Posted on 2 Comments

Is sleep training the magic ticket for mom’s anxiety?

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for a while. But it is such a sensitive subject, I have struggled to figure out how!

I would say I was inspired by my friend and colleague Lauren Alysha Heffernan of Isla-Grace, and her post on “Wake Windows and Sleep Schedules”. She addresses an issue, that many of us in the sleep coaching industry have been somewhat ignoring. And one that is so important for us to bring attention to.

The “too lazy did not read” of this post is… Sleep training will not eliminate your postpartum depression or anxiety. 😉

Now, it may give you a focal point. A place to put your attention. A subject to think about and busy your mind with. All of those things happened for me when I was experiencing postpartum anxiety with my daughter. And it may decrease your depression and anxiety for a little while. But, it also may not. And in fact, it also might make it worse. Something very few people talk about. 

I remember telling my sleep consultant at the time, “If I could just get this baby sleeping… I am sure my anxiety would be so much lower.”

Now, if I had a dollar for every time I have heard that line since… I would probably have $50 or so. 😉

I ask every family that I work with, “is anyone in the family experiencing anxiety or depression?”. 90% of the families I work with reply. “Yes”. I then ask, “has it been diagnosed by a medical professional?” And 75% then answer, “No”.

In our consultation I always ask why this is… and many parents say that they are certain once their baby starts sleeping better, they will no longer experience these levels of depression or anxiety.  

Now, there might be some truth to this.

We know that lack of sleep is certainly related to a decrease in overall mood, and mental wellness. Experiencing regular, repetitive sleep deprivation is certainly met with increased levels of clinical depression and anxiety. We know that babies and toddlers deprive us of sleep! So making the correlation that regular sleep disruption, night wakings, and insomnia, rob us of our mental health… is a fair one to make! And one that can be statistically proven as well.

But the relationship between sleep, and postpartum mood, is a very complex one. Add in the hormonal changes, and HUGE mental shift in becoming a new mother, or mother for the second or third time, and you’ve got a bit of a crazy cocktail.

Now in Lauren’s piece, she draws attention to a new mom’s obsession with awake times, scheduling, and finding the best possible sleep schedule for their baby. She asks mothers to consider what type of person they were prior to having a baby, and how this might be presenting itself in their parenting. Were you someone who was high achieving, who set goals and could easily achieve them with the right methodologies and practice? If yes, you will likely find a lot of comfort and solace in a baby sleep schedule. *Hint – this was me at 5 months postpartum with my daughter*.

But, what about when your baby does not follow that regular predictable schedule that all other babies seem to be able to follow? It can make you feel like a total failure. *Hint – this was also me at 7.5 months postpartum*. And I have actually had moms tell me they cannot work with me because they were unable to follow the awake times I was asking of them in our consultation without feeling defeat. (Of course, I can almost always tweak things to help them feel some level of success). But, this is anxiety at work my friends! And it is a scary hairy beast! Not one to be ignored. And bringing attention to it BEFORE sleep work, can actually improve your baby’s sleep, while improving your mental health! More on that to come.

Did you know, a recently published study in The Journal of Early Child Development and Care found a positive correlation between the use of infant books that promote strict routines and increased levels of maternal depression, and decreased levels of self efficacy? (Please don’t hand your new mom friends Babywise… yes I might get some backlash for that). But it can feel like you are trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. And often new moms can’t handle this level of pressure! Heck… many experienced mamas can’t handle it either.

Now some level of sleep training, or sleep coaching, or sleep shaping, or whatever route you so choose, may help your family get more sleep. And as a result, you might start sleeping more.. And you might find you are better mentally fit to work through any remaining feelings of depression or anxiety you are experiencing. Or, you might find that yes… poof.. They are gone with the wind!

But I can tell you – for many, sleep coaching is not a magic ticket out of anxiety.  

I have worked with MANY families, and with every family I have worked with.. I have been able to increase the amount their child does sleep. But I can tell you, this doesn’t always mean that mom and dad begin sleeping well. For some, the anxiety and depression remains just as high as before we started. And for many, this is a defeating moment as well.

Now I have a sleeping baby, and I can’t sleep?! What the f*ck is wrong with me now?

Or their baby starts to sleep, but they are still analyzing every movement their baby makes in the night. Obsessing over every little detail, because it brings some level of comfort and confidence to analyze and problem solve. Two habits leftover from a successful pre-child adult life, and leftover from having a baby who DOES NOT SLEEP.

Now what I will tell you, is working on getting your anxiety or depression medically diagnosed and supported, can actually help your baby start to sleep better.

Hey now, what now?! Working on my own mental health might actually help my baby sleep better? Even without any form of sleep coaching or behavioural intervention?!

Yes.

Yes, it may!

You grew that baby for 10 months. It is connected to you on a cellular level, and it feels every feel in which you feel. Now, I am not trying to say you are projecting your anxiety on your baby (although a few of you might be nodding along now going.. Um… yup.. I’m totally doing that..), but what I am trying to say is.. If you are anxious about your baby going to sleep, they know that. If you are holding and rocking your baby in arms, riddled with anxiety about it going to sleep, it will feel that anxiety, and then also become anxious about transitioning from awake to asleep, and then not sleep, and the negative feedback loop continues!

But the good news here… making small changes to your own mental health and well-being, may help baby go to sleep more easily. It may help your expectations become a bit more realistic, and as a result, you might even enjoy that little 14 pound cutie a little bit more than you already do. You are feeling the love, baby is feeling the love, and bada bing bada boom.. Baby’s sleep improves.

Now, the intention of this blog is NOT to guilt anyone who did sleep train their baby in direct response to the anxiety they were experiencing. (I’m raising my hand here guys.. I was that girl!). And if sleep training did help alleviate all of your postpartum stress or woes – good for you, more power to you!

But, the purpose and outcome I am hoping to achieve here is that no new mother will put all of their “eggs” into the “sleep training” basket. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Take care of YOU first, and baby will follow. 

If you do need some postpartum support, and you are in the Vancouver area, I recommend the Pacific Postpartum Support Society as your first touch point.

Thank you to my girl @stacielynnphotography for the beautiful photos you see here. 

XO

Lara

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on 2 Comments

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.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

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.