In the blink of an eye, the holiday season is here again, and I know that I have many nervous parents wondering how they’re going to stay on top of the busy season and keep their little ones well-rested and healthy. I’m here to tell you that it likely won’t be perfect, but with a bit of planning and foresight, you can help your baby stay on some semblance of a sleep schedule. (more…)
Child Sleep Tips
The first five years of a child’s life are explosive in terms of their overall development and will set the stage for the person they will become. By age three, your toddler’s brain is 80% the size of an adult’s and reaches 90% of its potential size at age five. According to First Things First, “The early years are the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults. The connections needed for many important, higher-level abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving and communication are formed in these early years – or not formed.”
Daylight savings time is coming up this weekend. Most parents don’t mind it so much in the fall when they gain an extra hour, but it sends fear through people’s bones when they hear they are going to have to lose an hour of sleep! Every year I get a TON of questions asking for the best way to handle daylight savings time and children’s sleep. So here it is: (more…)
Determining when to switch from a crib to a bed is a common toddler-parent question I receive, so today I’m going to address it. In addition to being asked when the right time is, I’m also asked how to go about the process of switching from a crib to a toddler bed. It’s easy, so let’s take a look.
Ah, summer vacation, the time when we let our hair down and enjoy the sun ‘n fun. It’s also a time when we tend to relax the rigidity of the school year schedule and make some room to breathe. Bedtime routines are often collateral damage, are they not? (more…)
Stop putting it off. I mean this in the nicest of ways, but if you keep saying you’ll get around to getting baby to sleep better, the reality is that you’re putting off the inevitable. And if your baby isn’t sleeping well, the longer you wait to make changes to their sleep routine, the harder those changes will be to make. In an effort to make things super easy for you, I’m throwing out four easy tips for getting baby to sleep better, that you can implement today. I mean, why do it tomorrow if you can do it today, right?
Tips for getting baby to sleep better
Keep it dark
Have you ever tried sleeping in the middle of the day? Unless you’ve outfitted your room, or are sneaking down to the basement for a quick nap, you’re going to be met with sunlight streaming in through the windows. Darkness is where it’s at, and as soon as you create a dark environment, the sooner your baby will understand that bedtime or naptime is coming.
Blackout shades or blinds are the easiest, and most inexpensive, fixes for a bright room; if you’re installing blinds, it’s imperative that you have them cut exact, or else you’ll have tiny beams of light cutting through the room like little lasers.
One thing many parents don’t think of is the light of the television or other electronics. Electronic screens emit blue light, which serves to keep baby (and you) alert and awake, opposite of your desired effect. The body needs darkness to trigger the release of melatonin, which aids in sleep, so turn off the electronics, or move to another room, at least an hour before baby’s bedtime.
Keep it cool
If you’re anything like me, your sinuses get dry and you become stuffy in the winter, when household heat is running constantly. And when I can’t breathe well, I don’t sleep well — it’s no different for babies. That feeling of snuggling into the warmth of your covers, body covered from the cool air of the room? So cozy! And babies love it, too.
Not only do babies sleep best in a cooler room — ideally between 65 and 70 degrees — it’s also safer for them. A hot room can increase your baby’s risk of SIDS, so keep the heat down and use a sleep sack or layered onesie to keep your baby core temperature up, making them comfortable while they sleep.
Keep it boring
Take a look around your nursery. Do you have bright prints on the walls? Maybe a mobile above the crib or hanging from the ceiling. How about one of those super cool, light-up faux aquariums that attach to the side of the crib? The reality is that all of these things are wonderful for stimulating your little one’s mind, but terrible for a quiet, comfortable sleep environment.
Instead, use your playroom, or a nook in your living room to create an area of stimulation for your baby, and try to keep all of the bright colors, lights and toys out of your nursery. Without much to look at, or play with, your baby will do what they’re meant to do in the nursery — sleep.
If you don’t already have one, consider adding a white noise machine to your nursery, to filter out the background noise of household activity or environmental noise. If you have other children, a white noise machine can be your baby’s sleep savior!
Keep it predictable
Think about how you perform when you have a set routine — you may even already practice a nightly bedtime routine. The truth is, babies respond extremely well with a consistent bedtime routine because they’re able to pick up on the cues.
Once you’ve taken them into the quiet of their nursery, perhaps reading them a book by a soft light, or giving them a warm bath, your baby starts to produce melatonin. Your baby’s body begins to relax, knowing that slumber is imminent, and they’re ready to welcome sleep.
While these tips for getting baby to sleep better are simple, and easy enough to begin implementing today, know that it will take some time for your baby to adjust to the changes. If you stay consistent, both you and your baby will reap the rewards of a healthy, restful night of sleep.
If you’ve stumbled upon this blog because you’re wondering if you and your baby can co-sleep and sleep train, it’s probable that something just isn’t working for you. If something’s not working for your baby’s (or your own) sleep habits, my job as a pediatric sleep specialist is to help you find what works. And if you’re not ready to make some major changes, you’re not going to like what I have to say. The short answer is that no, you can not co-sleep with your baby and sleep train.
Notice that I didn’t say that room sharing was off-limits. I’ll get to that later, but right now, I want to address bed-sharing and sleep training. Co-sleeping is a personal decision, and I work with families with all types of sleeping arrangements — my job is to address concerns and come up with solutions that work for both parents and babies. I find that those co-sleeping families who contact me are looking for one of two solutions; they either want to transition their child from their bed, or they simply want their little one to sleep better while bed sharing.
If you’re looking to transition your child from your bed, I can definitely help your little one make a smooth transition. My approach to moving your little one out of your bed, and into their own, is tailored to your family’s needs. I take a look at your baby’s existing sleep habits, their personality and temperament, and come up with a personalized plan to make your baby’s transition, from your bed to their own, work for the entire family.
Co-sleeping and sleep associations
Those of you who came to this article through an internet search, in hopes of finding a way to better streamline your baby’s sleep habits while bed sharing, are not ready for my assistance — and that’s fine! When you are ready to transition your baby out of your bed, give me a call and I’ll be more than happy to help.
But now you’re probably wondering why I can’t help you now. Let me explain.
The majority of my co-sleeping clients bed share because there is an established breastfeeding relationship. Co-sleeping makes mother’s breast accessible throughout the night, and as a result, the breast becomes a sleep prop or a sleep association. This means that each time your baby wakes at the end of a sleep cycle, they head right to the breast — hungry or not — to soothe themself back to sleep. The longer that association remains, the more difficult it is for your baby to be able to transition between sleep cycles on their own.
Think about it. You, perhaps unknowingly, have sleep strategies you employ when you wake in the night. Maybe you shift positions, re-adjust your pillow or blankets, or maybe you take a quick drink of water. Whatever it is that you do to get yourself comfortable enough to go back to sleep can be likened to your baby’s need to nurse themself back to sleep. And in order to break the association between nursing and sleep, your breast needs to be inaccessible to them.
Room sharing as an alternative
Remember when I said I didn’t rule out room sharing? While not ideal, those parents who strongly desire to stay in close proximity to their baby can set up a crib in their room, or attach a sidecar to their bed (but a sidecar may make it even more difficult to break the breast-sleep association). The most important thing is that you’re happy with your sleeping arrangements.
I will leave you with this — the longer a sleep habit persists, the more difficult it is to change. And the longer your child shares your bed, the more difficult it will be to get them to sleep on their own. But when they do make that transition, they’ll acquire the sleep skills they need to have independent, healthier, sounder sleep, which is especially important during the formative years.
If you’re ready to make a change, or are simply wondering if a sleep consultant is right for you, contact me to set up a complimentary 15-minute phone sleep assessment by clicking HERE.
BONUS: Did you catch my interview today with Jim Masters of CUTV. If not, take a listen HERE.
Raising kids is a high-stakes responsibility, and in this age of social media and easy access to information about anything and everything, parents are easily overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. As a sleep consultant, I see this all the time from parents whose babies aren’t sleeping well. One of the other major contributors to the, “I’m doing something wrong,” sensation is separation anxiety; that oh-so-challenging part of a child’s life when they start to completely flip their lids whenever Mom’s not around.
The thought process, it would appear is one of…
- Mommy’s not in the
- Therefore, Mommy is somewhere
- I would prefer to be there with
- Make that happen, or mark my words, I shall raise the most unimaginable of And those ruckuses leave us, as parents, to wonder, “Am I doing something wrong?
After all, a well-adjusted child should probably feel reasonably safe when they’re separated from their parents for a little while, shouldn’t they? I mean, Beth from the office says her baby is perfectly content being left with her sitter, even overnight. And that one mom in your Facebook group said that her baby will happily play by herself for hours at a time, and actually takes her toys to her room occasionally in order to get a little ‘me’ time.”
About Separation Anxiety: Two things to keep in mind.
First, never compare yourself, or your child, to the mothers and babies described in the parenting groups on social media. Much like everything else on Facebook and Instagram, these experiences are almost always conveyed through the rosiest of lenses.
And second, separation anxiety is completely normal, expected, and a sign of a healthy attachment between parent and child.
So what is it, exactly?
Separation anxiety typically starts to occur around 6-8 months of age, when your little one starts to realize that things continue to exist, even when they’re not in sight. It’s a cognitive milestone known as “object permanence” which is defined as, “the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed.”
In other words, out of sight no longer means out of mind.
So as your baby begins to grasp this concept, they realize that if you, their favorite person in the whole world, are not there, you’re elsewhere. And, hey, wait a minute. If that’s the case, then you might not be coming back.
It’s kind of fascinating when you think about it, but it’s also a little heartbreaking. This realization, for a baby, is obviously cause for full-blown panic. The thought of a parent leaving and not returning causes anxiety in most grown-ups I know, so you can hardly expect an infant to take it with great decorum.
Anyways, that’s what happens in your little one’s brain when they suddenly start having a fit every time you leave the room. It’s normal, it’s natural, and it’s a sign that your little one is learning, and that they have a secure attachment to their parent. Awesome.
But, as many of us know, it also means that leaving them with a sitter or dropping them off at day care can be an absolute horror show.
But what we really want to know, or at least what I really wanted to know when it happened with my children, isn’t “What’s causing this?” What I wanted to know was, “How do I prevent it?”
Well, the truth is, you probably wouldn’t want to if you could. I mean, really, wouldn’t you be just a little devastated if you left your child with a stranger and they were just completely OK with it? “Bye Mom! See you at dinner!
Don’t worry about me. You guys have fun!”
I’m guessing that would actually be significantly more troubling than some tears and howling.
But we obviously want to keep things at a happy medium, and if you’re struggling with a child who’s pitching an absolute fit every time you try to run an errand or head out for date night, I’ve got some suggestions to take the edge off until this phase runs its course.
1. Lead by Example
Your little one follows your cues, so if you’re not willing to let her out of your sight, they probably, albeit un- consciously, feel like they’re not safe if you’re not in the room. So designate a room where they can explore a little and play without your direct supervision. It’s a small adjustment, but it has a tremendous effect.
2. Don’t Avoid It
Learning about separation and reunion is an important milestone, so don’t just take the path of least resistance and stay with your child 24/7 until they’re seven years old. (It happens. Believe me.) Let them know that it’s okay for them to get upset when you leave and reassure them that you’ll always come back when you do. If there are some tears around it, that’s alright. This is an important concept that they need to get on board with.
3. Start Slow
Once your little one has started to demonstrate the understanding that they’ll be spending some time with someone besides a parent, make it a short outing. Don’t plan on dinner and a movie or an overnighter for the first few attempts.
4. Start With Someone Familiar
Kids typically do a little better being left with a grandparent or family friend who they’ve already spent some time with, and who they’ve grown to trust a little, so call in a favor, put some wine in the fridge, and plan to spend at least an hour away from the house for the first few attempts.
5. Stick Around for a While
After your sitter, parent, friend, or whoever is watching your little one arrives, plan to hang around for a half hour or so. Seeing that this is someone you’re familiar with will go a long way in reassuring your child that they’re “good people” and worthy of their trust.
6. Face the Music
Many of us have, at least once, attempted to distract our toddlers and then sneak out the door without saying goodbye. After all, it’s the goodbye that provokes the reaction, right? But even if it provokes some tears, it’s important for your child to understand that you’re going to leave sometimes, and that you’ll be back when you say you will.
7. Establish a Routine
Much like bedtime, a solid, predictable goodbye routine helps your little one recognize and accept the situation. A set number of kisses and hugs, a memorable key phrase, and a clear indication of when you’ll be back should be just the right balance of short and reassuring.
8. Speak in Terms They’ll Understand
Instead of telling them how long you’ll be gone, tell them when you’ll be back in regards to their schedule. After nap time, before bed, after dinner, before bath time, and so on.
Nothing is going to prevent your child from getting a little bit upset when you leave, (And as I said before, thank the stars for that, because if they didn’t, oh your poor heart,) but you can definitely keep the fuss to a minimum.
Now, I should add here that these techniques are suggested for kids who are dealing with ordinary, everyday separation anxiety. There is also a condition called Separation Anxiety Disorder which is obviously more serious and warrants a trip to your pediatrician if you suspect your little one might be afflicted with it.
But for run-of-the-mill fit-pitching when you try to leave the house for an hour or two, these tips should go a long way towards remedying the problem. Be consistent, supportive, assertive, and calm. Before long, your child will understand the concept of you leaving and coming back.
In fact, this concept that will also come in handy when you start to leave them alone in high school.
“I’m leaving for the night, but rest assured, I’m coming back. So you just remember that before you invite your rowdy friends over.”
But until then, if you feel like your little one’s separation anxiety has led to some not so great sleep habits…I’m here to help. A FREE Sleep Assessment call is just a click away. SCHEDULE A CALL WITH JENNIFER
While digital tech was invented to be a time saver and tool of efficiency, and it is, research is showing how excessive media access is eating away at quality time and creating health habits that are inefficient for growing children. And while those electronic devices are having a myriad of negative affects on our little ones, I want to focus on some recent findings about screen time and sleep.
Screens and sleep research findings
Now that tablets and smartphones have been around for a decade, studies are beginning to release reports on the very real ways screen time is affecting our children’s sleep habits.
We know how important the role of sleep is for healthy child development — from infants to preschoolers (and beyond) — which is why it surprises me that companies are now developing and marketing apps to babies as young as six months old! The earlier screens and mobile electronic devices are introduced, the greater the effects of screen time on our children’s health and well-being.
Study after study has reiterated how important the role of sleep is to the cognitive development of children, especially in the first two years. Per Scientific Reports:
…reduced sleep duration in the first two years of life may have long-term consequences on later developmental outcomes. These findings are mirrored by several follow-up studies in children and adolescents, showing significant associations between sleep difficulties or irregular bedtime and later problems with mental and physical health and lower cognitive and academic performance.
For example, a study published in Scientific Reports found that extending down the age of screen time exposure, to infants and toddlers, correlated with disrupted sleep in those babies. The study followed babies, ranging in age from six to thirty-six months old, and their interactions with mobile electronic devices, such as tablets or smartphones. The findings are eye-opening, pertaining to those infants and toddlers with daily screen use, finding that the amount of overall sleep lost by babies 6-36 months old, per hour of screen time use (over maximum guidelines), amounted to 15.6 minutes. Wow.
In addition, a review of over five dozen studies, targeting children ages 5 through 17, found that “more screen time is associated with delayed bedtimes, fewer hours of sleep and poorer sleep quality.”
So what exactly are the recommended screen time guidelines? Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), screen time recommendations are as follows:
- For children under 18 months old, screen time should be limited to video chatting
- Children 18-24 months should only be exposed to high-quality media, with parents watching alongside to help them understand and engage with what they’re watching
- Children 2-5 years old should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming; again, parents should watch along with them to help them make real world connections
- Children 6 years and older should have established and consistent limits on the time spent using media, with parents ensuring that digital media doesn’t take the place of sleep, physical activity or real-life personal interactions
Strategies for managing screens and sleep
I think the first step to managing screen time in your home is paying attention to your own habits, in addition to those of other household members. Take a look at what those apps geared towards babies and toddlers are teaching, and replicate those activities with physical play, blocks and flashcards. As tempting as it may seem (we all need a bathroom break), make sure that you’re supervising all screen time activity with your little ones, and engage your child as they interact with media. And most importantly, for both you and your child, shut off devices (this includes the television) at least an hour prior to bedtime, to reduce blue light exposure. Lastly, for those of you with older children, make sure that mobile devices and screen electronics do not go into the bedroom at night.
With the holidays approaching, many new parents who have recently gotten their babies sleeping on a schedule are worried that they might regress a little over the holidays.
And I can assure you, those fears could not be more well-founded.
Between the travel, the excitement, the constant attention and then travel all over again, the holidays are the single easiest way to throw all of your hard work out with the wrapping paper and turkey bones.
But I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! With some strategic planning and an iron will, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home.
There are two major impediments to your little one’s sleep over the holidays. One is travel and the other is family and friends, so I just want to tackle both of those topics individually.
First off, travel.
If you’re thinking about starting sleep training your little one, but you’ve got to take a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put off the training until you get back. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to cancel your trip, not wanting to throw your baby’s sleep schedule out of whack is a pretty good one. Just sayin’!)
If you’ve already started, not to worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some semblance of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.
If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over baby’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. So if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap.
If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities that are on your route where you can stop when baby gets up. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will make that next nap that much easier.
If you’re flying, well, my heart goes out to you.
It’s no secret that planes and babies just don’t seem to like each other, so I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do.
The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for both of you. (And, most likely, the passengers around you.)
Alright! So you’ve arrived, and hopefully you’ve managed to maintain some degree of sanity. Now, I’m sorry to say, comes the hard part.
Because in the car or on the plane, everybody is on your side, right? Keeping baby quiet and relaxed, and hopefully asleep, is just what everyone is rooting for.
But now that you’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s place, it’s just the opposite. Everyone wants baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated. And it’s exceptionally difficult to tell all of these friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to get to sleep.
So if you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now. Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it. Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in a take a quick peek,” routine that baby’s in the middle of sleep training and you’re not taking any chances of them waking up. Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on baby’s schedule.
I know it sounds harsh, but the alternative is an almost immediate backslide right back into day one. Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then overtiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined, which results in more overtiredness which derails nighttime sleep, and before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire trip.
I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It happens that quickly.
So OK, you’ve steeled your nerves and let everyone know that you’re not budging on baby’s schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The only catch is that, with all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and baby.
No problem, right? Bed sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all.
I wish I could make it that easy for you, but again, you want to make this as little of a deviation from the normal routine as possible, and babies can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as one night.
So this may sound a little unorthodox, but if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple.
Make it into two rooms.
I’m not saying you need to bust out the lumber and drywall, but I do suggest hanging a blanket, setting up a dressing screen, or, yes, I’m going to go ahead and say it, put baby in the closet.
That sounds crazy, I know, but really, a decent sized closet is a great place for baby to sleep. It’s dark, it’s quiet, she won’t be distracted by being able to see you, and people accidentally walking in and out of the room are much less likely to distract her.
And while we’re on the subject of “no exceptions,” that rule extends to all other sleep props. You might be tempted to slip baby a pacifier or rock her to sleep if she’s disturbing the rest of the house, but baby is going to latch on to that really, really quickly, and chances are you’ll be waking up every hour or two, rocking baby back to sleep or putting her pacifier back in, which is going to end up disturbing everyone a lot worse than a half hour of crying at 7:00 at night.
Now, on a serious note, I find the biggest reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent.
The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is nearly overwhelming in these family gatherings, but in those moments, remember what’s really important here.
Your baby, your family, and their health and well-being.
There may well be a few people who feel a bit jaded because you put baby to bed just when they got in the door, and your mother might tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous, but remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the most noble cause there is.
So stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead. WonderMom, UberMama, The Somnum Inducere, if you’re feeling really fancy. Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.
Ignore them. You’re on a mission.