Tired mom

Is Mommy Brain Real?

As my Mom would say, “You bet your sweet bippy it is!” My Mom was born in the ‘40s. And I have no idea what a bippy is. But it basically means an emphatic yes!

Mommy brain - that fog of not being able to remember simple things or speak clearly or make decisions - isn’t just in your head. Okay, it’s happening in your head, but rest assured, it is a very real, physiological thing with a very real cause:

Sleep deprivation.

Now, just because you don’t feel like you’re in a World War II interrogation with a bright light directed at your face 24-7 doesn’t mean you’re not sleep deprived. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night (I tend to need closer to the higher end of this range). And they need those hours to be uninterrupted.

Enter baby.

Interrupted sleep is a fact of life with a new baby that needs to feed every 3-4 hours. Somehow, with the help of grandparents and friends dropping off the odd meal we can manage to get through those first few months. But if your baby gets into some funny sleep habits and doesn’t start stretching his night sleep out longer, you can find yourself six months later waking up every 2 or 3 hours to feed or rock or bounce him back to sleep. Or pop that soother back in for the 27th time.

So what does interrupted sleep do to a Mom’s brain? When we sleep, our brains don’t shut off; they get very active doing some pretty important jobs that only happen during our nightly snooze.

When we don’t get “consolidated sleep” (7-9 hours straight), we miss out on some sleep phases that help us take in new information and store it in a place where we can retrieve it later (so, we end up forgetting stuff all the time).

We also miss the parts of sleep when our brains do their nightly “clean up” - getting rid of all the fluff and information we don’t need anymore, making room for new, useful information. During this deep, restorative sleep, our brains are also busy doing a literal clean up; the lymphatic system actually flushes away waste products that our brain cells produce when they’re doing normal tasks throughout the day. So that “foggy feeling” is probably an accurate description of what’s going on in there!

By the way, this could be Daddy brain too. If Dad is just as involved in those nightly wake ups and bedtime struggles to get baby to sleep, his brain is missing out on the nightly storage and clean-up action too. As one sleep-reformed Dad put it after his 2-year-old went from waking 5 times a night to sleeping 12 hours straight, “I'm not even sure I knew what a wreck I was until things started improving.”

So how do we get rid of Mommy brain? You guessed it - get enough sleep. Every night. It’s actually not enough to have a catch-up nap once a week when Grandma can take baby out with a couple of bottles for a nice, long walk. We need to be getting that restorative, cleaning-up sleep every night.

And if Mommy (or Daddy) is feeling sluggish, how is baby feeling? Our little ones need that memory-storing and brain-cleaning sleep too. There are countless research studies showing the effects of sleep on a baby or young child’s ability to learn and retain information. And not enough sleep for a young child has also been linked to an increased risk of childhood obesity, poor attention and hyperactivity (the kid version of Mommy brain?).

Why some babies start knocking off 12-hour nights at 3 months old and others still wake 4 times a night a year later is usually (if not always) a result of how they’re falling asleep. If your baby needs a “prop” - something outside of herself to help her fall asleep, like a soother, breastfeeding or Mom or Dad’s shoulder to lie on - then she’s likely going to wake up several times a night looking for that thing that got her to sleep in the first place.

So, get rid of the prop, and baby will develop his or her own, internal method for falling asleep, just like we learned when we were babies. But it’s obviously not as simple as it sounds (or you would have done it already); your baby isn’t going to be too thrilled with this major shake-up in routine (and kids love routine). So it’s important to use a proven method that supports your baby through the process, with or without help from a sleep coach to guide you through the ups and downs of what is usually just a two-week process. (Think about that - in just two weeks you could get your brain back!)

Sounds too good to be true? Don’t believe your child has it in him? Can’t quite get around to making the big move? Of course you can’t - you’ve got Mommy brain! It’s hard to make change and take in new information when you’re just not getting the sleep your brain and body needs.

My advice: be easy on yourself; value your sleep; honour your baby’s need for sleep; and, if you don’t feel like winging it or going it alone, call in some help.

An End To Bedtime Battles?

Is it 7:00 yet?

This is the question I asked my other half as we sat at the dinner table the other night with our two children.  We love them dearly, but honestly, we don’t always love their company.

Each was refusing to eat in their own way – the one-year-old wanting to bang the spoon and fling food with his new-found motor skills, his older sister unnervingly exhibiting behaviour that friends have described to me as the “threenager”.

It was all run-of-the-mill parenting stuff, with a few things we could probably work on (okay, we’re actually failing miserably at French parenting à la “Bringing Up Bébé”).

But I look forward to bedtime; it’s the easiest part of my day. Since we embarked on sleep training our first child (we hired a Sleep Sense consultant three years ago), bedtime has been pretty much a cakewalk.  I’m not bragging here  we did way more than our share of late-night laps around the neighbourhood. Also see previous paragraphs.

A phrase I often hear with respect to children’s sleep is “bedtime battles.” I shudder at what that might look like for some families, especially with multiple children. But I don’t believe there are inherently good or bad kids; just well-rested ones and overtired ones. Battles ensue when overtired kids get wound up and just can’t co-operate. Often there’s just a subtle lack of routine or boundaries. And even the most energetic parents can hit the wall and not be at their best at 6 p.m.

Was sleep training hard? Yes. Were there moments of doubt while I sat beside my baby whispering to her as she learned to fall asleep on her own? Yes. Do I have any regrets? Hell no! I barely remember the one week it took to change all our lives. By all accounts, neither does she. There has been so much LESS crying ever since we sleep trained.

Before sleep training, our baby’s overtiredness from not having independent sleep skills – being breastfed to sleep, carrier-walked to sleep, car-driven to sleep – created ear-piercing wail-a-thons on a regular basis. That all pretty much ended after three nights on the job.

My second baby gradually learned how to sleep independently from the beginning with just a few simple ideas (we weren’t going down that exhausting road twice). He’s not been perfect, but putting him down for nap or nighttime is simple, gentle and easy.

So when 7 p.m. comes, I know that all will be calm and quiet, and my husband and I will get some time to relax, read, talk, work and – oh yeah – sleep.

So perhaps you’re thinking what I thought: “Fine for you but that would never work for my child!”

That’s what we've all thought ("we" being those on the other side of sleeplessness). Mine had a strong will, a set of lungs that would bring the house down and an apparent congenital disdain for shut-eye.

But all healthy babies have it in them to sleep well. Even those with physical or mental challenges can learn when given the opportunity and the right guidance.  As well-meaning parents, we often get in their way; then the well-meaning strategy becomes habit.

And then it stops working.

The number one mistake we as parents make is thinking our high-energy child isn't tired enough at 6:30 or 7 p.m. and so we keep them up later to "tire them out". When kids get overtired, they get wired (likely just the first of many ways they will yank our chains over the course of 18 years).

The second biggest mistake is varying the routine, or not having one, often because we're losing steam at the end of a long day. But cultivating your inner drill sergeant and keeping the list of to-dos ticking along before bedtime will do wonders if you keep it up.

And definitely no screen time at least 90 minutes before bed.

If after using these tactics you still have a nightly ritual of bedtime battles, whether they involve driving a baby around the block 45 times or wrestling a toddler into pyjamas, there is a way out. And everyone wins.

Call me and we’ll chat about it. 15-minute consults are free. 604-789-0850.

We've lost our village, and it's making us tired

We've lost our village, and it's making us tired

I just read a great article that cuts through the cultural attitude of "mommy martyrdom" around the issue of sleep deprivation and its effect on postpartum mental health.  

http://www.mamamia.com.au/torturing-new-mothers/

We've all joked about having "mommy brain" and falling asleep mid-feeding in the rocking chair at 4 a.m., but as a society, it may be time to wake up. Pardon the pun. The Canadian Mental Health Society names sleep deprivation as a contributing factor to postpartum depression - a condition 10-15 per cent of new mothers will experience, some to the level of psychosis.

Having a newborn baby is blissful, joyful and exciting. But it's also constant - not to mention critically important - work. If women are lucky, family members pitch in with meals and grocery runs in the first week. But then what happens? 

Typically, Dad goes back to work and Mom is up three to four times a night feeding and soothing baby so that her partner is well rested enough to function at the office. Then chronic sleep deprivation really starts to kick in - chronic because there's no time to catch up on lost sleep.

As new moms, we're often told to "sleep when they sleep". But that's assuming someone else is cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and taking care of your other children. (Notice there's no time in there for showers or relaxing with a heating pad around your shoulders.) Not many of us have a super-grandma down the road who gives up the next six weeks of her life to take care of household business while her daughter (or daughter-in-law) feeds and bonds with her new baby. And almost no one has a village to rally around them any more. 

According to a Huffington Post article on birth traditions in other cultures, the Japanese have a concept around post-natal care called Ansei, or "peace and quiet while pampering." Um, yes please. Traditionally, Japanese women spend the first three weeks after the birth of their baby at their parents' house staying in bed, recovering and bonding with their baby.

In Nigeria, the mother, or mother-in-law, gives the new baby its first bath, symbolizing the care she will give in the early part of the newborn's life.  Maybe that sounds worse than labour to you; that depends on the mother-in-law. But we're talking about a concept here.

Just four decades ago, my mother spent a full five days in a hospital bed after each of her babies' natural, uncomplicated births. For one birth, she was sharing a room with an Irish-Catholic woman who had just delivered her 12th or 13th child. "I love coming in here," she said. "It's the only break I get all year." 

Another interesting read outlines the culture shock that a Korean nurse had when giving birth in the United States. In her article Postpartum Beliefs and Practices Among Non-Western Cultures, Yeoun Soo Kim-Godwin, PhD, MPH, RN says, "It is interesting that women’s status has been considered relatively higher in Western cultures than in non-Western cultures, yet paradoxically less recognition seems to be given to new mothers in the United States."

True - for baby showers and the postpartum period, the focus is most often on the baby.  Now, I'm not saying we should ignore the miraculous new bundle of joy, but we need to take care of moms so that moms can be fully present to take care of their babies. Don't get me started on the insanity of some countries that require women to be back to work after six weeks. 

So what to do?  Reach out. Make food - lots of it, and often. If you have a friend or family member who has just given birth, show up with two containers: one for tonight and one for the freezer. Ask the mom (and/or dad) if they would like you to watch the baby while they take a shower or have something to eat. Then bugger off. 

I'll never forget visiting my friend Jean a week after the birth of her first baby. Not yet a mom myself (and admittedly out to lunch on the whole thing), I brought flowers. You're welcome. And I stayed for an hour (total rookie). About a year later I had my own baby, so by the time Jean had her second, I had smartened up. I showed up with a big pot of nourishing soup, held her baby for five minutes and then left her in the capable hands of her husband-on-paternity-leave to rest.

That said, if you know someone who is really suffering, treat it seriously. Get them to talk to their doctor, and connect them with a local women's mental health or postpartum depression group. Make sure they're being followed by health professionals. And if they have a difficult baby who literally keeps them up all night, gather the troops, step in, and take shifts. She needs to sleep.

If you need a great platform for organizing postpartum meals or other support, check out Lotsa Helping Hands to make your own online signup calendar.

We're all just doing our best

We're all just doing our best

I’m a sleep coach. It’s where I’ve decided to put my efforts and attention to help kids and families. Sleep training worked for me, and it’s worked beautifully for my kids. The research on the effects of sleep training on children’s future emotional health and well-being alleviates any second guessing I had about my decision. My kids sleep in their own cribs through the night and they fall asleep independently (i.e. no “props” like breastfeeding-to-sleep, rocking or pacifiers). That was my choice, and it’s worked for us.

Then there’s my friend C, whom I just bumped into on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning – she with her two kids and me with mine. Both of us have relatively new babies. She said something about her littlest one napping for three hours every afternoon and my heart swooned.  “You hear that?” I said to my baby. “Three hours – want to give that a try?”  She said she puts her almost-three-year-old on one breast and her baby on the other and they all fall asleep for a family nap every day. Sometimes it’s one hour, sometimes it’s two or three. And it works for them. Her kids get sleep, she sleeps and she feels good about her parenting decision.

So who’s right?  The answer is, both. From what I can tell, my friend C seems wholly committed to the Attachment Parenting philosophy made famous by the Dr. Sears group. I was too until three or four months into my first child’s life when I had to admit the bed-sharing part wasn't working for us.  No one was getting enough sleep.  And if I breastfed my baby to sleep, she’d have a guaranteed, crappy 30-minute nap and continue the vicious cycle of overtiredness.  My baby and I were getting by on snippets of rest but we were both chronically sleep deprived.

While the Sears family write at length about the benefits of co-sleeping, demand-feeding and baby wearing, they also say very early in their Attachment Parenting book that the best sleeping arrangement for any family is the one in which everyone is getting a good night’s sleep.

So while my heart wanted the co-sleeping cuddles my friend C had, it changed its tune when I learned how much consolidated sleep my child was missing out on. And while C is happily feeding her babe to sleep, she’s recommending me to friends who need a sleep coach. She understands that every baby is different, every family is different. As mothers, we have to support each other and respect that each of us is doing our best and what we truly believe to be best for our children – it’s the one and only thing parents have in common.