It's World Breastfeeding Week! I'm thrilled to partner with Covenant Family Solutions to share a guest blog on how and where to get the support you need for your breastfeeding journey.
Head on over to Covenant Family Solutions Blog to read on!
It may surprise you that as a Sleep Educator, I do not suggest “routine” or “bedtime routine” as the be-all-end-all for a peaceful life with littles.
And, to be fair, I’m not anti-routine at all. I think we all - babies, kiddos, and grownups, too - benefit from predictability and cuing our bodies that it is sleep time with restful, relaxing steps.
But, at the same time, if your routine is so ironclad that it doesn’t make space for adaptability and flexibility when competing needs for various members of the family come up - then does that routine truly serve you?
Often on social media, I see responses to posts about infant or toddler sleep struggles that follow along the lines of “we’ve had a routine from day one and bedtime has never been an issue.” While those individuals do have a routine that works for them, more than likely it is a combo of parent and kiddo personality or sleep inclination - not the specifics of the routine - that result in this situation.
And, if you have a routine that you love and serves you - that’s awesome.
But, comments like these always make bedtime routines take on a vaguely mystical quality - as though with the right recipe for lotion/books/jammies/bath/song/what have you, children no longer wake at night or need parental support to fall asleep. When, as recent research tells us, it is more than likely that your child will need you at night.
So, if I don’t advocate for rigid routine, what do I suggest?
I’m a big fan of looking at sleep - and life, in general - in terms of a family rhythm. That means taking into account the ebb and flow of everyone’s day, everyone’s needs, and the things that bring you joy - together.
It may mean little one is napping on the go while you enjoy time with your older children at the park.
It may mean after a day of fun outside, you all come home and nap together - and then stay up late enough to see the fireflies.
It may mean that even though “they” suggest an early bedtime, a late afternoon catnap such that littlest can see the parent who gets home latest at night works better for your family.
And, here’s the thing, it is YOUR family. Therefore, the rhythm has to work for you- to serve your needs, rather than keep you locked into only one possible way of being day and night.
Sometimes implementing a rhythm that works for your family is hard to do. I get that, and in my one-on-one consultations I’m thrilled to help you sort out what kind of rhythm can work best - how to balance everyone’s needs and find rest and peace.
But, I’m also not going to tell you there is only one way to be - one schedule to have, one rhythm to find. Because then, you’re looking at MY rhythm, not yours.
And, in many ways, that’s the best part of this work - helping you follow your intuition and letting it guide you in your choices.
Because at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters.
Looking for sleep support for your infant or toddler? Check out Nested Mama's infant and toddler parent workshops and one-on-one consultations.
Pregnancy can be such a busy time - appointments with your provider, researching baby gear, baby showers, planning your leave from work, finding a daycare provider, reading ALL the pregnancy books, turning your house into a home for baby, and so on.
The thought of adding one. more. thing. can be overwhelming - I know I've been there.
There are also financial concerns to balance - anticipating the bill from the hospital, making adjustments for maternity or paternity leave, buying ALL the baby things, and so on.
Given the time and financial pressures of this moment, perhaps it seems like investing in childbirth education - especially outside the hospital classes - is something that can't quite fit.
I hear you. I do.
But, birth matters. Not just birth in general, but YOUR birth matters. You matter.
We often emphasize the importance of a healthy baby, but I maintain there is room for valuing a healthy and happy birthing parent in that equation, too.
As a childbirth educator who offers classes outside the hospital environment, I can share with you all the options and choices - the full birth buffet - rather than a menu limited by policy or staff preference.
As a childbirth educator who is also a doula, I believe in the importance of nonjudgmental support, and I carry this with me into the space and community of my classroom. There is room for your hopes and your fears in my classroom as well as your birth choices, whatever those may be.
Childbirth education shouldn't just tell you about birth, it should prepare you with a confident knowledge of labor and birth. It should support you as you craft a full toolbox particular to your desires to meet birth's challenging moments. And, it should inspire you with a fire to advocate for what is right for you.
And, birth is just the beginning. As a breastfeeding educator and sleep educator, I offer a series of classes to prepare you for life after baby and strengthen your partnership ahead of time to meet the ebb and flow of life with your new little one.
If you're feeling ready to invest in your birth with more classes, I give you a big high five. Come check out the full range of classes offered by Nested Mama, including group classes, webinars, and private classes to meet your busy schedule needs.
When I talk about baby or toddler sleep with sleep consultation clients, we always talk about parenting.
While the larger baby sleep industry may want to convince us that the path to rest as a parent is paved with an array of swaddles, self-rocking bassinets, and baby sleep training programs "guaranteed" to make our babies and toddlers not need parental support 12 out of 24 hours of the day, I believe that any approach to baby sleep worth having begins with and fully supports a heart-centered, holistic look at what truly matters to each family.
So, we talk about parenting.
We don't talk quick fixes. We don't talk gadgets. We don't talk training.
We talk parenting. But, what does that mean?
We talk long-view, big-picture family goals. We talk about how to support those goals in the here and now with how we respond to our children day and night.
We work to move away from a child vs. parent approach to sleep, one in which we see children as standing in the way of rest and self-care for the parent.
We work to see the myriad of possibilities for finding rest, getting self-care, and supporting our children through the phases where they need us intensely day and night.
Because, that's the wonderful, exhausting, bring-you-to-your knees beauty of parenting - it is day and night and forever and for always.
When I offer workshops and work one-on-one with clients, I support my clients' vision for who they want to be as parents and the values that shape their parenting choices. I provide the information they need to make choices that feel authentic to who they are as people and who they hope to be as parents. And, I provide them support such that they feel confident parenting from a place of love rather than fear.
So, yes, we talk sleep. But, we always talk parenting.
Looking to talk parenting and sleep? Join Nested Mama's next sleep workshop or schedule a one-on-one consultation. Want more on pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting? Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook and Instagram.
Let's talk some real talk about toddler sleep.
For some kiddos, the ebb and flow of sleep evens out after the first year, and they may ask for little to no nighttime parenting at night.
For others, even those who slept large stretches at night early on in the first year of life, toddler sleep can come with night wakings and a need for nighttime parenting.
As I've shared before (see blog), part of being a Certified Infant Sleep Educator means understanding sleep as developmental and deeply connected to attachment as well as a huge spectrum of normal variation from child to child, even in the same family with the same parenting. So what this means is not only is it on the spectrum of normal for your child to need you at night more (or less) than your best friend's child, it is also on the spectrum of normal for one of your own children to need you at night more than an older or younger sibling did.
For context, a recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics demonstrates that "sleeping through the night" (which they defined as a 6 or 8-hour stretch) is not found in the majority of 6 month olds and that even at 12 months of age a significant percentage of those in their study were sleeping less than a 6-hour stretch without nighttime parenting.
And, this does not account for how many times even those deemed sleeping through the night woke after that first stretch - meaning a 12-month-old could have slept for 6 hours and then woken every hour after that for nighttime parenting (for a total 4+ night wakings in a given night) and they STILL included that child in the group that slept through the night.
So what about sleep norms after year one? You can expect lots of variability based on child personality and developmental moment. For instance, a child working really hard on walking will likely wake more frequently than a child who has mastered this skill.
When I work with clients one-on-one going through a tricky patch of toddler sleep, one thing we talk about a lot is the notion of progression v. regression. While we tend to label these rough patches with more night waking as a regression, I often ask my clients to share with me where they are seeing progression in their child's development - motor, language, social skills, etc. Most often they share that their child is working on so very much at that exact moment.
How can framing rough patches of toddler sleep in terms of progressions help us? Instead of thinking of sleep and development as a line, I prefer the image of a spiral, where we picture our child moving on that spiral, working on some skills in that perfect developmental moment and perhaps needing more emotional support and physical reassurance from us before moving to a new place on the spiral.
Most significantly, when we recognize our children as working out something tricky and in need of more support instead of a quick fix, we can offer them what they need AND see that as caregivers in an intense season of parenting WE need more support to - asking for help and accepting it when offered.
This doesn't mean we have to simply "wait it out" - if you feel resentful of your sleep situation and are called to make a change, gentle, respectful transitions are totally possible, and perhaps just what your family needs. (If you think gentle and respectful sounds awesome, but you need more support to get there, check out my one-on-one consultations where we develop a Sleep Strategy Package tailored to your specific family values and unique sleep situation.)
Because all toddler sleep situations are varied and family sleep situations are unique, it can be hard to provide generalizations that speak broadly to toddler sleep. Instead, I'm going to share with you a snapshot of toddler sleep in our house RIGHT NOW, and how we work with the flow of the spiral.
***Because sleep situations and family situations are UNIQUE this is not a prescription or a "should" for you - rather, it is a personal account of our little family. What works for YOUR family likely looks very different, and that's okay!***
If you follow along with Nested Mama, you'll likely know that not too long ago my littlest made a grand leap and asked to start sleeping in her "little beddy" rather than the "big bed." (Read that adventure over here.)
While that first night was, ehem, eventful to say the least, she has gone on to start every night in her little bed and even wakes a majority of mornings still in that space, with a nighttime pilgrimage to the big bed occurring a few times a week in the early morning hours. This gentle transition to solo sleep with occasional shared sleep works perfectly for our little family in our right now.
Long view, littlest will move to share a room with big siblings (and she has even asked some nights to start out in their room!), but for now, we wait until she seems fully ready to make that choice on her own.
Having made this transition and finding it works well for us all, does that mean she never needs nighttime parenting? If I'm honest, I find I sleep more deeply without her often horizontal positioning in our bed - those rib kicks can be brutal! But, as I'd expect for her age and personality, she still wakes some nights and calls out for parental assistance.
Why then does she wake?
-wet nighttime diaper
While many of these are areas we actively encourage independence (grabbing a drink of water from the bottle next to her bed, taking herself to the bathroom, taking off her pjs when hot, and so forth), she still feels most confident announcing even these independent actions to us - and that's okay.
This sleep situation works for ALL of us - no one is frustrated or resentful. We feel confident that she will manage these nighttime needs when ready and make her way on the spiral in her own time.
We've found balance in our nighttime parenting where everyone's needs are met, and we know that a transition to more independence is on the horizon.
So what does toddler sleep look like? As with baby sleep, can look different from night to night, month to month, and child to child. But, most importantly, it isn't an all or nothing, you vs. your child thing - at least, it doesn't have to be. With understanding, support, and gentle transitions when needed, it can be exactly what you all need it to be.
Registration now open for Gentle Transitions: a toddler sleep workshop taught LIVE via small group webinar. Find all dates and details here.
Want to follow along for more discussions of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting? Connect with Nested Mama on Facebook and Instagram.
If you are like me, when you find yourself expecting a baby you take a deep dive into all things pregnancy.
Apps that tell you the size of your expectant joy in terms of fruit and vegetables alongside week by week diagrams and videos of development.
Maybe you've also fallen down the rabbit hole of the birth process and the benefits and risks of different birth preferences and interventions. Podcasts of birth stories and videos of birth can fill your free time, for sure.
In the months leading up to the birth of our first child, the stack of books about all things pregnancy and birth on my nightstand was a veritable rotating tower featuring all the books at the library as well as those acquired via Amazon Prime.
While I'm thankful for all that learning, I now know that switching gears to learn a bit more about the breastfeeding journey I was about to embark upon would have been time well spent.
To that end, I've put together a little checklist for pregnancy that can help you prepare a bit more for breastfeeding, no matter your goal.
Take a Breastfeeding Class
While this seems pretty straightforward, a solid breastfeeding class should provide you the evidence-based information you need to make decisions about feeding your little one. I always recommend that the breastfeeding parent-to-be attend a class with a partner or support person so that everyone is on the same page with expectations for what feeding a baby looks like in the early days and weeks postpartum.
Visit a Support Group
Yes, I am suggesting you attend a support group meeting before you even have a baby. This may help you in several ways. Practically speaking, it can be really tough to get out the door with a new baby and the thought of going somewhere new with people you've never met may be truly overwhelming. By attending a breastfeeding support meeting (or more) before baby, you'll be familiar with the location, people, and atmosphere such that it may be easier for you to attend the group newly postpartum. Breastfeeding groups are also a great way to find community with other parents in the same stage, which can make the early parenting days less isolating.
Make a Postpartum Plan
Feeding a baby with breast milk - whether pumped or from the breast - is a full-time job in the early days. A postpartum plan allows you and your partner to put together the puzzle pieces of support that will be essential for you to focus on this wonderful but often times exhausting aspect of caring for your baby.
Find a Doula
Having nonjudgmental, compassionate support throughout your experience of labor, birth, and postpartum can make a difference in how you find your footing with babe. And, your doula will bring breastfeeding knowledge as well as contacts and resources if any challenge you experience are outside the doula's scope of practice. (If you aren't local to me, Doula Match is a great resource.)
Learn about Baby Behavior
The question "is this normal?" will likely occur frequently in the first days, weeks, and months with baby. In addition to taking a breastfeeding class, a workshop that covers developmentally normal infant sleep may take much of the guesswork out of those first days. Truly, having developmentally appropriate expectations for your child at any age will save you so much stress and help you find strategies and solutions that work for your family.
In addition to the breastfeeding support groups mentioned above, searching out supportive communities before baby arrives can make finding support and friendship in this parenting journey that much simpler. For example, Hike it Baby is a great community to get moving with your little one and enjoy time in the outdoors.
Know your Resources
Compiling a list of resources including postpartum doulas, support groups, breastfeeding counselors, lactation consultants, and perinatal mental health professionals is a good task for those long third-trimester days when pregnancy seems to stretch on forever. You may not need to contact all or even any of these professionals, but having their contact info or recommendations from friends already in place can help you say "yes" to the support you need when you need it.
Like anything else in pregnancy, birth, parenting, and well, life, your breastfeeding journey may have unexpected challenges. In fact, you may make feeding choices different from those you initially planned on.
Know that you deserve respect, encouragement, and love no matter what.
Looking for a breastfeeding class? Nested Mama offers group classes as well as private webinars to help you get the information you need in a way that works for you.
When I worked with sleep clients, I often hear them lament that because of their babies’ or toddlers’ tricky bedtimes or sleep interruptions they have no “me time.”
I sympathize with this greatly, because I’ve been there, too, believing if only my baby behaved like “normal” babies that I could get the self-care time I craved.
Indeed, many popular books on sleep and child rearing equate baby's sleep time with sacred alone time for the caregiver.
While this sounds logical enough on the surface, in practice it sets up those whose babies have more or different needs around sleep for difficulty.
And, for me, it meant self-sabotaging my happiness.
When I made self-care time contingent on my baby’s sleep, I unwittingly raised the stakes of my baby’s sleep to a new level. No longer about my baby’s need for rest, now my adult need for self-care came along for the ride of any sleep frustrations.
The “shoulds” in my head became louder and my feelings about sleep became bigger.
You see, I’d invited my baby to a power struggle so far beyond her comprehension. Given the roller coaster that is baby and toddler sleep, even the most predictable of sleepers will have tricky spots and interruptions. My expectations were ahead of her abilities and my frustrations loomed large.
This mindset often proves even more challenging in the toddler years, as little ones become more vocal about their many needs at bedtime. Asking for one more drink, one more hug, or parental reassurance can turn the implicit power struggle of baby sleep to a very explicit one.
When I work one-on-one with parents, I often hear that they feel like their self-care time is held hostage by their little one’s ever so vocal and pressing nighttime desires. As a result, bedtime becomes a time of stress and conflict rather than ease and connection.
Imagine having an argument with your partner or a beloved family member and then trying to fall asleep. How long do you think it would take you to drift off?
When we create a power struggle that not only includes bedtime but a narrative around how and when we can care for ourselves, we set ourselves up for the opposite of joy. Bedtime as a battle means everyone’s stress level is high and rest and relaxation is that much harder to achieve for all parties involved.
So, what can we do when we find we’ve fallen into this sleep-time trap? Here are a few quick tips to dissolve the power struggle and find more room for self-care.
Change your mindset
If you take an honest look at your own attitude toward bedtime and acknowledge that the “shoulds” and power-struggle mentality have taken hold, you’ve take the first powerful step in changing the narrative and experience of that time. Hold limits with love, find ease and connection in closeness with your child, and turn sleep time into one that feels good for everyone involved. It may not immediately equal “one tuck and done,” but know that gentle transitions and growth are always on the horizon.
Schedule it in
One powerful way to change your narrative around sleep is to change what is at stake. Instead of making your yoga practice contingent on naptime, schedule a class or two a week in your calendar that don’t depend on your baby’s sleep for you to attend. Communicate clearly with your partner about your needs, dial in your support people, exchange childcare with a friends so you both get the time you need - basically, separate the baby sleep = self-care equation by making your self-care a priority.
Find joy together
Sometimes, especially with tiny ones, it is possible to make progress toward self-care and sleep at the same time. Maybe you enjoy a quiet coffee obtained via drive-though after errands because you know little one will nap a bit in the car. Maybe your little one sleeps best for naps in a carrier, so you leverage that time to take a walk, a hike, or a babywearing dance class. Look for parent and baby classes in your community that give you more of what you love while being with your little one.
Sometimes the thought of changing the narrative, making gentle transitions, or finding collaborative solutions that work for the family may seem completely out of reach. Here, a one-on-one consultation with an infant sleep educator may be just what you need to refocus and have a plan to help your whole family flourish.
Looking to make some gentle changes or want support as you switch up the narrative around your experience of baby and toddler sleep? Schedule a free 15 min discovery call to see if Nested Mama services are the right fit for your family.
In the absence of a "village" to nurture us postpartum, it can be hard to know where and when to reach out for support. Our culture maintains a myth wherein the birthing parent can do it all. In reality, the days, weeks, and months after baby's arrival are a time when a go-it-alone approach can lead to isolation and exhaustion.
At least, it did for me.
Hiring a postpartum doula is one way families can say "yes" to more support and invest in a service that can bring ease into that first year after baby.
But, depending on your lifestyle or little one's age, traditional postpartum doula services that focus on in-home day and overnight support may not be the right fit.
Maybe your support network is great with laundry and meal prep, but you need more nonjudgmental, compassionate conversation to uplift you as you navigate a tricky stage postpartum.
Perhaps you've got your household running smoothly but the thought of having a link to evidence-based resources and a sounding board for your transition into parenthood would offer you a sense of ease.
Or, maybe the idea of a doula in your home doesn't sound like the right match, but a combo of emotional and informational support offered online fits perfectly with your preferences.
If any of the above sounds like you, Online Postpartum Doula services may be the support you always felt you needed but didn't know you could ask for. Now, you can.
So what is Online Postpartum Doula Support?
Nested Mama combines weekly video chats and unlimited emails to provide you heart-centered support when and where you are in life with baby.
Nested Mama is all about your parenting journey and how you build confidence and joy along the way. Online doula support is a flexible way to make that happen when and where you need it.
Want to learn more? Schedule a free 15-min discovery call and see if Nested Mama is the right fit for what you need.
“I want to sleep in my little beddy.”
Last night was a first, a first for this sweet little toddler who has been my sleep companion for her whole life. As a little baby, we used breastsleeping and side-lying nursing to make it through the tricky patches and big developmental leaps of that first year. *
When shortly after a year, she made clear that sleep in her crib in our room was not preferred for even a short portion of the night, she joined us in our bed where she has been night in and night out ever since.
We took down that unused crib - which I have to say made for excellent laundry storage - and turned that corner of our room into a nook for a toddler bed.
Having only bedshared on and off with my older two kiddos, I imagined we’d make slow steady progress toward more independent sleep as she moved toward age two.
Here we are, days from 2.5 and just now making that tiny but grand leap.
Our culture frames discussions of baby/toddler/kiddo sleep with such fear - fear that our little ones may need us both day AND night.
Given this cultural conversation, I’ve had friends and clients share with me that even when they know about biologically normal sleep they still fear they’ve messed something up or somehow gone wrong in parenting because their little one finds rest best close to a loving caregiver.
As a parent, I’ve felt that fear - the stress and the worry that I’ve somehow misstepped and if only I’d done the right thing, my littles wouldn’t need me so intensely.
As an Infant Sleep Educator with a background in developmentally normal infant and toddler sleep and an understanding of attachment theory, I know that our little ones needing us isn’t something to fear - their need for us is normal and healthy and the stuff of future independence when ready.
Embracing sleep as a spectrum of normal variation means acknowledging that just as some grownups can’t fall asleep well without the sleepy breathing of their partner next to them, some kiddos innately find sleep best when close to a warm family member.
And, it also means acknowledging that some little ones don’t seem to need constant touch quite so much to find rest. It is a spectrum, after all.
Perhaps most importantly, it means recognizing that just because a little one vocally insists on a parent’s presence to fall asleep at age two doesn’t mean that the parents have gone wrong or the child needs to “learn” independence.
Similarly, a little one who has happily babbled to sleep alone since x months may suddenly as an older baby or toddler require more support for initial sleep and more frequent nighttime parenting.
Embracing sleep as a spectrum of normal variation means just that - that just as our children are beautifully unique in the daytime, they may be varied in nighttime needs, as well.
So what of her first night in that “little beddy”? Alas, frequent growing pains meant many awakenings punctuated by the oldest announcing the presence of a stomach bug in our house at 4 a.m.
Such is the stuff of parenting.
What then do I expect from this gentle transition to slightly more independent sleep for our family? I’ll ask myself the same questions I ask my clients in one-on-one consultations - that I tune into my intuition and look at the situation both from my perspective and my child’s.
When we approach sleep as a spectrum of normal and each families' situation and needs as unique, there is so much space for empathy and collaborative solutions to meet everyone's needs rather than framing sleep as an either/or struggle for rest.
That means when I work with clients (and troubleshoot my own family sleep), there is no one-size solution. No discussion of "habits," "props," or forcing independence.
Just empathy and compassion for all parties involved and a supportive conversation that places emphasis on what each family values as most important.
So for now, I’ll trust that when ready, that little beddy will become her default spot for slumber.
Until then, I’ll savor her sleepy cuddles and know that this is just a short season I’ll never get back.
And, I won’t regret a second of it.
*For safety information on breastsleeping or bedsharing, please consult the work of Dr. James McKenna at the Mother Baby Sleep Lab of Notre Dame for a full understanding of safety guidelines and risk factors.
Are you looking for more education and support as you navigate your baby's or toddler's sleep? Looking to gently night wean or transition to solitary sleep? Nested Mama offers sleep workshop and consultations to help your family find more rest. Learn more here.
Life after baby with older siblings presents its owns particular joys and challenges.
In truth, when my third was born with siblings aged 2 and 4 years, I make the joke that every newborn should come with a 4 year-old. She was so capable and helpful, rocking the cradle so I could take a shower, finding the pacifier when I dropped it, grabbing a clean diaper when needed, and more.
One of the biggest challenges for me newly postpartum was finding ways to meet my older kiddos needs for boisterous activity, when I felt like snuggling in with little one and staying put.
Here are a couple free resources we make use of now when indoor fun is needed that work great for older siblings with a new little one in the house.
Cosmic Kids Yoga
Free on YouTube, this channel combines narratives your kiddos may recognize with easy to follow yoga poses. And, the channel also offers some guided meditations, which can be great if you need to bring the level back down to calm in the house.
These playful combinations of movement and rhymes or song can definitely make a dent in the wiggles. And, I've found myself busting out some of these when we are waiting in line or in a less than ideal situation and my kids need to focus their energy - some of our favorites include Purple Stew and Pop see ko.
Having a short list of simple games to play can make it easier to snuggle baby in the rocker or carrier and keep kids occupied. Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, Freeze Dance, and any other childhood favorites can be great tools.
Looking for other tools to keep older sibs entertained? Read about how we use audio stories and art tutorials in our postpartum toolbox.
Looking for more support in the days and weeks postpartum? Head on over to Nested Mama and learn more about in person and online support services.
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.