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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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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

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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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Newborn Sleep: Expectations vs Reality

When I began my parenting journey 4 years ago, I really could not have prepared myself for all of the changes I was set to experience.

I thought I was ready.. I really thought I was. I had always LOVED working with children, and I really thought I was ready for my own. Although my experience at the time with babies was slim to none, I still felt confident that I would be able to crush this mom thing just as I had crushed many of my other goals in my (then) 28 years of life.

When July 2013 came along and I felt like I wasn’t exactly “crushing it”.. I started to spiral down a little hole. Lucky for me I found lots of people who pulled me out.. but the negative self talk is something I still remember to this day.

I really thought I would have it all together, and everywhere I looked it appeared that everyone else certainly did. Why was I such a fail?! Hint – I wasn’t a fail. I was just a new mom, and my expectations were different than the reality of life at home with a new infant. Had I actually known what to expect, I probably could have let a lot of those ridiculous expectations go, and just enjoyed my baby more.

I had certain expectations when it came to preparing for my new baby. I would need a nursery, yes. Of course. Because she was DEFINITELY going to be sleeping there from (almost) day 1. I would need a beautiful crib, with a safe non-toxic mattress, and some sleepers of course. Little shoes. Cuz.. baby shoes are adorable.

Swaddle. What.. what is a swaddle? Maybe I will get one of those swaddle-type blanket things but.. I probably won’t be needing that… that just seems like another “bad habit” I am going to have to undo at some point. And a soother – pacifier – whatever you call it.. I DEFINITELY won’t be needing that! Have you seen a toddler with a soother?! How silly does that look?

I prepared myself for the birth of course. People told me it would be painful. I read some books on French parenting, because supposedly they are doing it better than us over there.. and I read, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” because well.. everyone else was reading it. But I am pretty sure I skipped the chapters on baby sleep, not because they weren’t important, but I just figured.. my baby will sleep. I see babies sleeping everywhere all over town. Obviously babies just sleep when they are tired and we will go about our day in the way we always have.

I certainly won’t be one of those parents who change their whole lifestyle for their offspring! Those people are LAME.

Right?!

Wrong. Haha.

One of the things that I think nearly killed me as a new mom was how different my expectation of parenting was from my reality. I literally expected that babies just sleep when they are tired. And while this is true for some… I had a crash course in infant sleep when I found myself with THE world’s crankiest (I still believe), most over-tired, highly sensitive, colicky, newborn, on my hands.

I was introduced to Dr. Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s pretty darn quick. Swaddling, shushing, side-lying nursing, and holding, the shuggling, and sucking were all so helpful in calming the little fusspot that was my new baby.

I learned about swaddle blankets, pacifiers, baby wearing, and awake windows. I learned about white noise, dark rooms, miracle sleep suits, and safe co-sleeping. I learned about late nights, early mornings, room sharing, husband sleeping on the couch, mom sleeping wherever she can get a few minutes in, and baby wearing. I learned to trust my gut. 

And then because I had a new baby who DID not sleep well, you can probably guess what I was bombarded with next, right?

Yup. Sleep training.

Controlled crying. Cry-it-out. Extinction. Gradual Retreat. Camping out. Sleep training in all its glory was every place I looked. I started to take books out of the library that promised 12 hour nights by 12 weeks, and felt like a total loser when I could not stick to the strict schedules they recommended. 

And my goodness I was desperate for sleep, but I just couldn’t seem to get my daughter the sleep she needed. How come so and so can get her baby to sleep at a restaurant, and I can’t even get this baby to sleep in my arms?! Hint – babies have different sleep personalities. What?! They do?

And I felt crushed.

I think most people reading this today know how all of this turned out for me. It led me into a place I never imagined I would be – coaching families every day through their children’s sleepless nights in a way that feels good. No controlled crying. No cry-it-out. No extinction. Love, understanding, and nurturing around infant sleep. Trying to line the stars up so our babies sleep well, but never forcing a round peg into a square hole.  And this led to the birth of my workshop as well..

I want new moms to know what they are up against. I want you to go in feeling like you have given all of this some thought before people start shoving the – YOU NEED SLEEP pamphlets into your diaper bag. Let’s connect around the topic of infant sleep and get you thinking about it with a level head, an open heart, and a clear mind.

Don’t get caught up in the expectation versus reality downward spiral. Let’s level the two out, and have you feeling empowered, ready, and supported in your baby’s sleep journey.

Join my workshop and learn about all of this and SO much more in the comfort of your own home. It is going to be such a rewarding experience – I know that.

You can get your seat to the workshop, and read more about it, here.

I look forward to being your host.

XO

Lara

Thank you Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful baby mama photos as always.