Tag Archives: newborn sleep

New Baby? Exhausted? Try The 5 S’s To Pull Things Together

 

 

annie-spratt-178364New parents are often shocked at how tired they are.  After all, newborns don’t DO much.  They eat, sleep, pee and poop, and that is about it.  But they do it around the clock and they aren’t very experienced with any of it.  Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s can help all of you learn more and get some sleep.

Not because the 5 s’s give babies exactly what they had in the womb.  They do, but what swaddling, swinging, sucking, etc provide is a roadmap for how baby nervous systems work.  Once you know that babies need this, not that, you feel more in control of the situation and you can relax.  And babies that have been calmed down faster and more effectively feel that you get them, you really get them.  They sense that their parents can help them better than their aunties and neighbors.  Feeing understood starts here.

 

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When babies stop crying faster sleep an hour or so longer (yes, doing the 5 S’s can do that!) and eat/nurse more easily, life is less exhausting.  Not completely a day at the beach, but not as tough as it was before.  For more information, take a look at Help Your Newborn Adjust to Daycare By Using Happiest Baby on the Block Strategies and Why Some Newborns Look Like They Hate To Be Swaddled.

Wishing all you new parents a wonderful first year!!!

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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!

 

 

Sleep Training at 2 Months: Beyond Cry-It-Out

The Wall Street Journal’s writers are known for great reporting, but they clearly didn’t do a lot of research when they wrote today’s article Can You Sleep Train Your Baby at 2 Months?  Lots of agonizing parent reports of the cry-it-out method, and professional agreement that babies 8 weeks old don’t sleep through the night normally anyway.  They totally got it right that running and picking up a waking (but not screaming) baby is not going to teach good sleep habits, but there was no mention of pick-up/put-down, using Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s for deepening sleep in newborns, not even the use of swaddling to build a precious extra hour of sleep!

Parents who do not know how to handle the screaming and/or want to develop good sleep habits will go away from this article wondering if they can truly hack listening to an infant scream for the common “30-40” minutes.  What a mistake!!  Crying like that doesn’t do anyone any good.  It isn’t good for a baby or a parent, and can lead an exhausted and demoralized parent down the path to desperation, including falling asleep on the couch holding a baby (a documented suffocation or fall risk), feeding a baby large and frequent feedings to “sedate” them, or shaking that baby after nothing works.

Creating good sleeping behaviors in the first 3 months is completely possible and much easier to do than letting them scream.  But sleep at this age isn’t a full 8 hours, it isn’t done without creating a sleep environment that supports brain development at this age.  It takes some knowledge of baby development, some patience, and a willingness to accept that the techniques that work for a 3 year-old are ridiculous for a 3 month-old.  Apples and oranges, apples and oranges.

After a few years of being a Happiest Baby on the Block educator, I am becoming increasingly frustrated and discouraged with the situations I hear out in the world of baby calming.  My grandmother from the old country knew more about handling newborns than  most professionals with doctorate degrees!  Like the story of the elephant and the blind man, many of the professionals I meet are largely concerned with protecting their piece of the authority pie than helping babies and parents.   Researchers spend more time in universities and labs than out in the field, which is to say in people’s homes, calming babies themselves.  Yes, it really builds your skills if you have actually successfully calmed babies with your recommendations, not just assembled results of research studies.  This is not “anecdotal evidence”, my friends, this is real life experience.  Get some.

Parents, please, please, do not read the WSJ article and redouble your efforts at cry-it-out with young infants.  Read Dr. Karp’s book The Happiest Baby on the Block, watch his video, contact me or another certified educator, just do not think that this is all there is out there.

BTW, Dr. Karp’s book The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep will take you all the way into the kindergarten year, with good advice about toddlers and preschoolers!

 

Baby Wearing For Better Infant Sleep

Most parents use carriers/wraps for two reasons:  practical and personal. But did you know that wearing your baby can also help your newborn sleep better?

Being able to carry your baby allows you to have both hands available. Baby wearing is an intimate connection that parents usually enjoy.  Babies feel their parent’s heartbeat and listen to their voice, just like before birth.  Before I tell you how this improves sleep, here is some practical information about safety and carrier/wrap choices.

Wearing your newborn safely is essential.  Always make sure that you can see their face and that their head is not tilted forward so far that they cannot easily breathe.  An older baby can turn their head but a newborn cannot, especially against gravity.  Never lean forward without holding your baby, and never lean near a flame or burner.

My favorite manufactured carrier is the Ergobaby system.  It is well-crafted and the insert is designed to safely support newborns.  Using slings and wraps is just fine, but it is a bit more challenging to get newborns in the right position and keep them there.  Totally possible, and there are parents that are amazingly good at the traditional sling wrap styles.  I don’t take sides in the carrier/wrap debates.  Use what works for your family.

Carriers/wraps allow your baby to experience all the movement stimulation that he got in the womb.  Babies calm to the jiggle-style swinging of the Happiest Baby on the Block for a very similar reason.  It feels amazingly familiar to them! When you wear your baby, they get so much more variety and variation in movement than just using an infant swing.  No wonder they love being carried long after you have discontinued infant swing use (usually 2-3 months of age.)  This movement is stimulating their balance system, and we all need a dose of movement input to feel good.  To sleep well, we need to have had enough, but not too much, vestibular stimulation.  Baby wearing combines movement plus some deep pressure and warmth from being wrapped against an adult to deliver an almost perfect dose of sensory input.  As a pediatric occupational therapist, this makes so much sense.

Wear your newborn safely, use all the other S’s from Happiest Baby on the Block, and you may be able to extend his sleep periods.  The gift that keeps on giving!

 

Safe Sleep Guidelines Don’t Give Parents Enough Support

I just downloaded the entire American Academy of Pediatrics’ Technical Report-SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment.   It was a large file to read, but the bottom line for me was this:  they must not have any sense what it is like to be a new parent, and maybe not what it is like for practicing pediatricians.  In other words, they say what to do and what not to do to prevent SIDS, but don’t mention how to accomplish any of it in the world of actual babies and parents, where crying and sleeping is real, not theory.  No wonder parents don’t follow the guidelines.  Without useful strategies and simple explanations, most parents wouldn’t be willing to follow their recommendations for very long.  In my opinion, the most difficult guidelines for parents are the instructions to only place newborns on their backs to sleep, and not to have a baby sleep in the bed on on the parent.  Babies should be in the room, but not in the bed, with an adult.  Simple, right?  Not.

Sleep-deprived new parents are struggling to comprehend all the things they should and shouldn’t do.  Defensive driver classes say that lack of sleep makes you drive like you are drunk.  Why should we expect the parents of newborns who get 5 hours of sleep a day to think clearly?  Because they aren’t behind the wheel?  An exhausted parent isn’t just tired.  They are less capable of judging what is safe and how to follow their pediatrician’s general recommendations.    They are going to let a 4 week-old sleep in the car seat for over 30 minutes because he slept poorly last night, pick him up from his “tummy time” right away when he cries because they are so frazzled, and use a positioning wedge in the crib.  They will be afraid to use a pacifier at 5 weeks, and will abandon swaddling when they can’t get it snug.   I can’t blame them one bit.  Babies aren’t simple.  Their crying when they are put down rips a parent apart.  No one knows how to deal with newborns without some help.

Not letting your baby sleep on you or next to you, and only placing a baby to sleep on his back means that a parent needs to be shown other good sleep strategies that leave both parties comforted and calm.  Pediatricians know that back sleepers show initial delays in motor control that disappear by 18 months on average, but generally offer no other suggestions than to “do some tummy time.” There are some great methods to make Safe to Sleep successful, but the AAP doesn’t share any specific baby management secrets (if they have them.)

The New York Times ran a story in 2005 that made me stop in my tracks before I finished reading it.  They reported on the increase in parents placing their babies on their backs to sleep after hearing about the Safe to Sleep protocol from professionals.  Turns out, their newborns had a hard time sleeping in this position.  It is well known that many babies don’t sleep as deeply or as long in this position, and for some simple reasons.  Their random arm movements wake them, they turn their heads and motor reflexes wake them, and they traded the firm support of the womb for the feeling of floating in space on a bassinet mattress.  Who could sleep well like that?

The NYT author quoted a parent that suggested that her NICU nurses encouraged stomach sleeping on discharge, even though they had to tell her officially not to do so.  A Manhattan newborn care instructor was quoted saying that “the role of a professional is to say these are the recommendations and this is why.  The role of the parent is to think critically and apply those recommendations in a way that makes their life manageable.”

I see things differently.  Professionals should anticipate the need to provide practical strategies when they teach their lifesaving guidelines.  Expecting exhausted parents to “think critically and apply these recommendations” is asking much too much from well-meaning but tired and vulnerable people.  It just seems very unfair for pediatricians to know full well how hard those first few months are, and yet not be more practically helpful.

Then again, they may not have any direct experience or even know what to do with a baby after a checkup or a treatment.  After all, they treat medical problems.  SIDS is a medical problem. Sleeping, calming and caring for babies isn’t really a medical problem.

If doctors or other professionals are not able to provide real-life instruction in ways to make the Safe to Sleep program successful in the real world, they should have resources to offer to parents. As a Happiest Baby educator and a pediatric occupational therapist, I wish that every parent had the ability to learn how to use Dr. Karp’s amazing baby calming and sleep techniques from me, and how to carry and hold their babies to develop good head control.  I wish I could show every parent how to make “tummy time” fun and easy.  I write this blog in order to reach out to parents with love and support.  They don’t have as many resources as they deserve.

 

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.