I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!

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Entries in newborn (5)

Monday
Mar262012

Swaddle Series Part 3: Say “See ya!” To The Swaddle

Sooner or later, your little one will sleep swaddle-free.Good-byes are never easy. Especially when the good-bye in question involves getting rid of your child’s trusty swaddling wrap—the one that soothed her to sleep when nothing else would and helped you get some much-needed shut-eye, too. Once new parents get the hang of the swaddling thing, they can get pretty attached to the practice of swaddling, and they’re understandably reluctant to part with this sleep-supporter. Babies often outgrow swaddling before parents are ready to move on to the next stage (kids keep this habit of outpacing their parents as they grow, by the way).

But move on we must. By the time an infant can roll over, around five months, it’s time to start planning the swaddle’s exit. Older babies kick and roll and can work their wrap loose, which can lead to unsafe sleeping conditions. Why is ditching the swaddle so anxiety-provoking? Because many parents who have swaddled since birth literally can’t picture their child sleeping any other way.

If you’re getting ready to say "see ya!" to the swaddle, don’t fret. Here are three mom-tested methods that will have your child snoozing swaddle-free in no time.

Method 1: Cold Turkey

The quickest way to transition your child to swaddle-free sleeping is to simply stop using the swaddle. If you’re feeling brave, just pack the swaddle away and proceed with your bedtime routine. But don't toss the swaddle without replacing this important sleep cue. Remember that the swaddle served as a sleep "trigger" for your child—its presence helped cue his brain that sleep was near. So when you remove it from your child’s routine, replace it with another sleep cue, like a sleep sack or something similar (this process is described in Ready, Set, Sleep).

Method 2: Lukewarm Turkey

This method is almost cold turkey…but not quite. You can stop using the swaddle at night but continue using a swaddle-like technique for soothing during the wind-down routine. By the time babies are ready for less swaddling, most only need it for bedtime soothing, and not while sleeping. In other words, the swaddle is a sleep cue that aids in falling asleep, but once the child is asleep, she doesn’t need it. To employ this method, use a snug swaddle-esque blanket wrap during your child’s bedtime routine and then remove it once she's very drowsy or asleep.

Method 3: Arms Out

For some babies, an "arms out" swaddle is the easiest route to swaddle freedom. To transition your child out of the swaddle with this method, first wrap your child with one arm out, then after a few days, try both arms out. The “chest down” swaddle that leaves both arms free gives your child the snug feeling of being swaddled, with the upper-body freedom that older babies enjoy. In fact, this method works so well that you may be tempted to just continue swaddling your older baby “arms out” for months. But remember, the “arms out” swaddle is just a stop on the route to swaddle-free sleeping—eventually you’ll need to get rid of the wrap entirely. After a few weeks of “arms out,” try leaving legs out too. (Yes, a swaddle around your child’s midsection looks strange, but it’s a brief phase.) Soon, you’ll be able to lift the swaddle right out of your child’s sleep routine without looking back.

See, that wasn’t so difficult, was it? Bring on the next challenge!

Monday
Mar192012

Swaddle Series, Part 2: Three Rookie Swaddling Mistakes

She looks happy now, but....Mistake 1: Unarmed SwaddleSwaddling is such an important way to support your child’s sleep that I’m dedicating several posts to the topic. In multiple studies, swaddling has been shown to enhance development in low birth-weight infants and help babies sleep for longer stretches with fewer awakenings. Sounds pretty great, right?

The Web is full of swaddling tutorials, so I won’t include one here. Every baby is different, and your bundle of joy might prefer being bundled a different way than the baby down the street. Luckily, there are wonderful swaddling products that make the entire process much simpler (I wrote about my five favorite swaddlers last week, from easy-peasy Velcro wraps to old-fashioned flannel blankets).

Even if you opt for one of these newfangled swaddling wraps, remember that practice makes perfect. Find an obliging friend’s baby or even a realistic doll to practice your wraps on. When wrapping an actual, living, breathing, kicking newborn, speed and confidence come in handy.

A little knowledge comes in handy too. There are lots of “right” ways to swaddle, and a few wrong ways. Here are three swaddling mistakes to avoid, for the sake of your baby’s sleep and safety:

Mistake 1: The Unarmed Swaddle

Some new parents feel that wrapping a baby’s arms inside a swaddle looks uncomfortable and confining, but arms-in is the way to go at first. For a brand-newborn, a swaddle offers blessed relief from the bizarre appendages that keep startling him, scratching him, and whacking in the face at all hours. These strange new accessories are his hands and arms, and they’re foreign to brand-new infants at first. So, don’t leave the arms out of the swaddling party!

Older babies will let you know when they’re ready for an arms-out swaddle—most will start working their little fists out of their swaddle on their own. When you begin finding your swaddled babe happily gnawing his knuckles in the morning, usually around three months, you can experiment with leaving an arm out of the swaddle to see if your baby prefers that method.

Mistake 2: Going All Loosey-Goosey

Similarly, sometimes parents will wrap a swaddle loosely because a tight wrap seems less comfortable—and probably would be, to us adults. But infants aren’t little adults. They crave the close, womb-like confinement of a snug swaddle. Another factor is safety; wiggly newborns may work their way out of a too-loose wrap and wind up bunched in layers of fabric—hardly a safe way to sleep. Wrapping too loosely also increases the likelihood that the wrap will work its way up around a baby’s neck and head, which is also unsafe. Ideally, swaddling fabric shouldn't extend above a baby's chin.

Mistake 3: Letting the Swaddle Overstay Its Welcome

You spent all this time learning how to swaddle, bought all the swaddling blankets, and it’s working like a charm—your little one is sleeping. So, um, can you just keep doing it forever? Sorry, but that’s a no. Swaddling a baby who no longer wants to needs to be swaddled is difficult at best (babies are deceptively strong!); at worst, it's unsafe if an older baby kicks his swaddle loose and winds up bunched in fabric (see mistake 2). The general rule of thumb: By the time your baby can roll over, it’s time to say sayonara to the swaddle.

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Monday
Mar122012

Swaddle Series, Part 1: Five Swaddles I Love & One to Avoid

It's springtime, and babies are blooming! I know lots of new parents about to deliver in the next month or two, and I'm looking forward to snuggling lots of tiny babies. Thinking back to the newborn days with my own children made me appreciate the importance of a good swaddle, so I'm dedicating a few posts to the topic.

Why swaddle? Any parent who wants their child to sleep should learn to create a nice, snug swaddle. Swaddling supports sleep by calming infants with a tight, womb-like feeling, soothing flailing limbs (which are foreign and scary to newborns at first), and keeping little ones from "startling" themselves awake.

Fortunately, there are great options available that simplify swaddling. If you're expecting a baby, chances are you'll come across one soon. At some point, most new parents will find themselves either puzzling the strange swaddle-wrap they got at their shower or frantically perusing the selection at a local baby store while rocking a crying baby in the shopping cart.

But not all swaddling products are created equal. Here's the scoop on the best sleep-supporters (and one to leave on the shelf).

Miracle Blanket

This popular cotton swaddling blanket doesn't look like a "blanket" at all. It consists of a sack for baby's bottom half and a loooong strip of fabric to wrap around (and around, and around) baby's upper half.

Pros: Lightweight cotton fabric won't overheat baby. The fabric has some give, but not too much. Unique design is effective for swaddling stronger babies who "break out" of other swaddling wraps.

Cons: All told, this swaddle wraps baby is a LOT of fabric. Babies who roll or move often may end up bunched in layers of material. It's also not carried by most big-box retailers.

Best for: Newborns, strong babies, all seasons.

Summer Infant Swaddle Me

This wrap is as simple as they come, and completely goof-proof for swaddling novices. Simply plop baby inside the wrap and attach the velcro tabs.

Pros: The streamlined design is very lightweight, so baby isn't overwrapped or overheated, and the fabric is fairly stretchy, making it easy to get a snug fit. It's also widely available, so you'll probably find it at local retailers.

Cons: This swaddle is only as strong as its velcro closure—if the velcro loses its "grab," it's useless. (Carefully using the laundry tabs for EACH AND EVERY wash will help this wrap last longer.)

Best for: First-time parents, Grandma's house, babysitter, newborns, spring/summer babies.

Under the Nile Organic Cotton Swaddling Blanket

I was turned on to this blanket by a local doula, birth educator, and mom of four. It has something of a cult following, and once you try it, you'll understand why.

Pros: Swaddling blankets can't be too stretchy, or they won't hold. This one's organic buttery-soft stretch fabric manages to be just stretchy enough, encasing baby in a snug wrap that's both comfortable and firm. It's large, which is essential for swaddling, and organic. With no Velcro, decoration, or other bells and whistles, this blanket is very durable and will last through several kids.

Cons: This blanket requires some swaddling know-how, so it may flummox new parents or babysitters at first. As with other traditional swaddling blankets, babies will end up wrapped in several layers of this blanket, so it may be too warm for hot climates or summer babies.

Best for: Organic purists, strong babies, newborns, fall/winter babies.

Swaddle Designs Ultimate Receiving Blanket

This blanket is as goof-proof as they come: Swaddling instructions are actually printed on the tag! This blanket is very large, made of mid-weight flannel with no stretch. Some parents find that blankets without stretch "hold" best all night, especially for strong babies who kick or resist swaddling.

Pros: This blanket is simple, easy to use, and comes in a bunch of cute patterns and prints. At 42" by 42", it's one of the largest swaddling blankets out there, big enough to wrap larger, older babies who've outgrown other wraps. The sweet presentation makes it a good baby-shower gift, top.

Cons: Some babies in warmer climates might get a bit sweaty in this flannel wrap.

Best for: First-time parents, bigger babies, baby shower gifts, strong babies, fall/winter babies.

Halo Swaddle Sleep Sack

This half-swaddle, half sleep-sack is a good option for babies 3-6 months old who are outgrowing other swaddling wraps. The bottom half allows legs to be free while arms are snugly wrapped. The lightweight, stretchy cotton can easily layer over pajamas without overheating babies.

Pros: Versatile, lightweight, and can fit older babies.

Cons: Newborns may be more comforted by a full swaddle.

Best for: Babies 3-6 months old, babies who love to kick, all seasons.

And now, a swaddle to avoid: Microfleece Swaddle

Swaddling, by definition, wraps baby in layer upon layer of fabric. Parents quickly learn that a swaddled baby can get hot (most of us have unwrapped a sweaty, mad baby at some point). Swaddling a babe—especially one who's already dressed in a diaper and pajamas—should be done with care, to avoid overheating. Sleeping too hot is a recipe for poor-quality sleep and a risk factor for SIDS.

So avoid swaddling wraps made of fleece. Fleece is not breathable, and being trapped inside layers and layers of fleece is sure to make your baby hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable.

Next week I'll talk about how to tell if your baby is ready to ditch the swaddle, and how to make the transition to swaddle-free sleeping.

*Note: I am not paid to endorse any of these products. These reviews are for informational purposes only.

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Thursday
Nov102011

Bye-bye, Bumpers: Should the Government Ban Crib Bumpers?

They’re soft, inviting, and adorable, and many new parents can’t imagine a crib without them—but crib bumpers may soon become a thing of the past. This fall, Chicago became the first US city to ban the sale of crib bumpers. Maryland is the first state to seriously consider a state-wide ban, but it certainly won’t be the last.

In September, the Baltimore Sun called the potential ban “a smart public health policy that's also likely to save lives.” Nationwide, 27 deaths have been attributed to crib bumpers over the past two decades. Health experts say the real number of casualties is probably much higher, because crib bumpers are likely suspects in many more SIDS deaths.

But bumpers pose another potential health risk that I haven’t seen discussed in the media: they can give an intrepid toddler a leg up in climbing out of his or her crib. Back before the days of bumper bans, my oldest daughter used hers as a means of escape. Her thick Pottery Barn bumper gave her just the boost she needed to get out of the crib so she could do a little midnight exploring around the house. Needless to say, we promptly removed the bumper, and moved her to a toddler bed soon afterward.

Though the bans are intended to promote public safety, they're controversial. Get a bunch of parents talking, and you’ll find that bumpers have a quite a few fans, despite their potential safety drawbacks. Many parents don’t see what the fuss is all about--their kids used bumpers and turned out fine. For me, the biggest benefit to crib bumpers was the way that they kept pacifiers in the crib instead of on the floor.

So, I’m wondering: When will everyone give bumpers the heave-ho? Though doctors and health officials are urging parents not to use them, many still are. And major retailers like Pottery Barn are still selling them, so that means people are still buying them. Are parents simply ignoring the warnings, or are they unaware or unconvinced of the risks?

Do you think the government should ban bumpers, or leave the decision up to parents? What do you think?

Tuesday
Oct112011

Newborns And Sleep

They’re tiny! They’re snuggly! They’re adorably scrunchy! However you look at it, newborns are little bundles of love. It’s a good thing I love brand-new babies—every week, it seems like another friend announces a pregnancy or birth. Baby season is in full swing.

Some parents find themselves blessed with a newborn who snoozes contentedly with no problems. Many other newborns present their parents with some significant sleep challenges. Contrary to popular belief, newborns don’t just magically “sleep when they need to sleep.” And brand-new parents are usually just getting to know their new bundle of joy, so they aren’t yet completely aware of their baby’s sleep needs or sleep cues.

Here are some newborn sleep tips for new and expectant parents:

  • In the first month of life, most newborns can only tolerate being awake for 45 minutes to an hour at a time. Their daily routine should consist of feedings, diaper changings, short periods of playtime, and then being put back down to sleep. By 3 months of age, many babies can tolerate staying awake for an hour and a half at a stretch.
  • As brand-new residents of our planet, newborns are prone to overstimulation. They love staring at your face and hearing your voice. Garishly loud toys, mobiles, and other things designed to entertain babies may wind them up and make sleep difficult.
  • Newborns don’t have a predictable nap schedule. Regular naps don’t begin to organize until 3-4 months of age. Until then, don’t fret about short naps (but please, wake your baby if he naps longer than 2 to 3 hours at a stretch. You want to protect his night rest).
  • When your newborn begins sleeping more solidly at night, she may suddenly be able to stay awake longer during the day. When your newborn starts sleeping better at night and resisting naps, she may be ready for more awake time. Gradually stretch her periods of wakefulness by 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Many parents believe that newborns need to be rocked or nursed to sleep, but nursing and rocking are learned sleep associations—in the womb, your baby drifted off to sleep without your help. If you put your baby down to sleep when he appears tired and try to allow him to fall asleep unassisted (helping him only if he needs help) he will likely surprise you by revealing that he can sleep independently, at least some of the time. Allowing him to do so whenever possible is the key to healthy sleep habits through babyhood, toddlerhood, and beyond.
  • Newborn sleep cues are often subtle. Appearing glassy-eyed and “burrowing” into your chest are signs that some babies are ready to be put down for sleep. Have fun getting to know your baby’s unique sleep cues!

For more information on newborns and sleep, see my response to an expectant mom’s sleep question at The Creative Homestead blog. And have fun snuggling your sweet new addition.