baby sleep

Saying Bye-Bye to the Bottle

Screen Shot 2019-01-29 at 2.07.51 PM.png

You’ve reached that point when you know your toddler doesn’t need a bottle anymore: you’ve heard paediatricians recommend children switch from a bottle to a sippy cup around age one; your dentist has told you it’s a bad idea for her teeth if she falls asleep with it; you know it’s probably the only reason she’s still waking up at night; and your mother-in-law is on your case about it.

Whatever your reason, you want to quit bottle feeding in the night but you can’t imagine how your child ever going to manage (or sleep through the night) without it.

One strategy that works well for a lot of kids is to package up all the bottles and “send them to a new baby” (you can secretly keep them in storage if you need).  If you know a new baby your child can visit, even better.

Prepare for this by talking to your child ahead of time about how he’s so big now that he doesn’t need a bottle anymore and that it’s time to pass them on to “a new little baby who really needs them.”

He can still have his milk before brushing his teeth, but he should have it in a cup. You can warm it up and call it “special coffee” or something fun. And, more preparation: tell him no more milk until the sun comes up.

Now for the hard part: what to do when your child cries out in the night for it? This is one of those unavoidable tough-love parenting moments.

First, you wait a few minutes to see if she will drift back to sleep on her own when she isn’t met with the instant gratification of Mom or Dad sleepily handing over a bottle full of warm milk. If she is not taking this change lying down (pardon the pun), then it’s all about your poker face: go in her room and calmly, quietly remind your little one that there is no more milk until the sun comes up, give her a little rub on the back for comfort and then leave again.

If your child is old enough to be in a big-kid bed and is coming to you with the milk request, then you have to lead her back quietly and matter-of-factly with very little interaction, tuck her in and do the same remind-and-leave routine as above.

You may have to repeat this a lot on the first few nights, so be patient; best to start on a weekend when you can trade naps with your spouse the next day.

It might seem like a losing battle the first night or two, but if you are absolutely clear and consistent with your child, your night-shift work will pay off in spades and full nights’ sleeps for everyone are just around the corner.

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.

So what is sleep training?

So what is sleep training

This is the question a mom in the park asked me the other day when I told her what I do for a living. She had joked “we’ll sleep some time” as she gently pushed her seven-month-old in the swing for the first time.

There seems to be a lot of talk about it, but I realized there are probably a lot of new parents who don’t know what it means to “sleep train” their baby. I was one of those parents; although in the months after my first child was born, I dreamed of walking into the room with a clipboard and whistle to command her it was time to sleep. For the love of….

Simply put, sleep training is giving your baby (or toddler/child) the opportunity to learn self-soothing strategies.  We all have self-soothing strategies – I lie on my left side in the fetal position and pull the covers up to my shoulders. Ahhh… now I can fall asleep. And I stay asleep, all night. Even though it is completely normal to wake three to four times a night, we don’t remember waking because it’s so brief. Somewhere in our infancy, we learned self soothing. We wake, shuffle / turn over and go right into the next cycle of sleep without being consciously aware of it happening.

Babies need to learn how to fall back to sleep in between sleep cycles. It helps (or is essential, actually) if they’ve learned to fall asleep independently, meaning, not while breastfeeding, sucking a pacifier or being rocked in mom’s or dad’s arms.

So why do so many babies have a hard time putting that together? It seems an anomaly these days to have a baby that just sleeps through the night after the first couple of months of life. Often parents intervene too soon with baby's every fuss and cry; their little one doesn't have a chance to develop the ability to soothe themselves back into another cycle of sleep.

Another possible contributor is "back to sleep". This is the educational campaign that has literally saved babies’ lives. Since government programs have urged parents to put babies to sleep on their backs rather than on their bellies, as had been done for probably a millennium, the rate of infant deaths due to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has dropped by 50 per cent. But when not sleeping on their bellies, babies will startle themselves awake more often (that jazz-hands-looking reflex present in early life).

Just to be clear, I strongly advocate putting babies to sleep on their backs. It is the single biggest factor in reducing cases of SIDS. But that means many of us have to work a little at helping our babies learn the critical life skill of independent sleep.

Sleep training can take on many forms.  A lot of people assume this means “Cry It Out” or CIO as it’s called in sleep literature. Many of our parents did this, and a lot of experts recommend it for exhausted parents and overtired babies, but it can be pretty hard on the heart – the parents’ figurative heart as they put their child down and close the door on their crying baby, not to open it again until 7 a.m. It can also have less-than-lasting success compared to other methods.

Then there’s increasing check times, often called “Ferberizing” as it was popularized in the 1980s by Dr. Richard Ferber. Using this method, you put your baby down awake and return at predetermined amounts of time to comfort them with gentle pats or rubs and a soothing voice; those intervals gradually increase in length until your baby falls asleep.

Then there’s “camping out”. This is the method popularized by Sleep Sense founder Dana Obleman; she calls it the “stay-in-the-room method”. This is the method I most often recommend to parents.  Using this method, you are beside your child for them to see and hear you, and occasionally feel your soothing touch.  The method then progresses and changes over the ensuing nights to allow your child to learn complete independence. In my experience, it’s a game changer.

If you Google 'sleep training', you'll find strong opinions from online moms on all sides of the discussion; everyone is absolutely entitled to an opinion. But one fact always remains: if you’re sleep deprived, you’re not at your best. At worst, you could be unable to properly attend to your child, unsafe to drive or even heading into depression. And parenthood is all hard enough.

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.