Coming To Stay

June 5, 2012

A couple weeks ago we chatted about where all your new baby’s out of town fans should stay during their visit. (Short version: probably not with you.) Let’s back up a step and talk about who you might want to come and visit your new little family and when.

If you’re really lucky, you have a fantastic relationship with your parents, they are both living and sane, they cook and clean, they listen to you and love your partner, and you totally want them to be in town for the birth of their grandchild or shortly thereafter. Congratulations! You won the parent lottery! And as long as your husband/wife/partner is on the same page about them, feel free to invite them to stay for as long as you like.

For those of us with more complicated landscapes, the question of who you want to come, when and for how long is probably causing some anxiety. The same principle applies here as to the question of where they should stay: keep it simple and communicate your plan early (and often, if necessary.)

Step 1: Have a chat with yourself.

Sit down for ten minutes and picture yourself in the hospital (or birthing center or at home or wherever you plan to deliver) as well as how you imagine it will be once you’re home and settled.

C-section or smooth natural delivery or somewhere in between, you and your partner are elated but exhausted. You’re probably learning how to breastfeed. Baby Lyndsey is sleeping most of the time but you’re on high alert to make sure she’s OK.

Now think about your candidate vistors. Think about how they’ve been on previous visits. Are they being quiet because little Norton is sleeping or does your mom sound like Janice from Friends? Is your dad over the moon about holding his new grandbaby or does he want to turn on the TV “just to check the score”? Are they affectionate and good listeners or uncomfortable in emotional situations? Are they helpful or intrusive?

 Don’t feel bad if you picked the latter answer to most of those questions. It doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderful people and won’t make fantastic grandparents (or aunts or uncles, actual or honorary). It just means that they may not be ideally suited to this very specific situation with new parents and a brand new baby.

Trust your instincts: if it’s been rocky before, now is not the time to correct that  or forge into new territory. Go easy on yourself.

Step 2: Put those personalities on the calendar.  

The birth. Most out of-town guests won’t try to come for the birth itself because it’s so private and, logistically, it’s a hard target to hit. If, however, you want your mom or best friend there for the big day, great, but definitely have a back-up support plan: your baby might arrive a month early or ten days late.

Have a doula on retainer just in case you go into labor early. Or – simpler – mentally prepare a little that you and your partner might be relying on each other and the nursing staff (which will be fine).

If guests come early but Baby is late, you may spend the last, most uncomfortable weeks of your pregnancy dawdling with your mom, which, from what I hear, can be, um, challenging. Early arrival may also mean they can’t stay as long when little Uli finally does make his appearance.

My two cents: it’s easiest to have them book tickets for a week or two post-due date. Keep it simple, especially for yourself, especially at that stage of pregnancy.

Your partner going back to work. If you have helpful guests in mind, this can be a great time to have them come to town. You’ll have had a chance to bond with the baby and get your feet under you as a parent and may be ready to be more hospitable than you were a few weeks ago. And you can use a home-cooked meal or a nap as you move into the new phase of maternity leave.

If you’ve been looking for a way to defer some less than helpful (but still obligatory) guests for a few weeks, this transition can be a great excuse + make them feel useful: “When Leonard heads back to the office, I could really use a hand. Would you mind very much coming then instead?”

Later during maternity leave. Don’t feel bad about declining Aunt Myrtle’s offer to come to town from Phoenix and bring her crystals to cleanse the baby’s aura. This is your time with your baby and a big adjustment in your life. Of course, yes, you should still endeavor to be polite, but you do not have to accept every offer to come and help (especially if you don’t actually think it will be helpful!) Take a breath and be firm.

You going back to work (if applicable). This can be a complicated adjustment, even when it goes smoothly, and guests are probably not a great idea – unless, of course, they’re providing a few weeks of transitional care so you can go back to your job and then navigate the shift to day care or a nanny a little later, in which case, hooray!

Weekends and holidays for the next 18 years. You will see everyone important sometime soon! Again: do not feel obliged to have everyone out to visit right away. There is plenty of time and your baby will still be adorable (and a lot more responsive to tickling and snuggling) in a few months.

Step 3: Communicate, preferably over email.

 Be brief, be tactful and be clear. And put it in writing. I get talked into all kinds of things over the phone.

“We would love to see you the week of July 8th. Tommy will be three weeks old (!),  and an extra set of hands to help me clean the apartment/cook/install central air conditioning/(some other tactful and specific indication of what you would like them to help with) would be so welcome. Do you think you can make it then?”

“My maternity leave is already booking up! We would love to see you but can I get back to you about when that might work? I’m looking forward to catching up over Thanksgiving if not sooner!”

Step 4: Sit back and relax.

See? That wasn’t so bad. And now you’re done. (Except for the follow-up emails to Aunt Myrtle. And the calls  from your mom because she can’t believe you asked her to stay at the Hilton. And the note from your dad about how upset your mother is. Don’t worry: as soon as they see the baby, all will be forgotten.)



I’ve had the pleasure of meeting four newborns in the last two weeks – crazy baby boom! – and car seats and their quirks have come up in conversation. Most of the pre-baby focus on car seats is on picking a safe one that you can carry fairly easily and then going through the often very irritating process of getting it installed correctly. Those are the top priorities, but there’s more to know.

Since I make a point of never reading instructions unless I completely, totally, 100% have to (R. loves this about me, I can tell – who wouldn’t enjoy all that swearing and throwing of allen wrenches coming from the other room?), I did pretty much nothing with our Chicco KeyFit except pick it out. You can save yourself some hiccups later by not following in my footsteps and spending a few minutes getting to know yours a little bit better before the baby arrives. Light a couple candles, buy it a drink and have a chat.

The shoulder straps’ are adjustable in two ways. First, and you probably know this already, you can tighten them – and you should: loose straps = not safe baby. Don’t plan on cinching Junior down uncomfortably, but he should be pretty well held in there, with the chest clip right over his chest. Try making the tighten/loosen adjustment a couple of times before your baby is actually in the seat so you know where to push and pull: trust me, figuring out car seat mechanics with a newborn all up in your grill is stressful.

Second – you can also adjust the shoulder straps’ height to fit the height of your baby. It’s not readily obvious on many seats that you can do this, so a lot of first-time parents I know (including myself) don’t realize this right away.

Chances are, your car seat came from the manufacturer with the straps threaded through the back of the seat at the lowest height or the highest. Once your baby is here and in the seat for the first time, have a quick look at where the straps are hitting his shoulders. While Baby is rear-facing for the first year, the straps should be at or a little below his shoulders. (Forward-facing, it’s the opposite: at or above shoulder height. But you won’t have to worry about that for a while.)

If he’s a tall baby and the straps come out way below his shoulder blades, or he’s tiny and they’re way above, you’ll want to move the straps into a different notch on the back of the seat. This is primarily for safety but also comfort. On Britax and Chicco seats, the adjustment is on the outside back of the seat. Check your manual for the instructions for your model.

You can remove the car seat’s extra padding to make more room for little Florette’s shoulders. I had no idea on this one either. Astrid was really tall and after not that many months, I thought we were going to have to bump up to a toddler seat because she was all squashed in her infant seat. Silly me. Those comfy pads surrounding the hips and shoulders of teeny tiny, can’t-sit-up, oh-so-fragile infants are just held in by Velcro and can be safely taken out to make room for a growing baby (or a very healthy giant newborn). This is also good to know if there is some sort of diaper/bottle accident in the car seat: most are also machine washable (on cold, in gentle detergent + air dry).

Usual caveat: I don’t know specifically which car seat you have, so please don’t get out your Xacto knife and have at your cushioning. If it comes out, it’ll come out easily. Check your manual, etc.

And finally, have a look under the hood, especially if you have a Chicco KeyFit: there’s an additional six inches of sunshade folded back under your car seat’s extendible canopy and you’ll want to use it. Carrying Astrid around one day, I looked enviously at a mama with an Orbit car seat that had a full sunshade extension that covered the baby completely so she could sleep out in the sunshine. Orbit calls it a “Paparazzi Shield” which, you know, I definitely need, what with being so famous and all. It’s a burden.

Sarcasm aside, being able to shield Baby from rays and rain is necessary – and useful when she’s napping – so check out what comes with yours: you might have some extra shade hidden under your canopy too. I didn’t discover ours until months after A. was born. That whole not-reading-the-manual thing is clearly working out really well for me.

Blackout Curtains

May 15, 2012

Unless you have those awesome European interlocking blinds that can turn your baby’s boudoir into a room fit for developing film, you might want to consider investing in blackout drapes, especially if you’re in the process of choosing drapes for your baby’s room. They’re not absolutely essential, no, but this minimalist mama is a convert to the cause of darkness. (Not like that, you weirdos!) Especially if you have a non-sleeping baby. Or if your nursery is sunny – which is otherwise lovely but might not be the best for sleep at nap and bed time.

Technically, this is a “wait and see” item, since your infant will likely sleep pretty much anywhere, including broad daylight in a crowd, for the first few weeks. After that stage, you’ll need to be a little choosier to make sure Anastasia gets her zzzzs, and she might need a little assistance depending on what kind of sleeper it looks like she’s going to be. If she’s highly distractible and wakeful like our baby was, blackout curtains are one of the things that will help.

There are two types:

  1. Curtains with a built-in light-blocking backing.
  2. Panels of just the light-blocking material that you can hang behind your existing curtains.

The former are easier to manage since they’re all one piece, but the options in design and color are limited. The latter won’t require the cost of re-purchasing curtains you might have already, but they will hang heavier on your curtain hardware (so you might need to keep an eye on how it’s holding up with the added weight), plus you will get a few more gaps that let in light because you’re arranging two layers.

Since I liked our existing curtains, we opted for the panels and here’s my advice: absolutely, 100% get the panels that are the same width as your curtain panels. You want them to hang exactly behind your existing panels. Trust me on this.

I thought I was brilliant saving money by buying the narrow-slice panels that add up to the width of a single panel of our curtains. The site claimed that hotels buy these: the narrow widths allow you to buy however many you need to match any width of curtain panel. After falling for this marketing, my conclusion is that they are jerky liars. I can’t imagine a hotel dealing with the annoyance of these mini panels: they separate when you breath on them and let streaks of sunshine into the room at every seam which ruins the whole point of having them in the first place. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Gargh!

So just spend the extra money and get the nice Pottery Barn Kids ones which line up with your curtain panels. Seriously.

Blackout Panels, Pottery Barn Kids $39-$59 per panel, depending on width

Blackout Curtains in nursery-friendly designs and colors, Pottery Barn Kids $49 – $229, depending on size, or anywhere else that carries them, e.g., $40 and up

Sleep Help

May 8, 2012

OK, here’s me at eight months pregnant: “I’m not going to go nuts getting my baby on a fixed schedule: we’re social, we travel, and I want her to know how to sleep on the road. I’m not setting up some rigid, baby-centric plan where she can only sleep in her crib at home in total darkness, silence and at super specific times.”

Here’s me four months later: “Where can I get some blackout curtains? And don’t forget the iPod with the white noise on it. We’re never traveling again.”

Granted, that was after three weeks on the road, some of it at mountainous altitudes (which babies don’t enjoy), and after it became clear Astrid had big plans to be up multiple times a night for the indefinite future. She just wasn’t a sleeper. Some babies aren’t. I can’t say I ever made my peace with it – unless going right up to the edge of losing your mind is a kind of peace – but we got through it and so will you if your baby isn’t a sleeper either.

Just so you know, pre-baby, there are some things you can do to help matters along – or at least feel like you’re doing something while you wait for your night owl to sort out his nights. These aren’t a substitute for sleep training (whichever – if any – path you choose there) but some basics that might make things better and support that effort (if you sleep train it all).

1. Consistency. Kids like routine and it’s your friend too, especially when you’re sleep deprived. Knowing what’s next is calming for you and Baby.

A bedtime routine – bath, story, feeding and bed – at the same time every evening won’t initially seem like it’s making any impression on Junior, but it’s laying down expectations and physical cues (warm bath = sleepy time) that will eventually take hold. It also gives shape to what can be increasingly chaotic evenings as parents go back to work, getting home right when babies start fussing in the 6-8PM time frame. (Nice coincidence, huh??)

(The doctors, nurses, baby experts and sleep consultants I talked to generally agreed that bedtime should probably be no later than 7PM if you can manage it. 8 at the latest. Babies need lots of sleep and while it can be fun to hang out until 9:30, it’s not generally considered ideal for Baby.)

2. More consistency. Transitions are not your friend. If you’re blessed with a narcoleptic child, moving house, switching baby’s room, changing cribs, and hitting the road might not bother little Rip van Twinkle, but otherwise, your child is as likely to be as disrupted by these things as you are – if not more so – which makes sense since their Spidey sense is all they’re going on before they can understand language. In babies’ case, eating and sleep are where that stress is going to show.

Little story: we did all of those things – traveled for five weeks, moved, graduated her from mini crib to full-size crib, and gave her her own room in the new house – in the space of months 4-9 when she might otherwise have been settling into longer stretches of sleep. I’m not saying that avoiding all those disruptions would’ve meant 10-hour nights, but in retrospect I don’t think it helped matters.

3. Keep it dark. Along the same lines as the bedtime routine, keeping it dark can be a visual cue for Baby that it’s time for sleep.

For a few weeks after she’s born, your infant will seem like she prefers to be up at night: that’s a hangover from being in the womb when Mom was moving around during the day and providing nice, rocking sensations for comfy baby sleep. It will take a little while for her to adjust to the opposite schedule, and providing light and dark at the proper intervals can assist that learning. Open the curtains when she’s awake, take her for a walk, and get her into the rhythm of daytime. Likewise, when it’s time for sleep, do your best to keep it at least dim, if not dark in her room.

Blackout curtains were something I swore we wouldn’t need but which we eventually got and are still a help, especially with summer’s long days that keep the house and her room bright past bedtime.

4. Keep it quiet. This might seem obvious, but you will probably have gotten used to Tiny sleeping pretty much everywhere all the time in the first month or two. I navigated a number of ridiculously loud dinners in San Francisco and Manhattan with Astrid snoozing in her Ergo. That stage is short though and you’ll want to keep in mind that you don’t get your best night’s rest sleeping in a restaurant either. And that, if you’re like me, you wake up when dogs are barking or sirens are wailing outside your window.

A quiet room away from the street is great, and white noise (from a machine or from a rainshower track on iTunes*) can even out sleep-disrupting upticks in noise that do make it through, like those German Shepherds next door. Again, it’s all about creating a consistent environment for learning how to sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting off an infant sleep schedule, give these a shot and see if they help. I hope they do. Either way, eventually it will get better. Really. I promise. Our little one is a great sleeper now. They all get there!

*Make sure you listen to the whole rainshower/rainforest/waves track before setting it on repeat on Tiny’s iPod: some of them throw in monkeys and parrots mid-track. Or rabid seagulls. Or thunder. It freaked me out, and I guarantee it’ll wake up a baby. Don’t ask me what they were thinking: I have no idea.

The Dream Feed

March 17, 2012

You don’t need to know about the magical dream feed right this second, but you might want to try it once Tiny is back at her birth weight and you’ve regularized your night’s schedule. So if you’d like to stay ahead of the class, head over to Minimalist Mama and have a quick read!

If you’re already clear on this, go ahead and skip this post. I thought I was but then, after I looked at the stack of onesies, pajamas, swaddling blankets, Velcro swaddles, Miracle Blankets, and sleep sacks, I realized I wasn’t.

Here’s what I knew:

  1. No blankets in the crib.
  2. Keep the room at 70 degrees.
  3. No full-body pajamas or bodysuits until the umbilical cord bit comes off (because they will rub uncomfortably).

Which meant no pajamas for the first couple of weeks after we got home. Soooo…infant shirt + diaper + a swaddle and no blanket? Would that be warm enough in a 70-degree room? And even after the pjs entered the rotation, would I use a sleep sack? And if I was swaddling Astrid, how exactly was a sleepsack supposed to work when they have armholes? Urgh.

Before the umbilical cord heals

Little Madeline will be fine wearing an infant shirt on top + a diaper on bottom + a warm swaddle at night.

Since we used swaddle blankets for the first few weeks, I was comfortable that Astrid’s legs were wrapped up and covered by a few layers of flannel even if she wasn’t technically wearing anything on the bottom. If you’re using swaddle sacks (like Kidopotamus or a Miracle Blanket) where her legs will only be covered by one layer of fabric, you can add some infant pants to the mix.

If you’re still concerned that she’s cold, yes, you can zip up a sleep sack over the swaddle. It will look peculiar because her arms won’t come out the armholes (since they’re swaddled), but she’ll be toasty. That said, especially if you’re using a fleece sleep sack, do check the back of her head to make sure she’s not too hot: fleece is a lot warmer than cotton and doesn’t breath as well so babies can overheat like the rest of us.

Accessories: you can warm her up in a little sleep hat like the ones the hospital gave you. No jaunty bowlers please. And no, there’s no need for infant mittens at night since she won’t be able to scratch herself because her hands will be swaddled. Save those for daytime flailing (or, my recommendation, skip them entirely in favor of Gerber’s infant shirts with mitten cuffs).

After the umbilical cord heals

Same drill as above except now you can put Gerhard in full-body pajamas and rest easy that his whole body is warm enough. If you’ve been using a sleep sack over the swaddle to keep his legs warm, you can reconsider: the pjs + swaddle in a warm room will probably be enough.

(Side note: I didn’t put Astrid to bed in onesies/bodysuits because her one-piece pajamas just looked a lot more comfortable than having snaps between her tiny legs. Also: those pjs are damn cute, so own it while you can! Just my two cents.)


You will have to be the judge of when your swaddling days are over, based on your baby’s Houdini skills, sleeping skills and your level of comfort with a rolling baby still being swaddled. (I wrote about this in more detail a while ago.) When you do decide to skip the swaddle, the sleep sacks officially enter the rotation if you haven’t been using them before this. They will replace the swaddle until Harold can reliably stay under a blanket at night, which might be at a year or not until he’s three. There’s no shame in the sleep sack: don’t rush it! They even have ones (which Astrid happily wears) that have elastic foot holes, so she can toddle around in her Jawa outfit when she gets out of her crib.

Actually this tip is for pretty much everyone who lives in San Francisco. But especially pregnant mamas. You need some cookies, some happy sweet cookies. You need Anthony’s cookies, to be specific. Because they – and you! – are so #$*(! awesome.

I would not have said cookies were my dessert of choice until I met Anthony’s, but things have changed. I’m in there embarrassingly often. Like twice a week. Anthony knows me. He asks about my family. The staff all say, “Hi,” and know they don’t need to tie up my box or give me a bag. (There’s no point really since I open the box in the car. Or sooner. Like I say: embarrassing. Little bit. Yeah.)

The shop is pretty far down on Valencia (between 25th and 26th) but it’s worth the trip. They have some flavors all the time – chocolate chip, toffee chip, cookies and cream, cinnamon spice – and some  – a subtle German chocolate (with coconut, like the cake), walnut chip, peanut butter – rotate depending on the day. My favorite? Candied pecan chocolate chip, only available Friday – Sunday.

If you’re looking for a more reasonable craving to replace your desire for whole cheesecakes, try Anthony’s. They will, I guarantee it, make you happy. (And you’ll be supporting a local entrepreneur!)

Anthony’s Cookies, 1417 Valencia Street between 25th and 26th, open 7 days