Discipline Without Punishment

As a parent, we all want to raise polite, thoughtful, kind, empathetic, generous, sweet, loving, little people. No one wants to be that parent whose kid is pushing others, stealing toys from smaller children, yelling or crying when they don’t get their way, throwing tantrums, yelling “no no no no no no” when asked to do something, or basically just acting like a little shit-head. So how do we stop that from happening in the first place? It is MUCH easier to prevent bad behavior from starting then to try to fix it once it has become a habit. The trick is simple – Discipline.

Discipline without punishment should be happening if you have a small toddler under age 3-5. This is the age when a toddler begins to understand the significance between punishment and the “act” that caused the punishment. Before this age you aren’t teaching your child anything from punishing. They don’t have the brain development in place to get the concept. Standing in a corner, sitting in time out, etc. etc. – these “punishing acts” are actually creating a divide and rift in your relationship with your child. You will just be pushing them away from you instead of pulling them closer to develop a nurturing and loving example. Children cannot control their emotions and reactions – literally! They don’t have the regions in their brain responsible for control over emotions fully developed until later in childhood!- Think about it. Your child is upset about something. To you it’s no big deal, but if it is a big deal to your child then it should be a big deal to you as well. This is empathy and sympathy. If you do not react in a way that is comforting and nurturing in their distress, you are simply modeling that their emotions and feelings don’t matter, and then when you punish them on top of invalidating their feelings you are compounding their distress. When they are upset they need you to be there for them. Emotionally and physically. You must remain calm and let them know that you in control and when they calm down you can comfort them and talk through what just happened. This is what you should be practicing and exampling for your child.

I read a book that really changed the way I saw discipline and punishment. Discipline is completely different from punishment. Discipline focuses on setting boundaries. Discipline makes little ones feel safe and secure knowing that their big person is in charge. Their big person can be mom, dad, grandparents, teachers, or anyone in a position of authority. They need to know that even if they cannot control themselves or their feelings, you are strong and sturdy and can take everything they throw at you. Discipline may mean that you have to set boundaries that they do not like. Too bad. That’s what boundaries are. It may take a tantrum or ten for your little person to realize that the boundary won’t change even when they push against it. Then guess what…they will stop pushing against it and you! This actually makes them feel good! They don’t have the pressure of being in charge! You are!

This great book that I recommend to all my mommy friends is Discipline Without Damage. Buy it here:

This book is amazing in that it tells you how to act, how to respond, and most importantly – WHY! This is written by a professional psychologist and a thoughtful woman and mother. It was so helpful to me. You can discipline without punishment for little ones, and you can discipline without damaging your child’s mental and emotional health too.

 

The importance of healthy eating habits early in life. Also…what food should I be buying organic for my family?

I see so many parents who before they have kids say things like, “My child would never snack on crackers or cookies.”, or something along the lines of “My toddler will eat his veggies or go hungry.”, or even better, “My child will eat when I feed him and not snack all day.” Some of these moms have children who end up doing just as they said, and some of these moms end up feeding their child crackers and cookies. Some kids will easily eat their veggies, and some kids will refuse or spit out veggies when they are hid in the meal. Some of these kids will snack all day, and some of these kids will have rigid snack times. My point is that life and momhood (and dadhood!) do not always go as planned. Sometimes we decide to throw in the towel and not battle our precious little ones over food. But we should be battling over food!!!!! Here is why:

  • Eating habits are set very early in life. It is much easier to spend two years putting in the effort to not only feed your child healthy food, but to eat healthy food yourself. Your child sees what you are eating and will want to have the same. Battle it out early moms and dads, it’s easier to put in the time now than to try and break those bad eating habit later. Think of a habit that you want to change, have tried to change, and have failed at. Now picture a small incompletely developed mind trying to understand why last week he had cookies and chocolate every day, and this week he is being given carrot sticks. He doesn’t get it. Don’t start a habit that you don’t want to become part of his or her daily routine.
  • Small bellies get full very quickly and you should be thinking ONLY of putting food in that small belly that will have a benefit of some kind. Empty calories do not count! Think protein, iron, vitamins, calcium, fiber, antioxidants, etc. If you need to rethink your own diet along the same lines then do it. Is what you are putting inside making you stronger and healthier? If the answer is no then you shouldn’t be eating it or giving it to your small one.
  • You are what you eat. It’s an old saying that actually has some truth to it. Do you know that sugar stimulates the reward receptors that you associate with pleasant things? It’s a sugar “rush” because it does give you a rush. And even if your child doesn’t understand why he wants more sugar, his brain is being wired by YOU to ask for more sugar. There are also a lot of emerging studies in the medical community regarding the gut-brain connection. They show that what you eat does influence not only your overall physical health, but your mental health as well. Foods that are inflammatory and overloaded with simple sugars and simple carbohydrates can actually put you at increased risk of mental and physical illnesses. Why would you take that risk when you don’t have to? Why would you put your child at risk when you don’t have to?

The increased rate of overweight and obese adults in the US is staggering. What’s even more terrifying is the trend in children. YOU and your partner are in charge of what comes out of your kitchen and onto your children’s plate and into their bellies. You decide to stop at the drive through and buy them over processed fake food.  You decide to buy the cookies, crackers, chips, desserts. Try this instead- You decide what to offer your children and they decide if they want to eat it. I have never in all my years as a registered nurse come across a child who was starving because he refused to eat. If they are hungry enough, they will eat some of what you offer. Offer fruit and veggies at every meal. If they don’t want to taste it or eat then keep planting it on their plate until they do. Never offer up a “reward” of dessert for eating meals. You are training them to see dessert as a reward and wiring them to think it is something very special. Only put out what is making you and your family healthier and stronger!

Finally, when you think about buying fruit and veggies for your family, if possible, you should buy organic or local. There are some disturbing reports that are linking pesticides including Monsanto’s widely used pesticides with autism and a host of other issues. The way I see this is as follows. “Chemicals designed to kill are being sprayed all over fruit and veggies that then absorb these chemicals as they grow. We then eat this. How can this be anything but bad???” Have we not seen what has happened to the butterflies and the bees???? Why do we think that we can spray this all over food and then eat it and be immune to its intended toxic effects? There are no long-term studies on these pesticides because they haven’t been around long enough to see the damage they are doing. Play it safe please! If a fruit or veggie grows in the ground, buy it organic. If it is a leafy green that sits on top of the ground and is open to all the spraying of chemicals, buy it organic. If it is a fruit or veggie that has a thin or soft skin (think berries, peaches), buy organic. Look for frozen organic food to save some money if fresh is too expensive. Don’t even get me started on GMOs, that is a topic for another day!

Happy Healthy Eating Friends!

Infant and Toddler Aspiration and Why it Matters

Did you know that somewhere around 30% of babies and children aspirate when feeding? Aspiration means that instead of liquid or food going into the esophagus and down to the stomach, some goes into the windpipe and to the lungs. This can cause a whole host of issues including chronic respiratory infections sometimes misdiagnosed as asthma, feeding problems (picky eater, extended meatimes), fussiness at mealtimes, long term decreased lung function, and other respiratory issues.

Almost half of babies who aspirate have “silent aspiration”, which means that there are no hallmark signs that aspiration is occurring. It’s happening silently and no one knows. These babies and children may have poor weight gain, respiratory infections, be diagnosed with “colic”, be labeled as “a picky eater”, or have other generalized diagnoses since the pediatrician or clinician hasn’t evaluated them for aspiration.

If you have a baby or toddler who has been labeled with any of the above, frequently coughs at mealtimes, doesn’t like to drink thin liquids, prefers puréed foods (these are easier to swallow for kids who aspirate than thin liquids), or who has been diagnosed with asthma, bronchiolitis, “overactive airways”, or other vague respiratory disgnoses at a young age, please ask your pediatrician for a feeding team and swallowing evaluation. This issue is commonly not even thought of by many pediatricians, and the missed diagnosis means that the problem is not being addressed and could get worse.

There are numerous causes for aspiration, and most children will grow out of it by the age of two unless there is an anatomical issue which is contributing to the trouble swallowing (most difficulty is in swallowing thinner liquids). Don’t let this often misdiagnosed issue go unaddressed if you have a child who is experiencing any on the above mentioned symptoms. There is no problem with bringing up a potential cause of an issue with your pediatrician and asking for a feeding/swallowing evaluation to rule out aspiration as a cause for your child’s symptoms. If it turns out not to be an issue at least you can know and move forward knowing that all potential causes have been investigated.

If you have any questions on this issue please feel free to email me!

The Best Homemade Baby Wipes

When I was pregnant I was shocked and disgusted by most of the baby wipes I found on the market. Most of the popular brands were laden with chemicals that could potentially dry out and irritate a baby’s skin. I go by the motto of “if I wouldn’t clean my face with these wipes then I wouldn’t wipe my baby’s bottom with them either”. Coming from the womb and being exposed to nasty chemicals multiple times a day was not my idea of healthy diapering. I loved the idea of simple water wipes, but I also wanted a little something more to help “clean” my little guy’s bottom when he needed it as well. After researching online about all the different way other moms have made homemade baby wipes and experimenting with some different recipes myself I came up with the perfect combination for my little one’s sensitive skin. When making homemade wipes different containers work better for different people, but I found that a large empty Huggies wipes container worked great for me. Also to note: use Bounty brand paper towels as they hold up best.

Recipe:

Half a roll of Bounty paper towels (cut straight through insert, you will remove it later), place one half in container with the cut side down.

Mix the below in a measuring cup with a spout to pour from:

  • 2-4 squirts of a mild organic body wash or shampoo. My favorite is Earth Mama Angel Baby products. Find them at http://earthmamaangelbaby.com/products/angel-baby-body-wash-shampoo.html
  • 2-4 drops of organic lavender essential oil. I use Aura acacia and highly recommend their products. https://www.auracacia.com/aura-cacia-lavender-essential-oil
  • 1 cup distilled water (where I live we don’t drink water from the tap as its untreated so use your best judgement depending on your water supply!)
  • Optional: 1 tbsp organic coconut oil.

Stir above ingredients and pour evenly over paper towels in container. Once wet, you can reach inside the middle and loosen the middle insert until you can pull it out. Sometimes it comes out in one piece, sometimes in two! The paper towels will often come out with the insert from the middle which is great as this is where you will start the new “wipes” from. Close up the container and let it sit for 5 minutes, then flip it over and let it sit for another 5 minutes to evenly distribute the wetness. Flip it back over, open it up, and starting from the middle of the paper towels pull a few up and put through the top opening. Voila! The best, organic, safe, cleansing, and amazing smelling wipes around!

 

 

Healthy Eating for Moms and Moms-to-be

There’s so much advice out there on what to feed babies, and toddlers, and growing kids; but not a lot of focus on what pregnant women, nursing mothers, and new mothers should be eating. There are a few key principles that I believe should keep moms on the right track when it comes to making wise and healthy food choices. Let’s be honest…the FDA does not have a great track record when it comes to recommending safe additives and food guides. The food pyramid has drastically changed over the years, and our parents’ generation was given completely different advice from the FDA than what they are telling us now. With the addition of fears and concerns over GMOs, widespread pesticide use on crops, and allowable food additives that are often banned in most European and other countries, it’s no wonder there is such confusion on what is “safe” and “healthy”. So those two words are the focus of this post.

Focus on eating “safe”. This means basically to “keep it simple”! Don’t buy food with words that you can’t pronounce on the box. Buy local ingredients from farmers or local grocery stores. Buy eggs from your local farm with cage-free chickens. Use real ingredients. Stay away from artificial colors and added sugars. Buy organic if available and affordable. I try to stay GMO free but that’s a more debatable topic. Buy organic frozen fruits and veggies if fresh isn’t available. Do you want to expose yourself, your unborn child, or your small baby to any more environmental toxins than you have to? Fruit and veg that has been sprayed with toxic pesticides and insecticides will leach into that produce and you will incidentally be ingesting that as well. Cord blood taken from newborns has shown an alarmingly large amount of environmental toxins. Babies grow in the womb and are exposed to numerous toxins before even being born…it may not be impossible to protect your child 100% but you can reduce the exposure by eating fresh local produce for a start. Buy wild caught fish and if it isn’t labeled at your meat/deli counter than ask what fish is wild caught. Farmed fish has less available nutrients and are often raised in deplorable conditions. Don’t think “organic” fish means wild caught…it doesn’t!

Next, keep it healthy. While pregnant and breast-feeding I used the thought process of “is it good for me and my baby?” as a guide on what to eat. If it’s not good for me, then it’s probably bad for me. Think protein, healthy fats, fresh fruit and veggies; and limit your sugar, added saturated fats, and refined carb intake. If you like carbs (like me!) switch out that white pasta and bread for whole wheat pasta or brown rice pasta, and use a whole grain bread or thinner pitas instead. Cook in coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. I eat lots of protein-rich quinoa and wild rice. Add some avocado, eggs, and whole milk plain yogurt or kefir to your diet. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods, just have it in moderation. Eat lots of fruit and veggies that are rich in color. Think bright orange carrots, sweet potatoes and squash, green leafies like spinach and kale, and rich berries like blueberries and raspberries. People talk about the sugar content of fruit all the time…trust me, that naturally occurring sugar does not negate the positive effects of the phytonutrients and antioxidants loaded in berries and they are not bad for you in a moderate amount. Throw some in some plain greek yogurt, add in some chia seeds and some crunchy whole grain granola, and there’s my favorite breakfast. So what’s not good for you? Baked goods loaded with saturated fats and sugars, too many carbs from sources like white rice, bread, white potatoes, and pastas. Stay away from anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce, fast food, fried foods, oily and greasy foods, and be aware that some babies may be sensitive or get gassy from too much dairy if breastfeeding.

If you eat “naturally” then you will automatically be eating much more “healthy” and “safe”. Keep it simple!! I try to eat fish 2-3 times a week, and limit beef to once or twice a week. I try to buy pasture-raised beef and I avoid chicken unless it’s organic and- once again- pasture raised. Have you seen any of the documentaries out there on the state of these chicken farms? Its disgusting and put me off chicken for almost a year. I have a “vegetarian day” once or twice a week. This will force you to get creative and you may come up with a recipe that you really enjoy! Please take advantage of Pinterest…there’s so many great recipe boards out there. My board is called “MAMAwellness” and I have recipes on there as well. Sometimes on a Sunday night all I really want is bread and cheese. So I treat myself to a block of brie and a crusty baguette and I am in heaven. Treat yourself so that you don’t make a food plan that is unsustainable!

The Motherhood Conundrum

Being a mother is amazing. It can be all-encompassing; some days your heart is so full of love and happiness you feel as though it could burst. Some days by the time you’ve been awake for two hours all you can do is dream about when you will go back to bed or get more than two minutes to yourself. You sometimes wish for silence, and then you miss the noise. You sometimes wish for time with just yourself, then you miss the company of your family. Sometimes you dream about going to a movie or dinner by yourself…..then you can’t wait to get back home and see your little one. Sometimes you want a vacation and dream about staying away. There is nothing wrong with wanting different things at different times. Our minds, bodies, auras, and spirits need rest, relaxation, silence, companionship, noise, and sometimes aloneness. All at different times. It’s ok to want everyone around one moment and no one around the next. It’s ok to dream about being alone and then think of your family. You can have the warring dichotomy on a daily basis or not at all. Motherhood is full of changing wants and needs, and it is important to know that these feelings are normal. Each individual has a different personality and social needs. These do not change simply because you’re a mother! In fact being a mother can magnify them. If you’re an introvert and never get time to yourself anymore than you may crave and need even more time to re supply after a long busy day. If you’re an extrovert and feel like you have cabin fever you may need to get out every evening and be around other adults to recharge. You’re not crazy for needing space, and you’re not crazy for needing adult interaction. You’re a mother, and the conundrum of motherhood is that we desperately want to retain our independent sense of ourselves and yet we now have a natural motherhood instinct to never be too far removed from our children- whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

So whatever you’re feeling, it’s ok. It’s ok to want two opposite things at once. We are mothers and we don’t have to justify our thoughts or feelings or wants to anyone but ourselves.

The New Mom “Must Have” List

This is a list of the basic items that I found essential to have in the 4th trimester (the 3 months immediately after birth) for myself and baby, and also a list of the things you think you my need, but are really just a waste of money. People will tell you when you’re pregnant that you need allllll kinds of crazy things to prepare for a baby. To make it even worse, no one tells you the practical items that you REALLY need! Here are my essentials:

  • A supportive breastfeeding pillow. No boppies allowed! Boppie pillows are great for laying baby in, and propping up their head and leaning against, but they are not supportive breastfeeding pillows. Please do yourself a massive favor and buy a pillow that is meant for breastfeeding. You will be spending a lot of time in a chair or sitting on the couch nursing, and you want to support your baby and your proper body alignment to prevent back pain. You need a pillow that is firm and high enough to hold baby in the proper position when you are sitting straight up. I recommend the “my brest friend” nursing pillow (https://www.mybrestfriend.com/). I bought this pillow after a month of frustrated and uncomfortable positioning, and I wish someone had told me about it before.  It was a life saver for my back and for my little guy.
  • Lots of onesies. Yes, when you are making your baby shower gift list you see all the cute little outfits and think of how adorable your little baby will look in those cute bows and frills….or pants and suspenders. BUT no one tells you that you may be changing poop and pee filled diapers every few hours. Add in the diaper changes that occur with spit up, drooling, vomit…and you get the picture. You will really care less about a cute outfit and want the convenience of easy access. Trust me, those three buttons will sometimes even drive you crazy but they are much better than a full on entire outfit change every time your little angel has a poop explosion or milk spit up! Save the cutesy outfits for photo ops or a special day out and stock up on easy access comfort clothing. Don’t forget to buy comfy cottons that make baby feel warm and comfy. Would you want to be dressed to the nines when you’re having a tired lazy day at home? No, you want yoga pants or sweats, right? Think of what baby would want to wear just coming out of the warm cozy womb-  and dress them accordingly!
  • Earth Mama Angel Baby Bottom Balm (http://earthmamaangelbaby.com/products/angel-baby-bottom-balm.html). This balm, and the whole line of products from Earth Mama Angel Baby, are so safe and effective that they have been my go-to brand for baby skin products. I keep at least 3-4 jars of the stuff at home as I am afraid I may lose a jar or run out or leave one somewhere….and then what would I do?! It kept my baby completely diaper-rash free in his first year of life. I applied a thin amount after each diaper change. It’s safe to use on cuts, scrapes, rashes,cradle cap, minor burns, and dry/cracked skin. It really is a wonderful balm and if you look at the ingredient list there is nothing to make me nervous. As an RN mom I take great pride in product selection for my little guy’s skin, and this is my favorite. I give it as gifts to new mom friends and always keep a few spare on hand. The baby body wash is lovely as well, and I use the body wash to make my own home made baby wipes. That will be for a later post!
  • Nursing bras in larger sizes. When my milk came in three days after having my son, I had not a bra to fit. I thought, “sure, my breasts will enlarge for a few days, no big deal, I’ll just wear a stretchy nursing bra”. Boy was I wrong! I needed comfort and I desperately needed support. I went from a 32b/c pre-pregnancy, to a 34c during pregnancy, to a 34d/dd after my milk came in. I literally went to the one good maternity store we have here in Bermuda and dropped $80 each on two bras that fit two days after getting home from the hospital. I was pissed that I had to leave the house with my son and even more pissed that I hadn’t realized how my boobs would be so huge and I’d need some nursing bras at the ready. Don’t get anything with an underwire!! You will be so tender that the thought of wearing an underwire will make you sick. Get a comfy supportive daytime bra with clip down sides, and a comfy night-time one that you can just pull aside or clip down. Whatever size you are at the end of your pregnancy, go get a bra that is at least one cup size larger, maybe even two. The band size should remain the same and eventually go down.
  • Power bars. I prefer Clif bars, Lara bars, and Pro bars, but everyone has a favorite consistency and brand. Keep a stock in the house. You may not have the time or energy to prepare or eat full meals, and if you’re nursing you will feel hungry frequently. A handy snack that you can eat while nursing your little one will come in so handy.
  • A supportive baby carrier. I used a Moby wrap when little man was first born and I really liked the stability of it. There’s tons of other options for sling and ring carriers, and these work best for a newborn as they cuddle them in tight to your body. After your little one is a wee bit older, you will be looking for a carrier that will take you through until they don’t need one anymore. Some carriers have “infant inserts” that the convert to a “big kid” forward facing carrier or back carrier, and some just come for that 4-6 month+ age range. I tried 4-5 carriers before I found one for my then 6 month old- and I had become so frustrated by the lack of lumbar support. TADA…. To my rescue came the Lillebaby carrier. It had amazing lumbar back support,easily adjustable straps, was very supportive through the bottom and hips for my little guy, and allows you you carry in multiple positions. Don’t waste your time on the popular Baby Bjorn- your baby’s legs will hang straight down which not ideal for your little ones hips an legs, and the back support is either non existent or minimal. Shell out a little more money and get one that will last and will save your back. It’s so important to look after your own body as well as your little one’s!
  • Things people will try to sell you or tell you that you need but that you will never use and are a waste of money:
    • Wipe warmer. Really?? Completely unnecessarily. Wipes at room temperature are just fine for baby, thank you very much!
    • Baby shoes. Babies don’t walk until close to a year old, and wearing shoes before walking can have a detrimental impact on the growth and development of your baby’s feet. Toes and feet need to feel around to get their bearings and strengthen enough to crawl, stand, and eventually walk. Please don’t keep shoes on your baby just because they look cute!
    • Bottle warmer. Another scam! Bottles can be easily warmed up safely a number of ways. If you’re breastfeeding you shouldn’t have to worry about this one much. If you’re bottle feeding then try something as simple as putting the bottle in a large cup of warm water to heat up. Boom, you made your own bottle warmer and saved yourself $30.
    • Baby care products that have toxic chemicals. Please use the Environmental Working Group’s free app or website ( http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/search.php) to check out the ingredient list on your baby products. Only request products on your baby shower list that you have researched and that you feel comfortable using. You may be surprised at how many ingredients in those popular baby products are hazardous to your baby’s health.
    • Fancy baby clothes. See the post above about onesies. Save the cute outfits for when your baby can move around. If you want to stock up on cute little outfits, request them in a larger size like 6,9, or 12 months, when your baby will start to develop their features, and can give you a cheeky grin when you put them in something fancy!

 

Yoga during pregnancy

Many moms asked me what I did during pregnancy to remain healthy. During my Lamaze classes our instructor asked me what I were struggling with in pregnancy. It was about the 7th month and all I had to complain about was heartburn. She was amazed and asked me what I was doing to remain so healthy. I didn’t suffer from much back pain, I didn’t retain water, I wasn’t constipated, and I was ready to go home the day after giving birth without the need for pain medication. I attribute most of this to YOGA! I practiced 20 minutes of yoga every night during pretty much my entire pregnancy. It felt so good to stretch, relax, and focus on my changing body. I focused on stretching and strengthening my lower back and hips/pelvic area specifically, and I do believe this is one of the main reasons I didn’t suffer from much pain before or after birth, I had a quick birth (3 hours after getting to the hospital) ,and I bounced back pretty quickly. I recommend to all new moms to start a daily yoga routine early in your pregnancy to help stretch and strengthen your ligaments and muscles. Not only will this help in your actual birth, but it will help your body tremendously after birth to remain strong and flexible and bounce back. Focus on doing standing and sitting stretches as once your pregnancy progresses you will probably be unable to lie flat on your back or bend over forwards. Any poses that stretch your hips and pelvic area are beneficial, and make sure to hold the poses long enough to get a good stretch. There are plenty of websites that list poses good during pregnancy if you don’t have time or the means to go to prenatal yoga classes. I loved the blog post done by Birth Without Fear ( http://birthwithoutfearblog.com/2013/09/16/stretch-open-breathe-12-prenatal-yoga-poses-to-prepare-for-birth/) and used this as a guide for good prenatal poses. Just be sure you are doing the stretches properly and safely so you do not injure yourself.

First Blog Post ~ Sleep!

When trying to decide what to write about for my first post, I decided to go with sleep as it is so important – for moms, for dads, for other siblings, and for babies and toddlers. Sleep sets us up for our daily lives. Sleep regulates our wake cycles, our hormones, and influences so many of our body’s systems. Sleep can have a huge impact on our health, our happiness, and it is just as important to have healthy sleep habits for our kids as it is for us. I will talk about three main points in this post. First, why sleep is so important for our bodies to function and what can happen when we are not getting enough at the right times. Second, how we can optimize our sleep by setting healthy habits before bed and during the night. Thirdly, I will give my professional opinion on the many scientific articles and recommendations on baby and infant sleep. You will not be getting any thumbs up on those crazy “sleep train your baby” recommendations from this RN mom! I advocate room sharing, safe bed sharing, attentive, and loving methods to help your baby feel safe and secure enough to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own.

First, why sleep is so important: During sleep, our bodies have the amazing capability to rest, reset, recharge, and rebalance. Our bodies are amazing creations. They release and rebalance hormones, regulate insulin and sugar stores, lower our metabolic function along with body temperature, and allow our minds to sort through the previous day’s activities. Sleep deprivation is technically defined as anything less than 6 hours at night, but many people – moms including – rarely get that sleep. With sleep deprivation comes many alarming side effects – confusion, memory loss (baby brain anyone!?), general clumsiness, inability to problem solve effectively, inability to multitask, increase in moodiness, shortened attention spans, and feelings of fatigue. Long-term sleep deprivation can affect our body’s ability to balance hormones and regulate our moods, disrupt our immune systems, affect fertility negatively, and lead to unhappiness and depression. Sounds like sleep should be a priority, right?

Second, how can we optimize our sleep and set healthy sleep habits? I recommend setting some basic guidelines when it comes to bedtime routines for you and your family. Three simple tips can drastically improve your sleep time and allow you to get a restful sleep at night. First, decrease light at night as much as possible. My thesis for my MSN was on light at night, so this is big for me. Think about it- for hundreds of thousands of years our bodies were used to winding down and preparing for sleep as it became dark out. With morning light our bodies awakened reset for the new day. Nowadays with bright lights on at night, 24 hour stores and shopping, and constant electronic screen lights in our faces until the minute we close our eyes- our bodies are confused! Tryptophan is a hormone that is converted to serotonin and to melatonin by our brains to help us wind down at night and to fall asleep and stay asleep. Our bodies naturally decrease the production as morning comes, and this helps us to wake up. Bright light at night and especially that light emitted by the screen on your phone and iPad inhibit this hormone, which is turn delays your ability to fall asleep at night. It can also impact the amount of melatonin that is produced, meaning less restful deep sleep. At least one hour before your planned “be asleep by” time turn off all electronics – in fact do not even bring them into the bedroom with you! This way you won’t be tempted to check your email, Facebook, or Instagram one more time. If you have lights on in this house, at night time only use a low wattage, or reduce the number that you keep on. If using a nightlight, use red light – the least disruptive to our hormones. Half an hour before bed I like to do some simple sitting yoga stretches, meditation, prayers, or a restful mindfulness activity to help my mind relax for sleep. Practice the same routine daily for two weeks and I guarantee that you notice a difference in your sleep and restfulness.

Thirdly, baby and toddler sleep recommendations. Let’s get one thing straight off the bat – sleep training is for kids over age 1 who have bad sleep habits and need some remediation to undo the old habits and set new good habits. Sleep training is not for babies! Babies mind’s are not capable of “self soothing”- this is a milestone that babies will reach in their own time just like crawling and walking. It is a mental and emotional milestone so although you can’t physically “see it” like you can see when your baby is crawling or walking please know that it is a milestone all the same. Just as all babies walk at a different age, all babies will reach the ability to self soothe at a different age. Emotionally, you can do more damage trying to “sleep train” your child than good. You can make them fearful of sleeping and scared to be on their own. Do not push independence on your baby before they are ready. If you try to push them to do too much before they are ready it can backfire and create an even clingier, less independent, and fearful child. Babies who feel safe and secure have a greater chance of falling asleep and staying asleep on their own. To new moms, I recommend room sharing with your  baby to help establish and maintain your breastfeeding routine. I recommend bed sharing if it is done safely (only with mama, no bulky pillows, no blankets, large mattress size, etc). If you wake up in the night to change a diaper or feed your baby, keep the lgihts low or use a dark lamp shade to limit your and your baby’s exposure to light at night.

To help older babies sleep, I recommend a strict bedtime routine. Stick to the the same routine and schedule and your child will eventually be prepared to fall asleep on their own as they will know what to expect. Our routine includes getting changed for bed, reading, a bottle of milk, brushing our few little teethies, lights out, saying goodnight to our stuffed animals and mommy and daddy, and then in our crib for bed. It takes about half an hour. We have stuck to the same bedtime ritual for about 6 months and our little guy who is 15 months will now sit in bed and get comfy without crying and fall asleep on his own. He is now sleeping 11- 11.5 hours at night. We have a small Gro Egg nightlight in his room that emits a light red light we keep on, and in the summer when it is light out late we use blackout curtains on his windows. Basically the same rules that apply for adults apply for kids with some slight tweaking- low lights, no electronics, dark in the room, a nice temperature (between 68-74 for us), and a bedtime routine.

Stay away from those sleep training books. I have yet to find one that is written from a holistic health point of view and many of the so called “sleep specialists” have no  medical degree, no psychology degree, and don’t take into account that each baby is different with different sleep needs. They approach sleep with this mythical idea that we should make babies adjust to our sleep needs, completely negating the fact that these little babies are new to the world and have needs different than ours! Their emotional and psychological health is just as important as their physical health and just because it’s nighttime does not mean that their needs go away. Often a crying baby will just want the comfort of mom and to be held at night. This stage is difficult but it will not last forever. I believe it’s much more important to be there for your child when they cry than to say “they will learn” and let them cry and cry at night until they are stressed to the point of exhaustion and “sleep”. Studies have shown that babies who “fall asleep” after an extended period of crying still have an increased heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure – all indicators of a stressed and emotionally upset baby. This is not the best way, the smart way, or the healthiest way to show your child how to sleep. There is not one right way to comfort your child, or help them to learn to fall asleep. There are many different ways to “do” parenting. Just as babies need love, attention, and nurturing care during the day they also need these things sometimes during the night as well. Please be there for your child until they are old enough to understand you and fall asleep on their own. Sleeping on their own may happen for some babies at 6 months, some babies at 8 months, some at a year, and some later.