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the crib sheet

The worst sleep advice out there!

Brooke Nalle

Let's face it.  In life, there are people and places that give terrible advice, about anything and everything.  When I was in college, a girl at the dining hall revealed her big weight loss secret to a bunch of us struggling with the freshman 15: stop eating fat and only eat carbs.  I thought that was brilliant and happily gobbled down 2 bagels covered in jam for the next 9 months for most meals.  Let's just say I neither looked nor felt healthy.

The bad advice continued through my 20s (a lot of it revolved around careers and cocktails) and then when I hit my 30s the parenting bad advice started.

I should pause here though, because I have gotten a lot of fabulous advice these past several decades.  I could write a lot about the good advice coming from very wise and resourceful friends, but that might be boring (at least for the purpose of this little missive).

That said, I could write pages and pages on bad parenting advice, but tonight I will narrow my focus.  

So here you go...

The top 10 WORST Sleep Tips...

1. Keep your baby up all day so he will sleep at night.

2. My baby slept through the night at 8 weeks; I bet yours is ready too!

3. Give him rice cereal to keep him full all night.

4. Let her sleep in a loud noisy environment; life is loud and noisy.

5. You are a bad mother if you let her cry.

6. You are a bad mother if you bring him into your bed.

7. Keep her up super late, and then she will sleep super late.

8. Just do cry it out until it works.

9. You are a bad mother if you don't let him cry.

10. It is too late to sleep train; you might as well accept your situation.

I am sure you all could add to this list, it's just a start.



It's here! Springing forward - - one step closer to spring

Brooke Nalle

As I write this, I am looking at the tundra outside my office window, wondering just what is waiting for me under all of that snow.  A friend of mine just discovered a racoon popsicle on her deck and is going to have to remove it with the spring thaw.  She is not thrilled, and I am now wondering about the possum who lives or lived under our deck.  Either way, bring on the spring thaw and let's get these kids outside, moving around, getting some vitamin D, and better sleep.

To kick off the spring, here are my top three tips for handling the time change:

1. DO NOTHING (this is my favorite, because I always mean to do something but very often end up doing nothing): That's right.  Just put them to bed at the old time and let them wake up to the new time.  Run your day on the new time, moving meals, snacks, and naps to the new time.  Bedtime might be a little rocky for a few days, but maybe this is your chance to get that super early sleeper to bed a little bit later.  This also might be time to experience a day without that impossible 3rd nap.  This approach takes a day or two to even out and is better for more flexible sleepers.

2. DO SOMETHING in advance (this for those of you who are 'on it'): Start moving towards the new time 15 minutes each day.  The key here is to move everything 15 minutes - meals, snacks, bottles, nursing, naps, and of course bedtime.  You will be living your new scheudle and feeling very comfortable come Monday morning when the rest of the world is a little off their game.

3. DO SOMETHING after the fact (this is for those of you who couldn't get on it this week, have a sensitive sleeper, and need to do small steps to get adjusted): The time will change and you are going to react to this change slowly but surely.  You will back into the new time each day by 15 minutes, moving everything closer to the new time, hoping to get there in 3-5 days.  Here is an example: It is 7pm new time (but feels like 6pm old time).  Your baby isn't tired until 8pm new time.  If you want that 7pm bedtime, then put him to bed at 7:45 new time, then 7:30, then 7:15, then 7.  


Hope this all makes sense.  For some reason, time change instructions make my head hurt and feel like I am doing logic problems with little success.

Good luck and have fun!

I am selfish

Brooke Nalle

I feel guilty.  Is it selfish?  I really wanted to be a mother, but I am just so tired.  I miss my old life, my pre-baby body, my Saturday mornings, my Thursday nights.  I know I shouldn't look forward to work, but I need to get out of here! 

Let me be clear, just because you wanted to and for many of you fought hard to become a parent, it doesn't mean that you have to punish yourself for the next I don't know 18-30 years.  You should miss these things, these memories of adventure, energy, endless weekends, thrilling professional opportunities, cute outifts for a night out, or even better a new bikini for a get away.  I sure do miss them.  I look at pictures of myself 10 years ago, and I can't help but say out loud again and again, "wow, I looked so young".  

I am going to go out on a limb and say that we should more often tap into these memories, these desires for independence, for accomplishment outside the nursery walls.  It is not weak to want your baby to sleep so that you can sleep.  It is not selfish to look at and even apply for jobs that you know you shouldn't consider.  In fact, if I ran an online diaper company website, I would sell cute clothes, shoes, and accessories for moms so that my customers could get one small break from ordering wipes and lotions and of course diapers.  

I love being a mother, but I am not a martyr.  I complain a lot and look for ways to catch a break here or there.  I started small - - a detour from the grocery store to get a cup of coffee before I got home, dinner by myself.  On the sleep front, I took work that required me to be out of the house at bedtime and believe it or not, my husband was able to put the children to bed without me.  In fact, I think Loewy was a better sleeper because of it.  I met friends for a quick drink after work, and boy oh boy I was tired the next day, but I was happy. 

I work with women who need to work to feel better, and I work with women who need to not work to feel better.  I help families who have no choice but to work and wish they could change that.  These parents might initially seem very different, but they do have quite a bit in common.  They all feel guilty for wanting or having to work (or not work); they all feel selfish for wanting to sleep and get a break.  I understand that.  I wish I could change it, but I can't even get rid of my own guilt about working, needing a break.  However I can say with confidence that I respect a parent who is willing to say that this is tough, much tougher than she thought it would be.  Honestly, I think the choice to take a moment and be kind to yourself is heroic and one of the best things you can do as a parent.

I am thankful for ...

Brooke Nalle

Every day I drop Loewy off at pre-school I walk by the beautiful class projects that adorn the hallways.  I love to see what everyone is being for Halloween, which play dough color won the vote on election day, and my personal favorite, what each child is thankful for.  Like many of us, they are thankful for their families, their siblings, and like many of us they are thankful for fun things too, "my toys", is a popular one.

This morning Loewy proudly pointed out her piece a rainbow and grass drawing - her two favorite subjects - and I read her submission, "I am thankful for my birthday".  I smiled because naturally she loves this day that celebrates her, and shouldn't we all be a little more thankful for our own grown up birthdays?  

Back in the car, I started to consider whether I, like Loewy, am thankful for my birthday.  This is tough to answer because this year's birthday was pretty epically horrible in a very mom way.  I'll go in order of the day:

1. 4am wake up to take Loewy to the bathroom (her winter pjs make it almost impossible for her to do it herself).

2. Never able to get back to sleep because sadly now that my children sleep, I sometimes can't.

3. Alistair emerges with a fever, call to the doctor.

4. Take Alistair to the doctor and then drive myself to the doctor to deal with a sinus infection that won't go away.

5. Decide to turn the day around and take Alistair and Loewy out to lunch.

6. Loewy doesn't eat, just picks at her food (see photo).

7. Grumpy afternoon, leave early for birthday dinner.

8. Parallel parking on a very busy and dark street, finally into the spot, to turn my head and watch Loewy projectile vomit her lunch, milkshake included (see photo), all over me, the car, and her sister.

9. Home to clean the car and eat pizza picked up by my husband.

10. To bed, happy to end this birthday.

Later via email, I grimly recounted this tale to my husband's Aunt Kerry (an uber mom of 4 amazing, now grown up, boys).  She sagely remarked, "Wow, that was a perfect mom day."  She was right, so right.

Loewy is on to something.  I am thankful for my birthday because these experiences reminded me of who I have become these last 10 years.  I like the difference of celebrating a birthday as a mom as compared to the all about me celebrations I celebrated my first 29 years.  I won't lie to you it was not a pleasant day, and I was exhausted by the end.  I also am eagerly planning my escape to a spa day my husband generously purchased for me for my birthday- a chance to forget being a mom, even if it's just for a few hours.

Happy Thanksgiving!

we went on vacation and forgot to pack sleep

Brooke Nalle

Fireworks, in multiple locations, multiple nights in a row?  A pack and play that is safe but super uncomfortable?  Naps on the go for your crib sleeper?  Does your family think letting your baby cry is the worst thing in the world?  Or does your family think you don't let your baby cry enough?

Sound familiar?

Here are some tips to save (what's left) of your vacation or to help you get your next vacation a little more vacation-like:

1. If your child is refusing, really refusing to nap with you, i.e. screeching in the pack and play while you deal with the awkward silence from your relatives or freaked out fellow guests, take him out, change his diaper, feed him, calm him down, reset his buttons, and try again about 45 minutes later.  This time sit quiety in the room where he can see you and shush/sing quiety, reassuringly.

2. Make use of an experienced friend or relative - I recently had the pleasure of helping my sister in law with my nephew's naptime.  It really was a pleasure for me (crazy, right?), and she was able to get a break.  As soon as her son realized he was getting my loving arms, not hers, he decided that maybe a nap was a good idea after all.  The same applies for bedtime.

3.  Give your baby as many safe reminders of home as possible - same white noise, same lovey, same book.  Give it 3 nights, and bedtime should get better, naps too.

4.  Either sit by the door or near the crib, reassure your baby in this new environment, you can then progress to just outside the door or check-ins every now and then.

5. Check out local babysitting services.  We recently attended a wedding on Block Island, and I was really impressed with the babysitters available to help us.  They were very experienced and happily took on our routines and sleep expectations.  

Your baby is self-soothing for sleep if she ...

Brooke Nalle

Raise your hand (virtually) if your baby ~

thrashes his head back and forth in the crib,

lifts up her feet and slams them down on the mattress,

hums or moans in the crib,

pushes her face hard up against any hard surface,

scoots to the crib railing and sleeps pushed up against them in a seemingly very uncomfortable position.

 This is just a partial list of activities that your baby does to self-regulate (get physically, mentally, and emotionally comfortable) so that she can fall asleep and sleep well for a cycle or two and eventually more.  So let your baby slam his legs, sing, moan, scoot to the side of the crib; if you give him the space to get himself comfortable on his own then you will be creating a healthy, happy, and independent sleeper.  Next time you want to readjust your baby, just imagine how mad you would be if you finally got comfortable and someone moved you to the other end of your bed.  

As long as your baby is safe, then let him enjoy and express his free will in the crib.

How to bribe ... I mean, incentivize, your sleeper(s)

Brooke Nalle

I will cut right to the chase here.  I have had personally very little success bribing my children to stay in bed later, stay in their rooms, rest quietly during nap time.  Professionally, I have seen very few families have solid success with incentive programs.  I have heard of promised toys, promised treats, even promised vacations - trip to Disney World if you stay in your room until 7.  I also have seen (and engaged in myself admittedly) empty threats, promised cancellations for play dates, loss of tv, loss of iPad, and so on.

That said, they could work.  I can say so with confidence because it's working for me right now in my house!  Granted my son is older and his incentives are about doing homework, piano practice, and being nice to his sister.


Here's my advice: 

make your incentive small and immediate - if you stay in your room until 6am (for example) you can have a treat at breakfast, a special surprise ... pancakes with Hershey kisses?  A new creature from a creature tube?  A temporary tattoo?
do not threaten to take away anything in the heat of the moment because you probably will not be able to stick to it in the morning.
make sure that your prize isn't too hard to earn or too conceptual - sometimes a trip to the toy store doesn't make as much sense to your child as you think it might.  
put some prizes in some sort of see through container that can visually motivate your child.  Tell them they can pick a prize if they successfully complete their sleep challenge.

Finally - make your sleep challenge or goal realistic for your sleeper.  If he wakes up every day at 5:30, make his goal to stay in his room until 5:45, then move it to 6 and so on.  Or if you want to teach a rest time, start with 10 minutes a day and then go from there.


One last little nugget of advice.  Make sure that the comforts of you and/or the entertainment that you offer in the early morning isn't too much of an incentive for your sleeper to wake early.  If playing games, watching tv, or having yummy snacks is your go to plan to survive until a respectable hour, then you might want to make the early morning less fun.

spring cleaning - it's not just for your closet

Brooke Nalle

Once again we are approaching a good season for change.  Spring is coming, our clocks are springing forward, and sweet mother nature is teasing us East Coasters with one warm day and snow the next.  We spring clean our closets, our homes, and why not, our lives, our partners, our children, our sleepers.

This crib sheet is dedicated to those of you who are trying desprately to change something ... to spring forward and tackle a sleep challenge that has been beating you up all winter.

If you are trying to change early rising ... embrace this new time change, but remember move your naps and your meals too, shift the whole day.  Use the daylight to adjust your child's clock - get him out in the fresh air and sunshine (hopefully) to set these new patterns.

If you are trying to change naps ... think carefully about where you want your baby/toddler to nap and teach them how to nap there, figure out the best awake interval, and tackle one nap a day offering a back up or emergency nap for the non training naps.  That said, if you rock - hold to sleep and want to teach crib napping then avoid rocking and holding for naps that are not going well.  You also should not rescue your napper just because his nap in the crib was too short.  By this I mean don't run in when he wakes, pick him up and rock him back to sleep.

If you have a baby or toddler in your bed, and you are ready to move them to their own bed or crib, then consider the following:


  • Are you really ready, 100% ready, so that you can respond calmly with conviction that you support this chage.
  • Will your toddler understand this switch?  If so, go for it!  He will still protest, but at least he undersands what you are doing and why (you can tell him).
  • Is your sleeper too young to understand stay in your bed all night (under 2/2.5 years usually), then come up with a good way to keep her safe and secure in her room or keep her in the crib until she gets it.


If you are trying to change your bedtime routine, make it calmer, more efficient, then think about what you dread the most.  Bathtime?  Move it to an earlier time, even before dinner.  Endless books?  Earlier in the day, before dinner ideally, choose the 3 books you plan to read at bedtime, but them in a special place and only read those books, no  matter what.

Finally whatever change you are working on, tell a friend, tell your partner, get some moral support and maybe some good advice.  Create accountability for this project.

Just think once you are finished cleaning up sleep in your house, you will have so much more energy to devote to other spring cleaning projects (taxes, files, drawers, garages, baby clothes....).

Good luck!


giving the gift of sleep

Brooke Nalle

Like many of you, my holiday season isn't feeling too festive yet.  I am working, parenting, working and parenting, and I am not really sure how I am going to get my holiday game on.  So to kick off the holiday spirit, I am going to offer a few little sleep nuggets to help you and your family this holiday season.  

1. If you want your son or daughter to sleep through the night, then you need to help them learn at bedtime ... not at 1 in the morning (for the first time).  No one likes that kind of surprise, especially a baby or a toddler.

2. You don't need to cry it out, but you do need to be consistent and confident.  Whatever approach you try, do it consistently for at least 3 nights - and start at bedtime!

3.  Naps and nighttime are apples and oranges - work on bedtime first and hold your baby and get cozy for naps.  Let them sleep during the day so they will be ready and feeling less frazzled at bedtime.  You also will feel better if you didn't listen to a crying baby all day.

4. Don't let your mother, sister, brother-in-law, babysitter (or your best friend) tell you what to do about sleep - do what feels right for you and your sleeper.

5. Travel with reminders of home for your sleeper - bring the white noise, the sheet (if you can), the lovey, and so on.  Offer naps on the go and offer your sleeper a little more support if she needs it.  This isn't a regression; this is a vacation (HA!*)

6. If you have a very strong feed to sleep association that you need to change, then use your partner or a beloved family member or babysitter, and let them teach your baby a new way to go to sleep.  It will take about 3 nights, and you will be amazed by your sleeper's new skills.

7. Finally, give yourself a break, accept and love the 'mess'.  My uncle Dini calls it, 'x-mess'.  The New Year is right around the corner, and who doesn't love a good resolution?


*travel with children is a trip, not a vacation, to clarify

One step (hour) forward, two steps back (ugh)

Brooke Nalle

I have been stressing about the fall time change for the past 8 years.  When my son was newly sleep trained at 8 months, I broadcasted loudly to my friends and colleagues just how lucky I was to finally have such a good sleeper.  The more seasoned (no pun intended) parents smiled and me and inquired how I would handle the time change coming our way in just a few days.  My smile faded and stress sunk in.  My newly minted 6am sleeper (trust me this was a big improvement) might now get up at 5?

I have learned both personally and professionally that there are a few ways to handle this extra fun sleep challenge.  Who doesn't love a good ol' sleep challenge to test your wits and patience.  

1. Be proactive -

If your sleeper is under 3, shift bedtime and naps ahead in small increments - 15 minutes usually works - over the course of 3 to 5 days.  You can spread it out over a week if you want.  You might spend a few days with a 1:15 nap before you shift to a 1:30 nap, but your goal is to get to the full hour before Sunday at 2am.

If your sleeper is 3 and up, you can shift the day forward in a bigger increment over the course of just a few days, maybe 20 minutes one day, 30  minutes the next and then boom the full hour in time for the change.

2. Thought I would be proactive this year, but never got around to it (usually my case)

  • Do what you were going to do above but do it over the course of 3 days after the time change, small shifts to the new time, bigger shifts for your older child. 
  • Embrace the chaos, move right to the new time, the days and wake ups will be bumpy but you will get there after 3 days or so.  Follow the suggestions below about moving eating schedules and light and sunshine to ease the transition.

The key to working ahead of the game is to shift meals too.  The easiest way to shift a sleep schedule is to shift an eating schedule at the same time.  

If your sleeper is up early keep the lights off or low until the 'morning' and then use light to cue the daytime and get outside into the sun as much as possible during awake times.

More wisdom from the prairie

Brooke Nalle

I think my husband Graham put it exactly right.  After finishing up a chapter featuring clear directions on how to slaughter and clean a hog and then cross a river, "If I ever plan a wagon ride across the country with our family, I am going to bring Laura Ingalls Wilder's set of books: Little House on the Prairie, and that's all we'll need."

He's right.  These books of course make me think about the great family sleep you get on such a journey on the Prairie from the long, slow, rocking of the wagon luring Baby Carrie to sleep to the warm fire and sounds of Pa's fiddle sending the big girls off into sweet dreams, night after night.  Besides if you are a toddler transitioning to a big girl bed then why would you ever leave your nice heavy blankets and cozy spot next to your sister, especially if the fire is out, there is frost on the floor, and there are wolves howling outside?  

My youngest sleeper is 3 now, and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about discipline as she hits and kicks whenever I dare take her to the bathroom, she hits and kicks whenever she is the car for too long, and just generally hits and kicks when life doesn't go her way.  She has great language skills and loves to share her thoughts, except when she's angry.  In my hope to help her - her siblings, and selfishly, me - I have once again returned to the Ingalls family and their guide for Prairie travel as well as parenting.  

Here are my two fundamental questions to Ma an Pa Ingalls and in italics how they might respond*:

- Why do your daughters listen to you? 

They listen to us because we keep them safe.  Our rules aren't just about being polite and being respectful; they are about staying healthy and alive.  Feeling safe in a family is really important to a child - whether it's literally keeping the wolves out - or being kind and thoughtful to a sibling.

- Why are your daughters such good sleepers?

They are physically exhausted.  Your kids would be too if they had tasks that kept their bodies moving all day too.  They also have great wind down routines to cue the end of the day.  We give them heavy blankets that trigger a calming effect - the same idea of swaddling a baby.  Finally we don't make getting out of bed alluring.  Outside the warm, safe, bed, it is cold, dark and most importantly boring.

- Pa, how do you find time to play the fiddle after such a long day?

I think it is important to show my children my interests and talents  I also like ending the day spending time together that is calming rather than exhilarating.  It works for all of us!


I am going to try to channel my innner Pa Ingalls and get Loewy to ease up on the hitting, hopefully your future bedtimes will be a little less fraught.


*I can't help but assume the voices of Ma and Pa.  I have been reading these books for 2 years, and they are very much a part of my parenting fabric for now.  It's either them or Percy Jackson (Alistair's favorite) or Toot and Puddle (Loewy's favorite). 

sleepy jitters - a paradox worth fixing

Brooke Nalle

No matter how old your sleeper is you have probably encountered a situation like this:

My (insert age) was outside all day, playing, rolling, running, climbing, and more.  He had a great dinner, a calm bath, and now instead of acting sleepy is super animated and showing no signs of being tired.  

For young children, missing the sleep window is a big deal.  In fact, the probability of bedtime quickly fades and is replaced with a mini-version of the London Olympics in your living room.  For older children, missing the sleepy window is very much connected to missing the chance to truly wind down from the day.  You might not get physical hysterics.  Instead, you might find yourself dealing with bedtime anxiety.    

I have named these scenarios the sleepy jitters, and I find this combination both paradoxical and very frustrating.  Your 4 month old should have been asleep hours ago or your 7 year old has to get some sleep because he has to wake up by 7 to catch the bus and pay attention in school all day and more.  In both cases, you know what they need and in both cases you need to be proactive rather than reactive to avoid this mixed bag of anxious/energy filled jitters at bedtime. 

Here are a few tips for young sleepers ...


  • Pick a bedtime based on the nap schedule of your sleeper.  You should pick an age appropriate 'awake' window between the last nap and bedtime.  For example, a 10 month old, can probably go about 4 hours between the end of his last nap and bedtime (if he had two good naps that day).  A 6 month old baby will have a 2 to 3 hour widow, and a 22 month old might have a stretch closer to 5 hours.  These are just guidelines and examples from families I have worked with recently.  Observe your sleeper and design your own 'awake' window, you can always adjust.
  • Do not start your routine when your sleeper is tired because by the time you are finished she will be over tired.
  • Allow plenty of physical contact in the pre-bedtime hour or so.  It settles a young body for sleep and reaffirms a secure attachment.
  • If you were gone all day and want to spend time with your child before bed, do so keeping in mind the quality vs. quantity approach.  Attachment theorists have said that even 20 solid minutes a day between parent and baby solidifies the attachment.


Here are a few tips for older sleepers (who worry, get anxious, and struggle to fall asleep):


  • No screens at least an hour before bed, ideally more.
  • A good long bath even for an older child is very calming, restorative and a great addition to a bedtime routine.
  • Tight hugs, pressure orientated touch.
  • No rich, caffeine filled, or sugary desserts after dinner.  Instead offer a treat after school and something a little more sedate after dinner.
  • End your routine with a happy story about your little sleeper.
  • Introduce a family photo book featuring joyful memories (not pictures of everyone at Grandma's funeral).
  • Address what is making them nervous, let them talk about it and process it out loud.  Validate your sleeper's feelings and then put a sleep friendly plan of action into place.
  • Introduce a worry doll or pillow to tuck anxiety away for the night.  I just found out about hushlings and think they are a great idea!


So as summer wraps up and back to school begins, hope these tips help de-stress bedtime and make going to sleep a little more sleepy -

the blessings of the nap gods

Brooke Nalle

The other night it was 80+ degrees in the house ... at 8pm.  We are in Rhode Island where we are supposed to have cool crisp New England nights for good sleeping weather; let's just say these cool nights are fewer and further in between.  However, this is a post about naps not global warming.  I knew that it would be another hour or so before the kids' room would be cool enough to consider sleep.  I glanced over at Loewy, my newly minted 3-year old, and quickly thanked the nap gods for returning her nap to us this summer.  She had a few weeks in May and early June when it just wasn't happening.  She made it to 9pm without any major meltdowns, and we all got some sleep that hot night.

I am usually pretty private when it comes to religion and spirituality, but I must admit I have prayed to the sleep gods on more than one occasion.  I do think 90% of sleep for children is behavioral, 5% medical (reflux, sleep apnea), and 5% luck.  In my work, I rarely meet great sleepers.  I meet a lot of children who eventually become great sleepers, but that is from hard work, persistence, and consistency - not magic.  I do feel though that there are some children who just naturally are really good at sleeping.  Usually these babies have large PR firms behind them because it seems like everyone has a sister, a friend, a neighbor, somebody, with an aaaaahhhhmazzzzing sleeper.  You hear about them everywhere.  

As for naps, if you are already praying hard or really crossing your fingers, here are three tips that will help too:

1. Time it right, and try to get these times to repeat on a daily basis.  It helps to have the first morning naps begin no earlier than 8 am (for the 4 month old plus set).  It also helps to shoot for an afternoon nap between 1 and 2 pm (a time of quiet brain activity).  Keep the windows between naps in control - ideally about 90 to 120 minutes - for the 4 to 6+ month olds out there.

2. If your baby needs you to rock, bounce, nurse, jiggle, etc. her to sleep, then she will need that same treatment when she wakes up a short time later.  This would be ok, but a good nap is usually 2 sleep cycles (90 minutes total).  This means a lot of work not always with certain success.  When your baby can run her own nap, she will nap longer and in more predicable time frames.

3. Be prepared for the nap hurdles.  These are the same annoying hiccups that disrupt nighttime sleep - milestones, teeth, illness, travel.  You might need to help your baby a little bit more.  It also really helps to have a back up or 'emergency' nap plan in place.  I had to implement my back up nap plan quite a bit with my middle daughter.  As a result, I know every drive through coffee place and atm in the tri-state area.

Hope these tips help and that luck is on your side.

expecting the unexpected

Brooke Nalle

I am trying to remember the first time I learned that my life is no longer about me.  It probably should have been when I entered into a serious relationship with my now husband.  I should have learned then about partnership and sharing.  I kind of did, but not really.  Honestly, I like order, I like predictability, and I especially like certainty.  Parenting however overthrows all three of my favorite 'likes' and replaces them with the great wide land of the unexpected.  

I didn't expect that pregnant for only a few weeks with my first child, I would be diving into a frigid coastal Maine river to rescue our old dog who got spooked off of the path by a squirrel.  I didn't expect that my first born would spend a week in the NICU at St. Lukes for a rash; I didn't expect that my 2-year old would go truly mental when my daughter was born (we are still recovering from that one); and I didn't expect that I would be a children's sleep coach when sleep was for so many years to bane of my existence.  Perhaps that's why I am passionate (ummm, more like obsessed) with children and their families sleeping as well as they possibly can.  

Yes, it is true, my life is no longer about me - I can prove this argument with the sheer amount of unexpected factors in my life that force me to turn my attention to my family as a whole and not to my own needs and desires.  I realize that when I am changing a diaper and I have needed to pee for 6 hours and still haven't had a moment to go.  I realize that when I pull amazing recipes from the NY Times or Bon Appetit but end up eating way more nuggets and cucumbers than I ever expected.  Do you realize that you will probably eat more pizza in your first 5 years of being a parent that you did over all of the years of possible pizza eating before children?

The point of all of this is that to feel better about this new and seemingly permanent condition, I have decided to embrace expecting the unexpected.  In doing so, I can find order and rationality in the very relentless yet rewarding irrational world of parenting.

Here are a few tips with regards to sleep so you can plan for and anticipate the unexpected because it will happen:

1. Your child will climb out of the crib or fall of the bed long before you are prepared for this event - drop the mattress all the way down, put the mattress on the floor, teach them that 'we do not climb in cribs', or put them in a sleep suit or pajamas that restricts their climbing.

2. You so dodged that stomach virus bullet ... oh wait you didn't ... have a change or sheets ready, or any in case of emergency crib vomit plan.  A friend of mine always has two layers on her son's crib - mattress pad, sheet + mattress pad, sheet.

3.  Your perfect two nap a day sleeper stops napping or stages a pretty intense protest - look at windows of time and see if the naps need to shift later, be cut shorter, or call for a longer wind down period.  When my youngest turned 2, she fought her nap hard for 3 weeks straight.  I kept at it, and she is upstairs napping happily while I write this.  Win for Mommy.

4. She was fine during the day, but now she has coxsackie or an ear infection or some other awful, truly, truly awful sleep destroyer - know how much motrin or tylenol she needs, have a thermometer that works, and have the medicine in stock in your house.

5. Embrace a few bad nights - they happen.  It doesn't mean that you failed or are failing.  If you worry that you are creating a sleep monster, take a step back, get some goals together and formulate a plan that you can stick with.  

Finally I would like to dedicate this piece to my beautiful sister in law Robin who in the final weeks of her pregnancy is dealing with the unexpected with grace and unparalleled strength.  I can't wait to meet her sweet, sweet baby. 

Getting ready for bed

Brooke Nalle

I love to hear about a good bedtime routine.  Some of my clients reveal the spa-like services they offer their sleeper, other reveal the threats and/or bribes they issue right before bed.  Some are anxious about how bedtime will unravel, dreading the tears and the multiple trips back and forth from crib to kitchen and back again.  Others have given up; curling up on the floor of their sleepers room with an ipad for company.

In the end, we all share the common task as parents, we need to get our baby, our toddler, our 1st grader ready for bed, pretty much every night.  We read, brush teeth, bathe, bottle, massage, sing, nurse, pacify, and more.  It is a lot of work, and I get pretty sick of it some nights.  Actually, I keep pausing to write this, because we are away for the weekend and the novelty of the new room is a little too stimulating for two sisters, and I keep hearing cries for me.  

I have finally become resigned to my fate - or maybe I gave up long ago, but I have decided to shift some of the bedtime routine to my respective sleepers.  I don't mean that they will have to file up the stairs singing so long fare well like the well behaved Von Trapp children.  Rather I need to think, and you can too: how can they do a little self-soothing to prepare for sleep with parental guidance rather than direct involvement.  

Here are some of my ideas based on recent experiences with clients:

1. Do you have a baby or toddler who loves the bath? Let them swim!  Sign them up for swim class during the day, take them for a dip at a neighborhood pool, or find a kid friendly fountain (Natural History museum anyone?).  This doesn't have to happen before bedtime, just some point in the day.  If you can't swing a day swim trip, do a big play bath.  Also don't start the bath when your baby is melting down.  Try to time it a full hour before bedtime.

2.  Heavy lifting - babies and toddlers are furiously working on understanding their bodies and how they work.  Let them push furniture, carts, piles of toys, and so on.  They like to feel weight and the success of using their bodies to alter their landscape.  

3. Let a baby/toddler/even older child carry a task out to fruition.  Think how good you feel when you get something accomplished - like bedtime:)  If your toddler is working through a puzzle or a block tower, let him complete his task.  If your baby desparetely wants to roll, practice, practice, practice, helping her to realize her goal.

4. Figure out and respect independent self-soothing skills, from head pushing, pressure seeking activities, to the need to roll around and thrash around in the crib.  Let these sleepers scratch their itch so to speak.

5. Create a womb-like environment as you prepare for bedtime, give your child pressure on both sides of his body, sandwich him in between you and the arm of a chair, or between you and a pillow.  Give his body pressure as you carry out your routine tasks.  Diapering, teeth, bottle and so on, can be supplemented with strong consistent pressure, pats, squeezes to help your baby unwind.  

6.  Last but not least, work with your child's sleepy cues.  If he is tired, but his bedtime is 30 minutes away.  Go with the tired not the clock; it usually is a win win answer every time.

Keep your eyes on your sleepers, they often have good instincts ... they just need a little independence.  



practice what I preach

Brooke Nalle

If you let your child cry for 40 minutes and then pick them up, you have taught said child to cry for at least 40 minutes at anytime ... sleep fact, like set in stone, 10 Commandment-esque sleep fact.

It sounds so good when I say it.  It makes so much sense.  I bring up the pigeon intermittent reinforcement scenario too - another great visual, pigeons freaking out when sometimes they get food, sometimes they don't.  You then picture your child/baby like a pigeon waiting for food - they got it yesterday, but not tonight?

It all comes down to consistency.  I know that I can get behind consistency.  I use it in my work; I use it in my personal life.  My middle child knows that not eating dinner means no dessert ... ever.  I am really good about being consistent in this regard.  

Meet Loewy.  She is, as we like to call her, the good one.  She asks to go to sleep, she cleans up, she eats her meals, her snacks, finds fun in errands with mommy, tolerates babysitters, brother's baseball games, sister's playdates.  Everything was going swimmingly, until Loewy met the ipad.

I purchased the ipad for work.  Yes, that's right federal and state government.  I use it for work.  First I have to wipe the smudges up and clean the screen before I can share with clients the 5 factors that keep babies from sleeping well.   It all goes back to when Loewy met Elmo, and then she met the ipad, and then I read a great NYTimes article about great apps for kids.  

So now, Loewy meets Elmo, she meets the ipad, she meets Elmo on the ipad ... and here is where we have our problem.

My sweet Loewy used to wake up, calling softly, "Mommy, I miss you."  How sweet is that?  Now, however, she wakes up and calls, "Mommy, ipad."  Not as sweet.  

Here is where the problem of consistency or rather inconsistency gets started: Sunday morning = ok to use the ipad, Monday morning = not ok to use the ipad, Wednesday? Mommy's very sleepy, = ok to use the ipad.  How does Loewy react?  Like that pigeon!  I have trained her to freak out - a crazy, pigeon-esque freak out, because she knows that somehow, some way, she will eventually get it.

Ok, I know, this is so my fault, and truly inexusable.  I am like a dermatologist who frequents a tanning bed.  It is high time I practice what I preach.  

We started this weekend (so unfair, I was really tired).  Morning 1 - lots of cyring, whining, finally ok with books, moring 2 - lots of crying and whining, chucked books at cat, hit Daddy (nicely played), morning 3?  Not as bad, we read Marvin K. Mooney and Dinosaur Train, and then it was time to get up anyway.  I am gearing up for morning 4; the books are ready.  The ipad will be charging ... far away.

white noise machine lament

Brooke Nalle

I want to pay tribute to a good friend who has travelled with me these past 8 years, who has come to my rescue when our power went out, and who has given me the sweet sound of rain ... even when it is raining.

Nearly 8 years ago, I charged into our local Radio Shack - morningside heighters, you know the one, and found you, sweet white noise machine.  You were small, took batteries, and could plug in to the wall.  You even offered an aroma function; sadly I never got to try this 'interesting' feature.  Together we hit Greenwich, CT, Rhode Island, Maine, Florida, New Hampshire, St. Martin, Philadelphia, Virginia, Death Valley, and more.  When the grown ups or big kids made noise, I thought of you.  When the roosters crowed, I smiled sweetly at you.

You worked hard over the years, and you, good friend, have reached your port in the storm - the rain storm (your favorite sound), that is, here in Nevis.  With beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, lush landscape, and green vervet monkeys, you have found your freedom.  Loewy and I chose rain last night, and she drifted off once again to the sweet sound of rain blocking Clara, Alistair and Daddy's sponge bob.  Yet in the middle of the night, you decided after all of these years why should I do what she tells me to do.  You said forget this rain command, bring on the train on the tracks noise.  I charged out of bed thinking I was on Amtrak rather than Nevis.  I reminded you gently - rain, please - and once again, you showed me your spirit and choose train on the tracks.


Well good for you.  I respect your new found freedom.  You have done your work and deserve your sweet reward.  Thank you for the good nights and the countless good naps.



a big sigh of relief

Brooke Nalle

Last weekend, I had my first big 'phew' moment.  I took a big inhale, exhaled slowly, and felt the delicious bliss of relief.  

My oldest, Alistair, has been testing limits his entire life - weight limits at birth, sleep deprivation limits as a baby, and now appropriate school behavior limits as a 7, almost 8 year old.  It got a little bad a few weeks ago.  Keep in mind, I am a former teacher and I am very senstive to how my children behave and conduct themselves in the classroom.  He had rough day after rough day, ending with insulting the school librarian (he told her loudly that she should not file her nails in public) and telling the girls in his class that he was going to eridicate Justine Beiber.  I mean I get the Justin Beiber thing, but who insults a school librarian?  (ummm, maybe his mother, Claiborne M. if you are reading this, remember how we got busted for drawing pictures of Mrs. Johnson's perm?)

My boy was in a rut, and I was beginning to wonder if he would ever get out of it.  I also started to get nervous about the bigger picture.  Maybe he isn't a nice child, maybe something is wrong with him, can he demonstrate empathy without me prompting him to do so?  Ugh.  My thoughts, like his behavior, were in a tail spin.

In my work as a sleep coach, as well as in my personal life, I meet a lot of parents who are in the same downward trajectory, worrying that maybe their little non-sleeper has bigger problems, problems that are too overwhelming to even begin to explore.  As many of you know, when we are tired, we become irrational.  Our children too become irrational, and we begin to have irrational thoughts about our irrational children.  I speak with experience, when Clara was born, at her two week check up, I spent most of her appointment diagnosing her big brother's early on-set mental illness.  It was not a happy or rational time.

Needless to say, worried or not, the days move forward, and slowly but surely I thought maybe just maybe my sweet boy might still be sweet, somewhere inside.  This brings me to my big exhale.  

Last weekend, we journeyed 4 hours up and 4 hours back to attend my husband's grandmother's 90th birthday. It was a hard but joyful trip and worth the car sickness and hotel breakfest bar.  My worries about Alistair's behavior had quieted, but I was still sifting through them from time to time while driving kids to activites or as I fell asleep at night.  On Sunday, after a lovely family lunch filled with lots of treats, fun with the cousins, we started to say our goodbyes.  I was busy putting on Loewy's shoes when I looked up and saw Alistair kindly helping his great grandmother's feet back on to the wheel chair.  He then stood up, leaned in close, gave her a hug and a kiss, and told her that he loves her.  And here's the best part, and why I am breathing again.  He did it without one of us making him do it.  He did it because he loves her and knows how to show his love, respectfully.  I am grateful that I turned my head at that moment to catch the interchange, because I could have so easily missed it.  I didn't though, and that is a big relief.

It only took 30 minutes

Brooke Nalle

Yesterday, my husband picked Alistair up early from school, had him at the dentist at 2, and by 2:45 Alistair was home on the couch - minus 4 teeth.  He spent the afternoon playing with his numbed lip, dripping motrin out of his mouth, and eating Dobbs Ferry's version of pinkberry.  Today he was off to school good as new.

This event has been more traumatic for me than for him.  Of course, I don't like the idea of Alistair suffering or being uncomfortable.  His quick recovery immediatly quelled this dimension of my worries, but I am having a hard time dealing with how just 30 minutes can erase months of suffering and worry that framed his first two years of life.

From 4 months until 24 months, Alistair was always somewhere in the process of getting teeth.  Sometimes it made him drool, sometimes it made him bite, and very often it made him not sleep.  His teething drove me crazy - I would give him motrin, tylenol, bizarre little pellets, teething gel, and I would often look longingly at the bottle of scotch at his great grandfather's house - but nothing ever really seemed to work.  Eventually the tooth would come out or sometimes it wouldn't and I would obsess over liver damage and put off giving him pain meds for days.  Simply put, I never knew if he was teething or just cranky, tired, or bored.  

I have heard pediatricians explain that there is no connection between teething and poor sleep; I have heard doulas and other sleep coaches say the same thing.  As for me, I am not sure how I feel now having lived through 6 years of teething in the past 7.5 years of being a parent.  I do think they are woven together in some capacity but one that is irrational and unpredicatable.  If I was a scientist, I would have thrown out my research long ago.  As a mother/expert, I would proclaim: "I am 100% positive that tooth will poke through tomorrow."  In reality, it was always another few weeks or even a month and then I would see Alistair, Clara or Loewy for that matter laughing on the swings and there it would be - a little dab of white in a gummy mouth.

I guess as a parent no matter what you are dealing with - teething, sleeping, eating, going back to work, staying home, a new baby, sibling - infants, babies, toddlers, children are irrational in many, many ways.  The only way to deal with this irrational factor to having children is to try to remember that they are human, making their own choices, consciously or unconsciously.  We can supply love, support, routines, but they will from time to time defy all that we can offer.  

So back to the 30 minutes....  what took Alistair's dentist 30 minutes took me 2 years to deal with and another 5+ years to process.  A lot of parenting is like this - you do so so so much work and they go off to nursery school, grade school, college, grad school and do things for themselves!  After you had to do it for them, with them over and over and over again.  It's both annoying and rewarding.

So Alistair is at school with a big bowl of his favorite mac and cheese to have for lunch and a promise of ice cream when he returns home this afternoon.  As for me, I think I will make a nice dinner, have a nice glass of wine, and toast teething and other delightful parenting challenges.

do it self

Brooke Nalle

alistair doing my favorite 'do it self' activity, summer 2010

From about 14 months until the age of 3, my son, Alistair had an expression: do it self.  This need to 'do it self' is not an Alistair exclusive trait - trust me, he has a few that I would never wish on any of my readers.  It is a normal piece of neurological and social emotional development, and it is sometimes endearing and sometimes exasperating.  Watching a child zipper his own coat is sweet until you are in a sweat, bundled up, still waiting to get out the door before nursery school ends for the day.

Even now at 7, he wants to do things for himself - again sometimes nice, getting dressed, for example and sometimes downright annoying, his bathtub Poseidon role play/flood, is just one of the many in the annoying category.

This time of year, I find myself thinking about resolutions as well as hearing about other people's resolutions.  My daughter Clara came home today with her 'solution'; she meant resolution: to help set the table, yes please!  Alistair suggested watching more tv and eating more candy; he is trying to approach this resolution thing from a different angle.  That said, I have noticed that quite a few people, myself included, are choosing resolutions that they could 'do it self' but are getting a little help in the process.  I am trying to eat healthier, more fruits, whole grains, vegetables.  I know ... boring.  That said, I have purchased 3 days of a juice cleanse (not one of those scary lemon water and ginger ones), and am looking at new cookbooks for inspiration.  Kale salad?  Why not, it's actually really good.  It's come time for the sleep coach to get coached, and I have come to realize how much I like having someone to talk to in my pursuit of healthier living.

I guess, for me, this whole 'do it self' conundrum got going a month or so ago when I found lice on Alistair's head.  Yes I could have done it myself, with a lot of tears and money wasted, but instead I went right to an expert.  It was so reassuring to have the lice lady check our whole family, comb us out, and send us on our way with a program.  I give my clients 10 nights of sleep training; Dale, the lice lady, gave me 8 days of hair washing and combing.  

As we start this new year, let's consider what we can do for ourselves (not always by ourselves).