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Surviving Sleep Over the Holidays

I just got off the phone with my accountant. We were planning our next meeting, and she informed me that Christmas is just over 2 weeks away! Umm… excuse me?! How did this happen?

I felt my heart pound a little harder. The air got a little foggy.. And my throat started to tighten up ever so slightly.

I can’t be the only one who suffers from holiday related anxiety? So much to do. So little time.

Don’t forget to move the elf! Stocking stuffers.. Haven’t even started on those! Where are Grandma and Grandpa going to sleep?! The turkey takes how long in the microwave?

(kidding)

This could arguably be the busiest time of the year. It seems like we are trying to plan a year’s worth of get togethers into the month of December. There are many dinners, way too many desserts, hot chocolates aplenty, light displays, and the like. It is hectic, and if you are a parent to a sensitive child, all of these extra events can increase everyone’s stress levels.

Accommodating your child’s sleep needs over the holidays can be a real challenge. And not every family member will understand your “type A ways” and join you on your suggestion to swap Christmas eve cocktails, for a Christmas eve brunch that better suits everyone’s sleep needs.

So what can we do to survive the next few weeks?

Step 1: Try to get everyone to change their plans to suit you!

I know.. You thought I was joking above about the Christmas Eve brunch thing, but if your family is flexible maybe this is the year to swap a dinner for a breakfast instead. We all get to enjoy each other’s company while we are well rested, and everyone likes a mimosa… am I right?

Step 2: Relax and try to go with the flow..

Okay, so they are not quite as open minded as you had hoped. Well, you are going to have to just relax a bit. If your child goes to bed late just one night out of 7, all hell is not going to break loose for the most part. If they have two car-seat naps on the way to and from visiting family, it is also not the end of the world. Try to live like the other half do for a few days and resist the urge to schedule your child’s every move. I know.. Easier said than done for some of us. But, remind yourself that your track record for getting through really difficult days is 100% so far!

Step 3: Resist the urge to be at EVERYthing..

Are there some events that you might want to pass on to save your child from being crazy over-stimulated, and you needing 10 or more rum and egg nogs just to have a good time? It is okay to say no, sometimes. You know your child best and if they are truly very time-sensitive, you might have to skip a few get togethers this year. Remind yourselves (and your friends), that it won’t always be this way. Children tend to be more adaptable to changes in their sleep schedules the older they become, and this is a year you just have to sit one or two events out.

Step 4: Try to set your child up for sleep success in a different space..

For many families, this can be done. If your child has some pretty solid sleep skills already, they may very well be able to go down to sleep in their pack and play at Aunt Louise’s house while everyone else eats an 8:00 pm Christmas dinner. You know your child best, and whether or not this might be a possibility for you. 

Step 5: Embrace the chaos, and try to find your calm.

Remember, this too shall pass. In a few weeks everything is going to be back to normal-ish. Well, despite the fact that there will be 50% more people at the gym, and a line-up at the bottle return depot.

And a special reminder for the friends and family who don’t remember, don’t know what it is like to have small children, or just want to be super supportive. 

Try to empathize with us right now. We really wish we could be at your “thing”. We really wish we didn’t have to leave earlier than everyone else. We really wish a babysitter was a possibility right now, or that our child didn’t need to hold our hand every single time they fell asleep. But this is the reality of where we are at. So please, offer us your patience, kindness, and support as we navigate the highs and lows of this holiday season with little ones in tow. And share with us that you are here to help however you are needed, and only offer “what worked for you” if you are asked.

Merry Christmas all, and happy holidays to you and yours!

XO

Lara

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Why is my child waking up at night?

Why is my child waking up at night?

How come my baby can sleep 2 hours uninterrupted some nights? And 5 hours the next?

I have seen her sleep better than she is!!! Why isn’t she doing this every night?

Pretty much the million dollar questions, I know! And ones I am still answering daily, even after I have started working with a family, and we are problem solving to find out what exactly makes their baby “tick”.

The truth of the matter is, babies do not sleep like adults.

As adults we sleep in 3 – 4 hour stretches at nighttime. Typically we connect two sleep cycles such as these and form our 6 – 8 hour night. Sometimes this is with little to no disruption. Other nights, we are wide awake middle of the night and wondering if we should get up and be productive! 

All of us wake up at night. Me. You. The nextdoor neighbour. The guy who walks the dog. Yes! We all wake up at night. We might nudge our spouse over. We might wake up to pee (one can only hope..).  Or we might get a glass of water.

Babies also wake up at night. However, their sleep cycles are much shorter than adults. These range from 30 – 45 minutes during the day, and are more like 90 minutes to 4 hours at night.

Since we know that the transition from “awake to asleep” is a vulnerable change of state for most humans, with infants being no exception – it is natural and normal that a baby might need some assistance to connect from one sleep cycle to the next.

Inconvenient for us. Yes.

Inconvenient for baby. Probably much less so.

Of course there are other factors at play beyond a baby’s sleep cycle being shorter on average than an adults, that can contribute to night wakings.

What time you are putting your child to bed, and what their daily rhythm looks like will play a part in this process.

I certainly do see children have more trouble sleeping when they are put to bed for the night overtired. I also see them struggle to sleep when their day has been super busy, or full of events that are out of the norm. 

When we get behind the child’s eye, and think through what a busy day might mean for that child.. some of their night waking behaviour sometimes becomes more clear.

For example; baby is taken to a large family dinner.

These are all hypothetical, and by no means am I saying you shouldn’t take your baby out to a family dinner once in a while. Your baby will certainly benefit from going out to a large family dinner once in a while!

But, I am using this as an example of how the repercussions of this might actually present themselves in your child’s sleep.

  • Baby’s nap is cut short so that the family can ensure they are on time for the start of supper.
  • Baby’s post-nap snack of fruit, veggie, and dairy is cut, and a granola bar is offered in the car instead.
  • Baby spends time in arms at the gathering; going from person to person who oodles at their cuteness.
  • Baby does not spend any time on the ground crawling around, because the family has a large dog, and parents are nervous about this.
  • Baby spends very little time crawling, furniture cruising, and maximising energy output.  
  • Baby is fed a food item for dinner that they have never had before.
  • Mom is nervous about breastfeeding babe in front of her cousin, and therefore skips a regular feeding time without even noticing this.
  • Baby falls asleep for a minute or two in the car seat on the way home, and then has difficulty transferring to the crib.
  • Baby wakes frequently overnight as a result of x, y, z.

When our days follow a regular rhythm and predictability, baby does get used to this. And it also makes it easier to troubleshoot on those difficult nights what exactly might have gone wrong, if anything.

Night wakings are for many reasons. We know this.

Thirst. Hunger. Milk. Extra touch-time. Cuddles. Comfort. Checking you are still there.. just to name a few!

Now what I will say is this;

Many babies do seek to recreate the way they fell asleep at bedtime, to transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is natural. It is normal.

But, if the “thing” you are finding your child “needs” in the middle of the night is the same thing they required to fall asleep at bedtime, you may want to help them learn to fall asleep in a few different ways, and see what comes of this exploration?!

And as always, I am here if you prefer to make the line a little straighter, and journey to sleep in a way that is a little more concrete. 

XO

Lara

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Surviving Sleep Over the Holidays

I just got off the phone with my accountant. We were planning our next meeting, and she informed me that Christmas is just over 2 weeks away! Umm… excuse me?! How did this happen?

I felt my heart pound a little harder. The air got a little foggy.. And my throat started to tighten up ever so slightly.

I can’t be the only one who suffers from holiday related anxiety? So much to do. So little time.

Don’t forget to move the elf! Stocking stuffers.. Haven’t even started on those! Where are Grandma and Grandpa going to sleep?! The turkey takes how long in the microwave?

(kidding)

This could arguably be the busiest time of the year. It seems like we are trying to plan a year’s worth of get togethers into the month of December. There are many dinners, way too many desserts, hot chocolates aplenty, light displays, and the like. It is hectic, and if you are a parent to a sensitive child, all of these extra events can increase everyone’s stress levels.

Accommodating your child’s sleep needs over the holidays can be a real challenge. And not every family member will understand your “type A ways” and join you on your suggestion to swap Christmas eve cocktails, for a Christmas eve brunch that better suits everyone’s sleep needs.

So what can we do to survive the next few weeks?

Step 1: Try to get everyone to change their plans to suit you!

I know.. You thought I was joking above about the Christmas Eve brunch thing, but if your family is flexible maybe this is the year to swap a dinner for a breakfast instead. We all get to enjoy each other’s company while we are well rested, and everyone likes a mimosa… am I right?

Step 2: Relax and try to go with the flow..

Okay, so they are not quite as open minded as you had hoped. Well, you are going to have to just relax a bit. If your child goes to bed late just one night out of 7, all hell is not going to break loose for the most part. If they have two car-seat naps on the way to and from visiting family, it is also not the end of the world. Try to live like the other half do for a few days and resist the urge to schedule your child’s every move. I know.. Easier said than done for some of us. But, remind yourself that your track record for getting through really difficult days is 100% so far!

Step 3: Resist the urge to be at EVERYthing..

Are there some events that you might want to pass on to save your child from being crazy over-stimulated, and you needing 10 or more rum and egg nogs just to have a good time? It is okay to say no, sometimes. You know your child best and if they are truly very time-sensitive, you might have to skip a few get togethers this year. Remind yourselves (and your friends), that it won’t always be this way. Children tend to be more adaptable to changes in their sleep schedules the older they become, and this is a year you just have to sit one or two events out.

Step 4: Try to set your child up for sleep success in a different space..

For many families, this can be done. If your child has some pretty solid sleep skills already, they may very well be able to go down to sleep in their pack and play at Aunt Louise’s house while everyone else eats an 8:00 pm Christmas dinner. You know your child best, and whether or not this might be a possibility for you. 

Step 5: Embrace the chaos, and try to find your calm.

Remember, this too shall pass. In a few weeks everything is going to be back to normal-ish. Well, despite the fact that there will be 50% more people at the gym, and a line-up at the bottle return depot.

And a special reminder for the friends and family who don’t remember, don’t know what it is like to have small children, or just want to be super supportive. 

Try to empathize with us right now. We really wish we could be at your “thing”. We really wish we didn’t have to leave earlier than everyone else. We really wish a babysitter was a possibility right now, or that our child didn’t need to hold our hand every single time they fell asleep. But this is the reality of where we are at. So please, offer us your patience, kindness, and support as we navigate the highs and lows of this holiday season with little ones in tow. And share with us that you are here to help however you are needed, and only offer “what worked for you” if you are asked.

Merry Christmas all, and happy holidays to you and yours!

XO

Lara

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The Myth of Self Soothing

This topic of conversation is getting a lot of attention these days from what I can see. Everywhere I look people are discussing whether or not infants can self-soothe. Some sleep consultants are speaking out saying infants very much can do this for themselves. They have seen these behaviours with their own eyes, and believe that this is a natural development infants need to make in order to put themselves to sleep.. While some bloggers, or natural parenting experts, question how a baby could be possible of such a feat.

Can a baby self-soothe?

I think this largely depends on what your definition of “self-soothing” is.

When I first heard the term “self-soothing” my initial reaction was.. Okay.. so my baby has to learn how to soothe, or comfort, herself. If I am always doing this for my baby, then she will never have a chance to do this for herself. What about when I am not there to soothe her? For example; when she is on the playground, or when she is at daycare. What will she do in the moments where she is scared or frightened, and has to figure this out on her own?

I’ve noticed that some people don’t share this exact definition with me. Some people are talking about the very specific behaviours babies develop in order to put themselves to sleep. I’m talking about an infant sucking their thumb or fingers, sucking on the inside of their lip, or rubbing the corner of their blankie on their face to go to sleep. These are all behaviours I have seen infants do before they go to bed at night. This is often what I refer to as self-settling behaviour. And I put an emphasis on seeing this develop through infancy, toddlerhood, and the preschool years, through parents cued care in response to their children’s needs, or emotional expressions.

Certainly some infants come out of the womb sucking their thumbs and fingers. But others do not.. And they will pick up some of the above behaviours while their parents are teaching them to “self-soothe” through some particular form of sleep training. Sometimes I believe an infant is strengthening a skill we have already seen them do from birth, but it is something they have not been relying on consistently to put themselves to sleep. And at other times I think they develop a way to fall asleep quickly from a place of stress, because they are not being comforted by their caregiver, and their body is eliciting a fight or flight response.

When it comes to sleep, and sleep science.. It is very difficult to find any conclusive sleep training studies that are valid and meaningful. Most are flawed in some way, shape or form, and it is not every day that a parent hands over their baby and gives a professor permission to let them cry-it-out without some form of parental response. Often data numbers are low, or external variables have not been fully accounted for when conclusions are made.

Therefore, I have used brain anatomy to determine where I stand on this debate. I look at our brain, and the field of psychology, in determining whether or not a baby is actually able to comfort itself; as my original definition of self-soothing demonstrates.

We know that babies are born with a developed hippocampus and amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. The hippocampus allows us to store long-term memories, and together these parts of the brain function within the limbic system. This system is responsible for us developing fight or flight reactions in stressful situations. Infants are born with the capacity to feel fear, and distress, and they are able to elicit fight or flight reactions as necessary for their survival.

In order for us to truly regulate our emotions and thus, “soothe the self”, there is a very important part of the brain that needs to fully develop. This would be the prefrontal cortex. This brain region allows us to develop complex thought, make decisions based on those thoughts, and moderate our social behaviour. Babies are not born with a developed prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is actually not fully developed until we are in our mid to late twenties.

Based on these facts alone, I do find the definition of an infant self-soothing to be quite confusing, and somewhat misleading. If we, as their parents, are barely capable of thinking rational thoughts at times… how can we expect that this is what our babies are doing when they are left alone to cry?

I realize that this blog is likely to ruffle some feathers, and that is okay. I suppose I am opening myself up for some healthy debate on the subject. Or, if you have another scientific finding I have not included in coming to my conclusion here, I am all ears.

When I work with families, I am often helping them move from co-sleeping, to independent sleep. It is not to say that a change in behaviour does not evoke some feelings in our babies. It very much does. But I believe our children can learn through watching us every day. They learn self-settling behaviour through cued care, and this means, watching how a parent does make an effort to comfort their crying infant. Sometimes this means crying in a parent’s arms, sometimes this looks like a parent holding their child’s hand, and sometimes this is mom or dad sitting beside baby saying, I am here for you.  

I ask the families that I am working with to be there for their babies as they express the emotions they are feeling, and this is very hard for some families to do. Of course it would be easier for us to walk out the door and lean on the idea that we are teaching our babies a positive thing by having them “self-soothe”. But ultimately, is that what we are teaching them here? That is a question only you can answer for your family.

I am not writing this to guilt, or shame anyone. Both of my children have endured some form of sleep training whereby I thought I was doing them a service in teaching them independence from me, and how to put themselves to sleep without any sleep props or sleep associations.

But ultimately, I do believe our babies need us. And usually if we dig deep, we can find a way to be there for them in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes we just need the right support ourselves, to get us to that place. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have that when I needed it most.

XO

Lara

Photos seen here shared with permission from the beautiful and talented, Stacie-Lynn Photography.

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STOP Shaming Tired Moms

If you’ve been following me a while you probably know that I am not your average baby “sleep trainer”. I actually try to achieve as much sleep as possible without initiating any formal sleep training.

Ultimately, I work with families and we shift behavior, yes. I have been known to nudge a baby or two to a better night’s sleep. But I want the process to feel more natural, more normal, and in-line with a baby’s unique temperament, a family’s unique needs, and their desire for a strong attachment with their infants.

Every time I do a consultation I ask families a variety of questions. One I ask the most often is..

Why does this have to change? Why is your current scenario one that is not sustainable? Why do we have to make some changes here today?

I let parents blurt out whatever is in their heart at that given moment.. and I hear a lot of different things.

“We are not sleeping. We are not functioning. We are not able to be the parents we hoped we would be because of this lack of sleep.”

“If something doesn’t change soon we are going to lose our patience and we are just going to let her cry-it-out, which is something we don’t want to do.”

Most often, it is the parents wanting to make a change so that they can parent the way they had imagined. So that they can move on from sleep being the ONLY focus of every day, so that they can begin to lift above the cloud of sleep deprivation and enjoy their baby more.

But sometimes, they are worried about their baby too.

“I’m worried she is not getting enough sleep for her physical and emotional development.”

“I know he is supposed to be getting more sleep than this, and I feel like we are doing him a disservice because we can’t get him to sleep more than he does.”

“We are worried that his body is not getting the rest it needs in order to thrive.”

“We are worried that she will be behind her peers if she doesn’t begin to sleep well.”

Now.. I am not here to say that sleep is not important.

Sleep we know is very important.

Without sleep, our bodies do not restore and recover. Our cells regenerate in our sleep, and we rid our bodies of toxins to make space for new connections in our brains.

But here is the thing… almost every single baby I have worked with is thriving. THRIVING. They may wake up 5 – 7 times per night. They may take 2 x 20 minute naps in a day. But you know what, these babies are THRIVING.

They are weighing in at amazing weights. They are healthy. They are whole. They are reaching all of their developmental milestones right on cue! They are reaching new heights, babbling new words, and creating connections each and every day before their parents’ eyes. And they are securely attached to their caregivers, and loved beyond measure.

Yet somehow these parents have been made to believe that their children are inadequate? That their child is not thriving because they are up more than 1 or 2 times a night to tend to their needs? And that they are failing because they are not getting them the calculated number of hours of sleep as recommended by some book, or some blog somewhere that may or may not know the first thing about their infant.

So. Can we stop?!

Can we just stop this mom guilt, motha f*ckin shame?! PLEASE!

I’m on a rant. It is true.

But I want the world of “baby sleep professionals”, wherever you may be, to stop selling your packages by guilting parents into believing they are screwing up their children.

Yes. I am probably going to get some backlash on this one.. but I really can’t take it a minute longer.

I tell every parent I meet this – Yes I want your baby to sleep more.. but that is because I want YOU to get more sleep. YOU are the one who is not thriving here. YOU are the one who is tired beyond what you can take. YOU are the one who feels like you are barely making it through the day.

But LOOK at your baby!!!!!!!

Are we looking at the same baby?! Because the baby I see here right before my eyes is a happy, healthy, beautiful, interesting, dynamic, chubby, cute, and securely attached little infant. Your baby is perfectly fine – and somehow she is getting the sleep she needs.

Yes, she may be on your boob all night. But – that girl right there.. she is looking pretty damn rested. Ha! It is YOU who has the bags under your eyes. (Okay.. so.. I don’t say the last part, but.. you know what I mean!)

I come at this honestly, friends.

As some of you may know if you’ve been following my stories on instagram, my son has a slight developmental delay in gross motor development. It is very small – and I won’t begin to pretend for a second that I know about the struggles other moms face as they work through their children’s physical and emotional delays.

I look at my son, and I also see a beautiful, thriving, 14 month old, baby boy. He may just be learning to crawl. His legs give out beneath him every time he tries to stand, and his core strength needs a little work. We are hoping he will have a 6 pack by next Christmas if we keep up with his regular physio schedule. 😉

But here is the thing. My baby. He sleeps.

He lives with me. He never had a choice! Ha.

The kid sleeps 11 straight hours at night, and takes 2 x 1.5 hour naps each day. That is MORE than the average 14 month old.

Could I get him more sleep if I tried?

No. I really do not think I could possibly get him any more sleep than he gets currently.

If I did get him more sleep, would he have been more likely to meet his previous gross motor developmental skills on time?!

No. I really don’t think that has had anything to do with it. The kid has slept very well most of his life.

He is who he is, and I love him dearly for that.

But he is going to do things when his body is ready and prepared to do so. I will be right there cheering and nudging him along as best I can, but ultimately, it is his body’s choice when he will walk.

And to me. Sleep has very little to do with the equation.

So celebrate your babies for all they are my friends. The sleepy ones, and the sleepless wonders. They are perfectly designed for you. And they are thriving.

XO

Lara