Helping Your Baby Sleep with Love and Compassion

Mother watching sleeping baby

Is your baby not sleeping through the night? That’s normal. It’s less common that a baby does sleep for long periods without waking, but norms don’t tell you what your baby needs. Babies’ needs differ.

A compassionate approach to parenting seeks to understand and meet needs—your baby’s needs, certainly, but also your own needs. Part of the challenge is separating your real needs from those cultural assumptions you have acquired from the people around you.

If you are experiencing enough disruption in nighttime sleeping patterns that you want to know how to help your baby sleep, I hope this helps. I have been there, and I remember how it felt.

Helping Baby Sleep

In cultures where there is less anxiety around the idea of how and where babies sleep, it would make no sense at all to give advice on helping baby sleep. Having read about babies’ sleep in other cultures (see Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting without Borders below), I’m convinced that this is only a topic among North American parents because of a cultural anxiety that was introduced by an adult need to control children.

Nevertheless, you start where you are. If you already have sleep issues to deal with, you may need tips to help your baby sleep.

Start with your baby’s needs. Hunger, warmth, calm. Hunger and warmth are easy enough needs to meet most of the time. Calm can be more elusive. Create a calming routine with calming associations. All of the senses can contribute: sound (sing a lullaby), smell (most likely the smell of you), sight (darkness will probably help), touch (soft pajamas, soft blanket, sheepie), and maybe taste (breastfeeding while falling asleep).

For a great list of practical suggestions based on decades of experience with parents, see Ask Dr Sears, “31 Ways to Get Your Baby to Sleep and Stay Asleep.”

Also consider your own needs. You may be tired. You may need to trade off with another adult just for a while. Don’t take your frustrations out on your baby, though. Don’t make sleep an issue for your baby just because it is an issue for you.

If you don’t have your baby yet, start by letting go of assumptions that could cause problems. Read Parenting without Borders, so you will have a point of reference when doctors, your parents, and other well-meaning experts offer you advice on sleep and other aspects of parenting.

Co-sleeping or Family Bed

Again, in the context of family sleeping habits around the world and through history, it is strange to have to justify family members sleeping next to one another. It makes more sense to me to ask why some believe babies should be separated to sleep alone, since that is uncommon anywhere else in the world. The usual answer is that it will make them more independent, but research doesn’t show this result from separate sleep.

If we sleep better with our babies and if our babies sleep better with us, we should be sleeping next to one another. It makes waking in the night much easier and shorter. Everyone wakes in the night. How we handle that now can shape how our children handle that in their future.

You do need to remove risk factors, such as drug and alcohol use, smoking, water beds, sofas, and heavy bedding over the baby.

If you or your spouse have any of the risk factors, or if you don’t sleep better with your baby, don’t. A bassinet next to your bed can still give you the convenience of closeness that a separate nursery does not.

Will They Remember?

Human epigenetic memory of being stressed as a child can be passed on and will be encoded in the genes of the stressed person. The new field of behavioral epigenetics studies how and to what extent this happens. I have yet to see a study on the specific epigenetic effects of babyhood stress on an adult, but I don’t doubt it will come.

The simplest point to remember is: a stressful experience as a baby will have a effect. What effect? The science is out, but don’t believe those who tell you that a baby won’t remember being left to cry, so it doesn’t matter. The stress your baby feels now matters now and it can matter long into the future as epigentic memory can be passed on to future children and grandchildren.

When you meet your child’s needs with love and compassion, they learn to meet their own needs without the stress of worrying about the absense of your comforting presence.

Ask the Experts about Sleeping Babies

Christine Gross-Loh, “Sleep Time: Keep Our Babies Close or Give Them Space?” in Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents around the World Can Teach Us (2013).

“Where should your baby sleep? Wherever he sleeps best.”

Ask Dr Sears, the website of the Sears family of pediatricians, gives quick answers to common sleep issues.

“Sleeping with Hayden opened our hearts and minds to the fact that there are many nighttime parenting styles, and parents need to be sensible and use whatever arrangement gets all family members the best night’s sleep.”

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Baby on a Budget: What Do You Really Need?

Mother holding newborn baby

When you are on a budget, that list of stuff you just have to buy before your baby arrives can be overwhelming. If you haven’t had a baby before, you aren’t really sure what you need. Let me help you learn from my mistakes.

Before my first baby was born, I read a lot of books, all of which listed stuff I needed. I bought a lot of it. It gave me a feeling that I was preparing well for my baby.

It turned out that I didn’t even use a lot of the essential baby stuff I was encouraged to buy. I probably should have know better, but I didn’t.

Thinking about what you really need for baby, for pregnancy, and for childbirth takes a complete rethink away from hard-sell you get in most situations. If you are ready to rock the foundations, read The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis. She is a journalist who goes into depth to help you understand how selling you stuff and services you don’t need has become big business. You CAN resist.

What Do You Really Need for Your Newborn?

Start by understanding that what you need are tools that will fit your lifestyle. Not everyone lives the same way, so you might need something didn’t and I might have used and loved something you won’t. With this in mind, I’m including only the essentials in the top list. You might also need a few items on the second list, but you probably won’t need them right away.

You may also be able to find some items used at a consignment store. Babies grow fast, so a lot of parents will be getting rid of clothes and other stuff their baby has grown out of. Do you have a friend with a baby 6-12 months older than yours? Make a deal to take all of the old stuff off her hands.

Diapers – Your baby will pee and poop—often. Some newborns can eliminate every hour, and, in order to avoid discomfort and rash for your baby, you should be changing the diaper every time it is wet or soiled. Don’t even consider disposable diapers if you are thinking of your budget. You can save big by choosing your cloth diapers carefully. Compare about $750 for disposables & accessories to about $250 for cloth diapers & accessories. (See comparison below.) If you are going to wash every day, you can start with 18 diapers. I know it may seem like a lot of wash, but babies slow down with their dirty diapers, so soon you will be washing less. You could double the number of diapers and wash every other day, but I’m thinking of budget. If you buy 24 prefolds or flat diapers and 4 one-size covers, you could be set. No more diapers to buy. That is my favorite budget cloth diaper set up.

Or, go diaper free with infant pottying. Even if you go diaper free, though, you will want a few diapers.

Compare prices

Diaper Changing Pad – Most of the time, I used a big diaper under my babies as a changing pad. Sure, it wasn’t waterproof, but that was usually fine. You could use a wool pad or some other useful waterproof mat without resorting to plastic, but you don’t need one of those thick foam pads. Use something you have on hand already.

T-shirts – If it’s summer, your baby can wear a diaper and a T-shirt most of the time. Even under other clothes, a T-shirt is an insulating layer. Buy just a few and wash them often so you won’t feel so bad when you have to buy a new size in a month.

Pajamas – Most babies spend most of their time in pajamas. Sure, you could buy a full hipster wardrobe, replaceable in every size every month, but why? It would be for you not for your baby. Your baby will be fine with 3-6 one-piece pajamas. Stick with simple clothes as long as you can.

Hat & Socks – Newborns lose heat easily. A soft, cotton hat and socks are essentials, but you just need two of each—one on baby and one in the wash.

Car Seat – It’s one of the most expensive must-have items you need on your list. Research for a balance of safety and cost. Don’t buy used.

Blanket - A lightweight cotton blanket is convenient when you are holding your baby. For sleeping, though, babies often throw the blanket off. A sleep bag will do the job better, but you may not need this if your baby doesn’t move around a lot or if it just isn’t cold enough to justify a warm sleeper.

Soft Baby CarrierA sling or baby wrap carrier isn’t absolutely essential, because you could just hold your baby on your hip all day. Your baby will want to be close to you, and a baby carrier gives you and your baby closeness without you losing your freedom to move around and get things done. This was essential to me. I bought a baby sling on a whim, and I’m so glad I did. It opened up a whole world of babywearing to me. The best choice is a versatile carrier that works from baby to toddler. We’ll go into detail on this next week.

Breastfeeding / Nursing Bra – This is low on the list, because I know a lot of people get by without a bra made specifically for breastfeeding. Your breasts may be very heavy with milk. Without proper support, you can experience back pain as well as skin stretching. Plus, it’s very convenient to be able to unhook your bra rather than trying to work around a non-breastfeeding bra. Maybe just start out with one nursing bra and see if it works well for you before you buy one in every color and every style.

Nail Clippers – Babies scratch themselves. Do you need to buy baby size? Probably not. Use your own carefully, but make sure you have clippers.


What You Don’t Need—Probably

Even if you do need some of these items, you can wait until that need show up to be sure. You don’t need to buy these things before your baby is born.

A Nursery – Your baby doesn’t want to be away from you. You don’t need a separate room. If you have a few clothes and diapers, those can often fit in 1-2 drawers.

A Crib – If your baby is going to sleep in the family bed or in a co-sleeper (a sort of half bed that sits next to your bed), you don’t need a crib. I bought a crib, and my baby slept in it as a crib exactly zero times. When she was a baby, I used the crib to hold all of the baby stuff I didn’t use. The bed was convertible into a toddler bed, though, and she did sleep in it for a while when she chose from about 3 years to 5 years old.

Changing Table – I had one. I used it, but I didn’t need it. Most diaper changes happened on the bed. That changing table was convertible, and my kids now use it as a chest of drawers, so it was a good purchase for us, but it wasn’t essential.

Wipes Warmer – Yes, cold water will shock your baby during a diaper change, but it won’t hurt. Warm it with your hands first, if you are concerned. An electric, plastic box that warms baby wipes all day long is just not necessary.

Diaper Bag – Maybe. A go-bag dedicated to carrying your baby stuff is convenient, but you don’t necessarily need to buy a specific bag made for babies. You probably already have a bag that would work.

Breastfeeding Clothes – Most of the time, you can just lift your shirt or pull down your nightgown. I thought I needed a whole new wardrobe, so I ended up with a bunch of ugly, bulky clothes that I hated to wear because they were just dumpy. When you do buy breastfeeding clothing, buy a few essential pieces that let you convert the wardrobe you already have.

Breast Pump – I did actually use a hand pump for the few times I left my baby, but I would not have used an electric pump. I didn’t need it because we weren’t separated much. If you are separated from you baby—working all day, for example—taking an electric breast pump with you can be very helpful. This one depends completely on your needs.

Baby Bath – The sink usually gives you a close enough space to bathe your baby safely, since you probably will be holding the baby in your arm the whole time.

Baby Shoes – Since babies don’t walk, they don’t need to protect their feet with shoes. Think about it. Socks are enough for a newborn.

Snowsuit or Swimsuit – Birth season, your local weather, and your family’s activities should guide you. It is nice to have one of each for the right season.

A Stroller – If you shop a lot, you might want a stroller to hold your bags, but a baby carrier takes the place of a stroller. Once I had a toddler and a newborn, I sometimes put my toddler in a stroller when we were travelling fast, but I only had a lightweight, fold-up stroller. Not necessary for a baby.

Burp Cloths – Use a diaper. Simple.

Baby Monitor – You can monitor your baby without the use of a speaker system.

Toys – Newborns don’t even know yet that they have hands. Once they find them, their hands are toys enough for a while. You won’t need toys for a while, and, when you do, simple toys are best. Something to shake (a rattle) and something to squeeze (a soft doll) will do it.

I haven’t come close to addressing everything you might find on a list of baby essentials. You don’t need anything new that makes it easier for you to ignore your baby (like a mechanical arm that gives your baby a bottle—and, no, I’m not joking. I saw this at a baby trade show last year).

For most of the baby extras, wait until the need pushes you to seek a solution, then see if you can meet your need without buying. Buy new stuff and gadgets as a last resort.

What were your genuine essentials? What did I miss? I’m happy to add to the list.

More Baby on a Budget

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Holiday Stories for Solstice and Christmas

Mother reading to a child

As you create holiday traditions with your children, read to them. Read stories that explain each holiday, stories that help your children understand their role in the holiday, stories that explain how your family relates to the holiday. Read stories that spread joy of celebration. And, collect a pile of books you love to read over and over.

This year, knowing that holidays can sometimes creep up on us, I’ve posted holiday stories that you can find online at the last minute—the REAL last-minute when you can’t run out and buy a book.

It’s not too late for solstice today or Christmas next week. Here are a few holiday stories you can find online.

How to Build a Snowman with Your Sister

“How to Build a Snowman with Your Sister” is a short, sweet story of a raccoon boy and his little sister building a snowman. Read the text yourself, and look at the few illustrations. This is part of a collection at TLC (television channel). They have more stories, if you are looking for short, winter stories that aren’t necessarily connected to a holiday.

Lynn Plourde, The Blizzard Wizard

I love that “The Blizzard Wizard” is read aloud by the author in this video. Watch her reading and turning the pages of the book so you can see the illustrations. The story isn’t holiday focused, but it is a simple story of a wizard who makes snow for children who are eager for winter play. 8 minutes long.

Starhawk, A Visit to Mother Winter

“A Visit to Mother Winter” tells the story of two very different sisters who visit Mother Winter. This is one of the stories I read to my children. They are teenagers, but we read it last night for solstice. They still love hearing holiday stories. This is not necessarily a religious solstice story. It could fit into any winter holiday celebration.

If you are looking for a book, I love The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for Winter Solstice. I have this collection.

Twas the Night Before Christmas, read by Santa

This is a fun video of a Santa reading to children the story of Twas the Night Before Christmas. If you don’t have a copy of the book, this is an easy way to fit the story into your Christmas. He doesn’t show the illustrations, but you get to watch the children listening. 4:44 minutes.

My favorite Christmas movies are the Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials, like Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Those are available on DVD. If you need a Christmas movie for children quick, you can find the full movie of Winnie the Pooh and Christmas, Too on YouTube. (The books are better, but it’s there if you need it.)

Is your library still open? They might have a few Christmas stories left. Need a list? Check out Buzzfeed for 20 Children’s Christmas Books to Read Aloud. They give you a quick summary of each story AND why you should read it.

Have a bright Solstice, a Merry Christmas, and a beautiful winter holiday season.

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Lower Holiday Stress Through Compassionate Communication

Mother listening to a child

Are people around you all wound up and snappish? Despite all of the talk of happiness and joy, I find that people are more stressed and anxious leading up to the holidays. There are a lot of obligations to meet, school events, parties, cookies to bake, presents to finish, and everything starts to pile up. Our ambitions can get ahead of our capacities, and we get stressed. When we’re stressed, we might snap at others.

Underneath all of those actions, though, are often the best of intentions. We DO sincerely feel those best wishes we spread around. We ARE grateful for those teachers who open our children’s minds to new ideas. We DO feel joy when we see family members we don’t see nearly as often as we might like.

We feel those positive feelings underneath it all, but we still have that list of obligations to get through. Sometimes it is difficult to be present enough in the moment to focus on that deeper feeling.

For those stressful times to turn into negative experiences, it usually takes two people feeling bad and taking it out on another. I see that happening all around me.

On top of that, we are setting a pattern of expectations for our children. If holidays bring on a stressful time for our children, they will have a more difficult time feeling that joy year after year.

How do we stop the cycle of stress?

I suggest that you slow down just enough to bring compassion into your interactions with others. Recognize that the people around you are doing their best and falling short, just like you and I are. We all are. It’s OK! Extend a genuine smile, a handshake, a kiss on your child’s forehead as the stress starts to show around the edges.

Practice compassionate communication with your children, with the people around you, and even with yourself. That starts with listening and understanding what the other person feels.

Give yourself a break. If your expectations exceed your capacity, scale back. Let go of what isn’t working.

Have a joyful holiday season, and spread that joy to all you meet.

Are you interested in learning more about compassionate communication? A basic book that any parent can read is Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values. Another more specific to parenting is Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way. Follow the links below to IndieBound to find an independent bookseller in your area that carries either book.

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg, Raising Children Compassionately.

Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.