Friday, June 29, 2012

Sleep: our secrets

As I've stated before, Natalie is a champion sleeper, and everybody asks us to reveal our secret. Matt always says it's 95% luck, but I think we deserve a little more credit than that. I'd say it's 75% luck and genetics, but I think it's 25% the work we do to try to maintain a lifestyle that is conducive to a sleeping baby's schedule. Here's that 25% as I see it.

All credit for that final 25% must be given to the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth and our attempts to follow his philosophy. I am so glad I settled in for several nights with this book before giving birth because it is the closest thing we have to a secret for sleep success. If you do nothing to prepare for the birth or adoption of a child I recommend reading this book. Even if you don't go out and buy diapers or a bassinet, at least read this book.

Here are some of the major take-away points from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child:

1) Sleep begets sleep. If you only remember one idea from this book, it would be this one. Essentially, Weissbluth's point is that when children nap better during the day, they sleep better at night. Babies go from three naps, to two naps, to one nap, and they hold on to that one nap for years, well into the preschool years (or graduate school years, or life, as Matt likes to call it...he naps like a champ).

2) Early bedtimes lead to better sleep. Instinctively, we might think that keeping our babies up later in the evening would lead to them waking up later in the morning. But most parents quickly discover that no matter what time children go to bed at night they tend to wake up at the same time each morning. We have tested this out a couple times and it is true in our experience.

3) Consistency and routines are key. This to me is the most obvious of his main points as it seems to be a theme of all things parenting. A nighttime routine signals to the baby that it's time to start winding down.

4) Sleep training may begin at four months of age, when babies are capable of self soothing. Before four months parents need to really just read the baby's cues, though they can begin to start establishing bedtime routines.

5) Crying it out can be effective with babies who are at least four months old. Although most parents do not like the idea of crying it out, if done correctly, it often takes just a few unpleasant nights of using the technique before a baby learns to go to sleep. Crying it out does not mean simply letting your baby scream until he's so worn out he just falls to sleep. Instead, it involves going to check on the baby and soothe him after five minutes, and then if the baby continues to cry checking on him and soothing him after another 10 minutes, and then after another 15 minutes, and so on, until the baby is asleep. A key point here is that soothing does not involve picking the baby up, which is likely exactly what he wants, but instead involves talking to him quietly, holding his hand, generally reassuring him that you're there.

6) There are chapters about sleep for toddlers, children, and teenagers, which I didn't even bother with yet, but it's good to know they're there should we encounter problems down the road.

We have followed the guidelines in this book as well as we possibly can, and the result truly has been a baby with healthy sleep habits who appears to be happy. And, we can say it's led to two very happy parents. It hasn't been sunshine and rainbows and unicorns every single day, but the general progression of Natalie's sleep habits has been amazing.

Here's Natalie's sleeping timeline:

The early days
Weeks 1 through 6 she was a typical newborn, waking up every three hours to eat. There were a few rough nights thrown into that mix, where she seemingly woke up every hour, but those were a major exception.

Sleeping through the night
Using the term "sleeping through the night" to mean six hours of uninterrupted sleep, Natalie officially slept through the night when she was six weeks old (on Saturday, February 25, to be exact). As I wrote when this phenomenon occurred, this was followed by a pattern of amazing nights of six or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep as well as a couple horrible nights of basically not sleeping. In retrospect, the uncertainty of the 6-8 week range and her general fussiness during the day made it the most difficult time of Natalie's post-hospital life thus far.

New sleeping quarters
After a week of decent night sleeping we moved Natalie to her crib Saturday, March 3 when she was 7 weeks old.

By mid-March when Natalie was a little over two months old and had been sleeping in her crib for a couple weeks she started to establish a new 9-9:30 bedtime for herself. Gone were the days of going out to dinner late and knowing that our baby would just put herself to sleep in her car seat while we finished our meal.

Natalie's self-imposed bedtimes became progressively earlier until by her three month birthday she needed to be in bed by 7 p.m. I distinctly remember taking Natalie out to dinner with my friend on April 5 and meeting at 7 p.m. That will go down in the record books as the last time baby Natalie could go out at that time. By the next week that wouldn't have been possible.

Night feedings
When Natalie moved to her crib a little before she turned two months old she was still waking up at least one time at night to feed. Often she would wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., be up for a short 15-minute feeding or a long 45-minute feeding, and then immediately put herself back to bed. Then she'd usually wake up again in the 6 to 6:30 range, eat, and then sleep again. At this stage in Natalie's life I would bring her into bed with me for the 6:30 feeding, and then she and I would continue to sleep in my bed until about 9 or 9:30. This pattern of sleeping lasted until she turned four months old, and that was a glorious experience. I know people have strong opinions about co-sleeping, but I viewed this as our co-napping time and I loved it. I knew there would be a short window of opportunity for me to cuddle with Natalie in this way, and I'm glad I did this with her when I could.

Weird red-toned photo (thanks to our red curtains) from the last time Natalie and I co-napped

Crying it out
The world changed when Natalie turned four months old. That's when she seemed to come to life. That's when she really started playing with her toys, paying attention to people when they were talking or singing, and getting distracted while nursing. It's also when I knew that, according to the book, we could start true sleep training. In retrospect it seems appropriate that we're encouraged to attempt having babies cry it out right when the world opens up to them because they're suddenly impressed by everything and therefore have to learn how to tune out all the stimuli around them when it's time for bed.

Before Natalie turned four months old it seemed like she fell asleep the moment her head hit the mattress. At four months, though, she would start to fight sleep. So we tried having Natalie cry it out. This method worked like a charm on Natalie. The longest we had to let her cry was 15 minutes and then she was out.

Dropping the night feedings -- Honest to goodness for real sleep
Now here we are at five and a half months, and we've been fortunate to say that for the past six weeks Natalie has been sleeping from 7 p.m. to 6 or 7 a.m. every day with a few exceptions. Right around the four month mark Natalie started to drop the night feedings. Granted, in the last six weeks there have been a few times she's wanted to eat sometime around 4 or 5 a.m., but those have been the exceptions. Most nights she is getting 11 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. And when I say uninterrupted, let me throw out there the fact that she is often making noise in the middle of the night, but it is not the kind of prolonged noise that indicates she actually needs something. Instead, I almost liken it to her waking up from a bad dream. For example, Wednesday night she was completely asleep by 7 p.m., but then she started crying around 9:30 p.m. After a few minutes of crying, before I even thought of checking on her, she was back to sleep. She also made noise at 5 a.m., but again within a matter of minutes was back to sleep. Learning not to respond to every little noise Natalie makes has been key to her sleep training.

A nap schedule
I have struggled to define a nap schedule for the majority of Natalie's life because in the early days there really was no difference between napping and sleeping at night, and then as Natalie got older she'd sort of just sleep when she felt like it. It wasn't until the four month mark, when we knew we'd had major success with night sleeping, that I even bothered to consider a more consistent napping schedule.

At Natalie's current developmental stage most babies are taking three naps a day. Only in the last couple weeks can I say that Natalie has a defined morning nap and early afternoon nap. We are still working on having a consistent third nap, but maybe Natalie's general refusal to settle down at this time of day is her way of telling us she doesn't need a third nap because she has an early bedtime and a reliable nighttime schedule.

Right now Natalie seems to be taking a two-hour nap from approximately 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. The she's ready for a nap around 12:30 p.m., and will typically stay asleep until 2 or 2:30. But then that leaves this long stretch of day, with her awake for another 4-5 hours, which is rather challenging. She still can't sit up on her own, so entertaining her in the afternoon typically involves lots of holding her, carrying her, or taking her on walks.

Yesterday we took her to the pool at 5:30 to see if she would really enjoy that and it could give us some sanity during the worst time of the day, but she hated it, so she screamed a good amount. Right as we were getting ready to leave she fell asleep in her car seat, so Matt and I decided to stay at the pool for another 45 minutes while she napped (I was not about to wake her). So maybe we need to go to the pool every day at 5:15 and get her to sleep in her car seat?

The challenge of consistency
Matt and I base our lives around Natalie's nighttime sleep schedule, not in a scary our-baby-must-be-asleep-by-7-p.m.-or-the-world-will-end kind of way, but we just know that most nights we are going to be at home from about 6:30 p.m. on so we hunker down. We also know increasingly that she needs to be at home in her crib for her early morning and mid-day naps. So when we want to do something later in the night (usually in honor of a special occasion) we ask my mom to come over and babysit. On regular nights we know that if we want to go out to dinner we just need to get the early bird special and be there at 5 p.m. Or if we want to meet someone for lunch, it's probably better to call it brunch at meet at 11 a.m., right between naps. There have been a few times that we've broken with this schedule, and ultimately everything turns out fine, but it still means dealing with a cranky baby who gets less sleep, which means a mom who gets less sleep too.

You keep me up past my bedtime and I refuse to look cute for a photo.

I'm crabby.

Early bird special.

Though staying consistent is a major challenge, it is something we've built our lives around lately, and for that I give us credit. So while maybe 75% of our success has to do with pure luck of the draw, I do think applying the principles from this book has impacted our baby's sleep habits, and I don't think it can all be attributed to random chance.

Healthy sleep habits, mostly happy baby.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teething? Take 1

Natalie has been a drool machine since around the time she turned 2 months old. Veteran parents would say, "She'll probably be an early teether." Sigh, I'd think. Teething is one of the many unknown elements of parenthood that I have not been happily anticipating. I hear it's not too awesome.

Drool machine.

So far, if teething is in fact what we're dealing with, and I think it is, I can confirm that it is not too awesome.

While I realize that teething is a process that occurs over the course of many months, I think we hit a major turning point on Friday when Natalie was screaming. Absolutely inconsolable, and screaming.

Because she's really never behaved like that for more than 5-10 minutes at a time on relatively rare occasions, I washed my hands, pulled down her lower lip and ran my finger along her bottom gums. They felt harder than they had before and they were whiter, hinting at something beneath the surface. Looks like we've got some central incisors eager to erupt. According to Baby 411, my go-to Baby Bible, these teeth are universally the first to come in and on average make their appearance at 7.8 months.

Now that I seemed to be identifying the problem, I hoped veteran parents would be able to pass on a magic cure for relieving Natalie's pain. Not surprisingly, like everything in the world of parenting, everyone has a different opinion and different experiences with what works for their children, and I didn't hear anything that Baby 411 hadn't suggested. So much for miracle cures!

After Natalie demonstrated that she could not be calmed down by nursing, chewing on any number of teething toys/rings, or any of the traditional soothing mechanisms that have always worked on our easy-going baby, we figured that this truly apparent teething pain warranted more serious intervention, and we gave her a dose of infant Tylenol (actually, generic acetaminophen, but same idea). It's the first time she's ever had medicine outside the hospital, and if you've never used it before it's the kind of liquid medicine you administer using a syringe (and the new dosing requirements provided by your pediatrician because the packaging will likely tell you to consult your doctor for infants under 2 years old). That did the trick.

Since Friday there has been one other time when she appeared to be in so much pain that we gave her another dose of acetaminophen that worked its magic.

Thankfully, in all this so far, Natalie's sleep schedule has not been majorly interrupted, aside from Friday when she hardly napped all day and Saturday when she napped less than usual. All in all, though, she's still sleeping ridiculously well at night and she appears to be back to a quasi-normal napping schedule. I expect at some point teething will majorly alter her sleep schedule as I hear that's fairly common, and I'll be pleasantly surprised if that doesn't happen. She is putting everything in her mouth, especially board books, which I figure is fulfilling her need to both explore and soothe.

Books are for eating.

And because everyone has a different opinion on what works for their baby's teething relief, I can't speak definitively yet but I can say that when Natalie isn't in intense needs-Tylenol-now pain, the ubiquitous Sophie the Giraffe teether and the Green Sprouts frozen teething rings seem to be helping her. I know some people are against the idea of frozen teething rings, but then I've also read doctors in reputable sources speaking highly of them, so I figure they can't kill her.
Although I remember having Baby Orajel when I was little, it has just recently fallen out of vogue because of the ingredient benzocaine and its connection to methemoglobinemia which you can read more about here.

Assuming this is all, in fact, teething, and I think it is, I figure we have a long road ahead. A mouthful, in fact.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New household schedule

I view this blog as a way to keep myself in line. If it helps anyone else, that's great, but there's nothing like some good ole public accountability to encourage me to stick to my goals. So, I'm trying something new, a Monday through Friday task list that I'm starting this week and hoping to continue (no doubt with modifications) through the end of my leave of absence from work in August 2013.

I'm doing this new system now for a few reasons:
1) Though I used to pat myself on the back for just emptying the dishwasher in a given day, soon I will have had a baby for half a year (!) and I think it's about time to step up my game.

2) A mom friend of mine helped push me in this direction as she shared her attempts at getting a couple things done a day.

3) I have a tendency to get hyper focused and want to clean the entire house and run 15 errands all in one day and then not do anything for a week. That's not only unhealthy, but it's just impossible now. By giving myself a couple tasks to complete per day I hope I'll feel less overwhelmed. I also just need to be honest with myself and what I can realistically accomplish.

4) I've felt less of an urge to keep our house clean since Natalie's birth because, you know, I've been kind of busy and all, but as I spend more time at home I have increasing opportunities to see the dust bunnies or, more realistically, the piles of dog hair everywhere. Oh my god, I am covered in dog hair and it disgusts me. It is seriously taking away from my happiness even though I am an otherwise completely happy person with lots to celebrate.

OK, so here goes:

Meal planning and grocery shopping!

A rotating task list...
One week: Clean the bathrooms.
Following week: Dust.

One week: Natalie's laundry
Following week: My laundry

A rotating task list...
One week: Wood floors and walls/doors (by this I mean get out the Magic Eraser to handle any obvious dirt/marks that have accumulated)
Following week: Windows and sheets

Kitchen wipe down -- counter tops, stainless steel appliances, check fridge for expired food, etc.

Every other day....wash a load of cloth diapers
On those days, like today, that I do not have to wash diapers I will dedicate that time to Furminating the dogs, which will hopefully help me maintain my sanity a little longer between vacuuming sessions.

A few important points about this list:
1) This is a "good enough" list. While my standards of cleanliness are maybe greater than those of the average person, experience would indicate that they are not greater than those of the average reader of an organization/home maintenance blog. So, when I say "windows" every other Thursday, I don't mean I'll be cleaning every single window in my house, but rather I'll attack those heavily trafficked windows (the front storm door and the bay window in the living room where the dogs hang out come to mind) and when the spirit moves me on a rare occasion I'll get to other windows.

2) On a similar note, it may gross some people out to only change your bedsheets once every two weeks, but that's good enough for us.

3) Matt will assist with this list. He still does the majority of the vacuuming in our house (and DJ Roomba continues to assist with keeping the main level of our house tidy), and he does all the cooking. Although I've taken on more grocery shopping than I have in the past, he continues to do a significant portion of grocery shopping and did, for example, go to both Wegmans and Costco last night while I was spending time with Natalie and putting her to bed.

4) I am already resisting the urge to be unrealistic in my expectations and deviate from this schedule. For example, I can see right now that the fridge and the coffeemaker both could use a wipe down, but I am resisting the urge to add that to my list of responsibilities today because I know I'll do it Friday. Or, today's Tuesday, and the bathrooms could use cleaning and the house could use dusting, but I'll have to pick one and save the other one for next week. It is oddly liberating, at least as far as a schedule can be liberating.

5) Obviously there will be other things I will do each day, some mini-projects (right now figuring out what to do with my classroom that it still packed up in my car will be a priority), but overall I'm most concerned about maintaining the schedule I've had going for the last few months that includes a social activity or excursion every day to introduce Natalie to new people, environments and activities. That is more important than a clean house.

Oh, and when I go back to work full time I think we're going to have to hire a cleaning service, because there's no way I could do this schedule, work full time, care for a baby, and still have some fun. Major props to you if you can!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Recipe tip: Smashed salt 'n vinegar potatoes

Soon after Natalie was born, when the weather was still cold, I wasn't leaving the house too much, and the dinner donations from friends had stopped coming in, I started flipping back through our recipe notebook, searching for fun new recipes to try. Though I will periodically add new recipes to the notebook, it can take a couple years before we actually test one out. I decided that if we were going to cook most of our own meals these days, both as a reflection of trying to save money and because going out to dinner is increasingly challenging with an infant's early bedtime, we better spice things up.

Enter this salt 'n vinegar potato recipe (of course from Everyday Food -- contain your disbelief). It's like a healthier version of one of my favorite horrible-for-you snacks, salt 'n vinegar potato chips (specifically the Utz variety), and it's not very difficult to make either. This is particularly important because with Natalie going to bed by about 7 p.m. we find ourselves starting the dinner preparation process then, leading to a much later dinner time than we used to observe.

This dish is pretty to boot, served up last night with asparagus and spice-rubbed grilled salmon.

Mmmmm....malt vinegar. Mmmmm....sea salt. Visit Martha Stewart's site for the recipe.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The anatomy of: bath time

I want to do a series of posts about baby routines we've developed around here. Though "routine" must be a more flexible term in regard to babies, because they grow so quickly and their needs grow and change with them, I will nevertheless share what we've been doing for these last several months.

Bath time is probably the easiest routine to describe, so I thought I'd start there. Out of everything I want to write about, it seems to be the one that requires the least individual tailoring. Here's what I'e learned.

Rule 1: Be prepared.
My most important rule for bathing a baby: Have all your supplies out before you get started. This piece of advice was related to us during our infant care class, and that advice definitely rings true. There are too many separate items that need to be located or prepared, and you don't want to do it with a (naked) baby in your arms. That's why we like to get every last item out and ready before undressing Natalie.

Preparing for a bath means doing prep work in both the bathroom and nursery.

Because we give Natalie her bath at night, we get all her nighttime items out in the nursery. This includes:

We also unfold a hooded towel and lay it on her changing pad so we can immediately and safely wrap her up when she gets out of the bath. (Her bedroom is just steps away from her bathroom.)

In the bathroom while her infant bathtub is filling up with water, we open the cabinet containing her bath items and get out washcloths and toiletries, specifically shampoo and body wash. I also grab the kneeling pad while I'm in there so Matt and I can have a more comfortable place to crouch.

We used to get out the bath frog (aka a giant sponge for the baby to rest against), but in the last month Natalie has already outgrown the bath frog and now just rests against the back of the infant bathtub.

Rule 2: Washcloths, washcloths, washcloths
I've learned that having three washcloths at bath time is ideal. This means one washcloth for the nether regions, one for the rest of the body, and one to drape across the baby's torso to keep her warm. I came across this idea when a former student of mine gave us this little contraption called a Tummy Towel, which is meant to cover a baby's stomach. The Tummy Towel is a great concept, but its job can also be accomplished by any large washcloth. When the Tummy Towel is in the dirty clothes, I particularly like the Aden + Anais washcloths because they come in sets of 3 and they are the size of a baby's torso.

Rule 3: Order of operations
Remember when you learned how to FOIL in algebra? Washing a baby is kind of like that, except you start at the center of the baby's face and then work your way out and down. The nurses in the hospital demonstrated this technique, running the washcloth under Natalie's eyes starting at the middle of her face and then moving toward her ears. Places that are easy to forget to wash: behind the ears, between fingers and toes (where an unbelievable amount of lint gets lodged), and the lower back.

Something the nurse at my New Moms group through the hospital told us this week that we have yet to try (because I keep forgetting): Run a clean washcloth along the baby's gums and lips. This not only helps prevent thrush, a painful condition for a nursing mom, but it also gets the baby used to the experience of having her mouth touched, which will be helpful for detecting tooth buds and later for brushing teeth.

For the first couple of baths it definitely felt like bathing a baby would always be a two-person operation. But once we got the hang of it, we found that one of us can easily carry out the entire process, though ideally it's still best to have one person do all the prep work while the other entertains the baby, and then one person ultimately does the bathing, drying and changing for bed. I also thought that the sponge baths you're supposed to give babies before their umbilical stump falls off would be a lot different from full-fledged baths, but the only noteworthy difference is less water and generally less caution a parent must exercise.

Speaking of, the topic of umbilical stumps came up on a recent episode of Pregnant in Heels (guilty pleasure of mine), and Rosie Pope asked a soon-to-be mom when the stump falls off, and the mom said three weeks and Rosie told her she was wrong; the correct answer is 10 days. I wanted to say, "Actually, Rosie, based on my experience that mom is right because our baby's fell off at three weeks," but I resisted the urge to talk to the TV.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Responding to the critics

In a few more days Natalie turns 5 months old. Right now I feel confident enough in my mom-of-an-infant routine to reflect publicly on many of the common comments I received as a soon-to-be mother.

"You will never sleep well again."
I've written about this before briefly, but I have had better sleep in the past five months than I did in the five months leading up to Natalie's birth. Yes, there are nights that I don't get very good sleep, but overall sleep is not nearly as bad as everyone made it sound like it would be, even in that early newborn stage when I was up every 2-3 hours.

"You will be more alert when you sleep."
Totally true.
While this may sound like it contradicts the previous point, it really does not. I am getting way more uninterrupted sleep than I did during pregnancy or imagined I would in general, but my sleep is much lighter these days. If Natalie makes any type of noise, it wakes me up, but fortunately she does not make much noise at night and I have learned which of her noises require attention and which do not.
"Leaving the house takes about two hours."
False hyperbole, but embedded with some truth.
The actual act of getting in the car takes about 2 minutes, but planning to go somewhere simply requires...well, planning. It often means feeding Natalie, then changing her diaper, then getting the diaper bag (which is usually well enough stocked that it only takes about 2-3 minutes to check and replenish), then getting in the car and going. So, if we're heading to meet friends or make an appointment, it just means starting the preparation process at least 45 minutes before we need to leave. If we want to go somewhere by ourselves, like on a long walk with the dogs or an early dinner out, it just means realizing that Natalie dictates the schedule, so even though we might be ready to head out at that moment, we need to be flexible. Most of the time I can get places on time, but I've also found that it's a good idea when we're meeting up with friends without kids for them to recognize that it's more realistic to say we'll meet them within a window (say, between 5 and 5:15) and that we'll text when we're officially in the car.

"You will not be spontaneous anymore."
Very true.
This complements the point above, but I thought it deserved its own place on this list. The baby does control the schedule a good degree.

"You will never have time for yourself."
From my own experience thus far and what I've witnessed watching friends who've gone before me, it seems like a child's infancy is the stage at which parents have the most time for themselves because that's when kids sleep the most and they can't really move much or get into trouble when they're awake. I had the most time for myself before Natalie turned 2 months old. When she hit 2 and 3 months old, though, she started to be more alert and subsequently up more during the day, and that's when I had a lot less time to myself. After turning 4 months old her sleep started to become more predictable, and I went back to having more time for myself. Now as she gets ready to turn 5 months old she's taking really long naps and sleeping for 11 or 12-hour uninterrupted stretches at night, so I'm back to having more time for exercising, reading, household chores, and blogging. The key that I've discovered is to make the most of the baby's downtime to do those things for yourself that you want to do. Like I said, the baby does control a lot of the schedule, so I just need to motivate myself to exercise or whatever when Natalie's sleeping, even if that's not the time I would naturally pick for myself.

I'm the boss around here!

"Ain't got no time for no haters."
My friend who's been a mother much longer than me quoted me this line from T.I. and Rihanna a few months before I gave birth. Her point was that people will judge you as a mom no matter what you do, but you won't have time to worry about their Judgey McJudgerson-ness, so you just have to ignore it and do what's best for your family. So ridiculously true. I was prepared for older people to judge Matt and me, but I was less prepared for my peers, particularly some of my child-less peers and some of my peers who also have small babies and children, to state to me and to one another what they think is best for me and my family. We all have our opinions, but it shocks me that there are people who judge new parents (and there are plenty), and you won't know who in your life will until you give birth. At the end of the day, though, my buddy is right, and Rihanna's lyrics are often playing on loop in my mind. Live your life.

"You will never know a love like this."
Jury's out on this one.
Before I had a baby everyone said this to me all the time. I love Natalie. I also love lots of other people. I love my husband and my family; I love my best friends; I love my dogs. If anything happened to any of these people I would be devastated and heartbroken. I can't say that having a baby has caused me to see love in a whole new way yet. Maybe this makes me a bad mom; or maybe it means that I'm lucky to have lots of great people in my life; or maybe it means lots of people speak in hyperbole (I am leaning toward this potential answer). Natalie's birth brought even more love into my life, but I can't say it has rocked my world. Perhaps as she grows I really will experience a love I haven't known before.

Monday, June 4, 2012

'Next time, buy American'

This line was quoted to me two weeks ago by a man wearing a navy blue work shirt with a name tag identifying himself as Singh. He was over at our house to diagnose the problem we've been having for the past month with our fridge. (You may recall this is the Samsung fridge that we bought a year and a half ago.) Specifically, the fridge has been making intermittent horrible noises that sound a bit like a chainsaw is dividing our home in half.

According to Singh, Samsung appliances are still relatively new in the U.S., so there are lots of electrical problems the company is still working out with the models it's selling here. Singh volunteered that in his home country of India, Samsung is one of the most trusted brands of appliances, but that reputation is yet to pan out in America. He told me to buy American appliances in the future because the problem we're having with the fridge -- a failing motor, kind of a big deal -- requires ordering a part from overseas and having it shipped here.

I got really annoyed when I heard our fridge, which was manufactured less than two years ago according to the sticker inside its door, was making awful noises. I assumed this would be an expensive repair. Then I got even more annoyed when Singh confirmed that, yes, this probably will in fact be an expensive repair.

After we got our initial diagnosis and estimate, though, we did something smart, and here's what we need to keep in mind in the future. We called Samsung.

When Matt was on the phone with Samsung it took virtually no time for the representative to pass Matt along to talk to one of his superiors. The manager agreed with Matt's assessment that a one-and-a-half-year old appliance should not need a major repair. So the manager extended our warranty on our fridge for another year. The manager asked for the name of the company we'd used to give us the initial diagnosis and estimate. We'd already paid that company $70 for the diagnosis, and because Samsung had just extended our warranty they were going to reimburse us that $70 provided the company we'd used was an authorized Samsung repair company. Turns out the initial company we used is not an authorized Samsung repair company, but the manager from Samsung went so far as to call the other company and offer for them to become authorized, which would ultimately get us our $70 back. Of course, the company declined, and we're out $70, but Samsung ordered our replacement motor from overseas right then, and it showed up a few days later.

In between ordering the part and the part actually showing up was a weekend when I was hosting a baby shower at our house. Knowing that the fridge's noise can last for about two hours once it starts up, I feared that the noise would destroy the party, but thankfully the fridge obliged and stayed quiet while hosting guests.

A week after meeting Singh, a new repair person from an authorized Samsung repair shop showed up at our house with our new motor. He got here at 12:02 and by 12:16 he was done. I couldn't believe it. And all I had to do was sign a piece of paper. I didn't have to write him a giant check.

So, while we are still out that initial $70, we have an essentially free new motor and another year of free fridge repairs should anything else occur. Though Singh succeeded in making me question our decision to purchase our Samsung fridge (despite its high rating in Consumer Reports when we bought it), at least I gained faith in Samsung customer service. Ultimately, I'm reminded of something I wish I'd remembered in the beginning: when you're having a problem with a product, call the company first and see what it can do for you.