Sleep, glorious sleep

I love to sleep.  When I don’t get enough sleep, I am a very cranky and grouchy person, and I recommend staying far, far away from me.  I can honestly say that before my first child was born, I really did not know that newborn babies do not sleep through the night.  I remember going to visit my first friend to have a baby about 10 years ago a week or so after her first child was born. At the time I remember feeling stressed out from graduate school, as though nothing could be more work or more exhausting than some studying and paper writing.  I have this fuzzy memory of my friend running around, doing lots of laundry, looking haggard and worn out, and I didn’t really understanding why she seemed so wiped (please see the last post What No One Tells You, under the section The Myth of the Sleeping Baby).  Four years later when my daughter was born, it all began to make sense:  the dark circles under her eyes, her inability to complete a thought, the memory loss.  Sleep deprivation.  It’s linked to decreased immune system function, poor appetite and strains on your mental health.  It can make everything seem more overwhelming than it already is.  Don’t forget, it is used as a method of torture.

In many circles, discussions of children’s sleep, and specifically how to get them to sleep, can be extremely polarizing. Often parents either fall on the “Cry It Out”/Ferber/sleep training side or the attachment parenting/cosleeping/anti sleep training side.  When we discuss the subject of infant sleep in The Chicago New Moms Group, I am very up front about the fact that I have a very clear philosophy when it comes to infant sleep.  I believe that learning how to sleep through the night and soothe oneself is a learned skill.  It is a skill that many children have to be taught in order to sleep a solid 11-12 hours without needing external soothing (from their parents).  It is a skill that they will use for their entire lives and therefore, one that, I feel,is extremely valuable to have.  We all know children and adults alike who have poor sleep hygiene.  They have a hard time falling asleep, they are up multiple times in the middle of the night, they have difficulty putting themselves back to sleep.  Although I don’t like to choose sides, when forced to, I guess I would fall on the side of Ferber and his methods.  I prefer not to think of it as the “Cry It Out” method because that puts too much emphasis on crying and not enough on the actual skill that is being learned:  self soothing.  I know there are many parents and experts feel strongly that the only way to help your children become securely attached is to share your bed with them and let them nap on you in a carrier.  I say, if this works for you, Great!  Go with it.  But what about all those exhausted parents out there who have tried this and found it not to work for them?  Sometimes parents can’t get a good night’s sleep with their child/ren in the bed with them and sometimes their child/ren are not getting a good night’s sleep there either.  These families are often left feeling like bad parents for even considering a method that involves any amount of crying and “abandonment.” What’s more is that there are no clear guidelines on this topic from a pediatric/medical standpoint.  When asked about sleep training, pediatricians’ responses as to when is a good time to sleep train a baby often range from 3 months of age to never.

With all the conflicting information, it is no wonder that parents are left feeling confused, overwhelmed and most importantly, exhausted.  I am not going to present the details of one side vs. the other or argue why my way is better.  I am just going to share with you what I have learned through my experiences working with new parents and also the veterans who are looking to make a change in their sleep plans based on where things went awry with their older child.  If you are looking to read studies on this topic, you can read an interesting review of the literature here.

These are my findings:

  • The earlier you teach your baby how to soothe him/herself to sleep, the easier it will be and the less time it will take, therefore, leading to less crying in the long run.
  • Babies, whether breastfed or formula fed, are capable of sleeping through the night (meaning 11-12 hours) typically starting as early as 4 months of age (depending on various weight and developmental factors).  They do not require solid food in order to be able to accomplish this skill.
  • Consistency is the key to success.
  • The “family bed” does not work for all families.
  • You know what is best for your baby, not your pediatrician or any number of sleep books.
  • It is important to have a plan that all adults involved can stick to and fall back on when you are sleep training your child.
  • A lovey/blankie/security object is a wonderful thing!  Please see The Power of the Blankie for more information on this.
  • It is very difficult for a breastfeeding mother to be directly involved in the sleep training process of her baby due to the fact that the baby will want to eat when the mom walks in the room.  The non-nursing partner, another family member or helpful friend should ideally be available to help, at least initially.
  • Children who are sleep trained cry less in general because they are well rested and therefore are less overtired and cranky.
  • The parents of a child who has learned how to self-soothe feel less stressed out due the fact that the burden of coaxing their child to sleep has been removed from them.  These children have learned how to put themselves to sleep after a comforting and familiar routine is consistently implemented.  The parents, in turn, are also well rested, happier and better able to function as parents when given time to recharge and take care of themselves.
  • Children who are sleep trained and taught to sleep on their own are happy and securely attached children due to the fact that their parents provide them with love and affection during their waking hours.

Still feeling exhausted and uncertain of what to do about it?  Do you need help?  Visit the Sleep Tight Consultants.


What no one tells you…

This post is dedicated to my good friend Melissa Dichter who is a first time mom, awesome friend, and all around incredible woman.  She is the new mom of an adorable 6 week old little boy and is really “in it,” and has been so helpful in relaying some of her thoughts on this challenging time because I too have a bit of Postpartum Amnesia (don’t worry, you’ll learn more about this as you read).  Thank you Melissa, for your valuable insights!

I sometimes think that the realities of the postpartum period (which I like to think of as the first year after you have your baby, not just the first 3 months) are one of the best kept secrets of parenthood.  I speak to new moms all the time who say that no one ever REALLY told them it was going to be like after they had a baby. What follows are some of the reason why being a new parent is so hard and why we are often unprepared for this abrupt change in your lifestyle.

The myth of the sleeping baby

Many people are under the impression that newborns sleep all the time because that is how they are seen out and about: asleep in the car seat/stroller, asleep in a carrier on their mom or dad.  Those of us who have survived this stage know that the reason for this is partly because the motion of the stroller or the coziness of the carrier is what is keeping the baby asleep and the other reason is because no one wants to take their screaming newborn out in public.  Much of the fussiness and crying takes place in our homes.  What ends up happening is that the myth of the sleeping baby is perpetuated and so new moms everywhere are blind-sided by the fact that newborns cry and they often cry a lot.  Babies cry.  This is normal but it can be difficult to get used to.  Also, babies do sleep but not the often in the ways we want them to.  It’s rare when I come across a new mom who tells me that her newborn always sleeps in his/her crib.  More often I hear that their baby only sleeps in the swing or the car seat or on them.  They are often thinking about the big “transition” to the crib.  I feel that there is nothing wrong with a baby, especially one that is in that 4th trimester when all they want is to be snuggled-in and cozy, to sleep wherever it is that they actually can stay asleep.  But that is probably just because I have survived this stage and am not longer in it.

We’ll get you through the birth but then you’re on your own

These days, there are many assorted professionals that help you give birth to your baby.  From the very beginning, if you are having fertility issues, you may even have a doctor that helps you get pregnant.  Then your doctor or midwife follows you throughout your prenatal care, checking in with you, asking how you are doing, how you are feeling.  Everyone is very focused on your physical and emotional well-being.  We spend much of our time and energy when we are pregnant concentrating on whatever discomforts we might have.  When you are pregnant with your first child, your time is your own so you can get yourself that prenatal massage or spend hours surfing pregnancy websites to figure out how to manage your indigestion and nausea.  You can take childbirth education classes to help you prepare for the birth of your child and even newborn care and breastfeeding classes to at least make you feel prepared for your baby’s arrival.  You can hire a doula to help you attain the birth experience you are hoping for. However, once your baby arrives, there is a dramatic shift from all that focus on the mom to the baby.  Now life revolves around meeting baby’s needs for comfort, nutrition, changing, sleeping… Now as the mom of a newborn, you grab quick opportunities to eat whatever’s handy (no cooking as you don’t know when your baby will summon you next), you wear the same spit-up stained pants from yesterday (you haven’t had a chance to shower anyway), and you have learned to pee and brush your teeth within the two minutes in which your baby will peacefully sit in the bouncy chair in the bathroom.  And sleep… what’s that?  Not to mention the fact that all those doctor’s visits that were focused on you with your OB or midwife are now focused on your baby at the pediatrician, a physician trained to be looking for all sorts of red flags with your child’s health but rarely looking at how the mother may be coping.  It’s no wonder that the postpartum depression rates are so high.  And let’s not forget about our own parents who are now so enamored with their new grandchild that they rarely even give you a “Hello” when they walk in the door.  It’s just straight to the baby, who you have probably just gotten to sleep.

Why no one tells you about this

I think there are a lot of reasons that no one tells you how hard it will really be or if they tell you, it doesn’t necessarily resonate that it will be that hard for you.

  1. Many parents who have survived the first year have amnesia.  Let’s face it.  If we remembered exactly how hard it really was, we might never have any more children.  I should lobby the American Psychiatric Association to add Postpartum Amnesia to the DSM IV as a real diagnosis.
  2. When you are in your state of pregnancy bliss, so to speak, is it really possible to hear that what comes next could be anything less than joyful?  Come on, you wanted this and this is going to be the greatest thing you ever did, right? And it will be, eventually.  But at first it is hard.  It is okay to ignore the pressure to be in love with your baby the instant he or she is born.  Many of us have the expectation of a “love at first sight” experience with this baby that we have just spent the last 9 months carrying and sustaining.  The fact is, however, that our newborn requires a lot of giving.  Giving of food, energy, sleep, etc.  Initially, in return, you don’t get very much back other than you will see your baby growing but this, in and of itself, doesn’t really provide instant gratification.  This will finally come when you baby begins to smile but this doesn’t happen until when you have worked nonstop for 6-8 weeks.  Years ago when my daughter was about 8 weeks old and I was on maternity leave, I went to visit my coworkers.  I ran into a doctor that I worked with and he asked how I was doing.  I told him that things were getting a bit better now that she was smiling.  His response was, “Yeah, right when you are about ready to drop kick them, they start to smile.”  So true.
  3. Whether you are a business executive running a Fortune 500 company or you work in retail, especially if you have waited a while to have children, you probably feel that, by this point in your life, you are fairly competent at what you do.  You have a pretty good grip on managing your day-to-day activities.  It can be hard to believe that one small baby can throw you for such a loop.  I always refer to having a first baby as “The Great Equalizer.”  No matter who you are, how many friends of yours have already had babies, or what skills you posses, having a first baby is very likely to be different from your preconceived expectation and will try you in ways your never knew were possible.  Still, when you are pregnant, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is what it will be like for you, someone who is generally an on the ball, functional, showered (ha!) individual.

7 things every parent should know about sleep

1. The single most important skill you can teach children is how to fall asleep on their own without any external help. It is a life skill that is just as important as learning healthy eating habits or the benefits of daily exercise.

2. Consistency is the key. Whatever your method, you need to stick to it. Bedtime and naptime have to be non-negotiable. Sleep is just as important to a child’s health as a nutritious meal.

3. A predictable bedtime routine is an important cue to let the child’s body know that bedtime is near and its time to relax and prepare for nighttime sleep.

4. A short naptime routine will help in creating a relaxing environment that will prepare a child’s mind and body toward the idea of naptime and ease the transition.

5. An early bedtime is the key to avoiding overtiredness and hyperactivity in the evening. Any time between 6 and 8 pm is ideal for most infants and toddlers to be heading for bed.

6. Think of sleep as a continuous 24-hour cycle. Whatever happens at each stage of the day has a direct impact on what happens for the next 24 hours. Think twice about skipping naps and allowing late night bedtimes. It will affect what happens at the next stage of the 24-hour cycle.

7. Infants who are allowed to fall asleep while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding often require this routine when they wake during the night. If possible, avoid letting your child fall asleep while feeding.

The power of the blankie

New moms are always asking me how I get my kids to sleep so well.  My response is that I am a firm believer in the power of the blankie.  Sure, new babies often receive many blankets as gifts.  This, however, is no ordinary blanket.  This is a special security object that simply means, “comfort” to your child.  This is what your baby turns to in the middle of the night when he or she wakes up, as they often do, even for just brief moments.  I find if a baby is securely attached to their blankie or lovey, instead of crying out, the baby will find his or her beloved blankie, snuggle with it, and go back to sleep.

If your baby has already attached him/herself to an object (it doesn’t have to be a blankie, it can be an object like a stuffed animal–it should be something small though that is easy to hold in their little hand), great.  Go with it.  If not, by about 3 or 4 months old, its a good idea to start thinking about what you want to become your child’s security object. For my children, it was a little security blanket–they are about 12 inches by 12 inches.  Very small and not something that could possibly suffocate a child.  It can be a gift or something you have chosen. I have bought them not only for my children but also as gifts for others from a site called What She Buys.  There are some nice ones made by Aden and Anais as well that come in a 2 pack.  It doesn’t really matter so much what it looks like, however, it should be something that can be duplicated exactly (we’ll get to that in a minute).  Before giving it to your baby, sleep with it for a few nights yourself.  This will make it smell like you.  Once you have done this, you can start to give it to your child only at designated sleep times.  This would include naps and bedtime.  Your child will begin to associate the blankie with sleeping. This is not an object that goes everywhere with your child.  It stays in their room for sleeping time.  This helps with the association with sleep as well as for easy location when it is time for bed. When your child is older and running all over your home, it is easy for blankie to end up anywhere and then there is a mad dash all over the house to find the essential blankie.  The only places that our blankie goes outside the house are to the doctor (when my kids were really little and needed a little extra comfort) or in the carry-on bag of luggage on an airplane (because its not worth the risk of losing a beloved blankie in your luggage).

Once your child becomes sufficiently attached to their security object, it is a good idea to get an exact replica so that it can be washed every once in a while or for the dreaded occasion when it is lost (Gasp!). Please note that the replica must be EXACT. Even if it looks mostly the same, except maybe the color is a little different, don’t expect that your child won’t catch on. They are very observant, especially when it comes to something as important as their blankie.  Also, be sure to keep them in the same condition. Your child will know if suddenly their blankie looks much cleaner and smells quite different. Hopefully these instructions will help your children feel safe and secure in their beds and sleep many long hours, giving you, and everyone else, the rest you need.  Sweet dreams…

Do you know your 5 Ss?

Dr. Harvey Karp, renouned sleep guru, has developed and excellent method for helping your newborn get some much needed sleep.  Here are your 5 Ss:

• Shushing-anything from lots of SHHHHHH sounds, to a hair dryer or vacuum running, to a white noise machine)

• Side lying -simply laying on the side either in your arms or on their bed in a solid suface, carfully propped so they won’t roll onto their front)

• Swinging-eitherin your arms or the car seat or a swing on the cradle setting)

• Swaddling-swaddle ’em up good and tight.  Your baby may fight it but they secretly love it.  Its discerning for a newborn to have arms and legs flailing)

• Sucking-either on the breast, a pacifier or even your clean finger will do

Sometimes you may only need one of these Ss, sometimes you may need only a few or even all 5.  These tricks work great, until your baby is about 3 months or so.