My fifteen-month-old naps from approx 10am to 12p. He has been rejecting his second nap (typically around 2:30/3p.) He nurses to sleep for nap time and also wakes to nurse or to be rocked 2-6 times during the night. I'm wondering if I need to drop or adjust morning nap?
S, mom to 15-month-old twins H & B
Many toddlers transition from two naps a day to one too early.
This transition often takes place in daycares at around 12 months, while most toddlers aren't actually ready to drop a nap until 15-18 months, although it can range from as early as 12 months to as late as 21 months.
There are typically two patterns we see when children are ready to transition from one nap a day to two. The first, and more common, is that they take a long morning nap and then can't seem to fall asleep for the second nap, resulting in late afternoon overtiredness and misery. This can also lead to nighttime or early morning wakings as a result of the overtiredness.
The other pattern we see is children that skip the first nap in favor of playing in the crib. These children generally have an easier time transitioning to one nap a day as they essentially make the switch themselves.
If your toddler is struggling to keep two naps a day, preserve that second nap as long as possible. Here are some sugestions as to how this can be done:
This can be a tough transition to make so plan for a couple of low-key weeks, if possible. There's no magic trick to make it easy. I recommend moving the morning nap time back by 10-20 minutes per day. You can expect that it will take him a bit longer than usual to fall asleep because he will be a little bit overtired. I suggest you allow a minimum of 90 minutes in the crib. If your child sleeps less than an hour, leave him! He may well fall back to sleep if given enough time.
While you are making the transition, you may temporarily need to offer a very early bedtime, as early as 5 pm. You'll know you need to do this if your child is cranky or alternatively, acting wound up and bouncing off the walls in the late afternoon. If this is happening, you can expect that your child may not eat much dinner. Don't worry about it -- she is unlikely to wake from hunger (really!). It's much more likely that she will wake up from being overtired. So just get her to bed as early as you can.
As you are able to move the nap later, your child will gradually be able to lengthen out the nap with the single nap ideally being around two hours, though this will vary for each child. Your child will likely need an earlier bedtime now than when he was taking two naps a day, though likely later than 5 pm.
Some children do well with having an occasional day with two naps a day as they transition to one nap a day. If your child is just miserably tired by 9 am on some days, this may be a good option for your family. Rest assured, as she gets older and as the transition to one nap a day stabilizes, it will get easier!
In the case of the family with 15-month-old twins, we tried many things. We eliminated the sleep crutch of nursing and rocking to sleep -- took only two nights! -- and capped the morning nap at 1 hour. We moved bedtime earlier. They weren't able to move the morning nap earlier than 9:15 am due to some medical issues, unfortunately, and after a week, the afternoon nap was still erratic. Ultimately we decided to move the morning nap later again, making it 15 minutes a day later. The toddlers are currently working on making it to 11:30 am for a two hour+ nap.
The transition from two naps a day to one is a tough one but it's a beautiful opportunity for a family to get a little further from home. In daycares, the transition often means that all toddlers sleep on the same schedule, which means it's easier for children to sleep.
If you would like help transitioning your toddler from two naps a day to one, or if you need support with any other sleep challenge, schedule a free chat with me. Let's get your family the sleep you all deserve so you can better enjoy your time together!
"They each got up and intermittently played and cried. Clementine was okay. Cecilia acted exhausted. They ate once, or maybe twice, each. I tried to get Cecilia to nap in her swing. She cried desperately. I gave up. They played, and whined. Cecilia fell into a bottomless pit of despair and I carried her up to her crib, where she settled happily and admired her jellyfish and sucked her thumb. I came downstairs. Clementine was trying to sleep on the floor. I carried her upstairs. She rolled over in her crib, spun 180 degrees so her feet was where her head should be, and shouted. I tried to wait it out. Cecilia started occasionally crying (wouldn’t you?). I went upstairs and removed Clementine. Cecilia saw me and sobbed. I put Clementine in the swing. She fell promptly asleep. Cecilia cried for several minutes, remembered her jellyfish, and then fell asleep. From the time they needed that nap until they fell asleep was an hour and a half. That’s insane."
Twins are tough! I recently wrote another post with tips for sleep training twins and higher order multiples. Today I'll delve a bit deeper.
Identical twins usually have similar sleep needs, while fraternal twins' sleep needs are are different as any other set of siblings. This means it will be more challenging to get your twins on a similar schedule if they are fraternal... but there are things you can do to help the process along.
In any given set of fraternal twins, there is typically one who is considered one who is the more sensitive sleeper and another who is considered the more challenging sleeper. The sensitive sleeper is more reliant on routine and can't adapt well to changes in the schedule but generally sleeps well. The more challenging sleeper struggles with falling asleep independently and tends to take shorter naps.
In order to prevent overtiredness -- which makes it harder for children to sleep -- parents should generally focus on prioritizing the sleep needs of the more sensitive sleeper, the one with apparently higher sleep needs.
If the children will be sharing a room, it is generally recommended that parents sleep train their twins in the same room. Yes, they may wake each other initially, but it's the only way they will eventually learn to sleep through each others' noises. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that twins do not share a sleep surface. Room-sharing with parents for at least the first six months, but ideally until one year, can reduce the risk of SIDS by up to 50%.
As discussed in my previous post, put the cribs as far apart as possible. Put a white noise machine on the floor between them. Use blackout curtains for every nap as well as at night. If one baby wakes at night for a feeding, wake the other for a feeding also unless they are past four months and your healthcare provider has given the okay for night weaning. In that case, don't wake the sleeping baby for a feeding. I know this can be scary because it might mean twice as many night wakings for you! Try to delay the first feeding until after midnight.
Fraternal twins typically do not consolidate naps at the same time. But you want them on the same schedule. This can be tricky! When one wakes after a short nap... don't let him get up! He needs practice putting himself back to sleep. Even at the risk of disturbing his twin. Give the catnapper at least 15-30 minutes to fall back asleep, for at least a total of 60-90 minutes in the crib. If he still won't sleep, get both babies up and out of their cribs so that they are sleepy at the same time for the next nap.
Night sleep training typically takes about 2 weeks for twins and naps can take even longer to fall into place. But don't despair, with time and consistency, things will get better.
I love working with twin families! You guys amaze me. Let me help you get your little ones sleeping through the night. Let's set up a free chat and see how I can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Pacifiers -- blessing or curse?
I am unapologetically a huge proponent of pacifiers.
Some breastfeeding support folks argue that pacifiers interfere with a good latch, and that pacifiers shouldn't be introduced until six weeks of age, or not at all. But no one argues that you shouldn't offer a clean pinky to suck on. And why wouldn't that interfere with a good latch just as much?
Moreover, evidence-based research doesn't support the idea that pacifiers interfere with breastfeeding. Babies know the difference between what we call "non-nutritive sucking" and feeding. When I was a NICU nurse, I read academic articles that showed that pacifier useactually helped premature babies prepare for breastfeeding.
This double-blind meta-analysis (the most rigorous form of research) of 1302 infants found no difference in breastfeeding duration between babies who took a pacifier and those who did not. The study's authors concluded, "This meta-analysis shows that pacifier use does not decrease breastfeeding duration in full-term infants. The new evidence contradicts current WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations, however, which are based on less rigorous studies.8,9,13,14 The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) now recommends that pacifier use be implemented after breastfeeding is established.4 Based on the evidence, we think mothers who are motivated to breastfeed their infants should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding pacifier use, and pacifier use should not be discouraged."
Moreover, the AAP actually recommends the use of pacifiers as a way to decrease the incidence of SIDS. Dr. Harvey Karp recommends sucking as one of his "5 S's" as a way to soothe a newborn to sleep.
Anectdotally, as a parent and as a healthcare professional, I have never understand why one would offer breastfeeding when a baby wants to suck for comfort, not hunger. We wouldn't offer formula to a baby who wasn't hungry. Why would we offer breastmilk, then, when a breastfed baby isn't hungry?
As a baby grows older, out of the newborn stage, I recommend that pacifiers be restricted to times that a baby is tired or fussy. Babies use their mouths to explore the world, and that should be encouraged. They also need their mouths to coo and babble as the earliest stage of language development. But when it is time to sleep, pacifiers can be a wonderful tool.
That said, if pacifiers start to become more of a blessing than a curse, it's fine to eliminate them. Some babies love pacifiers but can't keep them from falling out of their mouths, and then cry for them to be replaced. If this happens to your baby multiple times a night, the pacifier may not be worth the inconvenience. In that case, I would recommend offering the pacifier once at bedtime but not replacing it, especially if your baby is no longer in your bedroom. Tugging gently on the pacifier once it's in your baby's mouth can strengthen the suction so it's less likely to fall out.
By six months, babies no longer have a biological need for sucking, but many still enjoy it for comfort. It's up to you if you want to eliminate it then or wait longer.
Both of my children used pacifiers. My older daughter used it until about four months old, and then gradually transitioned to sucking her thumb. She didn't stop sucking her thumb until five and a half years old and the weaning process required a full-scale assault. I wished many times that she used a pacifier instead -- it would have been so much easier to stop pacifier use than to stop using a thumb that was always with her!
My little one used a pacifier until age 3. It was an amazing help for her in sleeping through the night at ten weeks old. We kept her pacifiers -- a lot of them -- in the crib and car seat, only. Only once she was climbing in and out of the crib, and then transitioned to a toddler bed, did more frequent pacifier use become an issue since she was able to reach them whenver she wanted.
At age three, on the dentist's advice, we picked out a reward for giving up the pacifier -- she chose an Elmo doll -- and on the day she was ready, she threw the pacifiers in the trash and got her Elmo. Of course, a few minutes later, she changed her mind and wanted to throw Elmo in the trash and have her pacifiers back. But I held the boundary. At bedtime that night, I rubbed her back while she cried. I didn't try to plead or explain or convince her that her grief was wrong. And after about ten minutes, she fell asleep. The next night, she cried even less. And by the third night, we were done. She continued to speak fondly of her "pacis" for months to come but she never cried for them again.
I'm so glad that she was able to have the comfort of sucking when she needed it, and that she was able to partner in the process of giving them up. So to those who would argue that if you give a pacifier, it'll be hard to get rid of them -- no, I don't agree.
My girls preferred different kinds of pacifiers. One like the Phillips Avent pacifier while another preferred the Nuk. For each, I bought a few different options to see which they liked best. Oh, and each breastfed past a year, despite pacifier use and taking a bottle while I was at work.
So I recommend stocking up on a few different options and experimenting. Offer the breast or bottle first, if you think your baby is hungry. But if she's crying and pushing it out of her mouth, or if it's been less than 90 minutes and you're confident that she had a good feeding, try swaddling her or popping her in the baby carrier and offering a clean pacifier. She might just need some non-nutritive sucking to soothe herself to sleep. Rest assured, when the time comes that you need to wean her off it, you'll be able to manage it.
For more help with soothing your baby to sleep, or getting him to sleep all night, schedule a free chat with me and get your family sleep you deserve.
Newborns are hard. Really, really hard. And those early days seem to last forever. Sometimes they do last for months, if you have a colicky or overtired baby, or one with medical issues.
And it's remarkably easy to forget how hard it was, once we are out of those dark days.
I just went back and read my personal blog from the early days with my older daughter. I had forgotten how miserable I was. And how guilty I felt as a result. Guilty that I wasn't treasuring every moment.
"I'm not enjoying my life today. I feel guilty that I'm not appreciating C more. This morning, I laid her on the changing table and saw her sweet little face grinning up at me through my tears.
This made me feel terrible. Poor thing doesn't even realize that I'm upset.
Yesterday I accidentally woke her up while I was documenting her Baby Whispered status... and we've been off track ever since. And so now I feel like a baby sleep failure, on top of everything else.
And oh, sidebar, the pacifier: what a double edged sword. It helps her calm down so much and often soothes her to sleep. Until she loses it or spits it out... and immediately decides she wants it back. And so... Mommy goes to and fro, sticking the damn thing back in. Sometimes I don't give it to her... and then she cries, because she needs its magical soothing powers to calm herself down. I'm so frustrated!"
You are not alone if you are miserable, too. So many other women feel the same way. And our culture puts trememendous pressure on us to bounce back immediately, to fit into our pre-pregnancy jeans on our way home from the hospital, to have a spottless home and baked goods for our guests who want to see the new baby, to breastfeed effortlessly and painlessly -- after all, it's "natural," right?
I promise you, you will feel better. But possibly not right away. And if your baby or babies are not sleeping well, it may take quite a while. I know I never feel good when I am sleep deprived, and I know I'm not alone.
A cruel truth of sleep training is that is requires a reservoir of strength you may not feel you have. It generally gets harder before it gets easier. It's hard to believe that it will ever get better, especially when you are already exhausted and unable to think logically. When you are tired, it's also all the more agonizing to listen to your overtired baby cry. You just want that heartbreaking noise to stop. You just want to go to sleep yourself, as soon as humanly possibly. You don't care what you have to do to make it happen. Unfortunately, the shortcuts you take often make the overtiredness all the worse in the long run.
I wish we lived in a culture that valued vulnerability more. And supported new parents more. That told us it is okay to feel tired and hormonal and weepy. That we are beautiful in our milk-stained overstretched t-shirts and bagging yoga pants. We have created (or supported) new life. We are miraculous!
Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering 'You’re not good enough' in our ear, it’s tough to show up...
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
(You should totally watch her excellent Ted talk on vulnerability here -- it can be watched while nursing or rocking a tired baby. But don't watch it if adding one more thing to your day will stress you out!)
The thing about being vulnerable and real about where you are right now is that it allows people to love you. Perfection is admirable but not loveable. When we show people our weaknesses and our needs, we invite them into our hearts. We let them love us. And if there was ever a time where you deserve support, it's when you have a new (or not so new) baby at home. People want to help. They just don't know how.
So let them in. Invite them into your heart. And ask for very specific help. They don't see the unmet need. You give them a beautiful gift when you show it to them.
This was hard for me, too. Reading back over my blog, I see that I asked one of my closest friends if she would spend a night with me and do just one four-hour stretch with my daughter in the evening while I slept. This friend never went to bed early, but still, I felt like I was asking her for an unforgiveably huge favor. It was deeply painful to ask. But I did anyway. (At that point, C was waking every three hours to feed, and it took about an hour to feed her and get her back to sleep.)
"I asked SL last week if she would come over and stay the night to do a late night feeding, back when I was desperate (well, more desperate) for sleep. We hadn't seen her since the birth, six weeks prior. Amazingly, she agreed!
So last night SL left work on time (for once!) and we had a lovely time catching up. At about 8 pm, I started to yawn. And when my friend asked if I wanted to go to bed, I realized I did. Even though I felt guilty to desert her.
Of course, C was resisting sleep, so it took a while... I didn't want to go to bed until she was down. But I finally gave up and went to bed anyway.
Well, my little Super Baby finally went to sleep and didn't wake up again to eat until four hours after the previous feeding, at midnight, then went back to sleep... for five and a half hours!
Could this be the light at the end of the tunnel???
My friend brought her to me shortly before 6 am. At that point I had been asleep more than nine hours! Of course, I had woken up multiple times to look at the clock and notice my engorged breasts and wonder how things were going... with gratitude in my heart.
After the 6 am feeding, C went back to sleep and slept another three and a half hours! I slept three of them, then got up to have a little time with my friend.
So not counting that one feeding at 6 am, and the little wake-ups here and there, I slept twelve hours!!!"
In this case, what I needed was someone to take that early evening shift. If you are still in the early days of infancy, you might need this too. It's perfectly acceptable to ask someone if they will sit with your baby from 8 pm to 12 am. The worst they can do is say no. And believe me, it's deeply uncomfortable for me to ask people for favors, and risk them saying no. In my crazy little head, that "no" takes on all sorts of meanings, like that they don't love me. Which is not rational, but that's a story for another day.
Anyway, try to remind your rational self that the worst thing that can happen if someone says no to you is an uncomfortable feeling. And Brooke Castillo at the Life Coach School reminds us that uncomfortable feelings are not dangerous. They are just a vibration in our body, caused by our thoughts. And we can choose to change our thoughts. So instead of thinking, "she said no because she doesn't really care about me," or even, "she said no because I'm an unacceptable human being," we can choose to think, "she said no because she doesn't have the capacity to help right now, which is about her, not me. I'm glad she felt safe enough to be honest with me. I will think about who else I can ask."
Don't be afraid to seek support from folks you don't know as well. Other moms may not be able to pitch in at night, but maybe your neighbor or co-worker or friendly acquaintance from your religious community would love to pitch in. If you are in a community like Single Mothers by Choice, there are likely members out there who would love to pitch in as they wait for their own turn at parenthood. Post to your local group as well as to the national organization and let folks know you need help. Remember, you are giving a gift by asking -- it helps build friendships and community.
Even if you don't need physical help, please let folks know when you are struggling. It doesn't mean you can't be there for them but sometimes, sharing your vulnerability is a beautiful gift. If you are overwhelmed by sadness or anxiety, or have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, please seek professional help immediately. It doesn't mean anything about you. It's not your fault. It's your hormones.
If you are ready to sleep train, ask for emotional support. Ask a friend or family member if you can call them to vent or cry. Ask them -- ahead of time -- to please support you by not offering advice or feedback. Just keep on reminding you that you are doing great, that your baby is crying because she's overtired and not because she feels abandoned. They need to remind you that she is going to feel so much better when she is getting the sleep she needs. I promise you it's true!
This is a big part of the work I do for tired parents. It's hard to have confidence that you are doing the right thing when both you and your child are exhausted. After we create a sleep plan together, my role is to troubleshoot but mostly, to cheer parents on. To tell them they are doing great. Over and over and over again. If you find someone who can help you stay consistent, you will see results.
If you're interested in getting support from me, let's schedule a free chat and help your family get the sleep you deserve. Remember, there is no shame in needing support. We all do. It's a beautiful thing.
Twins. Double trouble but triple the joy?
I haven't been lucky enough to experience multiples personally (though I was hoping for them with my firstborn!) . But I've recently had the pleasure of working with two sets of twins and I'd like to share a few tips for all those tired families of twins and higher-order multiples.
New Year's Resolutions (Like Sleep Training) Made Easier: Part Two. Make a Workable Plan Customized To Your Family.
In my previous blog post, I talked about how doing “thought work” has changed my life, and how it can make sleep training, or any big life change, a lot easier.
In this blog post, I’ll talk about figuring out how to actually execute the changes necessary to change your life. And your sleep.
First off, I recommend that you do daily thought downloads and thought models every single day. They help me stay motivated and I know they will help you, too. I would love to hear yours -- post in the comments below!
Secondly, you need to figure out how to execute the dramatic changes you wish to make in your life.
There is no one right answer to this. It really depends on you and your style.
Are you a rip-off-the-bandaid kind of person that would rather get the pain over and done with? Then you might consider doing an extinction-style method of sleep training. This method involves putting your baby to bed and not returning until morning.
Critics say that this method is cruel, but evidence-based research shows that short-term crying associated with sleep training is not dangerous and doesn’t hurt a child’s attachment to her parents.
Proponents say that extinction-style sleep training is the fastest method and involves the least amount of crying, overall, for children. And gets children (and their parents) the sleep they need in the least amount of time. Because it’s quick, it is more likely that parents can remain consistent long enough to get the training completed.
Others prefer a more gradual approach. For children older than four months, this typically involves sitting on a chair next to the crib every time the child is in the crib but not yet asleep. Every few days, the parent moves the chair further from the crib until eventually, they are in the hall and out of sight. At that point, the parent is free to leave the chair but can still call out to verbally reassure the child if needed.
Fans of this method like that the child can see the parent and doesn’t feel alone, especially if the child is accustomed to co-sleeping. Dissenters feel like this method takes too long and thus, is harder on both the child -- who is upset to see the parent and not be picked up -- and the parent, who has to be consistent for many nights in a row and can’t even read or look at a screen while sitting in the chair.
Some folks fall in the middle, choosing to leave the room but return briefly to check on the child at ever-increasing intervals of time. This is slower than extinction but faster than the chair method.
There is no one “correct” method. Every family is different. Only you know what is right for your family.
Regardless of the method chosen, families will want to make sure that bedtime, morning wake time, and naptimes are optimized to catch the child at just the right moment, tired but not overtired. Naptimes and bedtimes at inappropriate times can create overtiredness, which means cortisol, the “stress hormone,” makes it harder for the child to fall asleep and stay asleep.
But every child, and every parent, needs great sleep. Great sleep is a gift to the entire family.
Let’s make 2020 a well-rested year for your family. Schedule a free consult and see how we can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Do you have a New Year's Resolution for yourself and your family? Does it involve better sleep?
Want some help with that?
I'm not talking about sleep coaching, but about "thought work. "
Six months ago, I started listening to The Life Coach School podcasts. Not long after, I joined Self Coaching Scholars. The thought model they teach has changed my life.
When we change our thoughts, it's a lot easier to change our feelings, and thus our behavior, which changes our results. Let me show you how.
Unintentional Thought Model About Sleep Training
Circumstance: My baby wakes up crying every two hours at night. I nurse her back to sleep.
Thought: I hate listening to her cry. Sleep training will be too hard. I won't be able to stand it.
Emotion: dread, fear, frustration
Action: I do nothing to change her sleep.
Result: Her sleep continues to be disrupted. She is overtired and cranky and so am I.
Now look what happens if I change my thinking, even without changing my circumstance.
Intentional Thought Model About Sleep Training
Circumstance: My baby wakes up crying every two hours at night. I nurse her back to sleep.
Thought: The poor thing is crying because she's overtired. Just like me. I am strong enough to endure some crying to help her get the sleep she so desperately needs. (Note: sleep training doesn't necessarily have to involve crying.)
Emotion: resolve, determination
Action: I take steps to ensure that I have support with sleep training. I make a plan. And then I dig deep and sleep train my baby.
Result: My baby is sleeping so much better and so am I. We are so much happier and enjoying our time together so much more!
You can see clearly how sleep training would be so much easier with the second model. Changing our thinking is amazingly powerful!
It's important, though, to recognize and empathize with the thoughts and feelings of the first model before changing thoughts to create the second model. Your thoughts and feelings and fears are still completely valid and worth recognizing.
Lest you think I am oversimplifying or making this all sound so easy, let me share my own thought model from today. They really work! I've made so many amazing changes in my life as a result of them.
Circumstance: There are rolls and desserts served with dinner at our resort.
Thought: I deserve the rolls and desserts because I successfully fasted today. (I practice intermittent fasting each day. I love it! Usually.)
Action: I eat the rolls and the dessert. A lot of them.
Result: I have a stomach ache during the night. I have a harder time fasting the next day because all those processed carbohydrates make me more hungry.
Here's my intentional thought model for today:
Circumstance: There are rolls and desserts served with dinner at our resort.
Thought: My body will feel so much better if I abstain. I'll be so proud of myself tomorrow. And my fast will be easier. I can do hard things, like avoid processed carbohydrates!
Action: I abstain from processed carbohydrates.
Result: I don't have a stomach ache tonight. I feel proud of myself. My body doesn't hurt. I like how my body looks.
Here's one I did yesterday. I got coached on this one by a coach at the Life Coach School. You can see that I'm not perfect at bedtime, either!
Circumstance: It's bedtime and the kids are dawdling.
Thought: I am DONE. I need them in bed NOW.
Feeling: impatience, frustration, irritability
Action: I snap at the kids.
Result: An unpleasant bedtime experience for everyone.
Circumstance: It's bedtime and the kids are dawdling.
Thought: It's only natural that the kids are delaying bedtime. They are having a great time and don't want to stop having fun. We are so lucky to have lives we love.
Action: kind but firm limits are enforced without anger
Result: children are in bed and I am not frazzled and frustrated.
I do a thought download every single day. I like to do them first thing each morning, to set the stage for a great day, each and every day. I encourage you to do the same.
Next week, I'll talk about some of the nuts and bolts of creating your New Year's Resolutions to change your family's sleep for the better.
I conceived both of my children on my own, with an anonymous sperm donor. So that meant there was no eager partner offering to help at night... and no tired partner grudgingly willing to help, either. My mother helped with my first during daytime hours, but she was totally off duty at night.
And so with my first baby at night, I did it all.
Despite being weak from a postpartum hemorrhage, I roused myself with each cry. I changed the diapers, nursed the baby, and soothed her back to sleep.
Luckily for me, she was mostly a good sleeper and usually went back to sleep after a feeding. That doesn't mean I wasn't occasionally in tears from fatigue. In hindsight, I can see I made a mistake. I should have gotten nighttime help.
I was beyond exhausted. Some days, emptying the dishwasher was an insurmountable task. Luckily we were staying with my mother -- I was too weak to take care of us at home -- so she cooked and washed dishes and changed diapers and burped the baby. And by the time we returned home, I was more or less okay.
But still. I would have enjoyed those early days a lot more if I had had some nighttime help. Even once or twice, for a few hours, would have made a huge difference.
With my second, my mom was gone. I had no family member offering to pitch in. I had great friends but they were busy with their own young children. And I had a three-year-old who needed me, too. A three-year-old that tended to burst into my room at 6 am, ready to start the day. Whether or not I had been up half the night with my colicky second-born or not.
Let's just say I was not a great mother to my older child in those early days.
It was miserable. For all of us.
Finally, I realized that I needed help.
Through the grapevine, I learned of a baby "nurse" (not actually a registered nurse) in the neighborhood. Laurel ran a local daycare and a friend recommended her highly. Sold.
Laurel came one night at 10 pm. I felt all kinds of wrong, handing my newborn over to a stranger. Leaving them alone in my living room and going to my bedroom to pump and then go to sleep (with my white noise machine on high) was surreal.
But I did it anyway. Albeit nervously.
I sent an alarm to wake up and pump four hours later. Four hours after that, Laurel crept into my bedroom and eased the baby into the bassinet and quietly departed.
It felt so good that I had her come back the next night to do it again. I was stressed about the money but it was amazing to feel semi-human again.
After two nights of help, I could imagine a world in which I actually enjoyed having two children. I started to think my older child was kind of cute, after all.
From then on, Laurel came every few nights. I continued to worry about spending so much money while on maternity leave but I just couldn't see a way to survive without her.
My breastmilk supply was fine with pumping at bedtime and again once during the night. My little one was not any worse at nursing for taking the occasional bottle (she never had a great latch in the early weeks -- despite visiting a lactation specialist, her mouth was just too small -- but she didn't get worse).
And then at five weeks, everything shifted. Amelie's tummy troubles eased. The long hours of newborn fussing lessened. She started to sleep a longer stretch at night. And it was clear I didn't need help anymore. I gratefully bid Laurel a fond farewell... and started to recommend her to my friends.
In hindsight, I wish I had had her come more often. I was scared that I would need her for a long time, but it turned out that the newborn period of mixed up days and nights, plus colic, didn't last long. Most babies start to sleep a longer stretch at night by about six weeks from the due date, though some don't start to recover from colic until about 4 months of age.
I wish I could go back and tell myself that even with my firstborn, it would have been a great idea to get paid (or not) help. It would have been okay to ask for a baby gift of contributing to a night nanny instead of unecessary baby clothes.
And so I want to tell all of you that there is no shame in accepting nighttime help, or even asking for it. When people ask how they can help, say, "would you be willing to do an evening shift with the baby?"
It's not too much to ask a friend or family member to watch the baby from 8 pm for a few hours so you can go to sleep and get a few uninterrupted hours. Even just three or four hours of unbroken sleep when you aren't straining to listen for a newborn cry can be amazingly restorative.
There's a myth in our culture that moms have to do it all. And effortlessly fit back into our pre-pregnancy jeans by six weeks postpartum, to boot.
This is a disservice to new families everywhere.
The newborn period is incredibly hard (for many, not all). I promise, it will get easier.
In the meantime, accept all the help you can. When someone says, "Let me know if you need anything," say "yes, actually, would you be willing to watch the baby while I sleep?" The worst they can say is no. But most people relish the opportunity to cuddle a newborn. And truly want to contribute.
Pay someone if you need to.
It doesn't mean you are a bad mother (or father). It doesn't mean you didn't want to become a parent. It doesn't mean you are lazy, or weak, or unloving.
Getting better sleep will make a better, more loving parent. And your newborn is most likely happy with any warm body. It doesn't have to be you in the early days (except for breastfeeding, of course). Take advantage of this and get yourself some sleep.
And hopefully it goes without saying but please don't bake or clean or even shower to prepare for these helpers. They are there to help you. Focus on your own needs. Take the best care of you that you can so that later, you can take care of your new little family member.
Massive sleep deprivation is not good for breast milk production, family bonding, or postpartum blues and depression. You are doing your whole family a favor by accepting help.
Motherhood is a long game. You are not going to make or break it as a parent in the first few weeks. Do yourself a favor and build up your strength so that you have more to give in later weeks when the offers of help dry up.
And rest assured, there are things you can do to make things easier in the early days, even when you don't have help. My number one suggestion is always to keep wakeful intervals very short for newborns. I aim for about 45 minutes awake, or the first yawn, whichever comes first. Preventing overtiredness will make it much easier for your newborn to go back to sleep, whether during the day or at night.
Beyond that, use Dr. Harvey Karp's 5 S's to help soothe your little one and get her sleeping: sucking (pacifiers worked great for both my children and didn't affect breastfeeding... the latest research supports this), shushing (white noise or even the oven exhaust fan works great), swaddling (even if she seems to hate it at first), swinging (in your arms or in a stroller or baby swing), and sidelying (only while being supervised).
If you need more support -- and remember, there's no shame in that! -- let's set up a free chat and see if we can't get you and your little one sleeping better.