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The psychological reason moms can’t get anything done

You sat down with a book, or a computer, or your knitting. Or maybe you’ve just closed your eyes for a power nap. What was that? Oh no.

“Mom!” you hear, pleading in the distance. (Or for the newer moms out there, maybe it’s just a little “wwaaaahh.”) You don’t literally parent 24/7. But it certainly feels like you do...

Events totally eat up your day

A recent study titled "When an Hour Feels Shorter: Future Boundary Tasks Alter Consumption by Contracting Time” begins to explain this effect. To make a long story short, this set of experiments found repeatedly that people subconsciously build in some buffer time when they’re trying to use the time left in between the present and an upcoming event.

This isn’t totally a bad tendency. Sometimes you actually need that buffer time, just in case. But your mind seems to include buffer even when you don’t actually need it. And in a day with several scheduled events, your subconscious buffer can accidentally eat up all the remaining time.

Plus, unpredictability is hell

For a new mom, if you’re just at home a room away from your sleeping baby, it’s actually ok to do something else - but the automatic buffer time might cause you feel like you can’t. Making matters worse, parenting-related tasks don’t even have fixed times. That nap will end 20 minutes (or 90 minutes) from now. Your kid will play with that new toy for 5 minutes, or maybe an hour. They’ll wake up in the morning from 60 minutes after to 120 minutes before you (ugh). It’s stressful to remain on-call, indefinitely.

You can try to schedule everything, but attempting anything stricter than an ultra-flexible basic routine is an exercise in futility. So many aspects of family life are inherently unpredictable: when people need to sleep, eat, puke, cry, and more (yourself included!) There are good reasons to live large blocks of time unscheduled, too - free time helps kids to become self-assured and self-directed.

Tiny tasks are actually doable

Happily, there's a partial fix. If you break up your tasks into little chunks, they magically become manageable. You can’t fold all the laundry, but you can pair the socks. You can’t cook dinner, but you can chop an ingredient or write a grocery list. You can’t clear out the backed-up family paperwork, but you can pay one bill or make one call.

Your mini-task won’t feel like a watershed accomplishment at the time, but they really add up. Don’t let productivity or scheduling perfection become the enemy of the good.

Sleep-deprived parents make this parenting mistake

Maybe the fire alarm went off in the middle of night. Maybe the dog was sick (oh, I’ve been there…). Maybe you drank some coffee too late in the afternoon, only to pay for it at bedtime. Maybe you actually went out with your friends for once!

Tired parents become permissive

I have some bad news: whatever ruined last week's sleep also may have this week's parenting. A new study finds significant correlations between sleep problems and “permissive” parenting. Mothers who experienced sleep disruptions (or who simply slept too little) were more likely to let their teenagers off the hook for misbehavior or passively allow them to run amok. 

This doesn't seem to be mere correlation, because even within demographic groups, the parents receiving less/worse sleep parent more permissively than their better-rested counterparts. 

The problem with permissive parenting

What’s so bad about “permissive parenting?” Permissive families aren’t missing warmth and affection, but they’re missing responsibilities and expectations for children. Children of permissive parents are more likely to misuse alcohol and less likely to achieve in school. They eat and sleep less well, and watch more tv. Children may enjoy their freedom at times, but at other times it may make them anxious.

Sleep affects everything

Getting enough sleep isn’t enough to make you a good parent, of course. But, for such a physically & emotionally demanding task, making well-restedness a priority certainly can’t hurt. (Here’s a quick read about parenting styles)

If your children are sleeping poorly and it affects your parenting, you might consider some behavioral approaches to helping them out (no crying necessarily involved). If you’re the poor sleeper, you can start with some sleep hygiene tips too!

Are infant formulas all the same?

You don’t think twice about buying generic breakfast cereal, so why not generic infant formula?

Cat’s out of the bag: infant formula is tightly regulated by the government, so even generic formulas provide adequate nutrition on paper. 

That much is right, and so recently I’ve seen it repeated all over the place that there’s just no reason at all to buy brand-name infant formula because infant formulas are all the same. 

This would be great, simple, money-saving advice were it true. But it's not!

Sometimes generic formulas are the same, sometimes they're not, and sometimes it matters

Generic formulas are sometimes very close replicas of their brand-name counterparts, other times not so much. When the generic suggests to "compare to" another product, you're going to actually have to compare! 

For example, some formulas have broken-down proteins that can be easier on babies' stomachs. Formulas are sometimes corn syrup-sweetened, instead of lactose (milk sugar), and there's not a lot of evidence confirming that will have no health effects down the line.

Plus, the brand-name formulas also vary pretty significantly in quality themselves. To learn much much more about the various ingredients in infant formula, head over here to Baby Formula Expert (no affiliation, I just like the site).

There's no substitute for doing your own research

The bigger takeaway is that parenting choices are basically never truly that simple. Those recommending generic formulas have their hearts in the right place. But parents who report that their children react differently to generic formula may not be imagining things, either.

Conventional wisdom will work for most people, but it’s also not one-size-fits-all, and anyways conventional wisdom changes. There is no real substitute for doing your own research rather than taking other people’s word for it.

I hope that my work here at Just the Facts makes learning about parenting topics a little easier for you! Thanks to my current subscribers for supporting me in this work.

If you’re ready to receive weekly issues, you can subscribe here for less than a cup of coffee per month.

Do too many antibiotics make babies sick?

To the complete surprise of my parents, I was born two months premature — so, needless to say, the headline "Too many antibiotics can give preemies a lifetime of ill health” caught my attention.

Antibiotics are the source of a lot of fear and confusion these days

Everyone knows that antibiotic resistance is theoretically rising, but willingness to forego antibiotics is not quite as strong (as if it were even fully clear who shouldn’t take them and when, which it isn’t).

To make a long story short: basically every preemie in the U.S. currently ends up receiving antibiotics, sometimes for weeks on end, because the risks of infection (even just suspected infection) loom much larger than the possible risks of antibiotics themselves.

What does all this early antibiotic exposure do?

For one thing, it disrupts the normal development of the gut microbiome, though we don’t exactly know what health problems those microbiome changes go on to cause (maybe asthma, maybe obesity). In preemies, it will be difficult to tease apart which health problems are related to prematurity, which are caused by the same risk factors that cause prematurity, and which are related to antibiotics and other treatment early in life.

Early antibiotic exposure in preemies also leaves their guts over-colonized by the hardy, dangerous bugs instead. So preventing some bacterial illness now, through antibiotics, might just set them up to catch (or pass on) other bacterial illness a little later.

Do these concerns apply to regular, full-term babies who receive antibiotics?

Probably not exactly. Researchers have found that a higher/longer dose of antibiotics means more microbiome change. So, babies who spend time in the NICU and who receive prophylactic antibiotics have more time & opportunity to acquire nasty hospital-borne bacteria in place of the normal stuff.

It does seem that the cure is sometimes worse than the disease, especially for preemies. But for full-term babies who acquire known infections that are readily treatable with short-term antibiotics, the benefits of antibiotics still outweigh the risks.