Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

Sleepless In America: Are we raising a generation of sleep deprived kids?

I attended a very large NYC public high school.  And by large I don’t mean the physical building – though that was a pretty big WPA era monolith – I mean that 2400 hundred kids were shoved into a building probably built to accommodate a population half that size.  So we did what so many other NYC public schools did, and still do, we started in shifts.  By my senior year, I began the school day at 7:45 and ended at around 1:00.  I left the house at around 6:45 for the subway, usually in the dark, and always tired.

I think about this more and more as my daughters approach high school and will inevitably have a commute to school adding an hour or so to their morning timeline.  Recently, a slew of reports have come out confirming what most parents of teens already knew – teens have different body clocks, they stay up later and need to sleep in longer.  Finally, studies have proven that teens need 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep and that schools that push start times to 8:30 or later see an increase in student performance and decrease in behavior issues.  But, most school districts have not heeded the message.

So, I was really interested in learning about a new special on National Geographic Channel on November 30th at 8pm, “Sleepless in America.”  The special explores the importance of sleep on many facets of American Life, education being just one.

I really believe that true change in education can only come when parents band together to act on behalf of their kids and use their voting leverage and voices to affect change.  Since many school districts site budget concerns as a reason for not changing the school start time it may take legislation (and support) to make districts move their start times and take this issue seriously. I’m not always sure if blanket legislation is the answer since schools have a myriad of different factions with which they must contend, and different populations that might need earlier start times to benefit parents’ situations, but it certainly seems like the reasons for making school start later far outweigh the reasons to keep too early start times.  The American Association of Pediatrics is recommending no start times before 8:30 am.

Tune in to Sleepless in America on November 30th on National Geographic Channel and think about how sleep, or lack thereof, affects you and your family in ways you may never have considered, but really should.

A Real Doctor at Your Virtual Fingertips

People always ask what they should get a new parent. And when I think about the things that we really used, and continued to use for years, it was pretty basic stuff.

Baby bathtub? Good for about 1 year.

Playmat? 5 months.

Double stroller? 4 years. (and I was SOOO happy the day we sold it to an expecting twin mom!)

All of those items were on my checklist of things I needed, that I knew about.

The things I didn’t know about but someone was smart enough to buy us before my girls arrived? Digital thermometer, medicine spoons, infant Tylenol and one of those booger sucker-outer gizmos. I STILL use that thermometer 12 years later – and the medicine spoons since one of my daughters can’t swallow pills yet. Thankfully, they learned how to blow their noses.

But the bottom line is that kids get sick – A LOT.

One of the most frustrating things as a new parent is when your child gets sick on the weekend, or the middle of the night, or when you’re traveling, and your own pediatrician is not readily available. There are urgent care centers popping up all over the place, but I hate waiting in those waiting rooms full of sick people, and there is rarely a separate pediatric care center. So, I was interested in learning about the LiveHealth Online app where parents can talk securely and privately by two­-way video chat with a U.S.-­based, primary care doctor 24/7.  If needed, the doctors who treat patients through LiveHealth Online can even electronically send prescriptions directly to a local pharmacy. It seems like an option that parents have been waiting for, especially for those unexpected illnesses, which always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.

When your baby gets sick it is truly terrifying. As they get older it really doesn’t get much easier except that they can tell you what hurts and entertain themselves on the computer or TV while they convalesce. And honestly, there is no call I dread more than the school nurse. So I’m pretty big on prevention, especially for flu. One summer my daughter and I both had swine flu, and it had lasting effects on our breathing for a long, long time. My daughters also HATE shots. Hate is not even a strong enough word for it – so I make sure to get an early appointment at the doctor’s office for the flu mist because those appointments book up fast.

I also follow most of these tips from Dr. Mia Finkelston, a family doctor who treats patients through LiveHealth Online:

  • Rest up: Make sure your kids get between 9.5 – 12 hours of sleep each night to restore their bodies, improve their ability to help fight off germs, and reduce their stress levels. (Though my daughters are now fighting me on this since it’s not cool to go to bed before 10pm apparently!)
  • Hands off: Germs are lurking everywhere during the school year and are transported mostly through our hands. Since my girls take the bus to school and have to switch classrooms for all of their classes they are exposed to a gazillion germs every day. Teach your kids to keep their hands away from their face, and make sure they wash hands often, especially before eating.
  • Eat for wellness: Stock up on nutritious foods to help kids and parents function at optimum levels. Kids love to snack. Pack nuts, whole grain crackers, and fruit in their school bag so they don’t head to the vending machine.

I know my daughters are going to get sick. That’s a given. But I also know that my husband and I will get sick, and we are not so great about going to the doctor. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be getting an actual medical opinion (instead of just chugging Nyquil.) There are times where a video chat with a trusted doctor would be ideal since I can’t really take time out of my workday and mom-day. To be able to schedule that virtual doctor visit around my schedule instead of the other way around is perfect. Plus, if you’re a PPO or EPO member of Empire BlueCross BlueShield, a LiveHealth Online visit is covered at the same or lower out-of-pocket cost than a typical office visit, and claims are automatically filed for a fast and easy experience.

Registering for LiveHealth Online is fast and easy and free — just download the app from iTunes or the App Store or Google Play store and sign-up in one quick step. Or, you can visit and register.  Dr. Finkelston suggests moms download the app when your family is healthy so that when someone does get sick, a doctor is available at mom’s convenience.

You can use try LiveHealth Online by using this special code to get one free virtual visit valued at $49:

LHOBeccarama    (Expires Dec 31st.)

This post was sponsored by LiveHealth Online, but as always, the opinions are my own

My, What Big Clean White Teeth You Have: The Listerine 21-Day Challenge

listerine challenge

So, three weeks ago my family took on the Listerine 21-Day Challenge.  My husband has always used Listerine so for him this was really the continuation of the last 20 years.  But he liked the new Ultraclean with the Everfresh technology that basically wipes out everything bad in your mouth and leaves it super fresh for the whole day – or at least puts up a super valiant fight against New York onion bagels.  My daughters however were the ones who really needed to kick their dental care into high gear since they now have mouths full of metal and rubber bands.


When I wrote at the beginning of the challenge about my tween daughters’ particular dental challenges we had been relative newbies in this world of braces and dental appliances.  But, I am happy to report that after 21 days of serious attention to brushing, flossing, and Listerine-ing with the Fluoride rinse, both my girls got a super high thumbs up from their orthodontist.  And, knowing that we helped other kids attain healthy smiles and overall better health through Oral Health America with a goal of connecting up to 210,000 children with needed oral health services in 2013.

The Bonus

It’s never too late to start improving your oral care, and using Listerine is an easy way to get started.  Plus, for kids, they loved the idea of taking on a “challenge.”  Plus, there’s a super cute “Pet Mouth” on the Facebook app that your kids can adopt and that will remind them to swish every day.  (Just make sure you’re using your account – kids under 13 aren’t allowed to have their own Facebook account)

Start your own 21-day challenge with Listerine, and help kids across America get the dental services they need! Get a Pet Mouth and Sign up here.

I received products from Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products Division of McNEIL-PPC, Inc. and The Motherhood as part of my participation in the LISTERINE® 21 Day Challenge. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Braces, Brushing and Other Tween Tooth Issues (plus a Listerine Challenge)

listerine challengeMy daughters wear glasses. They’ve worn them since they were 5.  So when they heard they were going to get braces this year it didn’t go over so well.  Glasses AND braces – a tween nightmare.  But, luckily for us we found a fabulous Orthodontist, Dr. Jennifer Stachel – whose purple painted office, incredible patience, tween-erific assortment of cool rubber band colors, and all around great demeanor made the process not quite as traumatic.

girls and braces

She sent the girls home with a whole little kit of toothbrushes, bracket brushes, floss, wax, dental mirrors – you name it.  Because here’s the one thing that is overwhelmingly true once your kid gets braces – they have to super clean their teeth and gums, at least twice a day, or they risk serious tooth decay, staining and worse over the next 2 years.  Also, all that trapped food makes for horrendous tween breath.

Things went very well the first week.  The braces were new and exciting.  Teeth brushing with all the new little gizmos and doodads was kind of fun.  Then that wore off.  And we still had at least 104 weeks to go.  Not good.  So, we had to find some new incentives and new products in the arsenal.  Now we’re taking the Listerine Oral Care Challenge to amp up everyone’s oral health.

First, I scared my daughters with some facts like these:

  • There are more germs in your mouth than there are people on earth! 
  • Oral disease is now the most chronic childhood illness in the U.S.
  • Millions of children are suffering and experiencing pain so severe, it affects their ability to eat, sleep and learn.
  • As many as 130 million Americans lack dental insurance, including more than 15.4 million children.
  • More than 51 million school hours and 164 million work hours are lost each year due to dental disease, leading to increased educational disparities and decreased productivity. 

So, after freaking them out, I also incentivized them with doing good.

For every person who signs up for the challenge, the LISTERINE ® Brand will make a contribution to help Oral
Health America’s Smiles Across America® program toward their goal of connecting 210,000 children with
needed oral health services in 2013.

I love the idea of kids doing good for other kids.  And this is a really easy way for them to develop better habits for themselves and give back to other kids who don’t have the same access to great dentists and Orthodontists like they do.

It’s still a battle to get my girls to carefully and completely clean their teeth and braces twice a day (I had to give up on the after lunch brushing at school.)  But, I’m hoping with the whole family taking this 21 day Listerine Ultraclean Challenge they will see that we are all dedicated to good oral health.  And by swishing and rinsing twice a day with Listerine, I’m hoping their Orthodontist will notice a difference too.  (I’ll let you know after their check up in a few weeks…)

You can sign up for the Listerine 21 Day Challenge on their facebook page to get tips, and an app to help you improve your oral care, and help connect kids with dental providers across the country.

I received products from Johnson & Johnson Healthcare Products Division of McNEIL-PPC, Inc. and The Motherhood as part of my participation in the LISTERINE® 21 Day Challenge. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.

There is No Such Thing as an Un-Natural Birth

I had a C-Section.  From the moment I found out I was having identical twin girls the possibility of a C-Section loomed large in any and all discussions about delivery day.  I also had one of the most un-New Agey pregnancies you can imagine.  I had sonograms every two weeks until 28 weeks to check for twin to twin transfusion syndrome.  I had 2 amnios – one for each fetus – and a third shot full of blue dye to make sure they weren’t pulling fluid from the same sac twice.  That Maternal Fetal practice was my second home for 37 weeks.  And never once did I feel like all that medical care distanced me from the experience of pregnancy, or intervened in the “natural” process of gestation.  As a data geek I actually loved having the inside look at my developing babies, charting their progress and having the documentation.  But, there were plenty of forces out there telling me that everything I was doing, that my doctors were recommending, was somehow unnatural at best, and plain out misogynistic and corrupt at worst.

I started writing this a few days ago, as I sat and waited while my sister was in the midst of a long, painful, drawn out labor delivering her first child.  My sister threw herself into creating the perfect circumstances under which to give birth “naturally.”  She fought her insurance company – and won – for the right to have a midwife instead of an OB/GYN.  She did hypno-birthing, acupuncture, massaged places you’d rather not ever have to massage, bought flameless candles for the delivery room, and basically focused for 9 months on making sure that the delivery day would be exactly the way she envisioned it – with minimal medical intervention.  And, boy did I hope it would go that way for her.  But, anyone who has been through the process knows that anything can happen once labor begins.

The problem is that an entire industry has cropped up telling women that the pain and complications are mostly in our heads; that with enough focus and determination – and not giving in to the evil “business” of birthing – we can attain the beautiful, connected birth experience women are meant to have.   This movement that was meant to empower women to feel more in charge and less scared of the birth process has now become one more source of pressure and judgement on women at their most vulnerable.  When I was in my 36th week of my twin pregnancy my girls were in two very different positions.  Baby A was head down ready to go.  Baby B was transverse, stretching under my ribs, and she was bigger than Baby A.  My really wonderful doctor said to me, “Well, we could try to deliver Baby A vaginally and then try to turn Baby B, but chances are you’ll end up having both  – vaginal and C-Section.”  He tried to say this matter-of-factly, but I immediately blurted out, “BOTH? Are you nuts?”  He looked so relieved and the nurse laughed.  So, scheduled C-Section it was.

And yet, still, even after my multiples childbirth class where C-Section was a major topic, a part of me felt like I was copping out.  That I was somehow not getting the full birthing experience, that my babies wouldn’t be properly prepped for the world, by having a C-Section – scheduled no less.  When my water broke at 37 weeks, 3 days before my scheduled date, I took a taxi to the hospital, met my husband there, went right in to the doctor’s office, was then whisked into the pre-op room,  and then hung out for 6 hours reading and watching TV until they decided enough time had passed since I had last eaten that they could now do the C-Section.  20 minutes later my girls were born.  Healthy, adorable, and raring to go.   I never regretted that decision, I actually often thought to myself that 90 years ago both I and Baby B would most likely have died during the birth, but I also have to admit that I still thought that I didn’t have the “full” experience somehow.

My sister’s 30-hour, excruciating marathon labor ended in a C-Section – and a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  My sister was literally in shock.  She said she felt like she was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress afterwards.  And, she was disappointed.  She couldn’t shake that somehow it was her fault she didn’t have the delivery she had planned for – that she came to the hospital too early, that somehow her “mental” state changed and caused her body to slow down the labor, that the pain soared because suddenly she was too anxious.  Of course, none of this is true.  And it made me angry.  My sister was wiped out, cut off, and sad.  The exact opposite of everything the “natural” birth movement is supposed to encourage.

The actual birth?  That’s a blip, and as far as I’m concerned, if they gave out medals for that sort of thing, my sister would have won the Iron Woman prize three times over.  The fact that women are now made to feel guilty and less-than because they couldn’t have this idealized, magic, essence of womanhood moment is infuriating to me.  We should stop condemning the “business” of birthing, and start thinking about supporting women through birthing – no matter what.  C-Sections and epidurals are not a sign of failure, nor an evil plot by doctors.  In the end, you have to do what is necessary for the health of mom and baby, because that is the ultimate goal – a healthy mom and baby.

I have friends who delivered “naturally,” friends who trained for months with the Bradley method, friends whose babies were crowning by the time they reached the hospital, and friends who ended up with emergency C-Sections, more than once (because they were convinced that they should try VBAC and have the experience they had missed out on the first time).  Guess what?  In the end, they all, thankfully had a baby arrive in the world – and then had to start the really hard part – being a mom.

This is what makes me angriest of all about my sister being disappointed in herself and trying to replay what she did “wrong.”  She is now a mom.  A mom who made sure for 9 months that she ate healthy food, took her prenatal vitamins, avoided alcohol, caffeine and pesticides – and then carried that baby 10 days past her due date!  She had already put in the first foundation of caring for her baby and considering its needs over her own.  She should be proud that she brought this healthy, sweet baby into the world, that she already tried her best to give her baby a solid start to life.

And she will be a great mom.  As she gets her mojo back, physically heals, gets some distance from the actual birth day, and settles in at home I know she will feel connected and more present.  In the meantime, she will realize that her birthing experience taught her the first important lessons of motherhood:

It’s a long, long journey full of things she won’t be able to control.

Things won’t go exactly as planned.

There’s plenty of guilt and judgement to go around.

Confidence in your choices is key.

And never feel bad for admitting you need help, need to change course, or need a little something to help get you through.

So, maybe, in the end, she got exactly what she needed out of that harrowing birth experience – candles, tubs and hypnotherapy be damned.

Making the Decision to Have an Amniocentesis

A pregnant woman

A pregnant woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t want an amnio.  I never thought I would need one, even though I am 36 years old. The whole idea of intruding on my baby’s quiet home-made me shiver.  I likened it to throwing bricks on someone’s roof. But, when my nuchal translucency results came back stating that I had an increased risk for Trisomy 13 and 18, I knew that an amnio would be the only solution to put my mind at ease. I spoke with friends and strangers who had it done and those who had chosen not to. I was conflicted in the weeks following the nuchal translucency. I remember a friend telling me that she never had any tests done since she felt they were based on fear, and she didn’t want her pregnancy to succumb to those pressures. This friend also birthed alone in a house in the woods, so I reminded myself that we are pretty different. As much as I would have loved to be as chill as she was, I also knew that I was the type of person who often needs to be reassured that all is going to be OK, even if that means having a doctor tell me this rather than my own intuition.  But, I did know deep down that all was fine. I was actually 99.9% sure of this, but then again there is always that .1%.

So, last Wednesday, my husband and I went to the hospital to have the amnio. First we had the sonogram where we once again shared our joy that our baby was alive and well.  Since my first trimester pregnancy symptoms like nausea have seriously subsided (except when walking around in this wretched heat) I was starting to worry that we had lost the pregnancy, so it was great fun to hear the heartbeat once again and see a close up of the baby’s brain! For the first time in a long time I was feeling very positive about western medicine, the amazing technology we have at our fingertips! But, then we waited. We had to wait 2 ½ hours for the doctor to show up for the amnio. She had been called into an emergency meeting and since she is the head of  the high risk group, I began creating some pretty dramatic stories in my head about what must have happened to warrant such a meeting. Maybe she’s getting fired? Maybe she screwed up big time and will be totally shaken up when it’s time to insert that wretched needle into my womb!

In the end, the amnio was fine. The pain was minimal, nothing at all compared to going to the dentist. I actually didn’t even notice that the needle was inside of me since I was obsessed with staring at the sonogram and watching my baby’s little feet get closer and closer to the needle in the womb. I was freaking out inside saying to him with my inside voice “Get away from there!  You are going to get hurt!” So, through this process, I experienced my first maternal instinct to put my child’s feelings before my own. Simultaneously I was saying, calm down, don’t stress or the baby will be stressed as well.  Another good lesson as I prepare for motherhood. So, it’s done, the first bump in this long journey, and as usual, it was the fear that was worse than the actual experience. Always is.

The appointment also opened my eyes to new pregnancy magazines!  During our long, anxious wait, I calmed myself by reading Pregnancy and Newborn magazine. And, what fun that was! We sat side by side flipping the pages, and finally getting to the fun part – the small apartment baby wish list! I was shocked by all the goodies that are out there, and was anxious to come home and start searching online for some of these tiny room solutions.  More on this in my next post, but for now you can check out my new Pinterest board, and I would love to hear other suggestions for squeezing a new baby into a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment if you have any…

Fight For the Maternity Care You Want

stamp series for the social welfare, midwife a...

stamp series for the social welfare, midwife and child :*Ausgabepreis: 7+3 Pfennig :*First Day of Issue / Erstausgabetag: 1. Oktober 1956 :*Michel-Katalog-Nr: 243 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series will appear every Monday on Beccarama. 

Soon after the excitement about my pregnancy began to set in, the practicality of medical care became a reality.  Would my meager insurance plan cover the midwife that I wanted?  In the beginning I mostly spoke on the phone with my gynocologist who I have been seeing since I was 16 years old.  She no longer delivers babies, nor does she take insurance, but she was happy to chat with me about my options, ease my anxiety about miscarrying, recommend some midwives, and call in a prescription for my first sonogram.  I felt in control.

Then, I started calling around to different midwives. I knew all along that I wanted to deliver at the local hospital where I was born, where my dad has worked as a doctor for over 30 years, and which happens to be a 10 minute walk from my house. It’s not the most popular hospital in Brooklyn, and most women seeking a birthing center experience travel into Manhattan to Roosevelt Hospital.   That’s a 45 minute car ride, or more if there is traffic.  But after speaking to one of the local midwives, she assured me that being at my local hospital feels just like a birthing center, and it’s even better since it is much quieter than Roosevelt.  Plus, they have Jacuzzis in the room, (which sounds oh-so glamorous even though I have yet to meet anyone who has actually used the tubs during labor.)

So, I knew what I wanted, that was a very important first step, now the real work would begin. I spoke to a few midwives and decided on a woman named Chris. Not only does she have the same name as one of my all time best friends, but she also was a midwife at Roosevelt for many years before deciding to move to Brooklyn, so I was confident that she had loads of experience. Plus, I just liked how she sounded on the phone, she was kind, down to earth, smart, and seemed to get my humorous neurosis. Now, the main issue here is that not one of the midwives at this hospital take insurance. I called my insurance company, and after being told that it is VERY rare to get what they call an “in network exception,”  I could try, and see what happened.

So, that’s what I did. The first time I tried for the exception was by phone, explaining why I wanted Chris as my midwife and why I wanted and needed to deliver at my local hospital.  I am due in January, and for all they know NYC may close their roads due to a snow storm, and then how on earth would I get to a different hospital?  A few days later I was told that I was denied.  But!  I could appeal! This would mean writing a letter to the powers-that-shouldn’t-be and explaining my case once again, this time on paper.  A week or so later, I got a call that once again I was denied. But!  I could appeal AGAIN! So, that’s what I did.  At this point, I was pissed. That feeling of control was dissipating, and my anger towards nasty American Corporations was stirring once again.  I don’t take NO very lightly, never have. At some point I started spotting, and felt so frustrated that I couldn’t just go and see someone to make sure the baby was OK.  I had to wait for THEIR approval to get the care that I needed.

At some point during my frustration I called my insurance company to tell them that they really needed to speed this along since at this point they were threatening the health of the pregnancy.  I happened to speak to a woman who has children, who actually listened to me, and who responded with compassion. She told me there was really nothing she could do since I am not allowed to speak with anyone in the appeals department, but she could at least write a note to speed things along.  The next day I received a voice mail message from her telling me that she was thinking about my situation all night and was going to try her hardest to do what ever it was she could do to get this approved. Wouldn’t you know, around a week later, they approved my midwife, Chris! I wanted to send this woman flowers and chocolates, but of course when I called back no one could tell me who she was.  It’s confidential I guess, which makes sense considering all the hate mail they must receive.

I remember calling my dad during all of this stress and being a typical MD, he said “you know, it’s not the worst thing if you just have a doctor.”   But I feel like birthing is different for a midwife.  Each patient is special. Every appointment is at least an hour, and when I was having some pains the other day, I could text my midwife and ask if I could come in and hear the heartbeat, and she replied right away with “sure, anytime.” About 4 million American women may give birth every year, but it’s still pretty miraculous, and I want someone helping me through this process who understands how unique this is for me and my husband, and who doesn’t see it as just another routine procedure.  I don’t believe that everyone who chooses a doctor to deliver their baby is going to have a bad experience, but I for one did not want a doctor who I never met before come into my room during the most intimate and trying experience of my life and tell me what to do, as can happen when you’re at a mulit-doctor ob/gyn practice.

I am curious how you chose your doctor or midwife, and what was important to you in making your decision?