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Consulting on middle ground…

If you’re feeling lost when it comes to your next move in the sleep department. Just know, you are not alone. Well.. clearly you’re not alone. Everywhere you look you’ve got advice on how or what to do to change your baby’s sleep patterns.

It is no secret. I help families get their babies to sleep MORE for a living. Yes, this means more than might be “biologically normal”. Yes, this might mean more than perhaps a baby should sleep.. depending on who you talk to. But the truth of the matter is..

Someone has got to do it.

And yes. That someone, is me.

When I see baby sleep advice on the internet – I cringe. Probably not for the reasons you might think, but because of how polarizing people can be on this topic.

You’re damned if you sleep train, and you’re damned if you don’t.

This is the message I see repeating time and time again.

The competitions as well. OH EM GEE. Just stop!

We’ve got the sleep trainers.. Or sleep shapers.. Or sleep learners.. Or sleep nudgers.. Whatever you want to call them!

“Well I never had to do ANY kind of sleep training and my baby slept perfectly from 10 weeks on. We just never fed to sleep.”

“We started with strict scheduling from birth and it worked PERFECTLY for us, and we had 3 sleeping babies by 12 weeks because of it.”

“I let him cry. It was awful. He vomited. We all cried. But it worked, and it was the BEST thing we ever did for us and our son!”

And then the other side…

“We would NEVER ever sleep train our baby. Our hearts could never take it! We don’t want him to feel abandoned.”

“It would break me into a million pieces to hear him cry for even 5 seconds. We breastfeed and co-sleep all night long. It’s what works for us.”

About 9 months ago I made a firm decision that I would no longer support families using any form of “cry-it-out” sleep training.

Since many people define “cry-it-out” differently, I will offer you my cole’s notes definition.

To me this method is defined as – any period of leaving your baby alone to cry. I’ve got my reasons why I practice in this way, and if you’re curious.. You can read more about how I came to this decision here.

But since I officially came out about my stance, people have been REALLY curious about what I do. Like. Really curious.

A “sleep trainer” who doesn’t do CIO? Is she the answer to our prayers?! (haha.. I put that in there for me. But yes, I might just be).

But seriously, every day I get questions about what I do and how EXACTLY I do it.

Because you know what, what I do.. Is really freaking hard to do! And it DOES not exist in a book. It really does not. I can tell you. I’ve read 29 different sleep books and have yet to see my methodologies anywhere (yes – enter writing a book into 2018’s to-do list).

And I understand the curiosity.

When I was a sleep deprived mom, I think I was THE hungriest mom for sleep information. Seriously. I digested every single thing I could get my hands-on, by anyone who seemed to know what they were talking about on this subject.

^^ and that, my friends.. Is how I learned to do what I am doing now. By reading ALL OF IT. And then actually being so lucky as to have people actually trust me to try it with their babies (thank you guys!!).  

Today a mom in a facebook group asked me a question after I made this statement…

There are ways we can help our babies learn to sleep in different ways, while still being physically and emotionally available to them.

And her question to follow was this…

“But how can you be emotionally and physically supportive without having the baby cry?”

Fair question – right?

And here is where I realized we as a society have a problem.

I feel sometimes like I am the ONLY person who is trying to merge the gap between the sleep trainers, and those who support natural, biological, parenting choices.

It is a big hole to fill some days. And no, I’m not prepared to give the secrets that I have spent the last 3 years learning, away for free.

But the question above.. I would like to answer.

How can we be emotionally and physically supportive of our babies while they are learning to sleep in a different way?

That is how I would reframe the question.

Tears are not necessarily the enemy, my friends. Baby’s cry. They do.

But I would argue that tears in the arms of a loving and supportive caregiver can be healing.

Think about when you have a GOOD cry. Like a disgusting, ugly, snot flying out of your nose, cry. And your partner puts their arms around you and says, “I don’t know exactly why you are feeling the way you are feeling right now, but I want to be here to support you.”

^^ that my friends, is being physically and emotionally supportive. That is healing. 

As a society we see good babies as the ones who are not crying. We see good parents as the ones who can stop their babies from crying the fastest.

But I would love if we could shift our thinking to this….

GOOD babies are ALL of the babies. Because. #babiesareawesome

GOOD parents are the ones who are TRYING to support their babies in whatever way they feel THEY should at that particular moment based on their intuition and instinct.

And really, it is OKAY for people to want to change a pattern of behaviour that is not serving them, and is not allowing them to be the parent they hoped they would be.

If what you are doing now in the sleep department is not physically and emotionally sustainable for YOU, then we have some work we could do together.

Because ultimately, you do have to put the oxygen mask on yourself FIRST, if you are going to wake up and love on that GOOD baby as much as you want to love on them.

When we support our friends we could be saying, “Is there something about what you are doing now that is just not sustainable for you? Something that HAS to change?”

What if we focused on THAT little piece of information, rather than the cry-it-out, don’t cry-it-out, debate.. And saw what we came up with as a result.

You might just find an “in the middle” starting off point for you and your baby. 

And if you’d prefer to save yourself the trial and error of what Suzie, and Sally did first, then please holler at me. I’d like to help make the line from sleepless nights, to more-sleep nights, a lot clearer for you. 

XO

Lara

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Should you sing your baby to sleep?

Over the past year my practice in sleep coaching has evolved. I am asking parents to respond to their babies. This means validating their baby’s cry, using touch while the little one learns to settle in a different way, and responding with voice, eye contact, and constant reassurance if the changes we are making are met with tears.

Babies are sensory creatures. We know this. And when you add in many layers of comfort and connection, sometimes you end up with an overstimulated babe who won’t be soothed by anyone!

This is a place of frustration I really try to help my families avoid.

One of the “things” I kept telling parents to do while settling their babies, was sing.

At the time I started to offer this advice, I really didn’t know why I kept suggesting it. It had worked well for me personally, but I really hadn’t stopped to think too much about why this was a success, and if there was any science behind it.

When my son Theodore was 6 weeks old I picked his “bedtime song”. This was a lullaby I heard at the library. One I loved.. And knew I wouldn’t bore of if I was still singing it 3 years later. When I put him to sleep in his crib through patting, and affirming touch, I sang or hummed this song on repeat. Like I mean, on repeat. Sometimes probably over 100 times.

The song itself is only 6 lines. It is an African lullaby from what I know. It addresses each person in the family. The mama, the papa, the brother, sister, and baby. Each is loved. Each is treasured and honoured in the song. And I love that about it. Every time I sing or hum this song, even if I am doing it for hours.. Or at 3 in the morning, I think about that interconnection. How the 4 of us are family, and how we will forever be connected at the heart.

There are nights where I probably hummed this little song for an hour straight. Patting Theo’s back, waiting for him to make the vulnerable transition from awake to asleep. Something I wanted to be with him to experience when he was just a little guy.

I was a tired mama, but somehow I never tired of this tune. I knew it so well, and I just kept humming. Low and steady. It seemed to flow from me almost effortlessly.

It became a source of comfort for me as well. The thing that I began to know as the last step that would eventually soothe Theo to sleep. Yes it took some time.. And my mind would wander. But the constant humming of the tune over and over on repeat became meditative for me.

Rather than worry about how long I’d been in the room, or how long this particular bedtime or middle of the night soothing session was taking me – I had my plan. I had my constant reassurance I wanted to offer, and it allowed me to remain calm. To have a focal point. To be in control of my actions when in the room with my son. And this allowed me to keep my anxiety very low as I responded to his needs.

I say often that we are connected to our babies on a cellular level. We grew them inside us for many months, and I believe they feel our feelings on the outside, just as they did when they were safe inside. Keeping sleep-time anxieties low while a parent attends to their child, just makes good sense to me. And if singing the same tune lets you do this, then I think that is something to honour!

What I started to notice with Theo, was that humming this tune was all he needed for middle of the night reassurance. We got to a point together where I could enter the room, hum my tune once, and leave. This really affirmed my belief in this technique. It was pretty amazing to see him soothe with my voice alone (sleep wizardry – I know).

What I was actually experiencing was a term researches have called, “synchronicity”. One study I found observed a mom and baby’s body heat, respiration, and heartbeat. The wavy lines she observed would begin to move together when mom began to sing a well-known lullaby to her baby. It was if they became one! The same effect was not necessarily present just from baby being picked up! But their brain and body seemed to join together over this familiar tune.**

I knew for months that Theo had been listening to my voice, getting to know it. But what I didn’t know was that this actually has a scientific definition in the form of vocal timbre. This is, “the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound, or connects with the distinctive tone of a particular singing voice.”

As I sang to Theo, he got to know me. He got to listen to my voice, and know me as the one who keeps him safe, warm, and comfortable. He began to recognize my singing as part of the safety in transitioning from awake to asleep. He got to know me as his “person”.

Every night we were communicating. Differently than if I was talking to him – I believe. He was able to pick up on the emotions that come in the form of sound. And I can tell you, if I was not singing… my emotions would have been all kinds of crazy in the times where I was unsure if he was EVER going to fall asleep. Although I may have been all kinds of worried, the emotion I was able to project was one of calmness, stillness, and love. This was largely led by the melodic tune.

The speed at which he fell asleep got faster with almost every passing night (there were exceptions of course). But having read what I have read now, there is real science behind babies soothing more quickly with sounds that are familiar to them.

Now I know some of you are probably reading this thinking.. Lara.. this is not exactly profound information! People have been singing lullabies all over the world, every night, for many many years!

And yes. This is true, friends. We sing our children to sleep for many different reasons. Some people sing because this is what their parents did before they fell asleep as children, and they want to recreate that love and comfort for their own babies. Some people sing to connect to different aspects of their culture through song, or to share a message or story passed down through many generations.

For me – it began as a way to keep my sanity while I ventured in the realm of responsive nighttime parenting.. But it appears, it was likely much more for my son.

XO

Lara

** More info on Dr. Anita Collins research can be found here https://www.thelullabyeffect.com/podcast.

Beautiful baby photos with thanks to Stacie-Lynn photography.

 

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Prepping for Daylight Savings Time

Here it comes my friends… sneaking around the corner like that creepy clown at the Hallowe’en haunted house. Yup. DUN DUN DUN…

Daylight savings time is coming for us.

Transitioning sleep times can be fairly straightforward, or, it can be a little bit tricky. It really depends on your specific child, how sensitive they are to change, and how sensitive YOU are to change. We know our children feel our feelings as we are connected on a cellular level. So, if changes to your child’s sleep routine cause you a little bit of worry, it might be time to start preparing for the hour where we “fall back”, so you can take this change in stride.

The clocks will go back one hour on Sunday, November 4th at 2:00 am. For frame of reference, 8:00 pm will become 7:00 pm, and 7:00 am will become 6:00 am.

Just like any sleep change, there are a few different techniques you can use to begin to help your child with this transition. I will outline a few below, and those that I feel are easiest for most families to follow.

For all children:

Once Sunday Nov. 4th rolls around, treat the clocks as the true time. You may need to “push” your child ever so gently onto their new schedule, or offer an extra nap or quiet time in the afternoon if they were up unusually early that morning.

For infants and toddlers with a set bedtime:

You can begin making this transition as early as 4 weeks prior to the change. If you are someone who likes to plan ahead, this can suit you quite nicely! If your child goes to bed most evenings at 7:00 pm, begin moving their bedtime 15 minutes later each week. Hold them to a 15 minute later wake-up time the next day, and put them down for their naps 15 minutes later as well. For example;

  • Week 1: 7:15 pm fast asleep

  • Week 2: 7:30 pm fast asleep

  • Week 3: 7:45 pm fast asleep

  • Week 4: 8:00 pm (which will become the new 7:00 pm on November 5th)

For those who have not prepared quite as far ahead, this is still a nice transition to use over the course of 4 days, or a week or two. Work on slowly pushing the time back with each passing night until you arrive at a bedtime one hour later than your usual bedtime, prior to the change. Push naps the next day, and wake-up time as well.

For infants and toddlers with a somewhat flexible bedtime:

My advice on this one is to also be somewhat flexible. A few days before the time change, begin pushing their daily naps slightly later depending on age, and what your child can tolerate without becoming too overtired.

A younger baby will likely respond well to having their naps pushed back by approximately 15 minutes without becoming overtired, whereas an older toddler may be able to manage going for their nap 30 minutes later than they normally do. Push their bedtime back by the same amount of time that day, and you should be able to adjust to the new time within 2 – 4 days.

If your child typically goes to bed between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm each night, aim for the later time over the course of a few days leading up to the change, and then somewhere in the middle of that hour for the few days following the change.

For example; the week before the time change bedtime is closer to 7:15, or 7:30 pm, and the week after the change bedtime is closer to 6:30 or 6:45 pm. You can then begin pushing this time back if it still is not suitable to your schedule.

Yeah. So. I didn’t plan and we were up at the crack of dawn. Now what?!

If you’re reading this November 4th after your child was up at 5:00 am the morning, my best advice is to relax. Hold your child to the wake-up time you expect the next day, and they should make the transition on their own within 3 – 4 days. Older children tend to make this transition quite seamlessly by going by what the clock says on November 4th.

Lastly, get your child outside first thing in the morning for a few days after the change for some fresh air and natural light. This will also help re-set their biological clock and the fresh air will help achieve good naps, and easier sleep that day.

Thank you to Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful photo featured here.

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Toddler Waking More Than the Newborn

Is this your life? Get new baby to sleep. Fight the toddler to bed. Baby wakes up to feed. Toddler wakes up for water. Baby wakes up to feed. Toddler wakes up to tell you about Star Wars. Baby wakes to feed. Toddler wakes and insists she needs to pee. Baby wakes to feed. Toddler wakes and needs a cuddle. Everyone is up for the day! And everyone is seemingly well rested.. well.. except mama!

Honestly. I can remember this time in my life like it was yesterday. It wasn’t yesterday… it was almost a year ago now, but I do recall the sheer sleep deprivation that is having a toddler and a newborn baby.

The birth of a sibling really shakes things up! This is a huge transformative time in a family. Everything you once thought you knew is no more. Everyone is just adjusting to their new roles. And since we know sleep does not exist in and of itself, there are going to be some repercussions to welcoming this beautiful little creature earth side. Your toddler has been sleeping through the night for weeks, months, years, maybe even… and now you are suddenly engaged in a game of “whack a mole” every night bringing them back to their bed.

Just going to take this opportunity to tell you all that after I had Theo I did not sleep for 36 hours. This is the longest I have ever not slept in my life. And I am alive to tell the tale. Haha! But, I will save that for another blog post at another time and stick to the task at hand which is, explaining what is happening when your toddler is sleeping worse than your newborn.

If your toddler was sleeping well before baby was born, I know this is a difficult transition to make. Your go-to strategy may be to draw a hard line in the sand, fire all systems up, and nip this in the bud before it becomes anything worse.

But, you have been following me a while so you probably know this won’t be my recommendation! Hehe.

Our children wake in the night for a number of different reasons.

First of all, they don’t sleep like adults. Their sleep cycles are not comparable to adult sleep cycles, and they spend more of their time in lighter sleep than we do, even at 3 and 4 years old.

Toddlers are also beginning to decipher the difference between real and make believe, which makes some of their nightmare experiences downright terrifying.

And another reason that our toddlers wake is for attention. They used to be the baby. They were the ONLY apple of your eye, and now they have to share you. Wah wah wahhhhhhh… not exactly what they signed up for. The amount of attention they previously received has likely been cut by more than half and so they begin to seek this attention wherever they can get it. Often this means more prolonged requests at bedtime, and various visits in the middle of the night. When you are their captive audience, they absolutely will seek you out. The baby is sleeping mom…. I can have you ALL to myself – and I will!

Now the other struggle you may find yourself in come middle of the night is the “power struggle”. Your toddler has essentially just lost a lot of power with the introduction of the new baby. He used to get what he wanted when he asked. Now he is being told to, “wait until the baby is done nursing,” or, “share your toys with your sister,” or, “don’t hit the baby!”. He used to rule the roost! Wait for a snack he did not. Share his toys he did not. He could play with what he wanted, when he wanted, and all the time he had a captive audience. Now suddenly you may see some powerful requests come middle of the night. “I NEED my Star Wars pajamas!!!” “I NEED my RED water bottle not the BLUE water bottle, and I don’t care if it is 2am! Find the bottle MOM!”.

Yeah.. you get the idea. Have kids they said. It will be fun they said.

And while you’re trying your best to be empathetic, I also know you just can’t deal with the fact that you are up more at night with your toddler than you are with your newborn. The new baby just wants to feed. She’s not making demands about pajamas, night-lights, or the like!

So what can we do to help our toddlers in this transition?

1. Don’t expect them to make big changes before baby arrives.

  • If you’re one of the smart ones and you are reading this BEFORE the birth of your second baby – here is my advice. If it is less than 6 months before baby’s arrival let them keep their comforting items. Keep them in the crib and order a second one for babe if necessary, let them keep their pacifier, and their bottle of milk before bed. Otherwise you are likely setting yourself up for a power struggle, followed by a sleep regression. And as you probably know – once you’re in a power struggle with a toddler, you’ve already lost. Your dignity. Your sanity. You know the drill.

2. Increase opportunities for attention.

  • Really hard to do at first. I know that. But it gets easier, and you will become a pro at this before you know it! Give your oldest child as much focused one-on-one time throughout the day as you can. Play at their level. Let them lead you through play, and engage you how they see fit without the distractions of phone, TV, cleaning, or the like.
  • Think about how much time they are spending with you in the middle of the night, and try to match that in the daytime. Ensure they are getting lots of positive attention in helping to do things for baby as well. “Thank you for getting brother’s blanket, you’re such a helpful big bro!” All these little thank you’s will add up to a big confidence boost, and a love bucket that is just a little more full.

3. Increase opportunities for power.

  • If power struggles at bedtime or middle of the night are part of your equation, increase your toddler’s ability to call the shots.
  • In their bedtime routine; do you want the red toothbrush, or the blue one? Purple pajamas or pink? Straw cup or sippy cup?
  • You can also give them a few cards to use at bedtime to make requests. A card they trade for one more hug, an extra sip of water, milk, or a cuddle. But once you have fulfilled the request, take the card away and return it the next morning. Show that the boundaries you do set are meant to be respected, but allow your toddler to know where these boundaries lie before insisting that they fulfill an expectation they know nothing about.

4. Ensure your toddler is not waking because of an environmental factor.

  • Do they know how to find their soother in the middle of the night? Can they pull their blankets back on when they are cold? Or, should they be in a sleep sack with foot holes like this one made by Halo. Are they falling asleep with a nightlight on, and when they wake in the night it is turned off? Can they turn it back on themselves?
  • Look at the things you do for your child at bedtime, and ask yourself if your toddler can be asked to re-create this come middle of the night. If the answer is no.. you may need to make some changes, or teach your toddler the skills to fulfill these requests and guide them in the middle of the night to do these things for themselves. I know it would be easier for you to just switch on the nightlight tonight – but then this becomes the expectation for tomorrow night too. Guide your child to do this in the night, and they will learn this is something they should start to do for themselves as well.

When it comes to making sleep changes everyone is usually playing the “short game”. The game that is going to get you back into bed as fast as possible on any given night. But I assure you, with a quick fix, a problem persists. I would encourage you to look for the root of your child’s behavior, and begin to work around resolving that need in particular. Lead with your heart. Treat your little one like the human being they are, and surely you will be able to troubleshoot this one in a way that works for both of you.

And a couple of last minute suggestions if it’s still not working out for you…

Repeat the mantra “this too shall pass”, and maybe tattoo it on your forearm so you see it at every turn. 😉

Or consider booking a toddler consultation with me. This is probably my favourite age group to work with and I would love to help you out.

XO

Lara

Thank you to this beautiful family, and feature photography by www.stacielynnphotography.ca.

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Is now the time to make sleep changes?

Every family that I have worked with has asked themselves this question.

I know there is a lot of hesitancy around hiring a baby sleep coach. It is usually the non-nursing partner who is the most skeptical. “Do you really think this baby lady is going to solve our sleep problem? What does she know that google doesn’t?”

Quite possibly nothing would be my answer. Google knows A LOT these days. I know Google could probably teach me how to change a flat tire, but I am still calling my husband to do it for me! And I know Google could probably teach me how to bake a lemon meringue pie… but I’m still picking one up from Save-On on my way home.

I know. I’m being silly again. I tend to be that way. One cannot take all the sleep stuff too serious, or one will never get the babies sleeping. My recipe for getting babies to sleep includes; every sleep book under the sun, all of the googling, as well as, years of experience in putting babies to bed and getting those babies sleeping. It is the experience part that I rely on every day to get me through the difficult nights, and expectedly early mornings.

I always ask the families who have decided to work with me, why NOW is the time. These are some of the responses I have heard.

“We have talked about hiring a sleep consultant many times. I’ve been at my wits end before, but I keep waiting for some improvement to take place. And then it never does. It never seems like the perfect time (i.e. travelling, teething, etc)., but we realize there will never be a perfect time and something has got to give!” ~ Kristen, mom of 15 month old Logan, Delta, BC.

“We just want dad to be able to put her to bed! We have worries, stresses, and thoughts about this not going well. We want to talk with someone who has experienced all of this before us, and can offer us some advice as we make this big transition.” ~ Sarah, mom of 10 month old Abigail, Toronto, ON.

“Because I am literally exhausted. We have been trying to make changes on our own for over a month now, and nothing seems to be working. We are hoping for longer stretches at night, and seeing our baby learn to fall asleep more independently. I can’t imagine how I could possibly go on at this pace.” ~ Amelia, mom of 5 month old Connor, Coquitlam, BC.

The thing is. I get it. I have literally been in the shoes of every one of these parents who is finally reaching out for help. I have felt the effects of true sleep deprivation.

I remember driving a car thinking – I should not be driving this car right now because I didn’t sleep at all last night. I’ve cancelled play dates because the thought of getting out of my pajamas was just too much to bear. I’ve hid from friends and family with their well-meaning advice, and “good” sleeping babies.

 

 

Although my approach is slow and steady, progress is made every single day. I love checking in with families, and hearing about the night before. The ups, the downs, the highs and lows. I am here to weather the storm. I can help prepare a new plan as needed, or assure a family to hold steady as we wait for this moment in time to pass.

Most often, families comment about how they wish they had of started sooner. After one week together, babies are usually falling asleep peacefully in their beds. After two weeks together, the middle of the night stretches are starting to consolidate, and at the end of three weeks nap sleep is becoming reliable and consistent.

Here are some of what a few of our happy families have had to say.

“Things are going well! We’re not ready to shout it from the rooftops, but things are happening. We had two long stretches of consolidated sleep last night and only 2 night wakings! We need some encouragement, but we feel like we are on the right track!” – Ted, Dad to 9 month old William, after Night 4.

“We are feeling great! She had some good stretches of sleep last night. Bedtime was easy. She was awake when I put her down in her crib tonight, and she went down easily without a fuss. We heard her wake once around 12:30 am, but she went right back to sleep. Celebrate with us today. We are feeling good! – Alanna, Mom to 10 month old Harlow, after night 15.

“We are tired today, but we are feeling hopeful. Miles slept in his crib for the first time ever! And this is the first time that Ryan has ever been able to successfully put him down to sleep in his crib! Things are looking great. I am feeling so much better, and I am just so proud of how well Miles and Ryan did together! – Carly, Mom to 5 month old Miles, after night 8.

When it comes to making sleep changes, there are certainly some times that are better than others. If you’re having a hard time deciding if that time is now, please reach out. We can hop on the phone, dive deeper in email, and decide together if now is the right time to make a change, and if I am the right person to help get your baby sleeping.

XO

Lara

Thank you to Astrid Miller Photography and Stacie-Lynn Photography, for the beautiful images featured here.