Musings, Parenting

Mommy Brains are Not Dull Brains

Recently, a relative asked me when I plan on returning to work. I said that Casey and I haven’t really discussed a timeline, especially since we have not had a helper stay long enough for me to consider working full-time again. He then said that I haven’t worked for so long, and I might go stale. A few days later, a friend asked me if I experienced mommy brain. I asked her to clarify what that meant, and she said it’s when new moms become so overwhelmed with taking care of their babies that they lose touch with the world, and their brain deteriorates somewhat. I just looked at her and said, no, I’ve never experienced that, but deep inside I felt offended. Both instances revealed to me a condescension toward stay-at-home parents.

Child care has been undervalued for centuries, and sadly, it remains so to this day. I know a lot of people would still say that taking care of a child is not as mentally stimulating as being part of the work force. This notion is deeply ingrained yet sadly misinformed. It continues to be perpetuated by people who may not have had enough experience on both sides of the fence. Speaking as someone who has experienced both, I have several rebuttals to the idea that child-rearing is a mental walk in the park compared with corporate life.

  1. Many full-time jobs entail long hours of being idle. In the eight hours of work at the office, a good chunk is not actually spent being productive. I know that this is true for many in the corporate world. Now you may be thinking that staying at home with a child involves a lot of idle time as well. It could be so, but that would depend on the stay-at-home parent. At home, you don’t have a boss hovering over your shoulder to check that you’re doing office-related things, and so free time can be truly productive. When my baby is asleep, I often use the time to read, write, or trade stocks. Or sometimes I nap beside my baby, which is very productive as well.
  2. Many full-time jobs are unavoidably routinary. Daily tasks remain essentially the same, to the point that people merely go through the motions at work, and most actions become almost automatic. When you’re so used to doing certain tasks, your brain does not get that effective a workout. The same can be said for housework, but like I mentioned earlier, the amount of mental stimulation one can get varies depending on how much one actively seeks it. This actually holds true whether you have full-time office work or stay at home. The difference is that arguably, you have more leeway to plan your day at home, and so if you wish, staying at home can open up more opportunities to sharpen your mind.
  3. Raising a child involves a lot of brain activity. Meal planning, creative storytelling, singing and dancing, exploring—these sound fun and easy, but they require resourcefulness, innovation, patience, and discipline, which are high-level mental and emotional exercises. “Mommy brains” are not dull brains. They are brains that are challenged every day by their boss babies. Can’t take my word for it? Science is on my side.

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

To be clear, I’m not saying that being a stay-at-home parent is more mentally challenging than having a full-time office job. I’m just saying that both roles can be mentally challenging, and that assuming that staying at home with the kids equals rotting brain cells is wrong. For those who think being a mommy doesn’t exercise the brain, well, just imagine taking care of a human other than yourself, and on top of that, realize that the human cannot even make his needs known directly.

Feeding a toddler

Take meal time, for example. You’re not a mom. You’re hungry, and so you eat a Subway sandwich, which is what you felt like eating. The end. Meal time is simple and requires minimal mental effort. Compare this to if you are a mom. You’re hungry. Your baby is hungry. You make him a sandwich. He eats a bit then starts spitting it out. You ask him if he wants a banana. He says “nana” and so you peel a banana. He takes a bite, spits it out, spreads mush on the table and smiles at his work of art. He then bounces up and down, grunting, and you realize he needs to poop. So you wait for him to poop, clean him up, then offer chicken and rice, which is what he wanted after all, but how would you know? Chicken is hard to say! Finally, an hour later, you get to eat his leftovers, which are not what you wanted but are all you have time and energy left to eat. On the bright side, at least you got to eat. Haha.

Also, take note that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg. I can only imagine how my brain will be tested once Wolf learns how to answer back!

I hope this post can help others better appreciate the value and challenge of parenthood. I don’t know if I will ever return to a regular office job, but even if I don’t, please realize that my mommy brain will remain in tip-top shape, thank you very much!

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

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Parenting

Please Don’t Touch Babies with Dirty Hands

It seems silly to have to dedicate an entire post to this, but unfortunately, so many people need to be reminded to sanitize before holding babies. I ask people to disinfect with alcohol before carrying Wolf, and sadly, some have taken offense at my request, saying things like, “You’re too uptight!” and “I’m not dirty! As if I’m carrying such a threatening disease!”

I don’t understand why some people react so violently. It’s not like I single them out. I expect everyone to be extra careful when touching babies. I myself always make it a point to sanitize with alcohol several times throughout the day. Our hands are the dirtiest parts of our body. They transmit millions of germs. Babies have immature immune systems, and they are highly susceptible to getting sick.

Just a few weeks ago, Wolf caught his first major cough and cold. He would wake up crying in the middle of the night, because he couldn’t breathe properly due to all the phlegm. He was still so sweet and good-natured throughout the ordeal, which made it even more heartbreaking to see him struggle. Here’s a picture of him smiling despite his runny nose:

smiling baby selfie

Have you ever had a terrible flu-like cough and cold? The kind that has you hacking through the night and constantly expelling mucus? Well, imagine if you didn’t know how to blow your nose. Imagine if you didn’t know what “sick” meant. Imagine if you felt horrible and had no idea if you would ever feel well again. That’s what being sick is for babies.

So please, the next time you want to cuddle a baby, take the initiative to ask the mom or dad for some alcohol or gel sanitizer, which they most likely would have ready. And if you are sick or feeling under the weather, please please don’t go near the baby. Just imagine that if the baby catches a virus from you, that baby could get very sick or even die. It’s not worth it!

Parenting

How Virgin Coconut Oil Helped My Baby Gain Weight

Wolf was a relatively heavy newborn at 3.5 kg, but he was slow to gain weight from the very beginning. At one point, he was even severely underweight due to complications encountered while breastfeeding. We were able to address the issues with the help of lactation counselors, and his weight gain improved. When he turned six months, he was well within the normal weight range for his age, and we were able to achieve this on breast milk alone.

The newborn Wolf:

Wolf at six months:

Given our history with weight issues, I was anxious about starting him on solids. You may wonder why. You may be thinking, “Wouldn’t you be eager to start feeding him solid food so he can bulk up?” It is a common misconception (which I also held before) that babies will naturally gain weight faster once they begin eating solids. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Weight gain tends to slow down as babies take in food other than breast milk. One reason is from six months onwards, babies become more active and eager to explore their surroundings, thus burning more calories. This obviously cannot be avoided. Another reason is that ounce for ounce, breast milk has more calories and fat than most solid food for babies, and so solid food tends to bring down total caloric and fat intake of babies. It is this second factor’s consequences that I could mitigate to a certain extent.

It was easier said than done, though. According to this article, there are few solid food options for babies that come close to breast milk in terms of calories and fat, and I can count them on one hand — avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, and rice. I had heard though from a lactation counselor that her pediatrician suggested virgin coconut oil (VCO) for her baby who was slow to gain. VCO has high amounts of lauric acid, which is the the same type of healthy fat found in breast milk. That’s why many milk formulas contain VCO. So I decided to try adding VCO to Wolf’s diet.

Wolf at seven months, before eating his first solid meal, avocado:

When Wolf began solids, I would add a teaspoon of VCO to everything he ate, especially if the food that he was eating was not calorie or fat dense (such as carrots). By doing this, I was able to keep his weight gain on track. You may ask, how am I sure that it was the VCO that kept him gaining well? On Wolf’s eighth month, I became complacent. I stopped adding VCO to his food. To my dismay, Wolf did not gain anything in three weeks! I then added VCO again to his diet, and in less than a week, he gained 300 grams.

Wolf at eight months:

VCO has many other uses aside from promoting healthy weight gain in babies. It can be used to supplement the nutrition of adult diets, moisturize skin, massage baby, prevent and treat diaper rash, minimize cradle cap, help heal minor cuts, condition hair, and so much more! With the many benefits, VCO is surely a good buy for every household. I’m such a believer that I’m even considering using VCO to cook our food at home. I doubt Casey would agree though (he hates coconut). But hey, he should hate it just a little less, now that it has worked wonders for Baby Wolf! ❤️

Parenting, pregnancy

The Quiet Joy of Having a Baby

There are many women who choose not to become mothers. For them, motherhood is just not among their life goals. I used to be one of those women. Back in high school, while my friends would fantasize about their ideal weddings and come up with names for their future children, I shuddered at the thought of getting pregnant, giving birth, and becoming dumpy for the rest of my life. Haha.

Then I got married to an amazing man who was a great cook and handy with tools — in other words, a very domesticated guy. Needless to say, he wanted kids. I entered into our marriage fully aware of this and willing to set aside my anxiety to grant his desires. As we grew more in love, I also grew more at ease with the idea of raising his babies. I realized that the reasons I had before for not wanting children — the fear of getting fat, the dreaded sleepless nights, the endless crying — were surmountable with a loving partner by my side.

More than two years into our marriage, we decided to do away with birth control. A month later, I got a positive pregnancy test. We didn’t expect it would happen so soon, but I was happy that we didn’t have to deal with the stress of trying several times to conceive.

While I was pregnant, many people asked me if I were scared of giving birth. I always replied that I was more scared of what would happen after the baby came out. Caring for a baby seemed like such a huge responsibility to me, with the disadvantages outweighing the benefits. I was imagining non-stop crying of the baby (and mommy), poop everywhere, utter chaos on bad days and mundane routines on good days. Suffice to say, I had a very bleak picture of what it meant to be a new parent.

Boy, was I wrong.

Perhaps I was too jaded. I often err on the side of pessimism, and it keeps my expectations in check. I dreaded too much and hoped for too little. Now, as I reflect on the past eight months caring for my baby, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I didn’t expect being a mom to be this.. enjoyable! Yes, there are sleepless nights and round-the-clock diaper changes, but all those chores are rewarded with the most adorable coos and smiles that make the fatigue worth it. And the number one reason I had before for not wanting to conceive, which is that I didn’t want to gain weight that I wouldn’t be able to shed post-partum, is now no longer an issue, because in these eight months, I’ve successfully returned to my pre-pregnancy weight.

I am just in my twenties, and I have so much of life still ahead of me, but I can say that having a baby is the most incredible, humbling, rewarding experience thus far. My advice for women on the fence with having kids is to take that terrifying plunge. The experience is much more wonderful than it seems. The “bad” side often gets the limelight, and we tend to think of infants as how they are portrayed in movies — synonymous to wailing poop machines. But the good, no, the great side, is too often overlooked, perhaps because it is quiet and tender — the warmth of your baby falling asleep on your chest, the delight on his face as he learns to sit up, the wonder with which he becomes aware of his fingers and toes.

Babies find joy in the smallest things. They teach you, not only to love another human unconditionally, but also to rediscover and love the world. I do not regret and don’t think I will ever regret having a baby. Some days are exhausting. Some days are chaotic. But all days are amazing.

Parenting

5th Breastfeeding Congress

Last August 1 and 2, I had the honor of being one of the panelists at the 5th Breastfeeding Congress, held at the Manila Hotel.

I gave my testimonial as a breastfeeding mom who overcame initial challenges and continued to breastfeed successfully. My fellow breastfeeding advocate panelists were Dr. Marini Tabon-Esguerra, a pediatrician and lactation consultant, and Jolina Magdangal-Escueta, a television host and actress.

I shared our breastfeeding journey, from our initial setbacks, to the intervention we sought, and finally to our current success. I was proud to proclaim that from being underweight, Wolf became well within normal range, 8.3 kg at 7 months. It was so heartwarming to hear the attendees clap in appreciation of our accomplishment.

Aside from sharing my personal story, I shared why I think more women should nurse without a cover, as I am doing now. I also cited the benefits I myself got from being a breastfed baby–I have a strong immune system, an adventurous palate, and no weight problems. In Wolf’s case, the benefits I cited were the convenience when going out with him, the many chances for bonding, and his well-behaved nature grounded in how breastfeeding is a great source of comfort.

Casey and Wolf were also on the stage with me. Casey shared how proud he was of me, especially when he saw how difficult it was in the beginning. He also expressed his support of me nursing without a cover, saying that he realized how eating while covered by cloth must not be comfortable at all for babies. Wolf was very well behaved, even if he were sleepy. Toward the end of the session, he was fast asleep in Casey’s arms.

The other two panelists also shared their initial struggles breastfeeding. It was comforting to feel that I was not alone. Imagine, even a pediatrician mom encountered difficulties breastfeeding! That’s why I think it is so important to be more vocal about the topic, so that people become aware that with proper information and guidance, breastfeeding is absolutely worth it for both mom and baby. I am happy to have been able to share my experience with a room full of physicians and med students. Hopefully, the testimonials of me and my fellow panelists inspired these medical practitioners to offer more guidance to new mothers just beginning their breastfeeding journey.