Category Archives: first year

Happiness Is a Sleeping Baby

The newest baby book for parents

Funny that I was already working on a post on the topic of baby sleep habits when the book “Go the F— To Sleep” became the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.com yesterday. It’s essentially an R-rated parody of a children’s book that no doubt is hilarious to both those parents who have a problem and those parents who don’t admit that they have a problem when it comes to getting their kids to sleep. But really, it’s no coincidence. Among parents with young children, sleep is the topic du jour every jour.

Most of the time the topic comes because there’s something about their babies’ sleep habits that mommies (and daddies) are struggling with. The issues are all over the board–baby won’t sleep in the crib, baby wakes up super early, baby only falls asleep in mom’s arms or in bed with mom and dad, baby doesn’t nap, baby doesn’t sleep through the night, and on and on. Most of the time during these conversations I hear other mommies commiserating; rarely do you hear mommies talking about what’s working when it comes to sleeping babies.

It could be that the issue of sleep just gets totally marginalized in mommies’ brains once their wee ones start sleeping through the night; it’s like if it’s not a 4 am-problem, it doesn’t get bandwidth. (I totally get that.) Or it could be that mommies who are seeing some degree or another of sleep success are afraid to sound like either braggards or know-it-alls, if they talk about it. (I get this, too.)

The latter is in fact a little bit my fear in writing this post, but the possibility that something I write could help any one of my mommy friends currently struggling with a monster at bedtime is enough to take me out on this limb.

I lucked out and my wee one started sleeping through the night at seven weeks. He did it on his own (or so I thought at first), so for awhile I just enjoyed it. But I couldn’t stop wondering what what made him suddenly do it. I also wanted to be sure I didn’t do anything going forward that would mess it up. Sleep is good.

A number of parents I know swear by Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. In the interest of full disclosures, I’ve never read the book. My go-to guru on baby sleep habits was an old friend, Meg Casano, who had in the many years since we used to tear up the playground together gone on to become a nurse and then an infant sleep consultant with Baby Sleep Science. (You may remember that I’ve written about Meg before, when she launched a blog to illustrate successful sleep training techniques.) But I’m guessing, given that my friend completed a lot of her training and research with a woman who got her start with Dr. Weissbluth, that her sleep philosophy is of the same vein as Weissbluth’s.

There has been a lot of back and forth with Meg over the months to get me to the point where I understand what baby needs and can make adjustments as necessary. I don’t want to get bogged down in every detail, so I’m going to boil it all down to the five things I’ve learned about babies and sleep that have not only helped me ensure baby is getting healthy doses of Zzzzs but also allowed me gain a few hours of my life back every day. Both are priceless.

  1. Know the basics. I’m not someone who can really follow anything to the letter–my schedule is too erratic–so, just having someone give me a few rules of thumb to think about while I’m managing the rest of the chaos was really helpful.The big one I think about nearly every day (even now that baby’s almost a year old) is how much total sleep baby is getting in any given 24 hour period. It’s recommended that babies get, on average, between 10.5 and 12 hours at night and then around 3 hours during the day across typically two naps. That’s just a rule of thumb, so I’m not exacting on executing on it, but it definitely helps me gauge where baby is during the day.
  2. Bedtime is serious business.The one thing I’m really pretty anal about is baby’s bedtime. And it’s more out of necessity than anything else. Once he hits his wall, it’s meltdown city and, at the end of the day when I’m tired and my nerves are shot, honestly, I can’t deal. So, baby has a pretty strict routine.My friend recommends babies hit the crib sheets sometime between 6:30pm and 8:00pm. In our case, we head up to the nursery around 6:30-6:45pm. Baby gets a diaper change, put in his jammies, and then has a little time to play while I read stories. After about 15-20 minutes of play, I nurse (maybe 10-15 minutes at this stage of the game) and then it’s lights out by 7:30pm.
  3. Never underestimate the power of naps. I’ll be the first one to admit that baby and I are still working on getting him on a really good nap schedule. We’re doing better–he’s pretty consistent with a morning nap now–but the afternoons are still hit or miss. But knowing that baby needs three hours one way or another is helpful because even if he won’t rack out in his crib for a full-fledged nap, I can start to count his quick snoozes in the car or stroller toward the three hour goal. And I’ll tell you the days that he gets his full three hours of naptime, he is definitely a happier baby at the end of the day than the days he doesn’t quite squeeze it all in.But the one thing I have noticed about baby and his naps is that if I take the time to enhance his sleep environment, his chances for nap success are higher. I think at bedtime, he’s more tired, so he’s less distracted by everything and anything; but during the day, I have to try harder to work him down so he will get some good daytime Zzzs.

    My friend recommends room-darkening shades and a white-noise machine. I have neither, but I don’t turn on any lights and I’ve also started playing very soothing music–my favorite right now is Baby Einstein’s “Naptime Melodies”–and it really helps set the mood. I put it on about 10 minutes before I nurse and by the time I hear the whale sounds in song 6, nine times out of 10 baby is asleep.

  4. Routine is key.It pains me to say that, as I don’t like to characterize myself as someone who “schedules” everything. But life with baby is so much easier when there’s some predictability to it. You find yourself getting really efficient during naptime because you know how much time you have to check things off your list and the whole bedtime process goes so much quicker. (At this stage, if I’m entertaining at home, I can get it done in about 10 to 15 minutes.)So, in our house, baby gets up every day at roughly the same time (within a 30-minute window), I try to get him to nap (as best I can) at about the same time every day, and he most definitely goes to bed at pretty the same time every night.
  5. Take ten minutes.No one likes to hear their wee one wail, but it’s likely going to be part of the process. The good news is that once baby is in a routine, there’s less crying. But there’s still a little bit of crying, so don’t try to hold out for a perfect–and improbable–bedtime situation. Even now, there are days when my wee one is just really angry at me when I put him down in his crib. So, here’s what I do: tell him I love him and walk out.Babies need to learn to put themselves to sleep or they will be screaming and counting on you to do that every time they wake up during the night. And babies do go in and out of sleep during the night as part of their natural sleep rhythm.

    I hate the wailing as much as the next mom, so I give myself the 10-minute test. I walk out of his room, shut the door, go downstairs, and without turning the monitor on, I do something like put in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, or set the table and then after 10 minutes or so, I flip the monitor on to see if he’s still crying. (A few of my friends set a timer, but I don’t bother.) I have yet to turn that thing on to him still crying. And if he was, then chances are something is wrong, like he’s still hungry or he’s not feeling well.Similarly, if I hear him start to make sounds during the night, the same rules apply. If he’s still crying after five or 10 minutes, I go in and check on him. Otherwise, I stay right in my bed. And you can sort of hear the whole self soothing process. There are a few cries, then some little grunts and wiggling around, and then sweet silence.

These tips probably don’t sound like much more than common sense, but sometimes that’s the first thing that goes when you’re dealing with your child, especially an overtired and (likely) unhappy one. For me, once my friend Meg articulated a lot of these things to me, I was like, “duh.” There were things I didn’t realize I was doing but I was and they were working unbeknownst to me and then there were other things that I had to really work on.

And the reality is that there are always things that I’ll have to work on when it comes to baby’s sleep habits. He’s going to keep growing and changing, so his needs may change, forcing me to adjust his schedule. But having a few basic rules or tips to help guide me has helped us get off to a good start. After all, this is the time when healthy, long-term sleep habits start to form.

But more selfishly than that, I really don’t want to have to buy the book to get some perspective and a sense of humor about why my baby won’t go the f— to sleep. I’d rather him just do it.

Leave a comment

Filed under babies, childrens books, daily life, first year, health, naps, sleep

With a Little Help from Our Moms

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve loved becoming a mom and have counted my first year as one one of the happiest of my life. But as any mom can attest, it’s not always easy. But thank god mom’s also have moms; mine made my first year as a mom about more than just surviving it.

She was there from the very beginning with baby. She was ridding my closet of junk right up until the point where my contractions were so intense that I couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to go to the hospital. She sat with me all through baby’s birth and even cut his umbilical cord since dad wasn’t able to be there to do that himself. She stayed with me until it was clear baby and I could be on our own; we were going to be fine, but I remember never feeling so sad to say goodbye to her as when she left after baby was born.

Since then, she’s never stopped being the amazing support she was at the beginning. Even though we are far apart and she can’t physically help me when it would seem I need it most, she always finds a way to help make an impossible situation manageable. It’s easy when you’re feeling overwhelmed to forget to think yourself out of a spot, and I am grateful that she’s there to remind me of that.

For as much as I’ve appreciated my mom during this first year, I can say the same about my husband’s mom. Not only do I love how much she adores baby, but I would never have been able to keep up with some of my work if she didn’t think all her vacation days were well spent watching baby and taking care of our animals while I go to conferences.

And of course I count ourselves extremely lucky to still have both of my husband’s grandmothers in the picture to impart some of their wisdom on us as newbie parents.

So, I’m wishing all of them the happiest of Mothers Days today. Without them, this past year would have been immeasurably harder and a lot less fun. Thanks for being such great people to us. We love you beaucoup!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2 Comments

Filed under babies, family, first year, grandparents, holidays, moms, newbie parents

My First Mother’s Day

I had a friend yesterday wish me a happy first Mothers Day. My first reaction was, this isn’t my first Mothers Day. And then I remembered that I was just very (very) pregnant last year at this time.

But how interesting that in my head I had already switched from just being

A year ago things were good...

me to being mom before baby had even arrived. I mean, it’s hard to just feel like you when you’re pregnant but when you’re pregnant for the first time you don’t know exactly how your life is going to change.

It’s hard to capture the extent of those changes because, on the one hand, life changes super drastically and then¬† you sort of get into the groove as a new parent, so the changes don’t seem as huge anymore. And then there are the moments you’re never sure how you lived without.

Last night I watched the Ed Burns movie The Groomsmen. While there’s definitely a reason its an instant download on Netflix, there were some good laughs and a few sort of deep reflections. The story line is simple–the main character, Paulie, played by Ed Burns, is freaking out days before he’s marrying his already-pregnant girlfriend, played by Brittany Murphy–so there are lots of good, fairly humorous “guy” scenes and dialogue exchanges.

But for all the cheap laughs, there are also some pretty insightful moments that held up like mirrors to things I have experienced. For example, there’s a scene where Paulie and his girlfriend get into an argument after he sets up the crib because she also wants him to paint and he doesn’t want to. That leads to a whole meltdown where she finally yells at him that it would be nice if he would just once bring her flowers, make her breakfast in bed, or give her a foot massage because she takes care of everything else.

That scene played out a number of times between my husband and I during my pregnancy, as he tried to squeeze as much into the last of our “free” time and all I wanted was to slow down and enjoy the fun of expecting baby.

But this whole concept of so-called free time before and after baby¬† is worth a visit. My husband and I have always been a couple constantly on the go, and post-baby, that really hasn’t stopped. We don’t go out as much at night any more, but our days our definitely very full. In fact, I’m not sure when I’ve ever been busier than now.

But the amazing part is how productive I have become. Part of it is the not

...but they are even better now

going out as much at night, which gives me a pretty big block of time after baby is in bed to do everything from pay bills, clean, and of course write. And the not going out as much at night means I get up earlier on the weekends–Saturdays and Sundays tend to feel a lot like any other day of the week–which gives me some hours in the morning to do things with baby whereas I would’ve normally been sleeping in or otherwise having a lazy morning.

It’s like this other scene in The Groomsmen where Paulie is talking to his friend Dez about his fears about becoming a father and losing his freedom. Dez, who has a couple of kids, says to him, “What were you doing with your free time anyway? You were watching TV.” And that’s really it. The free time that I had pre-baby was really just a lot of wasted time.

And while being busy means that I often find myself fairly exhausted at the end of the day, I like it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish for a day to sleep until noon uninterrupted or an afternoon spent at a bar watching football without keeping track of my babysitting tab, but, for the most part, I feel like I contribute more to the world now than I ever did before.

The responsibility of having a baby is sometimes meltdown-worthy, but for me, having a baby was like adding a rudder to my life. I have direction every day; my goal is to make baby’s day the best day possible so that he can sleep happy. Sometimes I fall short in that goal, but lucky for me I get a chance to get up and try again the next day. So, tomorrow I’m going to celebrate Mother’s Day by just being a mom. In my book, there’s no better way to spend my day than doing that.

So, here’s wishing every mom the best kind of Mothers Day–one spent with her kids.

3 Comments

Filed under babies, daily life, family, first year, infants, moms, newbie parents, newborns, photos, post-pregnancy

10 Months and Counting

Today, baby turned 10 months. (Well, technically, yesterday because it’s past midnight as I’m writing this.) We’re closing in on a year quickly, and it’s happening almost too quickly in some ways. Because as much as it’s amazing and fun to watch babies grow up, I’m finding it a little bit sad, too. They just change so quickly at this stage that you feel like you missed it even if you’ve been paying attention all along the way.

Take, for example, the past 10 days. Ten days ago, baby and I were en vacances in Chamonix, France. He was trying to crawl, but if I were to convert his skill to ski slopes, he would’ve been on a green circle rather than a black diamond. I mean, he was sort of getting places, but he didn’t really have much control or direction as to where he was going.

But a week and a half later and it’s a totally different story. He’s crawling–and he’s standing. That’s right; he’s pulling himself up on everything and even daring to let go with one hand–and occasionally two, if only for a couple seconds. Check it out:

(As an aside, here’s a thank you to Linkin Park for writing “Crawling.” Although it’s a little intense for all things baby related, it couldn’t be more appropriately named for just such things.)

I’m not going to lie. I watch this video and a little tear or two escapes. I wish I still had hormones to blame it on, but for tonight, I’ll blame the waterworks on the couple of glasses of box o’wine that I’ve had while waiting for these videos to upload.

But there is something really sad in watching a wee one become less “wee.” Part of it for me is that it happened so fast. In a week and a half, my baby went from scooting on his bum a few inches at a time to standing (much less bouncing) in his crib.

Another part is knowing that I’m a little bit alone in watching this change, which feels so big in this little life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love where we live and how we live, but it’s a a fact that we don’t have any family close to share some of this excitement. Not to mention that daddy is often tied up with military stuff. (I’m sure watching this video makes him sadder in some ways than I can possibly know.) So, sometimes it seems as though these big developmental moments are almost happening in a vacuum.

It’s funny how for all these tinges of sadness, I can still be totally proud of how baby is growing. With every developmental milestone, he’s closer to the man he’ll eventually be. And I so long to know that person. Sometimes I watch him and I see a spark of something–curiosity, intellect, humor, drive, sensitivity, what-have-you–but it’s hard to call it a defining characteristic at this point. And I wonder how his experiences will change–for better or worse–those characteristics.

But for now I’m going to just be happy that he’s not moving fast enough that I can’t catch him. Which will give me the tiniest bit of time to finish baby proofing.

2 Comments

Filed under babies, child development, crawling, first year, walking