sleeping: things to do

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All sleeping schedules and guidelines by age are in

Choose a co-sleeper mattress, crib mattress, and eventually a mattress for the bed that is comfortable.

Many co-sleepers come with a simple mattress that doesn’t seem like it's going to be so comfortable.  Some babies love it-- my first child did not.  For my second, I purchased a lovely organic co-sleeper mattress (they cost about $110 but are well worth it) and we had much more success with our second daughter actually sleeping in the co-sleeper.  (Which of course we could attribute to many other things, but friends who bought the organic mattress for their first children were quite pleased with the results!)

For a crib keep in mind that you can use this mattress until your child is  3 or 4.  The foam mattresses are usually the highest rated, but I found them to be hard with no give.  We've been very successful with coil mattresses which also get good ratings and are much more comfortable.  Remember, you can’t use this mattress for more than one baby (SIDS have gone down drastically when each baby has a new mattress) but you can use it in the crib and take one side down when your child is old enough, and a crib mattress is the same size as a mattress for a toddler bed, if you purchase one.

Try to keep the room as dark as possible.  Everyone, adults and children, should sleep in a dark room.
Our eyelids are thin and our eyes work even if there is a little bit of light in the room.  Researchers are exploring links between light in bedrooms and nightlight use and childhood leukemias, myopia (nearsightedness—though preliminary reports indicate this seems unlikely) and adult cancers.

Look for window treatments that allow you to block all light and that you can adjust.  Blackout fabric is available from fabric stores and on-line if you want to come up with your own solution.

Think about purchasing a fan or white-noise machine. Depending upon where in their sleep cycle they are, babies can be woken up by noise.  When a baby or child is falling asleep is usually when he needs quiet.  Some white noise in the room or at the door to diffuse other sounds from the rest of the  apartment or house may help—running a fan or getting a noise machine is an easy way to buffer sound. 


Make sure you have a new crib mattress for each child.  Make sure you put your child to sleep on his back.  SIDS rates decrease dramatically as a result of both these steps.

But do I really have  to put my baby to sleep on her back? 
So many people ask me this question.  The answer is that according to all SIDS research, yes, you do.  Did I?  Do a lot of my friends?  Not necessarily.  And once she could turn herself, I would put her down on her back, but she would flip over immediately.

Sleeping and traveling are a strange mix.  A tired unpredictable child can seem impossible, and yet might also fall asleep randomly and allow you to enjoy a lunch or dinner at a restaurant in surprising calm.  If your children see certain people only when you travel (visiting grandparents, aunts, etc. and their behavior isn’t at its best, traveling can feel even more stressful).  When asked, these are things I’ve learned and still have to remind myself when we travel:

  • It will be unpredictable and I can’t plan anything that hinges on a specific nap or bedtime if we are going someplace that involves a time zone change or a plane ride
  • If we are going someplace for an extended period of time with a time zone change it takes about as many days as hours to be back on schedule, though the travel fairies always seem to give one hour as a bonus for longer journeys (ie. it takes about 5 days to adjust to a 6 hour time zone difference)
  • I will gently remind all the adults we are with, especially family members, that a tired child may not be at his or her best-- and to be as reasonable and make as few demands as possible when interacting with him
  • If you are going someplace for a weekend, I find it’s best (after much practice) to let go of expectations.  It won’t be the same kind of fun as the routine you have at home-- but it will be easier on you in almost every other way

Other adults have a lot of opinions about children and sleep, and many hear the word “schedule” as a subtle form of abuse-- “He doesn’t look tired!” -- this is the time to try a walk in the stroller for nap, or say you need to take a nap yourself-- I am very serious about helping my kids get the sleep they need, but I talk about it less than I did when they were young and I was new to it all.

If you travel to see grandparents think about what you can do to set everyone up for success.  You want to give people a heads-up without creating negative expectations.  Your child may surprise you and behave completely differently than he has in the past-- age and maturity bring many changes.  At the same time, if the same things happen you can let your family know it's because of traveling, not them:

  • Let your family know how your child usually acts when he or she is in a new place
  • Let your family know how your child usually acts when he or she is tired

Give your parents credit for knowing how to grandparent-- you can start sentences with:

  • “You’ve probably already noticed this,”
  • "You might remember from the last time,"
  • “You might notice,”
  • “It really surprised us but,”

Give your parents/in-laws credit for all the social arranging they will be doing, while reminding them of your needs:

  • “We’re so excited to see Aunt Joan and Uncle Scott-- can we plan a lunch so Jane will be at her best?” or “We’re really looking forward to seeing Aunt Joan and Uncle Scott-- can we plan a brunch so Jane won’t be at the end of her day when she meets them?”
  • “You never know, but we’re pretty sure when we get there we will need to (take a rest, take a walk, sit in the living room, read a book) can we plan the (family lunch, brunch, get together) for our second or third day in town?”
  • I know we’re planning a big dinner out-- Jane might be tired, is there a restaurant where she can be a bit noisy, or one where a place we can bring the stroller inside in case she’ll need to sleep?
  • I know we’re planning a big dinner out-- I was thinking for that night it would best to hire a babysitter-- a tired Eli in a restaurant won’t be fun for anyone
  • I know you’ll take care of Eli if he fusses at dinner, it’s not quite the same as it was when he was an infant
  • I know you want everyone to meet her-- could we arrange an afternoon visit so Eli will be at his cutest?

Give your parents/in-laws credit for all the work they are doing to prepare for your arrival-- if you know they would like to have something to do, ask for things that are brand name and easy to get (diapers, baby wipes, baby food-- but always have items you definitely need in case they buy the wrong ones and that will matter-- different brands are marketed in different cities). If you are nervous about them borrowing an old crib or crib and mattress, from early on talk about your amazing lightweight travel crib (of which there are two great ones on the market one by Baby Bjorn and one by Phil&Ted’s).

I’ve had friends ask me what I do when we are traveling for a special occasion that involves a nighttime event.  We’ve had a number of family events that involved a plane ride and then two nights in a row of family events. 

When I had a baby I would bring:

  • a sling (matching the clothes I brought to the sling-- such a new mom thing to do and of course black sling/clothes made this easy)
  • infant car seat
  • stroller,
  • some kind of covering for the stroller that could block light. 

This gave me many options-- one time my daughter fell asleep in the car seat under the table (I rocked the seat with my foot for a while).  I carried my other daughter in a sling for an entire wedding-- she barely woke up at all.  The stroller allowed me to take all the family members who offered to help up on their offers to push my exhausted child around to fall asleep or stay sleeping.

When we brought toddlers I would make sure to have the stroller as traveling scheules are so unpredictable.

Now I find that the first night away is the easiest-- they are wired and excited for a while and if there are young cousins around they make everything easier-- until that point-- when the child hits that wall and you know you need to leave-- as soon as possible.  Getting out when it’s time is key-- my husband and I now instantly recognize that look when one of us realizes first, if not at the same time, that “Now is the time.”

The second day usually involves letting non-napping children fall asleep in the car-- even if it means driving around for a while, which can seem a bit like a waste of time but usually pays off. It also gives kids a chance to take a break and have a moment to re-group.

As the kids get older it gets easier for them, and I relax more.  It’s a balance between wanting kids to be at their best, wanting to seem like Fairly-Cool-and-With-It-Mom rather than Not-Crazy-Regimented-Mom, wanting the kids to enjoy themselves and remember the trip fondly.



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