Category Archives: infant sleep strategies

Help Your Newborn Adjust to Daycare By Using Happiest Baby on the Block Strategies

ID-100108085.jpgReturning to work soon after delivery can mean putting your 3-month old in daycare.  As challenging as this can be emotionally, it can also be a struggle for your baby, especially if her only self-calming strategy has been nursing.  Should you (or could you) quit your job or just tough it out?  There is another alternative:  teach your little one to respond to  a wider variety of self-calming cues.

Self-calming at 3 months?  Well, yes and no.  Babies at this age are learning to respond to messages that we send.  This is the very beginning of self-regulation.  Actions and sensory inputs that tell their nervous system ” You are safe”, “It’s time to sleep” and “I get it; you need a little more help to calm down and I know what to do”.  They aren’t able to devise  their own solutions yet, but they can begin to self-calm if we read their behavior correctly and understand what they need developmentally and neurologically.  This is where Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block strategies, and his other great sleep solutions, can save your sanity and your child’s sleep.  Many of the 5 S’s that worked so well in the first 12 weeks of life can be adjusted to support this transition into daycare.

The weeks between 3 months and 6 months are almost the 5th trimester (Dr. Karp refers to the first 3 months of life as the “4th trimester”).   I think it is a bridge period in which babies need more help to calm down than many realize.  At this age, they suck their fingers to self-soothe while awake.   But… they aren’t strong enough to keep their hands or their thumbs in their mouth when they are lying down and falling asleep.  Gravity pulls those heavy hands down to the crib mattress. They don’t babble their way to sleep the way a 6 month-old does, and they are barely ready to listen to lullabies. So what can you do?  Be creative and use the 5 S’s as a launching point for your new routines.

Swaddling may not be as effective, or even safe, at this stage.  Babies who are rolling could be strong enough to roll onto their bellies.  With their arms swaddled, they are at risk for suffocation.  Once your baby is in that “I’m gonna practice this rolling thing all day” stage, swaddling becomes more of a risk than a solution.

There are swaddle garments that convert to safer solutions for this stage.  The garments that still give firm pressure over the chest but leave legs and arms free are specifically designed to keep that nice calm feeling going.  They allow your child to roll freely.  Dr. Karp also suggests that swaddling in an infant swing is another safe choice for those babies that are experimenting with rolling but still need swaddling to pull it all together.  REMEMBER:  your baby needs to be put into the swing calm, and securely strapped in.  If she is too big for the swing, then don’t use it.  Just because it is calming for her is not a reason to use a too-small swaddling blanket or a tiny infant swing.

Pacifiers are recommended by both Dr. Karp and the American Academy of Pediatrics, but some babies don’t love them, and some parents are afraid of creating a paci addict.  For those nervous parents, I wrote a special post: Prevent Pacifier Addiction With A Focus on Building Self-Calming Without Plastic.  The truth is that sucking is a normal developmentally-appropriate self-calming behavior, and addiction really doesn’t become an issue until your child has nothing else that works at all.

Between 3-6 months, your little one is still benefitting from sucking, and she can learn to use a paci in daycare.  She isn’t at risk of nipple confusion, unlike a 2 week-old, and she won’t reject your breast because of paci use.  Nursing is the total package of love, warmth and nutrition.  If she says “no more” to nursing, it is likely that she would have done so without the paci.  Some babies are just ready to be done early.  Use Dr. Karp’s paci learning technique to teach a baby how to handle a paci and keep it in her mouth.  By 3 months, she has strong oral muscles, so it is a matter of practice and helping her to realize how handy pacis can be to calm a bit for sleep.  If she spits it out while asleep….well, mission accomplished!

White noise is the one HBOTB strategy that never needs to end.  But for these little guys, the new noises of daycare are so different from home that this may be the secret weapon.  Dr. Karp sells his carefully designed white noise CD.  It can be loaded onto a phone as well from iTunes. Select the track that matches your child’s state (crying, drowsy  and calm, etc.) and watch the magic begin.  Encourage your daycare to use this totally safe method of soothing.

Rocking a baby in your arms can replace the infant swing, and some older newborns still calm down when held on their sides or stomach.  Again, this is never a sleep position, just a calming position.  But if it works for your baby, feel free to use it when you hold her.

Once you have created an updated HBOTB routine that works, share it with the daycare staff.  You may find that they have rules and regulations, and some staff aren’t open to new ideas.  My suggestion is to emphasize how easily you can get her calm.  Even the most rigid care provider’s ears perk up when she thinks that there is a way to make her job easier.  These people work long hours and work hard.  Think of this as helping her and your little one have a better day!

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Successful Swaddling May Take More Layers of Calmness

ferris-wheel

Newborn crying can make you feel like you are on a ferris wheel; around and around you go!

Swaddling is a skill, but it is also an art.  Once you have your little one snug as a bean burrito, they don’t always stop crying right away.  When I teach parents the 5 S’s as part of a Happiest Baby on the Block consultation or class, I try very hard to explain that most children need more layers of love.  Parents aren’t doing it wrong if they keep crying, and babies aren’t resisting the swaddle.  They just need more support because they have little brains and few experiences in this world.  Once you figure out what combo of moves your child needs, you have success!

Once you have done a good-enough swaddle, use the side or stomach-down calming move right away.  As a pediatric occupational therapist, this is my favorite, since it is using the neurology of the vestibular (balance) system to help your child chill out.  Really.  They aren’t thinking  “Gee, I love the view in this direction”, or ” I am much calmer looking at the floor”.  Their brain is getting some calming signals from their inner ear, diminishing that arching from the Startle Reflex and helping them pull together.  Try both positions, and make little adjustments in the exact tilt.  Everyone’s brain is a little different, so your child might need side-plus-slightly face-down to hit that calm point.

Think of it like this:  when you sleep, why do you think people curl up on their sides?  Because the bed is too short?  It is relaxing, naturally relaxing, to many people.  No one told them to sleep that way, they just do.  The number of back sleepers is far fewer, yet pediatricians insist on back sleep for safety and give you no idea how to convince your child to chill in this position.  That seems unfair, but then, many pediatricians aren’t baby care experts, they are baby health experts.  We just want them to be.

Now you can do all the gentle swinging, shushing and sucking layers you learned in Happiest Baby.  They all work well, and you will quickly learn which one is the most powerful for your unique little baby.  As your child grows, the layers aren’t as needed as much, but you may find that one of them really makes a difference.  Often it is the white noise of shushing.  Now you know why.  It’s their neurological sleep signal.

Sweet dreams, and remember to layer it on!

Why Doesn’t Swaddling Alone Calm Newborns?

I attended a local function last night, and this question was on my mind as parents recounted their experiences with newborns and calming.  They thought that they were doing the swaddling wrong.  Or that their child was abnormal.  Not likely.  They just didn’t realize that for most babies, swaddling alone doesn’t do the deal.

As a certified Happiest Baby educator, I am aware that there are a small percentage of babies that are so mellow that they might not even need a swaddle.  These newborns just eat, poop, pee and sleep.  Anywhere, any time.  Having such a baby feels like winning the lottery.  It is, and it is almost as rare.  Dr. Karp estimates the percentage of “easy” babies as somewhere between 5 and 15%.  Enjoy it, but do not think that baby #2 will be the same.  It isn’t inherited, or your divine guidance, or that your husband is a gem.  You got lucky.

Most babies are in between as far as temperament and fussiness, and need at least some of the 5 S’s.  Swinging, sucking, side/stomach positioning (to calm only), shush-ing, and the swaddle.  They are only occasionally fussy, and it is clear to you what they need after you know the Happiest Baby moves.

And then there are the babies that he classifies as “spirited”.  You know if you have one of these.  Peals of joy, but also screams that could make the sheetrock fall off the walls.  If they are hungry, you’d think they were being starved.  If they are tired, they are hysterical.  If you don’t pick them up in time, they make it clear that you will rue the day you do that again.  They are not possessed, they are expressing a combo of lack of self-calming skills, a really immature brain, and a fiery temperament.  You need to do all the moves of Happiest Baby, and do them right.  I can help.  Read more of my posts, get Dr. Karp’s DVD, and practice the moves until you could teach my classes.

So, swaddling does work, it just isn’t the end of the story for most babies.  If you have a baby for whom swaddling isn’t enough, don’t give up.  Take a class, get a consultation from me or another educator, and don’t worry that a screaming newborn means a lifetime of this rollercoaster!

Why Some Newborns Look Like They Hate To Be Swaddled

Yes, I said it.  Some babies scream louder after you swaddle them, and parents assume that this means that they are horrified of being restricted.  This is usually far from the truth, but you have to know a little bit about newborn neurology to understand why this is likely not to be a case of protesting imprisonment and more a request for more layers of calming.

For 9 months, a newborn has been living in a tighter and tighter space.  Baby bumps get bigger, but the uterus can only expand so far.  At the end of pregnancy, babies are a snug fit.  Really snug.  They aren’t uncomfortable, and in fact, swaddling is replicating the whole-body firm hug that they know so well.  It is diminishing the shock of the Moro (startle) reflex that scares them and makes them cry more.  It keeps them at a consistent temperature, just like the womb.

So why do some of them scream more right after you swaddle them?  Well, some babies are sensitive little souls, the kind that cry with new noises, too much talking, or even when their digestion “toots” a little or they get very hungry.  They can go straight from happy to upset after too much activity, too much socializing, or too much interaction.  By the end of the day, they are at the end of their ability to handle life.  This can be partly temperament, their unique way of interacting with the world.  It can also be that their nervous system is still very immature, and they are taking a while to develop self-calming.  That is not a medical problem.  Every baby is new at this life-after-womb thing.  Some babies just need a little more time living like they did for 9 months, cozy and comforted.

These babies need swaddling more than some others, but they find anything new to be a challenge.  Give them a chance to get used to it, and make sure that you are doing a good swaddle.  Check how toasty they are, by making sure that they are not sweating behind their neck or ears (if so, lighten up on layers and swaddle in light cotton).  They probably also need more than swaddling to pull it together.  If you haven’t read Happiest Baby on the Block or seen the DVD, you might not be aware that swaddling alone is not going to finish the job for sensitive kids.  Sucking, shushing, side or stomach positioning (for calming only) and swinging may all be needed to calm these babies down.

So for all those parents who think that their baby is the one that hates swaddling, I encourage you to make sure that your technique is solid, your blanket or swaddle garment fits correctly, and that you layer on the love moves with more than a swaddle to calm your little one!

 

First Father’s Day? You Might Be the Best Baby Calmer In The House

Fathers are often the partners that jump right into practicing the Happiest Baby on the Block techniques.  They “shush” loud and long, they do the quick jiggle (for swinging) with enthusiasm, and they can usually use just one arm to support a newborn on it’s side to calm them.  Moms are in awe of their guy who couldn’t stand to change a diaper and was too nervous to even hold that baby a few weeks ago.  Go, Daddy!

Women do not have the corner on the comforting market.  Yes, they can nurse a baby to calm them, but not every fussy baby is a hungry baby.  Men can be a warm, yet rock-solid, source of physical comfort for children.  The Happiest Baby techniques seem more intense than a standard soft cuddle.  It’s because they are more intense.  Not dangerous in any way, but designed to give newborns a replication of the more sensory-rich womb experience .  Dr. Karp’s awareness of temperament and early development refine that basic concept to give newborns what they need to pull it together, get calm, and get some sleep.  Giving them more touch, more movement and more loud and steady white-noise sounds all together is the key.  The fact is that learning these techniques are new to moms as well helps a father not be intimidated by the “natural” knowledge of women.  The truth is that no one is born knowing what to do, and you can’t google it either.  The parents I teach are pretty much on a level playing field for this stuff.  And the men sometimes amaze me with their new skills.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who have stepped up their game, and mastered the easy way to calm their newborns!

 

Will White Noise Harm a Newborn’s Hearing?

This question doesn’t come up as often as it should when I do Happiest Baby on the Block consultations.  The short answer is that common sense goes a long way to protecting a newborn’s hearing.  The longer answer is that understanding sound conduction and newborn development will help parents use white noise confidently.  Here we go:

White noise, selected carefully and used with some knowledge, can be a powerful way to calm newborns and it can be a go-to sleep cue for the entire first year.  Babies that recognize white noise as a cue that it is time to sleep are easier to calm when the going gets rough.  When that first cold, first tooth, or sibling tantrum comes along, the baby who calms automatically with white noise will be easier to soothe.  The gift that keeps on giving!  Is it addicting?  Only as much as your cozy pajamas are on a chilly night! Are Babies Addicted to White Noise? Yes….and No

Sound characteristics for safety and effectiveness are volume and pitch.  High pitched sounds are the more dangerous type, especially when used at high volume and close to a sleeping child’s ears.  High pitched sounds are also less effective at calming.  Examples of high and low pitched sounds?  Think about the difference between a whistle (high) and a vacuum (low pitched but loud) or water from a shower head (low pitch and moderately loud).  Everyone has heard stories of babies who stopped screaming only if they were next to the clothes dryer or when someone ran the vacuum.  Those newborns aren’t excited about housework; the rumbling low frequency sound at a moderate volume helped calm them.  Thank goodness that Dr. Karp’s Happiest Baby organization sells while noise CD’s and apps that replicate those calming sounds.  I like to vacuum, but not that much!

Babies who scream can easily reach 100 dB (decibel ). That is as loud as a lawnmower!  To use white noise to help a screaming baby calm down, you are going to have to turn up the volume temporarily to about 80-90 dB for white noise to have an effect.  Remember, I said tem-po-rarily.  Once a baby is not screaming, but is still fussy, it is time to lower the volume down gradually to a soft shower level. It is not recommended to use white noise at the volume level above 70dB all night long.  

How close should the sound source be to the baby?  It depends.  Obviously if it too far away, the effect of sound is diminished to the point where it does no good at all.  You will realize that quickly as you watch your newborn continue to scream and fuss.  Too close is not acceptable either, as the volume of sound will be too high.  By the way, Dr. Karp encourages families that want to use a cell phone for white noise to put it on Airplane Mode to diminish the amount of radio waves from the phone.  Most phones have tinny speakers that don’t deliver great low pitched sound anyway.  The most accurate way to know that the sound is a safe distance is to download a decibel meter app or buy a free-standing meter.  Place it next your child and adjust the volume so that the level for an all-night session is 65-70dB.  That is about the level of lively conversation, and a safe level for full-term babies.

Should you use white noise all day and all night?  Absolutely not.  Babies need white noise to sleep and calm, but when awake and interacting, they need to hear your loving voice, experience the quiet stillness of a peaceful home, and listen to the wonderful sounds of nature and family!

 

 

Out Of The Swaddle And Into The Frying Pan

Those first 2 weeks of life are pretty simple:  feed, sleep, diaper.  Lather, rinse and repeat.  From about 2 weeks until 12-14 weeks, the Happiest Baby strategies for getting a baby calm and sleeping soundly really do work to keep newborns (and parents) happy.  I am a certified Happiest Baby educator, and it is relatively easy to decode the common complaints of newborns in those first weeks and months.  In fact, using The Happiest Baby techniques can make it easier to see true medical problems that fussiness and intractable crying were masking.  This is one of the best reasons to learn these techniques if you or your partner are not pediatric clinicians.  And maybe even if you are.

After that period, the swaddle is replaced by a sleep garment, side and stomach positioning to calm doesn’t have much of an effect, and the swing is put away in the garage.   Using white noise can continue, and so can the pacifier.  If so, then why is this period a minefield for accidental parenting?  Because changes in behavior that are just normal development aren’t anticipated and interpreted.  All you fans of the 5 S’s of Happiest Baby on the Block, here is what is coming down the line:  big changes that you need to anticipate and manage in a forward-thinking manner.  It won’t be so simple at 4 months.  Don’t be nervous; keep your eyes open and read the rest of this post!

I am a big fan of The Baby Whisperer’s books, with her strategies for a flexible but firm routine in the first year.  Tracy Hogg’s infant routines can seem a bit rigid to some parents, but if you asked a little one, they don’t find reasonable routines (not rigid ones) to be strict.  Routines help little people know what to expect and when to expect it.  Trust me, the younger you are, the more it helps to use routines to communicate.  Without the ability to speak, babies can’t tell us what is going on for them either.  Knowing that a child is behaving inconsistently is an important way to see a leap in development or an emerging illness.  How else would you know that refusing to nurse is because of an actual problem instead of being overtired?  Without a baseline of regular behavior at regular times, it is much harder to see inconsistent reactions that signal distress once babies are more complicated.  And at 4 months and up, things get more complicated.

Take a look at the Baby Whisperer’s  E.A.S.Y. plans for eating, activity, sleep, time for you at different stages.  Beware of what she calls “accidental parenting”.  Dr. Karp does a nice job talking about this trap as well in his great book The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep but I think that Tracy Hogg gives more helpful hints on schedules and real-life baby day scenarios.  Accidental parenting is like John Lennon’s famous line “Life is what happens when you are busy doing other things.” Accidental parenting happens when the solution to a heat-of-the moment problem results in habits that cause bigger problems.

A good example is a young infant that is fussy and falls asleep nursing, and after a few nights of this super-easy way to get him to sleep, now cannot fall asleep any other way.  Why is this a problem?  Because when mom is at the store, this child is exhausted and unable to nap.  He also cannot sleep in his crib or anywhere else but on his mom.  This is not a child who is experiencing the warmth of connection:  this is a child who is uncomfortable unless he has exactly one situation and one alone.  He has accidentally been taught that there is only one way to settle and sleep, by the very people that want him to feel safe and calm in his own body anywhere.   That is the problem with accidental parenting.  The actions taken were a short-term fix for a problem, not a real long-term plan for greater peace and flexibility.

Both the Baby Whisperer and Dr. Karp have similar solutions for you if you have done some accidental parenting at this young age.  Again, I am going to say that Tracy Hogg gives you more details about the solutions, but they both have good ideas. The most important things to remember about their solutions:

  1. Have confidence that your future vision of calmness and your newly-found knowledge from these experts will work.  The current atmosphere is to distrust “authorities” of all stripes, but there are people that know their way around these early months.  If you distrust everyone, you are left hoping that your guess is the right one.
  2. Learn to read your child’s cues correctly.  They both give you information that can counter there frantic sense that there is no rhyme or reason to all that fussiness.  You can only interpret these cues if you know a lot about normal development and pay attention to your child over time.
  3. Expect change, and learn what the next stage is.  Everyone changes, but babies change fast.  A 6 week-old and a 6 month-old can be so very different.  That is only a difference of a few months but it is an eternity in infant development.  Stay on your toes and anticipate this.  You are the receiver and that child is the quarterback.  Pay attention and get ready for new signals.  Sorry to confuse those of you who don’t follow American Football.  But I think you get the general idea.  Anticipate change.
  4. Don’t expect an easy fix, and don’t waiver in your commitment.  The older the child, and the stronger their temperament, the longer a habit created from accidental parenting takes to shift.
  5. Get support, and don’t try a strategy that you really resist.  Forcing a child is not what routines are about, and if you need to tweak a strategy, then do it.  If you are the parent that can’t handle even a little fussing, then switch off to your partner to help your child realize that his distress about switching from nursing to sleep to sleeping another way is habitual and can change.  Because it can.
  6. Notice when you are unrealistic about what babies can manage, or if you are so uncomfortable with any fussiness that you are qualify as a victim of Tracy Hogg’s “poor baby syndrome”, in which you feel so guilty about any crying for any reason at all that you lose your wider view of what a child needs.

Accidental parenting is nothing to be ashamed of.  This parenting thing is hard, very hard, and everyone is doing their best.  I really believe that.  Habits can change, and things can go forward successfully with a different approach!