This is probably the most commonly asked sleep question for parents, and unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer!
There are many factors involved when attempting to answer this question. It can depend on things like:
How old is your baby?
How much do they eat?
How often do they eat?
Were they premature?
Do they have any health concerns?
But first, it’s important to understand how much newborns are supposed to sleep, and how that changes across the first few months of life.
How much do newborns sleep?
If you have a newborn, the answer is you cannot get them to sleep through the night. If your newborn does sleep through the night, this is not a good thing! You need to talk to your child’s pediatrician immediately. If you are struggling with feeds, reach out to a Certified Lactation Consultant. A newborn needs to eat every 2-3 hours, so sleeping through the night is not conducive to your baby’s growth or your breastmilk production if breastfeeding. A typical newborn is not going to be awake very often, only to feed and then cuddle for a few minutes before falling asleep again. So this means, yes, a typical newborn sleeps most of the day and night, but not several hours in a row. Like I mentioned, they need to be eating frequently, so after they feed (typically every 2-3 hours), they will sleep until they wake up hungry again. This means they may sleep for 1-2 hours at a time, then wake to feed.
How much does a 3 – 4 month old sleep? If your baby is 3-4 months old, it’s possible they may sleep through the night, but most do not quite yet. A 3-4 month old baby that is at least 12 pounds and eating well throughout the day, could give parents a 6-8 hour stretch at night. A baby’s ability to sleep this long at night is also dependent on their daytime feeding, activity, and nap schedule. At this age a baby’s circadian rhythm is ready to be set and they will thrive on a routine. This is the perfect time to reach out to a sleep consultant. Sleep training at this age involves very little crying and most babies are ready and willing to jump right into a sleep routine without much fuss! How much do older babies sleep? Some babies, even at 9 months, may not sleep a full 12 hours overnight without a feed. This is normal. Babies come in all shapes and sizes so we cannot expect them all to have the same needs or patterns. A smaller baby that eats less during the day is going to need more feeds in the night for a longer period of time. A larger baby that has big feeds during the day may start sleeping through the night much sooner than most.
Do I have to use Cry It Out?
Many parents, exhausted after months of sleepless nights, will resort to cry it out at this point. Please note, this is not necessary! No amount of crying will help a baby fall asleep if they are hungry and/or do not have a good daytime nap routine. Small amounts of crying are normal and necessary, but attempting CIO on your own with no other change to feeds or naps usually ends in frustration.
The problem with a question like this (How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?) is parents are often searching for a one-size-fits-all answer and there just isn’t one. That’s why a sleep consultant is so beneficial. They can assess your individual baby’s needs and your sleep goals to create the perfect sleep plan for your family. A sleep consultant that does not ask questions about your baby, your goals, or your parenting style and then doesn’t offer different methods to try based on your answers, is not going to be the most successful option.
As a sleep consultant, you can see why it’s so hard for me to answer this question with a blanket statement. I don’t know you or your baby to give you the best answer for your family. But I know you clicked on this link looking for help, so I’ll give you some very basic tips by age that will hopefully get you on the right path. You can also check out this blog post that lists my favorite sleep products!
Newborn Sleep Tips From day 1 there are some things you can do to get into some healthy sleep habits early. That way, when your baby’s rhythm is ready to be set, it will happen easily because you’ve already been working on these habits.
Put your baby to bed on a hard, flat surface (a crib or basinet). This is not only the safest place for them to sleep, but it gets them used to sleeping in the space where you ultimately want them sleeping later. They can sleep in your room near your bed for as long as you like, but this creates an easy transition when they are ready to be moved to a nursery. They just move along with the crib they are already familiar with.
When you put your newborn down for a nap, make sure the room is dark, cool, and use a sound machine.
When you wake your baby up, make sure to give them light. You’re unknowingly helping to set their natural circadian rhythm. High five!
With newborns, focus on feeds. Don’t worry too much about how much sleep they’re getting and when, just make sure they are getting enough to eat and growing well!
As your baby gets more efficient with feeds and can stay awake longer, see if you can separate feeding from sleeping. Make them two separate activities instead of always happing together. Eat, awake, sleep, repeat!
One way to help soothe your baby to sleep without feeding is Shush Pat.
In these critical newborn weeks, the support of an overnight postpartum doula can be so beneficial for parents. Mothers can heal, bond with baby, rest, and focus on feeding. Fathers or partners can get extra rest, learn newborn care tips, and ways to be supportive and helpful to a new mother. Postpartum doulas are there to offer judgment-free support to every family, day and night.
3-6 Month Sleep Tips Like I mentioned above, around 3-4 months, your baby is ready for a more structured routine. Babies thrive on routine and even if you’re not a schedule-oriented person, you can figure out ways to have a routine instead of a schedule. The easiest way to do this is have a set wake time every morning, a set bed time every night, and try to get 3 naps in per day at around the same time.
You still want to have your baby sleep in the dark and wake up to light.
Feeds are still very important. A hungry baby doesn’t sleep for long.
At this age your baby’s cries should be sounding different to you. Learning to listen to your child and understand what they are communicating to you is key to building a trusting relationship and is critical for sleep success.
6-12 Month Sleep Tips If you’re still struggling with sleep at this point, don’t wait any longer to seek help from a professional and experienced sleep consultant. I promise you, the right sleep consultant will offer your family life-changing results and it won’t be scary! Find someone that listens to you!
This is often when solids are introduced. As your baby eats more solids, milk feeds will decrease. This is normal.
Don’t offer food at dinner first as this disrupts night time sleep while food digests.
Routines are especially important at this age. Babies are really observant and knowing what to expect and when will help with nap time and bedtime.
12 months + Sleep Tips For toddlers, sleep can become even more difficult if they never slept well as a baby. They are now walking and talking and can put up a fight for naps and night time.
Routines are still crucial, if not more so now than ever! A toddler expects things to be the same each night.
Set boundaries and stick to them. It’s important that all caregivers are on the same page.
During sleep consultations I am often asked what my favorite products are. While I have many, parents must realize that my favorite sleep sack or swaddle may not be their child’s favorite!
I will list several products in this blog and tell you why I like them, but you know your baby or child best. Use your judgment to decide which might work best for them, but unfortunately it sometimes means buying a few products to find the right one.
Most parents choose to use a baby monitor, but there are so many options! Function is definitely a factor, but what about safety? Did you know wireless monitors emit radiation? Some of them emit as much as a microwave! There is one monitor brand that stands out above the rest, Bebcare. They have three great options. Check them out and do some comparison shopping of your own!
White noise is important for sleep. In utero, it’s actually pretty noisy! Think back to the sound you heard during your ultrasound. All that loud swishing is what your baby heard 24/7; the sound of your blood flowing and your heart beating. Recreate that level of white noise for your baby when you put them to sleep. Keep it fairly loud so they don’t hear a door slam, a dog bark, or the doorbell ring.
My favorite is the Homedics sound machine. It’s inexpensive, has a couple great sounds (rain and ocean…stay away from the jungle sounds!), and can be used with batteries.
Swaddles and Sleep Sacks
Love to dream
This sleep sack is great for babies who love to suck on their hands. It’s snug enough to help with the Moro Reflex but allows baby’s arms to move so they reach their hands to their mouths.
This soft and stretchy swaddle is made locally here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It has great compression around the chest to make baby feel snug and safe, while allowing the legs room for movement and the arm tubes hold baby’s arms down by their side. Here is a tutorial on how the Swaddelini works!
Muslin wraps for swaddling are the most common way to swaddle a newborn. They are inexpensive and effective. For some tutorials on different swaddling methods with a muslin wrap, check out a basic swaddle and a houdini swaddle.
The Miracle Blanket is a great option for babies that can bust out of a normal swaddle. I reference this swaddle above in my houdini swaddle method.
Wake up clock
The LittleHippo Mella clock is great for older kids who tend to get out of bed too early. It uses gentle colors to let kids know when it’s time to wake and a different color when they can get out of bed. There is a face on the front of the clock that tells them if it’s time to sleep (eyes closed). You can choose to use the alarm clock or not, and it has a couple sounds to choose from for a sound machine.
My friend Mitch Shooks, Owner of GRIP Center, recommends magnesium lotion as part of your bedtime routine. Here’s what he has to say:
“One of my favorite tricks to help parents get better sleep is to help them get their kids to sleep better. Magnesium supplementation is one of my favorites to help children fall and stay asleep. When my children were very small, finding a supplement to boost their magnesium intake was impossible until I came across a topical magnesium lotion. It’s the same form of magnesium we get from epsom salts but with much better absorption through the skin. While epsom salts were practical to put in baths for the babies, as they got older it got more difficult to keep up a daily dose.
I have used topical magnesium lotion for years with our kids and almost every client with small children. We make it part of our nightly bedtime routine. When we would change the last diaper and put on PJs we would use half a pump for our littles under 6 months and massage it into their legs and feet. As they got older we would use 1-2 pumps and give them a little back massage with the lotion right before bed. For kids that have a hard time staying asleep and often get out of bed, we found that after a few weeks of regular use they could sleep through the night. It’s completely safe, has zero downsides, and is often the most deficient mineral in our diets. If your littles have a hard time staying asleep, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend using the topical magnesium cream as part of a healthy bedtime regime.”
You can contact Mitch directly to inquire about the lotion.
I get asked alot about the SNOO. I think about half of the clients I work with have used or are using the SNOO for their baby. In theory, it’s amazing! It does all the things a baby needs to fall back to sleep. It gently rocks them and uses sound to soothe. It’s usually the best thing a parent has ever purchased for the first 4-6 weeks. After that, parents say that “it just stopped working for my baby!”. Well…yes and no. At that age a baby is beginning to produce their own melatonin (the hormone that makes us feel sleepy). When a baby begins to produce their own melatonin, they begin to show us some signs of early sleep patterns. This means they are in the beginning stages of setting their circadian rhythm – knowing when it’s time to eat and sleep and be awake.
The biggest downfall with using the SNOO (which isn’t a problem with the SNOO itself) is that parents think because they are using it, their baby is just going to magically sleep all night. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. A baby still needs to have a feeding and sleeping routine or the SNOO does you no good after a while. If a baby’s circadian rhythm isn’t set, no amount of rocking and shushing will get them to sleep. Healthy sleep habits in addition to the SNOO can be a winning combo to help your baby achieve great sleep for several months instead of weeks!
My recommendation for a crib or basinet would be to find one that makes the most sense for your family. If you only have one bedroom and you will be room sharing, a small basinet that can go near your bed would probably work best. (FYI: Most parents tend to do this for the first several weeks or months regardless of how many bedrooms they have.) Whether your baby is in a crib or basinet, in your room or in the nursery, my one and only concern is your baby’s safety. They must sleep on their back on a flat surface with no blankets, stuffed animals, or crib bumpers (unless mesh). Do not let your baby sleep in a swing or bouncy seat that is inclined.
Although a baby isn’t ready to sleep long stretches yet by 6 weeks, there are some really simple things parents can do at this age when they notice sleep going awry.
Some very basic sleep hygiene rules for a newborn can be extremely helpful in setting yourself up for sleep success down the road.
Follow your baby’s cues for sleep. Don’t try to keep them awake for too long. A newborn might only be able to stay awake for 1 hour at a time. Don’t listen to those who tell you that you need to keep a newborn awake for long periods of time during the day so they sleep at night. Sleep does not work that way for a newborn! Let them sleep when they are tired and don’t try to keep them awake for longer than they are able. This causes overtiredness.
Focus on full feeds. The first few weeks with a newborn will be all about establishing feeding habits and bonding. Don’t even think about a schedule at this point. Once you start to notice healthy feeding habits are formed, you can begin to focus on full feeds vs. all day snacking. If your baby can only go 1 hour between feeds, it’s usually a good indication that they are not filling their tummy during a feed. What does this have to do with sleep? Everything! If your baby needs to eat every hour, they will never get more than a 30-45 minute stretch of sleep at a time. If you can make sure every feed is a full feed, your baby will be full and that allows them to sleep longer without a wake up.
Try not to feed to sleep. If you can separate feeding from sleeping and make them two completely separate activities, you won’t ever get to the point where your baby requires a feed to fall asleep. Please note that the first few weeks, there will be no stopping your baby from falling asleep while feeding. This is normal and completely fine! But as your baby can eat more efficiently and stay awake a bit longer, feed in a well lit room to make sure they get a full feed while awake. Then move them to their dimly lit sleeping area to start the bedtime routine. Put them into the crib or basinet drowsy but awake.
Most babies who are around 12-16 weeks and/or 12 pounds are ready for a sleep consultation. Please reach out if you’re struggling to get your baby on a good nap routine or struggling with overnight sleep.
Keep in mind that a sleep consultation does not mean your baby will sleep 12 hours through the night! Some 5 month old babies are able to while some 9 month old babies still need a feed in the night. Our consultations are customized to your baby; there is never one right answer for all.
Together, as a team, we work to find the best solution for your baby and your family as a whole. We work based on your sleep goals and follow your baby’s cues to determine what they need.
To learn more about our sleep consultations, contact us for a free phone call to see if our plans are right for you. We work with clients locally and nationally as our sleep plans are done via phone, email, and text. Once stay at home restrictions are lifted, we will be offering in-person consultations again locally which can also be combined with overnight doula support to allow parents optimal sleep.
Our custom plans give you my full support for up to 2 weeks! I believe this is the only way for parents to be successful. We are there the entire way to offer guidance, assurance, answer questions, and tweak plans when needed based on how your baby is responding. We are a team!
Gold Coast Doulas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
Megan Kretz, one of Alyssa’s sleep clients, tells us about her sleep training journey with her daughter at 9 months and again at 19 months. She says that as a working mom, it meant spending a little less time with her daughter, but that it was all worth it because the quality of the time spent together improved drastically. Everyone was happier and healthier! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Welcome to Ask the Doulas Podcast. I am Alyssa, and today I’m excited to be talking to Megan Kretz. You were one of my past sleep clients, and then again recently.
Megan: Yeah, thanks for having me on!
Alyssa: Yes, we’re going to talk about sleep today. So remind me of how this journey began and what was happening before you called me.
Megan: So we reached out to you about when my daughter was nine months old with just all sorts of life problems as a result of my daughter’s sleep habits and our sleep habits, as well. A lot of it was definitely a struggle because we almost created the environment, the problem, that we found ourselves in.
Megan: Yes, unknowingly.
Alyssa: I mean, you don’t realize it when you’re doing it. You’re in survival mode.
Megan: Right. Before the age of eight months, my daughter had had five ear infections, and so we were in and out of doctors’ offices, on and off antibiotics, and because of that, she was in a lot of pain. She was seeking comfort because we could never get her comfortable. So in doing so, we just ended up creating all these really bad sleep habits. Falling asleep with us, on us, whatever we could do to allow mom and dad and baby to get some sort of rest. Up probably eleven times at night breastfeeding, and then wouldn’t take naps during the day; was up all day except for two 45-minute naps at the age of six, seven months old. Where our thoughts were going at that point was that she wasn’t developing properly without proper sleep. We couldn’t go on date nights. Nobody else could put my daughter down to sleep except me, not even her dad. We couldn’t go two hours for a movie on the couch without my daughter waking up, and it was getting to a point where, looking into the future, I don’t know how we would have gone much longer with the way that things were. And I had heard about you guys before, and finally I ended up going on the website, and I saw that you guys offer the sleep consultations. I was hesitant at first, but oh my gosh…
Alyssa: Didn’t she take to it, like, the first night?
Megan: Oh, yeah! The first night when we went through all of that — but I felt super needy with you.
Alyssa: No, you weren’t at all!
Megan: Texting you all the time! The first night, we had to go in and out, in and out a lot, but by the second night — she was almost there on the first night, and the second night, she was like, bam, done. She was like, I got this, Mom! I’m going to be your sleep champ from now on!
Alyssa: And kids always surprise parents. They want to sleep so bad, and once we just get them on a schedule, it just happens so much more quickly and easily than a lot of parents expect.
Megan: A lot of other working parents might find themselves in the same situation or scared on what they’re going to end up doing. I learned that so much of her night sleep is dependent on her daytime sleep and her nap schedule. She went to a daycare facility, and they had also used the same crutches we had to get her to sleep, and I was just nervous about that whole transition and really needing her to take proper naps in order to accomplish what we needed to at night. And in the end, we sorted out some schedules. We had some people that came and helped us and pulled her out of daycare for a week.
Alyssa: Yeah, I remember that. You had somebody stay at the house, because that first week is pretty critical, and when you have two parents working full time, you can’t just take a week off.
Megan: No, you can’t!
Alyssa: To have your baby sleep. That’s not feasible. But yeah, you had a trusted babysitter come over, right?
Megan: Yeah, and I don’t remember how many days it was.
Alyssa: Oh, you had a doula come, too, for a couple days, didn’t you?
Megan: No. Well, you…
Alyssa: Must have been another client. Sometimes they’ll hire a doula to come stay either during the day overnight.
Megan: I remember you said there are so many days that it takes of consistent behavior development to actually –
Alyssa: Until it becomes a habit.
Megan: Yeah, until it becomes normal for them. So we just had to get through that, and we did.
Alyssa: Well, and especially because she was going to daycare. Daycare can totally muck things up, especially if it’s a large one and not an in-home daycare but a large one where they have 20 kids and maybe 15 of them are in the nursery, and they’re just, like, this is naptime, and if they’re not sleeping, we get them up, because we don’t want them waking the other babies up.
Megan: Well, that’s what part of the problem was is that she was in the nursery, and there’s 12 other babies in that room, and they all share a crib room together. And they couldn’t get her to sleep, and then she was waking up other babies. It was all downhill from there.
Alyssa: So they just say, all right, nap’s done.
Alyssa: But after that five days of a consistent pattern, then she’s going to go back to daycare, and her body’s already on the schedule and already has a rhythm set, and it’s much easier to go back into that daycare environment and tell them, now she sleeps from this time to this time, and if she wakes up early, here’s what you have to do.
Megan: And daycare, you know, they made their own adjustments for what worked for them, too, so I gave them our schedule, but then they actually removed her from a crib and put her on a toddler sleep mat. They’re raised little beds, and I had to get a doctor’s note, but at the age of ten months, nine months, she was actually the only child in the room for months that slept on a cot.
Alyssa: Oh, so she was in her own room?
Megan: She wasn’t. She was blocked off from the other kids. So yeah, she was in a room by herself, but she was kind of blocked off with some shelving units so the other kids didn’t get all up in her business when she was sleeping. But she was on a cot, and that worked best for her because they found that she was anxious in the room with all the other kids in the cribs because all of her past memories were coming up, so changing her sleep environment was also to let them work according to the sleep plan, as well. So it ended up working well that way, and she ended up moving up into the next toddler room already on the cot where most babies have to go through this learning period for that.
Alyssa: So I remember in the beginning, you kind of struggled. You had this tug-of-war within yourself of, gosh, she’s sleeping amazing now, but now I miss these cuddles that I get at night.
Megan: Yeah, I remember that!
Alyssa: It was like, we have to find a balance here. It’s hard to go from being used to her there all the time, but that’s part of the problem is that she’s there all the time and nobody can sleep.
Megan: And at night when I’m giving her cuddles, she’s giving me cuddles, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s hard to just let that go.
Megan: And then don’t forget about the readjustment to milk supply. That was a big thing, as well.
Alyssa: Yeah, breastfeeding changes. Your body eventually fixes itself…
Megan: But it takes a little while and some uncomfortable days.
Alyssa: Yeah, you’ll wake up leaking everywhere. I’ve told moms to sleep on towels for a couple nights if needed!
Megan: Oh, yeah, been there, done that!
Alyssa: Yeah, so we talked about, early in the morning when she wakes up, get some cuddles in, and then spend the weekends, like Saturday and Sunday mornings, just make that cuddle time in bed to get all that oxytocin, all these great hormones that you guys are sharing when you get these cuddles.
Megan: It’s funny that you say that because it’s almost a tradition now that she’s older. She calls her pacifier her “oh, no” because when she can’t find it and she’s upset, it’s an oh, no situation. So she has to leave her “oh, no” in her crib, and then we go and get a bottle of milk, and I ask her if she wants to snuggle. Sometimes I get her out of the crib and she’s like, “Snuggle!” because that’s our time together. So we do that when we’re reading books before bedtime now, because we no longer breastfeed or give her a bottle before bed, so we just read books and snuggle for five, ten minutes, and then in the crib she goes. And then in the morning it’s a good cuddle time, and I wake up a little bit early and get ready before she’s up so that I’m not rushed for time to get ready. Either my husband or I will devote that time to her.
Alyssa: That’s really smart. I was just talking to somebody earlier about the fact that sometimes kids are just waking up because they want to see you, so especially as a parent who works full time, you already have this guilt of, I haven’t seen my child all day, and now they’re sleeping all night by themselves, which is great, but when do I get to see them? When do I get to cuddle them? So when you do a nighttime routine and then in the morning, put that phone away. Don’t make the TV part of this process. Put that kid on your lap; cuddle; kiss. Read the book, whatever. Just get all the snuggles in you can. They get 30 minutes of your undivided attention, and they don’t know if it’s any different than eight hours. To them it’s just that mom and dad are here and loving on me, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Megan: I agree, and it was hard being a working mom when we were going through all of this because the time with her became less because the night wakings weren’t there. But the quality increased. Her behavior got a lot better. And I am a better mom by being a working mom because I can devote my attention better if I have some things that I do on my own, if I have a work life, as well. So I didn’t want to give that up, but readjusting and figuring out the quality time was a lot better when she was rested and herself.
Alyssa: That’s the key, yeah.
Megan: And it really shines this whole idea even more when we recently went on vacation, and it was a struggle because we were in a new environment. She was in her own bed, but we had to share a room with her, and although all that went fine, her behavior was like she was truly in the terrible twos. She’s only 21 months old now, but everything changed because we tried to stick to the schedule, but you’re on vacation, so there’s only so much that you can do. So immediately on the day that we returned from this week-long vacation, and she’s sleeping in her own environment and we’re right back to the same routine, it was immediate behavior change, and it just solidifies even more how important a sleep plan is and how important it is to make sure that they get the sleep that they need.
Alyssa: They thrive on it, and we think that we’re doing them a favor by letting them stay up late to play with their friends. Or the 4th of July; it’s not even dark for fireworks until 10:00; what am I going to do? We’re not doing them or ourselves any favors by letting them stay up because usually they’re a wreck for two days after that. They’re not going to sleep in the next day. More than likely. They’re going to be up early the next morning. It affects them so opposite of the logical thinking. But yeah, that’s the key. You’ve hit the nail on the head; you have to readjust and understand that you have less time together, but it’s more quality time, and her entire world has changed. She’s happier, healthier, developing at a better rate because we all need sleep for that to happen.
Megan: It’s funny that you brought up the whole fact that readjusting and going to parties and not keeping them up late and whatnot — it’s funny because it’s easy for my husband and I to say sorry, we’re leaving at 7:30 or 7:00 or 6:30, whatever we have to do, to get home and start the bedtime routine. The hardest part about all of that is not leaving early; it’s convincing your family members and your friends that this is what you’re going to do and that this is important to you and your family, because it’s almost like they’re the ones pressuring you to alter your child’s sleep schedule. So that’s come up a few times, especially around the holidays when your family members do holiday parties or gift openings starting at 6:00, and bedtime routine starts at 6:30. You’re like, sorry, guys, we can’t come.
Alyssa: Right, unless you want to bring a pack and play and put her to bed there.
Megan: Which we’ve done. When she was young enough, we did that, and that was fine. We do that sometimes with friends where we go over and put her to sleep in the pack and play. We try to avoid that as much as possible, and now that our friends have kids or are having kids, we schedule things at 2:00 in the afternoon instead. Dinner parties go from 3:00 to 7:00; they don’t go from 7:00 to 11:00.
Alyssa: Yeah, that is the hardest part, because you have to be so consistent, and when you get those dirty looks or the weird looks from your friends, like why do they always have to leave so early, it makes you kind of feel bad, but you know it’s worth it. You’re doing this because it’s worth it.
Megan: Yep, it is.
Alyssa: So then you called me again recently…
Megan: I did!
Alyssa: She was sleeping great, and then you made a pretty big transition. Tell me about that.
Megan: Yeah. She was always a little bit ahead of the other kids as far as walking and crawling and climbing and running, so she eventually started climbing out of her crib, and we started getting very nervous about possible injuries. Quite a few times, on the video in her room, we’d see her sitting on the edge of the crib, just teetering there. My husband really pushed for a change because we can’t be doing this. So we actually ended up moving her into a big kid bed at the age of 19 months. And I’m trying to take what I learned with you from when she was nine months and trying to apply it to a child that’s now a toddler. And it wasn’t working. And that’s when we contacted you and learned about how kids don’t learn about delay of gratification until they’re three years old. So she doesn’t understand what it means when we tell that if you stay in bed all night, we get special time together in the morning.
Alyssa: It makes no sense. She doesn’t understand that concept whatsoever.
Megan: No. And she can get in and out of the toddler bed. Yeah, she may not be falling out of it now, but my husband and I went back to doing whatever we’ve got to do to get this child to sleep. So her nighttimes got shorter because we ended up staying in bed and laying with her until she fell asleep. Our bedtime routine went to two hours; from twenty minutes to two hours. And then she wouldn’t sleep a full eleven hours at night, and then her nap became elongated to three hours. We were on a waitlist for a daycare at the time, so we had to hire a nanny for a couple months. And it was funny because we were paying her for an eight-hour day when our daughter is sleeping for three of them! Just kind of a funny fact. But we went right back to, oh my gosh, what do we do? A year later, I’m finding your email address and saying help! Is there anything that you can help us with? And then when you sent us our new sleep plan and we saw that there are clear ways to help a child stay in the bed and to go right back into a routine for this next stage of a child’s life, and that babies aren’t the same as toddlers. It was eye-opening again when we saw the second plan, and you had so much good information in there!
Alyssa: I always wonder if it’s too much.
Alyssa: I geek out on sleep information, so I give my clients so much information. I think it’s imperative!
Megan: My husband even brought up later on about something else in the sleep plan that wasn’t related to sleep. Oh, it was snacking! You had said — and it’s so true. A lot of times, we were just allowing her to snack a lot, and we didn’t have set meals, necessarily. Yeah, she ate meals with us, but we allowed her to snack more than we snacked, not even thinking about how that might be tied into sleep or protein intake at certain times of the day and how that aids in sleep patterns. We had no idea. I was giving her a snack, and my husband actually said to me, don’t you remember reading that on Alyssa’s sleep plan?
Alyssa: That’s great! That’s what it’s there for!
Megan: Yeah, it was a lot of great information. And there’s just something special about receiving this information from a local person, from you, a person, and not a book I just pulled off the shelf at the library that might be outdated. You really cater our sleep plans to us, to the client and to the child, and having come in to our home, you knew us. You looked for things that might be distractions for quality sleep and taught us how to do a proper nighttime routine. Although it was a lot of information at one time, it was well-received, and we felt very — I don’t know if qualified is the right word, but we got the information we needed to then make good, informed decisions.
Alyssa: And be confident.
Megan: Yes, we got the confidence.
Alyssa: Even though I’m with you — you’re texting me all the time; I’m responding back; I’m there for guidance — but I’m not there forever. So that’s why I want you to have enough information that you can say, oh, okay, she’s twelve months now. Oh, yeah, she told me that this would probably happen around 12 months. Because I learned this when she was nine months, that’s what this means at 12 months. You have to be able to troubleshoot yourself or you’re just going to keep calling me every three months at every developmental milestone, saying what do I do? Help!
Megan: And it’s funny because we went back to your sleep plan multiple times between 9 months and 15 months to just look and what did she say when she reaches this age group; how much sleep will she need; what are her naps supposed to look like? So we definitely referenced it. But being in a new bed, when all that came up… And the plans themselves were very different.
Alyssa: Yeah, sleep is very different for a two-year-old versus a nine-month-old.
Megan: Yeah. But now, after day one of the new sleep plan, we got her back in the crib. It was like she never forgot it. She was in the big girl bed for probably four weeks.
Alyssa: So you’re thinking, oh, great, even if we try this plan, she’s ruined. We’re going to have to start all over.
Megan: Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought, but no, her sleep habits came right back. We were able to get her nap back down to a normal, respectable time, and she’s back to sleeping eleven, twelve hours at night with no interruptions. We can go back to watching movies and having quality time together with my husband.
Alyssa: And for date nights, babysitters are easy?
Megan: Oh, babysitters can put her sleep again. I’m not asking a babysitter to sleep with her for two hours.
Alyssa: “You’re going to have to lay in this bed with her, sorry!”
Megan: And then ever so slightly, quietly creep out as quiet as possible!
Alyssa: It’s like the ninja role. Like, you kind of slowly roll of the bed, and you keep a hand there for pressure and you slowly lift your hand up.
Megan: Make sure the dog is quiet when you’re moving around so its nail don’t click-clack on the hardwood floors and wake her up! Oh, I better put some WD40 on that door! Yeah, those were all things that were happening and going through our head. I’m laughing and I’m making a joke about it, but those were legitimate concerns of mine when we had her in the big girl bed and all of this was going on. Call me crazy, but that’s how you feel when you and your child aren’t getting sleep.
Alyssa: Well, you are a bit crazy. I mean, sleep deprivation does not make for a sound mental state!
Megan: And now I just can’t believe how much you guys have been able to help us. Maybe my experience can help other people. I’ve referred quite a few people over your way.
Alyssa: Thank you!
Megan: I just can’t reiterate enough how much you guys helped us and how worth it it is.
Alyssa: it’s definitely a service that I could literally call life changing.
Megan: Yes! I would call it that, as well! In fact, I think I’ve left reviews stating that!
Alyssa: Well, if you had one thing that anyone who has pushed off sleep training would need to hear, what do you think it would be?
Megan: It’s worth it. It is what’s best for baby. It’s what best for you and your family unit.
Alyssa: And what if they’re scared? Sleep training just causes anxiety. Those two words; people just think oh, this just sounds like it’s going to be a miserable experience. My child is going to be left alone; they’re going to have anxiety.
Megan: But she wasn’t left alone. The plan you gave us; that wasn’t the case, and you told me right from the beginning, before I even paid for anything, that we will do a plan according to what is comfortable for you. And I was totally okay with the plan. And what’s the worst that could happen? She wakes up 12 times at night versus 11? No, that’s not even going to be a possibility. We were so far down the rabbit hole that there was no getting deeper. We were hitting bedrock. So it could only get better at this point, and it did. It was a complete 180.
Alyssa: Well, I loved working with your family both times. You probably won’t need me again because she’s great. Don’t put her in that toddler bed until she’s three.
Megan: We won’t!
Alyssa: You’ll know when she’s ready!
Megan: We will definitely wait. Now we have just over a year before we have to make any new changes to sleep, but now I have the tools, too, to be able to transfer her to a big girl bed
Alyssa: Yeah, did I give some info to plan for?
Megan: You did, yeah!
Alyssa: Oh, good. I figured I did, but…
Megan: But this isn’t the end, Alyssa! I’m sure that we will see each other again and talk to each other again!
Alyssa: Well, on that note — because you might be adopting?
Alyssa: So I’m going to talk to you again at a later time about what an adoption process looks like because I don’t know, and a lot of our listeners and parents probably don’t know and maybe are even thinking about it but might be scared. SO we’ll talk about that next time.
Megan: I’d love to help you with some insight on there.
Alyssa: Thanks for joining us!
Megan: Yeah, thank you for having me!
Alyssa: If you have any questions for us, you can email as at email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram. Thanks, and remember, these moments are golden.
Chris Emmer, a former client, talks about her sleep journey with daughter, Sam, and working with Alyssa. She started when Sam was six months old and cannot believe she waited so long to seek help. In a sleep-deprived fog, she finally called in “the big guns” for help! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Welcome to Ask the Doulas Podcast. I am Alyssa, and I am so excited to be talking with Chris Emmer today. Hello, Chris!
Alyssa: You were a client of ours. You did birth, postpartum, and then sleep with me. So we’re going to focus in on sleep today.
Chris: Let’s talk about sleep, the most important thing!
Alyssa: So when did you realize that you needed help with sleep? How old was Sam, and how did the beginning weeks or months go with sleep? Were you like, “Oh, yeah, this is great, no problem”?
Chris: Okay, definitely wasn’t, “Oh, yeah, this is great.” It’s hard to say because honestly, those first couple of months – I call them the blackout period. I kind of don’t remember what happened. I know I wasn’t sleeping. I know I cried a bunch, and I was breastfeeding, like, 24/7. But I don’t know; it’s all such a blur in those first couple months, and I remember doing a lot of research on everything. So before I had her, I did a lot of research on car seats and cribs and diapers and all the things you buy, but I did zero research on sleep and breastfeeding – the two most important things! So after she was born, I felt like I was doing a crash course in how to have a kid. And after doing a lot of internet searches and downloading ebooks and taking webinars, all these things, I was feeling so overwhelmed with information. My baby’s not sleeping. I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. Like, I just need to talk to a person! And that was when I reached out to you.
Alyssa: And how old was she? Six months?
Chris: I think she might have been six months, yeah.
Alyssa: That’s what comes to my mind.
Chris: I think so.
Alyssa: So do you feel like you had six months of just pure sleep deprivation? You were just gone?
Chris: Absolutely. Yeah. There was no day and no night. And I remember very vividly sitting in my chair in the corner of the nursery breastfeeding, and when I got out of the bed and went to the chair, watching my husband just sprawl out and take up the entire bed, and just shooting daggers out of my eyes at him. And sometimes coughing loudly. “How was your night?” I would say to him in the morning. But yeah, we just had no strategy was the thing, and there was a ton of crying on her part, as well. She wasn’t just having a fly by the seat of her pants good time. She was not a happy camper, either, so we were like, okay, let’s step this up a level. We’ve got to do something here.
Alyssa: Right. I think the crying part is a big part of sleep deprivation for the child that the parents don’t think about, because they’ll call me and say, “I don’t want to do cry it out.” I’m like, “Good, I don’t do cry it out. But you have to understand that crying is just a healthy part of how a baby communicates, and in these sleep-deprived kids, your baby has done a heck of a lot more crying than they’re going to do while we get them on a schedule, and then there will be no crying.” So if you think about, cumulatively, how many hours of crying she did over those past six months because she was sleep deprived, and maybe you have to deal with a little bit of it during sleep training. I want to kind of hear about the journey from six months until now because we had some ups and downs with sleep. We’d get her on track, and then a new developmental milestone would happen and you would be like, “Help! What’s going on?”
Chris: That’s me, frantically texting Alyssa! So around six months – I honestly think before that, she wasn’t taking a single nap during the day, and when I talked to you, you were like, okay, psycho, you should be doing actually three naps a day. Here’s what time they are; here’s how they go. And then in the beginning, you gave us the shush-pat technique, which was what we did for a while there. And it ended up working super well. I think before we decided to call in the big shots, which is you, we were like, oh, sleep training; what a scary word. We better stock up on wine for the weekend we do that! You know, we thought it was going to be this traumatic thing, and we would both be scarred, and our child would be emotionally scarred. But she cried less the first weekend we did sleep training than she did any normal weekend when we weren’t doing it. Like, significantly less. I think she only cried for 15 minutes the first time, and then she fell asleep. Like, what??
Alyssa: I remember you saying, “How is this possible? What did you do to my child? Whose baby is this?”
Chris: Yeah, what’s happening? Did you possess my child? So yeah, we were just shocked that it worked almost right away, and it was not traumatizing whatsoever. What we were doing before was much more traumatizing, and we were doing that every single day! So once we had a few successes, it became much easier to stick to a more planned-out schedule, so that was around six months.
Alyssa: I remember the best was the photo you sent of me – I think she was now taking regular naps. It was the third or fourth day in a row, and you were like, oh, my God, she’s an hour through this two-hour nap. We’re going to hit the hot tub. And you sent me a picture of two champagne glasses on the edge of the hot tub, and you were like, yes! We did it!
Chris: That’s one of my favorite parenting memories! It was the greatest success because really, I feel like sleep is probably the most important thing.
Alyssa: I think it is!
Chris: Yeah, especially in terms of sanity for mom and dad. My emotional state was not stable when I was super sleep deprived. I was just forgetting everything, crying at the drop of a hat. It really affects you.
Alyssa: On so many levels. Your relationship; your child’s not happy, so you can’t even bond with your child effectively because you’re both sleep deprived and unhappy, and then you’re like, why are you crying? I don’t know what to do, and you just want to sleep, and we end up getting in these really bad cycles of, well, I just want to sleep, so let’s just do this, whatever “this” ends up being, whether it’s cosleeping or breastfeeding or holding or rocking or driving in the car. You just kind of get into survival mode.
Chris: Yeah. And I would just nurse her to sleep. I think I spent – oh, my God. I feel like I spent the entire summer sitting in my nursing chair trying to breastfeed her to sleep and then slow motion trying to drop her into the crib, and then she would just wake up one second later, and I’d be like, ugh, that was an hour and a half of work, and now she’s wide awake! So yeah, that was the beginning.
Alyssa: And then I didn’t hear from you for a little while, and then probably maybe eight or nine months, you think, she had another development milestone where she was sitting up or something?
Chris: Yeah, she started sitting up and then she started crawling. I remember when she first started crawling, that was a huge change because she would just do laps around her crib. She was running a marathon in there, and I would just watch her on the monitor and be like, oh, my God, I can’t shush-pat her anymore. She hates that!
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s way too stimulating.
Chris: Yes, which I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t text you again! I was still in there trying to shush-pat her for hours.
Alyssa: She’s, like, get away from me, lady!
Chris: She’s like, all right, chill, Mom; stop! So at that point – what did we do at that point? We stopped shush-pat. Oh, we started the timed-out interventions.
Alyssa: Yeah, just going in after a certain amount of time, increasing intervals. Yeah, and I think that worked the first day.
Chris: The first day, yeah. I think the longest that I went was 15 minutes, and again, it’s like – I previously had thought 15 minutes of my baby crying – sounds like hell! But once it was happening, I was like, oh, wait, I do this all the time. Like, I’ve done this a million times. I’ll actually just put away the dishes and make a snack and then, oh, look at the monitor – she’s asleep! It was super easy, and she got the hang of it almost immediately. So once I stopped trying to shush-pat her and wake her up from her ability to put herself to sleep, it was not a big deal anymore. But yeah, same thing; that milestone came up and totally changed the sleep game.
Alyssa: So where is she at now?
Chris: Oh, my God, she sleeps through the night!
Chris: I’m so happy!
Alyssa: And how many months is she?
Chris: She’s going to be 11 months next week, yeah, and she’s been sleeping through the night every night for, I don’t know, a couple weeks at least.
Chris: Yeah, it’s amazing. And she goes down super easy for her morning nap. It’s not even an issue anymore. I remember I used to, in the beginning of the week, I would count how many times I would have to put her down for naps that week, so there were, like, 3 per day, 5 days in the week – the week where I’m home alone – so that would be 15 nap put-downs, and I would be, like, okay I’m at 6 out of 15. I can do this! And now it’s like, it doesn’t matter who puts her down for a nap because I just set her in the crib.
Alyssa: Yeah, her body just knows it’s time. She doesn’t fight it. Incredible! Yay!
Chris: I know, it’s a game changer!
Alyssa: And you’re feeling good?
Chris: I’m feeling good!
Alyssa: Your husband’s feeling good?
Chris: Yeah, well, he got to sleep through the night for a long time.
Alyssa: Yeah, not that it affected him too much, right?
Chris: I was just watching him. But I wondered this: how long do you think it takes after your baby sleeps through the night for you to feel well rested again?
Alyssa: That’s funny because a lot of times we’ll do sleep consultations, and we’ll say, how did you sleep? And I had one dad tell me that he heard phantom crying all night and couldn’t sleep because he was just so used to waking up. I think their babies were 9 or 11 weeks or something. So two months straight, you know; it’s not six months, but it’s two months. It took them a good week or so to get back into their own groove. So you just need to figure out your groove again. So maybe you’re trying to stay up too late.
Chris: I don’t know. I do still wake up to any little noise on the monitor. I’m like, oh, is she okay?
Alyssa: So turn the monitor off.
Chris: What? You can do that?
Alyssa: Yeah! As soon as my daughter started sleeping through the night and was old enough that I was like, she’s so fine – monitor off. Actually, monitor not even in my room anymore, and earplugs in. She’s just down the hall. If she starts crying, I’m going to hear her, but I don’t want to hear every little wakeup. I don’t want to hear every little peep, and I still do that. Earplugs in.
Chris: Oh, my God. That’s genius. Because if she’s really crying, we can absolutely hear her.
Alyssa: You’re going to hear her, absolutely.
Chris: But yeah, the little rumbles in the night wake me up, and then I’m like, oh, is she okay? And then I just watch the monitor like it’s a TV show.
Alyssa: No, she’s good. She’s good. Yeah, you’re causing yourself more anxiety than you need by checking that monitor.
Chris: Yeah. Okay!
Alyssa: They’re lifesavers in the beginning and especially during training because then you don’t have to get out of bed. You can go, oh, she’s just rustling around; okay, she’s calming down; okay, she’s back asleep. And you didn’t have to get out of bed. But now that she’s steady and she’s got a nap schedule and she’s sleeping through the night – she’s good.
Chris: You’re going to change my world!
Alyssa: Go buy some earplugs when we leave!
Alyssa: Yeah, because you don’t want to wake up at every little peep. And as a mom, it’s just that we’re always going to do that now. Every single little noise: oh, are they okay? Are they okay? They’re okay.
Chris: I love that.
Alyssa: And my daughter is six now. I always check in on her. I’ll put her to bed or my husband will put her to bed, and I still, before bed, check in on her once or twice before I go to sleep because I just like that peace of mind. I’m going to sleep now. I’m putting my earplugs in. I want to get a good night’s rest. She’s okay.
Chris: Wow. When do you think they started making video baby monitors?
Alyssa: I don’t know. Good question!
Chris: Because I often wonder, like, what did my mom do?
Alyssa: Not that long ago.
Chris: Not that long ago?
Alyssa: I think it’s kind of new, like within the past decade. Yeah, because they just had the sound ones when we were little.
Chris: We survived!
Alyssa: Yeah! So what’s one tip you would give somebody about sleep training?
Chris: Oh, my God. Get a plan ASAP!
Alyssa: Don’t wait?
Chris: Don’t wait! I honestly sometimes want to have a second kid just so I can nail it on certain things that I really struggled with this time, and one of them is sleep. First of all, I would have gotten out of her room. We slept in her room, a couple feet away from her, until January 1st. She was born in June!
Alyssa: That’s eight months!
Chris: We slept in the same room as her for eight months! Is that crazy?
Alyssa: Yeah. Well, the AAP says that you should room share for twelve months. That’s their safe sleep guideline. For most parents, that’s not conducive to their lifestyle. You have to get up early for work; you have older kids. But some people do room share for six to twelve months. It does make sleep training a little bit more difficult because you’re hearing them and they’re hearing you. So it’s really up to the parent. It’s not crazy that you did it, but I think it definitely didn’t help your situation.
Chris: Right. Yeah, I found that we were doing exactly that. We were both keeping each other up all night. So when we got out of the room, that was a huge game changer, but just getting even more consistency for naps and just having a game plan instead of just all the crying for nothing. You know, all the crying for just a hot mess and no nap. It just feels like a waste, so then when it was, like, a few minutes of crying for a reason, it was so much easier to do because I knew it was for her good, and for my good, as well.
Alyssa: Well, and crying just to cry does you no good. I have clients come to me and say that they’ve tried cry it out; they’ve let her cry for two hours. I’m like, that was for nothing. That’s absolutely for nothing. And that is doing your child harm and giving her unnecessary stress. You have to have a plan, and you have to have somebody, an expert, telling you: here is the plan. Here’s how it’s going to work. Here’s how we execute it to get good results, because if you just try it on your own, it is all for nothing. And it’s so hard because people give up. Parents just want to give up. “I tried it; didn’t work. I give up. I throw in the towel. I’m just going to give in and do X, Y, and Z.” So it’s really hard. Or people will say, oh, I did this online course. I’m like, well, that online course doesn’t know you. They don’t know your baby. They don’t know your parenting style. They don’t know what you’ve tried. They don’t know what works and what didn’t work. So it’s really hard.
Chris: I downloaded, like I said, a million ebooks; did all these online courses; like, everything. And it just, like you said, it wasn’t my baby. I read it, and I was like, yeah, it sounds awesome to be able to do that, but my baby would never in a million years do that. So I read all the things that I was supposed to be doing, and honestly, those just made me more anxiety because it made me feel like more of a failure.
Alyssa: Right. “I did it, and I’m still failing, so what is wrong?” Or maybe that method would have worked, but they didn’t tell you how to execute it for your baby.
Chris: Yes, or how to troubleshoot. Like, okay, I went in and did this, and now I’m out of the room and she’s doing this – what’s next? And when you just have a book, for me, what would be nice is to go in and grab her and breastfeed her. Let’s get a boob in her mouth and see what happens!
Alyssa: Well, that’s why having my one-on-one support is great because when that happens, you can text me and say, oh no! This is not supposed to happen; what do I do? And I can say, yes, this is supposed to happen; you did totally find; you did exactly what you needed to do. Let’s just wait it out for five minutes.
Chris: Yep. The text message support over the weekend – we did that twice, right?
Chris: That was the 1000% game changer. Like, I cannot even recommend that enough because those minutes when you’re feeling like you’re going to break, you know? You’re like, oh, I don’t know what to do; I’ve got to go in there! Instead, I would text you, and you would say, you got this! One more minute! Or you’d say give it ten more, and if it doesn’t work out, then go get her. And I’d be like, okay.
Alyssa: Or let’s try this, and if it doesn’t work again tomorrow, we’re going to think of a plan B.
Chris: Yeah. The text message support was the absolute game changer, and just having a human also holds you really accountable because I knew that you were going to –
Alyssa: Yeah, I was going to text you and say, hey, what’d you do last night? How did it go?
Chris: Exactly, yeah.
Alyssa: Did you move out of that room?
Chris: Yeah, so the accountability to actually implement the things that you’re learning makes it so that you can’t back out without being a liar!
Alyssa: Right. I’ll know! I’ll be checking your Instagram feed! Make sure you’re not lying to me about this!
Chris: But yeah, that was the biggest and best thing that we did in parenting, I think, was to figure out sleep.
Alyssa: It’s huge. That’s why I love it so much. I mean, it can be detrimental to your health and your relationships to have bad sleep. Anything else you want to say?
Chris: Definitely don’t wait to do sleep training would be what I would say! Next time around – well, if I do a next time around – I’m going to start sleep training immediately!
Alyssa: There are ways to start healthy sleep habits from the beginning! It’s not sleep training; a six-week old baby can’t sleep through the night, but just helping to develop good habits.
Chris: Yep. Because we had no clue. I mean, I look back at the beginning when we first got home from the hospital, and I would have her in her bassinet in the middle of the living room, middle of the day, music blaring, and I’d be like, why aren’t you going to sleep? Just go to sleep!
Alyssa: And now to you that seems like common sense, but when you’re in a fog and you’re sleep deprived and all you’re worried about is breastfeeding this baby and trying to get sleep, you’re not even thinking clearly enough to realize that this baby is in the middle of the room in daylight with music blaring; why won’t they sleep? Like, it doesn’t even cross your mind that it could be an unhealthy sleep habit.
Chris: Exactly, yeah. So my advice is, when you are in your sleep deprived brain fog, don’t rely on your own brain! Rely on someone else’s brain!
Alyssa: Right. “I’m going to do this myself, because sleep deprivation is a good place to start.” It’s not! Statistically, one and a half hours of lost sleep in one night, you are as impaired as a drunk driver.
Chris: Is that for real? One and a half hours of sleep lost in one night and you’re as impaired as a drunk driver?
Alyssa: Mm-hmm, and we drive around our kids like this. Yeah.
Chris: So then what is considered a full night’s sleep for an adult?
Alyssa: Probably eight hours. I mean, some of us need nine; some need seven. But for you and what your body needs, if you lose an hour to two of sleep…
Chris: Wow, that’s crazy!
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s like buzzed driving.
Chris: Scary. I believe it, though!
Alyssa: I feel it. Yeah, if I’m sleep deprived, you can feel almost your head just kind of goes into a different space. That’s like when you’re driving and you miss your exit because you weren’t paying attention.
Chris: Yeah, I’ve missed my own road! Seriously, multiple times! Or you get home and you’re like, how did I get here?
Alyssa: Yeah, you’re in a fog!
Chris: Good thing she’s sleeping through the night now!
Alyssa: Awesome. Well, thanks for joining me today! We’ll have you on again another time to talk about your business!
Alyssa: Thanks for listening. Remember, these moments are golden!
Many of the tips I give parents during a sleep consult for their child apply to them as well. Although a baby’s sleep cycle is different from a toddler’s, and both are different than an adult’s, let’s talk about a few tips that apply to everyone and some that definitely do not!
Sleep tips for babies that transfer to adults:
A consistent schedule. This is #1 for ensuring proper rest at any age. If you have a job that you wake up for every week day at a specific time, you may notice that on the weekends you wake up at that time anyway, without an alarm. Some people may be able to fall back asleep, but if your body is used to a very structured schedule, more than likely you’re up for the day. This can be frustrating when you’ve stayed up late on a weekend and really want to sleep in, but your circadian rhythm is at work here! No matter what age, try to keep a consistent bed time and wake time.
Your sleep environment is important. With children we look at darkness, temperature, sound, and safety. Your room should be dark and cool. Crack a window or turn on a fan to circulate the air and cool you down. It’s better to have a cool room and get cozy in bed with the covers; if your room is too hot you are more likely to wake up. If you are a light sleeper, think about having a sound machine on or wearing ear plugs at night. A sound machine is also great for babies! Crank it up! We don’t want to put covers on a baby though (keep that crib safe!) so think about a sleep sack, or if your baby is small enough to be swaddled, use one!
A good bedtime routine is critical. With children we want this to be calm and soothing. We do things like read a book or sing a lullaby. We do not jump on the bed, wrestle, or play video games. This would stimulate the brain and make it harder for the child to fall asleep. As adults, we need to think about turning off electronics 30-60 minutes before we want to fall asleep. Stop working, put your phone away, and do something that calms you. Read a book, listen to a podcast or meditation, or watch some Netflix (as long as that isn’t too stimulating).
Be active and get sunshine during the day. This helps set our natural circadian rhythm. Our bodies need light and darkness to produce serotonin and melatonin. No matter what age, getting enough activity, exercise, sunshine, and fresh air during the day will improve night time sleep.
Sleep tips that don’t transfer:
Many parents think that if they keep their baby awake all day, they will sleep better at night. This is not true! This works for us as adults, but a baby’s body and brain cannot cope with this. They actually become overly tired which makes them fight sleep more!
Parents also tend to think that keeping a baby up later will help them sleep in later. This is also not true! Remember what I just said about being overly tired? If you let your baby stay up later, they will definitely become overly tired. This means they wake more in the night and it usually makes their morning wake up time even earlier. Eek!
Night time cravings can wreak havoc on adult sleep. If you need a snack after dinner, try to do it 1-2 hours before your bedtime, no later. For babies though, they do need to eat right before bed. We want them to go to sleep with a fully tummy so they can maximize the amount of time they can sleep at night before another feeding.
Some people can do all the “right” things and still not sleep well. There could be a number of factors, including physical and mental health, that play a part in how well you sleep. Reach out to your health care provider if you are struggling with chronic sleep problems.
You can find more tips for healthier adult sleep habits on the Pine Rest blog.
If you’re seeking help for your child’s sleep, you can find more info on the Gold Coast Doulas website. No matter where you live, our Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant can help you with phone and text consultations. If you live in West Michigan, we can also combine a customized sleep plan with overnight postpartum doula support to help parents get the rest they need while the doula sleep trains overnight.
One of Alyssa’s past sleep clients tells us her story about hiring an expert to solve her daughter’s sleep issues. She is honest about the fears she had going into it, the misconceptions and myths about sleep training that were dispelled while working with Alyssa, and how on the first day they saw improvement! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Hello! Welcome to Ask the Doulas. I am Alyssa Veneklase, and today, I’m super excited to be meeting for the first time and talking with Dominique. She was one of my past sleep clients. Welcome!
Dominique: Thank you for the welcome! I’m excited to be here!
Alyssa: Yeah! So I want to hear a little bit about what was happening at home and with sleep before you reached out to me.
Dominique: Yeah. So she is 11 months now, and before we reached out, it was getting to a point where she wasn’t taking naps, and if she was taking naps, it was, like, 15 minutes at a time. She was fussy all day. We were having to rock her to sleep for every single nap and bedtime, and that took 20 minutes.
Alyssa: So you would spend 20 minutes to get a 15-minute nap?
Dominique: Yes. Yes! So it was getting to a point where she didn’t seem like she was getting good sleep, and then we were just getting so frustrated. And I know you can’t expect a brand-new baby to sleep amazingly and to sleep through the night all the time, but she was not getting enough sleep, so it was just…
Alyssa: And she was nine months when you reach out? Does that sound about right?
Dominique: I think she was seven months when we reached out, yeah, just because I had read that if you were doing some sleep training, to kind of wait until about six months, so we decided to reach out around seven months, yeah.
Alyssa: I have different opinions about when to reach out!
Dominique: We may have waited a little too long!
Alyssa: Well, even by six months, that’s six months of forming some really bad sleep habits. And so before then, it’s really more of healthy sleep habits. You can’t really train a nine-week old baby. They’re not ready to sleep through the night, but there are some really healthy things that you can start incorporating during the day and at night to set yourself up for success at six months. So, yeah, it would have been a lot easier if you’d reached out earlier, but I’m glad you didn’t wait until 18 months!
Dominique: Yeah, I’m glad too, and I think if we have more kids in the future, we probably will incorporate some of the stuff that we learned, yeah.
Alyssa: Start a little earlier, yeah. So were you hesitant to start? What kind of fears or maybe even misconceptions did you have about sleep training before I worked with you?
Dominique: So I guess the biggest thing was that doing research and reading, I read a lot about crying it out and how it increases cortisol levels in babies, so they’re stressed out, and then they are learning how to cope on their own and they stay elevated, so they’re not learning how to be comforted, and instead they’re just crying themselves to sleep. So I was like, well, I don’t want to do that! I don’t want to set her up for not wanting to reach out to us for comfort, but then it also seemed like she was not happy because she was fussy and irritable all the time because she wasn’t sleeping.
Alyssa: So she was still crying all day, anyway.
Dominique: Yeah! So I was like, okay, there’s got to be some other ways to do this.
Alyssa: It blows my mind that people can still find information about cry-it-out online because I don’t know any sleep consultant who — I mean, letting a baby cry themselves to sleep just doesn’t even make sense to me. They don’t cry themselves to sleep. They might fuss themselves to sleep because they’re hearing themselves chatter, but yeah, those elevated cortisol levels for crying for two hours? No baby should sit in the crib alone and cry for two hours. I can’t stress that enough. I don’t even know who recommends that.
Dominique: And people say, well, oh, so you just let her cry in her crib? Well, no, we don’t just let her cry in her crib, but she had no self-soothing methods. She wasn’t self-soothing at all, so it was just like she doesn’t know how to go to bed unless we rock her.
Alyssa: So from what you remember, how long — well, I’ll go back. When you got my plan, was there anything that you were like, oooh, I don’t know about this? Or did it make sense?
Dominique: I think it made sense, all the different methods that you had mentioned to us. They all seemed pretty reasonable. The method where you sit in the room and kind of back out —
Alyssa: Oh, a gradual withdrawal?
Dominique: Yeah, gradual withdrawal, yeah. It seemed worse. When we were in the room, it was like she — it wasn’t — she wanted to lay down and know that we were right there. It was like, why are you in the room and you’re not picking me up? So that did not work for her.
Alyssa: Yep, you have to figure out and know your baby’s temperament. It’s first and foremost what drives the sleep method you use, because oftentimes these ones where the parents are in the room with the child, it’s way too stimulating. Baby is either like, you’re here; why aren’t you touching me? Why aren’t you holding me? Or, hey, it’s party time. I’m going to get up and I’m going to sing and dance in the crib because you’re here. So I’m glad you noticed that.
Dominique: Yeah, we kind of figured out that it was better for her that we didn’t sit in the room, but it did help for us to go back in periodically and soothe her.
Alyssa: So how long, do you remember, until you started to see results?
Dominique: Oh, man. The first night! So I think we started with bedtime, not her naps, because we got your plan, and I was going to be off work for a few days, so that first night, instead of rocking her for 20 minutes, we did her bedtime routine, which was another thing that we incorporated. Instead of nursing her to sleep, I was nursing her and then we would change into pajamas, wash her face, read her a book, and then put her to bed. And so that very first night, we laid her down, and she cried. We did three minutes, and then went in for 30 seconds, and then three minutes. And I think it was two rounds. So she cried for three minutes; I went in; she cried for another three minutes; I went in; and then it was quiet in her room.
Dominique: And I looked over at my husband, and I was like, this can’t be real!
Alyssa: Are you kidding me, right?!
Dominique: So it was amazing. She went to sleep, and I think that first night, she slept for about six hours, and then she got up to nurse, and then she went back to sleep fine. So yeah, the first night!
Alyssa: Yeah, so a lot of times, it’s just allowing them the opportunity to fall asleep on their own. I can’t tell you how many parents are like, oh, my baby has to be nursed; my baby has to be rocked; I don’t let my baby cry. Well, three minutes of crying — it’s not a lot, right?
Dominique: No, no.
Alyssa: If you consider all the crying she’s done because of lack of sleep and overtiredness, three minutes is nothing.
Alyssa: And that’s all she needed to literally soothe herself to sleep. That’s what she did!
Dominique: Yeah, and we felt good about it. It wasn’t like we felt like we were neglecting her by letting her cry in her crib. It was just like she put herself to sleep, and now she’s getting a good chunk of sleep. So we were really happy with it!
Alyssa: Yeah, sometimes it’s just kind of looking at sleep a different way and realizing that cry-it-out means you put your crying baby in a crib; you shut the door; you walk away, and you don’t go back in. And nobody wants to do that! I don’t want to do that! But, you know, talking about cortisol levels, it’s a natural response to anything. You know, your baby goes to the doctor; you go to the dentist. Our cortisol — it’s a flight or fight thing. The thing with a baby that helps bring that back down is a loving caregiver, so she has you and Dad right there. You’re the buffer in this situation, so even crying for three minutes, her cortisol levels might rise a little bit, but then you came in after three minutes, and she saw you were there. And I talk about sleep cues sometimes, like saying goodnight, I love you. You know, you have these sleep cues that you repeat, and then their cortisol levels go back down. And then they might fuss for a few more minutes, and then they’re out. It just happens!
Dominique: It was amazing!
Alyssa: Is there anything else that you had maybe thought that I would have told you — I guess were there any other surprises from those misconceptions? Anything that you felt like, oh, I can’t believe she’s telling me to do this, or I can’t believe she’s not telling me to do that?
Dominique: I guess in the first email we got with the plan, I think you had said her first nap should be 60 to 90 minutes, and then her second nap should be 90 to 120 minutes, and I was, like, there’s no way she’s going to sleep! Up until that point, her naps had been maybe a half an hour during the day, and she was getting maybe two naps a day. So then we tried it with her naps, and she did sleep an hour that first nap, and then we got a couple of longer hour and a half naps. We’ve only gotten a few two-hour naps out of her, but that was a big shock because I was, like, man, she really hasn’t been getting as much sleep as she should have been getting.
Alyssa: Well, and it’s funny because we think she’s so tired during the day; she’s not napping; she just has to be tired enough to sleep all night. And it’s counterintuitive. They need sleep during the day so they don’t get overly tired, and then they don’t fight sleep at night. So right now, at 11 months, though, that morning nap should only be 30 minutes, FYI. I don’t know what you’re doing right now.
Dominique: So her naps have still been a little bit of a battle, and we’ve kind of gotten to a point where we’re letting her sleep for that first nap because that seems to be her best nap of the day, and if we cut it short, sometimes she doesn’t take a good nap the rest of the day. So we’re still kind of tweaking that a little bit because —
Alyssa: Is she sleeping through the night with one feed, then?
Dominique: Yes, and we’ve cut out her nighttime feed now.
Alyssa: So she can go all night, like a full twelve hours?
Dominique: Not a full twelve. She will sleep from about 6:30 and then she’s still waking up around 4:30, 5:00, so then we put her back to sleep. So it’s not perfect, but we haven’t quite figured out how to make those little switches. So shortening her first nap, lengthening her second nap, and then putting her to bed closer to 7:00.
Alyssa: Yeah, so having a really long morning nap encourages that early morning wakeup. So I would try for a later bedtime; 7:00, 7:30. And don’t let her sleep longer than a half an hour in the morning.
Dominique: Okay! All right!
Alyssa: A little added tip there!
Dominique: I trust you! I’ll try it!
Alyssa: Yeah, we want her to sleep from — I mean, not every baby will sleep the full twelve hours, but if she’s going to bed at 7:30, I would think no earlier than 6:30. That’s eleven-ish hours depending on when she falls asleep.
Dominique: And that would be nice because getting up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning is not ideal.
Alyssa: And then remember that 2-3-4 rule. So after she wakes up, she’ll be tired after about two hours, and then three hours after that wakeup. So let’s say you have an ideal — let’s say she wakes up at 7:00 in the morning. She should go down for that first nap at 9:00 and sleep from 9:00 to 9:30, and then three hours after that, which would be 12:30, she should have a two-hour nap. An hour and a half is fine; not all babies sleep two hours. But at her age, she should want to sleep about an hour and a half.
Dominique: Okay, and we have been doing that, the 2-3-4. It’s just she’s been getting up so early, so if she gets up at 6:00, we’re putting her down for her first nap at 8:00 in the morning, which does seem really early to us.
Alyssa: But she’s also going to bed really early. 6:30 is pretty early.
Dominique: Yeah, and sometimes by 6:00.
Alyssa: And you can’t just put her to bed at 7:00 tonight if she’s been up since 5:30. It’s a slow, 15 to 30-minute increments. But you have the added fun of daylight savings time, which messes everybody up. And probably by the time this episode airs, it will be past daylight savings, but we can still talk about it. And it might actually help you. So let’s see: spring forward. 7:00 is really going to 8:00, so her 6:00, 6:30 bedtime is going to be 7:30. So you might not want to push it too far.
Dominique: Yeeha, I think our situation is a little unique for that because we need to adjust her bedtime, whereas some people, they want to keep their kid on their 7:00 schedule, so they have to adjust backwards.
Alyssa: Yeah, you have to do it slowly. Like, with my daughter, I’ve been putting her to bed early; every night, a little bit earlier, to get her to that point. But yeah, I would try for a later bedtime, and that morning nap is what’s screwing up your morning wakeup. It’s just too long.
Dominique: Yeah, unfortunately! I’m like, okay, her morning nap — I’ve got to get stuff done!
Alyssa: Well, make it in the afternoons, instead, because that’s the nap she’s going to have until she’s two, three, maybe even four, that afternoon nap. And think about when you go to childcare; you know, naps at 12:30 or 1:00.
Dominique: All right, we’ll make some adjustments!
Alyssa: Anything else? What would you tell people about sleep consults that you think people need to know?
Dominique: I would say it’s worth it, and I’ve had a lot of people say, you know, what did you do for sleep, and then I explain what we did, and I say, “But we needed some help.” Like, it was just getting too frustrating, and I would just say it’s not cry-it-out like you think it is, just shutting the door and letting them cry, because I do think that’s a big misconception. So I would just say, look in to a sleep consultant, or just don’t take everything you read on the internet and apply it!
Alyssa: Well, and there’s so much information, but again, adjusting it to your specific family and your specific child, because I could have just given you, hey, my method is gradual withdrawal, and there you go. And then you’re doing this with your child and she’s like, this is not working. Yeah, it’s way too stimulating for her. So you can’t just give an end-all, one-fix method for every family. So that’s the hard part. You could read a hundred books, but you would need to have the ability to discern which method works for your family, and then have somebody there coaching you and holding your hand. And a big part of what I do is holding you accountable. Did you do this? How is it going? So that nap… We’re not working together anymore, but I can’t help myself; I have to tell you that nap is too long in the morning!
Dominique: But no, it was definitely worth it, and it was nice that you kind of explained the different methods and we could figure out which one would work best.
Alyssa: Sometimes, I know that there’s one that’s going to work, and that’s the one I suggest. Sometimes, I’m like, okay, based on your personality and your parenting style, I’m going to give you a few options. Here’s what I would recommend, but I want the parents to feel comfortable moving forward, and oftentimes, I still know which one I would recommend. Like you, you need to go through and say, oh, well, gradual withdrawal seems really more my parenting style, and I understand that it’s going to be a slower process. But you’re like, nope, didn’t work. So let’s move on to this one; let’s try that. Nope, didn’t work. But oftentimes what happens is a parent tries that one; it fails, and they give up and they’re done. They think sleep training didn’t work and it’s junk. So I get it.
Dominique: No! Keep going!
Alyssa: I get why parents feel frustrated. And how is she doing now?
Dominique: She’s doing really well. She’s starting to walk. Well, she is walking, so she’s very busy, so we’re keeping up with her now. But yeah, she’s doing really good!
Alyssa: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. I love hearing stories from clients! Did I ever get a picture of her? I love getting pictures of babies. You’ll have to show me before you go.
Gentle Sleep Consultant, Alyssa Veneklase, talks about the most common misconceptions around sleep training. If your baby sleeps through the night will your milk supply dry up? Can a baby really self-soothe? Will my baby feel abandoned? You can listen to this complete podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Kristin: Welcome to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas. This is Kristin, co-owner of Gold Coast Doulas, and I’m here with my business partner Alyssa. And we chatted a while ago about sleep, and we are coming back to some of the top misconceptions related to sleep and training babies, as well as young children.
Alyssa: I get a lot of people asking questions just because there are so many misconceptions about what a sleep trainer does. So I listed a few of the most common, and I figured I’d kind of run through those.
Alyssa: So the first one is that we let babies cry for hours. So everyone has heard of cry-it-out.
Kristin: The dreaded cry-it-out.
Alyssa: And that is not something I do. So I would tell parents that if a sleep consultant is telling you to let your baby cry for hours, please don’t listen to them. I don’t think we should ever let our children cry for hours because it’s not healthy for anybody, and it’s just going to make baby and parents both miserable. But babies do cry; there’s no way to not have a baby cry. Day and night, they’re going to cry. That’s their only form of communication. But not all cries mean distress. They cry when they’re hungry. They cry when they’re tired. They cry when they’re sad, angry, hot, cold, bored. It’s up to the parents to learn to distinguish those cries, and that means paying attention to what’s happening. So, for instance, if there’s a loud noise outside: the phone rings, the dog barks, maybe the sun shines in their eyes through the window, or they yawn and then start crying. If you’re paying attention to what was happening to them around when they started crying, you’ll begin to understand why they’re crying and what that cry means. You can’t assume that all cries mean the same thing, and I run across that with parents. “She cried, so she’s hungry.” Or, “Oh, she cried, so she’s tired.” And that would be like if you stood up and stubbed your toe, and I offered you a sandwich. I’m not listening to what your cry means. I’m not listening to you, and therefore, you can’t trust me, that I’m actually paying attention to what you’re telling me.
I talk about this a lot in my newborn survival class, that we need to listen and pay attention to our children, no matter how young, because when we respond accordingly, we begin to build that trust. So when your child cries and you notice the tired signs, it’s important to react accordingly: put them in their crib. And then depending on the child’s temperament, we soothe them to sleep in a method that makes sense for them. So we don’t do what a friend did for their child; we don’t do what our mom did for us. Each child is different, so that’s my job to figure out when I speak with my clients. And then I also have them fill out a really extensive intake form, so I know their child’s current routine. I figure out the parents’ parenting methods and the temperament of the child, and then depending on what the parents have tried already, I ask about their successes and failures and what their goals are. We come up with a plan that’s specific for them, and then I assure them that nothing ever includes hours of crying. No parent ever asks for that.
But again, depending on the temperament of the child, and sometimes it has to do with how many other kids are in the home, or does Mom have to go back to work in a week? She might want a really fast method, and that might be what I call controlled crying, where we’re going to say, if you’re comfortable with ten minutes at a time, we’re going to let baby cry for ten minutes at a time before we go in and intervene and try to help them soothe. So, again, it’s up to their parenting method and if they’re in a rush or if they have a month to give it.
Kristin: That makes sense.
Alyssa: I’ve also heard that, well, I’m not going to be able to bond with my baby anymore if they can put themselves to sleep. So many parents think that, and I don’t know why they forget that you can bond during the daytime, too, but they’re used to their baby falling asleep in their arms while rocking or breastfeeding, and now they fall asleep on their own. So I tell them to focus on bonding during the day. Especially if the mother is breastfeeding, that’s the ultimate bonding experience, and it still happens several times throughout the day.
Once baby’s on a good nap routine, it actually helps you bond better because when baby’s awake, they’re more alert and happy. Some babies are so exhausted that all they do is cry and fuss, so it’s nearly impossible to bond with a baby like that. That’s when the parents tell me, oh, my baby’s colicky, and oftentimes I can tell just from the intake form alone that they’re not colicky; they’re overly tired. And those babies just cry and cry and cry all day long. So when babies do cry and fuss all the time from overtiredness, cumulatively, this creates a lot more crying than any sleep training does. So this overly-tired baby’s crying all day. A little bit of crying at night for sleep training eliminates it all.
I had a client once that her baby began to sleep in the crib all alone, and then she called me after the fifth or sixth day and was really sad because she missed having her baby in her bed. It’s not my job to tell her she can’t have her baby in bed with her; I’m not going to judge her for feeling sad. Of course, she’s used to having this bonding time with her baby in bed. So I told her that the decision was hers, and she and her husband were now getting a full night’s rest; the daughter was sleeping soundly all night with no tears, but Mom was feeling sad. So I told her, if she wanted her daughter back in bed with her, by all means she can do that. But she right away said, no way. No way; I can’t go back to the old way. She knew she’d be back at square one where she was exhausted and angry, not able to function well at work, and really short with her husband. So I suggested to make the weekends her bedtime snuggle-time in the morning. Who doesn’t love a Saturday or Sunday morning bedtime snuggle? So on days they didn’t have to get up for work or send her to daycare, they brought their daughter into bed with them, and she got to wake up and snuggle under the covers with them for an hour before they get up. She can breastfeed, and it was this good balance where she felt like she could still have the whole weekend to bond with the baby and get a full night’s rest.
Another one is that I’ve heard that, oh, your baby’s going to feel abandoned. I agree; if you’re leaving your baby in a locked room inside a crib for hours with no intervention, they’re going to feel abandoned. It’s a horrible idea and a horrible thought, and again, if anyone’s telling you to do this, please don’t. A good sleep consultant will come up with the plan that’s best for you. So if they have only one solution to the sleep problem that they use with every client over and over, walk away. There is no one right answer, or this would be easy. People wouldn’t need my help; people wouldn’t need to read books. So during my gentle sleep training, parents feel like they’re supported by me, and the baby is gently guided into sleep slowly at the parents’ pace so that nobody feels abandoned. And again, I do have clients who are like, I need to do this now. I have five days until I go back to work; I’m totally fine with some controlled crying. Let’s get this done. And I still think it’s gentle because I want baby to feel connected to parents still, and I don’t want the parents to feel like they’re abandoning their child. So even with a little bit of crying, you can still make it gentle.
For breastfeeding, I hear all the time the concern that my milk supply is going to dry up. And everyone is different. When I have clients fill out my intake form, I find out if there are any breastfeeding issues. Feeding is a huge part of the sleep consults. If baby isn’t gaining, I wouldn’t even suggest sleep training; I would suggest a lactation consultant visit. And there’s no way a baby can sleep longer stretches if their belly isn’t full. It’s just impossible. If there’s low milk supply, we can work with that, but while baby sleeps, mom can get up and pump or she can do a dream feed or both. And if milk supply isn’t an issue, your body’s smart, and most women can go an eight-hour stretch without nursing. But when baby wakes in the morning, they’ll both be very, very ready. So yeah, I ask a lot of questions about feeding, especially if a baby is breastfed, and my number one goal is that they are getting enough calories during the day before we even attempt for longer stretches at night.
Formula-fed babies are a little bit different because I know exactly how much they’re getting. They’re usually gaining a lot, and then if they’re older and eating solids, it still can be an issue. I had one client say, “Oh, he just snacks and snacks and snacks, all day, all day, all day.” And I said, okay, well, what’s he snacking on? Come to find out, it was things like Cheerios and those puffs and just all empty calories. So as soon as we changed it — I said get rid of all this processed food and think about healthy fruits and veggies that are appropriate for his age. Add in some protein. That’s all he needed. He was snacking on bad things all day.
Kristin: Those easy finger foods.
Alyssa: Yeah. And then the last one that I get told a lot is, well, my child is just not a good sleeper. I’ve tried everything, and nothing is going to work. And so many parents say this, or they say, he’s really strong-willed or she’s a fighter, and I don’t doubt that, but all babies want to sleep. They do! They want to sleep. We just have to help them. They don’t know how, and we need to show them and guide them. So as parents, we do the best we can, but unfortunately, it often means we’ve created some really bad habits. It’s really funny because a lot of moms will tell me, “I know I’m not supposed to do this, but this is what I do.” And they’re in survival mode, for the most part. If you’ve gone weeks or months without sleep, you’re literally doing what you need to do to get this baby to sleep right now so that you can get back to sleep quickest. So usually we know that they’re bad habits, but it’s the easiest solution at the moment, so we continue to do it until we just can’t do it any longer, and they’re so exhausted and sleep-deprived they can’t take it anymore.
The best sleep plan is mutually agreeable between parent and child, and if we’re trying to force the child to do something that is against what their internal clock is saying, then yes, they will fight. If we try to get them to nap when they’re not tired, we will think they’re strong-willed. If they wake every day at 4:00 AM just ready to party, we will say that they aren’t good sleepers. And all of these things are just products of poor sleep hygiene, not necessarily a problem with that child. So a lot of the times, it’s a lot of educating on sleep. I give a very extensive plan, and a lot of the plan is just understanding sleep; how it works, and what, based on their baby’s age, developmentally is going on.
Kristin: Sure. What about those parents that say their child doesn’t fall asleep unless they’re driving around the neighborhood in the car?
Alyssa: Again, it’s just a sleep association, and after a certain age, it’s not even a healthy way to sleep. They’re not getting into the deep, restful sleep, and it’s not restorative. It’s like a constant REM sleep where you’re not getting any restorative sleep, and cat-napping is a really bad and a really common habit that little kids and babies get into, but again, they’re not getting restorative sleep. So it’s teaching them about naps and how to allow their baby to soothe themselves to sleep, and it’s figuring out what works because, again, it can’t be the same for every baby. Some babies love to suck, and every baby does because they suck on bottles and boobs and pacifiers, but some really love to suck, and that’s their soothing mechanism. The second they find a hand, sleep is a dream.
Kristin: And they probably did that in the womb, as well.
Alyssa: Yes, many babies do. You’ll see ultrasound pictures with little thumbs in their mouths, yeah. The ones that like to be driven around, they might have an association with swinging or movement. Especially as they begin to roll over and they can go on their sides or tummies, they might even roll themselves to sleep. Some babies do that, and some — this one scares parents, but if they bump their heads against the crib or bang their hand or foot on the crib, but it’s soothing for them.
Kristin: I’ve seen babies do that, yeah.
Alyssa: So it’s letting parents know that they are soothing themselves to sleep. Don’t be alarmed. I mean, if they’re banging their head so hard that they’re getting bruised and stuff, that’s different, but a lot of the times, it’s just kind of a light thump-thump-thump. It’s just understanding and watching; really watching your baby and understanding their cues and what they’re telling you. It’s really important.
Kristin: Fascinating! Thanks for sharing!
Alyssa: Sure! If anyone has any other questions for me and wants to reach out, there is some info our website. We’ve got some other podcasts and blogs about sleep.
Today we talk to Co-Owner of Gold Coast Doulas, Alyssa Veneklase, about sleep consultations. She talks about some common misconceptions and why her consultations are different. She says each sleep plan is unique and based on the individual family’s goals. Who knew you could still breastfeed and co-sleep if you want, all while getting a full night’s rest? You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes or SoundCloud.
Kristin: Welcome to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas. This is Kristin, co-owner, and I’m here with my business partner Alyssa to talk about sleep today. We are gaining a lot of interest from clients and the general public about sleep, so if you could start out by letting us know what sleep training is, what it isn’t, and how you’re different from other sleep consultants.
Alyssa: So there’s these misconceptions that we just don’t listen to what the parents need or want, and we just throw babies in a nursery, close the door, and let them cry for hours and say, oh, they’ll fall asleep eventually. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s really like putting together a puzzle. When a client calls me, we have a phone consultation or I meet them in their home and they fill out a really extensive intake form where I ask a ton of questions. I want to know what kind of temperament the child has, whether they’re six weeks old, six months, or 18 months, because the temperament of that child will determine the different methods we try. And then what kind of parenting style; are you a co-sleeper, breastfeeding, formula-fed; is baby in the crib? So it’s like putting together a puzzle; let’s figure out what you’ve tried, what’s working, what’s not working, and honestly, most kids in three to five days figure it out and start sleeping really well.
Kristin: That’s amazing! I wish I would have had you when my kids were little.
Alyssa: And it can be as gentle or as fast-paced as you want.
Kristin: What’s the youngest age that you sleep train? That’s a common question we get, and what is the oldest?
Alyssa: I would say I’ve had clients as small as three weeks, but we don’t sleep train. It’s more about talking about what to look for developmentally in the next few weeks. Probably by six to eight weeks, they’ll start to notice some patterns in sleep. They start producing their own melatonin and all that good stuff, so it’s more about talking about proper sleep hygiene, what the nursery should look like, what the environment should look like around naps and sleep, but then actual sleep training usually starts around 12 to 14 weeks, as long as the baby wasn’t premature and the baby’s gaining weight healthfully.
Kristin: Do you go to the home, or is it a combination of phone and home? How does a client choose what package they want?
Alyssa: One or the other. It could be based on price because for me to go to their home, it’s a little bit more. Some parents want me to come to their space, meet the baby, see the nursery, see if there’s any glaring things that stand out. I might have to go in and say that this room is too light; you need a noise machine; this crib is full of sheets and stuffed animals and blankets and stuff that is not considered safe. Most of the time, it’s a phone consult. That seems to work for most, especially if they’re out of the area.
Kristin: As far as your top tips for potential clients or parents, what are some things you would say? You mentioned darkening a room and so on. What would be your top five things a parent could do?
Alyssa: For basic sleep hygiene, it’s really not until that six- or eight-week mark that they start producing their own melatonin. The production of melatonin only happens in the dark, but you also need that production of serotonin during the day. So it’s this fluctuation of hormones throughout the day, and one needs the other. So they also need sunlight. So I’ve had clients where they just sit in a dark room. They think to get their baby to sleep longer, it just needs to be dark all the time. Well, they’re not allowing their baby the production of serotonin to be active and have this active playtime during the day, so then it’s harder for them to produce the melatonin at night. So creating a sleep environment that’s dark helps. Sound machines: I’ve had a lot of clients use sound machines, but they’re so soft and the baby can barely hear them. It needs to be loud. I tell them think vacuum cleaner. If someone were in here right now with a vacuum cleaner, I would not hear anything going on outside this room. And swaddling; that Moro reflex or the startle reflex that babies have can wake them up several times in the middle of the night, so a safe swaddle, and by that, I mean arms in, really tight around the arms, but really loose around the hips because of hip dysplasia. That’s one thing that with the resurgence of swaddling babies, doctors have noticed that babies can have hip problems if their hips can’t move. So in my newborn class, I demonstrate that; really tight around the arms, but here’s how baby’s legs and hips should still be able to move.
Kristin: What about daytime? Do you have tips for naps and getting better daytime sleep?
Alyssa: Yeah, they go hand in hand, so people will say, oh, the baby sleeps fairly well at night, but is horrible during the day. Well, the night isn’t going to get better until the daytime improves, and a lot of times, it’s just letting them know how long they should wait in between a sleep. So sometimes for little, little babies, they might be trying to keep them up for two hours. A ten-week old baby might not be able to stay awake for more than an hour, so they get overly tired, and then they fight sleep. So letting parents know what a sleep pattern should look like based on their child’s age is sometimes really important.
Kristin: That makes sense, and at Gold Coast, we work with a lot of families with twins and triplets. How do you handle sleep training with multiples?
Alyssa: It’s lovely when they seem to have the same temperament and want to be on the same schedule, and oftentimes I have to remind parents that these are two different humans with different personalities. I’ve done twin consults where we just work with one because the kids’ temperaments are pretty much the same and they’re kind of already on the same schedule, but then some where they’re completely different. When one’s up, the other one is sleeping and vice versa. So then we kind of have to look at them as two separate being with two separate sleep plans.
Kristin: Now, one misconception is that if you’re working with a postpartum doula, Gold Coast or elsewhere, you wouldn’t necessarily need sleep training or a sleep consultation. So tell us why you need both.
Alyssa: Working as a postpartum doula, it’s totally different. I guess it’s different when I’m there because, since I’m also a sleep consultant, there are things I can do, like little tips and tricks I can give Mom and Dad too, but as a postpartum doula, you’re there to ensure the parents get a good night’s rest. So I’m not there to help baby learn to sleep or to self-soothe. The postpartum doula is there to help feed baby, change baby, and ensure that Mom and Dad get rest. Sleep training isn’t usually done overnight. I have an option for a package where I could do that, but usually it’s unnecessary. My plans are so thorough, and they get constant support from me, so by the time nighttime rolls around, they know exactly what they need to do.
Kristin: So you can still have a regular overnight postpartum doula, but just have them or the parents implement your plan you set up for them?
Alyssa: Yeah, I’ve had clients either with a doula or for older children if they have nannies, and I have them either get on the phone call with us, or if they’re not available, they read through the whole plan. And then I’ve even texted back and forth with the nannies, if they’re the one doing the majority of the sleep training during the day to get them on board.
Kristin: So Alyssa, if you are working with a family who tends to breastfeed their baby to doze off, like that’s how they put them to sleep during the day as well as at night, how would you be able to let them still feel connected to the baby in that way and be attachment-focused but still create a stronger routine for the baby or toddler?
Alyssa: So sometimes the feed-to-sleep habit or association doesn’t necessarily cause a problem, but that’s not common. Usually, it becomes an association which includes several wake-ups in the night where the Mom has to get up and feed, so again, it’s just talking to – there’s 20 questions I would have to ask this mom before I could give her a plan, but it’s always about her goal. I always ask: at the end of all this, what’s the end game? What’s your goal for this? And if it’s that she still wants to co-sleep and breastfeed but just can’t wake up six times every night, then I work out a plan specifically for her. If it’s that they’ve been co-sleeping but didn’t mean to and it’s not working out the family and hurting the relationship with the partner, then the end goal is they want baby in their own crib, whether it’s in their room or in their own nursery. That’s a whole different plan.
Kristin: And obviously whether they’re co-sleeping or the baby is in the crib, it’s all about safe sleep and being able to recognize what is safe and what is unsafe.
Alyssa: Yeah, and there are safe ways to co-sleep, and a crib is also very safe, but it can be unsafe if, say, a newborn is put on their tummy or if it’s filled with stuffed animals and blankets. The first thing I do is rip all that stuff out of there.
Kristin: Well, thank you for your time today, and if people are interested in reaching out to you, whether they live in West Michigan or elsewhere, how do they connect with you?
Alyssa: I would say go to our website and just fill out the contact form and let me know you’re interested in sleep. You can always call our phone number, too, at 616-294-0207 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always willing to chat. A lot of parents will say, I just don’t think my baby’s ever going to sleep, and after hearing a few details about what their nights and days look like, it’s usually not as bad as they think, and a few easy fixes can get them on track. So even for people who don’t live in the area, a phone consult with email and text support is what I give no matter what.
Right when you get your child on a good schedule something inevitably comes up that makes it difficult to stay on track. We just went through the dreaded daylight savings (the worst for adults too!). Right now we are in the midst of the holidays. Here are some sleep tips for keeping your children’s sleep schedules on track.
If you’re traveling and driving, try to time the car rides over nap times. For instance, if you have a three hour drive and you know little Johnny takes his afternoon nap from 12:30 – 2:30, hit the road at noon and do some singing or stimulate him for a while until he gets drowsy and falls asleep. Then when you are almost there, he should wake up!
If you are flying, naps can be tricky. If you have a baby, holding the baby to sleep usually works. But if you have an 18 month old, you might have to prepare yourself for a no nap situation that day. In this instance, be sure to get them down to bed a bit early that night.
What if you’re traveling somewhere with a time change? Ugh..every parent dreads this no matter the age of your child. If you’re only going for a couple days, keep the child on their normal schedule. That means if they go to bed at 7pm and there’s a 2 hour difference, you put them to bed at 5pm. I know this messes up party plans but you’ll have to think ahead. Bring a pack and play for your baby or a blow up mattress for your older child and put them to bed in a dark room with a sound machine at their normal bed time.
If you’re traveling and staying for an extended period of time, slowly move their bedtime back in 30 minute increments until they’re at a more reasonable bedtime. Then before you leave to go back home, move that bedtime back to the normal time slowly. If you wait to move the bedtime back until you’re home, just know that you’ll have 2-3 days of adjusting to deal with.
If you’re hosting a party in the afternoon during a normal nap time, let everyone know that your child will be sleeping. Don’t let them stay up just because Grandma wants to cuddle. They will have to wait until your child wakes up. During a party, that sound machine may need to be turned up a bit louder than normal.
Remember that sleep is a priority and stand firm when a friend or relative says, “Oh, just let him stay up.” Easy for them to say!
As a sleep consultant, I get asked often how early you can sleep train a baby. My answer is this – Most babies are ready around 12 weeks, but it’s never too early to start introducing heathy habits to make the sleep training go smoothy when baby is ready.
Why 12 weeks? Most babies are developmentally ready around this time. They’ve also established a healthy eating routine (whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding), and they’ve gained substantial weight.
At 12 weeks most babies are ready to sleep through the night. Many breastfeeding mothers will actually wake their babies to nurse them, even though the baby would sleep through on their own. Some mothers pump once in the night and let baby sleep. Other mothers can make it through the night just fine sleeping 8 hours straight, but they will more than likely need to nurse or pump right when they wake up!
Please note that at 12 weeks sleeping through the night does not mean a 12 hour stretch. Very few babies at this age are ready for that. But some babies may be ready for a 6 or 8 hour stretch. If you’ve only been getting sleep in 2 hour chunks, this sounds fantastic!
When I put a plan together with a family, I first talk with them to find out what their values and goals are. If nursing in the night is a priority, we create a plan around that. If their main objective is for baby to get a full nights rest, uninterrupted, then we create a plan around that. There’s no one right answer to sleep training; it has to fit each individual family.
So what kinds of things can you do with your newborn before that 12 week mark? You need to realize that babies thrive on routine. A chaotic schedule is not the ideal environment for a newborn. From day one, you can start to create a sense of consistency.
Wake up around the same time in the morning and go to bed around the same time at night. Do this for you and your baby.
Talk to your baby. Narrate life to them. Tell them what you’re doing (changing their diaper, feeding, nap time, wake time, play time, etc). They are listening!
As your baby establishes feeding patterns, try to stick to a schedule for feedings. Remember you must always be flexible. Babies are not always hungry every three hours on the dot. If your baby typically eats every three hours, be aware that sometimes it will be 2 hours, sometimes 2 1/2, but usually 3. Don’t ever let your baby cry for food just to wait until the right time on the clock. Always watch for their cues and respond accordingly before letting them get too upset.
Speaking of cues, watch for them! Your baby is constantly communicating with you. From day one, they are communicating. As they grow, if you’re paying attention, you will begin to distinguish what different cries mean. This is important to create a relationship of trust between you and your baby. You cannot assume every cry means food. Just as if you stubbed your toe, it would not help if someone offered you a hamburger. You would want to sit down and maybe have someone give you some ice or even a band aid.
By assuming all of your babies cries mean hunger, you are telling them you’re not listening to what they are saying. Pay attention to what was happening to and around the baby when they started crying. Some babies are more introverted and like staring peacefully at a wall. They may begin to cry if there is a loud noise, a bright flash of light, or someone gets in their personal space too quickly. Others want to be in the room with all the action. Those babies may cry when you leave the room, or if they can’t see out the window. They do not want to stare at a blank wall, they want colors, noise, and lights.
Your baby might cry because they are too hot, too cold, sitting in an uncomfortable position, have a dirty diaper, are tired, are hungry, have an upset stomach. By paying attention to how they react to what you offer, you start to establish that trust relationship that says,”I’m paying attention to you. I’m listening to what you’re telling me, and I will react accordingly.” Your baby will know that when something is too stimulating, you will pick them up and put them somewhere they feel more comfortable. Your baby will know that when they are tired, you will put them to bed.
A good example of this the well meaning visitor – or the “Space Invader” as I like to call them. They rush over to the baby and get right in their face. When the baby starts to cry, the visitor thinks the baby does not like them, when in fact they just invaded their personal space too abruptly. If a baby is content and then suddenly starts crying, it usually isn’t too hard to figure out why if you’re paying attention.
What does this have to do with sleep training? Everything! By establishing routines and a trust relationship from the beginning, you are eliminating unknowns for your baby. They trust you to do what’s best for them. When you talk them through what’s happening, they know what to expect. They know when it’s time to change a diaper, put on clothes, or take a nap because you’ve been narrating their story to them and you’ve created consistency. This level of routine, consistency, and trust is your foundation to healthy sleep habits.
Then, when you call me around 12 weeks to start gently guiding your child through a full night’s sleep, the ground work is already laid. A child that gets enough sleep is a healthier and happier child, and so are their parents.
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On this episode of Ask the Doulas, Alyssa talks with Marissa, the owner of EcoBuns, about her boutique baby store. You’ll also learn about the new opportunity to register for Gold Coast services! You can listen to this complete podcast episode on SoundCloud or iTunes.
Alyssa: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas. I am Alyssa Veneklase, co-owner and postpartum doula at Gold Coast, and today we’re talking to Marissa from EcoBuns Baby & Company. How are you?
Marissa: Good, thanks for having me! It’s such an honor to be on the podcast with you.
Alyssa: Thanks for coming all the way from Holland.
Marissa: Well, it’s a beautiful day to drive out!
Alyssa: Yeah, good drive! So for those of our listeners that maybe don’t get to Holland very often or have not heard of EcoBuns, can you tell us about your store?
Marissa: Yeah, so we do have the physical store in Holland, which is great, and we offer a full baby registry at the store, so if you’re looking for anything for your new baby, you’ll definitely want to come out and check out the store. But for our Grand Rapids friends and friends across the world, we do have an online store as well that people can take advantage of.
Alyssa: Do you sell more online than you do in the store?
Marissa: Definitely more in the store. Our store is very relational.
Alyssa: In the store! Oh, that’s the opposite of what I would think. Most places seem to have a bigger online presence.
Marissa: Yeah, a lot of baby stores will have a larger online presence. What we found, though, is new parenting is very relational, and our customers really like coming into the store so we can, you know, give them hands-free shopping by holding their babies while they’re shopping or – you know, being a new parent is lonely, and sometimes just having that face-to-face connection is huge. So it’s definitely worth the drive to come out to the store from Grand Rapids.
Alyssa: Yeah, I know with things like baby-wearing and diapering, you kind of like to see and touch and feel and maybe even try something with your baby in it.
Marissa: Yeah, absolutely.
Alyssa: So I agree that the hands-on thing is really important. So tell us more about your registry.
Marissa: So I am super excited about the registry. The store is about five years old. We bought the store five years ago, and when we bought it, it was just cloth diapers. So a lot of people in the community still see us as just a cloth diaper store, which we are. We have so much fun with cloth diapers; it’s still one of our main product lines. But over the last five years, we’ve evolved into this whole store. Originally it was just cloth diapers, but then we have the baby carriers. We have feeding products. We have crib sheets. We have swaddle blankets. We have high chairs, activity centers, everything that you would need. And so with the baby registry, we have so many parents who are like, oh, I want to register for all these great-quality, eco-friendly items; I don’t want my family to go out and buy things that I don’t want. But we needed to do it in a really cool way. Being a small business, there’s some challenges with creating a baby registry for a small business, but this last year we just launched a new baby registry where you can actually come in with your smart phone or mobile device and scan items right from the store right to your registry. So we used to do a paper registry, which was okay, but people have a lot more fun coming in now and actually scanning items.
Alyssa: It’s kind of part of the fun of registering, like at one of the big box stores. So now you can do it on your phone?
Marissa: Right from your phone.
Alyssa: And I have to assume that it felt a little bit antiquated to do it on paper, right?
Marissa: Oh, yeah.
Alyssa: People want to feel like – I don’t know, use their technology.
Marissa: And it was very time-consuming for both the families coming in to register to have to write everything down, and for us, then, to have to go in and input it to the online store. So that is the cool thing with the registry is that when somebody comes in and registers, it’s an in-store and an online registry. So families who have family from out of town, we do a lot of in-store pickups for our – so let’s say a family from Grand Rapids or Muskegon, even, is registering at EcoBuns, and their shower is in Grand Rapids or Muskegon. A lot of times, they’ll have whoever’s hosting the shower just say, oh, just order online and choose in-store pickup, and then Sarah, who’s hosting the shower, will drive out to EcoBuns. We have everything in a nice big box for them, gift-wrapped and ready to go. They pick it up and bring it to the shower. So we try to make it as easy as possible. You know, and that’s a lot of things, like why are people registering at big box stores vs. someone like EcoBuns, and it’s a convenience factor. So we like to let people know that we can make it just as convenient with free shipping or in-store pickup options. Gift certificates are also available.
Marissa: Yeah, so there’s a couple gift certificates that you can register for.
Alyssa: Yeah, tell us about the newest one!
Marissa: So we’re really excited about this partnership that we just launched with Gold Coast Doulas.
Marissa: And starting today, you can now register for a Gold Coast Doula gift certificate at EcoBuns baby registry. So it’s really neat if you’re definitely wanting to go with a doula service, and you guys offer so many different services. It’s a really great way, then, to be able to register for it to kind of offset that cost. So we see a lot of, even, second, third, fourth-time moms say, oh, I don’t know what to register for. My family wants to gift me something. Well, you know, a postpartum doulas would be definitely at the top of my list! So it’s a neat way to be able to offset the cost of that service by adding it to the registry. So we’re really excited about that.
Alyssa: Yeah, we’re really excited about it too! And since it just launched, we don’t really know how it’s going to work, but yeah, postpartum services, and then I can imagine that if they maybe don’t want as many hours as they get, we can use that for anything. You know, we have classes; we have lactation; we have sleep consults. I think we’ll probably end up using that for whatever service they may want. We’re really excited.
Marissa: We have a full list on our website of the services available, so if you want to go check it out, you can head to the EcoBuns registry and search for Gold Coast Doulas and it will pop up, and you’ll see the full list. And it will also link back to the Gold Coast website if you want more information on all the fun things that Gold Coast has to offer.
Alyssa: It’s so exciting!
Marissa: I know!
Alyssa: So I love that you have all these options; everything that a mom wants or needs, and they’re all eco-friendly.
Marissa: Yeah, we try really hard to –
Alyssa: You’ve done all the research for them.
Alyssa: Which is huge.
Marissa: Yeah, yeah. There’s so much out there. I always tell people, especially with the cloth diapers; people will come in and they’ll say, oh, I don’t even know where to start, and I’ll say, I own a cloth diaper store and I get overwhelmed on what’s on the internet! Everyone has opinions; everyone has best practices, and a lot of it ends up being very regional as far as types of water and laundry, and it gets so overcomplicated, and that’s where we say, take a breath. It’s not meant to be overcomplicated. Just come in and talk to us. The cool thing about being a small business is we can change things as often as we need to. For example, if all of a sudden we have a diaper that the manufacturing changed on it and people hate it, it’s very easy for us to say, our customers no longer like this. It was cool five years ago, but our customers hate it now; something has better has come out. So we can kind of move and shift faster than bigger companies can, which is really great.
Alyssa: Do you educate people about cloth diapering? Do you have community events?
Marissa: Yeah, so we do a cloth diaper class. We actually call it Buns Bootcamp, which is a little play on EcoBuns, and we do that two to three times a month. It’s a $25 class per couple, so we’ll usually see the partners come in. We do invite, if a couple is having maybe a grandparent take care of the baby, we invite the grandparents into the class as well. It’s $25 for the class, but then at the end of the class, you get a $10 off of a $50 or more purchase the day of class. It’s about an hour long, hour and a half, depending on who’s in the class and how much talking we get into. And it’s a fun class because it does get really overwhelming, but the class kind of brings it back, and my goal is to make sure that no one walks out with their eyes glazed over, you know, that we’re not doing too much information. Just enough so that you guys feel educated in your decision that you make.
Alyssa: I wish I would have known about that. I wanted to cloth diaper so bad; bought the whole shebang, spend hundreds of dollars, and had zero education, so I gave up after weeks.
Marissa: And that’s huge. We have so many parents who say – you know, we’re an email away. We have a lot of parents email us pictures, like why isn’t this working? And a lot of times you don’t know what questions to ask, and so we can look at something and say, oh, this button just needs to be here, or this insert needs to go like this, and boom, all the problems are solved. But, really, we’re the first generation who isn’t going to our parents and grandparents for advice. We’re going to the internet for advice, and that’s shifted the way that a lot of parents handle parenting decisions, even. And so it’s nice to have a trusted resource that you can go to who has kept up with modern parenting, who knows the products that are out there, who knows what the current and best practices are, to be able to go to and ask advice. So that’s huge, and we do that with our carriers, too. We do free fit checks on carriers purchased from us. Any time a carrier is purchased from us, it automatically comes with a free half-hour lesson on how to use it.
Alyssa: So awesome!
Marissa: You know, so many times, you get a carrier home, and it overwhelms you, and then you throw it back in the box, and you never pull it out because no one taught you how to use it, and we don’t want that to happen.
Alyssa: It’s amazing. Okay, so tell me again if someone from Grand Rapids registers at your store, they don’t necessarily want to drive to Holland, you actually do deliver to them?
Marissa: Yep, so we do shipping. So we have free shipping on orders over $75, and then we offer first-class and priority shipping, so it’s super easy to get people their products. And I know the Amazon two-day shipping is huge, but first-class shipping from Holland gets to Grand Rapids in one day, so it gets to everyone really, really fast.
Alyssa: That’s really awesome. So tell our listeners where to find you and how to register.
Marissa: So if you want to come to our actual store, we’re in Holland on the corner on James Street and US 31 in the Holland Town Center. If you’re familiar with Holland, it’s the old outlet mall with the big orange ropes on them. So we’re right between Carters and Gap Outlet. So from Grand Rapids, if you want to just plan a whole shopping day, Carter’s is there; we’re there; Gap’s there. It’s a great day. Otherwise, we’re online. We are at www.ecobunstore.com. Our store in Holland, though, is open seven days a week, so we’re there Monday through Sunday. Monday through Friday, we’re there from 9am to 7pm. Saturdays, 10am to 7pm, and Sundays, noon to 6pm. And we have Lake Michigan, so it’s definitely worth the drive from Grand Rapids!
Alyssa: Right, and now it’s beautiful!
Marissa: And we do offer – so every other month, we have Gold Coast Doulas come out for a really fun Mom’s Night Out, our prenatal edition. So again another really fun reason to come out to the store.
Alyssa: Yeah, come meet the doulas and check out the store!
Marissa: Yeah, absolutely!
Alyssa: Awesome. Well, thanks. We’ll have you on again to talk about – I think we need to talk about cloth diapering and we should talk about baby-wearing.
Marissa: Yeah, absolutely.
Alyssa: So we’ll you back on another time.
Marissa: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Alyssa: Thank you so much! Let us know what you think. Check out EcoBuns online and then as always you can check us out at Gold Coast Doulas.com. Find us on SoundCloud, iTunes, and don’t forget to subscribe. Thanks for listening!
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On this episode of Ask the Doulas, Alyssa and Cindy talk about how to find a babysitter that you trust to watch your kids. You can listen to this entire podcast epidode on iTunes and Soundclound.
Alyssa: Hi, welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas. I am Alyssa, and I’m here with Cindy from Cindy’s Suds.
Alyssa: I’m kind of throwing this topic at her because we had a question asked: how do you find babysitters? So we have these moms who are having babies, and then let’s say they don’t have friends and family around.
Cindy: We were fortunate in that my mom lives in the area, and my sister lived in the area when we had our kids, when they were younger. So we were fortunate that we had family babysitters at the ready, but my parents started traveling a few years after we had kids, and so then I needed to get a babysitter, somebody that I had on standby instead of my dear mom and my sister. So it was interesting because it’s very challenging trying to find a sitter who you trust with your most precious possession, which is your child or your children. I think in an earlier episode, you and I had talked about interviewing preschools and schools.
Alyssa: Yeah, pediatricians and stuff.
Cindy: It’s no different with babysitters, and so that’s the thing that I started doing when we needed to find a babysitter is I started interviewing, and I started asking friends for babysitter referrals. If I had a babysitter that I liked, that I would use periodically, I would ask them if they had friends that also were sitters. But I did my due diligence, just like we talked about for pediatricians or for schools. I interviewed them, and I had them with me and my kids for a while so I could see them interact with my children, and that was a huge tell-tale for how they would interact with kids. It’s surprising how some babysitters are naturally so great with kids, and others that claim to be babysitters would sit on the ground and have no idea how to interact with kids. So it’s kind of interesting just the whole gamut of what kind of person you’re going to get when you really start looking for a sitter, and I would just really make sure that if you’re in that boat, you do some interviewing, just like you would do for pediatricians or schools or whatever.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think having – I see a lot of clients who don’t even want a babysitter because they’re so scared to leave them. So I tell them a good middle ground; like, ease your way into it; have them come over while you’re home. It’s almost like a mother’s helper role. You pay them a little bit less just to say, hey, come over for two hours. Will you watch my son or daughter while I cook or nap – not nap, probably, because you want to watch them, but maybe cook or clean or just get some errands done around the house. Really start to feel comfortable with that person before you leave the house.
Cindy: I agree 100%, and that’s what I did, too, for our sitters when we were looking for them. You want them in your home with you there so that you can have that mom-ear to hear and to listen for interaction. And also if they have questions; they can ask you while you’re there, and you can kind of guide them through what your son or daughter may like, not like, you know, different things like that. Even changing diapers – this is a funny story. My sister was in her 20s when she first started babysitting for us, and I guess I assumed that she would remember how to change diapers from when she had babysat 10 years prior, and the first time that we had left her with our daughter who was little, maybe four or five months at the time, when we came home from whatever event that my husband and I had to go to, her diapers was on backwards! Which cracked me up because she’s like, 22, 23, and this must have been something that she couldn’t quite remember.
Alyssa: The Velcro goes in back!
Cindy: Right, right.
Alyssa: At least you realized it before bedtime and woke up to a huge mess in the middle of the night.
Cindy: Right. And we actually were cloth diapering, but we left some disposables thinking that it would be easier than a cloth diaper, and even that must have thrown her. So very funny because she’s my sister that has quadruplets, so she actually has really had to get it.
Alyssa: Now she knows how to change a diaper!
Cindy: Now she knows how to change diapers! But yeah, I think it’s great if you’re able to be there with the babysitter, a couple of hours at a time here, a couple of hours at a time there. You’ll really get an idea of how they interact with your children, and that is by far the best way to really weed out who you want to watch your children.
Alyssa: So our first-time moms do that, and then by the time you have kid number two or three, they’re like, we don’t even care. Just give me somebody.
Cindy: And references from friends, like if you have friends that have said, hey, so-and-so is great. I think that’s a super valuable resource, too, because now you’ve got this person who’s kind of been vetted by a friend of yours already, so that’s a good option.
Alyssa: Neighbors, too. You know, we have a couple girls in our neighborhood who can literally walk here, and that’s really convenient, especially if they’re not 16 yet, you know, if you trust a 14- or 15-year-old with your kid and they can just walk here.
Cindy: And I think the nice thing about a 14- or 15-year-old, when you have an older child, that’s a great age compliment.
Alyssa: Yeah. It’s almost like they’re not embarrassed to be silly; does that make sense?
Cindy: Right, exactly.
Alyssa: But if you get an 18-year-old, and they’re like, hmm.
Cindy: Exactly; that is so true. And so if you just need somebody for the day, you know, if you’re running errands during the day, if you’ve got a daytime meeting, I think that age bracket is actually a more fun age bracket. If your kids are between the ages of three, four to maybe eight or so, that’s a super fun age for that younger teen to babysit because they can be silly and they can be fun, and if they’re in your neighborhood, they can walk over, and how great is that? So that’s super convenient, too.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think it gets easier as your kids get older. When you have an infant, I’d say up until one, right, you really want somebody experienced. I had one babysitter I trusted, and she was CPR-certified, and I knew her family. So it’s different if you’re not hiring a nanny or a postpartum doula or you don’t have your mom, but even if you’re having a caregiver, like your grandparents as caregivers or baby’s grandparents, I got nervous about that when my parents watched her because they were 35 years out of the game, and they didn’t know all these things that have changed in 34 years. Unplanned segue; we have The Modern Grandparent class that we teach. So it just updates grandparents on all these things and how to be great babysitters. Let’s talk about SIDS and crib safety, Back to Sleep, how to bottle-feed, how to support the mom if she’s a breastfeeding mom.
Cindy: That’s a perfect thing to think about as well, because they haven’t been sitting; they haven’t watched kids in many, many years, and things have changed.
Alyssa: I mean, if your sister after 10 years forgot how to put a diaper on correctly, what do the grandparents forget in 35 years, sometimes 40? We’ve got moms who are 40, so when you have grandparents as caregivers, it’s also a source of anxiety. Babysitters in general, just especially for new parents; it’s stressful.
Cindy: It’s so nerve-wracking. The first time I left my daughter, I cried and cried and cried. I had a miserable night out, and it’s because you feel as a mom like you’re the only person that can take care of your child. And while you may feel that, that’s probably not true. But you’ve got to really feel good about the sitter so that you can enjoy yourself because the whole purpose of having a babysitter is maybe to either reconnect with your husband, have a date night, go to meetings. It’s so that you can really establish who you are again, whether that’s the work force or different groups or events that you were a part of before you had a baby. You need to feel comfortable with that sitter so that you can get back to remembering who you are as a person before you were a mom, which I think is super easy for us as moms to forget about the person who we were before we became a mom. I think we can kind of separate and draw a line: “Now I’m a mom; now I can’t do the things that I did beforehand.” So finding that sitter, whether it’s a grandparent who has gone through the grandparenting class that you guys offer, or if it’s a sitter that actually has done some CPR certification training or is super involved with other kid groups or that’s she’s been around children a lot, so she is comfortable. You just need to make sure that you’re finding a babysitter who you can completely trust so that you can enjoy whatever activity you’re doing to need the sitter in the first place.
Alyssa: Yeah, if it’s supposed to be an enjoyable night out, you want to enjoy it, and if you’re supposed to be at work, you need to be productive. Crying at your desk all day is not productive.
Cindy: Right, exactly.
Alyssa: Well, hopefully we gave everyone some good tips. Babysitters can be tricky, but when you find a good one, don’t let them go.
Cindy: Exactly, yeah. They’re worth their weight in gold; they really are, so make sure that you find that one or two, and if you can have a couple, that’s nicer just because if you are – we had one that we loved when our kids were little, and when she wasn’t free, we didn’t go out. And that’s also not really productive, either. You really want to have a couple, a little group of sitters who you feel comfortable with and who your kids feel comfortable with.
Alyssa: We have several because some are high school students. Some are college students. Their schedules are all different, and I know that my high school girls are going to be graduating, and their schedules get different, and then the 14-year-olds are much more available than the 17- or 18-year-olds because now they’re getting into boyfriends and dating and all these events and maybe they have other jobs. So I have to have a wide array because otherwise, yeah, if you have one sitter, you’re probably out of luck most of the time. Because you’re not their only job; I bet they have other babysitting jobs.
Cindy: Very true.
Alyssa: Well, thanks for sharing. As always, you can find us at goldcoastdoulas.com. Email us with ideas at email@example.com. And then, Cindy, where can people find you?
Cindy: You can find us on our website. It’s www.cindyssuds.com, and you can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re carried locally in the Harvest Health stores, Kingma’s, Hopscotch, and several other local retailers.
Sleep Training. Those two words can stir up some pretty aggressive emotions for some parents. I guess it’s because there are so many methodologies, many of which are controversial, and there are so many different thoughts on parenting and what is right and wrong.
My answer is there’s no one way to do this! If there was, it would be simple.
Whether a family wants to co-sleep or have baby in his own crib, it’s not my job to judge their decisions. My job is to figure out a solution that works well for them.
Sleep training shouldn’t be a controversial topic. Everyone needs and wants a full night’s rest. I don’t know many (actually any) people who would argue with that, but how you get there is where it becomes tricky. We don’t want to let our child cry for hours or make them feel neglected, which many methodologies tend to do.
Sleep training, at it’s most basic level, is a plan to help the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of both parents and baby. Without sleep, parents are exhausted, mentally drained, and overly-emotional. A sleep-deprived baby can find it hard to nap during the day, be too exhausted to nurse, cry all the time, or just zone out because daily activities are too stimulating.
A good sleep consultant will take all factors into account. They will listen to your story, your history, your values, and your end goal. They will come up with a solution that works for everyone, not a method that works for “most”.
As parents, I think we need to give up on this idea that there is only one certain way to do things. It’s great to have a plan, but they must always be flexible. I see parents beat themselves up over plans that aren’t working, especially feeding and sleeping patterns. They see their friend’s baby sleeping through the night or their niece on a perfect feeding and nap schedule. They’re given all sorts of advice that doesn’t work for them, they read all the books and each one gives them conflicting ideas, so they end up more confused.
I had one client tell me this, “I read all the books but none of them ever told me what to do in the night when my baby wouldn’t stop crying. We did the consistent night time routine, we did the ‘shuffle’ slowly out of the room, we tried to soothe him back to sleep, but nothing ever worked. We felt defeated.”
Books and articles on sleep can only help to a certain extent. You need a physical presence that can ask questions, assess your individual situation, and come up with an individualized plan. Most of the time there are other factors at play that the books aren’t going to mention.
In this episode of Ask the Doulas, Cindy and Alyssa talk about the benefits of choosing natural care products for your baby and your household. You can listen to the complete podcast on iTunes.
Alyssa: Hi, welcome to Ask the Doulas with Gold Coast Doulas. Today we are talking to Cindy, creator and owner of Cindy’s Suds. Can you give me your elevator speech of what is Cindy’s Suds?
Cindy: Sure, sure. So Cindy’s Suds is a 100% natural company that provides natural bath and body products and products for home, primarily to parents of younger families who are seeking to make the change from more conventional-type products to more natural-based products once they start realizing how much better that is for their bodies and for their families and homes and everything.
Alyssa: I love it. I recently got some of your stuff, and I’m obsessed with the body butter. I love it.
Cindy: Oh, good. Which scent did I send you?
Alyssa: I don’t even know. Do you have an unscented?
Cindy: I do, yeah.
Alyssa: So tell me how you started Cindy’s Suds and why.
Cindy: Okay. So I have three kids. Our middle child was born with very, very dry skin and severe eczema, and his skin is so much thinner than my other kids, if that even makes sense. My other two kids, when they were born, they had darker skin and they just loved them, “Oh, they look like they have a tan. They look darker.” When he was born, I was like, “Whoa!” Almost transparent, his skin was so thin. So he had always had very sensitive skin, just really paper-thin, almost, and after he was probably maybe six to nine months, I really started noticing his skin was super, super dry. He started developing eczema patches on his legs, on his butt cheeks, on his arms. And he would scratch them at night or when he would take a nap, and he would wake up from his naps with bloody legs and bloody fingernails, and it was just heartbreaking as a mom to go in there. He was trying to give me this little smile, and he’s got blood on his sheets and blood on his legs. So that broke my heart, and in my mind, because I’m a physician assistant by trade, in my mind I thought, oh, well, it’s eczema. You treat eczema with steroids. But in my mom’s heart, I’m like, are you kidding me? There’s no way. This kid, his skin is way too thin.
Alyssa: Yeah, what does cortisone cream do?
Cindy: It thins out skin, yeah, so cortisone cream further thins out skin as it’s decreasing inflammation on the skin, so I’m like, there’s no way. This kid already has super thin skin. There’s no way I’m going to do that to him. So that kind of got my mind rolling with, well, what else is out there? What else could I do? And this was almost – well, this was 16 years ago because he’ll be 16 this month. So there were natural products out there, but there weren’t to the degree that there are now, and so I started going to the library and getting out books because this was also almost to the point where the internet was kind of still in the early phases, and just because I’m more old-school, you just didn’t think to go to the internet for things because it wasn’t really a resource that normal moms tapped into yet. So I went to the library and got a bunch of different books, and there were not a lot. There were a handful of books on making natural products for your skin and for your body and things, so I just started combing through those and writing down. This sounds good, and this sounds good. Kind of compiling little mini-recipes that I would try, and I did try the recipes, and it worked, and I ended up with so much of it that I started giving it away for gifts and for friends who had babies, and then here we are, ten-plus years later. Well, I didn’t start the company until after I’d been doing it for several years.
Alyssa: So you’ve been making this for 16 years?
Cindy: I’ve been making it for 16 years, yeah.
Alyssa: And the company?
Cindy: And then we’ve had that for ten years.
Alyssa: So for six year you made it but didn’t sell it. What finally made you – was it a friend going, “You really need to sell this stuff”?
Cindy: It was that. It was friends; it was family; it was the fact that I had so much of it at home from making it for my own family that I got to the point where I’m like, okay, either this is just – it’s got to go to more people, gift-wise or birthday-wise or whatever, or I should start selling it. And then I had a couple – the reason why I started, funny enough, was we had a garage sale, and I was getting rid of my baby stuff. And so I had some of this, of my product, out for sale, and one of the ladies who ran a craft bizarre at a local church said, “Oh, you should be in our craft show,” and I was like, oh! Perfect idea!
Alyssa: So is that how you started, craft shows?
Cindy: That’s how I started was craft shows, yeah.
Alyssa: Okay. And so 16 years later, what happened with your son’s skin? Did it progressively get better? Did you find out what caused it?
Cindy: You know, in hindsight, I’m sure so much of it was diet-related.
Alyssa: That’s what I was wondering.
Cindy: Yeah. And that’s kind of where we’re all going. Looking at the skin as a whole, the skin is kind of a mirror or window into what’s going on inside your body. And so when you see skin issues on the outside that you’re like, oh, something’s not quite right, you’ve got to look inside. What’s not right on the inside? And oftentimes more than not, it’s a dietary condition, but back up 16 years ago, we didn’t really think that way right off the bat. It was more like, oh, there’s a skin condition. You treat the skin condition. And I think still there are maybe some people that still think that way. It’s a skin condition; treat the skin. But more often than not, if it’s a skin condition, let’s see what else is going on and let’s figure out if it’s dietary or if it’s autoimmune, which can also have a little bit of a factor, too, with eczema, psoriasis, things like that. But typically there is some kind of a dietary component. So in hindsight, yes, he probably had sensitivities, even back then, to dairy products and probably to gluten, as well. For sure dairy because now he’s on a dairy free diet and much better.
Alyssa: So you have figured out some dietary things now as a 16-year-old?
Cindy: For sure, yeah.
Alyssa: Yeah, because my daughter, who’s four and a half, we found out – it’s been about two years ago that we found out her eczema was due to several food allergies. And it’s funny because the older generation, like you said, 16, 20, 30 years ago, they’re the ones who say, “Oh, this is just a bunch of bunk. All these gluten free; that’s just ridiculous. My kids had eczema for years.” Well…
Cindy: Hmm. Exactly!
Alyssa: “Yeah, you just put cortisone cream on it; you deal with it.” And we have noticed a significant difference. She still does get eczema and we have to put stuff on it occasionally, but it’s definitely internal.
Cindy: Yes. For sure, for sure. And when I went to PA school, I graduated in 1996. There was nothing in our schooling on anything holistic, anything alternative. It was strictly western medicine because that’s what was taught. And so it’s relatively a new concept still for those of us old-school people that went to school in the 80s or 90s. It just wasn’t something that was even – something that you thought of or studied or were aware of. So a lot of this stuff is self-taught, and then just learning from there, and then seeking out providers now that are natural-minded or alternative-minded. Not to say that I’ve turned my back on western medicine, but you need to embrace both, I feel like, because there’s a huge component where both are useful.
Alyssa: Right. So what would you recommend? Let’s say we have a new client; they have a baby. I think thin skin or not, all babies have just such super-sensitive skin, and you have some really good baby products.
Cindy: We do, yeah. So whether you use my product or somebody else’s product or you make your own product, my overall encouragement for a new mom, especially, is seek out something that is as natural as possible. The fewer ingredients the better, obviously. Most things that you’re going to buy over the counter, store-bought brands, they contain chemicals. Even if they say, “Oh, it’s the natural version of Johnson’s & Johnson’s,” or natural version of whatever –
Alyssa: Many of them still have alcohol.
Cindy: Tons of them do.
Alyssa: As one of the first ingredients!
Cindy: Right. It’s like water and then alcohol. So you’ve really, really got to turn into a label-reader. That’s huge. I know a lot of moms are like, oh, I’m going to make it myself. Which I’m like, excellent. That is so great. Do it. Dabble in it. Learn about it. But a lot of moms just don’t have the time to do that because parenting is so overwhelming at first, especially with your first. There’s just so much to learn, so much to do, that if you don’t want to make it yourself, seek out a company or two that you trust, that you believe in, that has the same philosophy as you do with using minimalistic ingredients, and just be a label-reader. You’ve just go to flip everything over that you’re buying and see what’s in it. The fewer ingredients, the better. And then everything just sparingly. For a little baby, you don’t need to douse a baby. Sparingly. Another thing that I always tell new moms: new moms nowadays, they want to give their baby a bath every night. And babies don’t need baths every night. They just don’t.
Alyssa: It really dries out their skin.
Cindy: Once a week. Oh, man, it does. So once a week; twice a week, at the most, but this nightly bathing routine just strips the body of natural oils.
Alyssa: I try to get my clients, post-partum clients or sleep clients, away from a bath being part of the bedtime routine for that reason. And plus with some babies it actually kind of wakes them up and it’s a fun activity.
Cindy: It stimulates them, yeah.
Alyssa: So I tell them unless this is putting your baby to sleep, this does not need to happen at night. So let’s pick a day, Sunday afternoon, you know, let’s give them a bath once a week. And the nighttime routine is more like, let’s read a book, sing a song. Let’s get that bath out of there because when my daughter had eczema or had it really bad, and I was bathing her sometimes every day, every other day, because you think you need to – it was making it worse.
Cindy: Exactly, yeah. And that’s what I think is so great about the fact that there are doulas now, and I so wish that I had one with my kids. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and if you’re walking through parenthood for the first time, and your mom, most likely, was old school, and you give them a bath every night, and then you put on Johnson’s & Johnson’s baby lotion, and they smell like a baby. You don’t have somebody who’s going to kind of walk with you and tell you what may or may not be beneficial, and so that’s what is so great about having a doula walk beside you when you are pregnant or delivering or after delivery, as just someone to kind of give you feedback and what does this look like, raising this little tiny baby? There’s not an instruction manual. So it’s great when you can come and share with a new mom and dad what you’ve learned.
Alyssa: Yeah, we can be a trusted resource. And it’s hard. Every family is different, so, like you mentioned, like the moms or the grandma. They know one way of raising children because that’s how she raised hers, so she has these ideas in her head of how this works, but a doula has worked with so many different types of families and all walks of life, and we can walk into that space and say okay, I see where you are at right now. This is what’s going to work best for you, and then here’s trusted – again, be a trusted resource for this is how this looks.
Cindy: Right, exactly.
Alyssa: Well, thank you for sharing today.
Alyssa: We are going to have you on again later in the month, and we look forward to talking to you.
Cindy: Sounds good. Looking forward to it, too.
Alyssa: If people have questions about your products, do you have an email, phone number, or website?
Cindy: Absolutely. You can go to www.cindyssuds.com. That’s our website, and on our website, you can check out our products. There’s a little product description next to each product. If you have specific questions, there’s a Contact page on our website that you can put your question in and it sends it right to me. You can also email me directly at email@example.com. Those are the two best ways to get ahold of me, and if you have specific questions, definitely shoot me an email. I love the education part of talking to moms and dads, just helping them kind of navigate the waters of what it looks like to be a new parent or to add a second child or a third child, or what does it look like to go from conventional products to natural products.
Alyssa: Because sometimes you have do that slowly.
Cindy: You do, yeah. You can’t sometimes just jump in. You’ve got to make a slower transition.
Alyssa: Baby steps.
Cindy: For sure. So yeah, I welcome any questions. Any way that I can help, shoot me an email.
Alyssa: Excellent. Thank you. And if you have questions about this podcast or Gold Coast, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are pleased to present a guest blog by Shira Johnson, IBCLC.
Can My Body Make Enough Milk for My Baby?
Fact:Most breastfeeding mothers, at one time or another, worry about their milk supply. They wonder whether their body will make enough milk for their baby, if their supply will last.
Not surprising, since most of us have heard stories about moms who, despite wanting to breastfeed, reported not being able to; their milk dried up, baby refused the breast, they were told their milk wasn’t good, etc. Through no fault of our own, many mothers head into breastfeeding with an expectation that milk production will be a struggle, due in part to these stories that are shared widely by well-meaning strangers, friends, family members and even healthcare providers. But the reality is that MOST moms’ bodies can make plenty of milk. The fear of low supply is much more common than the reality!
Before I go on, let me be clear that not all women who want to breastfeed can make enough milk to sustain a baby. There are many physical conditions that potentially impact milk production (including birth complications, thyroid conditions, PCOS -Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome- and other hormone conditions, anemia, retained placenta, breast or chest injuries/surgeries, various illnesses, medications or hormonal birth control, or Insufficient Glandular Tissue -IGT- the technical term describing when breasts contain less milk-making tissue). It’s important to recognize that low milk supply is a very real scenario that many struggle with, and it’s a serious topic that deserves a lot of attention of its own. But here we will focus on milk production in mothers with no prior physiological limitations; specifically on how low milk supply is less common than people think, and that it is much less common than “perceived low milk supply”.
Perceived low milk supply, or Perceived Insufficient Milk, is when moms are making enough milk but think that they are not. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. Why? Because, despite having no physiological basis, perceived low supply is one of the most frequently-reported reasons for early weaning! And it’s a very stressful thing to worry about.
The good news: Perceived low supply does not equal actual low supply.
The bad news: Perceived low supply is very common, and (in addition to the fact that worrying is no fun) perceived low supply can cause low supply!
How can perceived low milk supply cause actual low supply?
When moms believe their supply is low, the way they feed changes… and how we feed has a strong influence on milk production. For example, moms might introduce supplemental formula if they perceive baby to be dissatisfied or hungry after nursing, or if baby is nursing more often than they expected or is waking frequently at night. It’s easy to assume that low supply is the cause of these things if we aren’t familiar with normal breastfeeding behaviors (especially when formula-feeding culture perpetuates unrealistic expectations for breastfed babies). Feeding on a rigid schedule, sleep training a young baby, or otherwise altering baby’s feeding routine can impact milk supply very easily, so understanding the nuts and bolts of milk production, baby behavior and growth patterns is important. All of the conflicting advice we receive from family, pediatricians and friends is confusing! Knowing how to tell when things are going well gives parents confidence to keep going through the ups and downs. Since perceived low supply is not a physical issue, it is totally avoidable, as long as parents have support and access to good information.
How does milk production work?
Milk production begins as a hormonally-driven process, initiated by hormone changes at birth. Over time, it becomes a supply and demand process (meaning that, ideally, the body will adjust to make exactly what baby needs – no more, no less). The baby communicates how much it needs … by eating exactly what it needs! If it needs more, it will suckle more, sending hormonal signals to mom’s brain, which in turn tell her body to make more milk. This is one reason babies might seem to nurse around the clock during growth spurts. Not only are they trying to eat more, they are also instinctively “putting in the order”, so to speak, for more milk to be made to accommodate their increased needs!) Simply put, the more milk is removed, the more milk the body will make. Milk can be removed in a number of ways: directly feeding baby at breast, or expressing with a pump or by hand. If milk isn’t removed regularly, milk production will be altered. This is how extra pumping can increase supply, or how skipping feeds or going long stretches between pumping at work can decrease supply. This also explains why babies who struggle to transfer milk can result in decreased supply over time, even if they are at the breast a lot! (There are many reasons why a baby might struggle to transfer milk effectively. Their feedings might take a very long time, or they may fatigue easily at the breast. If you suspect this, it’s a good time to call a lactation consultant). But, compared to pumps, babies are usually more efficient at removing milk, due to the additional stimulation, warmth and eye contact inducing more milk-making hormones. Expressing milk, however, is very effective for some, and is a necessity for breastfeeding moms who work outside of the home or are separated from their babies.
For more about milk production, look for a future post all about how to maintain a good milk supply!
If you need support in the meantime, an IBCLC, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, can help answer your questions about supply and foods to support lactation, help you determine if baby is getting enough, or troubleshoot concerns even before your baby arrives!