Dads’ Soothing Skills

June brings us Father’s Day, so Sleep Sisters is dedicating this month to dads and their impact on sleep.

Dads can often feel marginalized when there is a new baby in the house, especially if mom is breastfeeding. But sleep is one area where Dad can be a huge asset.

Today, I want to talk about Dad’s role in soothing and helping get baby to sleep. Dr. Karp introduced us to “The Five ‘S’s,” which include swaddling, shushing, swinging, side, and sucking, all great tools for helping calm a crying or fussy baby. I can say without hesitation that my husband is better than I am in executing these soothing techniques. For one thing, fathers are often a bit stronger and willing to be a bit more aggressive when soothing their babies.

My husband is the best swaddler in our house. He can make the tightest swaddle that has the most amazing effect – instantly settling a fussy baby. I always cringe when I see him do it; I worry he is doing it too tight or that he’d hurt the baby. But of course, when morning comes and our darling is still snug in the swaddle, baby burrito, sleeping like…a baby….I acknowledge his prowess in this arena.

In addition to swaddling, my hubby, and lots of other men, are great at shushing. I’ll admit that I have noise issues – everything is always too loud for me. But not my husband. He puts his mouth right next to the baby’s ear and makes a loud shushing noise. My shush will sometimes work, but his always does. He’s not afraid to shush louder than the baby’s cry, and that is what it takes.

Then there is swinging. This is probably the most fun, and also the most tiring. Here again, men can excel and may even enjoy soothing. Whether it’s making arcing swoops with baby in arms, or jiggling the baby on its side in his lap, my husband never seemed to tire of this form of soothing. And it works like a charm.

Soothing is one area where we strongly encourage fathers to participate and develop domain expertise. Dads can really enjoy this direct contact with their babies and feel great when they achieve that seemingly impossible feat of getting a fussy baby to sleep. And moms will appreciate a break from the struggles of parenting, especially at the end of the day when nerves are worn thin. And what an amazing feeling when you see your partner bonding with his baby! Now that’s a gift for both Mom and Dad.

Check out Dr. Karp’s video showing the Five S’s…it’s unbelievable and really works!

Your Monitor Has an OFF Button…Use It!

I have one piece of advice that may have the biggest impact on improving your own sleep, and your baby’s sleep. TURN OFF YOUR BABY MONITOR!

Baby monitors are great, don’t get me wrong. When you have a newborn, a monitor will let you move about, sit on your front porch, or take a nap knowing that you will hear your precious one when she wakes. The monitor can help rouse you when it’s time for those night feeds. However, once your baby is three to four months, I think it’s time to turn off the monitor at night.

By four months, babies are learning to cycle between deep and light sleep. This is the age when babies may start sleeping through the night…hurray! During the night, your four-month old will pass through two to three complete sleep cycles. Every 90 minutes, babies cycle to a state of light sleep called REM. Every three to four hours, they cycle to a more active, almost awake state. Each time they come to that light sleep, they will likely make noise, move about, cry out, and may even wake themselves.

At these intervals (often around 11pm, 2am, and 5am), we often want to go to our babies – maybe feed them, or hold them until they quiet down so they don’t wake the rest of the household. But by going in to comfort our babies when we hear cries during the night, we risk two things:

  1. Waking the baby by going to him when he’s just cycling through a light sleep and isn’t really awake

  2. Conditioning the baby to need a parent to settle him down between sleep cycles, and not allowing him to learn and practice self-soothing techniques he will need throughout his life to get back to sleep when he wakes

Of course, I don’t want you to ignore your baby’s cry. I just want you to ignore all the other sounds your baby makes at night. And I want you to get a good night sleep when you can!

I do know that no matter where I am in my house, when one of my kids cries a real cry, I hear it. It will wake me from a deep sleep, and my bedroom is on a different floor from my kids’ room. I don’t need the monitor to hear them crying. But by turning the monitor off at night, I can sleep through those whimpers, grunts, and fleeting protests as my kids move through their sleep cycles.

Some of the newer monitors have a myriad of bells and whistles. One client told me that their machine had noise canceling so it only transmits real cries. If that works, then great – leave that machine on at night if you need it. I have also seen machines with lights, noises, and more. While white noise is great for helping babies and adults sleep, any other kind of noise or visual stimulation will prevent your brain from resting, so steer clear!

Reclaim your nights. If your kids are older than four months, turn off your monitor one night and give it a try. I’m betting you will sleep better and you’ll give your little one a chance to practice valuable self-soothing skills during the night.

Help! Why aren’t I sleeping?

Our guest author, Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author, and radio host, and has appeared on The Today Show, CBS News, Good Day NY, and Fox News, among others. Dr. Wider is a medical advisor to Cosmopolitan magazine and hosts a weekly radio segment on Sirius Satellite/XM Radio. She is the author of three books, including most recently, The New Mom’s Survival Guide.

If you’re asking why you aren’t sleeping, it might reassure you to know that you are not alone. Sleep problems are a lifetime struggle for many women and they tend to peak at certain times of life. Studies reveal that women report sleeping problems most often during periods of hormonal fluctuation: at certain points on the menstrual cycle, and during pregnancy and menopause.

Almost eight in 10 women experience more sleep disturbances during pregnancy than at other times during their lives. Hormonal changes, heartburn, an expanding belly, and difficulty breathing and getting comfortable all play a role in sleep disorders related to pregnancy.

But the problems often don’t end there. Many women are surprised to learn that after they have the baby, it doesn’t necessarily mean their bodies will automatically go back to their normal sleep patterns.  Hormone levels continue to fluctuate after delivery and as a result, sleeping problems may persist for some women.

When Sleep Becomes A Problem

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While it’s true that all new moms struggle with getting a good night sleep — it comes with the territory — that’s not really what we’re talking about here. If you regularly experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and these difficulties occur regardless of the baby’s sleep patterns, you may have a problem. Many experts agree that an official diagnosis of insomnia would be given to women who experienced difficulty sleeping on a consistent basis for at least four weeks.

Postpartum sleeping problems can get in the way of your daily functioning, impair your motor coordination and thought processes, and add stress and anxiety to the long list of new mom concerns. So don’t ignore these problems!

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do about it. While prescription drugs may sometimes be necessary, if the problem goes on for too long, there are many other behavioral and lifestyle changes that should be tried before resorting to medication.

Here are some tips that may help you repair your sleep cycle:

  • Avoid the late-in-the-day caffeine fix: Cut back on caffeinated beverages at least five to six hours before you plan on hitting the sack. Consuming caffeinated coffee, tea, or soft drinks late in the day can really do a number on your ability to fall asleep at night.

  • If you are experiencing serious bouts of disrupted sleep, try to make up for the lost sleep with naps. Women who are waking every three hours to breastfeed or soothe the baby can get caught in a bad cycle that becomes a pattern they feel they can’t escape. If you’re enough long stretches of sleep to sustain you during the day, carve out some nap time to catch up so as to minimize the toll exacted by sleep deprivation.

  • Keep to a regular schedule. Our bodies crave routine, so try to go to sleep at the same time every night.

  • Avoid doing chores around the house or last minute items before bedtime—this will only add aggravation to your day and get the adrenaline racing to your mind and your body.

  • Create a calming night-time routine. I used to drink a cup of chamomile tea and watch a Sex in the City rerun before going to bed. It was my little half-hour, short but relaxing enough to help me drift off to sleep (most of the time!).

  • Avoid watching the clock. How many times have you looked at the clock every five minutes, stressing that you can’t fall asleep? This is the worst thing you can do. The anxiety about not falling asleep only makes it harder to fall asleep. If you aren’t asleep in thirty to forty minutes, get up out of bed and do something else. Read a book, watch a sitcom, take a warm bath, whatever it takes to change your frame of mind and help you relax. You can try again a little later.

If you find that lifestyle changes don’t help and you are tossing and turning consistently for weeks on end, therapy and medication may be an option. Sleeping medication is usually prescribed for a short period of time and should always be monitored by a physician, especially if you are breastfeeding. If you are suffering from depression, anti-depressant medication may be a better option, but again, speak to your physician.

Follow @DrWider and find her online at

7 Sleep-Promoting Ideas to Celebrate Mother’s Day

May brings us Mother’s Day, the one day each year when we are encouraged to recognize the awesome gifts our mother has given us, as well as the sacrifices she has made to give us life and guide us safely along our path. At least that’s what I want my children and husband to do!

In all honesty, I’ve been thinking about how important it is for our families that as moms, we are as healthy and happy as we can be. Getting enough sleep is not only critical for our children, but for ourselves, too. Even if you have a baby who isn’t old enough to sleep through the night, there are things you can do to improve your own sleep.

So with that in mind, here are my seven ideas to help mom sleep, at least this month. (Hint, hint…some of these make great Mother’s Day gifts!)

  1. Try a white noise machine. They are not only great for babies, but many grown-ups love ‘em. Or do what I do, and just get an App for your phone. I use White Noise. If you use an iPhone, just make sure to turn off the sounds from the other apps, so you aren’t interrupted with phone calls or email bings.

  2. Make your bed an oasis. Treat yourself to a new luxurious pillow or new sheets. Debbie likes this Temper-Pedic Neck Pillow. Buy some snugly pajamas or a silky nighty (whichever is more your style). We spend one third of our life in bed, so splurge a little and make it a real refuge.

  3. Spend time relaxing before bed. Turn off your screens. Enjoy a nice cup of tea (caffeine-free, of course). I like The Republic of Tea Ginger Peach Decaf and Cardamon Cinnamon Herbal Tea. Maybe throw in a bubble bath.

  4. Book a babysitter. In the SF Bay Area, we have this great service, UrbanSitter, that can help you find a sitter quickly. Then spend some quality adult time – by yourself, with your significant other, or with friends. Go to the gym, see a movie, or have a nice dinner – anything that will recharge your batteries.

  5. Go to the spa. Do something really therapeutic for yourself. Whether it’s a massage, facial, or other treatment, you will not only enjoy it at the moment, but most spa treatments have lasting physical effects and even positive emotional benefits. Spa Finder Gift Cards are accepted at spas around the world.

  6. Schedule a day to sleep in. This one might be tough, but if you can figure it out, it is soooo worth it. There’s just something about getting an extra hour or two of sleep in the morning that feels so much better than going to bed early. Ask a grandparent or friend to take your kids to the park the morning. Or have your partner do what my husband does on occasion – get the kids out of the house first thing and go to the 24-hour doughnut shop.

  7. Get away for the night. If you are lucky enough to have grandparents nearby or a sitter you trust, leave the kids and escape with your partner to a nearby hotel for an overnight. Ask for a quiet and dark room – the idea is to maximize sleep. Put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and tune out the world for the night.


Postpartum Depression and Sleep

postpartum depressionMelissa and I were thrilled to see so much attention focused on infant sleep and maternal behavior this week. A fascinating study out of Penn State published last week states that mothers who are suffering from postpartum depression tend to wake their infants at night and cause sleep disturbances in their babies. Click here for an explanation of the findings.

Many people have questioned which comes first, maternal depression or a sleepless infant. To us, there has always been an obvious link – when you have a fussy/sleepless child, a mom is bound to become depressed as she herself becomes exhausted. This study indicates that this is true. However, what is MORE true is that mothers who are depressed are actually causing their babies to lose sleep.

Based on this study, it seems that depressed mothers are more anxious about the well-being of their new babies and therefore go to them when they make the slightest noise or movement. This then wakes the baby and disrupts her sleep. In addition, moms who are depressed seem to crave being close to their infants and therefore, wake them when they feel lonely or sad. In reading this, I understand the psychological motivation highlighted. As a new mom, I remember feeling worried and lonely at times and I can understand how a mom may want to be close to her new baby.

postpartum depressionMelissa and I want to stress how important it is to reach out to family and friends if you are feeling depressed. The first few months of motherhood are the hardest and there is nothing lonelier than being awake with your baby in the quiet and darkness of 3am! Depression can be devastating, and when you have a new baby and everyone around you expects you to be happy, it is that much harder to cope. That said, sometimes, family and friends just don’t know what to say or do for new moms. As a therapist, I know that sometimes an “unbiased” voice is the only voice of reason we can hear.

As sleep consultants, we know that new moms have lots of resources available – books, websites, videos – and they are all helpful and valuable. However, when you are overtired and/or depressed, sometimes a real, live person is the most helpful solution. We encourage anyone in this position to seek help from a doctor, therapist, sleep consultant, or other professional for help. We understand that emotions and sleep are not things that can be separated – they go hand-in-hand, both for mother and baby.


Need a Cup of Coffee? Go Ahead!

Exhausted moms can now gulp their morning joe with a little less guilt. A study out of Brazil published in Pediatrics this month shows that moderate caffeine consumption during pregnancy or by moms who are breastfeeding their babies does not increase night-waking in three-month olds. Reuters has a good summary of the new research.

Parents of newborns have enough to worry about and stress over. It seems in the last several years that pregnancy and breastfeeding has become a field of land mines, with new risks to avoid at every turn. When I was pregnant the first time, I felt sick for months. The only thing that made me feel better was a Diet Coke and a handful of peanut M&Ms in the afternoon. Something about that magic combination of caffeine, chocolate, protein from the peanuts, and chemicals from the soda just settled my stomach and gave me enough of a boost to get me through the afternoon, more or less. I already felt so deprived of many of my favorite foods and beverages that were forbidden or frowned upon during pregnancy. I couldn’t imagine having to give up that one treat that made me feel almost human again during those tough months.

Debbie and I have always been proponents of “Everything in Moderation.” And I’m happy to hear that medical research can give some comfort when pregnant women and nursing moms reach for their caffeinated beverage of choice. In this case, moderation means keeping our caffeine consumption to less than 300 mg per day, which translates roughly to 16 oz of regular drip coffee, five 8-oz cups of tea, or six cans of soda. Watch out for those energy drinks – many of them have more than 300 mg of caffeine in a single serving.

One of the best things we can do to help our babies sleep well is to feel good ourselves, and if a cup of coffee after a rough night makes you feel better, please go ahead!


SIDS and co-sleeping

A new study published last week brings up a very controversial subject in the world of infant sleep – co-sleeping. For years, moms all over the world have debated the merits and drawbacks of a “family bed,” “attachment parenting,” and “co-sleeping.” Melissa and I don’t feel it’s necessary to take a side in this argument. Different arrangements work for different families and we’re not here to tell people what is right or wrong. We do believe in strong scientific research and feel it is our responsibility as sleep experts to share with our clients and friends any new information that comes to our attention about sleep and child safety. Continue reading…

The Use of OTC Drugs and Sleep

I just read an article on about parents who use Benedryl (and cough syrup) to help children sleep–especially when traveling. The article was written as a follow-up to a previous article about a family who was kicked off a JetBlue flight when their toddler was too disruptive. As parents, we are frequently desperate to prove to others that our children are well-behaved and that we are super-hero parents. (How else would we have perfectly behaved children?) Besides wanting peace and quiet ourselves, we don’t want to disrupt others with a screaming child in a restaurant, on an airplane, on the train. To what end are we willing to make that happen? Continue reading…

Daylight Savings Time….And My 3-Year-Old!

People always ask us what do to when we change the clocks. I know moms who worry about this for weeks ahead of time! They tell us, “We’ve been working so hard to keep him on schedule and now, everything will just fall apart.” It can be a frustrating time. Believe me, I know! When we changed the clocks ahead last week, I was prepared…I’m a certified sleep consultant after all! I did exactly what I’d been trained to do and what I had been doing successfully for the past 3 years. I stuck to the clock. Continue reading…