The idea of sleep training your baby or child is scary.
I get it. I've been there.
I didn't know about sleep coaches when my oldest was a baby so I hired my doula (the amazing Grace Veras Sealey in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn) to come over and hold my hand. She sat with me and gave me courage and lo and behold, two days later my daughter was falling asleep on her own in her crib. Easy peasy.
Last week, I told my friend that I love her. I've never in my life said that first to someone. (She didn't say it back. Yet. And that's okay, too.)
So many things in our lives sound so scary. Until we actually do them.
And then we feel great and move on to the next hard and scary thing.
I'm not scared of sleep training any more, but there's still lots of things I find scary. That's why my new motto, as we count down 16 days until the new decade, is "I can do hard and scary things."
I don't need a sleep coach but I get weekly coaching from an amazing program called Self Coaching Scholars at the Life Coach School. I think we never outgrow the need for support in tackling the hard and scary things in life.
Next up on my Hard And Scary Things list: posting video of myself each week to Instagram and Facebook so you guys can get to know me.
What hard and scary things are you planning to do as as 2019 winds down, or when 2020 starts? I would love to hear! Please post in the comments section.
If your hard and scary thing is sleep training, let's make it easier. Schedule a free consult and we will break it down into manageable steps. Imagine 2020 as your year to be well-rested! How amazing would THAT feel?
Weekends. Gloriously free but hectic, too. So much you need to do. And so many things you just want to do.
Grocery shopping. Errands. Cooking. Catching up with friends and family. And then the ever-elusive sleeping in.
Surely a later bedtime on weekends can't hurt?
Well, only if you and your child don't mind the occasional jet lag.
The truth is, children don't do well with a lack of consistency in their routine. Children thrive on predictable wake times, nap times, and bedtimes. Putting them to bed later feels to their bodies like changing time zones. You know that doesn't feel good.
And the even uglier truth? Adults do better with consistency, too.
Part of the reason you so desperately want to sleep in on weekends is that you are accumulating sleep debt by changing your bedtime and wake times so frequently.
It's hard to give up those occasional late nights, but if you do, you will feel less tired. Even if you get a bit less sleep, overall.
Before you accuse me of being a Grinch... I get it. I truly do.
This past weekend, I kept my children up late to go see the newly-lit Christmas tree in town. My little one got to bed an hour and a half late.
Sometimes, we have to prioritize life over sleep. It's important to balance the needs of the entire family, including the parents, with the sleep needs of your child.
I encourage you to limit exceptions, though, to no more than twice a month. Plan ahead so you save those later nights for the most important of occasions.
Here are some other ways to limit the impact of the occasional late night:
Watch your child and see how she reacts to the occasional late night. As she gets older, she will be more able to tolerate that occasional exception. A younger toddler may be better off staying home with a babysitter and getting to bed on time, rather than going out with the family. It may also be a lot more enjoyable for you that way. Rest assured, she won't need this early bedtime forever.
Need some help adjusting your child's bedtime? Set up a free consult and let's chat!
Holiday travel and sleep schedules.
You had the best of intentions, right?
And then it all went out the window. Because you weren't in control of mealtimes, and thus couldn't control bedtimes. And now your little one is going to bed too late and waking up too early and maybe even sleeping in your bed. You are afraid that all your hard work with sleep training has gone out the window.
Deep breaths, tired parents.
It hasn't all gone out the window.
And no judgment. We've all been there. Me too.
Once you have done the hard work of sleep training the first time, it'll never be this hard again. I promise!
Here are some tips for getting your little one back on track quickly:
Rest assured parents, we've all been there. Travel, and visiting family, is a beautiful thing. Even when it messes with their sleep. If you follow these tips, you should be back on a predictable, restful schedule again very quickly. Don't forget to include an early bedtime for yourself, too! All that travel and social interaction is exhausting for everyone.
Need some help getting back on track? Or maybe your child's sleep wasn't ideal to begin with? No worries. I'm here to help -- no judgment. Just schedule a free consult and we'll get your family the rest you all deserve.
Ah, the sweetness of snuggling your little baby against you in the dark to breastfeed or bottle feed as she drifts off to sleep. There's nothing quite like it.
But as your baby (or toddler) gets bigger and heavier and continues to want those snuggles and nighttime feedings, your arms and your sleep-deprived brain may no longer appreciate those moments quite so much.
Does this sound like you? Do you feel guilty about wishing you could get more uninterrupted sleep?
The guilt is normal. And so is the need for better sleep. Rest assured, your baby needs better sleep, too, once she is out of the newborn period.
For the first six weeks, most pediatric providers recommend your baby have unlimited access to breastmilk or formula. I would add that even in those first weeks, if your baby has recently eaten (less than 90 minutes prior) and you are confident that he had a good feeding -- drank several ounces from the bottle or your breasts are noticeably more empty -- you don't need to offer food again right away if your baby begins to fuss. In that scenario, he is probably tired, not hungry. Try putting him to sleep with other comforts, such as a pacifier, rocking, walking (in the stroller or baby carrier or your arms), white noise, swaddling, or even just laying him in his bed and gently patting and shushing him. It's not too early to teach him self-soothing. It may actually make future sleep training uneccesary!
If he is unable to put himself to sleep without nursing or bottle feeding, that's fine. Keep trying, at least once a day. He'll get it eventually.
After about six weeks adjusted age (from the due date), you can expect that your baby will begin to have a longer stretch of sleep. It usually starts as about a 4-6 hours stretch and is usually at the beginning of the night. Her bedtime will move earlier around the same time. I encourage you to go to bed when she does, to make the most of that longer stretch. After that one longer stretch, she will likely wake every few hours to eat.
By 4 months old, you can expect 0-2 feedings per night. If you are enjoying feeding your baby at night, that's great, no need to change anything! If you want to start cutting back on feedings, that's fine too. I recommend a gentle approach of gradually reducing the feeding volume or time (if breastfeeding) at the earlier feeding first. Only start to eliminate the later feeding when the first one has successfully been eliminated. Once a feeding has been eliminated, try not to offer a feeding at that time again. Try other methods of soothing first. Of course you'll want to confirm with your pediatric healthcare provider before beginning night weaning.
By 9 months old, your baby no longer needs a feeding at night (assuming your healthcare provider doesn't have a concern about her weight). But if you and she are both enjoying a night feeding, there's no reason you need to eliminate it quite yet. I do, however, encourage you to put her down awake at bedtime, at least. If she always nurses or bottle feeds to sleep, she won't know how to put herself back to sleep alone and will need your help every time she wakes up. It's normal for people of all ages to wake momentarily between sleep cyles -- we do this too, but it's so brief we don't remember it -- and we want her to know how to go back to sleep when this happens.
After about a year of age, I recommend that parents night-wean because of the risk of cavities when a toddler has milk on his teeth during the night. Seeing a two-year-old get multiple fillings in his teeth would be traumatizing for any parent. I think it's easier to save the nursing or the bottle for the morning. It's fine to offer a sip of water if your baby wakes up during the night, though.
Please also make sure you don't put your baby in the crib with a bottle of milk as this is a risk for cavities, too, as well as a risk for ear infections.
It's wonderful to continue nursing or having a cup or bottle of milk at bedtime after the first birthday, though! Just make sure to brush those tiny teeth before bed. By this age, I recommend you incorporate a story and a song, or some other consistent screen-free ritual, to help your child learn to anticipate bedtime. By doing the same thing every night, your child is able to prepare for the upcoming separation from you and is less anxious. (Some separation anxiety at this age is normal but when we do things like this, we lessen it.)
If your child is past one and is still bottle or breast feeding to sleep, don't panic. Just work on moving the feeding earlier in the evening and putting your baby in bed awake.
It's normal for little ones to protest a change like this in the routine. Parents often worry about their little ones crying at a time like this. But it's perfectly natural for her to dislike the change... and it is very healthy for her to express her feelings.
An important part of parenting is sympathetically supporting children while they express their feelings about our consistent boundaries. Just like insisting on car seats and tooth brushing, sometimes we do things that children don't like. It's part of being a parent. Our children will not be traumatized by loving, clear limits. And the good news is that if you are consistent, your child will quickly adjust to the new routine and her protests will end. It's when we are inconsistent that things are much more confusing and challenging for children.
Night weaning sounds simple but the emotional aspect of it can be challenging for parents. I am here to help. Set up a free consultation and look forward to great sleep for the entire family.
"Oh, my baby just started sleeping through the night at six weeks old. We didn't really do anything." Nonchalant shrug.
Don't you just hate people like that?
Okay, maybe hate is a strong word. But resent their smug satisfaction just a tiny bit?
The truth is that the awfulness of sleep deprivation, rather like childbirth, is hard to remember once you're safely out of it. Rest assured, you'll be there one day soon.
Everyone has been there. There's no way to have a newborn and not be exhuasted. It's part of the journey.
But once the early stages of the newborn period are over -- roughly the first six weeks, by adjusted age -- there are things you can do to tweak your baby's sleep to help yourself -- and your baby -- get better and longer rest. Even during the first six weeks, when you will likely need to feed your baby at least every 3-4 hours during the night, there are things you can do to help make the feedings go quickly so you can get back to sleep as soon as possible.
But when you are in the trenches of sleep deprivation, it can be hard to have the time and energy to figure out just how to do that. And if you have twin babies or older children -- or both! -- it is darn near impossible.
Enter sleep consultants.
It may seem crazy to pay someone to help you teach your child to sleep. After all, sleep is natural, right? Just like breastfeeding. And we've all seen how easy (not!) that is!
Getting help with sleep isn't cheating. It isn't lazy. It's knowing that you can't figure out everything by yourself when you are exhausted. It's accepting help in one of the most vulnerable times in your life. With great sleep on your side, you will be able to achieve so much more in your life. You'll be able to be the parent, partner, friend, employee and self-actualizing person you want to be. No one can be her best when she is exhausted.
Think about it this way: what would you pay to have one single night of great sleep? What if you could pay just a bit more to know that you could have a great night [nearly] every night? Isn't your health and sanity worth that investment? What is more important to your life than feeling rested? What can't you achieve when you are well-rested?
Even more importantly, your baby is suffering when he is sleep deprived. He may enjoy nursing every hour or two throughout the night, but after those first 6-12 weeks or so, it isn't serving him, either. He's probably wired and fussy and unable to focus well on his play -- the way he learns about the world -- when he's not getting the sleep he needs.
(And this is all true whether your baby is a young infant or a boisterous preschooler! You still need rest and so does your child.)
I see so much conflicting advice on Facebook and other parenting groups. This is so confusing to a tired parent. It's hard to know who to trust. And it's easy to feel guilty for wishing it would end. And it's normal to feel miserable when you read that it's normal for a child to wake up multiple times at night for years to come. (This is not true, by the way.)
Sleep consultants -- at least those trained and certified by the Family Sleep Institute -- have months of training in evidence-based approaches to sleep training. There is no fear mongering about how your child will be harmed in learning to self-soothe. Indeed, we discuss studies that show there is zero harm in short-term crying with sleep training older babies and children.
There is a strong emphasis, however, on how much your child needs great sleep to thrive. We talk about the many benefits to both parent and child in getting great sleep. FSI sleep consultants are taught how to coach families with a variety of parenting styles, recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sleep training. Safety is always paramount. We know tired, vulnerable parents need lots of reassurance and positive reinforcement of their hard work to change their lives for the better.
If you and your child are struggling to get the sleep you need, please get help so that you can thrive.
I have years of experience as a pediatric nurse practitioner and now am working as a pediatric sleep consultant. I'd love the opportunity to bring the joy of great sleep to your family. Let's set up a free chat to get you all the rest you deserve so you can get back to enjoying your time together.
Now that we’ve all theoretically survived the transition back to Standard Time — I know some of you are still struggling! — the next challenge many of us face is traveling with small children for the holidays.
Travel is never easy with little ones, who are thrown off kilter by any change in the routine. Most of us can expect extra sugar and processed carbs, extra screen time, limited opportunities for exercise and structure, and as a result, extra tantrums. (To those who are able to avoid those “necessary” evils of travel: I applaud you!)
The first thing I suggest to any parent who is traveling with a small child, especially over the holidays, is lots of kindness and forgiveness for yourself. Please don’t start sleep training or do anything else challenging while you are traveling.
That said, if you have already established good sleep habits for your child, trying to maintain them as best you can — while not making yourself too crazy — will really help the whole family survive this challenging time AND the ensuing aftermath when you get home.
Here are some ideas:
1. Try to maintain as early of a bedtime as you can. Explain to your relatives that if Johnny goes to bed late, he wakes up extra early… and the rest of the extended family will be up extra early as a result, too! If you make an exception and let him stay up late one night, try to get him to bed early the next night. Little ones can handle one exception a lot better than night after night of them.
2. Consider feeding Alicia an early dinner at your temporary new "home" before you go out to a meal with relatives. She will eat better if you offer familiar foods in a less stimulating environment. If she’s starving when you arrive at a restaurant, it’ll be stressful for everyone and she’ll end up filling up on less healthy food. Better to give her chicken and green beans, for example, at home and then the buttered roll when you arrive at the restaurant.
3. If your little one is used to sleeping by herself in her own room, try to maintain that while traveling… even if it means setting up her Pack n Play in a closet (leave a door open a bit for ventilation) or bathroom. These spaces are great, too, for keeping her sleep environment dark and quiet.
4. Consider bringing his car seat on the plane if you think it may make him more likely to sleep there. Some children do better in that familiar cocoon. Others prefer to curl up on the airplane seat. (Of course it’s always safest for a child to travel in a car seat on an airplane… but many families are intimidated by the thought of lugging a car seat onto a plane. If your car seat at home is heavy, consider a lightweight travel car seat like this one -- I use it myself for travel with my preschooler).
5. Bring your white noise from home. If you don’t have one you love, or if yours is bulky, I love this one by Homemedics. It’s lightweight and can be powered by batteries if the power goes out.
6. Pack light — I’ve learned the hard way that my kids never play with the toys I bring when they are in a new environment — but bring along a few favorites. Make sure to pack any loveys and pacifiers your child uses at home. I keep a couple of nightlights in my travel toiletries kit so that I can instantly transform any “too dark and scary” bedrooms and bathrooms. I also bring along my kids’ owl nightlights — they are battery powered and turn off within a few minutes, so I know the nightlight won’t keep them awake. But being able to carry the nightlight to the bathroom makes my little ones feel a lot more secure.
7. Get your little one outside for fresh air and daylight every single day. Even if it's just in an empty parking lot. This will help him adjust more quickly to a different time zone. Fresh air and exercise also tire kids out, helping them nap better and sleep better at night.
8. Limit screen time. With the caveat that all bets are off with on travel days. Whatever keeps them quiet is great. But once you arrive at our new destination, turn off the screen and encourage exploration and movement. Screen time tends to make children's brains wired, even while it keeps them quiet. And screen time in the hour before sleep can make it harder for children to fall asleep. Let them play and run and interact with Great Grampa Joe instead. Save the screen for when you really need it.
9. If you have the opportunity to do so, stay in a hotel with a pool. Pools are amazing for wearing little ones out. And with a pool around, you really don’t need toys.
10. Be prepared to “abort mission” if your little one is falling apart at the family dinner. Children act out as a way to communicate that their needs aren’t being adequately met. It's not their fault. It’s not your fault. It’s just hard for little ones to accommodate the needs of their older friends and relations. They will be more flexible as they get older.
11. And when you get back home, revert back to the old routine immediately. You may experience some protest crying, especially if you indulged in some less than ideal sleep behaviors while you were traveling — like sharing a hotel bed — but if you revert back to the old ways as soon as you get home, your little one should be back on track within a few days. Until the next trip, anyway!
Need some help getting back on track after the time change or recent travel? Totally understandable -- it's not easy! Let’s schedule a free chat and get your family back on track.
There's one essential ingredient for sleep training.
And nope, it's not crying.
Or white noise. Or any specific sleep environment.
It's actually the essential ingredient in changing any human behavior. It's even necessary for changing the behavior of other mammals, too.
It's so easy to forget about. But once we remember, it's so helpful.
Case in point: my four-year-old had a habit of swallowing the water she uses to rinse her teeth after I brush them.
It drove me batty. Because she's not supposed to swallow fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is a known neurotoxin. Ingesting small amounts are almost certainly not dangerous but all the same, I'd rather not risk it.
So it became "a thing" between us. Every night she would defy me when I asked her to spit. And every night I would get frustrated. And then she would laugh. Delighted that she had power, once again, over my emotions.
Until finally, I came to my senses, and tried a new strategy.
Before I brushed her teeth, I said, "Hey Amelie, I bet you can't remember to spit in the sink after you rinse your teeth!" (Four-year-olds are total suckers for reverse psychology.)
I could see her eyes brighten at the challenge. Game on.
I brushed her teeth then handed her the cup of water. She rinsed and spat and turned to me with a triumphant gleam in her eye.
"Whoa! What??? You did remember! That was AMAZING! Give me a high five!"
And that was the end of that battle. As long as I remember to occasionally praise her for spitting out that toothpaste water, she's delighted to comply with my preferences. Eventually, the behavior will become so automatic for her that I won't need to comment on it anymore.
Likewise, when we want to change a child's behavior around sleep, the easiest and most successful way to do it is by focusing on the positive. Find the one thing, no matter how small, that your child did right and praise it to the skies. Make him a sticker chart and use it to acknowledge even the smallest of successes. If you only had to silently return your child to bed 20 times last night and it was 30 times the night before, celebrate! Make a huge deal of it. Give hugs and verbal praise along with the sticker.
Likewise, if you are using a baby gate or Door Monkey to keep your child safe in his room at night, he still gets a sticker or a prize in the morning for staying in his room. Why not? There is no harm and lots of benefit to celebarating the positive.
Along with that, we will totally ignore the negative. We think that commenting on the behavior we don't like will help change it, but it rarely does. So say nothing when your child gets out of bed for the 11th time. Just lead them back to bed without a word. Don't engage. Likewise, if they are yelling or falling asleep at the baby gate, leave them be. Wait for the morning and then celebrate the positive. It will change your child's behavior so much faster.
This approach works even with much younger children. If you are waiting until 6 am for the first time to go get your baby from the crib, make sure to have a huge smile on your face when you go into the room. Scoop her into your arms and smother her with kisses. Hide your frustration from your child and let your love shine, no matter the age.
The best thing I ever read about this was this Modern Love piece from the New York Times, published for the first time more than a decade ago, and reposted recently: What Shamu Taught Me About A Happy Marriage. I highly recommend this entertaining read!
Having trouble finding the positive in your child's anything-but-sleeping behaviors? Schedule a free consult and let's get you and your little one the sleep you both deserve.
It's that time of year again. Where the powers that be decide to torture the parents of small children. The dreaded time change.
The good news is that "fall back" is a lot easier to manage than "spring forward." We can put off thinking about that misery for another six months.
While you can do absolutely no preparation for the time change, this may result in early wakings and disrupted sleep for your family for a few days.
Instead, I recommend you take a few days to transition yourselves. By moving bedtime just a few minutes later each day, you can gradually shift it without causing early waking (read more about why this happens at why-does-my-child-wake-up-so-darn-early.html). You can also shift mealtime a few minutes later each day and this will also naturally help your child's body adjust to the new time.
So let's say your child normally goes to bed at 6:30 pm and gets up at 6:30 am with naps at 9 am and 1 pm. Meals are normally at 7:30, 12, and 5.
Start the transition at bedtime. I'll show a 4-day transition here but if you have time to do it more gradually, all the better!
Night One: Bedtime at 6:45 pm. Try to leave her in the crib until 6:45 am. Naps at 9:15 and 1:15. Meals at 7:45, 12:15, and 5:15.
Night Two: Bedtime at 7 pm. Try to leave her in the crib until 7 am. Naps at 9:30 and 1:30. Meals at 8, 12:30, and 5:30.
Night Three: Bedtime at 7:15. Try to leave her in the crib until 7:15 am. Naps at 9:45 and 1:45. Meals at 8:15, 12:45, and 5:45.
Night Four (the night that the clocks actually fall back): Bedtime at 7:30. And the next day, the wake and nap times will be at the correct standard (not DSL) time. So wake time is at 6:30 am standard time, nap at 9 and 1, meals at 7:30, 12, and 5.
Of course, babies are not necessarily going to immediately fall into line with their new time zone. You may see earlier wake times, disrupted naps, and even poor eating. But if you are consistent -- while also being flexible with nap times and bedtime when your child starts to show signs of being overtired -- you should have your happy, well-rested baby back within the week.
Daylight savings ends on Sunday, November 3rd for of the United States and Canada.
Daylight savings ends in Mexico on Sunday, October 27th.
Still struggling with early morning or middle of the night wakings? Let's chat and get your family the sleep you deserve.
It's 4:30 am. You went to bed too late last night because you finally had the chance to unwind at the end of another hectic day. It was so delicious to relax and enjoy yourself that it was hard to make yourself get up off the couch and go to bed.
And now your beloved child is babbling in the crib. You pull the pillow over your head and try to ignore it but soon the babbling turns to whimpers and then crying. You sigh in resignation and wearily climb out of bed.
You are not alone.
The number one question I get from parents is: how can I get my child to sleep later?
Believe it or not, the culprit is nearly always a too-late bedtime.
What? How can you possibly make bedtime any earlier? You are already rushing from work/daycare/afternoon baby group/walking the dog/picking up the siblings/making dinner. Plus, won't an earlier bedtime make him wake up even earlier? You can't possibly bear that.
Actually, when children miss the ideal window for bedtime, they have more trouble falling asleep and they wake up earlier. This is because their bodies produce a stress hormone, cortisol, when they miss their ideal bedtime. The stress hormone winds them up -- producing that wicked second wind you might observe at bedtime -- and making it harder for them to sleep.
I recommend that children under age 6 have about twelve hours in bed at night. And the ideal wake time is around 6:30 am, from a biological perspective. Counting back from that, the ideal bedtime is around 6:30 pm. Some babies and toddlers can't even make it that long and go to bed as early as 5 pm.
And unfortunately, we adults can't control these times very well. Baby and toddler sleep times are biologically driven, based on the times the sun rises and sets. It's also affected by the rhythm of their meal and play times. Despite the fact that the sun rises and sets at different times throughout the year (unless you are lucky enough to live close to the equator), these times seem to work best for most babies in terms of getting the highest quality sleep.
It's very hard to move bedtime earlier. I know.
My older child, when she was four, was going to bed at 6:30 pm. We also had meltdowns every afternoon at pick up from PreK. She would lie down in the hall of the big public school and refuse to walk. She was also very shy in class and would only speak to one friend.
And then we had a week off from school and I noticed she was sleeping late every morning. So I pushed her bedtime back to 6 pm and suddenly the end-of-the-day meltdowns stopped. Even better, she started speaking up in class. She was a happier, more confident child with that extra half hour of sleep. It made all the difference.
But was it easy? No. We didn't get home until 5 pm. I had an infant to tend to once we arrived. It was a mad scramble to nurse the baby while feeding my four-year-old and getting her ready for bed within the hour. Family dinners went out the window. It was stressful and hard. But it was worth it. And six months later, she didn't need as much sleep and we pushed her bedtime back to 6:30, and then 7.
The very early bedtime is hard work. It may mean that a working parent doesn't get to see his child at night. That's painful. But just like we wouldn't deprive a hungry baby of food, we shouldn't deprive a sleepy baby of the sleep his brain desperately needs.
There are wonderful things about an early bedtime, too. With your child going to bed earlier, you get to start your evening relaxation sooner. Ideally, you set an alarm on your phone to force yourself to go to bed earlier, too. And then working parents can set an alarm to get up extra early, get themselves ready, and then enjoy some wonderful early-morning (but not too early!) quality time with your well-rested little one before work.
And sometimes, an earlier bedtime is all the sleep training you need to do. The middle of the night and early morning wakings can just disappear with the appropriate bedtime.
Best of all, you will likely see dramatic changes in your youngster. After a great night's sleep, he will be calmer, happier, and more able to focus on his play. You will see him developing at his highest potential. Mornings will be less harried and rushed with everyone getting the sleep they need.
Give it a try for two weeks and see how it goes! What have you got to lose besides some sleep debt?
Want some support in making these changes? Set up a free fifteen minute chat with me.