Tag Archives: happiest baby on the block

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!

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The Informed Parent and Happiest Baby on the Block

I read The Informed Parent recently to decide whether it would be a good resource for my clients, and found that the chapters on The Art and Science of Baby Soothing, SIDS, and Sleep Training were worth reading.  This book distills a lot, a whole lot, of research that can confuse those parents who want some clarity in a sea of recommendations. The problem?  The authors, Tara Haelle and Emily Willingham, left me wanting for some good resources to offer parents once they have made their own conclusions about the available research.  They did do something wonderful for me as a Happiest Baby educator:  they included many, many research references to the 5 S’s that support the use of Dr. Karp’s techniques to calm newborns.  If you ever wondered whether swaddling is bad for your baby’s hips or whether pacifiers would help or hurt your chances of successful breastfeeding, the authors have some science-based answers for you.

As an example of what their book offers parents, the chapter on sleep training appeared to summarize all of the research findings by saying that bad sleepers aren’t necessarily disturbed or deficient.  The most helpful conclusion was that children whose parents were available to them emotionally during the bedtime period had fewer sleep disruptions. Parents might be feel less guilty but this won’t help anyone go to sleep.  If a parent is frustrated, tired, and distracted, and has an authoritarian approach to sleep: “Go to sleep NOW, because I said so!”, I believe that they are more likely to end up with a child that doesn’t want to go to sleep at bedtime, and screams for bottles or cuddles at 4 am.  But how exactly does this observation help anyone?  Perhaps there are parents that recognize themselves in that description and decide to change, but I suggest that most of us do not see ourselves as emotionally unavailable, even when we are.   My experience is that the parent-child pairs I have met who have an insecure-resistant mode of attachment (psych-speak for a child that desires parent contact but then reacts angrily or is resistant/fussy when given attention) are completely oblivious to how they contribute to their child’s behavior.   It is going to take more that a summary of scientific studies to have parents recognize the effect of their interactions on sleep problems.

I was disappointed that the authors included the “Purple crying” concept of Dr. Ronald Barr in their discussion of parents that shake a persistently crying infant.  Nothing in this  “approach” is scientific.  Telling parents that colicky crying is normal, but not offering more than “put the baby down and don’t shake him” is reprehensible when methods such as Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s  have actually helped so many families.  Of course shaking is never OK!  I really doubt that anyone that has had a screaming infant has ever felt that “knowing that crying is common and not abnormal” was very helpful.  What you want at that point to avoid doing something harmful is a solution, not a platitude.

Read The Informed Parent and let me know what was helpful and what just made you want some successful easy-to-use strategies for babies and toddlers!

To schedule a in-home training with me in the NYC metro area, or to buy a phone/video consult, visit my website and select the service that fits your needs.  

 

When to Stop Using the Infant Swing with Your Newborn

Weaning the swing can happen earlier than weaning swaddling.  Somewhere about 2.5 months old (adjust for prematurity if needed), many newborns no longer get more peaceful while swinging.  There will always be babies that prefer to be jiggled on your shoulder or in your lap from the beginning. There will also be babies a bit over 3 months old that only calm when snugly swaddled and swinging, firmly buckled in and fully reclined, of course.  If you are not talented in the blanket swaddling area, this is the time when you might want to try a swaddle garment.  It is unsafe to loosely swaddle a child when they are old enough to partially roll inside a swing.  If your child is so strong that he can undo a swaddle garment or a firm blanket swaddle, then swaddling in a swing is not for you.  You will just have to double-down on the shush/white noise, sucking and side/stomach calming.  I would also recommend the dream feed (my most popular blog post ever from January 2015) and be very careful not to put off naps until your child is over-tired.  More on that topic later this month.

When your baby is ready to wean swinging it may be as easy as shutting it off and putting him in the bassinet or a co-sleeper.  Wean a movement-loving baby by slowing the swing down for sleep for a few nights and then seeing if he can sleep in a non-moving swing.  If his sleep is still as long and as deep, then it could be time to put the swing on Craigslist or in the garage.

Don’t forget that the other S’s, especially shushing/white noise, may be even more important now for general calming and signaling bedtime.  This is not the time to dismantle your previously perfect newborn sleep routine.  Abandon all the signs and sounds that tell him things are quiet, safe and cozy at your own risk.  You may even add some more mature routines that can continue throughout childhood, like infant massage and story time.  Babies love to hear your rhythmic voice as you read “Goodnight Moon”.  I hope you like it too, since you will be reading it over and over…and over!

Move Your Baby Into a Shared Bedroom Using The Happiest Baby on the Block

One question I usually hear when teaching The Happiest Baby on the Block (THB) classes is “Can this help me when I want to move her into her sister’s room?”.  The answer is: absolutely!  Strategies that keep your newborn calm and sleeping more deeply will smooth the transition to shared bedrooms later on.

Most parents use either a co-sleeper or a bassinet for the first few months after birth. They can hear and see the baby more clearly, and the frequent feedings and diaper changes are less disruptive to everyone’s sleep.   Unless they use the “family bed” concept, they often plan to move their newborn to a separate room after 4 and 6 months.  I think every family should decide for themselves when and where they want their babies to sleep.  But if you want two children to share a room, you need to have a plan.  Twins can be a bit easier, but it is not a guarantee that they will have identical sleeping and feeding schedules.  When you have an older child already sleeping in a bedroom, moving your infant in with them is even more complicated.  Parents are generally worried about waking the infant when the toddler goes to bed later, or worried that the infant will wake for a feeding and then wake up the toddler.  They envision nights with one or the other crying, and nobody getting a decent night’s sleep.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  And it can be done without anyone crying.

My favorite saying about sleep issues in infants is that a good night’s sleep starts in the morning.  Using THB, you have strategies to calm your baby all day long, through naps and stressors like noise that other children make.  A baby that has spent the day being quickly calmed, had deep refreshing naps, and knows that their caregivers can calm them quickly is much easier to put to bed at night.  Parents who are no longer swaddling have asked me what they can use.  Well, swaddling isn’t the only THB technique.  In fact, it is only one of 5.  Parents can use sucking without risk of dental deformation or habitual dependence through month 6, and white noise is great for the whole first year.  Some children will use the adjustable swaddle garments to get the firm chest/abdomen swaddle input after they start rolling.

It helps if you use techniques like the dream feed to extend and deepen sleep at night (see my post on the magic of dream feeds).  THB techniques can be done by dads and nannies, so moms aren’t the only ones who have to get up at night.  Sometimes babies need to nurse, and sometimes they aren’t hungry but have a stuffy nose or need a diaper change.  Getting them back to sleep quickly is very important to preserve the concepts of day and night difference.  Recent research in the UK indicates that the circadian rhythm of naturally seeking sleep at night is developed in the second and third months of life, and is not entirely biological.  Their research suggests there is an interplay of brain development and the way babies are supported to sleep that promotes that circadian pattern.  It can be disrupted; ask any insomniac.  Give your baby the best chance at solid sleep patterns right from the start!

Babies that have grown accustomed to always nursing or bottle-feeding to get back to sleep, or expect to play a bit before going back to sleep are going to be the most difficult to blend into room sharing.   A baby that is quickly calmed by THB techniques at the earliest age is practically asleep by the time you put them down.  They can save the fun for the times when the sun is shining.  They are so sleepy when you use THB that they will not develop habits that work against getting their precious nighttime sleep, even in a shared room.

Why Would Your Daycare Refuse To Use Happiest Baby on the Block?

Recently I taught a mom to use the Happiest Baby on the Block techniques to calm her 11 week-old son.  He was soon a very easy baby to settle, and was sleeping very well.  When she tried to explain these new strategies to her high-quality daycare providers, she was brushed off.  They have “their ways of doing things”.  Why would any caregiver NOT want to hear what a parent has to offer?

Sadly, the oldest reason in the book.  It is new to them, and most people, even the most well-intentioned staff, resist anything new.  They can rationalize any other reason, but most of the time it boils down to the simple fact that changing how you understand newborn crying, and changing your response when a baby cries or fusses is hard.  Even when the parent is telling you what works.

Swaddle Products That Confuse Parents

Parents should not be faulted for being totally confused!

Parents should not be faulted for being totally confused!


I found this product at a local big-box store, and my first thought was ” Created by a dad; how terrific!” Then I thought a bit more. How would a parent know when to go sleeveless? Warm weather? Babies who still cry when fully swaddled? Most babies are still crying after you finish swaddling them, even though they calm down after some shushing and swinging. Without the use of the other infant calming techniques (the 5 S’s from The Happiest Baby on the Block) you have served an incomplete meal of comforting. But a new parent would be truly forgiven for thinking that their newborn didn’t like being swaddled with their arms in when they continue to cry.

Newborns are not seeking freedom; after 9 months in a studio apartment, they are most comforted in a smaller space. That is why being cuddled is so wonderful for them. Swaddling firmly prevents those arms from flailing when they are crying. With their arms free, parents will see more of the Moro (startle) reflex and will have to hold them more firmly to replicate that cozy touch that swaddling provides. When put down in a loose or partial swaddle, babies can start crying again. This appears to be a plea to be picked up again, but it is more likely that your baby wants to be firmly held, all the way up through their arms and shoulders.

When is the arms-out swaddle just right? After 3-4 months, babies often have more arm control and less frequent Moro reflex responses. They can sleep well without a full swaddle, and this product makes it easy to wean your baby from swaddling. But nothing in the exterior packaging explained that.

I am thrilled that there are good products out there for parents to choose from. But the most valuable ingredients, knowledge and experience, still seem to be the hardest items to find.

Can You Sleep Train a Newborn?

image courtesy of papaija2008/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

image courtesy of papaija2008/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sleep training is a hot topic with parents of older babies and toddlers. So many are struggling and bewildered. New parents either pray they will escape this fate or confidently assume they are the exception. It isn’t really the roulette wheel that it seems. Parents are often told that they cannot do much to develop good sleep habits until a child is 3-4 months old. Well, waiting until then may have already set your child up for trouble.

Both the Baby Whisperer series and Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block books describe routines that are loving and sensitive to a baby’s needs. They don’t take sides on the co-sleeping controversy. Both teach families how to read a baby’s cues and create early healthy habits that can survive teething, illness, and growth spurts.

A very young baby can anticipate and can benefit from a routine (not a rigid schedule) that starts in the morning and brings them to nighttime ready to rest and renew. My favorite newborn strategy is the “dream feed”. Waking your baby (yes, waking them up!) to have a filling feed not too long after that initial bedtime nursing or bottle tops them off for a longer period of sleep. A brain that is used to a cycle of naps during the day and a longer sleep at night is ready for the greater demands of the day (and night) at 3-4 months. The child who has no sense of day and night and wakes habitually at all hours is never refreshed. Never mind the state of his parents.

The other strategy that makes a huge difference to families is to understand that bedtime really starts in the morning. If your child’s schedule has been disrupted intentionally or unintentionally, it will make it very difficult to fall asleep. Not responding to those subtle sleep signs will sabotage a very good bedtime plan. If you want to develop good sleep routines,then time, tide and sleep wait for no baby.