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.
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.
“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.
Car trips with little ones can pose challenges, especially when it comes to keeping spirits up as you make your way from point a to point b. From the time our kiddos were around 6 weeks old, we've taken them here, there, and everywhere by car. Finding music that we all enjoy together has made such a difference.
Here are some of our favorite albums to make car trips fun.
Why we love it:
Charlie Hope includes original songs as well as familiar ones (like Mr. Sun) with pleasing harmonies. I like her laid back sound. The kids love her playful lyrics and rhymes.
Why we love it:
We grabbed this CD on a whim at the library, and it became an instant favorite - playing non-stop for our 10-hour drive! The songs are from the TV show (which is based on the books in the Charlie and Lola series) - none of which we knew when we grabbed the CD. The songs are quirky and get my kids laughing and singing. I often think of this one as our "worst-case scenario" option to bring a little levity when the trip feels too long.
Why we love it:
We find it hard to be grumpy in the car when we turn on the catchy beat and lyrics of SteveSongs. As my kids have grown, they enjoy the information behind the lyrics - such as the scientific explanation at work in "Water Cycle" or the humor behind "Fast Monkey."
Why we love it:
The jazzy rhythm of this CD gets lots of mileage in our car. Songs like "Happy!" and "I'm a Bubble" have turned some frowns upside down on long car rides. The pleasing quality of Jennifer Gasoi's voice and instrumentation make this one I reach for often.
When taking road trips to visit family and friends, we are often traveling during and after bedtime. The jazzy music that kept everyone engaged and happy earlier in the trip often proves too much stimulation for later in the evening. We often reach for this CD (as well as Lullaby Renditions of Journey and Lullaby Renditions of Queen). If classic rock standards aren't your vibe, Rockabye Baby! makes a whole host of other popular options sure to meet your lullaby needs.
Do you listen to music in the with your little ones car? What is your favorite kid-friendly CD? Leave it in the comments below!
Fall is in the air, but outdoor fun with baby or toddler doesn't have to stop just because the temperature drops. In fact, without the bugs and sun of summer, you may find you get more mileage out of your adventures in the colder weather. Here are some of our favorite resources for planning cold temperature adventures and gear recommendations.
A good base layer will fit easily under other layers and keep moisture away from little one's skin. Wool is an awesome choice, but there are other less expensive materials that work well. My favorite base layers double as jammies, keeping kiddos snug in bed and making it easy to layer up and head out in the morning. A footed option, like wool tights, is particularly nice for babies.
Warm toes can make the difference between happiness and sadness on the trail, and wool socks are definitely worth the investment for both you and your kiddo. Costco reliably cares adult wool socks that I wear 24/7 in the winter months. (For baby and toddlers, I've had the best luck hunting for deals online.) And, I keep extra adult socks in the car - they are great over baby hands or mittens or as an extra layer on little one's feet in the carrier or stroller.
Because my littles can't pass a puddle by without stomping, boots are essential for us year round. While standard rain boots work in warmer temps, I find the heels wear out much faster than other options and aren't likely to make it past one season's wear with how much we adventure outside. Because shopping for footwear can be tricky, here are some of our favorites that have held up well over time.
MyMayu - These are my pick for babies and little walkers. Lightweight and cinching high on the leg, I love these from the moment my little explorers start crawling and scooching around (paired with a coverall). The option to add a liner gives them much more mileage than your standard rainboot.
Stonz - I love that these can go on over socks or baby's shoes. Like MyMayu, adding a liner allows you to uses these across several seasons.
Bogs - Baby bogs are easily for little ones to get on and off all on their own, which is hugely important as my kiddos enter the "do it myself" phase. My youngest loved hers so much that she wore them for any occasion and with any outfit.
Keen - Once my toddlers start racking up the miles on their own, the Keen Encanto Waterproof Boot is my pick again and again. I love buying a piece of gear and feeling confident that multiple kids can use it because of how well it wears. The light lining keeps toes warm in fall temps. Judging by the way my kids continually choose these boots over all other footwear options when we head out on the trail, they are comfortable, too.
All of my babies and young toddlers have despised mittens. A pair of my own wool socks pulled up high on the arm before dressing them in a bunting or jacket was the most effective. As they began to explore more, L-Bow or similar mittens that fasten high up on the arm worked best for us. Investing a pair of waterproof rain mittens may also help your little one enjoy muddy play.
Hats and More
As far as head coverings, I've found how many is more important than what kind, as hats in our house seem to grow legs and walk away. Scarves tend to drag in the snow or get caught on tree branches, so a gaiter that can be pulled up over the face for more coverage is our pick.
Baby or Toddler in the Stroller
Get Out with Friends
My toddlers and big kids always do better on the trail with other kids present. Something about being all together gives them the momentum and interest to make their way down the trail. To find friends for outdoor play and hiking, visit Hike it Baby and find your local branch. If you are local to us, check out Hike it Baby Iowa City and Hike it Baby Cedar Rapids.
How to Layer:
Video on baby layering from Wrap you in Love
Winter Layering Tips from Hike it Baby
Infographic from Ella's Wool on How to Layer Baby
Now that you are all dressed and ready to go, check out the Nested Mama series on Local Family Fun.
The transition into life with a new baby stretches everything - your patience, your partnership, your identity, and so much more.
The transition into toddlerhood is something else, though. The baby who previously needed to be transported everywhere can suddenly get places under her own power. The baby who only needed milk and snuggles suddenly voices a whole host of other needs and desires, adamantly and at increasing volume levels.
Just like having a baby stretches us as parents and asks us to grow in new and surprising ways, the transition into parenting a toddler asks perhaps even more.
As Dr. Shefali Tsabary writes in The Conscious Parent: "The transition to parenthood is complex, requiring us to surrender to an irrevocable loss of our identity as we have thus far known it. To create the internal space required to embrace the tending of a new spirit, the pillars of our old lifestyle have to crumble. Who we were before becoming a parent doesn't and cannot exist with the same ferocity. Once children enter our life, their impact is indelible and we are required to reinvent ourselves in response" (96).
If you are anticipating the next stage of baby's development into a toddler or find yourself already in the sticky middle-of-toddler-years days, check out these fabulous resources for setting loving limits and holding them with love and respect.
Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham
To get a sense of Markham's approach, check out the AhaParenting website, which has an awesomely helpful index by age and stage. This is one of my first stops when a new kiddo stages throws me for a loop.
It's Okay Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker
One of the most anxious points of toddler parenting for me was learning how to navigate my kids social interactions - when to stand back, when to hop in, and how to be helpful. Shumaker gives so many helpful examples for how to handle situations in a positive and productive manner.
Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach to Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavior Problems, and Encourage Confidence by Lawrence J. Cohen
In rough stages, sometimes you just need a fresh tool or outlook to come at problems from a positive and collaborative place. If you find yourself in that place, this is a great read.
Siblings without Rivalry: How to Help your Children Live Together so You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Toddler parenting takes on a whole new dynamic when you've got sibling squabbles in the mix. Faber and Mazlish made this a super quick read that's easy to distill and implement. And, it helps me remember that sibling conflicts are normal and the perfect opportunity to build skills of conflict negotiation and compassion.
The Gentle Sleep Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith
While we'd like to pretend that only tiny babies wake at night, the reality is that waking for reassurance during the night is developmentally normal for toddlers, too. Ockwell-Smith offers gentle suggestions that can help the whole family get more rest while still meeting your toddler's needs in a developmentally appropriate manner. (If you find you need more support making gentle sleep transitions, head on over to Nested Mama's Sleep services.)
Mothering your Nursing Toddler by Norma J. Bumgarner
Wondering what's normal as you nurse your baby into toddlerhood? This book from La Leche League International provides awesome perspective. (And if you find yourself nursing into a pregnancy, Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower is the essential read on the topic.)
As a doula and sleep educator, I work with a lot of parents when they are at their most tapped out.
As a parent myself, I have plenty of moments that seem more like surviving than thriving.
I coach my clients to uncover areas where they can find balance and meaning, and self-care is often a pivot point that can tip survival mode into flourishing for the whole family.
When I take a fair assessment of my own life, I find that my moments of frustration with my children or my partner often emerge from my own lack of balance. As the saying goes, you can't give from an empty cup. And, no one knows that truth more deeply than a parent of young children.
As important as self-care is to overall wellness, there is another piece that I suggest can be just as significant - finding joy WITH your children. Here, I'm not talking about delighting in every moment - some are challenging and some are just plain hard - no one needs the pressure of loving every second.
Instead, try to find mutual points of joy in your life. Maybe you all enjoy a particular series of stories or chapter book read alouds. Maybe you all love your routine of getting a donut on Saturday morning. Maybe each of you can relish the feeling of sand between your toes at the beach. Maybe you geek out together over the same comic book.
Whatever that source of joy is for all of you, seek it out. Be intentional. Make time for it, and soak it in.
For me, I am my happiest when I'm outside, and I discovered early on with my first child that she loved to be outside, too. Now that I've got a busy trio, I plan to be outside every day, if possible, and make a couple significant excursions to local trails and parks every week.
On the best of days, I can carry that feeling with me through the tricky pre-dinner time and all the way until my kiddos are at rest. And, my ease sets the tone for everyone. Most importantly, we all find joy together.
How do you find joy with your little ones?
Siegel, Dan J. and Tina Payne Bryson. The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. New York: Bantam Books, 2011.
In a nutshell:
The Whole Brain Child offers parenting advice based on neuroscience and a developmental approach to parenting. Instead of expecting children to behave like miniature adults, Siegel and Tina point to the ways in which children's brains are still under construction. Instead of feeling frustrated when our attempts to communicate and handle tricky situations with our children go sideways, the book encourages us to see these moments as opportunities to parent in a manner that ultimately promotes the growth and emotional resiliency we hope our children will one day possess.
I love how practically the authors approach each of their tips. For each situation, they offer case study examples and a cartoon briefly summarizing the strategy they suggest. Additionally, they provide a kid-friendly cartoon breakdown of each idea such that you can work with your child to develop his or her own understanding of how the mind works. And, each chapter ends with a section for parents, which draws attention to the fact that we, as parents, have so much growing to do in how we handle our own emotions and frustrations.
Some quotations of note:
"It's also crucial to keep in mind that no matter how nonsensical and frustrating our child's feelings may seem to us, they are real and important to our child. It's vital that we treat them as such in our response" (24).
"Even though we will want to help build this metaphorical staircase in our child's brain, there are two important reasons to maintain realistic expectations when it comes to integration. The first is developmental: while the downstairs brain is well developed even at birth, the upstairs brain isn't fully mature until a person reaches his mid-twenties" (41).
"Your state of mind can influence your child's state of mind, letting you transform fussiness and irritability into fun, laughter, and connection" (133).
The Whole Brain Child is a parenting text with longevity - helping you understand your toddler to your teenager and even some of your adult relationships, too. If you are looking for a straightforward parenting text grounded in neuroscience that will challenge you to grow alongside your child, The Whole Brain Child is that book.
Want to see a simple tool that helps save my sanity day in and day out? Behold - the snack plate! While this tray I got for under a dollar at a thrift store seems pretty unimpressive, it has become a critical tool in how I hand snack time day in and day out.
As a parent, I approach family eating and meals informed by Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility. In a nutshell, the parent decides the parameters of meals - what is offered at what time and what location. The child retains control of how much he or she eats and which of the offered foods he or she eats.
This model of feeding complements a baby-led solids (often referred to as baby-led weaning or BLW) approach and continues the trust for your child that underlies baby-led solids into their toddler and preschooler years (as well as beyond).
In the moment, the division of responsibility approach to eating takes away any possible power struggles around food. Long view the hope is that it encourages a healthy attitude toward food.
Want to try out a snack plate with a single kiddo or younger toddlers? Mini-muffin tins or ice-cube trays can make the perfect solo snack tray. If you do try out the snack tray, let me know what you think!
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.