2021 it takes an online village, it virtually does!!
Adulting is hard, parenting is hard, and parenting during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Parenting during a pandemic while sleep deprived with a cranky child in your arms, siblings arguing, and a spouse just as fried as you? Well, that’s just a whole other story or basically a lot of family’s stories these days.
It is of no surprise that life/wellness/health/sleep coaching and therapy rates have rapidly increased during 2020. The people that we love the most also drive us completely crazy and exhaust us on a mental and physical level especially when we are stuck at home ALL DAY WEEK MONTH YEAR long. It was not supposed to be this way. We had such big plans for 2020 and yet here we are sliding into 2021, and we just have to roll with the punches. Can we all just agree that we didn’t have a birthday in 2020? Let’s just stay the same age for another year.
Every aspect of our lives has changed. Every service/company/organization has had to get creative in how to bring their services to you.
My amazing doula sisters at Bay Area Night Doulas have supplemented their services by adding virtual packages to their a la carte menu.
We understand how incredibly lonely the postpartum period can be for parents. It is overwhelming, exhausting, and exhilarating. Many clients do not have family close by, hence the need for postpartum services. During a pandemic, the need has increased. The priority for a Doula is first and foremost helping the parents and child bond with their new little one. We do this through supporting, educating, and caring for them so that they have the knowledge, ability, and energy to learn and love on the new little person in their lives.
As a Gentle Sleep Coach, my priority is also to support my clients during a time of uncertainty and foggy haze. When we are sleep deprived, we simply cannot think clearly and objectively. That’s where I come in: to help you see, hear and question what you could be missing. We can find solutions to our problems with some investigating, reporting, and communication. I can help you get to a better place, whatever that may be.
Whether you have an infant that feeds all night and sleeps all day, a toddler that survives on little to no sleep, a preschooler with constant behavior issues from a lack of sleep, an older child that still will not stay in their bed, or you just want to get on the right path from the beginning, I can help. I will support you.
Feel free to reach out to me when you are ready for a complimentary assessment.
Today I want to talk about one of the aspects of my coaching: bedtime routines. This really is the lynchpin that can hold everything together.*
As you already know, our bodies need adequate sleep for restoration purposes, memory organization, and our overall well being. Our immune system is greatly impacted by our sleep, or lack of it. When we are ill, we need more sleep in order to recover faster. For our babies and children, sleep is even more critical as they are growing at such rapid rates. Cognitive and physical development is constant. Physical restoration and memory organization happens during restful sleep.
However, nobody fully sleeps through the night. We all wake periodically, we just don’t always remember it. These brief awakenings are known as partial arousals. For children that are not able to fall asleep independently, these partial arousals can become an issue and turn into multiple full awakenings. Falling asleep, or back to sleep, is a learned skill. For some, it comes easily. For others, not so much.
Children learn what they live. For example, if a child is fed, rocked, or held to sleep whenever they have partial arousal they will become accustomed to that action. The need for something to be done to/for them becomes an association of sleep, otherwise known as a crutch. The more a child is able to put themselves to sleep independently, the easier it is for them to have partial arousal and then return to sleep on their own. Sometimes we may hear them stir or whimper for a moment, but then they fall asleep again.
We know that we get our best quality sleep when we are not digesting food and when our sleep is unfragmented and motionless. Therefore, if the goal for a six-month-old child is to be an independent sleeper, then it is best that our babies learn to be down in their safe sleep space “sleepy but not sleeping” We want them to feel full, sleepy, secure, and content when sleep time is coming. They will know that you are there for them both now and after their rest. Bedtime is the best time to start doing this as your baby will most likely be tired. Having a predictable routine for naps and bedtime is important for our children. They thrive on routines for security.
A common sleep crutch is having a child fall asleep in our arms and then placing them into their cribs asleep. When they wake up, they are startled and confused by this transition.
A better example of a bedtime routine: First, the parent feeds the baby, then snuggles/reads/sings. Next, the baby is laid down while awake but sleepy. The parent then sits beside the crib and offers physical and verbal reassurance in an intermittent fashion. If the baby does not need to eat during the night, this important, but detached, reassurance is repeated throughout the night as needed to soothe the baby’s awakenings. Over a few nights, as the baby does better, the interactions are reduced.
Learning, and then following, the child’s individual rhythm is crucial to understanding their need for sleep. Most babies will show us their sleepy cues, and if we are diligent, we can catch them at that perfect sleepy moment. Of course, there are some babies that are more difficult to read because they become stimulated so easily. For those, we need to watch the clock. This is why we need to record when they feed, sleep, and are awake.
Ideally, a family will want to set up good healthy habits right from the beginning so that there is actually no need for training! However, few things in life work out exactly the way we want them to. Thankfully, sleep coaches like me are ready and willing to help families who might have gotten off on the wrong foot.
Undoing certain less than perfect habits is not impossible. For the average full-term baby, gentle sleep coaching can have great success between 6-8 months. When they are older, it can take a little longer. The longer a child has been exposed to any behavior, the longer they can take to unlearn it and learn something new. Some children may fight these new behaviors. Learning new ways of doing things can be hard on the parents as well, but with consistency, patience, and support, old habits can be adapted to new ones.
Gentle Sleep Coaching is suited for all parents no matter their chosen parenting style as it is a fully customized approach. As a coach, I try to get to know your family dynamic as much as possible and then create a unique plan. Each child is unique and comes with their own individual temperament and personality which may not always mirror the temperaments or personalities of the parents. My goal for the sleep plan is to create an approach that is feasible for the family, otherwise, there is no point. It has to be doable and it has to be with the intention of getting the child into a better sleep pattern. I meet the family where they’re at and then help get them to a better place, whatever that may be for them. The long term goal may also be different from one child to another, even within the same family!
My goal is to optimize sleep (as much as possible) and minimize crying (as much as possible). For younger babies that may be in the form of tweaking feedings, changing wakeful windows, and educating families on their baby’s sleep needs.
As a coach, I remain in frequent contact with your family while you’re helping your child learn. Your child continues to feel safe, loved, and secure as the parent offers physical and verbal reassurance.
Remember, sleep is a learned skill and for some children, it is easier. Also, not all families even feel the need to change the sleep situation in their home. However, if you feel that your child’s sleep struggle is having a negative impact on them and on your family, then I would be happy to be a resource for you. Sleep deprivation in babies can manifest as being extra clingy and fussy. Your baby may be labeled a bad sleeper or a difficult baby. In older kids, it can show up as misbehavior, hyperactivity, or difficulty learning.
Don’t get discouraged.
Help is available.
*Although it cannot work on its own. Other areas that I focus on with my clients include adequate food intake, stimulation, daytime routines, and more. All these things can work together to help everyone get the sleep they need.
So, what is the meaning behind “Sleepytime Support”?
Well, in my sector, using the word “sleep” is obvious. Obvious and common, very common. Perhaps a little too common.
“Sleepytime” just stands out to me. It rolls off the tongue. It’s not “bedtime”, not “naptime”… but “Sleepytime.”
To me, there is a little sweetness and innocence to it, just how childhood should be.
Although I really love the word “sleepytime”, my kiddos may not agree. I’m sure my neighbors can attest that on occasion “noooooo sleepytime!!!” can be heard from my house!
However, the word “Support,” is where my name, and my service, gets specific and unique. “Support” is key. That’s what I am here to do. If I had to describe my service with one word, this would be it: Support.
I learned about support from my time working as a nanny (approximately. 8 years). I worked for many families, all different dynamics, different sizes, and in different locations. They were all so different, but one thing that was the same was that there were either two siblings or twins. Families of twins were always especially appreciative of the help and support I could provide (now I can really see why!!)
One thing that I quickly learned (and I learned it the hard way of course) was to start every job with a clean slate. If the family asked me for advice or ideas, I would, of course, be happy to share. Otherwise, I learned to follow their way, their rules, their parenting styles, etc.
What works for one family just may not work for another. That was not something that I could really learn in my studies. This lesson served me well when I expanded my services and started working as a Postpartum Doula.
Many moms felt a little intimidated that the stranger in their home knew a lot more about babies than they did. And while true to a certain extent… I do know a lot about babies, it wasn’t my book learning that mattered the most. What was most important was the baby that I was caring for at that time. Who was this baby? What were their likes and dislikes? What did they need?
Surprise surprise…it is the mom that knows this baby better than anyone. She just might not realize how much she knows!!
Likewise, each mom had different needs and it was my job to figure them out. What, exactly, did she need? Advice, or to be heard? Someone to show her, or someone to talk with her? Reassurances, or a list of tips and pointers? A demonstration, or a nursery organized? That is where I found the real meaning of support. It is different for each family, but once I understood what they needed, I was able to provide it. The key was: different support for different families.
Coming to the end of a contract with a family was always bittersweet. It’s sad to move on, but it was always so great to see the parents doing well and feeling like they can spread their wings. Knowing that I had provided them enough support that they could move forward on their parenting journey, is a wonderful feeling.
So, let’s break down what “support” really means to me in terms of how I help my clients.
S Solving current sleep issues
P Problem solving
P Practical plan
O Offer doable options
R Realistic goals and expectations
T Tips and tricks to help your child
My goal for clients is that they feel supported. (That’s the doula in me talking.)
I want them to feel like it is their plan that is put into action. I’m just here to help them iron out a few creases.
Parenting is hard, and if sleep deprivation is an aspect, everything gets harder. Supporting families means listening to families. As we all know, talking about our problems can help us get clarification with things that may otherwise seem muddy, especially when we are sleep deprived. Having someone help us create our “to do’s” and get them down in black and white can be a huge help in actually getting things done. Parents need support, and that is what I do.
I may not be physically by your side when you’re helping your child learn their new skills, but I am only a phone call/text/email away! Just as the parent offers the child support and gradually tapers when the child is able to do the rest on their own, I do the very same with my clients. My goal is to provide support so that parents can feel empowered and competent in their parenting plans.
“Sometimes,” I say, “ I don’t know either, but I do my best.”
Parents of twins hear these comments way more than you think.
Congratulations, you have twins! Sometimes it is 10 times the workload, especially at night. Ask any parent of twins, and they will tell you. It’s a fact. You’ll have extra to juggle, but you’ll also have extra to snuggle with and thoroughly enjoy. I may be biased, but I happen to think that twins are the best thing ever! I knew what I was getting into, yet I still wanted to have them. Of course, nothing can fully prepare you for the workload, comments, and unwanted attention!
My Tips for Parenting Twins:
Accept (and ask for) help!
Please do yourself this favor. If somebody wants to help but doesn’t know how give them a rehearsed or written answer. I know it can be tough, especially if you’re someone -like me- that doesn’t like accepting help, let alone asking for it. But here’s the deal. You will regret it if you don’t. Believe me, your time will come to help others, and you will when you can. So go ahead. Set up that meal train or, better yet, ask a friend to do it for you. It’s an extremely useful way for people to help.
If you can budget for extra hands/support/advice in the early days, then do it! It’s also a great gift to receive from someone or a few people chipping in together! Check out your local listings for postpartum doulas with twin experience, newer trained doulas looking to certify, certified sleep coaches, or mother’s helpers.
Reach out to the local chapter of a multiples club. Hooray for the internet! With sites like Facebook, Meetup, and Moms Clubs, the ability to connect with other parents is at your fingertips. It really takes another parent of twins to understand the trials and tribulations of having multiples. Finding your community can be a lifesaver! Here is an example of a very friendly Facebook community group.
Take advantage of all the amazing products that are available today, especially products that are designed for twins. Amazon prime is now your friend! Remember you can create wish lists for specific items so that those well-meaning friends and family members can buy you exactly what you want and need. Also, pay extra attention to products that advertise as safe sleepers as they may seem like the answer to all of your worries, but might not be safe. (It’s recommended that babies should only sleep in a crib, bassinet, or play-yard/pack ‘n’ play.)
Try a schedule, take advantage of breaks, and get prepared.
The more predictable the routine becomes, the better you will get at reading their cues and following their lead. Try the EASY Method from Tracy Hogg’s book The Baby Whisperer EAT ACTIVITY SLEEP YOU – Enjoy that downtime, for whatever you choose to do! Sleep, social media, eat, shower, a chore. It’s your time!
Right from the beginning, if you can get them feeding and sleeping within a similar time frame, it will make things easier for you. Typical beginning feedings (nurse or bottle) can last approximately one hour for both babies or 30 mins each. Then you will change diapers, burp, and help them settle. In the very beginning, they may need a diaper change before feeding in order to help them wake up. I recommend a little time for burping and holding them upright (approximately 20 minutes) whether they show discomfort or not. In my own experience, (both personal and professional) twin babies tend to have some extra digestive issues, especially if they were born a little early.
When they’re done eating, hopefully, there is some time for you before the process starts up again. Example Twin A starts to feed at 1.00 pm and Twin B starts at 1:30 pm. After a feeding, burp, and diaper change they could be settled by 2:30 pm. The next feeding could be at 3.30/4.00 pm. This schedule will change (many times) but all of you will also become more efficient as time goes by.
During your break, always set up everything that you need in advance for the next feed so that you can be prepared as much as possible. Don’t forget to pack a nutritious snack and drink for yourself! Fill a basket with all of your necessities: your devices, remote controls, burp cloths, blankets, bottles, pacis, shields, cream, etc. It can be overwhelming in the beginning when both babies are crying at the same time, so the more you have planned in advance, the better.
I understand that tandem (nurse or bottle) feeding can seem overwhelming in the beginning. If you are nursing for the first time, get professional help. When you feel confident that the feedings are going well for you and your babies, try a supervised tandem feed. It’s better to practice it with support. Eventually, a time will come that you will need to feed them both at the same time.
Keep a log of feedings, periods of sleep, and diapers. This shouldn’t feel like another chore. It is a tried and true method that will help you. Everything will be a blur, especially at night. Your log will help you learn to decipher their cries. Are they hungry, gassy, tired? It can also be helpful when there are multiple caregivers.
It’s there and it’s real. You are simply outnumbered. I mentioned it previously in my Mom Guilt post and it is simply the worst. I’m not going to try and talk you out of it. Just accept that you will feel it, recognize it, wallow in it (hopefully not for too long,) and then move on. Treat it as a passing feeling. They are going to change so much; their needs will flip flop. One may have bad days, the other may have more needs. If you can, hold them both. If not, hold one and make eye contact with the other. Sing, speak, and/or touch whenever possible.
Fraternals or not. We have to remember that even though you have two babies, hands, and breasts they are individual… even though we call them pairs. One baby will have more needs, another may have more catching up to do, one boob may be a better performer, while the other boob slacks. One hand may be better at burping and the other at holding.
Attachment and getting to know these little people is the name of the game in the early months. Their jobs are to grow, learn to trust, and form bonds with their primary caregivers. Following safe sleep guidelines is a must, especially during these exhausting days. Nursing, rocking, and snuggling to sleep is as important for them as it is for you. If your goal is to help them learn to sleep independently when they’re older (six months + adjusted age) there are some healthy sleep techniques that you can apply, right from the beginning.
The million-dollar question “will they wake each other?”
The answer is yes, possibly. It’s going to seem like I’m contradicting myself a lot here but please hear me out. Twins (and siblings) have this amazing ability to sleep through each other’s cries and full force screams. How do they do it? I don’t know, but if I could bottle that power, I would. And I’d use it on myself first! I think it’s based on survival. They simply need sleep. It also has to do with what stage they’re at during the sleep cycle. If they are just falling asleep or just starting to wake up and the other is crying, it’s possible that it will be disturbing. If one is in a full deep sleep phase and the other starts crying, they can sleep through it.
My biggest suggestion is to not run to your baby in fear that they will wake the other. Sometimes, a few whimpers and cries here and there will do no harm and it is best to give your baby the option to settle back to sleep independently, rather than jumping to the rescue every single time.
Here’s where I contradict myself. I do suggest that if logistics allow, to separate them for naps. Daytime sleep is different from night sleep. As your babies grow, they will also fight day sleep more as they simply would rather play and hang with each other. So if you can give them the opportunity to have good quality independent sleep, for a nap, then do it.
When sleep coaching: If you have the option to separate them and have the help of a second person, that can be useful. However, separation is not necessary. You can keep them together and go back and forth. It will take a little longer, but they will get it. Right from the start, twins (whether they like it or not) start learning that they sometimes have to wait.
Last bit of advice. Enjoy the ride!
Twins, like all babies, are amazing and special. Getting to be a parent is also amazing and special. So, again… enjoy the ride! There is nothing else like it!
If you’re reading this blog, then the answer is possibly Yes! But the real question is, “Do I accept that my child is a bad sleeper?” Hopefully, your answer is No!
Does your child just need a lot less sleep? Most likely, Nope! Is it your child’s fault? Nope! Is it your fault? Also, Nope!
Most of us do what we have to do in order to sleep, especially in the early days of having a young baby. You take a nap when you can. You sleep with your baby. You buy each and every product on the market that you think will help your child sleep. (Thank you Amazon Prime!) All of that is fine, all of that is needed, just do it safely!
In a nutshell, our babies/children learn what we teach them. They don’t come with their own expectations or plans. We create an environment and a pattern, and then they learn to expect that. This is normal. Sometimes though, the pattern needs to change or evolve and your baby will need some time to adjust to the new way.
As with any new skill, we would like to think that we can teach and train a child to do something… and then take credit for it. But ultimately, it isn’t about us.
Let me break it down. We create the environment for learning, we set the pattern for practice, we encourage, and we support. Ultimately, however, the last little bit of learning is done solely by your child. It’s the same process for learning to ride a bike as it is for potty learning (notice how I didn’t say training?). It’s the same process for sleep learning (not sleep training). Unfortunately, we cannot do it for them. They have to do some of it for themselves. It can take a while. That can be frustrating, but it will be worth it in the long run.
From bike riding to sleeping, we cannot force our child to learn a new skill. It comes with opportunity, practice, support, encouragement, and repetition.
Repeat 10 million times.
For most ‘bad sleeper’ situations, it’s just a matter of making a few environmental and behavioral changes along with some detective work. Here are a few things to think about as you start teaching your child the very valuable skill of sleeping.
Always rule out medical conditions by your child’s medical professional and stay updated on your child’s current feeding requirements from your breastfeeding specialist.
Set up your day to be inclusive for quality sleep.
Create a calm and safe sleep space that is conducive for sleep. Have your child sleep there as much as possible. Remember, life happens and rigid schedules don’t do us any favors. Children thrive on predictability; however, it’s good if your child is able to occasionally sleep in different spaces if needed. Work towards motionless naps as much as possible.
Children are not able to tell us when they are starting to feel tired/overwhelmed/frustrated. Crying is a late signal for hunger. It can be difficult to feed and especially difficult to nurse a baby that has already become too upset to latch. Crying is also a late signal for sleep. It can be difficult for a baby to calm down and regulate when the stress hormones have become activated. Most of us only notice it when it’s already too late. Experts used to say to watch the clock. Now experts say to watch your child. I say, watch both! Some children are harder to read than others, so the clock can be a useful tool to help us keep track of how long it has been between feedings and sleep.
In the 4th trimester, we can create a womb-like environment. These S’s can be very helpful especially during longer crying episodes, witching hours, and when a baby is dealing with digestive issues. After four months, however, I would suggest that you try to wean off from one of those methods every few days if your baby is adjusting well to the change. Keep one or two of those methods as your baby will still need assistance in falling asleep while they learn to regulate themselves. Your baby is the best judge of which methods work the best for them!
One of the best lessons I learned early on was the Two Hour Wake Window Magic. (For babies over six months) So many things fell into place after I discovered this! Being a good detective and really watching your child will let you know what their personal magic number is. For a young baby, it might be 90 minutes. A well rested baby may be able to stretch it a little more.
EASY – How simple is that to remember? Well it’s just so easy! Eat. Activity. Sleep. You (your time). What a great way to help a mama realize that she will get her little break in there a few times during the day to do what she needs to do. This will become more obvious as they get older and sleep/wake/feeding patterns become more concrete.
For babies under six months, their wakeful windows are more important than their nap duration. Some babies won’t sleep longer than 30 minutes as their brains simply aren’t mature enough to do so. Some babies need to be held. A baby may have three to five naps per day. (More naps if they’re short and less naps if they’re long,) Their wake windows may be shorter if they had a short nap, meaning that the next nap will come sooner. If they had a long nap then the wakeful window may be longer. There can be a lot of variation throughout the day.
Another useful thing to think about are sleep averages. Remember, averages are just that: averages. This means that there are plenty of babies/children/adults with vastly different needs. Averages should be used as a guide, or a place to start from, and should not be seen as hard goals. Just because Baby Timmy down the block was sleeping for ten hours at four months of age, doesn’t mean your child can or should, but averages are a good place to start your thought process and planning.
Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range 14-17 hours each day
Infants (4-11 months): Sleep 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep 10-13 hours
School age children (6-13): Sleep 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17): Sleep 8-10 hours
Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours
Most importantly, remember to cut yourself some slack. There will be hundred, thousands, of skills you will teach your child over the course of their life. Sleep is the first in a long line of chances to teach by creating opportunity and then practice, support, encouragement, and repetition.
In a nutshell, that’s how I feel about it. It’s simply the worst. It’s self-defeating and soul destroying. I have been around it. I’ve supported moms that were deep in the midst of it. I find it difficult to find some positive in it. I knew it. I read about it, heard about it, and learned about it. However, nothing prepares you for it until you’ve actually experienced it yourself.
What is it?
It’s Mom Guilt.
To those that have never experienced it, please tell me your secret. It’s a battle, an internal battle. Logic gets flushed down the toilet so there is more room in your brain for the battle to commence. You know the facts; you know the details. You can argue both sides of the case, but guilt comes along and destroys everything. No matter how many times you research a topic or are reassured by a loved one or medical provider, you will still have that internal battle.
I wish that I could offer solid advice to make that guilt go away, but I can’t. All I can do is listen, empathize, and validate until you are able to come to terms with it yourself and find a way to silence those doubtful and debilitating thoughts.
Repeat this to yourself: No one is perfect. No parent is perfect. No child is perfect. We are all doing the best we can.
It’s true that when we know better, we do better, but you simply cannot be everything to everyone all the time.
There will be times that you have to give more to one child than another. There will be times that you’ll think that you’re neglecting your other child/ren. You may think that your spouse is being neglected too. Hopefully, after a heartfelt conversation with good communication and listening on both ends, they’ll get it.
Again: you cannot be everything to everyone all at the same time.
Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, it is a necessity. As much as I’m saying this all to you, I’m also writing it down as a reminder to myself. Make that appointment with yourself, whether it’s an extra five minutes in the shower, reading a magazine, or taking a few days away for yourself. My personal mantra is: Do what you can, when you can, to do what it takes to feel less guilty and take care of you.
Do what you can, to step aside and think clearly. Do what you can to come to terms and accept that if you’re feeling guilty, it shows your dedication, it shows your high standards, and it shows that you want to do it right.
So, what’s different about my blog? Why should you read it?
Well, my blog won’t be me gushing about my adorable children. I have toddler twins and a 4th grader who are, indeed, adorable. My life is full and sometimes crazy, so I won’t be gushing about DIY crafts or fancy recipes. And my blog won’t try to sell you anything.
My blog will be all about what I am all about: Being a mom and Gentle Sleep Coaching.
You will find tips, ideas, shared stories of tribulations and triumphs. You will find resources that you can bookmark and funny memes that will make you laugh. You will (hopefully) find a community of people just like you… parents with kids who need to sleep. Hey, that’s all of us! We all need to sleep, but sometimes getting the sleep we need doesn’t happen because our (adorable) babies aren’t getting the sleep they need.
I hope you will join me on this blog journey! I won’t commit to having a blog post every week or every month because, let’s be honest, life is a tad crazy right now. But I will commit to posting and I hope you will follow, subscribe, and share.