S1E10 Sarah’s Story | New Little Life Breastfeeding Podcast
In this week’s episode, I am joined by Sarah, an infant sleep consultant and mom of two. She talks about her personal experiences breastfeeding which led to her starting her own practice as a sleep consultant using the “Helping Babies Sleep Method“. This interview with Dr. Sarah Mitchell has blessed my personal life as I’ve been able to try her method and I can say that EVERYONE is happier AND sleeping better. You will LOVE listening to Sarah’s story and advice on helping your child develop healthy sleep habits!
Sarah’s New Book!! (Highly Recommend) –> https://amzn.to/3k9yuyK
Connect with Sarah
- Website: https://www.helpingbabiessleep.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helpingbabiessleep
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/helpingbabiessleep/
Links from Allison
- ONLINE BREASTFEEDING COURSE https://newlittlelife.teachable.com/p/online-breastfeeding-class
- Support the Podcast on Patreon https://patreon.com/newlittlelife
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Hey everyone. It’s Allison here with New Little Life. I’m an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a nurse, a doula, and a mom of three little boys. Here on the New Little Life podcast, we’ll talk with real moms about their breastfeeding experience– the good parts and the bad– and share real and practical advice about breastfeeding. Connect with and learn from other moms and professionals to help you meet your breastfeeding goals. Hey everybody, I have another great episode for you today on the New Little Life podcast. And this one in particular has been one of my most favorite interviews so far. After my chat with Sarah, we have continued to work together and she has really changed my life, our sleeping schedule, and even some of my business goals for the better. Today after she shares her breastfeeding story with you, we’re going to dive into infant sleep. Now I know all of you moms– breastfeeding or not– could use some help and guidance in the infant sleep department. And Sarah has some very practical and a kind approach that I–in particular– really latched onto. You’ll be seeing more of the two of us working together because I was so impressed with the things that she had to say here today. Dr. Sarah Mitchell is a chiropractor by training, but found her passion empowering parents to teach their little ones to sleep and parent confidently day and night. She’s a top-ranked sleep consultant in Silicon Valley where she works with busy executive parents in her high touch, private sleep coaching. She’s a proud member of the Behavioral Society of Sleep Medicine, and currently contributing to research on maternal anxiety and sleep teaching. Since 2013, she’s helped thousands of parents be loving, attached, and well-rested using the Helping Babies Sleep method. A Canadian girl at heart, she currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband, son, and daughter. She also has a little dog named Maple, which I thought was so cute for a little Canadian family. And you’ll get to hear from Maple today. She joined us in the interview. It was wonderful. I highly encourage you to check out the show notes on this episode in particular. I know I say that every time, but there’s some great stuff down there. Particularly in this episode, she has a sleep quiz that you can take for your little one. I took it. It was awesome. A link to her new book, which I absolutely loved. And some other resources from her on helping your babies sleep. I have so many great things to say about Sarah, but without further ado, let’s go meet her. Hey Sarah, welcome to the podcast today. I’m really, really looking forward to talking with you today.
Thanks so much for having me. I know we’re going to have a great time.
First of all, you’ve got to start out and tell me all about yourself, your family, your practice. I’m really interested to learn more about you and what you do.
I’m a chiropractor by training, but I found my passion empowering parents to teach their little ones to sleep after my own son just wouldn’t sleep. So I’m a sleep consultant. I run helpingbabiessleep.com. I’m originally from Canada, but I’ve found myself in the United States on the West coast. I have a ten-year-old boy– I can’t believe he’s that old– and a seven year old daughter. And like I said, when my son wouldn’t sleep, I was just like gobsmacked. I was like, “Here I am, this well-educated healthcare professional.” I was super confident going into motherhood. I had kind of a traumatic birth. And then just like super exhausted, couldn’t figure out how to get him to sleep. I did all the research, came up with a plan, instituted that, and got everything straightened out. When my second came around, I was like, “There’s no way I’m going back into that sleep abyss again.” And I started sleep teaching her, sleep shaping with her from week four of life. And she was an amazing sleeper. So I’ve been super, super fortunate to have helped women in Canada with their massive maternity leave compared to the United States. Also in the United States, here being in Silicon Valley, I work with a lot of busy tech executives that have to get back to work pretty quickly. And just the different demands that women have– depending on where they’re at in their life and their career. So in a nutshell, basically, I’m a sleep consultant at Helping Babies Sleep.
That’s awesome. We need more of you in the world because I know all moms are just exhausted. That is just kind of a norm. And maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t know. I’m hoping that we can pick your brain a little bit about that later. Cool. So you breastfed both of your kiddos, right? Is that something you always knew you wanted to do or did you grow up around breastfeeding? You grew up in Canada, right?
I grew up in Canada, I did not grow up around breastfeeding. I did not grow up around babies. Babies kind of terrified me, to be perfectly honest. And then I had my own and I am a researcher. So I like read all the books and I’d watched as many videos as I could. And we had a little bit of a traumatic issue. When my son came out, he was actually 10 pounds, 4 ounces and he was hypoglycemic. So actually I had gestational diabetes, even though I had tested negative at the glucose test, which is kind of unique. So because of that, he was never really very hungry because they had him on a sugar drip to maintain his blood glucose levels. And so breastfeeding was a challenge at the beginning. Absolutely. Like we had to do everything we possibly could to wake him up and whatnot. So I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed because I just heard so many wonderful things about the benefits and the bond that I knew I wanted to do it. I just didn’t know that it would be quite as hard as it was.
So this was your son, right? That was the big baby. That kind of what you described sounds very normal for a baby of that size, especially with a mom with gestational diabetes. Do you remember some of the struggles, especially in that first week or two that you had with him?
Gosh, yeah. I remember being so exhausted after this 36-hour labor. One night he woke up at two a.m. in the nursery. He was in the special care nursery and they’re like, “Oh, he just woke up like, do you want to feed him? Or should we give him some formula?” And I was just so exhausted, even though I had been so determined to breastfeed, I was like, “Just give him a little formula. It’s okay. I just can’t right now, you know?” So there’s definitely that mental dichotomy between what you wanted to do, how you wanted to parent. And I think this comes up so frequently– this vision you had of your parenting journey and then the reality of it, you know? I also remember we had to feed tube him a little bit. I can’t remember why. I can’t remember why we were trying to do that. Just trying to get him to eat. Definitely sleepy, sleepy little guy.
That’s really common for babies with blood sugar issues– like yours– is that they need extra calories and stuff. So that sounds very normal.
Of course it hurt, right? Even though they always say, it’s not going to. I think until you figure out the latching and the proper positioning of their body against yours, like it definitely hurt. I remember I used to stare at my wedding photo on the wall and just count backwards from 10 because I knew once I got to zero, the pain would recede a little bit. But I just had to get through that first part, which I’m sure you would have given me much better advice than just focusing on my wedding photo. But at the time that’s what I did. We had a lactation consultant in the hospital who was super helpful and then I had a midwife. So she came over once or twice maybe, and kind of helped me out a little bit. But that was kind of the direction that I got. I watched a lot of videos on this one website that I referenced. But yeah, that was it. Then my second came along and I felt so much more confidence. She was just a breeze, basically.
You had an easier time with your second one?
Absolutely. Her weight dropped off, but I think that was just the water that she’d retained, you know? And I just kept feeding her on demand, feeding her on demand, and got her back up within a few days. And she was easy.
That’s great. Do you remember any struggles with that second one? Was it you just were more prepared or what do you think made it easier?
I think it’s the confidence. Right? I think I’m fortunate. I didn’t struggle with supply issues per se. And so what made it easier was just like, “Oh, I’ll just keep bringing her to the breast. She’ll get there eventually.” And I went back to my doctor and I remember her being like, just like, “Wow, oh my gosh, she’s gained so much weight. Tell me exactly everything that you’ve done.” So that she could pass it on probably the next person, but really just kept bringing her to the breast and getting her to drink.
That’s the best way to do it. And it is common for babies to lose up to 10% is kind of the norm. At least in the States considered normal. And more than that, then you need to ask some more questions, but I’m so glad to hear that. So what were your original goals for breastfeeding? Did you have like a length of time in mind or were you just like, “I’m going to feed my baby and see where it goes.” Do you remember?
Because we had a year off in Canada, I set the goal to be a year with both of them. With my son around 11 months, I went away for the very first time for a girls’ weekend and he kind of weaned himself at that point. And I was okay with that. Because I went back to work a little bit earlier at 11 months and I remember he was starting to like cruise on all the furniture and pull off all the magazines. And I was like, “Okay, I’m ready to go back to work with you so much busier now. I’m ready.” And then with Violet, we made it to 12 months. And again, I was going back to work. So I just weaned to her at that point.
Isn’t that amazing that they give you a whole year in Canada? We were actually just briefly talking about this before we started about how crappy the maternity leave is in the United States.
It does not set people up to flourish in that postpartum period. It takes your body nine months to grow the baby and it takes at least that to kind of get yourself back to normal.
I totally agree. It’s been interesting. We’ve been here in Belgium and I’ve worked with a lot of international mothers and I’m shocked at the amount of paid maternity leave that some of these countries offer the women and it’s incredible. And even you said about 11 months, I was like, “Okay, I’m ready to go back to work.” Which I feel like is about right. Gosh, but some of these moms going back at six weeks, even 12 weeks, which is the norm. And it’s usually unpaid. So you’re sitting without a paycheck for three months is rough.
Yeah. Really, really hard.
Did you have supportive family, a partner and stuff when you were in your breastfeeding time? Do you remember having some support that way? Or did you meet any resistance from friends, family, healthcare providers?
I was so lucky. I had no resistance whatsoever. Everyone was very encouraging and helpful and my mom helped me and kept me company which was really nice. I feel so fortunate to have had that time stress-free, so to speak. I mean, you’re not having to go back to work. It’s different stresses. It’s different. You’re busy taking care of another human being. But my husband was super supportive. Everyone was, and it was really very convenient. I never had to be preparing bottles. I didn’t really have to pump. I’ve only pumped a few times really. And here in the States, working with my clients, like just about everybody’s pumping, right? They’re all preparing a stash. Which is wonderful that they can do that. But I never really had to do that very much.
That’s great. I wish a lot more moms experiences looked like yours. I actually just recorded a video last week. It was like a stop pumping rant really because so many moms feel like they have to pump and like have hundreds of ounces in the freezer. I really feel like you don’t need that, especially if you’re a stay-at-home mom for the moment. That’s a topic for another time and there’s a video on the YouTube channel for that. Can you tell me what your nighttime routine looked like while you were breastfeeding? If you remember. This was before you were a sleep consultant, correct?
Yeah, but the second was when I kinda got into it per se. So my nighttime routine, it depends on the stage. Right? Of like what age do you want to talk about the night routines? Because it does change.
Let’s talk about the first six months.
Okay. I feel there’s a really big shift around three months, right? Because your bedtime for your newborn often they’re not really ready to sleep until like nine o’clock at night. Their sleep patterns are very disorganized, but then between like nine and 12 weeks of age, their body starts to produce melatonin. Prior to that, they actually get melatonin in the womb from the mother. Then when they’re outside the womb, they’re getting the melatonin from the breastmilk. And the purpose of melatonin is to signal your brain that it’s time to sleep. So the sun goes down, melatonin’s released in signal. So before that 9-12 weeks, it’s highly disorganized. Then around nine, 12 weeks, that witching hour starts to recede. Right? And you start getting earlier and earlier bedtime. So by the time you’re like four months, most kids are ready to fall asleep somewhere between like 6:30 and 7:30 at night. It is actually three systems that govern sleep. One is that circadian rhythm that’s based on melatonin, but where also cortisol that’s released. And it gets higher in the morning and tells your body to wake up. The homeostatic system, which is related to sleep pressure. And you might often read about this on blogs as the awake time that a kiddo can stay awake. So the idea is that as the baby’s body is burning through ATP for fuel, just with metabolism and being alive and breathing, they’re burning through fuel and they’re growing exponentially, right? They’re going to double their body weight by five months. So they’re burning through this fuel. It produces a buildup of a protein called agnosia and that protein rises to a certain level. And then ding! It signals your brain that it’s time to sleep. Which is why kids nap so much more in that first zero to five period. As they’re growing exponentially, they need more naps. So that’s sleep pressure. And that’s your homeostatic system. And then the third system really is your emotional-cognitive system. Right. If you’re distracted by anything, it’s harder to fall asleep. And this is true for humans of all ages. Right?
Oh, interesting. I wouldn’t have thought of that last one. I’m a nurse too. So I’m like body systems, but your emotional, mental state, I could see how that would play a huge role in your sleeping system. I never thought about it for a baby though.
Anytime you hear sleep regression, think growth– I’m growing physically or neurologically, and I’m distracted by that. I’m distracted by discomfort in my gums due to teething. Or I’m distracted by that new skill I learned to stand up and either want to practice or I’m thinking about that. It’s distraction. Any sleep regression is just distraction, essentially. I think I totally tangent off of your original question, which was my bedtime routine. Basically your bedtime is changing from around like one, two months, it might be nine o’clock at night. And by four months it’s gotten all the way down to like 6:30..7..7:30 kind of thing. And my bedroom time routines were really quick. So one place I see parents get off the rails is they have these extended bedtime routines where they have this long bath and then they do this long massage and then they do this and this and this, which eats up a lot of time. Like our kids really can’t comfortably stay awake because of that sleep pressure at five months more than about two hours from when they woke up from their last nap. So if my kid woke up at five, I’m trying to get them asleep by seven. And I’ve got to feed. Do I do a bath? To me, a bath is optional. In the newborn stage, yes. I think it can mimic the womb. At four or five months, I don’t think it’s mimicking the womb anymore. I think it’s enjoyable. But scientifically yes, there’s a relationship between having a bath– your body temperature rising and then dropping, which helps helps you fall asleep more easily. Right. But does that counter the fun, stimulatory effect of the bath?
I could definitely see maybe in the earlier months that’s not being as fun. But my little guy is almost five months and a bath, it would be a total play-fest and that would not calm him down. That’s interesting that you said that.
You can do it like as part of your nighttime routine. It’s just not part of the bedtime routine because also on nights that you’re running late, I don’t want you to think you have to bathe your baby to get them down. So a bedtime routine to me is very simple. I come into the room, I dim the lights. I’m setting the stage for sleep. Maybe I’m playing a lullaby. I love music because there’s studies on humans that show that it helps facilitate sleep more quickly. And then I’m changing pajamas, changing diaper, putting into a sleep sack or a swaddle. Depending on the age, I might read one or two board books or sing them a song. And then they’re there going into the crib.
And are you talking about six months and under for a routine like this?
So it’s all about cues. You can start this as early as you want, in which case it’s practice. But by age three months, they’re starting to recognize routines.
So they can kind of sense a routine and get onto a “schedule” more or less at around three months you could start?
Well, I don’t love the term schedule because I think that sets a lot of people up to fail.
I knew that was the wrong word. You gotta tell me what what should we expect?
Well, we could call it a flow. I have to refer to it as a flexible schedule. But daily flow really is the best, right? The idea that every wake up from a nap, I’m projecting out when my kiddo needs to be asleep again. And same with my feeding. So what I have found is that a lot of parents– and I did this– have trouble distinguishing between hunger and fatigue. And often what happens is we feed them and they fall asleep really quickly. They suck for a few minutes and they fall asleep because the sleep drive was greater than the hunger drive. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what happens and what happened to me was over time is that I just kept teaching him that the boob was a soother. So when he was tired, bored, whatever, he would come on, have a little suck and then fall asleep. And then he doesn’t have a full feed. And so then an hour later, when he’s fussy, I’m insecure if this is hunger or something else, because that feed wasn’t really that good. What should I do? So part of my program is the idea of once your kiddos gain their weight back. You’ve got your milk supply well established that you become an intentional feeder. An intentional feeder is that they come to the breast and they drain one side, take half the other side. So now I feel confident that that it’s not hunger. And I can use my other parenting skills to help calm my fussy baby.
Oh, I am totally guilty of this. Like feeding for any reason. Oh my goodness.
Well, for some people, it doesn’t matter. It works because they sleep great. You get these great long stretches of sleep. And then there’s other people like me that just didn’t work out that way. Like I come from an attachment parenting background, right? I read all of Dr. Sears. I wanted all of that and it just did not work out for us. We were waking up every couple hours and I would nurse him back to sleep. I was like, “This is not sustainable.” And this is what I was talking about earlier, where you have this vision of how you’re going to parent and then it doesn’t work out for you. And you feel like you failed. I did, definitely felt like I failed. And then I had to pivot, right? I had to pivot figure out a way that works for me and my child. That’s what parenting is. There’s no one-size solutions fits everyone. You just have to figure out what works for you and your family.
That’s perfect. Pivot. I love that. And also just be flexible. There’s not a one-size. I love that. So I feel like sleeping should be easy and natural and my baby just is not getting it. And I know a lot of moms feel this way. Why can’t you just sleep? Like sleeping is the easiest thing.
Right? I totally understand that. Well, I think there’s a few reasons. One is that we see all these visions and pictures of these beautiful newborns and like flower pots and sleigh beds. And it looks like sleep is this beautiful, natural, instinctual thing. And that’s really only the first two weeks where they’re just so tiny. They wake up eat and fall right back asleep. But if there’s one thing to take away from this podcast, here it is. While the drive to sleep, which we talked about earlier, that is physiological and biological. It exists, sleep pressure exists. The way we sleep is actually a learned habit. And if you think about yourself– you find your favorite position, you cozy up, maybe it’s on your side and then you relax yourself into sleep. But if I had told you tonight that you can’t sleep in that position and I’m taking away your pillow, you would be uncomfortable. But you would teach yourself a new way to relax. It might take you a little while, but you’ll get there. And unknowingly, what I did and what most of the people I work with have done too. There’s this very tiny window between like four and 10 weeks, basically, where we’re unknowingly teaching what sleep looks like. And you hit this awkward period between three and four months where you can’t change that. You’re kind of buying time. But often in that newborn period, it might be falling asleep at the breast. Or it might be falling asleep upright for a reflux baby who needs to be held after every feed. Or it might be being rocked and then put down. Right. But then after three months, our sleep stages for newborns actually change. And so now what happens is that you put them down. Previously, newborns drop right into REM sleep. But babies older than three months, they actually go into light sleep and then deep sleep. And then they come back up and hit REM sleep. So why this is important is that you’ll find around three months what you were doing, isn’t quite as effective. So you used to be able to nurse them, rock them, and put them down. But now they start to wake up when you put them down because they’re in light sleep now instead of REM sleep.
This is a time when a lot of moms struggle, like what do you do then?
Three months is a really hard time. I call it the holding period because you’re basically waiting for four months to come because at four months there’s a sleep progression. They wake up to the world, they learn the beginning of object permanence. They learned that mom exists, even though they can’t see her. And so they wake up in the night and they call for her to see if she’ll come. Often naps start to get shorter. Four month regression is definitely real and it’s related to growth. I’m growing neurologically. I’m understanding a new concept and I’m testing that out. So you’re waiting for your kiddo to sit in that for at least seven to 10 days before you really work on sleep. The second thing we’re waiting for is that Moro reflex to disappear or at least get a lot better. Right. And the true Moro reflux is when the arms go out, hands extend, everybody arches back. And then they pull back in. Not to be confused with just like lack of arm control, which can be, just be arms flailing in every direction. You’re waiting for those two things to happen because if you want an independent sleeper. If you want a kiddo that you can put down completely wake with no feeding, no rocking as part of your bedtime routine. And they like suck their thumb or rub their hand on their face or rub their cheek into the mattress. An independent sleeper has to be able to self-sooth and there is research to show that these skills can be achieved roughly three to four months of age. I just prefer, I feel like four months is much more common. And then they can suck their thumb and relax themselves. And get to sleep because when they wake in the night– which all humans do– then they can use that skill again to relax themselves back down. What happens to those moms? They’ve been nursing to sleep, which is totally great and fine. But then they hit the four month sleep regression. And now their kid wakes up every three hours and they have to go back in. And the only way they know how to get them to sleep is to nurse them to sleep. And they just keep doing that. Which if it’s working for you, awesome. Right? But at what point, especially if you’re going back to work, does this become unsustainable? And then you’re like, “Okay, I think I have to change the way we fall asleep.” And the challenge is most of the books out there say put them down drowsy, but awake. Am I right? Did you not learn that?
Like if I put my child down awake, there’s no way he’s falling asleep. I have to assist them to get to that tired and then sneak away. I feel like that’s every sleep book out there.
Every single book. So my book that comes out in February is like, why “drowsy but awake” is setting you up to fail. Because drowsy but awake usually happens in arms. So I teach my newborn, they fall asleep in arms and then I transfer them and then they hit the 4-month sleep regression that doesn’t work anymore. And now what do I do? I have no idea what to do. But in the newborn stage, you could work on putting them down calm but awake. That’s what I teach. You put them down calm but awake. And you assist helping them fall asleep in the bassinet or the crib, rather than on you. So you can avoid that whole transfer scenario and they can start to develop that independent sleep skill. Because the other thing that happens is they fall asleep in your arms and then you put them down and make the night they wake up in that bassinet. And they’re like, “Hey, where am I? This isn’t where I fell asleep.” And you have to go in and repeat that again.
And everything you’re saying about the typical I’m like, “Yep. I know that.” So it’s interesting. Even the thought of an independent sleeper to me is like, “Is that a thing for babies?” I mean, that’s crazy. So if you miss that training window you mentioned in the newborn phase– kind of before the three month mark– are you just like out of luck?
So some people do swimmingly well, for whatever reason. Their kids are more flexible, perhaps. I frequently work with parents where like he was sleeping like six to eight hours with one feed at three months.
You hear these stories. Definitely. And you’re like, “What am I doing wrong? My kids does not sleep anywhere near that.”
But then also those people sometimes come to me and they’re like, “Now he’s four months in. He wakes up every three hours at night, what the heck happened?” And it’s just that four month sleep regression. They were just kind of getting lucky, if you will, with a nursing to sleep or rocking to sleep. But everything happens for a reason. So everything you did in the newborn stage was for a reason, right. If you were rocking, holding, nursing, you were doing all the right things at that time and you continue doing that until it’s no longer serving you. So is it possible to have an independent newborn? Not really. Because they don’t really have self-soothing skills, but you can use methods that are easier for you to maintain. So like Violet, my second, I was much more confident. So I would swaddle her for the morning nap, put her down in the bassinet. We’re all in the kitchen taking care of my older son and she would like, kind of squawk. I’d go over, touch her, kind of gently rock her back in the bassinet. Without picking her up, she’d fall asleep. So over time she learned to do that on our own. And then I just keep practicing on that and yeah, there’s times that she’d escalate and she wouldn’t. So I would pick her up, calm her, get her calm again, rock her a little bit, put her back down, make her drowsy in the crib. And you go from there, it’s a learning process for them and for you.
Yeah. I love that. That you can kind of do what works for you and not feel guilty about that. And it’s totally fine until it doesn’t work and then you just need to pivot and try something new.
Exactly. And that is true of any stage of parenting, right? Even older kids.
So after six months, do things look different there? Well, five months maybe. So after that four month sleep regression, what does sleep look like for babies after that?
So I think I’m actually pretty conservative. So I feel like if you have a six month old, exclusively breastfed kiddo, I think it’s very normal that they wake up once to eat.
I agree. Honestly, lactation counselor. That sounds very normal to me.
It’s very normal. So when I’m coaching someone, our goals are at six months probably they still need to eat once, but let’s see what happens naturally. Okay. And so we get rid of the other ones through a certain process. I definitely have kids that sleep the whole night long, on their own, without waking to eat up. But then I still have a lot of kids that need one night feed until about like nine months of age, when they have three meals and two snacks plus the breastfeeds well-established. So when can someone sleep through the night? It’s like the million dollar question. It depends. It depends on your food source. I actually put a lot of blog posts through it. It depends on your experience. Like if you had a really traumatic experience, then it might take you longer to make that leap.
So that’s a great place to start. Do you have more resources where parents can contact you if they’re struggling or they just want advice? I have so many more questions and I know that my listeners are going to as well. Where do you go from here? You might be anywhere in this journey, what are we doing?
So first thing I would do is go to my website. I have a whole resources page that has a variety of like awake time charts. You can take my sleep quiz for babies zero to two to find out like, is your timing working? Very gentle approaches there. And then my blog. I’ve been blogging since 2013. So I’ve written just about everything and it’s all on there as well.
Awesome. I’m going to put a link down in the show notes to the quiz, especially. Your website, your blog. That sounds like a great resource because I’m definitely going to go there and learn a little bit more. I could ask you questions about sleep all day long. Anything else you’d like to say about sleep, babies, and the breastfeeding relationship before we move on to kind of another topic here?
Just remember that it is a learned habit. And so learned habits take time to unlearn. And sleep training–which is term I hate– I prefer to call it sleep teaching because that’s really what you’re doing. It should almost be called sleep reteaching because we inadvertently taught our kiddos what sleep looked like awhile ago. Anytime you’re trying to teach your kiddos something new, remember that they will be uncomfortable. So there may be some tears that go with that and everyone has different tolerance levels of what that looks like. But if you’re going to do sleep teaching be prepared. So research things, read things, I’ll have a book available in February that you can download or buy and prepare yourself and have a roadmap to success. What I don’t want anyone to do is decide at 2:00 AM that they just got to stop this behavior right now and let their kiddo cry because it’s too hard to learn something new in the middle of the night. And you’re setting yourself up to be unsuccessful at that time, basically because the sleep drive is lower. If you’re going to make changes, you make them at bedtime. And a great place to start, simple things you can do is the timing. So in that quiz and on my website, there’s a timing chart. That’s what we talked about. That sleep pressure. That’s the very first thing that you can do to help yourself making sure you’re getting your kiddo enough sleep and getting naps to happen at the right time and implement that and then go from there.
Alright. And this is a common question I get from moms. They think that if they keep them awake a little bit more in the day that they’ll sleep more at night. Can you share your thoughts on that?
Yeah, so I thought that too. So I used to go to bed. My husband used to keep the baby up and it’s totally the wrong strategy. They become overtired. And when your kiddo is overtired, it’s actually harder to get them to fall asleep and then stay asleep. So for example, when I have a kid who’ll go down at night and they wake up like 20-30 minutes into their bedtime sleep, they were overtired by the time they got there– for most people. So sleep begets sleep. The more well-rested they are, the easier it is to get them to sleep. And they need ridiculous amounts of sleep. Like a less than two-month-old needs like 16-20 hours in 24 hours. And at three months that’s like 15-18 hours. Like it’s way more than you think.
Definitely. That’s a hundred percent what I tell my breastfeeding moms as well. So I’m glad that we’re on the same page there. The more naps and sleep they get often means better sleep at night. And we didn’t touch on this, but I did have one more question for you. Can you just share briefly what your thoughts are on sleeping situations with babies? This might be a loaded topic. The bassinet is next to the bed are what I see most of my moms doing– to be honest– for the first several months. Co-sleeping is a thing sometimes. Some moms want total space and put them in another room.
So my advice is you just gotta figure out what works for you. I also always say the American Academy of Pediatrics would like you to room-share, not bed-share, until at least six months of age, ideally twelve. Which is a ridiculously long time. It’s like way too long, in my opinion. And it’s there to protect our most vulnerable babies– our tiniest little babies– and our most vulnerable of parents, which would be the most uneducated people. So you have to figure out what works for you. With my son, definitely had him in the room until about four months and then slowly moved him into his room. Daughter, I was like, “I realize now as a mom that I hear like every single little tiny noise that I don’t necessarily need to be hearing.” And I moved her out. Obviously our house was really small, but I moved her out like probably around six to eight weeks because I felt more comfortable. And the other thing too. Is I feel like these safe sleep mandates were made years ago before we had all this amazing technology. Like these socks that can set alarms, these monitors, like all of those things can help you feel more confident about your little person. But the bassinet beside the bed is my go-to for the beginning. I think it’s a great thing. They’re close. You’re going to be feeding through the night. You’re still nervous. It’s also a great way to become a really good sleep detective because you can hear the noises and see the body language and be an observer and wait for a couple of minutes to figure out what’s going on here. Are they really awake? Do they need to burp? Or is it hunger? Give you a chance. So being an observer is part of the program too, because if your child like makes a peep, you immediately pick them up and put them to the breast, you just bandaid it. Or if it wasn’t a hunger awakened, you just band-aided whatever it was with nursing. Cause that will calm them and put them back to sleep. But what was it really? So now 40 minutes later, they’re up again. You’re like, “Oh my God, again, what is this?” It’s not hunger or something else going on. So if they’re in a bassinet close by, it helps you to be an observer.
Interesting. I love that. I hadn’t really thought of it that way, of that benefit. But you phrased it beautifully. So back to kind of some of your personal experiences, can you tell me– if you remember– what was the hardest part or your least favorite part of breastfeeding? I’m also going to ask you the best part, but let’s start with maybe the toughest or your least favorite part.
I think a certain anxiety of like, if I left the house, knowing that I had to be back at a certain time, I think that was quite difficult. I’m pretty sure I had postpartum anxiety that was undiagnosed. So I found that challenging. That would be my least favorite part. Of course, my most favorite part is probably what everybody says, right? That connection that you feel with your baby and that sense of purpose. And it’s just kind of magical, really.
That’s actually my least favorite part as well. And actually no one that I’ve interviewed yet has said it quite the way that I feel as well, but just being so tied down and you can only do things in like one-hour increments because you’re like timing, first of all, for your own breasts. And then also for your baby, whoever you left them with is going to have a crying, hungry baby. And that’s probably the hardest part for me too, just being so tied down for such a long time. I love it though. There is some really unique bonding things that come from breastfeeding and you’re right. A lot of moms do say that and I don’t think you can fully grasp that concept until you’ve experienced it yourself.
Agreed completely. Well, the whole motherhood thing, no one could really, truly prepare you for what’s to come.
Isn’t that right? Before I had my first, I was a nurse, I worked in an OBGYN office. I had helped moms through pregnancy and I’ve seen them postpartum and helped them a little bit with breastfeeding. Still, nothing can prepare you for just the real life stuff that comes with motherhood. And breastfeeding too.
I’ve had clients that were labor and delivery nurses, quite a few. Social workers, especially cause they’re such feeling people and they often see people who’ve had traumatic childhood events. They’re just so sensitive. But I’ve also had a couple of pediatricians as well, but that just have really strong-willed kiddos and the regular, generic information, just maybe didn’t work for those personalities. So temperament does really affects your parenting journey, right? And you never know what you’re going to get, like a box of chocolates.
Right. And they don’t come with manuals. That’s like the running joke. Where’s your user manual? We don’t understand. What was the best advice you ever received– either as a mom or from another professional? I’d love to know.
Okay. So in the baby stage, like less than a year, when you hear them the night, wait three to five minutes to make sure they’re really awake. And even after nap, I tell my clients that now too. But that was the best piece of advice I ever got because I was so intent on being like the most attentive mom that I could be, that like every grunt or noise, I popped out of bed, check on him. In hindsight, probably he wasn’t awake a lot of those times because the newborn stage in REM sleep– vocalizations, yelling out, muscle twitches are all very common. I think a lot of us mistake that. Okay. The second best piece of advice was for older kids. Like over a year is there’s two things that will derail your toddler– too many choices and too many words. And this is so true, right? Give them too many choices, they’re just like, “Ah, I don’t know.” Too many words, you just keep talking at them. It doesn’t do anything.
Wow. Now I’m like thinking back to all my toddler experts. My little one just turned four, but even still, then I can totally see that. Too many choices and too many words are very overwhelming.
Yes. We think we can reason them with them and convince them that our way is the way. You can’t.
It’s a little older than mine. Does that get better? Can you reason with your kids now? Or can you just never reason with kids?
No. It gets better. Temperament though, again, kicks in, but it does definitely get better. But it’s still too many words. I let my child know what’s going to happen. It happens. I follow through. I recap the situation and then the chirping back at me, I just don’t respond.
Wow. I really like that. So can you tell me a one minute thing, someone comes to you and you’re like, I’m a first time mom, I’m planning on breastfeeding. What’s just a little nugget, they’re like, “I want your advice. What can you tell me?” You got one minute, what are you going to say to a new mom? What would be the one thing you would want her to know?
Okay. So her, how old is her baby or is she pregnant?
She’s pregnant. She’s a test. Zero experience.
Okay. get a great lactation consultant. And then realize that feeding and sleeping are very tied together. You got to get feeding on track first to be able to get great sleep.
Okay. So you talked about earlier that first nine weeks– nine to twelve– you should focus on feeding.
So even just the first four, and then you can start implementing sleep-shaping habits very easily. Because if you focus on the first four weeks, you’ve got your supply up, you’re getting intentional feeding. Intentional, full feeds during the day helps you get those longer stretches of sleep at night. If you have a little kiddo that has a snacking cycle, they snack all day during the day. Expect they’re going to want to do the same thing through the night.
Is there anything else you’d like to share today, either from your own story or from your work as a sleep consultant, anything at all?
I just would like to say like, give yourself self-compassion, it’s hard. You’re doing a great job. There’s no mistakes. There’s only learning opportunities. And your little kiddos going to love you so intensely, no matter what. We’re all just doing the best we can.
That is probably some of the most common advice I get when I ask that last question. So if you’re a young mom or you’re an expecting mom, can you just trust us that have been there? That if you just keep yourself a little grace and do what works for you until it doesn’t and then pivot. That’s motherhood. And if you can start that at the beginning, you’re miles ahead of us that took a little while longer to learn that. So you said that beautifully. Right after we’re done, I’m heading to your website to take that quiz for my little one. So that’s going to be in the show notes. I’m also going to check out your blog because I need more of your information and I’m going to be one of the first ones to buy your book. We’re recording this in January. So in February, I’m going to go buy your book because it sounds wonderful. And I need it.
Thank you so much. I love your YouTube channel and all the wonderful videos and content that you’re putting out there too. So powerful for parents.
You just started one too, didn’t you?
Yeah. It’s just in the preliminary stages. It’s Helping Babies Sleep on YouTube and come subscribe to that.
Oh, I’m excited. Sometimes I do prefer watching a video over reading a blog. So I’m definitely gonna come subscribe. Yay. I’m so excited. You can find all the links and stuff that we talked about today. Ways to find Sarah, ways to find me, all down in the show notes. So don’t forget to check that out and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. I learned a lot and I know my listeners will too.
Well, thank you. Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.