Really the ONLY thing breastfeeding moms need to know

I have to get this off my (sorry) chest.

If you follow any mom bloggers, family policy Tweeters, or pregnant Instagrammers (and I follow a few!), your feed has been full of boobs and breastmilk in honor of the 25th anniversary of #WorldBreastfeedingWeek. That's a great thing because moms who nurse all night and pump at work all day deserve all of the applause emojis and support we can give them. 

But when I think of my time nursing and pumping, THIS picture -- of my three-year-old Will, feeding three-month-old Teddy -- is the one that I want to share the most. Here's why: Breastfeeding was, for me, an incredibly slippery slope of self-doubt and stubborn independence. Feeding my baby seemed like the most basic mothering skill I was supposed to have, and yet, it made me cry the biggest tears of pain and frustration. And it felt, at first, like it was ALL ON ME. But I was wrong.

The moment represented in this photo, which was taken the week before I went back to work, was an enormous victory for me: I'd gotten comfortable asking for help -- not just of my husband and friends, but even of my kid!

I think I was just out of the shower and wanted to achieve some colossal task like brushing my hair and getting dressed. Teddy was hungry. I handed Will the bottle. Was a three-year-old as skilled at feeding the baby as I was? Oh, not quite. But he got the job done!

So ask for the help you need, even when you think no one else can do it as well as you. 

Because this moment was a win for all three of us back then -- and now. These days, my boys love this picture even more than I do. 

 

Wait, HOW much is maternity leave going to cost?!

"How about if you write an article for us at Wealthsimple about how much you need to save up to take a decent maternity leave," my editor friend Devin suggested. "750 words or so?"

Hahahaha, it's SO complicated in the United States, I told him. So much depends what state you live in, how well you're paid to begin with, whether your partner has any paid leave (whether you have a partner!), what industry you're in, and whether you work a salaried or hourly or commission-based job. And that's before we even get into the variables of your health and recovery. It's mind spinning, I explained to my friend, and nearly impossible to just sum it all up in an article. 

"All the more reason we need it!" he replied. Game on.

And so, here's my attempt at making sense of the financial mess of new motherhood...Like so many of the lessons shared by new moms in my book, I wish we didn't need these workarounds, but until then, let's arm each other with the info we need to stay in the game and MAKE SOME CHANGE. (Or...haha...some cash!)

Read the Wealthsimple story here.

File under: Things I stubbornly insist on doing myself

Obviously, driving to the grocery would make more sense...but...

Obviously, driving to the grocery would make more sense...but...

4 things that might be better left to a professional that I do myself anyway:

1) Birthday-cake baking. And decorating. And over-promising to my children about the results.
2) Plucking my own eyebrows (or, not plucking them often enough).
3) Taking the kids' holiday card photo (typically just after the winter sun has gone down and just before the deadline after which said cards will become New Year's greetings...or maybe Valentines).
4) Redesigning my own website.

I could go on. And on. But instead, I will write this quick blog entry (my first in months thanks to the whirlwind of book launch and publicity), and put the finishing touches on my imperfect new website, and admit: I do these things because they are a pleasure. They are also a pain (see: my poor boys dressed in collared shirts perched atop a NYC mailbox in 25-degree weather). But I've come around to the idea that sometimes we choose the hard way because we get something out of it.

When I surveyed all of those hundreds of new moms for my book, I made sure to ask them: Which of the baby tasks do you actually enjoy? Turns out, one of the secrets of surviving The Fifth Trimester is gaming your day to allow you to do the bits of the mom job you like...and offloading the less desirable stuff to whatever degree you can. Love the bath but get home too late? Switch it to morning, and know that you've made this bit of work for yourself because you wanted to. Because you love the scent of the water and the ridiculous little shampoo mohawk you can make on your baby's head, and the warmth of his body that seeps through the baby towel as you say: I did this for you because I chose to. Hold onto that through your whole day. It helps.
 

Register now for my Fifth Trimester Workshop, hosted by Park Slope Parents!

Wait...what?! Mommy's going back to work? I'll be hosting a fifth trimester workshop Weds., Feb 15 (next week!), 7pm-9pm with Park Slope Parents, and would love to see you there! Babies in arms are very welcome. :)

Register here: http://bit.ly/PSP5thTrimesterWorkshop_Feb_2017

And here's the scoop:

WORKSHOP: HOW TO GO BACK TO WORK AFTER BABY -- AND ACTUALLY LIKE YOUR LIFE!

It’s more than possible! Lauren Smith Brody, author of the upcoming book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby (Doubleday, April 4), will give us a preview of what she learned from 800+ new working moms and hundreds of studies and experts, drilling down on the three areas you told us you need most:

  • Getting to 50/50 at home with your partner (the dual working parent trap, solved)

  • Making an effective, easy self-care plan -- especially if you’re going back before you feel emotionally ready

  • And solving your mommy-guilt issues once and for all!

Lauren is also happy to answer any questions you have about choosing childcare, working through sleep deprivation, asking for pumping accommodations, negotiating new work schedules, and more. If the first three trimesters are for pregnancy, and the fourth is newborn stretch, the fifth is when the working mom is born. Whether you feel like leaning in, or are just struggling to put one foot in front of the other (in matching shoes), Lauren’s judgement-free advice for this transition will help you help yourself -- and ultimately improve your workplace culture for all families.

 

 

What it really means to "take your heart to work" every day

Madame Meryl on the NYC subway in 1981

Madame Meryl on the NYC subway in 1981

Bless Meryl Streep for that awesome Golden Globes speech last night. One of my favorite Meryl quotes of all time is from a commencement address she gave back in 1983. (Thanks to my friend Julie for reminding me of it.) If my math is right, Meryl was about six months pregnant with her daughter Mamie at the time. Here's the quote:

"Integrate what you believe in every single area of your life. Take your heart to work and ask the most and best of everybody else, too."

How great is that? And how inspiring to any new mom in her Fifth Trimester. 

Truth is, going back to work, you may feel like you're leaving your heart behind, swaddled up in some sweet blanket, smelling like baby shampoo...and being held by someone who isn't you. Not so. Whatever compassion, whatever purpose becoming a mother has given you, you'd better believe you're bringing that to the office right alongside your laptop and your breastpump. Thanks to Meryl for putting into words why that's a great thing -- for yourself, for your colleagues, and for the world. 

No 5th Trimester mom needs the pressure of New Year's Resolutions

Permission to opt out, dear readers! I've been writing a bunch of posts for the Fisher Price website (and social sites). You can click through to all of them here. But this one ("10 New Year's Parenting Rationalizations") is my favorite at the moment. Here's how the pitch to my editor went:

Her: Got any great ideas for New Year's themed stories?

Me: Like New Year's resolutions?

Her: Sure, resolutions, yes! 

Me: Sorry, I really don't believe in those suckers. You know what I DO believe in? Rationalizations. 

Her: I'm sold.

5th Trimester dilemma: "What if I can't leave work to take my baby to the doctor?"

Chicest infant accessory: Vaccine bandages!

Chicest infant accessory: Vaccine bandages!

See this adorable baby boy? His name is Biden, and those bandages on his delicious thighs are from his four-month vaccines—which his mom Teri, an attorney, got for him with no problem at all because she's still on her maternity leave. 

Teri knows she's lucky to have a longer leave than most U.S. women, and studies show that Biden's health will benefit: Babies whose mothers return to work before 12 weeks are less likely to have gotten all of their immunizations by 18 months old. Another international study showed that every additional month of paid leave can reduce infant mortality by 13%. Infant mortality, as in death.

I know I struggled logistically whenever I had to leave my desk job for the two-plus hours required for a well-baby checkup. And when my little guy was sick or in pain? I struggled emotionally, too. Still, at least I had the flexibility (barely) to make up the hours at night or ask a colleague to pinch hit for me. But what if, like so many moms, you couldn't lose a shift without losing rent money or your health insurance? 

I interviewed pediatrician Emily Spengler, M.D., who practices at Saint Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, a federally qualified health center in an underserved area. She estimates that 25% of her appointments are for patients under six months old, and many of those parents struggle to make it in. "Generally, you do see a fall off," she says. "I'll see them for a first visit, then one month, maybe the two-month appointment, and then there's a fall off." So, what helps? I think her thoughtful, hard-earned advice is beneficial for all of us:

Choose a convenient practice: Location is important but pay special attention to the hours, too. "Make sure your doctor is available on the days when you are, and find out what kind of coverage the practice has for weekends and nights," says Dr. Spengler. "A lot of my patients will know that they have a specific day off each week. Others may find that their hours are less predictable, and they can certainly see a colleague of mine. But those first few appointments are pretty bonding. And switching can feel frustrating if that's not something they've planned for."

Don't space out vaccines: "There's no evidence for spacing out vaccines, and dragging them out over more appointments just increases the risk that you might miss one," says Dr. Spengler. And in fact, she notes, the first set of shots can be given as early as six weeks if you're returning to work and it's more convenient for you to accelerate the vaccination schedule (but do check with your own doctor about his/her preferences). This is huge info for anyone going back between weeks six and eight!

Schedule (way) ahead: Many practices will let you book all of your well visits for six months at a time. Might as well get them on the calendar so you can plan your work schedule (or backup caregiver) around them. Speaking of which...

Send in backup: "There's nothing wrong with sending a family member or babysitter in your place. That's preferable to missing the appointment," says Dr. Spengler, who also suggests that you can then call into the appointment to speak to the doctor directly.

Ask your doc to give you written notes: "That's a big push in medicine, to be more sensitive to various levels of health literacy and to communicate more clearly," says Dr. S. "So written information can help parents better understand instructions." That's especially helpful if you have a non-primary parent or caregiver attending the appointment in your stead.

Giving vaccines is our superpower, and most pediatricians will bend over backwards to make sure you’re getting them.

Don't be embarrassed: If you need to cancel or miss an appointment, don't let that be the start of a slippery slope of awkwardness that makes it even harder to come in the next time. "The last thing we want as pediatricians is for our patients to feel judged by us," says Dr. Spengler. "Many pediatricians are parents themselves and are very intimately aware of the struggles of making it to multiple appointments during what may be both the happiest and most stressful time of life."

Most of all, be open with your doctor: "It's always, always better to share more information about your struggles than not," says Dr. Spengler. "It makes it easier for your doctor to help, particularly in those early months. Giving vaccines is our superpower, and most pediatricians will bend over backwards to make sure you're getting them."

 

 

4 ways having a baby makes you MORE promotable

image via FoxFete on Etsy

image via FoxFete on Etsy

Confession time: When I started doing my research for my book, I focused initially on interviewing cool CEOs and ambitious ladder-climbers. Women who leaned in, way in. Some of them found that motherhood propelled them to even higher career goals...but others described the guilt-ridden letdown of realizing they wanted to be less ambitious, temporarily, or even permanently. Hm!

I realized, quickly, that I'd been a little biased in my approach and started interviewing a much wider array of new moms -- shift-workers, middle managers. People who do their own hair (like me). The big upshot? Unshockingly, some of them became less ambitious post-motherhood...and some of them became more. Just like the first group.

ALL of these mothers needed transparency and camaraderie as they grappled with the transition to working motherhood and its impact on their ambition. That need was universal, and that became my driving, judgement-free mission as I wrote. Lean in like crazy, or, just show up with your pants on. Either's fine!

Fast forward to a fascinating lunch I attended yesterday. It was hosted by Deborah Epstein Henry's Law & Reorder, a consultancy that helps law firms with work/life balance, and Debbie interviewed The Wall Street Journal's Joann S. Lublin about her new book, Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business WorldLublin focused her research on that first group of women, extremely motivated, glass-ceiling-busting women. From her interviews, she distilled four qualities that predict extraordinary success. Only, guess what? All four happen to be hallmark qualities of women going through their Fifth Trimester -- and in my opinion, whether you want to move up at this moment or not, they make you star material. "You can remember them because they spell R.I.P.E.," Lublin told the crowd. Here they are:

1. Resilience: Many of the women Lublin interviewed shared heart-wrenching setbacks that they experienced on the way to the top. Coming back to work post-baby requires the very definition of resilience, bouncing back from one of the most physically and emotional upheavals you'll ever experience. Check.

2. Innovation: One of my favorite stories about my mom: In 1985, when she was traveling with my baby sister, their connecting flight was canceled and they ended up in an airport hotel for the night...with no extra diapers. Never fear. Super Susan was on the case. She folded two hand-towels into a cloth diaper, and poked leg holes into a shower cap like rubber pants. (Whether it's rethinking your schedule, your commute, or your childcare options, nothing sparks creative problem solving like being responsible for a human life.) Check, check.

3. Persistance: There are a million ways to express your persistence as a new working mom. Mine sounded like this: "whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh" three times a day for several months as I pumped breastmilk while working, proving my dedication to both my baby and my job. Check, check, whoosh, and check.

4. Empathy: The number one thing that makes you see your co-workers as whole human beings? Realizing that you really need them to see you as one.

Check, check, check, check. You're golden.

This is your baby's brain on money. (A stealthy, scientific case for paid parental leave.)

Debate the politics of paid leave all you want (I'll happily join in, as long as it's not at my Thanksgiving table), but hard scientific data? You can't argue with that. Meet one brilliant mom who's uncovering facts that could move the needle on major public policies for American parents.

Kim Noble, MD, PhD, is one of my working mom heroes. She’s mom to two (completely adorable) girls, ages 2 and 4. She’s also a pediatrician and a neuroscientist (see: all of those hard-earned letters after her name). But more than that, the work she does, studying poverty and early childhood development, has the potential to make massive change for families on a federal policy level...and to impact your own next parental leave. 

I asked Kim to fill us all in on her latest research at her Neurocognition, Early Experience, and Development (N.E.E.D.) Lab at Columbia University’s Teachers College. After a successful preliminary pilot, she and her collaborators are about 75% funded for an unprecedented national study that could provide the first-ever causal evidence of the impact of poverty reduction on babies’ and toddlers’ cognitive, emotional, and brain development—all by doing something really simple: giving brand-new moms a little extra cash. If all goes as planned, it will launch next summer.

Can you give me the layman’s—or maybe I should say laymom’s, sorry—description of your research?

We are recruiting 1,000 low-income moms nationally, in the hospitals when they give birth. Half will receive a large monthly income supplement ($333 a month), and half will receive a nominal amount ($20 a month), for the first three years of their children’s lives. They leave the hospital with a debit card that’s already activated, and then it’ll automatically reload monthly, and they can spend the money however they wish. We’re not shoehorning families into a specific kind of intervention. We’re giving the parents the money and making it unconditional.

Where are you recruiting?

We will be in four sites around the country: New York, New Orleans, Omaha, and Minneapolis, places with different costs of living but also different levels of social services. New York, for example, has a high cost of living and but the social services that moms qualify for tends to be pretty generous.

Dr. Noble with her own two girls, Lucy and Sophie

Dr. Noble with her own two girls, Lucy and Sophie

Do you imagine that the impact on kids will be due simply to the moms’ having more resources? Or is it more subtle than that? Perhaps they’ll be freed up to work less, have more time to bond and play?

You hit the nail on the head. We think that there are two main, measurable pathways through which the extra income is going to work: One is what we are calling the “investment pathway,” the idea that with more material resources, moms are going to be able to buy more books and toys, take more trips to the museum, afford better childcare and better housing in better neighborhoods. The other pathway is what we are calling the “reduced family stress pathway,” the idea that if moms are less worried about keeping the lights on or paying the rent, less in need of taking on that third job, that they’re going to be able to spend more time with their kids and be less stressed out when they’re doing it.

What does it mean for a new mom to worry just a bit less about money?

Well, we know that whenever someone is strained or stressed, they have less of what we call cognitive bandwidth, fewer mental resources to devote to everyday decision making. And that kind or strain can take the form of economic strain, or time strain.

How does that alleviating that strain impact the baby?

Moms are better able to manage the day-to-day pull of family life. Making sure they get their child to their well-baby checks or make that dentist appointment, better able to make family routines, reduce family chaos, which we know are all important for anchoring children’s development.

I wonder if some of the women in the trial might experience career growth during these three years.

It’s possible that their income will grow. It’s possible that it will simply stay steady instead of fluctuating. It’s also possible that the supplemental income will allow them to secure more career-building prospects, as opposed to patching together odd jobs.

What kind of leap can we make from your research to the potential impact of paid parental leave, if any?

That’s absolutely one of the things that we think there might be implications for in changing public policies. It was important to pick a dollar amount that could be feasibly informative to policy makers. The difference between those two amounts [$333/month vs. the control group of $20/month] is about equal to the earned income tax credit and other policy relevant social services that low-income moms may receive. If we know that increasing a mom’s income allows her to take more time away from the labor force shortly after having a baby and she’s therefore able to spend more time with that child in a warm and nurturing manner, we think that’s going to have cascading positive impacts on the children’s cognitive brain development.

I love that word, “cascading.”

It’s a waterfall effect. Once it starts, you can’t stop it.

And it adds up, it pools, into something that only grows. Kind of like the potential impact of your research.

We hope so. We really want to make a difference.

Want to learn more, or donate to this research? Email Kim at kgn2106@tc.columbia.edu.

What's the "right" amount of maternity leave, anyway?

Short answer: 6 months. The American Association of Pediatrics has just given us one more big, compelling (if exhausting) reason why. And its implications for working moms are frightening. 

Here's what we already knew: The 800+ women I surveyed/interviewed felt physically and emotionally recovered right around the 6-month mark. Studies show that women who have 6 months of paid leave are less likely to develop post-partum mood disorders; they are more likely to stick with their careers for the long term; their babies are more likely to be up to date on their vaccinations.

But in case anyone (private companies, public officials...certain presidential candidates) would like any more proof of the magic of 6 months: The American Association of Pediatrics recently released new sleep guidelines: To reduce the risk of SIDS, infants should sleep in the same room as the parent(s) (but not the same bed) for....you guessed it: 6 MONTHS. 

Hm. So that's 6 months of hearing every little sniffle and squeak, 6 months of having your mom radar turned up to 11 even in the wee hours, even once your baby has started sleeping through the night. Six months of being...exhausted.

I wonder, honestly, if we will see an uptick of maternal mental health issues for working women who follow these AAP recommendations. That would be a crying, wailing shame. Worse, I suspect many working moms will simply choose to ignore the guidelines...because they have to be functional on the job.

My book is full of workarounds for moms who need to be back at work before they're ready (including ways to game the whole sleep situation). But the point here is this: Mothers are more likely to follow these AAP guidelines if they don't have to be at their job the next morning.

If six months is what Baby needs, six months is what Mom needs, too.

Actually, I was pregnant for eight years (with this)

I posted this photo today on Facebook -- hooray! My book cover is finished. For the big social media reveal (apparently a thing for authors...and it seems I am one now) I wanted a cute backdrop, so I grabbed this quilt that my cousin made when Will was born eight years ago. It was perfect, not just because of the vibrant colors and the love it was made with, but because holding it, I instantly remembered just how desperately in the weeds I was when I first used it.

Going back to work after maternity leave in a creative industry, I knew I was lucky in so many ways. A portion of my leave had been paid, my boss was supportive. And yet, I was haunted by the idea that I might never have a grand creative thought ever again. That I would never be able to tackle a huge skill-stretching project. That I would struggle to look back on any of this and laugh. Well, FALSE. Because, look. I just fulfilled a life-long dream. Not a minute too late or too soon. Some gestational periods just take years.

Have you seen the awesome lady with the breast-milk bag dress?

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

image via Kasey Jones

As reported by ScaryMommy, artist and mom and two Kasey Jones (<--- click through to see more of her gorgeous work) has released a series of images of herself at the office in what she dubs a "working mother suit," an outfit covered entirely in breast-milk bags. "I created this series to bring awareness to the harsh realities of what it takes to be a working mother," she writes in her artist statement. "Our system does not support new mothers or families during this transitional phase. It was my duty as a social artist to shed light on how taxing it is on our physical and mental health." 

Kasey is heroic. Both for shining this light and for creating such feminist pieces in an art world that's still very often a boys' club.

And -- this is what I hope everyone seeing these pictures takes away from the experience: 

We all have a duty to "wear" our motherhood at work.

Perhaps not in the form of sterile zippy bags, but in more quotidien ways:
- By being un-shy about needing to schedule in pumping.
- By welcoming questions about motherhood from colleagues (especially more junior ones) who are curious.
- By being open about your new-working-mom challenges (the exhaustion, the unhealed scars, the daycare that charges you extra for every minute you're late)...and then also being open about your successes big and small. The stuff you got accomplished simply by showing up. That's what moves the needle on workplace culture for all of us. One ounce and one parent at a time.

How do you wear your motherhood?