Friday, December 26, 2014

14 things that affect baby sleep (and ruin your night):

Parent hood (and actually every day of my life) is more stressful when I haven't gotten my 10 hours of rest. However, as a parent, all that's left of those glory days of sleep are memories.

Baby sleep is as enigmatic but is also the key to feeling like you can make it through the day (along with those baby smiles, and giggles ofcourse). My goal from the beginning has been to get my baby to try and sleep continuously, and trust me on this one, it is not easy!

Fortunately or not, I am an obsessive data junkie, and have spent almost 11 months now graphing everything in my child's life. Yes, that actually means that when he wakes up I turn off my timer while running to his room to get him (and yes, I started in hospital on the day he was born). I have now reached a point where I can pretty much predict how my night is going to go, based on the kind of day my baby has had. Below is a list of some factors affecting baby sleep  (these are all universal - if I made a list of the things keeping Riaan up at night it would include art being changed in his room that he has to touch and explore at 4am).
Longest stretch of sleep by date (we got teeth last week as you can see)
(Note: For information on different ways to get your baby to sleep or on sleep training, click here.)

14 things that affect baby sleep, and have a detrimental effect on your night: 

1. Change of place: Apparently as a child, I slept easily and everywhere. I don't know if it's our new-age breed of hyper alert kids, or something I drank before I knew I was pregnant, but my son does NOT sleep everywhere. He barely sleeps anywhere!
Going on vacation, changing his room (even though we carry his travel crib that was once his normal bed), or even having him sleep in the same room as us, ensures that he will be up singing all night long. So if you are planning a vacation, try and take a bed your baby is used to, plan a longer stay (or an earlier night in bed), and nap when baby naps, so that you can also get some rest.
If only all my babies slept this easily...

2. Change of person: I notice this more now than I did when my baby was younger, but he sleeps better and longer if my husband puts him to sleep. There have been times (specially now that I am in India and it is and endless wedding season), that I will get my baby completely ready for bed, go through his routine, nurse him, etc..  and then instead of my husband (who usually puts him to sleep), his nanny will walk him to bed. He will go down easily with no fuss. However, he will wake up again and again and again, even after we come home and have walked him back to sleep ourselves.

3. Night routine: Having a consistent night routine for your baby is important as it signals to your little one that it is time for bed. Try to keep this as consistent as possible no matter where you are or what is happening. As a rule, I will not go anywhere until I have gone through this myself with my child not only because it's important to our relationship and bonding but also  because it is important to how well he will sleep at night! Our routine is - dinner, massage, bath, story time, nursing session (often with a lullaby), music (which stays on), burp and walk for a few minutes and then put down in bed to sleep.

4. Day sleep: The longer he sleeps in the day, and better he naps, the better he or she will sleep at night. This is universal because babies who are well rested are not overtired or overstimulated and can and will sleep better at night.

5. Baby Habits: If your baby is used to sleeping with you, putting your little in another room or even bed will change your sleep pattern. As will, putting him in your bed if he is not used to sleeping there (this may sound odd but is known to make your child want to nurse or wake up more just from the excitement of being around you). So set up habits that you can maintain, and while you cannot spoil a newborn, an older child (4 months and up) is much more sensitive to any changes in routines and habits.

6. Teething: My regular readers are sure to be familiar with my teething woes. I am now at a point where all else being stable, I will check for a tooth and find one, when my child won't sleep more than 2 hours at a stretch. We had weeks of sleepless nights when he started teething, however, they were not nearly as bad as when a tooth actually came. I probably lost weeks of sleep on the first tooth and now every new tooth costs me about 3-5 nights of sleep. We are 6 down, and have 14 to go! Yipeee (ugh)

7. Medications: Riaan and I have both been on a few medications in the last year - he recently had a course of antibiotics, he's also tried Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (acetaminophen) and homeopathy for teething. While painkillers do help him sleep during mild teething, when he was crying because there was a tooth coming out nothing helped. (Not even baby Benadryl (antihistamine), though if I'm interrogated about this one I will deny it!)
However, I recently took Percoset (oxycodone), which is baby safe - it was prescribed to me during delivery, and that made him sleep quickly and through the night. I am not advocating drugging your children, but just want you to be aware that the things we put in even in us, can affect our nursing younglings (so stay away from caffeine when you want your baby to sleep).

8. Congestion: It's heart wrenching to hear your little one wake up and struggle to breathe. If your baby has a cold or is perpetually congested (like mine, who inherited this gift from his father), make sure to clean your baby's nose before bedtime. You can use the nosefrida, an aspirator or just make it a habit to give baby a night bath and clean out your child's nostrils completely. (FYI, I never thought I would say that, let alone write it).

9. Temperature: Of your child and the room. An unwell baby is clingy and wants to be held by mommy, and a room too hot or cold will keep baby up at night. The rule of thumb is: baby should be in one more layer than you would be in a room of the same temperature. (Baby's blanket, if any, should be thin and breathable and tucked in tightly).  

10. Hunger: From day 1, we have learned that a hungry baby is a very cranky one.   This does not go on forever, my 11 month old does not need a feed between 8pm and 6am. However, when he is up, he's screaming for mommy. Once you wean your baby off the middle of the night feeds and (this is key) they get used to this, you will get more sleep. However, if they don't eat well in the day for any reason, they will be up at night.

11. Separation anxiety: When your child misses you, they will make you make up the time away! All through the night, momma. Be prepared,

12. Stranger danger: The much dreaded (or anticipated if you, like me, don't like people taking your child from your arms because you use baby duty as a way to build up your biceps), stranger anxiety starts around 9 months, and how bad or mild it is just varies from baby to baby. However, if your child is alert and has been exposed to too many new people in a day, they will find a way to tell you all about it through the night.

13. Milestones: When kids learn new things, they want to practice it, over and over, in the middle of the night! They do get over this though, how long it takes just depends on how much you can wear them out in the day.

14. Sleep regressions: These do exist. Specially at 4 months when the baby's sleep rhythms change to become more adult like and they go into light sleep before deep sleep (unlike before). This unfortunately will take some readjusting and time. This is often also a good time to look at sleep training for the parents who are willing to do so.

This list is not exhaustive but it does cover the top reasons babies wake up at night and will hopefully help you realize why your baby is up the next time that happens.
Goodluck trying to catch some shuteye.
More to come!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

10 Sane sounding pieces of advice that new parents should ignore:

As new moms, we are sounding boards for all the things people think they did right, wish they had done different, or heard through the grapevine. It almost appears as all these well-meaning folks think they can do this better than we can! Regardless of the answer to this one, some of the advice you receive may sound really good, but can actually be harmful to your child.

Below are some common things I've heard, and why I (and you) should stay away from them.

(If you do get sick of me sounding like the safety police in this one, here is a list of the most annoying things we hear, that should keep you better entertained).

10 sane sounding pieces of advice that new moms should not take:

1. "Your baby will sleep better on their tummy."
Yes, my baby probably does sleep better now that he rolls over on his tummy. But he rolls over himself and is old enough to roll back, to know when he is suffocating, and....he is now old enough to sleep through the night! That comes with age, not with the position of the baby. Children placed on their tummy to sleep before they can roll over on their own can suffocate, as much as I wanted to sleep through the night, the risk was never worthwhile to me (as I am sure it isn't to you).

Note: even after baby can put themselves in that position, you should continue to put your baby to sleep on their backs, and let them choose which position gives them the most comfort.

2. "Use a thick blanket to keep your baby warm."
No, no, no, please no....... the number of children that suffocate is scary. You can tuck in a blanket around your baby, but a thin breathable one, preferably muslin. Even safer than that, are sleepsacks. Yes, babies feel colder than we do, but they need one additional layer only, so buy a thick fleece sleepsack, a warm swaddle and add a thin blanket that can be securely tucked in, and your baby will sleep just fine (For a baby, that is).
Tucking them in a thin blanket is the safer alternative..

3. "Rub honey on your little one's gums to help with teething."
There is a lot of stuff out there to help with teething, from rings to natural and even medicated gels. Even cold carrot sticks can give your child relief from those itchy and often painful gums. What does not give your baby relief and can actually make your baby really sick is honey. Yes, there are people who swear this helps, and I'm sure it does by giving your little one a sugar rush and distracting them with sweetness. However, honey can cause botulism in babies so keep it away until your child is old enough to ask for it (or atleast two, if you have a baby prodigy).

4. "Throwing your youngling in a pool, will teach them how to swim."
Many of us have heard about that one baby that got thrown into the pool and could swim, however, there are even more kids who are thrown in and have become terrified of the water. More seriously, drowning is one of the leading causes of ïnfant and toddler death and should not be experimented with.
Always in arms reach, or in your arms...

5. "Keep your baby up late and it will sleep better at night."
This actually is logical, I personally sleep better when I'm exhausted. However, our little ones defy all known logic here because an overtired baby - sleeps less! A lot less, and keeps waking up and crying. I have months of my own data (for those who didn't know that I'm a data junkie, and want to know more about this, click here,) that shows this; but we also have well documented research that shows this to be true and universal based on your baby's brain development. So, to get some (relatively) uninterrupted zzz's at night, put your baby to nap regularly in the day, and get them to bed at a reasonable hour. (More on sleep training, can be found here).

6. "Your breastfed baby can dehydrate in the heat, so make sure to give him/her plenty of water."
Breast fed babies do not actually need any water. They get plenty of it from you, and more than that can actually be harmful! After 6 months, a little (one or two ounces/ thirty to sixty ml) of water can be given to baby in a sippy cup. However, this is really for sippy cup training and not because they need water. (Don't bother wasting your milk by putting it in the cup).
Sippy cup training at 6 months
7. "Make sure your newborn doesn't go hungry, so supplement till your milk comes in."
If you plan to breastfeed, don't do it! Yes, there are a couple frustrating nights ahead waiting for your milk, and you are ofcourse wiped out from the delivery and desperate to feel like you are recovering. However, the more you latch your hungry baby, the quicker your milk will come in. Try not to interfere in this process. Your little one's belly is marble sized at birth, whatever you can provide for them is enough.

8. "Adding cereal to the bottle can keep your baby fuller."
Cereal, whenever introduced, should be done with a spoon. It can clog the milk bottle nipple, come out in a little bunch and actually hurt your darling. Also, introduced too young, it can be impossible for your baby to digest. 4 months of age is the earliest that any solid food should be introduced.

9. "Putting baby in a walker will help him/her walk faster"
Maybe, but it can also push my baby to walk before he (or she, ofcourse) is ready (and while his legs are still bow shaped), and actually stunt some of his muscular development. Also, walkers can move fast, are difficult to control and dangerous. (When baby is ready, you are safer picking a walking toy they can hold onto and push, than one they have to sit in. Plus, Jumperoo's are a blast until then!)
Push toys...
10. "Exposing your baby to germs will build their immunity."
It sure will! But is this a risk you want to take? I don't wipe down everything my child touches but if someone is sick, or if something falls on the ground, I'm sure as hell going to keep my child away until it (or they) are sanitized.

At the end of the day, you are the parent and need to make decisions that make you comfortable. Don't get bullied by anyone, into doing anything that does not make you uncomfortable. However, if you are under pressure, feel free to quote me to anyone who comes nagging, I'm always happy to help.
More to come!