Baby is STILL Not Sleeping!!!

I am writing this post because even though I have others on here about sleep training, I recently had a working mom friend whose baby is in daycare ask me what she could do to help her four-month old sleep… knowing that she can’t be around during the day to work on the naptimes (which, IMHO, is the best starting point).

I was a little doubtful that tips alone could help the situation since every day care is different and you don’t know exactly what protocol your little one is following while there.  Maybe they are getting too much sleep there, or too little.  But my friend’s baby was four months old, a very healthy weight, and still waking up at 2am awake and ready to play.  She was also nursing while at home.

So here’s what we did, and it made a huge difference!  I’m passing on the love.  (These tips also work for stay at home moms.)

1.  Put the baby to sleep on its tummy.  Sorry, I have to go with this one here.  A healthy four month old is perfectly capable of sleeping on his/her tummy.  If they can’t stay asleep on their back–i.e. they seem to wake up all the time or can’t get to sleep well in the first place– switch them to their tummy and see if it makes a difference.  Sometimes this is all it takes. DO NOT SEND ME HATE/HORROR COMMENTS ABOUT THIS.  If your baby has breathing problems, neurological problems, or you just have a weak conscience about this issue, I respect that.  Skip this one.

2.  Do not let them take a long nap in the evening. Working parents are notoriously tired after their long work day, but allowing Junior to sleep in the evening is totally against your best long term interests.  Sacrifice having peace for your dinner time to having peace in your sleep time.  If your little one is asleep in the carseat on the way home, let them sleep long enough for you to change your clothes when you get home, get a cup of coffee, whatever, and then wake them up!  Try to keep them awake as much as possible before 9pm.  They can catnap if necessary, but do not let them sleep more than 45 mins.  I used to just sling my little babies around for parts of the evening so if they slept, it was in the noisy kitchen, living room, or while I was doing laundry and bending over them!  And the best part is, Dad can help with this segment.  Most babies are fussy between 5 and 9 anyway, so just roll with it and keep them with you while they’re fussy.  The goal is to put them down around 9 or 9:30 and have them be SOOO GRATEFUL they get to sleep!  They can’t do this, however, if they’ve slept from 5-7.

3.  Tank them up. If you nurse your baby, nurse them frequently throughout the evening so their belly is totally full by 9 or 9:30pm.  You might feel empty, but let them cluster feed anyway so they are really topped off.  The goal is to put them down totally full.

4.  Get a sensible bedtime routine. Babies usually have lots of structure at daycare.  Keep this going at home.  If you are going to bathe them, change their clothes, or do any other stimulating thing, do NOT do it before bedtime.  Do it earlier in the evening when they’re fussy and you don’t know what to do with them.  I repeat: make sure they are changed and pajama’d before the bedtime hour.  The worst thing in the world is when your baby is drowsy in the late evening and ready to fall asleep on you–and you are ready to lay them down–but then you remember you forgot to change their diaper, and you feel their pjs and they’ve got a huge wet ball in there already.  They’re never going to make it through the night without leaking, but now you have to totally disturb your blissful sleeper. Not good.

I used to do this stuff around 8pm.  Then I had time to calm them way down.  When it was getting close to magic time, I’d institute some brief calming ritual which signaled to them that bedtime was coming (if they’re weren’t already falling asleep).  I used to take my little ones to their room, dim the lights a little, and read them a short bedtime story in the rocker.  Something like “Time for Bed” (board book) or “Goodnight Moon.” Sometimes I’d read it twice if they were really awake.  Then I would turn on the air purifier (wonderful white noise!) and lay them in their cribs… yes, on their tummy =)  They usually went out like a light.

If they fussed, I’d stand over them and pat them gently down the back.  Say something soothing like, “shh, shh, it’s time for bed now…” and repeat.  Then leave and see if they fall asleep.  If they don’t, go back in a couple mins and pat/rub again.

5.  Do not disturb the baby once you’ve laid them down.  You have groomed them for bed, now it’s time to let that work.  Do not pick him/her back up unless they’re crying hard.  If they’re fussing, just pat and soothe and repeat.  Do not turn lights back on, do not change diapers, do not change clothes…and definitely do NOT take them back out and start playing with them again.  Do not bring them back out into the living room din.  You want to teach them that nighttime is a calm, quiet time, and nothing to be upset about.  Keep things low and quiet, or turn on some soothing lullabye music.

If a baby is crying hard, you can try a pacifier briefly.  Even if your baby does not use a pacifier, sometimes giving them an opportunity to suck will calm them down.  Most babies will suck ferociously for a min or two, trying to calm down, and then pop out the pacifier all by themselves.  You can do this while holding the baby, or while they are on their tummies in the crib.  If they pop out the pacifier and can stay calm, bravo.  Leave the room and try again.  If they immediately start crying again, pop it back in again for another min.

6.  Go for the dream feed.  One author, Tracy Hogg, suggests giving babies a “dream feed” before you go to bed at night yourself.  I found this particularly helpful for my nursing babies.  If you’ve laid them down at 9 or 9:30 for bed, go in there right before you go to bed at 11 or whatever, and quietly pick them back up for a quick nighttime nurse.  Keep the lights off, everything quiet–just pick up and nurse them while they’re sleeping.  They probably won’t take in very much, but it is a good way to make sure they’re topped off before you hit the hay.  As long as your baby is getting adequate calories during the day, they don’t need a feeding in the middle of the night, so this dream feed helps get them just a bit extra, so they won’t need to wake up at 2 or 3am. They are big enough to make it through until at least 5am.

7.  If your baby does wake up in the middle of the night, keep the rules going.  Do not turn on the lights (use a nightlight).  Do not change diapers or clothes– unless they have “power pooped”.  Do not do anything that would signal to your baby that it’s normal to be awake at this time.  Just go, feed, and put them back in their cribs.  If they fuss then pat, soothe, whisper (or try the pacifier again for a sec if necessary).  You want this to be totally gentle and functional, not disturbing and relational. It’s amazing how easy it is to mix this up though!  It’s so natural to turn on the lights, start talking, and make a big deal.

8.  Toss the baby monitor. AGAIN, DO NOT SEND ME HATE COMMENTS ABOUT THIS.  Obviously if you’re a heavy sleeper or on a different floor than your baby, keep the monitor.  But many moms sabotage their baby’s sleeping at night because they wake up when they hear their baby stirring.  Then they rush in there too early, before the baby is actually crying.  I suppose it makes sense that you would want to rescue your baby before they are really awake and screaming, but I have never ONE TIME heard of this technique working!  Baby is fussing or cooing wide awake in their crib, and Mom goes in there.  Then baby is so happy to see Mom and now it’s Mom time.  This is NOT what you want.

At night, you are not Mom.  You are the Police.  Toss the monitor, wake up when the baby is crying hard enough to wake you, and don’t go in there unless this is the case.  For a healthy four month old, there is no need to rush in there multiple times a night to make sure the baby is still breathing.  Or to see why they’re awake and cooing.  Or for any other silliness.  Remember, nighttime is functional: go in there when the baby needs you, take care of the need, and then go back to bed.  Don’t ignore the baby—Police them, and go in there when there’s a shout-out.  You are trying to send signals that nighttime is different than daytime… you will attend to all “needs” but not other stuff.  Daytime is for friends and bonding, nighttime is for food, sickness, or help.

It’s also ok for them to wake up a little at night.  They are small little people.  Some babies have a blast in their cribs themselves at 3am, but this doesn’t mean you have to get up and check on it.  Even if they’re stirring and fussing a little.  I repeat: at night, your job is only food dispenser and sickness attender.  It is NOT anything else!!

I apologize if some of this sounds harsh, but I had four babies in a row and I promise these things work on healthy, nutritionally satisfied, non-newborn babies.  IT WILL NOT UNBOND THEM TO SLEEP TRAIN THEM.  If you are a working mom, you especially need your sleep as soon as your baby is physically able to give it to you.  For most babies, this is by the three month mark.  Start with these principles and expect some progress within a couple days for a younger baby and 1-2 weeks for an older one.

But what about those babies who just hate to sleep?  I had four babies with very different temperaments and patterns, and the principles still worked.  I had one baby who hated to sleep and still does, at 8 yrs old now.  He was the one whose middle of the night stirrings I had to learn to ignore.  He would turn over and have to get comfortable again.  He would also initially cry himself to sleep when I put him down, for the first 10 minutes, getting louder and then suddenly just dropping off.  I had one baby who had to be woken up for feedings because he would otherwise sleep right through them.  He was the one for whom cluster feeding and the dream feed was very important, to make sure he thrived and my milk supply stayed high.  I had one baby who came out with his days and nights completely reversed (totally knocked out all day and then wide awake all night).  He was the one for whom skipping the evening nap was very important.  Then I had another baby who I suppose was relatively textbook/normal.  She really responded to the routine of naps during the day and the bedtime routine at night.

So this is hard-won advice!!  I am not saying to never feed or attend to your baby in the middle of the night.  You always feed and attend if there is crying, and hope the next night goes better.  But you want to make efforts to influence/coach.  Babies don’t always learn to sleep through on their own, and then you’ll have a toddler who won’t, whose emotional needs are MUCH harder to deal with!  If you work when they’re younger, you will avoid this problem.  So feed and attend, but always do it in a functional way at night until the nighttime waking up stops.  Growth spurts, teething, and sickness will always play a role in a baby needing extra attention and food at night.  But this should be the exception not the rule… you should know your baby is teething, not just blame his not sleeping on the fact that he “MUST” be teething!

So good luck!

Additional Note: Regarding the attachment parent comment below, it is my belief that healthy babies are capable of having their emotional and play needs met in the daytime rather than the middle of the night.  They should actually be taught this as a good pattern for toddlerhood.  They are also physically ready to sleep through as long as they are getting enough calories in the day.  My four nursing babies were all able to sleep through the night by 9 months old, from abt 9:30pm (+ dream feed) to 7am.  Two of them slept through much sooner, but by 8 or 9 months, everyone was a consistent sleeper.  I was glad because they shared rooms!  Because of some gentle but consistent training, I never had a hard time at night except for sickness, hotel visits, and the brief phase where they could stand up but not sit back down 😉   This made me a better mother during the day!


Feeding: Schedule or Demand?

As a mom of four children under 5yrs old, I have recently re-reflected on this issue and found it funny that this one question practically dominates the pregnancy literature on child-raising. If I could do it all over again and talk to my pre-mommy self who was furiously researching babies and motherhood, the one thing I would tell myself is: THERE ARE BIGGER QUESTIONS OUT THERE THAT YOU SHOULD BE STUDYING!

I say this partly tongue-in-cheek.  Obviously I know how important properly feeding a baby is, and it definitely seems for the first couple months that all you do with a newborn is feed it! (Especially if you nurse.) There are lots of sleepless nights and crying times where the first natural question that pops in your mind is, “Did I feed him enough? Is she getting what she needs?” And of course, lots of times you don’t really know.

So I wrote a review for the controversial “Babywise” book on Amazon and I have put some feeding points  below. But just so you know, the demand versus schedule feeding question truly is one of a larger parenting philosophy choice.  It is not solely about what you do in the feeding arena.  Thus the passionate controversy.

The reason why the feeding question is so heated is because people are pushing an entire parenting approach: child-centered or parent-centered. Enter the vehemence. On one side of the debate are Dr. Sears, the AAP, neo-Spock, and the most widely read baby literature from your bookstore.  They recommend “attachment” parenting which includes a whole range of practices designed to make your babies feel more secure.  Actually, I think they make the parent feel more secure, not the baby!  But they basically want your parenting to revolve around the child, as policy-maker.  On the other side of the debate are Ezzo, Ferber, Hogg, and many old-school writers.  They recommend the parents be the policy-makers.  So the question is not so much how often you feed your baby (or whether you bottle-feed or nurse) as much as it is: How much will you allow your children to decide what they need for themselves in life?

Since I have just raised four toddlers back to back, I would submit to you that you as a parent better become comfortable being in charge and deciding what your children need.  Even as babies.  Eventually they will know what they need and communicate this to you, but for now you are teaching them to recognize and communicate these needs.  I promise you they do not already know this themselves. If they knew how to parent themselves, they would “up and leave” like the entire animal kingdom babies do after a short observation period of the adults. You have a bigger brain, more experience, more love, and more intuition to understand your little creature.  You shouldn’t ignore the communication coming from your child, but you as the adult will have to do the interpreting.  Starting with hungry cries.

So back to feeding. What’s funny is, I would submit that 95% of new moms, whether they are child- or parenting-centered advocates, probably still feed their tiny babies pretty much the same… A lot!!!  Only 5%, the real radicals who still feed by the old 4hr by-the-clock routine or idolize the La Leche attached-to-your-chest routine, probably cause significant differences in the amounts that go into their babies’ tummies. And, if you have a good pediatrician who watches these things, as well as some good ol’ common sense yourself (as the main diaper changer), you can avoid extreme over- or under-feeding.

So here’s what I’ve learned so far about feeding:

  • Nursing does make a baby need to eat more frequently than a bottle-fed baby (Ezzo is wrong). Nursing babies, in the beginning, tend to eat every 2.5-3.5 hrs. A bottle-fed baby tends to eat more like every 3-4hrs.
  • If nursing goes well, it tends to create the ultimate bonding experience between mom and baby (La Leche is right). If it doesn’t go well, it can create some of the worst feelings ever (La Leche doesn’t tell you this).  It is probably best to stop so bitterness/frustration doesn’t work itself into the early stages of the mom-baby relationship.  There is no need to be super-mom around the nursing issue if it is causing stress–it’s not worth it!
  • Nursing tends to make babies more attached to their moms than their dads. Bottle-fed babies should take advantage of being mommy-free to eat with Dad for more bonding time.
  • Nursing is cleaner but harder for many, at least to get started.  If your baby is not a great nurser in the beginning, he or she will usually get it by six weeks old.  Try not to give up before this point if you’re wanting it to work out.
  • Breast pumps can be really helpful to regulate high or low milk supply.  Especially if the baby prefers one breast over the other or doesn’t finish feedings a lot.  Very common.
  • It is impossible to keep most newborns awake during a feeding. Try, try, try. This will prevent you going back to the bottle/breast every single time he or she cries because you think he’s hungry.  Sometimes I had to unlatch my babies and lay them on the floor to wake them back up.
  • The first week or two of a newborn’s life is crazy. Do whatever you want in the feeding/sleeping territory–you can’t ruin anything for the future this young.
  • Most eating issues stabilize around 9-12months when the child is more clearly able to express his needs/desires concerning food.  This is also when the digestive system stabilizes to be more like that of an adult.  They still need formula or breastmilk because they can’t absorb nutrition from solid food like an adult can.  But being able to eat some applesauce and a graham cracker a day makes a baby’s tummy much easier to deal with =)

The above points are just guides, not gospel. My main point is, that most moms probably end up feeding their babies an ok amount with either a demand- or scheduled approach.  Just know that demand-feeding can quickly become demand-parenting which is why it is a more perilous path.


“Mommy, I’m BORED!”

There is probably no other complaint that can get a mom so upset.  Especially during summertime.  When it seems like everything is already down and dumpy, this comment can be the one that shoots Mom through the roof.  Even if it isn’t actually SAID, the one year old toddler has a way of making this known.  It can be SOOO frustrating!

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to do anything about it.  Lots has been written on boredom and how boredom is the source of creativity: if you get bored with life, you look for something to do.  So the application goes: if your child is bored with what they have, they need to look for a new way to use it.  But most kids under three have a limited imagination (especially if they are special needs), so it can be hard to wait through the tantrum or trouble a bored little kid gets into when they don’t know how to use what they’ve got.  Kids over three have great imaginations, but it can be hard to get them to want to use it.

Still, if I could impart one lesson to a new stay at home mom, it would be: don’t give into to the Boredom Complaint.  I used to all the time, and I’d go play with my child.  And it made him more dependent on me than ever.  I used to think he’d never use his imagination if I didn’t jump in, but I found out that my jumping in actually stalled him.  I think he was four or five years old before he’d really just play.

Now that doesn’t mean parents should never play with their children.  I totally believe they should, and my husband and I have some playtime with our kids every day, even if it’s just a botched game of UNO.  When my first was smaller, I used to use play therapy with him for his special needs.  That was extremely effective.  And he had Early Intervention too, which was also play therapy.  However, giving into the Boredom Complaint is not play therapy.  It’s manipulation… you’re trying to get your child to settle down and be happy instead of taking the stereo apart (if he’s a boy) or whining around your leg all day (if she’s a girl), and so you give in.  I know lots of people who swear that their girls in particular won’t DO anything.  They have to play with them!  What else could they do?

Well, a young child has to be trained to play of course.  They’re not six year olds who are enthralled with their lego castles yet.  (YET!)   As irony goes, your child won’t really get into settled down playing until they’re school age and not allowed to play all day anymore =)  But that still doesn’t mean you should be playing with your little guy all day… park trips, play time, cooking time, game time, etc.  If you are playing with your child all day except for when they nap or watch TV, then you are eventually going to end up with one big TV watcher!  I’m not kidding!  You have to find a way to HANG OUT with your child without playing with them.  Some children are persistent and even more moms are cave-in’s.  but your life will be SO much better if you do.

This is particularly difficult with your first child because it’s just you and him/her.  You look at each other all day and you’re tuned into each other’s emotions, schedule, etc.  It’s like you overlap in some ways.  Moreover, a baby needs 24/7 care, so it’s difficult to know how or when you should start leaving your “baby” alone.  At one, do you suddenly dissociate?  No, that’s not what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is, my later children are better adjusted than my earlier ones because they grew up not being focused on.  They were paid attention to a lot, but not focused on. There’s a huge difference. My little two year old (fourth child) still mostly shadows me all day.  But that’s her choice.  She has three other siblings to play with, so if she chooses to follow me around, then that’s her problem not mine.  I talk with her and sometimes share things with her or make them into an interesting activity for her, but I do it when it’s right for ME.  I don’t do it because she’s demanding it.  And if she’s in my way too much, I send her away.  This might hurt her feelings at first and then she suddenly realizes that she’d LIKE to play lego castles with her brother.  In personality, she’s a lot like her cousin who also shadows her mom and grandmom.  But the difference is that they feel bound to their little girl like she’s sucking the life out of them.  They feel obligated to “play” with her, to “educate” her, and make her happy, whereas I feel free to do the things I’m doing (most of the time 😉  The main difference is in attitude: my little girl and I are HANGING OUT.  I love her and accept her.  That’s what families do.

So that’s my best piece of advice for mom and her two year old.  Hang out, but don’t focus.  This is difficult, but if you can pretend that you have other children around and a life to live while you’re shuttling just two year old Junior around, then do it.  Make calls, go to the mall (your favorite stores), and eat at the cafe you’d like.  Go to the playground if you want, but don’t feel obligated to suit your whole schedule around Junior.  Just make sure it’s Junior-friendly (i.e. no china shopping).  When you finally do have baby number 2, it will be the healthiest thing that’s happened to all of you.  But if you don’t plan on having baby number 2 until your first child is 3, 4, or 5 yrs old, you’d better start shifting into HANGOUT mode now.  I’m telling you: this is the number one thing that will change your stay at home experience =)

NOTE: for older kids, when they say “I’m Bored” you have three choices; either take away all their toys except for one ball.  Or throw them outside, even if it’s hot or drizzling.  Or make them work on a workbook or the laundry.  Any of these three options will get their imaginations fired up again in no time.

Top Ten Choking Hazards

UPDATE: Since I have gotten several negative comments on this p0st, let me reiterate that the experiences I’m retelling on this blog are not for babies who are REALLY choking.  I am not saying do what I did if your kid is turning blue or not breathing.  I am saying that if your little one is trying to gag up some food in their throat (i.e. you can see it in their mouth as their face turns red), there are some ways to help them cough it up BEFORE it goes too far down their throat or gets in their windpipe.  I’m sorry if this is really distressing to the medically trained, but it worked dozens of times for us!

After four babies in a row, I have had four different experiences with children putting things in their mouths. One put everything, one put nothing, and two were somewhere in between. People generally think that kids under 3 can choke on anything (i.e. the warnings on most boxes). But really the top hazards are things that are small, round, and exactly the size of your baby’s windpipe. Especially between 6 and 18months.

Here are the top ten things that have made it on the list from around my house. (Some are esoteric, but just FYI 😉

  1. grapes
  2. blueberries
  3. hot dog pieces
  4. Kix or other round cereal puffs
  5. Skittles, M&Ms, or round candy pieces (not that you’re giving it to your baby but if someone else is enjoying them, they are likely to find them around somewhere)
  6. ball bearings (like in Magnetix or MagneBlocks)
  7. marbles (in several kids’ games)
  8. Rokenbok balls
  9. Lego heads, wheels, and tires
  10. stringing beads (or beads on little girls’ accessories)

Other than small round things, here are my other top chokers at mealtime until the kids can chew well:

  1. bread
  2. bagels
  3. chicken nuggets
  4. chips or crispy things
  5. popcorn, rice cakes, or flaky things
  6. wheat thins or hard crackers
  7. peanut butter
  8. banana (have to keep it in small bits)
  9. apple pieces
  10. carrots
  11. cut up steak, chicken or stringy things

Some of these hazards can be reduced by cutting into smaller pieces… grapes and blueberries can be cut in halves or fourths, and chicken and hot dogs can be cut smaller than they usually are.

But there is nothing MORE scary than seeing your child gag!  Their eyes get red and their face gets red and your stomach ties in twenty knots that it will get worse.  But I think it happens to even the safest parents at some time.  Some slight gagging can resolve itself as the baby tries to regurgitate what’s stuck in their throat.  But if after just a second it’s still visible in their mouth and they cannot cough it out, take immediate action.

DON’T PANIC!!!! (Yeah right!)  The number one thing I found to work in a flash is, if the child is in a sitting position, to lean the child over slowly and slightly by the shoulders, about 20 or 30 degrees, so they are slightly bent over at the waist.  For some reason this forces most things to be gagged back up if they are not totally stuck. About 90% of the time in my house, this happened in the high chair with real food, and it worked.

About 10% of the time, if they still couldn’t cough it up in about one or two seconds in that position, I went for their item itself.  I opened their mouths (held their nose if necessary to get them to open) and grabbed the item myself.  The last incident I remember being like this was with my 15 month old, who was eating a bread bagel in a Walmart shopping cart and had too big of a piece in there.  This is a less than ideal option because of the risk of pushing something down the windpipe, but it saved our toddlers multiple times.

Just FYI, some items are not worth panicking over if the child swallows them.  Most tiny plastic things like a Lego head or plastic bead can pass comfortably through the stool if absolutely necessary.  Give them a drink when it’s over.

Obviously this is not medical advice.  There are real professional choking procedures for babies that every mom should learn.  But I honestly never did and was afraid to try it on my babies when they started gagging because I heard it was dangerous for children who were not truly choking (i.e. in their windpipe).  What if they stopped breathing or turned blue while I was doing it?  None of my children ever choked when they were younger than one, no-one ever turned blue or stopped breathing, and no-one was swallowing anything poisonous.  So luckily the above techniques worked for me, especially the leaning thing, so I pass them on as old wives tales, not as a substitute for getting trained in baby CPR/choking.

Getting my baby to sleep through the night!?

Somewhere around the 10- or 12-week mark, a new mom naturally starts thinking, “I know I’m supposed to cherish these early days, but WHEN will my baby sleep through the night?!”  The early newborn days are over.  The feedings are usually better.  You feel like you’ve put sleep on hold enough and you are SOOO eager to get back to the way things were.  Even a good, straight six-hour shot seems like the biggest break in the world compared to the couple hours at once that you’re getting.  In the old days, six hours used to mean a bad sleeping night… now it’s all you dream about.

That’s ok!  The good news is that somewhere between 10- and 16-weeks, most babies are able to sleep through the night.  By “able” I mean that they are at least 10 lbs, feeding well and consistently, and not sleeping all day anymore; they have some semblance of the next stage of babyhood where awake time is different than sleep time, they are starting to get curious about the world and respond to it, and they are getting the calories they need.  So, when your baby is showing these signs, and you are exhausted with three months of multiple wake up times, it is time to put some extra effort into helping your baby sleep through the night.

Now, “sleeping through the night” does not necessarily mean 10 or 11 hours; only some babies are ready to do this.  I think 10 hours is probably the max I let my babies sleep anyway, since I was nursing.  But a normal goal is 7 to 8 hours, or 9 or 10 hrs with just one middle of the night (or early morning) feeding.  And you might not be able to get the timespan to line up perfectly with your own bedtime—your baby might be totally knocked out by 9pm and needing to wake up by 5 or 6am.  But that’s normal too.  If you are lucky, and already feeding on a good rotation of 2 to 4 hours, then you may have already had a couple surprise nights where your baby slept five, six, or seven hours just randomly.  Or maybe they are sleeping six to seven hours but just at the wrong time, like 6pm to midnight.  All these are good signs, other readiness signals.

What you want to do is start keeping the baby up more in the evening and feeding more too.  Many babies have a “fussy time” in evening anyway, and although that can be grating because all you do is sit around and rock the baby, he or she will naturally be tuckered out by 10 or 11pm, and you can put him or her down for “bedtime” then.  Other babies, however, are very awake in the mornings and therefore want to sleep through most of the evening.  You want to try and change this, by working with your feeding and nap routine.  The ideal is for you to feed and keep your baby up for several hours in the evening, cluster feeding if you’re nursing, and lay them down somewhere between 9pm and midnight.  When you want to go to bed yourself (hopefully in that timespan), give them their last little feeding if possible which they probably won’t be awake for and will kind of nibble through, and then go to bed.  With a little luck, they will sleep til 5 or 6am.  Try feeding them and putting them back to bed, to see if that works.  Or they might wake up between 1 and 3am, wanting the feeding, but then go back to sleep until 8 or 9am.  If you have done a good job keeping them up in the evening, they will most likely start sleeping through the main part of the night.

Sleeping at night is related to sleeping during the day, so make sure you are working on naps during the day too.  Some 2 to 4 months babies are very awake during the day and taking 3 or 4 shorter naps (45-90mins), but others are still very sleepy and taking two or three long 2-3hr naps.  You want to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” so make sure a sleepy baby is not sleeping more than 2.5 hrs at a go.  And try to keep any naps at night small, like little 30 or 45 min catnaps.  I remember two of my babies took two longs naps during the day, like 9-11 and 1-3, but then a short nap between 5-6pm or 6-7pm at that age, and then they were able to stay awake with me until 10 or 11pm when I put them down (sometimes still awake).   This was actually ideal.  If your baby is a sleepyhead though, at least keep him sleeping with you, with lights and sounds on, during that evening time.   One of my babies was a sleepyhead like this, even at 4 months, and I used to let him sleep in his bouncy seat, which was kind of upright, during the evening period, occasionally rocking him with my foot or taking him into the kitchen where I clanged around putting dishes away… not to be cruel!  But to help his little clock know that it wasn’t time for deep sleeps yet.  It actually worked, so don’t laugh.  Somehow his little body registered even though his eyes were closed 😉  Every baby is different, so work with it.  But do know that too much daytime sleep will interfere with nighttime, and even too LITTLE daytime sleep can… babies that aren’t really napping yet will be too wired to rest their systems for a long stretch.  You have to get the napping under control first, and then the bedtime will follow.

In fact, I think I worked on the naps almost exclusively with my three last babies, but not their bedtimes at all, and they all kind of fell into a similar routine.  Down around 11pm, then sleeping until 6 then 7am (between 10 and 16 weeks old).

Another thing about helping a baby sleep through the night is environment.  Make sure that when you are up with them in the middle of the night, you are not turning on lights or making a ruckuss.  You shouldn’t even change their diaper unless it is ridiculous.  Wouldn’t someone taking off YOUR clothes at night wake you up?  Your baby, with all those crazy buttons and snaps, and their sensitivity to cold, feels exactly the same way.  Make sure the room is not too warm or too cold.  Make sure the pjs are comfortable and any swaddling or unswaddling is appropriate.  You want to make any nighttime or early morning feedings as sedate and quiet and dark as possible.  Don’t even talk if you can help it, although if they need comforting, then whisper.  But get into the habit of making those nighttime feedings almost like sleepwalking… get in there, do it, and get out.  No baby in the world who is truly woken up at night will go back to sleep.   Usually a nursing baby will nurse himself back to sleep.  A bottle feeding baby might need some rocking or pacifying time to lull back to sleep.  But don’t play or jostle. or do anything stimulating.  Use a nightlight rather than a real one, or nurse in the dark.  Don’t get a bottle-feeding baby out of the crib at all.  And if you need to leave your baby still awake, lay him down anyway, pat him, and leave.  If he fusses a bit, wait a couple minutes.   If he’s starts really crying, go get him, but if he’s just fussing off and on, let him fuss.  If he’s crying, go back and walk/rock a bit, then put him back down and do it again.  Don’t talk, just sshh and comfort.  You might try some white noise too, like a humidifier or vibrating thing.  Or some really quiet lullabye music might work… anything that he/she can associate with bedtime.  I used to turn on an air purifier only when I laid my babies down for their naps or bedtime, but then turn it off when sleep time was over.  I am pretty sure they got conditioned that when the purifier went on, I wasn’t going to come back and fetch them, play with them, etc.   They just put their head downs and sucked their fingers or whatever.  The earlier you start doing this, the quicker they’ll get the signal.

Also, if your baby isn’t sleeping well on his back, and he can hold his head up now, you can try putting him to sleep on his stomach.  Experts would lynch me for suggesting this, but only one of my four babies was able to sleep on his back.  So if you are comfortable with the slight risk, clear the crib out (just one baby blanket or put your baby in a sleep sack) and try napping on the stomach to see if it is more successful.  If it is, try the bedtime too.  Most crib mattresses today are firm enough to support a baby on the stomach without it being risky.  And you should remove the crib bumper.  The more doctors find out about SIDS cases, even into the toddler age, the less simple SIDS becomes… it does not seem to be a simple thing of smothering or choking due to wrong position.  For healthy babies, I believe it is worth a shot.

Lastly, make sure your baby is getting the food he or she needs, especially at night.  A “tanked up” baby, who is nice and warm and comfortable, can learn to sleep through the night.  But a hungry baby can’t (and shouldn’t).  Some babies continue to wake up for a feeding because they really need it.  But even a huge, growing baby usually only needs one, and it will be at the same time every day.  I had a six-month old at 21 lbs who just needed that bottle at 5am until he was 8 months old.  And that’s fine.  Don’t be militant.  But do make sure that your baby is getting all the calories he/she needs, and don’t be surprised if it takes until the time that he/she can eat something other than formula to *really* sleep.  If your baby is 4 months old and you are open to it, you can try giving him or her a biter biscuit or other baby food to fill up the stomach around dinner time.  New moms often shrink in horror at this suggestion, especially if they are nursing.  But when you get desperate for sleep, you realize that it is often worth the cost of a cracker.  Just make sure you never put a young baby to bed with food because of the choking hazard.  Stick with something safe and age appropriate.  By the fourth baby, I was spooning her watered down graham cracker bites at 4 months old. Not because I wanted to but because she was so jealous of her older brother who got a cracker when he went down for his nap!  Totally disgusting but she napped like a professional after that.  So do what you have to do =)

And hang in there!  Once they get going, they usually don’t stop unless there is a situation.  The little extra effort is worth it for the bliss you can have for the rest of the year.

Don’t Make Your Baby’s eating a religion

Any of you who have already spent time reading some of my other posts know that while I have tons of opinions about everything, I do not believe in religious parenting.  What I mean is, I don’t believe in parenting that tries to teach you a hyper-strict way of doing everything “just right” so you can feel like a better parent.  Usually when someone is striving for the “just right” thing, it means they have a weak conscience.  If the conscience is fixed, the problem usually goes away on its own, or with minimal instruction.

That said, this post is about not turning your baby’s eating into a religion.  I particularly am referring to the tight schedules of solid foods that some baby experts love to publish.  It looks so neat on paper: smart little boxes with time tables and all arranged by color and food group.  In reality, it is totally unnecessary.  Unless you have a very unique health situation with your baby (and your pediatrician would let you know), there is no reason to follow solid food charts like liturgy.  There is some wisdom with starting with yellow foods, but don’t stress if it is pears over squash.  And if for some reason you start with orange, don’t beat yourself up.  You can always do a yellow one next.  If your baby never gets to green (ugh), don’t worry that they won’t eat their broccoli when they grow up.  And if your baby, for some unknown reason, wants a piece of your steak or accidentally snarfs some cornbread, don’t panic!  It’s food.  And it will go through them the same way as everything else.

🙂  I say this tongue in cheek because I have met so many people, especially expecting first-time moms, who really get into these charts.  Usually they are food nuts themselves.  And I like food nuts!  Some of my best friends are food nuts, and they have convinced me that approximately half their propaganda is probably true.

But you’re never going to get me to hang up one of those charts.

And my fourth baby skipped baby food all together.  She went straight for the real thing.   And guess what?  She’s very healthy.  My third baby skipped baby food almost–he liked most of the fruits.  But only the first one ever ate rice cereal.  Or got jarred vegetables.  He actually graduated to “stage 3” from Gerber!  The others were doomed to failure.  Again, I am not advocating reactionary baby-feeding where you just hand them your Italian sandwich.  But realize that babies are little people, and they may want food.  Real food.  And they will learn what’s good by what others like, what tastes sweet, and what smells nice.  Most baby food in a box or jar does not fit any of those criteria.

So please don’t make your baby’s solid food a religion.  There are so many more important things in life.  Like toilet training =)

Toddler Bathing 101

At some point, your baby will get too old for the infant tub.  Once baby can sit up well, bathe them sitting up in a large clear tupperware container—like a storage bin from Walmart or Target.  Put it inside the real tub and pull it away from the water controls after filling it so there’s no temptation.  This saves water, provides higher walls so more of the baby gets washed by just sitting there, and lets them sit and splash around without you worrying about them slipping all over your tub.  Or getting water everywhere.  Or hitting themselves on the faucet/side of tub.  Or without getting contaminated by whatever disgusting stuff grows in your tub!  If they poop in the water, a storage bin is easily cleaned and refilled.  Just wipe it down and swish some bleach around in there, and you’re all set.  You can add slip grips on the bottom (stickies or a mat) if you’re still worried about slipping.  And depending on the size, your preschooler may still like it.

Get the water all soapy with bubbles, make sure it’s not too hot or too deep (we drew a line on the tub with a permanent marker so everyone knew), and load it up with toys.  Older toddlers might like to wash or spray the walls with a squirter or spray bottle, and this is a great diversion for kids who would normally splash too much out of the tub.  Toy makers have some neat crayons and paint for bath walls that fill busy hands too.  We used to let our kids blow bubbles in the bath once they were 3 and reliable.  Make sure you have some kind of home for bath toys, or you can use the storage bin itself after you’re done.

You probably don’t have to sit there and watch the whole time once your toddler is fifteen months or so, but you should patrol frequently just in case.  Teach them not to stand up but to sit and splash with control.  Give them a cloth or sponge and teach them to wash themselves.  If you get them to do their own hair (around 2 years old), they won’t object as much when you do it.  Give them a couple times where you let them do it all by themselves even if they don’t do a good job.  They will inevitably get water in their own eyes, etc., and will probably be grateful when you take a turn next time.  Teach them to  swish own armpits, behind the ears, and private parts too.  (The latter mostly get washed just by sitting there).  Just FYI, don’t worry if they do some body exploring while they’re in there, as it’s just natural since they’re normally in clothes/diapers all day.  Distract with toys or soap bubbles if you think it’s too much.

We also used to add brushing the teeth to the bathroom routine because it fits the cleaning schema.  When our boys were little toddlers, I’d give them a wet toothbrush and they’d just chew it.   They didn’t bathe every day so they didn’t “brush” everyday, but that was ok because they didn’t eat junk.  Once they were potty-trained, I started bathing every day because I suspected their bums were dirtier than when I did the wiping 😉  Then they started brushing every day too, and we started using toothpaste and all.  They were ready for more instruction by that time because they were habituated to the brush/cleaning idea.

An older baby (6-12 months) should still be supervised all the time while sitting, and their bath is still pretty quick and functional.  But somewhere around the 12-15 month mark, baths get more fun for them and they start wanting to take more time.  By age 3, our boys were taking around 30 or 35 minutes.  They needed much less supervision by that time, and I could read magazine or tend to the baby nearby until they told me they were ready to get out.  (Still no standing in the tub).

Get a mat so they don’t slip while getting out of the tub, and teach them to dry themselves while standing on it.  Get a sticky hook and teach them to hang up their own towel as soon as you can!  Towel bars are too hard, even for a four year old.

One person recently asked me if you should bathe a toddler in the diaper.  I’m assuming they having trouble with their baby pooping in the bath. Babies and toddlers poop in the bath because they feel relaxed. Plus the warm water can help the muscles around the rectum relax and make it feel soothing to push. If your child does this routinely (but not in his diaper), it could be a sign of constipation.  Add more fruit.

But first, don’t bathe after meals.  It’s so easy to bathe kids after dinner, but you’re asking for trouble.  First thing after breakfast is unwise too.  Try a random time in the middle of the day when you’re looking for something to do.

And even though it’s gross to poop in the bath, you still shouldn’t bathe your toddler in the diaper. If it’s clean, you waste a diaper. If it’s not, you don’t help the private areas which, of all places, need the most exposure to moving, soapy water. If the toddler is old enough, try putting him on the toilet first to see if he’ll pee or poop in it before going in. If he won’t, put him in the bath for a couple minutes and supervise him to see if he’s going to go. Then try putting him on the toilet for a minute if you’re suspicious (dry the bum first because he’s wet and slippery). If all else fails, use a swimmy diaper (which is made to be wet!) or some plastic pants which allow some water movement but will keep the bowel from going everywhere. (You can empty it in the toilet.)

If you’re worried about just peeing, I wouldn’t. It’s normal for children to pee in their tub and it’s probably not a big deal as long as you use a lot of water. I know it seems gross but as long as you’re not washing their hair in it, just soap up the tub and let her rip! Wash their hair directly from the faucet.  One thing I did with my little toddler boys who used the tupperware container for their tub was to strip them down and let them stand inside the real tub watching their little one fill up. They’d almost always pee while doing this but that was ok because it just went down the big tub drain. Then I could put them in their little one without worrying too much.

Incidentally, watching you pour their bowel into the toilet (if they poop in the tupperware tub) can be good toilet-training knowledge.

What else can I say?  You are probably a pro at baths by now.   If you have more questions, just comment below.