Newborn Sleep CAN Happen: How I helped my daughter learn to self-soothe.

10487182_10203763406777975_5428785870809281767_nSome babies respond just fine to rocking or nursing to sleep. Then there are the babies that you help into a floppy, blissful state of sleep and set them down ever so carefully only to have them WAKE UP the second their little bodies touch their bed, leaving you in frustrated tears. That was the story with both of my children. With my son, we suffered through four sleep-deprived, tear-filled months (him and us) before making some changes. With my new daughter, I wanted to avoid creating parent-led associations that hindered my son’s sleep and instead, give her the confidence to trust her own body.  Lisa Sunbury, who was a great support, reminded me that Magda Gerber often said to “start as you wish to continue.” That was exactly what I was trying to achieve: long-lasting habits, right from the start. Newborn sleep CAN happen, and it can happen respectfully.

Getting To Know Her

With my son, I was so stressed about his crying that I tried everything to just get the tears to stop, without actually listening to what he was telling me. In contrast, with my new baby, I did not immediately try at all costs to make the crying stop, but rather approached the tears in a calmer and more intuitive way. When she cried, I held her and told her I was trying to understand what she needed. Instead of trying to shut her down, I spent my energy listening to her tears and learning about what they meant. As a result, I found that I bonded with her sooner than I did with my son, because I had viewed my son as an infant in distress, and anxiety about my failure to stop his tears clouded our bond; with my daughter, I understood that her crying was communication and that it didn’t threaten her attachment to me.

Preparing the Day for Sleep

Babies are so easily overstimulated. Anything from a lamp to the sound of a passing car can be too much for some. Try to keep your baby in an area that has low lighting and minimal sounds. When feeding or changing, move slowly and use a gentle voice. It can be challenging to provide the optimal setting for a newborn 100% of the time, but you can do the best you are able. It’s also important that you let your baby release their frustrations, kind of like a friend that needs to cry on your shoulder at the end of a hard day. Being a newborn is so emotionally exhausting with the huge amount of newness in every little thing they experience; so everyday for them is a long, hard day. With my baby, I would snuggle up with her and let her cry out all of her frustrations. As soon as she was done, she would finally relax in my arms, ready for peaceful sleep.

Falling Asleep with Mama*

I wanted to avoid giving my daughter the habits that had made my son’s sleep so hard. I made sure to nurse her while she was awake and to avoid rocking, bouncing, or wearing her to sleep. Once I learned my daughter’s tired signs, I would go to her calm sleeping place, hold her, and allow her to fuss if she needed. I would not try to MAKE her sleep; instead, I gave her a quiet and peaceful space where she could fall asleep easily. She could snuggle in my arms and cry out her tensions, and then drift off to sleep. For the first week or so, we co-slept because I was recovering from birth and in bed most of the time anyway.

Once my daughter was used to falling asleep in my arms easily, I began putting her next to me. I would lay my hand on her while she fussed or cried to sleep. Gradually, I started moving my hand away and just watching her while she fell asleep. Eventually, this made for a lovely situation where she would coo and try to smile before falling asleep. She was learning that sleep was a wonderful thing and that it was in her power to drift off as she liked. She was learning to trust her body. This step worked for us because I was still in bed most of the time and slept with her.

*This would be a step you can skip if you don’t want to co-sleep.

Supported Self-Soothing

Once I was recovered a bit and ready to re-enter my daily life, it was time for her to sleep on her own in the co-sleeper. When my daughter was drowsy, I would put her down in her bed and sit by her. I would rub her head and say soothing things as she drifted off. Sometimes she cried, and sometimes she simply closed her eyes and fell asleep. Once she was calmer about her bed, I started putting her down without physical soothing, just singing to her until she fell asleep so she knew I was still there.

She would fuss a bit while she worked on finding her own methods to soothe. It took some practice, but eventually she learned to put her fingers in her mouth for comfort. After she made this discovery, I would just lie in my bed while she fell asleep, helping only if her fussing turned into full-on-crying. If, at any point, she got very upset in a way that did not sound like a tired cry, I would help her by starting with minimal support (singing or stroking) and then eventually picking her up and holding her for a bit before trying again.

Trusting Her Self-Moderation

I still don’t try to force sleep on my baby. If she is genuinely having trouble settling, I trust that she’s telling me that she’s not tired yet and bring her out to play until a bit later. She has gained the confidence to fall asleep on her own and knows that I respond to her if she needs me. This means that some days she sleeps less, and some days more. At this point, I can put her in her bed, kiss her sweet head, and walk away. Sometimes she fusses a bit before finding her thumb and soothing herself to sleep, but most of the time she smiles as I lay her in her bed. She loves sleep and loves her bed; it’s a comforting place for her. Sleep has never been something that must happen to her, but something wonderful that she gets to give herself.

Coping with Setbacks

Of course, although my daughter can now fall asleep without my help, we still have setbacks and fussy or troubled sleep times. My daughter still wakes 1-2 times a night for a feeding, and sometimes she needs more snuggles when she’s teething or going through a milestone. What helps is making more time during the day to see where the real challenge is coming from and then supporting that. For instance, she’s working on crawling now so I’ve been giving her ample opportunities to practice. The biggest help during setbacks will be this kind of observation and adjustment to her daily routine. They are always changing their needs and often times troubled sleep is the first indicator that minor changes might need to happen to their day.

There is no magical solution that eliminates all night wakings for any child. Even when they CAN fall asleep on their own and soothe themselves to sleep, they will still need us often over their early years as they go through milestones, developmental leaps, illness and other stressful events. Helping my children with their confidence to fall asleep without parent-led associations is not just for me and my sleep (though a well-rested mother is important) but it’s for their own well being as well.

I’m working on an evolved version of my blog that will be a resource for parents. It will have troll-free forums (seriously, I have good gaurd dog admins) and all manner of stories about parenthood. I’m currently looking for submissions to add to the site. I’m moving away from advice kind of stuff and more into the perspective of the parent and thier challenges, revelations and joys of parenthood. Parenting is SO hard and I really think that hearing about TRUE stories from our peer parents can be very helpful.

So please e-mail [email protected] if you have a story to share. This can be anything from pregnancy to challenges with your children, it can be happy moments or stories of loss, funny or embarassing stories. Bonus points for how your children have humbled you.

How to play with a baby

My favorite moments with my baby are when I just lay next to her and watch as she discovers her fingers or gazes at the changing patterns of light on the ceiling. Once I make myself slow down and observe her, I am quickly reminded how fascinating and fleeting these quiet moments can be.

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Learning to Love My #4thtrimesterbody

10373500_926950613997985_326717428872032857_nI recent read a post by 4th Trimester Bodies that really made me think about my own perception of the post baby body. I previously had desired to lose the baby fat as soon as possible after birth. With my son, this was a source of stress for me because I worked out 5 days a week and ate healthy but the weight stayed on until I was done breastfeeding. This second time around, I am mre able to relax about it. I know that I’ll loose the weight eventually. For now, I am in the season of breast feeding; my fat will be plump, my belly squishy like a pillow (as my son says) and my tight jeans will sit in the back of my closet for a bit longer. I am okay with that.

 Thank you 4th Trimester Bodies for the inspiration. Find them on Twitter, Instagram, and FB for your own inspiration. 

Two Tips to Help Older Children “Play” With a New Baby

My 2 year-old son is very excited to play with his new sister…sometimes TOO excited. So I have been working on modeling how we play with a baby.

1.  Always ask her (and me) before you touch her. This is important to establish now. Even though I am the one that gives permission at this point, children need to know that just because they CAN pick up or touch a baby with ease does not mean that it’s allowed. We are in charge of our own bodies as are others so we must respect this unseen boundary, even with the smallest beings.

2. Her favorite kind of play is when we sit and watch her quietly. It can be overstimulating for a small baby to have toys shaken in front of their face, or to be chatted at too loudly or too much. So in working with modeling quiet observation, we can better keep a quiet space and set up our older children to have reverence for the tiny moments that we would all miss if we interfered too much.

That’s it! Just those 2 simple rules for play that even my 2 year-old can remember. At first my daughter would just gaze at him in her sweet newborn way, but now at 12 weeks she smiles and babbles back to him. He has had such a good start for being gentle and observant with her that he will now tell me excitedly when she gets her hand in her mouth or grabs for a toy. It’s SUCH a joy to see my two great loves fall in love with each other, I could sit back and quietly observe them all day long. :)

Busy Mom Needs Snacks!

10434141_10203109430668981_6183827541351368645_nBy 3pm, I am about to crash and realize that I have not sat down and eaten a decent meal since breakfast. If I can remember to  just snack all day, it may not be the best way to feel fully nourished, but it keeps me sane and able to handle the people in my life who depend on me. In this post by Summer Tomato, the hows and whys of snacking are laid out very helpfully. “Snacking should be a clearly defined occurring, not something that drags out over the course of hours. It helps if snacks come in defined quantities to prevent mindless eating.”

Here is a list of fast, on the go snacks that get me through the day:

Homemade energy bars/balls

Apples and almonds (super power food!)

String cheese and carrots

Hard boiled eggs

Celery and cream cheese with dates

Avocado on Rye crackers

Smoothies

AND my personal favorite, JUICE! I carry around a jar of fresh made vegetable juice all day and take big swigs when I feel my energy slipping.

Got a sweet tooth? I seem to have more of a sweet tooth now than I ever have before, mostly from being so tired with 2 kids to care for.  Try these raw chocolate brownies!

Recipe:

• 1 cup of Prunes or pitted dates (moist)

• 0.5 cup raw Cacao

• 2 tablespoons virgin Coconut oil

• 1 cup Pumpkin seeds (make into a flour)

• 2.5 tablespoons Honey or Agave nectar

• 1/4 teaspoon real Vanilla

• 2 small pinches of Himalayan salt

Method/Steps:

Grind the Pumpkin seeds into a fine flour in a coffee grinder or blender. Put aside in a bowl. To the bowl add the dry ingredients (Cacao, Salt and Vanilla and stir by hand.) Add the moist Prunes to a food processor and process until you have a “prune-paste”. Put the paste in the bowl with the dry ingredients and add the Coconut oil and Honey/Agave to the bowl and start massaging with your hands until you have a dough ball.

Roll small balls of the dough, flatten them into patties and use a fork to make stripes. Eat them as they are or put them in the fridge to eat them cold.

Feel free to follow my Snacks Pinterest Board for regularly updated ideas.

Life With Two

10152003_10202756858334893_4538149032471656100_nMy daughter was born on April 14th at home after a FAST and HARD labor of 5 hours. Things have been very challenging and joyous. :) I’m starting to get my bearings and soon I’ll be blogging regularly again. It’s my self-care/artistic outlet so I’m excited to share my journey with two.10411972_10203087979172707_3921680281209807071_n

My son is really enjoying his sister most of the time. He is very excited when he gets to see her. She sleeps most of the time so this is a rare treat for him. She has even smiled at him a few times.

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My sweet little baby is very calm. More so than my son was as a baby. My assumption is that I am calm this time. Having a newborn this time is easy; it having a newborn AND a 2 year old that’s the challenge. I learn something new about this balance every day and am sure to keep track to share. :)

 

Ten Encouraging Links for Supporting Baby’s Sleep Learning

I’m in the process of mentally preparing for baby number 2, due in April. Part of this process is reading how I can support my baby’s sleep right from the start and avoid creating the type of bad habits I did with my son. We did so many things that I just don’t need (or want) to do next time; we bounced him for hours in the middle of the night, we shushed him when he cried, we rushed to even the tiniest of peeps (which turns out were just sleep noises) and I nursed him for hours and hours on end while he slept. Not only are these things unnecessary and habit forming as well as PREVENTING him from getting good sleep, but they will be impossible to do while I care for my 2.5 year old son along with our new baby. There ARE respectful ways to support infant sleep right from the start and I wanted to share my collection of these encouraging articles with you. I have also created a group on Facebook for Respectful Sleep Learning, which will be heavily moderated to make for a safe space for vulnerable, sleep-deprived mothers to seek help and support.

The rhythm of sleep – By Vanessa at Deep Breath of Parenting

“There are, of course, a multitude of challenges that affect our sleep and our children’s sleep.  At our parent meeting, we brainstormed a list of what hurts sleep:

  • Lack of/ change in/ break in rhythm
  • Sugar/ stimulating foods
  • Late nights
  • Too much to drink
  • Fears (ex. dark, death, separation)
  • Media/ screen time
  • Loud noise/ unpredictable noise
  • High activity
  • Too much light
  • Stress
  • Uncomfortable clothing (ex. itchy, too hot/ too cold)
  • Eating too late
  • Sleep deprivation

There are also lots of things we can do to help our children sleep.  Here are some of the things we brainstormed at our meeting:

  • Strong, stable rhythm
  • Let the child know when it is almost time for the bedtime routine to begin (For example, sing a song as a cue and then begin the routine a few minutes later)
  • Repetition
  • Caregiving/ connection during bedtime routine
  • Modeling our own enjoyment of sleep
  • Creating a calm sleeping environment
  • Warm bath
  • Early bedtime
  • Hot water bottle/ heat on belly at bedtime
  • Ritual
  • Calming or no scent
  • Parents personal belief/ conviction that bedtime routine/ style is healthy for your child
  • Transitional/ comfort items (ex. stuffed animal, blanket)”

Helping Babies Sleep (With Empathy And Compassion) – By Eileen Henry, guest post on Elevating Child Care

The second thing I recommend is to try to distinguish between struggle and suffering in the child’s cries. Since struggle is inherent in all development, we can be confident that our child can develop a healthy relationship with struggle by allowing them to have their struggles. If at any time you hear what sounds like suffering, by all means go in and offer soothing and comfort to your child. We will always respond to suffering, but we can do so without “rescuing” or “fixing” the child’s sleep.”

How I got my baby to sleep – By Suchada at Mama Eve

“My magic secret to sleep is almost pathetically easy: I watch for when they’re tired, and then I put them to bed. I learned this “trick” from reading Magda Gerber’s book, Your Self-Confident Baby, and spending many hours with Janet Lansbury, both in person and on her blog. I feel a little silly this never occurred to me on my own. I was so wrapped up in making sure I comforted my children, and let them know I was there for them, and “helping” them go to sleep that I never realized I was in the way of letting them sleep on their own.”

The Importance of Self-Soothing to Infant Sleep (and how to support it!) – By Alice at Science of Mom

When babies associate something like feeding, rocking, or bouncing with their transition to sleep, they often expect those same conditions when they wake during the night. All of us wake during the night – babies and adults alike. We check our surroundings to make sure everything feels right, and if it doesn’t, we go on alert. When Baby C was bounced to sleep, she woke 45 minutes later and everything felt wrong – she wasn’t bouncing anymore! She called for help, and, being good, responsive parents, Husband or I came running to see if she wanted to nurse, to change her diaper, to shush her, and then finally, to bounce her again so she could go back to sleep – often only to wake again 45 minutes later to repeat the whole process. This was not a very restful night of sleep for any of us. When a baby knows how to self-soothe and falls asleep independently, she wakes in the night, checks her surroundings, and finding nothing to be alarmed about, she goes back to sleep without needing our help.”

Babies Can’t Wait Six Months to Learn Self-Calming Skills – By Kitty Raymond at Raymond Parenting

“Putting a newborn baby into bed – awake – several times each day and leaving it free to self-calm to sleep makes great sense to me.  I fear that parents are made to feel so worried that if their baby ever cries or fusses long enough to practice self-calming, it will affect the attachment process or cause emotional problems later in life.  It won’t.  It doesn’t.  This unfair fearmongering by some health professionals results in parents  rushing to pick up a fussy baby way too fast, ruining baby’s chance to show what he could do for himself.”

Babies and Crying: What’s a parent to do? – By Lisa Sunbury at Regarding Baby

The fact is, there is no evidence whatsoever that occasional CIO in typically developing babies causes any damage. PERIOD. More importantly, there IS evidence that severely sleep-deprived mothers are at much higher risk of developing an already common –and dangerous — condition: postpartum depression. And PPD certainly CAN lead to long-term damage to both baby — and the entire family. CIO is a method that, when implemented thoughtfully, can often lead to improved sleep (and health and happiness) for everyone.” – Quote by Doctor Heather Wittenberg (in post)

Why We Ditched Attachment Parenting – by Emily at Holistic Squid

It’s my opinion that for most parents, the early days of parenthood would be much easier if healthy sleep patterns are introduced at a younger age. Other moms and dads come in with chronic pain caused by baby wearing or awkward positions while co-sleeping. Parents need to know that they should not be suffering at the price of practicing attachment parenting. Don’t get me wrong, the message here is not that one way is better than the other, but in fact, the opposite. Each baby has a unique temperament, and every child will respond differently to different methods. There is not one right way to parent a child. As such, each family needs to find the best methods that work for them.”

The Subtleties of Baby Sleep (4 Important Things To Know) – By Janet Lansbury at Elevating Child Care

Babies can become unsettled and resist sleep if our attitude towards bedtime is pitying, as in “poor baby has to go sleep”; when we’re anticipating a battle, “uh-oh, this is going to be trouble”; or even when they sense our impatience, “you’re tired, so hurry up and go to sleep already!”  These attitudes make it far more difficult for our baby to do his or her job, which is to relax and let go enough to let sleep happen.

The most important thing to know about sleep is the most important thing to know about parenting in general: Babies are aware and competent whole people. They are listening, noticing, absorbing, primed to learn about us and life through our every interaction, no matter how subtle, whether we want them to or not.”

Respectful Sleep Learning Series – By Tiffany at Tongonto.com (be sure to check out all three parts)

The issue of infant sleep learning is not black and white.  There are so many options between cry-it-out and doing nothing and no parent should be expected to sacrifice herself to prevent her child from ever experiencing discomfort or frustration.  First, because it’s unreasonable, and second, because your children will experience frustration no matter how hard you try to keep it from them, but you all will handle it better if you are well rested.  Read Part III of this series for more information on how to do respectful sleep learning.”

The Gift of Sleep Stories: A Compilation of MANY Moms Success Stories with Sleep Training – By Sydney at Learning Motherhood

“People imagine that we put our babies in bed and then walk away for hours refusing any help, food, soothing, and love of any kind. I know many mothers who have sleep trained and have never heard of such a thing. I don’t call this CIO because it’s not at all. We followed a method in the beginning and then adjusted as we listened and learned more about our son and his different cries. Once we learned to listen, our reactions changed to fit his needs. Most of the negative comments were about mis-informed mothers who were fearful of crying infants. I think this is the heart of the matter; we all have different views on crying. Crying is not as big of a deal as some of us think. It was this mis-information and fear-mongering about crying that actually stopped me from listening to my instincts about my son in the first place.  It’s very important that that is heard so I’ll say it again: fear-mongering about crying actually stopped me from listening to my own instincts. 

So I want to share some of those stories with you now.  I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that this is a course of action for you. I’m ALL for co-sleeping (read my post about it) and Attachment Parenting(read that post here.) it’s just that babies and mothers are different and we all must choose what is right for our family life. My hope is simply to increase the support for mothers who do choose this path. I am suggesting that if you choose to do something like this that you talk to your baby about it then LISTEN. Really try and objectively listen as they will tell you so much more than you can imagine. Their cries are not just problems to be fixed; they are stories that they want you to hear. There will always be those who judge, so hopefully you can tune out those fearful voices and listen to you own.”

Sleep Topics covered by Janet Lansbury (tags for sleep, all great!)

In this search on Janet’s site you will find so many great posts on the subject of supporting sleep, including: Helping Babies Sleep (With Empathy And Compassion) Guest Post by Eileen HenryHow To Help Your Baby To Sleep (Without Rocking)Baby’s “No Cry” Sleep Is Exhausting (More Wisdom From Eileen Henry) and Sleep on This.

I really hope that you find these resources helpful. Please share anything else that you have found to support your own journey in supporting you baby’s sleep.