mama help her release oxytocin, which can help with labor.

8.  If her breathing gets rapid, shallow and panicked, model a slow, even, deeper breath for her.  Maybe try to make eye contact with her as you do this, it can help to ground her.

9.  Keep her hydrated and nourished.  Offer regular sips of water (you can do so without words).  Offer labor snacks in early and active labor.

10. Help her maintain her rhythm.  Let her find what works best for her and find ways to support her there until its time for her rhythm to change again.

What other advice would you give to papas and partners for labor & birth?

Fall Events with Dudes Becoming Dads Group

Our friends over at Dudes Becoming Dads would like to spread the word about some great events they are planning in the next month or so.  Ladies, please tell your partners…partners, consider joining this fun, laid-back group of guys.  The first event is for the whole family…the second is just for dudes!

Both are hosted by Jeff Hellenbrand

Grill Out at Minnehaha Park (family event)

grill

When: Sunday September 29th @ 1pm

We’re squeezing in one more grill-out this Fall. Bring the family, something for the grill, drinks and maybe a dish to share. Feel free to bring a frisbee, football, bocce ball set, etc. so we can have some fun. And it’s Fall, so dress in layers.  Call Jeff on his cell phone when you get there for directions to where we end up exactly. And if you park in the lot, don’t forget to pay. See you there!

LEARN MORE AND RSVP HERE

Drinks at Pizza Luce in Saint Paul (Dads only)

When: Friday October 18th @ 7pm
This one is just for the fellas. We’ll grab some cold beers and have ourselves a great time.

LEARN MORE AND RSVP HERE.  

Calling all new and expecting Dads! New Dad’s Group

Gals, encourage your partners to consider this fantastic new Dad’s Group forming in the Cities for expecting and new papas.  Their first meet up is THIS Friday August 9th at 7:30 at Psycho Suzi’s.  

Here is what organizer Jeff Hellenbrand had to share with us about this awesome new group:

There are several groups in the Cities for expecting mothers, but I couldn’t find any equivalent for guys. As an expecting father, most of my friends do not have kids yet. Instead of boring my friends with all of the details and anxieties of the pregnancy and birth, I decided to create a meetup group just for new and expecting dads.

What makes this group awesome is that we have no agenda. It’s an excuse for new and expecting dads to meet, hang out and have fun. We’re guys. So we talk a lot about work, music and sports. But we also end up talking about pregnancy and fatherhood. And I think that’s a conversation that’s too important to not be having. But none of us wants to feel like we have to talk about that stuff or that we can’t talk about something else when we feel like it. Anybody who considers himself a new or expecting dad is welcome.
Our next meetup is coming up fast! Since this is our first meeting for most of the guys, I wanted to have something fun and low-key.
We’re meeting at Psycho Suzi’s on Friday, August 9 at 7:30pm. Here’s the link to the event: http://www.meetup.com/Dudes-Becoming-Dads/events/130418752/
It’s important that guys RSVP for this one (preferably early next week) so a large enough space can be reserved at Suzi’s.